Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Surfing in Vermont

So we went to my cousin's house in Vermont. It looks like this: 

And we stayed in her barn, which looks like this:

We slept on the second floor, which we accessed by a ladder. No one broke an arm or fell down at night. There was a stream to find snakes and water striders in:

And there was a pond in which to go...

Without any forward momentum from waves, Little Guy (58 pounds) was the only one the board could support easily. But the others wanted to do it, anyway. Eldest put her determination to work, and after a few days finally stood up...

(I still don't believe this is actually possible)
While the other girls had their turn, a good amount of baby-salamander and frog catching took place.

There were several evenings of hanging out at the campfire with second cousins...

And a lot of outrageously good food, and cousinly companionship, which I apparently am too inept to transfer picture of from Flickr. But here are some of the adults, thanks to my cousin Allegra's photo-sharing:

The three men seated are my dad and his brothers
And the last time in the pond, Snuggler succeeded in surfing! I have no doubt that by the time Dancer returns on Thursday she, too will have joined the safari. She's a determined kind of girl. It runs in the family.

Coming home

We are on the train, returning from Vermont. Phone access is spotty in the mountains; internet access, more so. We have survived nicely without technology since mid-Thursday (though the older girls did have games on their phones). I'll post photos when I arrive home.

*       *        *         *

The train ride up was long and uneventful, until we were 8.5 hours along and just outside our destination of tiny Montpelier, VT. Suddenly our car started filling up with people and their luggage. It was a little odd, but I figured perhaps there was a leak in one of the rear cars from all the rain. Then the conductor came through saying sternly, "No one is to go back in those cars."

Shortly thereafter came an announcement that the train had a 'security issue', and under these circumstances they were not allowed to stop in a town, on a bridge, or in a tunnel. So we'd be stopping shortly outside of Montpelier. The State Police would be coming onto the train.

So there we sat in the dusk of rural Vermont, with a grand total of perhaps a hundred people on the train. No one was particularly worried, since we all thought that any terrorist worth his salt would have planned an attack for somewhere further down the line (like, say, swarming Penn Station in NYC). 

The police trooped on to remove "the device" which was in the rear-most car. We think it was someone's iPhone charger, accidentally left behind. But security being what it is, we weren't told the whole story. Because, you know, they wouldn't want people to panic.

*       *        *         *

We stayed in my cousin's barn. It has an apartment in it; the goats are gone. My cousin Susan spent the weeks before our arrival installing plumbing so that we'd have a working shower. She is a pretty amazing woman. There was a composting toilet (rule of thumb: one poop, one scoop of peat/sawdust), which Susan assured us would not smell. It was a tall thing, up on a pedestal. Kind of regal, really. A couple of days in things started to get a bit fragrant, so I turned on the fan.

Susan warned me there might be mice. I didn't tell the kids, figuring that if they saw some we'd deal with it, and if they didn't see any they wouldn't worry. I could hear mouse-like scurrying in the ceiling at night, but apparently the kids didn't notice. Little Guy saw a field mouse once by the edge of the pond, and proclaimed it cute. Still, a mouse outdoors is different than a mouse in the house.

Last night as Little Guy and I came in, a largish mouse scurried across the stovetop and disappeared into the stove vent. I wondered why the mouse would have bothered with mere crumbs (I did clean up well after we ate), since Susan had left a baited trap below a shelf. So I looked down below to where the trap was, and discovered that it was already occupied. And then I discovered that it wasn't the composting toilet that was causing the smell. 

I tossed the mouse, and turned off the bathroom fan. We awoke this morning to a fresh-smelling apartment and the sound of chipmunks chasing each other through the ceiling insulation. 

*       *        *         *

The occasion for our visit was a family reunion. My dad (79) and his two brothers (82 and 85?) and most of their families were there. There were some cousins I hadn't seen in 15 years, and one aunt I hadn't seen since my wedding. It was good to be in the swirl of large-scale family life. I especially liked the sound of second cousins discovering each other, bonding through silliness and stories.

