Even Superheroes SleepThe mice, wanted dead or alive. Wanted out of the house.

The overpriced cleaning of the utility closet deluged with mouse poop.

Careful inspection every time a black speck is spotted on the floor. Usually it is lint, or mulch. Only occasionally, poop.

The lice, unwanted but oh so tenacious.

$100 worth of prescription lice killer. The combing and combing and combing of the hair.

Llama llama, anxious in his red pajamas.

Dora, learning to use the potty. Press the button to hear it flush!

Even superheroes have to go to sleep sometime.

The light sabers made of pool noodles, purple and yellow: “Are you ready to fight? Me want to fight!”

The catalogs, filled with toys. The letters to Santa. The objects of desire. The lack of any empty space in our house.

The glue, all over your brand new winter coat: “What’s all over your coat?” “Glue.” “How did it get there?” “I don’t know.”

Things to recycle, freecycle, donate, give away, purge. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Removal of dust and lint from hidden ducts and pipes. The secret fire hazard. The reminder of all the other secret hazards lurking within your house.

The assignment that hangs heavily over my head, seemingly impossible to complete. The question about why I agreed to do it. The answer: money.

The joyful morning spent helping struggling readers to decipher, understand, and maybe even learn to love words and the sentences. The payment for this: minimal. For four hours, I earned less than my hourly professional rate. But it was fun.

The stacks of enticing books, unread for weeks as I panic about my undone assignment.

The wrapping paper ordered, the wreath ordered, the dinner eaten out for the school fundraisers. The food drives. The PTA. The soccer. The make-up games. The snacks. The pick-ups and the drop-offs.

The patches to be stuck on (we don’t iron here) to the Brownie sash. If only we knew where the Brownie sash was.

The FitBit. The 4,643 steps remaining to make my daily goal.

The leaves, blanketing the ground. The trees, missing their leaves.

The sun, escaping with increasing impatience from my day.

playgroundZoe has been complaining more and more about the paltry 20 minutes of recess she is granted at school every day. I suggested she write a letter to the superintendent and the school board and her principal expressing her concern about the lack of outdoor time and her desire for change. I shared with her some facts about how outdoor time benefits kids intellectually, emotionally, and of course physically, that I had learned in my own research for something I’m writing. I told her I would help with the mechanics of the letter but that the ideas and the words had to be hers.

We brainstormed tonight–I asked her questions about how she felt before, during, and after recess and she wrote notes. Then she dictated the letter to me. I looked up the addresses for her and she wrote them on the envelopes. She’s very excited to send her letters off tomorrow. At bedtime she whispered, “Do you think they’ll actually change the amount of recess we have?” I said I didn’t know, but you never know until you ask.

Here’s her letter:

Dear Dr. Murphy,

My name is Zoe Rosso and I’m a third grader at A******** Elementary. I really love my school. We have great teachers. I have tons of friends. My favorite subjects are math, reading, and science. I love almost everything about my school except that we only have 20 minutes of recess.

If I don’t run every day my legs start to feel weird like I have to move around. I need more than 20 minutes to get enough exercise. I love to climb and hang upside down. Climbing exercises my brain and muscles and improves my strength. There are very few things that you can do outside that you can do inside.

When I’m outside, I feel great. I feel like this because the outdoors never end. It’s just a big open space—a big field of fresh air and fun. Also before I go outside I can get bored, but when I come in after recess I am really into the subject. Being in fresh air helps me to focus in class. When I don’t go outside I start to get really tired of just sitting around. When you sit around it can make it much harder for you to think.

Being outside helps me to relax and stop worrying about things. Being outside also makes me feel good because I get to run around and play with my friends and it doesn’t really matter how loud or quiet I am. Many of my friends are in different classes than me so at recess I get to see and play with them. I am also not allowed to run in the hall, but outside there is no hall.

It would be wonderful if we could have more recess. Please consider increasing recess for elementary school students.


Zoe Rosso

balanceIn my mind there is a balance, with which I am constantly trying to weigh unequal things against each other. Two weeks ago on one side was the horrible, senseless, preventable deaths of 10 students at Umpqua Community College–just a fraction of the gun violence in our country this year because we lack the courage or compassion or common sense to put an end to it. On the other side that night was a delicious meal of roasted pork and red potatoes that I had made in the crockpot for the first time.

