We dropped Abby off for sleepaway camp yesterday – a little nervous, slightly teary, but overall glad to be there. It’s been exactly 30 years since I first went to Girl Scout camp with my best friend, Shannon. I could still tell you all about how we met another pair of best friends (Caroline and Tina, from Pelham) and how the four of us got a tent together. How we played tricks on our counselors and how I fell down the big hill into the thorn bushes. Or, how camp became such a huge and indelible part of my life within the first day that I spent time every single summer at camp after that, with very few exceptions, until the summer before Abby was born. I was a camper, a counselor, a program specialist, a unit leader and ultimately an assistant camp director.
I love camp. I love Girl Scout camps, specifically. I love sleeping in platform tents. I love having kid-friendly meals in a loud dining hall where counselors might suddenly start chanting or singing or kids may start come ridiculous loud banging game on the tables. (I really miss French Toast Sticks, for some weird reason.)
But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about Abby’s first time at camp.
My primary emotion at dropping off my child with her friend yesterday was one of jealousy. I am intensely jealous of an experience she’s having right now that I won’t ever have again – her first summer at camp. So envious of the swim test, the bug spray, the nervous meeting of new girls who become your instant BFFs. Positively green with jealousy of the bedtime trips to the infirmary with a passel of campers who need “bedtime meds.”
I’m a little wistful that she’s big enough to go off on her own (even if it’s only for 5 nights). And I’m a little sad that she was teary yesterday, and afraid that she might get homesick or misplace all her socks. But mostly I am startlingly, infuriatingly curious about every single “first” moment she’s having there and sorry for myself that I can’t be having that much fun, too. I know the rhythm of camp so well that it’s impossible not to imagine what she’s doing (now she’s having dinner, now she’s had her first campfire, now her counselors are tucking them all in and praying they sleep…) I can literally picture her doing all this amazing, fun stuff because I did it myself so often.
At the exact same time, I will not call camp. I will not seek out tons of information about my child or hover over the camp director’s phone number waiting for any morsel of information. Because that was always the most important thing about camp whether as a camper staff member or administrator. The fun thing was that camp was separate, other, from home and school life. It was a secret society, a clubhouse, a place of mystery where there are inside jokes, strange traditions, funny songs, and too many bug bites. Where you can’t possibly tell Mom or Dad everything that happened, and you wouldn’t really want to, anyway.
So I’ll send her letters and notes. I’ll check the camp Facebook page for general “happy kids having fun at camp” pictures and be excited if I catch a glimpse of her blue sneakers. I’ll hope that she takes 2 minutes and writes me a letter. And I’ll count down the time until I can pick her up and hear all about her adventures. But I’m not calling or butting in.
I know she’ll be making memories that last a lifetime, and those memories are uniquely hers. I know this with conviction because I have hundreds of treasured camp memories of my own.
I hate New year’s resolutions. They always end up disappointing. The minute you stop having salad for lunch or miss a day at the gym or whatever, you feel like a failure and no one wants to start the year that way. So I decided that this year, I’d try changing my personal philosophy rather than making a whole bunch of unachievable promises to myself.
I didn’t spend a lot of time researching it. I didn’t consult any well-known authors or even read up on how to approach the area I wanted to change. Instead, most of my new philosophy came to me in the same place where all good ideas come to me: the shower.
The challenge is (and has been and continues to be) that Brian and I, well, we’re not all that good with our money. We’re both kinda impulsive. We both like to spoil our kids. We both think vacations are nonnegotiable. But rather than sit and bemoan our terrible finances for yet another year, I spent a minute or two thinking about what I actually want my money to do for me. And here’s what I came up with.
Experiences Over Items. After cleaning up and throwing out a metric ton of crap in preparation for Christmas, I realized that we have just too much stuff. We don’t need more storage bins, we need less stuff. So this month, I’m making an effort not to buy anything that isn’t groceries or a health-and-beauty necessity (like the expensive lotion the kids need for their eczema-prone skin). And in general, I’m working to spend money on things I’ll remember, not things I’ll have to store.
