louseWhile I hate to keep Zoe home from school when it’s only the second week, I also don’t think she’ll be in much shape to learn anything tomorrow morning at 8 when she went to sleep just before midnight. Why did she stay up until midnight on a Monday night, you ask? The answer is a repugnant four-letter word: LICE.

Most nights after she showers, Zoe asks me to comb her hair, and tonight when I was combing I observed some small, unwelcome creatures crawling on her scalp. After Randy had taken Zeke upstairs to bed, I told Zoe that I thought she had lice, and she started weeping. I called my mom for advice. I tried to calm Zoe down but I also felt like the need to expunge the bugs was rather urgent. I combed and she cried. I texted friends whose children I knew had dealt with lice. After Randy came downstairs I dispatched him to the drugstore to buy some lice-repellent product. Zoe asked if I was going to be combing her hair for the rest of her life, and I said, yes, I would be combing her hair when she breaks her board this Saturday at the martial arts growth ceremony, and when she goes to the prom, and as she’s walking down the aisle during her wedding. She added that I would be combing her hair while she was giving birth to her first child, and then while she was combing her own child’s hair. By then she was laughing instead of crying.

I did the treatment. Randy stripped the bed and sprayed it with some magic lice-be-gone spray. I did the second treatment and combed again and made the bed. I put most of the stuffed animals in the wash and some pillows in a trash bag where they’re supposed to live until the lice suffocate and die. I inspected Eve, Zoe’s doll who cannot go into the wash, and she looked clean. I didn’t feel like giving her the treatment. Also she doesn’t have hair.

It’s Randy’s birthday too. Fortunately we celebrated yesterday, as tonight was not especially festive. Exciting, sure. Festive, maybe not. Although yesterday was also exciting when the cake we made for Randy caught fire in the oven (marshmallows on top) and Randy blew it out and made a really big wish. That was festive AND exciting.

Before the discovery of the bugs tonight, Zeke had mysteriously melted down at dinner. He burst into tears because Randy cut up his broccoli too small, so he could eat it. He wanted big broccoli. This might not sound crazy, but Zeke doesn’t usually get upset about such things. He usually spends dinner either eating his food, spilling it on himself, or trying to make us laugh. I guess he had a long day. We went to the meet and greet at his preschool today so he could check out his classroom and spend a few minutes of quality time with his teacher. On the way into the school he was so excited that he started sprinting across the parking lot and fell down and scraped up his knees. They were still hurting him at bedtime. We tried to assuage him with Muppet band-aids. So Zeke was feeling a little fragile all day, although when I strapped him into his carseat as we were leaving preschool he had tears welling up in his eyes and I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing. Happy.” Perhaps even he didn’t know what was wrong. But he seems to love his teacher, who was once Zoe’s teacher and as a result greeted Zeke by name last year when she saw him in passing. I didn’t know he even noticed or remembered her, but when I introduced her to him as his new teacher he leaped into her arms and gave her a hug like they were long-lost buddies. It is possible he doesn’t understand why he keeps going to school for brief periods of time only to have to leave again just when he’s getting going. Thursday is his first real day. Hopefully it will be satisfying for all of us.

The report on third grade: so far so good. Zoe says her teacher is awesome. She is thrilled to have a locker, for which she shopped for decorations this past weekend. I still haven’t gotten a lot of concrete details about anything she’s learning, but she’s seemed happy every day when I’ve picked her up, so I’ll take that. Except today when I picked her up, I asked how her day went, and she said she spent most of it worrying. This afternoon she had her green solid belt test at Evolve All, where she had to demonstrate the exercises, techniques, and understanding that green solid belt martial artists are supposed to master. She was nervous. She said Master Emerson reminded her last week that it’s good to be nervous because it means it matters. During the test I kept Zeke entertained with puzzles and snacks and a blue car we rolled to each other, while I watched Zoe out of one eye. She did awesome. I can see how much confidence and poise she’s gained over the past year, even though she still gets nervous. She passed. She wasn’t as pleased with herself as I expected, but she stood on her head in the turf room for a bit afterwards, which always seems to make her happy. Now onto the board break on Saturday. I will remind her again then as I did today, what Rev. Aaron said in his sermon on Sunday, “We got this.”

