Dear Kiddos,

The total solar eclipse has got to stand out as the preeminent highlight of last month. We took our brand-spanking-new trailer (the one that replaced the pop-up trailer I vowed to burn down in Vancouver) to a hay field in Madras, Oregon and bathed in totality with 700 other camping groups. Note, there were maybe ten porta-potties to support the mass of people.

We let you two watch the eclipse from the top of the car, and you took all the board games we’d packed up there with you. Then you got so wrapped up in arguing the arcane rules of some bizarre Connect-4/Jenga/Headbanz amalgam you’d invented, you very nearly missed the eclipse out of spite. It took me threatening, “In 50 years you’re going to tell people you saw the eclipse and you will be LYING” to get you to finally look up.

 

It was amazing. For those two minutes and 20 seconds I imagined eclipse-chasing would become a regular family activity for us. We’d be the Solar Adventures Family (Lunar?). My blog would go viral; there’d be a book… possibly a reality-show. One or the other of you would go on to become an astronaut; the other, maybe a poet. We’d probably have to sell our house to launch this project, but at least I could stop stressing about paint colors.

But then the porta-potties overflowed, and we withered in traffic for ten hours to get to our next campground, arriving at 1:00 in the morning. So, let’s just be satisfied with the one eclipse, yeah?

I hate picking paint colors.

The eclipse kicked off a two-week camping excursion. Here are some highlights from the trip:

  • In Madras, while standing in line with the rest of Oregon to poop at Safeway, Kitten walked confidently up to the man in line in front of us and smacked him on the butt. Naturally, you were completely unfazed when you realized the man wasn’t your daddy; you just marched over to your actual daddy and smacked his butt.
  • We rented a pontoon boat on Lost Creek Lake and had a blast. You guys invented a game wherein you did battle with pirates by shooting candy out of your butts (for pretend, to be clear). Later, after daddy jumped into the lake to pee (which Kitten took a lot of convincing to believe—“true story, Daddy?”), you two took turns peeing in the lake, and challenged each other to test whether the water felt warmer.
    • I suspect peeing in large bodies of water will be your favorite memory of all our family trips.
    • Later that night, Daddy whiled away his time pricing pontoon boats.
  • Also on that lake, Daddy said he’d give Swedish Fish to whoever ducked him/herself in the water. You two expended great energy and cunning getting every inch of our bodies wet without actually immersing yourselves in the water. But Daddy was ruthless in his enforcement of the rule; you had to be thoroughly soaked– even your eyelashes.

  • We had a nearly-perfect climbing tree at our camp site near Crater Lake. You both moved all your dearest possessions into the tree, and daddy wrapped it in twinkle lights so you could hang out there late into evening. It wasn’t until Day 2 of our stay that I realized you were both covered in sap. Kitten, you managed to get a hefty chunk of it in your hair, and none of the remedies Google suggested could get it out. We finally had to cut it out with scissors, but you declared the climbing tree was worth it.
  • Daddy and I marked our ninth anniversary with a drink at the lodge overlooking Crater Lake, with you two climbing over us, trying to out-gross each other. We told you stories of our marriage vows including provisions for whooping our kids’ hides when they got too stinky, but I don’t think you bought it. I think I have managed to convince you we got married so that we could have a little boy whom we’d call Puppy, and a little girl whom we’d call Kitten, and that’s not too far from the truth.
  • During our stay near Redwood National Park, we tried to whip up your enthusiasm for visiting another grove of redwood trees by showing you the scene from Return of the Jedi that was filmed there. Sometimes, I surprise even myself with my parenting naiveté. Puppy kept asking if this was the spot where they filmed it; I think you were expecting a gift shop.
  • On the drive between Crater Lake and the Redwoods, Puppy got lessons in terrorism and taxes. Maybe we should pack more video games on these trips.

  • On the drive between the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast, we picked up some fudge in a charming little beachside town. It turned out to be The Fudge of Dorian Grey, with Kitten in the role of Dorian. The sweeter the fudge, the more paranoid, egotistical, and choleric the Kitten. The last hour of that drive was hell on everyone. I’m still hesitant to even speak the word fudge.
  • I spent a fair bit of our trip standing outside bathroom stalls, waiting for a kid to poop. Neither of you would poop within 20 feet of a spider, and Kitten– you would chatter away while you pooped, amusing all the ladies in the bathroom. During one session, you composed a series of metaphors to describe the color of your pee, at one point comparing it to the sun (though you allowed that the sun is brighter).
  • Trying to distract Kitten from her brother’s pestering: “Hey Kitten, what color is your poop?” “American flag!”

Working backwards here, we also spent a weekend at the Canal with the Nelsini brood this month. We’ve taken longer vacations with them before, but this trip was the first time I saw you, Puppy, engage with the baby Remy very much. I loved watching you watch him—you showed such interest in what caught his attention, in trying to make him giggle, and you were so gentle! It warms a mama’s heart to see her babies love on babies.

