Sweet Olive Jane

everything 123“We need to shave her privates and smear yogurt on them.”  I leaned in conspiratorially to share this little gem with my husband. This was really a great idea, I thought, and could potentially turn the tide in our favor.

“Hon, we’re in church. This isn’t appropriate.”

“It’s totally appropriate. I’ve been praying for a solution, and it came to me.”

“Please. Please, stop.”

“She needs a Brazilian.”

“This is not ok,” he sighed.

“But the yogurt will help her stomach with the antibiotics.” Tom was no longer making eye contact.

“Fine. I’ll do this myself. The first thing I’ll need is your toothbrush.” That got eye contact.

Olive is our beloved mixed breed pound puppy. Only, she’s not so much a puppy anymore. She’s closing in on fourteen.  The past couple of months have been especially challenging for a number of reasons.  Recovering from my own health issues, I missed the signs of her illness, mistaking her neediness for the changes in the household routine. When I emerged from my six week fog, I saw-and smelled-what I had missed.

We are on round two of antibiotics, lab work and ultrasounds for the UTI from hell, have washed every upholstered cushion, ditched an Oriental rug (and it’s coordinating runner); bought a replacement rug at Target, twice actually, before giving up and storing it until this passes; and, just yesterday ripped out all of the carpet in my oldest son’s room to replace it with laminate flooring.

I took the kids on a field trip to Home Depot (when you homeschool, you get to call everything a field trip) and while I was waiting for Brandon to finish calculating the cost of this little impromptu home renovation, a nice man strolled by pushing his cart with. . .

“Oh mommy, LOOK! Look at the cute puppy!” cried three little boys simultaneously.

Indeed there was a very cute black puppy riding in the shopping cart, all fluffy and new.

I reached in, petting Puppy while Nice Man beamed with pride. Then I casually mentioned, “It’s so funny. We are here getting new flooring because our dog destroyed all our carpet, didn’t she little puppy,” I baby babbled letting Puppy nibbled on my fingers. I glanced up to see Nice Man frozen in what can only be called utter terror. I think it’s fair to say I probably ruined that guy’s day.

So why? Why do we complicate our lives needlessly with pets that can create such havoc? I  have a friend whose children badly want a dog. She is squarely in the “no dog” camp and upon hearing of Pee-gate 2013 feels even firmer in her resolve. Yet, despite my own frustrations I will try to convince her otherwise. What it all boils down to is a basic cost/ benefit analysis.

We brought Olive home Christmas of 1999. Tom and I had been doing some volunteer work at the mall having shoppers chose an angel ornament off a Christmas tree to buy gifts for a child in need. On a break, I wandered down to the other end of the mall and discovered pet adoptions. There in the middle of a playgated area were about eight jumping, yipping pups, tails wagging greeting folks who’d happened by. In the center was a gray merle small mess of a puppy. She was shivering. And terrified. And ours.

When we were told we had less than a 1% chance of ever having a baby, I sobbed in her fur. When we were foster parents, she bridged the gap, easing the transition of bringing home a teenager with a troubled past. Later she was there to sniff the toes of three beautiful babies, statistics be damned, fresh home from the hospital. She’s brought us joy in ways I never thought possible, brought us comfort in times of deep sorrow and yes, made me wonder what I’d signed up for when she did things like eat onions out of the garden (toxic for dogs) and threw out her back sprinting across the yard. She’s been a good dog. Wow. There are those tears. She’s been a great dog.

I don’t know how much longer we have with her, and I know the odds aren’t in favor of a 13 year old dog, but I’m hoping we have a little bit longer. Just a little bit longer.

Four Degrees of Separation: Mothering on the Mend

Hospital

About a month ago, I had major surgery. And, didn’t tell most people.  There was a practical reason for this decision based on the fact that the mere disclosure I was having an operation would lead to an inevitable awkward exchange:

Me: “Oh by the way, I’m having surgery.”

People:  “Oh wow, what kind?”

Me: “The kind that makes people gasp and cringe.”

I have a friend who knew the specifics behind what I was having done. He decided he’d rather have brain surgery. And, he’s actually had brain surgery. I decided he was right.

The quick and dirty is that I birthed giant babies, one of whom was the Biggest Baby in the Whole Hospital!  and there is an anatomical price to pay for that sometimes. I suffered a fourth degree tear after my second child (and I do mean suffered), but needed to wait until I was finished nursing before undergoing the necessary repairs because of some hormonal challenges that could interfere with healing. And because I’m part hippie, I nursed and nursed and nursed and before we were even done, there was a surprise bun in the oven.

Suddenly, it was seven years later.  And it was time to take care of business. Lady business. I will spare you the details best left in medical journals, but if anyone out there wants or needs to know more information about surgical repair after a fourth degree tear, I am your girl.

During the first two weeks in the recovery process, my kids saw me lying around reading, sleeping and eating whenever I want.

“Wait”, said my now seven old Giant Baby, “You can do whatever you want. It’s kinda like it’s your birthday,”

Um, yeh. Not so much.

