Random Photos: Going Home Again . . . A Vacation Remembered

My husband and I didn’t take too many summer vacations at my parents’ home when our kids were growing up. We saved our visits for every third Christmas. In addition, my parents visited us once or twice a year in Kansas City, and we sent our kids out to Washington State without us as soon as the airlines would let them fly by themselves.

But I recently pulled out a random envelope of snapshots my father had taken of one summer vacation we did take in Washington State at my parents’ house.

Kids swimming, one with water wings, and the other with attitude

I can’t recall exactly which summer it was. The pictures were taken at the large house my parents had in the Meadow Springs development of Richland, Washington. They owned this home between the summer of 1986 and about 1991. I know this wasn’t our first visit there—we’d visited them at this house over Christmas 1986. My daughter looks to be about three or four in the pictures, with my son about six or seven, so I’m guessing it was the summer of 1988 or 1989, but it could have been 1990.

Nanny Winnie supervising my daughter

The house had a swimming pool, which our kids loved. My daughter couldn’t swim yet, so had to wear water wings. My son could swim, and most likely lorded his wing-less state over his little sister. My mother’s mother, Nanny Winnie, visited that week also, and she loved to swim. She was always happy to supervise afternoons at the pool.

Mitzi doesn’t know whether to bark at my son or the pool skimmer

My parents had a Schnauzer named Mitzi. Mitzi wanted to be a part of the pool parties, particularly when the pool skimmer was operating. The dog could swim, but she couldn’t get herself out of the pool. Later, my younger brother taught Mitzi to paddle to the stairs so she could climb out, but at the time of our visit, she had not yet learned this escape route. One time during our visit that week, I had to dive in after her and pull her to safety. She didn’t seem too grateful, and scrabbled and scratched to get out of my helpful arms.

Husband and son canoeing on the Wenatchee River

On the weekend we were there, when my father wasn’t working, my husband, son, father and I went canoeing on the Wenatchee River. We drove through the lovely mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, rented canoes from an outfitter, and put in on the river somewhere near Lake Wenatchee. Then we floated downstream through the alpine Wenatchee National Forest for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar, then took out where the outfitter had designated and awaited our pick up.

Lunch on the gravel bar

We had two canoes—my husband and son paddled one, and my father and I had the other. This was the first canoe trip I’d been on where I wasn’t in the same boat as my husband. I was used to relying on his skills to get us through any whitewater, but we decided our son needed a strong paddler more than I did. Our son was young enough that his paddling was more for show than power. (As was mine, though I at least had an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing.)

Me with wet shoes, and son

My father was definitely not as competent at paddling as my husband. Still, he and I didn’t have much difficulty until we reached the take-out point. There, even with both Dad and me paddling as hard as we could, we almost didn’t reach shore. I finally had to step out of the boat to pull us out of the current just as we passed the gravel river access road where we were supposed to meet our ride. Dad may have gotten wet also—there is photographic evidence of my wet shoes, but he was taking the pictures, so there’s nothing to verify his actions.

I was happy to find these pictures and to remember that summer vacation back in my birthplace—Washington State, and Richland in particular. In recent years, I’ve only been to Richland for my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2015. There’s no one left to bury in Richland, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever go home again.

What do you remember of visits to your hometown?

Working Across Time and Across Generations

My husband and I recently were fortunate to have visits from our two adult children. Our son came for a few days at the end of April, and our daughter was here over Mother’s Day.

My parents and me on one of my solo visits

I remember my mother telling me one time how nice it was to have her children visit by themselves, without their siblings and without their spouses and children. She said she enjoyed being able to talk with each child by himself or herself. And now that my children are grown, I have the same feeling. It is nice to have a crowd around sometimes—over the holidays, in particular—but the one-on-one time is also special.

On these recent visits, it occurred to me how different my life is now than my children’s. And how different their lives are than my life was when I was their age (in my thirties). Each of them spent most of the weekdays they were here on their laptops working. My daughter has billable hour requirements she has to meet, and my son wanted to minimize the vacation days he had to take. Even when they are in their home cities, my children spend some days working from their homes (my son regularly, and my daughter occasionally), so their time in my house probably didn’t seem unusual to them.

