With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Friday, July 29, 2011

Atlantic Reflections

Taffy air carries scent of salt tinged with sulfur as
Running feet add footprint impressions to shell-laced shore.

Swooping gulls rend humid gusts into shards of wind
That tear at timid kites, whose string burns through little fingers.

Sandy cherries loll near towel-wrapped bodies
While stronger siblings dive into cool blue waves.

Hermit crabs scuttle for shelter as red buckets approach
In tidal waters that creep in and out over fecund reeds.

A baby sleeps on dad’s sunburned chest as women chatter,
Their hat brims communing as they bury their feet.

Surf relentlessly approaches moats and castles, forever
Teaching that the act of building precedes the art of letting go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kids and Friends on Martha's Vineyard

 
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Screen Selection

On my shady walk down to the coffee shop this morning I passed a squirrel with a cookie. The cookie was too large for the beady-eyed fellow but he was undaunted and half-rolled, half-toothed his cookie across the yard and under a tree, where he wisely stood guard. (He must have heard about my sugar addiction.) I felt like a lucky little rodent myself, huddled away in the basement of a funky coffee shop – Hooked on Colfax if anyone local is reading – with free time and space to type out some thoughts on my computer. The kids are safe and busy in morning camp at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where they are hopefully engaged in studies of weather, pirates and chemical reactions.

It’s a shock to return to daily life after a fun- and family-filled vacation, and I am overwhelmed by the task of keeping the kids occupied and away from the screens that fill our house. On vacation their TV time was severely limited, both by their preference (more fun to play with cousins) and by our busy schedule. I was so impressed when we met up with family friends on Martha’s Vineyard; they have had their beach house in the family since 1981 and it has never had a TV. My dream summer home! The Museum camp is helping our trio stay busy this week, but when we get home, though I limit their official ‘screen time’ (TV shows and video games), they find ways to amuse themselves with our funky streaming photo frame, their Flip videos, their kid camera, my phone, etc.

Rob ordered a new phone for me while we were on vacation, and it’s a funky, touchy thing. It’s pretty and cool-looking and I have no idea how to use it. My five-year-old son already has his eyes on it, though, especially one app. Last night when Rob was showing me the new functions and games he installed on the phone he mentioned “Angry Birds” and a little head suddenly popped up – two black eyes sparkling over the back of the couch. “Angry Birds?” yelled my son. “Who has Angry Birds? Can I see it? Can I play it?” Rob laughed and I shuddered – I’ve never played that game but my sons and their cousin played it on the car rides and during airport waits on our trip, emerging quite addicted. I put Daniel off by leaving (with my phone) and this morning by saying that mommy did not know how to use the game, but I can tell from his hourly requests that I am doomed.

The first game I plan on learning is ‘Words with Friends,’ that super-cool Scrabble-like game that has hooked Rob, my sister, and my Dad. I definitely need the practice against my husband as our current record at word games (primarily Scrabble) is approximately: Rob 58, Laura 1. I kid you not . . .my English degree falls to his Engineering degrees every time. My siblings and significant others became painfully aware of Rob’s Scrabble prowess on vacation, when he decimated the field by 100 points and made himself quite unpopular around the game table.

So through the course of this posting I have become aware that we are all under the sway of screens. I’m hooked on my writing and email and now “Words with Friends” no less than the kids are under the power of their cameras and ‘Angry Birds’ games. I’m not sure what this promises for our collective future, but I promise to give up my phone games – as soon as I’ve beaten Rob at Scrabble.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Father Son-bathing

 
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Music and Dance on Cape Cod

"Oh no, she didn't!"
"And she's up, she's down, it's the robot, it's the twist . . . score is 28.9!"

My daughter danced off the 'stage' beaming from ear to ear as if the Olympic judges had just awarded her the gold medal. My younger brothers, James and Michael, sat on the couch in our rental house watching all of the cousins dance their way through our Ipod mix, awarding ever-increasing scores and commentating on the wild and crazy variety of dance moves. James was somewhat abashed at the end of the contest when I questioned his judging capabilities; he started judging on a scale of 1 to 10 and wound up at a 29.5. "I just couldn't bear to give anyone a lower score," he said.

That was the tone of our family reunion week on Cape Cod, uncritical music and dancing and childlike exuberance. By the numbers: eighteen of us shared two rental houses, which covered seven grandchildren from the ages of 15 months to almost 10, two grandparents, five siblings and four significant others (spouses and fiancee included). We ate over 100 hamburgers, drank several hundred cans and bottles of beer (but who's counting?), swam and built sandcastles at four cool beaches, flew six kites which promptly broke, celebrated one birthday and one engagement.

Of course, numbers utterly fail to tell the story. With all of the shared memories and highlights it's hard to focus one on thread of the week, though music does it best for me. Other than the dance contests, we all had the same CD playing at various times in our rental cars - a mix made by my parents and sister which was loaded with family favorites, many played at three previous family weddings and some undoubtedly on the playlist for the fourth wedding planned for next summer. The children now know classics like "On the Road Again" (Willie Nelson) and "Wild Montana Skies" (John Denver and Emmylou Harris) by heart. We sang a raucous grace each night before dinner, holding hands in an unwieldy looping circle and raising the rafters with "The Lord is Good to Me," or "Amen." One night, someone got caught in the circle of grace and decided to dance wildly inside as accompaniment. I'm sure God appreciated our thanksgiving.

