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Breaking the Ice with Words and Grief

Dear Sebastian,

Forgive me. I know you need some attention. You’ve been persistently reminding me for more than a year, but somehow I haven’t managed to sit down and contemplate you properly.

Last summer, your days were rushed into the beginning of Family Camp. I thought of you all the time, but couldn’t grieve or cry thoroughly. In response, I’ve found grief leaping up at me, unanticipated, all year long.

I clearly remember the summer you died, the way crying would insist upon happening (at inconvenient times)  if I didn’t deliberately fill a certain allotment of mindful grieving. The Crying Quota is a lot smaller now, but I’ve clearly been sidelining it too often. It persists.

There have been those random mornings when I’d be having a nice quiet coffee alone and suddenly find myself spilling tears on the table. Times when my mind would suddenly conceive, for no reason, that instant when your tiny heart stopped beating and your perfect soul broke away. Moments when I feel the phantom pain of your head pressing against my side, uncushioned by fluid, as it did for those last weeks.

There were also many reminders of your cherished existence in my heart – like you’re tenderly poking me from your place in the universe. Conversations I’d overhear – with weird frequency – about ultrasounds, sage tea, and even the salmon. And that day at school when I opened up a storybook I was given years ago, and caught sight of the author’s inscription for the first time since we’d received it: “To the Stephens boys.” It knocked the wind out of me for a moment… but it also made me glad. Proof of your realness.

Some days, I deliberately drive past the hospital on the way home. Which might seem strange. It’s a place I am tied to for its witness of the joyous births of your siblings, as well as the only time I spent holding you. It makes me feel closer to my babies. But sometimes that memory, of arriving at the dark street in front of the ER in unearthly pain, pops up more jaggedly than I anticipate – almost as if it were recent.

And while I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but feel regret about that last morning. I wish I had kept you in my arms for longer – even half an hour longer. I don’t know why I wish this so hard, since it would change nothing, and it would all still be just as over as it is now… It was just too short. I know we usually want pain to be short, but in this case – I would give a lot to go back to that pain for a few minutes.

This grief is more than six years old now, but damned if I’ve figured out how to navigate it.

Another difficult time this summer was when our midwife died. We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years at least, and she had been working out of the province, but that didn’t make the news easier to accept. All our midwives have been excellent, but our primary midwife was a particularly amazing person and an expert in her profession. She was the one who was with us for the non-stress test where we last heard your peaceful heartbeat. She bravely broke the bad news to us the next day. She caught you and told us what a beautiful baby you were. She visited me for weeks postpartum, even though there was no baby to check on, just to talk and make sure we were managing. She vowed to help me deliver my next baby, who would be born healthy… and so she did. Having been through a lot of grief and pain herself, she was caring and empathetic and optimistic in a way that was inexpressibly reassuring. And she was one of a very small handful of people who met you in person. This summer, we grieved for her family and friends and colleagues, but also selfishly: it hurts to think that that handful is now even smaller.

In July, when Skye very gently nudged me about blogging (as she does when I haven’t written for a while), I was acutely aware that it had been more than a month since my last post, and that I blogged not a word about you on your days. The more days that passed after that, the more I couldn’t write – because it was your turn… But I needed to write you something real.

I tried breaking the ice some other way, nonchalantly. There were several attempts. I tried to make a post featuring one of your brother’s artistic masterpieces: an instructional page he created for your sister to teach her how to make fart noises with her armpit. The written steps are pithy and the diagrams utterly, utterly luminous.

But it wasn’t right. My blog even scolded me for this irreverence by refusing to upload photos. (Still not sure what that’s about… sigh.)

And now you won’t be put aside any longer. It’s the last weekend of summer before school starts. Life is about to go back to scrambly busy-ness. Here I am, still working on this post. And especially for the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with the confluence of love and grief – because right now, they’re seemingly inextricable. I’ve been weepy so many times – missing my kids when I’m apart from them, saying goodbyes to people I love, listening to my favourite music, seeing beauty, feeling the endings of many things… It’s all harder because you’re so present in everything.

