Almost 20 years ago my 3 sisters and a few close family friends decided to rent a house on the beach and spend a week chilling out. It was an experiment of sorts. We were in our thirties and just beginning to coast after checking off the milestones of education, marriage, and children. It was a bit of a leap to spend our precious vacation dollars and time on an unknown.
Did we really want to have that many people in one house?
Turns out, we did.
We had no idea it would morph into an anchor for upwards of 30 people.
Each year there’s a new mark on the Beach-Week-Kid growth chart
One of our youngest, Nan, was 5 the first year. This year she had to leave early to get back for her third year of college. My son required line-of-sight supervision around the pool and now we send him on booze runs. His next gold star will come when he can legally drive the rental car. It also means the booze runs are more for his generation than mine.
And about the booze: some of our group has been to rehab or should go to rehab and some of us have never been drinkers. It all works. Not necessarily always smoothly … there was the year someone had their AA sponsor over for dinner and one of the founding members, who was not a drinker, inadvertently over-served herself.
Talk about awkward …
It’s the highest ranking Most Bizarrely Funny memory.
There was the year the testosterone torch passed from the Founders to the Sons. This awful ritual played out in a modern-day joust of brutal pool football. One by one the moms got out of the pool and watched with an uncomfortable mix of curiosity and fear. We reached the realization almost simultaneously: This was the boys-to-men year.
If you have a son, consider this a note from the future. The day is coming when your son will feel the urge to claim his spot among the men. Manage your fears and get out of his way.
We are still thankful no one ended up in the emergency department after that peacock display
Don’t misunderstand: There were wounds, it’s just that the ED does broken bones, not mangled egos.
We have seen some
We have eaten some badly Burnt Pork Chops
Each member has experienced the cruelties of life. We’ve seen the passing of a parent(s) or loved ones, we’ve had colon, throat, and breast cancer, Bell’s Palsy, inpatient rehab, divorce, bilateral ruptured quadriceps tendons, job loss, financial struggles, retirement, children coming out, starting a business, not getting into school, getting asked to leave school, breakups, make ups, kids moving as far away as Korea …
And of course we’ve had marriages, there are a grandchild and another on the way, too many graduations to count, promotions, and thankfully, cancer cures. When your child has their high school band, orchestra, or chorus trip – guess who shows up? We’ve traveled as far as Italy to watch one of the kids sing.
It’s a big week. Maybe even a hard week.
Sometimes, after leaving you are secretly saying to yourself “Never again. Those people are crazy.” Notice, they are no longer your family. You get home, your friends ask about your vacation and you lie through your teeth, correctly navigating the rules of social behavior “It was great, we had a great time, the water was great, the beach was great, the meals were great, it was the greatest great of all the greats ….” Before that last syllable is finished your brain is back to working out why you think sticking a needle in your eye is better than signing up for next year. But …
Are you there the next year?
Now we know how important it is to protect this safe zone and embrace each member, morning breath and all. What once may have gotten you kicked off the island is now “nuthin but a thang.” In fact, the only crime that might get you ousted is being a jerk about another person’s jerkiness.
Middle age has taught us that wanting to stick a needle in your eye says more about you than the people in your tribe. (This is not the essay to explore that precept, but let me assure you: if you don’t eventually quit scanning the environment for needles you will be the one to suffer, and most likely you will suffer alone.)
The Spanish have a word for what happens after a meal when people linger at the table sharing stories, laughing, giving of themselves and bonding.
It’s called “Sobremesa”.
And that’s what our Beach Week is. It’s a week-long sobremesa. We reconnect, we laugh, we eat, drink, eat again, swim, surf, play tennis, golf, bike, walk, play Pokemon GO, nap, see the sights, dance, there’s Scrabble, Bananagram, Set, we eat again … It is all sobremesa. It’s the best week of the year.
And it’s available to everyone: you don’t so much find your family as you ignore the needles in the family you already have. You don’t need a beach or an expensive house, although I’m certain the serenity of the beach and a palatial bathroom help. You need to show up on time and be nice while you’re there, contribute what your God-given talents allow, and most importantly, you need to get out of the way.
This is not about you. It’s about the family. It’s sobremesa time.