Thursday, November 15, 2012

Birds on a Wire

If its under 40 degrees and hot dish and casseroles are calling my name.  What pumpkin pancakes have fiber in them?  Let’s make a couple dozen and snuggle in with a 3rd pot of coffee this morning and just watch the tundra outside.  Inside my little house, I am safe from the whirling wind that knocks down garbage cans and threatens to take out an old tree or two.  It’s a good feeling, a safe feeling and its worth some extra calories to do it right.

However, MN winter is long. Like 6 months long.  That’s a lot of casseroles people. That’s a lot of baking with butter. There’s already an extra shake in my step and not the “I’ve got it all under control” swagger my sister-in-law has perfected. You get a little to comfy in the leggings and start to look like you’ve crossed the boundary of choosing to wear leggings, into having to wear leggings.

But it’s not just the war with zippers.  There is also mental exhaustion that a MN winter can bring on.  Being inside, day after day, avoiding the weather.  With four kids, I sometimes feel like I’m preparing them for war in the morning.  Is there a mere 5 percent of your skin exposed?  Good, get in the van soldier.  In my best efforts to fight the elements, my world becomes very small.  And repetitive.  And repetitive.

 Yep.  Routine is a blessing and a curse.  My mind gets fat and foggy too.

Same brown bag lunch. Same favorite sweater. Same dishes I put in the same damn dishwasher (God bless it).  Same list of complaints.

And then there are the children of course.  The lovely little bees that have been cooped up, days at a time.  Let me just say, one fifteen minute, cold recess at school, does not make a lovely eight year old boy. Any parent that doesn’t understand the importance of physical education at school, must not spend any time with their child from 4- 6 p.m. in the afternoon.   All rooms = playgrounds and after a few weeks of nagging about shoes on furniture, I begrudgingly hand over the territory to the hungry wolves. 

Children were not meant to play indoors.  At least not my children.

Its not good for me. Its not good for them.  Before long, I have morphed into an angry, rule barking, double-chinned cartoon.  They, a selfish pack of yogurt tube sucking hyenas.

Reclaiming control must be possible, if only I could have twenty seconds by myself to find out how. Ding.

A quiet space, where you shed your mental and physical weight, and ….free childcare? Yes, the gym.

Now to me, it looks pretty great.  To my husband, it looks pretty unnecessary.  I end up feeling like a 6 year old begging for a puppy.  

Would you use it?

Would you take the kids?

Do you really think you would bundle all of the kids up in the snow to go to use someone else’s treadmill for 25 min? 

How is this better than running in our basement on our own treadmill?

Valid points. Our own treadmill has been more of a mobile shelving unit for a couple of years and I don’t have a long history of keeping my commitments to self-improvement. Its true, there seem to be some months during the year when I am completely at peace with my extra layers. I understand his hesitation, and truthfully, I feel it myself. 

However, the alternative, is not the same.  We now house an elliptical the size of a small spaceship in our bedroom and everytime I change into my comfy, elasticized waist band jammies , it stares at me. Not a friendly, “Jump on and race your worries away” stare. More of a, “Wouldn’t it be nice, if those jeans were a little more roomy, my friend?”stare.

And I guess I should be happy that its in my bedroom.   Our old friend the treadmill has been kenneled up in the basement/playroom for six years. Now, I’m not trying to pass blame here, but the basement ceiling is 6 ½ feet … lets just say I had to strategically set my gate as to not end up with a self-induced concussion from hitting my head on a light fixture.

So, in efforts to slowly reclaim the capable me, I ignore the hyenas barking for attention, walk right past the mound of clean clothes gathering dust on my dresser and close the door to the sanctuary of my own room. I climb on up to the rocket boosters and swear I will not stop until minute fifteeen blinks on my screen. 

Its delicious.  Its rhythmic. It working. I can see how people become addicts of the little red blinking light, a bouncing cheerleader for every ounce of effort.  I’m thinking my own adult thoughts, my own dreaming.  And then I wake up.

Four little faces, smugly smiling on the end of my bed.  4 little birds on a wire.

So quick from sanctuary to spectacle.

“Your fat, Mom.”.  Chuckle, chuckle.

“Yeah, I’m working on it honey”. 

