Camp is tremendously valuable for both boys and girls

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Sunset at the beach at our camp, August, 2014

Camp was a very important part of my life.  I went to the same camp, on Cape Cod, for many summers, including four years of a junior counselor training program and two years as a counselor.  It’s a profound joy for me to watch both of my children attend and love the same camp now.  I couldn’t possibly be more of a believer in what camps offer children.

Camp is a place that kids can be away from their parents, a place they can be joyfully rambunctious and experiment with new activities, skills, and experiences, a place they can meet and get to know friends who are different from their friends at home.  I place tremendous value in the out-of-their-regular-life aspect of camp, and in both of our childrens’ cases they went without a friend from home.

I learned recently that our camp, which is coed, is full for girls but not yet for boys.  Apparently all-boys camps are also less full than all-girls camps.  I find this phenomenon fascinating.  What is it about?  Do boys want to go away less?  This is hard for me to believe.  Do parents feel camp is less vital or valuable for boys?  Again, this surprises me, but maybe it’s true.  Is there increased competition for sports-specific camps when it comes to boys?  This, there may be some truth to.

For us, and I speak for both Matt and me here, we feel that camp is equally as important for a girl as for a boy.  We didn’t hesitate to send Whit, as I had Grace, the very first summer he was old enough (8 years old).  Both of our children were excited about going away that first summer (and every summer since).  I didn’t feel different at all about sending my children to camp.  In both cases I felt some trepidation and sorrow about saying goodbye (not really about missing them, but more about the recognition that I’m already here in my life).  But more than anything, I felt excited for them, and downright delighted to watch them fly.

There’s also such huge value, in my opinion, in the relationships that develop between children and their counselors.  Where else in their lives do kids get to form close, loving bonds with young adults, particularly ones who are in aggregate such terrific role models? In my view this is equally as important for boys and for girls.

I did have one boy-specific moment when I observed Whit with his counselors, at pick-up, certainly, but even at drop-off.  I watched the boys play Gaga Ball and felt like I was watching puppies: they were freed to be physical and rowdy, to be joyful and affectionate, to run and jump and yell.  So much of modern life seems to tell boys to be quieter and softer and I distinctly remember watching Whit and thinking: oh, wow, at last, a place he can just be a boy (I realize this a stereotype even as I write it, but it is one that holds true in our family and thus I share it).

This reflection made me more convinced at the power of camp for my son, not less.  Both of our children are looking forward to the summer ahead, and so are we.

Are you a summer camp family?  Do you feel differently about camp for boys as you do about camp for girls? 

 

 

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the beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable

Still there are moments when one feels free from one’s own identification with human limitations and inadequacies.  At such moments, one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet, gazing in amazement at the cold yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable: life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny: only being.

– Albert Einstein

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Things I Love Lately

Love Looks Like This – this beautiful post by Sarah Bessey brought tears to my eyes.  Such perfect timing for our Here Year theme this month.  Sarah writes that “lifelong love is actually most built throughout the hours of the day, all twenty four of them, in the ordinary moments of our humanity.”  Oh, yes.  Lifelong love isn’t what we imagined it would be, at least not for me.  It’s so much more multifaceted, complicated, and beautiful.

I read Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable and loved it.  The book is hilarious and wise and I adore Daum’s voice.  My review – spoiler, I loved it! – will be on Great New Books in a few weeks.

Embarking on a Voyage – Barnstorming is one of my favorite blogs, and this post is a great example of why.  The future is a murky mess.  We can only navigate by our wits and by what we can hear in the fog.  This short piece is so beautiful.

Matt and I watched The Affair over the holiday break.  I don’t watch much TV, but that’s changing lately because the qualify of shows such as The Affair have really captured my attention (I also love Homeland and House of Cards).  I was riveted by the Affair despite finding the two central protagonists quite unlikeable.  I’m particularly fascinated by the notion of what we remember and why, and about how our recollections of an experience as filtered through our own subjectivity (and thus may differ from those of others).

I write these Things I Love Lately posts approximately monthly.  You can find all of the previous ones here.

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The Here Year: Love

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It’s February, and the Here Year is drawing to a close.  It’s hard to believe.  This month’s topic is love.  I can’t wait to read what Aidan has to say on this (substantial) topic and to spend some time thinking and writing about it myself.

I believe that the basic building block of love is presence.

I wrote before that friendship is made of attention and that’s actually true for all kinds of love.  Love underlies all, doesn’t it?  It’s the alpha and the omega, the reason we get up in the morning, what we think about before we go to bed at night.  I don’t just mean romantic love.  I mean love for our families and our friends, love for our work and our hobbies, love for the things we read and think about and do and the people we encounter.

