Monthly Archives: August 2008

Whatever became of day camp?

            Zachary will not be returning to day camp next week.

            Just when we think we are imagining how complicated he is, just when we wonder why we ever worried, something happens to remind us that the only reason he seems to be thriving is because we have carefully arranged his environment to suit him just right.  He is like an orchid growing in Madison, WI in January.  He can do it and be stunning, but nobody had better go messing with the temperature in the greenhouse.

            We had planned on three weeks of day camp because the child does not do well without structure and other children.  He is grumpy and moody, pretty much a giant pain in the ass, actually.  But, this week, his first week of day camp, it was clear that Zachary without structure for the next two weeks is far better than Zachary at day camp.

            It is a good little camp, but it is camp.  It is not about sitting and learning in a small group of kids his age, like school is.  He likes the school environment, party because we chose a school that keeps things structured and stimulating without being overwhelming.

            Days spent surrounded by hordes of older children doing gross motor activities all day long?  Apparently not his thing.

            It was a replay of three years ago in daycare.  “He’s doing great,” they tell me, and from their perspective, I can see that.  He is a trouper, and he tries to make the best of a situation he is supposed to be enjoying.  But this is not a child who has accidents, and he was.  He was leaving camp red-eyed and bleary.  Even picking him up early yesterday, he was in tears.

            “People were being unkind,” he told me.  “I like the activities but not the friends.”  That was all it took.  I informed him that Friday was actually the last day of camp.  I am cool with lying to my kid when I have to.

            So, he is back at camp for a final day today so that he does not feel like a quitter.  His one friend from school is there for her last day, too.  But, I have told him that I just signed him up for the one week.

            Again, again, we are reminded that he is the kind of child who needs exactly the right environment.  Of course, all kids do better in a setting well-suited to their personalities, but this child needs to be in the kind of group that allows him to grow at his own pace.  I guess the cost of two weeks of day camp is cheap compared to other ways we could be reminded of this.

            So, Zachary will not be returning to day camp next week. And days like this take it all out of me, because sometimes I prefer the fantasy that life will be easy for him.

Defense of marriage

Chani wrote a fabulous post about this topic yesterday, and my response was way too long for a comment.

            I have been married for seven years, and I have never really been tempted to dabble outside of my marriage.  Now, that may be because I have been perpetually exhausted by school and work and kids for those seven years, in which case we should look for me to start shopping around for an affair sometime around 2023, when I have finally had a good night’s sleep.

            However, I suspect there is more to it than that.  Monogamy was not a choice for me.  We talk about marriage as though it is elective, but the fact is that, like gender, it is a social construction we have reinforced time and again from the moment we are old enough to recognize that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are raising their ducklings (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack) together.  Sure, we notice that plenty of adults get divorced, but that is supposedly a failure of the institution we all are very much invested in seeing succeed. 

            The fact is, I did not choose to believe in marriage any more than I chose to believe in shaving my legs, wearing clothing in hot weather, or admiring thin people.  It is just one of many traditions that I have absorbed as “right” because that’s what my society is doing.

            I have often pondered my willingness to fall in line with so many accepted norms of society.  Am I weak-minded and unable to think for myself?  If I had been around 200 years ago, I wonder, would I have just gone along with another of society’s “peculiar institutions”?  Or would I have had the imagination to realize things could be different?  

            I hope the answer is that I am able to think outside of the box when injustice is involved.  My idea of marriage is a smidge different from the one that I saw all around me as I grew up.  In my mind, marriage is exclusively between two adults who love each other and have chosen to be legally bound to each other.  Almost sounds like the prototype, except I can honestly say I ascribe no gender to those two adults.  Yep, I kicked off one aspect of the societal definition, but when I say that of course I support gay marriage, I am backing the institution all the more.

            If I were really able to think outside societal definitions, I would not even see marriage as a preferred state of being.  I would assume relationships are just as they have been built by the people involved, and I would have no judgment for polygamists, cheaters, and men who cannot commit.  Instead, I cannot imagine why those who are trying to bolster family values do not get behind gay marriage.  More people for the cause!  10% more of the population underscoring the value of marriage!  Woohoo!!!

            Yes, despite all my jabber about gender norms and not wearing makeup, I am a good, old-fashioned conformist.  However, I suspect that my lack of interest in extramarital nookie is deeper than that.  After all, nowadays, sometime it seems like cheating is a part of half the marriages out there.

            No, I like monogamy because it has been good to me.  My partner and I have grown towards one another.  We are tense, we are tired, we are moving way too often, but we are so much a part of one another that intimacy with anyone else seems absurd.  It just could not be like the intimacy we have, that is born of sharing a life so fully together.

            So, Chani asks if monogamy is natural.  I say, who the hell knows?  Probably not.  It is probably a convention that, like all conventions, serves some of us better than others. 