So watch out, lice. Move on out. We have our combs and our creams. We can run our washer and dryer all night if we have to. We got this.

popcornWearing a summer tank top and fluffy fleece pajamas, accompanied by Ralph (dog), Fireheart (cat), Cotton Candy (owl), and Eve (baby doll), Zoe is tucked into bed, listening to the Wailin’ Jennys at low volume. The night before her first day of third grade and all of us (except Zeke, thankfully) are a bit on edge. Zoe is nervous about a new teacher who she’s only just met, and a class that only includes one of her good friends, and also includes a girl who made life difficult for Zoe back in first grade. She said she’s not ready for summer to end–a summer that has been exciting and expansive for her–and although she loves school, she repeated to me all day that she’s just not ready for it to start again. She is alarmed at the idea that she’s already halfway through elementary school. As am I. I reminded her that there’s plenty of time to experience the next three years, although my mind also shudders to imagine middle school, even though this summer I’ve seen glimpses of Zoe’s teenage self, and both admired and been aggravated by her burgeoning independence.

Tonight we played a little Taboo and read the first seven pages of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, having solved the mystery of the Prisoner of Azkaban last night. We watched the third movie last night and this morning and discussed discrepancies between the book and movie and reaffirmed our belief that the books are better, although the flying scenes are always spectacular. We cleaned the house today and painted pottery and went to the back to school picnic. Zoe didn’t argue about going to bed earlier than usual. She was clearly exhausted in body and spirit, the adrenaline that has fueled the past three months spent.

I wish I could go to bed now too, actually, but there is too much to do, in my house and on my computer, but mostly in my head. There is the school year’s first preschool newsletter to put together, and the school year’s first third grade lunch to make, and so many items to add to so many lists. Find out where to get tuberculosis screening, update PTA website, figure out what we’re going to have for dinner all those nights when we have martial arts or soccer practice till 7pm. I am resolved to start Weight Watchers tomorrow. What am I going to eat when I’m stressed out and starving? How am I not going to stop at Burger King on the way home from co-oping at Zeke’s preschool? How am I not going to drink Coke or Dr. Pepper, which I love and crave? How will I even remember to eat breakfast? So many questions. And there’s a book I started last night, a young adult book I picked up at the Green Valley Book Fair this summer, that’s totally fascinating about a girl with synesthesia. I was up till 1am reading it last night and had to force myself to turn out the light. You may notice that I haven’t even mentioned work. I still have a business to run, and people to interview, and articles to write. Oy.

I am trying to carve out more space for myself this fall. I am co-facilitating a covenant group at church, and just had lunch with my co-facilitator, who I had only met in passing when she was one of Zoe’s religious education teachers last spring. It turns out she’s fantastic and we have all kinds of unexpected things in common. I am looking forward to getting to know people at our new church, in a meaningful way. I’m also planning to participate in a leadership retreat with the church in October. I will be away for Halloween. I haven’t told Zoe yet. She’s going to be–wait for it–Harry Potter. Zeke said he would be a doctor, so hopefully we still have Zoe’s doctor costume from kindergarten somewhere in the house. He will gladly check your eyes and ears if you let him and give you plenty of shots. We are definitely pro-vaccination in our family.

I am hopeful that some of this spiritual development will help me better manage my anxiety from moment to moment. Times of transition, like, for example, NOW, are really tough. I understand that they are tough for many (most?) people, but I can only really speak to the cacophony of WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF boomeranging around in my head. Third grade in Zoe’s soccer league is when they transition to bigger fields, bigger balls, playing positions, and calling fouls. What if it’s too hard, too much, too competitive? What if Zoe stops loving to play soccer? Coincidentally this month she’ll be taking the test in martial arts to become a blue solid belt, which would move her from advanced into the SUPER ADVANCED class. How can she be super advanced at something? She’s eight! But she’d be in the class with the blue belts and the red belts and the black belts. She has to accomplish a serious board break to make this move, and we know what happened last time she had to do a serious board break. She is worried that will happen again, that it will take her countless tries to break the board. While she survived last time, and demonstrated courage and composure, I’m pretty sure none of us wants to go through that again.