But when I think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m glad you’ve been so close to me all summer. You were there in the forested Appalachian hills on our trip to North Carolina, and in the joyous cacophony of the family we visited there – especially the smallest people. You were there at Family Camp, just as much in the boisterous play as in the brilliant silences. You were there on our trip to the Ottawa River, in the crashing whitewater as well as the tranquil ripples. You were there at OELC, in the gathered voices of more than a hundred people, singing this beautiful song written for a beloved little son.

Thanks for the reminders, sweetheart. I needed them. Your heart and my heart are always together, thank goodness. I miss you always and love you forever.

Mama

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Ahh, summer. As a teacher, I had two months of glorious relaxation punctuated by regular days of satisfying productivity.

Here’s a little example, typical of this summer.

Dilovely’s To-Do List:

  • Fold/put away laundry from yesterday
  • Do another laundry, hang to dry
  • Work out
  • Tidy living room
  • Finish blog post
  • Answer pending emails
  • Take kids to park/splash pad
  • Sort 2 boxes of kids’ outgrown clothes
  • Clean kitchen

Sure, this list could be seen as ambitious. But come on, SUMMER VACATION. Possibilities are endless.

Dilovely’s What-I-Actually-Did List:

  • Diaper and/or potty for AB
  • Breakfast for kids &/or me
  • Fold half of laundry while kids play nicely in E’s room, put back in basket when screeching ensues
  • Do core exercises with toddler on tummy
  • Postpone workout when toddler steals exercise ball and 5-y-o melts down because the backward lunges (he chooses to do) are too hard
  • Diaper/potty for AB
  • Get paper/markers/cardstock/tape etc. for E to create what’s in his mind
  • Wash 4.5 dishes
  • Attempt to divert tragedy when creation does not match vision/AB scribbles on it
  • Read stories
  • Lunch for kids & me
  • Clean up random mess (who knows? Might be pee, poop, cat puke, marker on sofa, water on bathroom floor, milk on kitchen floor, etc.)
  • Diaper/potty for AB
  • Put AB down for nap
  • Set timer for E’s screen time
  • Finish folding laundry, remember we need another load done, put back in laundry basket
  • Put new load of laundry in washer
  • Kick pathway through toys in living room
  • Read new emails, answer 2.5 emails, star unanswered emails as Important
  • 10-? minutes in the vortex of Facebook
  • Open draft blog post, write 1.5 sentences, re-save
  • Diaper/potty for awakened AB
  • Snack for kids
  • Get kids ready to leave house (shoes, water bottles, hats, sunscreen, changes of clothes, emergency snacks, sometimes towels and suits = seemingly interminable)
  • Take kids to park/splash pad
  • Make dinner for family
  • Eat dinner with family
  • Wash 17 dishes while kids finish dinner
  • Diaper/potty + pjs for AB
  • Remind E to put on pjs (x5)
  • Argue with AB about brushing teeth
  • Brush one or both sets of tiny teeth
  • Read stories
  • Put one or both kids to bed (interminable)
  • Go downstairs, glance at clothes boxes, sigh
  • Go upstairs and watch Netflix
  • Rush to put forgotten laundry in dryer @ 11 pm

Of course, some of these items Sean takes care of, or joins me on, depending on which shift he’s working. Even so, my productivity, at the end of the day, was shockingly low. The opposite of my intention, and in contrast to how busy I always felt.

If these lists were a Venn diagram, there would be ONE ITEM in the overlapping portion, found on both lists (I highlighted it, in case you didn’t notice). Also, one of the bubbles would be ridiculously effing huge, despite containing very few measurable accomplishments.

I admit, there were moments when I looked at my not-done list and felt a dark shadow laughing menacingly: “Bwahahahahaaa! Keep a clean house? Write a blog? Practice your ukulele? Get fit?? YOU POOR CHILDISH FOOL.”

