Midway through our family vacation in Vermont, the Grands put on a magic show. As dusk fell, we adults--Paterfamilias and I, Uber son and wife, Alpha daughter and husband--sat inside and nursed our wines and hot teas. The Grands were outside on the lawn plotting and putting together a grand extravaganza for us.
As darkness fell, we were called outside.
The opening act--courtesy of my son-in-law--had the four kids (11,10,9 and 4) running around with tiny sparklers flaring, their whoops of excitement filling the night air. Then came the main event, with each Grand parading before us with his or her trick. They had, for props, a magic set that one Grand had gotten for her birthday. While we had been sipping our drinks, they had worked together to teach each other the tricks and practice them. They coached the four-year-old on the "disappearing ball" trick and supported each other in ways large and small for the more complicated tricks. When a trick didn't work the first time out, they re-grouped, talked it over, re-read instructions and came back for a second try.
The cool Vermont night, well-lit by a starry sky, was the perfect stage. This was our Norman Rockwell moment. I can report--and not just because I'm the grammie--that the Magic Show was brilliant and heart warming--not for the sleights of hand or "amazing" tricks, but for the way the Grands worked together and helped each other without adult interference.
And it mirrored the way this, our ninth family vacation together in Stowe, went this year. No flare ups, no mis-communications, no hard feelings, no sour moments.
It hasn't always been so. Over the years, we've tinkered with the right formula to make the vacations refreshing and full of good family will. We've made our mistakes: rented condos that were too small for three families or too far from the swimming holes, mountain brooks, bike-riding paths and wild raspberry bushes. Three years ago, we finally got the physical configuration right--two condos in a community that is walking distance to everything. But families being families, we've also had to tinker with the right combination of togetherness. Two weeks--too much. Friends who have second homes they own or rent for an extended period have long advised serial visits--one family and its grandchildren at a time, with a weekend overlap to give the inter-family Grands time to run wild together.
But even with the seemingly right combinations in place, our vacations were still marred by something or other. And then this year, it wasn't.
Did we get the formula right? The amount of time we spent with each family and they spent with us and with eachother and in the right size houses near the favorite frog ponds and walking trails? Yes, but we had those things in place last year and the year before and we still had our sour moments.
What made the difference? Here's my theory: our grown children. This year both of them were at a good place in their careers. They were still under pressure, still had the stresses and tensions inherent in being in the prime of their work lives. But both made decisions this year about their careers that helped alleviate some of that strain. And the easing of that tension permeated up to us and down to the Grands and made eveyone happier,more adaptable and less remote.
When our grown children were growing up and we took them on vacation [in, yes, Vermont], the success of those trips depended on how well or ill we were feeling about our work lives--whether a black cloud from the office followed us up the mountain and onto the hiking trails. But the center has shifted. It's now those children, grown up with children of their own, who set the tone for the vacation. And it isn't anything we can control by how big or small, convenient or inconvenient our vacation house is. The magic of a great vacation is in their hands now.