Just last week, in answering questions designed to build vulnerability and hence closeness, I asserted that what I really want out of friendship is someone who stays near, no matter what.  This is true of love.  What love means to me is being heard and listened to, someone standing with me in the kitchen while I unload the dishwasher, someone remembering to inside out their socks before putting them in the laundry just because I asked them to, someone believing that I meant well even if I messed up.

Love is abiding.

And love, like life itself, is made up of a zillion small moments.  Years ago I wrote about the dailiness of life, observing that “we build our lives – our commitments, our desires, our identities – through quotidian acts that can feel infinitessimal and meaningless as we enact them.”  I think you could substitute the word “love” for “life,” and it is absolutely as true.

Love is made up of the smallest acts.

Whit and I read a wonderful book this weekend called On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne.  It tells the story of Albert Einstein’s life and at one point talks about how he was interested in things enormous (the universe) and tiny (the atom).  That’s what love feels like to me in some ways: simultaneously unfathomably big and exceedingly miniscule.  Both of these characterizations make it hard to really grasp.  But I’m pretty sure love is composed of our attention, and is built out of an infinite number of small things.

What does love mean to you?

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I was living in a blessed time

It was a rich life.  Even I, the most selfish and least satisfied and most sensitive and wary one, even I knew I was living in a blessed time. – Ellen Gilchrist, Net of Jewels

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Vulnerability fosters closeness

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blue post-blizzard morning

This month of the Here Year has been particularly thought-provoking for me.  Aidan chose vulnerability which I think is a rich, complicated, and fascinating topic.  A couple of weeks ago, there was a widely-circulated Modern Love essay called To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This.  I was particularly struck by a piece I read in the article’s wake, which listed the specific questions the author refers to, and asserts that “mutual vulnerability fosters closeness.”

Aidan and I decided it would be fun to together answer some of the 36 questions.  In the name of vulnerability and in the name of our project, we each agreed to share our responses to five of the questions.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the basic premise that being vulnerable to each other is the (only?) way to build true intimacy and, eventually, love.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

We both have parents who are still married to each other.  We are both from New England.  We both lived in London for a formative stretch during our childhood or young adult years.  Aside: I’m curious about the “appear” in the question.  These are all facts that we definitely have in common!

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

I have long dreamed of writing a book.  I still dream of this, though, candidly, that dream is changing.  I haven’t done it because I haven’t yet convinced a publisher to take a chance on me!!

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

The knowledge that a friend will be with me, no matter what.  That they’ll tolerate me and love me in spite of myself.  That they’ll show up and listen and be there, whatever comes. Abide with me, as always, plays in my mind.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

I last cried by myself last week, out of fear and frustration and the unknown.  I cry in front of my children all the time.  I last cried in front of a friend in December when I realized I had behaved thoughtlessly and in a hurtful way.  I drove over to her house, showed up, and just started bawling.  It was most definitely the Ugly Cry.  I think she heard me that I was sorry.

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

One of my photo albums from before digital photography (I still make old-school photo albums but the photos are also saved digitally).  Or else one of my four quote books that I’ve been keeping since 1985.

I’d love to hear your responses to any or all of these questions.  Furthermore, do you agree that mutual vulnerability is what love and closeness are made of?

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The Hermitage Club

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A couple of weeks ago Matt and I took a rare and wonderful 24-hour respite from real life.  We spent a night and a day in Vermont at the Hermitage Club and it was absolutely perfect.  While Matt is from Vermont, this was a corner (southwest) of the state we haven’t spent much time.  In fact, I’d never been there.  Now, I can’t wait to go back.  I am in love.

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We started our adventure with an evening snowcat ride to the top of Haystack Mountain, now a part of the private Hermitage Club.  We had fondue and drinks in a hut at the top and admired the nighttime views, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner in the gorgeous, brand new lodge.

The next morning dawned clear and cold and we had one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had at the Hermitage Inn. We knew we were in Vermont and felt right at home because we were sitting under a print of a painting of a duck by Matt’s adored aunt.  We then headed out to ski the pristine slopes of Haystack.  Because the Hermitage is a private club, it’s never crowded.  All morning (and we tragically had to leave after lunch) we skiied directly onto ski lifts. There were #noliftlines.  It had snowed the night before and the mountain was covered in several inches of powder.

Matt and I have skiied a lot, at a lot of places (New England, out west, Europe) and I can say without reservation that this was easily among our top three ski days.  Ever.

