Sound the trumpet

Trumpet and reading
Trumpet and reading

Many of you know that the most important part of my life in junior high and high school was trumpet. One day early in sixth grade, in a wooden band room in a mountain town, most of the sixth graders in town lined up to try out and pick instruments. There was a guy from the band instrument company there with samples and paperwork. (I remember him distinctly – he’d lost his vocal cords and had a voice box which was both gross and fascinating to my young self.) My school was pre-feminist. There were still strong gender lines – for example the default schedule was by gender and put kids in either home economics or shop based on whether they were a girl or a boy. The gender lines held strong and true in band. Girls played flute, clarinet or maybe saxophone. Boys played trumpet, trombone, drums and maybe saxophone.

But I picked trumpet. It was likely – I can hardly remember – an iconoclastic move on my part. I wanted to be different. I did not want to conform to the strong expectations laid upon me. I probably also liked trumpet – I can’t remember? But my sister had played trombone so I couldn’t play that, but I wanted to play a brass instrumet. Trumpet it was.

A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.
Grey’s moment picking his trumpet

This was one of the most important decisions of my life. The boys made my life pure misery. I got back in the only way an undersized girl could – by kicking their rear ends in trumpet. I got invited to play in a small youth symphony (the school superintendents wife is an orchestra conductor, and their daughter who was like five years older than me drove me to the rehearsals an hour away). I loved it. I thrived on it. By the time I graduated I was playing in an excellent youth symphony (that produced many professional musicians among my friends). It was the great passion of my youth, and a kindling of life-long pleasure. I still play my trumpet, primarily at church these days.

My attempts to raise brilliantly musical children were not successful. Piano lessons were met with indifference. Guitar lessons led to some of our biggest blowouts. I knew that winds – introduced last in life due to the physical requirements of playing them – were my sons’ last chance to open the door I’d so enjoyed, but given our track record I tried to keep my expectations low.

The whole band thing was a complete pain to arrange. The band practice for the fourth graders is at 4 pm at the school. School gets out at 2:40. The absolute only way this could work was for us to arrange school afterschool on Mondays (the one day a week they have practice), so Grey’s week is now completely mixed for where he is when and we have two pickups this day. But by gum, I was going to give him every chance.

Grey's first day on trumpet.
Grey’s first day on trumpet.

He started really strongly. I was super pleased he picked trumpet because it was a place where I could really help him. He asked me to give him lessons, and when he did I gave him my complete 100% attention and praise for every piece of minor progress. I think it actually helped that I’m pretty good, since I could tease out the scraps of what he was doing right from the blatty noise of a kid learning trumpet.

After a few weeks, when he was doing really well, he started agitating for “his own” trumpet. I recalled that process from my own youth. I first rented a trumpet, then got a very cheap very bad trumpet from the Sears catalog – of all things. Then my parents bought me a good “starter” trumpet. Then (and I still don’t know how they managed to afford this) they bought me the slightly used silver Bach Stradivarius that is still one of my prized possessions.

I set him a goal. He’s excellent at pursuing goals. If he practiced 50 times, I’d buy him a trumpet. Thinking about Christmas which was about 6 weeks away, I added that if he practiced 30 times before Christmas that would count too. My hope was to get him in the habit of practicing, and to get him past the period where he couldn’t actually play anything with the motivation of this carrot. That second goal required him to practice all but about 5 days between the setting of it and Christmas.

Grey's practice log - he practiced 30 times in exactly one month.
Grey’s practice log – he practiced 30 times in exactly one month.

He practiced *every day*. Some days he practiced twice. (I didn’t set the bar too high for how long he would practice – even five minutes counted but practices had to be separated by time.) He got extremely good for a 10 year old who’s had the trumpet for two months. And last weekend I found myself at a local music store, proudly forking over the cash for the “good starter trumpet” variety of instrument.

Proud owner of a new trumpet
Proud owner of a new trumpet

I’m trying REALLY HARD not to put too much on this. But I’m incredibly proud of my son for what he’s done so far.

Here he is playing Jingle Bells.

A theme from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is his favorite piece to play.

Good King Wenceslas is a good addition to the young trumpter’s repertoire.

The warm woods

The December weather was astonishingly temperate
The December weather was astonishingly temperate

The weather this winter has been exceedingly unwinterlike. It’s barely dropped below freezing since the thaw finally came last winter. The powerful El Nino that holds us in its thrall is bringing late September temperatures to a December-dark world. So much so that our activities last weekend were a hike and a bike ride. I had thought we’d put the bikes away for the year, but I was wrong!

