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.

An Introvert Collecting Stories in Croatia

The boat bobbled along the coast of one of Croatia’s thousand islands. We passed small villages along the coasts that are accessible only by boat and pondered what sustains them. “They finally had to put in some roads,” mentioned Marin, the ship’s captain. “Three years ago there was a fire that burned for three days because no firetrucks could reach it and the weather was too bad for fire-fighting planes.” It is an “old” village mainly of people who have lived there all their lives. We were on our way back from Bol, a touristy beach town on the island of Brac with a blend of the centuries old ruins and the draw of the young touristy crowd. Marin grew up on the boat life learning from his father. His six-year-old son is following in his footsteps and sat on a cushion behind his captain’s wheel. “He only gets one hour a day,” Marin responded when I joked about whether the boy was playing a game or watching a video on the electronic device he held cradled between his knees. The boy has just started kindergarten but on nice days he still heads out to sea with his parents. His older sisters, though, stay in school in Split under the watch of grandma. While the family lives on one of the smaller islands, they maintain an apartment in Split so that the kids have good schools. The choices parents face is universal. How do you get them a good education? How do you balance the world around them and the world of digital media? How do you instill your passions and what you’ve learned over generations? How do you maintain your culture, especially in a country recovering from war and experiencing the influx of tourism as its greatest economic asset?

Branko is happy for the tourism. Approaching sixty, he doesn’t have any other job possibilities but to drive for Uber. His two boys have just gone off to college so the money coming from driving has been sufficient, but he’s hoping more of the locals will start using Uber in the off-season months. He’s thankful for his health and credits eating good food. While there is ample access to McDonald’s in town and several local “fast food” businesses, he’s grateful that his youngest finally stopped eating all that food that has “bad” things put in it. There is plenty of fresh healthy food available, but you have to know, he says, when you go to the market which local farmers are sneaking and using pesticides and which are clean. You just have to know, he nods wisely.

Tourism is also supporting Ivan. A young man driving for a travel company, he works seven days a week during the busy season. He lives with his parents and grandmother, as most people do, he mentions. You see, he remarks, when people build a house they build one floor for each generation. Sometimes you’ll see that the walls are not yet complete or the next floor is not yet added on. “They are waiting for more money to finish the house,” he remarks. “But it is good for the family to live together,” he adds, “We all help each other.”

Miriam works in one of the shops within the old Diocletian Palace built by the Roman Emperor in the 4th century. Unlike almost 3000 other people, however, she doesn’t live within the palace walls, but instead lives “down by the beach” close to where we stayed at Villa Sea Breeze. Wary at first about my line of questioning, she soon began to smile as she talked about her work. She slipped an extra cloth sack of lavender, famously grown in the area, among my souvenir purchases. The young woman at a store nearby was not as reticent. Another traveler and I asked about the “swimmers” on a t-shirt in the front of the store. “Oh,” she responded, “those men are playing Picigin.” Further questioning led to the fact that it is a game played in shallow water along the beach with a hard ball. “It hit me in the face one time and I couldn’t open my eye for two weeks!” she continued, “It’s a really hard ball.” A quick search of Google while pausing for a glass of wine and some appetizers revealed that Picigin was invented in Split when travelers had tried to introduce water polo. The inside rubber from a tennis ball is swatted back and forth among 4-5 players. In an attempt to keep the ball above the water, players are cheered (and in the “World Championship” games, awarded points) for acrobatic prowess in swatting back the ball. Days later in walking the three miles from our villa into the “Old City” we paused to watch some players. Clearly the men upped their game when they noticed “those foreigners” with cameras clicking! (oh….iPhones don’t click….but my SLR does! 😉.)

“There’s no way you’re an introvert,” remarked one of my new friends on this Croatian trip. “You talk with everyone.”

“Ah,” I replied, “but I am a true introvert. It’s just that I am also a story collector. And everyone has a story.”

Each of us on the trip had a story as well about how we had all met Mara. Some of the travelers went to high school with her. Some met her in college or shortly after. Some met her for work and some met her while traveling exotic places. Our stories brought us together in a far-away country to spend time together celebrating her life and celebrating the way that friendship can connect people. Many of us had never met each other before but our one mutual connection led us to a new sisterhood. And connection is really about what matters.

P.S. ….

