Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through

4 kids + Camp Mom = 87 long days of summer. We’ve officially reached the halfway point. No broken bones. Only one sunburn incident (the children were spared). A few minor cuts. Minimal mosquito bites.  Most importantly, my sanity remains intact.  I’ve learned a few things in the past six weeks.

The Little Lessons

I love having no schedule.

I hate having no schedule.

The minute a stranger tells you, “Your children are so well behaved,” is the instant they show their true colors and make a liar out of that stranger.

When I take the kids to Walmart, they will play hide-n-seek.

If there is a knock on the door, it only comes when I’m not wearing a bra.

When I take the kids to Costco, they will play hide-n-seek.

Legos are dangerous. They should be played with in a home where shoes are mandatory.

When I take the kids to the Acme, they will play hide-n-seek.

Neil Diamond is better in concert at 71 than he was at 51.

When I take the kids to Target, they will play hide-n-seek.

Making recipes I’ve pinned to Pinterest is a pipe dream.

summersnapshots

There is absolutely no reason to consume ice cream every night. Which is precisely why I eat it for lunch some days. You know, to mix things up.

When there is a glass of liquid on a flat surface in my house, my 3 year old’s elbow will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My reaction:

Week 1: “That’s OK, sweetheart, it was an accident!”

Week 3: Sigh. “Here’s a towel. Please wipe it up.”

Week 6: “Again?! From now on, if you’re thirsty, drink straight from the goddamn faucet!”

A 9 year old boy can thrive on a breakfast of 2 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries for 45 straight days. On the 46th day, he will eat 3 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries.

There is nothing wrong with splitting an entire bag of Sun Chips with 4 children and considering it a healthy lunch for the 5 of you.

A fedora can stay on my 6 year old’s head while he does flips in a pool. Underwater. It’s no wonder that the fedora is Indiana Jones’ hat of choice.

When my husband and I are spitting distance from the Phillies dugout, and 2 females wearing infants stroll down the stadium steps, they will inevitably sit in the empty seats directly in front of us. And obstruct our view by bouncing said children on their laps the entire night. And ask my husband to take pictures of them with their babies. Every inning. And shriek repeatedly, “Aren’t they the cutest babies you’ve ever seen?” And we’ll agree. Until the 7th inning, when my husband finally answers, “Actually, they’re not nearly as cute as the 4 kids we left at home. Where they belong.”  Never prouder, I will turn to him and announce, “Honey, you’re getting lucky tonight.”

Down in front, baby!

A chipmunk can play dead convincingly enough that my cat buys it. That same chipmunk can wait until the cat turns his back, then wink at me to let me know he’s still, in fact, very much alive.

When my husband announces to me on a Monday morning, “Oops, I forgot, I have a golf outing today. I probably won’t be home until after 10PM,” I’m going to need some time to digest that information. I’ll probably need to sit in a corner, hug my knees, and quietly sob. Don’t judge.

I don’t really like crab fries. Unless they are dipped in cheese. This is a discovery I didn’t need to make.

Parents whose kids are attending sleep away camp are easy to identify. They are either the adults who look tan, well-rested, and supremely happy…or they are the adults who see me with my 4 kids and proceed to laugh and point at me. I wish each of them a peaceful summer. And the pointers…I wish an unplanned pregnancy. May you be blessed with twins.

Perler beads…like pine needles from a Christmas tree…can be found months after cleaning them up.

Boot camp on the beach sounds great in theory. It’s a nut punch in reality. A sweaty, sandy nut punch. And I’ll still eat the donut that’s waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I get home. How could I not? It’s still warm. For. The. Love. Of. God.

The $1 movie at Regal Cinemas on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings is the best deal out there. When there are 3 busloads of camp kids in line ahead of me, I grab my youngest child and urgently yell, “He has to poop! We need to get to the bathroom…he has to poop!” I cover his mouth with my hand before he rats me out. Race to the front of the line. Then sneak into the theater first. For 5 glorious minutes, my kids tell me I’m as cool as their Daddy. Totally worth the scene I made in the lobby.

