Camping With Kids: Why It’s Worth It

For the past decade a group of family and close friends have trekked up North each summer into giant redwood territory near Eureka to camp for a few days along the Eel River. When it all started, it was a bunch of young adults, for the most part untethered and able to keep it simple. As the years have passed, many of us have gotten hitched and had kids, which has expanded the group size as well as the packing list!

This year, it took both Backtire and I spending two full days and evenings packing, shopping, and prepping, and it was only that fast because we’ve done this trip before and were working off a pretty well developed packing list. Then there was one day of loading the truck, driving seven hours, and unloading it to make camp and another day reversing that on the way out but with additional time driving because it was horrible-Sunday-everyone-else-is-returning-from-having-fun-too traffic. Plus, at least a full day’s worth of unloading the truck at home, unpacking, doing laundry, cleaning pots and pans, and putting everything away. Although that full “day” was actually spread out across the better part of a week because we were back to work and couldn’t devote much time to it each each day.

So, let’s see… that adds up to five or more days of pre- and post- doings so that we could spend three nights and essentially two full days camping as a family.

And I’m not even counting the mental thinking and planning and listing that went on in the weeks before we started physically packing or the flurry of last-minute email coordination between us and our fellow campers.

And let’s not forget that once we started our brief camping trip we spent a good chunk of each day setting up and tearing down and packing and unpacking something or other for each meal or hike or trip to the river we did. All of which involved more back/shoulder/wrist-straining schlepping than normal because we brought an immobile 3 month old baby and her necessary accoutrements with us.

All told you’ve gotta admit there was a pretty high work to play ratio here! And you know what? It was all worth it! Here’s why:

•Lying on the ground with your 5-year old and looking up to see the tops of giant redwood trees swaying in the wind.

•Waking up to the sound of kids squealing because they found banana slugs crawling all over the coolers.

•Catching tadpoles with our bare hands.

•Hours and hours and hours without a single “I’m bored” as kids busy themselves playing endless imaginary games with sticks, rocks, and leaves.

•Adults and kids together playing “night soccer” with headlamps.

•Learning how to build a fire and then staying up way past your bedtime listening to the guitar and singing together around the campfire.

•Crunching through pine needles on your bike.

•Feeling the current of the river tugging on your legs as you cross it holding Daddy’s hand.

•The whole family snuggled up in the tent together, keeping each other warm.

•Water gun fights with your grandparents in the heat of the afternoon.

•20 people whooping in the woods as they play a crazy game of catch with baggies full of milk, sugar, fruit, ice, and rock salt and then laughing with delight as they enjoy eating the ice cream they just made.

•Making new friends and re-connecting with old ones.

•Sharing responsibilities and taking care of each other, lending and borrowing, helping out, taking turns, sharing a treat.

•Standing with your family in the forest as you leave the empty campground for one last moment before heading home. Hearing only the rustling of leaves as the breeze blows through them. Hugs and kisses and sighs of contentment.


Ramblings on Gender Differences

I was looking at back to school backpacks for kids last night online and you had to click boy or girl before the website would display your backpack choices. At McDonald's you have to tell them boy or girl when you order a Happy Meal so they can give you the correct toy. When grocery shopping with 3 month old Fox wearing a plain white onesie, baby admirers needed to know boy or girl before they proceeded to gush over the baby cuteness. I've always been fascinated by gender differences and cultural roles, took the obligatory Women's Studies course in college, read Gloria Steinham, subscribed to Ms. magazine, and have personally varied between fighting, struggling with, accepting, and embracing gender stereotypes at different times in my life, but I'm even more aware of it and sensitive to it all now that I will personally be charged with raising a boy and a girl.

It irks me that any major retailer, especially toy stores, there are the pink aisles and the blue/camo/black/silver/red/green/grey aisles and nary a toy in between. It even irks me that the boy aisles seem to have a range of colors available, basically every color except pink and purple, and the girl aisles are solely pink and purple.

Things that could be gender neutral, like play food (don't we all eat food?) are shelved in the pink zone sending the clear message to old enough/savvy enough kids, like Turtle, that those must be girl things. It's one thing to set up a preschool classroom with a play kitchen corner, a book corner, a blocks corner, and some art supplies and find that the girls tend to convene in the play kitchen more often and the boys tend to be stuck in the block area most of the day- that's self-segregation and you still will see some cross over. I know Turtle likes to play kitchen and restaurant and house and doctor with the girls and the other boys, just not as much as he likes to build blocks and race cars and play dinosaur attack. But it's another thing to physically separate different kinds of toys and color label them as being the purview of only boys or girls. That kind of extreme genderization of playthings is offensive to me.

