Sunday, August 24, 2014

After the end and before the beginning

When last we spoke, dear readers, we'd left our eldest at rookie camp. And then we held our breath off-stage, because we wanted said eldest to have a wonderful experience, we desperately craved that she'd have such, but we just weren't sure.

And then she came home, and we hugged her, and we still weren't sure what to report.

And then we had one week: we left. We vacayed. Four states, two hotels, a new ferry, a familiar beach. 

And tomorrow begins third grade (and also first grade, and also the last year of preschool, but sometimes this blog is the parenting to anxiety blog, not the easy-go-lucky here comes first grade blog, nor the this year of preschool looks just like last year, pretty much because it is the same blog). 

All week, we discussed: the intention of rookie camp is to see if the camper is ready for sleepover camp. Her two friends came off the bus chanting NEXT YEAR TWO WEEKS! and this girl came off the bus all smiles, entirely happy, huge hugs, and pulled me down and whispered I'm not going next year

So while we rode a lazy river and a ferris wheel and jumped waves and explored museums we discussed. And it was mostly a superwonderfulamazingspectacular experience, rookie camp. But the food was such a challenge. And this sweet girl, the one who has grown so much, (SO MUCH,) she struggles with food. The foods she eats are really pretty healthy, but they're a short list. And food and eating made her really unhappy, especially with counselors who (well-intentioned, I'm hoping) told her she couldn't just live off of the chickpeas and red peppers at the salad bar (you could TOTALLY live off of chickpeas and red peppers, though), and "made" her take a serving of whatever the main food was every day, and then told her not to waste food, she had to finish what was on her plate. That's the camp complaint. But for a girl with sensitive and sensory concerns and who fears disappointing authority figures like counselors, it all added up to a huge guilt and shame burden of anxiety overload. 

But eeeeeverything else about camp was superwonderfulamazingspectacular.  She swam in a lake and held a chicken and flew down a zip line and didn't eat smores, because she doesn't like marshmallows or graham crackers or chocolate, and see how food intrudes on every part of life? 

We were a little pressured, because the two-week sessions of camp sell out within a matter of days, and 2015 registration opened as soon as rookie camp ended. Even more importantly, though, we were pressured to figure out the right resolution for this girl because she was beating herself up terribly. Her two friends want to go next year, and she made a gazbillion new friends, and not everybody is ready for sleepaway camp and that's fine

She has grown so much, though, in the past year, and I've been trying to grow myself to accomodate. For so long (VERY LONG) it was my job to protect her from the hard options, as they simply overwhelmed her. I think, though, we're marking a new phase and we should lean in to the reachable challenges. And I don't know anything for sure, and I certainly don't know anything about sleepaway camp - I never went to one - but I sense that she wants this enough that we can grow into readiness between now and next June. And the self-abusive dithering had to end. So I listened to a yes and a no and we agreed to sign up over the weekend and one friend's mom emailed to say she'd just signed up just after E woke up crying saying I'm not going! Don't register! 

I finally asked: if A and K go next year and you don't, are you going to feel relieved? Or angry at yourself that you're not joining them? 

She answered firmly: really angry at myself. So we signed up. She's going to two weeks of sleepaway camp next June, with her two best friends, and I have nine months to get her to like sunflower-butter-and-jelly sandwiches as a standard alternative main dish option. Or to figure out what exactly to write in her camper application to explain that she has my explicit permission to live on chickpeas and red peppers for twelve days.

So we went on vacation. It was really quite nice. I offer you this picture of G, long (long long LONG) past his bedtime, still digging in the sand, which is basically his favorite thing to do in the whole wide world:

And you know what all that angst was really good for? We completely avoided the new-school-year anxiety. Until today. Oof.

Local public schools go back to class tomorrow, but we only play at going to school. Tomorrow's the two-hour meet-and-greet; I'll take the girls and meet their teachers and find their lockers and drop off their school supplies. Then we leave before lunch and have a whole unimpeded afternoon and evening to panic about third grade, which starts properly on Tuesday. More soon....

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

At the half

The boy turned four-and-a-half yesterday. We're good for half-birthdays around here, and he smiled all day. It was water play day at preschool, and he told his teachers that what they were setting up was his water play birthday. He asked for ice cream at the end of the day, and there in the ice cream parlor he had us light a pretend candle and sing a real "happy birthday" song. He beamed and blew out his pretend candle and made a real wish.

It was only three of us singing, and he kept lighting pretend candles and making real wishes, so I can't point you to the wish. But one of his wishes was for E to come home. I really miss her, he kept saying. I want her to come back now.

We're down a kid, just briefly, off having a hard-earned adventure and proving to herself just how brave she is. But it's a thing that happens, maybe especially with the last kid, that every milestone ties in my memories to another one, no memory forms in isolation, and the week of his half-birthday is the week where we first send away a kid to sleepaway camp. He's grown into an articulate human, finally, I sometimes think. Finally we have the family I always saw in my mind, all the players here at the table, and just as we've formed, they're already walking away.

