A Little Light

A few weeks ago, I picked up Charlie and Millie from summer camp and surprised them with lunch in town at our favorite burger place. Charlie loves a good cheeseburger and Millie could beat grown men in a french fry eating competition and also this made for one fewer meal I had to prepare at home so we were all pretty jazzed to be there.

This restaurant happens to be super small so when we entered, we headed straight to the counter to put in our order before finding a table. We found ourselves behind a young man placing a large takeout order. He was hot and sweaty and dirty and had obviously been working outside and appeared to be taking food to the rest of his crew.

After paying for our burgers and fries, I thought it best for the kids to wash up because who knows what they do at summer camp but it probably should come off of their hands before lunch so we headed to the bathroom. Upon returning to the little dining room, we were greeted by what could only be described as a mustard explosion. We stopped in our tracks and kind of did that cartoonish double-blink with our eyes. On one side of the restaurant, mustard was everywhere. On a couple of the tables, on the walls, the chairs, the floor. Bright, yellow mustard painted all over the place. And, all over the shirt and jeans and hands of the young man with the takeout order who we were behind in line when we arrived and who was obviously the point of origin for the mustard detonation.

In the short time we were in the bathroom, this customer’s order had come up and he had obviously attempted to add some ketchup and mustard to the burgers in the bag before heading out the door. At this restaurant, both of those condiments are in big red and yellow plastic squeeze bottles. I don’t know if the lid to the mustard wasn’t on tight or maybe, since the restaurant had just opened for the day, the temperature change from the cold refrigerator storage and the super warm dining room caused some sort of volatile buildup in the bottle which led to the explosion? I’m not sure but my CSI splatter analysis suggests the latter. It must have been absolutely spectacular.

What was even more spectacular is that no one was helping the young man clean it all up. He had grabbed a couple of napkins and was futilely trying to wipe the mustard from his pants but he mostly just looked overwhelmed and embarrassed. Two of the six tables in the restaurant were occupied – one with parents and their teenage children and another larger family with a few adults and lots of young kids. It was, without a doubt, impossible to not notice what had happened which made it so surprising to me that no one was moving a muscle to assist. Everyone had witnessed it and then just… continued on. Like nothing had happened.

I assigned Charlie and Millie to an open table that wasn’t dusted in mustard and went to help, interrupting the lady at the counter to ask for some paper towels and then returning to start wiping up the tables and the chairs and the floor while the young man looked at me and tried to explain that he had no idea what had just happened. I reassured him it was all okay and after several minutes, we had made some good progress. An employee eventually emerged to help. We all worked together a little bit longer and had most of it wiped up in short order. When we went to throw the mustard-covered paper towels in the garbage, the young man looked at me, smiled, and said, “I’m going to smell like mustard all day now.” I laughed and offered to hold the door open for him as he left with his tray of drinks and paper bag filled with burgers and fries and most likely, too much mustard.

Then, our order came up and the kids and I devoured our food, talked about how crazy that mustard thing was, and left in search of ice cream.

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So much going on in this world right now makes me feel completely and utterly helpless. Not hopeless. I haven’t lost hope. But, it feels like there isn’t enough helping going on anymore. I think that’s what brings me the greatest despair. The lack of genuine compassion for one another. Sometimes, it feels like no one has the space or the patience to just be kind.

I can donate my time and I can donate my money and I can speak passionately and I can listen empathetically and I can educate myself and I can advocate for others and I can rearrange our entire November vacation to be home in time to vote at our local precinct in the mid-term elections because I’m a little leery of absentee voting and it just seems better to be there on that day to vote in person, right?

I can do all of those things. And, I can show my children how to be helpers. How to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. How to imagine a situation – a life – that is different than their own. How to see a need and then fill it. How to clean up mustard with sub-par, non-absorbent, eco-friendly paper towels.

In the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential of ways and in the biggest, most significant of ways, helping others, compassion for others, kindness for others, matters.

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Places We’re Taking Our Kids They Will Fail To Appreciate

Summer break begins tomorrow, when the school year officially comes to a close. (But, we started celebrating weeks ago and our kids have not been to bed before 9:30 at night since, basically, the time change and, at some point, we just kind of stopped doing homework so summer break began awhile ago, if you catch my drift.)

