Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nothing says "love" like a pink water gun

Andrew (4), looking out the car window deep in thought: "Mommy?  All the people driving the cars, trucks, and motorcycles?  Did they all used to be kids and now they're all grown up?

I love this question because it's typical-Andrew.  He can look like he's just hanging out back there, but his brain is always whirring.  And usually, the whirring revolves around questioning life, death, and the cycle of life. 

*   *    *   *   *    *   *   *    *

I took out Andrew tonight, just him and me.  We were running a few errands that were likely pretty boring for him - although he loved helping me pick out a watch for Steve. 

But watching his mom do errands couldn't have been much fun, so I told him we'd pop into the dollar store and buy him something.  He spent about 15 minutes looking for the perfect thing, and finally settled on a pack of 4 water guns.  

"I'm getting this so I can share it with everyone.  The pink one for Simone; the yellow one for Jack; the purple one for you. I'll have the green one."

Two elements of this are *so* Andrew.   One, that he chose some type of weaponry.  :)  This doesn't surprise me in the least.  But also, that he used his "pick any toy in the store" opportunity to buy something that he could share with others.

He's one of the most loyal, dedicated, giving little spirits I know.  I really hope that never goes away.  

Even if it's just about buying weaponry for those he loves most. :)



Confirmation of what I've always suspected...

Jack finally voiced what I joked about to friends:  

"I think I was supposed to be born in Russia, but was born in America instead. BUT...I would still want you for a mom."

I'm happy to hear his footnote. ;)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Happy birthday to me.

Not often does parenthood feel bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgic joy.  Often, it's loud, squabbling over light-sabers, and involves stepping on LEGO blocks and the ever-present faint smell of urine. 

There, I said it.

Parental joy comes in the punctuation marks of long, complicated sentences.  A sweet sibling gesture between offspring.  Andrew's truly gifted ability to give hugs.  A life lesson you've drilled into your child for 1,347 times finally surfacing (aaaaah, the relief).  Or those triumphant milestone minutes, like learning how to pump their own legs on the swing.

But certain times, like tonight, there really is a warm, hazy gleam to being a mom.  Not the one that has to take the long-view, but the one that is cozily nestled into *this* moment in front of me.  

My dad took the boys to the drive-in tonight, not really related to my birthday.  My birthday was low-key, since Steve is gone until Saturday night.  We'll do something on Sunday.  Simone and a 2AM movie finish sounded like a disaster, so I convinced her to stay home and watch something with me. 

Of course, she wanted the pinkest movie we could find at Redbox.  I'm seeing a trend with her.

We sat on the couch, mother and daughter, splitting the last piece of blueberry tart and watching Barbie.  She talked non-stop, and I (for once) had the time and patience to answer nearly all of her questions.  I wasn't trying to shuffle between kiddos or move over laundry or other tasks.  I was just present with her.

I have to tell you, I have a super awesome little girl.  She is curious and kind and articulate and FUNNY.  Goodness, she's funny.  I couldn't believe what a great time I was having.

I tucked her into bed, in the glow of the swan night-light I got from Aunt Dorothy....and snuggled her up with the teddy bear Steve gave me in college.  It was right from the lyrics of the Kenny Loggins song I used to listen to during my pregnancies, imagining what it might be like to watch my future babies fall asleep. 

The BEST gift life has given me...birthday or no birthday...is the chance to be a part of this family.  My husband, whom I love more each day.  These kids who take my breath away on a daily basis.  A mom whose love transcends death.  And a dad who will give 110% to help with whatever we need, whether it's reading to grandbabies or helping clean out my Sienna.  

With love like this in my life, I can't think of a single birthday gift I need.





Sunday, June 26, 2011

How a recovering collector is going to buy souvenirs from NOW ON!!! After my Goodwill run.

