Harvey's homeschool career officially kicked off yesterday. He crawled into bed with me at 6:30am with the two workbooks I'd given him the night before. Mazes and connect-the-dots, not hard-hitting stuff. But Harvey is EXCITED about homeschooling, so he slept with the workbooks next to his bed. I feigned enthusiasm looking at the dots he connected up to ten, but it just so happened I'd been up all night again holding a sick baby, and my heart was not in on pushing Harvey towards recognizing double-digit numbers. Instead I suggested we all take a shower. Me and the baby needed to to clear the mucus out of our throats.
Homeschool lesson #1: a hot shower is good for waking up, for cheering up a sick baby, and for doing something nice together that doesn't involve talking. That's learning you can take to the bank.
Soon Zion woke up and went through his (new!) morning ritual of sitting on the potty with the iPad until I start to nag him that his's probably done peeing. Harvey sits next to him and takes advantage of the "non-show-shows" on the Reading Rainbow App. When I finished nursing the baby and joined them in the hallway Harvey said, "We heard a book about the Titanic."
I wanted to ask whether they called it "the ship of dreams." Instead I said, "Was it a big boat that sank?"
Harvey nodded. "They said they made it not to sink, but it sank. Probably they did it wrong."
"There you go," I thought to myself as I walked to the kitchen to get breakfast on. "In the first half hour of his home education we've covered not only science and history, but the futility of all human effort."
Vanity, vanity, what kind of jam do you want in your yogurt? ("STRAWBERRY RUBARB!!!" they both scream.)
Later in the day Harvey embroidered the first two letters of his name on burlap (on the way towards making a quilt) and Dan helped him take apart a broken window fan. We read some books to Zion on the potty to mitigate the addictive pull of LeVar Burton. Zion chose a book about Thanksgiving despite it being approximately 95 degrees inside our house.
"Are those pirates?" Zion asked.
"No those are Pilgrims. They look like pirates because they lived in a similar era and sailed a similar boat, but they weren't pirates. They were the first people to come to live in America."
"The first WHITE people," Harvey corrected me.
In the absence of a state-wide educational mandate this would just be a cute story, but now I feel a burden to pick apart its meaning. "What does Harvey know?" I find myself thinking. "What SHOULD he know? How does his brain work?"
It's not the kind of thing you answer in a day.
I wish I had some lovely picture to share at the conclusion of this blogpost, but it was 95 degrees in my house today and the living room where Harvey sat with Dan to learn about "-ing" words is covered with baby toys and dirt and dog hair and I believe somewhere in this mess there's a potty filled with pee that needs to be cleaned out. We are, after all, not only teaching a kindergartener to read, but teaching a 3-year-old to potty and a 6-month-old to hold things.
I'm amazed we still shower.
Today marks the ninth anniversary of the day I became an Archibald. Nine years Leah Archibald, without a middle name. Like the way I made that completely about me? A description of my wedding day? It demonstrates how open and loving I've been feeling lately.
The first week in September is a lovely time to get married, but a crappy time to celebrate your anniversary. At least it's a crappy time if you have kids or happen to be married to a teacher. By the end of August, even though I love my family, I am a little fed up with summer family time. A million times a day, in million-degree heat, we five people of divergent needs and poor communication skills have to decide together whether we're going to the beach and what to bring to eat. By the end of August I don't want to talk anymore to anyone. I want to schedule pizza deliveries to my house three times a day and everyone can eat all they want on the condition they do so in complete silence.
By the end of summer I am no longer the wife of Dan's youth. I am the contentious woman from Proverbs who is like a dripping roof on a rainy day. Drip drip 'I thought it was your turn to clean the kitchen' drip.
Which is why come September 4th we look at each other and think, "Celebrate our marriage? Nah, I'd rather look at shit on the computer." October will be wonderful and full of love but right now we're not celebrating our marriage as much as we are surviving it.
The unfortunate truth is that my relationship with Dan is a mirror of my relationship with God. If I'm performing poorly in one of them you'd better believe the other one is shot.
Sometimes the source is 'unforgiveness,' which is a polite way to describe my complete and utter lack of willingness to let things go when my spouse or the universe doesn't immediately bend to my will. Didn't wash the jam pot when he said he would? Obviously I'm worth no more than a maid to him. Never got the daughter I was praying for? Maybe it's some mysterious mercy or maybe God doesn't give a shit about my prayers.
How do you know? How do you know if your husband just got distracted or if you're terrifyingly alone in the universe?
This is me on my wedding day. I thought I had it all under control. I thought marriage began and ended with ME.
On the morning of our wedding I kicked Dan out of the house. Maybe I wanted to create some momentary fiction that we weren't living together already. Maybe I just wanted to get dressed in private. Either way, I subtly sent the message that my image was more important than our togetherness. Poor Dan had to drive to his parent's house at six in the morning, and since no one was awake yet he sat on the steps and read the paper.
