Saturday, July 27, 2013

Champs: Rite of Passage

Our second summer of swim team has officially come to a close with the culminating end-of-season event known as Champs.  Over 2,000 swimmers from 17 different local teams gathered at University of Virginia over two days to compete against each other in medleys, relays, and individual events.  We missed Champs last year because of Camp Laguna, but this year, our calendar was wide open....

(Editor's note: I fear this post might become Michener-esque in its length, yet, like Michener, I am compelled to begin at the beginning of swim meet history.)  And so:

Wednesday nights are meet nights.  Meets begin at 4:45 and last well into the night, sometimes bringing us home at 11:00 or later and can include lengthy drives into neighboring counties.  We wait out the storms in our cars, huddle under umbrellas during torrents of rain, sweat it out in the stifling heat and humidity, and contend with every gnat and mosquito in the nearby vicinity, week after week.  We schlep coolers stuffed with food and snacks, camping chairs and blankets, towels and dry clothes, and bags stockpiled with toys and books for entertainment between events.

We volunteer to work as timers, runners, table workers, and volunteer coordinators.
 We rouse our kids early for 7 a.m. swim practice, or coax them to sleep after the 7 p.m. practice session ends - day after day, week after week.  Non-swimmer friends think that this schedule is the epitome of insane, or torture, or both. And it is.

Yet despite these formidable challenges and exhausting time commitments, swim team is arguably the highlight of our summer.  Evening practice becomes social hour for all the parents, affording both moms and dads the chance to catch up, to linger after practice has ended, to make plans for impromptu cookouts the next day.  The "village" comes alive at swim meets, where everyone knows everyone else's kid, and cheers his victories, big and small.  The village parents understand the teary joy of watching your kid cross the pool for the first time in his first meet, and offer a look of understanding and appreciation for the relief and pride so clearly evident on your face.
Older kids entertain the younger ones with card games, chasing games, and mischief of one kind or another.

Other parents pitch in to help with your kids when they see you've got your hands full.

The coaches, with their seemingly endless exuberance for all things swim, rally our kids when they are tired, encourage them when they are discouraged, and celebrate with them over each goal reached, each accomplishment achieved.  They are role models who love our kids, and who are loved in return.
Coach Carly with Leo after his 1st place finish in his heat at Champs
Champs is all of this, times 10.  I was prepared for a long meet, for a hot wait outside under a tent, for lots of swimmers.  I was wholly unprepared, however, for the enormity of the event, for the anxiety of seeing your kid on a massive swim deck while you elbow your way into the overcrowded, overheated bleachers for a glimpse of seeing him swim, for how intimidating and huge the UVA facility is.  I mean, c'mon, the first thing I spotted was this:
Really?  My kids are swimming in the same pool where 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte set a record?

I hold just two benchmarks for a successful swim meet:  Did anyone drown?  No.  Did you have fun?  Yes.  But this time, before such a massive audience, I was so proud of my kids for just showing up.  I don't know that I could have done the same at their age, or perhaps even now. 
Looking especially tiny on deck at the UVA pool
It was an amazing experience to witness, to watch, to be a part of. I saw former colleagues whom I'd met ten years ago before any of us even had kids, each of us cheering on our children.  I ran into moms I used to be in playgroups with, or met at TumbleBuddies, or at music class with preschoolers.  I cheered on a teenager from church, and chatted with another one of my church youth who was there to support her friends.  I saw a kid I taught last summer at reading clinic and watched our high school neighbor compete for a different team, blowing away the competition.  Jeff chatted with doctors and nurses he knew from his years on the floor, and professors he worked with in the diabetes research lab so many years ago.  Our mail carrier sought out our boys in the tent and cheered their successes.  Indeed, the meet was more than just the end of the season.  The village at Champs extended far beyond the normal Wednesday night meets; the folks gathered that day represent some of the very best of our lives these past ten years.

