Thursday, September 5, 2013

the good ole days

we spent labor day weekend with my stepdad's family at their old family cabin in the mountains. it was, as always, pretty freaking awesome. i just love the family in general and this annual experience in particular. there are communal meals and cocktails served in 80 year old coffee mugs and campfire games and s'mores and trading memories as the fire burns to embers. there's an outhouse (not my favorite part). there's a chore chart. we take turns cooking and cleaning up and doing the dishes together. we blow an old horn when dinner's ready (it's like, a literal horn. i mean, a horn made out of an animal's horn. he's not using it anymore ;) it never occurred to me before now that this was the etymology of the word horn. learn somethin' new every day!) anyway, if someone has a new friend, we make them try to blow the horn and point fingers and laugh when they spit and sputter and fail. we play campfire games specifically designed to fluster the newbies. we play cards and (good naturedly) harass them some more. (wanna come?? ;)) we sleep under the stars and wake when the sun comes up over the mountains and eat bacon and pancakes and eggs or sometimes just cereal and drink coffee together next to the fire, planning our daily adventures, waiting for the sun to warm the air.

the kids LOVE it there. they get dirtier than they get the other 360 days of the year combined. they literally roll around in the dirt. omg, so much dirt. and they have SO much fun. but the cabin is definitely not what you would call child-proofed. there's a river on one side and a highway on the other. no fences. you can cross the river on a sagging, creaking 2"x12" board. there are steep, rickety old stairs, an unfinished, sliver-serving deck, open flames, large rocks, falling pine cones, wild and domesticated animals, biting insects, water snakes, and various other hazards. perhaps most tellingly, there are often SHARPIES left out within reach of the children - GASP! ;) the kids poke each other with sticks and swing branches wildly through the air and throw rocks too close to one anothers' heads and generally run around like dusty little savages. they "help" start the campfires and attempt to toast their own marshmallows. they play with ancient tonka trucks that would surely be recalled today for safety concerns. sometimes they play without either DM or I watching them at all, us relying heavily on the principles of community parenting.

this weekend, J went on a hike. an actual hike (well, i don't know if it totally qualifies because DM carried him most of the way) but, most importantly, he shat in the woods. if you know my anal retentive little boy, you know what a big deal this is. i'm sure anyone within a 5 mile radius thought some satanic cult was performing a ritual sacrifice, but whatever, he did it, and he lived to tell the tale, which DM keeps prompting him to do with that unmistakable glint of fatherly pride in his eye.

i don't ever really worry about J. he's got his mother's inherently concerned, rule-abiding, nature. (one of the news things he likes to say is, "if i don't do [dis or dat] den da police man wiw get me." no idea at all where he got that one. *wink wink.*) when they reached the top of the mountain on their hike, he had to be coaxed and prodded to step to the edge in order to see our cabin down below, and he was cautious as ever when we made our wallenda-like river crossings ("cautious" being code for "walking halfway across and then beginning to scream 'AAAH! HEWP MEHHHHH! I'M GONNA FAWWWWWW!!!'" he even worries on behalf of his little sister, yelling "Mama! Daddy! Save hewh! SAAAAVE HEEEEEWH!" whenever she is teetering on the edge of something tall and unstable, which is often.

at the cabin, there's a set of granite stairs. 4 steps, i think. no rails. grams and the other "elders" have assured me that, in the 100+ years the cabin has been in the family, "only two or three" kids have ever fallen down those stairs to their injury, but they still make me nervous, because C has no concept of her own mortality, balance is not her forte, and if anyone would be the "3rd or 4th" casualty, it would be her. she spent a lot of time staggering and stumbling on those stairs, causing her dad and me multiple mini heart attacks. she actually would have fallen down them more than once if one of us hadn't swooped in to catch her. i'm sure she would have survived, but it wouldn't have been pretty. so it was with good reason when J said, "Mom! [This is his new thing. "Mom" and "Dad" instead of "Mama" and "Daddy." *sniff sniff* ;)] I'm getting a littow newvous dat Cowby's going to faow down da 'tairs." haha! at least he understood. most everyone else just made fun of us for freaking out about it.

