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Growing up, we took a vacation every summer. My mother acted as the alarm clock, imploring groggy children to shower and brush their teeth. We had packed suitcases the night before and my father had already loaded them in the station wagon or minivan. The only thing missing at 5 a.m. were the travelers.
Seven of us made the annual pilgrimage to various battlefields, Freedom Trails and beaches in those jam-packed cars.
But time crept forward. The two oldest siblings started work and college. Still, my parents packed up the three youngest and headed South, East or West. But the cracks in the foundation were visible by then, signaling the ritual would soon crumble.
Like those beautiful sunsets we watched over ocean beaches, the end of an era was fading into the horizon. My siblings married, creating their own families, their own traditions. I moved away for college, came home for law school and then moved away again for work. There was no special decree declaring the end of childhood. Life’s rearview mirror revealed it ended when those family vacations ceased – when everyone became too busy to spend time away from the lives we were creating.
But like the sunset, the tradition was hiding, waiting to be discovered when the night faded. We tried again this year. We had increased our number from seven to 22, and our vehicles from one to five. An enormous house welcomed us, unprepared for the noise my family can create and the large personalities that had developed. Jokes, laughter, chairs scraping against the floor, blenders and the sound of seven hyper-charged children under age 10 mixed to rival an airport runway.
The noise and chaos sometimes forced me to disappear with a book. It’s odd that you need to pull away from people to truly appreciate them. Instead of focusing on the book, I found myself in reflection. How far we had all come since those first family vacations. Five children, each with a completely different personality, spun from the family web my parents created.
My sisters are organizers. They make up the oldest and youngest members of the flock. The oldest is the unquestioned leader, even when we question it. The youngest is the reminder, ensuring no one forgets a date or a duty. The oldest boy takes carefree to another level, showing us how to handle stress. The middle boy provides the comedy. His instant wit is unmatched, to my frustration.
I guess I’m the moderator of the group. Each person operates independently, but when the five of us are together trying to recapture a little of the childhood we lost, it is obvious that we have thrived because of each other.
The waves of the ocean crashed against the shore, taking a layer of sand each time. It’s the same as the years. They pass, stripping away the childhood we remember. It happens gradually, in tiny unnoticeable chunks, until you look down and attempt to fathom what happened to the last 20 years.
For one week this summer, I re-created my childhood. Happy or sad, good or bad, we were together. The children and significant others only amplify that intense feeling of intimacy. The organism that is my family has absorbed each new person and grown into a being even greater than the seven of us originally were.
Life may affect our future trips. Illness, commitments and emergencies occur. But our days spent with family are the moments we will remember and cherish.