August Break: Beehive

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This picture isn’t even from August, so I’m kind of cheating. In July, I took my family to Family Nature Camp in Bar Harbor, Maine, a stone’s throw from Acadia National Park.

Besides all that we learned about tide pools, lobster ecology, beaver dams, the magnetized granite unique to this region, we took some great hikes.

Our guide told us about the Beehive trail–a very challenging rock scrambler with man-made metal handles fused into vertical rock to pull yourself up. . . and up. . . and up. The ledges are narrow, the drops, steep.

I led my ten-year-old, Ben, advising him just don’t look down, keep going forward, reminding him to take his time. Once I decided that we would be doing this, the work was in quieting the persistent hum that runs through my days, of keep them safe keep them safe. For just this one afternoon, I tried out this one: trust trust trust.

We passed people on their way down, shaking their heads, telling us that mentally, they just couldn’t do it. Physically, of course they could, but the fear, of heights, of falling, made them turn back.

All along, in my mind, batting around the question of whether this was one of my worst parenting moments, (putting my child in a risky situation), or one of my best (giving him an opportunity to accomplish something very difficult). Still not sure. We never really know for certain, do we?

This picture is of Ben making it to the top.

Paris: Leaving

Let this be a lesson to me to blog right away.  Paris?  Was I there?  There has been so much life going since then, it’s almost hard to remember. There were many highlights of our trip (upcoming), so much we saw, ate, talked about. A trip alone with just one child is truly a gift, for both parent and child.  How different he looked when not bouncing off his brothers, wedged between them, clawing his way through the clamor to claim his spot.  There’s so much to tell of our adventures there, though I’ll begin with leaving.

While my husband is entirely competent and I have mused to him on occasion that in some ways, he is a better mother than I am, leaving was hard.  There are things I do that he might not think of, like making sure Elizabeth the Hamster has food and water, feeding and walking my beloved dog.  The rest I had to let go of.

Anticipating the separation from the rest of my family filled me with dread.  I was leaving this little guy:

And this cool guy:

And don’t forget her:

This would be, by far, the longest separation from any of my children.  Twelve-going-on-sixteen-year-old Thomas seemed relieved at the idea of having me off his back for the week.  When I asked him about this he said, without hesitation, “Well, you’re the bad cop, so yeah.”   I could live with that.

As for my little four-year-old nugget, the separation was going to be hard on both of us.  He got teary when we talked about it before, tried to be stoic, but clearly, this was going to be painful.  He asked me questions like. . . would I be back before summer?  How far away would I be?  Would I die?  

His questions reminded me how four-year-olds have little frame of reference,  sense of time or days, and expansive magical thinking where anything is possible.  I wanted to give him something concrete to help him understand the concept of how long I’d be gone and when I’d be coming back.  The “Mommy Chart”, above, was what I came up with.  It was so unfancy, a large index card, a magic marker, and some heart stickers were all I needed.  I didn’t Jordan Ferney  the thing, I just made it something simple enough for him to be able to do on his own.  I went over it with him before I left, showing him how he would put a heart sticker in a box each day, and when he got to the last box, I’d be home.

So often it’s the little things.  My husband reported that  this dinky chart was HUGE for James.  Every morning, he would go to the chart first thing, count the days and enthusiastically report how many days until Mommy would be home, and then move on with his day, confidently sharing with teachers, grandparents, how many days to go.

By midweek, my body physically ached from the separation.  To be honest, it was hard on all of us in different ways, stretching and straining our emotional umbilical cord.  But stretching is a good thing.  As with nearly everything, in parenting and in life, there is a loss and gain for every action, every decision, all at once.  You can never have one without the other, can you?

When Ben was crowding me on our trip with non-stop talking and constant, I mean constant, hugging and being in my physical space (I love hugging as much as the next Mom, but seriously, this kid was trying to wring everything he could from me in the seven days he had me), I said gently, (the first twenty-three times), that space was an important part of any good relationship. Strong connections must permit and can endure, even require, some space.

And, as ever, the best part of going away. . . is coming home.