Archives for category: family

We took the kids camping this summer. I haven’t done much camping in my adult life due to my inability to develop a talent for sleeping on the ground. And it is a talent, I can only assume, given that other camping people don’t seem to end up sleeping in puddles at 3 a.m. or have boulders rise up out of the ground to stab them in the shoulder, despite the tent area being a smooth sea of cushy grass at set-up time. Clearly, there is some sort of genetically-linked gift (strategically placed fat pockets?) that allow some people (the power of slight, unconscious levitation?) to sleep comfortably on the ground (bones that rubberize after dark? Internalized water repelling capabilities?). I don’t have that gift.

Despite this, when I think of my childhood, the times spent crammed into a tiny camper, eating Dinty Moore beef stew and roasting marshmallows, take up a surprising amount of memory space considering we only went for a week or two per year. Sometimes we took an old Army tent instead of the camper, and I can bring to mind the exact smell of that damp canvas, the ring of the metal poles as they clanked together in their bag, the feel of grit under my sleeping bag.

In contrast, I remember nothing about my entire second grade year. Not a thing. It’s a complete blur.

Anyway, given the importance that camping memories have for me, it was clear that I would need to find a way to take my kids off into the wild. And that way would have to keep me off the ground. And because we still have a half-built house, that way would have to be justifiably cheap. These conditions puzzled us for a while, but last fall some friends were selling their pop-up camper. Have you experienced the wonder of the pop-up? It’s got the scrappiness of a tent…but with beds. Beds that are a good five feet off the ground. My god, could anything be more perfect? Needless to say, we snapped that up and last weekend, we finally got around to taking it out.

Like other events on the child-adult experience divide (*cough* Christmas *cough*), once you cross to the other side you suddenly realize that things don’t just…happen like they did when you were kid. You don’t just “go camping” like I remembered. Before the camping part there is the buying and the cleaning and the packing and the sorting and the winnowing and reminding and the reserving and the panicking and the frantic searching and the testing and the hooking up and the driving and the unpacking and the…well. You probably get the point. It wasn’t how I remembered it.

Except for the part where “I just need to hook up the trailer. It will only take a minute” turns into an hour of sweating, swearing, debating, cajoling, wrestling, banging, finally connecting, and “Oh, hell, the lights don’t work. What should we do? Just drive carefully?” That part was EXACTLY how I remember it.

Other things were how I remembered them, as well. We went to Cobscook Bay State Park, which I tented in once, many moons ago, with Michael before we were married. (I know it must have been before we were married, because I sure wouldn’t have volunteered to sleep in a tent AFTER we were married.) My mother insists we went there when I was a kid, too, but I have no memory of that. In truth, I probably do have memories of it, but it’s just blurred into all the other state parks we’d camped in through the years. When we arrived, it was like a sudden time warp back to my childhood. Same pine needles, same pit toilets, same initials carved into the picnic table shelters, same state park brown paint slapped on every wooden surface. These state parks. They never change. They exist outside of time. They are stable and eternal. They are perfect.

It was a successful trip, but not perfect. We went fishing. We traipsed around back roads. We foraged some of our food–clams, mushrooms, berries, fish.  We washed dishes outside. The kids seem to fight more than I remember fighting with my sisters (SHUT UP, MOM), Sam got sick and didn’t sleep well, and I had to take Annabel on a middle-of-the-night run to the pit toilets where I heard something large breathe right next to me. It poured torrentially our first night and, while the camper didn’t leak, that unpleasant, musty dampness hung on.But I didn’t mind, what with being five feet off the ground.

On the morning we left I spent some time snuggled with Annabel on her bunk, looking out at the carpet of pine needles to the ocean beyond. “I really like this, Mom,” she said. “Do we really need to go? Can we do it again?”

Yep. We can.

camping

As you may remember (or maybe not; it’s been a while), my relationship with hiking has been a mixed bag since I had children. While the image of scaling mountains with a toddler strapped on your back seems very wholesome and appealing (to me anyway), in reality it, well. It looks more like this (see 2011).

