Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy campers

Sending one's little boy off to camp for a week is not for the faint of heart. But, perhaps, worse than that is unpacking his bag of clothes afterwards.

My friends and I recently sent our sons to fend for themselves in the woods. In our case, it meant they'd have to apply their own sunscreen and bug spray and change clothes without being told while they slept in air-conditioned cabins, got fed three wonderful meals a day (not to mention snacks) and were well-tended by some of the most caring counselors I've ever met.

But for 10-year-old boys and mothers who dote on them, it was roughing it.

One might think that our biggest fear would be a snake bite or perhaps them getting lost, or concern over them canoeing across the lake, but no, by and large, it was two things – identifying their toothbrush and using it and keeping their dry and wet clothes separate. If they managed to take a shower, well, that would just be a bonus.

We were fortunate enough with this camp to see daily pictures of the wildlife, I mean the kids at camp, without them realizing it. It's not spying; it's simply reassuring – or not. One thing we moms of boys noticed was that they wore the same clothes pretty much every day. In the midst of their fun, we couldn't help but see that the snacks they bought at the canteen weren't exactly what mom chooses. In one picture, my friend pointed out that the leader was clearly talking, and her son was clearly talking to mine. While I proudly observed in another photo that mine had his hand raised, I'm assuming to answer a question and not to ask if he could go to the bathroom.
Being moms, it didn't take us long to realize that we missed kissing their sweaty happy faces, so we all decided to go down for dinner mid-week. The boys greeted us with great pride and an enormous appetite. Watching mine dig into camp food made me second-guess the saying "Nobody makes it like mama does."

"What have you done this afternoon since it's been raining?" I asked.

"We've cleaned the cabin," my mom ears heard. I beamed with pride and thought, "Well, we've worried for nothing. How sweet of him to clean up for his mama."

As I walked into the cabin, tiptoeing over plastic bags that held God-knows-what, and carefully made my way to the back where his bunk was located, I said, "I thought you said you cleaned the cabin."

"No, Mom, I said we PLAYED in the cabin."

As I watched him proudly show me the tent he made on his bunk, I asked, "Where is your stuff?"

He pulled back the cover and pointed to the damp pile on the floor underneath. I could see crumpled-up letters I wrote, along with all his other earthly belongings.

"Ah, I see."

He was too proud for me to fuss at him. It wasn't long before the locker room smell made me start to cough, so I said my good-byes, got my sweaty hug and promised him Dairy Queen when he got home. I looked back as I left and saw that he and his friends were happily turning the clothes line outside into a sling shot. I couldn't help but smile.

We moms soon congregated in the parking lot to share our horror stories. It went something like this, "Did you smell that cabin?"

"Did you see that bathroom?" the other replied.

"No," I said. "I wouldn't go near the bathroom."

"Well, I did," said one mom, "and I couldn't find the special toothbrush I gave him with the suction cup, so it wouldn't fall over and get germs on it. I asked my son where it was, and he said, 'It's still in my bag. Mom, I'm at camp. I don't need to brush my teeth!'"

"Did you see the scratches and bruises on them? I'm sorry your son fell and hit his head," I said to another mother.

"Yes," she said. "He was so proud!"

"I told my son to change every day before he left. He said he did change every day – into the same thing."

"My son was so proud that he'd only worn one out of six pairs of socks that he packed," said another.

"I had to make a quick getaway," said one mom. "As I was saying good-bye, I saw giant tears wheal up in his eyes. I said, 'Son, are you crying.' He said, 'No, mom, just got something in my eye.'"

And, suddenly, so did we.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


"Stop it!"

"I said stop it!"


"What's going on?" I turned my head around to see what was going on in the back seat behind me as we waited in line for my daily fix of Chick-fil-A sweet tea (split with extra ice).

"He's pointing at my finger and saying, 'Finger!'" my 13-year-old daughter said, looking angrily at her 10-year-old brother.

"Oh, my gosh!" I exclaimed in mock horror. "Son, I thought I raised you better than that! How dare you?"

Of course, they both laughed at the absurdity of it all. And though finger pointing (so to speak) wasn't really a big deal, I did acknowledge that it was the little things that can sometimes drive a person mad -- especially when it comes to siblings.

I grew up with a sister four and a half years younger than I. I have to admit, I wasn't always very nice to her. I didn't want her to touch my stuff, especially a tape recorder I got one year. I remember this because, as an adult, I found a long-lost tape, and on it is my sister's voice, whispering, "This is Leigh's tape-a-ma-corder. I'm not supposed to be on it!"

I guess it was just too much for her to resist.

I also didn't want her to follow me and my friends around -- until we got bored. Then I'd call on my sister for entertainment. You see, she was a great gymnast and could do 12 back handsprings in a row, dozens of round-off back handsprings and pull-ups. She was also the fastest runner on the block. I'd have her line up against all of the neighborhood boys. She'd take off her shoes, and as soon as I said "Go!" she'd run like the wind, leaving them confused and demanding a rematch.

My sister was also very strong for her age. She'd ride me around on the back of her bike, pull me around in whatever toy I was in, and even swim underwater like a dolphin while I rode on her back. I'm sure I never thanked her for it.

And though I can recall many times complaining to my parents "she's looking at me," I was always glad to have her there. We spent many hours listening to records and singing at the top of our lungs. My sister could (and still can) do spot-on imitations of anyone -- mannerisms and all. Never did I appreciate it more than when my mom had a stroke four years ago. My sister's imitation of the little prissy nurse who was rude to us had us laughing until our sides hurt, despite how dire the situation with my mom was at the time.

She's also one of the most caring people I've ever met. Let's just say she has a lot of Mom in her (no offense, Dad). Not only does she care about people, she adores animals -- big and small. I can remember her befriending strange horses and other creatures we'd encounter as children.

Today, she's a grown woman with a family of her own. She is living a good 4,000 miles or more away in Alaska. We called each other recently just to say hello and ended up talking for two hours. My parents were concerned about the bears when she moved, but knowing my sister like I do, they have nothing to worry about. She'll have them eating out of her hands in no time.

So, I hope she'll forgive me for getting exasperated with her as a kid, 'cause the truth is I could not have asked for a better friend -- then and now. I hope my children will grow up and feel the same way about each other. Until then, I'll referee and remind them that one day, when I'm old, they'll be happy to have each other. Who better to complain about their crazy mom to?