My children have spent the past two weeks gathering eggs from a henhouse and feeding apples to Grandma’s donkey while I hold a newborn niece or nephew with one arm, and drink a cold one with the other. Both sets of grandparents live 3000 miles away from us, and have small farms with cows, four-wheelers, tractors, and acres of land to explore. Our time with them is magical for my kids, and a true vacation for me.
When I wake up, coffee is already made. I’m greeted by the sight of one my kids snuggling with a grandma, discussing a favorite book or the previous day’s activity, and choosing which sugared cereal to have for pre-breakfast. The delight on my mother and mother-in-law’s faces brings me so much joy, as does the fact that I am able to sleep in while my kids discussed Harry Potter with Grams.
After morning snuggles, the kids put on their shoes and head outside to gather eggs for breakfast while I sit on the patio enjoying the Pacific Northwest sunshine and my steaming mug of coffee. They proudly deliver the eggs, and secure helmets for the next chore: riding out to the pasture with Pappy to say hello to the cows.
While we grown-ups make breakfast and sip Bloody Marys, the kids build the millionth cabin with well-worn Lincoln Logs, and after eating and doing dishes, the official fun begins. It may be a trip to the waterpark, boating on the river, a tractor show, or simply hours on the rope swing or in the pool. All of these activities have a common theme: kids running free and adults laughing happily, in the easy company of those we love.
We adults hold each other’s babies and marvel at how much the kids have changed since Christmas, while we share updates on our lives in the way that is best done in person. After a few hours of playing hard outside, the kids set about the easy task of convincing Grandma to let them have cookies for lunch.
At night, after the kids are in bed, the conversation gets more crass, and the laughter more boisterous. There are fire pits, life-size Jenga, and Bite the Bag: a magnificent game where players take turns picking up an ever-shrinking paper grocery bag with one’s mouth, no hands allowed, and no knees on the ground. You would not believe how flexible my friends and family members are. Most of them, anyway. Some people seriously suck ass at that game, which is effing hilarious.
We play a grown-up game of Telephone, which forces our parents to whisper words in our ears that are probably illegal, and later in the night there is, of course, my obligatory “I love you, man,” cry. This year’s recipient of my overt affection was my brother’s lovely wife. I really do love her, man.
Maybe watching my kids play with their cousins wouldn’t feel so special if we lived closer. I imagine those who see their families frequently aren’t moved to tears when they witness their child casually sling an arm around his cousin in the pew at church. I don’t know, because our oldest was barely one when we moved across the country. We haven’t experienced the casual closeness of raising our children in the presence of our parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews.
Our trips home are hard, and they are fast. We immerse ourselves in our family and friends, and they do the same. We gobble our time together like it’s air, and the end of our trip is the deep plunge to the bottom of the sea. We need to collect the hugs and proximity that will be unavailable until our next meeting, six months away. Our entire two week trip is a celebration. We eat like it’s one big party, and I always bring five extra pounds with me when we leave.
I love the time with my family and my oldest friends. Laughing with some of my favorite people, people who know me like others do not, makes me feel whole. It reminds me why the family bond is so strong, and I am relieved to know that distance won’t damage those relationships.
It makes me terribly sad that I don’t get to see our family but twice a year, although my heart and my waistband overflow with gladness when we are together. I return home feeling refreshed and content, to a house and a community that I love, carrying the memories and extra pounds of time with family.