But good news! Last year, we went hiking. A lot. We signed up for a local hiking challenge that required 12 hikes over the course of the summer and, whether it was the chance to compete for something or whether they were actually big enough to like hiking, we did it. (This one. I recommend it, local folks. It’s fun.) The kids already have started asking about the challenge again this year, AND I’ve taken them on one successful hike this season independently, so I figure this heady level of success makes me an expert on children’s hiking. Please, let me share my knowledge with you. No one else cares.

1) Harder, not longer. The worst, whiniest hikes were the ones that were gentle meanders because those? Were boring. Steps so steep they required stabilizing iron rungs? Yes. Borderline rock climbing? Yes. Vertical descents made of nightmares and maternal heart attacks? Yes. Long slow switchbacks that allow you to breathe while they give you a chance to take in the view and enjoy the day? OH GOD THIS IS SOOO HAAAARD. I’M BOOORRRRED. ARE WE DOOONE YEEEET? I’M HUUUUNGRRRRYY. So my advice is to pick your mountain, find the shortest, most brutal way to the top, and go for it. Your quads may not thank you, but your sanity will.

2) Talk some trash. After you’ve selected your trail of torture, make you mention to your children that you’re pretty sure they can’t handle it. Are they feeling strong enough? Really? This is going to be really hard. Are their muscles big enough? Really? Can you show me? Hmmm….I don’t know. Maybe we should pick another trail, this one might be too hard… and on and on. If your children have even the tiniest bit of the competitive spirit that mine do, they will eat this up with a spoon and throw it back in classic I’LL SHOW YOU style. (We are a completely functional family, I swear.)

3) Don’t make them carry anything. This runs contrary to my usually rock solid parenting rule of Ye Shalt Carry Thine Own Crap. You know those parents carrying their kids’ backpacks into school? Yeah. That’s not me. You want it, you carry it. Momma ain’t no pack mule. But…in this case, it works better to leave them backpack-free. This makes it easier for them to scamper through the woods without getting their backpack caught on trees and also (critical when you are climbing rock walls, see #1) helps keep their center of balance where they expect it to be.  It also prevents them from stopping every 13 seconds to drink from their fun new water bottle. Which reminds me…

4) Each kid gets their own water bottle. Obvious, I know, but something you may ponder skipping once you realize you are going to be carrying all that water. Don’t. To save on weight, sometimes if it’s a short hike I don’t bring a separate bottle for me and just drink alternately from theirs (sidenote: I am not a germaphobe). They don’t at all mind sharing with me or Michael but with each other? Oh ho ho. No.

5) Make a game of finding trail markers. Obviously, if you are taking small children in the woods, staying on the trail is a minor concern. While not getting lost is the number one reason why this is important, we also talk about the lesser reasons: to avoid stepping on plants, so we don’t scare or hurt animals, so we don’t accidentally make a new trail to confuse people, etc. Anyway, we find this easier to do if they think “finding the blue marks” is some great scavenger hunt created just for them. Feel free to use some feigned idiocy around this concept during low points, too. “Oh, you bumped your knee? I’m sorry. Hey, which way are we supposed to go? Do you see a blue mark? I can’t find it. Oh silly me! It was right there. Let’s go.”

6) Keep band-aids in your bag. One hike last year was pretty much at the kids’ maximum ability. Covering 500 or so vertical feet in two miles round trip, it is a trail that most adults consider pretty moderate, but it is challenging for those with shorter legs. By the time we were coming down the mountain both kids were pooped and, as a result, careless. They both had minor spills that resulted in slightly bloody scrapes. Notice my wording there? “Minor,” “slightly,” and “scrapes”? Apparently it didn’t feel that way to the overtired sufferers of these wounds, who howled like they had lost one of their smaller appendages. In the midst of the fracas we discovered that we forgot to bring band-aids. Cue a whole new round of woebegone wailing. Everyone got over their boo-boos within five minutes but the scarring left by our lack of preparedness lives on. From then on both kids checked before every hike to make sure we had band-aids and that was the very first thing Annabel asked this year when I pulled out the pack. “Did you check to see if there are band-aids in there? Make sure you pack band-aids!” So. Band-aids. Bring them. Also, learn to say “It’s just a little blood. You’re fine” in a totally nonchalant way.