Legos? In the boy aisles. Doesn't my daughter need spatial skills and a sense of mastery, too? Let's walk my daughter into the Lego aisle and let her choose a set. Hmmm....do you want a Star Wars attack, sea monster attack, pirates attack, or soldiers attack set? I exaggerate a bit, but the fact is that the building toys are all designed for boys' interests.

When my then 2-year old nephew was going to become a big brother, I went searching for a baby doll that he could have so that when my sister nursed and attended to the new baby, he could have a baby to take care of also. I was hard pressed to find a baby that was not dressed in pink from head to toe with all pink accessories. I guess girls who play with dolls aren't even allowed to have pretend sons, only pretend daughters, let alone pretend gender neutral babies. And boys shouldn't be interested in baby dolls, even though we expect them to somehow grow up to be good, loving, nurturing fathers. I suppose they will practice those skills somehow with their attack Legos?

Backtire walks around the house holding and singing to a baby, changing her diaper, soothing her. He's a man and this is part of his real man's life. But Turtle is already less and less interested in playing with his baby doll because he's heard it through the grapevine that dolls are for girls. The funny thing? Turtle spends a lot of time racing and crashing Hot Wheels and having superheroes rescue good guys from bad guys and not much time taking care of baby doll or stuffed animals. But in real life, his dad is feeding and changing and cleaning and playing with children a lot more often than he is slaying bad guys. So, it seems like girl toys like play kitchens and dolls actually prepare both boys and girls better for a lot of what real life is all about than some of the boy toys do! I'm sure Backtire in his fantasies would rather be racing real cars and probably slaying real bad guys, too, but come to think about it Mommy might rather be doing other more stimulating things than feeding and cleaning up after children, also! Where are the girl toys that help girls with skills other than domestic ones? Pretty much in the boy aisles! Aaargh!

And then there's Storm. You know, the kid whose parents are trying to raise it to be gender neutral and hiding it's sex from all but close family members. I'm all for the sentiments behind the statement they are making in many ways and I sympathize, but come on. Let's get real. Is everyone really walking around calling it "it" because they can't use gender pronouns? Hey, come over and meet my little...sibling. Doesn't... it have such cute chubby thighs? And which bathroom shall it use? Good luck shopping for gender neutral clothing! and bathing suits! and underwear! or anything, for that matter! And have they started a counseling fund so the kid can deal with having been it's parents personal experiment? And why is it okay for it's older siblings and it's parents to have gender and ever other person it meets or characters in every storybook read to it, but not it? How realistic is the experiment when they know the sex, so it's impossible to not subtly bias how they act around it or what purchases they make? And what about the whole peeing standing up or sitting down thing?* I mean isn't the real sex going to come out pretty fast and all of this come crashing down? And what will the point have been? Plus, it seems they are operating on the assumption that our gender-based behaviors are all learned and that's simply not true.

There are very real hard-wired differences between the sexes, physiologically, hormonally, neurologically, that evolved to be there because they made our species successful. There are a lot of learned things on top of that, yes, and the interplay between those two is fascinating and impossible to fully understand and we'll never be able to tease out some of the nuances in terms of what we are born with versus what comes from even very early exposures in our lives. And what's wrong with that? Why aren't we recognizing and acknowledging and celebrating our gender differences instead of trying to squash them? Also, I want to know- when they take Storm to get a Happy Meal, how does that work?

Okay, so clearly I am conflicted myself about all of this. No, I'm not conflicted. I take that back. There are real gender differences and they are okay and even wonderful. But there are also extreme exaggerated gender expectations and stereotypes out there that don't need to be that way and aren't very healthy for us and our kids. Trying to make our kids into Storms is not a good idea, but neither is the pink vs. camo mentality. I'm trying to find a middle ground for my kids. (Pink camo?) They both need to build and cook and role play good guys vs. bad and race and fight and nurture and all of that stuff and to find who they are and to learn about their own gender and the opposite and to understand there's lots of overlap. So, I'll be working on that.

Meanwhile, I have to admit, that the other day I went into a children's clothing store that I've frequented on occasion over the years to buy Turtle clothes. But this time I was there to get something for Fox. I had a totally wild exhilarated kind of wide-eyed feeling as I realized that for the first time in 5 years I was going to cross the aisle into the girls' side of the store. I had never even set foot over there before. It was joyful and kind of overwhelming, both emotionally and literally (as there are way way way more choices of girls' clothes than boys'!) I have loved filling Turtle's drawers with the little bulldozers and aliens and monster trucks clothing and even though I have spent a lifetime eschewing pink flowery girly princess stuff for myself, I now plan to fully embrace and love the flowers and butterflies and ladybugs while I can! Vive la difference!