Later, while Jeff changed Remy’s diaper, Kitten helpfully observed that Remy’s penis is bigger than her big brother’s. (Don’t worry, Puppy; all infant boys’ penises are disproportionately big.)

Quintessential Kitten moment: We sat the five kids down in front of Frozen late one evening. One-by-one each of the kids dropped off to sleep, except Kitten—you insisted you weren’t tired. I kept checking on you, offering to pause the movie and let you resume it in the morning, but you wouldn’t even let me finish the thought; “I’m not tired!” even though you were totally drooping. So I surreptitiously left a pillow on the sofa beside you and walked away, then watched you from the porch. Watching you fight sleep never gets old. You are fierce, Kitten, but sleep eventually wins.

Other random tidbits from the month:

  • Kitten came home from school one day, bubbling with excitement about Emma’s birthday party, which featured candy tomatoes! (Cherry tomatoes, yeah?) I’ve started calling them candy tomatoes, but you still won’t eat them.
  • Puppy came home from a field trip to Golden Gardens with a backpack full of “treasure,” which you excitedly asked to show us during dinner. You pulled out one piece of garbage after another, placing them on the dinner table, while I held my breath and silently prayed you wouldn’t pull out a hypodermic needle.
  • I got sick earlier in the month. Just a head cold, but it really knocked me out. I went straight to bed after work one afternoon, and Daddy kindly let me sleep straight through the evening. You weren’t too happy about that arrangement, Kitten, and you sneaked into our bedroom to wake me. Daddy slipped in after you to scoop you away, and you cried out, “You’re taking me away from mama’s love!”
  • Later, resting on Daddy’s pillow, you called out to him, “I’m giving you some lovin’, Daddy!”

Next month: Back to school, soccer, state fair, and “shoulder” camping!

 

 

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I continue to have the honor of joining a few other mamas in a blog circle. Each month we write letters to our kiddos. When you’re finished reading mine, click here to read Holli’s letter. Keep reading the letters and following the links, and you’ll eventually come full circle, back here. 

When I reflect on the past month, what stands out for me most is the mouse that wasn’t quite dead. I hope it doesn’t stand out as starkly in your memory as it does in mine.   

In case you’ve managed to repress the memory, let me drag it back to light for you: We were at the cabin for our week, which fell over the fourth of July this year. Puppy, you and I were working on a jigsaw puzzle together inside, while Daddy and Kitten were frolicking about outside. I kept hearing a scraping noise, which I initially figured was Kitten trying to open the heavy front door. But it persisted longer than expected—Kitten usually just shrieks for help after one or two tries.  

Skitter, skitter, scrape… Skitter, skitter, scrape… 

“What’s that noise? Is it Kitten?” 

You kept working on the puzzle, Puppy, unperturbed by my questions. 

Skitter, skitter, scrape… 

“There it is again! What’s that noise?” 

“What noise?” you asked, finally acknowledging my existence. 

“That scraping sound. Wait for it…” We both sat, frozen, waiting for Mommy’s ghost-noise. 

Long silence 

“What noise?” 

“Sh!” 

Another long silence 

“I don’t hear any–”  

Skitter, skitter scrape…  

“THAT! What IS that?! It sounds like it’s coming from over…”  

And then I saw it. The mouse. Pulling itself forward with its front legs and dragging its hindquarters, which were encased in a mouse trap. It was the trap that was skitter-scraping.  

The mouse held my gaze, unflinching and accusing. I turned to you, Puppy, wide-eyed and dumbfounded. You hadn’t seen the mouse yet. I told you not to move, then I went to fetch Daddy. 

Let me interrupt the narrative here to attest that I was very reasoned in the tone I used to call for Daddy. In the time it took for me to rush from the door to the deck’s edge, I carefully considered the range of shrieking options available to me, and chose one that is fundamentally different from the scream I’d use if a child were bleeding out. Can I help it if Daddy misinterpreted the tenor of my call?  

Let me also remind you that Kitten was playing innocently outside. Had I clarified at a shout, “There’s a not-quite-dead-yet mouse dragging its broken body across the floor in here and I need an adult who isn’t me to break its neck!” might I not have scarred Kitten even more?  

As it was, Kitten was delighted to hear of the tragedy unfolding in the cabin. “Is there blood?!” you squealed, dashing between Daddy’s legs to get in the room first.  

Your Daddy and I stared dumbly at each other over the moribund mouse, though our eyes spoke volumes. This is what mine said: The patriarchy is total bullshit, but I’m still calling this mouse your problem. I imagine Daddy’s eyes said: F**k.* 

You two kids were beyond excited about the carnage, peppering Daddy with ghastly questions as he donned his work gloves, picked up the mouse, and carried it outside. I silently vowed to never speak of the nearly-dead mouse again, but Kitten was determined to resurrect the subject repeatedly for the rest of the month.  