I keep reading about how we–as a society–need to stop protecting our kids so much, how we need to let them forget, let them fall, let them fail, so they will learn on their own to remember, to get up again, to figure out how to succeed. This advice is so obvious, yet so hard to follow when faced with seeing your child struggle. I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that all this change is necessary, and all these challenges can be positive. What if I’m doing it wrong? often echoes in my brain, especially when I’ve made one of those million little decisions each day for my children. Can she have a Sprite? Should I let them watch another episode of “Odd Squad?” Does it make everything all right if we snuggle and tickle a lot and I give the dinosaurs who won’t fit on the dinosaur train books to read? I’ve given Zoe new third grade chores. We have enforced them only loosely in the weeks leading up to school starting. I’ve told her that Zeke is her apprentice in setting the table and once she teaches him how, it will no longer be her responsibility. We have a lot of clever ideas that never come to fruition.

There’s still plenty of time, right? We don’t have to do everything tonight. Except have some popcorn. That we definitely have to do tonight.

Zoe is not in this picture, but apparently she did this exact activity!

Yesterday she slept till 11 o’clock. She had fun at the pool yesterday afternoon but seems a little blue and kind of dazed, with occasional bursts of energy, since she came home from camp. I know it’s a lot to process. I know after experiencing such a major moment in your life–an entire week away from your family–it’s hard to come down. I’m so happy she had fun and I’m trying so hard to be patient as she reacclimates to her regular life. 

I asked her to write about her experience but the prospect was totally overwhelming, so I interviewed her and wrote it all down. 

Q: What was the most surprising thing about camp?

A: The most surprising thing about camp was getting to stay up till 10:00! After we got in bed we had flashlight time and we made shadow animals on the walls.

Q: What were your five favorite things about camp?

A: Kids, counselors, activities, horses, how much social time we got.

Q: What kind of chores did you have to do?

A: In the cabin we had to sweep, line up the shoes on the porch, take out the trash, clear the bathroom of people’s stuff, and make our beds. Another chore was being gopher, which meant we had to leave early to go to the dining hall, we had to set the table with silverware and get two pitchers of ice water. We had to go to the kitchen to get all the food. If anyone wanted seconds we had to get it for them. At the end we had to clear the table, put silverware in different buckets and empty liquids into two liquid buckets and sponge down the table. I volunteered to be the gopher for dinner the first night we were there. I liked being the gopher because it was fun to be in charge of everything.

Q: How was the food?

A: Delicious. One night we had a cookout and at the cookout we had taco skillet and vegetables. There were Fritos to dip in them and water and lemonade.

Q: What were some of your favorite events?

A: One of them was cabin cleanup, which was whoever had the cleanest cabins at the end of the week won, and we won (Blue Jays won). Guess what our prize was? Breakfast in our cabin. We got to sleep in 15 minutes late on Saturday and our counselors brought us breakfast. Another event I liked was color wars. Color Wars is when the whole camp volunteers for a bunch of different activities. There are three teams—red/superheroes, purple/supernatural (my team), and green/super-villains. Some of the activities were dodge ball, four-legged race, a kayaking race, sink the canoe (a game where 12 people from each team go in the water and 6 people on either side of the canoe and a counselor was on each end. One counselor was in the water holding the canoe underneath and another was sitting on it. When they said go all the kids would start splashing as much water as possible into the canoe and whoever sank the canoe first won). There was watermelon relay where several people from each team would go into the water in a line and turn around and one person would start by passing the watermelon over their head, the next person would pass it under their legs. They would do it in a pattern until they go to the last person. The first person to get it back to the crate won. There was tube relay where the first person would lie on their belly on the tube and paddle across the lake. When they got to the other side they would give the tube to the person waiting for them and they would swim to shore. The person who got the tube got on the tube and swam across to the dock where everyone was waiting. The first team to complete that won. There was also smallest splash off the waterslide and biggest splash off the high dive.

Q: Tell me about your cabin.

A: There were seven kids who slept there including me and there was one person who came as a day camper. It was the first year at camp for everyone in my cabin. My closest friends were named Oakley and Ellie. The counselors were named Kate and Maria. Kate is from Russia and Maria is from Spain. At bedtime Kate would sing a Russian lullaby to us to help us fall asleep. Maria woke us up in the morning. When my fan stopped working, Maria came over to my bed at night and blow on me and stroke my hair. Another girl in my cabin, Lauren, was pretty crazy. Every day she did yoga and everyone’s favorite pose to watch her do was the crazy dancer. She made up yoga poses. Sometimes during cabin time Lauren would do hilarious shows on her bed, sometimes with other people. In one of the shows she tried to imitate everyone’s voices, that didn’t work out so well. At bedtime she didn’t like to shower so she would have a huge fake temper tantrum. One night when the counselors finally got her into the bathroom she said, “can i sing in the shower?” and we said sure, just not too loud. So she immediately started singing “Why you gotta be so cruel?”

