Smelly Socks: The more cousins the merrier on Virginia vacation
We have our routine down to a virtual science. As we board the plane, John is first in line, followed by our 9-year-old, Jamison. Next in line is Austin, 12, and then I bring up the rear. We head to our assigned seats.
As we near our seats, we each pass our rolling carry-on luggage down the line to John, who miraculously finds the perfect spot in the plane's overhead compartments to stuff all four of our bags. We then all settle into our seats, tighten our seatbelts and prepare for our little more than three-hour flight to Virginia Beach, Va.
Each year during the Fourth of July, we try to head to Virginia to visit with John's family. John's parents live near the beach and have a swimming pool. With this much water surrounding us, my boys usually spend our entire vacation in their swimsuits and return home with bronze skin and sun-bleached hair.
My boys' days in Virginia are lazily spent swimming with all of their many cousins who all flock to John's parents' house during our visit for a mini-family reunion of sorts. While my immediate family is very small, John's family is quiet large with his four sisters and one brother.
This scenario is a strange one for Austin and Jamison, who aren't used to having kids their own age constantly around. With all of their many cousins to play with - or as my oldest son reminds me, "We don't play, we just hang out" - this is a situation that my boys truly relish.
Unfortunately, all of these related playmates and fellow "hang-outers" live on the East Coast. Each year, the excitement over our trip builds, and when July finally rolls around, the boys feel like they are going to burst.
We have been going to Virginia Beach each year since the boys were very young, so they know what to expect. They also hear about the educational and historical places that I want to visit each year. But the one thing that the boys look truly look forward to - and rightfully so - is getting together with their cousins. With this annual trip, my children's quiet ranch life existence gets turned drastically.
Austin and Jamison are used to our house being rather peaceful and quiet except for the noise that they make. Living on the ranch, my boys are fairly independent in entertaining themselves during the few summer days that they are actually at home.
But try as they might, they seem drawn to each other, and that brotherly love just comes out. They get together and proceed to wrestle, grab, complain, prod, tease, hit, complain some more and just generally try to out do each other in the way that only siblings seem talented in doing.
When our vacation comes around, the boys are thrust into a house with nine spirited children that range in age from 2 to 12 years, and things tend to get a little noisy when true "cousin-ness" comes out.
Cousins have an interesting relationship. They are not true siblings, not actual friends and certainly not strangers. It is like they are given a pass to tease and provoke each other, but at the end of the day, they know that the other one isn't going away.
Somehow, daily frustrations that develop seem to simply get forgotten, which is a gift that only children seemed to have mastered. Austin, Jamison and their many cousins spent their days swimming, watching movies, surfing, hiking, eating and perusing the famous Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
As we packed up to board the plane back to Texas, my kids begged us to let them stay. They fell in love with being on vacation. I guess that is the true mark of a successful vacation, when the prospect of coming home isn't appealing.
My boys loved the excitement of a large city, the many cousins running around, the "cool aunts and uncle" who had interesting things planned each day and the beach. So the idea of coming back to our dry, hot, dusty ranch just didn't bring a smile to my beach boys' faces.
We headed home, and after a long layover in Detroit (yes, we bought the cheapest tickets I could find), we were basically traveling for an entire day. Arriving back at the ranch, we were greeted by our dogs.
As I stepped out of the car, I stumbled into a 3-foot deep hole that Jasper, our enormous Labrador, dug to show us how happy he was that we came home, while our female lab, Ally, had taken great pains to smell her very best with an "eau de skunk" smell that she had all over herself.
Nearing the back door, we discovered that the back porch was covered in feathers, letting us know that our cats evidently had a feast, and topping it off was a dead field mouse by our backdoor as a welcome gift from them letting us know that they were doing their job while we were away.
At least our pets seemed excited to have us back. John busied himself with filling in the crater that Jasper dug, and I began the chore of unpacking and beginning the mountain of laundry. After things were squared away, Austin ran outside, jumped on his motorcycle, tightened on his helmet and sped away with great abandon. Jamison came running out behind him, headed to his 4-wheeler, jumped on and raced to catch up with his older brother.
Later that night, Jamison questioned why we couldn't stay for another week. As he was questioning our decision to come home, I noticed that he put his iPod and DS away and settled back into being home. He became intent with building a Lego creation in the silence of his own room, and no one was asking him to share.
My son is a good "sharer" but he does like his own things, "I just want to be by myself for a while," Jamison said with a smile.
Austin yawned and said that he had "so much fun in Virginia" but "it felt good to come home, too. You know, Mom, it is really quiet out here. Do you hear that?" he asked cleverly. "Neither do I," he chuckled in appreciation of the quiet that surrounded us.
The ranch is many things, but loud and exhilarating it is not. For us, at this moment, we are just fine with the peace and quiet. It was an exciting, busy, fun and noisy week.
Sitting on the porch that night, John and I took a deep breath of the country air, looked out and saw nothing on the horizon. It was nice to be home. It was nice to be back at the ranch.
Johanna is a proud seventh generation Texan. She lives on her family's South Texas ranch with her husband and two lively boys. Email Johanna Bloom or Anita Spisak at firstname.lastname@example.org.