When the guys fishing on the beach pull 4 foot sharks out of the ocean, one after another, for over an hour, there’s no need to avoid swimming. Even when you have your period. Don’t ask. Just trust me. It’s perfectly safe to go into those shark infested waters.

A cat is able to launch its body at a closed, locked bedroom door so violently that the door swings open. It sounds very much like a cannon firing from the hallway into your bedroom. And it only happens at 5AM.

When I take the kids to the mall, and Party Rock Anthem begins playing over the speaker system, they will immediately form a straight line and bust out the moves to  Dance Party 3 in perfect synchronicity. Strangers will mistake this for a flash mob and snap pictures with their iPhones and post them to FB and Twitter.

When I clap my hands and relay the news, “Guys, Mommy’s piece made the Huffington Post!” like I did here, here, and here, 4 sets of eyeballs will stare at me blankly. Then one of them will pass gas, and a game of “who farted?” will ensue.

The library shouldn’t put out games for small children. Because my 3 year old will play the game, then fist pump and yell, “YES! I WINNED!!!” Forcing my 10 year old to yell, “BE QUIET!” To which the 3 year old replies, “YOU BE QUIET! YOU’RE NOT THE POLICE OF MINE EYEBALLS!” So my 6 year old chimes in with, “BOTH OF YOU, STOP FIGHTING!” The 3 year old and 10 year old then take it to the ABC rug in the children’s section. Naturally, the 6 year old screams, “STOP FIGHTING! MOM! THEY’RE FIGHTING!” My 9 year old will continue to read his chapter book like an angel play his DS as though he were in a trance. And my attempt to hide behind the reference books until the entire thing blows over will prove unsuccessful when the 6 year old finds me and inquires, “Mom, are you hiding on that bookshelf?”

If you take 4 kids to a self serve frozen yogurt store, even after you say, “do NOT touch ANYTHING,” not once, not twice, but three times, the oldest will think he’s “helping” by serving himself. He will in fact over serve himself, and his yogurt will cost $9. Not to be outdone, his 9 year old brother will serve himself while I am chastising the 10 year old. His yogurt will cost $9.15. And when the 9 year old discovers he’s chosen original tart flavor instead of snickerdoodle, his punishment will be to eat all $9.15 worth of it. And he will man up and do it. And I will swallow back tears of pride and think, “Well, now. That’s my boy.”

The Big Lessons

There’s nothing like spending a hazy afternoon at a friend’s pool with my kids. 11 kids, 6 on giant rafts, laughing, swimming, splashing…the quintessential summer pool party. We parents marvel at how our children are growing…not yet teenagers, but no longer our little boys. We take time to swallow over the lumps in our throats and tell one another how lucky we feel that our kids are friends. And that we, in turn, have become friends.  I go home on a day like that feeling like life is good.

I wake up the next morning to the news that an armed man has walked into a movie theater in Colorado and opened fire on the audience. People are dead. More people are injured. Witnesses are traumatized. The country is in shock. I am tasked with telling my older children. My job is to find the right words. Words that will educate them. That will instill just enough fear to be cautious. That will provide just enough comfort to feel protected. Words that, once spoken, will hinder their belief that the world they live in is a safe place. I go to bed after a day like that feeling like life is not always so good.

I spend the first half of the summer hoping that the men in power surrounding Jerry Sandusky didn’t really know. Sandusky is sick. He’s broken. But the men in power around him…none of those men was sick. I spend the first half of summer hoping that, had they known, they’d have put the welfare of innocent children above everything. Innocent children. And my heart breaks just a little bit upon hearing that they knew enough. Yet they failed to act. And again, it’s my job to tell my older kids. To find the right words to warn them that monsters like Sandusky exist. To encourage them to trust their instincts when something or someone doesn’t feel right. To expect them to comprehend that the men surrounding this monster had an opportunity to be better men…but didn’t take it. To remind them that these men have families who are now devastated and suffering. And to teach them that these families deserve sympathy…understanding…privacy…peace.

