Magical Camp

We are once again at the family art conference that we’ve gone to for three years now. And it continues to be a magical experience for us all. Most of the people here have been coming for years and we’ve finally been here enough that I’m starting to feel like I know people and am known by others.

This year Hal got to join the Young Artists group instead of the nursery.  Technically you are supposed to have completed Kindergarten but that’s a loose rule and “they” felt he was ready.  He’s having a blast.  According to his big brother, he’s quite the disruption.  Big brother seemed surprised when I told him I had received the same report about him by big sister the first year we were here.

Jane is taking Landscape Painting with acrylics.  She now loves to paint and is doing remarkably well.  My husband is trying his hand  at Digital Photography and, while he claimed earlier in the day yesterday to dislike it as an art form, is now enjoying himself immensely.  I’m doing Stained Glass and once again managed to pick an overly ambitious project.  And once again, with a wonderful and supportive teacher, I’m pulling it off fairly well.  Although I’m having to put in some extra hours outside of class to get it done!

The big story of the week so far though has been Daryl.  Daryl has fallen in love with a charming three year old girl named Mia.  He is smitten.  And I mean that in the healthy, he’s-going-to-make-an-awesome-daddy-one-day kind of way not the man-that’s-kind-of-creepy way.  He plays with her and takes care of her like he’s never done for his own little brother.

When Mia loses her sword (again) after slaying the mighty dragon, he tells her to climb to safety in the covered wagon (where monsters, including dragons, apparently can’t go) and then, after making sure she is safe, goes and retrieves another imaginary sword to slay yet another mighty dragon.

When she falls down, he’s right there, making sure she’s ok and picking her up again.

When she decides to take off her shoes on the wood chip covered playground, he carries her on his back so her nice little white socks don’t get dirty.

When she wanders over to said playground during the outdoor worship service, he follows her to keep an eye on her, carefully watching her when a group of teenagers from a different camp invade the space.

And during musical chairs, when she falls down as everyone scrambles for a chair, he puts his hand on a chair and calls to her to come take it, thereby being out himself but preserving her participation in the game.

He’s been simply charming.  And now everyone thinks he’s an amazingly sweet kid.  Which I suppose he is… just not all the time.  And not typically with his own siblings.

My three earlier posts this week were scheduled before we left.  I’ve had very limited time here, my days filled with many wonderful things.  This one is just a light brushstroke but I hope to find some time later today to blog about the deeper things that come from being here and being fully an artist for one brief week that I can share in the morning.

Until then, I encourage you to break out of your box  today.  Try something radically new!  It does wonders for your psyche.

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Evolution of a Nap

Hal hasn’t been taking naps lately.  This is good practice for Kindergarten in the Fall, when he must face the rigors of a formal education without that pesky little distraction of sleep in the middle of the day.  He likes the new arrangement.  We aren’t quite sold on it.

Saturday, he was being a bit grouchy and we had made him go to his room for quiet time.  After quiet time, he had wandered into the living room and begun to pester the dog… who happens to still appreciate nap time.  A lot.

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What she doesn’t appreciate is non-napping youngsters bothering her during hers.  So she tolerated the snuggling and neck pulling for oh, about… 2 seconds, and then gave a little growling snap of protest, which prompted at least 2 people to call out sternly, “Hal!  Leave Rose alone!  You know better than that!”

Hal took a break for maybe 2 minutes and then had another go.  I scolded him and told him to return to his room.  He flopped on the floor.  I was busy with garage sale preparations so I didn’t notice right away.  This is what I found a little bit later:

20140712_144134I’m pretty sure this started as a pout.  But after awhile, I noticed that he wasn’t moving.  The pout had evolved into a nap.  Praise the Lord!

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The dragon stayed perfectly placed to give me a smile each time I walked through the room for some time.  But let’s face it; sleeping on the floor really isn’t all that comfortable.  Especially when there’s no carpet.  Even when you are a little guy.  So eventually the pout that had evolved into an impromptu nap evolved again.

20140712_152712And again.

20140712_161326And again.

20140712_161535And even though he was sort of in a main thoroughfare, we all tiptoed quietly around him and enjoyed the peace.  Except Rose, who stayed sprawled out on the couch… enjoying the peace.

