05/30/2006 01:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Woman Overboard

The summer season of family fun and frolic heralded by Memorial Day Weekend had barely gotten underway when a husband and wife traveling with their small child had an argument aboard a cruise ship and the man jumped overboard to his death.

While I don't mean to make light of this tragic incident, I have always understood how frustrating it might be to find yourself in the midst of an argument with your relatives on a cruise ship. Once, when my husband and I and our four sons were invited on a crossing of the QE II from New York to England by our dysfunctional family investment group, it hadn't taken me a second to politely turn down the request. Everyone I knew was astonished. All that food? First-run movies? Shuffleboard? Gratis? But I wasn't the slightest bit tempted. I couldn't imagine a fate worse than being stuck on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with twenty or more family members and NOT BEING ABLE TO GET OFF!

But obviously, surrounded by loved ones, thoughts of ending it all can happen anywhere. Just this past weekend which I spent on dry land in Berkeley tiptoeing around my husband, one of our sons, my two stepsons, one of their wives, my husband's ex-wife and her husband, and my step-daughter-in-law's mother and stepfather (don't bother trying to untangle this interlocking directorate) there was a moment during the Graduation barbecue when I gazed longingly over the third-floor balcony of my stepson's apartment, to the sylvan, tree-lined, street below.

I had already confessed, under the expert prodding of the sons who delight in getting me to cop to any counter cultural or illegal activity, to a prior Berkeley Summer of Love when I was afraid that people were dropping acid in my drinks and the friend I was staying with was on a strict diet of cantaloupe and cottage cheese. After barely eating or drinking for a week, you, too, might develop suicidal tendencies.

While I wasn't on high alert for drug cocktails on this occasion at the Costco-inspired barbecue, I was nevertheless on guard. At least one stepson was already not speaking to me and the other step and ex in-laws had spent the previous week bonding with each other in the Napa Valley so I was on the outs from the git go.

Family occasions have a way of popping up with more frequency over the summer--reunions and birthdays of senior members are touted as the perfect excuse for everyone to see the latest set of children, grand and great grand children.

My advice to all as they sit down with the calendar to plan out the summer get-togethers: choose your poison. If you pick only one kind of family from column A (stepfamily, ex-family, nuclear family) and only one species from column B (grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren) you will at least have a shot at finishing out the trip. If you overreach, you'll increase your chances of ending up overboard.

Or, you could wisely abandon the notion of family togetherness and use your precious vacation week going to a spa or a yoga, tennis or golf retreat BY YOURSELF and do as they did when I was young and send the children off to eight full weeks of summer camp.

Sounds tempting, huh?