Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Joys of Camping, Part 2

Did my last post on the joys of camping make you groan? I know that feeling. Camping prep used to be so onerous I decided the camping experience needed to be 2 nights minimum in order to balance the the 2 days of work involved in the getting there. Like many challenges, it gets easier the more you do it. The key is a standard supplies list that you pull out each and every time. All the better would be to have everything you need in one physical spot but I'm not there yet.

The magical word for me when it comes to camping is E-A-S-Y. We eat simple meals with prepared foods we would not usually eat at home, we camp with our car nearby, and we usually choose locations within an hour of home. I'm even using the same meals menu for all our trips lately. We headed home a day early from our latest trip (and skipped our first night on the one before that) because of rain. I used to be more of a purist on these matters ("Only BACKPACKING in which you haul your barebones gear up a mountain side is 'real' camping") but purity, like perfection, is the enemy of progress.

I promised to share my standard supplies list and here it is. I even include the dog poop bags, though I forgot the eating dishes on our last trip so user error is inevitable.

Oh, and also-I interrupt this very serious post to let you in on a truly useful secret: toaster oven s'mores are only about 100% superior to campfire ones and it's all about the melting of the chocolate. I have never enjoyed campfire s'mores b/c the textures felt incompatible: hard chocolate, overly sweet, gooey marshmallow, crisp graham cracker that isn't any good on it's own, even.  But, as a consolation prize to the boys for aborting our most recent trip to Kerr Lake after only 1 night, we discovered toaster oven marshmallows. Now THAT'S a dessert I can get behind. Don't tell anybody I told you; I fear fanatics bearing flaming marshmallows on sticks!

Little Paul Bunyan learning to split wood

Kerr Lake from our tent

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What it's all about: fire and companionship
The only way I consume s'mores!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Kinda Fun - Group Camping

Spring has sprung in our lovely Durham and that means lots of outdoor time for our family. We've already had our first camping trip of the year, with 2 more on the horizon for April and May. We've stumbled across a really lovely way to spend time as a family and also connect with others: group camping.
Photo by Sandrine Pilaz

I love what happens to our family when we camp. There's something so relaxing and heart-opening about time outdoors with no strong agenda. We wake up when the sun shines (or the kids begin stirring), we eat when hungry (or when the kids complain in critical numbers), we collect wood and stoke the fire when cold, and step into the chilly water when we get too hot. The weirdest thing of all is that, over several trips now, our kids request to go to bed.

I don't want to wax too romantic over the notion of "being at one with the earth" since we're talking about 48 hours outdoors, maximum, and we have a car parked 100 paces away. Little House on the Prairie, this is not.

My most favorite element of group camping is that caring for children becomes easy and fun. Our children become comfortable asking other adults for help, and there is something about the free-forms of outdoor play that help their little nervous systems become calm and in sync with one another.  Our kids do not squabble in this environment (and immediately resume squabbling on the car ride home).

Hey, nature works magic on big people, too! We adults get lots of time to connect without constant interruption and being able to relax so deeply in an intentional way is heavenly. It fills our cups in a big way.
Photo by Sandrine Pilaz
Of course, I'm playing detective and gathering clues as to what works so well in camping and how we might replicate those elements in our home life. Here's what I've come up with so far:
  • the elements of work are tangible and allow kids to participate 
  • there's very little structure or transitions to navigate. The kids move from activity to activity with freedom
  • there is enough supervision and open time for kids to learn challenging skills with adult oversight like using an axe, rowing a canoe, using blazes to stay on trail, building a fire, cooking over an open fire.

    For a long time, I found the prepwork for camping to be so onerous as to question whether it was worth it. If that's where you are in your journey, dear reader, the next post is for you. I break it down and I'll even share my packing list.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Love Snow Days?

Today is the return of my children to school/childcare after 8.5 of closed schools due to snow, or the distant threat of snow. It's common for parents to gripe when school is closed for extended stretches of time - for some families it's the financial burden and mounting workplace pressure as parents figure out how to meet work obligations without childcare. For others, it's simply a struggle dealing with the kids when you have gotten used to offshoring their care and recreation for several hours of each day. I admit, I've fallen into the latter category many a times, which is why I was shocked to enjoy most of the last two weeks.