The hike was more adventurous than anticipated. We started at about 2 pm, with about two hours of good daylight, with an unambitious course. I wanted to visit Doleful Pond, mostly because it’s named Doleful Pond. I also wanted to see the remnants of the old trolly line decaying above Doleful Pond. That section of the Fells is criss-crossed by unmarked trails. It’s easily the most-lostest section of the Fells. But I had not one but two maps! We would prevail! Grey stopped and sketched an interesting section of trees.

The artist at work
The artist at work

As we course corrected (despite my preparations, we had managed to be on the wrong trail. Sigh.) I saw a woman being held up by a man and limping badly. I called out to them and we booked it down the hill to see if they needed help. They did. She had badly broken ankle. We were 3/4s of a mile from any road access. I called 911 and then took off with Grey to guide the emergency responders to her location. Adam kept the backpack and got her foot elevated and worked to keep her from going into shock while we got help. Grey and I made excellent time to the trail head – but it served to make it clear to me that there was no way we were getting her out that way. (I actually slipped on some of the trail and have a livid bruise to show for it now). We met the fire crew and paramedics at the Bear Hill entrance. We drove partway up something that was generously marked as a road but that quickly became impassible to even to their manly 4 wheel drive. (Even under the circumstances I thought it was pretty cool to ride in a fire pickup through the Fells!)

A strange procession
A strange procession

We didn’t get nearly far enough. I led the crew the rest of the way to her on foot. I hadn’t realized just how much of first responding was improvising. As the paramedics stabilized her ankle, my maps became invaluable as we tried to find a better way to carry her out. That was my biggest lesson: maps can be the most critical first aid tool you have. They finally got her on a backboard and carried her out of the woods, and our stories diverged again.

Watching nervously
Watching nervously

The boys did an amazing job. They were both upset by her injury. But Thane was excellent in the role of comforter and care-taker. Grey’s feet had wings as he went with me to find help. I was really grateful, in a strange way, for this chance to show them how it is we should respond when need arises for helpers to help. I also felt really, really glad for the comprehensiveness of our first aid kit and hiking gear. It was a great reminder why we never go into the woods without it.

We walked out – never having seen Doleful Pond – just as the sun was setting.

She’s been in my prayers since. I hope that maybe the bone wasn’t broken at all? I hope her healing is fast, and that we run into her again on some trail in the Fells.

Thane turns 7

My almost 6 year old
My almost 7 year old
How I still think of my Thane
How I still think of my Thane

I find my youngest son an absolute delight. Thane is an extremely sweet child. (It’s funny how that can simultaneously be true with a phase that finds the word “poop” HILARIOUS.) He is incredibly affectionate and snuggly. I accused him the other morning of stealing my snuggle pills in order to become more snuggly. Showing that he’s internalized our attempts to instill a growth mindset, he replied, “I haven’t been taking snuggle pills, mom. I’ve just been practicing.” And so he has. I’m treasuring every moment that he leans that cheek on my shoulder.

Thane loves his medallion
Thane loves his medallion

It has been interesting to watch his early inclinations and gifts flower into more grown versions. For example, he can still put together a puzzle like a boss. But that intense focus and physical understanding have been turned to more abstract things. He’s approached Pokemon with a scientific mind to put Linneaus to shame. He’ll lay out his stacks of cards sorted by type, carefully reading each, and memorizing the (extensive) evolution paths. He can spend hours with them, quietly singing or talking to himself, and laying out his cards. I’ve been thinking how nice it would be if there were, say, Geography cards that made learning something useful as easy and engaging as it is to learn something that will be less helpful when he’s 30. But his learning skills are growing, regardless of subject.

Thane loves math. He’s probably better at mental addition and subtraction than I am. He doesn’t have multiplication tables memorized yet, but has good strategies for getting to the answer. He can do some division. He is in first grade. I have sought out some mathematical problem books that are age appropriate, but not things he’ll be spending the next three years learning. So far, he’s learned how to be gracious and appropriately attentive in a class where he’s already mastered the key material, and his teachers have done a good job of supporting his interests.

Possibly my favorite moment
Possibly my favorite moment

He also loves to read. This spring, he turned the page on his reading ability and started picking up chapter books. He then methodically worked his way through all 53 books in the Magic Treehouse series. Interestingly, it was REALLY IMPORTANT to him that they be read IN ORDER. Through his hard work and attention, he made sure that happened. Since he wrapped that up, he hasn’t really started another series. But I’ve discovered he will read more or less any book I leave next to his book at bedtime. Muahahah!

