Should Have Beens

“You should have warned me about that,” a friend said to me recently. She had gone on vacation for the first time with her one year old. Upon returning, she admitted that she had taken a book along and hadn’t really read any of it. “So this is vacationing with a non-infant?” she wondered. My friend told me she was getting ready to go on another vacation where there would be more adults present and less children per adult, which I told her would make for a more relaxing vacation – in other words, take the book along this time.

I guess I’ve found this to be true from experience. Last year the four of us went to a little cabin in the woods with my immediate family for a long weekend. The adult to child ratio was 2:1, not bad; but I didn’t crack a book or have a lot of free time except after the kids were in bed – just like at home. A couple weeks later, we went to Maine with Daniel’s immediate family. The adult to child ratio was 5:1. Wow! what a difference! I read, played games, spent a day hiking without kids, went out on the lake without kids, etc, etc – all during kid-awake hours. It was great.

 

Shortly after we returned from Maine, Daniel’s family began talking about next year’s vacation. This was something new for me. The trip to Maine was the first family vacation we had taken together, and I didn’t really expect everyone to be all that excited about round #2 so quickly. (I guess everyone else thought it was great too.) I thought maybe it would be a couple years before we all planned the next one. In all honesty, I was somewhat unsure that I wanted to commit to another vacation with so many people. I had had an awesome time in Maine (and I love Daniel’s family like my own)!!!; but as an introvert, being with lots of people is actually “work” for me at times – although I feel less that way since becoming a SAHM. Also my own history of vacations didn’t include aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. I grew up “vacationing” with my immediate family – Mom, Dad brother and sister. Our vacations consisted of camping on the weekends for most of my pre-teen and teen years. During high school we took 2 or 3 one-week-long trips that I remember, again just with my immediate family. Since I was used to camping as a small family unit as a child, I just wasn’t sold on never having a vacation for just my current small family unit ever again.

 

But of course if my family had planned a week long vacation this year, we definitely would have gone with them due to my own desires of wanting to be there. In turn we have just returned from TN with Daniel’s family. On top of that, I came back from TN a total believer that this is a wonderful way to vacation – why did I question it to begin with? My kids have the best bunch of aunts & uncles (and “friends” of aunts & uncles) & grandparents that I could have imagined. They were truly amazing! From the minute we arrived, they were ready to play with and love on my kids in any way possible – just like they always are. Coloring, swimming, swinging, hugging, horseback riding, air hockey playing, shoulder rides, hand holding, treasure hunting, reading, attention diverting, even diaper changing – there wasn’t much they didn’t do. I am so thankful – not just because I got a bunch of time to do things I enjoyed doing, sometimes without kids at all! – but because I value these relationships so much. Having worked daycare and also with emotionally disturbed children, I’m well aware that there aren’t a lot of kids who have this many adults interested in their lives to the degree that Daniel’s family is interested in my kids’ lives. My kids are blessed beyond belief to be a part of this family.

 

Sadly, there was one aunt missing this year. I cannot explain to you the degree of loss I felt over her not being with us – the whole family felt it horrifically. For me it was especially hard in the quiet times when I knew she would have had a rousing comment or another topic of conversation to dive into – or when we were getting ready for the next adventure. She had a way of making me feel less akward and clumsy – as a person and a mother. She had a way of helping everyone gel together a little more. She had a way of making something that was a little funny seem really funny. She was just plain beautiful, inside and out. She had a special place in her heart for my kids. In all honesty, it makes me very angry that something so beautiful was destroyed so quickly – my kids (all of us, especially her husband) were robbed of so many things that “should have been.” Alicia would have loved to listen to Ian go on and on about the horses, not wanting to go to the pool, and whatever else popped into his brain this past week. Alicia would have been so excited about Alice loving the pool, turning 5 yrs old and beginning school next week, probably more excited than I am. Will this pain ever cease? Will the tears ever stop? As of today, I am very doubtful. Sometimes I’m jealous that Alicia’s pain has ended. Oh, that ours would end too.

 

And here I am already – back at home, doing the thing that I call “life.” But I can’t shake the feeling of being torn in 2 – being exceedingly grateful for the “things” – all immaterial – that my kids and I receive from being in this family and yet mourning the loss of so many things that “should have been.” It has been a sad couple of days back at home (wherever that is for each family member) as I know other family members are also experiencing grief as we think of all the things that should have been different last week. But I do thank all of you – Mom, Dad, Laura, Shelly, Eldon, Joel, Cody, Patrick, Allayna & Britta – for everything you are and do. And Alicia – I thank you too, for giving me a glimpse of how to live with enthusiam, how to love with all your heart and be passionate about that which you love. I hope I too can learn some of these things from having known you for such a “short” time… but it should have been longer.