Of course I was told by my physicians explicitly to rest and let go of my daily routine ,but  the reality was, I was still on duty. Injured reserve, but still keeping a watchful eye on my household lest it all go Lord of the Flies on me.  I decided to compile a few suggestions to help my sisters in incapacitation:

  1. Ask for help. I knew my husband would not be able to take off work, and that we would desperately need someone to help distract and entertain the kids, especially during that first rough week. So, reluctantly, I posted on my homeschool board. I was overwhelmed by the loving support I got from moms who came over with their kids and walked everyone over to a nearby park. People brought meals. People were kind.
  2. Plan your meals for the next month. Ok, I do this anyway, but if you are down for the count for medical reasons, this one is a must. Keep it simple. Cook ahead and freeze what you can. Make sure you have all the necessary groceries to make it all happen or else it just becomes a dream list instead of a reality.  Check out Once a Month Meals for ideas. They also have recipes for special diets including gluten and dairy free menus.  It will be one less thing to think about in your Vicodin induced haze.
  3. Let someone else clean your house at least one time. I budgeted for a maid to come around week two of my recovery, but you may even have a friend who can help you out. Hey, if I know you, I’ll come and help clean your house! But even with the most helpful spouse on the planet, your house will implode and start looking like a Hoarders episode long before you’ve recovered, so suck it up and let go of your control issues (oops, sorry, my crazy just showed).
  4. Chore packs for your kids:Aug 2013 028 This is also part of our routine, but it has been a huge asset as I recover. I realize I am dangerously close to channeling my inner Duggar with this one, but for my crew, it really, really helps. Sick of hearing the sound of my own voice, I decided one day to follow up on whole chore pack idea. I printed out clip art pictures of chores and daily routines, cut them out (and cut them first to seal the edges), laminated them then bought name tag lanyards from Office Max. Sort picture cards. Insert into lanyard. Give to kids. Even our four year old can look at a picture of a toothbrush and figure out what’s supposed to happen next. Load them up once in the morning and once at night, and with very little prompting from you, your kids can get actually get dressed, make their beds and YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO YELL. It’s beautiful.
  5. Schedule special time with each child. The novelty of bedridden mommy wore off very quickly. The one thing I could do was read with the little ones and set up time to watch a movie with my older son. It meant a lot to them that I was still “normal” in at least one way.
  6. Keep the kids busy: Plan those play dates ahead of time. Buy a few cheap puzzles and activity books.  Get some DVDs from friends or the library and accept that they will have more screen time than they are normally allowed so that you can fully recover. I also started our homeschool routine as soon as I could, because the kids welcomed the familiar rhythm of day. Plus, if they were doing their school work, they weren’t running laps around the kitchen.
  7. Ask your kids to help: Your children need to understand you are a person, just like they are.  By asking your kids for help, you are teaching them they are important, contributing members of the family. I have been so touched to see how my boys have done the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, brought me blankets and refilled my water.
  8. Check in with your spouse: Watch a movie together. Acknowledge he is working hard and bite your tongue from complaining when something isn’t done the way YOU’D do it. Yep. It can be ridiculously hard sometimes to not chime in with a “suggestion”, but keep it kind. He’s just as anxious to get you better as you are.

Back in the Dojo Again

I focused on the paddle before me, held in the hands of my partner, a fellow green belt. I was intent on proving that I could do it. I could handle my first martial arts class in over 7 years.  The round house kicks came back to me quickly, powerfully, I was in the zone. . .

“Hey, you might wanna take it easy.” My sensei interrupted the rhythmic pounding of my foot connecting with the paddle. I felt a surge of pride over my forceful kicks. I looked at my partner and adjusted the paddle in his hand back up to the appropriate height.

“He’s a little short,” I snidely confided to my sensei.

She looked at me, as if trying to register my level of mental competency.

“Hilary, he’s not short. He’s 8.”

And just like that, I wasn’t a ninja anymore. I was Kramer in a karate class.

I have issues with follow through. Looking back, it’s really pretty amazing I managed to finish college. (And yes, it took six loooong years to make that one happen). So, I have a college degree, a pretty worthless one, but by golly, I finished SOMETHING. Since then though, it’s been pretty iffy.  I was going to be a vet, a feline specialist; a flight attendant, traveling around the world on international flights; a forensic handwriting expert, a financial planner, a nurse and of course a writer. When I say “writer”, I mean a real one, not just someone who makes clever Facebook status updates and snappy  verbal comebacks. I have started to do all of these at one point or another, but then something happens that ends it all. Usually, someone throws up.

I started off this year all kinds a gung ho about blogging and creating a Facebook page and Trying To Do Something with writing. I believe I promised something as ridiculous as weekly updates and life changing entries and all kind of other nonsense that based on my past history was highly unlikely to come to fruition. Once you have one set back, get derailed by life, it’s hard to sheepishly own up to it, and really so much easier to watch it all fade away while you sit and do nothing. “Nothing” is easy. You just have to show up. And then suddenly, it’s 20 years later. See? It’s simple.

Yes, raising children is an accomplishment, heck some days just keeping the alive is applause- worthy, but it’s one of those nebulous things that you never really know if you’re doing right, the job is never over, and there are no guarantees of success even if you try your damnedest every single day. I’m going to be perfectly honest: I want something that shows some measure of success in this life. I want a certificate on the wall, an accolade, a pat on the back. I want to have something that shows I was here, what I did mattered, I started, worked and completed something. Is it another college degree? A certificate of recognition? A black belt? I don’t know. And that is the problem. And I’m pretty sure it’s not socially acceptable to say this out loud.

