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Zeke turned to me this afternoon
from his position sprawled on the couch
watching Spider-Man cartoons
and asked if I knew what he did
when he arrived in his classroom
this morning
on the first day
of first grade.

I asked what
and he said he cried
because he was feeling really shy.

I said I was sorry
that he had been so upset
and asked him what happened
when he started crying
he said the teacher came over
and talked to him
and made him feel better.

I asked what she said or did
to make him feel better
but he didn’t remember.

He said he only cried
for twice the amount of time
it takes him to brush his teeth.

He said there’s no one
he knows sitting at his table
but there is a boy who
speaks another language.

“What language does he speak?”
I asked
Zeke said,
“A language I’ve never heard before.”

At least at recess Zeke got to play with Jack
his best kindergarten buddy
who is in a different class
and moving to Chicago soon anyway
they played hide and seek and Zeke said
Jack is really good at hiding.

Last night at bedtime
Zeke seemed relaxed
although he said he was nervous and excited
then he told me I smelled like cheese
and I said I had brushed my teeth and
washed my hands and face
and hadn’t even eaten any cheese recently
he was not convinced
He was clutching his stuffed owl, named Even
I said, “maybe this owl smells like cheese!”

And he became deeply offended
that I did not
call Even by his name
“Why did you say this owl?” he demanded
“You know his name!”

At which point I realized
he was more upset than he had let on.

I had to leave the room to make sure
Zoe’s first day outfit was in the washing machine
and when I returned
and climbed back up into the top bunk
to resume snuggling with Zeke
he began to weep.

He asked me if I could come in the classroom
with him in the morning
even though he knew he was riding the bus
and I told him no, that wasn’t the plan
and he just cried
and wouldn’t speak
and wouldn’t answer my questions
just burying his face in Even.

You know how much I love to shower. My showers are quick and I prefer them cool–especially in the summer, I shower early and often. Growing up, I usually showered every day, but when I moved into my un-air conditioned dorm my freshman year in steamy August Williamsburg, I made multiple showers a day my way of life.

Twenty-seven summers later, even when I had to walk across a woodsy clearing, wearing my Adidas slides to protect my feet from sticks and rocks, and carry my soap and shampoo and towel and clothes with me, each of my three showers a day at family camp was bliss.

Of course, family camp was much more than a chance to bathe with bugs, but when it was 97 degrees every day and we were kayaking, climbing, dancing by the lake and simply walking across camp from one activity to another, I earned those showers. Not to mention that sometimes I was carrying my 50-pound child on my back when he alleged that he was too tired to move.

(For those of you who know me and have made fun of my affinity for showers for years, please note that I did not shower first thing in the morning any of the days we were at family camp. I brushed my teeth and put my clothes on and went to breakfast without showering, like a good camper. I only showered after I did something that got me really sweaty. Which, of course, is almost anything.)

Driving home yesterday some of those muscles I didn’t know I had were sore, but in the best possible way. Most of our stinky clothes are now clean again and most of our gear is unpacked, and we are already talking about what we will do next year when we go back.

This summer was Zoe’s fifth at Camp Friendship, but our first at Camp Friendship’s family camp, held for a week at the end of the summer when regular camp sessions are over. Family camp includes a lot of the same activities that the kids do during the summer, but with fewer counselors and rules and more flexibility.

Zoe loves Camp Friendship fiercely. She counts down the days until she can go each summer and it takes a while when she comes home for her to come out of her post-camp funk. She has made deep connections each year with campers and counselors and she has challenged herself to try new things every year and push herself . This summer during her second week at camp, she was named Camper of the Week in the Junior Girls Village, voted unanimously by the Junior Girls supervisor and all the counselors because of her enthusiasm and willingness to help out and because she was a friend to everyone. Zoe was modest about it when she told us, but when I talked with Kerry, the Junior Girls supervisor, she said Camper of the Week is a big deal. I was very proud.