*       *        *         *

Nature in our city neighborhood boasts plenty of woodchucks and skunks, the occasional raccoon or fox, and various small rodents. There are coyotes in the Bronx, but they haven't crossed over yet. We don't get big animals, like moose or bear. Fortunately we did not encounter these in Vermont, either.

I hadn't told the younger kids about the possibility of snakes, for the same reason I didn't tell them about the mice. They found two. One was small, in the creek. The other wriggled between Snuggler's legs as she walked to the pond with Little Guy. I didn't hear screams, and no one seemed distraught, so I guess it was okay. The big snake had stripes going down its body, which is the right way for stripes to go if you're looking for friendly reptiles. The kids did sing a lot while walking through the fields after that, though, to create advance noise to scare off anything lying in wait.

to be continued...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An evening with Little Guy

Little Guy needed some out-of-the-house time this afternoon, and since I was slated to be shift manager at our CSA I invited him to come along. He enjoys checking people in, breaking down boxes, and helping to keep the boxes of produce looking good.

On the way out of our building Little Guy noticed a mom with a baby heading toward the building, so he stopped to hold the door for her. My heart smiled. As we walked up the street together I commented, "I noticed you thought ahead to that woman's needs. It makes a mama glad to have a thoughtful son." And he smiled, and I smiled. He's growing up.

After an hour of working at the CSA Little Guy said he was bored. I told him there was some chalk in the storage box. Next thing I knew he'd written his name in Greek letters on the pavement. Oh. Okay. Yes, I did know he could do that. But it somehow wasn't what I was expecting.

Then he began writing:
     One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
     One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
     In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Oh. Okay. Yes, I knew he knew that, too (though I was surprised he could spell it all correctly). Andrew is reading him Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story, for the second time. But again, it wasn't what I expected my 8-year old to scrawl on the pavement. I didn't know that this was foremost on his mind on a Tuesday evening. I wouldn't have guessed.

There's something that happens around age seven or eight; stuff starts coming out of kids that you didn't realize got processed, or didn't know was even in there, and you realize with a start that your children are growing into being themselves. They have their own interests, their own internal life. They still need you and love you, but are separate human beings who, in some sense, you don't yet know. 

I find that fascinating, and delightful. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weekend update

Thursday was Snuggler's birthday. I had written a long post, but lacked a photo to go with it. I still didn't take the picture, but the important thing I wanted to way was this: I love you, Miss Eleven!
*       *        *       *

Yesterday I took the train up to Albany and met Jenny, who graciously hosted me overnight so that I could see Dancer in her performance this morning. We had a conversation that left me with many nuggets to chew on. After the show Jenny dropped us at the bus station, and now we are home.
My girl is back!

*       *        *         *

You may have figured out that this means we now have a full house once again. The quiet was nice while it lasted, and the laundry was delightfully minimal for a while there, but I'm glad we're all in one place. We've never had such an active summer before. Most of the kids and I are heading to Vermont on Thursday for a family reunion. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's up at Seeds of Devotion

I kind of figure that most people reading this blog who are interested in faith got here through the Guideposts site, since that's where I publish that kind of thing. But since others folks wander through, it occurs to me I should link to pieces over there once in a while.

Here's my latest: How Embarrassment Can Lead to Spiritual Growth

Monday, July 16, 2012

Three bits of knowledge (I probably knew already)

In between loads of laundry (mine, Little Guy's, and then today Snuggler's) I've been thinking about the Cub Scout camping trip. When you're around 19 boys for an entire week, certain truths become self-evident:

1. EVERY kid has good qualities that show up unexpectedly. The slasher-movie boy turned out to be a sensitive artist. A spider-phobic kid was amazing at helping others calm down (as long as arachnids weren't involved). When strengths appear in someone else's kid we're pleasantly surprised, and often comment positively. We don't always do the same with our own children.

  • Reminder to self: Notice your child's strengths, and don't keep your pleasure to yourself. Tell him something genuinely positive about what you see in him. 
2. EVERY kid is a work in progress. Some have awful tempers, some are astounding weasels, some are bald-faced liars or endless whiners, and others struggle with social skills or are too-easily influenced or are moody or mouthy or wrestle with anxieties. It's can be refreshing to remember that it's not just your kid who's got flaws. 

