Back in September, after 25 years of being a Registered Nurse, I decided it was time to retire. It was with much thought, fear and anxiety, number crunching and prayer that I turned in my resignation. There was no turning back.
The day before I retired, my son and family from North Carolina drove up to visit and to spend 3 weeks with us while he was working in Minnesota for his job. He and his wife, 5 kids, ages 5-15, and their dog Tiger packed into their Suburban and made the trek North. Between backpacks, pillows and sleeping bags, you could barely see the kids buckled up beneath all the stuff.
So we made preparations to keep them here at the house. Along with them, our daughter and family live downstairs here with their 8 kids, ages 1-14, their dog Tac and 2 kittens.
For anyone keeping count, that is me and the love of my life, our 3 dogs, my son with 8 and their dog, and my daughter with 10 and their dog and 2 kittens. A grand total of 20 people and 5 dogs and 2 kittens under on roof, for 3 weeks, with 2 bathrooms, 2 washers and dryers, and mainly the one kitchen we would use upstairs.
But there would be more at the house during the day and for “field trips” and getting together. You see my daughter and son married siblings from another family. So along with them are two more families making the total over 40 last count. We always count in the siblings as that side of the family has no grandparents as they died early in life.
The first meal together, we decided we definitely needed to organize a plan for meal time. There was no way we could feed so many all at once. Luckily it was summer and much of our time was spent outdoors. We gathered all the lawn furniture, picnic tables, and chairs we could find, along with stumps for seats also. Our front yard looked more like a state park picnic area than a residential yard. We are fortunate we live in the country with not many around us. The kids could run and make noise and not get in trouble.
Back to meal times ...we decided to eat in shifts, feeding the youngest little ones and then the older ones and finally adults or anyone who missed the first two rounds. While it worked well, we seemed to always circle back to the little ones who had finished their meal a few hours earlier, now looking for a snack before baths and bedtime. But usually by 7-7:30 PM the kitchen was cleaned but never really closed. The teens would watch the Twins baseball game and then afterward would have a late night snack of bagels or cereal. But they had been instructed to clean up their mess and complied. Usually they would then settle into their designated sleeping areas.
Sleeping areas...there was a tent pitched on the upper deck off the family room where the kids rotated sleeping in, 3 couches upstairs, a cot for the 15 year old who was a night owl, and the rest slept downstairs in their cousins bedrooms. Eventually the tent got folded up when evening rain and mosquitoes invaded the it because the 10 yr olds forgot to zip shut.
The days were filled with going places and meeting up with the other cousins. We would load up a 15 passenger van and the 8 passenger Suburban, along with another van if needed. The field trips involved packing lunches for 15-25 depending on who was going. Pre-teen and Teenage appetites almost were the death of me. It was hard to keep up. 2 huge coolers, one with just sandwiches, one with fruit, and bags of chips, snacks and such. Each day when the love of my life came home from work he would stop and pick up 4 loaves of bread and 2-3 gallons of milk. Supper time meals were always mass portions of hotdishes, salads and lots of pasta to fill them up.
I must admit, taking so many to the zoo or the beach, I was worried about losing some or the little ones just getting tired. But I was so proud to watch the older kids looking after the younger ones. If a little one got tired, an older one scooped them up for a carry.
In our family when a child turns 13 we celebrate and have a blessing night of food and cake and fun. And those that are 13 are prayed for that they grow into the person they are meant to be. It has become a rite of passage in our family and the kids each look forward to turning 13.
This year we had 5 that turned 13. We had waited until we could all be together on one of the last evenings and had a cook out of hot dogs, chips, s’mores and a special cake for the 13 yr olds. The cake was beautifully decorated and said “Bless the children, Pray for the parents”. The person at the bakery had to ask twice what we wanted it to say. And had to write it down, all the while laughing when we told her what it was for.
The night was filled with 40 people praying for the 13 yr olds, a feast of campfire food, a field of loud cheering kids playing ball by the cornfield, older ones sitting and helping little ones cook their s’mores to perfection and me realizing as I watched it all, I have such an incredibly cool life.
By the time the 3 weeks were up, I was into a whole new routine of waking up early, visiting with the early risers and making breakfast for 20. Then I would sit and rock a little one and read a story, maybe even hit a few balls out to the kids playing out back. I would watch the game on TV with the older kids, cheer right along with them, and eventually pass out in bed from exhaustion. A content, happy and complete exhaustion.
The kids all left for home after three weeks, including my daughter and family moving into their new house. The state park yard was cleaned up and furniture put away, the campfire extinguished one last time. The basement is empty now of people and furniture and noise.
Retirement had an unusual beginning a full blown 3 week party, and only now does it feel real as I sit here in an empty house with the 3 dogs sleeping at my feet. There is 2 feet of snow on the ground, it is 3 degrees outside. Today it is quiet.
And now to begin to plan all of the things I didn’t have time for when working. To start, I am planning a trip to Arizona, and California to see the kids and grandbaby that weren’t able to make it out in September. When will I go? How long will I be gone? Whenever I want and as long as I want....afterall, I’m retired.
From Mother Teresa: Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin