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Not My Favorite Spring Break

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Not My Favorite Spring Break

Thank goodness school started again today. Our spring break kind of……sucked. Not only that, but I’m suffering an uncharacteristic  — for me — amount of mommy guilt over the whole thing. Gotta be honest, mommy guilt is normally not in my wheelhouse (whether it SHOULD be is another question), but this week threw me for a loop.

I had all kinds of grand plans: a thorough spring-cleaning and purge of all boys’ rooms and belongings; outings to the zoo, the science museum, and hiking; frolicking in the great outdoors; garden planting and yard work. Not to mention relaxing extended family reading time, etc., etc.

We made it to the zoo Monday, but after that the week just kind of kerploofed. (It’s a word now, people, it’s perfect for the sort of imploding-while-disappointing sound I was imagining.) I had made just a few wee commitments for the week, but each of them somehow had other meetings appended to them, including meetings for and with my nieces that were really important and out of my control. Then mid-week my poor dad experienced a serious back injury that required a chaperone and multiple appointments, it rained most of the week so no one could play outside, and …… kerploof.

Lessons were learned though, and I record them here for your potential benefit, should you ever experience a disappointing kerploof of a holiday.

1. Huh, I’m raising relatively self-sufficient small people. Instead of adventures with mommy all week, my little men spent record amounts of time alone and in charge of themselves and each other. As the oldest is 13, this should be no big deal on paper, but we’re talking several big chunks of hours of time and three boys. And you know what, people? No blood was drawn, no disasters were had, lunches were prepared and consumed, and all was well.

2. Much less laundry is required when your family members spend most of the week in their jammies. This reduction in laundry was a small side benefit to the fact that the boys got dressed maybe twice between Monday and Friday……oh, look, here comes the guilt again……

3. Multiple Jammie Days??? My boys think that’s the Best. Thing. Ever. So instead of being disappointed at the lack of mommy outings, they were thrilled at the added responsibility of being on their own combined with the luxury of relatively unlimited electronics (truly not the norm in this house, honest) in their pj’s. By their accounting: SCORE.

A sleepover in the basement is the perfect end to a jammie day. Well, that and piles of Oreos.

A sleepover in the basement is the perfect end to a jammie day. Well, that and piles of Oreos.

4. Unlimited Electronics Buffet + Rainy Week Still = Squirrelly Boys. This is just basic physics, no changing that. Thank you Jesus for a sunny afternoon yesterday, or there might have been intra-familial fisticuffs.

5. I have discovered a basic, and to my knowledge, previously unnamed law of human behavior. Other people at the zoo cannot stop making up what are clearly dumb explanations for the animals’ behavior. The Corollary to this Law of Uncontrollably Fabricating Animal Behavior Explanations is the Inability to Control Mocking Others Ridiculous Explanations While Believing Your Own Understanding of Zoo Animal Behavior is Unquestionably Stellar.

6. Baby elephants are so cute, one cannot be blamed for compulsively taking what are clearly awful pictures of them….

Awww....look at the baby elephant. Well, she is cute, but there was all this glass in the way...

Awww….look at the baby elephant. If you can, through the glare, the glass, and her mother’s legs.

7. Much to my shame and dismay, I am not immune to Facebook-related jealousy. Having never really experienced it before, I was pretty confident I was above the capacity of Facebook to effect my perceptions of how fun our life is or is not. Until this week, when the pictures of Palm Desert, Hawaii and Mexico flooded my newsfeed while I went from meeting to appointment to meeting. I realized I am no better than any other Facebook user, capable of being consumed by feelings of envy and inadequacy.

A pathetic group selfie (us-ie?) of us at The Lego Movie.

A pathetic group selfie (us-ie?) of us at The Lego Movie.

I did not post that blurry mess to social media, didn’t feel it adequately competed with all of the beach/skiing/Italian spa/parasailing/rock-climbing on Mars photos. Sigh. (I am completely aware of the whiny nature of my seriously first-world problems. I am a brat. That fact just makes it all worse. More sighing.)

8. When given the chance, my boys rose to the occasion and to my expectations, whether it was helping injured grandpa walk his dog this week, managing on their own so long, or doing extra chores to help me out instead of getting to do extra adventures or fun treats. Our kids are often capable of so much more than we ask of them, and they are proud to do it.

9. This too shall pass, for everything there is a season, kids are resilient, and honestly I can’t remember ONE single spring break from my elementary or middle school years. My mom was GREAT, and I’m sure we did all kinds of super fun spring break things.  Wait, had spring break even been invented then? Anyhow, maybe in the scheme of things it won’t really matter…..

Maybe everything IS awesome….

Also, I’m pretty sure that song was composed by the folks who compose Vacation Bible School theme music. Anyone agree?

 

 

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Misadventures in Chia: Crunchy Little Balls

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Misadventures in Chia: Crunchy Little Balls

I’ll admit, introducing a new dessert by saying “Here’s a yummy pudding with crunchy little balls in it” to four boys  was a strategic error. A HUGE strategic error from which there is no recovery or return. I don’t mean to offend any readers with delicate sensibilities, but if you don’t immediately know what I’m talking about, then you definitely do not have an 8-year-old, 10-year-old, 13-year-old or 44-year-old little boy at home. That’s all I’m saying. ‘Cause “crunchy little balls” will last them ALL NIGHT LONG. It’s the verbal gift from mom that just keeps on giving.

But it was my first attempt to cook with or serve trendy new ingredient (buh-bye kale, so 2013!) chia seeds to my clan. I made this chocolate chia pudding recipe, and knowing that some family members (HELLO HUSBAND) are particularly tentative about new textures/flavors/dishes/shirts-I-gift-for-Christmas I was trying to make it sound FUN. And chia combined with liquid makes these tiny gelatinous balls that are like mini-tapioca or the boba in bubble tea, but with a little crunch to them.

For what it’s worth, I liked the pudding. The texture is weird but cool, and it was very chocolatey.

photo credit to Robynowitz at allrecipes.com

The fam, not so much. Three out of four did NOT like it, and I’m pretty sure the 8-year-old was just being nice to me. My middle “blessing” actually said “Mom,with this dish you have ruined the concept of pudding. Ruined it.” So dramatic…can’t imagine where he gets it.

So, clearly, I’ll be forcing them to eat the HUGE bag of chia seeds I got at Costco yesterday as often as I can, in as many ways as I can imagine. I’m quite looking forward to it. {cue evil laugh}

(What’s that you say, perhaps I should have purchased a slightly smaller bag for my first foray into chia cuisine, to be more reasonable, rational, moderate? Really? Have you met me?)

If I can’t convert them, I can always just grow a new clay family. Maybe this guy.

chia guy

I wonder if the seeds are cheaper this way from Amazon?

PS – Kale, I’m just kidding. We actually all love you, you’re not going anywhere.

Sweet Halloween Victory

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The best opening line of a joke EVER

So, a hillbilly, a pickle and a Lego man walk into a bar…….

Isn’t that the BEST set-up for a joke? It’s been crackin’ me up all week. And I don’t even have a punch line! (And technically, it’s a Lego mini-fig, but that just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way…..)

But yesterday was one of those magical moments when the parenting stars align. When it doesn’t matter how NOT artsy or craftsy I am, or how much laundry didn’t get folded this week, or how grouchy I or may not have been the day before.

What mattered yesterday was the fact that my sweet husband and I (with an assist from the teenager) pulled off some serious Halloween 2012 Costume Victory. Three boys, three costumes that actually resembled what they were supposed to resemble.

The nature of the victory? The usual. No contests were entered, no medals awarded. Honestly, the three costume recipients weren’t even effusively grateful. But when for even a brief moment I feel like I’m doing this parenting thing right, I claim that little victory!

Highlights from Halloween 2012

  • Hillbilly costume – triggered by four unfortunate though necessary pre-orthodontic dental extractions that left the 11 y.o. with two front teeth surrounded by large gaps of empty space on both sides. This costume was a no-brainer. (Except for my lingering “first-world problem” concern that maybe the costume really just made fun of poverty and people who cannot afford dental care? Neither of which were my intentions. I stand firmly against both poverty and lack of access to dental care.)
  • Pickle costume – a specific request from the six y.o., as it is his favorite food. If you can’t tell, he was a dill pickle. Not sweet. I don’t know why. I just know I’m eternally grateful that the dollar store had vaguely pickle-colored laundry bags, cause I don’t sew.
  • Lego costume – this was a lot of work, but I asked for it. Middle child always wants to forgo a creative homemade costume for a PC costume from the store. No, not politically correct. Plastic crap. I was protesting this consumeristic approach when I naively said “hey, let’s look online for costume ideas, I’m sure we’ll find something cool.” Cool, yes. Easy, no. But at least if I ever need to pour a four foot cylinder of concrete, I’m totally ready with the remnants of a 10″ cardboard concrete form. (The tube for the head.)

Lessons learned, 2012

  • If you need suspenders, always ask Grandpa. Where else are you going to get a fashionable pair pre-printed with hunting scenes – ducks, deer AND rifles?
  • You can hot glue gun warts on a pickle at a rate of about 20 warts per 15 minutes, if you are not picky about quality and are moderately careful not to glue costume to small child within.
  • Lego man may need to sit down at some point. Check this out before he wears costume to school for the day.

Another Halloween has come and gone, and I am keenly aware that I don’t have many years left to enthusiastically craft poor quality costumes, or supervise candy sorting and trading, or scrape sugared-up little boys off the ceiling and pour them exhausted into bed and kiss their sticky cheeks. So forgive me, but I’m going to sit back and savor this for a spell. Pass the Reese’s Cups, would you?

Sweet Halloween memories made here

Frog Redemption: A Second Chance

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Later today,  my middle child will be the proud recipient of a classroom frog. His fourth grade class has completed their study on habitat, and the wee froggy learning opportunities are being distributed to new homes. The bowl is ready, the water hopefully dechlorinated from a night’s exposure to the air.

Truthfully, though, we have yet to work out certain key details:

  • where the frog bowl will reside, as said fourth-grade boy’s room is devoid of clean surfaces;
  • how we will keep the frog bowl free of cat exploration and snack hunting;
  • why we are trying this again when our last attempt ended tragically in early frog death.

I posted this about my eldest’s classroom frog experience on Facebook a couple of years ago,  before I started blogging:

Without the skills or resources to perform a forensic necropsy, we won’t ever know for sure exactly when the classroom frog brought home after Thanksgiving died.

But when the conversation goes like this:

“Mom, I think my frog is dead.”

“How do you know, does it look dead?”

“Yeah.”

“Is it upside down or something?”

“Yeah, it’s upside down, and this….stuff has grown all around it…..”

I think we can be reasonably sure death visited a while ago.

At these times, parenting can be hard. When his tears came, after heroic efforts to contain his sadness failed, I sat down with him. As much as I wanted to reassure him that the frog was cheap, probably would have died anyways, and had clearly been traumatized by classroom life before reaching his care, I couldn’t. After all, the death had gone unnoticed long enough to allow a corpse-enveloping growth of some gooey nature.

Clearly, the frog’s care had lacked a certain…..care, you know?

Haltingly, he shared with me his guilt –  about not feeding it enough, and not even noticing for a while it was dead. Instead of explaining away his guilt I helped him sit with it, and lovingly assured him that this hard moment and hard feelings would help him do better by other beings in his care in the future.

And then I told him that’s why we let kids start with frogs, and not babies.

Are Air Mattresses Evil?

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It’s time for another the first blogisode of Q & A with TTTM! Today’s theme is Camping with Kids. Enjoy.

Hello, lovely Friends from the Interwebs! I spent the day cleaning up after our family’s third camping trip of the summer – it is a Summer Camping Spectacular around here for sure. While I was cleaning up, I was also mentally answering a few of the many (completely fictional) questions that you, my dear readers (hopefully not fictional), have sent in about camping with your family.  This information has been finely honed over years of camping with my kids and my husband, and I hope it encourages you in your own family camping adventures. Let’s begin, shall we?

Question: How do you manage your kid’s electronic screen time on camping trips? Do you bring a portable DVD player AND the Nintendo DS, and what type of generator do you use for the XBox and/or Playstation and the TV?

TTTM Answers: Sticks. And pinecones. Rocks, weird tree moss, and bugs. Also plastic army men. That is what my kids play with when we are camping, quite happily, in a way they never would at home. If they need a break, they can read a book.  This last weekend there were also a lot of card games. A LOT.

I am not going to lie, however, Interweb Friends. They do bring their DS’s, and they are allowed to play them In the Morning Before Mommy is Awake IF THEY ARE QUIET. Because Mommy needs her sleep, so they MUST BE QUIET. But that is it, without exception.

So, mostly sticks. No generators.

Question: TTTM, please help me, I think my marriage is in trouble. My husband and I have had some of the most viciously whispered, middle of the night fights of our marriage on our recent camping trips, and I don’t know what to do. It seems that every air mattress we buy springs a leak within two nights of first using it, no matter how careful we are. So while we may go to sleep initially in seductive, air-cushioned comfort, I inevitably wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning on the cold, hard, rocky ground. And every time my husband moves, I move. And then the pump breaks, or the pump batteries die, and then I’m elbowing him at 4 a.m. demanding that he wake UP NOW and BLOW UP THIS MATTRESS, cause MOMMY NEEDS HER SLEEP.

TTTM Answers: My, my, what a coincidence that you and I share similar sleep, um, needs. Anyhoo, here’s the deal, and I’m gonna call it like I see it. Air mattresses may be of the Devil. The signs are all there – seductive promises that are broken, injury and heartbreak, relational discord. I’m just sayin’.

We have had the same experience, they just don’t stay inflated. Once, we had a brand new air mattress, and in our overconfidence that it would last the measly two nights of our trip, we only brought the air pump that plugged into the car lighter power thingy. Which meant that at 3 a.m., when I could no longer stand it, my husband and I were dragging it out of the tent, over the sleeping children to the car to re-inflate. What we said to each other in those moments, I will tell you, they were not Spirit-filled words of encouragement, or of building up, or love.

Our last experience with The Deceiver That Is An Air Mattress led us to put them behind us, and lo, we invested in two self-inflating sleeping pads from REI. Our experience with these new options over our recent three-night trip has led me to a time of increased hope for my own marriage, and perhaps yours. While they are not as comfy as a newly inflated air mattress, I now recognize those unpure thoughts for what they are, and with a possible dose of Ibuprofen and some individual adjustments, they were just great. And there was no stress about how soon they would need re-inflated, or when I’d have to elbow my sweet honey. And no vicious whispers. None. Just peace, my friend, and that is what I wish for you. Step away from the air mattress.

Question: Do you have any cleaning tips, or special home remedies or potions for the socks my kids wear camping? Because after a full day of dirt, creek splashing, campfires and sweat, they just reek. What can I do?

TTTM Answers: Burn them. Throw them in the campfire and burn them. There is no other solution. Thank you for your question.

Question: Don’t you feel a little bit guilty or silly  about the time and money you spend to pretend you are homeless, to recreate a temporary home in the woods with a wholly separate set of bedding, shelter, cooking utensils, etc., when in fact so many of God’s children live in squalor that doesn’t even approach the comfort you experience when you are “roughing it”? What kind of example are you setting for your children?

TTTM Answers: Oy, that one kinda hurts. Especially after purchasing the kinda spendy sleeping pads, I did wrestle with that, I did. But here’s where I came out.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again –  when my family goes camping, we are frequently our best selves. My kids entertain themselves with sticks, and share, and they take turns (relatively helpfully) on dish duty. This weekend, you couldn’t beat my 5 year old away from the wash basin. No easy-peasy drying for him, oh, no.

My husband played endless rounds of a Boy Scout card game that involved not knowing the rules. And then making up new rules. To know my logical, strategically oriented husband would be to understand how deeply, deeply difficult this was for him. And my boys had glorious uninterrupted daddy time the whole time.

This summer, we’ve learned a lot about huckleberry picking, and desert weather patterns, and what types of objects burn fastest in the campfire and why we can’t set the end of a stick on fire and then swing it like a sword. We tried out a pie iron and caught crawdads and waded in a creek and found out that traditional unflavored marshmallows really are best for S’mores.

And my boys carried heavy water jugs from the pump hundreds of feet away, and next time we talk about our World Vision sponsor kids without any running water, I can remind them of that. And when we talk about conservation, and they learn about the environment, I hope they’ll remember the creeks, and the berries and the waterfalls and the bugs. And next time my husband or I don’t have time to play a game because we have to answer one more email or check one last thing online, I hope they have memories of S’mores and card games to carry them through.

So, no, I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s one of the best ways we’ve found to be fully present as a family, to love each other without the distractions of home that lead us to think that we are responsible for what we have, that we have built this family, and that we don’t need any One else.

Hmmmm. I really wish I had the perfect scripture to end with here, but maybe you can suggest one?

Post-Camping Recovery

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Note: I have had a bit of a blog pause because I’ve been obsessing on posting perfectly instead of just posting. Plus, I have a really serious blog post brewing based on something I read last week that just shredded me, but I’m not ready yet. Part of the problem is that it was so disturbing that I needed a little distance before I could write about it.The other issue is that my blog is evolving in a more humorous genre, and I haven’t figured out how to be both serious and passionate about the things I feel called to speak out about, while still being – most of the time –  my irreverent, not-serious self. I’m guessing the best answer is to just do it, be true to who I am, which is equal parts silly and serious. I may have to take after my favorite blogger, Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like, who has occasional intentional Serious Wednesdays……in the meantime, bear with me.

Camping Math:

One night of tent camping = 2 days preparation and 4 days of clean up

Two nights of tent camping = 2 days preparation and 4 days of clean up plus 2 extra laundry loads

Three nights of tent camping = 2 days preparation and 4 days of clean up plus 3 extra laundry loads

Clearly, a one night tent camping trip is hardly worth the trouble. Add the mental exhaustion inherent upon returning and one could be quite justified in questioning why one would do it at all? Not to mention the filth, the sunburns and the “are we there yets?”

Because my kids and my family are different when we’re camping, that’s why. Different in a way that is more profound than a “regular” vacation, which is of course fun and exciting and different from the home routine. In the woods, or the desert, or the mountains, without all of the stuff of home around us to distract us from each other, my kids will play with sticks. And dirt. And rocks, and bugs, and twigs and each other. And I will play with them. I have no laundry, no internet, no appointments, no dishes. (OK, there are still dishes.)  So I can sit in my camping hammock with my magazine and watch my kids instead. Watch them make up games involving stumps and army men and valiant battles for world domination.

We’re adventurous, and tolerant, and interested in the world around us in a different way. We take care of each other, we are playful, and we’re relaxed in a way that doesn’t happen on other vacations.

Mind you, we’re not moving to a forest commune any time soon, nor am I claiming camping is total butterflies and rainbows. I love my bed at home, and I don’t know why we can’t find an air mattress that will stay inflated for more than 10 minutes at a time. I require total darkness and quiet to sleep well, and my kid want to wake up and play at 6 a.m.  In the close confines of a tent this results in much angry shushing, threatening and general parental ugliness.

Last week, we took 6 Cub Scouts camping, plus our other two boys and a spare playmate. The grownups stayed up late to enjoy the (OH DEAR LORD THEY WERE FINALLY ASLEEP) peace and quiet  and look at the stars.

Oh, the stars. Adjectives do not exist to express how glorious they were. We were in the high desert of central Oregon, in the middle of nowhere, not even a developed campground. The stars were amazing, intense, and humbling. I am convinced that if the entire human race could still step outside our homes and see the stars each night, we would be a less violent, power-hungry, arrogant bunch. Nothing like seeing the heavens laid out above you to give you a bit of perspective on what a speck you are in this beautiful world.

Anyhoo, I digress.

When we finally snuck into our tent to go to sleep, I eased hopefully into my sleeping bag, looking forward to sleep. But, wait? Why can’t I move my arms? Why is this sleeping bag so tight? Why am I SO UNCOMFORTABLE? I will spare you the details of the following hours, but suffice to say I was IRRATIONALLY tired, and beyond frustrated, and very thrashy angry grumpy sleepy. All the dwarves and some extras, really.

If I unpinned my arms, I was too cold. If I put them in the sleeping bag, I could not roll over or move them. I know I’m a wee bit chunky, but I couldn’t imagine what had happened between last summer, when I slept happily in the sleeping bag, and this summer. I began to speculate wildly that maybe my scale was broken, maybe I’d gained a lot of weight I didn’t even know about. The sleeping bag was even too short. At least, I figured that was the weird feeling I was experiencing, with my feet cramped and smushed at the very bottom end of the bag. I wasn’t sure, because at 4’11 I don’t have much experience with too short.

The next morning, after the worst night of sleep since the boys were babies, I realized I’d been in a child’s sleeping bag, about 8″ narrower than an adult bag. And not a camping-in-the-45-degree-desert-night sleeping bag, but a “I’m-going-to-grandma’s-for-a-sleepover” sleeping bag.

My undersized 10-yr-old had luxuriated in my flannel-lined, puffy adult sleeping bag, and slept like a baby. Sigh.

So guess what we’re doing for 3 of the next 4 weekends? Going camping, that’s right. ‘Cause even with a bad night’s sleep, I like who we are when we’re camping.

Plus there’s S’mores.

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