Family vacations both trick and treat

For six years running, our brood has met up for a long weekend somewhere in the fall. Such intense togetherness not only builds character but creates a wonderful treasury of embarrassing stories to repeat at holiday gatherings.

This year, unpacking at a lake house in Michigan that we rented for three days, a five-year-old grand opens her little suitcase and screams upon discovering roaches covering her clothes. Her mother lunges forward and sees the roaches are plastic—but fantastic lookalikes for the real thing.

Rolling my bag into the room where my husband and I will stay, I notice a six-foot snakeskin draped across the bed pillows. I turn to our 12-year-old grandson lingering in the doorway and say, “Rat snake? I like it!”

Clearly, he had hoped for a more terrifying reaction. He forgets I helped raise his father.

“Why not put the snakeskin with your plastic roaches?” I ask.

The yard behind the house slopes to a lake with a narrow ribbon of sandy beach. Trees ring the lake with crimson, yellow and orange splashed against a deep blue sky.

A son-in-law and herd of kids race down the hill and into the cold water for a polar plunge. This is followed by screaming, chest thumping and fist pumping.

The youngest ones prefer adventures with more sedate adults in a pedal boat trolling close to shore, collecting tiny shells that look like former homes to miniature snails. These treasures will be found throughout our stay, piled on kitchen counters, the dinner table and beside every bathroom sink.

There is a steady back and forth of pedal boats and kayaks leaving and returning at the water’s edge. It is the first time kayaking for one brave soul. She recently turned 8, is diminutive in size, but undaunted in spirit. She watched the others come and go when we were here several years ago. Now it is her turn.

She straps on a life jacket, climbs in a red kayak, grasps the paddles and someone gives her a shove. Just like that – she’s off. And that’s exactly how it will happen. The younger ones will watch the older ones spread their wings, leave home, fan out, and then do likewise. No doubt that day will arrive with jaw-dropping speed.

On our last afternoon at the lake, four of us are out in kayaks, myself and the older grands. They glide through the water with grace and speed.

Day draws to a close, the sun sinks and twilight yields to dusk. A dad voice on shore shouts, “Time to come in.”

I catch myself before shouting back, “Can’t we stay out a little longer?” I’m the classic over-indulged birthday girl who doesn’t want the party to end.

I can’t contradict one of the dads, but I can paddle slower, soaking in the sights and sounds, etching them into my memory.

We returned home and have resumed our regular routines. But each day I find a part of me still on that lake as evening falls, gazing at the strapping young adults paddling in front of me, silhouetted against the last remnants of light, gliding, gliding, farther and farther away.

I don’t know when that day is coming, but I do know this: Today is a good day.

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