My only sleepaway camp experience growing up was two weeks at the Young Writers’ Workshop held at the University of Virginia. While this was a phenomenal and formative experience for me, I stayed in a dorm and took writing classes, so I never experienced the typical sleepaway camp activities. For the past five years I’ve been both impressed and daunted by Zoe’s descriptions of her summer adventures at Camp Friendship.

This year I decided Zeke was old enough that we could go to family camp without him needing to stick by my side all the time, so we signed up for a half-week of camp. After watching the videos that Zoe showed us multiple times, Randy observed that family camp seemed like “an introvert’s nightmare” and opted to stay home. Now that we’ve been, I feel confident that he would enjoy most of the activities and he could easily sneak off for some quiet time when we’re singing cheesy songs or having a dance party. Anyway it was just the kids and me this time around.

Here’s what I LOVED about family camp:

  1. Being away from my phone and computer and all other screens for three days. Devices aren’t prohibited at camp but I decided our family did not need to use any. I used my phone only for the alarm clock so we wouldn’t miss breakfast, and to take occasional photos, but I had it on airplane mode (plus I don’t have any service in Palmyra, Virginia) the whole time and it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t have to check anything for myself or my children or respond to anyone’s requests or even feel the constant buzzing in my pocket. I loved that we could just make a plan and write something down on paper and I didn’t have to text anyone to see where they were or tell them where I was or ANYTHING ELSE. And I didn’t have to bug Zoe to get off her phone. No one was asking for screen time. It was lovely.
  2. Not having to drive anywhere or even carry my keys. The only time we were in a motorized vehicle was when one of the staff members drove a van full of us back to camp after we enjoyed tubing a couple miles down the Rivanna River. We walked everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, there was a heat wave and we were hot and sweaty, but it was such a relief not to have to drive and great exercise. And I wasn’t even counting steps.
  3. We were archers! Zeke and I used a bow and arrow for the first time (Zoe has done archery every year for five years) and I discovered that it’s really fun and not as hard as I expected. I managed to hit the target most of the time. I don’t think Zeke did, but he made a valiant effort. I am eager to find someplace close to home where we can practice.
  4. We kayaked! Randy is a big kayaker and Zoe has kayaked a lot at camp, but I had only been in a kayak once or twice and was intimidated by it. Zeke had never done it at all. We started out in a kayak together but I quickly remembered that two people in a kayak is way harder than one, so I kicked Zeke out and made him get his own kayak. And he did it! And I did it! We paddled around the lake, forward and backward, under a little bridge, through a fountain, and we didn’t fall out!
  5. These are not in order of importance, because one of my absolute favorite things about family camp was that my kids could go wherever they wanted without me and I did not have to worry about them at all. Of course I knew Zoe would be fine on her own since she knows the camp much better than I do, but I wasn’t sure how it would go with Zeke. But he figured things out quickly and easily and I was delighted and relieved. He walked the 100 feet to the bathrooms by himself, even in the dark. He got food and drink for himself in the dining hall. He floated along in his tube down the river. On the night when everyone gathered at the beach by the lake, he explored on his own and built sand castles with some other kids and a counselor while Zoe and I were playing cards and dancing. When we were at friendship bracelet making, Zeke got frustrated and decided to go down to the pottery class instead, where he made a penguin and a Camp Friendship sign. One morning Zeke did kids camp–going on a scavenger hunt across the entire camp, culminating in a swim at the pool–while Zoe and I did other activities. On the night when we were at the lawn party, we played cornhole and volleyball and lawn bowling, and then he decided he wanted to play night tennis. He has been wanting to learn tennis lately, so he told me he was going to the tennis courts, and he left. He met up with us later for ice cream. He also had a lesson with a tennis pro another day we were there. It was wonderful to be in a place where I knew the kids would be safe, there were a million friendly counselors and staff people around in case they needed anything, and whatever they were doing would be something good.
  6. I did not have to cook or buy or order any food for myself or my children or anyone else. They served us three delicious hot meals a day, with plenty of healthy options. They had an ice machine where I filled up my water bottle a million times a day. They had endless lemonade. And they had 24-hour bagels, bread, cereal, and fruit available in case you needed a midnight snack. We only availed ourselves of this the last night we were there, after the dance party. We discovered some teenagers in the dining hall playing Cards Against Humanity and a cluster of kitchen staff watching Netflix on someone’s laptop. For many people, especially parents, or maybe just me but I think it’s many people, figuring out what to feed yourself and your family is a lot of work. It was such a relief to not have to worry about this at all for nine entire mealtimes.
  7. I met counselors and staff from England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and South Africa. There were also American staff, but because many colleges in the US start in mid- to late-August, a lot of the American counselors have to leave before family camp. The international staff often have more flexibility. Everyone who works at the camp was incredibly friendly and kind. Almost every single person knew and loved Zoe. She was like a celebrity there and I was part of her entourage. By the time we left, a lot of them knew Zeke too. This job is an intense one, where you’re on duty nearly 24/7, so it requires a certain kind of commitment that’s different from scooping ice cream or mowing lawns. I talked with several staff members who work there year round, never having expected to make a career out of camp. Some of the counselors are in college or taking a gap year or just graduated, and some of them work in other fields, and some are trying to figure out what to do next, but in the meantime they are having a fabulous time at camp and those kids adore them.
  8. Zeke went fishing. I did not have to participate. Zoe played cards with Kerry while Zeke fished. Zeke did not catch anything but he had fun. And I didn’t have to participate. Did I mention that?
  9. I kinda learned how to make friendship bracelets. This is an extremely popular pastime at Camp Friendship. Every camper and counselor wears several on each wrist. I’ve seen Zoe doing it for years and it always seemed very mysterious. I have yet to complete a perfect bracelet, but I’ve made a couple for Zeke, who is quite forgiving, and I’ve started a couple more. This may not be a skill I will put on my resume, but it’s kind of cool and can be meditative to sit and play with string.
  10. My kids and I had fun together at camp. We were outside most of the time doing all kinds of cool activities. I didn’t have to pitch a tent or cook over a fire (although we did make s’mores, the supplies were provided for us–we just had to find sticks). We made tie-dyed shirts. Zoe and I tried to climb an insanely difficult high ropes obstacle. Zoe and Zeke zip lined across the woods. I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was hot and sweaty and exhausting. We had a great time. And I took plenty of cold showers.