Use What You Have. We have a BIG house. And although I haven’t finished purging, there will still be so. Much. Stuff. So rather than buying something new, I’m going to use what I already have.
Take Care of Your Things. This seemed a little weird to frame as a financial thing at first. But then I noticed that Abby’s bedspread had a huge series of rips. And rather than give in to the first thought I had (“Oh, I need to buy her a new set of bedspreads!”), I got out my needle and thread and mended the rips. Now her bedspread is good as new and it cost me nothing.
I have no idea if this lovely set of ideas will be the answer to all of our money woes. But I know that I already feel lighter because I’m just not feeling like I “need” as much stuff. I haven’t bought crap to replace the crap I threw out. And I’m looking forward to a few free hours to throw away more.
That is probably a culturally insensitive post title. I’m not sure I care, because the point is, we’ve started the process to weaponize Abby. As in, turn her into a self-defense machine who is stronger, faster and smarter than you.
After years and years of “Mom, I want to take tae kwon do,” a new TKD school opened in a shopping center right near our house. The same shopping center where the Dunkin Donuts drive-through employees know us by name and have our order ready when they see our car. But I digress.
The school is running a special where you can try 4 classes for $20, so we figured, what they hey, let’s let Abby try it and see if she likes it. She toured the facility and had her first mini-lesson and we dropped eight grand on a three-year, black-belt advancement package, payable in monthly installments. Not to mention the extra money we’ll need for belt tests, board breaking, and scratching your nose.
As the descendant of a long line pacifists, I have to tell you, I was a bit conflicted about signing Abby up for martial arts. That’s probably why it took her at least two years of begging and pleading to get me to walk into the dojang with her. But the program we’ve signed on for has a tremendous focus on self-discipline, focus, hard work, and leadership. Honestly, the student creed, school rules and philosophies we’ve seen so far remind me of Korean-flavored Girl Scout ideology. Who can argue with that?
Abby had her first full-length group lesson yesterday. She was very worried that she’d see a friend from school who studies at this dojang and he’d make fun of her because she doesn’t have a belt yet. I assured her that no one has a belt at their first lesson. I brought my iPad and my phone along, planning to read or catch up on podcasts while Abby did her thing for 45 minutes. Instead I sat enraptured, watching my kid stand with her perfect posture and total concentration, working to copy every move, and follow every instruction. She committed to focus on hard work this week, and can’t wait to go for the next lession on Saturday.
I am looking forward to meeting the strong, powerful woman she becomes.
I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook (damn you, Zuckerberg!!). I use Facebook to chat with friends near, far and imaginary. I use it to run 2 businesses. It’s a great way to generally waste time when I’m bored. And it certainly provides instant feedback!
As a result, I end up posting a quick photo or snippet of thought over there instead of a longer, more thoughtful (ha!) something over here.
I think part of the issue is that as a foster parent, this baby’s story isn’t mine to tell in a way that Abby’s story was. Also, this past year was really, really tough in many important ways.
But I feel like I have some stories inside me still, and that I’d like to continue to tell them. And hey, I have this handy blog on which to do that!
If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve heard of gamification. The way that apps and websites make doing everyday stuff more like a game – think checking in via FourSquare or even earning points on your virtual Starbucks card. Usually when I read about/hear about/see a new shiny object that’s been gamified, I kind of roll my eyes and go on with my day. (Except for earning those stars at Starbucks. Shiny, addictive little stars…)
Then I read not one, but two articles about this new app that makes learning a language into a game. The app is called Duolingo and it’s free (read this Slate article to see why).
(As an aside, that’s a business model I can get behind – free forever to allow people who NEED to learn English a way to do it without it costing them. And letting users “pay” for the app by translating real text, that the app developers get paid for. Brilliant!)
Since I have a trip to Paris coming up next week, I thought I’d give it a go.