Summer is half over. The little lessons I’ve learned have become memories. Snapshots in my head of perfect moments with my kids. Still young…and beautiful…and unaffected…and innocent. The big lessons I’ve learned have been sobering. Gut wrenching. They’ve been the catalyst for whispered conversations with my husband late into the night…Do we tell them? How do we tell them? When do we tell them? What do we tell them? They’ve been the topic of texts and poolside conversations with friends who care just as much as we do about keeping the lines of communication open between parents and children. Did you tell them? How did you tell them? When did you tell them? What did you tell them? What did they say? The big lessons have left me wishing I could keep my children blissfully ignorant. Sheltered. Protected. Do we really have to tell them? The answer for me is yes. We have to tell them. These things happened. The children…at least my older children…will find out. Best they hear it from the people they trust most in the world…the people who will tell them only what they need to hear. And answer their questions. And offer hugs. And suggest hope. Hope that no more big lessons like these need teaching…at least for the rest of the summer.

May the last of our summer be filled with little lessons. Snapshots in our heads of perfect moments with our children.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the July 24th edition of the Huffington Post. It ran in the Parents section under the title “Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through”

Camp Mom. Week One.

The Interrogator trots past me. I glance up from the chocolate chip pancakes that aren’t quite ready to be flipped. He’s bare chested, and his shorts are on backwards. I smile.

They’re the same shorts he wore to bed last night. The same pair he had on yesterday.

I flip the pancakes. I hear footsteps descending the stairs. It’s the Kenyan. I smell him before I see him.

Me: “Good morning, Kenyan! Please turn yourself around and march back up those stairs for a shower. It’s been…how many days since you’ve showered?”

He touches his fingers while his lips silently mouth the days of the week.  His eyes glaze over as he does the mental math.

Kenyan: “6 days, Mom. I had a shower 6 days ago.”

Yowza.

Me: “That’s kinda gross, buddy.”

Kenyan: “Ooooh! Are those chocolate chip pancakes?”

I nod and point my spatula toward the stairs…which lead to the shower…which is long overdue.

Kenyan: “Oooh, Mom, are we going to the pool today?”

Me: “Probably.”

Kenyan: “No need for a shower. You say it all the time. Swimming in the pool counts as bathing.”

He has me there.

CampMom

Me: “Fair enough.”

I check the pancakes. Almost done. As I walk the syrup to the table, I see the Verb in the corner. His back is to me. He thinks I can’t see him.

Me: “What do you have over there, Verb?”

He gasps…baffled that I’ve discovered him. I hear the crinkling of a plastic bag. He turns around to face me. His mouth is outlined in dark chocolate. He grasps a bag of semi-sweet morsels between his 3 year old hands, also covered in dark chocolate.

Verb: Placing the bag behind his back, “I’m not holding anything behind mine back, Mom,” he tells me with a smile in a sing-song voice.

What age do they start lying? I forget. Is this developmentally appropriate?

He runs past me into the kitchen to return the chocolate chips to their rightful place in the pantry.

Me: “Where’s Waldorf?”

Interrogator: “He’s asleep, Mom. Waldorf’s asleep. I know because I went into his room to get some Legos. And he didn’t yell at me because he was asleep.”

I glance at the clock. 8:47AM.

The Interrogator is wearing yesterday’s clothes. The Kenyan hasn’t bathed in 6 solid days. The Verb is eating chocolate before breakfast. Waldorf is sacked out in his bed. I’m making breakfast that requires more of me than pushing buttons on the microwave.

Summer is here. 4 kids. All of them home. No extracurricular activities.

Camp Mom is in session.

How was week one?

