Sunday, July 28, 2013

First Sun

Sunrise breaks
Over the Atlantic
Big, then huge, then vast
My thoughts crack open
The stutter-shush
Of the waves whispers
To my heart

I’ve wandered years
And nearly lost it
But I circle back now
To this ocean home
In one day of healing waters
Crusted wounds clear and shrink

Sleep brings strength
And quiet and meaning
My engine idles
Knowing I can start at need
Knowing I have no need
Mind, heart, body, soul
All replete, all content

A caravan of family
A kitchen full of
Tangible and edible love
Children underfoot
I have what I want
All I ever wanted

Monday, July 22, 2013

Life in a Smaller Town

I’m enjoying a stretch of time in my small hometown, where life actually does move more slowly.

I remember the first time I returned here after having lived in Nashville and southwest Florida. Can you guess what shocked me? No? I could not get over how easy it is to drive here. 

Weekday roadwork on major north-south artery? Sure.
 There aren’t any interstates here—just limited access highways. You don’t make it very far without the speed limit dropping for a town. People wait for big gaps between cars, then pull out. And the big gaps come! People let you go ahead and take their time backing out of parking spaces. Folks leave lots of space between cars—mostly. Sure, at least part of that comes from the size of the town, but part of it’s attitude.

At the park with Little A., ninety percent of the parents talked to friends or their kids; maybe one or two stayed on the phone. A sweet older lady wrote a check for her groceries in front of me. The (one!) clerk in the (tiny!) post office took the time to weigh my letter and smile as she watched Little A. put it in the slot.

It isn’t as if my family and I moved to Miami or something, but I don’t know if coastal Florida will ever be as laidback as this. We have an intense seasonal population and I fear that we permanent residents absorb a little more of their tension every year. Does it really matter who gets the best parking space at the pharmacy?

Or maybe it’s just that there’s less tension between man and nature here. In Florida, I feel mankind has to fight for every inch of space—outdoor areas end up being ruthlessly manicured or hopelessly engulfed in jungle. Manmade structures show wear so much faster—fading and molding and growing vines if unattended. Here, the trees grow taller and cast more shade, grass grows slower, buildings last longer. There seems to be more of a middle ground. It’s peaceful to me.

The funny thing is that (and I’m sure there are lots of psychologists and gurus out there with “I told you so”s!), even though I’m slowing down…things still get done. I’m going to bed when I’m tired and waiting patiently in line and checking my phone less and things still get done.

So right now I’m trying to absorb as much of this glorious laidback attitude as I can. I want to take it back to my home, which I love, and choose not to live like a rat—most things aren’t worth racing for. Sure, I’ll keep my eye on the prize, but we’ll get there.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

12,000 Words

 We got off to a rocky start at 6:45--Little A. was far too worn out to appreciate getting up that early. And I think he was a little excited to see his sister!

But we made it to camp and through luggage line in time to enjoy some of Camp Arrowhead's natural beauty, large and small, before finding S.

This little mushroom had dewdrops underneath that the camera couldn't quite get. And we really enjoyed walking the labyrinth. Little A. didn't make all the circuits back out, but it was a beautiful moment.

The little guy entertained himself building a fairy house in this tiny pine tree while we waited for the campers. Then he found a friend while the campers all sang their songs for the parents. They were looking for treasure, I think!

 We found her! We picked up S. and Aunt C., too and then S. dragged us all over, especially to her favorite--the Homestead Swing.

 And we couldn't leave camp without spending a little more store money on rainbow tropical ices.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Home to Camp

Taking S. to camp this year actually turned out to be all about me.

I’m only sort of kidding. We did experience a subtle yet profound shift this year. Camp, while remaining the same glorious place it has always been, changed from my place to share with S. into her place, which I visit. It blew me away.

We heard no fanfare, saw no fireworks , we said and did nothing unusual. We just drove to camp having lots of energetic discussions, including one on how chickens are slaughtered. (If you drive through endless cornfields interrupted by two small towns, a golf course, and a chicken processing plant, these things come up.)

As we waited in line along camp’s driveway, S. calmly continued our discussion of what the bird poop on the window looked like, cracking jokes at her usual pace. As we approached, she recognized her landmarks—her cabin last year, the weird letters on a totem pole that she always wondered about, her favorite swing. She tolerated me taking a picture in the car and she wanted one in pose her friend had done, but not when we got to the Dining Hall door. Then, when I held up my phone, she gave me The Look.

S. wanted the picture; not Little A.!
“I guess we did that picture last year, sweetie,” I said.

“Yeah, we did,” she replied gratefully.

 At her unit’s table, she started the “Who do you know from last year” conversation with a cabin mate before I could say hi to her counselor. Just to give her one lousy goodbye hug, I had to pry her out of the seat she had plopped into immediately on arrival.

My girl was being herself, doing what she does best, and camp was in for an Experience this session--because she is an Experience! The mother in me could rest.

So, as I drove away from camp, my memories surfaced. I relived my many “leaving camp” moods.