In my thirties, I, too, was focused on my career, even though I had kids at that age and they do not. But it was easier in the 1980s and ’90s to separate work and family time. When I was at work, I worked. I didn’t have social media accounts to check, and I had almost no personal email in those days. When I was at home, I dealt with family and household issues. My thoughts might have sometimes been on what I needed to do at the office, but I didn’t have Internet connections and 24/7 smartphone access tethering me to the job. On vacations, I only checked voice mail occasionally.

I could get away from work, at least for a few days. My children do not have that luxury. They have separate work and home laptops, but they have access to everything everywhere.

And my time now? I no longer work solidly from 8:00am to 6:00pm on weekdays, plus several hours on the weekends. My time is flexible, and that flexibility is the primary reason I retired. But I still consider myself to be working. I work as a writer and blogger. I serve on committees for charitable organizations. I take on occasional paid mediation cases. But for the most part, my time is my own to schedule. When I am too busy, I have only myself to blame.

Moreover, I set annual objectives for myself—how much I will write, what marketing I will do, and what volunteer commitments I will make. I also set objectives for family activities. I mark my progress toward all my objectives twice a month, with a formal review about quarterly.

For example, I try to work on writing about 30 hours a week. But that time seems to dissipate in meetings and webinars and blog posts, instead of getting applied toward my novel. In the past two months, I added about 35,000 words to the novel. Not bad, but I wanted to be finished with this first draft by now, and I still have about 10,000 words to go. I will not meet my objective on my novel this quarter.

The result of all this monitoring is that I’m getting far more performance management than I ever got while employed. Even if now I’m managing myself.

I wrote in a recent journal entry, “Retirement life is harder than I thought.” I have to work to retain the flexibility I want while still feeling that I am productive and growing. “How do I find a sense of balance?” I wrote to myself. “Is it elusive in every life and at every stage of life?”

I suppose the answer to each part of this question is yes.

Still, I am glad I do not have a full-time job anymore. Flexibility in work—as in all things—is a benefit. Whether balance comes with it or not.

How has your life changed over the years?

 

A Mother’s Speech to Her Son, With Compliments to Kipling

I mentioned in a post in March that I was looking for the speech I gave at my son’s Eagle Scout ceremony.  I’d found pictures of him at that event, but I didn’t know where the speech was.

In another monumental cleaning project a couple of weeks ago, I found the speech! He was sixteen at the time and is now more than twice that age. Re-reading the speech took me back to a turbulent time in our lives. I thought of trying to summarize the speech in this post, but I worked so hard on it at the time, that I think I will just reproduce it here:

I’m in a difficult position tonight—J____ asked me to make this speech personal, but not to embarrass him. That’s a fine line that I’m not sure a mother can walk. But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to give J____ some advice in the presence of so many witnesses. I have a lot to tell J____  because in this short month of February 1998, J has reached many milestones—he turned 16 . . . he got his driver’s license . . . he was confirmed in our church last weekend . . . and he has now received his Eagle award.

As I reflected on the place of Scouting in J____’s growth, I boiled down my advice to J____ into three themes—pride, prudence, and perseverance.

First, on pride. Many people are proud of you this evening, J____—your father and I, your grandparents, your Scout leaders, and many other friends and family members. Even your sister is probably proud of you tonight. But, as you recognized in the personal statement you wrote for the program, what is most important is whether you are proud of yourself.

When I speak of pride, I mean your own confidence that you have done a job well—and done the job through your own hard work. Your Scouting road has taken ten years from the time you started as a Tiger Cub, and you have achieved a lot during that time. Most of your achievements have been your own doing, and you are justified in taking pride in a job well done.

But along with pride should come a sense of humility. No matter how much energy you invest in yourself, other people invest in you as well. I look around this room at your family and friends and your Scouting leaders, and I am thankful for all they have contributed to your success. You would not be here without them, and they deserve your appreciation, along with mine. I was pleased that you recognized their contributions in your personal statement, and I hope that as you succeed in the future, you always remember to thank those who have helped you along the way. Pride, tempered with humility, will serve you well in life.

