As Tyler mentioned in his entry about our night away in Chicago, we went to Illinois a few weeks ago to go to a family reunion. We got to spend time with two sides of my family, the Soenksen clan (my mom's family) and the Freebairn's (my dad's mom's side).
I realized on this trip to Illinois that my grandma's house has been the most constant physical location of my life. My parents have moved. I have moved. My dad's parents have moved. My grandma still lives in the house they moved to when my mom was probably about 10 years old, so I've been visiting here always. There's always been a big back yard to run around in, a basement full of toys, and plenty of snacks to nibble on.
The other thing to know about this side of my family is that it's big. My mom is the oldest of seven siblings. I'm the oldest of 21 grandkids. Stella's one of 10 grandkids, ranging from 7 to 1. And that's without even getting to my mom's aunts and uncles and cousins. So my whole life has included trips to Ottawa to see lots of family.
When I was really young, all my aunts and uncles still lived at home, so I got to play with them. As I got older, there was a growing bevy of young kids. And there was some point when I was of an awkward generation--too young to really relate to my aunts and uncles, but too old to relate to many of my cousins who were 10+ years younger than me. But much of that has changed. Now I can relate to both the older and younger parts of my family--and it's fun getting to really know many of my cousins for the first time as adults. Most of the family still live close together--in the same town, even, or in other parts of Illinois or Wisconsin and grew up together--five cousins are the same age. Even though that's not true for me, it's important to me to visit and still be part of the family even though I live far away.
I did a terrible job of taking pictures during this trip (I was too busy enjoying myself, I guess!), but this shot just feels like time at Grandma's house--hanging out in the living room, with various aunts, uncles, cousins and kids around.
And if we're not in the house, we're hanging out on the back porch, chatting while people keep an eye on the kids running around the back yard.
And now that I've had Stella, I'm even more anxious to get back and see everyone and have her know that side of the family. She's the only grandchild on all sides of her family. When we get to Illinois, there are lots of kids to play with, lots of adults to keep an eye on things, and lots of new things to try out.
Out on the town with Great Grandma Geri
Spinning on the back porch with Maddy, my cousin Lindsay's daughter.
Trying to get a turn on the slide. We were so shocked when Stella played on it--she tends to shy away from slides at the playground, but I think she was inspired by her cousins!
On this trip, we also got to meet two of my cousin's kids for the first time, Jonas and Mila who's just three months younger than Stella. Trying to coordinate a photo of a 20 and 17 month old is a bit like herding cats:
Mila up, Stella down
Stella up, Mila down
Stella got to ride a tricycle toy in the driveway, but what I really love is how casually on a Monday night you'd have a cousin over to mow my grandma's lawn and my aunt stopping by to stay hi and we're all hanging out and watching Stella.
Stella also seems to be in a phase where she really likes four-year-old girls. This included my cousin's daughter, Mia, who Stella called "Me-Me."
Swinging on a big girl swing like Mia
Matching head wounds--only Mia's was real....
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye and head back to Seattle. I know Stella had a great time, and I can't wait to go back for our next visit! While I love my life here in Seattle, I do miss the fun and chaos of being closer to my extended family. Hopefully we'll get back again before too much time passes.
Four generations: me, my grandmother, my mother and my daughter
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