Reflections on Summer Camp

This Sunday, my husband and I will be dropping Sunny off at a week-long overnight camp.  She’s in a cabin with her best Friend in the Universe, Gail, and their shared excitement and anticipation could power every town between (and including) Chicago and St. Louis, if we could get them to stay still long enough to hook ’em up to the grids.

She would have packed the moment we told her, but she didn’t have a suitcase, something she reminded us about at least twice a day during the course of the last month.  My husband finally took her out last night to get a handled backpack affair that she filled to the brim ten minutes after they brought it home . . . except for her spare gym shoes, which have gone walkabout in the way peculiar to children’s shoes that were last seen in that exact spot yesterday, for given values of exact, spot, and yesterday.

awesomeshoesThe absence of these shoes has left a rift in her very soul.  She’s searched absolutely everywhere for those shoes!  Those shoes have disappeared off the face of the earth!  She has to pack those shoes!  The shoes are on the camp packing list!  The camp won’t let her in without those shoes!

Heaven help the parent—seriously, I could use it—who suggests that her method of searching absolutely everywhere, which consists of standing in the middle of her room and staring straight ahead at one corner of it, might not be the most efficient use of her ocular senses or pattern recognition.Laundry hamper

Nor, by the way, will that parent win any cause-and-effect argument over the possibility that since all her clothes are packed, she might well be running around stark naked by Friday.  Or that it might be necessary for a parental figure to UNpack her suitcase to make sure all items of clothing pass the two essential Does This Item Have More Cloth Than Holes? and Have You Been Packing From The Dirty Hamper?? tests.

I’m beginning to suspect that this kind of behavior is nature’s way of encouraging parents who are perhaps uncertain about sending their child away for a whole week to not only make the decision to give their precious baby a taste of independence, but also to call the camp to see if they can be dropped off a bit early.

Like, say, Thursday.

Jane, of course, is thrilled about Sunny’s impending departure as well, though no one would choose a preteen to power anything except a universal sense of sullen ennui.* She is visibly happy about having the bathroom to herself, presumably so we won’t have another repeat of this morning’s argument:

“Move, pleathe, Janie.”

“I’m brushing my hair.”Toothbrush2

“Buh ah havtha thpit out mah foofpathe!”

“You’ll have to wait until I’m done!”

“Ah wath ‘ere furtht, ‘anie! Moo-ooom!”

Please not that in that bathroom, the mirror and counter both stretch the length of the room. But in Janie’s estimation, only the part of the mirror in front of the single sink provides the One True Reflection** by which her hair may be accurately parted, for a given value of accuracy. ***

On further thought, perhaps we should have signed both kids up for camp. It would be nice to see what having a toothpaste-free countertop is like.


*We wouldn’t even need cables—it’s all in the cloud.

** I personally like to stand on the left side, where the vent wafts warm or cold air on my toes, depending on the weather, but it’s been made clear to me that I’m too old to get anything I don’t get.




Sunnyisms for a Cloudy Day: Superhero Edition

My eight-year old, Sunny, has a way of confounding expectations in the best possible way.

It’s her superpower.

Super Iron Sunny



All’s Fair in Love and Goldfish

During the Morning commute:

“We had a lot of fun at recess this week, Mommy.”

“What are you doing?  Playing superheroes?”Goldfish Crackers

“No.  We’ve been getting married.”

“All of you?”

“Pretty much.  Yesterday, Jennie married Gavin and Melissa married Jack.”

“With actual ceremonies?  Or just cake?”

“The church words.  We take turns saying the awfully married wife stuff.”

“And the boys are okay with this?”

“Not always.  We had to tackle Colin.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

“No.  The groom gets half the bride’s snack after recess, so they’re usually okay with it once they’re caught.  It’s just, Colin doesn’t like peanut butter crackers, so he wanted to marry me instead of Sophie.”

“Did you accept his proposal?”

“No way!  I like goldfish crackers way too much to get married!”


A recent triumphant shout from the bathroom:

“Once again, the Toilet Paper of Justice has wiped the Butt of EEEEeeevil!”


