Tromping Back to Camp

We love the Hallmark characters Hoops & Yoyo, and have for many years. They provided our first family doubled-over-in-front-of-the-computer moment, and our youngest memorized all of the dialogue from their tale of The Runaway Marshmallow (watch them all – you won’t be sorry). But even as we continue to buy Hoops & Yoyo greeting cards it has been a while since our marshmallow moments. Now our older boy is going to camp – sleep away camp – for a long time. We never really thought we would find a camp that would meet his needs and still be camp. It has been a long process to get to this point and I still can’t write about it quite yet except to say that the dialogue from The Runaway Marshmallow is all that stands between me and tears when I think about separating from my boy. We know that it is the right thing; we know that he will love it; we know it will be hard for all of us to not be together as a family for a large part of the summer. And so we make light of it by making all references to camp as “tromping back to camp!” I hope I will be able to write about it in a good way, and if not, well then I’ll be be back in September. The tromping begins next week; wish us luck.

Mother’s Day: Instant Respect!

Any holiday that results in the world being filled with flowers and slightly burnt toast can’t be all that bad. Our mother told me that some of the best days of her life as a mother were when her own children had kids of their own and felt the weight of responsibility that comes with holding a newborn.  She paused for emphasis and raised her hand with a flourish and proclaimed: “Instant respect!!” And she treated all of us like people all the time – no talking down – never really couching her guilt trips (there were many; they can be useful) in a way that diminished motherhood itself.

A feminist who disdained the very word, she understood the power of matriarchy and wielded its grandly. And her belief that children are gifts from God, given to us to teach us about ourselves as part of a the pursuit of the divine was probably her greatest lesson to me. She believed in everyone having a divine purpose and often said that pride was her biggest obstacle to pursuing the path laid out for her. I get that.

Mom said she had to remind herself that she could neither control nor shape the fates of her children (though that really didn’t stop her from trying) but the more powerful thing she said was that her belief in divine providence reminded her that she could neither take credit for our successes nor blame for our mistakes. And while there were times I thought that statement was a cop out, I can see how she thought that when I look at my own children; I don’t know that much more about them today than I learned in the first 24 hours in the hospital after each of them was born. They have all been so much themselves from the very first moment we met, and yes, I factored in the autism. Certainly we must give them all the tools we can to release the full potential they have; to keep them healthy and safe but most of all to help them know and understand the power and meaning of love.  It sounds simple and it’s pretty straightforward until you have that moment as a mother where the greatest love means letting go.

You’re a Pretty Cute Kid but Your Feet Don’t Match

That’s what my Dad used to say to me all the time.  The first time he said it I was very small and absolutely horrified, and I heatedly insisted that my feed DID match.  Then he took my tiny toes in his hands and pointed out that my big toes were on different sides and that if my feet truly matched they would look exactly the same.  Stubborn as I was, I did not like to be teased in this way and for a long time I scowled at him every time he said it.  The older I got it became progressively more annoying until – poof! – it it became endearing, one of many stock phrases he could be counted to toss out in the course of a day. And eventually I started saying it to my own kids, and they find me annoying.   Surprise.

Last Sunday morning it came to mind when my boy padded into my room and slipped into bed with me, taking up the spot usually occupied by his traveling Dad.  As I snoozed on my right side, he lay on his left side playing with his iPod, and he lined up his feet so that the soles of his matched up with the soles of mine.  An excellent case of respecting personal space with me, as I jealously guard the few weekend mornings when I can sleep in.

I used to think more than I should have about the matching feet thing – it took me longer than usual to grasp the concept of symmetry, I guess.  It bothered me when I was little, because I was the youngest and hardly ever in on the joke and thus took everything so literally (case in point: I thought the guerillas who terrorized the Olympic village in 1972 were men in gorilla suits). Sometimes I still miss the cues and can be gullible, which makes me love living with this boy even more because his syntax and receptive language are all over the place – it can be hard to know when he is being silly and when he is earnest.  He relies quite heavily on scripted speech and so some of the mashups that come out are priceless.  A few weeks ago after being rude and subsequently scolded he asked, “Did my popping off cook my goose?”  The latest favorite happened when he got into the car after a long bike ride with a friend:  “Man!  I have a splitting butt ache!!”

Our feet might not match, but I think we understand symmetry.  And, unlike his mother, he has very nice feet.

Sometimes saying I Love You is the best revenge

Everyone has a Dad story, even if it is about not having a Dad.  My Dad stories, like most people’s, I think – run from the bitter to the sublime.  As I hear stories on the radio and read them everywhere about Dads  and whether or not they could tell their children that they loved them, I recall my own parents, and what they said to each other and to us and what they left unspoken.

Years ago I was talking long distance with my mother about navigating my own adolescent relationships as she sat at her desk near the kitchen in our home in St. Louis.  She had taken over the breakfast nook as her office, and it was situated across from the kitchen and around the corner from the  dining room.  Eavesdropping was simple and fairly common because her melodious voice and contagious laughter carried easily into the adjoining rooms.  She also had a tendency to take on the accents or speech patterns of the people she spoke with, which made listening to her talk on the phone highly entertaining.  During this particular conversation she was telling me – quite matter of factly, without rancor – that my father did not like to talk on the phone (I knew this) and that he just wasn’t one of those people who expressed feeling openly – he simply didn’t say I love you – to her or to anyone.  I wasn’t entirely sure of this but was agreeing with her that while not big on introspective, emotive chats it was clear, in his way, that he cared for us.  Within minutes I heard my mother pause as the floor creaked as my father passed on in the way to the kitchen.

“Who’s that?” he asked, wanting to know who she had on the line.  When she said it was me, he said, “Oh, let me talk.”  He got on the phone, chatted with me at notable length and then before handing it back, chirped “Love you!”  Mom didn’t know whether to be insulted or delighted at being so openly contradicted.

That was classic Dad – never wanting to be analyzed or pigeonholed, he was a master of defying expectations, creating delight or disappointment at every turn.  Only now does it occur to me to picture him, very likely hovering just out of sight in the dining room, knowing that she was talking about him and plotting to exact his revenge.  I understand that his expressing his love for me was as much about him letting her know he was privy to her armchair analysis than it was about me.  So much of what we say and leave out depends on who is listening, who is overhearing, and who we can depend upon to love us back, whether they say it or not.

The Essentials

My theory is that most crimes of passion are committed by people suffering from sleep deprivation.  Having just awakened from a nap after two weeks of Christmas vacation with my family, I am sticking to this theory, and it explains why my mother remembers nothing of our early childhood years, why I regret most of what I recall of my own children’s early childhood years, and why old people delight in napping the day away.  All I can say is, I’m sorry and always remember to let sleeping parents lie.  Lay.  Lie.  Whatever.