 

 

 

 

One Shoe

We are participating in a joint garage sale with some other families from our Financial Peace University (Dave Ramsey) class.  I didn’t think we’d have too much stuff to sell but that’s before we made a trek into the attic late one night.

We haven’t added anything to the attic in probably a decade so I guess I thought there just wasn’t that much up there.  Boy was I wrong!  We found oodles and oodles of stuff – only some of which had been destroyed by nesting mice, other critters, and the passage of time.

It cracked us up to find a huge box labeled “Garage Sale”.  But the best find, by far, was the group of 3 or 4 tubs and boxes of Jane’s baby clothes.  Everything from tiny little newborn up through about 3T.  And some cute little shoes!

20140712_074959They were lined up so nicely at the bottom of the box, each with their match… except for that lone white Ked.  And here’s what I love about my kids.  Half joking, I held it up in the air and called out, “Who wants this shoe?!”

Quick as lightning, Daryl’s hand shot up in the air: “I do!”

This caused Jane to retire her own hand that was making a belated attempt to claim it.

As I handed it to my ten year old son, his face beamed and he said, “I’m going to paint it.  It’s going to be so cool!”

“I was going to plant a tree in it,” Jane said forlornly.

“Well, maybe you can plant the tree in it when he’s done painting it,” I said, thoroughly impressed that my kids were showing their Destination Imagination credentials by so quickly finding a use for a lone tiny baby shoe.

 

All Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

It was getting late in the day.  I was exhausted.  My back hurt.  My feet hurt.  I was weak and my stomach was growling so loudly that the neighbors called to ask if we had a new dog.  But I needed to push on.  Our to-do list was long and most of it simply had to be finished that day.

Most of my day had been filled with garage sale prep.  Some families from our Financial Peace University class are having a joint garage sale next weekend.  Since we will be out of town right on through the first day of the sale, we needed to have all of our stuff cleaned, sorted, priced, and delivered to some friends’ house by the end of the day.

I was almost done.  Then I noticed a bag sitting on a chair instead of in a box.  Oh, yeah, I thought.  I have some more bags and purses I was going to put with that.  I almost blew it off.  But, no, might as well get it all.  So I trudged into the laundry room and glanced at the shelf that held the tub full of old purses and bags.  It was underneath the tub stuffed full of gift bags and tissue paper. Oh, man, I thought.  I don’t want to move that heavy tub…  Oh, come on, just finish up.  And with that, I moved the top tub, opened the bottom tub, and extracted a half dozen purses and bags.

Back in the dining room, I opened one purse and dug out all the old receipts and what-not that I had been too lazy to remove when I stopped using it.  I stuck a price sticker on it and set it aside.  I picked up the next one.  One dollar, I thought to myself, noting how small it was.  It was remarkably clean inside.  No papers or other debris.  Check the inner zipper pocket, I told myself.  It looked empty but I stuck my hand in anyway, feeling for anything left behind.  On my last sweep, my fingers hit metal.

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It felt like a ring.  I smiled, wondering what bubble gum machine find I was about to extract.  What memories of brief childhood obsession might flood my mind when I took it out.  And then I looked at what I held in my hand.  I dropped the purse and clutched the ring tightly in both hands.  I looked quickly around the room and felt dazed.  My knees were weak.

I rushed to the front door, bumping boxes on my way out.  I fumbled to open the door because my hands were shaking.  I stumbled out and croaked my husband’s name.  He looked up, not quite alarmed, but concerned.  He told me later that he knew something significant had happened but he couldn’t guess what.

I ran to him.  Failing to slow down, I raised my hands so the one not occupied hit flat on his chest as I crashed into him.  He grasped me in a giant bear hug and asked me what was going on.  I cradled my clinched fist against his chest and pressed my face into his shoulder.

This was the moment.  I was only going to get to tell him once and then the moment would be past.  I wanted to savor it.  I wanted to shout from the mountaintops yet whisper it in his ear yet delay so the moment wouldn’t be over.

Finally, I pulled away and pried open my fingers.  He looked down into my hand.  Looked down at my long lost wedding ring.  And laughed.  He laughed and laughed and hugged me tight with such joy before asking, “Does it still fit?”