I’m showing up to karate when I can, writing when possible, and starting a daily prayer petition that Magness Adventure Camp is less of an adventure than it was last year. I think I’ve finally accepted the disconnect between who I thought I’d be and who I am. And that some days are going to just be hanging laundry and preparing meals, or chopping wood and carrying water as the Zen folks say.

I’m not making any promises this time, or possibly ever again. But this I do know: Matthew, you may only be 8, but prepare to suffer.  If you think my round house kicks are harsh, just wait’ll you see me spar. I’m one bad mutha.

 

Love, Life and Valentine’s Day

Valentine's day.

Valentine’s day. (Photo credit: MalinStrandvall)

Welcome to “She’s Thrifty Thursday” at Mommysaurus Rex! Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that kind of sneaks up on you from a budgetary perspective. Cards? A nice dinner? Treats for kid parties? It can all add up. I got engaged on Valentine’s Day. It was such a special evening, me in my requisite little black dress, sporting my new engagement ring, staring into my beloved’s eyes as we took our time over a delicious pasta dinner and a glass of wine. Flash forward 17 years and 3 kids later: the dress is two sizes too small, I eat like it’s a competitive timed sport, and the pasta has to be gluten free. The ring is still on my finger though, and I try to find little ways to say “I love you” in the midst of all the chaos.

1. The Notebooks

About 6 weeks before we had our first child, Tom and I decided to attend a Marriage Encounter.  It’s presented through the Catholic Church but couples of any faith can attend.  I was slightly irritated when it was explained to me that the focus of the weekend would be sharing with our spouse the things we most appreciated about them. Really? No shot at getting in at least one jab about that (fill in the blank) annoying habit? No, that’s not how it worked, and I am so grateful for that precious time we had together before our children arrived. We left that weekend with notebooks where we could share our thoughts and kind words with one another. Instead of greeting cards, this is where we write our words of support on Valentine’s, birthdays or for no special reason at all and have done so for over ten years now.

Cost: free

2. Pretend Restaurant

This was a huge hit last year because the kids really enjoyed participating.  We made up menus and a host stand, set the table fancy and lit candles. I put on a cocktail dress gathering dust in the back of the closet, popped in a video for the kids and set up a picnic for them downstairs. Tom came home and we enjoyed a grownup meal in peace. Heaven.

Cost: only groceries

3.  Real Restaurant, different night

The first Valentine’s after we were married, we decided to have dinner at a popular local restaurant. We knew we’d wait, but we figured we’d have a drink at the bar or two and just enjoy. And there we waited. And waited.  Hours. Finally, we made a pact with another couple we met at the bar that whoever had their name called first would agree to share the table. Indeed we shared our romantic evening having dinner with strangers because we were starving and intoxicated after a 2 hour wait. From that point in, we deemed the Saturday before Valentine’s Day as our special date night. So far, we haven’t had to wait for more than a few minutes or share a table with random fellow diners since.

Cost: Restaurants may have Valentine’s specials, but the cost of a sitter typically goes up. Ask me how I know. I’m a babysitter, and yes, we do charge more on special occasions.

And then there are the kids. I’ve never been huge on getting gifts or cards for my children on Valentine’s Day, but they do like to exchange cards with friends. This year, I folded up a piece of printer paper and had the kids make four different cards for each section.  And then I color copied those suckers, cut them out and was done. Not exactly hand crafted, but still homemade with lots of love. On a wistful note, my first grader came home with very few spares, while my fifth grader came home with nearly his entire bag still full. Alas, the time has come where the fear of a simple kindness being misconstrued as a romantic gesture kept him for giving any cards to girls.Feb 2013 140

Cost: nearly free (I suppose the printer ink has some cost)

We may bake some cookies or some homemade pop tarts, but there are no grand plans, just a few, small, simple gestures that will be more than enough to show love.  Have a great Valentine’s Day!

Cost: Priceless

The Chosen One

 

And then there’s this.

Last fall, I suffered from a case of what my friend Ashley calls “Helium Hand Syndrome”, a horrible affliction that leads sufferers powerless to just say no.  I had sat in my folding chair surrounded by other Tiger Cub parents at the first Scout meeting of the school year, numbly taking it all in just like everyone else. We made idle conversation including joking about who we thought our leader would be. Because Tigers are the first rank in Scouting, there is not an established leader as it’s generally all new to the parents.

Unless, of course, you have an older child who’s already been a Tiger.

I think you can all see where this is going.

In the spirit of conversation, I had casually mentioned I had a son who was a Webelos II in addition to my Tiger Cub, T.J. but before I could mention the hard time I’d done in prison or the meth lab I ran out of  my house, the meeting was called to order. We were offered a Power Point presentation, some paperwork, then told to get out our checkbooks.

Soon after, there came a time where the parents had to fight to the death avoiding landmines and using instincts to outwit their opponents. . .oh wait, that’s The Hunger Games. But the similarities were striking. There came a time to choose a leader.  All eyes turned to me. And then it happened.

“Thank you, Hilary! I’ll be sending you some paperwork.” Huh? I looked up and there is was: my right hand floating straight in the air. I was a victim of Helium Hand Syndrome.

I was the Tiger Den leader.

I had been outwitted by my opponents.