7) Bring a friend. Most commonly uttered refrain when hiking with my children: “Keep going, guys! Good job! Not much further now!” Most commonly uttered refrain when hiking with my children and a friend of my children: “Wait up, guys! I said hold up! Fine, if you can’t wait for me than at least make sure your brother doesn’t run off the mountain, okay? Hello? FIND THE BLUE MARKS!”

8) Put chocolate in the trail mix. Trust me.

About a month ago we made our annual pilgrimage to Florida. This post isn’t about that trip, which was fine, but not our best vacation ever.  We did our usual eating of fried foods, drinking of Cuban coffee, and letting our children play with alligators.

5 859936_4982036784500_814867514_o
See? Not Maine.

This trip was not the best for a few reasons, not least because Michael developed an odd rash the day before we left. We pondered it for a bit, but as he didn’t seem in immanent danger of dying and we had packing to do, we ignored it and went on our merry way.

And merry it was, until the next day when we realized the rash was spreading and that it was becoming increasingly painful. All the image searching of rashes that we could do (and, please, don’t search rash images unless you really, really have to) seemed to suggest that it was shingles.  But it couldn’t be shingles because Michael’s never had chicken pox. So we searched and searched and finally he showed the rash to his mother.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “That’s shingles.”

“But I’ve never had chicken pox,” he said.

“Sure you did,” she answered. “You had it the same time everyone else did but you only got two or three spots.”

And just like that, we learned that not only had Michael had the chicken pox after all, rendering moot years of discussions about how we’d handle chicken pox in our kids, but he also had shingles, a disease generally limited to the elderly and the infirm.

Now, shingles, for those who have not had a reason to extensively research it, are caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.  After you have the pox, the virus stays in your body, hanging out in the nervous system until a weakened immune system allows the virus to gain a foothold.  At that point, the virus travels along your nerves until it reaches the skin, where it causes a rash.  This sounds creepy and painful, and it is, and it pretty much ruined Michael’s vacation. It didn’t do a whole lot for the rest of us, either, as we tried to accommodate a downed member of the family.

Everything we read suggested that it was possible to catch the chicken pox from someone with shingles, but it was pretty rare.  For transmission to take place, a non-immune person essentially has to come in direct contact with the rash.

“So just don’t rub the children’s faces on your oozing sores and it should be fine,” I said, looking up from my father-in-law’s computer.

“Got it,” Michael said.  And he kept his shirt on and washed his clothes separately and that was that . Or so we assumed.

Because we are dumb.

**************************

About a week after we returned home from Florida, I found myself in the bathroom getting the kids ready for bath. I pulled Annabel’s dress off and immediately noticed three small, red dots on her stomach.

“Huh,” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked, curious but not scared.

“I don’t know, but it looks like it may be the chicken pox.”

“COOL!” she yelled. “I have the chicken pox!”

I was less enthused.

The next day I took her increasingly spotty self to see the doctor, which I had to do in order to make sure that her immunization records showed that she’d had the disease.

“Yup,” he said out in the parking lot where he came to look at her, so we didn’t infect everyone else. “That sure is chicken pox. Do you know where she contracted it from?”

“Well,” I said. “Her dad had shingles.”

“Really?” he said. “When did he have them?”

“He still does, a bit.”

“And you don’t know anyone else who had chicken pox?”

“Nope.”

“Really?”

“No.”

“Wow,” he said. “That’s a pretty compelling case. But, honestly, the chance of getting chicken pox from shingles is so rare it is practically theoretical. This is amazing!”

I, again, was less enthused.

Because I believe in giving full credit where credit is due, I need to tell you that Annabel really was a superb chicken pox patient.  She rarely complained, she tolerated quarantine even when it required her to sit endlessly in the car while I ran errands, and she was generally excellent company. But by the of the mandated six-day sequester, she was healed up and quite ready to go back to preschool.