I swear my hands shook more than any bride on her wedding day as I gave it a try.  I had to stick my knuckle in my mouth in order to slide the ring past it, but I got it on.  And on it shall stay.

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“I guess I can’t give you a hard time about that anymore,” he said with a smile.

See, that ring was “the story.”  You know, every couple has at least one.  The one that gets trotted out to such great effect.  It usually happened something like this:

Someone would notice our tattoos on our left ring fingers and ask if we got those when we got married.  We would explain that we had gotten them for our 13th wedding anniversary.  And then we’d explain why: because we were always taking our rings off when backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking, etc.  My husband wanted it known that he was married all the time, so why not get tattoos?

Then the someone asking the question would ask another one.  “Well, do you still have your wedding rings?”

I do,” he’d say significantly.  All eyes would then turn to me as I finished the tale.

I’d shift a bit in mock discomfort.  “Well,” I’d say, slightly defensively, “we were going on an outdoor trip.  Three high points and then rock climbing.  I was afraid I’d lose it if I kept taking it on and off.  Or someone might steal the car while it was in there or something.  So I decided to just leave it at home.  But I didn’t want someone to steal it if they broke into the house.  So I hid it.  Really well.  Really well.  We still haven’t found it.”

That was something like seven years ago.  I thought for sure I had tucked it back in a drawer or on one of the shelves in the closet.  But we remodeled the closet and it wasn’t there.  And we sold the dresser and I thoroughly checked it before we let it leave.  We also gutted the bedroom – all the way down to the studs (not looking for the ring – just remodeling).  No ring.

I have insisted all these years that the ring would turn up.  Just like the five year anniversary ring did.  I took that one off while rock climbing indoors and then couldn’t find it.  It was missing for at least a year when we decided to get the tattoos, which were patterned off the anniversary ring.

I woke up the morning after the tattoo and broke out in a cold sweat when I saw my finger.  “Oh, my God!  Oh, my God!  What have I done?  What have I done?  I can’t cover this up!  It’s always visible!  A tattoo on my hand?!  What was I thinking?”

Eventually, I rolled out of bed and, for some reason, went looking for something in the closet.  What I found, in the inner zipper pocket of yet another old purse, was my anniversary ring.  I took it as a sign that the tattoo was not the end of the world after all.

So when I lost the wedding ring shortly thereafter, I told my husband it would turn up.  Just like the anniversary ring.  At first, I wasn’t worried.  I always knew I would find it.  Or maybe I should say that it would find me.  I knew that some day when I least expected it, there it’d be.  Unless I was being pessimistic.  On those days, I would resign myself to the fact that the ring must be gone.  After all, where could it possibly be?

Which brings us to today.  When I came *this close* to selling my ring for a dollar and never, ever, ever knowing what had happened to it… unless the lucky recipient was generous enough to bring it back.

Circumstances then lined up just right that we found ourselves childless at dinner time.  We decided that celebrating the ring was in order.  We chose Chinese food and sat across the table from each other, both staring at the ring.  And I ordered a Strawberry Daiquiri, my drink of choice from our younger days.  And we smiled.  A lot.

Now we just need his Senior class ring to show back up.  Yes, I lost that too.  It probably still has the maroon ribbon on it.  Wherever it is.20140712_202306

Choosing the Right Summer Camp

Our older two kids were at a church camp last week.  They have never been to this particular one before but since it’s the one for our denomination (Presbyterians), we hoped they would like it.  They both went to a non-denominational, for profit one further away with some friends (also from our congregation) for the two previous years, as well as a Lutheran one before that and Jane had attended a Methodist years ago.

I say all that to demonstrate that we have had a perhaps higher-than-average exposure to a variety of church camps.  The Methodist and for profit ones were very large, the Lutheran one fairly small, and this new one extremely small.  All were in remote wooded areas with cabins.  All were a week long.  All involved some outdoor activities, worship, Bible study, and more.