No wonder when I walked down the aisle to him, he didn't whisper "I love you so much" or "I've waited for this forever," He said more truthfully, "You're wearing a lot of makeup!"
It's true. I WAS wearing a lot of makeup.
Impecable makeup. Centerpieces out of Martha Stewart Weddings. It was the most wonderful day of my life because it was the last day I completely controlled.
After that? Every day didn't belong to me, it existed within the context of a relationship. Everything, for better ir for worse, became shared.
In the same way God shares my internal space. Nothing I think or do is free from the question, "is this pissing him off?" When I'm not sure he has my best interests at heart, I also want school to start in my relationship with God so he can maybe go away and ask stuff of better, gooder Christians.
And yet I know that this is life now, and it's never going to reach this level of fake perfect.
Because sugar flowers ain't real, and they'll just give me a toothache now.
So we persevere 9 years in, because this is who we are. Archibalds. Because being married means you never get kicked out of the house again.
On Saturday while Dan filled the kitchen with steaming pickles I worked on my own food gathering project: organizing our WIC checks into a coherent shopping list. I've known for years that I'd qualify for this free food program, but I hadn't yet taken the government up on its offer because I'd heard it was a pain in the ass. Then Dan made a comment about me spending a lot on food, and I figured it was time to swallow my pride and apply. This week I did my first full shop with WIC. Long story short, it was a mega pain in the ass.
I'll explain for those who are unfamiliar with the program.
WIC stands for "Women Infants and Children" and it refers not to who should exit first from a sinking vessel but to who should receive free nutritious food from the federal government. This program exists separately from SNAP/Food Stamps. It provides checks for specific "healthy" food items to pregnant women, nursing women, and children under 5. Unlike SNAP dollars which pay for any food at the supermarket bar prepared items and supplements, WIC checks can only be used for VERY SPECIFIC things. The items approved by the USDA are published in a little booklet which I hear changes frequently.
As compared to other government services, applying for WIC was relatively easy. I didn't need to provide income verification because we already qualify for SNAP, nor did I need to bring any bills. But in terms of time spent applying, WIC takes the vitamin-fortified cake. When I called to schedule my intake I spent at least a half hour on the phone giving dates of birth, social and insurance numbers, medical history and demographic data on all of us. Them the in-person appointment for which I had to bring all my children took a whopping TWO HOURS. We had to all get weighed and measured, and there were so many questions to answer. It's hard to remember each child's exact gestational age when they're in the room beating on each other. My tip for anyone applying for WIC the first time is DON'T TRY TO DEMONSTRATE NUTRITIONAL NEED; BRING YOUR KIDS A BOAT-LOAD OF SNACKS.
After my intake appointment I got a wallet filled with WIC checks. These checks are what makes the WIC shop rather intense.
Each check has a list of food items typed on it. You must buy everything on the check at one time or forfeit the other items.
So to go shopping with these things you have to figure out in advance exactly what you're buying. For each month I have something like 20 checks, each listing several unconnected items. One gallon of milk, 36oz of cereal, 16oz peanut butter, 16oz canned beans for example. Then another check with a different amount of milk, a different amount of cereal, another can of beans and something random like oatmeal. So I add up all the checks to figure out what to grab in each aisle (hence the spread sheet) and then reconstitute it check-by-check at the point of sale. From the Dairy case I grab three galons of milk, but when I go to pay I put a check down on the belt and say, "Okay, here's one gallon of milk, here's one can of beans... where the fuck is that oatmeal? Under all these baby foods?"
Check out averages a half an hour, on top of the hour it takes to shop. I kept having to tell the people behind me, "Sorry, I'm paying with WIC checks, you may want to choose a shorter line."
A half hour is assuming you managed to pick the right items and the manager doesn't need to be called over to dispute brands of peanut butter. Within each category there are only a few specific brands and sizes that qualify for the program. These are the things the government nutritionists have decided provide the right intersection of health affordability. But I'm not exactly sure what signifies health to them... micronutrients? Vitamins? Why do Frosted Mini Spooners or Go Diego Go cereal count as "healthy" but Rasin Bran is barred from the list? Sure, Dan calls that personal weakness "sugar bran cereal" and he's pretty much right, but his favorite Honey Bunches of Oats is no less sugary and that's on the list. Good thing I don't like the almond clusters, because we now have two boxes in our pantry.