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We stopped at the same hut where we’d had drinks the night before for a hot chocolate.  Every single person we encountered working at the Hermitage was friendly, warm, and professional.  The service is flawless.  The Hermitage has seen to every detail and made skiing as comfortable as humanly possible.  There is valet parking and people take charge of your skis and gear for you.  The food is delicious.  There are no crowds.  They can’t – yet – control the weather, but the introduction of a covered chairlift before next season will mean that riding up is warm and comfortable.

Haystack and the Hermitage are simply spectacular.  My only regret is that Grace and Whit weren’t with us as I know they would have adored it.  I think the Hermitage is absolutely built for children.  It would be a fantastic place to learn to ski (no crowds = a much safer environment) and there is a full ski school program. The club has an excellent golf course and the mountain offers excellent biking and hiking opportunities.  The spa wasn’t yet open when we were there but I imagine it’s, like the rest of the resort, absolutely perfection. There’s no question this is a four-season destination.

There are two ways to ski Haystack: join the Hermitage Club or stay at the Hermitage Inn.  The latter is a great way to get a taste of the Hermitage Club experience, and the Inn itself is, as far as I can tell, the manifestation of a perfect New England inn.  If breakfast is any indication, it’s some of the best dining in Vermont.  They offer tubing, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing in addition to direct access to Haystack.  This place is absolute, downright, unfettered magic.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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 The soaring ceilings of the lodge, with outrageously cool lighting fixtures

Disclosure: we were privileged to visit Haystack and the Hermitage as guests of the club.  All opinions shared here are absolutely my own.

 

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That which we love

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Thank you Lindsey, it is a huge honor to appear on your blog.  I’m grateful for you, my friend.

That which we love

Three years ago, a night nurse broke my infant son’s legs. The abuse was intentional and she served (only) one year in jail. In the course of the investigation, we learned that six months before coming to work for us, the thirty-one year old woman also broke ten bones on two-week old twins in Belgium, before fleeing in the middle of the night when the parents took the babies to the hospital. A native of Utah, she was convicted and sentenced to four years in Belgium, with an extradition hearing set for March.

I share the story above only as context for the letter below to my sweet, hilarious, healthy, happy three-year-olds regarding vulnerability. Because the only thing I know for sure is the things and people we love most make us vulnerable. And the path of being truly alive includes how to remain that way.

To my sweet little unfurling souls, Kalvin and Grace,

Vulnerability. The concept has always been a tricky one for your momma having been raised in a Midwestern family where emotive displays contrasted sharply with the stalwart moral value (dare I write) of keeping a stiff upper lip. Add to that years exhibiting steadfast calm behind the goaltending hockey mask regardless of thousands of people yelling insults, and to say I was less than comfortable with being vulnerable would be an understatement.

And so in adulthood, I tackled it from a cerebral point of view, defining vulnerability as having the ability to say, “I don’t know” and “I’m sorry” and “I feel x, y, z.”

Then you.

Actually, then Daddy and then you.

The three of you cracked me wide open, drastically changing my definition of vulnerability, because it’s like this: the people and things we love utterly and completely, and dream for and about from the deepest place within ourselves, and yearn and ache for such that our chests feel too small; they are what make us vulnerable. Disclosure warning. Your momma has suffered public and private humiliation, crushing heartbreak, the betrayal of close friends, violations of trust and love, pain, loss, rejection, devastating guilt, and deep, deep profound loneliness. All because I have loved. The pain exists; it is real. And it will be for you. The fact that there is nothing I can do to prevent your pain is at the heart of what I’m attempting to convey in this letter to you.

Because, my sweet little beings, I hope you love the world anyway. I hope you have the courage to fall in love with as many things as possible, over and over again.  I hope you always remember how to melt into the moments in front of you, as you do so naturally now; how to be present with the stars in a clear mountain sky, the spontaneous laughter of a great friend; the yearning regrets of a parent, the curiosity of a toddler touching snow for the first time, the dog who will not leave his injured owner’s side, the snow crystals than hover suspend in the air, as if we all lived and breathed amongst billions of tiny diamond fairies. I hope you feel it all.

I think Momma’s friend Lindsey is right, vulnerability and presence are inextricably linked.  And being present for the good stuff is much easier than remaining present for the hard. But to truly live, I believe you need to be open and vulnerable to both. In order to evolve, you need to learn to carry those contradictions gently in your hearts.