Our friend that invited us to the for profit camp loves it.  She adores it.  She says it is perfect for her kids and they do indeed love it.  We were not all that comfortable with it the first year but the kids had a good time so we sent them back a second year.  They still liked it that year too but our unease had increased.  When Jane attended a Presbyterian youth conference the following week and said she liked it better than the other camp (which I will now call ‘Camp A’), we decided to make a change.

This year, we sent them to a nearby Presbyterian camp (which I will now call ‘Camp B’).  The friend whose kids go to Camp A said that she had gone to Camp B growing up and felt that Camp A was right for her kids.  To some extent, our differences can be explained simply by personality and preference.  The smaller ones are more to our liking because we like smaller, more intimate settings – that’s why we deliberately chose a small congregation to join.  We don’t like a lot of pomp and circumstance.  We don’t care for big production.

Camp A has counselors lining the road as you drive up, yelling and cheering.  As you get out of the car, you are approached by a counselor with a microphone who asks your camper’s name and then announces it to the camp over a loud speaker.  The kids are bustled into brightly colored two-story cabins with huge animal heads over the doors and a fire pole and slide from the second floor to the first.  There’s a huge flashy water park style area with a big slide, falling water, jungle gym.  The closing ceremony has the camp director bounding up on stage with a microphone and a lot of hype and energy.  It is intoxicating.

That’s for the younger kids.  The older camp appears more subdued.  But we weren’t allowed to accompany Jane to her cabin.  And when she was twelve, her counselor decided that even though her swimsuit was a modest one-piece fitting the guidelines, Jane was simply too well-endowed to be allowed to swim without a shirt on over it.  I’ll be honest – this angered me.  Young girls have such tremendous body image issues and an early-developing girl is particularly self-conscious.  This encounter scarred her.  I had to listen to her tell me for months after how much she hated her breasts.  She’s beautiful but was already learning to hate herself and this camp played a role in that. It smacked of the attitude: Cover up the girls rather than teach the boys.

That was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for us.  At least, for me.  But we’ve spent a lot of time analyzing our feelings and trying to sort out the rational from the irrational, to make the right decision.  After all, they could attend Camp A with friends.  Camp B, they’d arrive with just each other.

Camp A is expensive.  Through a couple of funding mechanisms, it ends up not being personally that expensive for people from our church, but someone is still paying a lot of money for it.  It’s also a lot farther away: 4 hours one way vs. less than 2 for Camp B.  That means sixteen hours total on the road vs. seven.  They also have theme nights every night, which means you have to acquire special outfits for them to change into in addition to their regular day clothes.  And there’s a snack bar that they can visit every day: more money.  And junk.

Camp B costs considerably less.  It’s closer.  There are not any special wardrobe requirements.  And the snack bar is only open on Saturday when you arrive to pick them up.  In fact, you are specifically told not to send snacks as they are not allowed to have food in the cabins and to not send money as there is no place to spend it.  I see this as fewer distractions and fewer unhealthy behaviors.

These are practical concerns, though, not spiritual or programming.  Surely we’d be willing to spend the extra money and extra time on the road if our children were getting more out of the experience?  Within reason, yes.  So how was this new, very small camp?

They loved it.  I could tell before I even had a chance to talk to Jane that something magical had happened for her.  They both got into the car after the closing worship gushing about how great the camp was.  How it was the best they had ever been to.  How they both want to become interns and then counselors.  They definitely want to come back and how much better it was than Camp A.

Now, I’m not a fool.  They just got done with Camp B – of course it beats the pants off anything they did a year ago.  It’s still fresh on their minds.  They reported loving Camp A too.  Still, I listened carefully to what they said and discovered some insight, I think, into why our family and our friend’s family respond so differently to the notions of the two camps.

Our friend told us that her daughter loves Camp A because “there’s something going on 24/7.  They are always going!  That’s what my kids love!  They are busy kids – they want to be active!”

Our kids are busy too – during the school year.  In fact, I’d say that both families are likely guilty of over-scheduling.  But my kids preferred the slower paced camp.  They liked “Vespers”, where you lay out under the stars and relax, maybe go through some guided meditation, maybe just commune quietly with God.