  • Reminder to self: Work on the issues there are to work on, and keep things in perspective. Our job to help our kids grow into healthy, productive, community-building, coping adults -- and it's work. Good work.
3. EVERY kid lives mainly in the moment. Children aren't particularly good at seeing how their actions positively affect others. It makes a difference to say frankly, "Hey, you made my life easier with your good attitude about picking up the trash. Thanks. You set a good example." 

  • Reminder to self: If you don't reinforce character traits, chances are your kids won't know you value them. Think of the character qualities your child has. When was the last time you told her you value her honesty... reliability... ability to choose good friends... self control... resourcefulness... thoughtfulness... ability to avoid jumping in with the crowd...? 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

We survived!

Little Guy and I left home last Sunday for a week at Cub Scout camp.

There were three other parents (two male, one female), a 15yo boy scout, and me. And, um, 19 kids. And a lot of spiders, and some raccoons, and some deer, and plenty of chipmunks.

Night one: 
We discover (via the sound effects of a dozen hysterical boys) that there are spiders in the tents. Not the itsy-bitsy kind, but critters with bodies the size of a quarter, with dramatic zigzags and 2" legs. And guess what? They could jump three feet.

This is just a regular cricket. The spiders were much bigger.
It was exciting. No one wanted to go to bed. And just so you know: the boys who weren't terrified helped out by tossing Daddy Longlegs on the others.

Most kids got to sleep by about midnight. There was one boy who had panic attacks all night, and paced the campground with his tent buddy from 2-4am. Which may explain why the raccoons didn't infiltrate until about 4:30. But that's another story.

We break up into groups. Chris (a dad) and I are put in charge of four cub scouts and two just-graduated Weebelos. Our job is to ferry them between activities. This involves approximately 400 repetitions of "C'mon, guys!" and "Hurry up!" during each transition. The older boys help us move by playing war games in transit, ensuring that everyone tramps through a suitable patch of poison ivy.

One 6yo becomes obsessed with raspberries, which grow in abundance. We periodically retrieve him, covered in juice and scratches, to re-participate in activities.

Most boys spend their entire weekly allotment of spending money at the canteen, entirely on candy and soda. This has the effect of decreasing their ability to hear their names called, while simultaneously increasing their need to have sword fights with large sticks.

We have an hour of swimming, an hour of sports, and then an hour of non-stop racing through an obstacle course. By the end of that they are almost human.

The mess hall serves meatballs for dinner. They are almost inedible.

The kids are tired, though the bedtime spider hysteria has been reduced to a mere hour or so. Several boys have purchased water sticks, long tubes which squirt water a surprising distance. We establish several new rules: no squirting into tents, no squirting those who have said they do not want to get wet, no using the slop water for ammunition.
Our campsite, minus screaming boys

We have meatball sandwiches for lunch.

After lunch we do archery and BB guns and swimming. No one gets injured, which means the afternoon passes without a single trip to the nurse.

I take belayer training. I am now officially qualified to belay people up and down walls and caves and whatnot. Hey, why not? With these kids, ya never know when you'll need it.

We have a campfire at our site. It is a success: no one is ignited by burning marshmallows, and there is a half-hour of kids falling off logs with laughter after it is discovered that someone wiped himself with the shower curtain that divides the two latrines.

The boys hover two inches from full-fledged Lord of the Flies behavior. One 10yo trips and curses out another, who gets so mad he begins to collect rocks to throw. I intervene, suggesting to the rock collector that perhaps another course of action would be more advisable. He replies fiercely, "I don't care! I want to kill him! Or at least hurt him badly enough to send him to the hospital!"

Half an hour of talking later, we convince Rock Collector to visit the nurse to bandage up his still-oozing knees and elbows. He is still angry when he returns. This is a recurring theme throughout the week.

Why limit yourself to throwing stones?
We have pasta mixed with chopped-up meatballs for lunch. I tell Angela (the other mother) that they should have advertised this as a diet camp.

