Celebrating with the Family

Jimsey Marcoux can't swim a stroke, but she didn't need any convincing when her husband suggested celebrating their 50th anniversary at sea with their entire family.

``It seemed the perfect thing, a lot less hassle than getting everyone together for a party,'' she said. Marcoux lives in Tulsa, Okla., while her family, like most these days, is scattered everywhere.

To get six busy children, assorted spouses and 10 grandchildren in one place at one time is nearly impossible, she explained. That's why spending several days cruising in Mexico together was the most wonderful anniversary gift they could have received.

``I don't know when we'll do it again,'' said the 68-year-old Marcoux.

``We feel a lot closer now.'' Even the teen-age grandson who got seasick was glad he'd come.

A one-day party wouldn't have given the family enough time together to celebrate, agreed Martha King of Denver. She organized her parents' golden anniversary celebration last summer at the YMCA's Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado, near her parents' Colorado retirement community.

``If we'd had a party we all would have had to travel to get there anyway,'' explained King, whose siblings live in Minnesota, Montana and California.

Even better, she explained, the family could mark the milestone without anyone having to host a slew of out-of-town relatives.

Those are exactly the reasons why growing numbers of aging Baby Boomers find themselves planning 50th anniversary family trips around the country, whatever the budget.

``We'd rather get together for a happy occasion than a funeral,'' one friend told me. Another said he's glad for any opportunity that will bring his children and their cousins together -- even if they're bound to argue half the time. They're going on cruises, to dude ranches and New England resorts where their parents took them as children. Some even are opting for Disney World.

``Everyone's doing it. I hear from five of these families a week,'' says Helena Koenig, the Maryland travel agent who has become an expert on planning multigenerational trips. ``We never heard of this before, because no one ever lived this long,'' joked Koenig, herself a grandmother.

Now Americans not only are living longer -- nearly 24.5 million are over 70, the Census Bureau reports and those numbers are projected to increase -- but they are among the country's most enthusiastic travelers.

That's not to say planning one of these trips is easy, even for such a happy occasion as a 50th anniversary.

``People are surprised when all of those childhood issues about sibling and parent relationships surface again,'' says UCLA family psychologist Jill Waterman.

Siblings will disagree about how much money, or time, they want to spend, where they are willing to go or what they want to do when they get there.

``You need a benevolent dictator,'' laughed Philadelphia lawyer Rick Teitell, who recently returned from a successful anniversary trip to St. John with his family. One grandfather, an Eastern European immigrant, only wanted to go to Israel. His children talked him into a Caribbean cruise.

``You've got to remember the focus should be on what is best for the grandparents,'' observed Waterman. ``You're celebrating them.''

``Finding the place to go is easy, no matter what the budget,'' adds Koenig. ``It's getting everyone to agree that's hard.''

I can vouch for that. It took weeks for my husband and his five siblings to find a weekend they could all meet for their parents' upcoming celebration. It took so much additional negotiation to decide where that my in-laws were ready to tell them to forget the entire idea.

Grandparents, for their part, must remember to consult their adult children before making plans, even if they're footing the bill. Helena Koenig recalled one generous grandfather who paid thousands of dollars on deposits for a 50th anniversary trip without telling his children what he was doing. He found out too late to recover his money that many family members couldn't go when he'd scheduled the trip.

Here's how to prevent that kind of planning disaster from marring a 50th anniversary or other gathering:

1. Start discussions early. Martha King, for one, sent her siblings a note before Christmas asking which summer weekend would work for them. Once the date was set, she said, the rest was easy.

2. Appoint a family leader who will talk to the travel agent and negotiate with the hotel, arranging for a cake or special party room.

3. Talk price openly. Are the children treating their parents? Are the grandparents paying for the hotel rooms but not the meals? Can you afford to fly?

4. Pick an easily accessible destination. This is not the trip to explore the Costa Rican jungles, suggests San Francisco travel agent and veteran family trip planner Deborah Baratta. Remember that families members will be coming from different cities on different airlines.

5. The more inclusive the arrangements, the better. Not only does everyone know what they'll be paying for up front, but there will be less to arrange and pay for (read that argue about) later. All the more time to spend celebrating and reminiscing.

Martha King's parents, for example, told the grandchildren how they met as young college students in New York City and the grandchildren built a giant family tree. The Marcoux' children presented their parents with a video camera and recorded childhood memories for them during the trip.

``Everyone has got a copy of the tape now,'' said Jimsey Marcoux happily.

Our family, meanwhile, finally settled on a Memorial Day weekend celebration at a Texas Hill Country ranch, an hour's drive from my in-laws' home and close enough for us to host a party for all the relatives and friends in the vicinity. My mother-in-law is busy making the list.

(c) 1998, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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