When the Camp Director at Camp B addressed the parents, he said, “Your kids are the same kids you dropped off here.  We didn’t turn them into Jesus Kids.  They are the same.  Hopefully, we planted a seed that will grow into something in years to come, but we didn’t completely change them in one week.”

And therein lies the difference.  I think Camp A believes that they can make a radical shift in a child’s life on the spot.  They misinterpret (or maybe just misrepresent) the mountain-top high the kids all leave with as something that lasts forever, instead of something that wears off after a few days.  I’m not saying Camp A doesn’t plant a seed too – it does.  I just appreciate the more modest perspective of Camp B.

I also think it’s a mistake to program every minute of a child’s time.  I was watching a video recently where the person was imparting a lot of information.  He was rattling it off quickly and I wanted to consider something he said and process it but I couldn’t or I’d be missing the next point.  It went too fast.  I couldn’t absorb it.  It was enjoyable but not much stuck.  So beyond entertainment, what was the point?

I think that Camp B (and the conference Jane went to) recognizes that kids need downtime to think.  To pray.  To get to know each other. To relax.  To shut off.  To just be.  The fundamental difference between the two camps’ approaches, I think, is a matter of trust.

Camp B trusts the kids to arrive at the right answers if they are given space to get there themselves (with some guidance, of course).  They trust the kids to be responsible if left to choose their own activities.  They. Trust. The. Kids.

Camp A needs to drive the message home.  It needs to tell the kids what to believe, what is right, what is wrong.  It needs to keep them busy so they can’t get into any trouble.

I freely admit that I could be wrong.  After all, my pondering has been about why I think Camp B is better than Camp A, so of course my conclusions are going to trend toward flattering portrayals of Camp B and non-flattering of Camp A.  And my values are going to seem more important, more significant, more weighty than someone else’s, making a camp that more closely matches my values seem more important, more significant, more weighty than one that doesn’t.  I get that.

One final perspective came out of our Dave Ramsey course, specifically the lesson on marketing.  It’s ironic that I’m getting this perspective from there since Dave Ramsey is also highly marketed with a lot of hype.  Then again, he doesn’t fault the marketers for their efforts, he just wants you to be aware of what they are doing and why.

Camp A is marketing itself to me.  All that hype and flash is about selling itself.  To make it seem special and unique and bigger than life so that I will bring my kids back.  Because, let’s face it, if the kids don’t come, the camp doesn’t pay the bills and doesn’t make a profit for the owners.  And if that happens too many years in a row, they have to shut the doors.

But isn’t that true for Camp B, you ask?  Kinda sorta.  But being part of a denomination and supported by some churches means that is has some funding sources to draw on.  And since it isn’t drumming up all that hype, its expenses are much less.  Marketing is expensive.

To me, it’s like going to Disney World vs. a family get-together.  Yeah, Disney World is a big deal and exciting and fun… but family is family.  And family doesn’t have to keep me busy.  I can just enjoy their company.

And that’s what my kids did last week.  With just under 50 kids in the whole camp – all age ranges – they knew everybody.  Everybody.  By name.  And loved them all.  And enjoyed their company.  And that’s worth more than a water park and a high ropes course any day of the week.

Empty Nesters in Training

As I mentioned yesterday, the kids were gone last week.

The week was entirely too short and went by way too fast.

On Monday, we met up at the skating rink and played pick-up roller hockey for a couple of hours.  It was a blast from our past and simply exhilarating.  We stood around and visited with folks – because we could, and thus it was well after 8:30 before we started thinking about what we might do for dinner.

If the kids had been in the equation, we would have had little choice but to stop at McDonald’s to grab something for them to eat in the car on the way home because we were rushing past bedtime.  But the kids were not in the equation and we opted to do the responsible thing and go home and fix dinner, rather than pick something up.

There was nothing special about the evening.  We fixed soft tacos (cooking the tortillas) and unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen and fed the dog and took her out.  We simply existed in each other’s space and got things done.  No one had to tell anyone to take care of something.  No one came in asking inane questions.  No one picked a fight.  No one tried to get someone else in trouble.  No one rolled her eyes at me.  No one peppered me with details from his video game.  No one demanded my attention.

It was quiet.

It was peaceful.

It was heaven.