 

 

PS Alicia – you’d be proud of me today. I started an organization project. I miss you.

 

Are We There Yet?

I realized today as we got in the car and began the long drive to Tennessee for a family vacation, that Daniel and I made a similar journey together 9yrs ago – I think on Aug. 17, 2002. We were married on August 10, 2002. And one week later, we left for TX so that he could finish his final year of college at LeTourneau University. That trip was much different than the one we took today. With both trips our vehicles were stuffed to the gills; however the 2002 trip was a total of 1400 miles, and today’s was only 571. However, it makes a big difference when there are 2 little voices coming from the backseat, which of course was today’s trip. Those 571 miles could have easily felt like 1400miles. In order to keep myself both sane and entertained, I jotted down several fun quotes that came from different family members during the 9.5hr journey.

Quotes from PA –

“Google is not God.” Daniel uttered this as we drove through Harrisburg in a very strange – but I guess the shortest distance – fashion. I was the navigator and had not had time to look at the directions ahead of time. About halfway into Google’s crazed idea of how to get to 81S, we ditched it and took our own way.

sun in my eyes“I don’t think she was talking about that sun.” Daniel and I enjoy a certain hippy-ish song by Sally Oldfield called “The Sun in my Eyes.” Being the navigator through PA, I was also in charge of the music selection at that time as well and happened to stumble across good-ol’ Sally’s song. I had to laugh though as I looked in the backseat and snapped a picture of Ian, who had thrown a blanket over his head to keep the sun out of his eyes – apparently his sunglasses weren’t cutting it.

Quotes from MD –

“Are we there yet?” with approximately 500 miles to go.

“Flirck ’em!” – We invented a great new phrase of aggravation from a license plate which was “FLRCK M”. The other option we nixed was the name “Fulrick M.”

Quote from WV

“I don’t know what TRHDE stands for.”
“It’s French for turd – like turh-day.”
Conversation as we followed an SUV with these letters where a car’s model is usually found. I have researched this on the internet, and still have no idea what kind of vehicle this was. But it was a fun conversation anyway.

“Mommy, Ian is kicking my giant busy box,” Alice reports in a whiny voice.
“Is it keeping him busy? Perfect!” (The giant busy box was a box filled w/ craft items for the kids to do while on vacation.)

“So this vacation I’m going to try something different. Usually I sleep until whenever the heck I want to…”
Natalie interrupts “You’re gonna get up and take care of the kids so I can sleep until whenever the heck I want to??” Conversation ended.

Quotes from VA

“We’re gonna be there soon Ian. We’re gonna be there soon.” Alice at 143.2 miles into the trip, only 428 to go.

“Do you know how many years it would take if we had to drive to the sun at this rate?… We’d be dead… and out of gas.” Danielfold it up

Quotes from TN

“I’m kinda northeastern – esepcially when I’m driving on the highway,” stated by Daniel as we complained about what seemed to be a lgeneral ack of understanding that the left-hand lane is for faster vehicles and the right-hand lane is for slower ones.

“Jesus is Lord!” – sign on a building along the highway. “WE BUY GUNS” printed in the same font right beside “Jesus is Lord.” Wish I had my camera out for that one!

“The scooter folds up, man.”See picture on the right. That is a scooter on the left, and luckily I did have my camera out for this one… although we did have to chase the car to get a good picture as the bike carrying car flew past us.

Thankfully, we arrived safe and sound – as did the rest of the family. Excited for a bunch of fun days with the fam – maybe some more quote, just kidding guys.

No Regrets

Loving the playground
Loving the playground

I just returned home from the 5 busiest days that 2011 will most likely produce for me. No really, I’ve done this three times now since 2009, and these past 5 days have been a whirlwind of activity and craziness that easily rival the mad rush of the holidays. Just a couple seconds ago, it was Monday; and then I blinked – it’s Friday. The kids and I are back from a week of Moms & Tots Camp at Camp Hebron. And while these 5 days have been seriously crazy, they are some of the most treasured days of my year. I guess that’s why I keep going back.

