Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's Not Worth Much But It's Pure

Summer camps are a must for our family: with two full-time working parents, the boys are in camps from almost day one of summer through day zed, with a couple days off for vacations. Every week is something new: rocks and minerals, basketball, creepy crawlers, zoo, soccer, superhero gymnastics, and, one of the boys’ favorite camps, traditional outdoor summer camp nestled in the farms and vineyards of the Willamette Valley.

If you’ve seen Hayley Mills (or her prettier twin sister) in Parent Trap, you have an idea of how the boys spent their week: giant swings, canoes, hikes, learning goofy jokes, skits, and swimming but without the family reunion capers. Truth be told, it’s one of Mommy’s less favorite camps because it’s a guaranteed 40-minute drive each way twice a day during peak hours of the workday. But, the boys look forward to it every year so…what’s a parent to do? Make it work, of course.

We make it home by 4:30 pm every day and the boys are filthy and exhausted. Dinner is eaten by 5:30 and they’re normally in bed by 7:00, with two hours of daylight still left. They’re still tired when they wake up but manage to leave the car happily supplied with fishing nets, lunch bags, sunscreen, and swimming trunks. Wash, rinse, repeat all week.

By Friday, we’re all exhausted. Thursday night is Family Night at camp and the entire family hangs out until about 9:00 doing what the kids do all week long. We crawl into bed around 11 wondering how the kids manage to do this eight hours a day the rest of the week. Friday dawns early and ruthlessly. At pick-up, we pile our dusty kids into the car and look forward to the weekend when we can wipe down the insides and our city family cars can say goodbye to unpaved roads…at least for a little bit.

Helios shuffled to the car, dragging his drawstring bag behind him and shouting farewells to children and counselors. Hesperos lagged far behind him, bag over his shoulders, dusty from the neck down, and face startlingly clean.

“How was camp today?”

“Good,” offered Helios. “I caught a newt by its tail but it got away and then I found this huge fat bullfrog and then I…” When Helios gets into a story, he is a non-stop run-on sentence. Hesperos and I sat quietly. Eventually, Helios ran out of air.

“And how about you, Buddy? How was camp?”

Hesperos looked out the window, glassy-eyed and oblivious.

“Buddy, are you okay?”

He heaved a shuddering sigh and then the lip trembled. Without another sound or gesture, tears poured forth like his internal cup runneth over.

“Helios, what’s wrong with your brother?”

“He doesn’t want to leave camp.”

“Oh, is that all? Buddy, you’ll be back next year.”

More tears flowed and, soundlessly, his shoulders started to shake.

“He knows, Mommy, but he misses Chai.”


“Chai, his camp leader.”

Hesperos sobbed the truth. “I might come back next year but what if she’s not here?”

“Oh, Buddy, it’s okay. You’ll have other camp leaders you’ll like just as much. Remember Mr. Sunshine last year?”

That straw broke him. The remainder of the 40-minute drive home, this little tow-headed 7-year-old wept his heart dry. While he was distracted now and then by dinner, bath, and toys, there would be moments over the next few hours when he would pause and, without warning, curl into a little ball and cry. At bedtime he offered his prayers: “Please let me see Chai again.”

For the rest of the summer, Thursday night has been the highlight of Hesperos’ week. All families are welcome to attend Family Night, registered or not. As soon as we park in the dirt lot, Helios jumps out to find a frog or a kayak or hike a trail or hunt for blackberries. Hesperos’ first thought is “where is Chai?” When he finds her and embraces her in one of his incomparably loving hugs, he lights up like sunshine – and so does Chai. The affection is mutual. This Thursday was the summer’s last Family Night. As Helios takes us on another hike to a zip line and explains the ghost story of the deer that died one night in the lake, Hesperos whispers to me, my hand held by his soft one. “Mommy, I’m really worried.”

“Hesperos, stop interrupting!” Helios snaps. “I’m telling a story!”

I lean in closer, hiding our conversation from Helios. “Why are you worried, baby?”

“What if I never see Chai again? I mean, after this summer. What if she doesn’t come back to work here at camp?”

I try to shift focus. “Do you know Chai’s real name?”

“It’s Emily. She’s in college. She lives in Seattle. Emily’s a pretty name, isn’t it, Mommy?”

“Yes, it is. Maybe we can get her address and you can write her after the summer is over. Would you like that?”

He squeezes my hand.