There is a camp-wide campfire in the evening, after open swim. The adults in our pack come up with a skit about a new iPhone app for frustrated Cub World leaders, which reduces the burden of repetition. All you have to do is choose a standard response for the situation you're in. There are two modes: Kind Den Leader and Drill Sergeant.

Kind Den Leader example #1 (in saccharine voice):  But Daddy Longlegs are harmless! You want them here because they eat mosquitoes!

Drill Sergeant: I EAT SPIDERS FOR BREAKFAST! Get in bed before you eat them, too!

Kind Den Leader example #2: Boys, put the rocks down, please. Yes, Bobby, you too.

Drill Sergant: PUT THE ROCK DOWN! ... No, not just the big ones! ... No, NOT ON HIS FOOT!

You get the idea.

Our most difficult child is eating breakfast sausage with his fingers. I ask him to please eat it with a fork. He stares at me and says snippily, "Why should I?" I offer the usual explanation, to which he replies, "Well I'm not civilized!"

I pause, then explain that the alternative to eating in a civilized manner is not to eat at all. He shoots me a look, then picks up his fork.

A moment later I look at him and he is lowering a syrup-dripping piece of pancake into his mouth with his fingers. He sees me notice, looks me straight in the eye, then defiantly licks each of his fingers in turn. I am so angry I leave the table to calm myself and figure out the next move.

Fortunately, the pack leader shows up out of nowhere. This is new: she hadn't told the parents that she would not be there for most of the week; we found that out when we showed up. Or rather, we found out when she disappeared. I have her talk to the unpleasant child, because I am afraid of what I will say.

Little Guy talking on the phone to Dancer for
the first time in three weeks. I didn't bring a phone charger,
so we were pretty much incommunicado.
During the day the exhausted kids are staggering, usually into each other, with great protests of "He hit me!" and "He's annoying me!" The seven-year old in our group falls asleep during the knot-tying lesson, and we have to haul him, one scout holding each elbow, down the trail to the next activity. This child goes everywhere at 90mph, then crashes. The day we had wall climbing (the kids, that is; the parent have been climbing the walls since day one) this boy scampered to the top in record time.

We have Swedish meatballs for dinner.

The older Cubs, the Webelos, have a campout somewhere else this evening. We have reserved "the ship" for an overnight. With only seven kids to corral, I get them all in bed by taps. It is a peaceful night, despite the raccoons rattling about in the trash can nearby.

While saying my evening prayers, I realize that my mindset has shifted from mere survival to an understanding that the purpose of this campout is for each boy to grow in some way.

I awaken with a spirit of optimism that is quickly eradicated. A crowd of boys with water-squirting tubes monopolizes the water tap and are waging a full-fledged battle at 7:30am. Chris tells the boys to back off so that other kids can brush their teeth. Breakfast Boy (of the finger-licking pancakes) looks Chris straight in the eye and reloads. Chris takes the water tube and says, "You may have it back tomorrow".

Breakfast Boy shouts, "Child abuse! You're stealing my things!" Several other boys join in the protest. Alas for them, their outrage does not exceed that of the adults. The water stick disappears.

There are camp-wide games this morning, so the entire pack has to spend the morning together. Rock Collector manages to irritate or assault or insult almost every single scout he meets. I sit down to talk to him, and he tells me, "I don't care! I like to irritate people!"

I say, "Hmmmm. You have the right to like what you want to like, but unfortunately that's not an acceptable attitude around here." He stomps off. I send our Boy Scout to search for him.

Meanwhile, another boy is falling asleep at each station. Someone takes him to the nurse; he has a fever of 101. This precipitates a logistical crisis, because we cannot have just one adult stay in the campsite with the boy. Oh well. We figure it out.

It is hot and humid. Numerous scuffles break out. Little Guy is irritated by everything and everyone, breaks down in tears and won't budge. We figure it out.

We get to the last game, and I suggest to Chris that taking away the water squirter for a whole day on the last day might be a bit harsh, and perhaps we should give Breakfast Boy a chance to earn it back for the afternoon swim. We are short a lunch waiter (I forgot to mention that one kid had a meltdown and his dad came to take him home), so Chris offers Breakfast Boy the option of skipping the last game to do the job. 

