When We Care for One Another

My two kiddos are playing a game of catch in the small space that is our camping site. We are sandwiched in between two large R.V.’s causing our own hardtop to dwarf in comparison. As I sit by a dwindling campfire chatting with my parents, I watch the baseball they are throwing inch ever closer to the couple sitting out by their fire pit right next to our site. As luck would have it, the ball bounces and flies past Son rolling along until it hits ‘said camper-neighbors’ fire pit. “Thank goodness that is all that was hit” is my first thought immediately followed up by “get that darn ball out of here.” I am instantly horrified, as I am sure is Son (who hates any attention drawn to himself). I get up and make the immediate suggestion (order) that the kids can move their game somewhere else.

They quickly oblige with nary an argument.

Strangely, the couple laugh the whole incident off. “Let the kids play,” says the gentleman, his wife adding the little tidbit that this reminds her of her own children when they were young. While I am comforted by the fact that no offence has been taken to this close call, I still use my good judgement and gently shoo the kids along. Later, I take them to an area at our campground better suited to throwing around baseballs: a wide, open field. We make it a whole family event and no one is left worse for the wear: emotionally or physically.

On my way back from the latter game (which we ended up playing until it was too dark to see the ball), I am walking back on my own down a darkened road when I hear the excited voices of children on bicycles behind me. It becomes immediately clear that I am about to be overtaken by some fast-riding bikers. I don’t dare turn or make any sudden movement lest I am knocked off my feet. Sure enough: three young boys come right up to my back and one after the other, zoom past me coming within inches of my frame. Not a word is spoken by either them or me, no warnings- nothing, and I am a little shaken as I realize: had I stepped over an inch or so in either direction, somebody would have been seriously hurt.

And that ‘someone’ would not just have been me either.

Teaching kids about care means more than just happy-go-lucky feelings on a summer’s afternoon. It’s not just about living life the PollyAnna way. Why caring and its counterparts- compassion, concern, interest and responsibility matter in everyday life is because people like to be treated as if they matter. As if they are worth the while thinking about and considering.

When children, kids and young people are taught and mentored to look out for other people, treating everyone as if they are someone of value, everyone benefits. Not the least of which- them. Because what goes around, comes around eventually. Besides, people who look out for others are just plain easier to live with, kinder, nicer and more thoughtful. It matters that kids learn to care- because lessons of caring spill into their lives at large, influencing little and big decisions they make each and every moment of the day.

I do not tell these stories to point fingers at others nor to gloat about my own offspring. Actually, I tell these stories to myself as proof that teaching the young to care is of utmost importance to me as an adult. Someday my world will be greatly influenced by the very ones I am educating today. How that world ends up- what it will look like- depends largely on the lessons those same little and big people learned today.

I want to share a story that a reader named Shirley wrote recently on my blog:

I had a favorite teacher, Mrs. Stewart 6th grade. There were so many life lessons that year. The greatest one was probably not really a part of the curriculum. Mrs. Stewart taught us about ice safety especially when it came to skating on lakes & ponds. Not really something most teachers would add to the class day. My neighbors did not receive the same lessons. One day the neighbors whole family went ice skating with my family. The girls skated too close to the area where the geese were swimming. The ice broke under my friend, there were no adults close by. They were on the other side of the pond, at least a football field away. What to do, what to do?! Thank you Mrs. Stewart! That day you saved from friend. It was only because you cared enough to teach us about ice safety and how to react. I laid down on the ice like you taught us, than reached out my arms as far as they would go. My friend stopped going under water and started to climb out of the ice water. You see Mrs. Stewart cared about us as people and taught us life lessons.

I share that particular story to illustrate the following point: teaching kids to care about life and the others who are part of those ‘lives’ actually takes the focus off the individual- the “I” (so that they are not always looking out primarily for ‘number one’) and places that attention and concern on the others who inhabit their world. We are not islands; learning to care about others helps us to realize that we need one another. And at times, we need to put our own interests on the back-burner so as to look after each other. So as to protect one another and care for our neighbor. In the end, learning to care for others can accomplish great things- not the least of which is saving a person from small and great injury.

It has actually even be proven to save lives.

