Column: Muddled

By Icy Frantz

We have just returned home from the most amazing family trip, full of stories and memories and photos, lots of photos, and time spent together, all six of us, a rare and precious treat and the ideal way to end 2018, a year I found to be a little muddled.

I came across this word half way around the world and have been thinking of it since. Ok, it is just a word that was used to describe an egg dish I ordered at a funky brunch spot in Cape Town, but I became slightly obsessed with it. The dish was an odd combination of eggs and mayonnaise served in a stemless wine glass, surprisingly delicious, but my take away was less about the eggs and more about the word and the way it perfectly describes so much in life.

At one point during our trip together in South Africa, after one of our long game drives, I looked at my family from the backseat of an open-air Landcruiser and asked the question, “What type of animal are you?” Putting aside any stereotypes that we had formed from years of watching the “Lion King”, we each came up with an answer. Among us, there was a self-identified zebra, a lioness, an elephant, a hyena, a cape buffalo and, although I see myself differently, the kids deemed me the hippo. Interestingly, no warthogs, we are all too vain, and no impalas, which were a dime a dozen in the Delta.

What did we see of ourselves in these animals? The zebra is exotic, with its unique pattern of back stripes on white. The lioness is a courageous hunter and territorial, marking her territory with urine, unacceptable in our home but not unlike a sign on our lioness’ door marking her bedroom “stay out” in bright pink bubble letters. The elephant is wise and social with deep family bonds. Elephants greet one another by extending their trunks, much like we would shake hands.  Hyenas are known as scavengers, eating other animals’ kill rather than catching their own food. I could just picture our hyena stalking the last cookie and stealing it out from under our eyes. The Cape Buffalo is strong and serious and very dangerous. And finally, the hippo spends most of its day lounging in the lagoon. Mama hippos, in particular, are aggressive and unpredictable, and fiercely protect their young.

Yup, our family has it all.  We are simply not all elephants or lions or hippos. In the animal kingdom, we would most likely pilfer each other’s food, prey on each other, and then eat each other. And after ten days on vacation, often without Wi-Fi, I have learned that sometimes we are truly very different people. Our family is a small herd, a pack, a parade, a cackle, a troop or, as with the hippos, a bloat of individuals seemingly muddled together not that dissimilar from that dish of eggs from Cape town. We are bonded more by blood and love and less by sameness. We muddle together.

And that is what we did for ten days of vacation, and it was heaven. We set out before 6 a.m. with no clear direction, picking our way through the thicket. And, like our day, we muddled through conversations with each other, conversations with no clear resolve, different from conversations at home which seem to be information seeking: “Is your homework done? When do you need to go back to school? Have you made your dentist appointment?”

And, with no set plan, we haphazardly stumbled upon treasures: a leopard, five white rhinos, and a baby giraffe, as well as small giggles and connections with each other that might have been missed.

We muddled though our vacation, briskly at times and at a much slower pace at other times. We muddled through a long lunch in the wine country and woke early to catch the game in Botswana. Some of us muddled up to the side of a bridge at Victoria Falls, in Zambia, to jump off, while others stood back to muddle on the sidelines and cheer. For me, it was the time spent together that meant the world; playing rummy and Scrabble and losing, watching the playful baboons at our window, all six of us reading and eating, lots of eating,

I realized that there is no group with whom I would rather muddle through life. I love our wise and steady elephant, the beautiful lioness, the photogenic zebra, the sneaky hyena, the cape buffalo standing guard and even the protective mama hippo, happy to pass the time in the muddy lagoon. In the beautiful Okavango Delta, the sun is setting on the day, and the animals have gathered at the water’s edge for a leisurely drink. The kingdom is at peace.  In Riverside, Connecticut, our bags are unpacked as we stare at the Long Island Sound at 4 a.m., jet lagged but feeling the same peace and a fullness that we found by muddling through together and, ultimately, arriving at a new destination.