What you should understand that I took 4 years of French in high school and a year of college-level intermediate French. My reading comprehension is still pretty damn high, all these years later, despite near-intentional disuse of the language. But when I try to speak French? I sound like a toddler with sentences all in the present tense and very noun-heavy. The exception is that I can say, very clearly, that “I need a cup of deaf coffee with milk and two sugars, please.” (I can also order wine and almost never get an entree that I’m not expecting.)
So it makes sense that I’m finding the early levels of Duolingo’s French program fairly easy to power through. I am remembering (sometimes painfully) which nouns are masculine and which are feminine and when to use a du/de la instead of un/une/le/la. And I’m having a blast! The little owl dude tells me I’m doing a good job, and I’m blowing up the XP charts! The lessons are short enough that you can get one done in a sitting, and I frequently feel like “Oh, I could do one more lesson.” In 48 hours, I’ve hit level 5.
If you are interested in learning a language (or re-learning what you’ve forgotten), I’d recommend Duolingo. And then you, when you sign up, you should find me on there and we can compare scores. But watch out, I’m competitive.(I was not asked to review this app, and Duolingo wouldn’t know me form a hole in the wall. I just like the app, is all.)
“She’s gluten free.”
“He’s a sensory kid.”
“We’re having her tested for the gifted and talented program.”
It seems like every kid these days has some kind of special need. Some something that sets them apart and makes it so that they don’t interact with the world the way “normal” kids do. (Of course, damned if I can find a “normal” kid to compare to, but more on that in a moment.)
For a long time, I thanked my lucky starts that Abby doesn’t have any special needs.
Of course, she has mild environmental allergies – but no indication that we need to cut out all dairy or skip the red dye #40. She’s got a lightning quick temper and some anxiety, but it’s not debilitating and she doesn’t need a quiet room or sensory brushes to calm down. She has her quirks and her meltdowns and her “things,” but they’re just part of who she is. My kid doesn’t have special needs.
But I watched Abby all weekend, playing with her friend who interacts with the world in a very different way than Abby does, and it hit me. She does. She does have very specific, very special needs. She needs to have decompression time, and she needs to do things on HER timetable. She needs to know there’s a starch she can eat at dinner and that she won’t be forced to choke down the protein if it’s just not how she’s feeling today. Abby needs to be hugged and kissed and tickled, even when she’s screaming “don’t talk to me!” at the top of her lungs.
These are things my child needs, and they are special and unique to her. My friends’ kids have their own special needs, whether they be dietary, educational, emotional, intellectual or some combination of all the above and more. Every kids has their own bag of quirks and tricks, and buttons to press. It is my job as Abby’s mom to decode those buttons, celebrate those quirks, trump those tricks, meet her needs, and help her learn to do all of that for herself.
(Let’s all just pretend that I’ve been updating this blog regularly so you know that baby boy is still with us, Daisy the cat is not and life continues along at an ever-busier, breakneck pace.)
Abby had a sleepover this weekend with her friend, Casey. On Saturday evening, Abby insisted that we all gather on my bed and talk about things in our days that made us sad or angry or happy. When it came to Casey’s turn, she said that she missed her mom. (There’s more to that story, but it’s not mine to tell.) Abby allowed as how she’s really been missing her birthmom lately and wishes she could see her. Casey all of a sudden realized what that term “birthmom” implied and said “Wait, you’re adopted? I’m adopted, too!” The girls then had a lovely, squealy moment discussing where they were adopted from and how old they were when they were adopted and all that great adopted-kid stuff.
This is adorable because, well, it just fucking is. Abby is SO our kid that her friends – even the adopted ones – don’t always realize that there’s no way on God’s green earth that she could be our biological child. It made my heart all melty, it did.
Thus concludes your moment of cute for the day.
This is funny, but not funny at the same time. While I spent the week managing the two kiddos and our crazy schedules by myself, while simultaneously worrying about a big court date for the baby that wasn’t such a big court date*, I noticed that the cat was having some…issues.
