Double the families, double the fun Group: Can five adults and six children, only some of them related, survive under the same vacation roof for a week? A pool table helps.

Taking the Kids

July 21, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

"How could you, Mom?!"

The beach vacation had barely begun, and I was already in the doghouse.

Reggie's duffel had gotten left behind at home. Never mind that I'd told her three times to bring it downstairs for her dad to load into the minivan: It was my fault that she was at the beach without a bathing suit. Better her suitcase left behind than her, I said, thinking of "Home Alone."

Reggie didn't see the humor of the situation. "This is the worst vacation of my life," she declared and stomped off in tears.

In that case, I thought, we've got no way to go but up. Kids don't need much clothing at the beach, I reasoned. And the house came equipped with a washer and drier.

Even better, we were with old friends who, along with her brother, could lend Reggie all she needed until I could get to a discount store the next day.

Soon, outfitted in a borrowed swimsuit, Reggie was out on the beach with the rest of the gang, digging for crabs and tossing a ball around. I breathed easier.

Keeping connected

We'd planned this trip months before to reconnect with friends we hadn't seen since our move across country last summer. I badly wanted it to succeed. Would we still have as much in common? More importantly, could five adults and six children survive under the same roof for a week?

Talk about high expectations. I envisioned lazy mornings, long heart-to-heart talks on the beach, and gourmet feasts we'd take hours to prepare.

Somehow, I'd neglected to consider the kids would be up at 7 a.m., begging to be taken in-line skating, miniature golfing or fishing. They'd want to eat hot dogs and burgers -- the faster the food got from stove to plate, the better.

Thank goodness for the pool table. This beach house had one, and it kept the children amused for hours at a stretch -- as soon as they got up, when the weather was gloomy, when they needed a break from the sun, before they went to bed.

It didn't matter that the kids were different ages and had different interests, I realized, watching them play. On vacation, all that mattered was that they were kids. One night, they pored over their new school yearbooks; another morning, they played ball on the beach. They made friends with the next-door neighbor's dog.

The core group included our family, 10-year-old Reggie's closest friend, who had flown from Chicago to join us; 12-year-old Matt's buddy and his mom; and another couple and their 8-year-old son. Other assorted friends and relatives wandered in and out of our vacation all week.

Rule No. 1 for a successful group beach vacation: lots of room. We couldn't guarantee the sun, but we did have plenty of space to spread out and get the alone time we each needed at some point during the week.

The house we'd rented was directly on the beach. This made life vTC immeasurably easier for the adults in the group, who didn't have to schlep kids and beach toys back and forth several times a day.

How does one find such an ideal spot? Once we decided where we wanted to spend our week, I made phone calls to local chambers of commerce. From there, I was referred to real estate agents handling vacation rentals in the area. I lucked out, finding the perfect place available the week we wanted to go.

Another route: Look online.

"It's a great way to find a last-minute deal," explains Nancy Schretter, who directs America Online's Family Travel Network.

Schretter says online message boards enable would-be renters to connect directly with vacation property owners. Her advice: Check prices for several comparable properties to make sure you're getting a good deal.

Once you've got the house, consider how you'll spend the week.

It's still your vacation

Rule 2: Without being obnoxious about it, make sure you get to do what you want to do. You may be sharing a house, but it is your vacation.

One day, my friend and her son went off to tour a living history museum while the rest of the crew went to the beach. Another day, the men and boys went to play golf, while the women and girls opted to see a glassblower work. The guys watched the kids so we could check out nearby galleries. We baby-sat while they went deep sea fishing.

Rule 3: Come prepared to compromise. Certainly no one got to do everything they wanted every minute of the day. But we satisfied a lot of our vacation cravings and the kids', too. Compromise, I discovered, isn't hard at all when everyone is in a good mood.

Rule 4: Have lots of food on hand. I never saw kids and adults eat so many Fig Newtons and Oreos. We also managed gourmet feasts: Lobster one night, a fish stew another that was so good the kids ate all the leftovers.

Rule 5: Be upfront about dividing chores and expenses so no one feels put-upon. We shared kitchen duty, getting the kids to do the dishes whenever possible. We assigned costs for the rental and food based on a formula that took into account the number of people in each family group. That meant, my husband groused good-naturedly, that we paid double what anyone else did. We also have a larger family than anyone else, I reminded him. The week was worth all it cost for all of us.

"The best vacation ever," Reggie said.

It must have been all those new clothes.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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