Ever since Father’s Day I have been thinking about the standard in which we measure parents. The bar is an interestingly high one if you ask me. There are fictional terms applied to both mother and father and I can’t fathom who could live up to those heights. As much as we recognize ourselves to be individuals, much of our own parenting mimics those who raised us; generational gaffes or successes mirror back and forward endlessly. I always consider myself lucky in that my parents lived a long life, spent many of their days loving me, and shared their passion for art, music and enjoying the outdoors with their children. But beyond those gifts, they peopled my life with more family than one can count, and now that they are both gone, I am extraordinarily grateful to slip into any one of those extended family photos surrounded by cousins. After 15 hug-less months this June gathering felt like a dreamy step into a future impossible to consider pre-vaccine. Surrounding the 96 year old matriarch, who not only endured her confinement but did so with grit and humor, made our time together lakeside pure heaven.
Three out of the six days a large group photo was taken for people kept coming while others left, but at the center was always her, my mother’s oldest sister, the verifiable elder in our vast family, surrounded by her six daughters and their spouses, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Four generations playing and laughing and splashing about the lake. We come from tugboat people, water people, and those who do their best to keep coming back together. Dock sitting in the breeze, orchestrating the lake swims, dropping a line, skimming along on a paddle board, and all the while chatting about our good fortune to gather once more. We let go of the politics that might divide us, let go of our religious separations too, and instead applauded the science of the day that allowed us to carry on this traditional party safely.
When you need to feed forty or more on the daily a shared google sheet is required, and if you throw in vegan or gluten free needs, nut allergies, and all the rest of possible culinary tastes, you must get creative. When my spouse and I had our dinner night, tacos was the easy choice. We watched as the little ones and the adults all went around the table before making our own plates. We were both smiling as everyone found exactly what they wanted to satisfy a summer appetite. There is tremendous joy in sharing a meal with people, and I did not want to take one second of that for granted. Judging from how happy everyone was, I would say that feeling is universal right about now.
As most did in 2020, we found tiny gifts to be thankful for. I had countless delightful solo runs, and epic bike rides, and glorious long swims. I painted on canvas and wood and created furniture. I cherished the heat and sky of summer, and the icy white of winter afternoons. There was amble time for board games and puzzles and books. But hopping on the paddle board to cross the lake and see what my Aunt was doing at 8:30 in the morning from our house to hers was a total high. I skimmed the waters with little more than delight fueling my effort. I would find her surrounded by any number of others, but in the early hours, it was usually the little ones, sitting on the couch with her warming their toes and her chatting about what the day might bring. I could drink that kind of love endlessly. These are the moments when parenting makes the most sense in this crazy life. Witnessing generations, watching the shine in the eyes, the upward curl of the smile, the familial knowing that solidifies this shared history. We all fall in our relationships, miss the mark set out by the novelists, but in the quiet unrecorded moments, we rise.
When you have such a peopled past as I do, each of these present moments are colorized. I sit on a dock in the now while rocking gently on the glider that I moved as a child. My aunt sees me today, but remembers my birth and all the decades of me since. She was mostly busy with her own bairns and all the rest of living but she witnessed my highlights and disappointments and still is here to cheer me. She buried her own parents, husband, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, and yet keeps her eye on the horizon. Sitting with her I see a future in all the generations splashing around our dock.
The Next Gen dances in the dark like we all have. There is more uncertainty ahead as fear and deceit headline our concerns, but there is also joy and abundance. Each one of these little ones curls up with another when they are in need, and here there are many laps. In this larger community each parent gathers strength to do their best. Reality is softer with so many hands. I am forever grateful that my parents taught me how to give.
Parenting standards are lofty for sure, and equally sure is that family matters, always, in all ways. I don’t know why summer fires burn so bright, but this one will certainly flame the months ahead. Until we gather again, I will cherish that heat.