One thing I’m struggling with is that Thane, well, doesn’t prefer the name Thane. I intentionally gave both my boys names that were proper and normal. The names on their birth certificates are great names, but I love their nicknames. It’s hard to even call it a nickname when many people who know my sons don’t know their proper names (although I do trot them out when they’re in trouble…). But at school, Thane has opted to go by Nathan instead. Now, I love the name Nathan. It’s one of my favorites. And so far he hasn’t asked that I change what I call him. But I find myself sadder than I would have anticipated to think of NOT calling my sweet boy Thane, even while I remember that this is exactly what I thought about when I first laid a name on my child.

Thane at Soccer
Thane at Soccer

This year, Thane has played soccer. He’s pretty decent for his age group. He’s played goalie pretty well a few times. I’ve been impressed by his attention to his task, and his physical durability. The primary things he’s working on are a) not falling down all the time b) being aggressive on offense. He is still tall for his age – at the 91st percentile for 7 year old boys. He doesn’t seem to notice pain very much. The other day he took a playground swing to the face (leading to a doozy of a black eye!) and didn’t even cry.

I mean, I'd cry...
I mean, I’d cry…

Thane loves Pokemon, board games, books and his brother. (The two of them are thick as thieves.) He is self-contained, but so loving. He can be shy (which surprises me every time), and incredibly goofy. There are few things in this world I find sweeter and more precious than this beloved child of mine.

Gaming with his daddy
Gaming with his daddy

Grey turns 10

Milestone birthday don’t come much bigger than 10. There are only two times in life you can change the number of digits in your age – and the second is hardly guaranteed. On Tuesday, Grey experienced that first one. He took it well in stride.

Let the games begin
Let the games begin

I’ve been thinking a lot about my eldest son lately. (As opposed to normally, where I think about my kids all the time…) The who of him is coming through clearer and clearer. At the same time, I’m seeing growth and changes in some of the ways I’ve most deeply hoped. He’s an incredibly complicated kid, with a richness of personality that he will spend a lifetime uncovering and revealing to those he loves.

And therein lies the rub. As I sit in front of the keyboard wanting to tell you, his fan club since the day he was born, who he is I find myself constrained. Because increasingly it is his story to tell, and not mine. A mother is a terrible point of view character in the hero’s story, and he’s becoming ready to be the narrator in his own adventures. So I’ll run all this past him first. Still, here are a few observations on my first-born.

Doing his homework with stuffie help on Library/Pizza night.
Doing his homework with stuffie help on Library/Pizza night.

1) He’s deepening his ability for hard work
This has always been an area where Grey has had work. Early on, we ran into challenges with things that were hard: guitar, soccer, homework, chores. In the last year or so, I’ve watched a profound change in Grey where he’s started to be able to shoulder his load without complaint. He has played hard at every soccer game and soccer practice. Not once this year has he stomped off the field because he’s too tired or worn out. I think his body is stronger, but his mind is much stronger too. He has taken on trumpet and is fighting the heaviness of the horn, the relentlessness of practice and the hardness of doing something you’re bad at. And he’s embraced it. His homework this year has gotten for real. He has 7 different things he needs to do every school night, and they take over an hour. Understand we don’t get home until 6 pm. Dinner isn’t ready until 7. Bedtime is at 8:30. Have over an hour of homework in that span means he gets very little “downtime” at home. But he is doing what needs to be done, often with grace.

2) He has some great friends
Friends are one of the great protective elements in life. In my life, the friends who surround my days are peace of mind, fun, and a warm sense of belonging all wrapped into one. Grey has some deep and powerful friendships (even if listening to them you become convinced that 90% of the 4th grade brain power is Pokemon-centric). And I must say that the friends he’s picked for himself are exactly the friends I would pick for him. They’re kind, low-drama, fun, cooperative, smart and well behaved. Mostly. I watch them walk together and see how their shoulders just casually bump into each other, and see a group of boys who have each other’s backs. That’s what I would wish for my son.

These four are quite a tribe.
These four are quite a tribe.

3) Grey is incredibly emotionally astute
I might spend my time observing him and coming to poetic observations. But the truth is that he does the same to me. The richness of his emotional vocabulary is astounding – and kind of scary. I wonder how someone who feels as deeply and powerfully as he already does at 10 will deal with his first heart break. And he is knocking at the door of the next stage of his life, when we feel most deeply. But at this moment, I am just in awe of his empathetic understanding.

