This is the picture of a 4 year old after biking in a state park for 3 hours, going to the beach for 2 1/2 hours, and swimming in a pond for an hour. Poor Tommy literally crawled into this chair yesterday afternoon and collapsed. It's amazing what this little boy does in a day, and what I take for granted.
With #1, and really, even #2 and #3, an hour or two at the park would be considered a 'big day out'. I bragged about teaching my toddlers to put away their clean laundry. Tommy could probably do the laundry if I asked him. When we are doing a family house clean, I think nothing of handing him a broom, and asking him to sweep off the porch, and know he will do a decent job of it too.
Our older kids weren't riding a 2 wheeler until they were 6 or 7 years old. Last year, our 4 year old got her Dad's wrench out of the toolbox herself and took her 3 year old brother's training wheels off, because "He's too big for these!" By that afternoon, he was riding it on his own. And now these two are riding on bike trails, following their older siblings for hours.
I love being in a place where they are all so independent. I love having no bottles, or strollers... being able to go places and do things without carrying anyone. But every once in a while, I remember how young they still are. And I am amazed by what they do.
The other day I asked Tommy if he wanted to run to the store. He looked at me very seriously with his big blue eyes, and said "but mom, I don't know how to drive."
Just getting back from the Inn, where my head was spinning with what I wanted to post. I know I won't re-create it here, but I will try my best.
A group of guys came in late night after being at the golf tournament at Nashawtuc all day. They were from the Dominican Republic. I sat watching them throw their money around and talk about the million dollar resort they had helped develop, and I was irrationally angry. To think that there are million dollar resorts just miles from where my son grew up, starving. That people lay around in luxury, and hit golf balls, when just next door mothers struggle to feed their children... it's just unfathomable to me. One of our favorite singers, Kasey Chambers has a song called "Ignorance", with the chorus, "If you're not pissed off at the world, then you're just not paying attention. I've never 'gotten' that song more than I did tonight. I was very pissed off watching and listening to these guys and thinking about my son's homeland. How can it be that in this day in age, right near the coast of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, there are resorts where the rich and slothful throw their money away? How can a mother be abandoning her child at an orphanage, only because she can't feed it, when only miles away, someone is laying on the beach sipping a Margarita? Yeah... I'm pissed off tonight.
I drove the kids home from the playground tonight, shooed everyone out of the car to go get ready for bed, and Tommy sat waiting for a little help getting unbuckled. I got him out, and stood there looking at his car seat for a few moments. I realized that it won't be long before he has grown out of it, and for the first time in a decade in a half, I will not have any carseats to buckle. At one point, we had 5 carseats at once... I am still pretty impressed with myself that I survived that time in my life and kept my sanity (well most of it anyways.)
But thinking about carseats made me think about the roles they have played in my life, and the way they map much of my history. It was a little more than 15 years ago that I bought my first vehicle independently. It was a big old Dodge pick up truck... not the extra cab type, just the single bench seat. Just enough room for me and Kaleigh's carseat. At the time, that is all I had room for in my life, emotionally. I loved the safety of that big solid truck. I loved the fact that it was just big enough for me and the carseat. Just me and Kaleigh, alone against the world. One of my best memories from those days is driving down to southern Virginia to visit my brother. Just kaleigh and I, with a bucket between me and the carseat, to hold snacks and toys. 15 hours in that truck, and we had a ball.
My next big car seat memory came about 5 years later. I still had the big old truck, but Kaleigh and I had found room in the truck, and room in our lives. Fitz and I had been married about 6 months by then, and I was due in the Spring. We had a little cottage by the Concord River, and just about everything we could need. One afternoon, I had a complete panic attack, realizing that we didn't have a carseat. No matter that the baby wasn't due for another 3 months... I needed a carseat! I went out that afternoon and bought one, and stood supervising, making sure Fitz installed it properly. And there it sat, for more than 3 months, as Margaret was a stubborn baby and refused to come out until well past her due date. But the carseat was there waiting for her when she did make her arrival.
Another year and another baby went by (yes, EJ was born almost exactly a year after Margaret) and Fitz and I began to talk about #4. It's funny to think back to those conversations, because it all came back to the carseat for me. Yes, we worried about money and space in the house, and having time for 4 young children. But the most pressing question on my mind was "Where will we fit another carseat?" That is when we acquried our first big van, and added a third carseat for baby Charlie a year later. And a fourth for baby Emma a year after that! The van filled up quickly!
