Last fall, I was at a wedding reception for my husband’s youngest sister. She had just married the youngest son of some family friends we’ve known all our lives, and we were all tickled pink. It was a lovely affair, held at the groom’s parents’ house. Since I am the family historian (a.k.a. Photo Freak), I was trying to gather all of my in-laws for a family picture. It soon became apparent that the only members of the family missing were my two oldest daughters, ages 6 and 8. Upon further investigation, we discovered that they had gone with a few of the groom’s nieces to see the new home of said nieces, that was being built nearby. (By nearby, I mean up a hill through three pastures.) This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that the sun was setting, and in another 15 minutes, it would be too dark for a decent picture (according to the Photo Freak). I expeditiously hunted down Wendy, the mother of the adventurous nieces, and we devised a plan.
The fastest way to collect the children would have been by car, but as luck would have it, our cars were hopelessly ensnarled in the parking lot (generally known as the apple orchard) and it would have required Popeye and a boatload of spinach to extract them in time. Wendy eyed the pasture gate for a moment and made her decision. “We’re going cross country,” she said, “we can be up and down in 10 minutes. Of course, so can the sun, so let’s make a memory!”
The next part of this story will make more sense if you know that Wendy has six children, ages 2-16, but she looks more like her 16-year-old daughter than a mother of six. Rumor has it that she jogs every morning before she makes eight loaves of homemade bread, cans a crate of peaches, sews curtains to match the seasons, and homeschools all six of her children. My point: She’s a skinny chick. A really skinny chick. I don’t want you to hate her, though, because she’s very cool in spite of all her perfection. I just want to point out that even though she has twice as many children as I do, she’s half my size and has twice my energy. It’s a mathematical enigma.
So as Wendy began skipping through the first of the three pastures, I set out after her, determined not to be outdone by a skinny chick. Who jogs. I was huffing and puffing, but I kept up through the first pasture. Together, we looked like a giant number 10 traversing the irrigation ditches.
It was easier to keep up with her in the second pasture, but that’s only because we were being chased by a herd of cattle, and being the more obvious target had me extremely motivated to keep moving.
By the time we hit the third pasture, though, I was in serious trouble. Wendy was still skipping blissfully along, as if she were playing hopscotch on the various cow deposits, but I was beginning to realize I had only two choices left. Option One: Insist that Wendy go on ahead, and trudge the rest of my way alone, knowing that my humiliation would only be lessened by a pint of expensive ice cream later that night. Or Option Two: Force myself to keep up with her, knowing that the darkening edges of my vision meant that I was only moments away from passing out, most likely on a cow plop or three, and forcing Wendy to frolic back through two and a half pastures to call 911 and bring several strong men to carry me back and mock me for ever and ever.
In desperation, I went for last-minute Option Three, which was to employ every coping technique that three younger brothers, four years of high school, eight years of motherhood, and 40 combined hours of labor have ever taught me. Somehow, between counting to ten, thinking happy thoughts, lamaze breathing, pretending the hill was a cheerleader’s face, and mentally sobbing into my pillow, I made it up to the house on the hill. Eighty percent conscious, even!
Wendy, refreshed from her jaunt, hopped lithely up on the porch and called for her daughters. In hot pursuit, I heaved myself onto the porch, rolled through a puddle of my own perspiration, and gasped my children’s names, searching for their faces through my blurred vision. I couldn’t decide whether to be horrified that we were only seconds away from setting back out for the reception, or giddy over the fact that it was downhill all the way back.
Once we collected the children, Wendy encouraged me to hurry back for the picture, and assured me that she would take up the rear, moving the stragglers along. I was halfway back, wheezing ahead of the galloping cattle, red-faced and sweating like a slushie in the July sun, before I realized that there was NO WAY I was going to stand next to all my in-laws, who had been sipping punch and nibbling wedding cake during my quest, and have my picture taken, sunshine or not. I’d climb that hill again first.
Luckily, by the time I got back, the family had dispersed back to their various tables, and not a one of them was still interested in a family picture. (Okay, so maybe they never were.) I restored my strength and composure with barbequed beef, pasta salad, a handful of mints, and a slice of wedding cake (during which time I noticed Wendy rejuvenating herself with celery sticks).
Although I knew that by the next day, every muscle and joint in my body would be screaming for mercy (and although my mother somewhat sarcastically encouraged me to get out and exercise once in a while . . . Hi Mom . . .), I was still able to rejoice in the triumph of having kept up with a skinny chick. My dignity, even if bruised and exhausted, was still intact. Like when you drop your Hostess Cupcake, and it lands frosting side up. And if time has taught me anything, it’s that I can endure any trial, as long as it ends with frosting.