The Awkward Camper

We have spent the last several weeks traveling. During that time we have stayed at various campgrounds. Some thoughts on camping…

I am an awkward camper. I married a boyscout/camper/adventurer/outsidegenius type person who loves to be outside and will always choose sleeping on the ground in the wild as opposed to staying in a hotel. We went camping on our honeymoon. I was young, in love and really didn’t care where I was, so it wasn’t a problem. Over the years as we have traveled all over the world together, I have adapted to the camping mentality and I am the first to point out that it is a lot cheaper for our family to camp while traveling than to stay at a hotel. But, I’m still an awkward camper. I would say my number one complaint about camping is lack of bathrooms. I inevitably have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night which then involves me crawling from the air mattress, disentangling myself from whatever child has climbed in with me, finding the zipper to the opening in the dark, cringing because the sound of the zipper is loud enough to wake the whole campground, and then crawling on hands and knees through the opening where I end up in a heap on the ground. Then shakily standing up and staggering to the nearest bathhouse/outhouse/whateverisavailabe place. Of course all of this is precluded by an hour of laying in the bed trying to convince myself I can hold it and wait till morning till my body finally says, No, you cannot wait.

So, we’re camping and by some miracle I sleep through the night and don’t wake up till early dawn. I was of course awoken by the baby who half-woke and wanted his mama. I quickly grab the baby and lay him next to me so that his cries won’t wake up everyone else. He finally settles down and goes back to sleep. I am now squished between the baby and my husband on the air mattress. The laws of physics and a general knowledge of air mattresses tell me that if I get off the air mattress my husband and baby are going to sink into the middle of the air mattress, which might wake up the baby. I need to use the bathroom, which in the case of this campground, is a rather icky outhouse. Stay where I am and not wake the baby or use the bathroom? Finally the bathroom wins out. I poke Andy and tell him I’m using the bathroom and he’s in charge of keeping the baby quiet. Then in one big flurry I crawl over my husband and stumble out of the tent. The air mattress half-deflates, baby starts rolling and immediately wakes up and starts crying. I stand outside the tent in indecision. Go back into the tent and get the baby quiet or run for the bathroom???? My body says, there are no options here, go to the bathroom! Ok. I am going to trust my husband has what it takes to quiet the baby so I turn and head towards the outhouse.

I need to add one other important piece of information. I wear glasses. I need glasses. I cannot see without glasses. I have maybe a 2 foot circle around me where I can see, and then everything is fuzzy and blurry. I have left my glasses inside the tent. I start walking towards the outhouse and stop. In my blurry haze it looks like there is a truck parked beside the outhouse and it appears that several people are moving around the outhouse. Cleaning? It certainly needs cleaning. It’s an obvious time to clean as everyone is still asleep. Except me. I stop at the edge of my campsite, squinting, trying to see what is going on. I have no desire to go up close and see people in my present state of just-crawled-out-of-bedness. I stand hovering, wondering if they will be done soon. There is another proper bathhouse on the other side of the campground which is probably a good 5 minute brisk walk away. I really don’t feel like taking a walk right now.  

As I’m standing there I see through my blurry haze another camper in the next campsite over, crawling out of their tent. The camper stumbles toward the outhouse and stops short as well. They (can’t tell whether it’s a he or she) see the workers by the outhouse. The other camper stands hovering on the edge of their campsite doing a repeat performance of me. I feel a moment of connection. Yes. I understand your pain random camper.

Ok. I am going to have to go to the other bathhouse. I can walk 5 minutes. But I can’t see. Do I dare try to walk through the whole campground blind? …No. I do not dare. But I don’t want to go back into my tent and look for my glasses and wake the baby up again. My husband just got him back to sleep. More hovering as my half-awake brain tries to figure out what to do. Wait. I have some prescription sunglasses in the car. It’s light enough they can work. I quietly open the car and the phrase from an old cassette tape I used to listen to as a kid comes back to me, “How can I see to find my glasses without my glasses on to see?” I think this as I squint into the car. The glasses should be on the dash. There are a lot of things on the dash. I reach my hand up and try to see if I can feel them. I feel an assortment of books, charging cords for various phones, papers…no sunglasses. I stand back. Think this through again. Can I walk blind,? Maybe I can do it, it should be ok…No… Are they done cleaning the outhouse?!! I can’t see all the way over there, but random camper is still hovering so I presume they aren’t done… More thinking.