Sliding down the sides
Sliding down the sides

4) I really like my kid
Of course we love our children. But it’s an extra special bonus to like our children. I really enjoy spending time with Grey. He’s funny and thoughtful and kind. He knows things I don’t know. (When does that start?) Sometimes I find it hard to put him to bed because I’m enjoying spending time with him. (Also because bed time is hard right now – he’s having trouble falling asleep which leads to a tired kid and a cranky mom.) He can beat me at board games. Grey is simply good company, and I love spending time with him.

Here are pictures of his birthday celebration, plus our apple picking Saturday!


Greys 4th birthday writeup
Grey at 5
Grey’s 6th
7 – the year of Legos
How did he get to be 8?
Nine years, not nine months

The trumpet shall sound

I was strictly rationed on how many pictures I got during the rental.
I was strictly rationed on how many pictures I got during the rental.

In my imagined version of what it would be like to raise children, those children picked up where I had left off with music. They loved to sing before they could even talk. When I introduced early piano lessons, they spent hours dedicated to wringing skill out of their fingers. They practiced guitar until their fingers were red.

Those were not the children I got. They sing – but only when no one can hear. Practicing was a huge struggle when we tried it. They just weren’t ready.

In first grade, arguments about practicing guitar were frequent and unpleasant.
In first grade, arguments about practicing guitar were frequent and unpleasant.

Now with music, there are different entry points. The world class violinists start at 3 or 4. The pianists 5 or 6. Even Thane is probably too old to be world class in some instruments. But… a child is physically too small to play a brass or wind instrument until they’re around 10, which is perfect since that’s much closer to the age at which a (normal) kid is more ready to spend long term focus working on a remote goal. (Well, at least my kids.) So although I’ve watched that particular parental daydream disappear – along with any girl-daydream and my quiet dark-haired poet daydream – I prefer my actual real children over my daydreams.

But my parents thought I was not very musical after years of piano lessons in which I didn’t really focus or practice or excel. And then I hit trumpet and the world was a new and beautiful place and music took a central place in my life. So, there is hope.

And then, last Tuesday, a huge moment came. Instrument rental night. My last best hope for a child to follow in my musical footsteps.

A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.
A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.

Now, I tried really, really, really hard not to make this too big a deal for Grey. I casually asked if he wanted to do band. (Please note: band is at 4 pm on Monday afternoons. School gets out at 2:20. So I had to switch Grey’s afterschool to school afterschool instead of Y afterschool on Mondays to make this work. SO MANY LOGISTICS. What a terrible time for a working parent!) Then I lightly inquired if he’d thought about what instrument he wanted to play.

“I want to play trumpet!” – words every parent wants to hear.

When asked why, there were many answers. “It only has three buttons! It’s the easiest!” “I love how it sounds.” Then in a quiet, vulnerable moment… “Because I want you to be proud of me.”

Ah. How clearly our children see us. It breaks my heart a little that my son is searching for ways to win my approval, as though it is some elusive and difficult substance. But yet… he is right. I cannot stop my heart from glowing that he picked my instrument. He’s asked me to teach him, and begged me for lessons every night since. I am not sure I have ever seen him more excited than he was the night we went to get his instrument. “I’m not actually sure I’ve been more excited myself, mom.”

I hear him working his way through to “Hot Cross Buns”. I remember a little girl on her front porch, some 27 years ago, doing the same. And I can only hope that he has as much joy of his instrument as I had and still have of mine.

Welcome to brass, my son.

First trumpet lesson: posture and hands
First trumpet lesson: posture and hands

Enjoy some pictures of both King Richard’s Faire and rental night!

You need a hobby

Parents tend to have very mixed feelings about this time of year. I was talking to a fellow mom at church on Sunday. “This is my favorite time of year. I look forward to this time of year for months. So I hate to admit it… but I’m looking forward to the start of school.” The situation is less pronounced for those of us who send our children to summer camp for the summer, but still present.

Several days the last week, I’ve gotten a call around 3:30. This call has become so reliable that when I see an unknown phone number on caller ID, I know who it is. That eldest son of mine who has the remarkable ability to convince grownups to do what he wants.

“Mom, can I go out to ice cream with Andrew and his mom?”
“Mom, should I meet you at the Farmer’s market tonight?” (he’s only this summer gotten the right to walk home by himself after summer camp)
But most often, “Mom, I’m sooooo bored. Can I bring my DS to camp tomorrow? ALL the other kids are playing Pokemon and every single fun thing there is to do has a huuuuuuge line and I’m the only child who’s bored waiting, so I can’t get anyone else to plaaaaay with me!”