I waited two full weeks after being elected/sacrificed before trekking out to the Scout Store to purchase The Shirt and finally worked up the courage to wear that sexy thang the next week. Seeing me in The Shirt, one of my little charges ran up to his mom and said, “She’s even got a uniform, Mom!” And then I realized I owed it to these kids to make it the best Scout experience I possibly could even if I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. The kids are really sweet and it’s fun to see TJ come out of his shell a bit. The parents are exhausted and overwhelmed but help how they can which is appreciated more than they know. There are guides and resources and of course winging it and in all honesty, it’s gone pretty well.

Until tonight.

I had a plan for Es 21 and 47 involving puppetry and the miracle of recycling. We lined up to open our meeting said the pledge, the oath and listened to our Pack Leader make some announcements. I heard blah blah blah blah and then

“Interest forms for Magness Adventure Camp are in the back, so please let us know which session you’d be most interested in.”

That’s when I sucked all the air out of the room. Was it possible? Camp, my arch nemesis was just a few months away. I secretly hoped that perhaps none of my Tigers would be able to attend, but out of the corner of my eye, I spotted parents with forms. Discussing. Coordinating. I was sunk.

A mom approached me with form in hand, “So, how is it?”

I recounted my last camping experience here in graphic detail, but I couldn’t very well tell her the truth, could I? I couldn’t tell her that the tale of The Great Mouse Invasion was actually the winning story on a radio talk show that got me two tickets to Red Rocks Amphitheatre , could I? So, my reply went something like this:

“Itwasgreat thekidswillloveititwasthehardestthingI’veeverdoneit’sawesomeI’mstillintherapy.”

She looked at me oddly and then I caught myself.

“What, I meant to say was, I will be better prepared this year.”

The real pickle is I will have a Tiger Cub at Cub Scout camp and a Boy Scout needing to attend Boy Scout camp. Timing wise it would be nice to be right across the street from Tabor at Boy Scout Camp while I’m drinking heavily being the World’s Best Den Leader at Cub Scout Camp. And then there’s 3 year old Ty. I’ll have to somehow make arrangements for him because I am still paying the chiropractic bills from carrying him for miles over rocky terrain when he pooped out on me last year.

But I would be more prepared, right? I would bring things like, I don’t know, a fully outfitted RV this time. And Mark, our pest control technician.  And Tabor would probably be just fine at Boy Scout Camp, wouldn’t he?

“Hey, Mom!” I turned as I heard Tabor holler for me. “What, hon?”

“Guess what they got at Boy Scout camp? SHOTGUNS!”

Yep, everything will be just fine.

 

The Ghost of Lifetimes Past

Unemployment

Unemployment (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

This is the part where I could pretend that everything has been status quo for the last few months. I could make trite comments about being “busy” and say things are “nice”. Those things are true, even if banal, but the stony silence on my end is a bit more complex. In reality, we’ve been trapped in our own personal Groundhog Day. We are living proof in that souls can become sucked into some kind of time/space vacuum and relive experiences. Over. And Over.

Gift Box

The week before Christmas, my husband came home, stretched his arms out in front of him, cracked his knuckles and stated, “We need to chat.” I stopped chopping avocados. My husband is not a“chat”-er. He doesn’t make small talk. Either someone had died or. . .
Our third trip through unemployment. A small aside in the paper the following morning described a mass layoff at my husband’s company resulting in 140 people losing work right at the peak of the holiday season.
That’s the bad part. The good part is we’d learned some lessons the last two times we’d journeyed down this road. We’d scrimped and saved. I never gave up my babysitting jobs. In a nutshell, we didn’t panic.
Some people love him and some people hate him, but I credit Dave Ramsey with helping us be in a better position to weather this storm than we’d been the past two times. Our youngest children were still young enough to be oblivious to the ramifications of unemployment. After all, Daddy was home so wasn’t that a GOOD thing? But, our ten year old Tabor really had his sense of justice rattled. And, as adults, we well know it is not a just world. But ten year olds? It’s all about “fair” and “unfair” and this clearly fell in the latter camp. He saw his Dad as a good man who was a hard worker, and yet was still struggling to regain his footing. He is old enough to worry about finances and the toll it would take on his weary parents to once again have to regroup. He cried. He was angry. But he paused for a moment at the dinner table that night we told the kids and said, “Mom? You do that Dave Ramsey thing, right? So we’re going to be ok?” And to be able to look my child in the eyes and say, “Yes. We have saved money that will get us through this,” was, well, priceless.
Things have progressed to the point where I think with confidence a few weeks from now we’ll be back in our game. It’s a tricky time though. There will be a gap in health coverage between jobs and so if you see us walking down the street wearing helmets, face masks and protective gear, you’ll understand.
This time a year ago, I made plans to develop a website for my blog, to try to get sponsors, start that book I’ve always dreamed of creating, to try to make something of myself in terms of being a writer. That has failed abysmally and as I watch the days and weeks pass, I wonder how with blow after blow I can ever do anything beyond what I am doing right now. But then I remember the look on my child’s face, his relief, his trust in me, when I assured him we were safe. We had enough to eat. We didn’t need to move again. I realize this work, while not worthy of a sponsor, a Facebook page or a publisher, is not as rote and empty as it seems at times. It’s nothing short of sacred and if that’s the extent of my glory, in my book, it’s a life well-lived. And, in the end, isn’t that the only book that really matters?

holding hands - age 10, and age 8

holding hands – age 10, and age 8 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roughing It

God has shown me several times that camping, while in theory, seems like a good idea, it is not the path I should follow. Yet, I persist, despite the fact that all previous camp outs have ended in torrential rain storms, broken down vehicles and on one unfortunate occasion, me sporting a visitor’s badge at the Jasper County jail.

