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Taking Time Off with Family

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 19, 2005

Once a year I try to get the whole family together for a week at some relaxing vacation spot. By “the whole family”, in this case, I mean my wife and myself, the children we still have at home, and our married children, their spouses and their children. We are especially blessed in that we all get along and we all share the same values. This year we rented a house in St. Michaels, Maryland, on the Miles River, which flows quickly into the Chesapeake Bay. Just two hours from home, this location provides a complete change of scene and of pace, so critical to relaxation. It is also a good sailing spot, and I could leave my little trailerable sailboat in the water for the week, so I didn’t have to unload it and rig it each time it was used.

We have a variety of interests and maturity levels in our group of 13 (ages 1 to 57), and we also enjoyed a visit from my wife’s parents, who are celebrating their 80th birthdays this year. Because of this variety, we always try to select a location with diverse recreational opportunities. St. Michaels, with its lovely harbor at the mouth of the Miles looking out onto the Eastern Bay, and with its many shops and restaurants, makes a great getaway. Nearby Easton has more shops and restaurants. Easton has something else as well: a fine old parish in Sts. Peter and Paul, which also supports a mission in St. Michaels. The availability of daily Mass, our evening family rosaries, and shared meals, recreation, and child care combine to create a week away which not only gives everyone a break but strengthens family ties.

To be sure, shared values and a common spirituality are necessary to make a week together work at such close quarters. But within this framework, it can work very well indeed. I mention the shared values and common spirituality because where there are substantial differences in values and lifestyle, the stresses will surely make true relaxation impossible. In such situations, one would need far more space—separate accommodations for different family groups—and far more independent time in order to enjoy one another’s company in peace. Where the spiritual bonds are stronger, however, inessential differences are seldom stressful. For example, people can go their own ways recreationally at times without any chafing. Everybody helps out and all get chances to unwind in the ways they like best.

For me, of course, sailing was a top priority. Last Fall I purchased a used 16 foot sailboat on a trailer, a Precision 165, which will carry four or five adults comfortably, but can be sailed easily single-handed. This Spring was my first season on the water, and this vacation on the Chesapeake Bay was my first opportunity to leave the boat in the water for days at a time. Winds were annoyingly light at the beginning of the week, but they rose to around 15 mph by mid-week and stayed there, which was all it took to give us hours of enjoyment. In a play on words, we named our little boat ‘Spray. Spray was the name of the 34-foot sloop which Joshua Slocum sailed around the world in the 1890’s. (Slocum wrote an extremely literate and very interesting book about his experiences, Sailing Alone Around the World.) By putting a leading apostrophe into the name, we tried to capture not only Slocum’s experience but our own inexperience, for the name is also a shortened form of “Let’s pray”.

The things I learned about sailing, including the bilge pumping I had to do because the boat leaks around the bow eye, are perhaps best reserved for another time, or another venue, though opening up a discussion of various forms of recreation among our users would be no bad thing. In any case, all of this was in the context of family. Or, perhaps more to the point, it was in the context of Christian family, which is a great blessing, never to be taken for granted, not even for a moment.

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