The kids and I are visiting with my dad for the week, while Steve is fishing with his dad, brother, and uncle in Canada for 10 days.  I'm using this extra time to go through the items we'd put in my dad's guest room closet. Mostly childhood treasures and things from my single-girl travels.

Oh my.

What I'm learning from this: 

(1) I'm really excited to have a fresh batch of stuff to de-clutter.  We'd been running low on extra things in our regular living space. ;)  Steve once joked that he'd go to a thrift store and buy things to hide in closets, just so I'd have something to de-clutter.

(2)  I'm never collecting anything EVER again.  I have my button collection from childhood. Every Babysitter Club book I ever bought.    My toothpick holder collection.  Toothpick holders?!  I see the price tags on the bottom of Yellowstone, California, Branson toothpick holders that show I paid several dollars for each of these, back in my childhood.  You only need one toothpick at a time, people. I appreciate my parents giving me the freedom to collect those, and it IS fun to look at them.  But there are better ways to do this. See below.

(3) I am done with buying a Thing that *just* represents a trip.  I now have these items...tea cups from Turkey, Murano glass plates from Italy, mug from Paris, snow globe from San Francisco, etc etc etc...that I "need" to keep because they represent the trip I loved.  Okay, apparently I don't really NEED them, as shown in the trunk full of new boxes for the thrift store.  But I wish I'd done things differently in the first place.

Here are the things I wish I'd done all along:

- Jack started collecting flattened souvenir pennies when we were in Las Vegas.  The ones where you put in 51 cents and they flatten your penny with an engraving of the place you're visiting.  They have them all over the place, which makes it a great collection for a travel-kid.  Also, they are cheap.  And they all store in a small wooden box.  When he's older, he'll have a pile of those pennies that take up almost no space - instead of a big box of toothpick holders to give away. :)

- I still treasure my "from a special place" functional items that I bought on trips.  The olive-wood mortar and pestle from Spain is used almost daily to crush tablets, herbs, whatever.  It doesn't say "Spain" on it, but it's a beautiful, functional part of my life.  That's what I'm going to do going forward.

- Or, my jewelry from special places.  Necklaces and bracelets take up little space, and I wear them anyway.  Beyond the jewelry pieces from my mom, the "souvenir" ones are my favorite ones to wear.

- Magnets.  We still have/love every magnet I bought around the world, because we need magnets anyway.  Cheap and take up little space, too. 

- Of course, photos.  I will never stop loving my photos of trips.  I was just looking at our album of the album commemorating the "why the heck did we go backpacking in Europe (with a toddler) when I was pregnant?" trip...and looking at the pictures, it all seemed worth it. :)   

Jack made an adorable backpacker...especially when he was literally IN the backpack: http://web.mac.com/sbspas/iWeb/Trips/Europe%20.html

If you have other ideas on ways to commemorate moments or memories in small spaces, please share them with me! 


Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy father's day, to the man who not only agreed to this new, crazy version of life...he's actually happy about it

There are many things I could say about Steve for Father's Day. I could fill a book.  But these are a few key thoughts that come to mind tonight:

I didn't marry him because of his future fathering.  I married him because I reached the point in loving him that I really *must* marry him.  Life made no sense without him in it, and the rest of the planning was thrown out the window.  I would make it all work.  We were young and marriage wasn't really a logical choice.  But we loved each other enough to feel like we'd figure out the details.  

But when I line up all the many things I love about this man, his intuitive, brilliant, kind, loving fatherhood beats out everything.  Maybe because all things about a person's humanity come to light in their parenting?  The good, the bad, and the ugly - it's all there in how we create and nurture a child into adulthood.  

When I contemplate our children, and how our DNA and spirits intermingled to create these 3 wacky, wonderful, insightful, colorful human beings...my heart literally hurts to think of the world without them in it.  And that cements for me why I know this is the man I needed to be with.  These children are the fruition of who we were/are together.  It is confirmation to me that we were meant to be together and create little lives together.

Also...

