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What Do You Get for Grandkids or Greats When You’re 60, 70, 80, 90?

August 19, 2014

Mom had a small birthday bucket list wish for her 90th birthday. She knew her grandchildren and great grandchildren wouldn’t have a huge amount of fun at the cake, punch and ice cream reception in the dining hall of her retirement apartment complex. She also knew how difficult it is to entertain a passel of kids without them doing things they aren’t supposed to do (drown, skateboard/bike on the sidewalks, get lost, get carried away playing pool, wreck property).

So she wanted to do “something fun” the day after for the grandkids (and by now we have greats and great greats in this growing family).

We ran through the options and had at first settled on a day trip to Chicago 100 miles away by train, to avoid driving. Group tickets could be obtained for a decent price and we would visit Chicago’s Navy Pier where there is a huge, grand, Ferris wheel, and wild fast boat rides available on Lake Michigan.

P1060103Chicago 2004: Daughter Michelle, Mom (at 80), Doreen, Tanya, sister Nancy, her grandson Jacob.

P1060107(Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan on the Seadog Extreme Thrill ride, which went so fast my Dad had to hold on to his hat.)

Some of us had made this trip by car for her 80th birthday when Dad was still living and had a splendid time, except for the drive home from Chicago in rush hour. (Not so fun.)

P1050094

P1060109

(Dad and Mom look on as grandchildren Michelle, Doreen, and great grand Brittney, light 80 candles at Mom’s 80th birthday, 2004)

We topped that day off though with a birthday cake back at home in which my father insisted we make a last minute run to a store to buy candles to put 80 candles on her cake, and light them. All. Which we did. (No mean feat.)

So Mom wanted a repeat visit to Chicago with more of the family and a Ferris wheel ride and boat ride.

Backstory & logistics for planning a group family vacation: Dad, in the early 1990s, had also come up with the idea of giving the family, in lieu of Christmas presents, a summer vacation together every other year, at scenic, and entertaining locations. He said instead of making us drive to Indiana (which, let’s face it, is a great place to be from, but not that great with touristy destinations)—why not all go to someplace scenic, different, and with large vacation cabins available where all or most of us could stay together for a couple of days. Zillions of families do this, I know, and I was so glad Dad started this tradition for our family. We went to the Smokies a couple of times (centrally located for us) where we navigated several whitewater rafting trips, the beach (Florida and North Carolina, including snorkeling) and the Rockies (rafting the Arkansas River), among other destinations over the years. Mom and Dad provided the lodging and in the beginning, money for all food (cooked in the cabins, all taking turns) and one dinner out; but eventually as the family grew (and cabin rental went up) us kids took on the food expenses. We also always paid our own ways for entertainment or activities like the rafting.  It was a way for our far flung family to stay connected, at least every other year. As our families grew, it also became harder and harder to pick a date and work around the varying demands of jobs, so gradually we got used to the idea that not everyone could come even every other year. So those who could come, did, and those who couldn’t, just missed out. No guilt. Mom and Dad sometimes sent those who missed out the money they would have spent on our vacation.

So this year when Mom had serious surgery in late April, all plans and bets were temporarily laid aside for a post-90th birthday party family excursion. Her recovery looked promising though so we knew we could still have some kind of party. But all of us getting up the next day to drive 45 minutes to a train station by 6:30 a.m. looked a little, er, daunting.

We ran through other options: the zoo, the Indiana Dunes (on Lake Michigan), a park with a swimming pool, an afternoon of mini-golf. Everything seemed like a “been there, done that” option.

Then Mom saw an advertisement for Indiana Beach, a small amusement park about 2 hours away in Monticello, almost in the middle of nowhere. Getting there wouldn’t be difficult traffic-wise, although in the end my one daughter, husband and 8-month-old decided not to go because of the long car trip (on top of having driven to Indiana from Virginia). There was a Ferris wheel and a boat excursion, both on Mom’s birthday bucket list. Then Mother came up with the idea that she would give the park fee as this year’s Christmas present for all who could make it. Sweet!

So, the day after her party, some 25 of us headed to Indiana Beach. A day which could have been miserably hot at the end of July was just right. There was no rain, and Mom (with the help of a wheelchair) enjoyed the day to the max.

I would say it was a toss up on who enjoyed the day more:

This trio?P1060090

Mom and two step great grandchildren on the Shafer Queen

Or this one?