Q: Did you get any mail at camp?

A: Yes, I got 13 pieces of mail, so much that I couldn’t even read it all while I was there. I had to read some of it on the way home in the car. It made me very happy to hear from people and lots of the letters were funny.

Q: Tell me about the horses.

A: I spent three hours every morning riding. My horse was named Chocolate Chip, but I called him Chip. The counselors called him Chipwich. I learned to trot and I learned how to go into two-point, which was holding on to the horse’s reins and mane and lifting your bottom up out of the saddle and holding your shoulders back. That’s to stay stable while the horse is trotting. One day one of the counselors made a big x in the middle of the indoor ring. The first three times my horse went over it, he trotted up like he was supposed to and then he slowed down and stepped over it. But the fourth time he jumped! I had not learned to jumped yet so I fell forward off the saddle and onto the horse’s neck and let go of the reins. I was just holding onto his mane. It was terrifying. There were five girls including me in my riding group. They were all at least two years older than me. One day we took a horse named Bugz Bunny to the river and rode bareback in a circle in the river. While we were waiting for our turn or after we had a turn we got to swim in the river. We could not go past the lifeguards. Even though there was a current we were perfectly safe.

Q: Tell me about the other swimming you did.

A: The first few days for free swim (after lunch) we went to the pool. The pool was very big and there was a diving board and a deep end but the deep end wasn’t roped off. Anyone could be there anytime and you didn’t have to wait for the diving board to be done. I went off the diving board a lot at the pool. At the lake there was rope swing, diving board, zipline, and high dive and water slide. I went off the diving board and I went on the rope swing but I never let go so I just came straight back to the counselors. Woopsie! I was going to go off the waterslide but free swim was over just as it was my turn.

Q: Tell me about your afternoon activities.

A: My first afternoon activity was archery. I hit the target! It was very tricky to though. There’s a lot more stuff to archery than you might think. My second afternoon activity was pottery. I made a little taco, a face that said ZR and CF for Zoe Rosso Camp Friendship, and I made a pot but I lost it. It was very lopsided though. Next year I would like to do gymnastics and fishing.

Q: Tell me about what you did at night.

A: On the first night we had campfire, when the whole camp went to a special area and a few counselors lit a big fire. And then after the fire a lot of people come up to the stage to perform. Counselors and campers performed songs, dances, skits, and plain old funny things. They taught us dances. Another night there was a big soccer game between the Camp Friendship counselors and counselors from another camp. Another night there was a big cookout where we had tacos. Two nights we made s’mores at a campfire in junior girls village. Another night we had a huge dance. Everybody came. They played songs like “Honey I’m Good,” a song from Mulan, “Shut Up and Dance with Me,” and “Uptown Funk.” I danced a lot. It was awesome.

Q: Do you want to go back?

A: Yes, I totally want to go back next year for two weeks. I want to go back because I had a lot of fun and I was really sad when I had to come home.

Q: Was there anything interesting you learned there?

A: I thought that learning how to muck a horse’s stall, groom a horse, and tack up a horse was very cool. I even gave a horse a bath. I also thought it was really cool to learn to shoot a bow and arrow.

ghostgeorgeHe was a line drawing in pale blue, translucent, wearing what I think was a pinstriped suit. I have tried and tried to draw him but I can’t make him come out right. Imagine some combination of Bert from Sesame Street, Jon Hamm, and a triangle. That’s what Ghost George looked like.

Ghost George was my imaginary friend when I was a kid, created sometime during those long seven years before my sister was born, to keep me company. He was an adult male, and a cartoon. He was friendly and lived in the attic. He was married. His wife’s name was Rosemary. I rarely saw her.

Our Honda Odyssey is now named Ghost George in his honor.

Zoe’s imaginary friend, born during those six long years before she had a brother, is named DD (pronounced Dee Dee). DD is quite small–she can fit in your hand or your pocket or your shoe as necessary. She has her own family–a mom, a dad, and siblings named JJ and ZZ. They all live in our house.