There is gratitude that I am joining new communities, like the covenant group I met with last night, which I am co-facilitating. The group is designed to help people get to know themselves and each other better, and I was stunned by the candor of the participants, and their willingness to listen with quiet empathy. And then there are the times when I feel excluded, wishing I fell more easily into circles or relationships where you always know you’re going to be genuinely welcomed, that you’re not intruding, where you know what treat they’d most like from the bakery, and you don’t hesitate to ask for help because you know it will be freely given.

Of course there is the moment to moment dichotomy of colossal love for your children and awe at their development–Zeke just started to say “I love you” to us completely unprompted, and there’s pretty much nothing better than that. His language skills and vocabulary are thrilling. Tonight Zoe said we were going to have pancakes for dinner when she meant pizza, and Zeke said, “You were just joking!” He says please and thank you of his own accord and will eat anything you put in front of him. And then there are those moments when he hits us with a stick or a remote control or throws a plastic shovel across the playground at the boy who wouldn’t let him cross a line of acorns he was creating in the sand, or when he keeps running when I yell “Stop!” or melts, boneless, into the mulch, when I say it’s time to go.

There is the leak under the kitchen sink that we have already had fixed several times. Right now there are layers of wet newspaper on top of rotted cardboard until I get around to calling a plumber. The cleaning supplies are clustered in a corner of the kitchen. There is the back panel of the dryer drum that needs to be replaced because a tablecloth accidentally included in the laundry melted onto it. But then again, the dryer still works in the meantime, and we have mountains of dirty clothes to keep testing it. We have endless clean water flowing from our faucet and a sink full of dishes on which we enjoyed good food.

There is the sacred and the profane. The Syrian refugees and those who are welcoming them and providing sanctuary and those who are arresting them or turning away. There are delicate, cool fall days. There is sickness and depression and more than enough emotional and physical anguish to go around. There are weddings and new beginnings and the messiness and embrace of family. There is Zeke approaching Zoe at the end of an evening where everyone was dancing in celebration of a marriage, saying to her, “Zuzzy–dance?” and dancing so joyfully with his big sister. And she was so delighted to dance with him. There are mice in our house–again. Tonight while I was reading in the family chair I saw one emerge from under the sofa, look around, and dart back underneath.

There is sleeplessness. There are naps. I have a lot of work to do and I am painfully behind in doing it, which is not really like me and uncomfortable and embarrassing. But I am thankful to have work and so happy that I’ve been working for myself, doing what I love, for 10 years now. I know I am lucky to have a vocation that I identified 33 years ago and I’ve been pursuing it every since.

I have been struggling with this idea that I am always seeking equilibrium that is impossible to achieve. My head and my heart so often see-sawing up and down, so easily weighed down or lifted up.

Our leaf collageYesterday, in the middle of watching Project Wild Thing, a fun yet serious British documentary about the dramatic causes and effects of today’s generation of kids spending so little time in nature, I decided to turn off the tv and take the kids to the park. Seriously. And not just the playground, but the woods. Yes, there’s a paved path, but there are also lots of trees and rocks and a large meandering creek that invites kids to explore it.

Sure it was about to get dark, but I didn’t let that stop us. Zoe didn’t want to go, but I dragged her off the couch. After hearing what filmmaker David Bond had to say, building on what I learned from another stunning documentary–School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten, I felt a certain urgency to be outside with my family, especially after we’d been cooped up for a few days while it rained. But it wasn’t raining anymore, so we went.

The path was covered with wet leaves that had fallen from dozens of different kinds of trees, none of which I could identify. But I observed the diversity and my kids picked up some leaves to bring home. “We can do art!” I exclaimed, remembering how Zeke’s preschool teachers had the kids painting leaves last week. I am always the kind of mom who wants to do nature art but rarely the kind who makes it happen. I am more likely to get irritated when doing the laundry at the pieces of outside that wind up inside, stuffed into my kids’ pockets.