My second theme is prudence—by which I mean thinking through the problem before you start, and planning for how to overcome the obstacles. Scouting has enabled you to try many different things—such as camping, backpacking, climbing, and canoeing. Your Scout leaders have taught you to do these things safely—to plan ahead and to be prepared for what might happen.

As you know, I am an avid proponent of planning, and, like your Scout leaders, I try to make sure you think ahead. In the years to come, you won’t always have me to force you to plan. In fact, now that you are 16 and are driving without me, I already need to be able to rely on your good judgment and prudence. I hope that when I’m not there to give you my excellent and prudent advice, you will think back on the Scouting motto, and always “Be Prepared.” You’ve got a wonderful mind, and are capable of doing anything you want, if you exercise prudence and foresight.

My third theme is perseverance—keeping on when the going is hard. You have had to persevere to get here tonight—through times that were difficult, and through times when you didn’t want to continue with Scouts. You worried about getting your Lifesaving merit badge. You didn’t know whether you could get through the Order of the Arrow ordeal. You had other commitments like debate and dramatics—and thought you didn’t have time for Scouts. Despite these difficulties, you kept at it, and you have now achieved the pinnacle of success in Scouting.

You have many difficult goals ahead of you—such as doing well in college and building relationships with a spouse and children,  and being successful in the career you choose. The road to your dreams and ambitions will not be smooth. However much your father and I might want to make the road easier, we can’t. Your own perseverance is the only way to get there. The good news is that you can now reflect back on your Scouting experience to tell yourself that you have done it before, and can do it again.

I recently ran across a quote from poet and playwright W.A. Auden that explains what I mean by prudence and perseverance:

Those who will not reason perish in the act;
Those who will not act perish for that reason.

What this means is that you must think things through before you act—you must be prudent. But you also cannot stop with thinking; you must in the end make a decision, and follow through on that decision—you must persevere. Your Scouting experience has readied you for both reasoning and acting—for prudence and perseverance. Because of what you have learned in your life thus far—in large part through Scouting, I am confident that you will have many future successes in which you will take pride.

I want to end with another quote, this time from Rudyard Kipling. You might recall your father and me reading Kipling’s “Just So” stories to you about the time you started as a Tiger Cub. Kipling also wrote a poem entitled “If.” Every line in that poem has something to say about growing up, but the following lines seemed to match most closely what I have been trying to say about pride, prudence, and perseverance:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting, too; . . .
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same; . . .
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will that says to them: “Hold on!” . . .
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

And to those lines of Kipling’s, I add one more of my own:

Godspeed, J____ on the journey you’ve begun.

My son is much further along his journey now, though I hope he still has most of it ahead of him. He’s done well, and as Mother’s Day approaches, I hope that both he and my daughter realize that the thoughts I expressed in that speech almost twenty years ago still apply to both of them. Every day.

What advice have you given to your children?

Yo, Mom: An Introduction to the Teenage Years

I’ve written before about our family’s trips to the Absaroka Ranch in Wyoming, where we spent a summer week riding horses, except for occasional breaks to hike or go river-rafting. On our last trip in 1994, my son was twelve. It was his third time to the ranch (or the fourth?), and he was an old hand. He relished the freedom from parents that the ranch permitted—most days, the kids had separate activities from the adults.

Son on horseback the day of the “Yo, Mom” incident. He’s holding on in this picture.

One afternoon, the ranch staff had all the kids who were there that week practicing various gaits as they rode across a large open field. I was leaning on a fence nearby, watching the kids show off.

From the middle of the field, my son shouted, “Yo, Mom!” as he trotted by, waving his hands in the air, not touching horse or reins, a big grin on his face. Like Superman, only on horseback. His cocky assurance that he wouldn’t fall off was evident.

I was a little taken aback at his casual greeting. “Yo, Mom?” It wasn’t part of my vocabulary. I didn’t know it was part of his.

