The Kid Sabbatical

They left me.  Yep.  All three of my girls trekked down to Camp Seafarer for a full five weeks.  Today I pick up Michelle, and I am so, so happy.

When Lisa died seven years ago, in addition to drowning in grief, I developed a fear of being alone.  The thought of staying in our house without other human beings consumed me.  I worked to stagger kid sleepovers so that all wouldn’t be gone at once.  I did the same with overnight camp, picking one up before sending the next.  I was paralyzed by the mere thought of quiet.

When I turned 50, I assumed I was complete.  I am happy, understand my strengths and limitations and am comfortable with who I have become.  What I didn’t expect was more self-growth.  I thought my insides were pretty set – sort of like the gray hair – there was no reversing what had developed; it is what it is.

What I have discovered over the past month is that, even as an aging dude, I’m ever changing, ever growing, ever maturing.  Yeah, I have REALLY missed my kids over the past 36 days (not that I was counting) but this time apart has allotted me time to rejuvenate and to focus on areas of my life that I’ve somewhat neglected.

This past month I’ve been able to focus on my relationship with my girlfriend, Julie.  she doesn’t live in Raleigh so the ability to head to Charlotte or on vacation together has given us the chance to pull back the curtain a bit.  I’ve discovered she’s cooler than I had imagined.  And best of all, after getting to know me even more, she’s still taking my calls!

I’ve exercised, slept hard, read and watched my backlog of DVR’d CBS Sunday Morning shows (man am I old).  I’ve eaten dinner with a number of my buddies, visited my parents twice, and I even got a massage.

I’ve surprised myself this year.  Even at AARP age, there’s still hope to tweak my many imperfections and to face down my fears.  It isn’t over!

I have a long way to go, but it’s nice to know it’s not too late for improvement.

Sunday Post 84: Go and Grow

Someone recently told me that they had never left their eight year old child overnight. 

“Not even with his grandparents?” I inquired.

“Nope!”  She shared it as if it were a badge of honor.  It’s no badge.  It’s just weird – unless the grandparents are like kid killers or something.

I finally have all three of my girls back under one roof!  Tonight will be our first night in the same house since Sunday, July 15.  That is a long time. 

As much as I missed them while they were out experiencing the world, and as much as I wanted to go pick Stephanie up on her third week of four-week camp, I am so grateful that my kids had the ability to grow.  It’s no secret that I have limitations as a father.  There are simply things I can’t teach them.  But it’s not just because I’m a man and they’re girls.  Part of it is that I am their parent, and they’ll only listen so much.  Part of it is that I have a singular world view: mine.  And as right as it is, they need to compare it to others so that they can formulate their own ideas about how to live life.

DJ is becoming an accomplished sailor through her time at summer camps – a great confidence builder I think.  She certainly wouldn’t have discovered that talent in a family room with a landlubber.

Stephanie has developed incredible confidence.  I’ve told her for years how wonderful she is – but sometimes it means more coming from a 50-year-old camp director she absolutely adores.

Michelle battled homesickness – and won.  She was given the Most Determined award at camp.  Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.  She was recognized because she struggled and overcame.

I’m not sure she would have struggled or had the opportunity to overcome had she been at home sitting on the couch with me. I think I’m just a good dose of comfort for her.

Some of my happiest memories of childhood are from the weeks I spent in Florence, SC, with my grandparents each summer. I’d pump gas at Papa’s service station.  Granddaddy Tanner would take me for a Slurpee.  I remember making a masking tape and shoe polish covered lamp with grandmamma Ham, and I’d lay on Idee’s bed each morning and talk about life while she “put on her face.”

Oh the stories I heard. Oh the lessons I learned.

I don’t want my kids to be replicas of me.  They can do better.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but better comes from experience and experience happens away from my house. 

So let them go, and let them grow.  And then enjoy the heck out of them when they return.

How! How!

Posted by Danny

Every spring for the past nine years I’ve headed down to Camp Sea Gull with one of my daughters for a Y Indian Princess weekend outing.  DJ and I started going with nine other dads and their daughters in 2003. 

Y Princesses is a father/daughter program for kids in first through third grades.  It’s sort of like scouts – but you can’t do any activity without a dad/kid pair.  You earn patches for service projects, hikes and campouts.  One time we sorted pasta at the food bank – had to wear hair nets.  I didn’t like that. 

Each participant chooses an Indian name.  I was Screamin’ Hambone.  DJ chose Shining Star – booooring.  Stephanie was more compliant – she went with Little Screamin’ Hambone, a name suggested to her by her Big Brave.  Michelle chose T-Bird, a nickname I’ve used for her since she was 2. 

Michelle was my last kid in the program and this was my last trip down highway 70 to camp.  I’ll have to admit when we drove out of the camp gates on Sunday to head home, I sort of had a lump in my throat.