Are these the assholes you meet at the gym?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Orange Paper Plates

Well, here it is. The jackpot of all kid’s holidays: Halloween.  I have to admit, this year we simply are not at our best.  My five year old little girl looked more like Braveheart than a fairy princess this a.m. when I shooed her off to school with some nasty blue butterflies smeared across her cheeks. She could easily rally a crowd of five year olds with a good Scottish accent. Damn make-up crayons. My oldest son is determined to be “Jason”…..though he’s never seen the movie and looks more like a burn victim recovering behind a mask and hoodie. I talked my younger son out of the Grim Reeper costume (not just because he referred to it as the “creeper”) and is now wearing a Nascar racing jacket for no other reason than it has a ridiculous amount of reflector tape on it and will aid my chase when he tries to chase the neighborhood cat to Scandia when I’m not watching……  And the baby? Could she wear a sweet little butterfly costume?  A pea in the pod?  No.  She has changed her mind about every two days and so today I strapped in a “fairy-Dalmatian-princess” into her car seat. 
Good God.  We scream disheveled. Even when we have the chance to be someone else.
But I have learned to lower my expectations for this holiday. The other holidays I am still way overboard on so its ok. I don’t make mummy finger crescent rolls or blood shot deviled eggs.  I certainly don’t peel grapes for eyeballs.  There are no steaming cups of lava juice over here.  Not because I don’t want to do these things, on the contrary, I’m a complete nut about events.  I love putting together a great theme party.

No, we keep it simple because otherwise I miss it. It is too easy for me to feed my attentions to the unnecessary. The tableware. The menu. The mantle.
That, and, of course, I remember the poopy Halloween all too well.

It’s a well known fact that Trick-or-Treating with four kids of different ages pretty much assures you will lose someone.  The older ones want to run ahead and the little ones need to open and lick every new candy deposit.  So, traveling with a neighborhood of friends is an actual lifesaver. Except for the uncomfortable moment when someone smells like poop. 

Check the babies’ diapers. Check the toddler’s pull-ups.  Ask your littles if they need to use the bathroom.  Subtly inquire to your husband’s digestive health. Smile sheepishly at your neighbor.
Only to catch a whiff of your six year old Deer Hunter flying by in neon orange. Reeking.  Now, I’m literally afraid, when questioned, he will fully admit to sharting his drawers and run off ahead in a blaze of self-made odor. I’m convinced he will look me in the eye and explain that he just didn’t want to walk all the way back up the hill to use the bathroom and ALSO, felt uncomfortable to squat by a bush.

To my delight, he just fell in an enormous pile of dog poop (we hope) and wiped it on his trick or treat bag. This is a relief to me….for many reasons.

However, we are still blocks from home with a poop smeared bag of candy and one short, smelly hunter. I can only imagine the faces of our neighbors as they opened their doors to my little camaflauge poo.

Seriously? Yes. This is how it goes for us.  Somebody will find the only missed pile of poop. Someone will drop their candy bag on top of the sewer grate and lose half the winnings. Somebody else will trip in a hole (Ok, that’s usually me). There will be a trail of lost costume pieces and ditched gloves.  Glow sticks will explode.

And I will laugh. Laugh because I know it does not matter. The magic of Halloween is not in the perfect costume or appetizers.  Its not about the fanciest carved pumpkin or the wildest party. The magic is in the freedom. The freedom to be someone else for a day. The freedom to run around your neighborhood with your friends in the dark.  The freedom to indulge in a pillowcase full of candy right in front of your parents.  Its magical because of its absence of limits. Limitless, for just one day. 

Time (and a series of unlucky events) has taught me its all about the joy of the moment.  The build-up of anticipation.  The bad photos.  The homemade ghost stories. The retelling of urban legends.

The courageous walk up to the front door.

So, we will eat Tacos on orange plates, because I know they will all eat them without negotiations.  We will suffer through a bad photo shoot next to our lumpy pumpkins and we will try our best to avoid smelly corners of the lawn. And it will be perfect.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Life Preservers

We all have it. Fear of something.
I watch it in my kids all the time. When they are very young, the fears are expected: the Dark, open closet doors, basement steps.  And we reassure them that they are safe with rocking chairs, lullabies and snuggly blankets. We create comfort through reassurance and repetition.  The same bedtime routine, the same stuffed animals, the same prayers.
As they get older, their fears change, and become more specific.  Hand dryers, bees, and the cellophane wrapped cow tongue in the meat aisle are constants in my house.  And though they no longer cry in response, there is a palpable urgency when they cross paths.  It’s definitely the fastest leg of our grocery shopping.