Which brings up an odd suspicion I have with this program. It's not making us any healthier. Quite the reverse, actually. We didn't eat cereal in the past, except for Cheerios as a snack in a pinch. Now we have four boxes in our pantry (Cheerios, Honey Bunches and Rice Krispies ready to transform into their preferable 'treat' form) and they all stand ready to replace our healthier breakfast options like homemade bread and jam, or toast and eggs, or oatmeal. Would we be better off as a family without the free cereal? Without Langers apple juice or frozen OJ? With expensive local milk instead of the store brand kind, albeit much less of it?
Our WIC allotment includes some money for produce, but it's a small portion of the total shop. $18 separated into a check for $10 and a check for $8. That means I need a group of vegetables that costs no more than eight dollars, and another group of vegetables that costs no more than ten. On Monday the Market Basket was so crowded that I couldn't get to the scale to weigh everything, so I only chose $6 of bananas and apples before giving up. Then I went to the frozen vegetable section to find $10 of things where the prices were easier to see. In the end I made a mistake on all my vegetable calculations, and I left about $5 of government money on the table. Dan suggests next time I do the vegetables first when I have the most energy. I suggested next time not doing it at Market Basket. Stop&Shop is closer and open after the kids go to bed.
When I added up the pile of reciepts (each check gives a separate receipt, sorry environment) we ended up with $125 worth of free groceries out of this month's shop. That's with choosing to forgo several gallons of milk and dozens of eggs. As well as 26 more bottles of baby food I just couldn't deal with. He doesn't even eat baby food yet, and now our basement looks like we're stockpiling against Armageddon.
I have an internal tension about my relationship to WIC. On one hand I am a stay-home-mother, and therefore a free-stuff-gatherer, and there is nothing I like better than delighting my children with something that cost no money. On the other hand I am a food hippy and a processed grains nazi and packaging-a-phobic, and a little part of me feels the need to repent when I serve my kids Honey Bunches of Oats with ultra pasteurized 1% milk.
The tension should not only be internal, this should be a collective discussion. Who defines "health" for the must vulnerable members of society? Kellogs? The US Dairy industry? I mean come on, eight gallons a milk per month to one tub of peanut butter? Those peanut farmers need to hire better lobbyists!
I am also aware that this is a very small program in a vast portfolio of government spending, and the conversation about our national diet should neither start nor end here. It's fair that the environmentally catastrophically price distortions which exist everywhere in the food supply chain also exist in the subsidized food chain. These problems will not be solved by me making fun of Go Diego Go.
Also, I'll keep you posted if the shopping ever gets easier with this thing. In two months I have to attend a state-mandated nutrition class. I can't wait!!!
Harvey lost his first tooth last night. This morning he asked me to help him sew a little bag to keep it with him always. (The tooth fairy is not a thing in our household because I believe in removing all the magic from childhood.) Harvey pressed the pedal of the sewing machine and guided the fabric himself. Here he is pressing the reverse button to make a knot.
And here he is 15 minutes later with the finished project. His baby tooth is inside the bag and no longer at the bottom of his mouth.
Meanwhile, Zion is reliably potty trained within our house. He received a big plastic pirate ship as his present for using the potty. Both the ship and Zion's swift mastery of toileting are pretty epic.
In every way my babies are growing up so fast.
Well... maybe not all my babies. Elijah is still mostly doing the same stuff. Smiling, being carried around. Nursing.
For several weeks I've been complaining that Elijah seems behind in his fine motor development. At six months both Harvey and Zion could sit up and play intentionally with a toy. They'd shake a rattle, bang it on something, and bring it to their mouthes. Elijah is able to hold a toy and gnaw it, but that's the extent. He doesn't seem to be able to get the "right" part in his mouth, and to my mind he's frustrated by his lack of coordination. Also he refuses to sit, though he's pretty happy about EVERYTHING ELSE. That could be the reason he's not progressed as quickly as his brothers. He's just so jolly content to be a baby, why would he try to do anything else?
I decided to get Elijah evaluated by Early Intervention to see if the experts agree with me that he's a month behind. Early Intervention is a government-mandated program that provides free specialist services to any child who falls below the 30th percentile in an area of development. Evaluation is paid for by insurance and completely free to end users. To qualify for services a child has to be significantly delayed in one specific area, either gross motor, fine motor, communication, or social. You can't have a child who's a little bit of a loser across the board... I mean you can but you won't get help for it.
The baby evaluation team came out to my house yesterday - a nurse, a nutritionist and an OT. They asked me a lot of questions and ran Elijah through a series of tests, all while filling in the little circles in a standardized test workbook. "SI A is a 2" the nutritionist would say to the nurse taking notes, and I would think to myself "Two is good? Which is to say, it's bad?"
At the end of an hour they tallied up all Elijah's scores. Vindication, he IS about a month behind in his fine motor development. His ability to grasp a toy and vaguely put it to his mouth (but not reach for a rasin or transfer one hand to the other) puts him squarely at a 5-month level. This is not enough to qualify him for services, however. He's in 35th percentile for fine motor which just isn't bad enough.
