It begins the same way, with stomach-tickling anticipation. Whether it is waiting in the arrival area at the airport, or peaking out the window every time I think I hear a car, it always feels similar; joy that cannot be contained. The tears begin with the first smile as they approach with open arms. There are babies to kiss and grownups to hug, a tissue in my hand at all times to wipe dry my teary face before going in for another smooch.
Family time is always a reminder to me of my good fortune. I shed a lot of tears when I am with my children and grandchildren. Needless to say, I had a box of tissue close at hand all week. I cried happy tears, sad tears, proud tears, and humble tears.
I watched as torches were passed. The little ones that were crawling last time were now sitting wide eyed as their mommies, daddies or Pops taught them how to drive the “big kid tractor”. I watched the older ones teach the younger ones the proper way to collect eggs at days end. I helped pull on boots as every one of them forwent breakfast to go out to help Pops with his morning chores. I finished up dinner dishes by the kitchen window as flashlights danced around the pasture, the air filled with laughter as little voices howled at the moon. If I looked very closely I could make out the shadows of mommies and daddies close behind. Most nights, after the last baby was put to bed, I sat by the fire pit with my “babies” and listened to them argue, good-naturedly, while they played “remember when”. I scolded my boys, once again, as they drove the RTV way too fast down the dirt driveway on their way back from picking up beer and ice from the “Scary Store”. I witnessed hugs and helping hands from cousins after an inevitable tumble as the youngest tried to keep up with the oldest. I shook my head in disbelief as the aunts and uncles passed on some naughtiness from their own childhood. I quietly smiled as I saw those big-eyed little ones hang on their every word.
For me, the swirl of constant activity ends too soon. There is nothing more deafening than the quiet that follows the chaos of 16 adults and children sharing one space for a week. The final goodbye in the driveway is always the most difficult. I hug so tightly that I fear breaking them in half. My walk back into the house, soggy tissue in hand, is usually not alone. Steve is typically right next to me. He always puts his arm around me as we approach the door and asks, “What!? Are you crying at the thought of having to be alone with just me again?” It makes me laugh every time.
I want to say that next time will be different and I won’t be a crying mess, but everyone concerned knows that that is a lie.