Camp, part 2

Some of the kids I first met as young campers are now in their final years on the teen staff. Watching them grow from young, unsure kids staying away from home for the first time to the more capable young adults they are becoming has been a heartwarming experience. I have kept in contact with several of them throughout the year, and seen the rest of them at the monthly camp meetings we have throughout the year. These staffers have been a great part of my life, and I am thrilled to be a part of theirs. (continued from Camp, part 1)

But then there are those campers that aren’t what we expect them to be. One difficult camper broke a bathroom door, threw rocks towards other campers, and told a staffer to “F- off”. And we all wanted to throttle him.

“What do you want to do?” one chaperone asked me when I came to him about the situation. “Call his parents? Send him home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “All the staffers are throwing their hands up in the air. We just don’t know what to do.”

“Do you want to talk to him?” he asked, and I said yes. We called him over and sat apart from the rest of the camp.

“I wish I knew who broke that door,” the mangy kid said.

“So you know why we’re here,” I said. I had no idea how to go about this. I knew I was at my wit’s end after having had the kid’s obstinence directed at me, and after hearing how he’d been abusing my staff. And he was obviously going to continue denying the broken door. Any accusations against him would only result in a back and forth, roundabout conversation. And we would get nowhere. I waited for the other chaperone to take the lead.

“So how do you like camp?” the chaperone asked.

“It’s great!” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite camp that I go to.”

“You go to other camps?” the chaperone asked.

“Just one other. It’s called Alateen,” he answered.

“Alateen? What’s that?” the chaperone asked.

“Well, it’s just a two day camp. It’s ‘cause my mom’s an alcoholic.”

“So you just live with your dad?” I asked. And he nodded. The brick walls he had built around him were slowly being taken down. And little by little we were getting glimpses of his home life, and how this one week was a reprieve from reality. He never admitted fault to the bathroom door, and we didn’t broach the subject further. But he did admit that he had cussed out a staffer. We were all smiles as we chatted, and I got a chance to know the kid who I had only known as a major pain in my neck just moments before.

“Are you coming back next year?” I asked him as we winded the conversation down.

“Of course!” he said. “I love this camp!”

“And are you planning on being on staff?” I asked.

“I guess I do,” but he visibly lit up at this suggestions.

“You know you’d be working very close to the staff if you did,” I pointed out.

“Yeah….” he said slowly.

“Maybe you might want to apologize to the staffer you cursed at,” the other chaperone said. The camper agreed, though I still don’t know if he did or not. But whenever I saw him for the rest of camp, his face was a smile, a sharp contrast from the glare he threw at me the very first time I saw him.

There’s something about camp. It’s the place where time stands still, where the hardships of real life take a back burner for one week. Everyone is accepted. Geeks are suddenly the cool kids. The cool kids are suddenly not so critical and are jumping and singing with everyone else. Everyone is equal, and fully themselves. Everyone is comfortable in their skin. Friendships are made that seem closer than any other friendship ever felt. Everything is funny, happy, surreal…. It is not uncommon to hear someone singing songs about bazooka bubble gum or swimming holes, or even odes to their dirty black socks. The stars are brighter at camp, and sleeping on planks under them is magical. Crafts such as making pillows or wind chimes never sounded more appealing.

This year the campfire burned bigger and brighter than ever, thanks to the expertise of our staff and the tribes, but I think because the spirit was alive and jumping to the music with us.

I cannot put words to camp and do it justice. But before I left I sat in the very spot I had sat in for years at camp, and I took in all I was about to leave behind until next year. The benches were empty, but for a moment I saw laughing campers filling each seat. I saw our teen staff in front, the ones who worked all week long to make sure a bunch of kids were happy and taken care of. Camp songs echoed in my ears as if the camp spirit surrounded me and enveloped me like a ghost. I saw the beautiful trees, heard the gurgling creek, breathed in the forest air.

I believe that there are certain places that are our heavens on earth, and this is one of mine….

