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Monday, August 29, 2011

Folders keep tab on childrens’ personalities (Long live the Trapper Keeper!)

I know very few people who, as a child, didn’t absolutely delight in new school supplies. Like I used to do, my children beg me to take them to the store as soon as the first big bins of crayons arrive. Waving the list in my face, they remind me that if they want to get the good colored scissors, we can’t be last in line.

Because when you’re in elementary school, color matters.

The color of your pencil box, your pencil sharpener, and even more so than those, the designs on your folders and notebooks. I have spent hours with my kids as they sifted through the stacks and shelves of spirally bound paper, trying to find that one cover design that best fits their personality. Some mothers would rush them along, throwing a solid blue or red notebook in the cart, but not I. For I am a proud gradutate of the era of the Trapper Keeper.

Children of the Eighties unite with me, and pause for a moment to that glorious day when you got to go to the store and choose your Trapper Keeper. (And mothers and fathers who took us all to the store, thank you for spending all that times with us as we chose our all-important supply.) A Trapper, as we called them, was nothing more than a three-ring binder that held folders. But the cover of the Trapper was decorated with an image and then sealed in a heavy vinyl so that you were stuck with that picture all year.

And that picture practically defined you. Were you a sports lover? Animal lover? Unicorn fan? Pop music enthusiast? Were you a rebel at age ten with the plastic cover ripped off your Trapper so that you could scribble dark messages across the football player’s face, or maybe you wrote your boyfriends name with a zillion hearts around it until the big break up and you crossed off his name and wrote someone else’s? It only took a second to know who you were dealing with on the first day of school when you sat down in your permanent seat arrangement and looked at the kid next to you.

So it goes without saying that when I take my own children school supply shopping, it turns into an entire morning affair. I know the importance and the consequence of buying a Cleveland Browns versus a Pittsburgh Steelers folder, and I understand why one would or would not want to be marked by a glittery peace sign on her homework folder. Even at the young ages of seven and ten, my kids do, too. So there we stood, filing through folders until they found the ones that suited them best.

Mission completed, I again send them off to school again for another year in the hands of someone else, at the mercy of the kid they have to sit next to. Well worn from summer amusement and kissed by the sun, they are armed with their number two pencils (all sharpened) and their backpacks (no wheels), their brand new crayons and pointed scissors, and of course their folders and notebooks (no Trapper Keepers.) My son, who could care less about cartoon characters and doesn’t love sports enough to brand himself with them, chose some sort of electric guitar, budding musician that he is. My daughter picked an earthy-colored flower design that is awfully sweet, but not nearly as sweet as she.

Ever growing and changing, there’s nothing to say that in a few months they won’t ask for different folders, learning that they really do love glittery peace signs or that professional basketball players are a newfound passion. Chances are they’ll need new crayons, too, so off we’ll go again to support the little personalities and actual people they are growing into.

As long as I don’t find the names of heavy metal bands etched in or a list of boy names with cupid arrows, I’ll be happy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life beyond the laundry room

“Wow. This is so much better than killing time during story hour.”

Not that I don’t love story hour, because I do. My kids have practically grown up in our local and frankly outstanding library. But on this particular Monday morning when just last week I would have been balancing books and warding off wars on the computer, I was instead floating toe first down the New River in West Virginia. My hands folded back under my head and my feet splayed out in front of me, the flowing water was my lounge chair for a small stretch of our trip downstream.

Oh a whim and against my mother’s better judgement, I met a lifelong friend who now lives in North Carolina midway between us, for a bit of a white water rafting adventure. Half excited, half nervous I remember making the call to register.

“Oh, this is a fun trip. You’ll definitely get wet!” said the customer service representative.

“I kinda just don’t want to die, and then I’ll be happy,” I said jokingly but with a subtle hint of total and complete honesty.

And in fact I didn’t die. I actually lived.

