floridaThe girls and I are just back from Florida, where my mom and dad live three months of the year. Nowhere else are so many generations from so many cultures on display than Florida in wintertime. Our flights were full of families heading south to see Grandma and Grandpa. A few adolescents traveling alone, plenty of babies and toddlers, and in one case three generations visiting the fourth – great-grandma – in West Palm Beach. Everywhere I looked there were bulky boat-like vehicles, often American-made, with out-of-state plates and drivers who fail to signal.

The beaches, the playgrounds, the museums and the grocery stores were full of odd assortments of people and I found myself puzzling, many times, over who belonged to whom and how. As someone who has been mistaken – just that once! – for my children’s grandmother, I am sensitive to the appearance of older parents with younger children, but in Florida it is hard to tell. The state seems full of baby boomers, retired early and happily so, as well as several older generations. My parents’ own “adult living” condo community has three generations represented, from the 55-year-olds who look almost like me to the nonagenarians who claim the ground-floor units. And then, come February and March, two more generations represented most often by sunscreen-slippery preschoolers and their weary sweating parents on their Smartphones.

Every morning, we ventured out to the local lake and park to feed the ducks and explore the playground. Claire and I riding bikes, Grandma pushing Anna in the stroller. Two days in and everyone knows us and asks after the girls, while my parents give me the inside story of the folks we pass on the walking path – the friend of a friend from their childhood, the chatty 91-year-old who is best avoided, the couple who see my kids and anticipate their own grandchildren visiting soon.

Then, at the playground, the snowbirds and the locals mix side-by-side, and the Hispanic and Haitian cultures add mystery to the generational question. Side by side at the swings, some impossibly young-looking grandparents next to midlife parents – the tourists evident by their pale skin, hats and sunscreen. But even I can’t tell the tourist parents from the grandparents at times – is that a 50-something mother or a 50-something grandmother? I gauge the behaviour of the children and the interest of the adult for clues.

Grandparents, with just a week to make an impression, seem to try harder, and are far more vigilant around the monkey bars. The parents tend to be the ones with the cameras, or tablets, snapping photos and shooting video, aiming to get palm trees in the background. At the local Children’s Museum the adults outnumber the children in the pint-sized exhibits, everyone jostling for the best angle for the Facebook shot, the New York accents competing almost evenly with the French Canadians.

This is my fifth trip south in six years of parenting to visit my parents in the winter. Arizona. Texas. Florida. Each year, I count my blessings, knowing that the memories we are creating between my children and my parents will have to last a lifetime, and that one of these years they will be too old, too sick, too poor or too tired to make it south, and our winters will shift to worrying about caregiving and slippery sidewalks, snowy roads and seniors homes. And it will no longer by a mystery which is the parent and which is the grandparent. Until then, the generational melting pot of Florida is a beautiful thing in February, and I’ll be there with the sunscreen and the Smartphone, snapping memories.