Two of my best girlfriends and I take an annual Moms/Kids camping trip. We started this at a “close-ish” park in 2009 with a toddler and a few pre-schoolers. We stuck close in case shit hit the fan and we had to call home for emergency needs like running another set of matches out because these ones don’t work. You know, big things.
Of all the years we’ve been doing this now, there are a few stories that stand out more than all the others. Sure, there is the annual whip-cream shot after waffles in the morning. And yes, there’s usually a craft and some roasting of things. There’s some bike riding (and bike smashing that one year I backed up over my daughter’s bike) and scootering. Kids learned how to bike while another learned to walk. But of all these stories the few we pass down each year go something like this:
“The Year of Raccoons”
The year we all slept in tents was an epic achievement. It was the first trip and I was daring this adventure with a newly turned two year old toddler. As would become the “norm”, Michelle and Laura arrived first and had their shit together. I, probably after a wrong turn, arrived late and sweating.
You giggle as I kiss your cheeks. I hold your hands as you turn your face left to right, giving me full access to the large, luscious cheeks, round and red. You laugh as you spit and shove off my kisses. I pretend to look sad and then hold your arms and start the process over. You are giggling as you pretend to stop me. I win at the kisses, landing on your cheeks as you laugh. You tell me I’ll never give you another kiss again. I chuckle. “Do you remember the Love You Forever book?” I ask. You shake your head no. “The mom comes for all of her son’s life to give him love until she can’t anymore and one day, he sings the song, ‘I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, My Mommy you’ll be.’” Your eyes are wide and you ask, “Why would you tell me that before bed? Now I’ll have bad dreams!” “No, Love, you won’t,” I reply grabbing your hands again from any defense of my kissing, “Because we have so many years before you have to worry about that. The point is, you can’t stop a mom from kissing her children.” I lunge for the final kiss assault and you squeal with laughter and turn your face. I plant five kisses on your cheek, nose, and forehead. You are still laughing when I promise to stop. “It’s bed time,” I say sternly. “Time for sleeping.” You look up at me with your brown eyes glowing in the light and whisper, barely audible, “I love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, My mommy you’ll be.”
I leave your room smiling with tears in my eyes as I go to see your sister, sitting in her bed reading Harry Potter, and plan my kissing attack. My life is an amazing wonderland. I shall never forget this.
You know that part of your gut that tells you wise decisions in which you promptly ignore? It’s also the same part of your gut that knows you’re holding on to some trauma that your brain hasn’t processed.
You should probably start listening to that part of your gut unless you want to lose-your-shit at a Laser Tag Team Building Exercise.
I’m not a gun person. I’m so not a gun person that the one time I shot a real gun at a range with my parents, I promptly set the thing down, walked in to the bathroom, and hyperventilated until the automatic lights turned off with me sitting in the stall.
Rule #1 to losing your shit: Deny your emotional response to tragedy.
I don’t think I’ve always had this phobia of guns. Up until a few years ago I might have been somewhat ambivalent about them. But now, well, things have changed in the world, my world, our world, and I am no longer uncertain about my thoughts on guns.
It wasn’t what they were expecting. I called it the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie talk. I baked in a discussion about gender equality within the title “Creative Development.” I think someone in the second row rolled their eyes.
It was probably the 8th or 9th time I’ve been on stage. It’s always so hard to begin the speech you’ve been feverishly obsessing over. The last nine months, since Low asked if I’d speak, were filled of notebooks and research and outlines and more outlines. I was a proper freak stopping a TED talk or an audiobook to jot down a point I wanted to expand on or integrate in my talk. I spent more than a few meetings scribbling notes to myself in Evernote, only partially related to the meeting topic but relevant to a future conversation I would have with myself first, and an audience second.
After a few hiccups and akward moments, it began to flow. Stats, Stories, Ideas. Youtube excerpts. Comics. Scientists. I knew all the content, I just wanted to nail the delivery.
Perhaps I didn’t “nail” it, exactly. It felt more like a piece of art hung on the wall with a sticky hook, but it was well received. I was so wrapped up in my own nerves that it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth man that approached me for advice when I realized something shifted: They were asking about their girlfriends, wives, daughters, employees. They wanted to support their female companions, they just didn’t know how.
Tonight you blew our minds with your ability to spell an entire birthday card for your teacher and read your Dinosaur book without needing much help. You practically outdid most of my previous freshman college students with your math test and ability to speak adverbs properly. So yea, we’re sort of expecting great things from you.
We chose a book called “The Human Body” to read tonight. To be honest, you couldn’t decide between that, the airplane book and another dinosaur book but Mama can’t take another book about the big ass lizards, and was way too tired to feign interest over airplanes, so Human Body it was!
We flipped through some of the pages and landed on the pregnancy page. You started asking questions about the babies in the pictures. While I read you absorbed everything and formed ideas.
“At five weeks a fetus is the size of a bean, and heart, lungs, and organs are developing. The baby gets its nutrients from the mother through the umbilical chord.”
In an inadequate attempt to capture the spirit of a few hundred geeky women sharing advice, knowledge, code snippets, work ideas, and life discussions, I can summarize as best as I can.
In a word: Support.
In two words: Comforting Validation.
In Three Words: We Laughed Together.
In Four Words: I made new Friends.
My mom always made a big deal over our birthdays. She would make a homemade cake and in very-detailed, time-consuming, 80’s perfectionist manner, decorate our cakes in secret under a banner of birthday wishes and streamer-lined dining room lights.
It was difficult for me to understand her when she told us all she wanted for her birthday was a cake. “A fancy cake?” we used to ask. “No, just a cake. That’s all I need.”
It wasn’t until last year that I believed her. Last year I sat at my brand new job, day two, in a corner struggling through onboarding. I didn’t realize how lonely it was to have nobody know it was your birthday. I realized, I don’t need a cake, or a party, or presents, or a big todo, but the value and warmth of someone saying, “Happy Birthday,” is highly under appreciated. I know people leave kind things on Facebook, but call me old fashioned, Facebook doesn’t seem as sincere as a person using their actual mouth to say, “Happy Birthday” with their eyes and a warm smile.
I’m clearly getting old. Authenticity is a hallmark for all that I value now. Well, authenticity and a clean laundry room. Before this I had a different take on aging.
I’m used to being yelled at. “Point! Point your toes!”
“You’re overextended, bring it back, good, good, POP! MORE! Nice!”
These are words I heard coming from the side of four apparatuses growing up. I can still, to this day, call muscle memory from years and hours in the gym. I can answer, almost turrets like, questions about gymnastics.
“What is the olympic order of events from 1- 4?”
“VAULT! BARS! BEAM! FLOOR!”
“Who was the silver medal winner in 1985”
If a 7 year old could have a steady, I’m speaking with her now. She’s been his “girl” for two years now, this little pixy of amazing energy and a bundle of wonderful for my son and myself. Her mom is a wondrous human, her friends have amazing parents and equally wondrous qualities and there’s absolutely nothing I could say that would not come across as me manipulating him to end up with a girl like this as a wife.
Remember, he is seven.
I’m so getting way WAY ahead of myself.
I’m not sure if you can foster children to marry a kind of girl like this or if he’s going to rebel against this very notion but when I met them on the playground today and I asked what they liked to do at recess, she beamed, “I like to run and jump over things!”
I glanced at my son and he shrugged. “Ok,” I offered, “Let’s run and jump over things!”