Camp Letter #2

Monday, 8.13.109

To Vincenzo (from his spork),

I mean, honestly I’m a bit ticked off. I mean, I thought we had something. I thought you became a man when you held me in your hand. Now you’ve gone to camp and where did that leave me? In the bottom of your grimy backpack next to a smooshed Skittle and a piece of math homework you never turned in. That’s cold, man, that’s cold. Your mom rescued me and I know she meant well, but she put me in the fork drawer. The fork drawer! They wouldn’t have me. She put me in the spoon drawer. They wanted nothing to do with me. At least she knew enough not to put me in with the knives.

I could be at camp right now, tucking into a bowlful of stew or twirling my first sporkful of spaghetti. Instead I am here on the kitchen counter, naked and alone, staring up at the ceiling and contemplating the meaning of my short, sad, loveless life.

Anyway, hope you’re having fun at camp, eating soup and ice cream with your hands. Unless gasp—you’re not cheating on me, are you? With forks and spoons? Perish the thought!

I love you anyway. Sporkfully yours,

Sporky

You know, if you squint a little bit, you can almost imagine the ceiling is a giant plate of mashed potatoes.

Hello mudda, hello fadda

Vincenzo and Rocco are at overnight camp this week, so welcome to a week of camp letters, from me to them.

Saturday, 8.10.19

Dear Vincenzo and Rocco,

Hope you had a great first day! We spent most of ours in Seattle buying a map for Leo’s room and saying “yes” to whatever he wanted. When we asked what he wanted for lunch he said that you two would probably go for sushi but he didn’t want sushi. He wanted a rocky road ice cream cone. We got him one, but we made him eat something more substantial first (he went for a chocolate crepe and an orange soda).

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you all this because it will make you want to stay home from camp next year. I promise to make tomorrow all vegetables, room cleaning, and losing battles for Leo, and we definitely won’t go to Chuck E Cheese and watch the new Spider Man movie.

Rocco, you can rest easy knowing we bought a new filter for the fish tank. We also considered buying King Bob a little friend at the pet store. He deserves a treat, after all–it’s been two whole months since he ate anyone’s eyeballs! But in the end we decided against it. We bought Leo a puppy instead. (Just kidding.) (They were all out of puppies.)

It’s 9:15PM now. Dad and I want to go to bed, but Leo is eating honey toast in his undies while explaining that the best way to get sap out of a tree is to get something really sharp and stab it first. I think we’ll lock our bedroom door tonight.

Love,

Mom

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Hamburgers
Salad with apples and pecans
Smashed potatoes
Chocolate peanut butter chip ice cream sandwiches

Happy Campers

I camp with other moms whose husbands don’t like camping. Forget dads taking their sons fishing and roasted their catch on the open fire. Instead, we are moms who take our sons foraging and feed them fancy salads with edible flowers.

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(Okay, we didn’t actually make our sons forage for food. The flowers came from my sister’s produce tub. But the triscuits were foraged!)

We only camp once a year and each summer I let myself buy one camping item from REI. This year it was camping pads. No more stuffing our car with every soft thing we can carry before we drive off—now we have three neatly sausaged camping pads!

At checkout, Kevin snuck a titanium spork onto the counter. “Woah woah woah,” I said. “That will have to wait for next year.”

“It’s for Vincenzo,” he explained. “It’s time gets his own spork and becomes a man.”

There was absolutely no reasoning with him, and so here is Vincenzo’s spork, having its first food. (A turkey sandwich.)

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And taking its first bath.

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*sniff* They grow up so fast.

Kevin doesn’t understand why we camp. He thinks it’s funny I buy camping pads so I can make the ground feel a little less ground-y when my bed at home does the job so much better and also does not have to get stuffed into a sack the size of a pillow case at the end of each night.

So I’ve been thinking about it. Why do I like camping? Why do I intentionally spend a weekend depriving myself of most of the past 500 years worth of inventions? (6,000 if you count the invention of the bed). Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Despite the hours you spend hiking or sitting beside a creek or playing BS around the campfire, when you think back to your favorite camping trips, it’s the follies and near-disasters that stand out. Go on! Try it!

