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What I learned at Cousin Camp

Last week I bagged so many good memories I probably pushed the legal limit. We packed out a Suburban and a Tahoe with all the car seats and cuteness they could hold, then we went to town. And to the country. And to McDonald’s for lunch. That’s because you do what’s on the schedule when you’re hauling cousin campers around.

Cousin camps, I’ve decided, are the invention of some grandma who lives in a state with low humidity. Ours started out like most things in our family – with a group text. Here’s what we want to do, are you good with that, when can we plan it, will the stars perfectly line up, yada, yada, yada. Somehow it did happen, though. All the granddarlings and the grandguy came. Yes, six sweeties under 6 in our care. Did I mention three are in diapers? All I can say is don’t try this at home without a 17-year-old aunt in the mix.

We did a big kick-off at Fox’s Pizza Den because statistics show that the most successful ventures involving children start out with pizza. (This is not fake news. Well, maybe it is, but I really like pizza.) Nineteen of us hunkered down over two Big Daddies, but of course, I did not order enough of the pineapple-topped version. “Never do,” our firstborn noted, just before he and his wife took off for Florida. His married and suddenly temporarily-childless siblings had also scooted out the door when a great-granddad, who was on the schedule, brought out his balloon show and started blowing up. (Balloons, that is.) Twisting balloons into poodle heads is not an instantaneous process, though. The kids got antsy.

That’s when we pulled out all the stops and headed to Wesson’s splash pad. For those of you who parented before splash pads became the rage, think glorified sprinkler. Best of all, think glorified sprinkler at somebody else’s house. The whole scene was great – the older kids turning it off and on, off and on. Then a south-bound train blew through. Two of the youngers don’t like trains, it seems. Good thing we had some Cheez-Its on hand.

So about a half-hour into it I’m thinking, hey, we’ve got this under control. Swim diapers? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Head count? Check. Then some random dad sitting under the pavilion had to go and say the phrase I used to hear when I went out with my own five chickadees. You know, that one.

“You sure do have your hands full.” (Emphasis on “sure.”)

Now, most people would probably consider that a gesture of empathy. But I’m thinking is he a) mad because we wiped out the Pop-Ice at the concession stand, b) a liberal who believes in population control, or c) referring to how I handled that discipline issue five minutes ago?

I smiled and offered his daughter some Cheez-Its.

The days following were a blur. I sent pictures of Cousin Camp highlights to my friends: The kids holding a box turtle; going to a tea party; picking zinnias; riding on a cow safari; visiting Jump & Jive. I told my friends I did not, however, photograph the meltdowns and the diaper malfunction at Dairy Queen.

“Thanks for keeping it real,” one shot back.

Naptimes, it turned out, were the hardest. We rocked. Read. Watched “The Aristocats.” Still, my Yankee granddaughter (she’s from North Mississippi) couldn’t wind down. “I have energy in myself, KK,” she told me. The others did too. Eventually Daughter No. 2, wearing her “auntin’ ain’t easy” T-shirt, loaded the final holdout in the car and rode, rode, rode. Ahh. Everyone asleep at last.

Between hunting fireflies and having picnics on the creek, we managed to make it to the Crystal Springs Tomato Festival. There’s a certain 5K tomato trophy I’ve been coveting for years, the kind with an iconic Styrofoam tomato, bold and red, on top. Even the thought of waking preschoolers at the crack of dawn wasn’t enough to deter me from my quest.

Turns out I finally got my trophy. (There aren’t many runners left in my age group.) But this year instead of the whole tomato – get this – it was a slice of one. Ceramic, at that.   

“Let this be a lesson to you, kids,” I afterwards told the two strapped in strollers. “Coveting is a bad thing.” They nodded and pointed to the snow cone stand.

By Sunday we were down to a pair of darlings. My husband made me ration Tic-Tacs on the way to church because he feared the worst.

“A sugar high from a single Tic-Tac?” I questioned.

“Yes, when you’re 2-feet tall,” he said.

Later, sitting in the pew of second chances, I had time to consider Cousin Camp and all it brought out — not in my grands, but in me. After three decades of parenting, the short temper is yet to be conquered. I’m still fixated when I should be flexible. I don’t smile enough. I speak when I should bend down and listen. I fail to marvel. I find it hard to stop and blow bubbles.

Will I ever learn?

Maybe. Cousin camps, from what I can tell, are fairly educational.

Contact Kim Henderson at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.