*Credit to my mom for pointing that one out!


F*&n Update

My boys returned from a bike ride this afternoon and shared the story of the unleashed pitbull who was growling and running toward them and how they had to yell at the dog and, later, the owner. Best part of the telling?

Turtle (gravely): Mommy, the dog was so mean and scary that Daddy had to say fucken.


Out of the Mouths of Babes

A week ago we were at the park with Granny & Grandpa and Turtle decided to bring 73 Hot Wheels (yes, he counted) in a bucket to play with. At one point, I am sitting on a bench nursing Fox and he is behind me racing Hot Wheels in the grass. I can vaguely hear the familiar sound effects and exclamations and constant narration that goes along with major Hot Wheels races, but I'm kind of happily tuning it out and focusing on the birds chirping and the nice breeze. But then the back of my brain realizes that I'm hearing the same phrase repeated over and over out of his mouth and I can't help but tune back in. And what do I hear?

"You're so fucken fast! This car is fucken fast! Fucken fast!"

!!! (sound of me clamping lips shut trying not to laugh out loud) !!!

It was pretty "fucken" hilarious, actually. I was far from horrified and quite amused, especially at the pronunciation, which was very much fuck-EN, as opposed to fuck-ING. It was obvious that Turtle had no idea what he was saying at all and had just picked up the phrase phonetically. I did take a moment to admire his proper use of the adverbial form of the word. And a second moment to decide which one of us parents I should blame this on.

Oh sure, when I told Backtire about it later, he took the easy way out and blamed it on "kids at school", but I'm thinking that the context (racing) and the exact phrase "fucken fast" kind of give it away. I mean, who has all the car magazines at our house? Who checks race scores online all the time? Who introduced Turtle to a racing videogame? Who talks about cars and motorcycles and racing incessantly with his friends? Whose blog moniker, an old nickname, refers to doing wheelies? I rest my case.

Next step- do I pretend I didn't hear it and say nothing? Do I jump up and yell at him for using foul language? Something in between? I couldn't do the yell thing because A. that would make me the biggest "fucken" hypocrite in the world and B. because the bigger of a deal I make of it, the more power I give the word which will only lead to him trying to say it more intentionally in order to push buttons and test limits. And C. I'm just not really a yeller. Not my parenting (or teaching) style.

I seriously contemplated just letting it go. It was the first time I've heard him use the F-word and he wasn't saying it TO anyone, just sort of to himself as he played, and he definitely wasn't using it in a rude way, more of in an enthusiastically descriptive way. And, by the way, thank god the grandparents were out of earshot for this whole thing! (Although they may read the blog. Oh well.)

But then I realized, well, what if he's racing cars at school and says "fucken fast". Then he's gonna get an earful from the preschool teacher and I might have to hear about it, too. So, I called him over and said "Uh, that word you are saying is a bad word."

"What word?"

"That word you've been saying." I didn't even want to say it, because then I'd be too tempted to correct the pronunciation and get into the proper use of the word, its origin, meaning, etc. "You shouldn't say that word. It's rude and mean and it's worse than saying poop." Okay, definitely feeling lame at this point, but not sure how far to go with this. Trying to get across the graveness without giving a whole education on other bad words.

"Is it worse than shit?"

Okay. Clearly the boy already knows something about curse words and their relative ranking.

"Yes, it's worse than shit. It's one of the worst words. And if you say it in front of Granny & Grandpa they are going to think you are really mean and rude and if you say it at school, you are going to-"

-I was about to say you'll have to go to the principal's office, but then realized that it's preschool and there is no principal and I really don't know what the worst consequence is?-

"-you'll have to go to Donna's office." She's the director of the preschool. Not sure if she fulfills the same disciplinary role as a principal? Probably not? He's looking at me confused, like, okay...whatever...why does it matter that I'd have to go to Donna's office? "Well, anyway, you could get in a lot of trouble if you say it at school, so why don't you say something better like 'This car is super duper fast! It's amazingly fast!'? Try that!"

He kind of blows me off and goes back to playing cars. I am left not sure whether I've made an impact or not. And, honestly, I don't care that much. It was half-hearted discipline on my part, mostly just to cover my own ass. I don't really feel like having to talk to Donna when she calls to tell me he's been using foul language. And, of course, I want my son to be respectful and not to use foul language inappropriately and all of that good stuff, but I just can't get all hot and bothered about "bad" words. I've just never gotten it, even when I was a kid. They are just words. And they are great, descriptive, useful words.

