I started hating family holidays a full two years after I hit puberty, which was three years later than it should have been. By my calculations, this made me an awesome son: my parents only had to put up with my attitude problem for a couple of summers. They had enough memories of me being cute and compliant to make up for the months locked in my room blasting Incubus and teaching myself power chords on an acoustic guitar that my father instantly regretted buying.
Having a big brood was a blessing, especially on beach holidays, which were the only kinds of holidays we ever took. You can’t take sides when you’re an only child, unless it’s against your folks. With four kids, it was a continual reconfiguration of factional warfare. A fatwa on the brother who wouldn’t carry the extra deckchair. Cries of treason against whoever ate the last lamb chop.
One year, we refused to walk anywhere near Dad as the embarrassment of Speedos suddenly dawned on us. This sort of simmering anger can be very useful to the continued longevity of sibling allegiances, especially when living on top of one another in a unit with very weak ceiling fans.
Much like skiing holidays, which my cultured friends’ families did during December, beach holidays work because they rely on routine. With only slight variations, the day pretty much looks the same: long stints on the sand, punctuated by whatever you can barbeque to pass for lunch, footnoted by naps. Trying the other restaurant in town may well be the most exciting event.
Eventually, though, teenagers go crazy. They fantasise about asking out the girl who works at the bakery. They borrow Radiohead CDs from the library, which they won’t return. They ride their bikes to the start of the next town, just to prove they can. They read Hunter S. Thompson hungrily. All as inevitable as the sticky heat, the softly lapping waves and what the fat Greek kid nextdoor will get for Christmas.
There is definitely a sort of parabola that connects the point at which you start hating family holidays with the time you realise you miss them. The understanding that these jaunts were all-expenses-paid certainly has a lot to do with it, but that’s not all. This summer, my entire sibling set is spread across the world. Some are hiking, others are ice-skating. It’s a very weird sensation, having no-one to pick on but also having nobody to talk to.
That’s what family holidays are actually about: talking. It takes you a minimum of three hours to get anywhere decent outside of Sydney in either direction; not to mention the long days and endless nights. That’s a lot of time to chew the fat. Parents are more switched on to their kids during this period when work is a distant memory. Some of the greatest conversations I’ve ever had with my younger brothers or my parents happened at 5pm in Shoal Bay on what might have been a Tuesday.
Recently, some of my friends have started producing their own children. These children scream and cry a lot. It helps me appreciate that my parents chose to sacrifice their downtime for the beach, so that even when their smartarse kids stopped bawling and started talking back, they could be easily distracted by a stray Vortex sailing through the air or the promise of a Gaytime for afternoon tea.
I still dread family holidays until I’m on them. It certainly hasn’t become easier as we’ve all become older and accustomed to our own opinions, picking up cultural neuroses from different university courses. But as I have learned to understand their function, I’ve stopped fighting against them.
In fact, I’m taking my first family holiday in two years this April. Though it isn’t technically in summer, it will be at the destination.
I can’t wait to fight over who gets the best bedroom.