Apparently children do not have to be taught how to imagine. A few months ago, Zoe introduced DD to Zeke. He often wanted to hold her. Zoe used DD as an enticement to help us get Zeke to do things. For example, she might say, “Zeke, do you want to take a bath with Zoe?” “NO!” “Zeke, do you want to take a bath with DD?” “YES!” (runs to bathroom and starts undressing). And then they would allow DD to float in small cups and bath toys while they took their bath. Sometimes DD eats dinner with us, out of a very small bowl or cup next to Zoe’s placemat.

Once they even got into an argument about who DD belonged to. Zoe was playing with DD and Zeke tried to grab her, saying, “MINE!” Zoe countered with “No! DD is mine!” We said, “DD is imaginary. You can share her. Maybe she could even sit with both of you at the same time,” or something like that. Zoe said, “No offense, DD” in case bluntly stating DD’s imaginary status might have hurt her feelings.

Zoe said DD was coming with her to camp, riding along in her sneaker. “No matter where I go, DD will always be with me. She will never leave me.”

Thank goodness DD is loyal like that. I hope she’s providing good company to Zoe, maybe riding her horse along with her, perched just inside the horse’s ear.

Supposedly my child will be riding a horse through a river this week. What?!?

Supposedly my child will be riding a horse through a river this week. What?!?

I can’t quite comprehend how I just left my daughter 119 miles away from me for a week. It was her idea, but I went along with it (and paid for it). Last year after getting a taste of riding a real horse on her own (not just being led in a circle on a pony as she had experienced many times before) in a lesson facilitated by our friends who live out near Shenandoah, she asked to attend horse camp. There are camps in the DC area where you can ride, but none that would be an easy daily commute for me, and after four or five years of shuttling Zoe to a variety of camps all summer, I’ve come to realize that even driving to downtown Falls Church every morning during rush hour can be challenging. I told her if she wanted to ride horses at camp she’d probably have to go to sleepaway camp. “OK,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation. “Really?” I asked, “You’re up for going to sleepaway camp?” She swore she was, so I began to research.

I sent away for brochures and we attended camp fairs. There are a LOT of camps out there, many of which seem really cool. Some of which seem awful, but just in my opinion–I’m confident there are lots of great people who want want to spend two weeks at dairy farm camp. Zoe was not one of them. I found two camps in Virginia that feature significant opportunities for horseback riding for beginners. One of which was way more expensive than the other. So we tentatively chose Camp Friendship, and watched the promotional dvd they sent us in the mail. Zoe’s eyes grew wider by the scene. At the end she said, “I’m not going to want to go home after a week!”

Not to say that she wasn’t extremely nervous for the past few days. She was. She spoke repeatedly of her stomach doing backflips. She wasn’t hungry, which is never true of her. Ever. I was also nervous, although not quite so much. I tried not to project my anxiety, although she is intuitive and we tend to feed off each other. I do my best to me a calm presence for her but I’m not a good liar. She confided that she was not at all worried about the days at camp because she was looking forward to so many cool activities. In addition to the equestrian program, which she will participate in every morning, she is planning to try archery, fishing, and maybe even swinging off a rope into the lake.

She was mostly worried about the nights, when she would not have us to tuck her in or sing or read to her, and where she would be surrounded by the sounds of nature instead of the hum of traffic construction noise that she’s used to. (Tonight they are milling and paving outside on our street and our whole house is vibrating). We did spend a while last night discussing strategies to help her relax and fall asleep at camp. I reminded her of the lovingkindness meditation that I taught her in kindergarten. She had no memory of what I was talking about, but that’s ok. She thought it was a good idea. She said she could talk to her faithful canine companion Ralph, who she was bringing with her, or her cat Fireheart. She could read with her tiny book light that she brought. Yesterday my brother-in-law unexpectedly gave her a little tasseled Asian monkey figurine, which may have been hanging from his rearview mirror, as a good luck charm, which was quite sweet and thoughtful, and she said she could hold onto that if she needed extra comfort. I’m sure the first night is the hardest, and it’s almost midnight now, so surely she found a way to fall asleep tonight and hopefully it did not involve tears.