Someday you will ask me about what happened to you. You will ask about depravity and pain, and I hope I will be able to convey with empathy and compassion that yes, evil exists.  It lived and breathed in our home, it smiled and laughed at our dinner table. It tortured babies. It injured you.  And yes, knowing of evil is different than experiencing its existence, as you have.

But the same is true of love. And you know so much love. And I know so much love.  And our home is full of love. And so I hope you will have the fortitude to choose, despite human depravity, to see beauty and live in a way that is a tribute to overcoming the darkness.  I hope you will have the courage and the grit to know you can handle anything life throws at you.  I hope you will have the bravery and the resilience to stay open, vulnerable and porous (Lindsey’s word) such that even when you feel like a lonely drop in a vast ocean, you will remember you are not alone, for you are the ocean itself.

Because here’s the spoiler alert, even the people and things you love will break your heart. Wide open. Especially those. Sometimes they break it to let the light in. Sometimes they break it so your heart can heal stronger. Sometimes the things we love break our hearts so we know just how strong we are.  And sometimes, the heart just breaks.

But therein begins the challenge, path, and destination all in one. Can you continue to honor what your heart is feeling and the life you’ve been given, no matter what? Can you stay open anyway; can you live with what is?

Because more than anything that happens to you, how you react and the choices you make will determine the quality and course of your lives.  Your choices will define you, not the darkness, not the hard, not the evil, not what anyone else says or does.  Just you.  Life simply unfolds.  It’s going to do its thing. And we all have the choice to jump in, lean in, learn and grow. Or we can choose to shut down, resist, and close. We can be the victim. We can live in fear, afraid of what happened or what may happen. We can live in tight little boxes of routine and comfort, secure behind the walls of distractions, rigid belief systems, over-exercise, strange restricted eating habits, closets full of perfectly folded clothes, calendars full of social engagements we don’t really want to attend, DVRs full of whatever, and the myriad of other ways people hide and defend themselves against the world.  We can blame, justify, rationalize. We can fold.

Or we can live.  Laugh, dream, cry, play, break, weep, despair, love, fight, hate, dance, and do it all again. Stand up, fall down, get back up, be your own hero, forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself, my little Gracie girl and Buddha bear.  Honor the manifestation of creation that is unfolding right in front of you, whatever it may be, each and everyday, knowing you will be okay. You will be okay. You are already okay. So you don’t have to close. You don’t have to shut yourself off from life.  It may hurt at times, okay. Ouch. Huge ouch. But try not to close. Try to surrender and melt into the magic because that is where the good stuff is found. That is where you reside now, even within our busy and chaotic days that are changing at a dizzying pace, you live totally and completely, with effortless resilience and affection, open and aware in each moment, ready for each adventure.

And so I want to live there too, with you. Your Daddy already lives there. His innocence and vulnerability both terrify and inspire me, just like yours. I’m all too aware that my need to live with three of you in wonder and awe leaves me vulnerable. And that’s ok. Because we are alive, together.

I love you both, with all my everything, love, Momma

It is a huge honor to share Sarah‘s beautiful words with you today.  It has been a privilege to get to know Sarah, in person as well as online, and I count her among my dearest friends now.  I hope you loved her writing as much as I do.  You can learn more about Sarah on her Writer page, here.

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On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

– Billy Collins

In honor of this week that Whit turned ten.  Thank you to Kim for reminding me of this beautiful poem.

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Ten Years Old

Whit 10

Dear Whit,

Yesterday, you turned ten.  Your single-digit years came to a close, and the night before last I kissed a single-digit child good night a final time.  Another last, which, you’ve noted before, all belong to you.  I can’t pretend I don’t feel some sorrow about this.  I do.  I stood outside your bedroom after saying goodnight and leaned my head against the doorjamb and cried.  Hard.

Last night we celebrated, as we always do family birthdays, at home with dinner by candlelight.  You got to choose the menu, which was: your favorite brie, chicken parm subs from our local pizzeria, kale salad, and homemade triple chocolate cake.  You and Grace share a fierce preference for homemade cake.  I love that this is how you feel and I gladly make whatever you want.

When I started this blog you were one.  I’ve chronicled so much of your childhood here, from when I observed that you were leaving babyhood to thoughts on saying good night to a growing toddler, to your ninth birthday letter.  I have also written many times about the overjoyed bewilderment that bloomed the day you were born and that has never quite left me.  A boy?  I’m one of two girls and never had a brother and to say that parenting a son was a new frontier is an understatement.  Of course all of parenting is an adventure without a guidebook, and your gender is only one way in which I’ve been startled and delighted by you over the years.