We walk to the main building where the camp counselors are gathering to begin their skit. Helios wanders, checking to see what might’ve changed since last week when he visited. Hesperos holds my hand with eyes for only his friend. When they’re done, he hurtles forward, a pigeon returning to its nest. They hug, and Hesperos is so, so happy.

On the walk back to the car, Helios runs ahead, up hills and down hills, grabbing walking sticks and looking for frogs and newts. Hesperos walks alongside me.

“Mommy, when can I write to Chai?”

“Whenever you want, baby.”

“I’m going to make her a card and it’s going to have a drawing of camp and of Chai and me in the canoes.”

“That would be beautiful. I’ll send it to her for you.”


“Yes, baby.”

“Can we go to Seattle sometime and see Chai?”

“You mean a play date? Maybe we can.”

“Mommy, can we go to the rock museum next week?”

“Sure but why do you want to go to the rock museum?”

“They sell gold there in little bottles. If I spend five dollars, I can buy one.”

“Why do you want a bottle of gold?”

“I’m going to send it to Chai with the card and the picture I’m going to make her. Do you know what it’s going to say?”

“What, baby?”

“It’s going to say, ‘Dear Chai. I made this card for you of camp so you’d remember me. I really had a lot of fun with you. I bought you this bottle of gold from my favorite museum. It was only five dollars. It’s not worth much but it’s pure. Love, Hesperos.’ Is that okay, Mommy?”

“I think it’s beautiful, baby. She’ll love it.”

He smiled. “I think so, too.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Day of School...Again

Where has the summer gone? For that matter, where have our two little guys gone? Was it really so long ago (yes, yes it was) that Hesperos was a Michelin-man style baby with tires around his middle, his arms, his legs, and Helios was a spunky pipsqueak?

Even so recently as this spring things have changed. When last we saw Hesperos, he was a fresh-faced preschool graduate ("A Graduate Is Made"). Now, a few months later, he is an accomplished reader and member of the kindergarten class attending the same school where Helios is the big boy around the second grade town.

Hesperos has been waiting to join kindergarten at his brother's school for two years. He knows the Helios' teachers, the classrooms, the principal, the office administrator. Hesperos knows the routine, the ins-and-outs of the building, the rules (whether or not he chooses to follow them). He even knows about half of his classmates as they are the two-year-younger siblings of Helios' classmates. He's ready.

So probably it's no surprise that on the first day of kindergarten for Hesperos and the first day of second grade for Helios that they both strode in, full of confidence and happiness, not a single tear shed.

Helios entered his second grade room, a little shy and timid, because that's his way. When he's in his element, he's full of ornery spunk but he struggles to connect with other children meaningfully and high activity, high energy situations make him crawl into himself a little bit. Mommy relates.

Hesperos, on the other hand, was full of pride and determined to show that he is in his element. He showed off his full spirit and immediately tackle hugged with boundless enthusiasm a couple of the children he knew before school began -- before sitting down and showing off his sassy face.

It's great to see them together during the day. Helios takes pride in being the authoritative second grader with longer breaks and more friends than Hesperos. Hesperos enjoys the relative freedom of having a bigger pond to swim in as well as finally being able to do all the big kid things his brother does.

It's a good year.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saintly Homework Projects

Helios came home a few days ago with a charming project. Inspired by a school mother who had recently traveled to Vatican City and shared her photographs and experiences with the class, the second grade teacher assigned the children a project to choose a saint and study him or her. Each child would turn in a few handwritten sentences about their favorite saint and a crafted representation which would be hung up on November 1, All Saints Day. It's a perfect project for creative, inquisitive Catholic children who are being prepared for First Communication and Reconciliation.

For this project, Helios chose St. Francis de Sales and there were really only two rules for putting it together. First, that this is a parent/child project to be done together. Second, and this one was so important it was stressed in capital letters, was that we should use materials readily available at home. Oooohkay. We have it in writing so there should be NO fear of creating a disrespectful-looking saint.

Before looking at the picture below, we hope you understand two things. First, we followed the letter of the assignment. Second, we're not sacrilegious -- really, we're not! But we have a thread of irreverence running through us. Our only hope for sharing a heavenly hereafter with any deity is that God has a slightly irreverent sense of humor Himself.

So we share with you Helios' interpretation of St. Francis de Sales, complete with Wikki Stix hair, beard, and ears; hippy beaded crucifix necklace; tissue paper robe and stole; puff ball nose; googly eyes; and jazz hands and feet.

St. Francis de Sales was a pretty trendy dude for a 55-year-old 17th century saint. And Helios' reaction? "That saint is simply hi-lar-ious."


