Friday, July 8, 2011

Happy (Non) Independence Day!

Contrary to popular belief, Independence Day does not have anything to do with Freedom for my husband.  For my husband- dear Man that he is-- the only freedom he has is, well, I guess there is none.  You see, Independence Day is yet another time that I enforce one of the very many family traditions that my husband was lucky enough to marry into.  (Notice, I say "he married into"-- because in my family, people marry in.  We don't marry out.  Yes, this is a very egotistical viewpoint, but we are a pretty egotistical family.)  

My family is huge on tradition.  We are also huge on family.  We are also just plain huge.  My grandmother had five children who, in turn, married and had 16 grandchildren, who then went on to marry (13 of us so far) and have (8 of us, so far) a combined total of 20 great-grandchildren.  This may not seem unreasonably large, but you are also not taking into account the fact that our family traditions tend to involve all of us in small spaces.  By my count, that comes to over 60 people.  And we get together a minimum of twice a year for extended weekends in either my parents' home in Virginia or, over the Fourth of July weekend, at my Grandfather's home on Conesus Lake in Western New York.  Specifically, in his 1/4 acre back yard.  In tents.  

Now, my husband was fully aware of this tradition before we married, but I think he may have felt that he was capable of avoiding it on occasion.  He was wrong.  But, because he's a good man, he's stopped grumbling quite as much and has learned to just go with the flow (read:  drink alot).  
But that's okay, because over the Fourth, everyone drinks a lot, so he fits in just fine.  

But there are other areas in which he refuses to budge.  And no-- it's not the safety factor.  He's actually budged on that one.  You see, my Grandfather's home sits 20 feet from the edge of Conesus Lake-- one of the beautiful Finger Lakes.  And, as mentioned in a prior post, my husband is convinced that we will lone day loose one of the children to drowning, and this weekend always seems like the best option for that happening.  Combine a lot of alcohol intake, twenty children under the age of 10, and a whole slew of parents who all believe that "someone else is watching my child" with a vast lake, a long rickety dock, and four large dogs all intent on chasing each other to the end of the dock as fast as they can- not caring which small child gets propelled into the water without the life jacket that is supposedly dock-mandatory. Someone is going to die.  If not by water, then by fish hook. (In 20 years we've only had one visit to the emergency room for fish hook, so our odds are looking okay.)

For many years my husband would stalk the edge of the lake, keeping a close eye on any child that came within a foot of the water, ready to swoop in and grab that child before a foot could get wet (and, in my opinion, ruin their fun and the whole point of having a lake).  This year, he decided his heart couldn't take the anxiety (and he couldn't risk having a heart attack over the course of the weekend, since no one was likely to notice after a rousing 8:30 am game of beer pong) and decided to subscribe to the family belief that if everyone was keeping a 60% eye on the children, the multiple 60% attention spans would somehow manage to overlap and, therefore ensure that each child was receiving 100% attention from a variety of parents.  Up until this point he was pretty adamant that 10 distracted adults giving only 60% attention to a child meant that the child had 40% lack of attention within which to drown.  Silly paranoid man. 

He has also become more flexible in regards to Tent City.  Many years were spent trying to convince me that there was no shame in getting a hotel room close by.  (There is. There most definitely is.)  Now as long as he has an air mattress, he's fine.  The fact that he has an iPad and a wireless connection makes a difference as well.

But he has put his foot down on one very specific area.  Going home.  

Now, my family is somewhat socialistic by nature.  For example, we all are required to bring food enough for our family, which is then thrown into the giant potluck meal.  There is no "my food/ your food".  (Although, please imagine my shock when I realized somewhere around a husband plus three kids that my own mother was no longer counting me in her "food for my family" count.  What?  I have to provide for MY family?)  We all are expected to help equally with preparation and clean up (although, let's be honest-- there are a few people who tend to take on the lion's share of the work-- for which I am eternally grateful from my place in a lawn chair.)  We all sleep in tents (except for my parents, who have somehow managed to stake a claim on the pull out couch for many many years running- not sure how that happened), and we all contribute to the general alcohol coolers.  If you don't want to share your beer of choice, you had better hide your cooler in the deep dark recesses of your tent.  Under something smelly.  And don't let anyone see you exit your tent with a fresh beer or the moment your back is turned looting will begin.  

