sideways rabbit

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sleeping bags: the new straitjackets

I love camping almost precisely as much as I hate it. At 41, I'm getting a little too old to sleep on the rooty forest floor. (I'm furiously trying to manifest a pop-up camper into our lives.) And the preparation and clean-up involved makes my ADD explode like toadstools. Still, there's nothing quite like the gooey core of inner serenity that a weekend in the wilderness imparts. The humans back in the city grimace and hurry, ambitiously stifled in their metaphysical straitjackets. But you are free.


Where we live, in the N.C. mountains, there are so many glorious places to camp it would take the better part of a fortnight to list them all. (Don't you just love the idea of a fortnight? There's no other increment of time that deserves "the better part.")


Still, I'm into lists lately. So here's my latest:




1) WONDERFUL: It gets your kid out of his comfort zone. No school, no schedules, no TV, no Angry Birds, no whining rut (e.g. at bedtime). His exhilaration is palpable. He cavorts. He is overwhelmed. He crawls into his sleeping bag at night and falls asleep in two flicks of a bat's wing. TERRIBLE: It, um, gets your kid out of his comfort zone. At home, you've trained him to hold your hand in parking lots, look both ways before crossing the street, and to steer clear when Daddy pours accelerant on the grill in an attempt to sear ribs on damp charcoal. But the minute you get to a campground, he pedals his bike straight toward the dense, 510,000-acre forest bordering the tent site. The novelty of wearing Daddy's shirt to keep warm warrants dragging that shirt's extra-long sleeve through the campfire -- just to see what will happen.


2) WONDERFUL: Your extraordinarily picky eater will try foods while camping he would never dream of eating at home. TERRIBLE: This mainly means a hot dog on a stick.


3) WONDERFUL: Thanks to early wilderness experiences, your child will hopefully grow up comfortable with the notion of bears, bugs and other wildlife. He has seen a copperhead. He has heard a fox cry at night for her kits. TERRIBLE: Bad stuff can still happen. Going on mother's intuition, you put your kid's bike helmet on him before the tubing portion of the camping excursion, even though he's never worn a helmet while tubing before. Ten minutes down the river, he smacks hard into an unexpected, fallen tree, leaving a scratch on the helmet you'll obsess over for weeks. Could have been the head. Could have been the head.


4) WONDERFUL: Thanks to his natural five-year-old's curiosity, he will ask many questions about the flora and the fauna. TERRIBLE: Thanks to his natural five-year-old's curiosity, he will ask ABSOLUTELY ENDLESS questions about the flora and the fauna. Oh, you thought you were going to blissfully lose yourself in that novel you'd saved for the trip? Hm. Funny.


5) WONDERFUL: Camping helps solidify your identity as a family. Who are we? We are campers. We are hikers. We are tubers. TERRIBLE: The stress of camping with just one child has you dwelling on how utterly unable you'd be to handle more than one. Parents who do are miraculous. You, on the other hand, would end up in a straitjacket (see first paragraph).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Gave Him Love, He Gave Me Sleep

They say motherhood changes you. This is profoundly true--too profound to articulate, really. "I never knew I could love someone so much" -- true. It's been said, and I can't say it any better. So, for Mother's Day, I'm going to muse on three other, rather mysterious ways motherhood changed me. Was it having a baby so big he sailed off all pediatric charts by eight weeks old? Was it that jolly toddler who defied generations of pessimists on every branch of his family tree? Hard to say. But my mind, body, and spirit have certainly never been the same.


BM (Before Motherhood):


1) I didn't sleep. From age 9 to age 35, I worried about not sleeping way more than I actually slept. I read books about insomnia, took pills, consulted traditional therapists and hypnotherapists, tried homeopathic remedies, and contemplated the worst. A biofeedback specialist told me I had the same level of muscle tension as a person who'd suffered an industrial accident. I had lots of ineffectual "therapeutic" massages, and one terrible breakdown.


2) I was nervous. Nervous when I was a kid, nervous when I was a young adult, nervous all the time. Nervous as a wild rabbit in a cattery. I fretted. I wrung my hands until I popped my wrists out of joint. I paced so hard I wore a groove in the hardwood of an apartment floor -- a groove I had to pay for. I was skinny. Did I mention I didn't sleep?


3) I was shy. Morbidly so. Called upon to give my opinion in a college class, way back in the early '90s, I feigned old-fashioned muteness. In certain situations, I simply couldn't speak at all. Wine, beer, and rum helped this situation. Until I became unaccountably allergic to all of them.



AM (After Motherhood):


1) I started sleeping, and now I can't stop. I am as narcoleptic as a kitten. I crave naps the way some people crave salt or guns or liquor or religion or secret websites. From the age of 1 to 3 my son took four-hour-solid naps every afternoon. I napped too, and somehow I caught it -- some sort of somnambulatory virus. Long after he outgrew napping, I carried the wavering torch. I stumble through every day in search of a blank hour and any reasonable mattress.


2) I still worry, but there's an ocean floor of perspective underneath. I move much slower. My body is completely different. D boobs are one significant, unexpected alteration. Where they came from I'll never know. But it's hard to pace the floor when you have a milkmaid's figure. I'll take a wooden stool instead. With a pillow--for napping.


3) Except in a few select situations, I am no longer shy. I just don't give a frickin' flip. I'll say anything -- try me. I read poetry in front of strangers. I talk on radio shows. I'll talk about anything, anywhere and anytime. I rudely interrupt dear friends so I can have my say. I exhaust myself and others. I have a hard time shutting up.


Except, of course, when it's time for a nice nap.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How we Roll (and Limp)

This week we officially became the universe's most accident-prone family. Toting a box of groceries that obstructed my vision, I executed an unintended single salchow into the broken-off corner of a brick patio partition at the local health-food supermarket. I flipped over and landed on both knees, burst into tears like a baby, and almost expected applause. Nothing's broken, thankfully, but our orthopedist said a lot of confusing things that culminated with the shudder-inducing phrase "blood in the bone," and fitted me with a brace for the worst-off knee.


I say "our" because this unusually warm physician has treated the whole family in an unusually short period of time -- six times in four years, to be exact.


Beau started the trend when, at two, he leapt off a play bridge at the mall play pit, landed with apparent safety on the mat underneath...and didn't get up again. Though the impact was nothing, the angle was rare. He broke a bone in his foot. Since he only cried for five minutes, we didn't get him diagnosed until the next day, when he refused to walk and began crawling around the house, cheerfully regressing to the new normal. He wore a cast up to his knee for four weeks in the crushing humidity of midsummer, including a 100-degree trip to Chattanooga, and was so nonchalant about it I'll never forget the grace. (In fact, I think in general he was the sweetest two-year-old in existence. The major attitude didn't kick in till about age four. He takes his time.)


The next autumn (I almost said fall), my husband broke his leg after slipping on some dried berries in the garage. He wore a cast for six weeks, miserably. We joked that he broke his leg skateboarding. In fact, we joked about it so much the fib became real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.


Last summer, Beau sprained his knee in another fall. A couple months later, I broke some obscure bone between two toes, running my foot into a corner of the bathroom wall. For no real reason, I was in a hurry. Last month, my sister (who's part of our household) pulled a tendon in her left foot, necessitating a walking boot. We are identical twins. When I went to the bone & joint clinic on Friday about my knee, I somehow, against all bureaucratic odds, got her same receptionist, nurse, and, once again, the same doctor. Birthdates were looked up, brows wrinkled, different last names puzzled out. There was some fun.


As proven in this jittery photo, having a hurt knee with a rambunctious five-year-old around is like trying to balance a jello square on a toothpick. You hold your breath, and you hope for the best.