Indeed, I think the nearly-dead mouse reignited your fascination with death, Kitten. Ms. Kylie at school recently pulled me aside to ask about the friend of yours who died last week, “Gigi, was it?” No—GG, as in Great Grandmother, and she died a year ago, but you’re talking about it like it’s current events, Kitten. You occasionally leap up from the dinner table to demonstrate what a corpse can look like, and lately, at bedtime, you’ve taken to lamenting, “Oh why won’t the sun just go ahead and blow up already?!” like it’s a trip to Disneyland.  

Our week at the cabin yielded other memorable stories that probably deserve more blogging space than the not-yet-dead-mouse, but they’re just going to get bullet points:  

  • Puppy discovered the rope swing on Deno’s (Canal neighbor) side of the beach. It’s been there forever, but it took seeing the Best cousins on it for you to realize its thrill-potential. You were hesitant about the swing at first, but I watched you grow ever bolder, and your smile as you launched way out over the bulkhead was the best. You guys played on it for hours, and at some point I discovered you’d added a twist to your game: As you swung out over the beach you’d holler/sing, “I believe in the holy spirit; I believe in the resurrection!” Which? Is not a song you learned at home. It seems to me that if you’re going to declare your beliefs on a rope swing, you should maybe sing, “I believe in Newton’s First Law of Motion!”  
  • Uncle Dave sold Kitten on the old joke that the caribou head mounted on the cabin wall got there when the caribou, while still living, couldn’t control his momentum when running down the hill, and crashed headlong into the cabin. Uncle Dave told you the caribou’s legs are still sticking out of the other side of the wall. I missed the tale as he told it to you; all I understood was that you were suddenly frantic for me to take you outside to “see the legs.” “Whose legs?!” “Just come with me, mama!” you begged, tugging at my hand. We both stood out on the deck, staring at the wall, confused.  
  • We hit the fireworks stand before July 4th and picked up some goodies. One of them was an exploding amphibious vehicle of some kind—it looks like a boat. On the drive home, Kitten hoisted it above her head and said, “A boat! A boat! The gods have given me a AAAARGH!” Still quoting Moana 
  • Daddy and I tried to sell you both on watching one of the movies from the random assortment of DVDs at the cabin. We picked out a few we thought you’d like, but Puppy saw Mickey Mouse on the cover of Fantasia and insisted we watch that one. “It’s not what you think it is, Puppy,” I pooh-poohed. “I think it’ll bore you.” Turns out, I’m a fool; you two adored the movie, and I delighted in hearing you explain to Kitten the meaning of the hippos’ dance. Evidently, I’m the only one bored by Fantasia. I apologize for my Philistinism. 

July also brought us: 

  • Puppy covering his eyes and chanting, “ice cream cupcake!” over and over again while getting his toenails clipped. 
  • Kitten beginning every sentence with, “Do you know what?”  
  • Kitten walking into the kitchen, where brownies are baking, and declaring, “Something smells good in here for kids!” 
  • Puppy’s singularly expressive eyebrows. This isn’t new to July, but I gotta mention them here—the range of emotion you convey in your eyebrows, Puppy, floors me. I really wonder if they aren’t a portal to your soul. I should take up eyebrow reading.  
  • Kitten calling out “Husband!” when trying to get Daddy’s attention in a crowd.  
  • Puppy making himself “tickle-proof” in the backseat during a long-ish drive. Each time I breached your tickle barrier, you bolstered your defenses, piling on an endless supply of blankets and pillows. When I finally admitted defeat you declared, “I’m tickle-proof! … And hot.” 

Finally, a bitter-sweet moment this month. One of the gymnastic rings we had installed in the garage earlier– and which you two loved twirling on and jumping from– broke. Unfortunately, you were swinging on it when it broke, Puppy, and you took quite a fall. (Behold the shiner you’re sporting in the photos from our trip to Chelan.) You were really shaken up by the fall— I feared a broken bone. Daddy checked you all over, determined you were whole, albeit unsettled, and got you into the car for our road trip. Then you told him you wanted mama.  

When I got there, you grabbed my arm and pulled me close. It’s such a rare thing to witness anymore—the deep need to be held by your mama. I held you (as best I could; you were strapped into your booster seat), and petted you, and felt the full force of maternal love wash over me, which always leaves me puffy and red. When you saw the emotion on my face, I felt you starting to pull back, so I quickly tried to play it cool by suggesting we invent an outrageous story to tell others when they ask how you got the shiner on your cheek. We floated a lot of suggestions, but you seemed especially drawn to the chasing-robbers motif.  Man, I sure do love you, Puppydeliiscious. 

*No really, I think his eyes bleeped the expletive.

Daddy ran (and finished!) his first olympic triathlon. We took the shuttle bus down to the transition area to cheer him on.

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