When we arrived at camp today, smack in the middle of the check-in window, she was a little pale. Our first stop was at the nurses table to hand over her medication and vitamins. She had asked me earlier in the day if I thought any other campers there had ever taken medication. I assured her that there were plenty. When we talked with the nurses, Zoe observed two huge crates full of medications, including one that she takes, and she smiled. The nurse told her that after breakfast an announcement is made that anyone who needs medication should go downstairs to the clinic at that time. I said to Zoe, “I bet a lot of kids go,” and one of the nurses said, “yeah, there’s a whole wave of kids.” And the other nurse said, “it’s more like a tsunami of kids.” Zoe was visibly relieved. It occurred to me that one of the benefits of this camp experience for her might be the opportunity to observe the challenges and circumstances that all kinds of kids from everywhere have to deal with, and a realization that she’s not the only kid aggravated by bodily systems that don’t work perfectly. Our second stop was the head check, where it was confirmed that she doesn’t have lice, which is always good. What a weird job that counselor had to run her hands through everyone’s hair all afternoon.

Zoe’s counselor is Russian and the junior counselor is Mexican. Among the people who gave us directions, which were many since we managed to get lost a few times while we were there, we detected German and Australian accents. All the counselors seemed energetic and friendly but also so young. I felt like there weren’t many adults around. Perhaps these people are adults, even though they look like children themselves. Perhaps I am just old.

Through the camp’s website you can send emails to your camper, which are printed out and distributed at breakfast, and have them hand write a response, which is scanned and emailed back to you. Of course this costs money, but how can you put a price on such correspondence? You may argue that camp is supposed to be about being away from your family and independent and then you have stories to tell at the end of the week, but this is 2015 and if there’s a way to keep in touch, people will do it, and you don’t want your kid to be the only one not getting messages from her parents, do you? Thankfully, no electronics are allowed there, so that’s something. There is a lot of nature and no air conditioning in the cabins. I brushed away the spider webs in the corner when I made her bed on the top bunk.

It’s going to be strange around here all week without her here. I hope she misses us less than I know we will miss her.

  Reasons our children or our friends’ children have been crying this week:

  • Don’t want to change clothes
  • Not enough Popsicles 
  • No s’mores till tomorrow 
  • Waves
  • Tired
  • Mouth hurting
  • Skin hurting
  • Spirit hurting
  • Want more ice cubes
  • Want to go outside
  • Wanted to go inside a Thai restaurant to pickup carry-put but was asleep and didn’t get to
  • Not allowed to spray paint parents
  • Want to wear more sunscreen 
  • Want to sleep
  • Don’t want to sleep
  • Want to swim
  • Don’t want to swim
  • Feeling left out 
  • Feeling crowded
  • Not enough soccer
  • Too much soccer
  • Want applesauce
  • Don’t want applesauce

Life is hard.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 3.05.46 PMI just ordered this book, along with its companion Feet Are Not for Kicking and another board book called Calm Down Time and Todd Parr’s The Feelings Book. I stopped short of ordering the matching Feelings flashcards. In our family, we often turn to books to solve problems. At least I do, I turn to books for almost everything.

Years ago when Zoe was facing her first ptosis surgery, we read about Curious George going to the hospital (he swallowed a puzzle piece and unsurprisingly wreaked havoc at the hospital but in the process he made a sick little girl named Betsy smile), Franklin the turtle going to the hospital (he broke part of his shell playing soccer I think), and an Usborne book about a little boy who needed tubes put in his ears. We read them all many times. Between her eyelids and her bladder, Zoe has become a medical expert and a pro at handling hospitals and doctors’ offices.

So Zeke has, on more than one occasion, head butted and hit us when he’s really mad, and on many more occasions, kicked us (especially when he doesn’t want to interrupt his preferred activities to get his diaper changed). From what I understand, this is typical but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a book called Heads are Not for Headbutting. Perhaps that’s one for us to write.

Most recently on Friday night I was chasing Zeke around the martial arts studio while Zoe had her classes, and everything was great until suddenly it wasn’t. Zeke and I had been contentedly sharing some pretzels, but then Zeke accidentally tore the bag open and was not inclined to share the pretzels with Zoe so I removed the pretzels from the situation. He didn’t appreciate this. Then he returned to the bathroom to wash his hands for a third or fourth time. I didn’t think this was necessary, and we needed to leave, so I removed him from the bathroom. He really didn’t appreciate that. So as I was dragging him out of the studio to the car, he was head butting and kicking and slapping and screaming and I was embarrassed and on my way to being enraged. Even though he’s two and even though I am much bigger than him, it is not pleasant to be hit or kicked or head butted. It hurts. He is a strong, solid little boy.

