Friday, August 14, 2015

On the Road

Earlier in the day, I would have written this:

As soon as Ben arrived (night of the third day), this road trip took a sharp turn for the worse.  It's not his fault, but it's happened.  There's a kind of power-focus that kicks in when traveling solo with kids on a trip of one's invention because the only option, really, is to be fun-survivor-road-warrior or why bother; the leader alone sets the tone.  So it was.  We pounded up 95 to New York and saw family, through Connecticut and Rhode Island, to Cape Cod with the best oysters and friends (and a great white shark attack that closed the beach where Silas swam exactly four hours after we left!), and on to Boston.

Then the partner arrives.  Suddenly the two year old's whining and clinging to my leg is unbearable because she's done that for there days already and standing right next to me is a strong and refreshed other strapping parent who could hold her.  Alone, yes my eyes felt heavy while driving narrow tree-lined highways, so I chewed gum, crunched ice and made phone calls, but now that the partner is here and takes the wheel, I sit as passenger vaguely irritated and feeling my exhaustion.  

So that happened.  Then, simultaneously, the kids went batty at bedtime, breaking the we-are-a-team-of-adventurers tone into much snapping and threatening; Maeve woke on the wrong side of the bed and never righted, throwing herself on the pavement all over Boston in protest of life and breath; tiredness caught up with all of us and shot daggers through our tones; we ran a toll because I messed up the EZ Pass (all I've been doing this trip is properly paying tolls up the arm of New England); and we got a parking ticket.  

And then we left Boston, where perhaps all the kids learned is that the Boston Tea Party involved violence and wasting tea (Eden thinks this is hilarious); Bunker Hill was actually the hill one over from the battle; Mary Goose, buried in Boston in 1690, may have written the Mother Goose fairy tales, or not; and during his time at BU, Ben had a skunk living under his front steps and dropped an organic chemistry class in that building -- gesturing as we drove -- "you can drop classes? what even does that mean??" -- interest in college began.  

But now it is 9:15PM.  I have been exiled from my room at the Fairfield Inn with strict instructions to sit in the 80's carpeted lobby and have a cup of tea until the kids are asleep (the wildness continues because somewhere in this place there's a pool!)

The afternoon mellowed: Maeve fell asleep as soon as we pulled out of the city, and Silas and Eden, chums these days, listened to books on tape (do we still call them that? -- on CD, not the same ring).  We wound through New Hampshire and Vermont, skirting traffic -- one of Ben's talents -- and even ended up having a little front seat conversation.  We ended our drive in Burlington eating flat bread and wandering among street performers until it was nearly dark.

If I were in my dark room right now shushing people, this whole page would be italics.  But instead I'm in the business center (an indent in the lobby wall that has a computer) drinking Cozy Chammomile, which wouldn't be possible if Ben weren't here.  Good thing he came.



Monday, August 10, 2015

Loss of Privileges (being LOPPED)

When I was in high school, discipline worked on a points system: one point for being late to class, three points for missing a class (only three? why didn't I do that more?), a point for talking during assembly etc.  When you got to nine points you got LOPped -- Loss of Privilege-ed.

I seem to remember being LOPped quite a few times, and I loved it.  LOPped meant study hall instead of free period and what I saw as a semi-rebellious status symbol of a creased green piece of paper sticking out of my pocket that I had to get a teacher to sign in each class.  Ther were loopholes: librarians that would sign off on your "working" during a free period, lengthy trips to "the bathroom," but I didn't use those much because I loved being forced to sit still.  Often, I finished homework.  Sometimes I finished novel-length notes to friends; both felt exceedingly productive and luxurious to have space for during school.

Right now I am watching my niece along with Maeve and Silas -- ""watching them" -- they are running somewhere above my head and all I hear are doors opening and closing.  Tomorrow I leave for a ten day road trip, and this, right now, is like being LOPped.

I've been carrying around a bag today packed with a book, a journal (my morning pages from The Artist's Way -- it's time to read back through them for insights and action items), a couple of cards to write, and my calendar.  And even though the car needs to be emptied and packed, a road trip play list made, and videos checked out from the library, here I am drinking chamomile tea and nibbling chocolate at the dining room table because I can't go home.

The summer has felt like an expanse of time -- wide and long with the end too far off to see.  We've had weeks of wonderful freedom, lounging together reading, and weeks when I've felt harried and busy and cursed myself for registering for too many camps.  Conversations have been good with kids -- we've had time to have them and think at the same time -- and they are older and emerging in bright relief.

