Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three things I've changed because of reading "Last Child in the Woods"

I'm on my way to the National Marine Educators Conference in Mobile, Alabama (#NMEA13) and just finished reading Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." He's the keynote speaker the first night and while Aquaman (dear husband) owned this book, I had never read it. I started it last week and finished it somewhere on the drive between Texas and Alabama. It was thought provoking, and has already influenced the way I see the world. I realized on the drive that there are three things I've already changed - things I wouldn't necessarily have thought about before, but now are part of what's rolling around in my brain.

1) My attitude toward our treehouse

Last fall, Aquaman decided it was high time we built a treehouse for our 3 boys. We have beautiful pecan trees in the backyard that were begging to be part of something cool. Armed with a stack of books from the library, Aquaman drew up some plans and involved The Redhead, Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the construction. And while two of the three lost interest after the initial groundbreaking, one actually stuck with it until the project was complete. They had sleepovers in it immediately with other kids from our street on chilly nights in December. They outfitted it with a castoff rug and cushions and even came up with a set of Treehouse Rules, which they posted prominently.

As I read Louv's opinion of the importance of the treehouse, the fort, the unstructured time to explore nature, I realized we had done something very right. Rather than be annoyed at unannounced visitors, I was proud when a neighbor up the street insisted that new kids to the neighborhood come and see our treehouse and tickled when half a dozen kids ended up playing in our backyard for the evening. It has become a gathering place for kids on the street and that, I now see, is pretty terrific.

2) The way I help a friend

A dear friend going through the difficult process of a custody dispute prepared mentally for a long-awaited day of mediation. She was nervous and anxious and who wouldn't be? The night before, I insisted we go up in the treehouse, to its balcony, and talk things over there. "A different perspective on things is exactly what you need right now," I explained as we climbed the ladder to the treehouse. We dangled our legs over the side and talked with a view of our backyard that we, as adults, hadn't had before. It helped.

The next morning before she left for this difficult meeting, she texted me asking if I was up for a quick walk. I was. But instead of steering toward the easier path on the sidewalk around the block amongst the other houses, I ventured down the hill toward the park. Surrounded by trees that are a century or more old, I told her that once she saw the room she was going to be in for the day, she should try and position herself facing a window. I told her that I had just read that if that window had a view of a tree or two, it would physically calm her down. And if it didn't, she could conjure up the trees we were walking among in the park right then and that would help, too.

I wanted her to know that she was surrounded by nature and lived in a beautiful place and that she could get through the day picturing that. I don't know if that helped her more or less than any other encouragement she received, but it certainly helped me to feel like I was better able to offer something real and tangible to someone when they needed it.

3) The advice I give my children

Louv's advice to instill confidence, rather than fear, in our children was timely. As I dropped off our oldest for a week at his first ever overnight camp, I told him to "Pay attention" instead of my usual "Be careful." Telling our children to be aware of their surroundings is much more empowering than cautioning them to be wary of them. I feel like paying attention applies to every situation - urban and rural, whether in a group or alone. It emphasizes the importance of noticing the things around you, not being fearful.

This book made me think. More than that, it moved me to act differently. I have a greater appreciation for nature and the times I am able to enjoy being in it. I read part of this book in my backyard, surrounded by trees, underneath the shade of our treehouse. And I felt restored, instead of guilty. I see nature as more essential to my well-being now. And that strikes me as a very good thing.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jumping in with both feet

The Redhead. 

Tomorrow, our family embarks on a new journey. This is our first time. So it's exciting. And scary. And preparing for it is leaving me an emotional wreck.

The Redhead is 14 and this weekend we will be dropping him off for his first ever official summer camp. This camp was his birthday present, given to him back in March. It's seven days of Marine Engineering at Texas A&M University at Galveston's Sea Camp and he is so excited. They'll look at things like converting electricity from sea waves, marine propulsion, and thermodynamics. This is his passion, what he has already declared will be his major in college. He has been looking forward to it for months.

But now we're right up on it and we drive tomorrow and drop him off the day after that and I'm a wee bit anxious. I've reviewed the official list of what to pack a dozen times. The Redhead glanced at it once. I've been washing clothes for days, marking all of his belongings with a Sharpie. He pulled out a small bag with everything he thought he needed:

Not enough. Not even close.

This concerned me. How in the world could he possibly think that is all he needs? I went to Target to get trial size toiletries for him. I might have gone overboard.

