Family vacation n., 1. a quaint but archaic notion that one can relax in the presence of tiny children. 2. The opportunity to cook on someone elses stove.
I should have known that this vacation was going to be trouble. To start with, we couldnt find the place. It took an hour of wandering up and down the rutted dirt road before we stumbled upon a dilapidated shack in the woods. My friend had described the place as "quaint"; she hadnt mentioned that the architectural design resembled an outhouse.
When we stepped inside, my fears were confirmed. It was not quaint; it was minuscule. Picture a pup tent with plumbing.
Oh, and did I mention that there were 23 of us staying there?
This was my introduction to Cape Cod vacations. Still, we were young and foolish and without children so I must admit, the weekend was great fun, if a tad crowded.
The problem was that Peter fell in love with the place. It sat atop a dune overlooking the Brewster flats on Cape Cod. At high tide, the beach below was large enough to take a snooze or play Frisbee. At low tide, you could walk out for nearly a mile among the hermit crabs and minnows and clamshells. The locale was spectacular.
My concern was that someday we hoped to have children, and this place was hardly family-friendly. I could just imagine a kid slipping out the rotted screen door in the dead of night, toddling toward open ocean alone. In diapers.
The cabin itself was three rooms with no amenities whatsoever; no tub or shower, no wall boards or curtains or rugs to absorb sound, no appliances except a tiny stove and an occasionally working 1940s Frigidaire. There was no TV, no radio, no telephone. Ancient wiring was exposed, creating an enticing playground for teething babies. The mattresses of two lumpy beds sloped steeply toward huge craters in the center.
The owner of the cottage was a tough old Yank who was so paranoid about intruders that shed planted poison ivy up and down the dirt road and surrounding the cabin. As a consequence, the place was not only nearly impossible to find, but if you did find it, you couldnt get near it. If you were inside, you couldnt escape.
And no, Im not making any of this up.
Eventually we established the tradition of vacationing on Cape Cod for a week each summer, and, sure enough, we settled upon the spacious accommodations of Outhouse Cottage. One summer when we had three preschoolers, it rained for six of the seven days. The following year, Hurricane Bob was our companion for the week, which meant we had neither running water nor electricity. Then there were the years when Peter was in serious training for triathlons. He enjoyed 50-mile training rides and long ocean swims while I romped, sometimes accidentally, in poison ivy, with four small children. It would have been funny if it werent so awful.
I finally pleaded with Peter for a change of venue. All I wanted were a few basic amenities you know, things like wallboards. (And people think women are so high-maintenance.) I was quite willing to return to the rustic charm of the poison ivy once everyone was out of diapers, but hey, even June Cleaver needed a rest sometime.
Thus, we found ourselves in a more civilized environment, with an indoor shower and working refrigerator. The irony is that Peter became so enamored of the creature comforts that we never returned to Outhouse Cottage.
As our children grew, our annual vacation gradually became more bearable. In fact, nowadays its a high point of the year. Honestly, I never thought it would happen.
Last summer marked a new era. It was our first night on Cape Cod, and we gathered for dinner amidst noisy laughter and dish towel fights and the singing of grace. Then our daughter-in-law cleared her throat and we fell oddly silent. To our delight, she and our son, Skip, announced that they were expecting a baby. Cheers erupted. Our youngest kid dubbed the baby, "Lil Pablo."
In March, we welcomed our first grandbaby, Maranatha Grace Cram. Six weeks later, the college kids drove 19 hours round-trip so they could be here for the baptism. The baby spent the day in the arms of adoring relatives and friends, who formed a waiting line to hold her.
As I watched, it occurred to me that Peter and I did it all wrong during those years when the children were small. We should have vacationed with aunts and grandparents. Then I could have relaxed on the beach sipping piña coladas, while family members chased toddlers and basked in the rustic charm of waterfront poison ivy.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.