Several months ago when the Cub Scout pack meeting discussed the summer camp out, my kids begged me to go. I gave it some thought, because I knew there was a very good chance my husband wouldn’t be able to get the time off. It’d be me, flying solo for the great family camp out.  Not one to shy away from a challenge, I agreed.

Day 1

The boys and I ventured out Sunday afternoon in a caravan to Scout Camp. I had been extraordinarily busy the past few days so packing had taken place that very morning. I felt fairly confident that I’d covered my bases and set off as the only mom on a dad-centric trip.

When we arrived I was already confused. There were tents already there, A-frame structures, I believe they are called, the same thing the military uses. I had brought our tent. We needed a larger space anyway, since the A frames only held 2 people and we were 4. Also the tents were in extremely close proximity to one another.  Quite frankly, it appeared to be more of a shanty town than a campsite, but I wasn’t about to complain. I was still somewhat fresh from the drive. I wasn’t jaded yet.

Tabor acting as “caller” in a flag ceremony. It just looks hot, doesn’t it?

Nearby tents afforded us the opportunity to hear sneeze, snores and family squabbles of our fellow campers.

Getting the tent up on hilly, rocky terrain was vastly different than the test run we’d done in our flat grassy backyard. The den leader was heroically helpful, but we were not on the same page in terms of staking down the tent. Consequently, after the first attempt at raising the poles my tent looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Also, it was easily pushing 100 degrees, so Den Leader and I were nearly passing out, trying to manage curious children and putting up the tent. Finally we got the tent structurally sound and headed out for the many, many activities that were already happening that day.

First off was the swim test. Our 5 year old is part fish so he impressively swam the distance in one breath.

“Mom, where are my ear plugs?” asked oldest son who’s had 8 ear surgeries.

“They are in your backpack,” I said

“No they’re not.”

“Yes, they are.”

And so it went.  Finally, I looked myself. No ear plugs.

“Uh, sorry, bud, looks like Mom was wrong. Let’s text Daddy.”

Daddy replied: Look in the backpack.

Swimming test was completed with Tabor keeping his head above water the entire time which gave the illusion he was struggling with some type of sea serpent to keep from drowning, but by golly he made it.

Next stop: fishing. We’d had fishing poles in our hands approximately 30 seconds before Ty got a fish hook stuck in his hand. Once safely removed and everyone had their lines in the water, it was approximately another 30 seconds before T.J. declared, “This is kinda boring. I want to catch a fish, but I don’t like standing here.”

I turned around to see Fish Hook Boy completely unraveling his fishing line.

That was fishing.

Dinner.

Dinner was complicated by the fact we are now gluten free. Somehow despite my phone call, the reminder when we checked in and mentioning it to our campsite leader when we arrived, our stuff did not arrive. I tossed the kids apples and waited until the chicken and green beans were declared safe and we proceeded to eat one of the top ten worst meals I’ve ever consumed.

Then it was off to the opening flag ceremony.

While fishing and swimming had been located in decent proximity to the campsite/shanty town, the main flagpole was located somewhere just west of Kansas. We walked and walked and walked and finally Ty sat down in the dirt and started to cry. I wanted to join him but out of fear of being trampled by the wave of campers behind us, I ambitiously scooped him up and plopped him on my shoulders.

“Woohoo, Mama! This is fun up here! I like riding on your shoulders, Mama!”

I made it about 50 yards before carrying the crushing weight of my 38 pound child uphill began to take its toll. I began frantically scanning the campgrounds

I would have given anything for a ride in one of these bad boys.

for a golf cart. Who the hell ever heard of a camp site without a Cushman on the premises? I searched and searched to no avail. No golf cart, just the sensation that the earth’s gravitational pull had tripled and I was walking in concrete shoes. Uphill.

We finally reached the opening flagpole ceremony which seemed to last approximately seven minutes complete with goofy skits put on by the teenage camp counselors then suddenly someone yelled, “Hey, kids, someone is stealing the ice cream!” A stampede of sweaty little boys took off at light speed down the very hill I had just summited, back to main office for the ice cream social. Two of my three children were swallowed by a sea of humanity. And, so as to not lose the third, I once again, scooped him up on my shoulders and tromped down the hill.

After eating a melted bowl of vanilla, we were invited to sit by the “campfire” which, thanks to the fire ban that’s now in its seventh year, is a pit of synthetic logs fueled by propane.  We same more goofy songs about worms and pizza and aliens when the wind began to pick up and become surprisingly cool. Dutiful parents all around me reached into their backpacks and pulled out thoughtfully packed sweatshirts and jackets. T.J. looked at me in hope.

“Gosh, uh, it looks like mommy forgot to pack the jackets. Sorry, hon.  We’ll go take a nice warm shower in a minute,” I promised. Feeling like loser mom of the year, I tousled his hair and watched as he pulled his arms into his shirtsleeves.

We watched a few more minutes of the program before I headed back to the campsite with the younger two.  The tent was a wreck, but I knew exactly where to find the kids’ pajamas. See, I’m organized like that. Yep, I make a pile of each kid’s clothes, put them in plastic shopping bags, THEN put them in the suitcase so everyone’s stuff it together, but separate if you know what I mean.