But now it is August.  School begins three weeks from today.  Every year, for most of the summer, I wonder how I will ever, EVER be ready to relinquish the easy days, the fluid freedom, and having my kids to myself.  And every summer, always unexpectedly, August breathes change, and change feels surprisingly possibly.  In the woods, little clusters of leaves here and there hang in red bunches, and when the wind blows, an exhale of leaves drifts lazily to the ground.  The world readies us with its previews.  In every store window, of course, hang backpacks and composition books, huge signs in crayon font and freshly sharpened pencils.  This morning we bought school supplies, tissues, ziplock and erasers for the classrooms.  We are stepping into change slowly, and tomorrow we will step into the car for a final adventure (and hopefully not all kill Maeve who may or may not be a good team player for hours on end, day after day in the car...almost certainly won't be).  In the meantime, I will enjoy this brief moment with three arguing in a tub of bubbles wearing bathing suits and a stormy sky that holds us in, and remember how being LOPped really is one of my favorite privileges.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

When a Kid is Anxious

I know all about when I am anxious -- how I parent out of fear, am fueled by what people will think rather than what I know, snap and bite at anyone near me (except strangers, I'm quite sweet to them).  It can be messy.

A whole different set of things happens, though, when a kid is anxious.

This week one of my kids was in a music/dancing/acting camp -- in five days they put together an hour and a half long show in which every kid had at least two feature parts.  The cousins had done the same show last year, and I didn't even think about the performance piece being uncharted territory.

Throughout the week the camper had stomachaches in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoons, but there was a bug going around so I didn't give it much thought.

Quick background: this is our sweet kid who regularly has stomachaches Monday mornings, sometimes every morning.  All school year we fumbled with how to parent because at any given moment there were actual sicknesses sailing around the classroom; it was near-impossible to know if the pains stemmed from angst or virus.   Should we push or protect?  Over the many months, Ben and I wrestled with compassion and tough love, wondering what on earth to give when.

Here we were in summer, a fun camp with cousins, music and dance, and by Friday morning there were arms clenched across the stomach and big teary eyes.  Could this be anxiety?  To keep us off balance, a cousin did have a stomach bug earlier in the week, so, like always, anything seemed possible.

In the three hour break between camp and the evening show, every symptom heightened: there weren't just tears but there was wailing, desperate eyes begging me not to close the car door; there was outright panic.

What was most fascinating (and shocking) was that the kid, no matter how we asked, was not nervous.  At all.  None of this had anything to do with the show.  None of it.

After discussing and wondering, we gave the child a choice to sit in the audience or stand on the stage.  The freedom seemed to birth freedom, and into the auditorium all the kids filed, dressed in black, ours lined up and ready!  We both exhaled (and my mom, who had been with the performers all afternoon and dragged ours kicking and screaming into the car an hour before -- bless her), and the show began!

The show opened with confidence as our kid lined up as a featured dancer in the opening hip-hop number.  Just as it was ending I saw the shift, an instantaneous inexplicable crash, and there in the sea of smiling, clapping chorus kids, ours was the one unmoving face, plastered frown, eyes brimming so full they were bound to spill.  The exaggerated misery was almost funny, would have been if it weren't so awful.  Next, the child on my right suddenly dove into my lap and began to cry, overwhelmed by the naked pain on stage.  So there I sat, one child crying into my lap, the other on stage boring into me with desperate eyes, and Ben whooping and cheering overly-loudly for every small performance to compensate.  I suddenly started laughing so hard that tears came -- the it-turns-out-my-laughter-just-unlocked-the-sobbing-I've-stifled-for-hours laugh -- and there we all were, the Newcott spectacle.

Soon after, between songs, our performer slipped off the stage arms crossed and jaw clenched, dreading the twenty-minutes-from-now when it would be time to speak three lines.
As we got closer I asked,  Want to sit up front on the floor so when it's time for your skit, you can just run up there with everyone else?  I was not the least bit confident that this kid would step back onto the stage, lines or no lines.
I don't want to do it!  (mumble) but I know I have to.  My hope was ignited; there was some inner spark that might kick this kid back onto the stage.  And sure enough, when the lights were down between scenes, the six kids in the sketch scampered back stage with mine in tow.

Out they came, donning simple costumes, another kid in the sketch surely 13 and post-growth spurt (my child maybe came to his chest), and before I knew it, my kid was loudly pouring words into a microphone clearly and loudly in an Italian accent, with Mediterranean hand gestures!  The room laughed (they were a great audience) and my child didn't miss a beat.

These people are full of surprises; I did not see that coming.

Finally, longest 90 minutes ever, the crowd on stage bowed and that kid rocketed off the bleachers, still tied in knots, and we went home.

I'm not sure what I learned about myself or children, anxiety or performances, but I know at the least, our kid saw that survival is possible even when the body screams against it. This morning, all pain is done, and the kids are scampering around the house with their cousins.  We have four weeks to think about this before we hit a school Monday morning, to talk about the body as a teacher -- sometimes it knows our fears before we do -- to think about the skinny Fear guy from Inside Out running around the brain screaming, arms waving, declaring an emergency, four weeks to calm that guy down.