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Summertime Camping: Sure Does Beat Having a Root Canal

I am clearly in no shape to write glowingly or positively about camping having come through a partial emergency root canal the afternoon we checked out from our campsite. The pain meds are certainly doing most of the talking, people. But let me say, toothache aside: I swear. Everything you will read below is a true testament to the highs and lows of camping. And I should know, having not only survived a four-day toothache all whilst suffering through the rainy season that is our July camping weather here on P.E.I..

Camping. Oh the joy. Oh the bliss. Oh the pain and agony.

And oh, the memories we have stored away inside. Painful, searing memories that haunt us by night and jeer at us by day. Pushing me ever closer to happy pill prescriptions and mental health counselling each and every summer. Good times, I say.

Good times.

And I especially love camping in the rain. LOVE IT. I love when it downpours and the mud is running off in every direction. When the kids go for a bike ride and come back looking like a chocolate-chip cookie. That’s putting it nicely. Gotta love the rainy camping days. Forcing otherwise respectable families to gather inside damp, grass-covered tents and humid, steamy campers so as to do what families in these circumstances do best.

Fight with one another.

But the best part- my favorite thing of all. Hands down. It has got to be when a certain Someone got the bright idea, before the evening Rook game ever began and while the fighting was just starting to gain momentum and reach a feverish pitch. That certain Someone thought it would actually be FUN to play the “Let’s Say Something Nice About Everyone Game” otherwise known as “What Absolute Foolishness Was I Thinking?”

And that was how the first evening ended. With Someone crying, Someone instigating the crying and still another Someone considering pulling their own eyebrow hair out (but whom instead opted to crawl to the back corner of the camper so as to pretend they were on a real vacation.) Because no one. AND I MEAN NO ONE. Can think of anything nice to say when they are stuck inside a smelly, wet, steamed-up camper during a downpour. Not even a saint like Mother Theresa. No one. Because camping is a private form of torture and punishment saved for people like us who think they are on holidays, but whom are really just living the same life they always lived, only now it’s inside a tiny, stinky square box. So much better, really. Same people, different location. Smaller venue.

That’s what camping is. A good time, had by all. Really. GOOD TIMES.

But it is not all fun and games. Camping is hard work. Ask the man who forgot to bring the rubber gloves to hook up the septic system how much fun he’s having now. And then ask his wife who also forgot (even after he called to remind her), but whom- when she still forgot, supplied him with two plastic grocery bags, thus saving the day. And as if that wasn’t heroic enough. She then stuffed those two grocery bags inside her hubby’s coat so as to create the hand-less look (so popular in the more retro campgrounds). And she did so to prove a point. Just in case the neighboring campers hadn’t already thought the two of them were bonkers already.

And the saving grace, truly- the thing that makes camping all worthwhile… is that the all the various campers and tent trailers and tenters and the like are so densely packed in there together. They’re all just squished in together like a can of ripe sardines. You would think that One such as myself might not like that so much. But, NO. It is sheer entertainment, for lack of a television station for those who also forgot the satellite dish. Entertainment, I say. Just to hear the neighbors growling at their own offspring, makes me feel good. So much more patient, so much more kindly to the kiddos. Like so much a better camper than they. And if one times it just right, it is possible to watch the whole delightful episode unfolding as one squints through the mini-blinds above the couch in their own living space. Just like watching a good sit-com at home. Nothing better, really.

You gotta love camping. And to say the very least: it sure does beat having a root canal.

The Things We Do For Love….

The things we do for love.

This past week, I have been more aware of how we who are parents change while we are on vacation- we become even better people than hopefully we already are.  Not a real coincidence that all this happens while parents are on vacation from the real world.  But, it is still an interesting phenomena.  How patient, unrushed and generous we are with our time, our money and our resources: all we need is a little break from reality, and we parents are some of the nicest people on the face of this earth.  Who knew?  I am usually the one wearing my crabby pants out the door in the morning, although they seem to fall off when I pull into the school parking lot.  Then, by the time I arrive home for supper each night, there they are again- right back on as if they had never had been shed.  It’s nice to know that crabby pants are not needed so much on holidays.   Although, I did pack a pair just in case.  One never knows.