When it comes to leaving the lake, I attempt to continue the socialistic "we make plans as a group" trend by saying things to my husband such as "But everyone else is staying, so we should too."  And yes, I have been known to try to get my cousins, uncles, and parents involved in these negotiations.  (Pss... go tell JMahl we need to stay until tomorrow.")  My husband won't budge.  When it's time to go home, we're going home.  

The main issue with this is that any day we leave, I see as leaving a day (or two or three) early, while he sees it as trying to stay a day (or two or three) late.  In the past he's tried to lie to me about when he needs to go back to work ("We have to leave Monday, since I have to be at work Tuesday.")  However, that tends to backfire when come Tuesday morning, I roll out of bed to find him still in his underwear with a guilty... uh... yeah... I'm off for three more days... look on his face.  That didn't go over well.  So this year he was honest with me.  We're leaving Tuesday.  I'm spending the rest of my vacation at home.  On my couch.  In my underwear.  Deal with it.  
He did make a potentially fatal error in judgement by asking me to drive the first leg and then falling asleep in the passenger seat.  And I can't say I didn't spend a significant amount of that time playing out various scenarios in my mind regarding him waking to find us at yet another family-filled destination (we've got a lot of family in NY... a lot of places to go), but I couldn't come up with any scenario that didn't end with my husband driving home to Maryland either with or without us (or me).  
Where are we?
At the lake house on Owasco Lake.  I told you I wanted to come here for a few days.
And I told you we were going home.
Well... we're here now.  What are you going to do?  Leave me?  Wait!  No... don't!  I wasn't serious!  Hey!  At least take the kids with you if you're going!!!!

While in theory it might not be a bad plan to be stranded at a lake house by myself (ah... me time!), in practice I couldn't figure out how to fit in a stop at the liquor store without waking him and giving away my whole plan.  

So we made it home on his schedule, with all four children (and the dog) safe and accounted for.  But in thinking back on the weekend, I realized some things about family and family traditions.  
Family both never changes and constantly changes.  There are always additions to the family (new fiance, new baby), and yet it's still "our" family.  There are new personalities (as people grow, change, adapt), new friendships (cousins that you have known for 32 years that you are finally just getting to know), and new expectations (yes, I brought lunch meat AND cereal this year).  But it's always family.  There's always a constant.  There will always be at least one "discussion" over the best way to do something (too many engineers).  There will always be rain at least once (it is New York).  Someone will always subtly point out my mispronunciation of a common word (yes, I know it's ki-LO-meter and Pro-ME-the-us... but my mouth refuses to say it that way); and someone will always give koolaid to a child that should not have any sugar/ caffeine of any sort.  And no one will get a full night's sleep.  For four or five nights in a row.  And it's always family.

It's family.  It's tradition.  It's proof that in the midst of life changes, personality differences, eight to twelve hour drives, and tough times financially and personally, there is a reason to get together and be together and sleep within five feet of each other and not shower for four days. In a time where you spend more time communicating with family via the internet then you do face-to-face; "poking" each other on FaceBook as opposed to hugging each other in Grandpa's back yard, it's important to reconnect physically.  Because family is more important than anything else.  Because Independence Day, for me, is less about celebrating my Independence than it is about celebrating my Dependence on the love, acceptance, and tradition of family.  

And so what if my husband made me leave a day early, Thanksgiving is only four months away.  

1 comment:

  1. On the other side of the post: My family was solitary, my mother had 3 sisters and unless someone died we never met them. In fact, it has now been almost 20 years since my Grandma died and I have not seen an aunt or cousin (other than Facebook) since then. I have not seen my own mother in 3 years because she refuses to come here and traveling 19 hours in a car with an infant, then toddler, now preschooler is not a happy time. Besides, we spend all of our money to go to the Hub's family reunions. They are supposed to be every two years, however, we have his mother's father's family, his mother's mother's family, his father's father's family, his father's mother's family. Every 3 months we pack up and drive all over the United States to see family that we just saw. Usually on the way, his mother's sister will want to go wherever we are going (no matter whose family it is - she can pick up men at his father's reunions without having to worry). I grew up having hands-off relatives. We wrote a lot of letters. I miss that.