I was really enjoying this moment of smug victory until I pulled out the Ty bag. Inside were 3 t-shirts, 3 tiny pairs of underpants and 3 pairs of socks. No jammies, and interestingly, no shorts. That meant, for the next 3 days, he’d be wearing the shorts he arrived in, currently caked in mud.

As T.J. swung around his pajamas, Ty frowned as he saw me pull out his t-shirt and underpants.

“Hey, Ty! I said too enthusiastically. “You get to wear your t-shirt to sleep tonight!” Come on come on come on take the sales pitch take it take it take it

“Ok, mama, now let’s go take our nice warm shower!”

YAY!

So off to the showers we traipsed.  I turned on the faucet and had the kids strip down while I waited for the icy water to warm a bit. I waited.  Waited some more.  I decided to try stall number two simply because I was in the first stage of grief, which of course is denial.

No hot water.

My children had never been filthier before in their entire lives. They needed to be cleaned at least a little and no sales pitch in the world was going to work this time.  Ty dipped one finger in the water before running screaming from the stall. While chasing Ty, T.J. managed to wash his feet and the top two inches of his head. I finally caught Ty, and as fast as humanly possible dunked him under the spray and washed furiously.  As far as Ty was concerned, this made the Silkwood Shower look like a day at the spa. Luckily, I still had my swimsuit on from earlier that day, so I managed to maintain so modicum of dignity while washing/abusing my offspring. I jammied them, brushed their teeth and sat them on the bathroom bench while I showered in water that was only slightly warmer than absolute zero. I’m fairly certain I at least briefly entered a state of suspended animation.

We met Tabor out in the corridor who with blue lips and a wide-eyed look told me, “I just took the coldest shower of my life.”

It was getting dark, and we were all ready for bed. We returned to the tent, tossed the luggage out onto the porch area to spread out the sleeping bags for some much needed rest.

“Mom?” asked Tabor. “Uh, where’s my sleeping bag?”

Oh no, I didn’t.

Actually, I DIDN’T!

“Wait! I know where it is!” I said thrilled that it wasn’t on my bed at home along with the jackets and Ty’s shorts. “It’s in the van!” I proudly declared.

“Oh ok, so where are the keys to the van?”

“The keys?”

Well, they had to be around there somewhere. The problem was, the sun had set completely about 12 seconds before we realized we had a missing sleeping bag, so we pulled out our flashlights. My flashlight had about 15 % of its battery power left thanks to curious little people who’d discovered it earlier that day, and Tabor’s was one of those self-recharging numbers that had to be hand cranked every so often to generate any workable light.

WRRRrrrrrrrrr went the handcrank flashlight.

“Found them yet, mom?”

“Nope not yet, kids”

Wrrrrrrrrrrrr.

“Lost you keys?” came an eerily close voice from an adjacent tent.

“Yep, sure did”

“Bummer”

Wrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Twenty minutes later, keys were found, sleeping bag was retrieved and keys were returned to the safest place we could think of:  the cooler. We rolled out the sleeping bags and settled down to sleep.

Rocks dug into every crevice of my spine and I was unable to stop from rolling downhill due to the slight incline of the tent. Ty was already in a crumpled heap in the north east corner of the tent and the other two were furiously tossing and turning trying to find more comfortable rocks to sleep upon.

“Hey, Tabor, do you remember those cot mattresses we saw out on that platform?”

“I do!” he replied “They’re not far at all!”

I’m not even sure why I have this picture, but there they are: The Mattresses. They don’t look too bad from this distance.

We sneaked out of our tent, crept past two neighbors and swiped mattresses. It felt sort of naughty despite the fact that they were clearly available for use, but we giggled anyway as we made sure no one saw us make our way with the stolen booty. Stuffing the mattresses into the tent with two sleeping children was not going to happen. Tabor shoved, while I tried to redirect floppy bodies out of the way. Unfortunately, Tabor lost control and completely smacked T.J. upside the head, which actually sent us all (including a barely awake .T.J) into gales of laughter which elicited a stern flashlight warning from a neighboring tent that we were being too noisy.

The mattresses in place, we slept.

That was Day 1.

Day 2

I woke up at 4:45 and realized I needed to wash Ty’s shorts. The sun was already rising so I got my first glimpse of the mattresses on which my precious children had been sleeping. Squalid doesn’t even come close. Clearly, before arriving at Cub Scout camp, these mattresses had served time in a Columbian prison. After washing the shorts, I managed to have one of those semi-dream hallucinations. Next thing I know, I hear the counselors hollering, “TEN MINUTES TILL BREAKFAST!”

After breakfast, it was time to gather Tabor’s gear together for the den campout up on the mesa. I wouldn’t be joining him for that, something we were both a little nervous about. It was a three mile hike up to the mesa so there was no way I’d be going with the T.J. and Ty. We would stay at the main campsite and hang out with the Tiger Cubs.

Tabor took off with the rest of his crew while T.J., Ty and I headed over to Tiger territory and were assigned to The Red Group. I was worried about how strenuous the day might be, but was delighted when we started off with a nature education lesson. This I could do. We ate oranges and talked about the local wildlife, all while enjoying the cool breeze in the dining hall. As we finished up, we headed out of the shelter. There was some mention of a nature walk and since this was a group of mostly 6 and 7 year olds I assumed we’d be staying nearby the shelter for things like snacks and potty, the life blood of the early elementary crowd. But we kept going. I nervously glanced over my shoulder and saw the shelter fading in the distance. Shortly thereafter, Ty refused to walk. Up on mommy’s shoulders we hiked, I occasionally managed to reach water to splash T.J. and keep myself from passing out. The hike became progressively more challenging to the point I was unable to provide shoulder rides and simply pushed Ty’s bottom uphill. He inexplicably became rejuvenated by the climb something I still consider divine intervention because he was able to make it down without my help.  By the end to the hike I was completely disoriented probably dehydrated and thrilled to see that we had somehow ended up at our own campsite.