(Wouldn’t that make a terrific Proctor & Gamble ad?)


Super Mom

For Mother’s Day, I received this poster:

It reads:

My Mom is great.  My Mom is cool. My Mom is better than any Mom on earth.

My Mom can do anything!  My Mom is as smart as a stegosaurus which has two brains.

My Mom can’t lose.  My Mom is the best.  I love my Mom because she snuggles like a pro.

My Mom is a SUPERHERO.

On the next page, there’s a form reporting that I’m as strong as a hippo,
as smart as the aforementioned stegosaurus
(no mention that the stego’s second brain is installed in the rear),
brave as a mountain lion,
And that I have the Power to Snuggle.

My only weakness?


Yeah, I teared up.  This kind of thing is pure kryptonite.


Bad Mommy

I tucked Sunny in last night at she wanted a snuggle, so I climbed in.

“Ow!” I said, shifting to extract an Elsa doll, a transformer ball, a Dr. Who My Little Pony, three books, a flashlight, an empty bottle of bubble solution, two Pokemon figurines, and a handful of sharp-edged Legos.

“You have an awful lot of non-sleeping stuff in this bed,” I said, dropping everything all over the side.

“Mommy!” Sunny said, “You’re getting my room all messy!”

Sunny Comp

My First Baby is Twelve

Birthday Cake2

It seems to be a tradition now that the schools close on Jane’s birthday.

Last year, it was the Polar Vortex. This year . . . it’s whatever excuse the meteorologists have cooked up to explain the -30F chilling winds screaming across the plains and right up our noses into our brains.

Since she was off—and I took a vacation day to look after both kids—we gave her one of her presents early: the Nintendo 2DS that I swore the Oath of the Good Mother* I wouldn’t buy but found cheap at GameStop, which sells refurbished stuff at very good discounts. Such a good discount, that I promised to take her to the nearest GameStop to get, you know, a game or two to play on it.

Let it be said that five minutes after I made that promise, she was bundled up and in the car, honking the horn.

That’s a sign of a good gift, wouldn’t you say?

Of course, since the store was in the Mall anyway, I held that promise over her head to force her to try on  couple of winter coats, because her old one is two years old and fits her like a puffy, purple straightjacket.  Luckily, she adores the new one she found—a black trench coat number with a lot of zippers—so that makes it a kind of bonus present.**

We grabbed lunch, then went back home so Jane could play her new games and a somewhat jealous Sunny could do her math homework.

Tonight, she’ll open the rest of her gifts, if we can pull her away from this one.

That gives me the afternoon to contemplate the evolution—if you’re the parent of a Pokemon trainer, you’ll get the pun—of my first baby.

Eleven, I think she and I would agree, wasn’t much fun for anyone.  The hormone fairy arrived and treated her like a punching bag for a while, and when she tried to lash back, she missed and hit the family instead.  Her body and her mind stopped synching up for a little bit, there, and the misalignment sometimes garnered the kind of attention she wasn’t equipped to handle. She kind of forgot why school is important—or didn’t believe us when we reminded her—and though she managed to regroup, it wasn’t quite enough.

Twelve, I hope, will be better for everyone.

But especially my beautiful girl, who is bright and funny and willful—and hella won’t-ful—and creative and all kinds of loud and maybe a quart low on self-esteem.

Happy birthday, Janie—may you collect them all.


*”I swear  on my intentions to be a Good Mother that I will never _________________, until such time that I wear down, cave in, or explode.  So help me, please.”

**It also makes her look about seventeen, which might be a problem, if she could stop talking about Pokemon for more than three minutes at a time.




The Saga of Pip and Pebble

Jane has been clamoring for a pet for a while now and Sunny has been clamoring for anything her sister wants for most of her young life. Christmas tends to intensify this kind of thing, so it was getting kind of loud around here.

Most of our dinner conversations since Thanksgiving have featured names for the dachshund we aren’t getting,* because the other adults in the house, including Toby, our geriatric cat, have put all their** collective feet down.

But I like the idea of my kids growing up with their own pets.