            As I sit here writing this, two little boys in bed, a little girl growing inside me, a husband across the country (where are you this week, babe?), and a picture of the four of us on the shelf in front of me, I can honestly say it has been pretty good to me. 

            It may be, however, time to start rethinking that whole absurdity of wearing clothes in hot weather.

I am guest posting over at Chicken and Cheese today.  Please click on over and see what I have to say, because I am beyond honored that she let me put my crap up on her site.

Mouths of babes

            Yesterday, Zachary asked me why I do not laugh very much. 

            I did not know what to answer.  I thought I was the type of person who laughed and smiled a lot.  Now, my child tells me I am not.  I know sometimes I suppress laughter so that his whirlwind of a brother does not see me laughing at his antics.  But I did not realize I had become a person who does not laugh.

            Is it just his perception?  I don’t know.  I know I have greater joy in my life now than I have ever had before.  I am a calmer, more balanced person.  I am less angry than I have ever been and it feels good.

            But, do the people around me know it?  Has my joy come at the expense of expressing mirth?  Does my husband know that he still makes me smile, despite the minutia of everyday life?  Is he seeing those smiles?

            I am far more patient with my kids than I was a year ago.  But do they know that I, too, have a sense of humor?  I don’t tell dirty jokes anymore; I have cut out humor at the expense of others; I try to be less sarcastic.  Has motherhood made me less funny?

            Have I lost something that was so very much a part of me?  Have I traded in my laughter?

           Or maybe, just maybe, the child was wondering why I don’t dissolve into hysterical laughter every time he or his brother puts a bowl on his head and pretends its a hat.  It’s entirely possible this was just the first of many times my kids will wonder why their mother does not have as refined a sense of humor as they do.  Bring on the fart jokes.

Take me home

            We are back from family camp, which is just what it sounds like.  The entire family goes together, stays in a cabin, and makes tie-dyes.  It was just like overnight camp when I was thirteen, except this time I didn’t have to worry about who would sit with me in the dining hall and I wasn’t trying to impress the boys with my lanyard abilities.  Oh, and I had two small children with me.

            The bad parts?  No plumbing in the cabins, which meant we had to use communal baths.  Not so bad on paper, as they were only a minute or so walk away.  Except that walk was UPHILL.  Because we were IN THE MOUNTAINS.  Hard to scale the side of a mountain while holding a full potty that I needed to empty because my kids had used it in the night (and maybe once or twice, me too, but I ain’t talkin’.)  To make matters worse, the shared bathhouse close to us had some serious plumbing issues and smelled of excrement at all times.  So, usually, I used the one a four-minute walk away.  Not so bad unless you are seven months pregnant.

            Also, there seem to be a few things that make it hard to breathe.  Asthma and pregnancy are two.  Check.  Add to that altitude of 7000 feet and, well, I was using my inhaler a lot.  Like every time I had to walk up the side of the cliff to get to the bathroom.

            And, Zachary pretty much ate white bread for a week straight.  Benjamin, on the other hand, was tickled pink at the fact that there was fruit and meat available at every meal.  The adults in the party?  We left gasping for tofu by the end of the week.

            Sleep was a challenge.  The kids were so wired by their days and so freaked out by the change of sleeping quarters that they woke up in the night and had a hard time going to sleep.  I spent a lot of time sleeping with my kids, the highlight being the last night where I was flanked on one side by a four-year-old and the other side by a two-year-old.  The thirty-three-year-old I prefer to share the bed with had given up and moved to a bunk bed.

            Finally, there was a lot more dust than I remember from camp as a child.  That just may have to do with the fact that there was rain in the New England summer camps I attended, while not so much in Sequoia National Park.  Our feet were dirty for a week straight.  Well, mostly mine.  Everyone else can actually reach their feet and was able to wear sneakers.

            The good parts?  The kids were in activities all day long.  And, after the first day or so, they loved it.  They did not want to be out of their group.  So, we would drop them off at 9:15 and return to the cabin for a nap.  I could have napped till noon, but inevitably I woke up needing to pee, and by the time I had hiked to the bathrooms, I was awake.

            The boys got some fantastic bonding time with their grandparents, especially Zachary with his grandmother.  She did arts and crafts with him every day (plus the work he did in his group), which means we left with the following booty: three plastic bottles filled with colored sand, one piggy bank, four beaded necklaces, two tie-dyes, three paintings, one picture frame, and one decorated box, not to mention the necklace I made for Zachary and the remnants of the necklace I made for Benjamin.  Because the grandparents were there, the boys had a lot of really nice time with them.

            The boys had fantastic bonding time with their father.  Although they were in group all day, he was there for every meal, for naptimes, for bedtime, etc.  Given that he is now leaving town for a week, it was well-timed.  They stopped getting that desperate, starving-for-daddy look on their faces every time they saw him.

            The boys had less bonding time with me, which meant I had excellent bonding time with Edith Wharton.