3greatnephewsThree of my great nephews on the Skycoaster (Photo courtesy of Katie Gross)

I know this little one won’t really remember it, but his parents will tell him about his first amusement park, his “first carousel ride.”

P1060086

Jon, Sam and Tanya on the carousel

There were surprises, too: Mom’s favorite ride turned out not to be the rather sedate Ferris wheel (and not at all swingy) in gondola type buckets …FerrisWheelRide

Stuart, Mom, me and Doreen in Ferris wheel gondola (Photo courtesy of Pert Shetler)

but the park-crossing Skyride where legs swung free and no belts chained us in (like a ski lift). It was a little scary even for me (maybe cause I was in charge of a 6-year-old step great-nephew at that point), but it was Mom’s pick of the day.

skilift

Daughter Doreen and Mom on Skyride (Photo courtesy of Pert Shetler)

Like the old melancholy Jim Croce song says, maybe all we have are “photographs and memories” of a July day spent at a pretty ordinary Indiana amusement park, but the bonding that happens through such efforts to get together and be together are less tangible. When I look back over the summers when our family was able to get together, I know that when families are separated by many miles, these summer holidays planned by my parents were the only times my children could get to know their cousins.

 P1060011Second cousins meeting second cousins for the first time

P1060004 First cousins getting together after not seeing each other since Mother’s Day. Great Aunt Pert in back.

Many of us would rather spend time together than find room in our overstuffed houses for another sweater, do-dad or necktie from a Christmas gift exchange.

P1060094

And I so much enjoyed getting to know this great nephew, Brady, and his older sister, Kristin, who came along on the trip even though their parents could not: he was full of inquisitive questions that revealed his fears and longings (especially about the rides!) and not just full of mischief. That was a gift to me, and a reminder and takeaway that children, and the adults who love them, are always deeper than they look on the surface.

Not a bad bucket gift for me. Thanks, Mom (and thanks to the great tradition initiated by Dad). And thanks to all the in-laws and other loved ones who help make very special times happen.

 P1060091Me and Mom (Photo courtesy of the boat attendant, his offer)

More vacation shots

P1060102Son-in-law Jon feeding his son Sam at our cabin.

P1060084This little trooper took on the park. (Grandson Sam)

P1060028

This little sweetie opted for other activities. (James with his mommy, Michelle)

***

How do you get together as a family? I admit it isn’t easy and takes some master calendar finagling, communication, and just plain hard work to make it happen. But so worth it. Don’t you think?

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From → Family Life

7 Comments
  1. Your family has a well-oiled fun machine with your mother as Funster # 1. And how lucky they all are to have you to document with details and photos all of our excursions and celebrations.

    When our children were small, we got together with family in Elizabethtown, driving or taking Amtrak from Florida to PA. Hershey Park and white-water rafting too are among our family get-togethers. Our most recent get-together was a sad time, but family members flew or drove to celebrate the home-going of my mother. Every family was represented at short notice.

    I hope your mother reads these posts. How gratifying for her!

    • I print out most posts and send them to my mother, the old fashioned way! I’m not sure they all feel lucky to have me documenting things … in fact sometimes they say “look out, you may get quoted.”
      We had looked forward to taking the train, but had to go with plan B, and then C. Your recent get together after your mother’s passing was not in the immediate plans but even such occasions can bring siblings and others together in good ways. I’m sure your mother was honored.

  2. Caro-Claire permalink

    Hi Melodie
    I just loved reading your “Documentary” on this wonderful family expedition to celebrate the 90th birthday bucket list excursion with your mom and so many family members.
    I am sure in years to come, your family will be glad that you recorded the time together both with your pictures and words. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. A “documentary” eh? Good name for it! Mom has a photo album filled with pictures from all of them, it is a favorite to look through, for sure. I need to send her some!

    • Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

      I am sure that your mom would enjoy the recent pictures to add to her album . She would likely spend a lot of time just looking at them often and reliving each one as she does.
      It seems these day so of digital photography that most of the time the pix are in some folder on the puter
      . I too have many, many albums from the days of film and you still can’t beat sitting down with one of them and reliving the moments and memories that each one holds.
      I must admit I haven’t had a lot of pix printed out myself these past few years, mainly because of the time it takes to take them in and stay at a machine to log them in for printing
      . I know you can do that from home but until recently we were still living in the country and only had dial up internet. SLOW!

  4. Right to all of the above!! I must get this done for mom soon. Thx.

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