I never got to be a camper at Camp Arrowhead and I joined the staff during the worst year of my life. I’m not sure why I did—I loathe being hot and sweaty, being dirty, and dealing with bugs. But I signed up for a summer of all that to the ultimate degree (Unless you’ve been there, you have NO idea!), and I’m so glad I did.

I wasn’t glad at the time. I hadn’t done this kind of outdoor camping. I didn’t know any of the skills or places or traditions that most of the staff did, as they’d all been campers. All the rest of the counseling staff already appeared to know each other, to have relationships, jokes, dumb stuff they did together.

And because of all these things—and the worst year of my life part—I Kept Screwing Up.

I was not used to screwing up. My accomplishments had always given me my sense of self-worth and suddenly I was not accomplishing anything good. I was lonely, hot, sweaty, dirty, buggy, and a screw-up. I barely made it through staff training.

I drove away from camp for a day off in tears, determined to quit.

I didn’t. For whatever reason, I came back. And I did that after every session, all summer. I left in tears, determined to quit. I looked at the signs on the highway, saying, “New York” and “Philadelphia” and thought, All I have to do is take that road and I’ll be gone. But I didn’t.

I’d like to think now that I knew why I went back, but I didn’t.

By my second summer I knew. It wasn’t just the awesome friends, the beautiful moments outdoors, my newfound camping skills, the hysterical kids, Delma’s cooking, the majestic bonfires, or spirit-filled chapel services—I went back for the love.

No one there cared if I screwed up—it didn’t make me A Screw Up. I was me, trying, learning, caring. And that was good enough for them. They loved me.

And that second summer, I drove away looking forward to my time off—playing loud music on my radio and thinking with a laugh, I could drive to New York if I wanted. And I’d drive back to camp just as happily.

On my last summer, my last summer of college, I knew I’d be joining “the real world” soon. Ironically, I wasn’t screwing up as much anymore—I had a counseling style, solid camping skills, a place where I fit—but I knew it would be my last summer. And that last time of that last summer, I drove away in tears again, tears because I was leaving.

But, like every Home, camp still waits with open arms. I brought Big A. to one reunion and S. to another. Now S. goes to camp and Little A. watches, exploring the place on the sly. Bringing my kids Home to camp, to grow and learn in the love there, makes me happier than I could ever have imagined.

Driving away this year, I shed a few tears for the girl I was, the girl who nearly gave all this up over a few mistakes. And I thanked her.

Thank you for sticking it out. It was so worth it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fair Play

2. Play fair.
                                --Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game.
                                --Every child I ever met

Apparently some members of the Federation of International Lacrosse skipped kindergarten, and perhaps childhood, entirely. I can’t think of much else to explain the travesty of a decision that they made at the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup on Tuesday night.

Women’s lacrosse teams from around the world have gathered in Oshawa, Canada to compete in the sport’s world cup. Like any other world cup, it happens only every four years and means everything to the athletes and coaches.

But it isn’t like any other world cup. It’s actually more.

As women athletes, these players not only train hard for four years, devoting a great deal of time and effort and passion and sweat and pain and sacrifice to their sport, they also pay for their own equipment and their own travel expenses. Yes, the teams may fundraise as a group, but imagine what that means to these athletes.

Imagine being young and working that hard to be the best you can be at your sport AND working a job to pay for your gear and travel expenses. You work weeks and spend weekends training. You turn down nights out because you’re in training. People give you that Are you nuts? look when you explain you can’t make whatever fun event it is this weekend because you have to train.

They do this for four years.

They become a team, they build skills, they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and quirks, they learn plays, they share the pain and exhaustion and jokes and work on the path to their goal. That goal, the World Cup, offers a chance to prove themselves, to test their mettle, to see how they’ve done over those four years.

They work so they can test themselves against the best in the world in a fair contest.

Unfortunately, what happened Tuesday night cannot be described as fair. After all the pool games had been played (five games for most teams), quite a few teams had tied records, making it difficult to seed the playoffs. Still, seeds were determined according to the FIL goal difference formula, the playoff bracket set, and a schedule published.

One team protested and, because of that protest, the FIL officials awarded the sixth through eighth seed positions based on the teams’ performance at the tournament, then awarded the ninth through twelfth seeds by drawing names from a hat. Since seed position determines which teams play in the first round of playoffs, the officials then changed the schedule. In essence, the officials changed the rules in mid-tournament, abandoning the regulations every team had agreed to, the regulations they had played to up until that point. The tournament can no longer be a fair contest.

The integrity of any human organization rests on its smallest decision. This large decision affected a substantial number of gifted, dedicated athletes, coaches, and support staff in the very act of reaching for the goals they’ve striven for these last four years. And it would never have happened in, say, the Men’s Soccer World Cup.

Take a minute to imagine a diehard soccer fan from, say, Brazil. Or Manchester. Think about how they set to work calculating the tournament ranking based on the known formula the minute the last pool game is played.

