June 24, 2014

Posted by AmySanderMontanez at 8/8/2011 3:24 PM | View Comments (1) | Add Comment

July 26, 2011 Every other year, for thirty years now, my extended family (parents, siblings, spouses, significant others, and children) have gathered for a week at the beach.  I haven’t kept an accurate account, but I think this was our fifteenth reunion.  I remember a few before I had my soon-to-be twenty-five year old daughter, so I think we’ve been at this around thirty years.  Fifteen reunions.

I stopped calling them vacations about a decade ago.  Even though it might be the only week I had off for the summer, calling it vacation made me a little nuts.  When you come home from a week at the beach exhausted to the point of tears, and then you call that vacation, it just messes with your head.  Terming it reunion made my tears and exhaustion more justified.

Most years I would come home and wonder why we keep doing this.  Please hear this:  I love and respect my family.  I enjoy each of my three siblings and their spouses.  We travel to see each other many times in between reunions.  I adore my nieces and nephews.  But taking anywhere from 17-25 people to one place and trying to be together for a week just unglues me.  When the children were preschool age and after a particularly difficult week for all of us, (four differing parenting styles and grandparents’ ideas as well) we put our creative juices together and decided we would get a few side by side condos instead of one big house.  That helped. A lot.  We would gather in a different condo each evening for dinner, and we would eat out a couple of nights, too.

Herding cats is an accurate description of moving my family in one direction.  Everyone has a different idea of time and of being on time. One year after piling in cars and caravanning around Hilton Head trying to find a restaurant that could seat us, a nephew suggested a reality show entitled, “Twenty Idiots on an Island”!  Perfect.  Even so, it was good to visit and to watch the cousins begin to love and play with each other.  I especially enjoyed extra time with the two siblings that live farthest away.  Because I see them less, I would enjoy lingering over morning coffee, taking a long walk on the beach, or sharing a glass of wine after we got all the kids to bed.  I still came home utterly exhausted.

My father has never understood my ambivalence about this week.  He is an immigrant.  He knows the pain of families divided, and he luxuriates in his family being together.  Standing with his hands on his hips like the King of Siam, he sighs, “It doesn’t get any better than this” and smiles at me.  “It does for me, Dad, “ I say.  I’ve explained to him that I “do” relationships for a living, and that being in close quarters for a week and trying to “do” relationship with every family member just about puts me over the edge.  I want to do it.  I believe it’s important.  It just exhausts me.

This year we topped our numbers with 25 people.  The “kids” (cousins) range in age now from 13-25.  They all came and many are now bringing their significant others.  Two came all the way from California, and one significant other came from Denver, just to meet the family.  They all want to come.  “I wouldn’t miss it.  It’s so important.  It’s family.”  These are the words they say when I thank them for coming from such a long distance, for taking off of work or school, for bringing their friends.  I thank the visitors.  I say, “You’re brave.  It’s not easy joining this family for a week.”  They say, “It’s great.  You guys are fun.  I wish my family got together like this.”

One evening, while sitting on the couch with my sibs and watching the “grown” cousins and their friends squished hip to hip around a table, laughing and playing a game of Apples to Apples, I thought, “Look what we created.  Cousins who love each other and want to be together.  A deep sense of family that transcends our culture’s devaluing of it.  I can see the fruits of our labor. I am so grateful.”  My father had given a beautiful speech the night before. He reminded us all of how blessed we are.  He said he thought our family had two important qualities.  Strength and Unity.  He was right on all accounts.  He and my mother modeled and required that of us. I had the distinct sense that she was with us in that room, contented.

I didn’t see my cousins every other year.  They lived in Florida, we lived in New York. We didn’t gather and stay connected.  It wasn’t something we had the time or money to do.  So watching this living piece of art unfold this past week was, for me, holy ground.  I had the sense that all of those years of hanging in there, finding creative ways to make it easier, honoring people’s needs, respecting each person’s uniqueness, being honest, and just showing up because it was important have created something that is enduring, something that matters.

I don’t think I can call it “vacation” yet.  For me vacation involves silence, reading, and very few personal or time commitments.  But when I say “reunion” two years from now, I think it will reverberate within me in a new and different way.


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