Life with 5 young kids was hectic to say the least, so I was surprised when I started to feel those baby pangs again. At first I chalked it up to hormones, and tried to ignore it. But I couldn't help thinking someone was missing in our house. At the time, Fitz was working like crazy to support our ever-growing family, and I couldn't even imagine bringing these thoughts up with him. I thought it might put him right over the edge. Around this time, I realized Emma was growing out of her baby carrier carseat, and needed to be moved into the convertible. I carried the baby seat out to the shed, and asked Fitz to store it in there for me. He quickly replied to put it in the attic so it wouldn't get ruined. As I was trying to sort out the meaning of that, he yelled over his shoulder "Don't put it too far back!" And with that, I knew the sixth Fitzkid would be on the way. Not much more than 9 months later, we added that 5th carseat to the van.
With the addition of our seventh, I figured out a way around the carseat dilemma... get them when they are too big for carseats! Pipo's arrival brought many new thoughts about carseats, like "why do we need those?" and "what are seatbelts for?"I don't have that 'someone's missing' feeling anymore, and our van is feeling pretty full with the 9 of us, but the thought of no carseats someday made me a little sad tonight. The passing of an era I guess. Ah well, when I feel melancholy, I guess I can always remember back to the days of buckling and unbuckling 5 at once, and just be thankful.
I sit here typing on our private patio looking out over Provincetown Harbor. It's been two years since Fitz and I have been away from the kids overnight. My parents offered to watch them tonight so we could have a short escape... an afternoon away, nice dinner, sleeping in a bit. We'll head back after breakfast tomorrow.
So two years... two years with 7 kids. Our heads were racing with thoughts on the way down here. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Provincetown Inn, completely child free, one similar thought came into both of our heads immediately... NAP! Seriously, this parenting stuff, it's exhausting. I was talking with my aunt last night about this little getaway, and she was asking me if I knew of any events going on in Provincetown, or if we had any special plans. I just looked at her a bit dazed, and said "we need a nap." She burst out laughing and said "Oh honey, I SO understand that. My aunt Lolo raised 5 kids also very close in age, so she really does know where we are coming from.
And now, a little more energized from that rare uninterrupted sleep, I wait for Fitz to get out of the shower and wonder... what will we do.. there are so many possibilities. Ah to heck with it, I know what we will do. We will spend dinner talking about the kids, and then call, to check on them. Oh the joys of parenthood!
Summer vacation never truly starts until we have our first trip down the Cape. Every summer when I was growing up, as soon as school ended, my mom and my aunts would pack up all us kids and head down to Marshfield, to my grandmother's house. It was one of only two houses down a dead end dirt road in the middle of a big salt water farm. Beyond the cornfields were the marshes, and beyond the marshes was the river. At low tide, you could wade across the river to the beach. We played hide and seek in the corn fields, climbed the old oak tree out back, and floated on the river in inner tubes. I can't imagine a more perfect childhood summer.
As a parent, all I have wanted to do is try and re-create a bit of that for my own kids. I am hoping we have. My parents retired down the Cape about 8 years ago, and every summer since, we have spent as much time down here as possible. They spend their day wading through the surf at the beach, building sand castles, finding shells, and making homes for all the hermit crabs they catch. Even if we never make it to the beach, they are happy exploring the small bit of woods, or running down "blueberry path". All in all, every moment is spent just being a kid. And in the summertime... what more could you ask for?
Well, I remembered the post that was rattling around in my head. And it's amazing how a thought one day can have completely different meaning to you another day.
Recently, I was in a sandwich shop waiting to pick up some lunch. Another customer walked in, and I heard him say "Hello". I turned, smiling, and said 'hello' back, only to be met with a strange look. That's when I noticed the little techno gadget attached to his ear. Feeling dumb, I turned and waited silently while this guy stood looking like he was talking to himself. Being lunch hour, the place started to fill up. Soon there were at least 7 people standing there waiting for sandwiches, and the places was buzzing with voices. But as I looked around, I took note... with all those bodies in there, not one was talking to another physical being that I could see. One guy was on an actual hand-held phone, so at least he looked semi-normal, but the others all had those Bluetooth things strapped to their ears. It suddenly felt like something out of Star Trek. I was in a room full of people apparently talking to themselves.
After getting my lunch, I drove off thinking about the whole scene. Lately, it seems like there is nothing but technology surrounding me. I know it's a great thing (here I sit on a gorgeous morning typing away at my own computer), but when do we say enough is enough? We go to social events, and I see kids sitting with gameboys, or watching DVDs. My 4th grader tells me 'all' her friends have cell phones. Even down at the Inn, going to hear Fitz play, I see people sitting texting eachother.