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lost Teeth & Fairy Dust

Every child has those milestones he or she looks forward to: turning 21 (legal drinking!), turning 16 (legal driving!), turning 13 (finally a teenager!), and 67 (collect Social Security!). Hm. Maybe not on the last one.

But before any of that, the first real milestone a child eagerly anticipates is losing his or her first tooth. This event happened for the first time in our home tonight, 07/22/2011, around 6:55 p.m. Pacific time. The event almost felt like it deserved its own press release or perhaps a notification in the New York Times: "Mr. & Mrs. of All Trades are pleased to announce the loss of tooth previously occupying residence in the mouth of their son, Helios of All Trades."

Unfortunately, with the suddenly legally allowed increase in New York marriages (with sincere thanks to Mayor Cuomo and the NY legislature), the competition for announcements in the New York Times is even more intense than before. And we're no match for ridiculously well-dressed couples.

So a blog post it is, to announce that Helios is one toothy loss down the pearly white path of shedding his deciduous teeth and gaining his permanent chompers. To say that Helios was excited is a grave understatement. He has been working his two loose teeth for weeks and, at the wise age of nearly 7, has bemoaned the fact that he is the last child in his 2nd grade class to lose any teeth at all. It took the intervention of his dentist, Dr. Anticarie, to remind Helios to not try to force his teeth out before they were ready. (A similar reminder will need to be given to Hesperos soon since he is two years younger and already trying to furtively loosen his little fangs.)

The Tooth Fairy does visit our home in the same way she/he/it visited Mommy and her sisters: The fairy leaves a limerick and a small toy with a coin or two. Tonight's limerick is a shared composition written by Grandpa Wil (verses 2 and 3) and Mommy (verses 1 and 4) and is accompanied by a gold dollar (William Henry Harrison, if you want to know), and a much-desired Beyblade. Mommy would shake her head with incredulity that a Beyblade is a much desired item among the 6-8 year old set, but then she remembers that she desperately hoped for Polly Pocket lockets around that age.

In close, we offer you this first edition Tooth Fairy Poem:

Dear Helios:

It only takes on quick little look
to see that little tooth you've shook
has popped out so clean and quick
that I had to bring you a gift, lickety split.

It came about so very fast
the tooth you had is of the past.
In its place a gaping hole
almost big enough to insert a pole.

But very soon, Helios dear,
a brand new tooth will appear.
You'll look so great, you'll look so grand
which is all part of God's good plan.

Enjoy your money and toy machine
and remember to keep all your teeth very clean.
Because tooth fairies worthy of trust
take only the best teeth for fairy dust.


The Octagon Tooth Fairy
(The tooth fairies in our childhood were always of some kind of shape. Don't ask. It's tradition. Just go with it.)

Hopefully we can find more milestones to celebrate together. Mommy and Daddy are in no rush to see the next milestone of 13 happen any time soon.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Graduate Is Made

Across the nation around the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, graduates are made by the cartload. Naturally, there's the obvious: College graduates, doctors and masters of their specialties, and high school graduates. In recent years, there appears to be a trend for even more types of graduates: junior college graduates, junior high school graduates, middle school graduates, elementary school graduates and kindergarten graduates. I do not come to speak to you of these events. Instead, I speak to you of the very first graduation of all because, yes, graduation can start even younger than kindergarten and age 5. I bring your attention to: preschool graduation.

Mock preschool graduation if you must (go ahead, I do it too), but all the eye rolling in the world doesn't erase the fact that preschool graduates are pretty darn cute. To wit, I offer you Hesperos, preschool graduate (lettered in finger painting, tire swing, and bubble blowing; distinction in letters with high honors in learning how to read; honorable mention in basic arithmetic).

Preschool graduation is about as celebratory as it gets without alcohol (although some parents may indulge after the fact on behalf of their children). There's no cap throwing and I assure you that the children are clothed under their gowns. But there is a lot of cake eating, signing of songs, and even diplomas, not to mention the artfully created construction paper mortar boards complete with Shrinky Dink 2011 on a tassel.

For Hesperos, the celebration was not so much about accomplishments past. Like any bright-eyed child of tomorrow, he was looking forward. Specifically, toward kindergarten where he will finally get to attend the 'big kid school' with his older brother a couple doors away. Hesperos is fully prepared to rush in and embrace his new teachers and classmates with a big chubby-armed hug -- a level of enthusiasm that I certainly didn't display when I started graduate school. But I didn't get a construction paper mortar board either.