I’m not sure why.  These are not particularly fun weekends.

My first two tribes had some of the snorinest people I’ve ever heard in my life.  I used to take two Tylenol PM, put in ear plugs and hold two pillows around my  head – and I could still hear them.  Cherry Point Air Force Base is right across the Neuse River from camp.  I’d doze off a minute and wake up thinking a F1 Fighter Jet was about to land on the cabin’s devotional table.  I was afraid one of those dudes was going to snort one of the little princesses right up into his nostrils. 

Ten dads in bunk beds – me on the bottom, a 250 pound dude in the bed above with the mattress springs sagging down – inches from my protruding nose.  It’s like sleeping in a medium security penitentiary. 

There was a curtain draping the bathroom “stall”, the floor grittier than the Mojave desert.  The toilet paper like wiping your behind with sandpaper.  I’m still raw from last weekend, and I only went once.

In year two, the organizers of this program bring in a special act called Snakes Alive.  As if pooping behind a paper-thin curtain with 9 elementary aged girls you scarcely know running through the bathroom isn’t enough, they top your experience off with coolers full of reptiles. 

“Which dads out there want to hold the python today?” the handler asks.

Every child raises her hand and begins pointing to her father.  “Pick him!  Pick him!”

My kids knew better. 

“Dad, will you go up?”

“I’d rather sleep in a single bunk with Mr. Brown for three months.  PUT-YOUR-HAND-DOWN-NOW.”

And to top it off, there’s the annual ride down the zip line.

The zip line combines all of my favorite things:  heights, cold water, standing in line, and harnesses strapped around my crotch.  (This video is not of me – but it is at Camp Sea Gull).

I have to be honest though, as much as I complain, I really did enjoy almost every minute I spent in the Y Princess program.  My best friends are the men I’ve spent weekends with – chewing on politics on a freezing cold night by a campfire – melting marshmallow goop dripping on our winter boots.  The individual time I had just driving to and from our outings with my daughters was priceless.  And the memories from Camp Sea Gull…wow!

I’ve heard of a dad who stood up at his daughter’s rehearsal dinner.  He looked his new son-in-law in the eye and pulled out his daughter’s Indian vest.  “Take care of my little princess,” he implored as he passed him the buckskinned garment.  I may just do the same.

How! How!  Big Braves; How! How!

Outward Bound!

Posted by Danny

DJ is on an Outward Bound trip in the North Carolina mountains.  Yep, three nights in the woods with only a tarp over your head.  The packing list included bandanas – for wiping.  She was told after you use them you tie them on your backpack so it will dry before the next time you need to go.  I imagine she won’t need to wipe much.  If she’s like me in a situation like that, her colon will go on strike.

She also has to sit in the forest for four hours, alone – no book, no iPod, no nothing.  Just trees, rocks, dirt and her brain.  Four hours is a long time by yourself in the woods.  Maybe her guardian angel will be looking after her.

I wish I enjoyed nature more than I do.  I long to be excited about doing something that requires me to have a pair of those pants than unzip at the knees.  What are those for?  I guess you’d use them if you were hiking and suddenly came upon a creek.  “Whew.  Good thing I can unzip the bottom of my pants.  I’ll just put those boogers in my backpack and they won’t get wet.  Damn, I forgot my water shoes.”  Nah – not me.  I either wear pants or shorts – nothing in between!  And I only want one zipper in my pants – way above the knees.

My level of hiking only requires flip-flops and a pair of gym shorts with a draw string.

The girls and I used to camp with our YMCA Indian Princess tribe.  These other dads would get all pumped about sleeping in the woods. 

“I’ll bring a Coleman stove,” one would offer.

“I’ve got an axe for wood,” another would pitch in.

“I’ll bring my truck, and we can throw our tents in there.”

“Danny, what can you bring?”

“My daughter, flip-flops and gym shorts.”

I had nothing.  You could not find a working flashlight in my house if your life depended on it.  

The only thing I contributed to the Y Princess campouts were scary stories.  On time when DJ was in first grade, we stayed in a cabin at Camp Kanata in Wake Forest, NC.  The bathroom was an outhouse about 25 yards from the cabin. 

About 10 pm, one of the dads started rounding up the girls for their last pee break before bedtime.  So, I snuck to the privy, and shut the door.  After tucking toilet paper in the back of my pants, around my neck and into my socks, I quietly waited for the crew.  As I heard them approach, I ran screaming out of the outhouse – “The Potty Monster, The Potty Monster!  He’s in the toilet!  He’s coming this way – run children, run!”

Most of them did pee, but it was in their pants.

To this day DJ’s 9th grade friends who were on that trip ask me if I’ve had a visit from the Potty Monster lately.

I assured DJ he would not be on their trip.  Apparently there are no potty’s there for him to spring out of!

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