"But he did qualify for services," the nurse told me, "just not in any area you were worried about. He qualified for his communication."
Oh. Apparently my child is supposed to be making sounds or something.
Maybe I never noticed before because there's so much other noise in the house, but he's supposed to be linking consonants and vowels in a stream of babbel. Or at least copying the noises I make when I repeat his sounds back to him. He doesn't do any of that yet. Instead he's just smiles back happily, glad for the attention.
I never noticed it before; to me he communicates just fine. He silently whispers, "I'm the baby; love me." And I comply. What else is there to know?
The good news is that qualifying for Early Intervention in this area gives him access to all services for all the areas where he's behind. This means he'll get help for sitting and for playing, as well as the areas I was neglecting. Even though I feel like a bit of a boob, I'd call that a win all around.
Having three children is harder than having two, to say something stunningly obvious. I hate to admit that each of my children get less of me, because that's an argument against my decision making and religious family planning and everything else. But practically, it's true; each of my children gets a little less Mama because there are two others vying for my attention. I don't know what this means for the future. For the time being I'm just grateful for a little bit of extra help.
On Wednesday when the Early Intervention specialists were over, I sat on the floor of my living room literally swatting flies away from my baby. To prevent the nurse from phoning DSS over the filth in my house, I explained that there was a brooder of baby chicks in our kitchen. (This sounds more lovely than the equally true explanation: "The flies are attracted to the large box of chicken shit on our counter.")
"Oh!" said the nutritionist in awe, "It's like you're a pioneer woman!"
Pioneer woman? I thought about our pantry stocked with as many boxes of pasta as jars of preserves and I thought: "Pioneer woman? I feel more like a housewife with a hobby."
On Friday we went to Plimoth Plantation to see some REAL pioneers.
In many ways Plimoth Plantation is a crafty homeschooler's paradise. I wandered from hut to hut analyzing what fibers the Pilgrims used for their baskets, or what stitches they used for their knit stockings. When a Pilgrim rein-actor put a poppet in my friend's daughter's hand, it was all I could do to let her hold it for a minute before I snatched it away to reverse-engineer the pattern.
On the other hand, Pilgrim life was hardly driven by DIY daydreams. Most of their thought and energy went into surviving. Farming and construction (my least favorite homesteading hobbies) came first. For clothes and other sundries they preferred to import things from England. They didn't even knit their own stockings.
Of course, this was an economic calculation too. The more corn they sewed the more they could trade with the tribes up north, the more furs they could send to England to become hard currency and "proper made" clothing. They didn't come to the New World for self-sufficient austerity. They came to the New World for this:
The came to do their weird religion.
When they weren't reaping and trading and doing carpentry, the settlers were reading tomes like this one, a book of several hundred annotated pages about how the Church of England was into Antichrist shiz. I tried to skim the argument myself, but half the "s" letters were written like "f," and also there were a lot of extra "e"s thrown in there. I sounded out the first paragraph, but a Pilgrim actor interrupted me when he walked in to check whether our kids were breaking ye olde broome.
This field trip made me think that there is no homesteading panacea. There is no group or period or commune we can look at and say triumphantly, "There! That's the way to do socially-conscious, sustainable, happiness." Every life is worked or enjoyed in context. Financial context, geographical context, and in the context of our understanding of God.
If I look into someone else's life, whether they're Pilgrims or Indians or a neighbor down the street who drinks lots of soda and refuses to recycle, I am nothing more than a visitor their human museum. I can only see things as an outsider.
After several hours spent in sunny 1624 my nerves and the children's' nerves were shot. So we stopped at the visitor center concession stand on the way out, and I demanded the largest iced coffee they had. "In this cup?" The server asked me incredulously, holding up a big-gulp used for soda.
"Yes," I answered, "I want the biggest cup of coffee you have."
"Did you say you wanted decaf?" she asked.
"No, I did not say I wanted decaf." I said. "Why would I say such a thing? I have to drive home two hours in Friday afternoon traffic with a fussy baby and two cranky kids. I want that big big cup filled with caffeinated coffee, and also want this granola bar for my three year old and this bag of chips for my five year old and we are gonna suck down these carcinogenic treats like we're hungry Pilgrims and this is the first Thanksgiving."
I don't know what makes a beautiful sustainable life. I love knitting and weaving, I love the idea of work, but I also love ready-made clothes as much as the next Pilgrims, and I love driving places in my big minivan and going home with a BIG coffee for the ride.
If this is not sustainable then maybe at least it's okay for now. I have a feeling my level of discourse is too "scholastical." I'd hate to put an ocean of misunderstanding between me and others making the sign of the cross.