As a mom, I’m thankful for these tangible fears. Fears that have explanations and safety recalls. With beaming confidence I can explain; there truly are NOT monsters hiding in your closet.  No, I did not see a clown peeking around the corner of the basement steps. No, I will never surprise you with cow tongue for dinner”.  This certainty is comforting, both for them and me. I can put a name on these things, and therefore I can protect, or at least explain away, their threat. 

But what happens when adult fears surface? What happens when there isn’t a satisfactory answer? What happens when there are no outlines?  No lines to step over? No rules to protect us?

Its been a tough couple of weeks to explain away.  A crazed gunman in a movie theater.  Another gunman in a house of worship. And perhaps hardest, a killer amoeba in our own community lake.

It was only a few short years ago when we mourned a lovely little girl who was victim to a rare and deadly brain infection caused by the microorganism, Naegleria . Doctors and epidemiologists assured us, Annie Bahneman’s death was a “rare” case, and I, like many other parents, clung to those words like a life preserver as we helplessly watched our friends mourn their daughter. Rare. Heartbreaking. But rare. Not to be flagged on my mommy radar.
It wasn’t easy at first. I am in awe of how Annie’s parents have enough strength and faith to let their other beautiful children move out into the world. I did not have the devastating experience of burying my daughter and yet I still held my breath the first few times the kids jumped off the dock into the lake. I definitely went to some dark places when my kids came down with a high fever. The fear was there, but that golden parachute of “rare” seemed to always unfurl for me.

But this morning “rare” is losing its potency. After swimming in a local lake, the same lake Annie was reported swimming in before contracting the infection, another child was lost to this terrifying amoeba.

Tragic. My heart just goes out to this family who, just like Annie’s, is forced with the unimaginable pain of saying goodbye to their child. There simply are not enough, or even the right words to say.
Try to explain it to a nine year old, or a seven year old? Though they were not close friends, my kids have visited Annie’s gravesite and sometimes quietly ask questions about her life and loss as we drive by the cemetery. I of course, have reassured them with the golden parachute.

As an adult, I can take comfort in rationality.  Logically, I can understand the numbers are still in our favor.  125 deaths nationwide.  But 2 from our own little pond? 2 kids. 2 families. 2 investigations. 2 goodbyes. 1 was too many. But despite the numbers, this fear has been cemented.

But to a child, the numbers are just foggy.  Kids are more universal in thought. They live through experience. If I win a goldfish at the fair one year, I will have a clean tank waiting to embrace my latest win every year after. If this pink medicine tastes like dirt, then all pink medicine tastes like dirt. 

If there is a killer amoeba in one lake, well then…..
Nose-plugs and water temperatures are the safety features we cling to.  We are no longer pulling the cord on the golden parachute of “rare”, but instead making concrete actions to avoid tragedy.  My oldest son logically asked, “How do we take the temperature of a lake?” 

Welcome to the adult world of fear, son.  We try our best to outwit it.  To manage it. To make boundaries and stay safe.  But sometimes we come up empty handed. There are real fears out there that cannot always be pacified.

In fear’s wake, of course, is the work of being grateful.  The skill of finding and appreciating how full our lives are and recognizing the luxury of having so much to lose. This is the magic. This is the brightest place to parent from. Not always the easiest, but the brightest.

My heart is so heavy for these families.  I know that I have the luxury of fearing for my kids and they have had this fear realized.

I am praying that our kids will enjoy a good jump off the dock yet, though perhaps not this very hot summer.  And though I won’t be able to take this fear away, I pray I will be able to teach them how to be thankful for each summer day.

The sun on their shoulders.

The sticky sunscreen.

The life-preservers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mama Bear

The zoo never disappoints for people watching.

“Yes, yes…the gorillas honey.  I see them,”  I state blankly.  

But really, I’m absorbed in the domestic fight in front of the snow tiger’s cage and the matching zebra zubas parading by.   Why to people insist on wearing animal prints to the zoo?  Clarification: why do ADULTS insist on wearing animal prints to the zoo?  Are the animals impressed? I myself have never seen so many neon versions of cheetah.  Yes, there is never a shortage of entertainment, even after Sparky the seal waddles up his ramp to the roaring applause of four hundred chubby, sticky hands.