After packing up the last of the camping chairs and clearing out the trash from the cooler, I guided a weary Aidan back to our car and reflected on this rite of passage - not for him, but for me.  (My parents, who are forevermore saints in my book, rescued Leo and Pax halfway through the meet so they were spared the long hot wait for Aidan to finish).  Although we are well past some of the hallmarks of the earliest years of parenting (diapers and baby gates are becoming a distant memory) and are practiced enough in some enduring passages (middle of the night puking and perfecting the Stink Eye), a new badge was earned at Champs.  It was a rite of passage to make it through to the end of the season. The countless hours spent waiting through practices and meets, wrangling tired children, weathering the storms, and wringing out sweat-soaked shirts faded into distant memory.  None of that mattered anymore, because the 30-second to minute-long intervals of watching my kids make their own personal best times in front of hundreds of people in an enormous pool seared itself into the long-term storage bin of my heart and my mind.

Some favorite moments:
First place finish for Leo!
My little ducky - his coach, dubbed Mama Duck (Maria), gave each of them a duck hat to wear

Aidan preparing for his freestyle swim - looking so confident and focused!
Pleased with his 7 second time improvement on 50 Freestyle - such a strong swim!

Second place in his heat on backstroke - yeah!

The end of swim.... is it time for winter warm ups yet??

Camps and Champs

I had such a cute post title in mind for a week now... but the length of the "champs" post necessitates its own new post.  So - Camps:

Nothing says "summer" to me like a good camp experience.  I have fond memories of my time at camps - mostly overnight camp, but also some day camps - and if you've ever heard Jeff talk about his THREE week canoe trip at a camp in Canada, you know how much those trips shaped who he is today.  I am eager for my own children to build their own memories of summer camp - not so eager, however, for the overnight part.  Thus, day camps are the perfect solution.  This year, Aidan attended his second year of camp at Monticello, going to the "Jefferson Explorers" camp.  Although he enjoyed camp last year, he LOVED camp this year.  His favorite days were surveying and archaeology, but also enjoyed the morning in the garden, the tour of the house, making codemakers like the one Jefferson created, and tooling around with the camera obscura, another Jefferson contribution.  He bounded out of bed each morning, ready for camp, and returned mid-day full of a seemingly endless supply of information about the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, prepared to spend the afternoon enlightening us all. On the last day of camp, we all were invited to visit the classroom, sample the homemade ice cream that they'd made according to Jefferson's recipe, and see first-hand what the week was like for them.

This family shield was among my favorites that he created, modeled after Jefferson's coat of arms seal.  I love that he chose to depict a wise owl, and that he went to the painstaking trouble of adding beadwork to the leather straps of his shield.

Leo's week at art camp, hosted by the local parks and rec, was equally wonderful.  I was a little bit nervous about the camp for Leo, because I knew he'd have to love it to want to go back, day after day.  A good buddy of his from school did the camp with him, and the two of them had a fine time together.  The slightly eccentric art teacher worked hard with the kids, and I appreciate the authenticity of their work.  Although they used common objects like paper towel tubes and leftover chip containers, she taught them the gradual process of using paper mache to transform the object from its original shape into something better.  Leo created a totem pole (cat, dog, bunny, bottom to top respectively); a single bongo drum with a most pleasing sound (also decorated with the beadwork at the bottom); a Chinese lantern (not pictured); and a beautiful tie dye shirt.  At the end of the week, he said to me, "Mom, I wish school was like art camp.  I could go to school, do art all morning, be with my friends, then come home to you and have lunch."  Oh, buddy, I wish that too. 


The best part of the camps was, of course, how much they each enjoyed their time invested in their interests and quite apart from the rest of us.  But there were parts that the rest of us enjoyed as well, like the "two boy" weeks where Leo and Pax got some hours alone, and later, Pax and Aidan spent their mornings together without the mediating influence of Leo.  It was good for the brotherhood.  And for all the ranting I do here about gender stereotyping, I was thrilled to make two discoveries quite contrary to what I expected:  in Aidan's Jefferson Explorer camp, he was just one of two boys in a sea of girls.  And in Leo's arts and crafts camp, there were just two girls in a class of 8. 

The camp experiences also guided and influenced our home activities as well, as evidenced by the artwork we created, as well as a most decidedly delicious treat: homemade vanilla ice cream.  For as much of a Renaissance man as Jefferson proved himself to be, I'm afraid a Cuisinart ice cream maker would have done wonders for his recipe.  

Always the foodie, Pax wants to know if he can go to cooking camp next year...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Boys Do

Recently someone asked me about "rainy day" ideas for kids.  I named a few standards - board games; a movie; a read-a-thon.  Then I gave slightly more unique ideas, like creating "buildings" with cubed brownies for bricks and frosting for mortar. Finally, I said, "Or you could just convert the kitchen into an art studio and let them create whatever they wanted.  You could do something open-ended, or you could give them a set project with materials."  She kind of chuckled and said, "Well, what would the boys do?"