While vacationing, I try to be a little more slow-paced than normal.  Thus, I am able to indulge in a favorite past-time of mine: people watching.  And it is amazing to see how many variations and differences there are in people.  I have particularly been watching parents lately, and this is what I see: the parents I am watching are by-and-large true examples of model parents.  Granted, it is not hard to be such when life is lived in the ideal world of no real home responsibilities and no employer breathing down your back.  But, let’s be serious.  Are parents ever really off the hook?  Even on vacation?

So, when I see parents being “model parents” as per the textbook definition (ha! of course there is none!), I feel a real sense of sentimentality toward them.  Because I know that even on vacation, parents are still in the trenches.  Parents may be on vacation from work, but they are never “off the hook” from parenting.  And here are a few examples.

Last night, I was in the washroom with my second youngest daughter.  We were getting ready for bed, and were the two lone night hawks still cruising the campground. We were just about ready to head back to our camper, when into the bathroom came a mother gingerly holding a quilt at arm’s length, with a shivering, feverish daughter in tow behind her.  I did not make immediate eye contact with the mom because I have been there.  Mothers dealing with sickies are not up for curious onlooker’s prying questions.  So, I minded my business while they showered off both the quilt and the daughter, and then the pair joined my own daughter and me out in the sink area to further sanitize the items, now that the larger mess had been cleaned in the shower.

Before having children, I would have thought to myself, “Gross.  Note to self: don’t use these washrooms tomorrow.  Take your disgusting  laundry and wash it elsewhere, lady.”  But now that I am a mother, and have learned that this is all part and parcel of signing on for the position, I felt great compassion for this mother/daughter duo.  I listened as the mother lovingly hummed a soft melody for her child as she carefully washed away the sickness from her daughter’s body.  I saw the mother gently wash the quilt all while, in the next sink over, her baby girl lathered up soap to her elbows so as to rid herself the traces of a feverish night.  I soaked up the love, for it was pungent.  And then, I felt it was the right time to ask.

“Do you need anything?” I ask, not wishing to pry.  But, I have been right here, in this state before; and I remember what this feels like, as hours inch towards midnight, to have a child throw up and feel desperation.  A mother’s on-call nursing duties are never on vacation.

“I have some acetaminophen,” I offer.

“Sure, I guess I will take some,” she says looking at me gratefully.  I understand this look, and I hope she realizes that we can bear this burden, even for this brief expanse of time, together.    We both continue on with our duties, and then I wish them well, and daughter and I head off into the night.

The things we mothers do for love.

The things we parents do for love.  I love watching parents with their children in the pool.  I love seeing new mothers with their precious babies- they have eyes only for that one perfect child sitting on their lap.  I love watching fathers horse around with their older children- making them squeal with delight as they toss them in the water or splash them with their cannon-ball jumps off the diving boards.  I love watching fathers and mothers teach their children to swim- fathers are often such patient swim instructors and mothers go the distance- allowing their children to swim to them again, and again and again.  Their children sponges ready to learn and soak up their parent’s knowledge.  I watch as families swim together- in groups of six, by times.  Fathers and mothers taking turns to help both little and older ones with their various needs, loving the time spent together.  I watch as moms and dads observe from the sidelines, cheering their little ones on.  There is such an easy, relaxed manner in the air, and parents are that much more attentive and available when they have little ones in the water.

The things we parents do for love.

And I remember infamous moments in my own life while on vacation.    That time I rushed my second youngest to the ER for stitches on her chin when she landed the wrong way at the bottom of the playground slide, and how she and I waited all evening  for the doctor to call us in;  then, I held my her while a doctor pulled needle and thread through delicate skin, leaving a permanent line underneath her bottom row of teeth,  to tell the tale.  I remember the time I rushed to a community half an hour from our campground to get medicine for my oldest son who was experiencing an asthma attack; and then, how adrenaline kicked in and pushed me to get there before the store closed.  Panicked I might not make it in time.  Or how could I forget that time my daughter was sick on the plane, and the on into the night, while we were on our first major international trip, or how later that week my oldest daughter caught whatever the youngest had three days earlier and then followed her sister’s lead whilst sleeping  in the hotel bed?  In the middle of the night, nonetheless, and me without anything to clean it all up.    So many other times and other experiences of which I can say to moms out there, “I understand.  I really do.”  And I believe that all these examples I have shared and the stories of mothers I have also included are important to note because they speak of what we parents do for love.

Oh, the things we do for love.