When you have babies and toddlers, the end of the school year doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Summer routines for wee little kids are just like rest-of-the-year routines – days strategically planned around the dual schedule anchors of naps and mealtimes. June, July and August with tiny ones means doing everything you normally do the other nine months of the year only with 95 percent more sweating and a never-ending alternating application of bug spray and sunscreen.

But, we no longer have babies or toddlers! Everyone in this house can, for the most part, apply their own bug spray and sunscreen. And, they almost never get it in their eyes. Also, all of my children are capable of getting their own meals and snacks. While I still have to remind them to eat something other than a plate full of potato chips, I can yell that in the direction of the kitchen from the living room sofa so I consider it a win. And, the only one that really naps anymore is Bob so that’s good. Our summer breaks look so different now with these older kids and the freedom and relative autonomy that affords.

We’ve somehow found ourselves in that magical window of time wherein our youngest child is old enough to be in control of her own bowels but our oldest child is still young enough that he hasn’t begun to resent us with every fiber of his being. There’s an opportunity here to make some memories and I’m planning on taking advantage of it this summer.

Some things on our summer bucket list that my kids will probably complain are super boring but, one day, I’m confident they’ll look back upon and remember how super bored they were:

James River Plantations – Dotting the James River, southeast of Richmond, Virginia, is a stretch of plantations and historic homes open for tours. The buildings are impressive and I look forward to whisper-yelling, “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” to my children as we tour them. I remember visiting the area with my parents more than twenty years ago, when I was still a college student. I’m looking forward to making my own kids pose on this same boulder, which I assume has not been moved since this picture was snapped sometime around 1996.

Washington Nationals Game – This is not my idea. This request came from Henry and Charlie so I’m pretty sure that I’ll actually be the one that will be bored and miserably hot. Baseball just isn’t my jam but I will feign a good attitude and also I have heard there is really delicious food at the park so that’s something.

Movie Blockbusters – Nothing screams SUMMER like a well-made documentary! Am I right? I’d like the kids to see the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, “RBG” and the film about Mister Rogers titled, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I expect both will elicit tears from me and eye rolls from my children. I’m kind of okay with that.

 

Hershey Park – I grew up going to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio and feel strongly that amusement parks are SUCH a SUMMER thing. I don’t think the kids have ever been to one so I plan on taking them this year. I mean, it’s not really summer until you momentarily lose one of your children in a massive throng of strangers. (Aside: do people still wear matching outfits to amusement parks? I think I could get Bob on board with at least matching shirts. Yes, absolutely, I think he will LOVE that.)

Historic Route 11 – Route 11 stretches the length of Virginia (and beyond) and is the original and non-infuriating version of Interstate 81. We’ve wanted to explore the route for years now and are planning a few days this summer to do just that. We’re planning to begin in Abingdon, in the southwest corner of Virginia, and make our way north from there with overnight stops along the way in Roanoke and Lexington, eventually making our way to Winchester. I will probably find all of this way more fun than my children and that’s fine. The Route 11 Potato Chip factory is somewhere along this road and open for tours so that should make them feel right at home.

And, since I frequently field messages from friends looking for trip tips in our corner of Virginia, I thought I’d compile a list of some of our family favorites in case you need to add to your summer bucket list. All of the places detailed below are super kid-friendly which means they have easy access to bathrooms and snacks. Also, it will not surprise anyone that battlefields, heavy artillery, and (Civil War) history feature prominently in this list so your mileage may vary, etc.:

  1. Antietam (Maryland) – I like to say that Gettysburg gets all of the Civil War glory around here but Antietam should absolutely not be missed. It’s incredibly moving.
  2. Appomattox Court House (Virginia) – Appomattox is where General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. It’s worth the drive for the history and to see this part of rural Virginia which has it’s own unique beauty.
  3. America’s Historic Triangle (Virginia) – Encompassing Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Go see this! Colonial! History! Everywhere! It’s so fun! (Also, Williamsburg will be super busy but hanging out with our kids by the river in Yorktown was always our favorite part.)
  4. Cumberland (Maryland) – Bob said I should put this on the list so, you’re welcome, Bob. He’s biked the C&O Canal to Washington, D.C. a few times and Cumberland is where they always begin their journey. We’ve stopped once with the kids and there’s a neat museum here and lots of trains!
  5. Ohiopyle State Park (Pennsylvania) – Bob and I were married close by Ohiopyle and we’re making a return pitstop here in a couple of weeks with the kids. The Youghiogheny River runs through the park and affords lots of outdoor adventure opportunities. There are fun little shops and yummy places to grab a bite to eat. Highly recommend!
  6. Harpers Ferry (West Virginia) – Harpers Ferry is so easy to explore with kids. There are trains and trails and rivers and old houses and people wearing historic clothing and, like, five places to procure ice cream. It’s a win all around.
  7. U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center (Pennsylvania) – We spied this from the interstate and eventually made it back to visit a couple of years ago. There’s a little museum and loads of outdoor installations to explore that tell the history of the U.S. Army’s conflict involvement.
  8. Frontier Culture Museum (Virginia) – You should totally visit this place. Read all about it here: Worth Doing Also, the nearby town of Staunton is adorable. Make a weekend of it! There are wineries close by!