What would the boys do? 

I suppose these comments amuse me more than anger me these days.  But my heart still sinks a little, to hear of another stereotype being voiced about boys and their seeming lack of creative ability or interest.  I am tired and weary of hearing about what boys can't do, don't like, won't appreciate.  When I was young, if I heard something that even vaguely suggested at something can't, don't, or won't, I interpreted it as a dare and set my jaw in determination to prove otherwise. Cases in point:

I took piano for several years.  One teacher I had insisted that the girls curtsey and the boys bow at the end of their recital performance.  Born a feminist, I railed against this requirement and threatened not to participate in the recital at all, unless I was allowed to bow.  My mother pleaded my case to the teacher (who was, to put it mildly, unmoved and unwavering), reasoned with me as best she could, and finally hinted that perhaps I might find some middle ground.  After playing a round of the Suzuki twinkle variations in a way that was "almost perfect" (my piano teacher's words) I stood by the baby grand and delivered a half curtsy, half bow before taking my seat... and switching to flute.

As a sophomore in high school, I was given the assignment to develop a persuasive speech on a topic of my choice, except I could not talk about any truly "hot" topics, such as gun control, the death penalty, abortion, and the like.  And so what topic did I choose?  Freedom of speech and censorship, with an opening paragraph describing all the hot topics I wanted to talk about, but was denied the right to do so.  It was ballsy, and I was convinced it would get me thrown out of class or that I'd earn a failing grade.  I got a standing ovation from my peers, and an A+ from my teacher, which admittedly made it feel less ballsy, but still - don't tell me what I can't do.
And so with what will the boys do? still echoing in my mind, I transformed our kitchen once again into an art studio, switching out potholders for paints and coffemakers for canvases. 

After discussing several options in terms of composition and technique (keeping in mind I'm pretty much clueless when it comes to art), I guided Leo and Aidan into thinking deliberately about what they wanted to paint, planning it out and essentially "drafting" their work.  

(For a little self-confidence of my own, I consulted this website several times.  I love her ideas, but as a relative non-artist, her stuff can be a little intimidating.  I mean, come on - her house has a REAL art studio.  Not a kitchen that she converts for the afternoon.) 

Armed with plans and ideas, we set to work:

I knew I would have to be quick and be smart with Pax. Usually, Pax paints a gorgeous array of color, only to smear it together in one final swoop of the brush and turn every inch of his paper a decisive shade of brown.  This time, I offered only one color at a time, letting him choose which paints he wanted to use.  Between colors, I surreptitiously blasted the canvas with a quick shot of warm air from my hair drier, which Pax eventually accepted as all part of the painting process, since occasionally, the older boys required a quick dry as well.  Pax worked for a solid hour and a half on his canvas and, it seems, would have continued on for hours more had I not needed to cook dinner.   

Leo decided on combining techniques, first painting, then later outlining with sharpie marker. He was very set on his composition (his loveys, Flat Cat and Flat Lion, plus a selfie thrown in at the end).  I gave him very little structure or guidance, but did offer tips and suggestions along the way, especially when he seemed to falter a little (the grass, for example, looks pretty awesome after just one small suggestion on how to work the paintbrush).  He worked primarily in acrylics, and didn't do much mixing of paints.  I love the perspective he used for this painting - the loveys are walking with their backs to the viewer, seemingly into the warmth of the sun and the rainbow.  His selfie, the red figure, is skipping away sideways, happy to be life-sized with Flat Cat and Flat Lion.

Aidan had planned from the start to do a Tree of Life, and wanted to use his liquid watercolors for the background. He worked for a total of three different sessions on his canvas, and the end result is positively gorgeous.  In phase 1, he painted the background, mixing colors and shades, varying intensity and hues.  For a boy who loves process, this was an ideal project for him. 

In phase 2, he created a template for his Tree of Life.  I traced his hands for him, but then he did the rest of the work:  shaping the fingers into tree branches; adding a sturdy trunk; curling the branches at the end.  He cut out the template and traced it onto the dried canvas. 