Breakfast Boy says, "Can I do it after I'm done here?" Well... no. The table has to be set before everyone else arrives for lunch. Breakfast Boy opts to keep his place in line. As soon as he's shot his two pompoms with a slingshot he asks, "Now can I go?"

Chris says no: he was given a choice, and he made a choice. Breakfast Boy is outraged all over again, and starts screaming, "Child abuse! You wait until I tell my mother!" Chris and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Chris says, "Oh, I'd be GLAD to talk to your mother!"

Breakfast Boy continues to rail until I ask what he thinks 'child abuse' means. He says, "You gave me a choice and they were two things I wanted! That's not fair!" Ummmm. No. 

We have sloppy joes made of mashed meatballs mixed with bland barbeque sauce for lunch.

Later in the afternoon, Rock Collector has his water squirter taken away. He immediately begins to collect rocks to throw at the Assistant Scoutmaster. It takes 20 minutes with two large men in front of his tent for him to agree to stay there until he calms down.

Forgive me, but I am leaving out other altercations and issues. There was the boy who came with only a sheet and no long pants or jacket; the one who created working numchucks out of sticks and twine ("Can I try them out on Theo?"); the one who ran after everyone with a stick; the hyperactive ones; the non-listeners. There was one who ate two many raspberries and messed himself at 11pm, the obligatory lost kid, various balls-in-faces catastrophes, a child who didn't drink at all for a day, and the kid who wore the same outfit all week long. There was a 6yo who danced suggestively while singing raunchy songs, and a 7yo who wanted to tell us the plot of a slasher movie. It made for a diverse and intense leadership experience.

Last night we had a free hour and after getting the boys to pack their bags I said we were going to do a service project: we were going to collect enough firewood so that the pack that arrives tomorrow can build a fire.

Most of the kids nodded. Breakfast Boy said, "That's not fair! Nobody did that for us!"

No, but we can be thoughtful anyway. We can grow and overcome our weaknesses and our selfishness. We can learn to do the right thing, and to help others, even if it's way more work than we want to do. And when we have worn ourselves out with service, we can go home and eat something that's NOT meatballs, and be patient with people to whom we are related. And hopefully we will have learned something about how different people are, and how resourceful we can be.

And we can sleep, without raccoons or spiders.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Two unrelated adventures

A while back, before school let out here, Little Guy ran across instructions in a book for how to "walk" the solar system. So we went to the corner and drew the sun, then paced off the requisite number of steps between each planet. It wasn't far to Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, but it was a good number of steps to Jupiter, and (as I recall) 242 between Saturn and Neptune. We marked each planet on the sidewalk in chalk:

The whole thing stretched nearly eight blocks. And yes, we included Pluto. Though last week I finished reading How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming, and now agree we really should have stopped at Neptune. (And yes, we know that Mars is the next-closest planet on the sunny side.) 

Tonight Little Guy and I went on an unrelated adventure: raspberry picking in the park.

We wandered the side trails for over an hour, and aside from startling some groundhogs (which have multiplied this year the way skunks did last year) we had no mishaps greater than scratched-up arms. We managed to find several pints worth of berries.

There was a lot of poison ivy around, so we washed ourselves down with rubbing alcohol when we got home. While doing that I remembered remember one of the most brilliant signs I've ever seen. It  was in a carefully-kept garden in a trendy area that abutted a less affluent neighborhood. It said simply, "Caution: Poison Ivy". Don'tcha know that this is the city, and NO ONE was jumping over that fence and trampling the flowers... because no one knew what poison ivy looked like, and they were terrified they'd catch it!

We had several pints of berries, and since they were a tad sour we cooked them up into a phenomenal sauce which we had over vanilla ice cream. Delectable.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A different kind of day

This morning at 8 a.m. I set out for 142nd and Lenox Avenue, which if you don't live in New York you'd know by the name of deepest Harlem. Andrew had made the trip to the Armory there two weeks ago, to drop off Big Guy for the bus to camp. And because I am heading out for a week of Cub Scout camp (what was I thinking when I agreed to do that?) this weekend, I was on the hook to retrieve my older son from upstate New York before I left.

