Gathering of the Clan
By Eileen Phelps
Cleaning bathrooms, changing beds and vacuuming the dust bunnies — not to mention the clusters of spiders that adopt our Southern home every spring — were my tasks. Expecting guests? Not exactly. The preparations were for the children’s arrival.
Well, that is not accurate either. No longer were our four rambunctious offspring merely children. Somewhere along the way they had morphed into four college-educated, successful, gainfully employed adults. (My husband frequently reminds me that they don’t live in our basement.) They had also multiplied from four to 11. That math is as old as the human race.
Their arrival coincided with the celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary. Since my husband and I had not provided all with an invitation to an around-the-world cruise to celebrate the occasion — their request — our children decided to create a family party for which they would be chief cooks, sharing the workload equally. Of course, all of this camaraderie would require the “four plus” to move back home for a week to ensure the festivities would be worthy of our 40 years of marital bliss. Oh, and did I mention the dog? Yes, he joined us, anticipating some extra morsels on the floor from the throng of munchers. That makes a party of 13 . . . plus the dog . . . for seven days . . . in the same house.
The first two offspring, living locally, arrived bag and baggage a night early to claim the best beds. Their spouses would arrive two days later, however, because of previous commitments. Most of us know this as a job.
Next was the long-distance son whose 12-hour drive meant a midnight arrival with three excited young ones who were wide awake and ready to play as if it were dawn. The dog accompanied them. Daughter number three sauntered in rather early the following morning. (Did we even go to bed?) Hubby works remotely and needed to be situated at the computer and logged on by business hours. Good luck with that.
The day of the feast arrived with each daughter and our sole daughter-in-law prepping their assigned part of the meal. The men decided to take the grandchildren to the park, assuming five adult males could handle three young children. Consensus among the men was that the outdoors was considerably safer than the kitchen.
My job was to bathe in the glow of my four favorite girls giddily executing the steps toward a fabulous meal. The sum total of my participation was pointing out the location of this spoon or that dish. They chopped, baked, mixed, frosted, wrapped, poured and measured the ingredients to a four-course meal while howling at their own mistakes and cheering on each other’s success.
By the time the men and their charges ambled in, dinner was served. Sitting at the table, all 13 of us, I was speechless. As with most parents, it had never occurred to either my husband or myself that our kids would ever grow up. It was not a quiet, romantic meal. Placid is not a word to describe our family. There is always a smidgen of sarcasm, in addition to at least one sibling finishing the sentence of another, all while multiple conversations float in the air simultaneously. Somehow everyone knows the gist of all the other conversations and jumps in accordingly. Quiet is not in our family vocabulary.
Days flew by with visits to the playground, eating, swimming at the lake, snacking, tripping over toys, eating more, fishing at the pond, running laundry, eating. You get the picture. Between chasing the little ones during the day, and trying to stay up at night with the adults playing dominoes, I was exhausted. But I never stopped smiling. You see, that is what family is all about — sharing special occasions, listening to each other’s successes, sympathizing with our losses, laughing together. Our four children, grown now but still kids to us, all get along. Sure they argue and squabble like all siblings, but despite the separate lives they live, our kids always end up together. Sometimes at our house.
Cleaning bathrooms, changing beds, vacuuming the dust bunnies . . . the cleanup is complete. It’s pretty calm here now. I smile at the memories. Peace and quiet is overrated. PS
Eileen Phelps is a retired Pinehurst Elementary fifth grade teacher who loves reading, gardening, and spending time with her grandchildren.