For Christmas this year, I gave my family a vacation. We, all 16 of us, left town together during the holidays for a long weekend together. We’ve done this once before, a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, a must see for everyone in my opinion. We’re pretty good at travel, all of us, although we’ve had our Griswold vacation stories in our lives.

We all live in the same city, the kids go to school together, we get together whenever as many of us can gather as possible, more difficult than ever with the kids’ sports, jobs, activities. It’s not like we never see each other, like we live in different parts of the country. It was time for something special.

There’s something very different about getting four families and me to agree on a place, find a date that works for everyone, then pack us all up and travel together. It’s an adventure, a chance to ditch all the distractions of home, all the responsibilities of jobs and home and school, and just enjoy each other. It’s building the memories that you hope will cement the family bonds through whatever lies ahead. It’s challenging and rewarding.

I realize my family is blessed. The adults all like and enjoy each other and nobody pushed another’s buttons. The kids are friends as well as cousins. Seven of the grandkids are between 12 and 16 and then there is the four year old. The older ones like being together, so we don’t have a stray teen rolling his or her eyes and wishing to be somewhere else. The little one gets to interact with the older kids, teaching her what it’s like to have a big family watching over you. Without her own father, she gets to enjoy having her uncles and older cousins as the men in her life. There’s a lot of talk, a lot of laughter, a lot of funny stories when we get together.

I’m thinking back on our trip, remembering why I wanted to spend the money and the time to take us all away. It’s pretty simple. The gift was for them, of course. We learned some history, had great fun, ate at memorable places, and relaxed. The bigger gift was for me really. Having that time to watch them all together is a big block of happiness in this life that goes by so quickly. It’s a memory that I hope will stay with them forever, a snapshot of what they mean to each other.

We can take our relationships for granted, but they are all fragile. Life can throw things at you that you never expect, things that make you react in ways you never thought possible. I treasure memories like the days with my family, memories that will hopefully keep us strong. No guarantees in life, but we keep having fun in the meantime.