This is the grass that grows on the beach at the Up North Cabin.
The Up North Cabin isn’t ours. But great friends of my parents (you know who you are) let us borrow it every year, usually in the winter, so we can get away. All 23 of us. Under one roof. It’s great.
This is what thirteen cousins look like after a day of swimming and kayaking and general merry-making. Thirteen. They are best buddies. There were no fights. Well, maybe one or two, but they were quickly resolved and it was all forgotten in the way only children can do before they skip off to play legos on the soft moss under the trees.
This is what a little girl looks like on her fifth birthday. You put her to bed and she’s four and then she wakes up and blam, she’s five and you’re not sure if you’re ok with it, but there’s nothing you can do really, so you hang a banner up and bake a gooey chocolate cake and then you wait until you have sec to catch your breath before you get all sad and mushy thinking of how this same five year old girl was just a baby.
This is the kind of cake you bake for a five year old girl who loves chocolate and is obsessed with horses. Then you all sing happy birthday to her.
This is what she’ll look like when you do the “are you one…are you two…are you three…” part. She’ll throw her hands up in the air when you ask if she’s four, then she’ll remember that she’s five and she’ll pretend she was just stretching and something in your mother’s heart will snap and you’ll fall even deeper in love with her impish, funny, sweet self.
Her aunties (you know who you are), who adore her and know about her horse obsession will find the perfect gift. Secret drawers, jewelry, and ponies colliding into one box of wonderment that is so so special. Later she will be given her first riding helmet and jodhpurs (sticky pants) so she won’t slip out of the saddle when she trots at her next lesson. They will go with these:
and will cause both of you to channel your inner Loretta Lynn and secretly wish you were the kind of person who could pull that look off. But she is. And she’s five. And it happened Up North.
This is what it looks like when you let thirteen kids decorate their own cupcakes at the party. Three moms threw up in their own mouths then resolved to serve only vegetables for dinner.
This is two thirds of a great friendship. The missing third is identical to the guy on the left. No, seriously. I’m not even sure which one this is and I’ve been his aunt for seven and a half lovely years. But names are superfluous Up North because all the kids run in one big anonymous pack anyway and everyone has the same rules and the same bedtimes and the same great Nana and Papa chasing them around.
This is the best Nana in the world. The Best. She is tireless. Dragging kids through water, jumping off kayaks, swimming to the big rock, handing out treats, rocking babies, snuggling in for Little House on the Prairie marathons, jogging up the beach to snatch a kid and make him swim with her. And she’s pretty easy on the eyes too, no? Poor Nana spent the first few days in bed with a nasty flu, but still managed to limp out every few hours just to make sure we were all still there and she hadn’t missed it. Then she got better and the kids had their playmate back and us moms could sit in our chairs on the deck and shake our heads and wonder how she does it. The Best.
This is the farm just down the road where kids can pet animals and launch squash and eat fruit.
This is what it looks like when you have to link hands with cousins to be able to pull the slingshot back far enough. This is what it is to work together.
So is this.
This is what the best Papa ever looks like on his birthday (he’s not five). He’ll look like this when all his grandbabies are handing him cards and rocks they’ve found on the beach and decorated with crayons.
If you know my dad you’ll understand how prophetic this is: you taught me the systems of life. We’re putting it on his tombstone. It’s his new tag line: Clare…teaching the systems of life…one person at a time.
This is what you get a guy who has everything. All his favorites, ready and in one place: salted peanuts, fresh New York Times bestsellers, salt and pepper, ice cold tea and an almond joy. Then you’ll promise yourself that you’ll call him more often and go for coffee cause that’s his favorite thing. It’s the least you can do for a guy who has been sent to the store for tampax and moist towelettes more times than any man should and who gave away three daughters at three weddings within seven months and who would spend the rest of his life divided between sea-dooing and sitting in coffee shops talking to people about Jesus. It’s the least you can do for a guy you haven’t lived with in fifteen years but who still makes you feel like you’re home when he hugs you. He is a gift.
All that and he adores being with his family too. Even though we’re loud and busy and a little messy sometimes. He still would rather be there, telling us how it could work better another way and regaling the kids with Eagle Scout stories and popping popcorn than anywhere else.
This is what your eight year old will look like at the tail end of a vacation spent in one house with 23 people. You’ll be stirring lunch and look over and find him daydreaming and have to take a picture because you haven’t seen him that still in days and you know the place in his head is quiet and peaceful and a place you’d love to visit if you weren’t busy stirring lunch.
This is what it’ll look like when your husband gets there after missing the first few days and you’ll be so excited to see him and to have your backup around again that you’ll feel like doing a dance but you won’t because you’d look ridiculous. But it’s still good even if you don’t dance.
This is the Up North cabin. You can barely see it through the trees, but it’s there. And it’s lovely. When you only go in the winter and then you go in the summer, you find wonderful things you never knew existed. Like a rocky beach that is perfect for budding rock hounds and a stray mom or two. And kayaks that every kid over six will master and declare the best water toy ever. The lake is as clear as can be, so clear you can’t tell how deep it is, which is fun for swimming. At the Up North Cabin in summer you can see the moss that carpets the ground between the cottage and the stairs and the million holes in the forest floor that are evidence of animals living about and you can see what the fireplace looks like without a roaring fire in it. There are special summer pillows and summer dishes and everything is swathed in green and grey and a cerulean blue. And if you’re lucky, like me, you can hear thirteen kids getting along with each other and playing bunk bed tag and eating tootsie rolls from Nana. And you’ll praise God again for friends who like to share.