Monday, August 24, 2015

He Lost His Shoes . . . His Shoes

So the ever-faithful Kris asked about Sleeping Bear Dunes, another must-see site in Northern Michigan.

Yes, we visited Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Now, Sleeping Bear Dunes are sand dunes in the sense that Lake Superior is a lake. Sleeping Bear is more like a sand mountain or, more accurately still, a mountain range. I had visited the Dunes about thirty years ago with my Girl Scout troop. My memory goes something like this: We canoed the Platte River, dashed into Lake Michigan, sprinted out of Lake Michigan nearly leaving frozen toes behind, and then ran up and down Sleeping Bear Dunes.  We rolled around, threw some sand, snapped some pics. Awesome and amazing and fairly uneventful.

Fast forward thirty years.

We arrived at the Dunes and noticed the warning signs: Bring Water! Wear Sunscreen! Don't lose Your Children.

And I'm all water, yeah, sun screen, yeah . . . don't lose your children? Don't lose your children?
How, exactly, does one manage to lose one's offspring in a sand dune?

I suppose I can dispense with the over-used spoiler alert because we already know where this is going, don't we?


And how ridiculous is it that I, of all people, should wonder how family members get separated as it seems to happen to us all the blinking time?

Scenario #1: We're biking to the bakery on Pelee Island. Inevitably, invariably, we spread out and then completely separate. An hour later we're perusing the wheat fields of Pelee in search of a missing child. We're on an island, for the love of Pete. How do you get lost on an Island? How do you get lost on a route as flat as Kansas, on a trip that requires two turns and a gentle glide left at the North Dock, a trip we've taken hundreds of times?  I ponder these questions and then quickly cut to a recent travel commercial wherein a wearied father exits a plane, stares into a camera, and says, "He lost his shoes . . . his shoes."

Scenario #2: We're tubing a river so shallow the only risk is a bruised tailbone. Ainsley and John are in life jackets and tethered to me and Tim respectively. For reasons wholly unclear to me, Tim untethers John.

Cue ominous music.

We paddle over to the edge of the river to play on a water slide. John keeps floating. I run after him. He turns a corner. I yell to Dave to go after him. Forty-five minutes later -- forty-five minutes later, a.k.a. e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y -- we are reunited. Meanwhile I have envisioned a) John cascading over a class five rapids  b) John being abducted  c) Add your own gruesome scenario.

In the middle of the forty-five minute wait, Ainsley had the ickiest bloody nose ever, and the water slide attendants couldn't understand why I wasn't the least bit upset, but, hello!, John in a class five rapids! John kidnapped by a roving band of circus performers! And that trumps Ainsley with a bloody nose any day of the week.

Scenario #3 - We're on a family hike, but no two people in our family move at the same pace so it's never a family anything. Two nameless someones race ahead of the stragglers, and I begin to wonder if the trail ends at the bottom of the waterfall (that would be okay) or the top (that could spell disaster). With colorful visions of twisted bones and daring helicopter rescues and John in a coma, I go flying up the path wondering yet again why we didn't make an agreement to stick together and why does this happen every time we exit the front door and maybe we need to give up this illusion of being outdoorsy and take up bowling or Sudoku or Bridge, and by the time I reach the pathfinders, I am in quite a state.

He lost his shoes . . . his shoes.

So, yeah, we have some history as to lost children and yet still I read the sign and thought How does one lose one's children in a sand dune?

Up the sand dunes we trudged. I keep meaning to write to the fine folks at Sleeping Bear Dunes to say they should add one suggestion to their list of warnings: Wear close-toed shoes. I had on sturdy hiking sandals. Great for traction; no protection against the sand that was blistering hot.

It was all bigger and steeper and more strenuous than I remembered, but then not much seemed strenuous when I was twelve. We plodded along over the first ridge and were surprised that Lake Michigan didn't stretch out before us. We moved on to the second ridge. At that point we chatted with some other hikers who informed us we were about a tenth of the way to the lake. It truly is more of a range than a mountain. Ainsley was done in, and I, being a generous, self-sacrificing mother, offered to take her back down while Dave caught up with Kolbe who was still within eyesight and then went after Lewis and Clark who, I believe, were headed for the Pacific Ocean.

Down I went with Ainsley. And by that time the burning hot sand was scorching. I'd hike about ten feet and then flop on my rear end to get the sand off my feet.

Dignified, truly dignified.