It’s the end of summer blues.

I told him to talk to his counselors. I talked to his counselors. I offered to send him with books. “It’s too loud to read.” Games. “No one will play with me!” Role-playing games “I tried, but it wasn’t fun.” Art supplies. “Lame!” His camera (to take videos). “We’re not allowed to have cameras!” A million options, but the only acceptable solution is his DS. And you know, I understand. That’s what he wants to do. I’ve had things I wanted, and nothing else was acceptable. (See also: pregnancy cravings when I was knocked up with this kid. Started early.) But he gets SO MANY screens already. With a pair o’ programming parents, there are tons of screens, all the time. I want running around and imagination and things he’ll form memories with.

He wants screens.

For his birthday, he’s asked for a video game recording rig. I reminded him he can’t have a YouTube account until he’s 13. “I’ll have three years to practice and get really good!” Adam and I are wrestling with the request. On the one hand, his beloved PewDiePie apparently earned $7 million playing video games for YouTube last year. (I banned PewDiePie after hearing a few too many expletives, but he still gets to watch Stampy Longnose who has a cute British accent and a slightly cleaner mouth.) So on the one hand, I support his artistic endeavors. On the other hand, I really want him to have a rich internet life AND a rich life without any screens of any sort. I’m doing better on one of these than the other.

“The kid needs a hobby!” I announced.

A harmonious Thane
A harmonious Thane

Adam sent me a list of 24 hobbies a 10 year old boy might enjoy:

Stuff he’s done in the past:
Biking was working well (but requires parents and weather cooperation)
Legos are fine (but he is less interested than he used to be)
Drawing/Art is great (but he’s only sometimes excited)
Reading is great
RPGs/Boardgames are good (but require other participants)
Programming / HTML / Blogging (but screen related)
Video / Photography / Stop-Motion animation (somewhat screen related)
Writing (he’s talented, but unmotivated – maybe NanoWriMo?)
Cooking (needs parents part of the time)
Electronics Kit (tried but didn’t love it)
Metal Detecting (tried but didn’t love it)
Martial Arts (no local aikido dojo)
Musical Instrument (tried twice, but maybe try again)

Other thoughts from my hobbies:
– Origami
– Clay/Sculpting
– Yo-Yos
– Juggling
– RPG/Boardgame Design
– Soccer / Sports / Outdoor play (weather and possibly other people required)
– Woodworking / Whittling (required parental supervision)

Other Ideas
– Learn / Create a New Language
– Suduko / Crosswords
– Codes / Cryptograms (he seemed to like the one Grandma created)
– Geology (the kids like rocks, but maybe start a nice collection?)

I nodded my head and bought him a Yo-yo. This is the perfect time of life for perfecting obscure skills to entertain people with in college. I wish hackeysack was still a thing, because that’s what he needs. His cousin rides a unicycle, but that’s hard to do at the Y. I honed in on the portable hobbies, and got Grey a learn to Yo-yo kit. Thane got a harmonica kit. Pro tip: harmonica is better than most other instruments you can give a six year old due to it’s harmoniousness.

So tomorrow I’m not sending Grey to the Y with his DS, much to his disappointment. I am, however, sending him with a Yo-yo and a how-to book. May he learn to walk the dog.

Adam has a million random hobby skills
Adam has a million random hobby skills

So what are some good hobbies we haven’t thought of? What’s a skill you picked up at the bored stage early in life that you’re grateful for now? What do your kids like doing that don’t involve screens?

The Golden Summer weekends

You know, it’s hard to find a time that is a good time to write a post. By definition, times that I’m free and don’t have something else I should be doing are times that I’m completely exhausted by the living of life. Case in point: now.

But the weekends have been lovely lately, and this one was no exception. Friday we demolished our living room. I surprised some people on Facebook by demolishing the living room without announcing ahead of time what we planned. It’s a simple project on paper: take down the drop ceiling and cheap wooden paneling. Drywall the walls and ceiling. Replace trim and paint. For a pair of softwarey types doing the work themselves, this is no easy task. (And let’s be clear – Adam is doing 99.5% of the work. I’m “project managing”.) I anticipate it should be done before Mocksgiving.