Time isn't equitable. I don't buy that it moves too fast but some moments move faster than others; it stretches and contracts, and the parts I want to hold jump out of reach and change, snapped elastic skittering away.

The half-birthday continued its celebration today, gliding on its own momentum. The girl will be home tomorrow. The summer's almost over. And time keeps contorting.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

The last week of camp

On Mondays someone always asks, amiably, "how was your weekend" and how to answer the question always puzzles me a bit. The very nature of the question puzzles me.

The weekends, you know, they're a blur of sameness. They're good but exhausting, driving to playdates and driving to birthday parties, art projects, pizza. Movie nights and bathing suits and laundry. The weekend was good, viewed inside the bubble of family. But outside, what's there to tell? It doesn't translate into story.

Some months I measure time by toothpaste. The lovely husband buys a 3-ounce air-travel-approved tube before the start of any trip of any duration. He leaves the mostly-empty tube on the sink once it holds too little paste to sustain his next trip. I'm forever holding a contest with myself to clear the sink of teeny toothpastes. I've never yet won.

I've wanted to tell you about E's bracelets (above). They're summer-chic, merit badges awarded by her camp that she passed the deep-water test and the go-down-the-spinny-slide-into-the-10ft-part-of-the-pool test. Some days melt into each other such that it's hard to find the plot points and some plastic links demand the justice of an homage to former roadblocks, the anxiety of swim, the boulder Anxiety itself.

That girl is growing, and the other one, and the boy who is no longer the smallest in the family by weight, speaking of monoliths. Today began the last week of camp. There will be a new toothpaste bought this week, and new cheers learned, and some face paint and hoarse throats, babies that smell like sunscreen and chlorine, clamoring for their daddy and for new friends about to become camp-has-ended separated friends, who don't like to be called babies, not at all.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

sometimes you get a little lost in the narrative

This summer has been glorious and it has been terrible, and all through it, I've been telling you about it, narrating in my head, but never finding the moments to transfer words from neurons to fingertips to "publish" button.

Chapter 1: Me

I'm in the middle of something, I think. I don't need this space like I used to, those years when my brain scratched for more. This new iteration of my career is the most challenging I've ever faced by incomparable measures, and it's mostly exciting, and it's extremely engaging, and it's occasionally severely frustrating. But never, anymore, at the end of my day is my brain calling out for more attention. It's spent. And I tell stories all day long now, making them, building them, defending them, canonizing them, and so my quiet me voice that was often my loudest voice is turning inward, I think, and still narrating, beat on and borne back ceaselessly, but it doesn't demand to be noticed, because now I spend my day being noticed plenty. 

Also, it's possible, I don't know, is this something one can notice in the moment? or only backward upon reflection? that I'm fulfilled. This work + this life it adds up to enough, maybe. I am busy enough and challenged enough and tired enough. I was always loved enough but that wasn't enough enough. But maybe, I don't know, this is what the absence of needing more looks like. 

Chapter 2: Them

I don't want to jinx anything, but this is, so far, the most collectively-emotionally-well-adjusted season of the kids' existence. Everyone seems in a pretty good place. This is not the same as smooth sailing, please note, but how could it be if we are to be boats beat against the current?

Chapter 3: Us

In our family, war in the Middle East is not an abstract faraway thing. And these weeks have been tense. And I am but a big ol' naive peacenik, but I would like everyone to behave themselves now; and also stop seeping their damages into my consciousness. 

I was listening to a Radiolab today; it's not online yet or I'd link for you; it was about the self, and what is that - what neighborhood of your brain your self lives in, and how your self changes after a stroke or amnesia, and what is the self chemically, spiritually, figuratively. We are who we tell ourselves we are, the hosts concluded. The only definition of self is the extended narrative we compose and retell. 

How is your summer going?

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Not everyone's a winner

We just got back from a few days away in Pennsylvania, the highlight of which turned out for our kids to be Dutch Wonderland. It's a child-oriented amusement park and our littles are at the sweet spot in age where all three liked most rides. {And that, dear friends, is amazing.}

G has a passion for toy snakes of any kind, and the bigger the better, and you should have seen him lose his sweet mind with excitement when he saw the snake prizes available at the carnival games. The park wasn't very crowded and I thought he might be able to win a little snake for himself at the whack-a-mole game, but the game operator wouldn't let G play as a solo player. I agreed to play, too, figuring that G would get the win either way, and this much snake happiness was worth $4 as much as it was worth $2.  

But then -- two little boys about E's age came to play. The stakes were raised, literally, because now three little boys had laid their happiness on the line, but also because with four players, the prize was upgraded from small to large.

I felt somewhat sad, looking over at those boys, but did I have a choice? No, dear friends, you know I did not. I whacked those moles with no compassion for their rainbow heads nor for those stranger boys spending their allowances to my left.

I don't love to ruin lives, but my boy had his eye on a snake. A mama has to make tough decisions sometimes.

And our boy? He's in love with a four-foot guy now named Mr. Purple-Green Snake. They've been inseparable since yesterday. 

You can't mess with true love.

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