Can you tell from the title that I’ve just returned from my extended family’s annual trip to the beach?  This is the gang (minus three who couldn’t make it this year): Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 4.15.57 PMThese trips began many moons ago with my mother (and step-father), her sister’s family, their parents, and my brother and me. We’ve carried on the tradition for decades (although it still amazes me to now find myself being that in that middle-tier of the family tree).

Michael J. Fox once said, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” I couldn’t agree more.

I grew up in Pittsburgh within a stone’s throw (literally) of two sets of cousins and one set of grandparents. The rest of my close-knit family all lived within a five-mile drive. Time changed all that, and now we are scattered across Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut, making large family get-togethers rare.

IMG_6295Of course, the Hilton Head Island beaches are beautiful (see?), the weather is reliably warm and sunny, and the rental homes fabulous as one could desire, but none of that is what makes these trips our favorite.

What makes them so special is the level of silliness we achieve together, and the life-long memories that creates. For instance, this year some of the dads decided to dress up in old-time bathing suits, glue fake mustaches above their mouths, and stroll the beach to the nearest resort hotel pool bar. oldtimersThey mimicked 1920s radio voices for the duration of the “show,” and needless to say, drew lots of attention, questions, and requests for photos. The kids were extremely amused and oddly proud, and it will certainly remain a memorable, if ridiculous, day in our lives.

FrostFrogAnother fun ritual is enjoying a meal at the Frosty Frog. Grown-ups like the frozen drinks (Fruit Loop is a particularly tasty one), and the kids like to dance to the live music with the restaurant mascot.

This year, my cousins and I decided to go out on the town and hit the dueling piano bar. My one cousin (a former rock singer turned elementary school teacher) ended up on stage belting out Janis Joplin’s Bobby McGee while the crowd cheered her on. Of course, that’s something the kids didn’t get to see, except via video the next day.Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 4.52.26 PM

Then there are the other traditions, like my cousin’s constant fishing along the coast. Often he’s caught rather large shark and stingrays. This year he got one big stingray, while an even bigger shark snapped his line. He did manage to reel this baby shark in for the kids to pet. Yes, my daughter found this all very entertaining, while I decided perhaps my body surfing days were at an end.kaylababyshark

So much in our daily lives is regimented, it is wonderful to get away to laugh and play and remember what it feels like to be a kid again. I’m grateful for this opportunity to relax with my cousins, and for my kids to form the special bonds of kinship with distant cousins. I hope we can continue our “family” vacations for decades to come, even if it means my kids will need to wheel me onto the beach. That might make it a little hard for me to participate in our annual family vacation video, but I’ll find a way.

I’ll end on that note, with the video we made this year, as a reminder to all to be happy with who you are and don’t let others tear you down:

xo-Jamie