My day to day world is very small. I go between the laundry room, the kitchen, the grocery store, the library, and the school. Granted, I put on thousands of miles driving back and forth so many times that my neighbor sometimes counts how many times I leave the driveway just for kicks, but still, I cover a very small part of this Earth. It’s a lovely piece of Earth, and very comfortable so much that it almost seems silly to leave that bit of comfort zone.

And my children, whom I love dearly but are around me all the live long day, set the tone for my regular life. I don’t watch movies that are rated anything higher than PG, I make sure even I finish my vegetables, and I move literally and figuratively at their pace.

This comfy world and these small people are warm, fuzzy, and wholesome. They make my life secure enough that I have time to worry about whether or not my daughter is wearing her shirt backwards and how many times they’ve practiced the piano.

But one trip to a bit of adventure, and I started to realize that there is life beyond the laundry room, and it’s really pretty fun. The little things in life literally float away. There are no coupons on the river. No overdue books, no dust bunnies or empty dog bowls. There’s no computer, no television, no phones or homework or dishes. There’s just you, a rubber raft, and the only sound you hear is the rush of water over boulders bigger than your car and the occasional whoop and holler of you having a really good time.

After our trip I purchased the souvenir video that someone recorded of us rafting. Because our trip was geared for teens and above, it was a bit more exciting, but the lady was right, no death involved. My kids couldn’t wait to watch it, and so I put it on when we got home, and among the general rafting and splashing and falling into the boat, they also got to see their mother jump off a twenty-something foot cliff into the river (flailing like I was on fire, but so worth it) and working as a team in our raft so that we could purposely ram the boat into a rock and flip it over, all of us spilling out into the river and left to the mercy of the fantastic current.

It goes without saying that I learned a few things out there that day. I learned to trust strangers, to trust myself, to go with the flow, and that a little adventure was exactly what my soul needed. I also learned that showing a video of yourself being an adventurous mom to your children has two consequences. One, they think I’m the most super cool mom ever, and two, they all want to go next year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Butterflies, not rain, on my big day

I’m always telling children to protect nature. They always look at me with the same puzzled look, because they don’t quite grasp the concept of conservation.

They do, however, get the point when I say, “don’t hurt Mother Nature, or else it’ll rain on your birthday.”

This is of course something I concocted. It’s not scientifically true, and it’s not even an old wives tale. Instead it’s just me, trying to scare kids into packing out litter and not karate chopping trees or throwing rocks at bunnies. And though it’s not technically confirmed, I will say that this year it more than proved itself for me.

I spent my birthday, where I miraculously again turned twenty-nine, in a touch of wilderness. Mostly surrounded by friends and family, we ate a heavy breakfast and opened a few gifts before the afternoon sunshine was too much to handle. My dear husband sent me out the door with my book and a bottle of lemonade and told me to head to the raft on the pond.

And by pond, I mean a man-made smallish lake where we have seen actual leeches attach to actual legs. There are frogs and fish and turtles and snakes and that’s just the start of it. But there’s also a big raft that puts you right in the middle of all of that wild water so that no one really wants to swim out and bother you.

To a mom who would cut off her ears for a few moments of peace without someone poking someone or asking for a drink, the peaceful isolation of the pond was just what the birthday girl needed.

A large raft, our family has spent many an hour floating through the water and my husband and I spent 99.9% of that time watching children jump off and climb in, struggle with life jackets, splash us with water, sing made up songs about flatulence, and generally be 100% unpeaceful. But for my birthday, I was on the raft alone.


The peacefulness must have been attractive because I was joined by none other than a petite butterfly, some sort of fritillary, if I was guessing.

It first landed on my bright bathing suit and slowly I coaxed it onto my hand which I knew would be a bit tastier than nylon or spandex or whatever the suit is made out of. And there it sat, dining on my afternoon sweat. (I realize this sounds disgusting, but it was the most beautiful thing I could ever imagine.)