We had had a cat a long time ago who had a stroke. They weren’t sure that cat would make it, but she came home from the emergency vet and hopped out of her box like nothing had happened. She just leaned when she walked. Or stood still. Or sat. For the rest of her life. Her nickname became “Eileen” and if you get that pun, welcome to the family!
So I figured I knew what I was looking at when Daisy started walking that way – 14 year old cat, sudden lack of coordination, she’d had a stroke. I’ve had a stroke, too so I know what it feels like to be wobbly like that. Took the cat to the vet who confirmed that there’s nothing musculo-skeletal going on, no lingering nerve damage that he can find and no evidence of a metabolic issue. In short, she had some kind of neurological event and is ataxic. In English, her brain broke a bit and she’s wobbly.
Of course, now I’m concerned about the cat (who, let the record state, I don’t even particularly like anymore). Due to the wobbliness, she can’t really climb well and she’s been slowing down in recent years anyway.
It doesn’t help that she’s taken to disappearing for long stretches of time, convincing me that she’s crawled into some heat register and died.
Seriously, this cat not coming around a yowling for leftover fish is a sure sign she’s dead. Except when she’s not and comes to cuddle on the couch with you later.
Apparently, she’s not dead yet!
*Yay! Another whole month to stress about it!!
“Mommy, can we go to the diner?”
It’s all Brian’s fault. Apparently, every time I would go out of town, he would take Abby to the diner for breakfast at least once. Now that I’m the at-home parent, she expects to be taken out for waffles and will not take “no” for an answer.
So we got dressed, bundled up the baby and headed out to the diner. We went inside and I started feeding the baby his bottle. Abby started hanging off the bench in the booth.
“What are you doing, Abby?”
I asked why she didn’t bring in her book, and she told me it was because I was rushing her out of the car. Of course, it took her as long to consider getting out of the car as it took me to get out, unbuckle the baby, grab his diaper bag and close the door again. So, obviously rushing, yes.
I offered to help her be unbored, while wrestling a squirmy, 20-pound person who was way more interested in the trucks whizzing by outside than in the contents of his bottle.
“Find me something you see in the diner and spell it for me.”
Seriously? Are you actually serious, kid? You’re alive and awake, dressed in your private school uniform, sipping on hot chocolate and about to eat a waffle as big as your head and you’re having a fucking bad day at 7:32 in the morning because you forgot to bring in one of your eleventy-jillion books? What would it take to have a good day?
I asked her most of that, without quite as much cursing, but with a few sniffly tears when all of a sudden baby boy decided that formula was for sissies and puked. All over me and all over the booth. It looked like I peed my pants and was also lactating foul, regurgitated formula. My lap began to grow cold and my palms sweaty as I realized that i wasn’t going to have time to go home and change before driving Abby to school. So. Wet pants for the next hour. Great. Wet, smelly pants? Bring it on.
After I got the baby strapped into his booster seat and gave Abby some Cheerios to feed him, I went to the ladies’ room to collect myself. When I came back out, I looked my daughter right in the eye and said, “See, Abby? Someone always has it worse than you.”
Wine. Glorious wine. I ain’t talkin’ no Mad Dog or Boones here. I don’t need anything fancy either. Just a nice glass of Cabernet or Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc chilled just right and poured into a glass, ready for my enjoyment.
Last night’s dinner was popcorn, red wine and some Rolos Minis I bought in a moment of weakness at the grocery store. That should give you some clue as to how yesterday went. With an out-of-town husband, a teething baby and a first grader with the biggest attitude EVER (“Because I miss Daaaaaaaaddy!!”) I had earned that glass. (Or maybe it was two.)
Several people I spoke with on the phone yesterday evening asked me if I’d started drinking yet. Mom assumed I’d be into the scotch. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Today, I am thankful that we had a lovely bottle of CabSav in the fridge and I got to enjoy my dinner of champions before the baby woke up screaming. Which of course he did.
PS I think that I need to stock up on this before Brian’s next trip.