When I married Steve, I was positive I was trading in my dusty hiking boots for a gingerbread home in the suburbs.  There was a chunk of my soul that grieved over how "normal" my life was about to become, but y'know...it was okay.  I was trading in adventure to make a life with this very cool human being.  Any grief paled in comparison to being the very right choice for my life.

Fast forward 15 years after becoming a couple, and we are currently "recreationally homeless."  I am writing this blog from our home for the night: A treehouse theme suite.  For the next 2 months, we're just floating around the country - eating up adventures like Pac-Man eats those little yellow circles.

This is not who I married...this is not the life we co-signed on...but it is so much bigger and better than anything I could have created alone. Doing this same trip without him feels lifeless and empty.

Steve taught me how to find adventure in settling down and creating a family, even doing it young.  And I taught him that family can be all the stability you need, which opens you up to go out on adventures.

When we talk now about our future, it's like something gave us the same guidebook.  I don't understand how that happened, really.  We were wired completely differently, and we married each other because of how opposite we were. The other person's ideas were so novel and intriguing to us.  

Somewhere along the way, we evolved into an independent entity that was about "us" and not about each individual part.  I am bewildered and in awe of how that happened. 

Steve's career vision now is to take a job that moves him all over the world.  A month or so in one place, even, that works with him.

I said to him in the car today: "So if your 18-year-old self saw you now...what would he think?"

He just laughed and shook his head.  "He'd be surprised.  You've rubbed off on me, definitely.  But you know...for how crazy other people have thought our life has been up until now?  I think it's about to explode."

"And is that okay?"

"Yeah. It is.  It really, really is."

Maybe that's why we're meant to invite others into our lives. Not just spouses, but everyone.  Friends, parents, siblings, employers, older men who bring you firewood when you're living in a campsite and mention life-wisdom while you're unloading the logs.  Authors, even.  The way everyone in your life shapes you and changes you.  Sands off rough edges. Open doors you might not have considered solo.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 20 in the woods: Packing up

This has been the week of good-byes.  Tying up loose ends in Virginia Beach.  My final class for teaching.  Seeing friends for the last time until Fall.  We’ll be in Williamsburg, only an hour away, and still part of the boys’ school co-ops.  So they are mild good-byes, as farewells can go.  I can see everyone again. But it’s still been a somber part of the week. 


Yesterday, Andrew was really excited about a kid who was staying in a nearby campsite.  We don’t usually see other families during the week, since school wasn’t out for the summer until today.  

We’d gone out to the Farmer’s Market to pick up food, and he came home and jumped out of the car to go find her again.  While we were gone, they’d packed up their tent and left.  Andrew was so sad, but then it became bigger for him.  He started bawling these heart-breaking, soulful tears about missing his brother.  And how his brother was his best friend.  And how now he lost another friend.


I left a message for Jack to call, since he was at Grandma’s and not at camp yet.  When he called back,  I warned him: “There might be a lot of crying.  Andrew is pretty sad.  So he might not be able to say words.”    Jack said that was okay, he’d help Andrew feel better.


Andrew reminded me of Will Farrell’s character in Anchorman, calling from the “glass cage of emotion.”  Rolling sobs and completely incoherent speaking.  


It was amazing for me to watch the interaction on the phone.  I couldn’t hear Jack at all, but I could see Andrew starting to calm.  Even laughed at one point and said: “His butt got hurt?!” Nothing like some butt-humor to heal a broken spirit.


When we started off on our mobile-family adventure, the family connection was a major element of it for me.  Between parents and children: More time, more memories to stockpile (they grow up so fast!).  But also, among the children.  They will have each other for life, and someday, they can sit around at Christmas and talk about their crazy parents who moved them all around.  Hopefully there will be the footnote: “But didn’t we have fun?”  :)


Hearing Andrew’s sadness turn into calm, all because of his sweet little conversation with Jack, made me feel like there’s a very cool foundation being laid between the brothers.  No, we didn’t have to live in the woods to do that.  But I’m really appreciating this extra time to build up our family and stoke those friendships even more.