Ainsley and I found shade and water and waited with the camera to capture the crew as they crested the dunes. And we waited. And waited. And waited.

Kolbe in a red shirt somewhere on this hill that looks much larger in real life.

An hour later an exhausted Kolbe appeared.

Dad, he told me, hadn't quite located Lewis and Clark, and it was really hot, and maybe we should get help, and he was worried, and we really should get help, and I am fairly certain my tendency to Worst Case Scenario every predicament has successfully been passed down to the next generation.


I put on closed toe shoes, loaded up a backpack full of water, and trudged up the hill yet again.

Before I left, I peppered Kolbe with instructions: Take the cell phone. Here are the car keys. Keep a close eye on Ainsley. Don't go near the van if you don't have to. Don't let anyone see that you have car keys and no mother or father with you. Stay in the shade. Don't text and drive. Wear clean underwear. Don't talk to strangers.

Already chiding myself for not preventing this debacle, I decided to cover my bases.

If the mountain seemed steep the first go around, it was all the more challenging this time. I made the first summit and rested and re-hydrated. I started a rosary and plodded to the next ridge where a tiny copse of trees sheltered a sweating mass of humanity including, I was so happy to see, Dave and John. They were overjoyed to see me or, more to the point, my backpack full of water. Tim eventually found us. All was well. A little sunburn offset by a welcome swim in Lake Michigan.

"Well," Ainsley said to me, "at least we're not dead."

A good point, that.

I highly recommend Sleeping Bear Dunes. Bring water. Wear sunscreen and closed toe shoes. Don't lose your kids.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2,350 Miles

You see those mileage stickers everywhere -- 5K, 13.1, and the coveted 26.2. I want a sticker that reads 2,350. That's the number of miles we clocked on the ever faithful Grand Caravan between July 2nd and August 1st.

I want a sticker. And a tranquilizer. Maybe throw in a medal? Or maybe the kids should get a medal. At least some of them earned one, I'm pretty sure.

Now we're home at last, home at last, thank God, we're home at last, but those lazy, languid days of August when we sit around and read and lounge at the pool? They have yet to turn up. While we've had pockets of rest and relaxation, we've also had lots of doctor's appointments, household projects, and various and sundry other commitments that have kept me on my feet literally and figuratively.

We had a good trip.

Over the years I've learned to look at the term"good trip" in a different light than I did before I traveled with four kids and seventy-something bags. We made lots of good memories. Like the pockets of rest and relaxation, we had pockets of fun.

Tim, my boy, is about to begin his senior year. I don't know about other mothers, but I've found myself compiling a Bucket List for Tim, a list of things I hope we do before he leaves the nest. One of those Bucket List items was to tour around Northern Michigan and visit some of the spots I visited as a young child. Tim attended a music camp near Lake Michigan. While this is on the western side of the state, picking him up and heading on a tour seemed like a great start to a family adventure.

And an adventure it turned out to be.

We'll start with the high points.

Mackinac Island.

Visiting Mackinac Island was at the top of my Bucket List. Have you seen Somewhere in Time? Christopher Reeves and time travel, romantic and whimsical, if a bit cheesy. It was filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Note that Christopher Reeves zooms into the hotel driveway in a snazzy sports car. This is a sight you'll never see on Mackinac where transportation is limited to walking, biking, and horse-drawn carriages.

I visited Mackinac Island when I was about Ainsley's age. It was memorable, it was magical, and it didn't disappoint this go around either.

Now it was crowded, and it was pricey. But beautiful. So beautiful.

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

The kids loved the carriage tour. Well, John complained about the smell. When the tour ended, I handed the guide ten dollars and thanked him for a memorable ride. As I walked away, I spotted Kolbe handing him another dollar. "Your mom already took care of me, dude," the driver said. And then John handed him twenty-seven cents and got a "thanks, dude" for his widow's mite.

Twenty-seven cents. Cutest gesture ever.

I have more shots, but Blogger's acting up and won't handle my pictures or switch from centered to left-justified.

I have no fight in me this morning.

If you're ever in the vicinity, don't overlook Mackinac Island. Truly it looks more like Bermuda or Hawaii than the Midwest, and it's probably cooler than either of those spots.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Tattoo on Your Face

To my friends up to their eyeballs in young uns, I offer a post from a few years back. And I'll add two irrefutable statements, both of which you already

1. It does indeed get easier.

2. You'll miss these days more than you can comprehend.

Over the past eighteen months or so, a number of alarming headlines have bounced around the blogosphere linking children and unhappiness. Childless couples report more contentment, these articles seem to conclude.