And part of being a successful grown up is about learning how to behave in different contexts, not mindlessly following black and white rules. And part of being a successful parent (or teacher) is not laying down rules that can't or won't be consistently followed or enforced. If I had told my high school students no cussing ever or else, then how should I have responded to the girl who was helping me by taking down posters from the bulletin board while her classmates finished a quiz, creating a little pile of thumbtacks next to her as she worked, when she slipped, caught herself with her hands, and thereby drove a thumbtack into her palm prompting her to shout "fuck!" as the pain signal reached her brain? By sending her to the proverbial principal's office? I think not.

By the way, there was a recent scientific study that demonstrated that people who crushed their thumb with a hammer or something equally painful experienced less pain if they were allowed to just curse it out than those who had to say "oh gee golly" or "sugar!" So yelling "fuck!" across a quiet classroom, in this case, was medically beneficial.

When I hear students using foul language inappropriately in the classroom setting, I just remind them that we can all talk however we want with our friends on a Friday night, including me, but that we all have to maintain an air of professionalism in the school setting, which is practice for the future work setting. (At least until you cross the fuck barrier with certain colleagues. After that, I've always found the work setting to be more fun and relaxing.)

So, we'll take each case of cursing as it comes and help Turtle learn when it's okay and when it's not to use certain words. And I'm confident he'll pick it up really...fucken fast.

Free Range Challenge #2

You might remember my dilemma a couple months ago when I finally decided to go to the bathroom alone, leaving my 5-year old in the coffee shop by himself while I did so. Well, this week I was faced with the other side of the coin. We were settling in at the public pool and I had just begun nursing Fox. Turtle's lessons were soon to begin when he realized he needed to pee.

Uh... okay... I'm not going to interrupt nursing an infant to have to carry her all the way across the whole pool area back into the locker room so that we can supervise Turtle peeing. "Can you wait?" I asked him. Nope.*

"Hmmm... Well, all right, how do you feel about going to the bathroom alone?"

"I don't know. You need to come with me."

Clearly, both of us were a little nervous at the prospect. I thought it over some more. He knows his way into the locker room and where the bathroom stalls are and back out to me, no problem. He doesn't need any help with the whole process itself. There is access to the main exit out to the street once he's in the locker room, though. And it's all behind closed doors where I can't see or hear him if he needs help. And there's random other people in there.

But, he could just walk in and go directly to the bathroom quickly and come right back out to me and I could keep my eye on the time. I could remind him not to get distracted doing other things. He's motivated to stay with us and to do his lesson which is about to start. He's not a bolter in general either. So, there's no good reason why he would wander off out of the locker room and into the main office/exit area.

And here we are at a nice safe family friendly public pool. Who is really going to bother him or grab him or anything like that? What's the likelihood? Just about nothing. In fact, anyone seeing him walking into the stall will assume his mom is one of the ladies sitting feet away in the locker room. No one has any reason to believe he is all alone or to "prey" on him.

"OK, look, why don't you walk in there, just go straight to pee, don't do anything else, and come right back as fast as you can. I know how long it takes, so if you are taking too long, I am going to get up and come in there to find you because I'll be worried about you. So, please don't get distracted and stay in there long because then I have to stop feeding Fox and come find you."

Then I proceeded to quiz him on what he would do if someone bothered him. He said he would ignore them. I pushed- but what if they keep bothering you or grab you? (Ugh. I can't believe I even said that, but I felt I had to.) He said he would run away and yell. I reminded him he could also ask a worker for help. All the pool workers/lifeguards/teachers wear recognizable red swimsuits and have clipboards.

He agreed to go on his own and so we commenced his first trip to a public restroom where I wasn't standing right outside the door.

I watched him walk all the way around the pool and up to the locker room doors and then stop, clearly in trepidation. He faltered for a few moments, then turned around and walked all the way back to me. Mission aborted.

"What happened?"

"Mom, I am not allowed to go in the women's by myself without a mom and I don't want to go in the men's. I've never been in the men's before and don't know what it's like."

Agreed. "Sweetie, you need to go in the women's, where we always change our clothes and you know where the bathroom is."

"But they don't let boys in there without a mom. What if they say something to me?"

OK, so I'm worried about his safety and he's worried about breaking the rules and getting in trouble. I convinced him no bathroom police were going to say anything to him at all and he should quickly go in the women's. I can see how this is going to become a whole new issue as he gets older, though, and that doesn't fly anymore. I am going to have to trust him going into the men's room on his own when we are out and about. Sigh.

So he returns to the mission. As soon as I see him disappear through the women's locker room door, I am watching the clock and thinking about how long it takes to walk to the stall, open it, get in, lock it, pull down your bathing suit, do the deed, and reverse all of that. I am thinking ahead already to my options if he takes longer than I think he should. Crap- when should I begin to worry? After 3 minutes? 5? At what point do I get up with the baby and head in there if he hasn't emerged?