Maybe the sunglasses are in my handbag? I go back to the car and grab my handbag. I of course can’t see into my handbag. This is not because I’m blind though. Even with glasses I wouldn’t be able to see into my handbag. My handbag is the black hole of my life. It holds an infinite number of objects and once something goes into my bag, it is rarely found again. I try to feel inside my bag but I”m so tired that my reasoning abilities aren’t working. I have no idea what I’m feeling. I start getting a bit frantic and turn my handbag upside down and begin dumping it out. There’s my wallet and my other wallet that holds 10 children’s worth of insurance cards, library cards, random other cards I need. Papers, tissues, and Oh, look, a spoon. Why is there is a metal spoon in my handbag? It’s actually been there a while. I’m not sure how it got there and every time I see it I am surprised again at its presence, but I have never discovered the spoon while I was at home, where I could then remove the spoon and put it into the kitchen. So, I keep stuffing this surprising spoon back into my purse with the good intentions of removing it when I get home, which never happens.

But I digress. Back to my sunglasses. They are not in my purse. I need to use the bathroom. I am blind. It’s time to take drastic measures. I am going to retrieve my glasses from the tent, sleeping baby or not. I slowly start unzipping the tent. It sounds horribly loud but I persevere. Must get my glasses. Must use the bathroom. I manage to open the tent and then start feeling around the air mattress. I know I put them somewhere around here. My husband wakes up. I whisper-yell – I need my glasses!! He sits up and feels around until he finds them and hands them to me. Thank you Knight in Shining Armor. I slap my glasses on my face and look over towards the outhouse. Random camper is leaving the outhouse. The workers are gone. Apparently a lot has happened while I undertook my search for sight. I am now wide awake. I head towards the outhouse. Camping is so much fun.

Thoughts On Being a Woman

This past year I went on a journey of sorts, trying to figure out just what it means to be a woman in the day and age that I live in. I really struggled with the stereotypes that I saw in our media, struggled with the injustices that so many woman face, struggled with where my place was in the church. It’s a subject that you could write books about, but these are just some thoughts I wrote down while I have been on this journey.

What does it mean to be a woman?  In my own personal experience, a big part of being a woman has been having children. The joy of sharing my body with another person. The irritation of having to share my body with another person. The intense fear as I awaited my first delivery. The intense anticipation as I waited to meet my first child. Later, as I had more children it was the dread of the morning sickness that always put me in bed for about 4 months. It was the excitement of telling the kids they were going to have another brother or sister soon. It was the awkwardness of feeling judged by strangers because I had so many children and was visibly pregnant again. It was the feeling of vulnerability when I reached the last weeks of pregnancy and could hardly walk. It was the agonizing pain of giving birth, the intense mixture of agony and joy as I held my baby for the first time while my body still screamed in protest from what it had endured.

Being a woman for me has been about being a wife. Laughing at my husband’s antics. The feeling of completeness when he walks in the door after a long day at work. Looking up and realizing he’s been watching me. The laughter that bubbles when he grabs me up in his arms and spins me around. The frustration when we aren’t able to communicate with each other. The comfort of rolling over in the night and snuggling into his side.

Being a woman has been about having deep friendships with other women. Sitting around solving the world’s problems in our living rooms as our children play together in the yard. Sending funny texts to each other that cheer up a grumpy morning. Venting and ranting. Sharing recipes and ideas about potty training. Affirming and encouraging each other.

Being a woman has been about struggling with my looks. Battling the feeling of never being enough. Not thin enough, not pretty enough, not fashionable enough. Listening to my husband tell me he thinks I’m beautiful and looking in the mirror and feeling like he is lying. And finally, when I am almost 40 years old, looking in the mirror and smiling and saying, “It’s me, and I like what I see.”

Being a woman has been about confusion. Feeling looked down upon because I didn’t finish college and pursue a career. Finding out that my career friends feel looked down upon because they don’t stay home with their children. Feeling looked down upon because I married when I was only 20 years old. Finding out that my unmarried friends feel judged because they have not ever married. Feeling judged because I homeschool. Feeling judged because I don’t homeschool. And it’s not the men in our lives who make us feel judged. It’s other women.