Years ago, when Kaleigh was just a toddler, I sat in the before school meetings that are inevitable for a public school teacher. The new Superintendent in our system got up to make a speech. She started to tell a story that described a student of the future. All about a girl finishing her homework on her laptop while she ate her breakfast. Her mom broke in with an IM about what time she would be home from work and to "have a good day, honey." She checked her palm pilot to see her class schedule for the day... Basically, the girl went through the entire day interacting with technology and hardly any time interacting with other people. This Superintendent was holding this up as our 'amazing future' with a big smile and a "Isn't that wonderful?" I walked away horrified. Thankfully, Kaleigh was in a daycare that I had picked specifically for it's country setting and laid back ways, and when I left the meeting to go pick her up, she was filthy and playing with a baby goat out back. The world again was right.
Yesterday we drove out to Western MA for a family event (another post!) and on our way back we wound through the Berkshires on the old Mohawk Trail. The kids had been amazing all day, having sat through a 3 hour car ride going out, and then a 2 hour lunch with not a lot of room to run. So when Fitz saw a shallow riverbed through the woods, he pulled over. The kids scrambled out and ran in all different directions, so happy to be free. They started by rolling up pants and taking off shoes, but it wasn't long before E.J. was in completely up to his waist and soaked. Charlie, our one unselfconscious child, stripped to his underwear to join his brother. Pipo, still hesitant around water was slower to get in there, but the one we had to drag out when it was time to go. Tommy spent the whole time finding "Callapitters'!!!! and screaming for all his sisters to come look. When EJ lost a shoe and it started to float downstream quickly, even Kaleigh and I ended up getting soaked, jumping in to save it. Pure paradise.
I sat on a rock with Fitz looking over the whole scene and remembered my afternoon in the sandwich shop. It frightens me how much technology is taking over. I do know it can be great... heck it's a big part of our survival with Fitz's work. But I am so glad there are escapes. I am so glad there are still places untouched. I just need to remember they are there, remember to bring the kids there regularly. I think about our day yesterday, and I wouldn't mind throwing all the technology right out the window.
My brain is just a sieve lately. Fitz and I lay talking this morning, him putting off the inevitable end of the year meetings at his school, me putting off the day alone with 7 kids (and a couple extras!). During our conversation I had a brainstorm for a blog topic, and I can clearly remember thinking that I will put that in the back of my head, so I can write about it after Fitz leaves for school. Unfortunately there must be a big hole in the back of my head, because it's gone now.
It doesn't help that our marriage consists of two of the most scattered people ever. Both of or brains race from thought to though, with no clear segues. I often wonder what anyone listening in might think. They would probably roll on the floor laughing. Or maybe walk away shaking their head. It's no surprise that this marriage produced some children with nearly identical thought patterns. Riding in the car the other day these are the questions that Charlie threw my way, rapid fire, barely giving me time to answer... "How long until the Year of the Dragon? Is it true that a baby is born every 8 seconds?" "What's for dinner? "Do you have to be a certain height to get your license?"
So maybe it will come back to me. Maybe it's not lost for good. Maybe it will swirl around in my head today, and filter itself up to the top again so I can remember what I wanted to write. But chances are, if it does make it back, I will be in a place without a computer, I will put it in the back of my head, and it will get lost in the void once again.
Yesterday Fitz did an outdoor show at Gaining Ground. This is a very cool program near Thoureau's birthplace, 9 arces of gardens where organic produce is farmed by volunteers and then donated to area shelters and food pantries. We arrived early so Fitz could set up, and I walked through the gardens with the kids. Pipo asked what this place was, and I tried explaining it to him. "It's a special garden where people volunteer (what is volunteer? - it's when people work for free - HUH? People work for free???) And they give all the food they grow to poor people who have nothing to eat." Pipo was quiet for a minute, thinking abou that. Then he says to me "Why don't they just let the poor people have this land to farm?"
I had no answer from him. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The deforestation over the years has been astounding. The land has literally been raped. Only 2% of the mountain forests remain, and this deforestation aggravates flooding and soil erosion, leaving little arable land for subsistence farming. Five acres of good soil, planted in beautiful gardens is almost incomprehensible to my son. And the idea of the rich people driving up in their Lexus or Hummer, to 'volunteer' to pick food to give to poor people... how do I possibly explain this?
Gaining Ground is a great program. But is there a better way? I stood out at the bus stop this morning discussing this with a neighbor. We both looked around us. Our neighborhood, scattered with nice little houses with good sized yards, plenty of woods. It's all good land. But none of it is being used for sustenance. We have almost an acre here, a big back yard with a soccer field set up for the kids. I wonder if Pipo thinks about Haiti when he is out back. I wonder if he thinks about the fact that his grandmother would probably have given anything to have this much fertile land.
We like to cry poor here, raising our family of 9 on a teacher's salary. We live month to month, some months being tighter than others, wondering which bills to pay, and which will have to wait. And then I get this reminder of my own stupidity. I look around at the abundance of resources in my own backyard, and I think of people all over the world who don't even have a little patch to plant. I am so incredibly humbled right now.