My 2014 Australia trip with my extended family is nearing its final phase, in Brisbane Queensland, where we will be for the next two days, if you include tomorrow morning's butt early five hour train ride to get there. I like trains, and this one is some kind of narrow gauge railway called a "tilt train." I assume it tilts going around corners. So I am going to relish it, even if I am tired.

After two weeks together, everyone in my extended family seems to have managed to survive without going completely off the deep end. I came close a couple of times, but I caught myself and pulled back from the edge. The main cause for my patience tether growing taut was navigating roadways with a map while my dad drove the rental minivan in Melbourne and surrounds. The maps were hard to read and my dad sometimes failed to heed my driving instructions, resulting in occasional backtracking. What pulled me back was the realization that navigating is a hell of a lot better than driving on the "wrong" (right) side of the road. My dad had that honor and my respect for him for doing that is boundless. The narrow mountain roads around Healesville and Eildon would have had me screaming insults at anyone in the back seat who dared to question my abilities and decisions, but my dad suffered it patiently...a true role model. My dad is pretty awesome, but because he has a sweet and non-confrontational personality, I think my family takes him for granted, and since he is not always forthcoming with his feelings, we often don't realize that until it is too late. I try to be nice to him all the time.

The only time I saw my dad reach and surpass his breaking point was on the recent leg of our trip to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. I don't know what set him off but he was not having anything to do with us for a while. He was not consolable either. I remember when I was a kid passive aggressively doing the opposite of what I was told if I was pissed off. That's kind of how he was acting, like it was his way of exercising control...but over what? I tried to get him to open up about what was eating him but he wouldn't. I guess by that point he thought all of us were against him. But I wasn't. I wanted to understand so he could talk about it and get past it and enjoy his vacation. I was on his side...though it wasn't a fight. We are all in this together to have a good time. I think the stress of travel and planning got the better of him. Maybe something deeper too, like reliving childhood memories, since this trip is supposed to be all about visiting places where he grew up and traveled to in his youth in Australia.

My nine year old niece and nephew did pretty well on this trip given that they were bored out of their minds a lot of the time while driving places and during "grownup activities." But there was enough fun kid stuff to do, especially if there was a pool or something to explore or sharks. Also, since they are fraternal twins, they are each others' ready made playmate.

I actually relate with them on most levels since I try to remain a child at heart. Vacation should be freedom to explore, eat ice cream and unhealthy food, goof off, and do all the things you have to restrain yourself from in the rest of life. The kids hit their breaking point when they got overtired from actually doing too much. Then my sister just had to shut down the operation on her side of the clan and everyone went to bed.

I watched zero TV on this trip. How can you watch TV when there is so much to see and do in a new and fantastic place? When my sister et al were watching TV in their hotel room, which I know is sometimes necessary to subdue nine year olds, I fled. I did read books in the small episodes of downtime. And of course I journaled all that I saw and experienced, via blog.

My mom held up great considering her fairly recent shoulder surgery and limited mobility. She also didn't worry as much as usual. Both my mom and pops tire easily but they had lots of opportunities to nap and got good nights of sleep most of the time. The only issues arose when they found environmental conditions to be suboptimal. At their age, they seem to require a very narrow range of temperature, especially at night. But my dad overheats and my mom gets chilled, so the potential for conflict can be high. There were a few minor upsets, like when the AC in the room of the hotel we are in now wasn't working. But that problem was easily solved when the hotel put us in new rooms at no extra cost.

When my dad appeared to be stressed out on Heron Island, and my usual diplomacy seemed ineffective, I suggested he get a spa treatment on the island. I don't think he did though, but I really think that could have loosened his tether, so to speak.

Since I have become a Dudeist, I try to be laissez faire and I think I am much more laid back about stuff. So when there is family angst, I try to just observe and only contribute as needed. I just don't believe stress and angst are necessary at all, unless there is a real imminent crisis.

My family seems to be the opposite. They worry and fuss about every detail and perceived future crises as yet unmanifested, but when an actual crisis arises, they handle it calmly. A case in point was our almost missed connection flying from Brisbane to Gladstone a few days ago. The plane from Melbourne to Brisbane was delayed and the layover for the Gladstone flight was short. This was one of those times when my own ignorance paid off. I did not make any travel arrangements for this trip, thank God. I was just kind of following along and acting as something of a man servant. So I didn't even know that the Gladstone plane was already boarding when our Melbourne to Brisbane flight landed. My dad informed me of this as we got off the plane and the connecting gate was miles away. Somehow we made it. My sister's family and I hauled ass through the airport while my folks hopped one of those golf cart thingies. We somehow made the flight but no one freaked out. We just took control and made it happen. So if they can handle that, why does my family go insane when there is no real threat of crisis?

I know not.

Anyway, for me it is a huge blessing to be able to take a trip like this with all my loved ones. Who knows if/when it will happen again? I hope it does soon. But you cherish these moments because they won't last forever. My niece and nephew probably aren't old enough to appreciate this yet. My sister is too busy taking care of their needs. My mom and pops are too busy worrying about if my sister is taking care of their needs properly. Everyone needs to chill out and get some perspective. The world is not a fearful place.

Let's face it, my niece and nephew are kids growing up in America. They are at a serious disadvantage from that fact alone. Short of actually moving to Australia or any civilized country that has actually moved into the 21st century, my sis has a serious handicap in child rearing from the get go. There is only so much she can do to protect them from American anti-intellectualism and lack of values, and I think she is doing it well. Although my kids, should I ever have any, won't eat junk food. They will eat what is served and when they get hungry enough, they will "acquire" a taste for anything they are not immediately fond of. But I am not really father material. My dad is critical of my niece and nephew's table manners, but he was equally critical of my sister's and my table manners as kids. We turned out OK, and so will my niece and nephew. But my dad should not stress unnecessarily about that. They aren't his kids. He should just be a good role model, which he is, but that's all he needs to do. My sister has higher priorities than worrying about their table manners. She just doesn't want them deteriorating into uncontrolled maniacs, especially on vacation.

Carl and I fared best on this trip. He is unflustered by just about anything. He and I got the closest to bonding when we walked the 5k between Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff Australia and when he bought me a beer on his Happy Hour tab on Heron Island. But it was not a very close bonding. We did both recognize the importance of beer in reducing our anxiety levels around family and we sampled many of the local Australian brews. I found one or two beverages per night at dinner (or sometimes lunch) was the perfect stress reliever after a fun filled day when tensions were higher due to fatigue.

So what happens now? I don't know. I will go home from this vacation very fulfilled. It could not have gone much better in my opinion. I hope the rest of my family feels the same way, but if they don't it's a shame.

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