originally posted on Invocations.blog

I feel like about half 
of my parenting challenges 
are deciding when to 
say to my children

Sometimes you have to be 
tough and 
brave and 
stick it out 
do hard things 
be independent 
you can do this
you got this

and when to say

It’s ok
you can take it easy
sit this one out
relax
skip this one
don’t worry about it
rest and
you can snuggle with me

There is 
no formula
no equation
no guidebook 

that tells me
which way to lean

I just have to 
figure it out
over and over again
every
single
day 

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
August 2019

Last Sunday my friend D and I led the service at UUCA, on the theme of Embracing the Mess. D wrote a great scene in which our kids (and one bonus kids) demonstrated how to make a mess and we figured out how to deal with it. This was not much of a stretch for any of us.

A moment from our “Embracing the Mess” service on July 14.

If you’d like to watch the service, visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ and click on archives and click on the July 14, 2019 service.

Here’s my reflection from Sunday:

One of the reasons I became a Unitarian Universalist after spending many formative years as a Presbyterian was that I wanted more variety than the Bible seemed to offer. When I discovered that UUs looked to many sacred and secular texts as sources of inspiration, I was delighted. As a writer and reader, I love discovering wisdom from new people and places.

That said, I acknowledge that the Bible includes some great stories. They’re not always easy to understand, universal truths are embedded in those parables. My perspective on Jesus is that he was a kind, compassionate, and generous person and a powerful teacher. When I think about embracing the mess, I keep coming back to this story from the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Picture the scene. You have an unexpected celebrity guest—plus his entourage—and you’re working frantically in the kitchen to find something suitable to serve. You’re pouring chips and salsa into your best bowls. You’re searching for the corkscrew to open a bottle of sauvignon blanc. You’re preheating the oven to pop in some Trader Joe’s appetizers. 

