Categorized | Features, Grandparenting

Family Overnights Can Be Stressful, Yet Welcome


Josie, Aaron, Rayna and Miriam (from l to r) enjoy time at the playground during the family visit at Passover.

By Ellen L. Weingart

Soon after my brother returned from a family trip with his two young children many years ago, I asked him how it was.

“It was good,” he said. “A couple of weeks from now, it will have been terrific.”

With two young children of my own at the time, I knew exactly what he meant.

It’s not easy vacationing with little kids. You’re surrounded by them 24 hours a day for days at a time. Either they’re ready to move on to the next site way before you are or you’re bored out of you mind as they stare at a dinosaur replica for what feels like hours. They always want something —  whether it’s something to eat, that souvenir they just gottahave or a bathroom stop. And if there’s more than one child, whatever they want to do, you can bet it’s not the same thing. Unless, of course, it’s really, really expensive. Or very noisy.

In less than a week, though, all the annoyances are gone and you’re thinking about planning the next trip. After all, if mothers remembered every moment of childbirth, almost everyone would be an only child.

I recalled that conversation with my brother after my two sons, their wives and our four grandchildren — ages 4 to 9 — arrived for a holiday visit not too long ago.

Room For Everyone?

When my husband and I relocated four years ago, we chose not to downsize. Now hours closer to each of our children, we wanted to have enough room so we could host everyone at once and with a few compromises here and there. We didn’t want anyone to have to stay in a hotel.

They had come to celebrate Passover, even though we hadn’t actually invited any of them. The visit had just sort of evolved as the “best place.”

Passover is a complicated holiday that requires special foods. Marking the Jewish exodus from bondage in Egypt, foods containing leavening are prohibited, a symbolic recreation of those ancient Jews not having enough time for their bread to rise before they had to pack up and leave. So we eat matzah (unleavened bread) instead of bread.

If only it was that simple. Bread is not the only no-no. Basically, anything made with wheat, barley, oats or rye is forbidden. And anything that may have been in any way contaminated by being exposed to one or more of those grains. Which means that many packaged foods — from applesauce to yogurt — need to be specifically labeled for Passover use if we’re going to consume them. Add in that different streams of Judaism follow different rules — some Jews will eat rice, for example, while others won’t — and it’s no wonder that many of us consider Passover stressful.

Oh, did I forget to mention that there are rules for when the eating of all forbidden foods must end but eating foods specifically approved for Passover will make them unsuitable for Passover use? And did I forget to mention that everyone was arriving for lunch, the very meal that marked that in-between time?


Josie, Rayna, Miriam and Aaron (from l to r) drink white grape juice as part of telling the Passover story.

So given the rules, pizza was out, along with any kind of sandwich or cracker. In reality, that still left many possibilities. And believe me, they took advantage of nearly all of them. Out came salad fixings, yogurt, cheese slices, cheese sticks, cottage cheese, veggies, hummus, both hard-boiled and scrambled eggs, fruits, juices, tea and on and on.

And all this was before the main event: the Seder with its telling of the story of the Exodus, accompanied by its own set of rules, ritual foods and a multi-course dinner. Done two nights in a row, no less.

On to the Next Family Meal

No sooner was lunch finished and cleaned up, I began prepping a dinner that would cook while we read and discussed the ancient story of freedom. Finally, story told, food eaten, everything cleaned up. Bedtime couldn’t come fast enough. For me, that is. But as in most things, the grandkids came first.

In other years, when both sons and their families visited at the same time, my husband and I would give our room to one of our sons and his wife, our other son and his wife would be in one guest room, our three granddaughters in the other, our grandson in a pack ’n play in our home office and we’d sleep on an air mattress in the family room.

But the grandchildren are bigger now and this arrangement no longer works. Instead, my husband and I stayed in our room and each son and his wife got a guest room. All four kids slept on air mattresses in the family room. Of course, each air mattress required a sheet, a pillow and blankets. And the room itself required a little rearranging, but it wasn’t terribly long before everyone was settled down.

Wake up and repeat with the added bonus of serving breakfast.

Now, to be honest, everyone was well behaved. There was very little arguing and almost no crying. No one, including me, had a major meltdown. The grandkids and our sons had a modified baseball game in our backyard and on the afternoon of the second day, everyone except my husband and I went off to a neighborhood playground for an hour or so. After lunch on the third day, they were all gone.

It was exhausting.

A Different Perspective

But, now weeks later, what I remember most is 9-year-old Miriam’s gifts — a hand-knitted neck warmer for me, a drawing of his favorite things, including the names of the four grandchildren, for her grandfather. Talking about endangered African predators with budding zoologist, 7-year-old Rayna. Listening to 6-year-old Josie read. And seeing 4-year-old Aaron run around after he had spent six weeks this winter virtually immobilized with a broken femur.

Really, it was a wonderful time. Watching our grandchildren play together, even scheme together and especially relish each other’s company. Taking pride in the parenting skills of our children, both those who were born to the family and those who married into it. Seeing each family develop. And to be the locus where everyone gathered.

Is it too soon to be planning Thanksgiving?

Ellen Weingart is editor.

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