Catching crayfish
Catching crayfish

A lot of people think I’ve lost a few of my marbles when I tell them I’m going to go to camp with my kids along with 30 other moms and 60 other kids. Seriously – I get a lot of weird looks. They picture cabins with bunk beds and a common bathroom – or worse, tents and an outhouse. They envision me working on team cheers, playing capture the flag, and playing pranks with the other crazy moms while our super-energized, over-sugared kids run around like unsupervised maniacs. They think of how exhausting single parenting for 5 days can be and wonder why I would voluntarily subject myself to that. They ask me how expensive it is, and it is expensive – no doubt about that! They ask me if the rumor that the first-time-mom usually cries from frustration and being overwhelmed on the first night she’s there is true – it is. Why would you want to do this?? they ask me.

bug catching
Trying to catch bugs

My answer up until this year was somewhat confusing and unconvincing – even to myself. I would say something like “I go because I get to spend quality time with my kids and don’t have to think about housework.” Another vague answer was something like this – “I go because I have all the conveniences of doing things with my kids so close by. At camp, it takes very little effort to get to the pool, the sandbox and the lake all in one day and still get some “me” time as well.” (Ok, so maybe it still takes effort, but a lot less than it would at home.) This year I finally figured out my new answer that should hopefully explain things a little more clearly to my mystified inquirers. “It’s like having a wife for a week. Somebody has already planned all the activities, acquired the supplies to make it happen, does all the cleaning up when it’s finished and does all the cooking on top of it all;  I get to be just the mom plus have adult conversation almost the entire day as well as me-time too. What could be more exciting and enticing to a task-driven, secluded stay-at-home-mom?

Highly anticipated creek stomp
Highly anticipated creek stomp. My boy is IN the water!

So let me set the record straight on what Moms & Tots is really about. There are no camp cabins, tents or taking your newly potty trained child to an outhouse. The moms and kids stay in a retreat center – private bedrooms & bathrooms, a conference room, rec room and dining hall, all with AC. Yes, single parenting is exhausting especially with really young children, but there is a large amount of just mom-time while the kids are with their counselors. The kids spend the mornings in age-groups experiencing a Bible school type program, and there are other various counselor-led activities for just the kids scattered throughout the week. (The counselors are amazing! They are more than willing to help in any way possible – especially at meal time.) There are no mom teams or pranks like I experienced at camp when I was in grade school; however, we do have “mom camp time” which includes hiking, a high ropes course, slingshot, horseback riding, and moms-only pool time. For those not quite so adventurous, there was hobby time, table games, a pampering area, and the opportunity to make some cute take-home crafts. The week culminates with a moms-only candlelit dinner on the deck, served by the wonderful male counselors with live music to boot. There are so many activities planned for the week, there is almost no way to do them all. Yes, it is expensive. I do forgo some things I indulged in during my pre-camp years to make up for some of the cost. But I also thank my wonderful husband who willingly “lets” me go – without any guilt attached. (Of course – sometimes I do envy him a little right before I walk out the door to head to camp. This year the house was as close to spotless as I can make it – toys put away, counters clear of clutter, all rooms of the house cleaned in the past week. Who wouldn’t want to spend 5 days in such order, calm & quiet?)

Fishing for (swedish) fish - yum!
Fishing for (swedish) fish - yum!

Most of all, camp is about spending time with my kids – just them and me – and putting away my to-do list for a few days. There is nothing in the world that can replace the experiences I’ve had with them at camp these past three years. We sing the camp songs and talk about the Bible program, creek stomp and fishing game all year round. We count down the weeks and days until we leave. We look at pictures and remember the excitement, togetherness, and love we shared that week.

cookie decorating
Decorating cookies

This week’s theme for the Moms was “No Regrets” – a very fitting topic considering the recent events in my life. My own mom once told me she regretted not putting away her to-do list more when my sister, brother and I were kids. Don’t get me wrong – we felt very loved and knew Mom would give her life for us if needed and we all have great relationships with her now. But I do take what she said to heart. I don’t want to regret living for the purpose of having a clean house or a weed-free garden or spending huge amounts of time on projects that save a few dimes and nickles in lieu of building relationships and making a difference in other people’s lives – whatever that may mean for the day at hand. As I get ready to send my daughter to kindergarten at the end of the month (Really?? Already?), I realize how quickly the past 5 years have gone by. Even though the daily grind has been wearisome at times (many times!), I’m incredibly grateful to be able to look back on the hours and hours I’ve spent reading and playing with her, hopefully not only setting a foundation for a solid future relationship with her, but also helping to mold her into a responsible, compassionate individual.  I don’t regret one single moment I’ve spent being with her and my son. I think of a quote by Alice Ozma, author of “The Reading Promise,” which was shared this past week. She said, “No one will ever say ‘I think I spent too much time with my children when they were young.'” I feel that way today too. So glad we went to Moms & Tots in 2011, and already looking forward to 2012 even as I try to live intentionally everyday until then.

The Three of Us
The Three of Us