“Summertime and the livin’ is easy…” So says the song. But even as you sit back, ready to relax, the kids come in, clamoring for action. They want to do something. So you start wracking your brain. If you’re game for something really challenging, I have a suggestion. But only if you’re sure you have the necessary patience and the fortitude because summertime or not, this ain’t gonna be easy.
My suggestion? A short family vacation. Short but extended. A vacation that will include the entire clan from old to young. Warning: This is not for the weak of heart.
Every summer we go on a family vacation. Our vacations are short – only two or three days – but comprehensive. They include everyone – from great-grandparents down to newborn babies. Married kids and their married kids. All the grandkids and great-grandkids and perhaps a cousin or two thrown in from some other side of the family plus an assortment of pets.
Every year come Pesach, the younger kids are already asking, “Where are we going this year?” while the adults promise to begin organizing as soon as Pesach is over. We never do get organized, however, until summer has actually arrived. This is a serious mistake because the rest of the country has already reserved every available vacation spot – hotel room, tzimmer, tent – by the dead of winter, many long months ago. Nonetheless, we begin, hoping against hope that we’ll find something fitting. After many long hours on the computer and countless cross-country phone calls and lots of siyatta d’Shmaya, year after year, at the last minute, we find somewhere to go. As I said, this is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted. If you’d like to try, here are a few tips.
WHEN: You must have a “time,” so pick a day(s) when everyone is available. No one is working, or learning, in the reserves, or studying for a test. Schools and yeshivot are closed, people can take off work, camp is over and all the kids’ social calendars are clear of other engagements. Everyone is healthy (at least at the time of planning) and there are no vital medical appointments that cannot be cancelled or rescheduled. If you think this is easy, you’re living in la la land and might as well stop reading now because you will discover that there is not a single day during the summer when everyone is free at the same time. It will take you time to digest this fact.
WHERE? Next on the agenda is to find a place. It must be big enough for your needs but small enough so you can afford it. You’ll want to rent an entire site because you don’t want strangers sharing your two-day paradise. It must be comfortable enough to be… well… comfortable. Pregnant and nursing mommies and slightly aging grandparents do not particularly enjoy sleeping in yeshiva dormitories, tents or army type barracks. It must be near enough so it’s not too far away (two hours traveling time each way is the limit with small children), but sufficiently removed from home so that it’s not in anyone’s back yard and the scenery is different. It should be near watering holes – lakes, springs, streams, wadis. Warning: During the summer months in Israel, all watering holes are jam full of people looking for watering holes.
ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS: First and foremost: a private swimming pool. A big one. A real tiled one, not one of these bogus plastic affairs they stick in a hole in the ground. It should have a jumping board and lots of grass and beach chairs and a fence around it for privacy.
AVAILABILITY: If you’ve succeeded in finding a time when most of the family can come (see #1 above), and a place that fills your needs (see #2 above), all you have to do now is see if it’s available. There are thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of vacation rentals in Israel. We look for rustic tzimmerim (rental cottages). Unfortunately, none are available on the dates you can come. As I said above, they’ve all been reserved and paid for long ago. But let’s say you’re lucky and actually find something, what’s next?
TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS: When the long-awaited day arrives and everything is packed up and ready to go, you can now decide who travels with whom in whose vehicle. We’ve tried all possible family traveling combinations: Grandparents with cousins; cousins with other cousins; uncles with boys; aunts with girls; babies in a car of their own. Family style where all kids go with their own parents. And guess what? Nothing makes everyone happy. So we drive a bit and then stop to change places. Moishe can now sit with Yosef; Nitzan can now move into Tamar’s car and Racheli can finally get a window seat. Until the next stop. It’s called Musical Cars.
THE ITINERARY: Do we stop to sightsee? After all, what’s the point of traveling if you aren’t going to see something? We can visit famous caves (too damp and dirty) or streams (too muddy and crowded) or waterfalls (a rarity in Israel’s summer). We can climb a mountain (too tiring), or just drive directly to our destination so everyone can get into the pool already. Once there, the old/new discussion arises. Which gender gets to swim first (we still differentiate between genders in our family even though it’s not politically correct). “The girls went first last year. Now it’s our turn,” shout the boys as they run out of the cars. But Bubby triumphs. She steps up and proclaims “Ladies First” and heads to the pool followed by a line of jubilant granddaughters.
PREPARATIONS: Food, food, food. Mothers do breakfast, lunch and in-betweens. (There are many in-betweens.) Fathers are responsible for barbecued dinners. Warning: Everyone is always hungry on vacation. Bring a sufficient supply of paper plates!
If all of the above does not seem overly daunting or formidable, go ahead and try your luck. If you succeed in making all the arrangements in less than five full working days, a month’s worth of telephone calls, and endless WhatsApps, you have accomplished a wondrous feat. And if you ended up somewhere that makes everyone happy, before you leave the premises, reserve it immediately for the following summer because by next Pesach, it will surely be full and you’ll have to start all over again.
Is it worth all the effort for a two-three day vacation? The answer is a resounding YES! The pool is wonderful; the burnt barbecues are delicious; the kids have a ball with their cousins; and the ones who couldn’t possibly make it because of previous arrangements somehow find time to show up for an evening or an afternoon to join the fun. The adults can finally sit back on the grass, relax and enjoy being together. If they put away their cellphones, it’s truly a “summertime and the livin’ is easy” experience. It is weaving the fabric of family and the making memories for the years to come. It’s priceless. If you can possibly pull it off, go for it and have a Happy Summer! (Just make sure you keep your eyes on the kids in the water!!!)