I packed her up, sent her on her way, and assumed it was over.

Because I am dumb.

**********************************

You may wonder why I was so casual about the whole thing considering that I have another child in the house.  The reason is this: Sam had received the chicken pox vaccine.  We had intended for neither kid to get it until they started school, believing that natural immunity had a slight edge over vaccine immunity during the course of a lifetime (though we went back and forth on this a lot especially considering–remember?–we thought Michael had never had the chicken pox).  But we learned when reviewing Sam’s vaccination records at his three-year check-up that somewhere along the way he’d gotten the shot.

We didn’t really mind either way, and, frankly, by the end of Annabel’s bout with the pox I was tired of calamine lotion, hideously behind at work, and pretty much done with the varicella zoster virus altogether.  Plus, I was feeling pretty lucky that Annabel’s case was as moderate as it was and I wasn’t really looking to roll the dice a second time.

But, hey! Guess what! A week after Annabel went back to preschool I was pulling Sam’s shirt off for bath (seeing a pattern?) when I noticed tell-tale red spots all over his stomach and back.

“Look!” Annabel yelled gleefully, “You have chicken pox, too!”

So I hauled him to the doctor the next day, which happened to be yesterday.

“Sure does look like the chicken pox,” the Friday doctor said. “I don’t see this much anymore, honestly, what with the vaccine.”

“But he got the vaccine.”

“Right. We tend to see that cases with the vaccine are much milder. Is his milder than his sister’s was?”

“No, it’s worse.”

“Really? But he has fewer spots?”

“No, he has more.”

“Interesting. It looks like the vaccine didn’t help much here.”

“You think?”

“This really is unusual. Believe me.” And I believe her.

Because I am dumb.

********************

To recap:

My 37-year-old, generally healthy husband developed a illness usually limited to the elderly and the infirm from a childhood disease he never knew he had.

He then gave this disease to our daughter in a manner of transmission considered so unusual that it is “practically theoretical.”

Our daughter then gave the disease to our son, despite his being vaccinated against it with a vaccine considered around 90% effective.

When I was at the doctor with Annabel, he seemed oddly pleased with her contraction of the pox. “The thing is,” he said, “she will now have a 99% chance of being immune from this for life. That’s actually really good.”

I had the chicken pox when I was a kid. I don’t remember having it, but I definitely did.  I’ve never in my life worried about getting it a second time. But right now? I’m looking at how percentages are running for us and I’m thinking, boy, I am basically guaranteed to end up in that 1%, aren’t I?

A few friends who have followed this saga have mentioned that I should buy a lottery ticket. It seems to me that the luck we’re running is actually the exact opposite of what is needed to win the lottery. What would happen if I went to buy a lottery ticket is that I would somehow bump into the person behind me, causing them to slip and fall and sustain tremendous injury. They would then sue me for everything I have, including my family, who I would be forced to sell for cash, and I would end up destitute, penniless, alone, and covered in the first-ever-known simultaneous case of chicken pox and shingles.

So buying a lottery ticket doesn’t seem like the right move.

But I might do it anyway.

Because I really am that dumb.

We just got back from our annual trip to Florida. I know this because I’m fielding a lot of jokey comments about my tan, or lack thereof. Just for the record, I’ll have you know that I returned after ten days in the sun a whole quarter-step closer to beige than I was when I left. So there, snide people with actual pigment in their skin. So there.

I think I’ve mentioned before that Florida and I don’t have much in common. We try to stay longer than a week when we go, mostly because I spend the first three days all tensed up and cranky because everything moves so slowly, oh my god, get it together Florida. But I’ve learned through the years to loosen up about the Sunshine State’s meandering chaos, which I now understand is a human being’s natural response to 90 degrees and 130 percent humidity. By day four I just kind of sink into a heat-induced daze and accept whatever comes my way, be that fried fish sandwiches the size of my head, eighty-year-old women in bikinis, or alligators swimming below my children.

Sure, it looks alarming but whatever, man. It’s just Florida.

Someone go get me another fried fish sandwich.

