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The Family Vacation, Revisited


Growing up, my family would hit the road every summer for our annual family vacation. Sometimes it was just my mom, sister and grandpa, who was known for driving in the left lane as often as possible (we dubbed it “Don’s Lane”) and not being particularly fond of stopping for bathroom breaks. Other times, aunts, uncles and cousins would join in for epic extended-family jaunts. Even when everything seemed to go wrong, it always made for a good story—the kind we still tell today. (Like the time my uncle’s rental car got towed—finding it was quite the process—and my young cousin’s main concern was whether her bag of candy in the backseat would make it out unscathed.)

I went off to college and the family vacations ceased. As I entered the working world, when I traveled, it was mostly solo. So when my mom called one day to propose reestablishing our family vacations, I was intrigued. What would a getaway look like with my mom, dad, newly minted adult sister and me? I was about to find out. And I was determined not to make the mistake of leaving any bags of candy unattended in the backseat. 

Our inaugural Family Vacation: Grown-Up Edition was to Boulders Resort & Spa in Carefree, Arizona, about 35 miles north of Phoenix. When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by Byron, an eager bellman who ferried us to our casita in a golf cart. Byron told us to watch out for javelinas, pig-like mammals with sharp teeth. Having never seen this hoofed creature before, we made it a goal to catch a glimpse—at a safe distance, of course. 

The southwestern-style accommodations were cozy, with hand-hewn beams running across the ceiling, a wood-burning fireplace, and brown leather furniture to sink into. We’d trekked to Arizona for the outdoors, though, so we quickly settled in and started exploring the setting, strewn with cacti and large boulders.

We spent most of our time together, but when I occasionally needed to sneak away to work, it wasn’t a problem—the great thing about everyone being an adult is that you can peel off without worry if necessary. By day, we lazed by the pool, books and frozen grapes in hand. By night, we drove into Scottsdale to dine, twice at the White Chocolate Grill, which my dad insisted on calling the Mint Factory. (No, I have no idea why and I’m not sure he does, either.) The restaurant is known for its sharable desserts, and I still remember my sister and I—both with rampant sweet tooths—struggling to finish the White Chocolate Brownie piled high with vanilla ice cream, chocolate shavings and whipped cream.

There were silly kid-like moments, too, like when my sister and I did synchronized swimming poses in the hot tub or when she decided to chase the bunnies hopping around the property, intent on catching one. (Don’t worry—she wouldn’t have actually picked one up had she been stealthy enough.) 

And, of course, there were the usual family dynamics. We weren’t in the car long enough for my sister and me to stake out our territory in the backseat, but we were outside long enough for my mom to worry, which is really what she does best. When my dad and I went on a nighttime hike, she stood on the ground below, wringing her hands and yelling for us to come back. Unlike the vacations of my youth, this was a democracy now, so I carried on. Nature is slightly less endearing when punctuated by shrieks accusing you of bad decision making, but we enjoyed scrambling among the rocks just the same.

We even added a fifth member to our family unit. Byron the bellman continued to pop up whenever we needed him, ferrying us in a golf cart to the best spot to see the sun set and, after he learned of our love for pop culture, taking us on a tour of a villa that Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel had recently rented. He so excelled at his job that he even made it into the lyrics of my annual Christmas card song that year. 

On the day we were departing, the only downside to our vacation was that we still hadn’t seen any javelinas. Not until Byron came speeding up in his trusty golf cart, that is. “Hop in,” he said. When Byron told us to do something, we listened. It paid off—soon, we came upon a group of about eight javelinas out for a midday stroll. With short legs, round bodies covered in coarse hair and snouts, they were adorable. We found out that they live in packs; having a strong family unit allows them to defend their territory and gives them a framework for socializing. To help identify fellow pack members, they rub their rumps, covered in a scent gland, on the other javelinas. This way, even when they’re traveling, they can always find each other.

I’m glad my family was able to find our way back to each other, too, no rump rubbing necessary.

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