And you’re doing it all by yourself, while your sister is in the other room laughing at your guest’s amusing anecdotes and not lifting a finger to help you. Maybe it’s not your sister, but your significant other or your roommate. Regardless, you’re growing increasingly frustrated at them for having a good time while you’re working your tush off.

I have a question for you. How many of are familiar with the enneagram? How many of you are type 2?

For those of you who don’t know the enneagram, it’s an ancient tool used to help us understand motivations and behaviors. The enneagram can be a useful way to examine the choices we make and help us to become emotionally healthier. 

Type 2 is known as the helper or the giver. Martha was likely a type 2. A bunch of guys show up on her doorstep and she immediately gets to work making dinner. There is a need to be met, and she assumes it is her responsibility to meet it. She does not understand why no one else is helping, because it is so obvious to herthat there is work to be done. 

I will confess that I am also a type 2. After years of emotional work, however, I would like to think I am a healthy 2. This means I would probably head to the kitchen to get snacks for Jesus and his friends, but then I would order pizza so I could join in the conversation sooner. I might ask the apostles to take everyone’s drink orders. 

Unhealthy 2s plow ahead with all the work themselves, becoming increasingly resentful. Healthy 2s will ask for help when they need it, or even decline a request that someone makes of them. My spiritual director calls this “the holy freedom to say no.” The enneagram provides a direction for each type to move toward in order to balance out unhealthy tendencies. For type 2s, we are guided toward 4, known as the romantic or the individualist. I suspect Mary in this story was a 4. When Jesus showed up at her house, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, which was sit and hang out with him. What could possibly be more important?

I can’t count the number of times when I was younger that I cleared the table and started doing dishes when I had friends over just to get the mess out of the way. And then missed out on time I could have spent having fun and laughing with people I loved. The dishes will always be there. I have learned that community, conversation, and connection are much more important. 

A couple months ago, a friend of mine from college emailed me to say he and family were going to be in town and wanted to get together. He asked if we wanted to meet at a restaurant, but I suggested they come to our house, knowing it would be more relaxing, and that the kids could play, and we would have more time to talk. He agreed, although he suggested we get takeout and he offered to bring wine and dessert. I ordered dinner from Bangkok 54 and we had a fabulous time, and I did very little work.   

Of course, I’m not saying you never have to clean your house, but that embracing the mess provides an opportunity to cultivate both connection and creativity. 

How many of you have ever lived in a house overrun by Legos?

This has been my house for the past decade. 

We have built Lego sets of a lunar lander, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, countless superheroes and villains and their vehicles, and many more. We have thousands of Legos that have been used to build fabulous creations even more imaginative than the sets you buy at the store. Everyone at our house is a builder, but Zeke in particular is on his way to becoming a master builder. Where I see Legos scattered all over the coffee table and the floor, he sees superhero hideouts and innovative spaceships and cars that can dive and fly and so many technologies that might actually come to fruition someday. I have no doubt that he could become an engineer and design the prototype for an actual car that flies.

Our house is also littered with overflowing bins of art supplies, books piled up next to densely packed bookshelves, and magazines with ideas for making new stuff out of old stuff you have lying around. Sure, sometimes I wish my house looked like something out of a magazine, where you’re sure no one actually lives there because there’s no stuff. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up the time our family spends making art, reading, and creating with everything that surrounds us. 

Embracing the mess opens up possibilities and allows for freedom. This can be risky. And liberating.

Both my kids attended AUCP, the phenomenal preschool located here at UUCA. After Zoe graduated and before Zeke started, AUCP launched a program called Timber Tuesday, where, every other week, a class spends the entire three-hour school day in the woods near Long Branch Nature Center. Rain or shine. I have never been an outdoorsy person, and I was skeptical about this at first, but AUCP’s director Susan Parker quickly sold me on the value of spending this time outside. Kids who struggled to conform to classroom expectations thrived outside when given plenty of space to explore. Kids with sensory or motor challenges pushed themselves to climb rocks and touch trees and splash in the creek. As a parent, one of the most important lessons I learned was that it’s ok to get messy. Just bring a change of clothes. Or be prepared to ride home in your underwear. 