It was an adjustment. Here are some high points…and some not so high points…

I gave birth to 4 kids. Somehow, I manage to accumulate more kids on Tuesday. And it rains. And I am hell bent on going to Costco. I have 5 kids with me at the time. But I time it perfectly so that we zip through that puppy during lunch time. Turns out all of the kids love chicken cutlets. Bonus. I grant them permission to stand next to the sample cart and eat as many free samples of that bird as they can stomach. Yes, I remind them to chew with their mouths closed. I’m not raising cavemen. I hold up the bag, catch the eye of the lady doling out samples, give her a smile, an emphatic nod, a thumbs up, and make sure she watches me place it in my cart…while I abandon 3 kids next to her sample cart housing her bite size pieces. It works out perfectly. (Good news)

By the time we arrive home, I round up 2 more kids. 7 boys. Stupidity factor increases exponentially. Common sense at a dangerous low. We live in a split level house. The Legos are all the way upstairs, the costumes are one level upstairs, the Wii is downstairs. The boys are up the stairs, they are down the stairs. Up, down, up, down, up, down. While I unpack the products I purchased in bulk, I dodge boys rounding the corner down the steps into the kitchen. I sidestep boys rounding the corner up the steps out of the kitchen.

Me: “Guys, no running in the house please.”

Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat. Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat.

Me: Louder, “Guys, no running in the house please.”

Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat. Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat.

Me: Sigh. “GUYS, NO RUN..”

My 3rd warning is cut off as I am pinned against the piano. By a small child? Negative. By a large bear. Launched from the top of the steps.

I survive a bear attack. Original artwork by the Kenyan.

As I’m pinned under the bear, the guilty party flees the scene. A hit and run in my own home. The guilty party’s identity remains a mystery. (Bad news)

After crawling out from under the bear, I give all 7 boys a come to Jesus a choice:

“Legos upstairs or movie downstairs.”

They spend the remainder of the afternoon quietly playing. I spend it cooking. (Good news) Our indoor cat has a mad crush on me, so he keeps his eyes trained on me as he frolics around in the dining room. When I say frolics, I mean he really frolics. Dancing, prancing, up on his hind legs…I see him out of the corner of my eye while I cook. I assume he, like I, is jammin’ to Adam Levine.

Me: To the cat, “Fawkes, you got the moves like Jagger?”

I finally turn my full attention to him.

He does NOT have the moves like Jagger. He has a petrified chipmunk. On my dining room rug.

Our uninvited dinner guest

He’s been batting that nasty ass vermin around for a full hour while I, none the wiser, have been putting on my own Katy Perry concert in my kitchen. (Bad news)

I immediately perform the running man…double time. Very high knees.

Me: “Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, WALDORF!”

Waldorf arrives at my rescue within seconds, “WHAT? WHAT’S THE MATTER?!”

He follows my line of sight. Discovers the dead chipmunk. Looks at me. Looks back at the cat.

Waldorf: Smiling, “Yes! Way to go, Fawkes!” to me, “I’ll be right back.”

I continue my high step running man. My chant changes to, “Ew, ew, ew, ew, disease, disease, DISEASE!”

Waldorf returns less than a minute later with all 3 of his brothers. And a camera.

Verb, “Oh, he’s so cutey, cute!”

Interrogator: “Mom, can we keep him, Mom? Can he sleep in my bed, Mom? I can feed him. I’ll feed him. Can we please, please, pretty please keep him? Can I pet him, Mom?”

He reaches out to pet the dead chipmunk.

“NO!!!!” comes the chorus from Waldorf, the Kenyan, and me.

Waldorf: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! You’ll ruin my picture!”

What?!

Kenyan: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! Fawkes will scratch you!”

Huh?!

Me: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! You’ll get a disease!!”

The four of them turn to look at me. I can’t remember a time when 4 faces looked at me so blankly. Wait that’s not true…I see that look on their faces almost daily.

Me: “Everybody head downstairs please. Daddy will take care of this.”

I text B&B:

“Will you be home soon? There is a dead fucking chipmunk on the dining room floor, and I just vomited in my mouth.”

He replies:

“Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

I text him:

“I didn’t catch your ETA…”

He replies:

“5 minutes.”

I dry heave, shiver, and back into the kitchen. Shake my head. Shiver some more.

So, that was Tuesday.

Wednesday afternoon I have 6 boys again. And I get a long overdue haircut and color in my very own home while they do who the hell knows what sit quietly in the family room. The color is lighter than I usually go.