In Phase 3, he filled in his outline first with solid black acrylic paint, and then a second coat with a sheer black fine glitter acrylic paint.  The finished product:

 So - What will the boys do?

They'll do this:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lush and Full

Our Summer Memory Tree is lush and full of new growth.  So many moments to be savored, remembered, enjoyed again and again.

The beginning of July brought the much-anticipated Camp Laguna weekend, the madness that began in 2003 and has been honored, expanded, and celebrated every year since then.  We decided to mix things up a bit and conduct Camp Laguna over the 4th of July holiday - with the huge, added bonus that my brother and his kids got to stay several extra days because of the holiday/weekend combination.  My boys were in cousin-heaven with the addition of Hugo, age almost-8, and Julian, a newly minted 5 year old.  They picked up right where they left off a year ago, which, come to think of it, is exactly how my brother and I approached our time together as well.  The ongoing water fight/throw your sibling into the lake contest between the two of us makes me giggle every time I think of it.  Also because I was the last to get him in the water. 

One especially fun addition to Camp Laguna this year was the photo booth...

 which carried over into our group photo for the year:

After the kegs of homebrew were tapped out, the sangria drained to its dregs, the photos handed out, and the awards distributed, White Elephant-style, Camp Laguna came to a close once more and guests returned to places as far-flung as New York City.  The Seehaver and Carter families, however, enjoyed a few more days together.  We dined out one night at our favorite pizza and beer joint in town, and the next day, we spent a lazy and indulgent mid-afternoon at the vineyard where my dad pours wine and is beloved by his fellow staff and customers alike.  It was a beautiful summer day; the kids managed themselves quite well, sipping root beer and playing Uno; and the adults basked in contentment and joy....soaked in good cheese and fine wine. 

We left, only to lounge in the lake, ride on the pull-behind, and then enjoy another family dinner together.  As night fell over the quiet lake, we gathered on the dock for an incredible memory-maker, perhaps the one that will transcend all other memories of this summer.  We launched Chinese lanterns high into the still and dark sky, sending our wishes and our gratitudes along with them.  Ephemeral... enchanting... mystical... magical... all describe the experience accurately, yet still they lack the emotion of what we shared that night.  Verklempt, misty-eyed, and hearts soaring, we adults finally tore ourselves away from the dock to usher five sleepy children off to bed.

A family emergency cut our visit short, however, which made the enchanting memory of the night before all the more beautiful and cherished.  Tearfully and anxiously, we said our goodbyes to Adam and his family as he went back to provide his comfort and care.  Seeking to console our boys a bit over the early departure, my parents decided to continue on with the plan for the day and treated us all to a viewing of Despicable Me: 2.  Such a fun and happy afternoon together!  Although the movie was really cute and thoroughly enjoyable, the part I still like the best is watching my kids watch the movie.  (Also cute: watching them act like minions for hours after the movie had ended.  Not so cute:  still acting like minions, hours and hours later....)  Thankfully, all is well now in Adam's family.

Always the list-maker (and therefore the list-checker), I've found such deep satisfaction in checking off the "To Do's" of summer:  the ones that guide our Fun Fridays; the ones we anticipate as only summer ritual and tradition can inspire; the ones that that lay claim to so many of these cherished moments.  One such "To Do" was accomplished on a hot and muggy afternoon, rather spur-of-the moment but decidedly well-executed.  We found the perfect patch to clear out and create our very own tipi, a work-in-progress that has yielded several more sweaty afternoons of hunting-and-gathering sticks.  (We did, however, have to work up our nerve to resume construction after the first session was briskly drawn to a close after I came upon the harmless - yet rather surprising - discovery of a coiled up garter snake dozing away the day....)
 Pax and Leo worked hard to create a campfire in our tipi....

Indeed, among many other descriptors, this also seems to be the Summer of Slithering, Spidery, and Sweet:  the garter snake we discovered beneath the decaying dead tree; the wolf spider I bravely chased out of the car one early morning before swim practice (with the help of a can of wasp spray, aka whoop ass, and my trusty broom); and finally, the spotting of this sweet little toad in our garden late one evening.  Jeff was so taken by this little guy that he decided Toad was in search of Frog.  Jeff dashed into the house, only to return to the Toad, ready for a read-aloud:
And so it goes on the Literacy Farm, serving up good reads to boys and toads alike, 
producing a Memory tree that is lush and full.