I’ve read a few and, frankly, I’m a bit skeptical. I wonder what exact questions were posed. I wonder where in the parenting spectrum these parents were exactly. I wonder if the writers queried empty-nesters or parents in the big, thick middle of it. I wonder what had transpired in the fifteen minutes prior to the interview.

I didn’t care for the popular book, Eat, Love, Pray. Short on commitment and long on navel-gazing, I found it to be one long essay on selfishness. The author did, however, offer a memorable and fitting metaphor for parenthood: Having a baby, she says, is like getting a tattoo on your face.

I’ve written before that parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No question about it. But what worthwhile endeavors don’t require hardship, perseverance, even suffering?

Medical school, law school, business school? Hard, hard, hard. Planning a wedding, remodeling a house? Hard and hard. Running a marathon, opening a business? Hard and harder. Finishing a PhD, writing a book? Both hard.

Is it surprising, then,  that raising an eternal soul to adulthood is trying at times? Does a mother admitting her struggles means she wishes she’d done things differently, that she would reverse course if she could?

 I think not.

While we were dealing with the emotional and physical upheaval of sub-fertility, I found myself growing distant and angry with God. I sat in a confessional with a very young priest and poured out my soul. After going through all my anguish over our repeat miscarriages, I went on to confess my perpetual sin -- the struggles I have with my kids. At this point, I began to lose Father.

“You’re upset about your miscarriages,” he began.


“But you’re frustrated with the children you have,” he continued.


“But you wanted to be pregnant …?” he went on, brows knit, clearly puzzled.


Confusion began to morph into bewilderment. As I said, this was a very young priest. Fresh faced, he even had braces on his teeth. If it wouldn’t have been horribly patronizing, I would have patted him on the back and said, “Trust me, Father. You’re going to hear a lot of this.”

Mothers, of course, totally get this. Completely frustrated with you children? Check. Desperately hoping for another one? Check. No contradiction whatsoever. Friends of mine have laughed out loud when I’ve shared this little exchange with the priest. No mystery there.

So when I read that parents report unhappiness, I wonder if that is the whole picture.

We have had an exhausting year, a year that’s left me convinced I need to lighten the load so that next year isn’t déjà vu all over again. I’ll have to jettison activities I value. I don’t, however, plan to jettison the children. I don’t even plan to jettison the idea of another child.

Parenting demands heroic fortitude. Yesterday – on Mothers’ Day, no less! – a nameless member of my family decided to irritate his brother by yelling, “You’re mustard! “You’re mustard!” over and over and over again.

I mean, where do they get their material?

For my part, on a day that I’m supposed to be celebrating motherhood, I found myself saying, “Stop saying bad words!”

Yes, mustard is now a bad word. This, sadly, is the comical state to which we are sometimes reduced – censuring our children for calling each other the names of condiments.

Yesterday John – who may or may not be the very same child calling his brother mustard – shot a rocket into his cheek and then spray painted his forehead forest green. All this in the span of thirty minutes. While I was home. And supposedly supervising him.

While dealing with John’s mishaps, I was also simultaneously supervising the construction of a diorama (hence the spray paint) and helping a neighbor’s child with a research paper. In the midst of it all, I spotted Ainsley dashing down the hall carrying the keyboard. Finishing a research paper without a keyboard? That would make the hard list as well.

Only God could have anticipated these mind-numbing antics. Only God could have sweetened the whole deal with joys innumerable, joys as unexpected as spray paint on a toddler, joys more profound than any I’ve taken away from other human endeavors.

Jennifer Fulwiller writes that "Life doesn't have to be easy to be joyful." So true, so very true.

I just finished the morning shuffle. I close the van door and carry baby Ainsley into the house nuzzling her cheek and hugging her cuddly self clad in a flannel blanket sleeper that makes her even more irresistible than usual. I hear John's sweet laughter as he sits engrossed in The Brave Little Toaster.

These children of mine have, indeed, tattooed my face and my heart and my memory.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sacagawea Meets the Third Reich

If you should find your seven-year-old son's long lost Sacagawea coin, he might launch into a whole slew of questions about who she was and why she wound up on a dollar coin.

Being a former history teacher, you'll launch into a long-winded discourse on Lewis and Clark, President Jefferson, the geography of the Mississippi River, Mark Twain, Manifest Destiny, and They Might Be Giants' rendition of James K. Polk.