I did—we had several cats and dogs when I was young, and a large aquarium full of fish and snails.*** We also had many, many generations of gerbils, descendants of a single pair which, despite the pet store’s reassurances, were clearly not both male.^ There were also various free-range turtles over the years, a couple of ping-pong playing pigeons from Dad’s behavioral science labs, and also a short-lived, but much adored lizard.^^ Not to mention the illegal hamster and fish I smuggled in and out of my college dorm rooms and managed to keep alive for much longer than my roommates had hoped anticipated.

I think—my family can tell you for sure—that caring for small animals taught me about responsibility and empathy and stain removal.   I’d like my kids to learn about those things . . .  and also about keeping the floors of their rooms clean, which was the only stipulation I set.

To be honest, I set the standard pretty low, because Sunny loves fish and I’d already found a small, single-occupancy tank that cleans itself (more or less) through a siphoning system, which was just too cool to pass up.

She unwrapped it on Christmas Day and announced that she wanted a big black fish named Godzilla.

Pour clean water in, and the dirty water at the bottom comes up the pipe and out the spigot.
It is essential, by the way, to either remember to keep a tall cup under the spigot or place anything that can contain clean water well out of the reach of your child.
Just sayin’.

But her sister wanted something she could hold.  Because I try to get my kids to learn a little something whenever possible, we did some research on that.

We reluctantly ruled out lizards, because her bedroom is the coldest in the house and I could afford the reptile or the heating system, but not both. Because I have some experience with keeping small mammals alive—one for almost twelve years, though she keeps growing up on me—we went through the options and decided that a hamster was a good starter pet.^^^

So this past Saturday, we all trooped to the pet store.

Sunny and my husband went to look at the fish and found a Longfin Dragonscale Betta with beautiful silvery-hematite scales and red-tipped fins.

She immediately dubbed him . . .  Pebble.

He doesn’t seem to mind the simplicity of his new name, but I’m not sure how you could tell.

No betta in the history of the world was ever loved by an 8-year old like this one is.

This is Pebble, whose coloring is far more stunning than I can capture with my phone camera and general lack of Photoshop-fu.
No betta in the history of the world has ever been loved by an 8-year old–or fed as regularly–as he.

Meanwhile, Jane and I went to the rodent cages to look at the hamsters—or rather for the hamsters, as most of them seemed to be asleep under a thick layer of bedding material.

In fact, the only animal awake was a bruiser of a gerbil—he was so big that I thought they’d mislabeled the rat cage.

The gerbils of my childhood were small, brown-brindled things and generally quiet, modest, and self-effacing.  This one was huge and butterscotch colored. He sat there in his wire wheel, rocking slightly from side to side on his big hind feet as he looked us over with bright, bold eyes.


This wasn’t supposed to be a close up.
He’s quick for a powerlifter.

I glanced at Jane, whose own eyes were glowing with an emotion I didn’t think I’d be seeing for another couple of years.

“Mom. Mom. I want him.

“Are you—“


“That’s not a—“

“Please, Mom. PLEASE.

So we brought the not-hamster home, along with a car-trunk full of the stuff we needed to sustain his small life.

And then we needed to name him. He wasn’t a Fluffernutter or a Whoopie Pie or a Captain Seedeater, all names we’d thought might work for a hamster.

This was a gerbil, and a manly one at that.

Finally, after much laughing debate— Dempsey! Megagerbilius! John Henry! Thorin! Gerbil X! Mom, stop it!—Jane finally said, “His name is Pip.”

“Pip,” I said. “That’s a good name. You mean, as in Pipsqueak?”

“No, Mom,” she said, rolling her eyes. “As in Pip from Great Expectations. Aren’t you supposed to be a librarian?”

That’s gratitude for you.

But it’s still a good name.

Attica!  Attica!

Attica! Attica!

It’s been three days, and both fish and gerbil have survived.  It helps that Toby, whose bad hip is keeping him low to the ground these days, remains clueless about the new arrivals.

Sunny has used her new paint set to do a portrait of her beloved Pebble and has been stumbling jumping out of bed and into her clothes every morning without complaint so she can feed him.