Instead last night I was collecting the leaves in my pockets, trying to keep them smoothed out so we could make a collage with them later. As we walked, Zeke inevitably picked up and brandished sticks. He and Zoe threw some rocks into the creek. We reminded Zeke to throw small rocks, and not to throw them in the direction of Zoe. Eventually Zeke and Randy went back up to the path while Zoe and I ventured further into the creek. We were wearing our boots. I only just bought rain boots last week. I hadn’t owned any for decades. We climbed and maneuvered and squelched in the mud.

Zoe pointed out a boulder that had a hole running through it and we took turns rolling a pebble though. Then she saw what she thought was a carving on another rock but then realized it was my wet boot print. I told Zoe it was gettinIn the creekg dark and we needed to get back to the path, but she wanted, not surprisingly, to go a little deeper. She waded over to a tree that had fallen across the creek and hoisted herself up onto it and shimmied across to the upended root system and up onto the bank. I held out my arm to her, but she said, “No, I don’t want you to help me.” She wanted to challenge herself, as usual.

In the midst of this activity, Zoe said, “you can’t be a Rosso if you don’t like adventure.” How great it is that she thinks that, I thought, even though I have never really thought of myself as adventurous, at least in the outdoors. In these nature documentaries people my age talk about how when they were growing up they were always playing outside. It was just a given. When I was growing up, my given was reading. I could read inside or out, but I was pretty much always reading. I played with my friends and I definitely went to the park, went roller skating, and rode bikes. But I also got teased for my lack of natural athletic ability and I didn’t like heat or bug bites. In fourth grade a classmate told me that I sweated too much. So I was kind of flattered that Zoe thought of our family as adventurous. I felt like I’d earned an adventure badge in mom scouts.

So while I certainly appreciate nature and enjoy being outside and all that, in a general sense, I still don’t think of myself as an outdoor type. But I do think of myself as a writer, and as a good mom, and an engaged parent. Last year Susan Parker, the director of our fantastic preschool asked me if I would be interested in writing something about the outdoor classroom program that she and AUCP teachers had piloted, modeled on the forest kindergarten highlighted in School’s Out. This is Arlington and we are progressive but still we like things the way we like them, so the idea was to take one class of kids to spend the whole preschool day (three hours) in the woods every couple weeks. Timber Tuesdays and Forest Fridays were born, and in the first year it seemed to pour rain or snow every Tuesday and Friday of the winter. But the kids were undaunted, and the adults made sure to match their spirit and wear extra layers. Zeke’s not old enough to do this yet (the program focuses on three-, four-, and five-year-olds) but I heard all about it and Susan shared with me how thrilled she was to be seeing what the kids could do outside. “It’s all there!” she said. Dramatic play, reading, science, critical thinking, negotiating skills, leadership development. She said kids who struggled in the classroom tended to shine outdoors and some who were stars sitting inside were pushed a little out of their comfort zones in the woods, forcing them to learn new skills. Susan handed me stacks of studies and articles about the positive effects on kids’ mental and physical health of being outside, or the dangers of not enough outside exploration. When kids are outside more, exploring the natural world, they are less likely to

  • struggle with gross or fine motor skill development
  • have ADHD
  • be obese

In fact, Project Wild Thing‘s David Bond said this generation of children is the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents, which he (and presumably scientists he cites) attribute to a more sedentary lifestyle. People in hospitals heal faster when they can look out the window at nature, he said.

I’ve been working on the article, although I still haven’t found someone to publish it yet, but the process has been inspiring. Even just hearing about what goes on in the woods on Timber Tuesdays and Forest Fridays has inspired me to be more patient, and even more encouraging, when my kids want to splash in puddles or dig in mud or collect acorns or climb rocks. And it makes me want to do those things too. Maybe not so much the mud, but definitely the other ones.

When we got home from the park, by which point it was completely dark, I found a piece of cardboard and two bottles of glue. I made Zoe promise that she would let Zeke glue the leaves the way he wanted to, even if it conflicted with her artistic vision. She agreed and they collaborated beautifully. Glue was everywhere, but that’s ok. I still don’t know what kind of leaves we found, but that’s ok too. That’s an activity for another time. As is watching the rest of the film, which I am eager to do. Right now, I’m just glad we squeezed some time outside into our day.

UPDATE ON 10/6/15

My friend Kevin kindly identified most of the leaves we found!

leaf ID

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.

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