This weekend we managed to turn our lovely dining room:

Lovely, functional dining room
Lovely, functional dining room

Into a disaster area:

Disaster in progress
Disaster in progress

What is it about improving things that so often makes them worse before they get better? We’ve completely finished the demo, and are ready to order drywall. Adam got the furring strips (firring strips?) for the ceiling today. Then he twisted his ankle bringing the heavy stuff in. This may slow things down somewhat. While he was doing that, I was visiting a friend after surgery. It seems like half the church is emerging from the surgeon’s knives, but all of them successfully so far!

The littlest carpenter
The littlest carpenter

The weather this weekend has been outrageously glorious. It’s a bit too cool to drive a person to the beach (the Atlantic remains quite cool even in August). But yesterday we FINALLY after YEARS of thinking we should probably do that some day, went boating on Spot Pond. It was ludicrously easy for us to obtain three boats: two single kayaks and a double. We spent a glorious hour or so lounging around a place I’ve driven past a thousand times, but feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere. The boys particularly enjoyed looking for buried treasure on some of the islands.

Spot Ponding
Spot Ponding
Looking for buried treasure
Looking for buried treasure

Today started with church, as Sundays so often do. Church is taking up a lot of extra thought-cycles with me right now. I’m chairing the Mission Study Taskforce, and feeling very much pulled to ask some really big questions about what it means to be a church, and where The Church (not just my little congregation) will be in 50 years. It’s clear that we won’t be doing what we’re doing now (which is more or less what we were doing 50 years ago, and very reminiscent of what we were doing 200 years ago). I’m feeling really excited about rethinking how we can serve the core needs of God and people (I’ve narrowed it down to three: sacraments, worship/teaching and community – and none of these require a big fancy building).

When I got home, I was oppressed by the number of things I have to do. I swear, the dirty dishes breed when my back is turned. I dealt with this oppression by wandering the neighborhood. You see, I have a long-neglected project to drum up support (by which I mean money) for a historical marker for the Nobility Hill Historic District (which my house abuts). So I figured I’d go take pictures of the coolest houses. At the very first one, I met the brand new owner and spent half an hour chit chatting about the house and the neighborhood. She seems very cool. Then at the next house I stopped to chat with the owner for a while as well. I couldn’t help but think what a neat neighborhood it is I live in.

My new friend watering her garden
My new friend watering her garden

I was on call this weekend, and will be next as well. That makes it hard to do a big adventure, since I need to be in cell range and within 1/2 hour of an internet connected computer. But these small, glorious adventures in the fractally-rich spaces around my home and community, well…. I was just called upstairs to comfort a disconsolate child who tearfully opined that he didn’t want to grow up and leave this home. (See also: massively overtired) I comforted, but I feel the pang too. This stage is so sweet, this life so golden, that I wish I could slow down the falling sands of time. I told him what I do in the face of such urgent sweetness. I take pictures, and I write down the stories of those times, and store them up against whatever may come next.

Oh brother, where art thou?

Yesterday, after a few farewell bike laps around White Lake State Park, we crawled into the car and across the mighty Kankamangus (for the second day in a row). The fragrance of lots and lots of soap wafted up from the back seat from a soon-to-be-fourth-grader (can that really be true?) who was disappointed that we would not be at Camp Wilmot at the earliest possible hour for dropping off. He demonstrated considerable maturity by not whining – too much – about that.

We pulled up, and I waited for the faintest hint of uncertainty or doubt to creep in. Gone! For a week! From MEEEEEE!!!!

Here’s what he looked like when that time came last year:

Profoundly uncertain

This year, though, he was a pro. A returning camper. One in the know, as it were. He was excited about the BBQ chicken, the staying up late, the polar bear dances and did I mention the BBQ chicken? He bounded out of the car as soon as I put it in park and disappeared. Not only was he back on familiar turf, but he had the additional advantage of having no fewer than FOUR of his friends from school there to join him.

No uncertainty here! (Doesn't it look like Thane is big enough to go too? He's not.)
No uncertainty here! (Doesn’t it look like Thane is big enough to go too? He’s not.)

To my great consternation I dropped him off wearing the same t-shirt he wore EVERY DAY last year. I admit to great curiosity about whether he’ll change it at all this year.

Grey handily passed his deep end test, and practically pushed us out of the grounds. “BYE MOM!” No hugs – the guys are watching. He vibrated with enjoyment and independence. We headed back to camp ground one fewer than our accustomed four.

Thane is handling only childhood with aplomb, so far. We watched the Women’s World Cup awesomeness at a local establishment, and he watched the whole thing high up on a stool with us. (Which – aside – that was SO MUCH FUN!)

You can see pictures of our camping adventures here!