I love those things.

It’s been a surprisingly warm winter. Just the other Sunday we had our lunch at the picnic table. A picnic lunch in January? Unbelievable.

But, yes, a picnic lunch it was.  That’s how warm it has been.

As a result, I haven’t been able to wear the pants very much this year, just twice so far, actually.  They are so thick and heavy that I can only save them for the coldest days.  It’s getting colder again, so I have hopes to pull them out again. But I wear them when I can because they are warm, comfortable and my dad’s.

That’s weird, isn’t it?  For a 36-year-old woman to wear a pair of her dead father’s old pants?

I suppose it is.

Yes, I suppose it is.

*********************************

My dad (“Ralph,” he’d tell people. “My name is Ralph. You know, like everyone’s dog on television? Yeah, Ralph.”) joined the Navy when he was 17 years old.  A November baby, he was always one of the youngest in his class and he graduated from high school five months shy of his eighteenth birthday.  I’m not sure how being younger affected his school days, but it worked in his favor in the Navy.  As a result of his below-18 enlistment, he only had to serve three years instead of the usual four.  He was happy about that in later years.  He thought that was a good deal.  I don’t think he loved being in the Navy.

Why the Navy, anyway? He was from the western slope of Colorado. He loved fishing, camping, and walks in the woods.  He liked horses and wide open spaces.  My whole life I don’t think I saw him in a boat bigger than a canoe.  He liked to be alone.  Why in the world would he be drawn to the Navy, right after the close of the Korean War?  Why would such a man commit to cloistering himself on a ship, in close quarters, with hundreds of other men?

I don’t know why.  Like most things having to do with his Navy time, like most things having to do with his life, my dad didn’t have much to say about it.  It just was.  It was a thing he did and by the time I came along he was doing something else and he didn’t really see the need to tell me much about it.  Why didn’t I stop bothering him and go weed the tomatoes?

*****************

A while ago my sister went to my grandmother’s house and brought back a stack of letters my dad had written during his time in the Navy. She spent hours transcribing his illegible lefty handwriting.  They are sweet, straightforward letters, practical to a fault.  Blankets are cheap here, can I buy you some?  I have to go see the dentist; they say I’ll need that tooth pulled.  Do you have some money to spare? I hate to borrow it but I’m in a bind.  I’m bored; didn’t make it to the show.  Tell the folks I’ll try to write soon.

He ended up as a mechanic on an aircraft carrier.  That’s not a surprise.  He was handy.  He could fix anything.  “I scored the next to highest score in mech,” he wrote from boot camp. “I hope I can get in a school for mech.” He did.  By 1955 he was in charge of a plane.  He didn’t want to be; too much responsibility.

He went to Japan.  The boy from Colorado was in Japan and all he had to say about it was that the way they took their shoes off sure did help keep their houses clean.  He went to Hong Kong, too. It was crowded. What else, Ralph? What else about Japan?  What else about Hong Kong? Isn’t any of it interesting to you, Ralph?

For god’s sake, man. Why the Navy?

We’ll never know.

**************************

I have more than this single pair of zip-front pants, of course.  I have his full navy uniform: the button-up pants, two wool sailor shirts, the seabag.  No coat, though, I think my sister has that. She absconded with it in high school, when a vintage Navy peacoat was just the thing to go with your combat boots.  I was terribly jealous that she got to it first.  The rest of the uniform was mostly forgotten about, until one day when we all dug it out and I put it on as a joke.  It all fit me perfectly, this uniform intended for a 17-year-old boy.  It still does, mostly.  The button pants and shirts are tucked away in the seabag in the attic.  The regular pants hang in my closet.

They are, even after 50 plus years, the warmest pants I’ve ever seen.  The wool is dense and a bit stiff.  In the days before fleece and Gore-Tex, wool was all they had to withstand storms at sea.  This stuff can withstand.  Once, for kicks, I put them on and went for a walk when it was -20 degrees.  I was warm.  I was plenty warm.

