Taking the Kids: Family reunion central
Spending time together doing something fun -- whether it's playing a lawn game or a softball tournament or taking a whitewater rafting trip or a long hike -- is a way to encourage the younger members of the family to get to know each other.
There are teachers and Army officers, business people and newsmen, stay-at-home moms and airline pilots in our group. We have family members of many different faiths, ethnicities and political persuasions. (It's always a good idea to not talk politics at such events, I've learned, and to refrain from criticizing anyone's parenting style.)
Twenty years ago, when our kids were little, they loved the reunion here -- once every four years in our family-- for the same reason the young kids in the family do today -- so much to do! So many cousins to play (and get in trouble) with!
This certainly is a fantastic playground for the kids, even if you never leave the YMCA's extensive grounds. There's softball and tennis, basketball, mini-golf, horseback riding, a big crafts center, playground and all varieties of complimentary organized programs -- everything from kids yoga (new this summer) to a kids' sketch class (learn how to draw an elk or bison with an artist), games with a giant parachute, story time, bingo, learning how to tie knots or learning about forest ecology or astronomy, as well as a community campfire.
Most of our family opted to stay in hotel-style lodges; we preferred a three-bedroom cabin where we had stupendous views of the Continental Divide and were able to comfortably host my husband's immediate family -- more than 20 of them -- for dinner one night.
There are also designated "reunion" cabins with as many as 16 bedrooms; others with eight.
Everything's changed since our first reunion in 1997 and nothing's changed. It was just as hard to corral the kids to sit for the group picture. The family elders liked nothing better than sitting on the porch visiting. There were jokes and practical jokes. The kids still played UNO in our designated "meeting room" in the evening, but one of the teachers in the family also developed a family trivia game everyone could play on their smartphones via an app.
We still had a white board of where people were going and what they were doing, but Wi-Fi made it a lot easier to keep in touch and meet up.
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The key to a successful reunion is planning far in advance. The YMCA reunion experts say their reunions are often reserved two years out. It's important to have a "designated leader," or in the case of a big family like ours, a group who in turn can communicate to everyone else. Make sure everyone is not only onboard with the dates and location but also the cost. No one wants any surprises!
There are lots of milestones at our reunion -- 25th and 35th anniversaries; 80th, 70th, 60th, 50th and 30th birthdays. One of the grandmothers tried to give the family a quick family history lesson, but, of course, the kids quickly lost interest.
More important, said one of the cousins, "is we all made it."
The organizers are already at work on the next one.