I want to ride my bicycle

New bike
New bike

I rode my bike a lot as a kid. This was back in another era, where a 2nd grader’s primary form of transportation was not “mom” but “myself”. I had the most beautiful wine-red Schwinn – with gears! I loved that thing dearly. I remember registering it with the police, somberly. (I mean, who wouldn’t want to steal that glorious machine?!)

That bike and I went all over town – to the roller rink, the swimming pool (often), Bonanza 88 (home to things I could actually afford on my allowance). We went to friends houses and parks. All this while I was younger than Grey is now. I remember once when Heidi and I went to the Tri-Cities for a ride on a bike path. There was a key issue which resurfaced several times in my childhood regarding my sister’s complete lack of navigational skills. (Ask me about the time we went to Tumwater when we were attempting to go to Tukwila.) The upshot was that 9 year old Brenda and 11 year old Heidi were massively lost miles and miles from home on our bikes in a pre-cellphone era. I remember being very thirsty and hot. You’ll be glad to hear that we did finally reconnect with our parents at some point.

It got harder when we moved to Mineral. NOTHING was a block away from our first house – it was over a mile to Dick’s store. And once you did that mile there was… Dick’s Store. It’s more like 6 – on steep hills with no shoulders and logging trucks – to the next interesting thing to do. Which was Elbe – not high on the list of interesting. My interest in my wine-red Schwinn waned as my interest in the dark, loamy forest paths waxed.

When I was maybe 13 my sister got in a near-fatal bike accident. I failed to understand the gravity, and made fun of her mummy-like bandages. She would likely have died without a helmet. As it was, I permanently lost my “stitches” competition with her, as she had scars across her face. (Happily, they are not -much- there now.) And that was pretty much the last time I rode a bike. I didn’t really realize it. There wasn’t a moment where I looked at my bike and thought “I’m never getting on THAT death-trap again!” I just didn’t have cause to ride. And so I didn’t.

At my college graduation, my parents offered to buy me an espresso machine. This was a brilliant idea, as I’ve never met a more caffeinated person than myself. Being eminently practical, I asked for a bike instead. I had two months that summer at the college with no transport, working on the college website. And summer at college is entirely different than college at college. I did ride my bike to get groceries, but uneasily. Nervously. Since that summer, it has sat unused in a variety of basements. (I actually got it all tuned and ready to go days before I busted my knee!)

Practice circles
Practice circles

But now my sons are nine and six. Next spring they break ground on the bikeway. Grey already has a small measure of independence but longs for more. In 15 months he’ll be going to middle school – and I have no intention of driving him there. On a bike, a kid from Stoneham can get to a pool, a forest, parks galore, a lake, the soccer fields, golf courses … the world within 5 miles of our house is wide and varied and wondrous. Even if they never take advantage of that liberty, I can’t quite imagine sending a young adult into the world who doesn’t know how to ride a bike, even if they don’t choose to do so. So the last few weeks I’ve been sneaking into parking lots with the kids, attempting to teach them.

Thane doesn’t have training wheels, and is still crashing and burning all the time. (Which is not fun.) Therefore I am spending a lot of time running behind him holding on to him. (Also not fun.) He’s gone two or three pedal strokes, but is not there yet.

But Grey… this last week Grey got it. He’s been able to kind of go 20 feet without falling down for a year or so. But he couldn’t get himself started, or turn, or you know… ride. But this weekend, he figured out how to start from a stop. He’s gone in circles and circles around the buildings. He can stop gracefully. My heart sang at the pride in his face, and enjoyment. “Mom, can we go bike riding tonight?”

On Saturday, Grey and I will go to the Breakheart Reservation and try out the bike trails there. I’m not sure who I’m more nervous for – him or me. But I am sure it’s going to be awesome!

Meme teaching Thane
Meme teaching Thane

Sea change

“One more chapter!”

“Ok, but then it’s really time to go.”

This is an exchange that could (has) happened between almost any two people in my family (in all versions of family you’d like to consider). (When I say it what I usually actually mean is that we’re not leaving until I’ve finished my book.) Adam and I have long had vacations that consisted of beautiful locations, museums, snorkeling and bevies of books. On our honeymoon I read 11 books – and that was only because I didn’t have room to bring more. When we went to Istanbul, we saw Hagia Sofia. We walked the walls of the Fortress of Europe. We watched night fall over the Bosporous… but a favorite memory for both of us was the morning we went to a little cafe, drank them entirely out of orange juice and both of us finished entire novels. (Mine was Guy Gabriel Kay – great vacation reading!)

