Life Notes: Under One (Shore House) Roof
Family togetherness can be a bit too close

I never went to summer camp. The notion of being away from home, my parents, my friends, and jammed into a cabin was just too terrifying. So my sister went, and I stayed home.

Last month, I experienced a taste of communal living that was at once wonderful, sobering, challenging, hilarious and once again definitely, absolutely instructive: the family vacation.

Every year for the last several, our daughters have shared a house on Long Beach Island for a week. They choose a place that’s somewhat expansive without being frighteningly expensive – not easy at the Shore. They also choose one that can accommodate a total of 13 occupants, 15 when their father and I come down for our two overnights.

I love everyone in this clan. I especially love its youngest members, our seven grandchildren.

But what I learned last month was that I do not – decidedly not – love the sound of the Magnificent Seven at what seems to me the middle of the night and seems to them…not yet bedtime. The thunderous footsteps, the raucous laughter, the music, the smell of something garlicky cooking a few feet from our temporary bedroom…not a bit enchanting.

“Knock it off!” We may try, but to no avail.

We are out of practice, because my husband and I live in a quiet world. Our bedtime is decidedly not 2:45 am and does not involve shouts across a seashore home about whose turn it is to sleep on the futon. We are taking up bedroom space belonging to grandchildren. We feel guilty about that, but not enough to sleep on the futon.

So much for family harmony in the still of the night.

Mornings aren’t much better, as it turns out. Seems that our daughters, who were urged to eat healthy breakfasts, are now a bit less committed. This first meal of the day may consist of the leftovers of the bouillabaisse from the night before, artfully presented by Michael, the family gourmet, with some enhancements. Michael likes large doses of exotic spices with his leftovers, the smell of which makes me gag in the morning.

I want my fruit, coffee and toast, ideally eaten in a quiet, peaceful space. So does my husband.

But our – ahem – “bunkmates” prefer their cold meatballs, quinoa (health-conscious Nancy’s choice) and their exotic coffees enjoyed in what we call mayhem and they regard as daily life.

The generations seem to create what can kindly be called the family circus on these vacations. We occasionally may even be guilty of raised voices about who left the wet towels on the car seat and the sand in the shower.

But this is, after all, the mythic summer togetherness, and we are decidedly imperfect in our ways. So there comes that tipping point when I go out for a walk on the beach to simmer down or head for the cute little boutique a few blocks away.

And as I escape from the summer camp vibe, I remind myself that togetherness comes at a cost. That as much as I love our daughters, sons-in-law and their progeny, I’ve always had a bit of the loner in me.

I take stock, as I roam, on how long it’s been since we lived under one roof with our daughters, let alone their families. How I’m somewhat solitary by nature. How I am guilty of loving creature comfort, perhaps more than I should. Why else would I carry my own pillow with me even for two overnights? Why do I bring my own fan?

 Yet somehow, as our visits wind down – as we play one last mad game of Scrabble or another round of Taboo – I don’t want to see this family vacation end. It’s why I actually get teary as our gang hugs us goodbye in the gravel driveway jammed with too many cars and reminds us that it will be the same time next year.

And there’s no doubt about it: we’re in.

September 2015
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