I used to get really annoyed when people would say they were going to “the lake.” Growing up in Minnesota, lakes were everywhere. You needed a much more definitive explanation of where you were going than just, “the lake.” (Read that with the snarkiest voice you can muster.)

When my oldest son was just 2, my in-laws took over a lake lot that had been in the family for decades. The lake was man-made and in North Dakota, it’s not even a real lake (enter eye roll.)

But, before I knew what was happening, we became lake people. A dozen years later I realize how lucky we are to have a place to spend our summer weekends.

Our drive is just over an hour. When we pass through the last small town our preschoolers knows we only have five more turns before we are there. The anticipation grows as we cruise the two lane road around curves, farm land flanking us on both sides. Wildlife emerges, often with a sighting of a deer grazing in a field or a hawk perched on a post. The stretch from turn number one to number two is the longest. Once we hit number two, we’re really close and my senses start to kick in. The trees that line the body of water in the middle of North Dakota farm country are a sign, the lake is near. I swear I can smell the water by turn number two. Two small silos are the landmark which remind us to take turn number three. From there we can see the red barn cabin. They may be fourth or fifth cousins to my kids, but at the lake the people at red barn are family. A small slough is to our left, a Federal Waterfowl Production sign protecting the area. My husband and son will hunt that slough in the fall.

Just past turn number four is the old homestead. My husband’s grandfather lived there as a child and fallen buildings still remain in what’s now a tree grove. Hunting happens there too, as does learning to shoot a gun, sighting in guns and maybe even tasting field corn right from the cob. I wouldn’t recommend the latter. Sharper than a 90-degree angle, turn number five is the final stretch. Our destination is at the end of a dead end road.

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The perfect place for 12 regulars, plus a dog, and other family that joins us when they can.

The vehicle is barely in park and the kids jump out, new life surging through them. But they know, oh boy do they ever know, they have to help unpack before the fun begins. With speed and no carefulness, bags are thrown into our camper which is situated adjacent to another camper. If my husband’s sister and her family aren’t there yet, they will be soon. Coolers are recklessly wheeled into my in-law’s cabin less than twenty feet away. And if Grandma and Grandpa just pulled in? The kids know they need to help unpack their car too.

But then, as soon as they get the go-ahead, each kid will quickly head to their favorite activities. The teenager sprints to the shed, grabs his fishing pole, and his brother’s, and is on the dock within seconds. The little brother, nine years younger, scrambles to find his life jacket, begs the nearest big person for help with the zipper and takes off barefoot for the dock. There, he’ll find his pole with a hookless fishing lure at the end. He will cast it into the water hundreds of times in a weekend knowing his chance of catching a fish is zero, and he doesn’t even care.

This is their happy place.

Our daughter is a water bug. She usually wears her suit under her clothes, she’s a planner like me. Her and the cousins run across the sand and into the water towards the floating duck. It’s a raft, it’s a trampoline, and it floats. What more could an eleven-year-old girl want? On cooler days she and the cousins hang out in Grandpa and Grandma’s sunroom. They listen to music, play cards, board games, make bracelets or set up a nail salon. Busy, they stay busy and unplugged. Us adults? We each have our thing as well. My husband has a tree stand set up in the yard so he can practice shooting his bow in the empty lot. Sometimes he and his dad will play cribbage and listen to old country music for hours on end.

As for myself, I like to grab a chair and head to the sand. I bury my toes, listen to the waves, breathe in the scent of water, and indulge a book that is often finished before we leave. Our lake isn’t fancy. We stick to a few staple foods for our menu, the boat cushions are cracked and sometimes too many flies get in the cabin. We don’t do fast water sports or big huge parties. But we’re together as a family, connecting, relaxing, laughing, and even often arguing.

In all honesty, there are times I have wondered if going to the lake is worth being away from home. The house that never seems to get cleaned. The revolving pile of laundry. Always feeling on the go. Me, turning into a monster every single time we pack, and unpack. Sunday nights when we’re all sad it went so quickly.

But then, I remember turn number five, and the magic that follows. Sometimes the ride home is somber for me. I’m sad to leave and often regretful that I didn’t relax as much as I should have or didn’t connect with my kids while we were there. Shall we talk about packing for our weekend getaways? I turn into a monster. One of my kids even called me out on it not long ago. “Why do you get so mad every week when we are packing up?”

Honestly? Because I’m usually the one with the most packing to do. Sure, I seem to throw the same clothes in a bag each weekend. And often our menu is similar, burgers and tacos for supper, sandwiches for lunch and nachos for a snack. Yet, I’m the one who packs the cooler simply because I’m the one who knows what needs to go, and what doesn’t.

Then of course I live with one male whom we still have to pack for, though I will admit the five-year-old is getting better on his own. The other two males in the house are guaranteed to forget either socks, extra underwear, or both. Seriously.