But he was so clearly enjoying himself that I let it pass. He probably didn’t mean to be disrespectful. He was just moving into the teenage years. A few months early.

In fact, I was amused by the greeting. “Yo” became our calling sign for the next several years. His bedroom was in the basement, and when I wanted him to do something, I’d shout down, “Yo, James,” to get his attention. (I didn’t use it when I was angry, only in good humor.)

“Yo, Mom,” he would call back to signify that he had heard me.

His true teenage years began the week he turned thirteen. That was the week his cocky “Yo, Mom” morphed into talking back at me. I don’t remember what the topic was that week of his thirteenth birthday, but I gave him some instruction, and he sassed me in response.

Talking back and the hang-dog, put-upon sighs of a teenager responding to parents continued for several years. His high-school years were sometimes difficult and tense. He grew more distant when he went to college, and, of course, I couldn’t call down the stairs when he was hundreds of miles away in a dorm.

But he and I both came through his teenage years mostly unscathed. He has become a fine, independent adult. I admire the man he now is. I don’t always agree with him, but I respect that his opinions are thoughtful and well-founded.

Today, that cocky twelve-year-old turns thirty-five. He lives far away, and we only talk occasionally on the phone. I would love to be able to yell “Yo, James,” to get his attention, to have him close by, and to see him more regularly.

But it’s a good thing for both of us that he doesn’t live in the basement anymore.

Happy Birthday, Son!

O Christmas Tree . . . and Keepsakes Ornaments

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This year’s Fraser fir

My husband and I are fans of live Christmas trees. Actually, I’d be tempted to have an artificial tree, but I love the evergreen scent of a real tree. So I put up with the messy needles every year.

For the past several years, we’ve purchased Fraser firs, an evergreen native to the Appalachian region. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and was not familiar with Fraser firs. In fact, when I was a child, we usually had pine trees or Douglas firs, which are actually members of the pine tree family, despite their name.

I remember a park ranger teaching a group of kids one time to identify trees using the saying “prickly pine and friendly fir.” The Douglas firs I knew had prickly needles (thus confirming they are really pines). By contrast, the Fraser firs we’ve bought have been very easy to move and decorate, though they drink more water than a marathon runner.

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Crayola and backpacking ornaments

Because I worked for Hallmark, I have purchased Hallmark Keepsakes ornaments for the past thirty-five (or more) years. I started work for Hallmark in 1979, and I know I bought my first ones in or before 1982, because I have an ornament for “Baby’s First Christmas” dated in 1982—the year my son was born.

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One of our many puppy ornaments

Over the years, I tried to buy ornaments that related to things my kids were doing. So during their grade school years, I bought Crayola ornaments. When we had dogs, I bought puppy ornaments. In 1994, when my son was twelve and started mowing our lawn, I bought Santa with a mower. (I don’t think my son appreciated that one.) I’ve bought Boy Scout ornaments, a baseball Santa, a football Santa, a moose on snow skis, and a reindeer on a jet ski.

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An embroidered ornament and Santa with a mower

Not all my ornaments are Hallmark Keepsakes. I have a set of embroidered ornaments I started when my husband and I rode the bus to our offices. That was not a successful experiment (I couldn’t work on them without motion sickness), but I later finished them and still have the set of six ornaments.

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Santa playing baseball

I’ve kept all these ornaments for over thirty-five years now. My kids have only recently become stable enough in their living arrangements to trust with keepsakes. (At least, I consider the ornaments to be keepsakes, as the Hallmark trademark says they are.)

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Reindeer on a jet ski

My son is still an apartment dweller, but he bought a Christmas tree for the first time this year. We’ve discussed my sending him “his” ornaments after this holiday season, so he’ll have them for his tree next year. So this might be the last year some of these ornaments will grace our tree.

My daughter owns her home, but professes not to like my taste in ornaments. She has yet to buy a tree of her own at Christmas, and she has a dog who attacks Christmas tree lights. I think I’ll keep her ornaments for a few more years.