We shared some of our favorite camp memories around the fire, like the time my friend’s daughter got lice from a helmet she wore during a horseback ride. And the time the person camping next to them seemed a bit mental, so her husband slept with a hammer under his pillow. There was the time my sister’s car had a dead battery when we were all packed and ready to catch the ferry home. We got the car jumped and raced to the ferry—only to get their car on and mine not so much. (Fortunately they let me squeeze on.)

As for last week’s camping trip, every time we went into the bathroom there was a lady sitting there in a camping chair, charging phones and scowling at us in a disturbing way. Also, at 3AM, three of our boys woke up. Luke wanted his mom, Ari couldn’t zip his sleeping bag, and Leo instantly disappeared into the woods. He showed up a minute later in our tent, very confused as to where his pillow went. We pointed Leo to the correct tent, zipped up Ari,and  moved Luke into our tent. While getting everyone back in their proper places, my sister saw someone lurking behind a nearby tree so she shined her flashlight on it. It  was my other sister, crouching behind a tree, doing what one does behind trees when one is camping. The next morning, my sister’s pants caught on fire.

It was absolutely perfect. It’s the reason we go camping.

Of course, we also go because of this.

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You turn a corner and can’t take it all in, it’s so hugely beautiful. Even though you recognize the rocks and water, the green of the trees and the sigh of the sky—even though you recognize these as things of this planet, still you think, Can this be Earth?

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To be clear, camping is not about the pretty photos.  It’s about standing in the water, squealing because your toes feel like ice, then sliding down the rocks like a drop of water and when you can’t take the cold anymore, wrapping up in a towel and sunning yourself on one of the big, warm rocks that conveniently line the edge of the creek.

Sitting in a place that has grown up just fine without you and will continue to grow long after you are not makes you feel like nature doesn’t give a fig about you.

Sitting on a warm rock that is so perfectly placed next to an ice cold stream makes you feel that nature is doing this all just for you.

It’s wonderful to feel both at the same time.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken Ramen
Pickled cucumber salad
Peach cobbler

Rocco Turns Two Handfuls!

Yep, he is officially two handfuls of fingers, all of them ready to poke you.

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(He’s the one on the left, in case you didn’t know.)

Two of my boys ask for donations to charitable causes in lieu of gifts for their birthdays.

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Rocco is not one of them.

As much as I love his brothers for not wanting gifts, I love Rocco for wanting gifts. His mind is a hungry, hungry thing and the more you feed it, the hungrier it gets. This year he asked for things he could build. Before he unwrapped each gift, he’d give it a shake and announce “Legos” or “Not Legos.” One shake is all it took, which tells you how many boxes of Legos he’s opened in his lifetime.

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Rocco hasn’t changed much from that 18-month-old baby trying to build a train track bigger than his dreams. He’d get mad when the trains wouldn’t stick together because he had them backwards and he’d get madder at me when I tried to help. Me, who knew a little bit more about magnets than he did at 18 months.

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Of course, now he most certainly knows more about magnets than I do. He knows more about most things than I do…though to be clear, he doesn’t know nearly as many things as he thinks he knows.

Rocco is voracious about just about everything. He reads voraciously, builds voraciously, eats kale salad voraciously, irritates his brothers voraciously.

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And he always has a Big Idea.

Then:

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Now:

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As is fitting, Rocco tends to run with a crowd of big personalities.

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Wherever you live in the world, you probably heard them singing happy birthday last Wednesday around 5:30 Pacific Standard Time.

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It sounded like a bunch of dying seagulls and the pack of fortunate walruses who were about to eat them.

His cake was a challenge because I’ve never figured out the whole fondant thing. I tried talking him into one of many, many other options, but once Rocco makes up his mind, there is no un-making it.

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As the children were eating it, I gave them a head’s up to not be worried if their poop is a weird color tomorrow, due to all the black fondant. This might have slowed down a meeker crowd, but this these guys just asked if they could have a second slice.

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But I digress.