Later that night, during dinner, after he had eaten what he wanted off of his plate, he climbed down from his chair, walked over to me and climbed up onto my lap, as he often does. Instead of eating off my plate, which he always enjoys, he turned toward me and started smoothing my hair, covering my face with kisses (his version of kissing is putting his face close to yours and making a noise that is approximately “shh” but more slobbery. He never kisses unsolicited. And he was cradling my cheeks in his hands, like one’s little old granny might do. He has also never done this before. I could only surmise he was trying to apologize for his earlier outburst with this show of affection. I forgave him.

He is a sweet boy. People often say, “is he ever unhappy?” Well, yes, sometimes he gets very upset. And I’ve come to find out I have precious little leverage when he is freaking out. Our general approach to discipline is consequences rather than punishment, and what consequences can you give to a two-year-old? There’s nowhere he would sit still or be contained. There’s not much you can take away from him. He loves to watch tv, so you can refuse to let him watch tv if he requests it immediately after a tantrum, when you know he will understand why he isn’t getting what he wants.

I understand from people who have older children that they usually don’t have tantrums anymore once they’re in high school or college. Hopefully the outbursts fade even earlier. I’m confident that Zeke will grow out of it. But in the meantime, we will read our way through this behavior, and discuss other more positive uses for hands and feet (and heads).

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 3.09.33 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 11.43.42 AMI’ve been volunteering once a week in Zoe’s class this year to help kids with reading and writing. Next week is my last time in the classroom for the year. As I’ve written here before, it’s been a wonderful experience. Recently the class has been working on writing letters, so I wrote them one of my own. 

May 29, 2015

Dear Zoe, Zain, Ryan, Parin, Morgan, Madeleine, Lillian, Kevin, Kari, José, Jonathan, Jon, Jeremy, Jackson, Isabel, Hannah, Denis, Clare, Christopher, Bryant, Brenda, Ben, Angela, and Ms. deOlazo,

Thank you so much for welcoming me into your classroom as a volunteer this year! I have really enjoyed getting to know all of you and working with you to strengthen your writing and reading skills.

I have been impressed by how hard you have worked, how creative you have been, and all the great questions you have asked. I’ve seen your reading and writing grow so much throughout the year and I am so proud of you! You’ve written beautiful haikus, funny limericks, lovely letters, bold book reviews, and more. I’m always interested to know what you’re reading and I love seeing it when you get really wrapped up in a book. I love your enthusiasm for the stories that Ms. D reads to the class and how you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Just as much as you’ve improved your reading and writing, you’ve also grown as people. I like how you are so generous in helping each other when your friends get stuck or need to know how a word is spelled. I like how engaged you are in the games and activities that Ms. deOlazo comes up with, like the concentration exercises, stretching and meditation, and even four corners. I know that the abilities you are developing now will be incredibly useful to you as you move through school and into life. It’s wonderful that Ms. D is teaching you how to work together, how to solve problems in interesting ways, and how to be flexible and imaginative. Those are important skills for everyone to have.

I will miss spending time with your class so much! I hope you have a wonderful summer and that I will see you all next fall.


Ms. Rosso

HM3 Drew Provost, USN, Fallujah, July 2005

HM3 Drew Provost, USN, Fallujah, July 2005

When my dad first bought a video camera I was in fourth grade and I jumped at the opportunity to interview people on film. Using an upside down tennis racket with a foam clown nose stuffed on the handle, I asked my classmates what I thought were pressing questions as he got it all on tape. While a tennis racket is no longer involved in my interviews, I still love asking people questions and helping tell their stories. It is far and away my favorite part of my work.

Over the past couple decades I have interviewed all kinds of people–executives, volunteers, foster parents, recovering addicts, teenagers, immigrants, attorneys, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, and so on–all of whom have fascinating stories to tell. I am always grateful that they trust me with their stories and I have the opportunity to share them.

For the past few years I have had the great privilege of working with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. I write articles for the Society’s newsletter and blog. Before this assignment, I had little experience with the US military. I’ve only known a handful of people who’ve served, and admittedly didn’t have much of a clue about what service members and their families experienced.