NOT  a Snow Day, (Note no jackets and NO SNOW) And Yet...No School
Having nowhere to be at a set time meant lazy wake ups (and extended snuggling sessions in bed for the parents, thanks to generous cartoon-watching sessions every morning). I was fortunate to have work cancelled most of the days the kids were home and Matthew was able to stay home from work a few days as well. Noah especially enjoyed the snow play, outside from 8 am- 1pm and mightily resisting all invitations to come in for lunch and rest. Coolest of all, a pair of neighbor kids from up the way became daily playmates for long stretches of each day and I suspect that's a relationship that will remain even when the snow is gone. We even lost power for half of one day and neighbors became friends while cooking our family sausages on their gas-powered stove.

With the emphasis on staying home (versus going out and doing), there was little in the way of plans, which can be blissful in small amounts.

And yet, you better believe there was a spring in my step this morning as I deposited the kids at preschool and returned to an amazingly quiet house. I've had an internal quandary ever since becoming a mother 6 years ago. I want to want to be with my children but I also relish (CHERISH!) the time I have without them. I'm an introvert, after all, and time alone in quiet is an important element of my well-being. Sending them off to school/preschool for at least a couple mornings each week has been supremely helpful for me in feeling centered and balanced.

I'm also noticing some shifts in my parenting experience: one is that my children are not so damn needy and can entertain themselves for long stretches of time now (however, they tend to need me in unpredictable patterns so it's not easy to designate time for self-care when they are at home). We are done with breastfeeding, diapers, naps, etc, so I don't feel so energetically drained after a full day together. Also, I've noticed the boys become more harmonious playmates the more open-ended time they spend together (vs. only after school, during a time of heavy transition for our family, as Papa arrives and I leave for work, and Ezra tends to be emotionally fragile now that he's dropped naps). Happy play begets happy play.

This has been a timely experience for me because I'm giving some thought to summer plans. Many of the week-long camps for kids have priority registrations, with steep discounts for registering now, so it's beneficial to figure out August plans in February, which I hate (I don't like locking in our family schedule 6 months ahead). The good times we've enjoyed the last two weeks are affirming for me a desire to keep our summer schedules loose and trust that long days together will be more happy than miserable. Remind me of this post in August!

Monday, February 9, 2015


That face!
6 is the ability to leap up from bed, half-run down the stairs and butter yourself some bread, turn on the cartoons and enjoy some alone time before the rest of the family wakes up. Except you can't tell time and it's only 4 in the morning.

6 is when you teach your little brother minorly naughty words like "booty," then become enraged when he lobs that same word at you repeatedly on the 2 hour car ride home from the zoo.

6 is the time when you know the birthday rituals down pat, and want to choose, wrap and then unwrap your 3 year old brother's gift, elbowing him out of the way if need be.

6 is the age when a sense of fairness and justice pervades, except it's so focused on the nonsense minutiae of daily life (whose birthday banner had the most exclamation points) that it makes you feel constantly aggrieved, because (you think) everyone's got it better than you.

In short, 6 (so far, for this one kid) is proving more than a little challenging for this 37-year old!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another Year Ends

 I mostly view New Years stuff as a calendar concern but it does feel useful to look back at some of the more meaningful experiences of the year, to notice my growth points.
  • I have joined a regular deep listening group with a few other women and it's an excellent opportunity to listen and be heard on the issues that matter for each of us. Remember when I wrote about how I so desired this kind of opportunity but it didn't look feasible with family and work responsibilities? I'm proud that I pressed on and found a way. These three friends have become a trusted sounding board for life's challenges and successes.
  • I've sent my oldest child to kindergarten and I'm doing fine! Ha, ha. He's doing well, too. What I mean to say is we've adjusted as a family unit to the daily time away from one another, the more rigid schedule and what it means for our daily rhythms. For instance, we are a bicycling family these days, transporting Noah to kindergarten and Ezra to preschool on our bikes about 85% of the days (Noah rides alongside us and Ezra rides in a trailer). The kids see there is another way to get around than hopping in the steel box on wheels, we get our exercise and fresh air, and Noah is learning how to navigate the streets, understand traffic patterns  and safety concerns, work his bike's gears, race Mama up hills!, etc. It feels ridiculously good to get around on your own physical effort. On a bike, I find my world shrinks in geographic size but deepens in detail and connections. I look more curiously at the neighborhood goings-on and I am friendlier to people I wouldn't notice were I riding in a car. Two times now we've been startled by a majestic blue heron rising up from a dingy creek next to a major highway intersection. For sure, we would have missed that whizzing by at 30 mph in a car.
  • I'm feeling more confident in my knowledge of healing herbs, most especially for ordinary winter colds and viruses. I attended a great class with Lindsay at Full Flower Herbs in October and she gave me lots of good material for getting started. I used to feel dismayed and defeated when I saw the tell-tale signs of a runny nose on the kids, anticipating the misery of 4 people hacking and snorting in quick succession. Now I just open up my arsenal (elderberry, echinachea, eucalyptus, Vitamin C, garlic, mostly) and start dosing every few hours.
  • Matthew and I made a kid-free trip to Miami just after Christmas. Again, the hassle of it promised to override the fun in the hours before departure (because doing nothing is always easier than doing something, remember?). I'm grateful to Matthew for fighting to make it happen. We soaked up the sun and luxuriated in our own interests and whims. We saw art, ate in nice restaurants, did yoga on the beach, we rode bikes across miles of bridges over the ocean and checked out fun buildings and people. Oh, and we slept amazingly well without interruption, one of the finest pleasures I know. It was a great way to fill our energetic cup as a couple and remember who we are besides parents. Kudos to our mothers, who cared for our children and made it possible. Mind if we make this a tradition?
    Wynwood Walls

