I’m not a huge fan of family reunions, traditionally. They were those events I typically got dragged to, where I met a bunch of people I likely wouldn’t meet again, shook a lot of hands, and forgot a lot of names. (Actually, that sounds a lot like many of the fantasy conventions I go to willingly these days . . . ) Of course, this is because most of the “family reunions” I went to as a kid were more “extended family reunions,” where you expect to see fourth cousins five times removed.
Every year, I’d get together with my actual cousins for a week at a family cabin. This was a week of awesome, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with family reunions in my mind. It was just getting together with friends for a week. We’d watch movies, play games, eat junk food, go swimming–be kids. Loads of happy memories.
So when I started lobbying for a family reunion of all my brothers and sisters on one side of my family. I wasn’t sure what I would be getting myself into. I’ve got two families–divorced parents who married other people and had more children. The last time all my siblings on one side had gotten together was about 9 years ago. On the other side, it was 22 years. That’s a lot of years, and it was the the one I was working to coordinate a get together with. Sibling ages on that side range from the 40s to the 20s, spread across the country from California to Maine. 37 people altogether, some with very strong personalities.
I wasn’t sure we’d make it out of the reunion in one piece, but I thought it was important to get together.
Planning the thing was about as convoluted as I thought it would be, with changes being made right up to the week of the reunion. I’d been saying all along that all I really wanted was for everyone to show up for at least a picture–photographic evidence that we’d gotten together. Pulling it off wouldn’t be easy. Many of the families had to spend thousands of dollars to be able to make it there. Job schedules had to be tweaked and altered. And even after we had all of that ironed out, there were surprises that came at the last minute. Floods in basements. Premature births. I’m not making this up.
In the end, it all came together. For a few hours on the 4th of July, that entire side of the family was present and accounted for, with no one missing at all–my grandfather was even able to come. Talk about small miracles.
I’ll admit it was more than a little surreal having everyone in the same spot at once. I know some families do this all the time, but not this one.
Not everyone was able to stay for the whole 4 day event (premature babies will do that to a reunion), but the whole thing went amazingly well. No one shouted. No blood feuds erupted. No knife fights that I’m aware of. Everyone got together and actually just had a good time.
Of course, I spent a good amount of the time downstairs hiding. Because Bryces don’t like crowds–even crowds of siblings that those Bryces spent a lot of time getting together in the first place. I don’t know why I’m that way. I just am, and I’m getting to the point where I don’t really let it worry me.
What was even more important to me was seeing my kids have such a blast with all of their cousins. There were about 20 kids running around the reunion house the whole time. A group of boys discovered they were all Minecraft fanatics and started an impromptu “Minecon,” with all of them playing on a shared world together. Some of the girls went down and worked on building pillow forts. TRC and DC had an amazing time, and they both keep asking when we’re going to have another family reunion.
37 is a lot of people. I don’t know if we’ll ever all get together again, honestly. It’s just too hard to coordinate. But I’ll do my best to at least get some of them together more often. If I can.
After that was done, I made sure to bring my kids to a Moore reunion with a bunch of second cousins and people they have no idea who they are, just to make sure my kids realized all reunions aren’t created equally. 🙂 (At the same time, I discovered those extended reunions actually are fun when you know all the extensions except the kids. Go figure.)
Anyway. Very pleased with how it all ended up. Looking back at the experience, here are a few reunion thoughts I have, in case anyone else is ever in a similar situation:
- Get a house. If the whole family is spread across the country, you’ll need a “reunion window” to make it likely that everyone can come for at least some of the time. A house lets you have a place to gather and chat and eat together. We’d debated just doing this at a hotel, but I’m very glad we got a house. It was a lot of money, but I think it was worth it.
- Pick a few activities. Not many. Each of the days we were there, we had one big activity slated. Timpanogos Cave. Utah Olympic Park. Family pictures and a barbecue. A rodeo. Having those in place lets everyone have an outlet to go and get away and mix things up, which make the opportunities for impromptu fun at the house more exciting and less likely to end in tears and hurt feelings. I’d thought about having no activities and just have the whole thing at the house the whole time. Glad I didn’t.
- Allow autonomy as much as you can. For food, we just let everyone buy and bring their own, except for dinners. For activities, we’d announce what was happening where and when, and then it was up to everyone to get there if they wanted to go. If we’d just hung around trying to wait for everyone to go as a big group, I think I would have gone batty.
- Manage expectations. Make sure your kids know going into it that they won’t get everything they want the whole weekend. Don’t expect anything from anyone. Just be accepting and roll with any obstacles that pop up.
- No guilt trips. If people don’t want to come or do something, that’s totally fine. You’re there to have fun, not to ensure everyone shows up to everything.
Next time, I think what I’ll do is tell my siblings ahead of time where and when I’ll be on vacation, and see if any of them want to come with. I’m sure my kids would love to get together with their cousins again soon, and I hope it happens.
And the very fact that I wrote that last sentence is all the proof I need to show this reunion was a success.