Me: “Kenyan, tell me the truth. What do you think of my hair?”

Kenyan: “The truth? I think it is the exact color of old person’s hair.” (Bad news)

Don’t ask a question unless you’re prepared to hear the answer.

But, week one of Camp Mom ends on a high note.

On Saturday, we take the kids to a local farm to pick fruit. My guys would eat their weight in fruit if I allowed them to…and the Verb does exactly that in the raspberry fields. It is a gorgeous day…sunny skies, low humidity…and I’m fairly sure the entire tri-state area is at the shore. So we have the place to ourselves.

Looking for strawberries

We return home in a fruit coma.  I’m the only one who suffers sunburn. (Good news)

Sunday is Father’s Day, my Dad’s 75th birthday, and the first time we see Little Sister, Flyboy, and their 3 kids since Thanksgiving. They bring their Arizona noise to the East Coast for most of the summer to avoid the 100+ degree heat of the desert. The grandkids serenade my Dad with You Are My Sunshine, When I’m 64, and You’ve Got a Friend in Me. Absolutely adorable. (Good news)

Monday is kinda cool. I receive an email from The Huffington Post saying they published my Father’s Day piece. (Very good news)  Ari Gold from Entourage right here…“BOOM!”  I am beyond excited that my piece makes the cut. Humbled, flattered, thrilled, stoked. Not to mention, it secures my position as the #1 child in Dad’s eyes (the best of the good news)…and, yes, I mention that to The Huffington Post when I email them to thank them for the opportunity. Oh, I most certainly do.

I spend Monday night with family at the Neil Diamond concert. 71 years old. Still performing. Voice sounds better than it has in a decade. And putting on the show of his life. Really, does it get any better?!

In the span of a week, I am violated by a stuffed animal, unknowingly host a dead chipmunk for cocktail hour, and am called a blue haired old lady by my son.

In the span of that same week, I spend a perfect day outdoors with B&B and the boys, am reunited with Little Sister, am serenaded by Neil Diamond, and am published in The Huffington Post.

Even Steven.

Maybe a little better than Even Steven.

Kinda kick ass all around.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment…

The View from my Father’s Shoulders

I learned to dance…because he offered me the tops of his shoes and his 2 gentle hands.

I learned to get dirty…because he encouraged me to climb trees.

I learned the theme song to Captain Kangaroo…because he pulled me onto his lap, and we watched it together.

I learned to love the early morning sunlight dancing off the ocean…because he hoisted me onto his shoulders and walked me over the dunes to see it for the first time.

I learned to compromise…because he gave me siblings.

I learned to be a friend to my brother and sister…because he’s remained a friend to his.

I learned to read…because he read to me.

I learned that summer is for grilling…because he manned the Weber 3 months of every year.

I learned that some people can eat raw hotdogs without getting sick…because he consumed one every time he grilled.

I learned that autumn leaves are for jumping in…because he raked them into high piles and stepped aside to watch me leap.

I learned to love the theater…because he sat with me in the orchestra and opened my eyes to its magical world.

I learned to skim rocks…because he taught me on a stream in the woods behind our first house.

I learned to throw like a boy…because he wouldn’t have a daughter who throws like a girl.

I learned to sing with conviction, with a voice not half my sister’s…because I listened to him sing, with a voice not half my Mom’s, every night in our kitchen.

I learned to appreciate Peter Sellers’ physical comedy…because he introduced me to the Pink Panther movies.

I learned to love string bands…because, in the crisp cold of the New Year, he dragged me to the Mummer’s Parade.

I learned to body surf instead of boogie board…because he believed in the simple harmony of the water and the body.

I learned to save gently used paper plates…because he was a child of the Great Depression.

I learned faith in God…because he raised me to believe.

I learned to question that faith…because he taught me to speak my mind.

I learned to admire conviction in a man…because he’s never been short on passion.

I learned to love English…because that was his college major.

I learned that Neil Diamond tours every 4 years…because he always scores tickets.