I guess I still tend to look at approaching summers with that naïve feeling of endless potential. Which is silly, because I’ve had kid(s) for six summers now, and I should know better.

Actually, If I’m honest, I can only partially blame my sad non-productivity on my kids. The rest I blame on Veronica Mars.

I don’t mean to complain. Being able to switch gears is wonderful. Dawdling over breakfast is relaxing. I did not miss the bus-stop/babysitter/work sequence at all.

And we totally rocked the parks. We visited over a dozen different ones, some several times, in three different cities. We visited all the splash pads and wading pools we could manage. Playing at the park is true summer.

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We even worked in some occasional play dates – and one dinner date! – with lovely people, for which I’m grateful.

And even though the summer seemed to fly by, there were a few other cool things I got to do:

  • Dance a gig with troupe members.
  • Pick berries.
  • Co-direct Family Camp.
  • Take a girls’ getaway with Skye before her baby was born.
  • Attend an epic double party (2-year-old’s birthday + her parents’ 10th wedding anniversary).
  • See Guardians of the Galaxy in the theatre with my Hubbibi.
  • Go for a stroll 356m in the air.
  • Be privileged to witness the birth of Skye’s second son, the adorable Baby K. (Which, by the way, was essentially drug-free. The epidural was only seated properly for a very short time, and stopped working for the really long, hard part. Skye is one very tough cookie.)
  • Attend a small, beautiful Quaker wedding ceremony between two lovely brides.

Also of note: E had his first sleepover at Auntie Em’s house – two sleeps in a row, actually – and loved it.

And for me, I should mention as well that there were three 7-hour kid-free days to work on our basement, which netted a visible (if not exactly dramatic) improvement.

So I think the problem is mostly with my outlook. If I didn’t worry so much about what I’m not getting done, I wouldn’t feel so disappointed in myself. Really, I should be making a different sort of daily list: Dilovely’s Did-It List. It would include those 17 dishes that did get washed. And of course, EVERYTHING WOULD BE CROSSED OFF.

***


 

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Black Raspberry Cobbler: Summer with a Spoon

This week, in Southwestern Ontario, has been that magical time of year when strawberries and raspberries overlap in their ripening. Last Tuesday, I finally got to pick black raspberries at our local berry farm.

Just to clarify: black raspberries are not to be confused with blackberries, which look similar but A) are not raspberries, B) are easily available in grocery stores and therefore less exciting, and C) are frankly not nearly as tasty.

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These are blackberries. They’re nice but meh.
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THESE are black raspberries, on their way to being ripe.

When I was a kid, black raspberry time meant foraging into the woods near our house, sweaty in jeans and long sleeves (to prevent scratches), taking precarious steps further into the undergrowth, contorting and stretching in all kinds of awkward ways, in pursuit of that handful of gorgeous berries just out of reach. An intense picking session would end back at home with a baking-soda bath, because no matter how careful you were, the thorns were gonna getcha. But it was totally worth it. The dopamine hit, when you found the good ones, was better than a video game… Oh, and then there’s the EATING. Mmmmmm. They taste like pure, wild summer.

The trouble is, I don’t live around the corner from indigenous black raspberries anymore, at least not that I’ve come across. When I found out that our berry farm grows them, I was SO EXCITED. And I will admit that not having to entangle myself in the briars is nice, if not quite as action-packed.

I would have liked to go picking during Sebastian’s days, because ever since his first anniversary, when I happened to go berry-picking on his birthday, the two things are connected in my mind. Picking berries in the sunshine feels like the right thing to do. Like I’m near him. I can’t explain why. This year, they weren’t ripe on his birthday, but six days after is close enough. And as it happened, on that particular afternoon, I picked some in the sunshine and some in the rain.

That first year, we saw a cicada sitting peacefully and perfectly still on a raspberry plant. This year, it was a dragonfly.

black raspberries and a dragonfly
Still Raspberries With Dragonfly.

My mom swears that the domesticated raspberries don’t taste as good as the wild ones. All I know is, when I eat one, Mini-Di pops up in my soul and says Yes. YUM.