Camp, part 1

campfireYou truly don’t appreciate a nice soft mattress until you sleep on a wooden plank at camp on an air mattress with a slow leak. I’d go to sleep on a firm inflated bed at night, but would wake up flat on the boards the next morning, my sorry excuse of a mattress pillowing out on all sides. If I slept for 5 hours I was doing well. And it’s funny, even on a deflated mattress, how hard it was to get out of bed in the morning to relieve my full bladder. Even a failed air mattress is infinitely more comfortable than 40 degree crisp morning air. And it just seemed easier to get used to the wooden boards flattening my hip and my bladder close to bursting than to brave the cold July morning that felt more like November. But eventually I had to relent, find my shoes, and make the long trek to the bathrooms at the bottom of the hill. Besides, there is no coffee brought to you in bed at camp. If I wanted to wake up, I had to make the even longer journey to the dining hall. On 5 hours of sleep, coffee wins above all.

As I write this, I am sitting on the edge of a stump for a seat. My hair has not been washed yet today. But it is hidden underneath my sweatshirt hood: partly to keep warm, but mostly for protection against the swarming mosquitoes waiting for a snack. It’s the same spot I sat in as a child, and later as a teenager on staff. And here I am now, a chaperone at the same summer camp. As a kid, every year would be spent in anticipation for that one week in the summertime when I would get up early for the Polar Bear Swim, drink hot cocoa to keep warm in the morning, hiking trails in search of the sunrise, making lanyards at the craft shack, mealtime hikes up and down from the water tower, and singing songs around the camp fire every night. And now it’s come full circle as my own kids learn the songs from my youth, twisted only slightly to fit in with the times.

There’s something about camp. You get there, and the dust overwhelms you. You get eaten alive by mosquitoes that will only leave you alone after you smell like a saturated pine cone, and biting flies that will eat you no matter what. If you have allergies (and I do), your face will feel like it will fall off by the third day. You hike up a hill to get somewhere. You hike up a hill to get back. You have to wait in line for a shower, and you’re not guaranteed hot water. The dining hall smells not so faintly of sour milk. The salad is served lunch and dinner, and looks slightly brown by the 7th day. And I think I’ll be fine if I don’t eat red jello until next year. We go to bed late and wake up way too early, and are completely sleep deprived by the end of camp. The pool is ice cold and crowded, and my feet are torn up from the rough bottom, not to mention the blisters from all that hiking….

And still, I come back every year.

This is my sixth consecutive year coming back as an adult chaperone. Why is it that I annually take one week’s vacation from work to get interrupted sleep and to brave the elements? It’s simple. There are the memories I have from my youth that come back full force with each visit. That girl sitting on the rock taking in the scenery before bounding off with her friends, or the one doing dives off the diving board over and over, or the one performing the skit with her tribe at campfire….they all could have been me. Each section of camp holds different memories that are now being enveloped by new memories. There are the night swims, the clean camp competition, the scare hike, the end of camp dance, the bean carnival, and the staffer auction. There are the friendships I made at camp, some of which I still have, and many that I miss but remember fondly. Being with a group of people for one week has the magical ability to form the best of friendships. I have been witnessing bonds of friendship among the kids all week, and still get to experience this myself with the other chaperones. There are several of us that come year after year, and new friends we make as more chaperones start coming for the first time.

But the biggest reason why I come back every year? The kids.

Some of the kids I first met as young camper are now in their final years on the teen staff. Watching them grow from young, unsure kids staying away from home for the first time to the more capable young adults they are becoming has been a heartwarming experience. One teen came to camp as a kid knowing a few good chords on the guitar and played them at each campfire. Now the guitar has become an extension of him as he plays great music for every occasion, and has even inspired campers to bring their own guitars and musical talent to camp. Another teen came as a wisecracking teen…..and his still a wisecracking teen (as I was journaling at camp, he called it “blogging on paper”). But ask him to do any task, no matter what, and he was on it. One sunny girl has been an example of what camp spirit is all about year after year, singing moose songs and infecting other campers with her sunshine. I watched two staffers, past and present, graduate this year. I have held several pancake breakfasts with staffers around my table. I have kept contact with several of them throughout the year, and seen the rest of them at the monthly camp meetings we have throughout the year. These staffers have been a great part of my life, and I am thrilled to be a part of theirs.

Read More…..

Moms Pushing for Education Changes

My friend, Joe Manthey, sent me a link to this article from the Sac Bee today, and I found it really intriguing.  It’s about a group of moms who take California’s education crisis seriously, and are actively working to put the spotlight on California’s education needs while having fun at the same time.