     I wonder what adventures lurk in the coming year?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

On Innocence and Inequality (Updated)

We went to the protest and the part we attended was calm and involved various individuals sharing their experiences through a not-loud enough microphone. The kids ate ice cream and walked on the mid-level walls around the plaza. Noah asked me to read the various signs to him (All Cops are Darren Wilson, Black Lives Matter), but we didn't discuss them on a deep level. We left when they grew bored (actually, Ezra fell off the wall and bloodied his nose. We like dramatic exits).

The protest itself was not very impactful for the kids (demonstrators went on to block roads, including a highway, there were physical clashes with police and arrests, which I very much did not want to expose my kids to) but the conversations we had ahead of time with Noah were rich. Over dinner we talked about how a man was accidentally killed by police officers while being arrested for a very minor thing. Many people believe cops mistreat black people and we don't think that's right. We wanted to go to the demonstration to show support to the man's family.

"Why don't cops like black people,?" he asked. We discussed how not all cops are bad and that all of us, in fact, have some parts that can be mean ("Yeah, like when you yell at me.")-Ahem -and some parts that are kind . We reminded him how slavery and Jim Crow segregation (which he knows about on a cursory level) shaped many people's ideas about black people in very negative ways. We prepared him for some demonstrators saying angry things ("Will the people there have on grumpy faces,?" he asked). Most amusing of all, after our careful information session, he wrinkled his nose at the end and said he'd rather go to a bouncy house than a protest. Bwahahaha!

You know what? It was heartwarming to discuss these heavy issues with my son because it required us to distill the most important elements into simple terms that build on what he already knows but that don't overwhelm or traumatize him. We had to fine tune our responses on the spot, making them simpler or more nuanced depending on his questions and observations. Figuring out how to do this sensitively was a great parenting moment for Matthew and me and I really enjoyed it.

And...Noah lost his third tooth the next morning.

Cue Awkward Face Phase


Friday, December 5, 2014

On Innocence and Inequality

The many recent incidents of police brutality against black boys and men has my heart hurting and my moral pulse thumping. Twitter has been an amazing education in understanding the daily micro and macro police aggressions many minorities experience, as well as the bucket loads of white privilege I enjoy in my police interactions. Check out the hashtags #alivewhileblack and #crimingwhilewhite to  deepen your awareness (and trouble your soul).

Seeing the video of a grown man choked to death by police over the pettiest of acts sickens me. There is a protest in downtown Durham tonight and I want to be there. Do I want my children to be a part of it? (I have to bring them if I attend, as Matthew has another commitment)

This is a dilemma I have been wrestling with over the past few days. I've sought counsel from other mothers, and a common response is that mine are too young to be exposed to the heavy matters of the world, the  nuances of structural inequality, how the same police officers we wave to and call our "helpers" can, in a different circumstance, act despicably as foot soldiers of racism.

I very much want to prolong my children's naiveté but I also want them to understand the inequalities all around, including those that don't personally impact us as white people. I do think we can attend the demonstration and talk more generally about how we are there to support people who are sad and hurting. It does seem, though, that because my children's safety isn't dependent on their behaving in certain ways around the police, we have the choice to not discuss these matters. The reality is, they are not likely to suffer any negative consequences for being unaware. That is white privilege in a nutshell.

An incident from this morning heightens the sweet innocence of Noah, who turns 6 this month. He is fretting about a very loose tooth (his third) that will fall out shortly. Mama, I don't think I can go to school today because of this tooth. What if it comes out during lunch? Will it bleed? Will it hurt? Will I swallow it? Oh, to be a child!

What do you think? To paraphrase The Clash, should I stay or should I go?

First two out, #3 will be the top front one on his Right.