A Modern American Family Vacation

08/26/2014 04:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This August our blended family got together for a vacation in the great outdoors at Mammoth Lakes, California. My wife Mimi and I, along with my eleven year-old grandson Adrien, drove up from Los Angeles on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains via scenic highway 395, a route that took us through some stretches of the scorching Mojave Desert (temp 103ᅡᄚ) before cooling us down through the funky western towns of Lone Pine, Independence, and Big Pine.

Mimi's son Alan, his wife Lynne, her daughter Kaiya (10), and son Tamirat (8), flew from Madison, Wisconsin to Los Angeles, then drove up to join us at Snowcreek Resort, where we had rented two condominiums. Mammoth Lakes in the summer offers a wide variety of outdoor activities for families: spectacular mountain biking on the ski runs, fishing, swimming, and boating on the lakes, rock climbing, hiking in dramatic settings, horseback riding. We wanted to do it all!

Our first day together we took the kids rock climbing. We met our guide, Zach Schneider, at the Mammoth Visitors Center at nine am one morning and followed him up to the parking lot at Horseshoe Lake. From there we walked along a trail into the pine woods to an enormous granite outcropping over seven stories high. While the kids wriggled into their climbing harnesses and put on climbing shoes and helmets, Zach set up the belaying ropes on the rock face. Adrien, who had attended a rock climbing camp earlier in the summer, went first and made it to the top as Zach belayed the ropes and called out encouragement. Kaiya and Tamirat took their turns, each climbing about half-way up the face before tiring on their first try.

The trust test began when Zach turned over the belaying ropes to Kaiya for Adrien's second climb at a new, more difficult, location on the wall. Adrien resisted this arrangement at first, but Zach assured him that Kaiya could handle the responsibility, and anyway, he would also be holding onto the rope, just in case. Adrien scaled the rock to the top again, and Kaiya belayed him back down. Then Adrien belayed for Kaiya, Kaiya belayed for Tamirat, and Tamirat belayed for Adrien at a third climbing location. By the end of the outing, all three kids had climbed to the top of the rock and they were bonded as successful daredevils.

Sometime during the second day, while we were on a hike and picnic into Devils Postpile National Monument, the adults noticed that the kids were not using their given names when talking to each other. Adrien had become "Jacob" (the name of Alan's nineteen year-old son from his first marriage). Kaiya had become "Alexis," and Tamirat . . . had remained "Tamirat." They explained that they were a new family. Jacob and Alexis were twins, and Tamirat was their younger brother. They had multiple parents. Adrien and Kaiya would not respond unless addressed by their new family names. The adults had been given new names as well, not all flattering. Yours truly had been dubbed "Grumpy Grampa."

On our last full day, the kids went horseback riding at Convict Lake with Lynne, while Alan and I got caught up on our career developments during a hike into the John Muir Wilderness. Mimi went off to paint watercolors "en plein air." We finished off the day at the athletic club pool, with Grumpy Grampa squatting underwater and trying to serve as the base for a four person toppling tower that never got beyond two persons. Too much laughter. In the evening, we ordered take-out from a Thai restaurant and sat around the dining table sharing our dishes. The family the kids had imagined was real.