My daughters and I went to a family reunion in Indiana last weekend. It was my mother’s side of the family and she grew up in a small, rural town called Crawfordsville, less than an hour from Indianapolis. We flew into Chicago and drove several hours to get there. As we passed cows, corn, and rivers cutting through forests of lush trees, Nicole and Natalie questioned me about everything. They are L.A. girls and their journeys from home have been limited mostly to cities, Cape Cod, or tropical resorts. The Midwest was a whole other world to them. I very much wanted them to come home with me and meet my mom’s family, especially since they never knew my mother, who died from breast cancer at the age of 59, long before I was married and had kids. I spent vacations in Indiana when I was young, in both Crawfordsville and East Chicago, and I remember fondly visiting grandparents, playing with cousins, setting off fireworks (which are legal there) and chasing fireflies on humid summer evenings when everyone would sit on the porch late into the night waiting for the house inside to cool. I wanted my kids to have those same experiences, if only for a weekend.
At the reunion, we’d all come together and I was both excited and concerned about how my kids would fit in. They didn’t know their cousins – 1st through 4th generation were there – and most of them were from the area and many knew each other already. We arrived at the hotel and checked in. When the girls met their cousins in the conference room set up for the reunion, they were shy at first. My Aunt suggested we go swimming in the hotel’s indoor pool. She asked me to chaperone because she and my older cousins didn’t know how to swim.
We hit the pool with five kids and a couple of teens – some kids were in floaties, some splashed about and a few of the older cousins dared to take the impromptu swimming lessons I decided to offer. With my daughters serving as assistant instructors, we taught back floats and dog paddles, how to fall in and swim to the edge, how to tread water. In no time, all the cousins who had been strangers were more than friends, they were family. They did canon balls into the pool, lounged in the hot tub, played Marco Polo in the shallow end of the pool as if they'd known each other for a lifetime.
The rest of the weekend my girls carried around their little cousins, ran between rooms with their cousins playing games, fussed with each other about who would hold the baby of the family. The boy cousins teased the girl cousins and the girl cousins pranked them back. From strangers to friends to cousins…All it took was a little water.