Craft time.  The craft involved paper and glue and pipe cleaners which TJ completely boycotted in favor of drawing a dragon. Ty, however, couldn’t get enough glue and paper and pipe cleaners. I didn’t care. I was counting done the minutes to lunch and rest time.

But first, we had sling shots. Back to Kansas.  It was well over a mile to the sling shot area. I was wearing possibly the ugliest combination of clothing I own, but truly didn’t care. It was about function over fashion. I needed to get my two kids and backpack to sling shots and I was focused. Dear God, it was far and hot. When we finally made it, I was thrilled to see that it was in a remarkably shady area. We drank water, had a small snack, and then lined up to hear the rules involved in the sling shot area. Because there is the possibility of injury in shooting paintballs at supersonic speeds, we had to listen to the paintball safety spiel. The kid in charge reminded of me of Jude Law, in the pre-cheating-on -his –wife-with -the -nanny years. He was handsome and cool came off as a bit too self-assured about everything. He annoyed me. I tapped my toe waiting for him to stop yapping.

“Alright,” he instructed, “all you have to do is say ‘PERMISSION TO ENTER THE RANGE’ as loud as you can and we’ll get going. Ready?”
The Tiger Cubs and TJ and Ty stood at attention, ready to shoot paintballs.

“One. . .” he counted, “two. . . THREE!”

“PERMISSION TO ENTER THE RANGE!” screamed eight little kids.

We all shuffled toward the entrance.

“All of you can go in except you.  Back there in the platypus shirt. You weren’t loud enough.”

I was stunned. He was pointing at, SINGLING out, my sweet TJ in his beloved Perry the Platypus shirt. My child, who has struggled with speech and language issues, who is the shyest kid on the planet.

T.J. crumpled into a sob.

Jude Law must die.

I comforted T.J. and shot daggers at Jude Law who looked on, stunned.

“Thanks for that therapy moment, “I growled.

“I-I-I’m so sorry, I did-“he stammered.

“We’ll be going in now,” I said ushering in my children. It took T.J. a few minutes to calm down, but he actually did pretty well once he got the hang of it. Ty played in the dirt.

And, because I could’ve been a sniper if I hadn’t been a mom, I hit every target I aimed for imagining with each shot it was Jude Law’s big fat mouth.

Lunch.

Lunch was chicken again, but we got to see Tabor before he set of on his Webelos campout. I was so looking forward to rest time, and hoped to get everyone to nap a bit. We entered the tent, and the kids immediately stopped.

“Mommy, my bed is yucky.” Ty pointed in accusation at the nasty stolen mattresses.

“Ew, mommy, that’s gross,” said TJ.

“It’s disgusting,” added Tabor in case I needed clarification.

“Guys, let’s just make the most of it. We could all use a rest.” I hastily tried to cover up the most offensive stains with towels and sleeping bags.

“Now, just close your eyes and try to relax.

In mere moments, I felt like New Age guru James Arthur Ray leading an ill-fated spiritual retreat. Sweat poured down our cheeks and our core body temperatures were rapidly rising. Napping was out of the question.

“Everybody out!” I ordered. The kids dutifully (and gratefully filed out) and helped me drag chairs over to a nearby shady area. There was 20 minutes left in rest time.

Tabor stared off into space for about ten minutes before it was time for him to take off for his hike. Seeing the minutes slip away, I suited up the little ones for the Red Group’s swimming trip to the lake. Life vest, goggles towel, and kids in tow, we headed to our designated spot just in time for the sky to open up.  Parents around me furiously unzipped backpacks and threw rain ponchos on their children. TJ looked at me.

“Well, we are wearing our swimsuits,” I argued.

We ambled on to the lake just in time to hear the staff yell, “LIGHTNING!” Then in unison they all screamed, “LAKE CLOSED!” Unwillingly to stand in the rain for the next 45 minutes I decided to return to the tent. After all, the rain had cooled things off so perhaps we could get a nap in after all. We schlepped back to the tent in the rain only to make an intriguing discovery: the tent is not waterproof.

I opened to the tent to escape the rain, only to note that the rain continued on the inside, albeit at a slower rate. I frantically threw garbage bags over our luggage and clothing and grabbed the tarp that had lined the porch area of the tent. With the kids inside but still being rained on, I secured the tarp to the top of the tent.  It was crazy enough to work. The tarp held back the rain and we were mostly dry.

There’s nothing worse than the hope of the nap that doesn’t come to fruition. Despite the fact I was beyond exhausted, TJ and Ty were quite frisky. Something about being stuck in the tent on a rainy day just begged for a tickle fight and I was powerless to stop it.

I thought about Tabor hiking in the rain.

The rain stopped and immediately the sun reappeared creating the aforementioned sauna like environment in the tent. We crawled out and discovered we had missed Red Group’s trip on to archery. I was really ok with this since archery was even further than Kansas. The kids played in the dirt while I sought out a cell phone signal.  Text messages weren’t even getting through in a timely manner and I needed a vote of confidence. I stood on a rock, dialed and prayed I could reach my husband.

