Six Little Victories (and One Big One)

In George Carlin’s routine, he says that a house is just a place to keep your “Stuff.” “If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. Then you go vacation and have to come up with a smaller version of your house that fits into a couple of suitcases. Last weekend my family did just that. We packed enough of our stuff to fit into two cars and headed towards Lake Tahoe.

When you travel with seven people spanning three generations, some of the stuff you inadvertently pack is the baggage of interpersonal conflicts. No one knows how to push your buttons like family and there is little room for escape when you are together for a week straight. As a kid, the time was three times as long as we took marathon driving trips across the country. It is against all odds that someone was not left purposefully behind somewhere around North Dakota.

In the end, these trips worked and I remember being disappointed when they ended. Perhaps what my parents figured out was to not sweat the small stuff or they were really good at just ignoring the rest of us when their sanity depended on it. Maybe all the rough parts did not matter when balanced against the one little victory - the fact if you open your eyes, the close quarters of the family vacation can give you a glimpse into what makes your family strong.

The first little victory of this family vacation was noticed before it even began. A joint vacation with my parents is a family tradition that goes back to my first marriage when we lived on different coasts and vacation time was a chance for us to reconnect. This tradition has survived us all moving to California, a divorce, and new additions to my family.

The reaction that my wife usually gets when telling people that my mother is joining us on a vacation is one of sympathy. Fortunately, their relationship is not one that requires it. Perhaps due to experience, my mother seems to have a healthy respect for boundaries. This eliminates conflict and makes her participation an enhancement instead of a chore. It is also a great opportunity for quality time with her grandchildren.

The choice for this year’s vacation spot was a departure from our usual family trip. Past vacations have included ten-day trips to Disney World,  a roller coaster road trip that covered four parks and took us from New York to Ohio and a jammed packed sightseeing trip to Arizona. The only pre-planned part of this vacation was a day at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. Other than that, we simply had a five-night reservation on a mountain above the lake.

Any apprehension for this choice was alleviated somewhere after Sacramento. This is when the 16-year old put down the video game he was playing and looked out the window of the car. He then remarked how beautiful it was. To be sure, he has spent plenty of time during this trip in his digital world, but I will accept the victory in seeing any glimpse of the analog kid. After all, as my multitude of comments on my blog will attest, I have not exactly unplugged myself either.

Another one of our vacation traditions is for me to try to find an activity that my son and I can do together. The first of these activities was renting a Mouse Boat to speed across the huge lake in front of the Magic Kingdom in Florida as my oldest daughter and her mother swam with the fish at Epcot. We had discussed a couple of options for this trip, but it was not settled until he found a zip line course that he wanted to try. The Third Triplet immediately piped in that she was looking forward to joining us.

I have known the triplets since they were six and I have always had fun playing with the intellectual abilities of the Third One. She has an ability beyond her years to assimilate knowledge and I enjoy pushing her to look at it from different angles so that she can expand her opinions. As confident as she is with her brain, she is unsure of her physical abilities. It is a great challenge to not let her label herself as uncoordinated and, therefore, not try new physical challenges. For her to announce that she wanted to go zip lining was a big victory.

This was a two for one victory. Since the blending of our family, I have had a hard time moving my son beyond the “step” with both my wife and her daughters. I expected a big fight over the activity being more inclusive than we had planned. Instead, he just added her to the reservation.

The remaining two triplets could have given me their victories just by not totally freaking out on the trip. Their autism makes them crave the regular schedule and familiarity of home. For the most part, they have been troopers, but they exceeded expectations as we explored the lake.

After considering our options, we decided that a simple pedal boat would be the easiest craft for my wife and the triplets to maneuver. We also rented a kayak and the more adventurous teenager took out a stand up paddleboard, which of course he took to right away. We decided to give triplets one and two a chance to ride on the paddleboard with the teenager and, surprisingly, it went well. That is when I had the idea to go further and I could see right away by the look on her face that my wife did not share my enthusiasm.

The first one to try has trouble following directions that are not broken down to the simplest of details. She can also be incredibly lazy. It was, therefore, not easy to get her into a kneeling position where she could balance herself. Eventually, she did get there and even managed to get a few paddles in. One victory achieved.

Getting the second one to try was even harder as she was obsessing over the fact that her shorts were getting wet. However, we eventually got her into the kneeling position and then a standing position. This was a great achievement for her. To my surprise, the third triplet requested a try and achieved her own success. Another victory.

As this trip comes to its conclusion, I have seven new memories of the strengths of my family.  That is what makes it all worth it.