Rocco is energetic, creative, non-stop, stubborn, strong-willed, independent-minded, brilliant, generous, happy, inclusive, sweet, mathy, confident, intense, loud, dorky, and ready for absolutely anything. When friends are around he is silly and immature. If only his sense of humor were as advanced as his math skills but alas, no. Rocco will say something too stupid to be silly, so we ignore it, so says it again and again until we tell him we heard him the first time, the whole neighborhood heard him the first time, and saying something two or three or twenty times doesn’t make it funnier. He doesn’t take offense. He probably thinks it’s more a reflection of our own inferior senses of humor than his. So he says it one more time.

Because of this, you sometimes lose it with him. You yell at him, you take away video game time, you throw his cake down the garbage disposal in a fit of unjustified rage. He gets upset. Of course he does. But like a buoy he pops back up to the surface again and bobs merrily along the top of the waves, commenting on what a nice day it is.

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(Did I mention confident?)

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(And dorky?)

And he is generous. Like at the arcade last weekend when his cousin was at the prize counter, wishing he had a few hundred extra tickets to buy a Minecraft sword. Rocco didn’t even hesitate. (To be fair, Rocco never hesitates.) He handed all his tickets to his cousin, then went to ask Vincenzo if he would donate the rest, which he did, and Ari got his sword. Later, a lady handed Rocco her tickets to spend and he spent them all on candy for Vincenzo since Vincenzo had donated some of his tickets to his cousin. Rocco is more generous than I ever taught him to be.

Do I worry about him? Absolutely. I worry about all my boys. I worry that Rocco won’t learn to really, truly, fully listen to another person. I worry that his stubbornness will get in the way of his personal and professional relationships. I worry someone will punch him in the face. I worry that the someone will be me.  I worry that his sense of humor will not evolve beyond using the words “butt” and “fart” at the dinner table.

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(Okay, it’s a little bit funny.)

But mostly when it comes to Rocco, I don’t worry. I just sit in the boat and watch the buoy bobbing happily in the water beside me and I think what a marvelous, beautiful, perfect thing a happily bobbing buoy is.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Camp fare!

Rocco’s War Zone Party

Rocco wanted a laser tag birthday party at real laser tag place, and I was happy not to host it at home after last year’s cataclysmic party. Not having been to a real laser tag arena myself, I imagined a  kind of cartoony set-up where the kids would be asked, “Do you want the minty green gun or the lemon yellow one?”  Then there would be an hour of them running around saying pshew pshew in their chipmunky little voices.

I did not expect to see what looked like a real weapons arsenal with real looking guns that made real sounds and had built-in kick-back action. To see your sweet seven-year-old boy who is missing two front teeth and has an adorable a speech impediment strapped up like he’s going to war…

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Well, it’s both precious and horrifying. I was conflicted. I wanted to say awwwwww and NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT, NO NO NO at the same time.

With all the kids strapped to gigantic guns and closed into a windowless, post-apocalyptic looking room, all there was to do was wait and watch the leaderboard numbers go up and down—health, kills, points, emotional scarring–it was all there. I watched the numbers and was again conflicted. Do I feel proud of my kids when they get a lot of kills? Am I hoping they win or lose at the game of war?

When Rocco went on a nine-person killing streak and got MVP of the final round well, there were tears in my eyes and I’m still not sure what kind they were.

For the most part, we didn’t know who was “killing it,” so to speak, because there weren’t any names on the leaderboard, just numbers. The kids were nothing but stats. We had some pretty good guesses though, as four of the kids were eighth graders, most were fourth graders, and one was a second grader. We knew that No. 29, who had twice as many kills as anyone else, was definitely an eighth grader. And we knew that Leo–the youngest of the pack and the only one to rage quit the game–was going to come in dead last.

But we were wrong.

The top scorers were third graders, not eighth graders, Leo finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, and Rocco’s sweet best friend who loves puppies and his little sisters and who wats to give the whole world one big gigantic hug—that’s the guy who was blowing everyone else out of the water.

On the car ride back I got the stories of how mistakes were made and lessons were learned. Like how Carson walked up to a bunch of his allies and said, “Hi guys!” and one of them instinctively shot him. And how during “Last Man Standing” Gabe watched Rocco slaughter half the kids in the arena while he cowered in a corner, then Rocco walked past him and Gabe killed him with one shot, winning the game. All is fair in love and war. The bad news is I’m afraid to have any of these kids over to spend the night. The good news is I know who to give the meat mallet to if an intruder ever enters the house.