Mind you, any fellow introvert might have prepared me for  the woes re-entry. But no, I had to crash and burn to figure that out myself! Getting over jet-lag is one thing. Reaclimating to single parenting three active, completely energy-draining young boys is a totally different story. I sure wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready for the constant demands to be fed (of all things). The unbending march of the schedule of school and afterschool and evening activities. The seemingly endless bedtime routine. By day four, I was texting a very old “sister” and one of my new “sisters” about my struggle. It definitely took some time to realize I needed to settle down, give myself a little more space, get to bed right after the boys and be patient. Traveling is very good. And traveling is very exhausting!

Moments of Silence

I have a new car. Another minivan. I laugh, “This is my last minivan. When it dies….I finally get MY car!” (Mr. Ornery promises to buy me a pink Lamborghini!) The last minivan decided to die a little before I was ready for it but this one better give me another ten years; ten years for the last little guy to get out of high school!

Farewell to the blue van that holds so many memories.

Farewell to the scratches and dents from boys’ misdirected emotions.

Farewell to whatever smell that was that was never going to come out.

Farewell to the stress of not knowing just exactly when after 150,000 miles it was going to konk out!

As with any new car, I now have the “gift” of Sirius XM. For two whole months. I’m trying to make the most of it. One of the channels I’m surprisingly enjoying the most (until I realized that they repeat content some) is “LaughUSA.” It hit me that I just wasn’t getting enough laughs in my life and this puts a smile on my face more frequently.

Recently, one of the comedians was ribbing with some of his audience. He joked about a man having a “worn-out face” from his marriage and divorce and kids. He retorts, “Look how great I look. I’m 64 and no wife or kids. I have something all of you want…..silence.” I paused. He was right. He had silence.

“Are these two yours?” she inquired genuinely.

“Uh, yes,” I hesitantly replied.

“Bless you.” The teacher overseeing “younger siblings” during the parent open house at the middle school shook her head. “You have your hands full! They are delightful, but…”

I get that a lot.  “Yes, pray for me,” I reply. “They are non-stop!”

I wouldn’t change this parenting gig for the world. But every once in awhile I could use just a little bit of silence. It’s what causes me to “need” to stay up for an hour or two after the kids fall asleep so I can recharge with my silence (ie, midnight or later). It causes me to grab my laptop and hide in my bedroom on the weekend for a moment of silence. It leads me to announce, “I’m taking the dog for a walk,” and scuttle out for a loop around our community as often as I can get away with it – silence.

And, it has led me to be okay with planning a trip to Croatia at the end of this month to spend a week in a villa with a friend and her friends…in the hopes of finding silence. We all know how crazy September is. The month where everyone who ever wanted to do anything, but wasn’t going to plan it for August vacation month, has now scheduled their events. The month when kids are returning to school and while they are in a “honeymoon” period of little homework or studying, the parent is intensely trying to figure out their schedules and how to keep up with this new routine. The month when the school honeymoon ends and behavioral slips are sent home, tests are scheduled, and everyone’s stress rises. The month when my work has ramped up, creating early mornings and late nights.

So, it just seemed right to say “yes” to a friend when she asked (and begged politely) me to join her. I never thought of going to Croatia, but I was hooked as soon as I spent some time on Google looking at the photos of beautiful water.  I’m not sure what my expectations are. I’m not sure how this introvert will connect with a group of people I’ve not met yet. I’m not sure if my saintly mother is going to regret her “willingness” to watch my boys for eight days. I’m not sure if my boys are going to spend the eight glorious days trying to get away with anything they can at home and school.

But I’m pretty sure that I’m going to find a few moments of silence.

And that will be beautiful.

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.

Delivered: My First “Summer Camper”

I sat at the pool today ….a blank laptop screen in front of me…reflecting on a blank mind with nothing to say….until I left a piece of my heart…..at a summer camp….in a cabin with five other boys, ….and a counselor named Lyvth.

Super Tall Guy went to this camp in October for two nights with his fifth-grade class. He had a great time. He and his best friend decided they wanted to go for a week in the summer. I am hoping that they have a great time again.

It was a tough weekend leading up to it. The poor guy had some GI upset which mercifully resolved. Then we had the suspense of his friend’s baseball tournament. Drop off times were from 4-6 pm. The baseball game was at one. If they won, he would have another game and then not go to camp until the next morning. Super Tall Guy was reluctant to go to camp without his buddy. I tried explaining the importance of that first night. You are going to hear all the rules. You pick your beds in the cabin. You meet your counselor. Other kids are new too. It’s the time to get settled in together. If you wait for the morning, you will miss some important things.