On our final night we held a third dance party, but my most touching musical memory was of my fifteen-month-old nephew singing "Happy Birthday" to his uncle, my husband. Little Mac was great at the last line "to youuuuu" and with clapping vigorously at the end of the song. His smile of joy and lit-up blue eyes were a present unto themselves. (He also sings a mean version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," cheering for the Red Sox, of course). I believe we confused Mac a bit when we switched up and sang "Happy Engagement" to the same tune, but he handled it well. If I had to judge, I would give it a 29.5.

Love to all, and God Bless. Thank you for so many amazing memories. I miss you already.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Competition

"Competition is a contest between individuals, groups, animals, etc. for territory, a niche, or a location of resources. It arises whenever two or more parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared. Competition occurs naturally between living organisms which co-exist in the same environment." - From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Competition , July 12, 2011

I was sick to my stomach so frequently yesterday that I could barely eat breakfast or lunch. My heart rate hovered at 140 and peaked much higher, although all I did physically was stand on the shady grass and watch . . .watch as my eight-year-old competed in his big season-ending swim meet. I cheered heartily for William at the start of each race, but could only bite my lip and clench my fists as he swam, straining as he reached, kicked and breathed for the opposite end of the pool. Both of us looked to the timers with equal intensity as he asked "what was my time?" and celebrated with joy when he got a best time by two seconds, and commiserated briefly when he was off in one event.

It's a strange position to be in - a competitive parent watching her child race in a sport that she loves. My friend and I decided that it is much harder to watch your child compete in a sport that you know; it's a lot easier for me to watch as they pick up jump rope, karate, baseball virtually anything other than swimming, which has been a beloved outlet for 27 years. I try so hard to tamp down my intensity and my passion, because I recognize that my enthusiasm for the sport is personal and may not extend to my children. It may even turn them away. So I take on the position of volunteer coordinator instead of stroke judge, try to stay away from practice as much as possible, and confine my comments to "do your best" and "I love you."

Well, I don't really confine my comments to those two statements - let's get real. But I do try to limit my constructive criticism and emphasize best times and good sportsmanship above all else. The kids do a great job of socializing at meets, shaking hands with their competitors, and really trying to improve week after week. That's all I can ask. I've spent a lifetime battling my competitive nature (a circular battle, at best), and I don't want to impose my struggle on the kids, who seem either to have not inherited my competitive streak or to have a late-blooming strain.

The definition at the top of this entry reassures me in that competition occurs "naturally," though I cringe a bit at "the goal which cannot be shared." Life frequently requires that we work as a team and share our goals, and it's wonderful to be able to share in your friends' achievements. William's two good friends had wonderful days yesterday, swimming great best times and reaching the Finals with him. Cheering for them was the best part of our day, I think, inspiring as well as a restful break from our own self-imposed pressure. Relays are such fun, too, and the overall swim team experience has been great. Now I just have to remember these less competitive desires and goals as I head into his big sister's meet tomorrow . . . keep your fingers crossed for both of us!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In a Robin's Eye

A fine mist filtered down through our shade awnings as I sat in my lawnchair reading my book. I could see the gray particles of rain falling on my arms and on the pages, a cooling haze whose gentleness was offset by the rumbles of thunder in the distance and the shouts and screams of the children as they protested and fought against an invisible enemy. United for once against a common (though imaginary) foe, their cries had a different timbre than the normal bickering whine or arguing crow. This made it easier for me to sit silently by, as I was completely unnecessary in their play.

My son yelled "8.3 earthquake . . .run!" and they thundered past on their scooters, rumbling across the deck and then across the newly mown yard to the sandbox. That move caught my attention, and the awareness of our robin family. The parents flew madly - one from the nest in our window down to the pine tree to observe our chaos - and one from the fencepost to the nest to feed the growing brood. I paused in my reading to watch the little birdie necks and beaks crane toward their mom or dad. Their chirping reached me even through the thunder and the roars of the children. I felt sympathy for the busy parents.

We've had a great deal of fun watching the robin family over the past few weeks. Now that the babies are hatched and eating well, the parents are forever flying into the nest with food. Every night as we go to read bedtime stories in our room, the kids and I stop by the window to see if the mom or dad is still there. The dad (we think) is the bigger bird, whose puffed-up feathers and aggressive stance warn us to stay away. The gleam in his eye gives definition to the word 'baleful.' We are often glad that the flimsy screen protects us from his wrath; I have seen him chase and attack a squirrel all the way around the yard when the squirrel came too close to the nest.

It was a perfect fifteen minutes in a summer's day. Soon after my blissful moments of peace followed a round of fighting and arguments over a bucket of spilled golf balls, which apparently impeded play beyond all remedy. Moments of perfection are few, but I hold them in my memory against all comers. I have high hopes that the robin parents will triumph along with Rob and myself as we celebrate the crazy - rarely lazy - days of summer.