It feels like yesterday I wrote that your babyhood was clinging to you, and now it feels like it’s your childhood that’s hanging on by a thread.  You’re still small and slight and I can easily carry you, but I know those days are numbered.  You are sprinting towards being a young man faster than I can possibly comprehend, following your sister into adolescence.  I stand in the shadow of that fact every day.

You love hockey and have greeted your sister’s decision to start playing the sport with an equal measure of trepidation (“it’s my sport!”) and happiness (“something for us to do together!”).  You are so capable putting on your gear that you no longer need me in the locker room at all, which, I’ll admit, is okay by me because a roomful of nine- and ten-year old Squirts smell a lot worse than did a roomful of seven- and eight-year old Mites.  I’m confident that your team’s heartbreaking loss in last season’s playoffs is an experience you’ll remember forever.  I know I will.  You’re a good baseball player, too: last year you were the lead-off batter for your team and my favorite moment of the season is when you hit a home run while your grandparents were visiting from Florida and watching.  After you ran the bases, I took a picture of you with your grandparents.  Your face is radiant with joy and I remember feeling your heart thumping in your chest like a rabbit as I hugged you before taking it.

More than anything else, your true passion is how things work.  I think you’re a maker at your core.  When people ask you what you want to be when you grow up, you respond, without hesitation, “a robot designer.”  I won’t be surprised if that’s what you do.  You asked for a soldering kit for your birthday and build large, working Legos without help.  I love that you still love Legos.  You enjoy building electronics and are learning rudimentary programming and love doing science experiments on the weekends.  This fall you made a classic baking soda volcano which your godmother was around to witness exploding.

You’ve always been a capable reader, but in the last year you’ve truly discovered the way a good book can engross and transport you.  It started with A Wrinkle in Time, my favorite childhood book, and watching you fall in love with L’Engle’s world was one of the great joys of the last year for me.  You blazed through The Secret Series this fall and read The Phantom Tollbooth in two days over Christmas.  In fact I busted you reading The Phantom Tollbooth by headlamp at midnight on Christmas Eve, took it away, and your first words on Christmas Day when you woke up (at 8:45!) were “where’s my book?”

Late in the fall, in the fourth grade Environmental Assembly, you gave a presentation to a roomful of school mates and parents that knocked my socks off.  You didn’t read from your presentation or notes, you spoke clearly and audibly, and you made us all laugh.  You were nervous and took the presentation entirely seriously, which I loved to see, but you were transformed into someone confident and capable when you took the microphone.  It’s a moment I won’t forget.

I also won’t forget watching you win the Best Camper Award for your unit at camp this summer.  I went to the same camp for 7 years before I won an award, and in your second summer you won the big one.  I missed you while you were away but I feel proud knowing that you clearly came into your own there, and every word your counselor read before he announced your name made me grin.  It brings tears to my eyes to remember the moment he said “Whit Russell,” and the incredulous, overwhelmingly proud look your father and I gave each other.  You, the only boy in the Junior Scouts who had worn a coat and tie to Cup Night, scurried up to hug all your counselors and accept your trophy as I watched, tears running down my cheeks.  My little boy is growing up, and it was clear as I listened to those words that you’re becoming a young man who takes care of others, sets an example, throws himself into new experiences, and still, loves a good prank.

You like to curl up on the couch and read Harry Potter with me, you love to take tubs, and the only fruits or vegetables you’ll touch are lettuce, spinach, and kale.  Beloved, Beloved’s Brother, and Bear all sleep with you, as does Lego, who you won so many years ago during our first trip to Legoland.  You give me our secret sign that means “I love you” as you head off to school in the morning, proudly name pink as your favorite color, exhibit deep loyalty to your closest friends, and make me laugh every single day.  In my 10 years as your mother, you have never met someone who didn’t say something to me about how funny you are.  At the same time, there’s a seam of sensitivity running through you that reminds me of … well, me.  I’m ambivalent about this and often wish I hadn’t handed down my predisposition towards heartache.  Still, since it seems I did, I hope you never stop showing me your feelings, even if that means that sometimes you hurt.  It’s one of the things I worry the most about protecting – your willingness to feel, and to talk about those feelings – as you grow into a young man.

I couldn’t possibly be prouder of you, Whit, my first son, my last baby.  I adore you and I always will.

Love,

Mum

My past birthday letters are here: nine, eight, seven, six, five, four (???), three, two

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Image I shared on Instagram on Monday.  You at 3 months, and you at almost-10.  In between lies a lifetime of laughter and tears and adventures and joys, which passed on a single blink.

 

 

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