Tomorrow, we leave for two months on the road.  I can’t wait to hear their little conversations in the backseat. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My heart on an airplane

Watching my children unfold in front of me, I'm reminded of those little dinosaur-capsules from the dollar store.  The ones that look like a tiny pill, but you put them in water and a spongy animal emerges when the shell melts.

This is my children.  It's as if they were completely formed when they entered the world, and I just have to wait patiently for them to burst out and show their full shape.

I have to create the right environment for them, like having the capsules dunked into warm enough water, but the eventual shape of them isn't something I can control.

Last night, I put Jack on an airplane, to go by himself to Chicago.  As I watched the plane take off, holding my 6-year-old son,  I really pictured myself feeling emotional or nervous.  But I stood there with this complete calm, knowing that I was sending my child to do exactly what his life required right now.  A few days with the grandparents, and then off to a week of full-immersion Russian camp.  While I felt impatient to track on my phone when the plane landed, I knew this was exactly the right decision to send him.

Watching him and waiting with him for the plane, I had a new realization: What if, in giving them internal security and removing some of the geographic stability, we're actually creating a highly flexible, resilient sense of self? My 6-year-old was about to board a plane to Chicago, and not see his parents for 10 days. And with his completely zen, confident sense of purpose, you could see that he knew it was going to be okay.

At one point I said: "Y'know... I'm really proud of you, Jack."

Jack, asking as though he was seriously confused: "Why are you proud?  I'm just going on a plane by myself.  And to camp." 

I realized that that really is what it's about to him.  This is what he has to do to move forward in his life, so the details on getting there are inconsequential. 

He's known about the Russian camp for almost 2 years, and has been anticipating the day he's old enough.  He's asked many times for confirmation: "So it's like I'm going to Russia, right? Everything will be in Russian?"  I tell him yes, everything is in Russian, and he nods and looks relieved.

I've heard about children knowing from a young age that they're the wrong gender - a girl-core born to a boy body.  And I think of that with Jack. It's like he had a Russian soul, born to his American parents.  Getting on this flight to go to Russian camp is like he's going to get a week of being his true self.

I don't care what ANYONE tries to tell me about nurture vs. nature. I won't believe you, no matter what your credentials, if you tell me that Jack came out tabula rasa. Jack is in love with learning Russian, with building computer programs out of Scratch, with drawing detailed scenes in his notebooks. Those elements were there, in their most basic details, from the time he was a toddler.  I can look back and see all those things in his tiny self. He is wise and kind and insightful in a way that he must have been born with it.


Watching the capsules come off their little soul-shaped sponges is the most remarkable, beautiful, breath-taking, tiring(!) journey of my life.

Day 18 in the woods: Finding "purpose"

I'm figuring out why our current situation, living in a tent in the woods, is so suited for all of us.  It's because living like this is forcing us to have a purpose. 

Steve and I have been talking quite a bit about whether our previous, standard-issue living situation is too easy, which is why humans might create stress.  I don't mean that it's relaxing or not without problems, but there's very, very little physical labor in my regular life.

In the woods, I'm literally hauling firewood.  Carrying water back and forth.  Actually hovered over the campfire making the food, instead of flipping on a switch and setting the timer.

It feels really gratifying to have such a role in my basic needs, more than I expected.

And I see this sooooo much in the children!  Andrew gets to be the primal-warrior of the campsite.  The joy and purpose he gets from chasing animals off our space is really fascinating to watch.  He knows he has purpose in our family.  He serves an important value. 

So much of the time before, tasks around the house he couldn't really complete.  I'd give him a portion that made sense for him - like pulling his clothes out of the pile of clean clothes - but I think he instinctively knew it wasn't really that important.  Not like this. 

I have never seen this child so content.  So at peace. 