Burning Moms use humor to push for education changes in California

They think of themselves as street-theater activists who are willing to get in the face of the powers-that-be to bring equity to the state’s school funding system.

So between driving kids to soccer practice and helping with homework, these moms are hooking up online to organize their next rally or blogging about what bill in the Legislature might bring transparency to education finance.

At the Capitol last week, a loosely formed coalition called the Burning Moms staged its second annual rally at the state Capitol to protest school funding cuts.

Instead of marching with placards and chanting slogans, the Burning Moms and their kids built sculptures out of trash and danced to rewritten rock tunes performed by a band called the Angry, Tired Teachers.

Their goal is to make political activism fun and irreverent, while shining a spotlight on a public school system in crisis.

Read more……

Videogames

videogames

My name is Crissi, and I am the mother of a video game junkie.

It’s true. During the school year I limit it to weekends only. The weekend started on Fridays after we got home from school and work, and ended at 9 pm on Sundays. I always swore I’d give him time limits, but I admit it, I never did. He would wake up at 8 am on the dot to start playing. I would not let him play any earlier in favor of my sleep. If I didn’t limit that, without exaggeration he’d be up at 5 am to start playing. And if I let him, he would happily play all day long, pausing only long enough to take a bathroom break or eat. I would even have to remind my usually healthy eater that he needed to stop and eat something, usually when he’d be reduced to tears over a hard part in the game because his blood sugar was getting low.

Take the video games away from him, and I would suddenly be around the Tasmanian Devil! He became a boy going through serious withdrawal. The first day is always the hardest. His anger is through the roof, and he’ll go through bouts of yelling and crying, and then yelling some more. After that it gets a little easier, but he counts down the days till he can have the games back. I can take away any of his toys and his reaction doesn’t even touch the video game reaction. Even his skateboards, his second most prized possession, only produce a few tears. But the video games, that is the magic item that cuts him straight to the core. I will say, though, that it takes the guesswork out of discipline. The video games are always the very first to go. And if I have to take away several items, he has to earn everything else back before getting the video games back.

Now that it is summertime, the whole week is like the weekend. I’m not putting a whole lot of restraints on it. We are gone during the day, so he doesn’t play all day long. He wakes up in the morning and quickly makes his breakfast and lunch, and then gets ready for day camp. And when he’s all done getting ready, he plays video games for an hour before we leave. I never have to wait on him in the morning because he is the first one in the household to be ready to leave. When we get back, he’s back on the video games. And on the weekends, he has more time to play. I have noticed, though, that since his allotted playing time has increased, he is more apt to put the video games down and play outside with his friends or even just sit and read a book. And if I tell him to turn it off, he is more willing to do so since he knows that he can play again soon.

Any other parents have a video game junkie for a kid? How do you handle it? What kind of limits do you place on their playing?

Kids Cleaning

“Crissi!” the neighbor kid called from downstairs.

“Yeah?” I asked, immersed in my work on the computer.

“Today’s Monday, the night I spend the night!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“But my cousin is spending the night too,” he said.

“Oh, that’s too bad –“  I started, assuming he meant over at his house.

“So we can probably fit a third sleeping bag over there,” he said, pointing to a spot on the kids’ cleaned bedroom floor.

“Um, ok…” I said.

“So now you’ll have three boys spending the night!” he said happily before bounding down the stairs.

I think I got swindled.

The rule I made for my son was that the house had to be cleaned if he wanted his new best friend (and now his cousin, sigh) to spend the night.  He put his clothes away, and reluctantly (meaning he was already crying) went in the bedroom to clean it up.  His sister went downstairs and he threw a fit because he thought she was going to start playing his video games.  But all she was doing was getting her clothes.  Then, in the bedroom, there was more fighting.  She wanted it done a certain way.  He wanted to just throw everything in random boxes so that the middle of the room was cleared.  He came out in tears because he couldn’t work with that kind of pressure.  I told him that it would be easier if he just followed her direction because I didn’t want everything thrown in random boxes either.  She finally left the room and started cleaning the bathroom instead, followed by the dining room.  And he succeeded in making the room look clean on his own AND throwing everything in random boxes.

And my house is almost completely clean, and I didn’t have to do anything.

“I can’t wait till my toddler can clean,” my friend emailed me today, adding that her toddler did clear off the sink before my friend wiped it down.

