The river was too high last week. Not something you’ll probably hear me say again. And not something I ever pay much attention to. But something that matters a lot when you drive ten hours to spend three days with your family (seven cousins and their 12 kids and our moms and dads) on the Mulberry River for what we’ve lately deemed Cousinpalooza.
It rained in the mornings leaving puddles and a haze across the sloping hills of the Ozarks. I woke each day and peered from our third floor loft to see those hills I never thought much of (living in Arkansas most of my life).
I woke to the sounds of squealing children and smell of fresh coffee and sausage and the familiar shuffle of feet in slippers and laughter of my mother and aunts carrying on four conversations at once (a feat considering there’s only three of them).
Us Bedgoods are sleepers. Wilder too for the few days we were at Mulberry Mountain — the last of the dozen children in the lodge to wake.
We were disappointed we couldn't do the river thing. But we did swing on rope swings on the front lawn of the lodge and we watched my brother in law filet fish caught in the pond a short walk down the road (and by we I mean the other kids … us Bedgoods like our fish without eyeballs and heads and scales).
We cruised around the property on my sister's rhino (with me holding Wilder in a death grip wondering if we would be those people who'd let their kid do something he was way too young for and what if it flipped just spontaneously and/or wondering if I'm totally paranoid).
That's the thing about being a mom — when it's just you in your little bubble it's easy to know what's normal. Then you spend time with other parents and realize you're either too protective or not enough. It's all comparative.
I've always thought of myself as borderline food Nazi — until I saw my cousin make her kids quinoa cakes one day and then broccoli on fish fry night. Wilder’s always seemed like a risk taker — until I saw my niece digging in night crawlers and my cousin’s little boy poking at those fish eyeballs.
The river may have been too high, but it’s not really what mattered. What mattered is that Wilder got to spend a few days with people that will always know and love him. I hope always really know him. Know him the way my aunts and uncles and cousins know me — no matter how far I go and what I do, they know me in a way no one else does. The way my Uncle Jeff says MandaJean all in one word. How my cousins know what I looked like with cloud bangs and no bangs, the mistakes I made in college and what my frayed nerves felt like on my wedding day. We don’t see each other like we used to. But, I know we’ll always know each other in a way that no one else can or will. It’s that whole roots and wings things. People that know your big broad back-story and the path that led you to where you are now and the person you’ve become.
There were few things I looked forward to the way I did seeing my cousins and aunts and uncles throughout my childhood. The dessert table we could peruse whenever we wanted — buttermilk cake and cobbler and pie and cookies and some kind of dessert bar that had more calories per square inch than a value size meal. (We are Baptist, you see — gluttony our sin of choice.) My crafty Aunt Janice who did the Pinterest thing as second nature long before Martha Stewart was a household name or we had email or pins. My Uncle Chris who we drove crazy with the incessant drama when we took over his house, but I know now would have done anything in the world for us. The way my Grandma Wanda and Aunt Debbie managed to analyze anything they’d ever cooked — just a little too sweet or maybe those blueberries were just a little too tart or maybe that crust baked just a little too long. (The food was the best a person could dream to eat no matter what they said.)
I think history matters — personal perhaps most of all. I hear people say (too often if you ask me) that family is what you make it. It is. But, I think people too often dismiss that family into which we’re born. I believe God puts us each in a place and family for a time such as this. Save for those dealing with some truly toxic/abusive kind of situation, family teaches us much about the dynamics of groups, of dealing rather than running. It’s not always the easiest thing to keep the ties strong. After my Grandma Wanda and Granddad Virgil died we see each other less. But, are all determined to not drift too far no matter how hard it is to make time. It’s often easier to stay in your nest here at home with people in the same place in their life with the same views. People you can walk away from if it gets uncomfortable or tough or awkward. Family (Uncle Eddie and all) can be those first lessons in how to deal and flourish in an environment where people don’t always agree but respect each other enough to stick around. People, who even when the river is too high, still show up.