I really believe that *my* best life, and our family's best life,  revolves around novelty.  Not stability or even logic.  But sheer novelty.  Do I want to live in the woods forever?  Nope.  At some point, I'll have learned the lessons I needed to learn from my tent-existence, and it will be time to move on. Next might be a sailboat or a treehouse.  ;) Or a high-rise hotel overlooking the ocean, who knows. 

I've written before about how Steve and I decided that if our family structure had stability, maybe our geography didn't need to have it.  That maybe we could give our children a solid-core and sense of self, even if they did have 50 addresses by the time they graduate.  We'll see if that's true in the end, but right now...it's working.  For now, this is our family at its maximum utility. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Social networking in the woods

Jack, Andrew and Simone have met a friend.  One of the weekenders who came to stay at the campground. His name is Chris, and I might adopt him.  He's creative and bright and so kind to my children.

They've been playing together all morning.  I can see and hear them, so I haven't been checking in much.

I went over just to see if they needed anything, and saw a sketch on the picnic table, made with used charcoal.  They were all four huddled around it.  

"What are y'all doing?" I asked.

Chris: "We're making a strategy to get the rooster.  These are the plans," and he pointed to the drawing.

Jack: "And this..." (putting a tree branch in front of his face) "....is my disguise."


Day 14: Full immersion to the wild

I am in love with our life right now.


If I could write that in blinking neon, I might.


When I get into conversations with friends (especially those who don’t like camping), the main questions revolve around: how hot it is, how messy the outdoors is, and the bugs.

Yes, the bugs drive me nuts and it’s been really-really-hot a few days.  But we just go to the water park. :)  Or the movie theater.  


The exchange for this, though, is the constant wonder that the outdoors can bring.  Who knows when we’re going to see an electric blue lizard dart across our path.  A turtle hanging out in the grass behind our tent.  Or the joy in my boys’ eyes when they find a gigantic tree branch on the ground.  It will become a dragon or a weapon, and cherished more than any Christmas toy I have EVER bought them.

They bring me "presents" a lot, and usually it's a super-cool stick or a beautiful rock.  I love this.  I like this simplicity of needs and wants. I know it can't persist, and I don't even ask that it does.  But I like knowing that it exists in my children, those simple wants, even when we get back to normal. If it's there, we can always find it again. 

I do know eventually we’ll have to leave the woods. ;)  And I’m okay with that.  I will love-honor-and-cherish getting a dishwasher back.  I will love doing laundry without walking a half mile to the Laundromat.  And hosing down our tent will be pretty darn awesome.


But I will miss so much about this 3-week span.  My kids are immersed in their element.  They can run and explore and play.  There is SO MUCH creativity here.  Everything they do and experience requires creativity.  I have to believe that it will stay with them, even when we’re back to “normal.” 


I was expecting to see more deprivation from the kids.  They have yet to ask about their toys.  Where the TV is.  None of that seems to matter here.  


And while we ARE all snuggled into a two-room tent overnight, there’s no shortage of space.  We’ve created a little home in the woods.  Okay, a BIG home.  With many, many rooms.  Just most of them are outdoors.  


The other day, Andrew disappeared for a minute.  I called out to him, and he answered back from the woods behind our tent: “I’m in the bathroom!”  We all laughed hysterically… but y’know, it was true.  We’ve segmented our space into “rooms.”  The wooded alcove through the tree patch is the Playroom.  When they want to be loud or throw things, they can go over there.  We have the dining area in the canopy, so flies can’t get in.  Food storage and trash are away from the tent, so bugs go over there.  Our bedroom in the tent.  You can’t eat or play in there.


I’m actually feeling pretty settled in here.  There are things I won’t miss – like having to pull in everything before a rain – but there’s quite a bit that I will miss.  And somehow, I need to find ways to bring that experience even into a permanent home.     

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 10: Die, bugs, die

I was naive in my bug spray packing.  Normally, we don't get bitten that much. So I had my dainty little herbal, non-DEET sprays.

