I was the kid that came over for a sleepover and didn’t leave the next day. The one showing up at your door, unannounced and eating all of your pantry snacks and then tagging along to dinner, too. Growing up, I basically lived at other people’s houses. My parents were divorced, and my mom worked, which left my brother and me home by ourselves a fair amount. It could be really boring and, not to mention, lonely at times, especially in the summer when school was out. My best friend at the time came from a family with four kids. They were always doing fun stuff together. I tagged along to baseball games, church and even followed them on one of their yearly family vacations to the beach.
Now that I am a mom, I want to give my kids the kind of family that I was always seeking.
One that goes on fun family adventures and has simple family traditions like pizza on Friday nights. I want them to play in the mud and stay out until the sun goes down in the summer. Catch fireflies and eat smores in the backyard and run around barefoot. I want to take trips every year to the same place where we make memories and can look back and laugh when the kids are all grown up and say “Remember that time when…”
When I met my husband and we were still dating, he took me on a trip to Put-in-Bay for a weekend. I fell in love with it immediately. Who couldn’t love a place called “Key West of the Midwest?” He told me that his family had been going there for years with his dad and mom, and they had always stayed at the same little cottages right on the water. He shared with me funny stories from their many trips there and how things had changed or stayed the same over the years. There I was, a tag-a-long kid again in someone else’s family tradition.
Once we were married, we started going up to Put-In-Bay every summer with his sister and her family, and we stayed in the same cottages that they had stayed in for many trips. When my son, James, was 1, we took him up for his first trip and I can remember driving him around the island with his car seat strapped tightly to the golf cart so he would take a nap. We went back the next year and I remember watching James toss rock after rock into the lake and swim in the water with his cousins. The kids did sparklers behind the cottages on the 4th of July and the grown-ups stayed up too late playing games and, ahem, enjoying some adult beverages. It was a lot of fun and lots of memories were made.
When the pandemic happened, we had to skip a year and it worked out perfectly because I also gave birth to my daughter, Elle, in the summer of 2020. When we got to go back the following year, I was so excited. I will never forget how happy I felt, driving down the hill to the cottages with the sun peeking through the trees and dancing on our windshield. I remember giving baby Elle a bath in the kitchen sink of the cottage and how she was starting to take her first one or two steps on the linoleum.
I’m not sure I truly understood just why that trip meant so much to me until I started writing this.
I was finally a part of the family I had always longed for – my husband and I were creating it together. I was no longer just tagging along. We were building our own family memories and traditions.
Sometimes you don’t realize that you actually have what you have always been searching for until you take the time to reflect on where you came from. I hope that one day when I am old and gray (or gray dyed to brown), I will be sitting at the boardwalk, enjoying a fried walleye or perch sandwich with my husband, and my grown kids will start telling a story about that one time at Lake Erie. Then I will know that I have achieved what I have always been longing for.