As I feel the seconds tick by and am already formulating my emergency plan, he pops right back out the door and starts heading back to me exactly on schedule.

Whew! Another milestone for both of us.

*(This is the part where, okay, I'm totally going to admit it, I did consider briefly whether I should just counsel him to pee in the pool. Seemed like a really easy option and a way out of my dilemma. But I realized he's too old for that. He'll end up telling someone that I told him to do it! OMG then I'll be really embarrassed! So, I went the braver (nobler?) route instead.)


Quarters of Conversation

Two of my most favorite pieces of descriptive writing. Oh, that I could learn to write like this!

"Around the watchers, the city still made its everyday noises. Car horns. Garbage trucks. Ferry whistles. The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled in against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pothole. A flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant. Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alleyways. Sneakers found their sweetspots. The leather of briefcases rubbed against trouserlegs. A few umbrella tips clinked against the pavement. Revolving doors pushed quarters of conversation out into the street."

-Let The Great World Spin, Clum McCann

"There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent."

-Life of Pi, Yann Martel

I think writing like this comes from being able to observe the city or the sea with such focus that these details become apparent and can be recorded. Or can you sit at a desk and just imagine them? And then choosing just the right words- thrum, sighed, touched, sparred, pushed quarters of conversation...whispered, clinked, hissed. I just noticed that these are all verbs, not adjectives. I always thought to be descriptive you had to choose the right adjectives. Hmmm. Does this come naturally to these writers? Or do they have to work at it?


What Should Your X-Year Old Know?

A friend sent this to me and I think it's great. You know all those "What your 5-year old/kindergartener/2nd grader should know" books? Here's the answer to what your kid should know.


Sick of Nesting

I can't stand it anymore. My due date is tomorrow and she still isn't here. If she doesn't come by Tuesday morning, I have to have the dreaded appointment where my doctor & I discuss induction.

My first day of maternity leave was April 4, 12 days ago, not that I'm counting. The first couple of days were relaxing and fun and happily productive. Since then I've gone through multiple roller coaster ups & downs of peacefulness, anxiety, restfulness, restlessness, enjoyment of the spring sunshine and moving at a slow pace, extreme boredom, enjoyment of quality family time, impatience, enjoyment of me time, loneliness...

I've written and finished multiple iterations of to do lists, created projects for myself just to have something to do, dredged up stale tasks that have been avoided for years and taken care of them, and generally driven myself nuts. I'm a person who nests even when I'm not pregnant, anytime there's a spare moment to organize or prepare something, so being pregnant and off of work is a really bad combination for me.

Here's a list of what I've done for the past 12 days and I'm sure it's not even completely exhaustive:

  1. Went to Michael’s to buy scrapbooking stuff
  2. Created 10 scrapbook layouts
  3. Returned an item at Michael’s, browsed around for a long time to replace it
  4. Organized all the ripped out of magazine recipes into recipe notebook
  5. Tried 4 new recipes
  6. Baked banana bread, ate 25%, froze 75%
  7. Stocked up the freezer
  8. Prepared soil in two raised garden beds, stopping every few minutes to catch breath
  9. Planted seeds, installed labels, tomato cages & bean poles in garden beds
  10. Watered the garden beds each day
  11. Rinsed, sorted, and culled all the backyard sand toys, riding toys, trucks & balls, re-organized into bins
  12. Re-arranged backyard furniture, playhouse, slide, & basketball hoop
  13. Had a service demo and remove old shed, along with some other yard junk
  14. Broke down and recycled accumulated cardboard boxes
  15. Cleaned & dried the ice chest
  16. Hung up wind chimes now that the too windy season is over
  17. Installed elbow on outdoor spigot
  18. Threw out broken 25’ coiled hose
  19. Unwound & rinsed spider webs off of 100’ hose, stopping often to catch breath
  20. Installed hose winder to new elbow with new connector hose & seal
  21. Wound 100’ hose into hose winder, stopping every few turns to catch breath
  22. Realized 100’ hose leaked where connected to winder and is too heavy, annoying to actually practically use on a daily basis
  23. *Replaced 100’ hose with new 50’ hose on hose winder
  24. Realized really never liked hose winder at all
  25. *Purchased basket to wind hose into instead
  26. Washed all the remaining unwashed baby clothes
  27. *Installed curtain rod and curtain in nursery
  28. Sat in nursery in contemplation
  29. Washed & changed all the bed linens
  30. Stocked up on post-partum supplies
  31. Moved alarm clock to Backtire’s side of the bed since I’m not waking up for work anymore
  32. Moved alarm clock back to my side to time contractions one night
  33. Got excited & nervous after 2 hours of 10 min apart contractions
  34. Called doula & brother-in-law to put them on alert
  35. Kept timing contractions that went on every 10 min for 8 hours, but then just stopped
  36. Texted doula that nothing ended up happening
  37. Got really bummed out
  38. Organized Turtle’s bookshelves, stopping just short of using the Dewey Decimal system
  39. Went through Turtle’s dresser and closet, pulling out outgrown clothes, putting out the next size up
  40. Did near daily small loads of laundry to just “stay on top of it”
  41. Went through 4 filing cabinet drawers, thinning, re-organizing, re-labeling, and shredding
  42. Created a rock & mineral kit with accompanying explanatory book for Turtle’s preschool classroom, delivered it & used it with the kids
  43. Checked and kept up with work email daily
  44. Filled out work paperwork
  45. Renewed my teaching credential
  46. Checked and kept up with personal email daily
  47. Wiped the hard drive of, found the accessories to, posted on craigslist, & met with buyer to sell old laptop
  48. Went through computer accessory box, culled, set aside e-waste
  49. Went on near daily walks to Starbucks to drink, eat, read, and kill time
  50. Took Turtle to the park for 5 hours
  51. Took Turtle out to breakfast twice
  52. Met friend from work for lunch date
  53. Went on a lunch date with my mom
  54. Toured the house for sale on my street
  55. Dyed my hair
  56. Drove to distant mall to exchange one of Turtle’s birthday gifts
  57. Used gift certificate to order two pairs of shoes online
  58. Received shoes, tried them on, called for return authorization for one pair
  59. Packaged up one pair of shoes, went to UPS store to ship back to shoe store
  60. Shipped birthday present to my brother
  61. Set up, synced, and started learning how to use my new iPad2
  62. Organized a bunch of files on work computer
  63. Organized a bunch of files on home computer
  64. Wrote & mailed a big pile of thank you notes
  65. Supervised & battled with Turtle over writing & mailing one thank you note per day for his birthday gifts
  66. Went through both bookshelves, re-organized books, pulled out ones to return or lend to people or give away
  67. Found over 5 year old disposable camera and dropped off to be developed
  68. Superglued broken toy
  69. Read Pink Brain, Blue Brain
  70. Read Eat, Pray, Love
  71. Read Pope Joan
  72. Read Free Range Kids
  73. Read every current magazine in the house
  74. Organized old National Geographics into piles for each of the last 4 years, started going back and reading the ones I never read
  75. Read a bunch of blogs
  76. Read chapters and chapters and chapters of The Borrowers, Ralph & The Motorcycle, The Trumpet of the Swan, etc. to Turtle
  77. Watched about 20 TED talks
  78. Watched Away We Go
  79. Watched The Social Network
  80. Took in a matinee of The King’s Speech
  81. Called my mom
  82. Called my sister
  83. Called my friends
  84. Texted my friends
(*To be fair, Backtire actually did these 3 tasks. But I led the charge.)

What's left? Perhaps I'll have to go gather some twigs, grass, and mud and start building an actual nest.

If you see something like this in my front yard, you'll know I've gone overdue...

(If you want to see more, check out the artist, Patrick Dougherty.)


Free Range Challenge

One morning last week Turtle and I went on a date to Starbucks where we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast over the newspaper together. After some time, I needed to go to the bathroom and was confronted with a decision that was a new one for me to make as a parent. A year ago, no question, I would have to bring him to the bathroom with me, hoping the staff didn't clear away our table since we weren't done yet. But there he was, happily examining the weather map and right in the middle of eating, and it seemed silly to make my 5 year old interrupt himself and come into the restroom with me just to spectate.

It took me a couple of minutes to think on the situation and decide how to handle it. The thoughts running through my head? We'll come back to that in a moment.

I said to him, "I need to go to the bathroom." He didn't even look up as he shrugged and replied "okay" and kept reading. I said, "What will you do if a stranger talks to you?" He didn't know. I clarified, "It's okay if someone talks to you, but I mean what if a stranger is bothering you." He calmly said, "I'll come to the bathroom and get you." Pretty logical. "Ok, yeah, you come and say 'Mom! Mom!' really loud, okay?" It felt silly to take the conversation any further.
I went to the bathroom alone, felt like I needed to be kind of quick about it, and of course returned to the table to find absolutely nothing amiss in the world. No one had missed me. No one had even noticed I got up. Everyone was still busy reading or talking or working on their laptops. It was all just not a big deal.

But it was a kind of new milestone for Turtle & I. Well, at least me.