We were out of our league.

These suckers are mean!  Plus, we're one of only 2 tents in the entire campground, so we're practically the only restaurant in town.  

Simone is apparently the sweetest berry of us all, as her legs look like a mad case of chicken pox.  She's scratching, but a good sport about it. Even with her good spirit about being eaten alive, I'm on a mission to find something that keeps them away.  Andrew seems to get more ticks than 'skeeters, but we check regularly and get to them quickly.

Tonight:  We're trying Natrapel brand and a new citronella candle.  I have a feeling the candle will be no match for these fiends, but whatever.  It will still be pretty to eat by candlelight.

In other camp-living observations, I keep thinking of Tom Hank's character in Cast Away, and how he opened the FedEx packages and turned everything into tools.  Everything I see becomes something I can use back at base camp.  I had my students do an activity with newspapers today, and usually I'd just recycle them on my way out.  Camping-Sarahbeth, though, was ecstatic to have all those newspapers to start fires.  :)  

Next thing you know, we'll turn our sporting gear into a friend named "Wilson."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 9: How tent-children play

Who needs TV when you have all these great trees to climb, branches to turn into swords, and firewood to make forts?

Here's a sampling of a bit of my children's itinerary from today.  They've had a hectic schedule, exploring nature and making toys and tools out of nature. ;)  Captions of what's going on are below the picture:
Building a "couch" out of cut lumber.

Testing tools in the dirt.

Simone, getting ready to make a castle for her doll out of firewood.  At the moment this picture was taken, she's saying: "But I'm not done with my project yet!  Don't take a picture!"

Jack designing some air conditioning units for our campsite, using the branches as fans.

Andrew, testing weaponry to keep the rooster and his harem away from our food. I promise, no animals were harmed in the taking of this picture.

We put some honey and a piece of lumber on the ground, and we'll watch it over the next 2 weeks to see what ecosystems come to live under it.

Jack made a toy cherry, tying a leaf to a "pokey-ball" (as we call them...not exactly their scientific name).



Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 8: Spaz Family Robinson

Growing up, my favorite classic story was Swiss Family Robinson. I still feel a tingle when I think about it – living in a tree, living off the land with my family.  Perhaps explains my current situation.  Ha!  Living among the trees, not in them.  But still.

We use Dixie cups or a reusable thermos instead of coconuts to hold water.  We buy our food from the local stand, not hunted or caught in the river.  But we’re trying to use our surroundings as a resource.  Hanging towels from trees.  Using fallen leaves to help start the fire.  Figuring out how to live with nature – from putting food away every time we leave our campsite to testing new brands of bug spray (because apparently our old stuff attracts bugs, according to Jack).  We can’t just go inside to get away from the bugs, or turn on the stove if the fire doesn’t start.

This correlates directly with my love for studying/teaching economics.  What I love most about economics is what I feel economics is actually about: Creativity and use of resources in the face of scarcity. If you don’t have one thing, what else can you use?  How else can you solve a problem, if the easiest or most logical path isn’t available to you? 

There’s a whole new value system in our belongings now.  We use them differently and value them differently: Our mason jar with matches stored in it is guarded like crown jewels.  We mark our wealth by how many gallons of water we have.  I feel such a sense of pride and security when I look at my giant pile of firewood. 

Sometimes, it's about having to come up with completely novel ways to solve a problem.  I still need my computer to work (and blog), but we have no electricity.  So when we went to Pirates of the Caribbean yesterday to avoid the rain (another problem solving lesson), I plugged in my computer at the back of the theater. 

To be honest, this is what I hope my children learn in the end.  Maybe not just the nitty-gritty of living with nature, although that's important in so many ways (for another blog post, that one)...but about how to be creative with scarcity of any means.   Doing a makeshift "shower" in the restroom, making sure faces and hands look presentable.  Rationing out water...finding ways to get electricity...or regular Non-Woods Issues that might come up.  Because really, they will in ANY life.  Any life has scarcity; the way that looks is what varies among us.  That necessity to be creative about resources, hopefully, will be the lasting lesson of all this.  