If you find yourself picking black raspberries, make sure you look under the leaves, especially the lower ones. You’re likely to find the most beautiful berries there, in whole ripe clusters.

And on to the point of the blog post: our family’s favourite black raspberry recipe.

I should probably warn you – if you have a problem with little seeds, this fruit, and by extension this dessert, is not for you. Both are seedy par excellence. But if you can get past that (those seeds are actually really good for you), Black Raspberry Cobbler is summery heaven with a spoon.

black raspberry cobbler
SO DELICIOUS.

 

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a 9 x 13 pan (or a 10 x 10, which is what I have) melt 1/4 – 1/3 C of butter or margarine.

3. In a bowl, mix 1 C flour (I use whole wheat – it’s robust and it fits – but it’s up to you), 3/4 C sugar (white or brown), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 2/3 C milk (dairy or not), and 1 (optional) egg.

4. Pour batter over melted butter. Don’t worry, it’ll spread itself out if you don’t get into all the corners.

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5. In a bowl, mix 4 C black raspberries with 1/2 C sugar and 1/3 – 1/2 C water.

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6. I also add a dash of lemon juice and a couple drops of almond extract to the berries.

7. Distribute the fruit mixture over the batter in the pan. It’ll look like a soupy mess, but don’t worry. (If you are brusque with the fruit, the juiciness will get underneath the batter, which actually produces quite a tasty berry-flavoured caramel, but a very hard-to-clean pan.)

 

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8. Bake for 45 minutes.

9. Enjoy warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, table cream, milk of your choice – or just plain.

black raspberry cobbler for breakfast
Makes a really nice breakfast too. (I apologize for my lack of foodtography talent. Just trust me about the recipe.)

 

Voilà. A dessert I fervently looked forward to as a child, and still look forward to as an adult – maybe even more fervently.

***


 

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Summer Sequence Initialized: Check.

Summer has begun!

Favourite Last-Day-of-School Moment:

All the Grade 5 boys from the 5/6 class, who were actually getting along for once in their alpha-dog lives, TOTALLY ROCKING OUT to Beyoncé (All The Single Ladies). They danced and they knew the words.

Summer: Day 1 and 2 are IN THE BAG, folks.

Daddy had to work on Saturday, the official first day of summer vacation, so the kids and I went adventuring. I’m hoping that, by cramming a whole bunch of summery stuff into Day One, we will be in the right gear to accomplish the best possible summer, i.e. getting piles of important stuff done while also helping my kids have an amazing two months of learning/growing/fun. Piece o’ cake, right?

So, in case you’re wondering, Day One included:

  • sunny back-roads road trip to visit Auntie Em, with car tunes and iced coffee and two children both miraculously in good humour;
  • ice-cold fruit-infused water (lemon, cucumber, and raspberries);
  • aforementioned children sitting in a breezy window seat at Emi’s “impartment”, playing with the curtain;
  • homemade popsicles amidst Emi’s lusciously verdant balcony plants;
  • trip to local splash pad/park, including Slushie consumption and bicycle ride;
park
Getting more daring now that he’s five.
  • snacks in the dappled shade;
  • absolutely gorgeous summer weather;
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Warm and zephyrous.
  • excited running and a few subsequent scrapes;
  • trip to berry farm for fresh Ontario strawberries;
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A very discerning strawberry-picker with high standards.
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A very munchy strawberry-picker with low (to the ground) standards.
  • brief-but-satisfying picnic with family at conservation area, including wading, ukulele-playing, dog-watching, and running around with sticks. (Feel free to guess who did what.)

Pretty good, right? Day Two was a bit less busy, and included lots of rapturous/screechy playing with Daddy, as well as leisurely breakfast, celebratory end-of-school dinner, two laundries being put away, and Mummy rediscovering the surface of her dresser for the first time in years quite a while.

Not bad so far. Canada Day is sure to be full of fun too. We’ll keep you posted.

