Sunday, May 22, 2011

Family Reunions: “If baby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”

Once a grandmother (who shall remain nameless) planned a reunion while a son-in-law was studying to take the bar exam.  He couldn’t attend. Bad form.

Another time, she set the date right so her children and grandchildren could see each other after several years.  One young couple drove to Idaho from Texas with boys ages four and two years old, and three months; a couple with a pregnant mommy and an 18-month-old flew from Chicago, and a local couple brought children ages 6 and one.

Most of the family enjoyed camping, so Grandma had reserved campsites and planned menus and activities.  But two weeks before the reunion, she started worrying that the campsites weren’t big enough for the entire group—and then there was her husband’s aversion to camping. So she reserved a nearby cabin for her husband and herself.

I won’t attempt to describe what the three young couples and their single siblings endured that August night—the sulfur-scented lightning flashing on Redfish Lake, the thunder that shook the tents (though the babies did their utmost to block it out by screaming), the waterfalls cascading down the insides of tents (and sleeping bags), the curses that rang out against the grandparents sleeping peacefully several miles away, and I certainly won’t mention the truly miserable moments.

The next night, the baby and his parents slept in the cabin while Grandpa and Grandma took the tent. The morning-sick mommy was installed in a quickly-rented lodge room, and the third family spent another wet night in their tent, nearly resulting in divorce proceedings.

Three years have passed. The little ones are doing fine, aside from a few minor tics and the tendency to scream whenever they smell pine—ah, the resilience of youth! The parents are still in therapy, but perhaps by the time Grandma’s on her deathbed, they’ll speak to her.

The lessons: 1) Schedule your reunion around the most distant or busy family members, perhaps piggy-backed to another big event such as a wedding or a class reunion.  2) “If baby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” 3) Follow the Golden Rule and keep accommodations equal. 4) At reunions, Murphy’s Law is in force with a vengeance.  Excellent—not just good—planning is the only chance we have in the battle against everything that goes wrong.

Lula Sellers and Bonnie Badger, who have planned many reunions for their respective families, gave great advice on locations.

Lula suggested having a one-day reunion near home. (If renting lodgings is financially prohibitive, this is the best option. Or, have the reunion only every two or three years.)

You could fish local streams, or get a boat for water fun at Lake Lowell, Lucky Peak, Eagle Island or Black Canyon Dam.   Take in Treasure Valley tourist sites—Oregon Trail sites in Parma, Middleton and Boise, museums, Bruneau Dunes, the Snake River Birds of Prey area, the Idaho Capitol Building, the Old Penitentiary, and the Boise tour train. Visit local parks, pools or amusement and water parks.

If you want to get away, or if it’s a family tradition to go somewhere new, mention that you want a family discount as you try other options:  church, educational or youth camps; cabins, lodges, motels, resorts, guest ranches, condominiums, RV parks, cruise companies, community centers, convention centers, visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce.

Wherever you go, Bonnie says having water nearby provides instant entertainment for nearly all ages.  Bonnie is planning her family’s reunion at a unique Idaho site: Campus Grove, at Albion in Southern Idaho. The historic dormitory from the “Albion Normal School” accommodates up to 100 people. It’s 12 miles off of I-84, and the City of Rocks is a great side-trip. The building features 15+ bedrooms, a kitchen and dining area, large gathering rooms and a spacious lawn.  The nearby mountains are lovely.

So: use dates that work best for hard-to-schedule family members, and do your best to find the best possible spot. Then plan like crazy to make it work for everybody (not just for Grandma!)  

(And by the way, I’ve learned from my mistakes.  If anything like this ever happens again, I’ll be smart enough to get out before the kids find the tar and feathers!)

1 comment:

  1. I remember positive memories made from that reunion, too. But some of the situations still make me giggle.