Camping. With kids. 10 Lessons.

You can do it. But it's not pretty.
So, it turns out you can go on a week long camping trip with your family of four in a subcompact car. After a brief stop in Saint Marys to visit family, we headed out to Poe Valley State Park. It was raining as we headed down the 10 miles of desolate forest service road into the park. Our cell phones were soon out of range. (This was perhaps the greatest benefit of this pretty little park as it enabled us to take a true break from work.)

Camping with young kids alternates between being the most awesome thing you'll ever do and pure wretchedness. One minute your 3 year old is correctly identifying a bald eagle landing in a tree 50 feet away and you're like, yeah, I am the best parent ever, giving my kid all these formative experiences in the natural world.

Happy kid. Who needs the ocean
when you have a CCC lake?
Twenty minutes later, there's a poopsplosion at the same time somebody falls in a mud puddle and you realize you did not pack enough dinners for the entire week and it is a good hour to the nearest town. You desperately want to be at an all-inclusive Sandals resort with childcare. Or at least some place with a television.

But then it gets better. (And then worse. And then better again.)

Poe Valley is awesome for both tenting and RVs. Dogs are allowed at a select number of sites. They have a nice beach, flush toilets and hot showers. Once you get there, everything is walkable. It's extremely clean and well taken care of...all of the buildings are pretty new. Tent sites have packed gravel areas for you to set up your tent on, which turned out to be awesome in the rain. It's not very big compared to other state parks we've been to, and there were maybe 8 other families there for most of the week (it fills up on the weekends). All for the low, low price of $21 a night!

Marko suddenly became intent on
eating everything we did.
Generally speaking, I would call it a success. Here are a few of my tips for camping with little ones without going bonkers.

1. I normally wouldn't advocate for this, but bring paper plates and bowls. If you feel guilty about this like I do, just burn them and pretend like it never happened.
2. Keep the food simple. We even made a dozen PB&J's in advance, and while we got a little sick of them after a few days, it was so nice to just pull something out when the munchies hit...which with 3 year olds is only at THE most inconvenient times.
3. Buy a cooler with a drain. For the love of god, why do they even manufacture coolers without this feature?
4. Bring a bike or a scooter if possible. We borrowed a little scooter for Laurel to use and she loved hanging out with the big kids, just scooting back and forth in the campground loop.
5. Where do hipsters/yuppies/urbanites camp? We were definitely the only people who brought a quinoa salad made with our farm-share potatoes. Don't start any conversations about fuel efficient vehicles or Barack Obama. Not that we do this ever, but I'm just warning you.
There's really nothing better
than watching Laurel run
through the woods.
6. Leave the portable DVD player at home. Same with video games and iPOds and whatever other electronic crap normally entertains your children. Note: this will make the trip painful and at times unbearable. However, after a few days, I noticed Laurel was more tolerant of being quiet and observing things. She spent about 20 minutes watching a grasshopper while we waited for M to finish a trail run.
7. Each morning we sat around the fire and discussed what we wanted to do. Each person gets one pick a day. That seemed to just about fill up our day.
8. As part of your vacation budget, you may want to include a professional cleaning of your car. Our car smells like feet, stale Cheddar Bunnies and campfire smoke.
9. Invest in some field guides. We have some of these, and they are very useful.
10. Relax. The kids were going to throw a temper tantrum at some point at home anyway, right? So swallow your pride when it happens in front of other campers and you can always lock them in the car if they are too loud.


Heat Wave

It's so hot we don't bother to dress the baby at all.  We sip ice water with cucumber slices in it and position ourselves in front of the fans. In the heat of the day, we retreat to the bedoom and watch tv shows with the blinds closed. Laurel splashes in a bucket of water on the front porch. She squeezes water out of a sponge all over her chalk drawings and watches the colors run together. Every summer, I think, screw this. Find that quote for the central air conditioning. Or better yet, let's move north. But there is something very satisfying about living with the weather like this. I can't forget that it's July. I like being able to orient myself upon waking. Without opening my eyes, the humidity, the hum of the cicadas reminds me of where I am.

When I sponge off Marko while we watch traffic from our porch swing, I can remember Laurel's first summer and holding her hot little body in just a diaper. A heat wave. A visit from Leah. A hike in the woods with my mom friends and their sons.


What is the real story in the Trayvon Martin case?

After following the trial of George Zimmerman, I was not surprised at the verdict. Saddened, but not surprised. There are so many layers to this story.

There is the story about keeping our neighborhoods safe. It's frustrating to call 911 a hundred times and never see a police officer respond to your complaint. It's annoying when you do get a chance to talk to them after they follow up on a call and they are rude or dismissive. I cannot excuse Zimmerman for so incredibly overstepping the bounds of a neighborhood block watch, but I can understand what fueled his rage.

There is also the story of gun control. If there wasn't a gun involved maybe both parties would still be alive so that we could hear each side. The prevalence of guns makes it way too easy for something permanent to happen. Nobody saw exactly what happened and only the person left standing got to tell his side of the story.

And then there is the story of race.

Type, type, type. Delete, delete, delete.

It's hard for me to even acknowledge race in a blog post.