As busy moms, it seems at times (in my case, ALL the time) that there is too much to do to finish up in one afternoon.  As soon as one room is clean and you’re onto the next, the precious angels are soaking up the novelty of a clean room, and messing it up in the process.  The work is never done, especially if you are the only one doing it.

This is where bringing the kids in is incredibly valuable.  At 11 and 8, my kids are capable of a lot more than they used to be able to do.  My son helps me take out the garbage, can sort laundry, and can sweep the kitchen floor.  My daughter can fold laundry, fill up the dishwasher, and make sense of random messes by making logical piles for me to sort through.  And it all saves time for me when I have to get down and dirty into the housework.  Even a toddler clearing off a bathroom counter one piece at a time is much like having a prep cook in a kitchen: it paves the way for the bigger job we have to do by chipping away at the menial tasks.

So don’t be afraid to get your kids to help you out…..even if they cry.  Truth is, eventually they’ll learn, like my daughter, that it’s just best to clean without arguing and get it done quickly, and that crying about it just slows the process down. Not only that, eventually it helps them to take pride in the house and keep it clean for a longer period of time.  I’ll let you know when that happens.

Alright, off to prepare for a sleepover with three boys…..

(As a girl, I have always called overnight parties “slumber parties”.  I recently got my hand kindly slapped by a dad when I referred to my son’s overnight that way.  For any moms that are confused like I was, “slumber parties” are for girls, “sleepovers” are for boys.  Now you know.)

The Lying Blogger

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About 7 years ago I was pregnant with my third child.  And like most pregnant women, the pregnancy was all I could think about.  I belonged to an online forum of women who were due around the same time as me, and through the months we became like family.  We knew about each other’s personal lives, offered each other advice, and supported each other emotionally through good times and bad. 

The community I experienced was important to me.  My husband and I never planned on having more than two children.  I was pregnant again by accident.  My son was only 1 when I found out I was expecting again.  He was an energetic child who took all the energy from me, and just the thought of raising him, and then another child who could be just as energetic….  Let’s just say I was slightly less than enthusiastic about the whole upcoming experience.  I joined the forum because I needed to talk about it, and I needed to know I wasn’t alone.  And what I got out of it was not only new friends, but an evolving feeling of anticipation for the child that was never planned but loved more and more every day.

Ask a pregnant woman what she is thinking about, and it will pretty much center around her expanding belly and the life inside of her.  Pregnancy affects the brain.  A pregnant woman could talk about her pregnancy at all times of the day and never run out of things to say.  And who can blame her?  There is so much going on in a pregnancy – from body changes to hormones to wondering about what’s normal and abnormal to how the family is being affected to swollen feet and peanut butter cravings….  Thing is, in real life, non-pregnant people are not interested in hearing about pregnancy 24/7. 

This is where my online community came in.

Suddenly I had a place where I could talk about even the most embarrassing change that was happening to me (hellllooooo hemorrhoids) and someone else would chime in with “Me too!”.  If I just needed a good cry, there was always someone there with a “listening ear” and a cyber hug.  Every doctor visit was detailed, as was every single flutter against our belly.  We filled that board with posts on every single topic relating to our pregnancy, as well as anything else.

When we were all about 5 months along, one of the ladies went into premature labor.  We prayed with her for her baby, a sweet baby girl attached to tubes in an incubator to keep her tiny body alive.  And privately we thanked God that it wasn’t us, that our babies were still safe and growing inside of us.  She continued to keep up with us on the boards, giving us regular updates on her premature baby.  A couple women put together a collection to get her a new computer so that she could easily keep us informed.  And through pictures we were able to experience her departure from the hospital and watch as she grew a little stronger every day.   Even women from the other boards visited ours to offer encouragement and love.

At 7 ½ months along I was sitting on the couch at home when I realized that I hadn’t felt my baby move all day.  In fact, the last time I had remembered feeling my baby was in the afternoon the day before when he had given me a series of quick frantic kicks before silencing again.  And on the ultrasound at the hospital that night I learned that my child’s heart had stopped beating.  It was later learned that his umbilical cord had cinched up tight, that the cord lacked the proper amount of Wharton’s Jelly to be able to stay full and allow food and nutrients to pass through.  In essence, my baby had died of starvation.