It turned cool here the last week or so, and I find myself wanting to make muffins. It's a noticeable switch, after three warm months of no particular baking desires; in the last three days I've already made two batches (pumpkin chocolate-chip and applesauce). I don't know exactly what's driving my muffin desires, but my enjoyment of the warm oven and the smell of cloves and allspice are probably big factors.
The only problem—besides that I don't have all the time in the world to bake—is that since muffin season is a fall phenomenon it hits at the same time our hens stop laying. It feels like the dropoff in egg production was a little earlier and steeper than last year, so we naturally wonder if our wonderful barred rocks might be reaching the end of their laying career. Good thing we have some understudies in the wings! In any case, we're out of eggs today for the first time since late February; I used the last one for the applesauce muffins. I guess it'll have to be bread baking tomorrow.
The weather forecast for our second full day of camping (way back a month ago—I'm recapping here) was poor, with predictions of rain and heavy wind, especially later in the day and overnight, so our friends—camping for the first time with kids—made a prudent decision to head home early. The Archibalds decided to go hiking. But first, of course, we had to get some breakfast.
Zion was much happier than he had been the day before, and both boys were excited for hiking. Skipping our usual in-town stroll in order to get as much time out in the National Park before the rain started falling, we headed out to Sieur de Monts Nature Center, where the boys were quite interested in the range of dead animals on display.
Then it was on to the mountain climbing. We started up the flanks of Dorr Mountain on the Emery Path, and Harvey went at it with considerable energy. I didn't tell him the trail was labeled as "strenuous" in the guide—mostly because I hadn't paid enough attention to know that myself.
It was pretty much stairs like that all the way up, which was actually not too bad: Harvey certainly had a better chance on the steps than he would have on boulders or sloping granite. And even though our hopes for ocean views were stymied by the dense fog, there were a few nice visual distractions to liven the climbing.
Of course, the boys naturally got tired before too long; Harvey of all the climbing—carrying his own lunch and raincoat too!—and Zion of bumping around in the backpack. We paused for a snack and tried to get the camera to take a picture of us all by itself.
Unfortunately, the combination of a slightly dented lens body and the hard-to-focus-on foggy conditions put my camera out of commission for the second half of the hike, so there's no photographic evidence of our trip down a separate set of granite steps, this time spiced up with roots and muddy puddles. There was some complaining, but on the whole everyone did great and we were proud of ourselves when we made it back to the bottom of the mountain (after, of course, getting nowhere near the actual top).
While I enjoyed the family time, I wanted just a bit more hiking, and Leah wanted some relaxing time with the boys, so we split up to do two things that were only possible on a Rascal-free camping trip: she to visit the shops in town, and me to take the bus to the Precipice trailhead and attempt that famous climb. (By the way, it had been years since I'd taken the free Island Explorer bus, and I rediscovered that it is totally the way to get around the park. How much time and effort we would have saved if we'd taken it to the beach instead of trying to drive!)
I don't know how Precipice is usually, but with the fog and threat of rain I had the trail pretty much to myself. I actually enjoyed the lack of distant views, since it made me pay more attention to the amazing immediate ones.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the trail, it's pretty fun: it takes you up almost 1,000 feet in a little under a mile, which is pretty good for a "non-technical" hike. There are lots of ladders (mostly metal bars anchored into the rock), but what impressed me the most was the one spot where the trail takes you through an actual cave. But mostly ladders.
I made it to the top, and the self-timer was pressed into service again for documentary evidence. It was chilly up there, thus the raincoat; there wasn't any rain yet, thank goodness.
The only disappointment of the climb was that, at the top, I still wasn't hungry enough to eat the lunch I'd prepared. After eating some snacks for form's sake I headed down the other side of the mountain, into even thicker fog.
Or maybe it was cloud, because as I got lower things farther than a couple dozen feet away started to become visible.
Back once again at Sieur de Monts station, I took a look at the bus schedule, and decided that I'd be better off walking all the way back into town. The beginning of this second, flatter, part of my hike was very pleasant.
The hiking maps for the island have trails indicated all the way into town; it turns out those don't really exist. For a good stretch I was walking along a road, without so much as a sidewalk. But after a nice long wet stroll I made it into town to find my family... but what I found instead was pirates!
In the course of shopping for a present for our neighbor's 5th birthday, Leah and the boys had happened upon some great pirate gear, and naturally they bought it and put it on right away. It was awesome. There are always lots of people walking around Bar Harbor, but if you're a five-year-old dressed as a pirate you'll be noticed by all of them, and most of them will smile. This is as true at restaurants as it is on the street.
That was at a burrito place, where I finally got hungry again; thank goodness, since I got a big burrito.