Being a woman has been about spiritual confusion. Feeling loved by God. Special to him. And then reading about so many women in the Bible who were treated subpar. Why did God allow it?

And then, as I read deeper and deeper into the stories, still seeing a trace of God’s grace and love even in the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man (or in this case, woman). .

Being a woman has also been about inclusion. Coming to the understanding that every woman has their own journey they’ve traveled. And so many of their journeys look nothing like mine. And yet we can still be friends. We can still support each other and encourage each other. Listen to each other. Without feeling the need to compare ourselves to each other.

I am thankful for who I am and the role that I fill in the lives around me. I am thankful for the women in my life who have lived their lives courageously and modeled what a full life looks like. I am thankful for the women in my life that have lifted me up and encouraged me. And I am especially thankful for the women who have allowed me to just be myself and share myself with them with no fear of judgement. My hope is that I can be that person, that woman, who is a safe place, free of judgement, ready to listen, ready to embrace my women friends as themselves. Perhaps we can keep each other company on this journey we are on.

 

Chef Wars

My husband’s brother married a lady from Nagaland (northeast India thereabouts) many years ago and they have made their home with their children there in the city of Kohima. They have come to the states for a long-overdue visit and we have come up to be with them and my husband’s parents.

My sister-in-law Asanuo is an amazing cook. (She is also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet!) She has her her own baking business in Kohima, and if you want to see her amazing creations you can check out her Facebook page, Asanuo’s Kitchen, to see some beautiful work.

Here we are on vacation together and we are all trying to share the cooking. I have everyone over to where we are staying and I cook up some boxes of pasta, throw some jars of pasta sauce on them, add some browned hamburger, and voila, supper “à la Esther”. Quick, easy, filling, inexpensive. This is how I cook. Then Asanuo offered to cook. We had chicken with caramelized onions, gravy, pan-roasted asparagus with almonds, rice, and cranberry sauce, with a nice wine on the side.


I am one of those interesting people who has somehow become a worse cook over time instead of a better one. When I first got married, my idea of cooking was to make some boxed mac and cheese, add a can a peas and a can of tuna, and serve it up with pride. My husband taught me how to cook Rice and Beans, Shepherd’s Pie and how to bake homemade bread. I took off from there and became a pretty decent cook. But as the kids multiplied an interesting thing happened. They started expressing their opinion about the food. And after a while it just wasn’t fun to try new recipes because at least half the kids were going to have something to say about it. And even when I let them know that I was not interested in their opinion, and actually, they were not allowed to express anything but positive opinions at the table (they could keep their negative ones to themselves) they would still pull faces or just push the food around their plate. And so my creativity died a slow, drawn out death and I eventually developed a menu that would ensure at least half the kids ate at each meal. But, it kind of took the fun out of cooking. And I will freely confess that my cooking is not very inspired. And maybe it’s not fair to blame it all on the kids, I may have just burned out a bit from doing so much cooking.

That brings us back to cooking for the family. Asanuo is obviously the chef-level cook from the fancy French restaurant type, while I’m more of the short-order cook down at the local fast food place type. I have decided I am not going to feel insecure about this. Instead I’m going to try and figure out how I can buy groceries and let Asanuo be the one that cooks them.

It’s a good plan.

 

9 Down 1 to Go

So, this is all about potty-training. Not super-interesting to the general populace, but I’m a mom, it comes up, and it’s my blog. So I get to have a day where I pontificate about potty-training. 🙂 

I am feeling the need to celebrate. I believe that I have now successfully potty trained my 9th child. There is nothing more delightful than to see your potty-training child stop playing with his toys and run for the bathroom…without you saying a word.

I have potty trained 9 children. This is proof that practice does not make perfect, the more you do something, the better you get is not true, and repeating an activity over and over again does not make it more bearable. I extremely dislike potty-training. I’m horrible at it. It requires a level of calm and patience and kindness over a prolonged period of time that I find really hard to muster.