The boy who clearly has not watched Night at the Museum often enough.
When a discussion of western expansion makes the seven-year-old's eyes glass over, you'll back up and talk about the thirteen original colonies and the American Revolution.

When you mention the Pilgrims and the Puritans, he'll manifest vague but hopeful signs of recognition, and this will prompt you to ask whom we fought in the Revolutionary War.

He'll scratch his chin and furrow his brow and then offer "Hitler?" in
a quizzical voice.

You'll be forced to bang your head on the nearest flat surface.


Saturday, June 27, 2015


What would summer blogging be without a few posts detailing the agony, the ecstasy that is swim team?

So here we go . . .

I was reflecting the other day on how so many adjectives are overused. Awesome no longer means awesome because pizza, rather than the Grand Canyon, is awesome. Amazing falls a little flat when we talk about a deal on a pair of shoes rather than a baby's first smile. Epic, in adjective form, is a word I picked up from Tim. We have epic road trips and epic term papers and, oh, so many, many things that apparently rival the Peloponnesian War or the Battle of the Bulge, and, thus, they are

Hyperbole aside, these swim meets -- oh, these swim meets -- epic, I say, epic.

In truth, the season didn't start out this way. Meet One was forty-five minutes away, but the drive was pleasant, the weather cooperative. The only snafu occurred when I lined up my tiny, tiny girls for their relay . . . and realized that two swimmers in lane five on my end of the pool would never meet up with the other half of the relay waiting in lane 1. That problem solved, the rest of the meet went, well, swimmingly. We were roughly 75% done when my friend -- a swim team rookie -- started commenting on how long it all was running, how her husband had expected her home around nine. I think it was nine o'clock that caught my attention. I realized then that somewhere along the way, I had morphed into a grizzled veteran of swim meets. Nine o'clock end time? Not anywhere on my radar. Not even close. I patted my friend and murmured a few encouraging words.

Then I got completely lost on the way home and the forty-five minute drive turned into ninety minutes. And my phone ran out of juice. And by the time I got home, the not so very epic swim meet was approaching epic status and fast.

The next meet proved fortuitous for my friend, the swim team rookie. We reached the mystical halfway point (the point at which the meet can be cancelled and doesn't need to be rescheduled) and the sky opened up. Thankfully Dave was a tad more observant than I. Start rounding up the gear, he suggested, pointing to an ominous sky. Good move, honey. There's nothing like scrounging for a lost flip flop and a wayward pair of goggles in the middle of a gully-washer.

Meet Three was very nearly my Waterloo. I never got the official temp -- in the range of 100 to 102. I started prepping for the meet at noon because I had agreed to bring coolers of water for the timers. I left for the meet at 4:00. It started at 6:00! I am the shepherd for the little girls, ages five and six. Around 5:00 they started asking, "When do we line up?"

Bless their sweaty little hearts.

I told them, "Not for a long time, girls!"

As meets go, this was a short one, meaning we finished about 9:30. We were all keyed up because John was extremely keyed up because he was swimming his first individual medley, one pool length of each stroke and a big deal when you're seven.

After the meet the coaches announced that the pool was open for free swim. This was not news parents who had been poolside for six hours wanted to hear. No, no, no. I think the parents, one and all, were ready to mutiny. Kolbe and John gleefully jumped into the pool they had just exited and would enter once again at practice which would take place in a mere eleven and a half hours. Ainsley, meanwhile, burst into great, gusty sobs because she didn't have a bathing suit.

God looked on me with great favor and sent a bolt of lightening in the midst of glee and anguish. Pool closed. Parents' mutiny cancelled.

And then there was last night.

We arrived and started getting settled into our corner of the lawn. And then the sky began to darken. The fact that I had washed, dried, and flat-ironed my hair should have been my first clue that a veritable cyclone was in the forecast. Eyeing the clouds, I started repacking what I had just unloaded. And the sky opened up yet again. Ainsley and I fled to the pavilion where we still got positively soaked, so hard was the combination of wind and rain.

Thirty minutes later we started the meet in temps 20 degrees cooler than the previous week.

Worth every last sodden towel I had to haul home!

All would have been well save for John who was not feeling great. He had nailed his first individual medley the previous week, but limped through his second, touched the wall with one hand instead of two, and found himself disqualified.

We finished about 10:15 and then, oh joy, open swim! Dave was a sporting Dad and offered to stay while the boys took a dip. We crashed about midnight and were back at the pool at 9:00.