The boys got hot-dog burritos, but they mostly ate the hot dog part, so in addition to my tremendous meal I finished off their tortillas; also their lemonade, since one of the after-effect of the sickness which had brought Zion low the day before (and Harvey before we left) was painful mouth sores. So eating wasn't always easy. But of course ice cream always goes down well, especially fancy flavors like callebaut chocolate and butter mint.
If the day could have ended there all would have been perfection, but we still had to get ourselves back to the car—parked too far away for our tired pirate captain—and then to the distant campsite for bed. But we made it—and just in time too, since as we settled into bed the wind started picking up ominously.
A moment from the week (this afternoon).
A full day of cleaning inside and out, many invitations and promotions, and planning and practicing from some awesome musicians...
32 hot dogs, 4 pizzas, a pot of chili, a pot of mac and cheese, and lots more besides...
Babies who like to be on stage and Mamas who are willing for a song or two...
A grill for the hot dogs—and for a bigger fire for warmth after supper...
A stage and illumination for great performances...
And a warmer place inside for little ones!
Thanks to everyone who came out to make our fall welcome party so much fun! And don't worry if you missed it: we'll do it again next year.
We just need a little rest first!
So I was at the gym yesterday PUMPING IRON... okay so not really. Really I was lifting 20lb weights over and over again to make my biceps look like they can lift heavy things, which in reality they can't, as Dan knows from my lame-ass attempts the other day to help him move two big pieces of plywood to the stage he was building (Dan: "Can you hold this up while I get the ladder?" Me: "Nooooo!"). And when I wasn't lifting those vanity bells I was doing crunches on the decline bench with a 10lb weight, also a non-transferable skill unless the skill I'm trying to build is professional loathing of my mid-section. So I wasn't really "pumping iron" which sounds hard and productive, it was more like I was airing out my personal vanity while treating it to a spray tan.
Anyway, while I was so engaged I eavesdropped on a personal trainer describing her regimin for an upcoming fitness competition. The best way to display well-developed muscles is to cut all the fat around them, so now that it's getting close to competition time she has to work out harder without eating hardly anything.
"People ask me why I haven't made pro yet," she said, "and I just say it's really hard. You have to be PERFECT. Like, you can tell I work out, but the judges are looking for a certain size of shoulder cap."
OMG, I thought, there's a perfect size of shoulder cap? Why has nobody told me this before? Here are people who've transformed judging the female body into an exact science, and I've been doing it amateur all my life? Where can I download a copy of the spreadsheet?
The trainer stopped to say hi to me as she crossed to the other side of the gym. "How are the babies?" she asked, "I see you running out on Hartwell Road."
"Yeah, I'm out there a lot," I said, and then added guiltily, "When I'm not here lifting weights."
"Your legs look great!" she called as she walked away.
Wow. My legs, huh? Coming from someone who scrutinizes bodies for a living, that feels like a loaded statement. Of course my legs look fine if I'm running 20 miles a week. Aesthetically speaking I'm more concerned about everything ABOVE them.
What is the point of making fitness goals? Are they anything more than vanity? Sometimes I find myself thinking odd things as I look at myself in the mirror doing crunches. "The God of thinness will never be pacified," I tell myself during lower body lifts (which, admittedly, I hate.) The other day I was doing a particularly hard-core twisting exercise with a medicine ball, and just as I was thinking how badass I looked the thought crossed my mind, "You won't be able to do this forever. This body will eventually decay and die."
Which, while true, is not really a motivating mid-workout sentiment.
Running, unlike weight training, is rewarding to me in itself. But I also have running goals, or rather I think about having goals. I say: Maybe this fall I can run 20 miles in one shot. Maybe next spring I can do a marathon.
The problem with those goals is what do you do once you meet them? Will running 20 miles really make me feel so much better than running 15? Will the finish line of a marathon feel like an accomplishment? Or will it be just another place I nurse a baby?
There are distances beyond a marathon, if we get into this game of making up goals. 50K and then 50 miles. Will running THEM change me into a person I magically like better? The day after I conquer a new distance, will I be fundamentally changed? Probably not. Probably I will wake up and still need to decide between a shake and an egg for breakfast, and whether I'm "doing sugar" today, and the choices will be terrifying.
What does the body building trainer do when she finally earns her professional status? Does she take a day off? Eat some food that isn't chicken breast? No, she'll need to compete with all the other professional body builders to win endorsement deals for green-tea supplements. She never gets to an ending point, a place where she can say: There. Now I can rest.
The ending point for all of us, though it's lame to admit it, is age. Or injury. Or terminal disgust at our own failure.
I wonder if something different is possible, if I could make enthusiastic fitness goals with an air of detached humility. It's not so much a cultural trope, non-attachment, not in the spirit of the Nike swooshes I wear on my singlets. It's doesn't sound right to say, "I'm planning an ultramarathon next summer, God willing and the crick don't rise." But it sounds a teensy bit less vain.