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The angel at the top (not a Hallmark ornament), another embroidered ornament, a daughter’s First Christmas, and Santa playing football . . . and more

 

Merry Christmas to all of you, and may your holiday lights shine bright!

Busted! by Ghostbusters (1984)

ghostbusters 1984 posterI don’t have any particular desire to see the Ghostbusters movie which just opened, but the trailers and reviews that I’ve been seeing bring back memories of the first Ghostbusters movie, released in 1984. My husband and I did see that movie.

We’ve always liked movies—our first date was to a movie, though I can’t remember now what it was (I think he remembers). We spent many a weekend evening at the movies, both before and after we were married.

Right after we were married, when we were still in law school, we often arrived at the last minute and found that the theater was sold out. Mind you, it was my husband’s doing that we were late. To this day, he hates to get to the theater before show time.

Back in law school, when we couldn’t get into the show we wanted, we converted our date evening to a trip to the grocery store. Not very romantic, but, hey, we needed food.

I recall a time or two in Kansas City when we ended up at the grocery store instead of the movie also. It hasn’t happened in years, because I keep the pantry better stocked. Now we just go back home, disappointed.

Once our son was born, our movie nights dwindled. Getting a babysitter on a weekend evening was too much trouble. We didn’t have a VCR yet, though occasionally we rented both VCR and movie.

But then a friend with small kids suggested we try drive-ins. “The kids sleep right through it,” she told me. “Just take them in their pajamas. It’s great.”

The drive-in movies started later than we wanted, but we could put our baby in the back of our station wagon. Or just leave him in his car seat. He could sleep anywhere.

We never worried about the movie’s rating. We went to any movie we wanted to see—sex, violence, it didn’t matter, our son slept right through it. When we got home, my husband carried him up to bed, and he didn’t even budge.

During the summer of 1984, our son was two years old—almost two-and-a-half. Ghostbusters was a blockbuster movie that year. It wasn’t really the type of flick I like, but it was a big drive-in hit. I figured I could tolerate a funny action movie. It was rated PG, so I didn’t think there’d be too much gore.

So Ghostbusters was the first drive-in movie we went to in 1984. Just like we had the two years before, we bundled up our son and his lovey (which he called “Boppy”) and headed across town to the drive-in. We parked, set up the speaker, and settled in for an amusing movie.

“Go to sleep,” we told him. “Boppy’s right here. Just lie down and go to sleep.”

He sat up watching the previews.

“Lie down,” we said, when the main attraction came on. “Go to sleep.”

He sat transfixed.

I worried about the sexual banter, but figured he wouldn’t understand the PG repartee. No big deal.

The green blobby guys showed up. The gargoyles burst into real monsters. The terror dogs roamed wild. Women were possessed.

Our son watched it all. Bug-eyed, he watched it all.

I thought he’d be scared, but he didn’t seem to be. Just star-struck. I could tell the Ghostbusters were going to supplant Superman and Batman as his heroes of choice.

Finally the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man climbed the building, and the good guys blasted away. Marshmallow bits rained down, and civilization was saved.

Our son was still awake at the end. None of our entreaties to go to sleep during the two-hour movie had had any influence.

And that was the last drive-in movie we went to until our children were pre-teens. We bought a VCR the next year.

For years, our son roamed the neighborhood with his pals, all chanting the mantra, “Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

What parenting mistakes have you made?

Loneliness and Pampering at Summer Camp

I wrote last summer about my son’s first overnight camp experience, at the YMCA’s Camp Wood in Kansas. He loved it and wanted to go again. His little sister was eager to go to camp as well. My husband and I had been less impressed with Camp Wood than our son had been, so for the summer of 1992, we decided to look for other camp possibilities.

Their cousins had been to Camp Mondamin (for boys) and its sister camp Green Cove (for girls) in North Carolina on several occasions and raved about how wonderful those camps were. In 1992, our daughter was seven (barely) and old enough (barely) to go to Green Cove. The cousins were going to the long session in July-August, but that didn’t fit our schedule. If we chose those camps, our kids would have to go to the shorter June session. They would each be alone at their respective camp, no sibling or cousin to hang out with.