I remember sometime after I had become a Timber Tuesday convert that my kids and I were out after a rainstorm. Instead of instructing my kids to avoid a puddle, I encouraged them to jump in it. They were astonished. 

They have certainly taken that encouragement to heart. Two weeks ago, our family was on vacation in Lewes, Delaware. One evening we went to the beach to watch the sunset. One minute we were walking with our toes in the water, and next thing I knew both of my kids were laughing and splashing, submerged up to their chests in the Delaware Bay, fully clothed. Then we went to get ice cream. Because why not?

(originally published on Invocations.blog)

Before my second baby was born
I used to worry (a lot) about 
having a boy
thinking, “what would I DO with a boy?”
as if he would turn out to be a different
species than me
rather than another gender
and that we would lack a 
common language

Now he is almost six
and I understand that 
what I was afraid of
was that he would be 
a stereotype
of a boy
or that he would 
(alarmingly)
be a clone
of boys I had known
who had scared me
or disgusted me
because of their 
aggressiveness
or
crassness
or 
insensitivity
which I wrongly 
attributed
to testosterone
and the Y chromosome

My son loves to kiss me
and snuggle and 
make art
together and 
battle bad guys (not with me, because that’s not my thing)
and build Legos (sometimes with superheroes and bad guys 
but sometimes not)
and watch the Great British Baking Show
and do martial arts
and play with his multitude of stuffed animals, 
all of whom he has given names 
and identities 
(some straight, some gay, some trans) 
and family relationships 
(usually interspecies)

He likes to wear pink and purple (and sports shorts and Adidas) 
I told him that I’m glad he knows 
pink and purple are colors 
for everyone
and not just for girls
He said unfortunately not everyone 
at his school knows that
and not everyone at his school thinks boys 
can wear nail polish
but he knows 
how much fun it is 
to get your nails done
and how cool it looks 

I used to worry 
that people would think
I was a boy
because my hair is short
because I mostly wear 
t-shirts and jeans
In high school when I wore Doc Martens
I was told “those are men’s shoes.”
(Now I sometimes shop in the men’s department for my size 11 feet
and I receive many compliments on my brown leather wingtips)
In college when I asked the boys down the hall
to use the clipper to shave the back of my hair
I was told “that’s a lesbian haircut.”
and because I wore plaid flannel, 
“you dress like a lesbian,”
(but seriously, it was the 90s)
A little girl once asked me, “are you a boy?”
I said no but she still said, “I think you’re a boy.”
When I wake up and stumble into the bathroom 
in the middle of the night or
first thing in the morning
so many times I’ve looked in the mirror
and wondered if I looked that day like 
Richard Simmons or Andy Gibb or Michael Moore
it’s always a weird male celebrity I see
I used to think that if I didn’t wear earrings 
when I left the house
people would think I was a man
even though plenty of men
wear earrings when they leave the house
like my daughter’s 5th grade teacher 
who was a middle-aged married father of two
who wore basketball shorts to teach and sported
a gold hoop in each ear

My son notices when I have new earrings
and is the first to compliment me 
when I get my hair done
He often does not care if his clothes
are clashing colors
but sometimes he wants me to brush his hair
and help him choose the perfect outfit
for the occasion

My son recites the names of all the Avengers
(and their friends such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four)
and their unique capabilities
and asks me what powers I would like
and then endows me with them
and says, 
“I love you with all my heart and all my dreams.”
and falls asleep with his forehead touching mine
and his arm around my neck

When the motorized scooter was delivered to our hotel in Orlando, the scooter guy assembled it, and showed my parents what to do. My sister shared an instructional YouTube video with us even before the trip so we could familiarize ourselves with the assembly and disassembly process. Even so, the first morning of our adventure, after my mom drove the scooter up to my parents’ minivan, it took several adults several (10? 15?) minutes to take it apart and stow it in the back of the van.

