There is something heartwarmingly inclusive about vacationing with grown kids and their kids, especially when they don't live near you. After weeks or months between weekend visits, Poof! you are an immediate part of their family life. It is family life at its best--on vacation and free from the scheduling pressures of soccer practice, math homework and piano lessons, to say nothing of parental work schedules, obligations and deadlines.
For the past several summers, our family has met up in Vermont, cooled by the mountain air and refreshed by the green countryside. This year our daughter and her family couldn't make it (they spent the summer on the West Coast), and Paterfamilias faced personal vacation difficulties. A back problem was affecting his usual mobility. We would not bring our bicycles, as we usually did. The tennis racquets were lugged along but the reality of their use was iffy. Hiking would clearly be a challenge. Without these usual activities, what, we asked each other, would we do in Vermont?
We learned to do nothing and enjoy it. With condos rented in the same complex, the grand kids and our grown kids to say nothing of PF and myself could wander back and forth to visit each other. We wandered down to the swimming pool to watch them swim and splash around ourselves, we watched them play fast and furious games of soccer tennis on the resort's tennis courts and we wander down to the mountain brook to skim rocks and cool our feet in the cold water. We played board games and did crossword puzzles at their place; they brought their books to read at ours. PF and I felt bathed in the warmth of familial affection, of being incorporated into the day-to-day functioning of our son's family.
Therein lies the heart of this particular tale. It's so easy for that bubble of warmth to pop--and not because of anything we did or said (though there is always the potential for that). This time it was a disagreement between our son and daughter-in-law over whether their 16-year-old son and his friend, who had come to Vermont for a two-day visit, should be allowed to jump from the top of a waterfall into a rock encased, fresh-water swimming hole. (See above)
We were not in attendance--we were sitting it out at our condo because of PF's back limitations. But we had hiked down to this particular spot in past years and had been there when three teen-age boys climbed the rocks and jumped off that waterfall into the dark, pooled water. It was heart-stopping to watch--and pretty scary for the boys, too. It seemed to be a rite of passage of some kind.
This year, when the two 16-year-olds--our Grand and his friend--wanted to jump, our DIL was against it, arguing that not only was it risky for her son but she was responsible for returning the friend to his parents unharmed. Our son was on the "rite of passage" side. The boys jumped. All returned home safely but our DIL was deeply angry at her son's father.
We stayed out of the dispute--because we weren't there and because we shouldn't butt in, but the family discord cast its pall.
For us as parents, there is nothing pleasant about bearing witness to an argument between your child and his or her spouse, especially a dispute that runs deep, has right and wrong on both sides and stakes that are higher than they appear. It drained the warmth out of the last day of our vacation together.
It was also a reminder of how parenting teens is such a rocky experience. It brought back memories of tensions between PF and me during our kids' adolescence. The details and subject matter of the fights are hazy but I recall clearly the desperation of the moments: I felt like we were fighting over the future of our children.
I also remember this: When our kids went off to college and the house was eerily empty, the fighting stopped. Our kids were launched. PF and I no longer had anything to argue about.
Our son and his family are home now and back to their routines. The Grands--two teens and a 9-year-old--are heading back to school. Soccer practice is in play, so are parental deadlines. I haven't asked but I am sure my son and DIL have moved on from the waterfall fight. I feel I should tell them that there will be more and possibly worse battles to come--and then the kids will be grown up and parental angst will melt into pleasure.