Ten years ago at just about this time, I was on this self same island of Cozumel for a week. All my daiquiris were virgin that trip since I was pregnant with the firstborn child who was – would become – Grey. I took refuge in the buoyancy of the water. And we read. A lot. But since then, our reading vacations have been stolen moments (pretty much all during Camp Gramp week). Sure we might sneak in a paltry four or five books on a vacation, but nothing like the epic conquests of yore. Children – especially young children – require slightly more attention it turns out.

When an unexpected opportunity arose for us to go back to Cozumel this April vacation week, I grabbed it with both hands. We returned to the same excellent resort (Presidente Intercontinental, if you’re curious) that we went to last year. A huge part of that was that the kids had loved Keri, who ran the kids club. They happily got dropped off with her after breakfast and picked up sometime in the afternoon. This left Adam and I ample time to follow our true desires: snorkeling, time together, and reading entire novels in one sitting on the beach. SIGN ME UP FOR MORE! We still had plenty of time for adventures and time together, but the surcease from bored children was delightful (and they enjoyed it!)

This time, though, they’ve only spent a few hours there. The only thing nearly as fun as snorkeling along the reefs with my beloved – pointing out the octopus and lionfish and barracuda – is snorkeling along the reefs with my beloveds. Grey has become a fine swimmer and can almost dive with the snorkel. Thane – indomitable Thane – arrived barely swimming and has improved by leaps and bounds since. He insists on swimming (even though he really can’t) and calmly keeps paddling even as the waters close in over his head. He’s unflappable. Add a life vest, and he was perfectly content to come snorkeling with us – even letting go of my hand to go investigate some interesting formation. How much more fun things are when I can do them with my children and yet find them fun for me!!

Then, yesterday, my life changed forever. I think that may not be an understatement.

Thane is in Kindergarten. He has a gift of great focus. He always has – he could do a hundred piece puzzle at three through sheer determination and patience. (Certainly not through optimal strategic choices, assuredly.) The door to reading has finally opened to him. He has many needed words by sight and strong phonetic skills. He still struggles to blow past words he doesn’t know, but he has three of us standing by to tell him that e-n-o-u-g-h is enough.

“Mom” he asked. “Did you bring me any chapter books?” I handed him “A Horse and His Boy”. He gamely worked his way through the first pages. “Mom, do you have anything easier?” Well, no I didn’t. But what I did have is the wonder of technology. I LOVE my Kindle, in part because it means I don’t have to pack an entire suitcase of books. (Yes. We did regularly bring a suitcase for the books and board games.) I just got a new Kindle (backlit, with 3G downloads so I don’t need wifi to buy the next book in the series) but I brought my old Kindle with me in case. In case of what I’m not sure, but in case.

I downloaded Books 1 – 4 of the Magic Treehouse and handed it to him, showing him how to turn the pages. We went to breakfast. And an hour later, he was begging for more time. He’s plowed his way through the first three and a half books (as well as a non-fiction book on Jupiter his dad bought him.) We all sat – at breakfast, in front of the pool, in the beach chairs, at dinner – all reading our books together. It was GLORIOUS. The world has opened up before us, of the quietest and most profound adventures.

Then, as though my heart was not already filled to brimming, my eldest. My beloved. That child I carried with me as a promise ten years ago… started reading Narnia. I read him the first few chapters of “The Horse and His Boy”. (Personally, I think “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” is one of the weaker Narnia books. And “The Horse and His Boy” stands alone best of the rest of them.) He finished. And asked for more. Yesterday he read “Prince Caspian”. Today “The Lion , The Witch and the Wardrobe”. At dinner he downloaded and started “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.

There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Those books were my gateway to this wondrous world, my friends. They initiated me in the arts of the fantastical. I remember the realization crashing on me that ASLAN was like JESUS. (How much more precious is an allegory when discovered by a reader instead of explained!) It was a short hop for me from Lewis to his dear friend Tolkien. And that’s a world my imagination has never fully left behind.

This marks, I think, the beginning of a new phase of my life. I have long left behind parenting babies. My feet are crossing over from parenting young children (that stage where your greatest wonder is how the heck you’re going to keep them entertained so you can do things). I enter through the doors of parenting all elementary children. Already I can sleep in. Already they dress themselves. Grey puts on his own sunscreen – hallelujah. And now, my sons will begin to go on the greatest adventures between the pages of books. Some they will share with me. Others they will venture on alone. But their journeys have begun.