I admit I have a hard time not judging.  Kids crawling up a five foot fence in the face of mating lions.  A grown man sticking his shoe up the vending machine to score a free pack of Twix. A five year old having his poopy shorts changed in the middle of the primate building.  We all establish our own thresholds for public behavior, and I find my becoming more and more old school. 

But today, as I sit sweating in the cement amphitheater, all I see are the Moms. 

All the moms who are also sweaty and tired and trying to navigate through the sea of floppy hats and matching camp shirts , the best seat in the house for their own little school of fish.

And it is so much work.

Truly amazing to stop mothering my own camp for a moment and watch how much effort goes into a snapshot of our day.

First, get your seat.  Try to subtly give hints to the fella on the end that you would either like him so scoot over down the empty row or pick up his pail of food and allow you and your kids and your bags and your folded stroller to pass him and claim that spot as your own.  Subtle doesn’t work.  Direct questioning brings about a snarky comment and a belch.   Choosing to stay put, the gatekeeper heaves his pail of goodies to his chest and you begin the circus parade of walking on bleachers with whiny, not-all-that-stable-in-flip-flops, toddlers while balancing stroller, bag, purse. A phone is dropped. A shoe is lost. Water from the water bottle is spilling down your leg and you finally stake your flag in the empty, and bubble gum laden expanse of 24 inches. 

And the cubs are hungry.  Mama feeds her bears.

Get food: That smart, healthy snack you packed: inhaled in 3 min.  Aforementioned water bottle is empty and you need to get more food and drink to keep the calm. 

Stand up and note what appears to be a urine stain down your shorts as your dig in your pocket for crumpled cash.  Pick up baby, grab toddlers hand, straddle Jaba as you reach for the hand rail on the steps.  Toddler loses flip flop in Jabas thigh abyss and has to go back (God help me!!) and dig under the dark tunnel of his sweaty legs for the sparkling straps. 

Stand in line to purchase food you do not feel proud to feed your kids.  Too greasy.  Questionable expiration dates to say the least.  But the cubs roar, and mama files behind the other tired providers.

Add 2 hot dogs, 2 frozen yogurts and a giant (God bless you) Diet Coke to the performance. Mom directs toddler to walk in front of her to their seats.  Scarred by her recent dive below Jaba’s girth, she resists   the leadership role.  With a subtle bump from behind by the next person in line, Mom quickly sticks as much food possible in armpits and teeth.  One pit each for the frozen yogurt dishes, teeth hold 1 hot  dog “basket”, hand holds baby’s hand and other basket.  Toddler is left with a giant diet coke and sits down in a puddle of someone’s blue slushy in desperate thirst. Mom asks her to stand up, through her strained basket holding teeth.  No acknowledgement. Mom asks again…louder.  Baby falls down.  No acknowledgement from young cub.  Mom bends over and screams through the red plastic basket to bring her giant Diet Coke to the seat. 

This is the moment.  The perspective. 

I am like all the rest.

I am this mom.

Just like the mom who loses her kid crawling up the caged lions, or find poop falling out of her toddlers third pair of shorts.  I am a spectacle of filth, loaded up to my pits literally in unhealthy snacks, yelling at my toddler who is drinking an oversized soda in a pool of someone else’s garbage. 

I am here. 

Admittedly, there is a moment of crumble.  MY GOD THIS IS HARD!!!!!

And then, by God’ grace, there is laughter.

We all sit down on the stanky ground and laugh amidst our greasy picnic.

We try so hard.  All of us moms.  We all woke up this am and said, “Today I will do it.  I will bring my x number of kids to the zoo.  Even though I have been there 100 times in the last seven years, I will do it again because my kids need to grow up going to the zoo.  Having memories of lions roaring and trained seals and wax statues of gorillas.  I will pack snacks, tie laces, fold strollers, dodge parking spaces and lead my troop through the designated trails of the zoo while applying sunscreen, retrieving flip flops, and scouting out public bathrooms. I will make animals sounds in public.  I will try to come up with some damn animal facts.  I will take your picture in front of the zebras”.