He was not swayed. He needed his friend. It was too stressful to think about being there alone.

Thankfully, the team lost and their tournament ended. We made it to camp at 5:30 and they got the last two bunks side by side.

B’s mom and I helped them make their beds. We took the mandatory photos. We awkwardly stood around. The counselor gracefully exited for good-byes. I sent the “annoying” younger brothers outside for a few minutes. I leaned over to Super Tall Guy, kissed the top of his head and said, “I love you.” “Leave,” he replied. Yes, that’s my boy.

We stood outside the cabin for a minute. I swallowed my heart skip and quieted the tears that threatened. My eldest was in a cabin and I was leaving him. This time he had one friend and a “village” of about fifty other boys to meet. Instead of stories about classmates keeping him up all night, he’ll have stories of five other boys he’s going to get to know, some of whom were returning for the third or fourth time. Instead of teachers and school counselor watching over him, he’ll be on his own to remember the bug spray (I’m pretty sure B will be better at remembering it and reminding him!), to figure out where he should be and when, and to get to sleep. Instead of being surrounded by people who know him, he’s going to be on his own negotiating his stance and emotions and behaviors.

Lyvth seemed like a really great guy in the two minutes I saw him. The returning campers had great rapport with him. He looked like he was going to be fun. I’m entrusting my son to him.

Most days, Super Tall Guy drives me crazy. He pushes all my buttons. He argues with 99.9% of what I ask of him.

And yet, he holds a pretty big chunk of my heart.

Which is now 20 miles away….

For the next five days….

But, since there were three boys chattering happily (and occasionally unhappily) in the back of the van as we drove home, there wasn’t much mental space to think about it.

Now, at 7:30, I sit at the pool again. The pizza is delivered. The beer is cold. The heart is full. And I’m praying God’s blessings on the boys.

I am happy for Super Tall Guy.

I sure hope he’s happy too.

 

Organizing a Surprise (To Disney!)

“I hate you! I can’t believe we’re going to Disney! ….You are the worst and the best Mom in the world! I love you…”  

A quote from Super Tall Guy as I filmed them learning about leaving for Disney. It was four in the morning. I woke up Mr. Ornery first with, “Hey, it just snowed 4 inches overnight – let’s go outside and play!” “Really?” he questioned. “Yes,” I exclaimed as I woke up the other two. Once they were dressed, they got to open backpacks laid out in the hallway ready for the plane flight. The excitement was intense.

The emotions were a true contrast to the past couple days when they had mourned the fact that they were missing out on fun when they found out that their cousins were going to Disney. They were not happy about having a mother who “never takes them anywhere.”  They begged to go. The eldest was perhaps the most sad. The younger two are pretty resilient.

I had spent two months in stress. Trying to coordinate a trip with my sister and mother while keeping it secret from my own kids. Shopping and hiding items in boxes in my room and keeping them separate from all the Christmas presents hiding as well. Staying up late at night buying tickets, planning the travel, trying for Fast-Passes at the parks. 

At one point, Super Tall Guy was awaiting a gift he ordered for his cousin from Amazon. On a Saturday morning when I took the younger two on errands with me, he opened the boxes that had been delivered…. finding the LEGO character gift he was expecting…. as well as the 5 Magic Bands for the upcoming trip!  Thankfully I masterfully distracted him with the “little lie” that the bands were for his cousin and family.

My sister questioned me several times – “Are you sure you want to do this? My boys don’t like surprises.” “I feel so bad that the boys are unhappy…” And yet I persisted. It’s a balance between giving them the sense of anticipation for the weeks leading up to a trip and the excitement of being surprised. It’s a choice that only I could make. It’s a choice that required me to reflect on the temperament of each boy. It’s a choice that made my life infinitely more difficult for a bit of time.

For example, there was that new suitcase that I purchased for the trip and hid in my shower stall so I could get it packed up and back into the car before the boys noticed. Unfortunately, I listened to the “odd” sound of the shower water hitting something before realizing what I had done the next morning.

Then there was the angst of trying to find items that were so well-hidden from the boys that even I couldn’t remember where I had put them. As soon as I “found” the magic bands and linked them to the tickets, I promptly “lost” them again after re-hiding them!

