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I Survived a Heller Family Reunion

Just in time for the 4th of July holiday and the tourist traffic, I am back from a family reunion. We all shipped ourselves up to East Lansing, Michigan. Home of the Michigan State University Spartans. I am back with no particular stories of interest when it comes to my family. Just words of wisdom on how to survive a reunion of a type-A family folk.

1. Set no expectations. If you don't expect to go anywhere or see anything, you won't be disappointed. Having no expectations I was delighted to go to a fun little children's museum, the Packer Zoo which is chock full of animal cruelty cages and pony rides, the Oldsmobile car museum, and the Spartan Hall of Fame Bar & Grill, a TGI Fridays of MSU pride.

2. Carve out your own time. My daughter and I escaped by city bus to the small set of shops in the college town. We enjoyed a family-run tea shop, a comic book shop complete with overweight man-boys sitting around a table discussing SciFi, and a real, authentic used book store. I had to leave the rest of my family behind to do this, but I needed the break. The choice was: they miss me for 3 hours or, I explode. Plus, I was not going to give up my one chance to browse a used book store.

3. Be Prepared for Anything. What was supposed to be a stroll on the MSU campus, turned into my uncle leading us into the small forest adjacent to their campus. Here I am picturing paved paths and manicured lawns. What I am getting are giant mosquitoes and the specter of deer tick. I was not prepared for this which would have meant carrying heavy boots and a gallon of DDT on the plane. Make sure you have apps on your phone so when a car ride said to be 1 hour turns into 2.5 hours, you're prepared. And don't leave your child's blankie in the trunk. So this is also a lesson for me.

4. Know your Place. A family reunion is no time to reinvent yourself or imagine that your family will ever see you as anything beyond how they knew you at 15. You can come dragging 15 kids in tow, a novel, and your doctorate and they'll still see you however they want to. Just go with it, and think about the alternate universe you will be returning to in due time. There's no real point in trying to convince your family of anything.

5. Know You'll be Outvoted. As a single mom, you'll always be outvoted. If one of your cousins/ sisters/aunts don't want to do anything, they'll "blame" it on their significant other. As a single mom, you don't have that fallback. So just look up at number 5 "Know Your Place". Establish yourself early as the moody erratic one and they'll let you be. We're divorced/single for a reason. Right? Take that grain of truth and exaggerate it 100 times. They're your family. They're stuck with you. It's OK to be the black sheep if that means not agreeing to walk 2 miles with a 4 year old without a stroller to see an art museum - we're not talking Louvre here.

6. Enjoy the little things. The big Spartan "S" painted everywhere, sheep in a field, taking a city bus in a new city, finding a store that sells didgeridoos in all different colors for $15, a make your own waffle option at the included hotel breakfast, seeing how my aunt photoshopped her nephew into a picture of all the cousins. He wouldn't show his face in the photo so she put it on in...

Then most unsurprisingly...

7. Have a sense of humor. Two hour breakfasts where people discuss you in third person as if you're not there. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.

You will survive. I did. And I have a matching Polo shirt to prove it.