And a moment to just sit and watch reminds me that I am part of a larger narrative.  Yes, I am the woman who will walk to the car with what appears to be public incontinence and yogurt smeared breasts.  I’m not even sure if my kiddos actually saw the damn seal jump in his tiny pool and pretend he was a shark.  I’m sure I will arrive early next time and avoid my interaction with the disgruntled Jaba.  But, I, just like all the other moms out here, am trying to create a childhood for my kids. We are bending over backwards (sometimes because our ponytail is caught in a fence…) but nonetheless, extending ourselves to great extents to make it happen for our bunch. We know there is value in these experiences and by God, we will straddle all sorts of strangers to claim our seat.

I am not alone with my hungry cubs, we are all just trying our best to make it through the human zoo of neon zubas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Carpet Bag

You know that mom with the matching purse and diaper bag?
The special matching diaper pad and color coded deodorizer pellet that ensures her days are beautifully organized and lavender scented. No smelly days for this one. You know her, or at least you've seen her.  She’s got a perfectly proportioned organic snack in her BPA  free container and she’d love to tell you all about how she is simultaneously saving the earth and commanding respect from her young brood.  I know this lady, and as much as I’d like to say she is as deep as a pudding cup (jealously has so many shades of ugly)….she is usually quite lovely.
She might even be crafty….which makes it even harder to be her friend. She actually does have her shit together- or so she projects.
This is not me.

I used to want to be this mama, or this image I should say. Make it look easy. The “Not only can I do it all, but it is so easy for me.  I can show the world how natural it is to mother, how beautiful it is to mother”.   I thought that if I could “master” it, I would be giving the role its due.

My version (and I do believe there are many successful versions of parenting) does not fall within the Vera Bradley handbag system metaphor.

Mine is beautifully, sometimes disastrously, messy.

Think Mary Poppins’ disheveled sister. 

There are times when I’m quite certain I may be able to reach into my carpet bag and pull out a miracle…maybe even a lamp shade or two.  Certainly, three of the food groups are at my disposal at any given time. A macaroni necklace. An overdue book notice. A flyer on karate classes, a sketchy looking “unused” diaper…..and if I’m lucky, a tube of lipstick with the tip gnawed off. Never cash.  Never that helpful quarter that could aid in a vending machine distraction as I try to pay the cashier with my insurance card.

Somewhere around baby #4, I had to rethink my criteria for “successful” parenting.

For us, successful isn’t always pretty. Ok, rarely.  Ask any cashier at Target.  I have actually sat down in the middle of the checkout lane with a kid on my lap and “waited” for the needed calm before moving towards the door.  I have dodged, yes dodged, boxes of tampons being chucked in my direction from a disgruntled  6 year old.  Had serious thoughts about running him over with my cart (when he threw down, tummy first, in front of the wheels) but then assured the concerned Target employee that I was, in fact, OK and didn’t need assistance to my van.  Subtle hint for me?

Successful doesn’t match.  There are some serious problems with “social justice” in our house.  We have a listener who needs 1 warning to comply with pretty much any request (God bless him) and then we have the stubborn-as-a-mule  darling who waits for the color blue to appear in my forehead.

Time outs range between comedy and horror….as he (see previous paragraph) is not afraid to launch the nearest vase, stroller, garbage pail or dinner plate for a request of attention.  Remove distractions/weaponry? Perhaps a Laundry Room? Welcome to an entire jug of Tide emptied on the floor.  Big personality, requiring BIG PATIENCE.

Frankly, there are some days I just pray to avoid an Emergency Room visit and days I swear out open windows while on route to that exact location.

It’s not always fair…..oh yeah, for them too. 

After what seems like a lifetime of beating my head against a wall of bricks, I have come to a new definition.  Success comes in the form of being present. 

“Mommy, listen to me with your face”, my four year old says.

And sometimes it means dropping the basket of never-ending laundry, by-passing the “soaking” sink, stepping over the uncapped markers that litter the mud room, and just being present for them.  Acknowledging the frustrations, joys, accomplishments and wonder that come with being fresh to this world. 

Hence the dirty purse.

I remember the first time I looked in the rear view mirror of my mini-van and saw it was FULL.  Of my own.  4 Kids: literally an army of chubby limbs and dirty faces.  Not a single one alike.  An overwhelming amount of responsibility.  Don’t even get me started on the expenses. 