Scene One:
I get off the train and head toward the east-bound side of the street. A young woman near me says, "Oh, I hope I don't miss my bus!" I comment that I am aiming to catch the same one, and she smiles at me. When we get to the other side of the street (in time for the bus) she introduces herself as Stephanie, and tells me about how she works at the hospital and goes to a community college on the other end of Manhattan (though she lives in the Bronx) and how her hero is Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is an effusion the likes of which I rarely encounter; she is very sweet. I tell her how to get into the Museum of Natural History for a dollar, and she looks at me as if I've totally transformed her life.

Scene Two:
Andrew has given me specific transit instructions, because I am going to a rough neighborhood. I follow the directions, feeling somewhat foolish for all the caution. A block from the bus there is a loud bang, and everyone on the street momentarily freezes. We all look to see if anyone is bleeding on the ground, but since no one appears hurt the reel of life continues to roll.

Scene Three:
Moms are talking outside the Armory, including one who's ranting a bit about finding support for parents who have to deal with kids with severe ADHD. The camp we're all going to visit specializes in kids with various difficulties: there are kids on the autistic spectrum, kids with mental illnesses, kids with so many H's in their ADHD that it makes you gape. I offer a few supportive-sounding words, and suddenly find myself with new friends.

Mom #1 is a single mom who was originally told her son would never talk or comprehend what she said. He is eight, has various difficulties, but is a kid. She is a tenacious mother, a woman who has ground down the Department of Education by sheer persistence and gotten them to do right by her child. This is someone who lives below the poverty line and sued the DoE, anyway. (Me, I would have given up because I couldn't afford to do that.)

Mom #2 is a single mom whose son was born at six months' gestation after seven prior miscarriages. The baby went through brain surgery, lung surgery and several other major procedures before age two, at which point the dad said goodbye. The dad called a year later to say he had another baby by another woman, and oh, by the way, he tested positive for HIV. She talked about how she was recently told that her son is still at a first grade level in school, although when she works with him he can read on a third grade level. Mom #1 and I both advise that she needs to find a different school. We give her a short list of good ones.

Scene Four:
After two hours of talking to Mom #2 on the bus, we emerge into the greenery of the upper Catskill mountains to find our children. Big Guy expresses faux-indifference at seeing me, to which I respond with wry and dry humor. The staff laugh; one comments to Big Guy, "Now we know where you get it from!"

Big Guy gives me the grand tour of the camp. I am surprised at how big it is. He says there were about 300 kids. For his cabin of seven there were five counselors, though they worked in shifts, so there were never more than two or three at a time.

I contemplate the amount of work required of these counselors. I calculate the amount of respite given to the parents of the kids here. I guess that about a third of the camp consists of kids who, like Big Guy, are here on scholarship. God bless whoever contributes for that. These parents have it tough.

Scene Five:
A few hours later we are back on the bus. The mother across the aisle from me has two boys snuggled up against her. Somehow we strike up a conversation. Her 10-year old is asleep on her lap and she whispers, "They let him call home twice because he was so homesick. But now I know my boy loves me. He really loves me. He wanted me, and missed me." There are tears in her eyes.

I know what it is like to have a child who requires so much attention that you wonder if he has any idea of what it means to give. I am so glad that this woman has received the gift of the knowledge that her child cares.

Later she tells me she has five kids in all. They live in an awful neighborhood, rife with drug dealers and gangs. She is scared for her children. I admire her courage and her love. If I am ever rich I will give money to camps like this, to help people like her. I will.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Growing up

Eldest and I went to a nearby park last week to see an outdoor opera. Just before the show started I saw a mom in the audience who'd moved to another borough several years ago. She has a daughter Dancer's age, but I haven't seen the family in eons.

There was a teenager with the mom, and with a start I realized -- gasp! -- why, that was Emma! Dancer's friend! And she was... well... she was... GROWN!