One of the extraordinary services that NMCRS provides is a visiting nurse program. Nurses travel all over the country–at no cost to their clients–to help combat-injured Sailors and Marines and their families, as well as new moms who serve or are married to service members, retired service members, military widows, and others who have been a part of the US Navy or Marine Corps and need medical help. But medical help is really just a small part of what these people do. They find resources and make connections for their clients and the clients’ families. They help clients navigate the maddening world of mental and physical health care. They provide encouragement, tough love, confidence boosting, and most importantly someone who will listen.

NMCRS nurse Bobbi Crann put it well: “As a nurse we tend to be a jack of all trades. You are an educator, nurturer, coach, and counselor. A lot of what we do as a nurse is listen. When you’ve been a nurse for a while, there’s a sixth sense. You watch the body language. If they’re agitated or have anxiety, it may not come out in words. You learn to read patients as you become experienced. You help them identify what they’re feeling and what’s going on. When they have traumatic brain injuries, it’s difficult for them to hold on to much. It’s difficult for them to remember what you’ve discussed or their appointments.”

I have interviewed many of these nurses and many of their clients and every single time I am astounded by what they tell me.

“For a long time my wife would wake up in the middle of the night to find me under the bed looking for my rifle, speaking Arabic in my sleep,” recalled Sgt. Michael Van Deren. “I was constantly staying busy because anytime I had down time my head would start wandering. I never left the house. I would get groceries at 3am because I couldn’t deal with people. I had to be armed to leave the house, even to take the dog out.”

I talked to Robin Carpenter, the mother of Medal of Honor Recipient Kyle Carpenter, about her family’s fears and anguish when Kyle suffered serious injury after throwing himself onto a grenade to save a fellow Marine, and how NMCRS nurse Kim Bradley was–and continues to be–the family’s rock and lifeline.

When I talked with Sgt. Craig Carp he said, “I fell through a roof in 2003, was blown up in 2004, and was medevac’d again in 2006,” When he was medically retired in 2010, Carp was suffering from PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, shoulder and back problems, and speech and hearing issues.

Former Marine infantryman James McQuoid decided while on security detail in Afghanistan to take the SATs. “When you’re in a foreign country that you’re trying to stabilize, 90% of the time it’s unbelievably boring, interrupted by short moments of intense horror,” he said. After doing demolition in Iraq during a previous deployment left him with undiagnosed traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, and then he found out his wife was pregnant with their first child, he realized he needed to pursue a new path. He decided to become a physics teacher and when he returned home found an online degree program because going to campus would be too challenging for him because of his PTSD.

Most people I interview don’t hold anything back. Staff Sergeant Jay Vermillion said to me, “I came home and I was about ready to blow my head off because no one was helping me,” until he met NMCRS nurse Kim Bradley. “She called me one day when I was at my worst.”

I spent hours talking with Drew Provost and his wife Crystal about Drew’s struggle to make a new life for himself after leaving the Navy. Here’s what I wrote: Even after the encounter in Fallujah when the IED blew out his eardrum, knocked him unconscious, and caused him to vomit, Drew Provost assumed he was fine. As a Navy Corpsman assigned to a Marine unit in Fallujah, he was used to seeing serious casualties. Since he could still walk and talk, Provost quickly went about his work checking on the condition of other Marines and civilians affected by the blast. He was 19 and a rising star. It took four more years, another tour of duty, a divorce, struggles with alcohol abuse, and a new relationship for Provost to be diagnosed with, and correctly treated for, a traumatic brain injury – thanks to the intervention of NMCRS visiting nurse Ruthi Moore.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, and while clearly the people I’ve interviewed are survivors, it is unmistakable that they mourn pieces of their hearts and part of their humanity left behind in war. Today in church Rev. Aaron preached a powerful sermon about the moral weight we bear by asking our young people to fight and then not taking responsibility for the consequences when they do, and when they come home. Or when they don’t come home. The sermon (watch it in the archives on the home page), and the music, just wrecked me. But in a necessary way.

Rev. Aaron acknowledged that he doesn’t know exactly how we can escape this cycle of violence, make these wars obsolete, or help heal the brokenness of those who have suffered through the wars, only that we must try. I certainly don’t have an answer either, but for as long as I can, I will continue to listen to and retell these stories, because they must be told, and they must be heard.

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