The Circus Family (named by a guy at our hotel one year who saw us coming and said to my sister, whom he didn’t know was with us, “Oh, here comes the circus”) has returned from our twentieth anniversary Michigan trip. Of course, though it’s been twenty summers, because of COVID it’s only 19 trips. Now forever we’ll say, “we’ve come every year for twenty (something) years, except 2020.”
But still, twenty years is not something to scoff at.
I used to think, when the kids were little and our trips were all crazy with crying and ear infections and fights about eating vegetables so you can poop on vacation instead of getting a tummy ache, that things would get easier when the kids were older.
In reality, with the kids getting older and having things like jobs and school and hormones, family vacation has only gotten harder. Maybe any other family would throw in the towel, say it’s too much, too hard, too taxing, but not us.
The reason? Gram. In December, it will be five years since she died but when I go to Michigan, and I sit on the white sandy beach and listen to the waves, Gram is there.
“It feels like home,” my sister Natasha said yesterday as we sat at the beach, saying goodbye to the lake.
Even though we go to the same place every year, no vacation is the same. As our families have grown, we’ve had to find new places to stay, and new adventures to have.
This year, there were no magnificent sunsets over the lake. This is because of the smoke haze we’ve had for a month now. On the last night, it was sunny and windy, so even though we just finished grilling and dinner was going to get cold, two of my sisters and our two oldest kids hopped in the car with me and we drove 1.5 miles to see the sunset before it disappeared.
To our dismay, it was already gone when we arrived because of the smoke. We all five stood looking out over the water, watching the waves.
My sister Megan had arrived late this year, and so had my daughter Bunny, so they’d missed beach day.
“You want to go swimming?” I asked.
We weren’t planning on swimming, and we weren’t in our suits and didn’t have towels.
“I can’t swim in a dress,” Megan answered.
“So take it off,” I replied, “you have underclothes on, right? All of you can go, Bunny hasn’t been swimming either. There’s no one else here.”
We all looked at the water. The waves were rolling from the wind. We like rolling waves.
My sister Natasha went and sat by a log.
“You guys swim, I’ll watch our stuff.”
As the oldest two sisters, we reserve the right to not participate in some things anymore because we’re old.
My niece Chloe looked at her Aunt Megan with puppy dog eyes, “It would make a nice memory, and I don’t have any nice memories with you.”
This was a bold faced lie, and she could hardly keep her face serious. We have tons of nice memories with our nieces and nephews, primarily because of this trip every year.
I knew if Megan swam, the kids would, too.
“Come on Natasha,” Megan ordered.
I turned and looked at my next youngest sister, the one closest to me in age, sitting by the log.
“I will if you will,” I said, surprising even myself.
So, we stripped down to our underclothes and hit the lake, not believing the whole time that we were swimming in our underpants.
We played in the waves and the water felt cool and refreshing.
But even more than that, it felt good to laugh hysterically and do something crazy. Gram would have approved.
Getting dressed was kind of a challenge what with the wet skin and sand, but I had three beach sheets in the trunk to keep us from soaking all the car seats.
“Now I have ONE nice memory,” Chloe said as we laughed.
We slinked in the house, not wanting the other kids to be upset that they’d missed out, and then ate cold hamburgers and took showers.
“Thanks for skinny dipping with me,” I said to Chloe yesterday when we parted ways.
It went fast, like it always does. There were days when some people cried. I was one of them, and so was my niece Chloe. At one point my nephew Weston told my sister, yelling and upset, that “a garbage can would be a better mother than you.”
Words like that from your kid can slice your heart in two, but when your sisters are there to tell you that you are a good mom, you can chuckle together about a garbage can being a better parent. In times like these, we really appreciate that we have each other. Not all families are like ours, and I’m grateful for three sisters to love and support, who love and support me back.
And no matter what happens in the future, we’ll always have the memory of that time we went swimming in Lake Superior, in our underwear, to get us through.