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Scratch Day

Yesterday and today were hybrid days – mainly out in the regular world, but sleeping in a tent.  Jack had Scratch Day at NSU yesterday from 9-4, so we had to wake up around 7 to make the long drive out there.  It was just Jack and me; Steve took the other two to Andrew’s T-ball. 

I got to spend 7 hours watching Jack be in his element: Creating his program in Scratch and sitting in class learning from one of the NSU professors. 

This workshop was meant for over-9 year olds.  I wrote the director and sent a link to his projects he’d been working on independently, and she approved my 6-year-old attending.  He was also put into the Advanced class.  I wanted to learn more about the program too, in part so I could help him with questions he has along the way, so I sat in with him.

He was too little for the computers, yes, and most of the kids were even older than 9.  But he fit right in - with his questions, knowledge of Scratch, and enthusiasm.  He skipped out of lunch halfway through, because he wanted to run back up to create more of his project.

He blows me away.

I love his inner drive, this curiosity, his absolute hunger to learn.  When the teacher asked about him presenting his project to the group, his only response was: “Can I show it myself?” 

And he did.  They pulled up a chair so he could see over the podium.  My heart nearly burst from pride…not even about his project, although I loved that to bits, but about his ease up there.  His love and ownership of what he’d created.  His casual affect up there, smiling and joking with the audience.

I cannot believe I created this little wondrous boy in my womb.  It seems impossible, that something so grand and miraculous like human life can come from regular old people.  And that really, that’s what we are.  These walking miraculous beings that formed inside mere humans.  Why aren’t we walking around in a constant state of amazement about this?  That we started as one-celled little balls of life, and now we’re standing on chairs to look out over a podium and share a video program of breakfast items being cooked.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"When I'm 64": Happy birthday, Mom

The Beatles song has been going through my head all morning (punctuated by rooster crows), because today would have been Mom's 64th birthday.

It has been 2 and a half years since she died, and we do something to commemorate her birthday each year.  What has been striking to me, with both of the after-death celebrations, is that these days of remembering her are just a formality.  She's remembered daily.  Talked about daily.  And we are making major, sweeping changes in our life in honor of her - not related to a red-letter day on the calendar. 

I am writing this from a campsite in the woods, sitting on a cot in a tent, where I'm living with my family for three weeks.  We have no home in the foreseeable future, because we'll be traveling until September. Last night, Steve and I sat around the campfire talking about whether we might long-term camp next fall, when we get to Williamsburg.  Camp until the weather turns, then move into a hotel?  He's only at William and Mary for a year, then we'll be moving again.  Shouldn't we make it interesting? 

That appears to be the theme of this family.

And the reason this is the theme is the 24 hour drive home from Mom's funeral, when Steve and I talked (and talked and talked) and decided to make our lives radical, soul-inspiring, creative, and full of memories.  That in the end, what I really had of my mom was all those memories she'd stacked up in our time together.  They meant more than anything to me.  They managed to plug the holes of loss in a way I couldn't have ever imagined.  She knew she had a shorter time period in life, due to her Muscular Dystrophy, so she didn't wait to do things.  Not just travel, but all types of experiences.

So that's what we were going to do with our family, we decided on that drive.  We were going to live deliberately and make our time count.  We weren't going to worry about what was normal or comfortable.  We were going to do what clicked for our family.

And here we are.

The children drew greeting cards for you, Mom, and we'll have a special birthday picnic and talk about you.  But it is a drop in the bucket of how your life - and your death - has shaped this family into a truly amazing life adventure. 

No words can describe how much that means to me.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 4: Our new normal

Today was our first "typical" day at the campsite.  Awoke around 5:15 to the white rooster cock-a-doodle-doo'in outside our tent. 