Okay. I think we’re ready for summer, guys. LET’S DO THIS.

Snippets

We skipped straight from winter to summer this year. We were robbed of spring. It’s been hot and the air is filled with humidity and there has been a lot of rain and everything is damp.

My naturally wavy hair is reflecting the atmospheric conditions and this morning, while preparing school lunches for the kids, Charlie looked at me, tilted his head studiously and said, “Your hair is sticking up everywhere. You look like Albert Einstein.”

“If Albert Einstein were accidentally electrocuted.”

Cherish. Cherish every moment.

I was in the emergency room with Henry one evening last week. Our visit stretched into the wee hours of the morning while the staff diligently worked to determine why he was in so much pain.

At one point, in order to more comfortably perform a diagnostic test, they administered pain medication to him through an intravenous drip. Henry’s relief was almost instantaneous and he marveled aloud at how quickly the drug had worked.

“I can’t believe how much better I feel already,” Henry declared.

Having been given the same drug in the same emergency room last summer for an interminable migraine and having found the same tremendous fast-acting relief from pain, I looked at Henry and said a little too excitedly, “I KNOW, RIGHT? AREN’T DRUGS AMAZING?”

It wasn’t until the nurse looked at me a little wide-eyed that I realized I may have sounded a bit overly enthusiastic for pharmaceuticals. It was so very late and I was so very tired. I tried to course correct by launching into a brief summary for Henry of the nation’s current opioid crisis and the challenges we face in fighting the devastating effects of powerful drugs. Then, I inexplicably gave the nurse a knowing wink but somehow this just made everything tragically worse and significantly more uncomfortable.

I’m pretty sure the nurse thought the D.A.R.E. t-shirt Henry was wearing by sheer coincidence was merely a prop.

I find thunderstorms mostly delightful so on Monday afternoon, when the skies turned dark, I told the kids to put down the small screens and join me in my bedroom for a good old-fashioned storm-watchin’. When the rain began and hindered our view out the windows, Henry asked if we could go sit in the garage, with the door open, to watch the storm. I hesitated momentarily because I had definitely heard some thunder but agreed it would be fun so we relocated to a decidedly more hazardous location.

Since we’re responsible parents, we made the kids sit towards the back of the garage. You know, for safety.

Within minutes, everything went from FUN to DOOM. I remember hearing Bob slam the garage door shut and I remember thinking the big bay windows were definitely, most likely, positively going to break from the hail and I remember being in disbelief at how loud it all was and I remember hustling everyone to the basement.

Charlie, no one’s fool, was already down there. With a blanket, a book, several stuffed animals, and a flashlight.

The worst of it was over in a few minutes but our home is a mess. Shredded window screens, damaged roof, punctured siding, mangled trim, dented everything. We’re fine. It will all be fine. But, still. That was SOME storm.

While I was at the drug store late Saturday night, buying all manner of items to soothe the never-ending parade of symptoms and ailments that have descended upon our home of late, I picked up a pint of my favorite ice cream. Showing an unreasonable amount of restraint, I didn’t open it that evening. Charlie took notice of it in the freezer the next afternoon though and asked, rather slyly, what my intentions with that ice cream were. I explained I was saving it.

“For another time,” I replied.

“Oh, come on, mom,” Charlie pleaded. “It’s Mother’s Day. Doesn’t that mean you have to share?”

I chuckled and said, “Charlie. That’s not how it works.”

But then I thought, yes, that’s pretty much exactly how it works. Every time.