Emerging from the COVID Fog

There were moments on the Jersey Shore a couple weeks ago with such intense fog that we couldn’t see the water from our seats on the sand. We couldn’t see the buildings where our rented house was tucked. We couldn’t see the lifeguard stand holding up trained rescuers. We couldn’t see danger, shelter or safety, but we could see each other.

And each other is who we have seen for the past three solid months during the COVID pandemic. Yes, we have gone for walks in the neighborhood with other people. Yes, we have passed people in the stores. Yes, the boys have played outside with other kids, trying to keep distant and not “sharing” despite years of reprimand to share their toys. But most of our entire human interaction has been within my nuclear family and that of my sister’s.

It was exciting to get away. Everyone was ready. But the weather was awful and uncooperative and full of fog and rain and wind at a steady 15 miles/hour and gusting into the 20s. The beach wasn’t welcoming and the playgrounds and basketball courts were closed. We spent most of our time inside and unlike other vacations, the boys were given plenty of electronic time because the adults were tired and solely focused on resting at the jigsaw puzzle table.

The fog on the shoreline seemed to match the fog of our brains during the shut-down. Time stood still or sped up but we couldn’t figure out what day it was. Work was either too stressful or we couldn’t get to it and that was stressful as well. My kids were suddenly home from school for the entire last quarter of the year, missing their friends and their teachers and completely missing out of academics.

We rallied and did what we had to do to “flatten the curve,” to not overwhelm the capacity of the medical system to care for those who had contracted coronavirus. But after three months, people were tired. Summer had arrived and we were ready to live to again. Escape to the shore offered a chance to change the scenery and start seeing the world in a different light.

One day I noticed that my three guys were standing looking out into the ocean. I’m sure they were just trying to judge the approach of the next wave and were unlikely to be as reflective as I am. I, on the other hand, snapped a quick photo of “my hearts” standing at the crest of the earth, pondering the vastness of the world that seems to go on forever in its steady form and yet is a constantly shifting landscape up close. I doubt they were contemplating the ill-preparedness of our country for the deadly onslaught of COVID-19. They likely were not wrestling with how to dismantle the racist systems that impact their very existence. They probably were wondering what seafood to have for dinner.

The beach week offered a chance to reflect on and talk to the boys about resiliency – the weather is awful, but we can choose to be happy and enjoy the moments we have. Mr. Ornery had started to refer to “bad” things that happened with the phrase, “We’re cursed.” I began to reframe it for him, “Actually, dear, we’re blessed.” We laughed at the ease of pedaling a surrey with the direction of the wind versus the return trip of pushing against it.  We found new activities like burying a yoga ball into the sand to bounce off it like a trampoline. And since the water was unfriendly, the boys finally had time to dedicate to learning to skimboard.

And while the older teens refused to engage in their previous almost daily excursions to Wawa, the local convenience store, because of the mask-wearing requirement, it gave us a chance to talk about responsibility. In a time of spreading virus, we cover our face to protect the health of the community because that is our responsibility as human beings. We could find fun masks to wear. We could laugh about how many times we turned around to run back inside to grab the masks. We could make it work.

And, the week gave us a chance to relax and reflect on the importance of rest. The Lord calls us to rest because He knows it’s important for the human body. We need sleep every day and we need times of rest every week. Rest renews us and heals us. After three months of a country in crisis and shut down, we needed to rest and help ourselves become prepared for the peaks and surges of the virus, for the next challenges we would face, for the next battles we would start to fight on behalf of ourselves and our communities.

While it took a good week to dig out from under the work that piled up in my absence, I felt grateful to have a glimpse of emerging from my COVID fog. I am grateful for the privilege of a job that has allowed me to work at home and provides me with times of rest. I am grateful for the friends and family who have walked beside me in the fog and continue in constant support. And I am grateful for the privilege of sharing my life with three growing boys and sharing the wonder of horseshoe crabs and sand-sharks and brown sharks and turtles and ice cream and parasailing.

May they take that sense of resiliency and responsibility and rest as they continue to look out in wonder and face their huge world.