I learned to embrace my heritage…because it’s impossible not to when he loves it so much he paints his beard green every March 17th.

I learned to be carefree…because he saved adult conversations for times when children were out of earshot.

I learned the importance of balance…because he worked hard and played equally hard.

I learned that there are certain beverages I shouldn’t drink…because he told me that gin rhymes with sin.

I learned that Mom drives the car home once he sings Goodnight, Irene…because that is his song of choice…after drinking gin.

I learned that Friday night is movie night…because he began the tradition with the birth of the VCR.

I learned to be trustworthy…because he trusted me.

I learned to share certain things only with Mom…because, despite that trust, he would have locked me in a tower had he known.

I learned to continue to push my body as an adult…because he played racquetball until his knees would no longer permit it.

I learned that crew is more than a sport…because I watched his bond with my brother strengthen from their shared love of it.

I learned to treasure friendships…because he’s maintained his best for over 50 years.

I learned that the most exciting 32 seconds of college basketball occurred at the Spectrum on March 28, 1992…because we stood side by side, holding our breath, 10 rows behind Kentucky’s net.

I learned that a smile and a kind word can turn someone’s day around…because I watched him make that difference in so many lives.

I learned that a sense of humor is invaluable…because he used his to put others at ease.

I learned the art of storytelling…because I paid close attention to his delivery.

I learned the power of positive reinforcement…because he never tore me down.

I learned to feel special…because he told me enough times that I believed it.

I learned to be present…because he whispered so frequently, “Remember this moment.”

I learned to seek out silver linings…because he’s always been a dreamer.

I learned to disagree politely…because he taught me responsibility for my words.

I learned compassion…because I watched him come apart over the loss of his best friend.

I learned courage…because that’s what it took for him to stand before the crowd and eulogize that same friend.

I learned to fly…because he spent 24 years helping me grow wings before releasing me in my simple white gown on a windy afternoon in June.

I learned that a parent never stops worrying…because he asked me 3652 times, “are you OK?” when I was pregnant. Every time I was pregnant.

I learned paralyzing fear…because he burdened me with the news that he had cancer.

I learned hatred of that disease…because it threatened to take him from me.

I learned to value each day with him…because the radiation worked.

I learned the power of a grandparent’s love…because I watched his face transform when we placed my son, his first grandchild, in his arms.

I learned nothing compares to the pure joy on my children’s faces…because he so generously took them to Disneyworld for the first time.

I learned that age is just a number…because when that first grandson suggested the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the fact that he’s 74 didn’t stop him from riding it.

I learned that sunglasses provide excellent camouflage…because he used them to hide the look of bewilderment after his Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster experience.

I learned to continue his legacy…because I recognize it in the values I teach my sons.

I learned the value of being proud of myself versus being prideful…because he took the time to teach me humility.

I learned respect…because he commanded it.

I learned confidence…because he believed in me.

I learned to follow my dreams…because I’ve watched his come true.

I learned my voice was worth hearing…because he listened to me.

I learned not to spoil my children…because, when others gave things, he gave me time, and with it we created cherished memories.

I learned to be bold…because he showed me that chances are worth taking.

I learned, upon falling, to recover with dignity…because he raised me to be strong and move forward, holding my head high.

I learned to smile for my children when my world was collapsing…because he taught me that my job as their parent is far more important than any drama in my life.

I learned that every year for him past 70 is a gift…because he’s acutely aware that those are years his father never had.

I learned that authenticity is what I most respect…because he’s always been a true original.

I learned that his opinion still matters…because when he told me, “I read what you wrote, and it moved me,” I floated through the remainder of that day.

I learned that, although I’m too big to ride on his aging shoulders, his love for me is just as fierce…because I recognize it in his blue eyes, covered by glasses and surrounded by the lines of time.

I learned to be whole in a world full of broken women…because of the unconditional love of the first man who held me.

Happy Father’s Day (and happy 75th birthday) to my Dad, a true original.

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*An abridged version of this piece ran in the Huffington Post on June 18th in the HuffPost50 section.