"Weren't we just here," I asked a few bleary-eyed moms as I trudged up the hill, coffee in hand.

I had noticed John's energy flagging as the weeks have gone on. I asked my friend Rachel about perhaps, just maybe, hinting that we might hold practice a little later the morning after the meets. But the thing of it is, all these young coaches are year-round swimmers. If there's something I've learned in three years of swim team it's this: Summer league is small potatoes. Real swimmers do year-round swimming. And they do it early. Early as in 6:00 a.m. and, as I understand it, this happens six days a week. Most of the older swimmers on our team arrive for our 9:00 a.m. practices having already spent several hours at the nearby aquatics center.

I'm guessing they have precious little sympathy for pathetic summer league swimmers and their wimpy mothers who are a tad worn out.

I kept my mouth shut.

The coaches coax swimmers to morning after practices by offering ribbons, donuts, and water polo. I asked John if he wanted to sleep in, and he said thanks but no thanks.

Division Meet Sunday, All Stars on Monday, and then we're done. And despite all the drama -- the weather, the nerves, the DQ, the ribbons or lack thereof -- I love this sport.

And just look at the picture of my girl Ainsley. Cautious is her middle name, athletically inclined she is not. After prodding and bribing and coaxing and encouraging and offering half the Anna and Elsa loot available in this hemisphere, she said "I'm jumping off the block and swimming."

And she did (with a little help from the rope).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Seven Quick Takes

1.      To everyone who prayed for a simple resolution to my parents' house: The reluctant seller moved out without further legal action, left the house in good repair, and paid for the extra days she had stayed.

Amazing and wonderful and I thank you.

2.      So John informs me that whitey tighties are sooo out and boxers are in. It's all over, folks. Just hand him the car keys and the shaving cream. Before I could pull out the Kleenex and enter full mourning, John came to me and asked that I not ditch all the Batman underwear. Clearly he's not a total slave to fashion and perhaps not quite ready to look for an apartment.

3.      As my Facebook friends know, Ainsley has been hard at work mass-producing fake potholders. I mentioned to Grandma that Ainsley has some fine motor work to do this summer. Grandma mentioned that back in the day, she used to weave potholder after potholder after potholder. As I zipped though Walmart the other day, I spied a potholder kit for five bucks. Sold! Turns out Ainsley is just as enthusiastic as Grandma.

Warning on box: Not intended for use as actual potholders.

4.      Potholders are about the extent of our productive endeavors thus far. Weeks ago I compiled a lengthy list of summer suggestions and strategies gleaned from a meeting of experienced moms. Fun activities, spiritual activities, ideas for personal fitness and personal growth -- it was detailed, it was inspiring.

Then, of course, life intervened, and we were well into summer and virtually nothing on that list was happening around my house and one day I realized I hadn't even set eyes on the kids' summer homework packets.

I always tell my kids the best way to find something is to clean. I'm fairly sure they think this is nothing but a nefarious plot to coax a little industry out of them. But it's a trick that invariably works for me. I cleaned and purged and lo and behold uncovered packets 'o summer work. The kids are thrilled.

I suggested a few books to Kolbe. He offered to read Call of Duty Black Op: Book of Cheats.

So that's about where we are with that.

5.     Tim is gone for a few weeks, and John has practically donned sackcloth and ashes to mark the absence of his favorite brother. I am without my coffee buddy and my go-to technical consultant.

Faithful readers are aware that I recently made the great plunge from Dumb Phone to Smart Phone. Among my many concerns was the fact that everyone I know seems to go over their data usage . Consequently they get smacked with annoying overage charges. Just before his departure, I consulted Techno Man and asked him to check my data usage.

"Mom, you've used one seven-hundreth of your monthly allotment," Tim gravely informed me. "Glad you've embraced the Brave New World of technology."

He's a smart alec, my boy, but I have to admire a seventeen-year-old who can allude to Aldous Huxley while gently insulting his mother.

6.     Kolbe, meanwhile, is thrilled to find a few lawn jobs coming his way. For better or for worse, he's all about money and lots of it. With this hundred degree weather, he's earning his pay. Forty bucks in two days. He's doing the happy dance.

7.     If the potholder enthusiasm should wan, I found a package of vintage jacks on Amazon. Looking forward to a trip down memory lane this afternoon with my girl.

How fun is this?

Fairly sure Seven Quick Takes closed a few days ago, but head over to Kelly's site and be inspired anyway.