Last Saturday was Bedford Day, and the boys were very excited. Since we had a birthday party to go to in the afternoon Mama and Lijah stayed home, but Harvey, Zion, and I were up to town in plenty of time to get a good seat for the parade.
Unlike some other parades, this one doesn't have too many musical units, or any clowns; what it does have is many loud trucks—Hanscom snow plows, DPW loaders, and fire trucks from all the surrounding towns—along with local politicians, martial arts schools, and kids sports leagues. And their all tossing out piles of candy.
Aside from our parental doubts about how much candy our kids need to have at any one time, this bonanza of sweets has another downside: kids between 9 and 13 or so are driven mad by the bounty and spend the whole parade in a frenzy of accumulation, mostly blocking the view of the adults and little kids sitting obediently on the curb. This year was better, though both because at the start of the parade I spoke sharply to some suspicious-looking youths nearby—they went somewhere else—and because Zion and, especially, Harvey are much better at scrabbling for treats themselves than they were in years past. Here's Zion with some of the booty.
After the parade we headed over to the fair, which was packed with an overwhelming number of people. The boys snagged some free balloons and petted the 4H animals, and we ate lunch while watching karate and dance demonstrations. But the highlight of our fair experience was the library book sale. Whether at the main sale in the library our out at the auxiliary booth, all three of us were happy to look at books for quite a while.
And with our lunch from home and all the candy, the only money we spent was five dollars on books. A wonderful and successful day at the fair!
(Now all we have to do is make the leftover candy... disappear.)
After only two nights in the tent, it was time to head home. Following a rough night of strong gusty winds and lashing rain, we felt both super hard-core and ready for anything—and also ready to be home sleeping in our beds. Leah and I did, at least; Harvey was not at all happy to be leaving.
He did enjoy his bagel breakfast with me in the tent porch, while the wind howled and the lantern swung wildly back and forth, but once we started packing up he turned unpleasantly uncooperative. Zion followed his example, and things were pretty rough while we packed up the car—but at least the rain mostly stopped and we managed not to get everything soaked.
With the mood in the car bitter and mutinous we stopped early in Ellesworth for some second-breakfast treats. The town didn't excite, but we found a cafe inside a toy store that was perfect for brightening up the boys' moods (never mind that I hated everything about it!). Then it was back on the road to Searsport to meet up with the Stevenses, who were camping there. The plan was necessarily vague—camping with kids doesn't lend itself to precision scheduling!—but once we got going we decided, via a series of text messages, to meet at the playground where Harvey found the swimmin guller.
We beat them there, but nobody minded: not only is the playground plenty of fun on its own, but the skies cleared and it was suddenly a beautiful summer afternoon! With the sunshine it was hard to stay away from the water.
And things only got better when the Stevenses arrived. The kids played and played, first on the playground—where our collection of introverts even managed to involve some local kids in their game—and then on the beach, for a long time. The grown-ups talked.
Of course, you know what happened with a collection of clothed kids on a narrow beach.
Zion also got pretty damp, but Lily won the prize of allowing herself to be completely soaked—and she didn't have a complete change of clothes handy in the car, like our boys.
The only problem with all the fun was that when it was time to go Harvey picked up right where he left off in grumpy resistance. Even though our next stop was ice cream with our friends! He was fine once he had a cone in his hand.
But things turned sour again when the ice cream was gone and it was time to say goodbye to friends and to Maine. At least the length of our stops meant that our drive took all day, and nobody can be completely unhappy when they're as cozy as the boys got at our last stop, alongside the highway somewhere in New Hampshire.
Besides me taking a wrong turn on the way out of that rest stop—nobody was happy with me for that!—the rest of the trip was uneventful, and we finally made it home with three sleeping kids. And when they woke up there was more summer fun to look forward to, so all unpleasantness was forgotten.
This past weekend we took an unprecedented second camping trip in a year. A group of friends from church wanted to take an early-fall getaway to Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, and we were delighted to go along. For most of them it was their first time camping since their kids were born, so we were extra-excited to help reintroduce them to the joys of outdoor living.
Since we had to be back on Sunday for various things at church we planned and packed for just one night, and we got everything together in between when I got home from work at 1:00 and 4:00, when we hit the road. Zion settled in for a nap and Harvey played on the electronic device. Lijah didn't fuss the whole time: for the middle third of the trip he slept.
It took us quite a while to get through Concord center, but once we got past the Rt 2 rotary we zipped right along. When Lijah was quiet Leah and I enjoyed the sensation of driving into fall.
We left the highway and followed smaller and smaller roads into New Hampshire, through and out of the town of Jaffery, and then we rounded a corner and got our first glimpse of a big mountain.
