After this past weekend’s third annual family reunion in Illinois, I am of the precise truth that my children are even more nuts than I initially thought…and my certainty that I’m okay with this, even encourage it, is reassuring.
On the paternal side is a respectably-sized family tree. My husband’s parents created five children, my husband the youngest, with something like 16 offspring on the third tier. The next generation down from there is about five or so grandchildren currently. Add in a host of uncles, aunts, cousins, and family friends, and we easily top 80-100 fast-talking, rib-eating, football-tossing, Bingo-playing reunioners at the state park every year.
My husband and a close cousin of ours have led the overall planning and organization of the event each July since its inception. It’s always hot, but it’s always such a fantastic time.
I always love the chicken.
My children do not get to see my husband’s side of the family but this one time each year and, if we’re lucky, an additional few days when some of the family visits Georgia in the summer. Jrue and Jai are, naturally, accustomed only to one another, mom and dad, and the two nephews we have living nearby. Jrue is a bit more culturally sociable since he attends daycare and music classes, but he is highly introversive and rarely un-shells himself in front of others unless completely comfortable.
Experiencing a festival with so much mass brought out a strange sort of performance between the two of them. I’m not sure if the behavior we witnessed was their truer selves or of a fictitious troupe of soloists bent on remaining as invisible as possible. Their tactics, however, made them stand out. Jai is still a baby and Jrue just started school some seven months ago, so it is plausible that they are grappling with crowd comprehension, people in a crowd who just so happen to know their names.
At the beginning of the day, just like last year, Jrue scurried over to the balloons and bubbles table. He chirped a request for mommy to open a bubble bottle; I obliged to give him an activity as we all set up food in the pavilion. The bubbles kept him entertained unaided for some time until it moved into a repeated proposal for water balloons. There was no water source at the park. He pouted by himself about this three picnic tables away.
We usually arrange a volleyball net and bases for baseball and facilitate amateur football in a field. Jrue wants to have nothing to do with any of those, which I am becoming used to. Instead, he decided to stroll around with the kiddie plastic baseball bat and smash ant hills in the grass with it. Or banged the bat along the side of the concrete pavilion foundation. Or sucked on the end of a jump rope. Played with his shirt. Asked for another hot dog that he didn’t want. Begged for a soda pop.
As the day moved forward and more family members arrived, we motivated Jrue to greet everyone. But that was about as much in-depth communication we could stimulate. Once he uttered shy hellos, he was off to what I identified as his continuous cardio party—the process he established of walking in circles around the pavilion, aimlessly and with no motive, grabbing playthings along the way and depositing others. The only way we could track his movements around everyone was through his ever-circulating ball cap.
Not many male preschoolers go to a playground and simply wander around. It was as if he was intentionally trying not to play and get dirty.
It’s a mysterious inconsistency in my brain.
Meanwhile, pan over to Jai, my grimy little girl, quite the opposite of her brother.
Two hours into the celebration, Jai’s white t-shirt was coated in the remains of green popsicle, brown from grungy hands, something blue that I’m still in the dark about, and faded pink from dollops of dropped food. She managed to find the greatest joy in gravel-digging and tasting whatever her hands were smeared with, forcing me to keep a constant eye on her dealings or to delegate someone else to do so. All day long, Jai gravitated to mess. She ate from different plates, then whined to jump down and go off to investigate more filth. I couldn’t keep up with her fleeing and quick snack indulgences.
The playground wood chips were particularly savory, as well as rocks from a road path near us. Her cousins would yell, “She’s eating something again!” and we’d run over, finger shaped into a hook, ready to dig whatever out of her mouth. She made three poop diapers in an 8-hour period…quite indicative of the odd indigestibles her system expelled.
All Jai wanted was to be gross. It seemed her lot in life right then was to explore the nastiest spots she could find out there: pulling blades of grass, dragging hands through water puddles and across her face, sauntering casually into the billows of smoke blowing from the grills. The child would not accept a “no” from anyone seeking her utmost safety; instead, she pigeoned her way around the pavilion and its surrounding areas, pecking, licking, blinking innocently.
She was exhausting by herself.
The bath that night was unbelievably dark. I could not describe what fell out of her hair.
I do, however, feel a smug sense of identification of my children. Jrue and Jai are unique. They slam down the expectations of what kids “normally” act like or what kids “should” act like in particular situations. They aren’t “bad” children in the traditional sense of the word, which I am proud of. Jrue is a nomad. Jai is an environmentalist.
Maybe it’s because I know what to expect from them. Maybe it’s because they are such unforgettable cuties. But I’ll take them in all of their ambling glory. They are happy and healthy and mine.
My hobby detectorist and future eco-chef.