Family Reunion

What I want to say is that it is a terrible idea to start a 17-hour drive the day after the school year ends. And that this is the reason we somehow forgot my suitcase. And that I had packed all the toothpaste, among other things. And that I had to replace everything which is part of the reason I was fussy until about four hours ago.

What I want to say is that 18 people in one house is, more or less, 12 too many, even if one of them is my adorable 13 month old niece who, for reasons none of us can quite fathom, is basically happy all of the time.

What I want to say is that South Carolina is hot, even at the beach, and that most of us are ridiculously sunburned even though we’ve only been here three days. And we were too far away to really appreciate yesterday’s fireworks, and what were we celebrating, really, since each day the beach appears to be full of straight white couples and Roe has been overturned and there were 21 mass shootings in the US between July 1st and 4th and as we drove down here we passed within spitting distance of at least two of them.

But then I meet my sister’s partner, a woman who makes her very happy and who, as it turns out, makes a delicious daiquiri. And my Cuban sister-in-law is tucked away in the shade, reading and cooing at the baby. And my brothers are on the beach, kicking a soccer ball with my son while my partner plays in the ocean with my nephews. And I marvel that my family has dealt with addiction and divorce and depression and suicide attempts and miscarriage and abortion and money troubles and the list goes on and on. Some of us own guns; some of us abhor guns. Some of us are vegan; some of us are enthusiastic meat-eaters. Some of us have MDs; some of us never finished college.

By all rights, we should not get along at all, and sometimes we don’t, but for the week of the family reunion, day after day we laugh and love and find the things we have in common. The grill sets off the fire alarm – again – and the kids try to fill the pool with water balloons and then, after dinner, we have a birthday cake to celebrate birthdays we’ve missed. Tonight, we are all in the main room with the baseball game on mute while Jamie and Donna serenade us with old time bluegrass music and about half the family sings the chorus.

This family reunion – so many of us joined in such unexpected ways – doesn’t fix everything, of course, but it’s not nothing. Some nights, once I’ve recovered from the long drive and the end of the school year and all its attendant fatigue, I think it might be (almost) everything.

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers, whose weekly Slice of Life keeps me writing and thinking.

Vacation? #SOL22 14/22

Describe your ideal vacation. Does it involve going into a dark, wet, hand-carved, dead-end tunnel with a group of energetic pre-teen boys? If so, today would have been your day.

The last time my children and my nephews were together was July 2019, pre-pandemic. Their reunion during this week of March Break has been, well, loud. In two short days (and today isn’t even nearly over), they have done a “Polar Bear” dip in the lake (54F/12C) – then done it again because their aunt offered them $25 if they do it five times for five minutes and they love money, met their (adorable) baby cousin, convinced their grandfather to take them tubing even if the water is ridiculously cold, gone to (distanced) church, played Dungeons and Dragons (with my partner as their patient Dungeon Master), talked about D&D until we forced them to stop, exhausted their grandparents’ dog (who did not know this much non-stop action was possible), watched 40 gazillion episodes of The Simpsons, and gone on an adventure to Stumphouse Tunnel.

The Stumphouse Tunnel was carved into a mountain in the middle of nowhere South Carolina before the Civil War – apparently as a potential train tunnel. I would be able to tell you more about it, but we didn’t have time to stop and read the signs. We *did* have time to go to the end of the tunnel, climb over top of the tunnel to the peak of the “mountain,” have a picnic, and then go off-trail and clamber down the nearby Issaqueena Falls. The day was gloriously sunny and warm (at least for those of us from Ottawa).

After a few hours of climbing outdoors the kids were almost worn out – but not quite. They contemplated Laser Tag but opted to come home. We’ve played the family version of Cards Against Humanity and some of the adults (ahem – me) took a nap, but there’s still spaghetti pie to make (it’s pi day) and apple pie to eat and at least one movie to watch.

I’m exhausted and as happy as I’ve been for a while: writing on a couch with a cat curled up next to me, listening to boys laughing in the next room, to one boy and his grandfather cooking, to my partner and my stepmother deep in conversation.

Happiness sneaks up on us, doesn’t it? Even when your vacation day involves hiking in a cold, wet tunnel.