And I felt so blessed. Deliriously tired, and unshaven…. but blessed.
Nope. No matching coin purses here.  But, in a way, a sticky reflection of my current role.

I try to have what we need, not necessarily everything we want.  I try to keep a little “magic” waiting to be discovered (who cares if the wrapper is “intact”) and the hell with that damn quarter……….

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fairy Expectations 

There are some days where, who knows for what reason, I wake up with a little extra bounce in my step.  Ironically; rainy days.  Stormy days.  Dark skies that mask the actual time of day all day long.  Pounding rain, warning you to stay inside, or else you are destined to look like your newly blooming hydrangea. The threatening weather just makes the little glories of “home” seem more obvious, and with a grateful heart, I curl up in an old quilt……and plan.

It’s disgusting how much enjoyment I get from planning.

Lists.  Check marks and a good felt-tip pen.  The little rush I get from COMPLETING A TASK on time. As a stay at home mom of four, this simple event is a luxury I relish.

The kids seem to feel a rainy day contentment too.  They have been self-entertained with fairy wings and a mini-picnic basket for 45 minutes.  Its amazing how a good thunderstorm spurs new interest in old toys.  And with an entire post-it note of checked off boxes, I am ready to put down the anti-bacterial spray and pick-up the jester hat.

There are some staples of a rainy day.  Forts. Movies (I don’t even feel guilty about). Home-made cookies. This is all done by 10:00 flat.

We need a bigger plan.

It’s the compilation of all things wonderfully “cozy”…..we will host an impromptu fairy party in our playhouse with our neighborhood kiddos.  Somebody has to eat all these stinkin’ cookies.

I tell my two waiting fairies to stay on our porch while I run the computer and blankets out to the playhouse. Then together we make the wet dash to the playhouse. Its raining so hard, I actually consider the possiblity of finding ruby slippers sticking out from the foundation. 

Dripping fairy gowns. Muddy feet.  Twinkle lights. Giant smiles.

Door handle on floor…..what?

With great effort to keep the rain out, my four year old has slammed the door so hard, the handle comes off and we are locked inside. 

I can actually hear the world laughing at me.

This moment, like so many lately, reminds me I am not in charge.  Ever.

Fairy hysteria hits and God save me…is there really anything worse?  My young Liza Minnelli screams, “We are going to die!!!” while literally running and throwing her bird body at the door to get out.  There is goldfish rationing. Safety rules are reitterated. The littlest fairy is in the corner shaking because a giant clap of thunder has just made the windows rattle and I’m sure she thinks these are her last moments. I wish I could reassure her. Older sister is not an easy melt-down to witness. 

I’m no MacGyver. There are no bobby pins and extra wire.  There are stuffed animals staring blankly at me from their designated playhouse chairs which just seem to add to the audience of failure. I’m cursing my Boy Scout husband for building a freakin’ bomb-sturdy shelter.  The fairies are now smearing their glitter cheeks against the windows, scratching to get out. Its beginning to look like a hot pink helter skelter in here.

Just as I’m about to pull an Alice in Wonderland, and literally throw my giant size mom body through the mini-playhouse windows…I rattle the screen free.  Screams of joy.  Puddles of pee. Little fairy is so relieved she lets is all go on the floor.  Hey, we all celebrate in our own way.  I shove my four year old out the mini-window in the middle of the hurricane and she obediently opens the door and sets us free.

So much for “Mommy-makes-rainy-days-special”.  We narrowly escaped and entire afternoon of angry Tink going ballistic in unsanitary conditions. We retreat to normality.

Normal clothes.

Normal couch.

Normal movie.

And all is fine.  Actually, all is grand.

Sometimes I make it more work than it needs to be.  A lot of the time.  Maybe it’s the need to create and accomplish something separate from the normal routine. Not just laundry and dishwashers and seatbelts. Maybe it’s my own wish fulfillment, both as a child and a mother.
I would have loved a 2 story playhouse with twinkling lights and my own front porch.  I would have relished in a rainy day getaway.  And, I would love them to remember me as a mom that put down the Everyday once in a while to make room, messy as it may be, to experience the Exceptional day. Mom’s lipstick. Lunch on a kabob. Butterfly streamers.   Cookie stands. But, this is about me, and the world so gently reminds me of this fact.

