It’s family reunion season, which means it’s time for my annual family reunion roundup. My relatives tease me about my post-reunion column. They learned, long ago, that no event is safe from my writer’s pen.
I just can’t help myself. Throw together several dozen relatives, and you’re going to have great fodder for a column or two.
I have to begin by mentioning my absolutely adorable niece Kenna. She is 9 years old and whip-smart. She even composes her own piano songs. Kenna reads my column every two weeks, and wants to know when I am finally going to write about her. So here it is. Hi, Kenna! I miss you already. Come visit us in Minnesota, OK?
Now, to the reunion. What do you get when you mix one house, 33 people, a lake, a river, a mountain of food and some fabulous Pacific Northwest scenery? A reunion for the record books, that’s what. Even when the host family is rushing their 3-year-old to the emergency room on the first morning with two snapped bones in his right arm.
Even when the host family plans meals of hot dogs, pancakes, pork sandwiches and croissants, only to find out that most of the adults have gone gluten-free. (Sorry!)
Even when the day at the beach gets rained out and turns into a day at the local community pool.
Despite the broken bones, bags of untouched hot dog buns and a drippy sky, the week turned out to be fabulous. There was almost no fighting among the 18 children in the house. Everyone pitched in to help with meals and activities. The toilets didn’t even clog.
I came away so motivated. My brother- and sister-in-laws are remarkable parents — patient with their children and so impressively organized (my two, ahem, weaknesses). For instance, one morning we were flipping pancakes in the kitchen (for the five people still eating gluten) when my nephew Spencer (brother to the fantastic Kenna — hi, Kenna!) walked into the kitchen.
“Oh, pancakes!” he said. “What day is it?”
“Tuesday,” I told him.
He leaned against the counter. “In our house, we have pancakes on Thursday,” he said.
I was fascinated. “What do you have on Tuesday?”
“Eggs and toast.”
“And on Monday?”
“Oatmeal.” Friday was cold cereal. He fired off the menu like a waiter at the local diner. My sister-in-law has it all planned out, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guess what I’m implementing when I get home? That, along with more patience. I might even organize my kitchen so you can actually find the measuring cups.
Since our last reunion, my niece Sydney (hi, Sydney!) grew two inches taller than me. My twin nieces Ruby and Norah learned to speak in a language we all understand. A whole gaggle of cousins are potty trained, grew real hair and developed into the cutest bunch of kids an aunt could wish for.
This is why we have family reunions. To get inspired. To watch our nieces tower over us, to laugh and lip sync, to play games where we have to lick frosting off Ziploc bags (don’t ask, I’m still living down the shame), to stay up way past our bedtimes, and best of all: to see our children develop lasting relationships with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
I watched my kids as they settled into the pack, aware that they were part of something so much larger than our little family. They are one small bud on a continually branching family tree.
We may be scattered to the winds, living so far apart as we do, but when we come together with Kenna (hi, Kenna!), Bryson, Julia, Clark, Dorothy, Daisy and the scads of other relatives, we are all family.
Mother Teresa was reported to say that to promote world peace, people should love their families.
I think she was on to something. It is as simple and complicated and beautiful as that. Even if you have to navigate a few broken bones and hot dog buns along the way.