All of my kids have potty-trained later than their peers. But this is because, in my mind, potty training is all about me, not the kid. I am not willing to engage in potty-training unless I know that I am looking at a couple weeks where I’m going to be relatively unstressed, and where I know that I can make myself be sweet and patient, even while I’m cleaning up the 20th potty accident in one day. I had hoped to potty-train David when he was about 2 ½. He is now 3 ½.  It’s a good indicator of my mental state this past year that it is only in the past couple weeks that I’ve been willing to tackle the job. Even then, when he had pooped his pants for the 5th time I finally lost it and heard the words coming out of my mouth, “If you poop in these pants again I’m going to spank you!” My oldest daughter was walking by and heard me. She raised an eyebrow and said, “Don’t children respond a lot better to positive reinforcement?” Umm..Yes. So I went to the store, bought a bag of chocolate and told him he could have some every time he successfully pooped in the potty. And that was that. We haven’t had another accident. (Because my kids seem to really respond to treats!)(Probably because I’m the mom who never buys candy and who gives them watermelon for dessert.)

All of that to say, when I finish potty-training a child, I feel like celebrating. I’m not really celebrating my child’s achievement. My kids are smart and awesome, and with a different mom they probably would have been potty-trained at 2 yrs old. No, what I’m celebrating is that I somehow managed to achieve a level of maturity that enabled me to love my kids and to show them grace while they conquered this milestone. Even when they peed on my shoes or pooped on my couch. Hurray for me.  

 

It’s All About Principles

Our family undertook a 1140 mile trip to Maine from Tennessee to visit family. According to the maps app it should have taken around 17 hours of driving. The maps app  doesn’t take into account the fact that 10 children are going to need around one potty break per hour, and the app doesn’t take into account the fact that Mom said No Way are we going to drive through the night and then show up in Maine exhausted while all the kids are well-rested and ready to go out and explore. Mom is getting too old for this 17 hours of driving thing. No thanks. So we camped one night. Of course the hope was that we would camp at the half-way mark, somewhere in Pennsylvania, but after 7 potty breaks in 9 hours, my husband had enough. We camped in West Virginia. All that to say, the entire trip took about 26 hours of driving plus another 13 hours for camping/sleeping.

I’m sure you’re curious. What did 10 children do for that many hours cramped up in a van? And how did Mom and Dad survive? And now we will get to the point of this piece which is Principles. I am not a fan of electronic devices. In our parenting ignorance, we bought our first 4 children a device around middle school age. As we watched our kids get sucked into all that the internet has to offer, we decided that we were not going to repeat this mistake. The next unlucky 6 kids will not be getting a device. We’ll get them a smartphone their senior year of high school and call it good. In our middle school and high schools the kids are handed out laptops to use for the school year so it’s not like they’re totally deprived anyway. I would like to add that I am not interested at all in changing other parent’s minds on how to handle technology. We’ve just looked at what is working and not working for our family, and this is the decision we’ve made. So, founding principle: as little technology as possible please.

A friend of mine offered to lend me her travel dvd player for our trip. I nonchalantly said, “Oh, thank you! But we’re fine. The kids will read and color and bring toys to play with.” Because, Principles! I also want my kids to learn the art of sitting and thinking and looking out the window and amusing themselves. Because, Principles! It’s good for them!

The kids each packed a backpack full of toys and books and crayons and coloring books. I bought a couple travel games and a couple new toys to amuse them. We had a good supply of snacks. We were ready! (I would like to add that my teenagers brought their devices. I haven’t tried to seperate them from their devices. It’s kind of like taking drugs away from an addict. In my passive aggressive way, I’m just waiting for their devices to break and then I won’t replace them.)

This Principled Mama now has to confess that by the middle of the second day, in a bid for peace, I was holding my iphone up by the ceiling of the van so that everyone could see it and letting the kids watch Frozen, the one movie that I had downloaded on my phone. (Incidentally, this movie was downloaded on my phone the last time we took a trip to Maine). So here I am, holding my arm up in the air for an hour and half so that my kids can watch a movie. Why were my kids squinting at a tiny screen while my arm felt like it was going to break off, when they could have all been watching movies on a nice travel dvd player? Because, Principles!  Sometimes I want to kick myself for being so principled.

The Story of How I Mistook My Husband for a Rabid Raccoon

One of my goals for this blog is to get all my older pieces all in one place, so I will occasionally be posting old stories from Face Book. This is actually the first story I ever wrote about my family. It takes place about 5 years ago, when we had 8 children. Enjoy.

So, we sold our camper this summer and this weekend we went tent camping for the first time in 6 years. Aside from the deflated air mattress that had me sleeping on the hard ground the first night, the flash flood that had me sleeping in a puddle of water on the hard ground the second night, and the nonstop cloud of gnats and mosquitoes, the trip did have it’s high points. Like going swimming at the river and spotting two water moccasins (at least that’s what they looked like!).

