Dear Kansas City, We Want Our Sister Back

When my youngest sister left our hometown, college-bound for Kansas City, we all swore she’d return. After all, she was a Kastner. And there’s only a few things we Kastner women refuse to do- walk slowly under any circumstance, confront conflict directly, and move away. We have five generations of family living in our hometown, with like 30 first cousins residing within an eight mile radius, and quite simply, no one leaves. My other sister lives two miles from me, and my mother’s backyard literally connects to hers by a woodland path fashioned by the grand kids. We’re truly as close as any family could possibly be, so surely, our baby sis would return to us like a serendipitous boomerang once she got this “traveling” thing out of her system.

And then she met Ian. And we are still waiting.

We fought the concept of Joc becoming a “Missourian,” even after she married at the age of 20 and became a bleeding blue Royals fan. But alas, it’s been 15 years since our 18 year-old ball of fire sped westward with her Bible and her book bag, and she now says things like” y’all good?” and chats with strangers in public.  I swear this past visit one woman at Starbucks thought she was on ecstasy, she was so friendly.

So with our dreams of raising babies together instead of Face-timing on holidays officially dashed, we’ve been reduced to Joc and her growing family’s annual pilgrimage to CT, which now occurs every summer after her entire family caught a repetitious Christmas stomach bug, and boycotted winter visits for all eternity.

So, this past visit, like every other occurring with the summer solstice, we prepared for our treasured one week of family fun that officially begins with that first “#CTBound!” selfie from my sis’ family while trekking across seven states with three small children including a baby. The pics do usually deteriorate from enthusiasm to third world terror after hour number 12- I think the last one captured my niece smashing banana into her tablet and Jocelyn looking closer to death than long term meth addict- but it’s exciting nonetheless. She actually kissed the driveway upon arrival, and her and Ian still will not speak of the details going down between hours 19-21.

But despite the condition of our beloved huddled masses, from the moment those Honda Odyssey wheels touch Southington soil, it’s on. Let the family togetherness begin.

Basically life as we know it comes to a halt when the Barkers arrive. We take off of work, cancel all planned activities like sports practice and Bible studies and all 19 of us conjoin by the hip for seven days straight.

Every morn we eagerly arrive with pastries and coffee, waiting to review the agenda for the next 12 hours of memory-making, right down to whose house we’d be eating for lunch and dinner, what we’d be doing at night (cards, home movie-viewing, game night?) and days full of mini golf, beaches, pool outings, endless ice cream trips and group hikes that usually begin with a frantic hunt for a lost cousin, but always end with a very post-worthy group pic. So. Much. Togetherness. We usually even insist on coming along with quick errands, like a CVS trip, because heck, that’s 20 minutes of priceless sister time.

At one point when poor Joc (pregnant, with morning sickness, mind you) was too ‘tired’ for a nature walk, I might’ve offered to carry her via piggyback. What?! Go home and rest…without us?! Not on this watch, that’s three hours of familial magic we’ll never get back! Pretty sure she faked a migraine one afternoon to re-charge her introverted soul, and I’m even more certain I saw Uncle Ian pull an impressively swift u-ey up the stairs after noticing we were already downstairs, ready for taco night. Understandable, but still, fajitas are gettin’ cold…

My other sister (the non-abandoner) and I have long laughed over the fact that our entire lives come to a complete halt during this special week, because we’re so obsessed with being with our Barkers. We don’t pay bills, clean our houses, answer emails, respond to texts and I actually think my water was shut off after Barker visit 2014  because I didn’t get the mail for a week. I’m even more certain my youngest child did not bathe the entire last visit, but eh, that’s what chlorine’s for. It’s all about getting one year’s worth of quality time stolen from us by the state of Missouri, and darn it, we’re going to make it count.

And when family week is over and our Barkers depart? Forget it. It’s like the end of the world, with all our hopes and dreams coming to a crash. There has been loud crying betwixt the younger cousins, gifting of toys and mementos to keep the memories alive, and poorly-masked tears and silent sniffles between mom and sisters exchanging mutual falsehoods that maybe we’ll fly out in a few months if flight prices sink. Of course no one cries harder than the Barkers, leaving the best town on Earth, a family that loves them and now facing 24 hours of Dante’s travel Hell… but I digress.

It was during this post-Barker depression when my sister and I were commiserating on how Joc and Ian could possibly continue to live at such distance, when it dawned on us.

“Wait. Do you think Ian thinks it would be like this ALL the time if they lived here?”

“Surely not. But hmmm, oh my gosh do you think JOC thinks we’d be like this all the time?”

Silent pondering. Suddenly, visions of all 13 of us following the Barkers around like European paparazzi stalking the Kardashians came flooding through our minds. The constant barrage of privacy intrusions and incessant group texts…”What’s the ETA Barkers, the beach waits for no one?!” What. Have we done.

Although this new revelation brought a stark fear that maybe this whole time our aggressive bonding  had kept the Barkers at bay, it also gave us a new found hope. Maybe if we reassure them it would not be like this, if they lived here…that we would never allow our children to pounce them into consciousness in the morning and that our families do not travel like a singular flock of Moroccan sheep during normal life, and they’d  consider coming home where they belong?

So with this stellar enlightenment fresh on our minds, let our sincerest plea be known to you, our dearest Auntie Joc, and Uncle Ian: Please. Come home, where you belong. We promise to honor all boundaries, ensure a respectable amount of alone time, and pledge against any and all unannounced visits and/or acts of social spontanaity. A mandatory Sunday dinner at best. And have we mentioned the endless free babysitting (date nights, people!) and a constant source of firewood and electrical help, from Uncle Mike? Please. Come home. And if not, just remember…. Only 352 days until Barker visit 2019… and yes, family day #1 will include pony rides.

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