7 Things I Learned On Family Vacation

Today is the last day of our family vacation in Florida. My family consists of one husband, one biological son (age 18 – a legal drinking adult in my province), a stepson (age 17), and a stepdaughter (age 10). We are visiting my mother-in-law (a widow who just purchased property for the winters in Florida but who lives with my family in the summertime), and my father and his girlfriend, who have been snowbirds in Florida for a few years.

We split up my family between these two homes to accommodate us all easier – my husband and his two children with his mother, and me and my son with my dad and his girlfriend. They live 20 minutes apart, but we have two vehicles and get us all together each day.

It is an 8 day vacation, that really feels more like two weeks…which is great when you are on vacation in a hot climate.

As I contemplate my last days here, and knowing I haven’t blogged in a while, the thing that is on my mind the most is the learning experience all of this has been.

Here are the 7 things I’ve learned while on this vacation…

7. The damp Florida heat really is good for my Rheumatoid Arthritis and my energy levels. Living in a place that sees -30 degree temperatures during winter and is 3500 feet above see level really takes it’s toll on a girl like me.

6. The people in the USA are very nice people, especially in the service industry. Jobs are so plentyful in Alberta where we live, that they are taken for granted so much so that it is often diffucult to get a smile or “have a nice day” from anyone working there. It’s so refreshing to be appreciated as a customer. Some places we shopped at treated us like superstars.

5. Huge theme parks are highly overrated. We went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure this week. Tickets cost $96US each, meals were average of $15US each, and everything else that you could possibly need was extra, such as waterproof ponchos, people-dryers, photos with comic heros, etc. The average wait for rides was at least 1 hour. To purchase Express Passes for all of us would have cost an extra $50, and that was after 4pm. We spent the WHOLE day and evening there and the most rides any of us took was 6. It was fun, and we appreciated that fact that we got to go but…we’ve been there now, and done that – but couldn’t afford the T-shirts.

4. Interests and personalities are most definitely inherited genes. My husband’s two children LOVE being in the water, whether it’s in a pool, at the beach, or on some crazy water ride at a theme park. So does my husband. My son would rather sit on the sidelines basking in the sun (or in his case, texting his friends back home). Same with me. I don’t like being in the water. It takes me too long to do my hair, and I have a phobia of pool germs.

3. Family is so very valuable. My husband and I lost parents in the last few years – I lost my mother on Christmas Day four years ago, and my husband lost his father three years ago on December 29. The deaths of our parents have really helped us to appreciate and cherish our surviving parents so much more since. Yes, we all have our quirks and idiosyncrosies that are, at times, unpallatable, but that’s okay…they keep each of us interesting and unique. I’ve also learned regarding family, that we can only do so much to help in certain situations. One family member wasn’t able to join us and he had a really crappy Christmas this year. We wish things were different for him. We love him and want good things for him but sometimes we just can’t help.

2. We have some pretty great kids. Yes, they don’t clean up after themselves enough. Yes, they love to annoy and torment their mother. Yes, they give dirty looks when you ask them to do something. Yes, they smell sweaty and their breath stinks a little too much at times. Yes, they are on their phones way too much. Yes, they make gluttens of themselves with unhealthy junk food. And yes, it’s pretty hard to get the mattresses of their backs in the mornings. But, they are respectful, involved, well-behaved, polite, happy, well-adjusted individuals who have great personalities and senses of humour. I really love being around them (when they aren’t tormenting me) and cherish them because they are growing up way too fast.

1. My husband and I have separate bedrooms at home. We have for our entire married life. We have a difficult time sleeping together because of our different bedtimes, sleeping patterns, snoring, restless leg syndrome, and my RA. But being in different houses while on vacation is not the same. I miss him terribly. Even though I see him everyday, I miss sharing our lazy mornings together…having our coffee, surfing the net, getting the news, hugging each time we walk by each other. Being away from him this week has reinforced the fact that he is the ONLY person I can and want to spend the rest of my nights and mornings with. Even if they are in separate bedrooms.

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Chiming in on Christmas

I’ve never felt so unsure about Christmas. I mean, I’m sure there IS a Christmas, but I’m not sure WHAT it is…to me, anyway.

I grew up in Newfoundland, and in my little family, there were clear and steadfast rules when it came to our Christmasses. Mom and Dad always put up and decorated the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and it always came down on January 6, or Old Christmas Day.

There was no opening of gifts on Christmas Eve, but my Dad was the first one up Christmas morning, usually before the break of dawn, to wake Mom, my brother, and me up so he could take pictures on a real old-fashioned camera. Being a parent myself now, I know the joy of watching children opening the gifts they wished for but weren’t really expecting.

My parents split when I was 19, and I moved away from Newfoundland when I was 21. My mother eventually moved here to Alberta in 2004, so I got to enjoy about six Christmasses with her and my own family until she passed away on Christmas Day in 2010.

Being married in a blended family, and having to share our Christmas seasons with the in-laws and my stepchildren’s family, it was becoming impossible to continue with the traditions I grew up with. My husband likes to put up the tree a week or two before Christmas, and we eventually¬†slipped into the habit of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve night, saving just the stockings for Christmas morning.

Losing my own traditions leaves me secretly yearning for something more meaningful to do at Christmas. Over the years, we had invited lonely shut-ins for dinner and adopted needy families to bless with gifts, but it feels forced. I’m no longer religious (that’s a whole other blog) so going to Christmas Mass or church service isn’t what I’m looking for.

Maybe I’ll find it this year. It will be the first Christmas in 25 years that I will be spending Christmas with my dad. It won’t be on Christmas Day because I won’t see him until the 27th of December. And there won’t be snow…we’ll be visiting him in Florida where he winters.

Right now we are planning on having a big Christmas celebration on the beach in Clearwater. Maybe this will become our new Christmas tradition. Who knows. But it better be a pretty special day on the beach if it’s going to satisfy this need I have.

December 25th will always be a bitter-sweet day because it will always be the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s a struggle to keep that particular day joyful. December 29th is the anniversary of the death of my husband’s father, who passed away in 2011, so for the same reason, that day seems to belong to his memory.

Is it wrong to celebrate the spirit of Christmas on ¬†any other day? Maybe that’s what’s missing…a whole new day that is earmarked for us to celebrate the pure joy of Christmas, unblemished by the memories of our parent’s horrible deaths.

I’ll let you know what Day we choose to celebrate Christmas when we finally do choose. Maybe Christmas on the beach in Florida will give me some clarity.