A few wrong turns and confusions later—I had our site number and reservation number, but I hadn't actually paid any attention to the name of the campground—we found where we were supposed to be. We were the last ones in, and we were warmly welcomed by screaming girls as we pulled into the site. As happy as we were to see our friends, though, we had to ignore them for a couple minutes as we variously nursed the crying baby and worked to put up the tent before it got all the way dark. Those things accomplished, we joined the rest of the crowd (7 adults and 10 kids, counting Lijah) for dinner and marshmallow roasting.
Away from the fire the night sky was pretty impressive: southern New Hampshire is more rural and remote than most of the places we hang out, and there were a whole lot more stars in the sky than I'm used to. I tried to take some long exposure shots and I bet they would have looked good, but sadly I accidentally deleted them from the camera—flipping through quickly I thought they were all black and assumed a kid had taken pictures with the lens cap on. Oh well.
We slept as well as can be expected for a first night in the tent—the boys actually did great, not waking us up once all night—and when four of us (all but Zion) were awake we were happy to lie around and chat for a while: real vacation relaxation! After a while screaming alerted us to the fact that our friends were up and about, so we headed over to our combined fire-pit for a big communal breakfast.
The propane stove was going for oatmeal but I had my big cast-iron skillet so I built up a fire to cook some bacon and scrambled eggs. The bacon was well-received by the kids... and I ate the eggs. After I was done cooking the kids had a great time playing with the remnants of the fire, gathering sticks and piles of leaves to dump on it and fanning it to produce impressive, if brief, conflagrations. And Elijah just sat in his little play seat and took it all in.
Somehow a plan emerged that involved us all climbing Mt Monadnock, so after a period of preparation we got in our cars and drove a couple minutes to the trailhead, where we joined about 900 other people with the same idea. We took lots of pictures as we hung around waiting for everyone to be ready to hit the trail; I'm not sure what Zion was thinking in this one, but I like it.
Once we got started, though, I know for sure what he was thinking: "I don't want to walk." I know because he told me. We didn't plan on a hike so we didn't have the kid-carrier backpack along—but there was no way I was going to just haul him up the mountain in my arms! Happily I had a sweatshirt that I wasn't wearing (thanks to the startlingly hot weather) and I was able to tie it into a passable sling. Of course, having Zion against my stomach was about as warm as wearing a sweatshirt, but needs must.
Up and up we went! The path was flat at first but even that was too much for a couple young members of the party, who headed back to camp with one adult as the rest of us pressed on. Soon it turned dramatically upward; good thing we're good climbers with lots of practice!
The more fun-looking pitches even tempted Zion out of my arms for an attempt on his own; he was soon back with me every time.
I do work to keep other people out of my photographs, but in that last one you can see the reality of the situation: there were lots of other people climbing along with us. Lots. I likened it at the time to a pilgrimage route. While being in such crowded conditions wasn't my favorite—it wasn't just the most crowded mountain I've seen, it was the most crowded place period that I've been in for months!—lots of other folks had kind words for our party as we struggled ever upwards.
Even we have our limits, though, and when, after two hours of hard climbing, we reached a sign that told us we'd made it half-way... I called a halt. I could go no further—other members of the party could do what they wanted, but I was heading back down. Leah and Harvey decided to come with me, along with one other family, while two more families kept going towards the top. We definitely made the right decision for our circumstances, even if we did have to replace our summit photograph with something a little more arboreal.
We were all tired—well, all of us but Leah—and besides, with just one day of vacation we had other things we had to do! Although Leah did manage to combine one of her other tasks with walking down the mountain.
(Nursing while hiking gets more impressed comments, by the way, than even hiking with small children!)
Eventually—eventually—we made it back to the trailhead and then to the parking lot, where we let the kids sit out the last several hundred yards of walk while I fetched the car. But by the time we got back to the campground they were bursting with energy again and ready to take on the playground.
Well, mostly bursting anyways...
When we were bored of the playground it was on to the nearby pond, where the mountain that had so recently defeated us was peacefully reflected.
The plan was to catch frogs, but even though I noticed one close enough to touch neither he nor any of the other amphibious denizens of the pond were molested in any way. It was still pretty, though, and fun to explore.
Back and the campsites the kids enjoyed some quiet pursuits.
We stayed for dinner, pretending we didn't have to leave for home just a little bit later. Our boxed mac-and-cheese was no match for the fancier dinner options.
As we packed up our tent the kids brightened up the gathering dark with glow-sticks. Zion brightened up several portions of his skin as well when he broke his open, but he got cleaned up before I managed to take a picture. Here are some of the other kids running around.
Then home, with the kids falling asleep within minutes of getting in the car, leaving Leah and me to chat peacefully all the way home. Now that was a vacation.