Seriously, if they drew tournament seeds out of a hat for men’s soccer AT LEAST half the world would be rioting in the streets in protest.

I want to riot a bit myself right now, but all I can say is this: encourage your daughters if they want to be athletes. Watch women’s sports with your daughters—and your sons and your friends and family, especially if you have to pay to do so. Why? Partly because “fudged” backroom decisions like FIL’s decision yesterday will continue until the eyes of the world are on them and advertising money is at stake—yes, partly for that.

Mostly I ask it because these athletes deserve to be seen in their glory. At least one team yesterday rose from the brutal disappointment of the unfair ranking to beat a formidable opponent. It was the extraordinary story of their careers so far. They play again today—who knows what story will unfold?

Every game tells a story of work, discipline, courage, endurance, skill, connection, luck, victory, and loss. The teams are the heroes. They have earned our appreciative witness.

And I believe we will be better people for watching.

You can watch the Women's Lacrosse World Cup here.

Now, in the completely biased portion of this blog, GO, SCOTLAND!!!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Waiting for a Train

Alternate titles for this post: Kissing Anemones, 738 Riddles, Hope ‘Spring’s Eternal, With a Little Help From My Minions. The actual title refers to the Too Much Joy song that occasionally popped into my head, Pirate. Come to think of it, Little A. might like that one! Now how much do they swear…

As the kids and I retrace many of our steps this year, taking the auto train north, visiting my family, and taking S. to camp, life is giving me a crash course in how quickly—and beautifully—they’re growing.
To you, kids!
This year I felt more like a chaperone than a nursemaid. They’ve tackled the whole adventure so confidently, waiting patiently when called for, cracking jokes sharp enough to make me belly laugh, greeting people with grace, and generally rolling with the new.

I cannot get my mind or my heart around how much I like our kids. Of course I love them—but I really like these people! Who knew Adele would become the soundtrack of our car trip? Yes, at ages forty, eight, and five, we grooved to Adele the whole way. And how could we not? Who can pass up lyrics like “Kissing anemones/I’m willing to take the risk”?

Our kids are amazing friends, to us and to each other. Yes, they got a little frayed before we left—so did I, for that matter—but if I’ve got to ask riddles to pass time while waiting for a weather-delayed train, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do it with. We would have loved to have Big A. along, but we still had fun.

In case you missed that, S. and Little A. WAITED for a LATE train. They did NOT meltdown. They were FUN.

To be more specific, they waited for me to finish packing, drove for three hours or more (we waited in traffic), waited for a late train, boarded, and waited to start. On the train, they enjoyed all the views from the train, the train bathrooms, walking on the train, the train dinner, the train bunks, the train breakfast, the view from the train, the train’s arrival…then they waited.


Yes, folks, for whatever reason, they unloaded our car LAST. By then the battery on my phone had died, so I took this picture with backup equipment, but do you see the vast, empty train station with the kids? Yep. But they waited beautifully!
Empty, empty, empty. (The guy in the shot was waiting for his brother to finish work.)

Most of the time they played at the trainless train table Amtrak thoughtfully provided. Little A. and another family cheerfully contributed an assortment of little vehicles so all the kids could play. It restored my faith in humanity to see all these little kids who didn’t know each other cooperating so they could all have fun. It was A Moment.

Go, preschool communism!
Meanwhile, S. passed the time by practicing her tween-ishness. (At least one—probably lots—more post on that!) I give her mad props, though, for overcoming earlier opportunities for tween-ishness.. When the kids got on the train, they happily unpacked all their toys on the little table. Of course, S.’s favorite Zooble, named Spring, immediately rolled into the crack between the seat and the wall.

Can we get a group “EWWWWWWW!”?

We couldn’t see it or, although we didn’t try TOO hard, touch it. I recommended regrouping and seeing if the porter could find it when he converted the seats to beds. No dice. I recommended regrouping (a fancy word for waiting) until morning. There was mild to moderate pouting, with a chance of slumping and sighing, but it WAS her favorite Zooble. S. gets nothing but praise from me for bouncing back as well as she did.

In the morning, S. took a flashlight (what? you don’t travel with a flashlight?) and a pencil, and FOUND IT HERSELF. It was A Moment.
'Spring' returns to us!
Back to waiting for the train…to unload. Eventually Amtrak did bring our car and we did get on the road. Our drive ran a little long—we waited in more traffic—but the Minions, both Gru’s and mine, saw us through. Finally, we reached a place of hugs, laughter, good food, showers (thank the powers that be!), and lots of comments on how much the kids have grown.

Now, can I Pause them right where they are?

Since we like to leave you in stitches,  here's your rimshot of the day.

S. constantly and graciously deals with comments on how much she looks like me. This was her impromptu response to a recent one:

“I have a joke for you. A girl is walking around wearing really big pants and everyone keeps saying, ‘You have your mom’s eyes’ or ‘You have your mom’s hair.’ And the girl, still wearing the really big pants, says, ‘It’s because I have my mom’s jeans.’”