It's back to work, and not a minute too soon. Another week of family vacation and I'd be ready for the rest home. Who ever said vacations were relaxing anyway? No wonder the Europeans are so much less productive than Americans. It's not that they take off an average six weeks to our two, it's the time it takes to recover once they're back on the job that really slows their productivity.
This year, we took half our family -- two sons, one daughter-in-law, two granddaughters and my husband's mother -- to Wyoming for a week, which meant coordinating 24 pieces of luggage on six separate flights through four cities. We arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyo., only to discover that our rental car was waiting for us in Jackson, Miss., and the house we rented, which we'd been told was 15 minutes from town, was actually in the state of Idaho, an hour away over a 8,600-foot mountain pass.
The car rental agency managed to round up an SUV for us anyway, though they didn't bother to mention that the air conditioning worked for a maximum of two minutes at a time -- and then only if you pushed the AC button while simultaneously tapping out "Home on the Range" with the defroster button. By the time we got to our cabin, we were too hot and tired to care that the promised view of the Grand Tetons consisted of the backside of one tiny peak, barely visible through a thick cloud of smoke from the 28 active forest fires in the park.
On a normal day, I can wake up and be out the door in an hour or less. I always know where I'm going, and I don't have to consult with anyone. On family vacations it's a whole different story. First, there's the problem of wake-up time. With eight family members ranging in age from 14 months to 82 years, the first shift wakes up about the time the last shift has finally fallen asleep after watching scary movies all night. Even after everyone's awake and fed, no one can agree on what to do -- which doesn't stop us from heading out in our cars anyway, caravan fashion, with my husband in the lead.
For five days, we drove through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, from the Grand Tetons through Yellowstone, hoping to see a bear. Collectively, we managed to catch glimpses of a moose, several dozen elk and deer, a herd of buffalo, an antelope, a coyote, a peregrine falcon and the vice president's airplane, but no bear. The last time my husband and I vacationed in Wyoming, 35 years ago, the bears were so numerous they practically blocked the road in Yellowstone, but not this year. The closest we got was a tuft of bear fur left behind on a bush near our picnic table, which is just as well with two toddlers in tow.
No matter how old the kids get, even after they become parents themselves, the family vacation makes everyone revert to old patterns. We still argue over who gets to ride "shotgun" when we stop for lunch, and how many songs on the radio or CD each person gets to pick -- with the latter posing a special challenge on this trip. My 24-year-old son brought his collection of Eminem and Fifty Cent CDs, which was quite a cultural shock for this mom and dad. Thankfully, his grandma's new hearing aid wasn't working all that well, which didn't stop her from humming along to the more melodious tunes.
For all its difficulties, there was still something special about four generations gathered under one roof for a week. Even though we talk to our kids every day, see our grandkids at least once a week, and visit with our own mothers as often as we can, there's nothing like a few days of 24-hour contact to really get to know one another. It may not be the most relaxing way to spend a vacation, but family is its own reward.