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The littlest camper

I worried about homesickness. Our son had had his Camp Wood experience, but our daughter had never been to camp. She didn’t even like bed-and-breakfasts with a bathroom down the hall—how would she cope in a spartan cabin with other girls and showers in another building? And because her birthday was just a few weeks before camp began, she would be one of the very youngest campers at Green Cove.

“They’ll be fine,” my husband said. He was an old camp hand, and had attended two or three camps a year throughout his childhood.

I, on the other hand, had been homesick after the first day of my first overnight camp, managed to get sent home, and never tried it again.

Still, both kids begged to go. Both children had been away from us for at least two weeks before, but only with well-known relatives, and mostly with each other for company. After some discussion, my husband and I decided they could handle a three-week, far-away adventure. So we signed them up and paid our money.

My husband bought the kids Army surplus trunks of the appropriate size to hold their camp accoutrements. He painted our son’s trunk camouflage green and our daughter’s bright blue. We filled each trunk with clothes, a sleeping bag, and all the other items on the camp list.

We labeled everything with names, as instructed. My daughter, who had been called by her nickname since birth, decided she wanted to be known at Green Cove by her full 8-letter first name. I hadn’t realized some kids start exploring alternative personalities at age seven, which is what my daughter did. I should have remembered that at about the same age, my sister insisted on being called “Prudence”, which is not her name.) I fretted more—our daughter would be off at camp, all alone, without even a familiar name to call her own. But I labeled her possessions with the name she wanted.

In early June, we loaded everything into my Sable station wagon and began the two-day drive from Kansas City to North Carolina. Our itinerary was as follows: Drive to the camps where we would leave my car in North Carolina, my husband and I would fly home, we’d share my husband’s car for the three weeks the kids were gone, we’d fly back in time for the gender-specific parent/child campouts, then drive home. The transportation plan worked, though sharing a car with my husband for three weeks required a lot of negotiation.

I dutifully wrote the kids often while they were gone to let them know I loved them.

As their return letters arrived, I realized our daughter was fine. She listed the activities she’d done and assured us she was having fun. Her letters were short, but she was only seven. We had reports from her counselor also. No problems reported.

Our son was the homesick one. Maybe it was the lack of mud to dunk his head in—his major achievement at Camp Wood. But more likely, it was the lack of a friend to pal around with. Some of the campers had been coming to Mondamin for several years and had cabin-mates they knew. Our son’s letters sounded lonely. He didn’t describe group activities, only the nature hall, where he played with turtles and snakes.

The three weeks passed, and my husband and I flew back to Asheville for the parent/child campouts and the drive home.

Have I previously written that I don’t like to camp? But my husband really wanted to go on the Mondamin Father/Son campout, and my daughter wanted the full Green Cove experience, so I gamely agreed to go on the Mother/Daughter campout.

When we got to Green Cove, I found out how pampered the youngest campers had been. My daughter had lived in a cabin with three other seven-year-olds and two counselors. The whole camp mothered those girls and treated them like princesses. No wonder she loved it.

But we didn’t have much time to tour the camp. Our brave group of mothers and daughters (of all ages, not just the littlest campers) were soon bused from North Carolina to South Carolina, then we hiked to Georgia. Actually, we swam to Georgia. Our campsite was on the edge of South Carolina, across a creek from Georgia. Nothing would do but that we wade across to Georgia. Though I don’t swim well, the creek was only about six feet deep at its deepest, and I survived. So did my seven-year-old, who had a blast.

Green Cove June 1992 camping

Mothers and daughters, before we swam to Georgia

The strangest experience was not swimming to Georgia, but hearing my daughter referred to by a name that heretofore had only existed on her birth certificate. I, of course, called her by her nickname, and her cabin-mates had no idea whose mother I was.

My son survived Mondamin, but never wanted to go back. His sister had loved being a pampered camper and yearned to return to Green Cove. But out of loyalty to her brother, she never asked.

When did you do something because of what your sibling wanted?