“There it is! I see their old camp towels on the clothesline,” I alert my husband.

It’s always a triumphant moment when we find the rental house of the season on our annual odyssey to Long Beach Island. It’s where all the Friedman daughters, their husbands, their children and a wildly assorted guest list repeat our time-honored ritual of a long weekend of togetherness.

Our own limit is self-imposed: two overnights. Not because that’s the extent of the invitation, but rather because it’s about all we can handle.

Our kids don’t mind the chaos of community meals, shower schedules and beds that have seen better days. They did not get those genes from us.

My husband and I are far happier in a world of down comforters and perfectly calibrated air conditioning. Our tolerance for showering schedules is limited, and we also prefer three balanced meals, eaten while sitting down.

The sand and sea are lovely, of course, and so are long walks and summer sunsets. But we have difficulty adjusting these worn, old bodies to the sound of four grandsons starting a basketball game at dawn on the deck of the rental house, just outside our digs.

After years of grabbing a few days with our own kids when they were little bucket-toting beachcombers, the “new normal” began about 10 years ago. Now, our annual pilgrimage to LBI plays out with the role reversal we should expect by now but still comes as a shock.

Now Jill, Amy and Nancy – all grown up and parents of their own kids – set the tone. And ironically, it always echoes the very same urgent caution we used to utter to them: “Be careful!”

Being on the receiving end of that caution feels absolutely weird. But there we are, slightly hapless recipients of their supervision.

It comes from the moment of arrival, as they direct our maneuvering of the steps that typically lead to their stilt rental houses on LBI. It continues through our forays to the ocean, where again the role reversal is complete with their cautions to us about undertows and rip currents.

We try to adjust. But with a seashore house filled with seven grandchildren and their assorted visiting friends and drop-ins, serenity is not the vibe.

And we wouldn’t change it for the world. Our summer odysseys on this island are not just a test of our fortitude or the relentless march of time.

Once, we led and our daughters followed. Now, they set the agenda, plan the meals, deal with the heaps of wet towels, the trails of sand and the slathering of sunscreen.

It’s not so bad to be watched over, and it’s definitely a luxury to be banished to the deck as the next generation makes dinner.

It’s all obviously part of the circle of life, the dance of the generations. What will remain a mystery is how it all happened while our backs were turned.

But lingering over breakfast muffins at a table bursting at the seams, sitting in a huge circle on the beach remembering family foibles past and laughing until our sides hurt is an annual delight., Ditto for amazing conversations with our adult kids about their lives, their thoughts and even their worries as the sea air seems to open whole highways of feelings.

On these brief odysseys, we don’t communicate with harried and hurried cell phone calls or accursed texts.

When it time to leave, our kids and grandkids lug our stuff to the car and warn us to drive carefully – the ultimate turnabout.

We still warn them to slather on the sunscreen and watch out for the undertows. Habits are hard to break.

And as we head back to the causeway that links this little island with the real world, the fervent hope is always that it will be same time next year.

August 2017
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