The next day, a co-worker and I were talking and I mentioned that my kids were away from home.  “Oh, I bet you are already ready for them to come home, aren’t you?!” she gushed.  “My sister cries when she drops her daughter off.”

“Not really,” I responded, ignoring her shocked expression.  “I’m going to guess my kids are a bit older than your sister’s, but no, I’m not ready for them to come home.  I’m too busy enjoying myself.”

I don’t know if I’m an oddball or if too many parents feel compelled to act the part of a loving, devoted parent.  As if admitting you enjoy your time away from the kids somehow paints you a monster.  As if you can’t both love and cherish them and want time away from them.

There have been studies that have shown that people without kids report being happier than people with kids.  I think there are reasons for this that are more complicated than the media summary that kids make you unhappy, but still – there it is.  Let’s face it.  Parenting is hard work.  The hardest job you’ll ever attempt.  And sometimes?  Those little demons you are trying to raise into productive citizens?  They are just plain mean.  And irrational.  And demanding.  And baffling.

It’s true.  And trying to pretend you love every moment of parenthood doesn’t change that.

So maybe I’m an oddball.  Or maybe my husband and I have managed to keep a sense of “us” that isn’t defined by our children.  We still know each other and like each other and are interested in each other when the kids aren’t there.  It doesn’t mean we don’t love them and don’t look forward to seeing them again.  It just means we don’t depend on them to feel whole.  To define who we are.  And it means that in thirteen years when the last one moves out… we’ll be doing just fine.

Good Morning

Did I mention that all three kids were gone last week?  I have a post planned about how I think we will handle the empty nest based on our time last week, but for now I want to talk about my relationship with Hal.

Hal went to visit grandparents while his older siblings were at summer camp.  They left a week ago Sunday; he left Monday.  They returned Saturday; he returned Sunday.  We met my mom halfway to retrieve him.  I saw them exit the restaurant we were meeting at so I hopped out.

He saw me and raced toward me.  I scooped him up and gave (and received) a big hug.  Before I had a chance to ask how he was doing, he had spotted something behind me and was squirming to get down.

That something was his Daddy.

My reunion with my son was done.  There was Daddy, after all.

You might think I’m bitter, but really, I’m not.  He’s a Daddy’s boy and I understand why.  I mean, they spend all day nearly every day home with Daddy over the summer.  Daddy takes them to school.  I go to work.

Hal is remarkably devoted to seeing me off properly when I do leave for work.  Take Monday morning after his return, for instance.  I entered his room and gently rubbed his back to wake him up before I left.  I rubbed and rubbed and then gave him a kiss on the cheek.  He didn’t really stir until I said, “Hal, I’m heading to work now.”

He hurried to an upright position and wrapped my neck in a tight hug.  “I love you, Mommy.  Have a good day at work.”

As I prepared to walk out the front door a few minutes later, he called out, “Wait, Mommy!  I want more hugs and kisses!”

He could have stayed in bed – that’s what the other two would have done.  But instead, he ran down the hall to repeat the farewells.  And then he opened the door as I walked down the sidewalk and repeated all his well wishes, adding that he would lock the door behind me (a request I make frequently when leaving).  He opened the door again to ask me what it is I do at work.

I could almost see the little wheels in his head turning as it dawned on him that he really had no clue what I do at work.  Pausing to consider how to explain to someone so young, I finally said, “I write programs that run on computers.”

“Oh, ok.  Have a good day, Mommy.  I love you!”

We had to do double and triple good night hugs that night because I was leaving for the airport early the next morning.  I would not be going into his room to say goodbye.  This didn’t sit very well with him.

My first day of travel was such that it was well into the evening before I had a chance to call home.  While talking to my husband, I could hear Hal in the background yelling something about Good Morning.  “Why are you saying Good Morning?” my husband asked.

Eventually, Hal got on the phone and he told me Good Morning and suddenly, I understood.  This was his first opportunity to speak to me that day.  And it is very, very important to him that he tells his Mommy Good Morning.  It’s the first thing said to each other every day.  It’s why I never sneak out unless it’s unquestionably too early to wake him.  It’s part of how I know just how much he loves me.

Good Morning, Hal.  Mommy misses you very much.