“Tom!” I shouted excitedly when I heard his voice. And then it was over.

Dinner was pulled pork, salad and “Cowboy Stew” that the Webelos had made before their hike. Imagine the saltiest thing you’ve ever tasted. Now, add more salt, two vegetables and a piece of gristly meat. Now you have Cowboy Stew.  I ate pulled pork like it was going out of style and begged the kids to at least take tiny bites of salad, but they were happy with their apples and oranges.

Then a miracle happened: a rumor spread that there was hot water in one of the other campsites. To me, nothing else mattered in the world. If there was hot water somewhere in a five mile radius, I would find it.

“Guys!” I hissed, leaning into them. “There may be hot water!” I wasn’t making any promises after that had happened the night before. Ty frowned. “I don’t know about that shower, mama.”

“No, no, I really think it’ll be different this time,” I said sounding like a shady character from a cheap novel.

After some convincing, we gathered up jammies, a  t-shirt for Ty, and headed over to the other campsite. I was nervous entering the stall and cautiously turned on the water. It was a mere trickle really, but deliciously, gloriously warm. I scooped up Ty and and ushered TJ into the spray, watching their faces as they welcomed the experience.

We returned to the tent and snuggled in for books. Ty fell asleep in my arms in record time. I placed him in his sleeping bag and tucked his precious Baby Tiger in next to him.

T.J. and I went outside. We talked about birds and planets.  He picked up a rock and we pretended he was the sun and the earth was the rock. He giggled as I turned the stone in my fingers and walked around his body.

“I miss Tabor,” he said.

“Me too, “I sighed.

We sat in the chair until we couldn’t see anymore, and then went to bed.

I woke to a drizzle of rain in the middle of the night.

I thought of Tabor sleeping in the rain.

Day 3

Breakfast was powdered eggs and ham of questionable origin. I tried to get T.J. and Ty to eat as much as possible since we were running low on snacks. At least I had brought snacks to fill in the hunger gaps.

We met up with the Red Group and began with compass training. The little ones were really whiny. They didn’t want to walk anymore and were already complaining of the heat even though it was only 8:30 in the morning. It was going to be a long day. After compasses, we were scheduled for obstacle course followed by BB guns. What it boiled down to was BB guns. I thought T.J. would be sad if he missed the opportunity. We just had to make it through obstacle course which of course was back in Kansas. By this point in the trip Ty completely boycotted all bipedalism, so he was hoisted back up on my shoulders. I was actually feeling strangely proud of my ability to carry my backpack and child (all while keeping up with the other child) and thought, not at all flippantly about woman around the world who endure this reality on a daily basis.

Despite his initial reluctance to participate, TJ lit up when he saw the obstacle course.  He loves to climb, and indeed, showed and impressive display of monkeyness when it was his turn to go. It was a boost of confidence following the previous day’s Jude Law incident. Ty played in the dirt.

BB guns.

Only two minutes away, the BB gun range was in a shady shelter, and we were able to lie on our bellies to shoot. It was almost like a nap, except we were firing guns. Luckily, the BB gun station was well staffed so while I helped TJ, the staff assisted Ty who showed some notable marksmanship skills. I was thrilled with the way Ty was patiently helped so I could keep my attention on TJ.

Lunch

“TABOR!” I heard TJ shout before I’d even put Ty on the ground. It had only been 24 hours, but with tears in our eyes we hugged like it had been a lifetime.  We sat down to our meatball and gluten free mac n’ cheese to exchange stories. He’d had a hard night, missing us, but
“the medic gave me some homesickness medicine.” My heart broke at the sweet innocence of his claim and I mentally gave thanks to a medic who was prepared for such emergencies.

After lunch we began loading his gear into the car. There were activities scheduled up until early that evening, but we were all feeling fairly weary.

“Let’s see how we feel after we take down the tent,” I suggested as we weighed to pros and con of staying versus heading home early. We went back to the tent and I began gathering up a few smaller bags near the ice chest, in the area where we’d kept the snacks.  Tabor jumped a bit.

“Mom? I just saw a mouse.” Tabor pointed to a small gray furry creature scurrying away.

“Oh, yes, it is,” I nervously remarked. Mice in Petsmart? Cute. Mice in their natural element? Not cute.

I focused on the opposite side of the tent.

“HOLY CRAP!” I shouted. There was another one. And another.

My unfortunate expletive got the attention of the den leader who came over to investigate.

“Mice,” I blurted out.

“Did you eat over in the area?” he asked in slight accusation.

“Well, we did have some snacks,” I said in a very small voice.

He shook his head. “It doesn’t take much.”

He offered to take the tent down while I took the rest of the stuff to the van. Quite frankly, I chickened out. I suspected what would happen when that tent was taken down, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

As I came back up the hill to the tent area, the kids came running excitedly talking over one another. “You should have SEEN the mice run when we moved the tent! You should have seen all those mouses, mama!”

I awkwardly thanked the den leader, feeling a bit like I’d starred in a camping episode of Hoarders.  As far I was concerned, this camping trip was done. And just when the kids started begging me to take them to the boating, God threw me a bone. Actually, he threw me a bolt of lightning.

Too bad, kids.

LAKE CLOSED!