Ahhh, summer. Relaxed vacations and the chance to bond with your extended family.
After a week at the lake with my siblings, their spouses, our kids and my folks, all I can say is, there's nothing like some quality time with mom and dad to shine the light on dysfunction.
We spent previous summers trying to outdo each other on the water ski course. But as we've matured, we've moved on to the real event, the Summer Sibling Olympics, a subtle and insidious game called "The Lifestyle Challenge."
The events range from "proper towel folding technique" and "coolest electronic calendar system" to "appropriate toddler nutrition" and "most exhaustive political argument." Yet despite daily elimination rounds, it's becoming painfully apparent that some of the players, (namely, my siblings' spouses) don't even realize that we're being judged.
Did they think we came on vacation to have fun?
To be fair, the rules and regulations of Summer Sibling Olympics can be confusing for a newcomer.
One of the more challenging aspects is that the players are also the judges. Each has their own set of scoring criteria and, in many cases, their own set of events. So while one family may be trying to win the "Whose kids can show the most initiative on the Wave Runner" trophy, another is hotly pursuing the "Best manners at the dinner table" medal.
But you never actually know where you stand in the point totals because the scores are tallied each night via whispered pillow talk between spouses, and each set of judges/competitors comes up with their own rankings.
To make matters even more complex, those same judges/competitors have also been known to jump in as coaches when other teams fall behind.
You wouldn't think such fierce rivals would want to give their opponent a leg up. But being nice people, we can't bear to watch someone messing up. We're a polite bunch, though, so we don't like to offer direct feedback or shout suggestions from the sidelines. Coaching is delivered via innocuous comments uttered behind a thin veneer of Southern manners.
"Are you sure John Jr. should be eating all those pickles?"
"Dang, every time I go into the bathroom the toilet paper roll is on backwards."
"Wow, your kids sure do like television."
What sounds like pleasant conversation is actually a warning about potential point deductions. If acted upon quickly, your score can remain intact. However, ignoring the coaching not only results in a point loss for your original error, but additional deductions for failing to correct yourself when someone brought it to your attention.
This year, the award for Best in Show was a wide-open race. My team, consisting of myself, my husband and our two kids, started off strong by winning the "Who can bring the most junk" round.
But then we lost the "Who can make a big point of reading to their kids every night" event. It's a highly disputed event that some teams consider a compulsory, but we consider an optional round for away games.
We briefly rallied for the "Who can eat the most Cheetos and still have room for dinner" challenge. But as the week wore on, the rigors of competition began to take their toll.
My husband went from being an all-around player to deciding that beer drinking was his one and only event. My youngest completely choked on "Who can go down for their nap without complaining" and my eldest blatantly refused to get into the starting blocks for "How many math facts can you recite at one sitting?"
But it was when my parents began shirking their duties as head officials that the thrill of the games began to fade. When my dad proclaimed, "It's amazing how all of your families are so different, yet they all work so well," we finally realized there was never going to be a medal round.
If your parents won't declare a winner, what's the point of competing?
But I think I'll keep training for next year, just in case.
Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.forgetperfect.com.