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, we put it together slightly faster, but when it was assembled and my mom put the key in the ignition, there was a lot of beeping. So much beeping that it was clear that the scooter was telling us something. Like, “don’t drive me.” We took things apart and put them back together. Finally, we discovered that the lock/unlock switch was in the wrong position. It may have been Zeke who figured it out. We flipped the switch and the beeping ceased. The only sound was a cheer from everyone.

By the end of the week, we (and by we I really mean Randy, because he did the lion’s share of scooter assembly and disassembly, usually with some assistance from my dad or me) could transform the scooter in 30 seconds flat. But the real scooter master was the driver–my mom.

The dashboard of the scooter only has one dial, which goes from turtle on the left to rabbit on the right. My mom definitely preferred to rabbit away on that scooter. She zoomed through the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Legoland, Universal Studios, and Disney Hollywood Studios like it was a getaway car, deftly maneuvering through throngs of people, around couples and wayward toddlers and large unruly families like ours. She sped up ramps to the scooter and wheelchair accessible entrances to rides and attractions. She executed tight turns. She sometimes gave rides to the youngest members of our party, who could most easily fit on her lap, when they got tired of walking. She cruised through gift shops. She circled around to find the perfect shady spot to park in while waiting for others to go on roller coasters or anything fast or spinny that wasn’t her cup of tea. She did not, as far as I know, run over anyone except for the feet of some family members when we were standing around not paying attention to when she was ready to drive. Not really her fault. And she never crashed. She sidled up to a handsome young guy on a scooter to ask how long his battery lasted because hers seemed to be fading midway through the day. They compared notes companionably.

We noticed during all five days at the park that the scooter rental companies in Orlando are doing a booming business. And the drivers of the scooters are diverse. You might expect most of them to be older people with mobility issues, which certainly accounted for many of them, but not nearly all. The man my mom chatted with couldn’t have been out of his 20s. I wondered if he was a combat-injured veteran, but really he could’ve had any kind of condition that made walking long distances challenging. It didn’t matter. I also saw pregnant women driving scooters. I remember just walking through the National Zoo when I was nine months pregnant and desperately wishing I could flag down an employee driving a golf cart to give me a lift. The fact is that these parks are gigantic, and you often have to criss cross back and forth to go on the rides you want to go on when the lines are shortest, and you cover a lot of territory. If walking far is difficult or painful, as it is for many people, the scooter is genius.

Often during our trip as I watched my mom’s back as she zoomed away, I imagined how powerful she must have felt driving that scooter. She didn’t have to use a cane or be pushed in a wheelchair. She didn’t have to ask anyone for help. She didn’t have to hope that the rest of us would wait up while she took a break on a bench. She didn’t have to miss anything. And she could go fast. I don’t know when the last time would’ve been that she could get somewhere faster than the rest of us, but it’s been a while. Sometimes we would be standing around trying to figure out where our next destination was and suddenly realize she had sped off, and we’d have to run to catch up to her.

While we were on vacation my mom mused about how having a scooter like this at home would enable her to do things she hasn’t been able to comfortably or easily do on her own for years, like go shopping. She wondered why they don’t have scooters for rent at Tyson’s Corner. I wondered that too. While the concentration of people needing scooters would not be quite as large as at Disney, surely there would be enough to make it worthwhile for the mall to have some on hand. They rent strollers, why not mobility scooters?

I’ve thought about the power and independence my mom could reclaim if she had a scooter at her disposal all the time. But she couldn’t take it out of the car and put it together and then take it apart again and put it back in the car by herself. And if she had to have someone with her all the time to do that for her, she wouldn’t really have the independence that she wants. She’s not in a position where she needs a custom van with a scooter lift. She can walk. I don’t know the solution to this yet, but I feel sure it’s out there somewhere. If we did get my mom a scooter of her own, we would have to customize it so she could have her Diet Coke easily accessible and it wouldn’t spill, she could fit her purchases in a large basket, and there would be red flames painted on the sides because she loves speed.

One of the best parts of the vacation for me was seeing my mom go full rabbit on her scooter all through every park, knowing that she had all the power she wanted.

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