Relishing the reunion
Look, not to brag: but as I’m writing this, it’s 60 degrees outside. That’s summer in Western New York — a fact my Buffalo-born husband reminds me of often, particularly when we’re sweating in 100-degree heat with 10,000 percent humidity in Southern Maryland.
Though I’ll be back in the Old Line State by the time you read this, we’re currently up on Chautauqua Lake visiting the extended Johnson family for the big reunion. My father-inlaw is one of four children, all of whom have children of their own. And the next generation after that — which includes our young son — is already seven members strong. Combine this crew with extended cousins, aunts and uncles, spouses and significant others? Chaos. But the good kind. The best kind.
Spencer’s aunt and uncle rented a beautifully-restored old home for a week with their family, and we came to crash on their first full day on the lake. We gathered Sunday — some for the very first time; others for the first time in five years or longer — to eat, catch up and pose for lopsided group pictures in which half the group is talking, turned or tending to a child.
Assembled with Spencer’s extended family with his grandparents front and center, I looked out at a sea of cellphones and cameras and felt grateful. I knew when I married Spencer that I lucked into a large, welcoming, funny group — and I don’t take that for granted. I come from a close-knit family as well, but we’re a smaller tribe.
The Johnsons? The Johnsons are definitely a force to be reckoned with. Like a cyclone.
We’d been looking forward to this reunion for the better part of a year, though I’ve been worrying about the eight-hour drive for just as long. After our rough flights at Christmas, we decided to save the money and make life “easier” by driving this trip.
Really, it came down to stuff. We have quite a lot of it. There was no way to get it to New York without paying ridiculous baggage or shipping fees, so the car was the best option.
We did have a few meltdowns, but that was inevitable. Thankfully, most miraculously coincided with rest stops or the appearance of those beloved golden arches. In my day-today life, friends, I take McDonald’s for granted — but like a loyal friend, Mickey D’s is always there when an angry toddler is close to shattering your eardrums and you’ve needed to find a restroom for half an hour.
McDonald’s doesn’t ask questions. McDonald’s understands.
We made it to my mother-and-father-in-law’s house in the woods by dinnertime. After popping the trunk to drag in all the accoutrements one tiny person needs, Oliver began to explore every nook, cranny and cord within reach. The Johnsons had planned for a curious toddler, thankfully. Ollie was imprisoned with baby gates in no time. Ah — just like home. On Sunday, the walls of the lake house practically shook with all the laughter, shrieking and gloating after cousin cornhole tournaments stretched into late afternoon.
Oliver is the youngest of seven great-grandchildren, and that kid simply did not know where to look. He’s used to some excitement with his daycare buddies, but having so many people in a tight space offering smooches, toys and conversation was overwhelming. Ollie handled it well.
I don’t see Oliver in social situations too often. We hear reports of how much he loves being with other kiddos, but I’m often off writing these columns and not there to witness it. But let me tell you: watching your child reach out a pudgy hand to gently tap the arm of a young cousin? He gives hugs to Spencer and me, sure, but this was different. This was friendship.
But it’s certainly not all sunshine, cold drinks and cool breezes. After a great day with family, Oliver had an epic meltdown on our drive back to my in-laws’ home. He refused to sleep — at all. Just like our upall-night Outer Banks adventures, being away from home at bedtime does not agree with him. Or us.
I got frustrated. Irritated. By 10 p.m., the hours-long tantrum my son was throwing had stopped being cute — or even tolerable — hours before. It took my husband’s deep well of patience, plenty of milk and the soothing presence of a musical giraffe, but Oliver did finally collapse in his pack-and-play. We peeked in to find him asleep sideways with arms outstretched, reaching for his animal. He doesn’t give up easily.
But I didn’t want a rough night to color our otherwise glorious day. With family arriving from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland and Indiana, it’s unlikely we’ll all sit on the same sunny porch together again for quite a while.
Good thing we have plenty of photographic evidence.
Now, for the car ride home . . .