***


 

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Baby AB’s Fashion Blog – Issue #15: “Summer” Theatrics

Last week, the weather showed us how flexible it can be in September. On Tuesday it was 34C (93F), feeling like 42C (108F) with the humidity. (Inside my school, ’twas even hotter.) So although school has started, we were reminded that IT IS STILL SUMMER, Y’ALL.

Then a few days later, it got down to almost freezing at night. What the what?

Let’s look at some differing ensembles worn by Baby AB this past spring and summer, in honour of the dazzling temperature acrobatics.

Here’s a skimpyish one, from May. I call it “Butter Me Up.”

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She has substantially more hair than this right now.
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Please note front pocket, babyish embroidery, and green bloomers peeking out.

And ZING, here’s a cozy one. I call it, “Hug This Bear.”

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She only put up with that hat for a minute or two, but it was worth it.
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Li’l bears and dots and bows. SNUGGLE.

Back to skimpy! “Sweet Pea”, because obviously.

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This is her sweetest pea face.
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LOVE this onesie.

And toasty again! I call this one “Cordurosy”, because the jacket is fine-wale corduroy and so is the trim on the jeans.

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WHO MAKES THESE? SERIOUSLY?
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Heart buttons with flappy buttonholes, for Pete’s sake.

And finally, here’s a hybrid. Let’s call it “Too Cute To Be Named.”

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I remember wearing strappy one-piece shorts-jumpers like this in the 80s, as a big kid. I’m pretty sure they’re back. Either way, baby pulls it off (so to speak).

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Summer with a three-year-old

I think 2012 was the fastest summer in history. Cliché or not, I don’t know where that time went. It seems like it was June yesterday… and yet, there’s been lots of summer weather, lots of time at the park, lots of splashing and sand-playing, lots of ice cream. I know we did the whole thing.

I can’t deny that it revolved in a large part around my little boy, who seems more and more grown up all the time. There’s no way I can call him a toddler anymore. Even his intonation is more worldly than it was a few months ago.

This three-year-old business is pretty fun. He’s learning to imagine, pretend, role-play, socialize. We’ve had some good times.

Back at the end of May, my school did their annual humongous barbecue fundraiser, and it was a big day for E, because he got to see a fire truck up close. Like, actually get inside it!

three-year-old in a fire truck
Steering! (Sorta.)

You might notice that in that picture he is also wearing a backpack. It’s a Spider-Man backpack, brand-new that day; Daddy got it for him on clearance for $5, not realizing E would immediately be obsessed with it. It seems he had an unexpressed wish for a backpack, because when he’s at the babysitter’s he walks the other kids back and forth to school – the BIG kids – and they all have backpacks, of course. He was SO PROUD of that thing, and so adorable we could hardly stand it.

three-year-old with spiderman backpack
Complete with bed-head.

Then there’s the ice cream. But only plain chocolate – he refuses to eat any ice cream with “food” in it (nuts, brownie pieces, marshmallows… NO FOOD!). We’ve taken an embarrassing number of ice-cream-on-face pics from this summer… but hey, that’s our prerogative as parents, right?

chocolate ice cream face
He looks rather debonair, no?

Other things I will remember as being his obsessions this summer:

The T-Rex Ramp he got for his birthday,

hot wheels ramp tyrannosaurus rex

playing Plants vs. Zombies with Daddy, on Daddy’s phone (NOT proud of this, sigh),

plants vs zombies

and going for bike rides! He has gotten so good at gliding along on his balance bike, it amazes me – and he’s also very good at being safe, proudly wearing his helmet, and stopping where he needs to stop (and waiting for Mama to waddle and catch up to him).

radio flyer balance bike

He also enjoys his markers. He really wanted to use Daddy’s Sharpies, but we told him we would get him some washable markers that were okay for him to use. He was excited about that. As soon as he got them, he set off for the bathroom… to wash them.