Suddenly We Were Bouldering

Over the past few years, we’ve taken a mini-vacation to Yogi Bear Campground about an hour and a half southeast of the city. We met a delightful family a couple years ago with kids around the same age and personalities and energy levels that meshed with the boys. So every year we hang out together around the campfire making smores and popping in and out of the pool and going down the small water slides. The kids ride on their bikes and spend hours playing with whoever shows up at the Gaga pits. The biggest excitement of the campground, though, is the golf cart that I rent and then spend most of my days driving kids around.

Last year we decided to go off-site and visit Ohiopyle where the boys clambered around Cucumber Falls and experienced the thrill of jumping off a rock that juts about 12 feet out of the water and you can go deep into “just the right spot” about 2-3 feet away from the rock. This year they were so eager to go back that we even bought a cucumber to take along with us and hide in the rocks for others to find.

We started out Saturday morning and happily clambered down the sets of stairs to the bottom of the falls. Mr. Ornery (age 10), The Little Guy (age 8), my nephew (age 9) and our friend HockeyGirl (age 9) climbed over rocks to the base of the falls and Mr. Ornery ventured into the freezing water to be splashed by the spray. Then we ambled down the stream where the water of the falls merged with the Youghiogheny River. From that point, we could watch groups of people in kayaks and rafts as they ventured in the white water rapids.

Remembering that last year, we had hiked to the right of the tributary and came out to the jumping rock, the boys set off scrambling over rocks as my mom (age 78, by the way) and I hurried to keep up. Something in my head wondered if there wasn’t an actual “trail” that we followed last year….and don’t trails usually have markers on the trees or the rocks?….but the thought slipped in the need to keep up with the adventurers. After 20 or 30 minutes however, I realized that we weren’t coming to any trail and the rocks were getting larger and more difficult to climb over.

 

Pretty soon it was clear that we were out bouldering. And by the time it was closing in on a hour of exercise, I kept sending Mr. Ornery ahead to scout out if we could make it around the next obstacle. (Of course, what appears to be “doable” to a 10-year-old boy is quite different than a mom approaching fifty who is thinking of her own mother using a walking stick behind her!) My anxiety was starting to rise as it became clearer and clearer that we were no where near a path, the overgrowth was pretty overgrown and rose steeply up the hills to our right, and there loomed a huge rock up ahead. I couldn’t tell if it would be better to forge ahead or go back. I was stressed that my mom would tumble and break a hip or a head. I worried that one of the kids would get hurt as I watched them crawl under a fallen tree. Just at my peak stress about safety, my nephew let out a blood-curdling scream as a bee stung his cheek. This resulted in me squeezing under the tree, hugging him and talking down my 10-year-old who was hyperventilating with a fear of bees now. This was a bad idea, I kept screaming in my head. The kids were exhausted and hungry. There was no path ahead. My mom didn’t want to jump in the raft of the “first aid” rafter who had floated nearby a little bit earlier. I just didn’t know what would be best to do.

That’s when I heard some voices and looked up to find a couple guys coming down the side of the hill. I yelled out, “Is there a path up there?” He couldn’t hear me. I dashed back under the tree and scrambled up to him. “Yes,” he replied, “There was a path going back and forth that we crossed. Do you need help?” I gave him a hug as he directed the kids, my mom and I past tree branches and up onto a well-worn trail. “Thank you, thank you”, I yelled out as we parted and started following the yellow-painted trail markers. “Oh, so this is what the trail should be, eh?” said my mom, the experienced Girl Scout leader!  Yes, Mom….this is the trail we were supposed to be on (and the one that HockeyGirl later said, “Oh yes, I saw a sign directing to a trail right when we started but the boys were already off to the rocks!” Silly girl, boys don’t look around, they just bumble along. Feel free to yell out next time!!)

And that trail let us right to the rock which was right down the stream from the natural water slides that the boys had enjoyed the day before. And the kids got refreshed in the cool water while my mom and nephew walked up the road to get the car…and much to the great delight of The Little Guy, we made it back to the campground just in time for the Mardi Gras parade. The kids rode along throwing out beads to the eager kids and adults lining the roads of the campground.