A couple of nights ago, I got the fortunate opportunity to see Lenore Skenazy speak at a local venue. She's the author of Free Range Kids: How to Raise Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry). I've been a big fan of her blog for several years now. If you aren't familiar with the concept of raising free range children, please check out her blog and book, but the basic point is that over the generations for many silly and unjustifiable reasons we have somehow clamped down on the freedoms and independence that children used to enjoy and grow from.

We used to roam the neighborhood unsupervised all day and now kids aren't allowed in their own front yard without a parent present. We used to walk to school, or at least the bus stop, facing the weather, bullies, and stray dogs, but now kids are protected by SUVs driveway to driveway in the nice, safe, suburban neighborhoods that their parents bought homes in because they were nice, safe, suburban neighborhoods. You get the idea.

And the fall out from this? Parents and kids are more and more scared of the real world. I end up with high school students in my classroom who are afraid to get dirty, have never changed a light bulb, cooked a meal, or done their own laundry, and who expect to get the A and the trophy and be kept safe and comfortable at all times. If they forget their lunch, a text goes out and their parents leave work to bring lunch to school immediately. There is no opportunity to learn from fending for one's self. There is no preparation for living on one's own. And the kids are scared to try new things, extend themselves to meet new people, to make mistakes, and to explore the world on their own.

And don't even get me started on everyone staying indoors and interacting with the virtual world, ruthlessly killing every potential germ and avoiding contact with outdoor soil, air, water, plants, and animals and how that connects to childhood obesity, the increase in allergies and asthma, and even depression...

So, Lenore's talk was preaching to the choir for me, but reaffirmed and reinspired me to try to raise my children as free range as possible. Which, when it comes down to it, means as free range as I can get myself comfortable with. She made a lot of great points and told some wonderful anecdotes and shared some enlightening statistics and you'll have to go see her yourself or read her stuff to hear all of those, but one of the big ones that stuck with me was that it's really about being very conscious as a parent to recognize and identify your own fears and then work through them.


So what was running through my head before I took the leap to take myself to the bathroom alone at Starbucks? The worst case scenario, of course. What's the worst thing that could happen if I left my son unattended? That I'd emerge from the bathroom to find him gone. And then never live another day without regretting my foolish, selfish decision to go to the bathroom alone.

I questioned myself as to whether I'd adequately prepared him for being alone in situations like this. We really haven't talked about "stranger danger". Mostly because it's almost never an issue since he's lived the first 5 years of his life in constant supervision from loving family, friends, and teachers. But also because I haven't wanted to instill irrational fears in him and think the stranger danger thing is overblown. (As Lenore puts it to her son, "you can talk to strangers, you just can't ever go off with them". Much more reasonable!)

I considered whether because I haven't drilled him on stranger danger, does that mean he is likely to happily accompany a stranger who tries to take him out of a Starbucks? I somehow couldn't picture Turtle, who often reacts with words, whines, and cries to any little slight or interruption of his focus and who can put up a good fight just to refuse to greet or thank a relative, agreeing to just leave the restaurant with a stranger. I felt like he'd end up causing some sort of a scene that would get my attention or that of others and would slow down the potential kidnapper that only exists in my anxiety filled brain.

I looked around and saw all the people filling the cafe who had seen us come in and sit down together and some who would notice me get up and go to the bathroom. I thought about the couple of employees who see us there regularly and know that he belongs to me.

I thought about how stupid it was for me to actually think that some random kidnapper would be in the Starbucks on the corner of my nice, safe, suburban neighborhood just waiting for a moment like this for me to go to the bathroom so he could snatch my kid amongst a crowd of witnesses.

(One of the stats that Lenore shared in her talk was that if you wanted your kid to be kidnapped, you'd have to leave them outside for 650,000 years unsupervised in order for that to be statistically likely to happen.)

I thought ahead to the many years in the future in which Turtle would be out in the world without me around to keep an eye on him and how I'll never be able to control those situations and there will always be some element of risk to him that I can't do anything about. And how if I let exaggerated fears and worries drive my decision-making, I'll be exactly the kind of parent I don't want to be, stifling his development and confidence and chances for success when he leaves the nest.

And I went and peed alone.


Lenore talked about a 5th grade teacher who assigned her class to do a free range project, in which each child chose to take on a new challenge that they were probably ready for but hadn't tried until then or maybe hadn't been allowed or encouraged to do on their own. One kid learned to cook eggs on the stovetop. Another walked to her local grocery store alone and bought all the ingredients to bake her own cake. One walked his little sister to soccer practice and watched her by himself.

I love the idea of challenging children to come up with their own free range project! And, if your kids are younger like mine, coming up with some ideas for them that you feel it's time for them to try. For example, I think Turtle can start learning some of the basics of cooking at the stovetop with our supervision. And when the weather warms up and the days get longer, he'll be allowed to play out front more and more and farther and farther down the street without us out there with him the whole time.

