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Photo courtesy of Jessie Veeder

Coming Home: Lake traditions become more precious with plus-one

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- I spent last week in vacation mode, which to some might bring to mind palm trees and tropical drinks by the pool, but to me it meant packing up for a weekend of tradition.

And to fully enjoy said tradition, we needed to bring the regular diaper bag full of toys, diapers, wipes and a couple changes of clothes, and the other diaper bag full of the backup supplies to refill the regular diaper bag. And three tiny sun hats. Sunscreen, bug spray and a backup sunscreen. Beach towels. A hairdryer. Four duffle bags full of clothes. And don’t forget the Pack ’n Play, the giant umbrella, five blankets, the walker and the baby monitor. Plus, two coolers, one for drinks and one for the sandwich meat we don’t want to spoil while we’re gone.

And the husband and baby, of course, with a bottle and a plastic baggie full of toys for the six-hour drive.

And along the way a stop at the store to get the things we don’t currently own, but need. Like deodorant and blue nail polish and tonic water for our vodka drinks. And a baby lifejacket.

Because we were heading to my grandparents’ lake cabin in Minnesota just like we have done every year for the Fourth of July since the beginning of time, except this time, of course, we had a small and chubby plus-one, who apparently comes with a lot of baggage.

Like a one-ton, long box, pickup full.

Seriously.

But to carry out the holiday properly in my family, there are things you need to carry with you. Like at least one patriotic outfit to wear while sitting on the dock sipping bloody marys, waving an American flag at the pontoons decked out for the Fourth of July, tooling by the shore in the boat parade.

Oh, the lengths we go to hold on to our traditions.

That’s what I was thinking at 2 a.m. as I bounced the baby back and forth in the small backroom of the cabin, the one where my parents likely sat up with my little sister summer after summer, sweating, swatting mosquitoes and willing her to sleep while my other sister and I snuggled under thin blankets in tiny beds in the screened-in porch.

In a few hours my little family would emerge from that room and shuffle to the kitchen, say good morning to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, grab a couple doughnut holes to go with the coffee we sip on the deck together and catch up while the family of ducks swims on the calm lake.

I can predict it all, the summer sausage sandwiches, the pontoon rides around the lake to look at the houses, the trip to the flea market where Dad stocks up on homemade jelly and Mom finds the best old furniture, the campfires and the fireworks lighting up the dark lake. All of those expected moments are more important to me than ever before now that I have a baby to raise.

Because our rituals might remain the same year after year, but they can’t stop time from chipping away at us.

I watched Grampa flip his famous pancakes on the stove in the little kitchen while Gramma fussed over us all crammed around the table, the same sort of breakfasts we’ve shared since I was 7 years old and suddenly, 25 years later, it all seemed a little less predictable and so much more precious.

So I suppose it’s more than a vacation -- this tradition has become the fabric of what it means to be a part of this family.

I walked out into the shallow lake with my baby as the hot sun beat down on Minnesota. In front of me I watched my grandmother, 80-some years old in her floral swimsuit dip her body in the water and swim out past the sailboat just as I have watched her do for years and years. Baby Edie kicked and splashed and I willed her to see it.

I wished she would remember this.

I hoped for forever right there in that clear lake with the blue house behind us and the future pressing cool and heavy on our hot skin.

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