“Let’s chalk that up to an experience,” suggested HockeyGirl at the end of the “hike.”  I gave her a huge high-five. “Yep, let’s call that off-ice, cross-country, cross-training for you, my dear HockeyGirl,” I replied.

Bouldering sure was an experience. Hopefully the kids can see how amazing they were to work together and keep persisting even when one was hurt and all were tired and hungry. Hopefully the kids can understand just how beautiful it is to help one another along life’s journey and guide each other to the easier paths when possible. Hopefully the kids can lift their heads and be awed and inspired by the beauty of this world – the gentle roar of rushing rapids, the power of moving water in carving out rocks and the joy of exploring creation.

And hopefully next time we’ll all look out for trail markers before setting off. Well, sometimes. And sometimes it’s nice to end up bouldering.

The Master Plan….

I strum my fingers together and smile devilishly. An unexpected plan has come together this summer – “practice” camp.

We stood at the registration table on Sunday afternoon. Nine-year-old Mr. Ornery was unusually subdued as they searched for his name on the list. Beside him and slightly in front of him, the Little Guy bounced up and down and tried to answer any question with as much true or somewhat-true information as he could. The auburn-haired woman peered over her dark glasses and said, “Ah, are you staying for mini-camp?”

“Mini-camp?” I queried.

“Oh, yes,” she proceeded. “In addition to Kids Camp, we’re also running mini-camp this week. How old is he?”

“Seven.”

“Great. And where do you live?” she asked as her brain clearly contemplated her next question. Thankfully she held in the “Why don’t you just run on home and pack him up,” and instead said, “When you get home, go online and register him. Then bring him here Wednesday night.”

Wednesday night? Both my “young” guys in camp at the same time?!? I filled out that online application immediately, followed by mad texting and emailing to see which friends I could gather for my two glorious nights of “limited” kid responsibility (the twelve-year-old fends for himself pretty well these days).

For days it was nonstop questions. “Has my flashlight arrived from Amazon yet?” “Is it Wednesday yet?” “When do we go?” “Will you miss me?” “Did the mail come yet with the flashlight?” “How about my sleeping bag?”

He fell asleep on the short trip up to camp. Our car was greeted by two very enthusiastic camp counselors who had been his summer day camp counselors. They screamed his name and rushed to open the door, slathering him in hugs and kisses. The other counselors stared. This kid is going to be just fine with these young mother hens all over him.

As we started up the path to the office to register, I spied Mr. Ornery leaving the pool area. He saw me and came running over for a wet tight hug. “I’m having a great time. Love you. See you later,” and off he went waving the love-you sign behind him. My eyes welled. I had been worried that I’d arrive to find an unhappy little man ready to pack up and go home.My heart though was hoping he would be enjoying it and have the full camp experience. Thankfully, this little clown seems to have made some friends and found his own space. I just hope the presence of the Little Guy won’t be too disruptive. The Little Guy commands an audience. He smiles and people melt. I had checked that Mr. Ornery wanted him to come, but I’m still thinking that the stories should be interesting.

And so… I drove off….in a quiet car….praying blessings upon them for peace and safety and friendships and a deepening devotion.

And thinking – “Now, my young padawans, as you graduate from mini-camp and one-week camp this year….the “secret” plan is “Summer’s Best Two Weeks” next year!”

Did you catch that?

TWO WEEKS!

This might not go completely according to plan. The report from Super Tall Guy in the weeks after his camp experience was that he didn’t like it too much. He was bothered by a set of brothers in his cabin who apparently had a lot of brotherly “bickering” and overall seemed pretty tired by the constant activity level. (The lack of any screen and internet might also have contributed his unhappiness….But we’re going to keep working on the importance of screen-free weeks and finding an “away” experience during those two weeks!).

And, of course, my two days “off” didn’t go completely as planned. The irony of parenting is that just when you are free from the responsibility of the daily grind of caring for the younger two, the typically-independent eldest develops a fever of 102….and so I am still “needed”!

Next summer….

*ps – I miss these guys terribly, but am so proud of their bravery in stepping out a bit on their own.