That's more like it.
I think I amused The Redhead when I returned from the store. Guess what item he was most impressed with?

It will probably never be opened.

Yep. The First Aid To Go! kit. What 14-year-old wouldn't be impressed with that?

Aquaman was not impressed. "He doesn't bathe at home! You think he's going to pay attention to personal hygiene when he's at camp?"

I dismissed this. Aquaman simply does not understand. The Redhead will probably need tissues and mouthwash and Advil ("You're trusting him with that?" Aquaman added.) He will probably need the Gold Bond medicated powder if he gets chafed from being in his swimsuit all day. (The Redhead was uber embarrassed when I brought this up.) And he'll probably need the two washcloths and towels and extra swimsuit and sneakers I'm putting in his bag. What? Don't judge.

This may look like overkill. I'll admit it. But that's only if you don't know The Redhead. In addition to these everyday items that any parent might pack for their child heading off to camp, we have to pack this:


Oh, it looks innocent enough - I'll give you that. But what this fanny pack contains is serious business. Have a peek:

Oh yes. It's serious.

How's that for serious?

I don't seem so overboard now, do I? Not quite so much of a Nervous Nellie, right?

These are the big guns, people. This is what keeps me up at night. The Redhead has life threatening food allergies and asthma. So we don't just send him off to camp with toothbrush and toothpaste. (Neither of which I think he's used once all summer, anyway. There. I said it.) That's why he's 14 and going off to a camp at a college for the first time when most other kids have been going to camp for years.

The Redhead is allergic to all kinds of food. It is easier for me to tell you what he's not allergic to than to list what he is allergic to. The life threatening ones are nuts and fish. That's why we carry the EpiPen.

Scary needles involved.

Notice I said "we" carry. Only now? He will be solely responsible for carrying it. In fact, he'll have to carry all of this:

A whole pile o'lifesaving goin' on.

All of it. All the time.

And he'll have to navigate the college cafeteria every day. He'll have to be super careful about everything that he puts in his mouth, everything that is prepared by someone else and might have something in it he is allergic to. He'll have to be absolutely certain that the nugget he thinks is chicken is in fact, chicken. Not fish. He's made that mistake before. (Why did you have to bring that up?) He'll even have to be careful of those eating around him, especially if they're chowing down on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

While he's out in a marsh kayaking or in a science lab building an underwater robot, he'll have to make sure his fanny pack with his life-saving medications is with him. It's a lot to ask of a 14-year-old that doesn't remember to put on deodorant.

So it's a lot to ask of a mom to pack him off and hope for the best. To let him grow up a bit and be around other kids who share his interests and have faith (and cross my fingers) that everything will be alright. He will remember to take his medicine at night, he will be ever vigilant about what he eats, and he will keep that fanny pack with him wherever he goes.

The Redhead will be at Sea Camp and his brothers will be at their grandparents, about 45 minutes away. Aquaman and I (Alone! Just the two of us!) will be an 8-hour-drive away, in a different state altogether, to attend another gathering of marine-minded folks at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Mobile, Alabama. This is what Aquaman and his family do in the summer. We do water-y things. The Redhead (aka Aqualad) will be at a camp doing the same kind of stuff we will be doing with a bunch of adults on the Alabama coast. Thing 1 and Thing 2 will be on the Texas coast with their grandparents, fishing and out on a boat much of the time.

The grandparents will be the closest ones to respond to any emergency. And while I know they are perfectly capable and love their grandchildren, it makes my heart hurt just a little bit. Because I still picture The Redhead like this:

The Redhead at home on Mt. Eyak in Alaska at 16 months. He's smaller than the 28-pound Beagle.

And that means I'm leaving my baby. In the care of strangers. And I'll be far away. And bad things could happen.

And this is what it is to be a parent. It is my stomach churning out of fear and excitement, at the same time. It is me thrilled for a week alone with my husband and scared for my child's first week solo. It is wanting to hide and wanting to venture out. Wanting to protect and shield and knowing that I have to let them go.

Here's to jumping in with both feet. In the deep end.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Eye see you

Image available from AntiqueGraphique on

Summer is time for doctor and dentist visits around these parts. We all needed our eyes checked, but it's a miracle if we can all get appointments at the same time. I managed to get one for me and The Redhead one week and one for Thing 1 and Thing 2 the next.