His name and number are stenciled on the inside in white.  He scrawled his initials on the tag in the back, too.  At one point he repaired part of the fly by stapling it.  The staples are still there.  They make me laugh, thinking about teenage Ralph stapling his pants back together.

I love those pants.

**************************

I only ever got one semi-full story from my dad about the Navy. He told me once, apropos of nothing that I can remember, about how much he loved being on the aircraft carrier.  In particular, he liked going to the back of the ship.  He would hang out at the stern and watch the wake from the engines stretching off into the distance.  Back there, he was surrounded by nothing.

Once in a while a plane would take off.  He would watch it race down the length of the ship and launch, dropping suddenly down below view as it left the ship, and then climbing up, up, up into the sky.  “That was really neat,” he told teenaged me about teenaged him.  “I really liked watching that.”

I love that image of young Colorado-raised Ralph, sitting on a random crate in his stapled pants, smoking cigarettes and watching planes take off from a ship.  I love that image because even packed in tight with hundreds of other men off the shore of Japan, he found a way to be alone.  I love that image because it sounds like something I would have done.

Some people have family heirlooms, ancestral estates, and elaborate family histories.  They have gravy boats with pedigrees and stories about Great-Aunt Victoria’s scandalous affair with the count.

I have a pair of stapled-together Navy pants.

I’m okay with that.

As I said, they are very warm.

with a whopping 52% of the vote is…

Annabel looks like Michael and Sam looks like me.

Which means 52% of you are brilliant because that’s exactly what I believe.

Sam looks like Michael, Annabel looks like me received 19%.

And the debate that started the whole issue remains unresolved, because 13% think both kids look like Michael and 13% think both kids look like me.  Still tied, that one.

And, of course, we had two complaints (and one protest vote) because I didn’t give the option “They both look like a blend of the two parents.”  Which is fair.  I suppose.

Anyone lose any money on the deal?

I think, if nothing else, we’ve learned that we’ll never have one of those unfortunate incidences you hear about occasionally, including in yesterday’s comments, where the parent with the weaker genetic influence gets mistaken for the nanny.

Or, in the profound, pithy words of my sister: “You blue-eyed blondes all look the same to me.”

Fair enough.

This is what happened in the comments section in the last post.

“Hey, the kids look just like Michael!” said one person.

“Are you crazy? The kids look just like Cherie!” said another.

We get this all the time.  The kids are my clones, it seems.  Unless they are Michael’s.  They couldn’t look any more like him, except when they look like me.  Opinions vary on this and, boy, do people feel strongly about it.  What to do in such a conundrum?  How can we rest until we know exactly whose genes are dominant?

Obviously, we can’t.  So here we are.  Internet, it’s… decision 2012.

[Does anyone have any dramatic election night music I can borrow? Oh, never mind. Just pretend you hear it right now.]

[Also, there’s a fancy, swooping graphic. Pretend you see that, too.]

This is Cherie:


I need about a 30 day stay at a spa with every treatment they can muster.

This is Michael:


He needs a wife with less invasive hobbies.

[Now, just a brief aside here, in the interest of fairness I must admit that more than one person has commented about how Michael and I, er, kind of, um, look-alike. It is icky to admit, but those people do have a point.  It’s not like we are two radically different-looking people here.  So that adds to the complexity of the problem.  Just wanted you to know that we are, sadly, aware. On with the show!]

[Oh, and the twin poses were not planned. It just happened.]

This is Annabel:


“Are you done taking my picture? Can I start talking again?”

This is Sam:


“Heeeeyyyy, guys! Sorry I’m blurry! I wouldn’t stop moving long enough to take a decent picture in these low-light conditions!”

There you are. Fresh new headshots to help you with this tough call.

But wait! There’s more!

It’s hard to compare adults to children, don’t you think?  So to help make things  a little easier:

This is Cherie, at age 2 1/2:


I know, right? I want to pinch my little cheeks, too.

This is Michael, at [we think] age 4ish:


Feel free to correct us on that age, Bubba. None of these pictures were dated, so this was our best guess.

And that’s it. Scroll up, scroll down, make your comparisons and then…

VOTE:

!