The wonderful and war-torn ways of the annual three-generation family vacation down the Shore

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Some of the author's seven grandkids - (from left) Zay Smolar, Hannah Smolar, Jonah Zinn, and Sam Zinn - at the Shore in 2004.

The craziness usually begins a full week before arrival day.

"Are you bringing the corn? 18 ears?" demands the daughter who prides herself on administrative ability. "You're not on the sign-up sheet."

The sign-up sheet?

For a fleeting moment, I want to remind this daughter that I'm her mother, once the maternal equivalent of a CEO, and a reasonably competent woman who knows that I'll be bringing more corn than they're likely to see in Kansas for our first night's dinner on Long Beach Island.

I will make sure its fresh, I will husk it, and I can even be trusted to cook it.

But I don't say any of that. Not when we are vacationing with our three very grown-up daughters and their families at the Shore.

We've walked this walk before - actually for about 10 summers, although no one can quite agree as to precisely how and when the tradition started. But there we were, our annual family trek to wherever our daughters and their families landed in the rental market.

By now, we can definitely zoom in on key memories sweet - and not so - from our times enduring the week of communal living on this island we all love.

The jumping-off point is always, "Remember the year when . . .?" and then someone will fill in the blanks.

Who can forget the year it rained all day and night, every day and night, forcing us to play hours of stupid card games? Grandson Jonah snagged the $2 cash award for most games won, but the competition was fierce.

There was the year it was so hot - and so sleepless - that we stayed up all night on the deck.

And we certainly remember the vagaries of a family seashore vacation when eight adults, seven grandchildren, and a few assorted nonfamily guests gather for the romp. Personalities, sometimes as different as Venus and Mars, do collide:

When some of us who prefer something a tad later than 6 a.m. as rise-and-shine time cohabit with those who think noon is a civilized hour to start the day, not all the sounds are laughter.

Things can get battlegroundlike between the gluten-free and the gluten gluttons, too, with endless outings for milk and bread, peanut butter and crackers, and the misplaced bug spray.

And there was the special enchantment of discovering that my husband and I, addicted for years to a king-size bed, ended up for two summer nights in bunk beds, based on the Shore house occupancy.

So, why do we ever agree to do this?

There's a simple answer.

On these summer odysseys, we, in a sense, remeet the daughters with whom we haven't shared our home in decades. We get better acquainted with the grandkids who are growing up way too soon and fast. And we connect in that special way when 15 people share three bathrooms and one outdoor shower.

Our annual days at the Shore are often the highlights of our year. They are the one time when we are all under one roof, when every meal is a celebration of more than just food, and when we actually see the grandkids' faces because certain specified hours are mandated tech-free. (That policy began when we realized our grandkids were sitting on the same sectional sofa and texting one another in silence.)

We repeat this frenzy because of the murder-mystery nights, collaborating noisily on plot, characters, and endings in costumes patched together by the truly bizarre clothing each family brings along with the T-shirts and shorts.

We do this summer over and over because, on some mornings, a grandfather and grandson may sit down and talk about everything from capital punishment to how life used to be on a small New Jersey farm with no TV.

On some of those nights when the breeze kicks in and we actually need sweaters, or when I watch our daughters giggling the way they used to before they all hit - how can it be? - middle age, I think my heart will burst at the sheer astonishment and joy of it all.

I remember back when it was just the five of us, and when they would be digging sand tunnels all the way to China. And I recall those edge-of-the-ocean vigils when, for a heart-stopping second, their father and I would see only two heads bobbing instead of three.

Now, they warn us there's an undertow, as two seniors experiment with a careful foray into the surf.

Yes, the generational carousel of time does go 'round and 'round, and the seashore is the place we feel it most.

Along with the green flies that nip us, the nights when we're all cranky and exhausted, the mess that takes over the rental house, and the grill that somebody forgot to turn on, these days and nights on LBI are a testament to endurance, to staying power, and to this flawed, fabulous thing we call family.

And you can be sure it will be same time next year.

pinegander@aol.com