It's weird, you know. You kind of come to grips with your own kids' physical growth, but other kids really ought to stay little. I mean, I remember the day Emma learned to ride a bike in the playground. She was four. Perhaps she could be the size of a nine or ten year old now, but definitely not a teenager. It's not right.

*         *         *        *

I was telling a neighbor that while cleaning up the house I realized we don't have that many toys left. She looked at me with disbelief; her kids are ages six and three. She can't imagine not stepping on toys.

I assured her that there will always be a one-stud Lego stealthily lying in wait for the arch of your foot. But the trains eventually go. And one day you notice the dolls upside-down in a corner (as usual), and realize no one's given them a bad haircut in months. Maybe even a year. And an awareness creeps over you that something's different: the mess that covers the floor isn't the same. There are origami frogs in Biblical-plague quantities, elaborate marble runs (since marbles are no longer a choking hazard), jerry-rigged Rube Goldberg contraptions built from the kitchen utensils that used to be used as musical instruments, and endless sheets of character descriptions for role-playing games. 

You realize your kids are growing up.

*         *         *        *

Going to an outdoor concert is different with a 17-year old than it is with a 7-year old. I can be more Julia and less Mom. And that is good. 

When your youngest is eight, it's different than when your oldest is eight. You still have an endless list of concerns and observations and things to do, but not the same list. And that's good, too.

But despite all the times you wished your body was your own again, it's kind of sad when there's no sticky-sweaty baby desperate to snuggle in the 95-degree heat. When your littlest one is too lanky to fit comfortably on your lap for more than a few minutes, an era has passed.

It's sad. But then again, it's not. For if you've lived your life in a way that you relish as much as it's possible to relish (and accept the rest for what it is), your heart's lap is still full. Not only can you smilingly hold your memories tight at will, but you have formed a relationship that grows as your kids grow. It's different. But it's good. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

60 minutes

I am whittling away at my mile-long to-do list. Early on in this vacated (I guess that's what you call it when others go away!) I realized that it would be sorely tempting to do nothing with the extra bandwidth. So I decided to allocate an hour a day to my to-do list. Just an hour.

The big things aren't getting done. Dancer asked on the phone, "Are you going to paint my room while I'm gone?" Frankly, I hadn't really considered it. (Isn't that the kind of thing one needs kids to help with? Besides, my paint budget was used to buy pointe shoes.) But the little things are getting done. Thus far I have:
  • wiped down the fingerprint-covered doorjambs and light plates
  • cleaned out and vacuumed the kitchen drawers
  • reorganized the pantry, a closet, and some files
  • sent in our end-of-year standardized tests
  • scraped off leftover grout from the walls of the bathroom
  • scrubbed the craft-encrusted windowsills in the girls' room
  • filed our college financial aid appeal (they somehow overlooked the fact that my unemployed husband no longer receives the salary he did last year)
  • returned the library books before they were due
  • bought Big Guy's birthday present
  • washed the baseboards in two rooms
  • cleaned the girls' room to my standards
  • pestered my husband to continue dusting off and gently purging his books (2.5 shelves done, 5.5 to go... in the living room) 
  • pestered my husband to remove the to-be-removed books from the house (he did)
  • taken apart the caned seat bottom of a chair, with the intention of some day putting it back together again
  • scraped the peeling bathroom ceiling
This sounds productive. But really, it's an hour a day. It wouldn't be nearly as satisfying if there were people here to un-do everything I get done. Even if it's work, it feels like vacation to have -- for a week -- things almost in order.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dancer in the news (so to speak)

Dancer's summer intensive this year seems to have a daily component of camp. In one week they've done laser tag, spa night, a door-decorating contest, and then yesterday they had a Lady Gaga fashion show.

Lady Gaga? [insert pause while Mom thinks meat dress... crude lyrics... exhibitionism and feels a scream coming on until she remembers this is a fashion contest for fun.] Okay. Got it. Fun. Yes, that's allowed. Though my first question was, "What did you make your dress out of?"


I'm impressed by the tailoring. I'm in awe of the headdress. Yep -- I'm gaga about my girl.