The support I received from the online boards at this time was overwhelming.  They offered me words of sorrow and love over my stillbirth.  These women had become like sisters to me in the past months, and were true to their care of me in the loss I experienced.  They were feeling the loss as well.  The mother of the premature baby was especially attentive with me.  She wrote me often in emails to see how I was doing and offer encouragement as I mourned.  She helped put together a care package that was sent to me from the ladies, a gift of little trinkets from the forum board to let me know they were thinking of me.  And I was grateful for her care.  The other women were still safe in their pregnancies, and were about to experience what I was not going to be able to experience – a happy and healthy birth to a living, breathing, wriggly baby.  At least this woman knew what it was like when things didn’t happen like they were supposed to.  The fact that she survived it and was doing ok even though her daughter now required constant medical care, it gave me faith that I would be ok too.

It was soon after that the boards received an alarming post from someone new.  The pictures that this woman was posting were not of her premature baby, but of her sister-in-law’s baby.  This woman had in fact lost her baby to stillbirth and was lying that her baby had actually been born prematurely.

The board was shocked.  And hurt.  And ANGRY.  I witnessed the verbal slander that these women hurled at the lying mother, furious that they had been tricked and made fools of.  She apologized profusely, and then disappeared from the boards, deleting her profile altogether.

A little while later, she emailed me, explaining her position.  She had hurt so much when her baby had died.  And to help process the pain, as wrong as she knew it was, she made up a make-believe world where her baby had been born and was real.  And having been through loss myself, I knew exactly what she was feeling.  We had been a part of a group of women who were all experiencing the same thing.  When circumstances changed, when the pregnancies ended without warning, we were suddenly the outsiders.  Since losing my baby, I sporadically visited the board to read up on the women who had become my friends.  But I found it more painful than reassuring because I could no longer relate.  And as their babies were born, it hurt like losing my son all over again.  She hadn’t wanted to lose that sense of community.  And she didn’t want to have to face the world where no baby existed.  So she made up a world of her own. 

I can understand the anger that has been fueled by the lying blogger who faked her pregnancy and birth of a terminally ill daughter named April Rose.  The heartstrings of people who supported her through emails and gifts were abused.  The people who had supported her were made to feel sympathy and love for a baby that never existed.

But I also understand the pain and hurt of a mother processing a life that should have been different.  She should have had a baby.  That baby should have been alive.  There never should have been a tragic ending.  I feel for her, this woman who went about things the wrong way to deal with the emotional scars left behind by pregnancy losses. 

This story is also a reminder that what we see online and what is real life can be two extremely different things.  The mask of the internet allows anyone to be whatever they project to the world, and easily do it without being questioned.  This story of the lying blogger is not the first of its kind, and will not be the last.  So please be careful in the information you put forth, and be aware that it is possible that there is more to an online person than what they are putting out there.

Baby Faces Contest Winner!

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At the beginning of May, SantaRosaMom.com began a contest looking for the cutest baby photo.  The prize was a MacLaren Quest Sport Stroller from My Baby News on Santa Rosa Ave.  There were a lot of really cute photos submitted.  There was the Christmas baby and her big fluffy dog.  There was the sleepy baby boy in his bouncy walker.  There was the little bundle of joy with an adorable look of surprise.  There were so many cute baby faces that we wondered if it was even possible to choose just one.  But one baby face caught our eye.  Or should we say, TWO baby faces.

Meet E&V’s baby face twins, Ellie and Vance:


Ellie


Vance

E&V, aka Sarah, was ecstatic to win this prize!  As a busy mother of twins, she was in desperate need of a single stroller.  She told me that a double stroller is great when you have someone to help you through a crowd, but it was just too much too handle on her own when juggling two growing babies and a small area to maneuver around. 

Congratulations E&V!  We hope you enjoy your new stroller!

 

(From left: Storeowner Paula, WineCountryMom/Crissi, E&V/Sarah and Vance, and Ellie in the stroller)

Thank you to everyone who entered this contest.  I hope to see more photos of your lovely little ones on our site!

A huge thank you goes to George Resing and Paula Thomas of My Baby News.  If you haven’t checked out their store, you don’t know what you’re missing!  They have everything you can think of for your baby’s needs, and the staff are absolute naturals with babies. 

My Baby News
3011A Santa Rosa Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA  95407
707-546-BABY(2229)

 

Giving the kids something to talk about in therapy.