Butterflies, if you’re not aware, have this long straw-like mouth part called a proboscis. When fluttering by, it just rests all curled up and tucked away, but apparently when landing on my hand it unfurls this big straw and ever so gently has a mid-afternoon snack.

This must have been a hungry little butterfly, because it crawled around my hand, barely tickling my wrist until I carefully moved it to my leg because at this point, I had spent minutes holding my hand perfectly still right in front of my face and it was staring to go numb.

And so it went, moving from hand to leg to shoulder and so forth for well over fifteen minutes, which is the longest I personally have sat still in years, until eventually I noticed that a spider was spinning a small web on my leg that was being so very still thanks to my butterfly friend. A quick jerk and a flick of an innocent spider elsewhere, and my fluttering pal had moved on, a well-fed companion on my special day.

If there’s one thing I learned from the whole episode, it’s to make time to actually stop, look around, and notice the little things so that they might get the chance to notice you back.

And of course to protect nature. Butterflies don’t fly in the rain.

Photo courtesy of the Ohio Division of Natural Resources

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The water slide of youth

If there is ever a time to forget the fact that your hair is graying, that your knees pop, and that there are a stack of bills sitting on your kitchen counter, it’s a day at a water park. Because really, one whiff of chlorine and the drowning sound of the water rushing down a giant tube, and it’s nearly impossible to act your age.

The whole act of it screams for youth, mostly because no grown person can physically manage a day of that much fun without channeling the energy of a ten year old. So fighting every urge I had to be an adult on a recent trip, I had to try to lock it all away in the tiny locker, which despite its small size can hold an incredible amount of flip flops and dry changes of clothes.

There we stood, all with our matching wristbands, and stared at the glory of the water slides, pools, etc. with wild anticipation. The children made a beeline for the very first water attraction. Still attempting to act like the responsible mother that I am, I made a beeline for the first open lounge chair and tried really hard not to fall asleep while the warm summer sun beat down on us. I managed to do the right thing and look alert each time they came down a small water slide, gave them a thumbs up and a loving wave.

But as things go, the smallish slide gets, well, small, and eventually I had to give up my space in the lounge chair and my husband and I had to accompany the kids on the larger stuff. If you’ve ever been to one of these new fancy water parks, the play areas for children are fantastic. Levels of slides and walkways to climb around seem to stretch in every direction, and no matter which level or walkway you’re on, there is something spraying you. I’m not sure at what point in your life you stop enjoying water being dumped on your head at random times, none of which are your choosing, but I know I’ve already hit that point. So as we stood in line for the four second water slides and a bucket of water hit our heads, they laughed. I used my kid’s swim shirt to wipe the makeup that run from my eyes all the way down my cheeks.

These are the things we do for our kids, because seeing them through my chlorine blurred and makeup smeared eyes, they are blissfully happy and having the time of their lives, running through water and surrounded by odd people in bathing suits. We wonder how they do it, the endless energy and the ability to power through everything for the thrill of sitting in an inner tube and floating under a waterfall while Jimmy Buffett is blasted in the background. We wonder how they run constantly from the bottom of the slide right back to the line without stopping over and over again. We wonder how they do all of this without slamming an energy drink or curling up and taking a nap in the sunshine on an open lounge chair.

But then, before long, the medium sized slides turn into smallish slides, and we start to accompany our children to a larger set, the ones that the kids are just tall enough to do and that scare responsible adults just enough.

Climbing the Empire State Building equivalent of staircases and waiting for an eternity, we finally get to the top and peer down at the tube that lies ahead. Surely someone has worked on the physics of this puppy, and even though we’re positive we’ll survive, there’s that voice in the back of our heads saying, “hang on.”

The whistle blows, and you feel the rush of speeding through darkness on water while your kid screams in joyfulness next to, and before you know it you’re at the bottom in the exit pool.

Call me a thrill junkie, but I know the look in my eye. My maturity is officially packed away with those flip flops in the locker, and my feet are dragging my kids back to the top of the stair case again because really, you’re never too old to be a kid.

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