And yet, it’s a choice I made to create a “memory” within their hearts and minds. A memory that hopefully they will share together when they are older and sitting around the table – “Remember that time when Mom woke us up at 4 am to go to Disney?!?” Hopefully it will be a good memory, filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Super Tall Guy does not actually like surprises and definitely doesn’t like to travel back early in the morning at the end of a trip to make it to the karate dojo tournament. You basically wasted your money in changing those flights!
  • Boys get overstimulated by crowds easily and so throwing in a beach day when it’s over 80 degrees is great fun, especially if grandma splurges on renting a couple boogie boards.
  • When coordinating six boys from ages 6 to 13 (my three and my sister’s three), it’s pretty difficult to make all of them happy with the choice of park for the day or the next ride, so stop trying!
  • There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns.
  • Leaving the boys to be put to bed by the grandmother the first night while you run to the grocery store for a week’s worth of food is not a very good idea – for the kids or the grandmother. See point above.
  • Mickey Ear chocolate ice cream is as delicious as I remember it to be but sadly my young ice cream fiends prefer the Mickey Ear sandwich ice cream bars.
  • Having the “Elf” join us for the trip added to some tossing-around fun and to the memories (but may have caused some distress from other elf-believing young kids).
  • Would have been a good idea to bring along the boys’ homework so they could make up missed work from school….and not have to force them to do it all the day we got back! Live and learn…. 
  • You may ask the boys to turn around and smile nicely for a picture in front of whatever (insert Castle, LEGOLAND sign, Animal Kingdom decorated Christmas tree, etc.) and they know full well that you are going to require a “nice” photo every day….but that’s not going to make them all actually look happy in the photos! 
  • The boys are not actually ready for two days of Universal Studios and you could have saved a lot of money by just getting a one-day hopper pass.
  • Don’t even bother to consider how much money you just spent.
  • Limiting souvenir purchases is so difficult – oh, but the memories….
  • Traveling as a single parent with three boys is exhausting but easier with grandmother and family alongside.
  • It’s quite freeing to finally visit Disney without renting a stroller and really only carrying the youngest two when staying late into the night. The “school-age” travelers are much easier than the toddler years!
  • I miss being the kid and having a “Mom” carrying EVERYTHING!
  • Pools at the hotels are a must.
  • There will be meltdowns (especially on the night that Super Tall Guy is disrespectful and so you prohibit him from a night-time swim!).
  • A trip to Disney the week before Christmas is a bit of a nightmare.
  • Memories were definitely created and hopefully the boys see and feel how much they are loved.  

Whew! Don’t need to do that again for awhile! (But you know we will!)  

But we are looking forward to some new adventures in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

Read Along with Me: Last Child in the Woods

Okay, I finally decided to start reading “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. So many have asked me if I had read it, that I was starting to feel embarrassed. I felt like one of those presenters who is in front of a large crowd and a hand shoots up and says, “But have you read the most seminal piece in parenting this day?” Ahhh…..

Fine. I’ll read it.

And you can journey along with me.

I completely agree with the premise. Today’s kids have become more and more distant from nature and that is having serious consequences on their health, creativity and development. It is also having an impact on the environment. I’m just not sure I need 300+ pages to tell me all that, since I am now also a product of the internet age and want my information concise and quick.

But I’m going to slug through the book and see what I learn, having started on page one in the middle of the night while waiting for the emergency medicine vet to evaluate my dog’s chocolate toxicity level. Apparently the scent of delectable dark chocolate nonpareils was more than her four paws and sharp canines could resist.

One paragraph that caught my attention was Richard Louv’s description of how much our society uses technology within our cars now. No longer do kids observe endless fields and mindless telephone poles whipping by their peripheral vision. Instead they are plugged into a device and miss out on observations of nature and changing landscapes, thus missing opportunities to understand the expanse of the world and the connection countryside and cityscapes.

“We actually looked out the car window. In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by. We saw birds on the wires and combines in the fields. We were fascinated with roadkill, and we counted cows and horses and coyotes and shaving-cream signs. We stared with a kind of reverence at the horizon, as thunderheads and dancing rain moved with us.” (pgs 63-64)

Okay. He got me there. I have long patted my shoulder for keeping all electronics off in the car while we travel around “town,” but whenever we started a road trip that would last longer than an hour, the boys knew that devices were now “allowed.”  I’ve been doing it backwards!