I love even more the idea of challenging ourselves to face our own fears and coming up with free range parent projects that we realize it's probably time to try...

... like taking a solo trip to the Starbucks bathroom.


So, what free range projects is your family ready for?


Turning 40

Last night I greeted Backtire and Turtle as they climbed out of the car to say "Happy Birthday" to me and give me hugs. I thanked Backtire for the card and gift he had left for me to find that morning. Turtle's bottom lip started to quiver as his eyes got sad and he said "but I want to get you a present for your birthday." Tears began...

Oh no!

We had both failed to make a point to ensure that Backtire helped Turtle select a gift and prepare it for my birthday in advance. I felt so bad! The thought had crossed my mind a few days ago that he's old enough to get how birthdays work now and to want to be a part of preparing gifts for someone, as we've done so for his friends', cousins, and great-grandfather's birthday parties over the past months. But it's been a year since Mommy & Daddy had a birthday and we just didn't think it through as to how to include a 5-year old in that. Plus, we've all been so busy and exhausted and there wasn't really a plan to do anything special on a Tuesday night for my birthday. We're having a larger extended family dinner on Saturday. So, it just wasn't on our minds.

I hugged Turtle and told him that there was only one present I really wanted from him and that was a hug and a kiss. He smiled and gave me those, but then burst back into big tears saying "I know, but I want to give you a real present and wrap the present and give it to you on your birthday." I offered that my party wasn't until Saturday so he still had time to do that, but he wanted to give it to me on my real birthday. He cried frustrated that "I need help getting a present, I don't know how to buy one myself!"

We were about to go out to dinner and everyone was already starving, which wasn't helping us out of the meltdown, so I offered that Daddy could help him figure out how to get a present tonight after dinner if he wanted. He suddenly straightened up and got serious and said "Well, I need to go to Target" and asked me how late they were open. Then, "but I don't know if they have what I want to get."

"Well, Dad will know- talk to him about it. He'll help you."

"He doesn't know! Now I have to give it away!" Crumpling into my arms.

"No, you don't. He'll know. Ask him."

"Well, he doesn't know if they have grown up books at Target!"

"They do. He can help you with that."

"Now I gave it away!" Huge, more frustrated cries.

"No, you didn't, because I don't know which book you'll pick."

"But I don't know any of the names of the grown up books!" More agonized crying.

"Daddy can help you with that. You guys can go after dinner and he'll show you which ones I like."

Eventually, he calmed down enough for us to make it into the car and head to dinner.

I don't want the focus of birthdays to be on the idea that we get stuff. But I completely understood where he was coming from, too, in being so upset, because getting presents is one of the exciting things about a birthday and he saw how enthusiastically I had just thanked Daddy for his gift to me and felt left out of being able to make me feel that way, also.

And I felt so crappy and sad about all of this because it is really our responsibility to help him be able to give someone a gift if he wants to. He's not going to check his calendar and remember a birthday is coming and make time to create something or find a way to go buy something on his own. And he expressed all of that to us- that he couldn't get to the store or even know which book to pick without our help.

And I felt heart-warmed that he had such a desire to get me a gift and that he suddenly came up with the idea of a grown up book, which is a lovely perfect idea as a gift for me and makes me happy that he recognizes our shared love of reading and books and that I would enjoy a grown up book just for me.

So, that is how I found myself on my 40th birthday sitting in the passenger seat of the car in the rain in the parking lot of Target past bed-time with Backtire and Turtle inside buying me a surprise grown up book, frantically texting back and forth to Backtire in an effort to help him select a good book for me. I was trying in vain to remember what popular bestseller type book Target might have that I would want or names of authors that I like in general, but which books of theirs I've already read, all without being able to be in there and see the bookshelves and he was texting me possible titles for approval. We finally settled upon Eat, Pray, Love. Whew! All the while, Turtle was oblivious to this behind-the-scenes choreography of my gift selection.

They emerged from the store, one weary and one dimpled with excitement holding a Target plastic bag and saying "we got your surprise!" After we got home, I was banished to the back of the house while the gift was carefully wrapped and the secret bonus gift of my favorite ice cream was put in the freezer. Then right before I was to open the gift, a relative called to wish me a happy birthday.

Finally, much past 9 pm, the moment arrived and Turtle excitedly presented me with my beautifully wrapped gift. I opened it and exclaimed that I had been wanting to read this book and how did he know?! And thank you so much for getting me a book because I love to read and it makes me really happy! and hugs and kisses!

And he was smiling from ear to ear.

And that was the real gift.