We haven't had eye exams for years. Aquaman wears contacts, so he goes pretty regularly, but the rest of us haven't had any issues. I've noticed recently that driving at night is more difficult. There's a kind of halo around street lights and signs and I've had more trouble reading things. This immediately reminds me of my mother, who wore glasses to drive at night when I was young. As I got older, she didn't hide the fact that she didn't like to drive at night and she eventually refused to do so unless absolutely necessary. I wonder if I'm headed down that road.

The Redhead and I filled out an ungodly amount of paperwork, had very unflattering pictures taken for the eye doctor's files, and were led into the same exam room together. I went first. The part where they put eye drops in to numb your eyes and then actually touch your eye with some tool is not my favorite. Then they put in more drops so that your pupils dilate. Then it was The Redhead's turn.

He got tested for color blindness, unlike me. Did you know color blindness is typically only found in boys? It's a sex-linked trait on the X chromosome. Boys only get one X, while girls get two - one normal X is enough to counteract the other, so girls don't typically have it. I learned me something new.

The nurse also warned me that boys react much more to the drops than girls do. She said she'd had a boy slide right down the chair away from her, avoiding the drops in his eyes. The Redhead listened to all this with some concern, but then did just fine. Until the drops began to take effect. Then, he acted like he was on drugs.

Whacked out Redhead.

He realized he couldn't read his watch.

He couldn't read a text that came in on his phone. The horror.
He tried real hard.

"Maybe if I put it on the ground I can read it...Nope."

I'm not sure why this was so hilarious, but it was. I also couldn't read my watch or phone. This altered state - this sense of vision that was not working - made us laugh. We are easily entertained. The best part was the ginormous plastic sunglasses they give you as you leave. The worst part was having the eye doctor explain to me, a 42-year-old woman, why I would benefit from progressive lenses.

"Do you mean, BIFOCALS?" I screeched, disbelieving.

He smiled. This wasn't his first rodeo. "That is what they have been known as in the past, yes," he explained. Oh dear Lord. I'm old. I only heard bits and pieces of what he said after that - something about this being what happens after you turn 40 and "inevitable" this and "part of life" that. He backed off a little, suggesting that perhaps I could get away with only glasses for driving at night and put a hold on the progressive lenses. I clutched my prescription as we left the office, wearing my blocky, disposable sunglasses, like the old lady that I am.

Then we repeated the whole process today with the twins. They grilled The Redhead before we left, making sure there was no pain involved in the ordeal. I had a little fun with this when Thing 2 asked, "What exactly do they do?"

"Before or after they strap you in the chair and slice your eyeballs? What? You only bleed for like four hours!" I said. I am going to hell.

I made them bathe. And put on deodorant. And brush their teeth - "They get very close to your face during the exam. You don't want to kill 'em with your stink," I explained.

And the hilarity began again.

First they made them wear special glasses to test for depth perception.

Already having fun.

"Hooked on Phonics worked for me!"

Thing 1 could not receive eye drops without opening his mouth. When they asked him to blink, he opened and closed his mouth simultaneously with his eyes. He looked like a fish out of water, gasping.

Thing 1. Fish out of water.

Thing 2 made fun of him until his turn came. When they told him to open his eyes wide, he opened his mouth wide, too. "This isn't the dentist," I reminded him.

Thing 2. Realizing he was just as bad as Thing 1.


And then they touch your eyeball.
Then we had to wait in another darkened room while their eyes dilated. And they tried to play games on the iPad but they couldn't see anything. So they just laughed at each other. And tried to tell what time it was on my watch. The nurse said they made her day - we giggled through the whole exam. It was like they were drunk.

This is the closest I ever hope to come to seeing my boys with altered senses. But I must say, they'd probably be real fun at a party.

We were sent on our way with the grandpa sunglasses again. We had planned on running a few errands after the appointment, but I quickly realized I wasn't going to be able to take these grumpy old men anywhere.

Grumpy old man.

"How long do they stay like this?"

"Put the damn camera away already!"
The eye doctor warned me that their eyes wouldn't be back to normal until tomorrow morning and that they might be tired this afternoon and need a nap. Sounded good to me. But instead? Because 4th of July is tomorrow? When we got home, Thing 1 decided it was time to try out one of his firecrackers that work under water.

"Dad, since I can't see can you light it for me?"

Oh, Jesus. Let me get the camera.

Please, no one call CPS.

You can do it!