Monthly Archives: May 2013

Camping for the Non-camper

My parents never took our family camping because my Mom considered camping to be the opposite of a vacation.  After all, you have to pack lots of the things you’d use at home (kitchen supplies, toiletries, linens, clothing, etc.), drive them to the campsite, unpack them, use them, pack them back up to leave, take them home, unpack them, wash them, and re-pack them again for their regular use.  Why go through all that when you can just stay home and not have to pack or unpack anything?  Not to mention, there’s the cooking while not in a kitchen and the sleeping while not in a bedroom.  Millions of people camp all over the country every year, but we were never among them.  As a result, I’ve tended to side with my mother when it comes to opinions on camping.

Jim, on the other hand, has always had romantic notions of camping.  His parents didn’t take him camping either, but he attended many years of church camp where he slept in lean-tos and cooked over an open fire.  He counts those experiences as some of his favorites.  So, it’s no surprise that he’s been eager to take our family camping. I finally agreed to give it a try last summer when we found out that some out-of-town relatives were planning to tent camp at a nearby campground for a few days.  I figured we could join them and try it out. If we didn’t like it we’d only be a few miles from home.

As it turns out, the week we selected was the hottest week of 2012 – 100 humid degrees each day.  We were tent camping and we didn’t even have a fan.  In addition, we were camping during the week, so Jim had to leave each morning to go to work, leaving me with a 5-year-old and a 7-month-old in the sweltering heat all day.  The first night, a thunderstorm so intense that it washed out some local roads rained down upon our little campsite.  Between the rain, the heat, and the loud neighbors I barely got any sleep.  It was not the charming camping experience I had been sold, and I made my own promise not to tent camp again.  A month later, when the opportunity arose, we purchased a cheap, used pop-up camper.Camping

This weekend, we camped again at the same campground and it was a completely different experience.  Despite the unseasonably cold temperatures (low 40s at night), we were cozy and snug in our quiet, heated camper.  All four of us slept soundly in our separate beds that were not on the ground.  We had a refrigerator to keep our food cold and a stove and griddle (for Jim) to cook on.  It was wonderful.

There’s a term for my kind of camping: “glamping” or glamorous camping.  We still get to enjoy all the fun of campfires, hiking, and fishing – not to mention the community aspect one finds at a campground – but we don’t have to sleep on the ground or watch our tent get blown over by the wind.  Besides, it’s not like we’re alone, you know.  Three quarters of the campers in our campground this weekend were in campers larger and cozier than ours.

So, now I’m definitely up for all the “glamping” Jim can throw at me.

(I’m also up for ignoring the mountains of campfire-smelling laundry in my basement).

Here in the Middle

Professionally, the past week-and-a-half has been one of the most rewarding I can remember.  As my students and I travelled through a musical vortex of concerts, tours, adjudications, and field trips, I was constantly reminded how almost-human middle school students can be when they put their minds to it.  My students performed beautifully and behaved wonderfully, and they were excited to do their best.  They even brought home a trophy for their “superior” singing.  Weeks like this past one are what get me through on the days when I’m certain all of my students are the spawn of Satan.

Some of my students

Some of my students

If you are (or have been) the parent of a middle school student, I’m sure you have some idea of what we go through here in the middle.  Now, take those three years – the ones from 11 to 14 – and loop them over and over.  Remember how you keep (or kept) telling yourself that this is “just a stage” and your child will quickly be through it?  For us, it’s a never-ending, three-year-long Groundhog Day of early adolescent drama, attitude, laziness, and insecurity that can sometimes last for up to 35 years.

And we love it.

Few people who graduate with education degrees throw their caps in the air and announce “my dream is to work in a middle school!” Personally, I thought I was going to be a high school or university choral director and direct advanced singers through the great choral masterpieces.  Like many, however, I stumbled into middle school and discovered that it’s where I fit the best.  I love how middle school students have a constant nervous energy that can often be channeled to achieve great beauty (and, yes, great mischief).

Yesterday, I watched the video of our spring concert with my students and they filled out questionnaires detailing the strengths and weaknesses of our performance.  At the bottom, I asked them if they thought they had grown as a singer.  Most said “yes” and gave details, such as “I am better at singing harmonies” and “my range is much wider.”  My favorite, however, came from one of my boys, who wrote:

“I have improved this year because at the beginning of the year I wasn’t actually singing.”

Sometimes, here in the middle, such small victories mean as much as a trophy.

 

Understanding Depression

Following the birth of 1yo, I was blessed to be able to take 8 months of maternity leave.  We scrimped and saved so I could stay home with our new baby and really bond with him. It was wonderful.  However, about half-way through my leave, I started to slide into a late-onset post-partum depression.  I could still function and complete daily tasks, but the world went gray.  It was so hard to explain to my husband or my family.  I still did all the mom things a mother with a newborn and a 5yo were supposed to do, but all I really wanted to do was space out.  I was a zombie. I longed for my next opportunity to go to bed and shut off.  The day I returned to work, my fog lifted.  What that says about me is a loaded question for another post, but I was relieved to have found myself again.

Depression was new, unfamiliar and awful.   Here I was, surrounded by so many blessings and yet I was empty inside.  Still, my depression was mild compared to the depression under which some people suffer for years.

Recently, Allie, from the blog Hyperbole and a Half, posted about her 19 month struggle with  very severe depression.  If you have ever had a family member or loved one who struggled with depression, I highly recommend that you read this.  It explains depression so clearly in a way that I couldn’t.

Click HERE to read this wonderful post.

Happy Mother’s Day (my minions)!

Happy Mother’s Day to anyone and everyone who has ever mothered someone -sons, daughters, nieces, grandchildren, neighbors, cats, dogs, fish, or fowl.