Last week, one of my high school kids read a book about Ruby Bridges and had a little conversation with the elementary kids about this very brave thing that Ruby did and how schools used to be "just for Blacks" or "just for Whites."

Used to be. Ahem. Well, I mean, technically. Errr. Ok, kids, so the school you go to is all Black. And your neighborhood is all Black. Your church. The busline you ride. Heck, there are two grocery stores near my house - literally across the street from each other - that are segregated. Should we talk about that?

Remember that Cheerios commercial with the interracial couple that got the racist internet trolls all fired up? Well somebody showed it to some kids and videotaped their reactions and we can all feel good because the kids think racism is stupid and probably once they grow up and all the racists die, we'll be all good. Finally. We have a non-white president. Things are getting better, right?

I want this to be the narrative. We all want this to be the narrative. We're all the same on the inside. It shouldn't really matter. Etcetera.

I am so, so White. And never it is more clear to me than when I go to work in Black communities. Stereotypes come from somewhere, you know. Some of it's sort of funny in how true it ends up being. Mayonaise. Dominoes pizza. Hiking. Microbreweries. Ironing your jeans. Super white sneakers. Fried chicken. Pottery Barn. You know which is black and which is white, don't you?

How I punish my children. What my friends' children call me. What we watch on tv. Funerals. Baby clothes.

Some silly differences, and some that run a little deeper, but these aren't the kinds of things that will keep you from being friends from someone, keep you from respecting someone. These are the kinds of things that you laugh about when you get to know each other.

But when you spend a lot of time crossing the lines that are so clearly divided in this city, you won't be able to ignore the Trayvon Martin differences. Who is allowed to walk somewhere late at night without drawing suspicion. What it's like to just try and live your life without accidentally crossing the path of both gangbangers and George Zimmermans. What you are allowed to do to protect yourself, depending on the status society has determined you deserve.

The kinds of heart-to-heart talks I'll have with my blonde-haired, blue-eyed son, versus the talks my Black friends will have with their sons.

It may be better than grown people swearing and spitting at six year old Ruby Bridges. But it's not good enough. Not by a long shot.


This one time at reading camp....

“Some say they get lost in books, but I find myself, again and again, in the pages of a good book. Humanly speaking, there is no greater teacher, no greater therapist, no greater healer of the soul, than a well-stocked library.” 
― L.R. Knost

A few weeks ago I got an opportunity to run a reading camp this summer. It is not exactly the best time in my life to plunge into sudden full-time employment by launching a completely new initiative that involves hundreds of people and four locations, but, well...it's reading. I couldn't resist.

We hired 40 high school students and sent them out to 4 summer camps across the East End. We call them Reading Warriors, and our aim is to match them one on one with elementary kids and collectively log a million minutes reading. For many years I have believed - and in fact, have become increasingly more convinced over time - that time spent reading for pleasure, outside of the obligations of school or work, could solve most problems. I believe this because of some research like this or this or this, but also because I have personally witnessed the transformation of children who learn to call themselves "readers" and act like "readers" and subsequently change the trajectory of their academic careers. I've seen it happen over and over again in my tutoring business and in the schools where I've taught. I consider teaching reading to be my superpower, and although my background in linguistics and reading education is certainly helpful to correct any number of reading disabilities, the super part of the power comes from believing that reading more makes you a better reader. And being a better reader unlocks opportunities for self-growth, for connecting with others, and empowerment.

I couldn't pass up this opportunity because when the project was pitched it was just about reading. No Common Core. No cross curricular STEM connection. Just books and kids.

Turns out, it's kind of hard to run a program like this. To craft it the right way, and get buy-in and order the right kinds of books. To get it all organized and rolled out in a week and a half and keep things going while dashing to your car to pump three times a day and managing the day-to-day drama of inner-city teenagers.

It doesn't look like what I thought it would look like.

I still believe in it, though, in the power of sharing print, in stories reread while lounging on bean bags. In visits to the library. In teenagers carrying around tattered copies of Othello. In children squealing with delight as someone reads Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type to them.

Today a kid asked me who my Reading Warrior was, when I was a kid. As if Reading Warriors weren't something that we just invented a few weeks ago. I had almost forgotten that, because I have invested so much faith in them, in their power. I wonder if the burden is too great, or if they will rise beyond my expectations. Two weeks in and the honeymoon is over, but we still have 4 weeks to go.


Happy 17 years, M

We ran into each other at a community park, introduced by mutual friends, during the July 4th celebration. I asked my dad for special permission to go watch the fireworks with my friends and go to Eat n Park afterward. I have no doubt that had my mother been there that night, I would not have been allowed to go. M still has the little slip of paper placemat with my phone number written on it in red crayon.

Happenstance was our foundation, and became a pattern over the years. How we met new friends and made decisions. Our hearts were open to the possibility of each other all those years ago. We didn't know where it would lead us or if it would be good. I can see that it was simply in our nature to trust in possibility. We found each other because of an equally matched desire to follow unknown paths. To say yes to things without really knowing if we'll be successful at them.

After 17 years, we're still saying yes. To each other and to whatever the world throws our way. Much love to you, M, on one of the  many anniversaries we've accumulated.