But here’s my argument; that is to say, here’s what I do to convince myself my decision is of course the right one. I’m a single parent driving three bouncy, noisy, crazy boys six hours to get to the beach. There’s only so much a mom can handle before she becomes too much of a distracted driver and things get unsafe. I can’t juggle the arguments about who won the counting cows contest, who is touching whom, who stole whose pillow. So if they’re going to “plug in” and leave me to my inner introvert thoughts for a bit, I’m just going to go with it. We will all arrive safer and saner this way.

As a compromise, we have developed a routine of turning off all electronics about forty-five minutes out from our destination so we can see the landscape change and start to smell the salt air. It’s a moment to bond with each other in excitement and in connecting with nature. We spend the next week feeling and talking about the power of waves and the pull of the tide. We stumble over sharp shells and curl our toes into the sand. We explore the rough, heavy wet sand which shapes into castles with the fine silky hot sand that floats in the wind as you let it spill from your fingers. It’s a whole week of being unplugged which the boys still relish at the ages of 11, 8 and 6.  I’m hoping we get a few more golden years of spending a week at the beach.

And after starting to read this book, I have tried to be more intentional about pointing out “nature” a bit more as we drive around town and through the city parks. I throw in small comments about the shape of the clouds, the color of the sunset, the shade offered by the trees, the grass along the side of the road. This pacifies my guilt a bit, but I still wrestle with wanting my kids to be more comfortable in the natural world and to connect more with it.

So I’ll keep reading (though I confess that I’m more drawn to “Before I Wake” by Dee Henderson which I’m also currently reading!).

 

Near Death Experiences Really Should be Teachable Moments

It’s crazy how insane the past couple weeks have been. The movers handled the large items and friends carried loads of boxes, but our new townhome sat piled ceiling-high with boxes for a week as we spent time outside with the neighbors and packed up for a beach vacation.

Sand is always good. Sand that has been dredged from the bottom of the ocean is near perfection. There’s not a sharp sea shell in it. You can dig and dig and dig out a hole large enough for boys to jump in and be completely hidden from sight. You can drizzle it into the forest where the trolls live while waiting to save Princess Ana from the accidental strokes of Elsa. You can mold a horse to be galloped upon. You can mold sandballs of wet sand dabbed in hot fine sand to threaten siblings with. You can rest.

There are few things more relaxing than sun and sand and the lap of waves. There are also few things more terrifying than the power and pull of water.

The warm sun was coaxing my eyes to close as I sat upon a boogie board and watched the three boys jump in the surf. After each wave, I would identify them – The First One shakes his head to get the water out of his ears. Super Tall Guy wipes the water from the top of his head to his chin. Mr. Ornery bounces and bounces and bounces. He comes up from under a wave and bounces as he awaits the next. His ringlets bounce. His body bounces. His arms bounce.

And suddenly there was no bounce. I looked again. There was his head very close to Super Tall Guy, but there was no bounce. They were too far out. They were too far out to see their faces, but I was on my feet and headed out there. A glance at the lifeguards on their stand showed that they were not going to be of any help. The panic started to rise as each wave pushed me back from my singular goal – to reach my boys who were being swept out to sea. But I wasn’t getting there fast enough. Do I scream? Yell? The three adults near them were close enough though. One man reached for Mr. Ornery and pushed into shore. One man grabbed Super Tall Guy and guided him in. I watched The First One start to swim.

Mr. Ornery wrapped his arms and legs around me as he clung sobbing in my arms. I tearfully thanked the Helpers. I praised Super Tall Guy for clear attempts to save his younger brother and keep him afloat. Suddenly I panicked again looking for The First One. Where was he? Mom, where is he? Super Tall Guy, where is he? I rushed to the lifeguards and then turned and found him. He had swum beside the current and then into shore. We all hugged.

“Look for the helpers,” I reminded the boys as Mr. Fred Rogers so eloquently stated. Rogers HelpersWhen you are in trouble, look for the helpers. They will be there.

Ask Mr. Ornery how his vacation was and he’ll say “I was almost dead.” We had to talk a lot about it that night. We talked about safety. We talked about the power of water. We talked about the helpers. We talked over and over about how you “NEVER go out past your waist” and you “NEVER swim alone.” We talked about going back in again.

