Most of my family live very close to us. We have two children that live far away but one of those we see often. We get together often for dinners or birthday's or fun but we have never really had a formal "family reunion". This year we did.
We have five children and 24 grandchildren. Our oldest three grandchildren live far away and were not able to attend our reunion but everyone else was there. I have wanted to do something as a family for a couple of years but every time I tried to plan something, the road blocks kept me from it. I was determined this year to not let road blocks stop me. There were times that I really wondered why I was so determined to go through with this but the end result was far better than I could possibly have imagined. I am forever grateful that I stuck it out.
We have a very opinionated family. I am the kind of person that wants to please and therefore, it sometimes is difficult for me to make a decision and stick to it if I find others objecting to it. My first decision was the date for the reunion. This seemed like it should have been quite simple - NOT! I first planned the third week in July. Everyone was fine with that except my husband. He was planning to retire on his birthday and the reunion would have been one week before. He did not want to take off a week then go back to work for a week only to then retire. So I moved it to the first week of August (I had to work around other family reunions and obligations). This date became difficult as other family members had obligations arise that would make it so they would not be able to attend. So we then made it for the last week of June. This seemed to work for everyone except for the fact that North Idaho is still quite cold and often rainy in June (which in fact proved to be true - it was cold and rainy much of the time).
Next came the decision of the location. I really wanted to go to the ocean and have a great experience there. Unfortunately, it was quite pricey and difficult to find a location that would accommodate this large of a group. We have a church camp ground near our home and that is where my husband and I decided to have our reunion. It had everything, camp sites, sandy beach, boat dock, roped off swimming area, huge pavilion, storage for food which included 3 refrigerators with freezers (electricity), porta potties, play area and more. Now, my husband and I live on a gorgeous piece of land which has many of these same features but we felt we needed to get away from home and this seemed perfect. I got many negative remarks from my kids as they had memories of this camp that were not the greatest but in the end, the kids loved the location and realized how great everything was - even with the weather the way it was - so perfect!
The next decision was simple for me. My husband and I decided that we would plan all of the meals and bring all of the food and supplies but have the kids help us with preparing and clean up of the meals. This actually worked great. I had assigned different families for different days and that didn't really work as planned but we always had help so it really didn't matter.
One of my biggest problems is that I tend to "overkill" an activity. In my mind, I saw this perfect world of organization and fun but in reality, life is really quite simple. My son brought home to me the fact that family reunions are to be a time that everyone does things they enjoy together. I had to "lighten up" with my thoughts and allow my kids the opportunity to have fun with their family in way "they" wanted not just what "I" wanted. Once I had the long talk with myself about how he was right, I relaxed and realized that this reunion was for all not just for me. As it turned out, everyone had such a wonderful time doing what they wanted "together". We had people everywhere. Some were at the river, others were playing on the grassy field, some were sleeping in tents, others were playing all around camp and some were sitting around talking. It was fun to just relax and have NO structure.
My final big hurdle was that I wanted something that everyone could have as a souvenir from our reunion. I had thought about doing Olympics and having some sort of prize but changed that when I realized that I was "over planning". So my decision was T-shirts. A friend designed a simple pocket logo for our reunion and every family got different colored shirts. We had a family picture taken (which was a huge feat since over half of the kids were under the age of 8).
With our location fairly close to home, it did allow some to go home at night if needed (some had animals to feed). All of us camped at least one night some two and a few did all three nights. Now this may not sound too difficult but it was quite cold and in the middle of the second night, it began to rain heavily.
Some of the things I learned were:
1. Don't over plan - allow most of the time for free play.
2. Have an evening activity. We did a campfire every night and that was fun. It kind of ended the evening. It brought us all together and allowed us to get to know each other in fun ways. One night we did a scripture story and had some'mores, the next night was a talent night, and the last night we played "Minute to Win It". The pavilion had a large screen so we got a projector and had "Movie night" with popcorn as a final evening activity.
3. Have plenty of food. We have some picky eaters and food was kind of overwhelming to plan but in the end, we kept it simple yet yummy. We had pancakes and eggs every morning (with cereal as an option), lunches were sandwiches - make it yourself style - one day we fixed scones (yumm), and dinners were lots of fruit with a main dish (BBQ beef on a bun, tacos, and smoked meat for the last night). I had lots of snacks available (after all it was a vacation), drink was lemonade or water - hot chocolate for breakfast. Everyone seemed to be content with food. The last day I let everyone into all of the goodies so I didn't have to bring much home.
4. Bring a wagon! This may sound silly but I used the wagon to haul food to the cooking area, we hauled wood to the fire pit, and the kids played with it all day every day hauling the little ones all over the park.
5. Plan the reunion for August. I know I really didn't have much of a choice this year and we had fun in spite of the cold weather but it would have been even better had we been able to play in the water and not frozen at night.
6. Most of all - DO HAVE A REUNION! I could not believe how special it was to actually have a formal reunion where we got away from the house versus playing at grandma's house as a family. There is just something different about going somewhere and camping or doing something special together as a family. The few grand kids that live away from us actually got to know their cousins and their cousins them. Our oldest son has some medical problems that have caused him to isolate himself from most of the family. We were not sure if he would be able to participate very much but he has told us daily how grateful he was for this reunion. I see a spark in him I have not seen for awhile and it touches my heart.
I was ready many times to call this whole reunion off or at least never to do this again but after this last week, I want so very much to do this every year (which may not be feasible but every other year - most likely). I encourage all to bring your family together even if you live right next door. Find a place where you can step out of the every day routine and learn about your family at a Family Reunion. You'll be glad you did.