every time i'm up there, subject to this steady onslaught of familial hazing, it gets me thinking about how wimpy kids are, these days. or rather, we parents are. or maybe it's just me. but i remember having so many adventures when i was young, catching tadpoles in a little creek behind the babysitter's house, riding my bike to go get an ice cream cone, exploring the neighborhood, construction sites, and abandoned fields with friends, playing capture the flag or kick the can in the streets long after the sun had gone down - all with no grown-ups in sight. do kids even do that anymore? and our parents' generation took even more liberties. we always hear stories about stepdad and his brothers and cousins and the CRAZY SHIT they did when they were kids. climbing the faces of enormous rocks when they were knee high to a bee. backpacking solo in the wilderness. skateboarding without pads or helmets down steep winding mountain roads, and/or being towed (as grams says, "if they were dumb enough to try it, the least i could do was drive the car.") riding wheeled things off the diving board. unicycle races on a wire suspended over the swimming pool. using the empty pool as a halfpipe. doing flips off the tops of mountains or houses or balconies or anything else you could flip off of. sometimes they broke things, got scabs and scars. but they lived to tell the tales, and they are SUCH GOOD TALES! my dad has good stories, too. one of my faves is when he and his friend were 4 years old, they somehow convinced someone at the PX to sell them pocket knives, and they played with them until my grandpa caught them hours later, hands torn to shreds. (four years old!) there are also stories involving beebee guns, roaming around england for a day before being returned home by a good samaritan (or maybe that was ben, the family dog), and possibly driving a car before achieving double digits? my mom basically grew up in footloose. there was no drinking or dancing or playing cards or watching movies or wearing nylons (at least, not that the parents were supposed to know about), so her childhood stories are of a different genre.

not that i'm advocating selling knives to four year olds or anything (though maybe the YMCA does). and obviously some changes in the way we parent are probably worthwhile tradeoffs. (i have heard many a grandparent lament the use of "those craaaazy car seat contraptions," saying, "in our day, we didn't even have seat belts!" yes, and children flew out the window in a car crash! my girlfriend actually has a funny story from when they had their first child. her father-in-law was completely flabbergasted that you are required to have a car seat for your baby in order to leave the hospital. he was like, "what do you mean, you can't leave the hospital unless your baby is in a car seat?!? it's your baby?!? what're they gonna do?! arrest you?!" um actually, yes, hahaha.) but nowadays, kids can't even play football or soccer without fear of traumatic brain injury. and God forbid we go to the park without a costco-sized vat of Purell. i don't remember my mom having to desanitize the shopping cart before i sat in it, do you? how sad if this generation of america's (okay, middle-to-upper-class america's) kids' stories are like, "i played x-box while sitting in an ergonomic chair in a HEPA-filtered, climate controlled environment. sunlight - what?! did you want me to die of skin cancer?!"

so yeah, we're safer. but. what have we given up? and is it worth it? i'm not sure. it's like when i was pregnant and deciding whether to take anti-nausea medication or puke all day, to have a glass of wine or lose my mind, etc... it's a balancing test. you have to weigh the odds that something bad is going to happen vs. how much of an asshole you're going to feel like if that highly unlikely thing occurs... if your baby has 11 toes... if your kid shoots himself in the eye with a bee bee gun... etc...

reminds me of this interesting interview from a while back with lenore skenazy, the "free range kids" guru, on she points out the irony of us taking such extreme measures to keep our precious children safe, all the while driving them around in cars 24/7 which is the #1 cause of death in children. “Remember parents: Asteroids happen, so keep your children inside!”

of course, i have no problem leaving the children perched unattended on a bench at the edge of a small cliff above a river... if it means getting an adorable photo out of the deal!!! ;) (don't worry. J would almost certainly save C in the somewhat likely event that she'd try to "dump" (aka jump) to her death below.)

i basically wrote this whole thing
just so i could post this picture :)

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