            I got to see my husband.  ‘Nuff said.

            I did not do many activities, because a six-mile hike uphill seemed unreasonable in my current state of pregnancy, but I got to hear about the hikes my father-in-law did.  And J took Zach on a canoe ride while I took Benjamin to the pool.  And I watched the boys play by the edge of the lake.  And we led the boys on a pony ride.  (It was less idyllic than it sounds.  We had a nice time leading Benjamin on his pony; my in-laws, three horses back, spent the entire 45 minutes listening to Zachary whine about the fact that he got a horse while his brother got the pony he wanted.)

            There was spotty internet access and no cell phone access.  I count that as a bonus, but the two members of our party who needed to work would probably classify it differently.

            And so, we are back.  We are hanging pictures and finishing unpacking and Zach is starting day camp and J is leaving town and the boys are sleeping right again and we are all a little more unwound than we were.  I think most of our party had a nice time but is glad to get back to civilization.

            And me?  I think that, despite the fact that no one has ever confused me with that guy who went to live with the bears, I am an outdoors kinda girl.  Because back here, among the more comfortable beds and the indoor plumbing and the heart-healthy food, I miss the stars and the trees.  I miss the cold nights and the clear mornings.  I miss sleeping with the windows open and knowing that the only thing on the other side of the screen is a large deer.

            I do not, however, miss the stench from the bathhouse.

Like a prom dress

            Tomorrow, we head for Family Camp.  The boys will be in activities all day, their grandparents will be there to dote on them, J will only have to work 3 or 4 hours a day, and I have a stack of books.  We will be in Sequoia National park, doing things like having campfires.  Someone else will be preparing meals for Zachary to refuse to eat, and Benjamin will have all he can eat. 

            The only downside I can think of is that I am in the bathroom several times a night at this stage in my pregnancy, and we will need to use the communal bathhouses for that particular activity.  We’re bringing a potty for the boys, but I think I may use it in the wee hours…

            While my husband will need to work, I am hoping to largely unplug.  If I can stand it, I will not check email, read blogs, or post.  When I return, I will probably mark all as read.  It’s a radical step, I know, but I think I’m ready for it.

            So, have a lovely week.  I’m off to the land of S’mores and bug spray.

And the Indian food

            I have never been what you’d call a heavy drinker, but for most of my twenties I did know my way around the inside of a shot glass.  I am a fun drunk (I think – anyone want to comment on that?), although I do tend towards the literary when I have imbibed too much.  It is safe to say I was fun to party with, not the least because my already low levels of modesty plummet when I am inebriated. 

            However, the past five years have been spent: trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, tired from two small children and working on a book, and then (whoopsie) pregnant again.  Not a whole lotta drinking going on.

            I do, however, recognize that other people like to drink, especially on festive occasions.  The small sixty-fifth birthday party I am throwing tomorrow for my father-in-law seems to qualify.  (I would say “we” are throwing it to maintain a polite veneer of fiction, but I am pretty sure that my in-laws and all invited guests know that J hasn’t had time to sneeze in three months, let alone plan a party.)  It is an intimate event, just a few friends and relatives, and it is midday, so I know we do not need a vast array of bottles with unpronounceable Russian names or worms in the bottom.  We have settled on classy – a couple bottles of champagne so we can raise a toast.

            I went to the store to buy said bottles.  Because I don’t know much yet about the area, I simply went to the upscale grocery store, which did have a lot of bubbly stuff.  Unfortunately, even when I did drink, champagne was not my beverage of choice.  I had no idea what I was looking at.

            I stood in front of the bottles for a good ten minutes, perhaps hoping that if I stood there long enough, I would learn something about champagne.  All I learned, however, is that the cheap stuff – something called “sparkling wine” – lives on the bottom shelf; the middle shelves are dedicated to a mixture of the more expensive California sparkling wines and the cheaper champagnes; and the top shelf has, well, the top shelf champagne that costs about the same per ounce as good cocaine. 

            Finally, I decided to ask for help.  I flagged down a scruffy yet clearly prosperous man.  “Do you know anything about champagne?” I asked him.

            Did he know anything about champagne?  Turns out, the dude was French.  He had the kind of French accent and impeccable English grammar that immediately marked him as a man who never lost his French roots but has spent many years in the U.S. 

Score.

            We talked for a few minutes about the varying types of mid-level champagne.  I knew I was not going for the one that made me gasp every time I looked at the price, but there was a wide variety on the middle shelves.  “What about this one?” I asked.

            “That one is very nice,” he said.  “And a pretty good price for it.  You won’t be unhappy with that one.”

            Perfect, but just to be sure… “And these down here?” as I pointed to the bottom shelf.

            “You are better off just drinking something else,” he declared.

            As I picked up two bottles of the one we had chosen and said goodbye, I realized that I do miss a few things about London: our neighbors, a few expat friends, and, of course, all the French people.