And he did. Right back into the water the next day. I watched much more intensely. And I watched the new day’s lifeguard splash over to him and remind him in words and body language – “NEVER go out past your waist.”

And yet he did. Bouncing along right into the deep. This boy is going to require a whole lot of “teachable moments.” And he’s going to need a whole lot of Helpers!

But I, for one, would like to skip the “near death” moments the next time he needs to learn a lesson.

The Seven Dwarves at Disneyland

 

Visiting California recently for the family reunion was the perfect excuse to get the boys to Disneyland. Having generally frequented Disney World during off-seasons, hitting the smaller Disneyland park during peak tourist time was a challenge for us all. But it also afforded ample opportunity for people watching and reflection. These are my seven brief categorizations of the people I saw.

  1. Grumpy. It’s thirty minutes before the night electrical parade. My family and I have alternated “bench saving” for the past two hours in the sun because we’re giving Grumpyour 5 young boys a special treat to stay up late and we’d like them to actually be able to see the parade. Pushing her stroller, Grumpy points to the seats questioningly. I respond, “Yes, I have a big family coming.” “Well, only six is appropriate you know.” Hmmm, you have been crowned Judge of Family Size? Move along, dear, move along. Fortunately, Grumpy people were relatively rare.
  1. Happy. In contrast, every single staff person, and I mean, every single staffer at happyDisney had a smile. No matter what. I tried multiple times to uncover potential  “slight dissatisfaction” – but no. Standing in 90 degree sunshine with a wide brim hat, Ann helped us get into the Autocars. Exhaust fumes filled the air. Motors roared. Cars bumped into each other despite numerous admonitions. “Aren’t you hot?” I queried with a smile. “No, I’m good,” she replied. I love how Happy they are. If you are ever feeling just a tiny bit down, glance at their name tag and say “Hello. I see you’re from….” The conversations are so much fun.
  1. Sleepy. We tried and tried to keep walking and walking and walkingsleepy the boys in the stroller. It took forever, but the 4 year old finally succumbed to the hum of people talking and the warmth of the sunshine. A little attention to “sleepy” time will turn anyone’s mood around.
  1. Dopey. These people are just loving the park. It doesn’t matter their age. Every ride brings a smile to their face. Being stuck on the Indiana Jones ride just dopeyas the jeep is about to cross the swinging bridge brings joy to the four young men in front of us as they “ooh and ahh” over the details of the ride. The lights are turned on and you can see the fake cobwebs and broken jugs, the snake eyes glowing and the realistic looking frayed ropes. They eagerly anticipate a free pass to another ride if this one continues to be broken….and squeal with delight when asked if they want to “go again?” once the ride moves along. It’s a chance for the kid in all of us to “play.”
  1. Sneezy – A glance at the Disney character description suggests that sneezyhe sneezes “violently and frequently but he doesn’t let that stop him from having fun.” The same for many of the people visiting Disney that day. Most of us carry around some struggle or illness or limitation, but when we have the chance to put it aside and let mirth and gladness surround us, we have the opportunity to just “be” in the moment ….for a moment. Sometimes that’s just what we need.
  1. Bashful – “Have you been on this ride before?” the mother behind us asked as her bashfullittle princess bounced around her waist. “Is it scary?” Hesitant, yet showing strength for her daughter, she reached out to a stranger for more information. We opened up a delightful conversation about travel and kids and how we love to surprise them and yet are so protective of them.

 

  1. Doc – It was a warm touch and I was not expecting it. The beautiful docwoman beside me waiting for the parade, placed her hand on my knee and said, “You’re doing well. It’s hard but hang in there.” – Doc – the encourager, the supporter. She could see Super Tall Guy’s anger and oppositional behavior “a mile away.” She knew his rage. She was calm when he bolted into the crowd yelling that he was going to go ride the people mover by himself then! She was not phased by his hurtful tone. “You’re doing well.” I needed those words that day. The comfort of knowing that despite the challenges, I was doing my best and that was good enough. I wandered after him. He returned before me. We watched the parade. The day moved on and was better after that.

May more and more of us be “Doc” to each other, show each other our Dopey side with abandon, take care of our Sleepy needs, rejoice and be Happy more often, approach the world Bashfully when needed, yet not get bogged down when Sneezy, and put a smile on Grumpy whenever you meet him. A smile and a light touch have “magical” powers. Use them.