So Molly and the kids (5M and younger) and I were on vacation last week. Did you miss us? (OK, strike that question; I learned long ago not to ask questions I don't want to know the answers to). We went to the same cabin Up North that Molly and I stayed at for our 25th Anniversary Second Honeymoon. It was our first family vacation in three years, and only our second since 1996, so it was well-appreciated, and probably more than a little overdue.
Our being there actually had a certain ironic twist to it. The cabin's owner, who is a friend of ours, offered our family the gift of his cabin to honor 4M, because 4M had, over the years, done quite a few odd jobs for him, including a few weekends 'opening up' and 'closing down' the cabin at the beginning and end of the season. And also to honor 4M for his recent high-school graduation, with high honors. And of course, we were duly grateful. But last week was the only one which would work for our family's schedule, and also the owner's. And last week, 4M was on his mission trip to the Dominican Republic. So 4M didn't actually participate in our friend's gift to our family in his honor. Such is life, I guess. . .
Weather-wise, I suppose you could say that we were a bit star-crossed. Except for the Sunday at the beginning of our week, and the Saturday we returned home, the weather would best be described as crappy. It rained all day Monday, and the rest of the week was cool and gray and overcast, and threatening rain. But it really didn't keep us from much. To the extent that it 'forced us inside', we turned it into family game-time, which wound up being really happy for us; we really had some nice fun together (not unmixed with copious quantities of bickering, but I'm aiming at accentuating the positive here). 5M turns out to be a pretty darned good Scrabble player, and 7M won the weekly Yahtzee series (though I gotta tell ya, it'll be a while before I'll be ready to play Scrabble or Yahtzee again. . .) And we threw in a few card games (mostly Hearts), just for variety. . .
Our cabin was not far from the Cross in the Woods, a sweet little Catholic shrine tucked away in the northwoods of Michigan. We went to Mass there on Sunday, and a couple other times during the week. There is also a small 'side shrine' to the Holy Family, which touches a special place in my heart, and Molly's. The Holy Family sculpture there is just a lovely piece of artwork, and evocative of all manner of familial grace and love, most especially of a husband/father's care for his wife and children, so I bought a miniature copy of it to keep on our dinner table back home. Just to remind us all of the love that's supposed to be at the heart of our family (and when family life gets, um, intense, we just ask Mary and Joseph to pray for us, that our family can be holy like theirs was). At least, that's the theory. . .
We also drove to the Upper Peninsula (in part because 8M had never crossed the Mackinac Bridge) (but the UP is just a cool place to visit, in its own right). About 15 miles west of the bridge, there's a spot where US-2 runs right along a beautiful sandy Lake Michigan beach for a couple miles, so we stopped there. I just waded in the surf, but all four of the kids couldn't wait to dunk themselves in the big lake. The air temperature might have been 65F; the water temperature might have been about the same. It was one of those days where the water initially feels icy-cold as it touches your toes, but five minutes later, it's perfectly comfortable (or maybe you just get numb; I don't know). Anyway, we spent about an hour there at the roadside beach, the kids body-surfing and splashing in the waves, and me wishing I'd had the foresight to bring my swimsuit along (*sigh*). . .
Another day, we took a short drive to Ocqueoc Falls (that's pronounced OCKY-ock, for you non-locals), which is the only significant waterfall in the Lower Peninsula, and really, one of the hidden treasures of our state. There are three significant sections of the falls, over roughly a half-mile of river, and each falls has a little pool dammed off below it, making for nice little 'swimming holes', of which our kids were only too happy to avail themselves, which included jumping off the falls (all of maybe four feet) into the pool below (I'm actually a little surprised that some lawyer hasn't told Presque Isle (presk EEL) County to tear out the stone dams, and forbid swimming near the falls; which is part of what makes it a hidden treasure). We had actually visited Ocqueoc Falls on our last family vacation, but it had been 90F that day, and the, uh, bracingly cool water of the Ocqueoc River had been most refreshing. On a 70F cloudy day, however, it was mostly just cold (at least to my aging bones; the kids were just fine).
I took my bike with me, and got in a couple rides of 30-or-so miles. And I want to tell you, Up North Michigan has some hills the likes of which we simply don't have around OurTown. I got down into gears that are mostly for show on my usual routes, but Up North, they were eminently practical. I hadn't seen hills like that since the last time I rode DALMAC (well, there was that one on Mackinac Island). Nice to know I can still climb 'em, though. . .
On a more 'personal' level, 6F 'borrowed' Molly's cell phone, and learned how to send text messages to her friends back in OurTown. Molly bought some kind of Giant Super-Saver pack of Twizzlers for the kids, and what they all remember is that 5M got a chunk of Twizzler stuck in his throat, and ended up puking to get it dislodged. And 8M cut his foot most bloodily on a zebra-mussel shell.
So, all in all, we wish the weather had been nicer (and the brilliantly sunny departure Saturday just seemed cruel), but we had a good time. Our family needed the time together, away from our 'normal routine'. We're in a bit of a 'transition time' right at the moment - 4M is heading off to college in the fall, and even though he'll be living at home with us, he's transitioning out of the family, and into a more independent life. So 5M is transitioning into the role of 'oldest' among the kids still 'fully at home'. 6F is transitioning into 'High School Girl' (which Molly and I are still trying to wrap our minds around), and we're also realizing that our 'little kids' are 11 and 7. So it's good to sort-of 'reset the levels' for the updated family configuration.
But mostly, it's good for us to be together, learning how to love one another better. Our kids can bicker like world champions (I blame Molly and me for being emotionally high-pitched in the first place; so our poor kids get both our DNA and our less-than-fully-helpful example), but they also love each other, and they're getting better at asking for and giving each other forgiveness (now if they could only start treating each other so as not to require asking forgiveness in the first place. . .). When you get to the bottom of it, family vacations are all about the us-ness of Us. We know each other better than anyone else knows any of us, and it's just nice (mostly) to just be Us together. . .