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A conversation with 6yo in the parking lot of the restaurant we went to for Mother’s Day dinner:

6yo: Mommy! Your shadow looks like a minion!

Me: A Minion? Cool!

6yo: Wait, I really meant a midget.

Me: It’s not really polite to call people midgets, lets stick with minion – I like that.

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Something I learned about 1-year-olds today:

When they want their older sister’s ice cream, you can trick them with a plate of whipped cream.

mothersdayb3sepia

Abercrombie & Fitch: Why is Anyone Surprised?

When I was in 8th grade, the Esprit brand was all the rage, as was Benetton. The uniform of all who cared about conforming was a sweatshirt with “Esprit” emblazoned across the front, high-top sneakers, and an awkward-to-carry, wind-sock-shaped Benetton bag.

I would be proud to say that I, at the age of 14, was above all of this commercialism but that would be a lie. I wanted to fit in, too. Unfortunately (although in hind-sight I feel differently), my mother refused to pay for anything simply because it had a brand name screen-printed across the front.

So, I saved up my babysitting money and finally procured one knock-off Esprit sweatshirt at an outlet and a Benetton bag that may also have been of questionable origins. The first day I wore them to school, the number of “I love your sweatshirt!” comments I received was overwhelming and also eye-opening for me. Thanks to my parents, I knew deep down that I was selling out. Without the brand name, I was wearing a sloppy, faded blue sweatshirt. The only thing that separated me from the girl in class wearing the plain, blue, no-brand sweatshirt (who was often referred to as “scum” in our early 90’s prep lexicon) was six little red letters.

Anyone who is surprised by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries’s recent comments about only marketing to attractive, “cool” people either grew up apart from this kind of marketing or is simply extremely naïve. It is also naïve to think that the CEOs of other companies that depend on teenage pressure to conform to brand-name purchasing (Aeropostale, Under Armour, Hollister, American Eagle) don’t have the exact same mind-set as Jeffries.

The success of these companies says more about us and our children than it does about those companies. Daily, I see 12 to 14-year-olds march through middle school hallways proudly wearing a shirt that says they belong, merely because of the brand-name emblazoned on the front. The desire to fit in (and for our children to fit in) is strong enough to convince people to purchase clothing, despite the fact that it looks old and worn-out and sometimes even dirty, simply because of the brand. What company wouldn’t want to perpetuate this mind-set when there’s so much money to be made?

I think Mike Jeffries is a total ass, but I don’t blame him and companies like his for this social condition. These companies exist because of us. They exist because we foster an idea in our children that you are what you own – that paying a lot for a ratty hoodie makes you more valuable than the kid whose parents bought his sweatshirt at Walmart. Shame on Mike Jeffries, but shame on us as well.

Fortunately, I was saved by my parents values and the grunge movement of the mid-90s. Thanks to Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, we could happily shop at thrift stores and borrow our boyfriend’s flannel shirts and still be accepted. Granted, we were following a trend, but one more focused on who we wanted to be and less on what we wanted to buy.

Me, in 9th grade, rocking the looney tunes basketball T-shirt I stole from my younger brother.

Me, in 9th grade, rocking the looney tunes basketball T-shirt I stole from my younger brother.

To this day, even though I do fit into the clothing in those name-brand stores, I will not buy them. I will not buy them because of what it says about me and who I want to be (and because anyone my age trying to rock an Aeropostale tiny-tee is just trying too hard).

In the interest of full disclosure: In college, I did work in the Gap for a while. I did own one Gap sweatshirt that I bought off the clearance rack for $5 and subsequently got grease on it shortly afterward. I hung onto it for another decade to wear around the house. It was one of my favorite comfy sweatshirts.

 

Buckle Up Your Bowling Balls

When I was little, my aunt had a car that spoke.  Remember those?  If your car door was open, the car would say (in its 80’s robot voice) “Your door is ajar.”  I think it also said other things, but I don’t remember them.  I spent most of the time opening and closing the door while it was parked, so “your door is ajar” is what I remember best.  It was as though I was in my own personal episode of Knight Rider – except that I didn’t drive anywhere and the voice didn’t sound like Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World or John Adams from 1776.

"Your door is ajar!"

“Your door is ajar!”

Considering we had talking cars in the 80s, you would think all cars today would be equipped with Siri-type personal assistants who could also help you solve crime.  Instead, my car just nags at me with an annoying beep every time I leave something heavy on the passenger seat.

Today, I had to transport some heavy equipment from my first job to my second job.  I stacked it all on a cart and wheeled it out to my car.  When I opened the back hatch, I found that Jim had left his bowling balls in the back.  By bowling “balls” I mean an entire suitcase of bowling balls that Jim needs to take with him every Monday night because one ball just isn’t enough.  I couldn’t fit the equipment in the back without moving the balls, but the only place I could put them was on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

This wasn’t a problem until I got in my car at the end of the day.  Apparently, the 50 lbs. of balls, shoes, and rosin were enough to set off the passenger seat sensor that tattles on anyone who sits in the seat without buckling.  It started off as a slow “beep…….beep……..beep.”  The longer I drove, the quicker and louder it got until it was all, “BEEP…BEEP..BEEP BEEPBEEPBEEEP..BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!!!”

Really, Toyota? This is the automotive equivalent of “Mom! He’s touching me! Stop touching meeeee!!!! Mooooooommmmmyyyy!!!!”

It’s 2013.  By now, my car should be brewing my coffee and cutting my hair.  At the very least, cars should politely clear their throats in an “ahem” fashion instead of rudely beeping at people who are perfectly capable of choosing whether or not they wear their seatbelts.

Get on that, car designers.