09/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Obama's Family Vacation: An Oxymoron Case Study

Having just returned from four days visiting my mother in San Diego with my two children, Gene (13) and Gemma (10), I viewed photos of the Obama's summer vacation with a slightly jaundiced eye. Perhaps I was projecting, or still jet-lagged, but wasn't eight-year-old Sasha looking a little sullen?

I'm not nitpicking here, but rooting for that real emotion. It's unfair to rob a little sister of her justifiable family vacation snit. Where's Sasha's meltdown?

Trust me: it has to happen, on this vacation or the next, and I hope when it does, she melts off-stage.

My 10-year-old had a doozy last Saturday that even ice cream seemed incapable of curing. It was one of those old Smothers Brothers routines, in which she accused me of loving her brother more because he makes me laugh. (Can I help it if he's funny?) Gemma went on and on in front of Grandma and the entire population of Balboa Park. She railed at the perceived injustice until my ability to laugh it off eroded from initial tolerance, to bribery, to hushed sidecar discussions.

And while Gemma's tempest didn't blow on-camera, it did happen in front of my older sister. We have, to put it mildly, a competitive sibling relationship. Gemma ran off to Auntie P. and said she wanted to move in with her. Ouch!

So I looked at sweet, occasionally sulky Sasha and her more sophisticated 11-year-old sister Malia (who appeared a little bored with all the ice cream photo ops), and I had to agree with my good friend D.: the term "family vacation" was an oxymoron.

But what D. also wisely reminded me was that while parents might return from vacation tired, and cranky, and feeling like the entire exercise was counter-therapy, kids remembered it differently. Hopefully, my kids will recall afternoons playing badminton with their cousins, and boogie boarding at Pacific Beach, and watching two orangutans cuddle amorously at the zoo, long after I popped my final Xanax.

So, I'm curious: tell me your family vacation memories...snits welcome!