Jane has been good about cleaning up the plastic ledge where Pip has chosen to do his business.  The slow bonding process has resulted in a nipped finger or two, but she’s been remarkably patient and forgiving for a kid who’s been training hard for a place in the U.S.  Grudge/Revenge Biathlon team for the next Junior Olympics.

Whoa.  It’s working already!


*The current favorites are Salami, Chorizo, Lil Smokie, Vienna, and Captain Strudel.

**Not our feet, mind you. But I’m willing to wait until Toby passes away to call another vote.

***Remind me to tell the saga of the Great Snail Migration sometime.

^It was the squirming translucent pink miracle of life every week for a while. By the time we could reliable determine the gender of a specific animal for separation purposes, it was usually too late. If it weren’t for escapees, determined cats, and severe inbreeding, we would have been buried in Rodentia.

^^Remind me to tell you about Basilisk’s burial at Frigidaire sometime.

^^^Okay, I cheated. I found a Find The Best Small Pet For You online quiz, figured out which answers would lead to “hamster”, and then guided Jane through the same quiz. Mea culpa, but her answers would have netted us a ferret, and both Toby and my MIL would smother me in my sleep.

Parenting is Hazy, Try Again

Ear ThermometerWhen I was a kid and complained that my head hurt or my stomach hurt or I just plain didn’t feel well, my mother gave the thermometer final authority over whether I went to school or stayed home.

If I didn’t have a fever—101°F or above—and didn’t throw up before the bus arrived, I went.

This was partially because perfect attendance was a bragging point among parents back then—far more important than keeping one’s germs at home—and partially because I had a habit of visiting the nurse’s office every Monday morning with all the symptoms of a kid who did not want to spend another single second in school.

Jane often doesn’t want to be in school, either.  So when she complained yesterday morning that her head hurt, I did as my mother did before me and turned to our thermometer like a magical, medical 8-ball, while quizzing her about any tests or assignments or boys she might be avoiding.

Her temperature was absolutely normal.  Mine was higher than hers.

So, again in the family tradition, I dosed her with Tylenol—I didn’t doubt she had a bit of a headache, since we share DNA and it was starting to rain—and dropped her off.

A couple hours later, while I was at the library helping several of my co-workers to wrestle general fiction back to its permanent home, the school called and told me that Jane had complained about having a bad headache, though their thermometer also claimed she didn’t have a fever.

I sympathized, glanced at the clock, and asked them to give her a half dose of the Tylenol I’d sent along with her inhaler at the beginning of the year and send her back to class.

Thirty minutes later, as I was struggling to get an overloaded cart into the elevator without tipping it, the school called again to report that the meds hadn’t made a dent and Jane seemed pretty out of it.  It was suggested that since she wouldn’t be able to concentrate today, she might take her lack of concentration home, in case it was contagious and/or suddenly invaded her digestive system.

Jane came on the line.  I told her, as my mother had told me, that if she came home, there would be no TV, no electronics, and homework would be completed.

Her “Okay, Mom.” was subdued.

My guilt warred with the distinct feeling that I was being played and joined forces with the guilt over suspecting my own devious spawn  beloved offspring of trying to play me.

And succeeding.  Because when the thermometer lets you down, what other avenues do you have?

My husband had classes all day, so I told them to gather her homework, threw myself on the mercy of my boss, assumed custody of the patient from the school’s administrative assistant (who did not seem overly impressed by my apparent lack of parental sympathy), took her home, and stayed with her.

Jane fell heavily asleep for four hours, woke up, had some soup, did her homework, welcomed her little sister home with the customary noogie, and was her usual delightfully obnoxious self for the rest of the day.

Was she actually sick? Or just sleepy?

I don’t know.

Had I actually been sick, all those years ago?


Does it really matter, in the greater scheme of things?

Not a clue.

But it’s clear that parenting paradigms have changed and maybe my parenting methods–and attitude—should change with them.

To start, I’ll be swapping our thermometer for a magic 8-ball for the tough calls.

If Jane doesn’t shake it more than once to get the answer she wants, she’s definitely sick.

Reply Hazy