My feet hurt. The delicious kind of ache that comes from knowing all of your work is done and all that stretches ahead of you is a night of dreamless sleep.
I have been meticulously unpacking suitcases, folding clothes and putting them away. The process has taken me longer than it should because I stumbled upon things that make me sit down and smile to myself.
“Family: Where life begins and the love never ends.”
There is a Ziploc bag full of snips of paper inscribed with quotes like this. Some are simple like “Family forever” while others note oft-used phrases by members of my extended family. This bag is a collection of things my children, their cousins, and an aunt worked on during our week-long reunion at Florida. The idea was to cement the idea of family as more than just parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. This group included great aunts, great uncles, and second cousins. We did this a couple of years ago. The children were younger and we had no idea how it would work out.
We landed last Sunday in the afternoon. Our red Jeep Wrangler was crammed with suitcases and we sang and laughed our way to the beach home minutes away from the clean, fine sands of the Destin beach. We were greeted with warm hugs, lots of chatter and excitement that was tangible.
I found all the rooms with king size beds were taken so I settled for a room with two queen size bunk beds. It was one of the best decisions ever. Each night, Saathi and I settled in with six kids. The children clamored to sleep with their cousins. Each night saw a different combination in each bed. There were whispers in the dark, loads of giggling and pure girl magic.
On my birthday, I woke up to giggles and excited screams as over ten children opened their presents from Santa. I cut a cake and clutched a handful of presents as the cameras clicked and everyone sang to wish me. Saathi and I walked on the beach and watched the sunrise.
Walks along the shoreline, beach fun in cold water, pool fun in warm water, the mornings saw the house and its perimeter littered with towels, pool toys and the sounds of joy emanating from the water. I sat holding Laddu for most parts, absorbing, cheering and feeling immensely proud of how well my older two took to the water. My nieces and nephews cavorted around me. splashing, paddling, and diving. Unguarded comments, unfiltered thoughts, they all added to the intimacy of the mornings.
We took turns cooking for about 30 people each meal. The biggest pots and pans were out, mounds of vegetables were chopped, the smell of spices, the warmth of the kitchen, the sounds of bonding still echo in my ears. As a few cooked, the rest cleaned, did the dishes, mopped, vacuumed and watched the kids.
One night, a cousin’s husband hosted a family quiz of sorts. We divvied into teams and the young and old vied with each other in getting names, birth order, ages right for the bragging rights. Another night, we played charades, laughing until our bellies hurt. One other night, fifteen of us sat around the large dining table, writing out resolutions we wanted our spouses to adopt for the New Year. A few were whimsical, some sentimental, a couple too honest. As each person read out ‘their’ resolution, there were claps, awws and show of support all around. It also gave all of us a peek into things that mattered to the rest of the couples in the family.
Spirits flew easily, the guard came down and we danced late into the night. We also sat around most nights chatting, sharing old stories and regaling the group with anecdotes long forgotten. The phone cameras clicked all day long, capturing and committing to memory moments that tell a story.
In the midst of all the camaraderie and constant mingling, I found pockets of silence and reflection. I stood by the water, tuning out the world, lulled by the sound of the water crashing, understanding instinctively that each moment is a gift. I sat on the swing in the front porch, rocking gently as the humid air pressed on me. The chatter from the inside of the house was a faint echo of its full self, mild enough to cloak me in comfort, a security blanket that reminded me of all the treasures behind that wide double doors that opened into the house.
Each day, I stood by the kitchen sipping on strong tea my cousin held out for me, savoring the flavor and the fact that I do the nurturing at home and it is nice to be looked after once in a while. I let go mentally, knowing my children were in safe hands and for once enjoyed each day not toiling under the emotional weight of my own making.
We left, just as boisterously as we came, hugging people, making promises about visiting often, extending invitations to come to stay with us and knowing that the next reunion was only two years away. The rain came down in a steady pour, washing everything out and causing a dense fog en route to the airport. We drove slowly, in silence as the children slept in the back seat.
The hum of the heating system is the only noise in the house as I sit typing away. I am truly grateful for the past week. There is peace in knowing that long past our time, our children will be connected by the bonds we forge and strengthen every two years.
The family is love.