 

The climax of the trip though was the third night when I was anticipating sleeping on my brand new air mattress that my husband so thoughtfully left the wilderness and went to Walmart to buy. I had all the kids bathed and was trying to usher them into their tents (older kids in one tent, younger kids with mom and dad in the other tent) and Andy was at the bathhouse showering. The older kids refused to enter their tent because they had spotted some various bugs in the interior (yes, they are city kids), so I told them to sit by the fire and wait for their Dad while I took the younger ones to bed. I was trying to feed the baby and get my other little ones to calm down when the peace was shattered by screams of SNAKE!! I yelled the helpful advice of, “It’s Ok, just calm down and wait for Daddy.” The screams rose in decibel so I told them to come get in my tent and zip it up, no snake could enter. The screams got even louder as my son Levi managed to choke out that the snake was heading for my tent. Some kids ran in the tent while the others hopped up and down screaming. So, I handed the now also screaming baby to an older sister and went outside to “handle” it. This is surefire evidence that the mothering instinct overcomes other instincts as my children definitely learned the scream and hop up and down at the sight of a snake, from me.

 

So, Levi, with shaking finger, points out the snake to me, which, sure enough, is only about a foot away from our tents. I was able to recognize the snake as a copperhead because only that afternoon I had been googling poisonous snakes of Tennessee after our swimming experience. So, after uselessly yelling for Andy (who was relaxing in the shower while all this was going on), I bravely grabbed a handful of gravel and threw it at the snake until it slithered off into the woods (right next to the path to the bathhouse, which I then and there decided I didn’t need to visit any more that night!). The kids were hysterical so I ordered them all into the van. I also climbed into the van, turned the motor on, and after reading some bible verses about stepping on cobra’s heads and not being hurt and explaining to the kids in detail how snakes are not actually out to get humans and really don’t want to have anything to do with us.. and googling on Andy’s phone about copperheads and finding the great news that copperhead bites are Generally, not fatal, they finally calmed down to a mere whimper.

 

Andy, comes back from his shower and finds the van running and all his family inside. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for Fear. He walks around the campsite with a light and scares away any remaining snakes and then, with some eye-rolling, he leaves us huddling in the van and goes to sleep in the tent.. alone…on my brand new air mattress.. while I try to get comfortable in the front seat. So, I have the window down because it’s hot but I’m very nervous about this (maybe a snake will fall out of a tree on my car and then down in the window?)

I finally manage to fall asleep by the open window. Suddenly I hazily see two eyes at my window and my sleeping brain tells me that it is a raccoon. So, I scream and try to shoo it away but it won’t go away, it just keeps staying, in fact, it seems to be leaning in to the car (maybe it’s a rabid raccoon? Why else wouldn’t it run away?). The raccoon also seems to be yelling something. Something like, “Stop, it’s me!! Stop!” I jerk awake and there is Andy looking at me like I’m some crazy person. “What is wrong with you?? I’m just trying to bring you a flashlight in case you need to get out of the car!) Now the entire car is screaming (imagine a dark campground, a mom and 8 children all sitting in a van, screaming as loud as they can). This is when I start considering just starting up the car and driving the 2 ½ hrs home by myself. We can come pick up Andy in the morning.  I check the clock, it’s midnight. Only about 6 more hours till light. I can make it that long. I miss my camper.

Art Therapy

This past week my brother and his family came from out of state to visit my parents. My parents live about an hour away from us and so we went out Friday afternoon to visit and had a mini family reunion. My brother has 4 kids and I had 8 of my kids there so it was a full house. Kids were running around everywhere having fun. Then my 3 year old came into the kitchen, where all the adults had gathered, and he was crying. He crawled up into my lap and said that his brother had made him fall on the ground and hurt his knee. I tried to kiss it better and he said it helped but he was still sad. He said that he needed to go draw a sad picture. I said OK, patted him on the head and sent him on his way. He returned with this picture:

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He said he was going to go show this picture to the brother that had hurt him.

Fortunately the 6 year old cousin drew a picture to help cheer him up.

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It’s a turtle spider. It worked. My 3 year old felt a lot better after getting this picture. Thank goodness for cousins.

What would we do without art?