As the kids were marched out of the battle arena, bright-eyed and dripping in sweat, reeking of testosterone, I made a promise to myself that next year we are having Rocco’s party at a place that lets kids do humanitarian work. Does the Peace Corps have some kind of XTreme Peace Building Arena for birthday parties?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Going out to eat!

Lake Tahoe

Last week we left a rainy, wet Seattle for a week in Tahoe. We spent four days drying out our feathers with friends we knew when our kids still regularly pooped their pants in front of each other—when, that is, they were even wearing pants.

Our oldest ones are all 8th graders now, which gives me an existential crisis every time I think about it, and things are super different now than when the kids would crawl around the floor stealing binkies out of each other’s mouths. Instead, now they play volleyball together and challenge each other to games of chess and swim way more than one-arm’s-length away into the lake to a floaty island so far away we can’t eavesdrop on their conversations. It was sweet to see that despite how much they’ve grown and changed, they still have just enough in common to spend whole days together doing not much of anything.

Unless you count licking the powder out of the bottom of a tub of cheese balls “doing something.”

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As for the adults, we never ran out of things to talk about. We talked about everything from face tattoos to butt tattoos. We talked about the way things used to be and the way thing are now, we shared our frustrations and worries, we asked advice and gave advice, we talked about our kids when we thought they weren’t listening.  It took four days of shoulder-to-shoulder and across-the-table  conversations to finally catch up. Our very last conversation right before leaving was  planning for when we can do it all over again. I guess that’s the sign of a great vacation. Or at least a sign of great friends.

Now I’m back home in Seattle and all I have to show for my vacation is a stupid tan. Well, that and a bunch of pictures, like this one of the two of my boys who didn’t scream when I asked if they wanted to have their picture taken:

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My favorite pic from the week:

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My favorite socks of the week:

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After the “wheeeee!”

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Seven children gathered around a beached merman:

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A chess game that looks way more intellectual than it actually was:

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Sleepy D:

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Living room yoga with Yogi Kevin:

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14 years’ worth of babies:

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Like I said, we’re back in Seattle now and the rain cloud we left behind kindly stuck around to welcome us home. It’s just been that kind of summer:

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So it’s good to know that at least for a little while, we also had this kind of a summer.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Going out—it’s date weekend!

Funnies

It’s rainy and muggy today and I’m not sure if I’m depressed that it doesn’t feel like summer and we’re not at the beach or enamored that I get to spend another day wrapped up in blankets, reading whatever is in reach and writing whatever comes to mind. Put me down for both, I guess. Right now I’m cleaning out my drafts folder so what you see below is like finally taking that one box of things to Goodwill.

1. Does this bee sting make me look fat?

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(Not a new one—just still whining about the one I got the first day of summer.)

2. Sometimes things get weird when you reuse plastic bags.

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3. Watching a movie where the main character has a detachable leg (i.e. artificial limb).
Leo: What if he had two detachable legs?
Vincenzo: All legs are detachable. Some are just harder to get off.

4. The kids all keyed up to get candy at the Memorial Day Parade. When the first handful was thrown, everyone ran out except Vincenzo. “No candy for you this year?” I asked. He explained it didn’t matter because we all divide it up equally in the end anyway, so he was just going to sit there and enjoy the parade while everyone else got candy for him.

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5. Leo, reading from a joke book: Dad, what letter of the alphabet can you drink?
Kevin: P!

6. Every time I go to Target, I have to fight a huge urge to call Cuba.

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7. Leo set his stuffie hick here and said, “Now Chick has a place to rest his head.”

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(I think we can all relate.)

8. Trying to choose a card for Vincenzo’s spring play (he didn’t feel too great about how it was going to go):

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9. Leo: The last one must be a strong cup of coffee! (He didn’t even realize the double entendre.)

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers, including:
Chicken fajitas
Fried rice with ham and peas
Potato leek fritatta
Garlic green beans