He has also been spending a lot of time “reading” to himself with his MeReader – another birthday present. In fact, he’s starting to memorize lines from the much-abridged Disney stories. I first realized this when we were at Family Camp, and I left him alone in the cabin for a moment. He said he would be fine, playing with his cars, but when I got back, he’d come outside: “I was worried that I didn’t see you, so I ventured out and wanted to find you.” Ventured out?? Turns this phraseology comes directly from his Winnie-the-Pooh book.

So now I know that when he’s playing and I hear him say epic things like “Just when all hope was lost…” or “He plots his rise to power…” it’s from Aladdin or Peter Pan or 101 Dalmations. (Otherwise I’d be freaked out.)

Then, there are little things people teach him to say because he sounds hilarious saying them. My jaw dropped when we were having a normal chat about swimming and he inserted, “I beg to differ.” (That one had Auntie Em written all over it. Not that E gets what it means or when to use it.)

With some of his turns of phrase, I haven’t figured out where they came from. Just a lot of listening, I guess – it’s been clear for a while that he logs away basically everything he hears (scary!). Examples:

The thing is, as in “The thing is, Mummy, I don’t know where my pajamas are.”

It seems a long time, as in “It seems a long time since I played with Laura.”

Certainly, as in “Certainly, I want to play with the loop-the-loop!”

Awkward, as in “I just dropped a carrot – that was really awkward!”

Splendid, as in “Your bread and cheese looks splendid!”

Shocking, as in “That’s pretty shocking, Mama, when you opened the door.”

I’ve also heard him use the word absurd, but I’m pretty sure he has almost no clue what it means.

A few other gems:

When pretending that his dinky car had a flat tire: “I can’t fix it. I don’t have any plumbers!”

One of his many random “What if” questions: “What if a cat got in that birdhouse?” (“I don’t know, how would a cat get way up in there?”) “It would fly, with its amazing paws.”

When told it was bedtime: “No, it’s not bedtime, Mama – the sun is high in the sky!”

When I was trying to explain how a bar of soap gets smaller, clumsily likening it to when he eats up a bowl of O’s, he offered: “It’s like rain that evaporates.” (I was gobsmacked. I’ve tried to ask him about evaporation since then, to see if he actually understands the process based on a couple conversations about puddles, but he isn’t forthcoming.)

Soulfully, after I asked what he would like to play with: “I don’t know when my heart wants to have fun.”

Mysteriously, the first thing he said upon waking up one day, with a dreamy grin on his face: “Mama… I wish we could spin.”

The best was when he woke up one morning after an overnight at my parents’ house: “Mummy, are you okay sleeping by yourself? I’m going to let Daddy be at school and you sleep a little bit. I’m just gonna go downstairs and see Grammie and Papa.” (Thanks to Daddy, Mama has been allowed to “sleep a little bit” many times during this pregnancy. 🙂 )

Oh, I almost forgot – he’s learned what chillin‘ is. The perfect summer activity.

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Chillin’ with the zombies :S
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Chillin’ with Daddy. 🙂

***

 

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Family Camp at NeeKauNis 2012

Here we are at Family Camp, at Camp NeeKauNis.

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It’s the only place I can think of where daily life truly does fall away and become a distant background. As soon as I get here, it’s hard to remember what my priorities were when I was at home… Not the fundamental ones, of course, but the to-do list – the little things that nag at us and seem so important in the home sphere.

In fact, it’s the fundamental priorities that suddenly become the only ones, here at Camp: children, family, friends. Meals, playing, running around, sitting quietly. Getting in the lake when it’s hot, making a fire when it’s cold. Getting jobs done cooperatively, community-style. Listening to crickets and cicadas, watching the sun go down, smelling the forest and the grasses.

One of my favourite things ever in the world is watching children of all different ages, sizes, and colours running around being crazy together. That’s one of the perks of being here.

Also, getting to watch kind and wonderful older children, especially the boys (age 9-12), being a protective, gentle influence on my son. Seeing my little guy go off playing with other kids, with no need for me, and knowing he’s safe. Continue reading “Family Camp at NeeKauNis 2012”

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