Thanks, Rooster.

Steve went to work, and I had the Littles at home.  Nothing on the agenda today.  Unusual for us.  I was curious to see how a regular old day would look at the campsite. 

The fire was slow to start this morning; it was holding a bit of moisture from the overnight and kept dying out on me.  About 45 minutes I tinkered with it.  I have to say, coffee after a slow-to-start fire tastes INCREDIBLE. At some point, I might lose my campfire-purist-side and get those fire starters.  But right now, I'm on a mission to become a pro at that Swedish army flint stick I have.  I practice for awhile, and then use matches. :)

The kids just played around all morning (mostly cutting masks out of paper plates and building robots out of firewood), while I took care of domestic things.  Cleaning up the site a bit, figuring out what food needed to be cooked soon, cleaning dishes, laundry. 

Mid-day, we got in the car and drove to Cullipher's farm stand (10 miles away) and bought peaches, plums, May peas, watermelon, and blueberries.  Our meals have been simple.  Fruit from the stands.  Some type of meat grilled on the campfire.  Simple potatoes. 

The kids have lost any pickiness they'd had, especially Andrew.  I think seeing so much effort go into food creation, they're more apt to eat it without comment?  Not really sure.  Or maybe it's just because they realize there's not something else coming down the pipeline. ;)  With full fridge and pantry, there's always some sense that there's a better option available.  Here, we're buying food just for the day and breakfast next morning.  We have the ice chest, but that's it.  It limits options, but I'm appreciating that right now.  We'll see after 3 weeks. :)

What surprised me most about today:  I was doing everything I used to do, but it took significantly longer than "the real world."  But it was also significantly more satisfying.  Extra effort does infuse tasks with more triumph.  It felt good to scrub the dishes at the water pump down the path. 

Dinner tonight: Hard-boiled eggs from Trader Joe's (from the old home and needed to be used up), plums, and a campfire chili made with ground buffalo, a jar of salsa from the market, and a can of black beans.  Delicious.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 3: Pretending to be civilized, just for the day

Today, I am back at work.  I teach morning and evening in the classroom on Wednesdays, so I had to pull together my most civilized look so I didn't look so ragamuffin and "woodsy," standing in front of the class.  Threw on lipstick and mascara in the rearview mirror at stoplights (yes, I'm that person), because we have no mirrors in the woods.  Hair in a ponytail and my wrinkle-free skirt and shirt, dug out of my duffel bag.

I think I'm passable. 

I showered last night in the camp showers.  Hanging my shower bag on the hook outside the shower flooded all these memories - summer camp, staying at hostels.  Maybe that's part of why the rustic side of life appeals to me so much.  It harnesses this history of some really incredible times in my life. Times when I felt most connected with myself and my purpose.

Regular life is really noisy.  So many colors...so many sounds.  Doing strange things, like folding laundry.  I'll admit, it's probably more cognitive dissonance for me than most people.  But every.single.time I fold clothes, I feel like I just lost an hour of my life I'll never get back. 

And maybe it's because I'm at my best, wrinkled and dusty and sitting by the campfire? 

When I remove all those sounds and colors, I get to listen to myself more.  I get to listen to the children more. 

There are so few "nos" here.  Almost anything they ask, I get to say: "Sure.  Go ahead!"  Our biggest "rule" in the woods is you have to zip up the tent at super-human speed at night, so no mosquitos get in. The children are absorbing all that freedom - how much they just get to run around, climb trees, play in the dirt. 

If what we really truly need is the basics in life and lots of human relationship, than maybe it's not surprising to see how much joy we're finding in watching the fire cook our meat and potatoes...walking down to the river after dinner...building "forts" out of firewood. 

Looking around at my three little ones, exploring in the woods, I love how they look so happy.  Dirty.  But happy.

Apparently, we really needed this gear shift.