They are happy with the smallest of luxuries….PB&J and popcorn for lunch.  It doesn’t even need butter.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Camp Counselor

Remember the first overnight camp? The b-line for the top bunk. The craft room overflowing with godseye yarn and friendship bracelets?  The handsome, guitar playing counselor that was the perfect shade of tan? The 3:00 grape kool-aid and Ritz cracker sandwiches? The campfires at the end of a day so packed full of fun that your eyes struggled to stay open. Maybe even a first kiss? The ravine offered up some serious privacy for the first time. The girl that took just a little too long in the public shower? The intangible smell of rotting feet by the end of the week?
I think at age ten, I was pretty sure I was going to grow up and run a camp.  Or at least be one of the sassy counselors that sang clear and strong while my bleached out ponytail blew in the wind at the campfire.

Such a damn romantic. Always.  And I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what happened. 
There are no creaky cabins.  No mysterious ghost stories. I don’t play the guitar and there certainly is no KP duty. But, I might as well be wearing a matching t-shirt and rolled up cut-offs, because I am the camp counselor.

Camp starts when the sun rises and the pitter patter of feet fall out of bunks and stumble to the kitchen.  And I’m on. 

Today’s Itinerary:

They campers are happily unaware of this mantra, but it is always present in my mind, and thus there is less creative space available.
Yes, there will be pine cone bird feeders and homemade fairy houses.  There will be nature hikes and bike rides to ice cream parlors. There will be environmentally dangerous amount of sprinklers and pool time. There will be a freezer with a never-ending supply of ices.

And Thank God. I hope this is what they remember, because I’m pretty sure I have become the chubby, bossy, frizzy-haired counselor that you prayed would never call your name on cabin assignment am.  You know the one.  There is Barbie-esque counselor Aimie  that will share her lip stick collection with you after light-out, and then there is “Barb” the-chip-on-my-shoulder-I-earned-every-damn-girl-scout-badge-get-your-skunky-butt-in-your-bunk-you-lazy-kid, camp facilitator.  You don’t walk to close to Barb (and not just because her arm flab is scary on the hike down to the lake).

Barb sucks the magic out of the air, and you just want to hold on the possibility of new adventure.

I want to be Aimie.  I want to be the counselor that sneaks pixie sticks under your pillow after dark and shares a sly wink when you “accidently” end up seated next to your first crush at campfire time. I want my kids to come to me with awe in their faces, with questions from their heart.  God help me, I want that damn golden ponytail.
And yet, flabby arms and all, I find myself “Barb” hiking down to the lake. Or shoving butts into car seats.  Slapping sunscreen on pudgy cheeks and poorly shaven legs. Nagging about table manners. Yanking kiddos out of pools if they don’t follow proper pool etiquette.  Counting marshmallows.

Oh, Barb, you are missing the whole point.

And yet, I wonder if Aimee knew CPR. I’m pretty sure she never made a frantic run to the ER with a two year old’s eye bleeding down her face.  I think she was typically slathered in baby oil instead of SPF 50.
Motherhood requires a new name.  There must be room for both needs, because I do not want to sacrifice all the magic in the name of safety.  I will encourage mud pies, nerf wars, princess forts, backward dives.  Body paint.  I will make sure they stay up so late they fall asleep in their hoodies at a campfire.  I will hand out sparklers and stock my closet with glow sticks.  We will catch fireflies.

But I’m pretty sure Barb will always be watching too.  I’m not too proud to jump in a pool fully clothed to man-handle a nine year old to a timeout on the deck. I’m an utter nag about sunhats and shoes in public restrooms.  I will not to feed them hotdogs more than three times a week.  I will work on those shmuckin’ triceps……
I’m going to try to remember that despite the long hours of mud-smeared, constant snack producing, face sweating, endless cleaning, safety nagging work of being a mom counselor, I also get to witness the intangible joy of a free summer.

I have the luxury of watching their little shoulders tan and cheering for the bellyflops. Strawberry picking and growing a neglected garden. 
The ten year old never envisioned the counselor I have become.  But I will put on my lifeguard whistle, cook’s hat, arts and crafts director badge, reading coach glasses, grounds keeper visor, maid apron and nurses gloves to make this one work as best I can.

But, I can’t promise I won’t sit outside with a brandy slush when the day is over.  You can't tell me Barb or Aimie wouldn't didn't want to do the same thing.