Another Birthday

Ryan’s birthday this year was heralded by his demands — starting in the spring and slowly increasing in frequency as the year progressed — to know how many days it was until his birthday. I have to say that we’ve reached a significant milestone this year, though: he can now subtract. Once we hit September he became very adept at doing the minor math required to answer that question for himself, and his interaction with me was reduced to verifying his accuracy.

I may have let all that anticipation go to my head. On the Village Free School day closest to his birthday I decided to bring a birthday treat for him to share with the school. He loved this; not only did it extend the birthday celebration, but it meant that the whole school gathered in the lunch room to wish him happy birthday, which seemed to produce the same sort of shy pleasure in him that I vaguely remember from being six.

This did mean that I started a somewhat dangerous tradition, of course. Not only did I bake cupcakes (with strawberry frosting, no less!) for his actual birthday, but I baked forty-eight miniature chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles for the VFS celebration as well. And with Nathan’s birthday coming up in less than two weeks, I know I’ll be doing something comparable for him too.

Oh well, it was totally worth it.

Fort Stevens

The Back-To-School campout was a last-minute thing; what I’d planned for our second camping experience was a two night stay at Fort Stevens state park, and that has now been accomplished. This was Camping Lite again — even lighter, this time, as we stayed in a deluxe cabin with electricity and a shower. But this made for a very easy couple of days. Other than the fact that the cabin doors had handles rather than knobs and therefore Mica could let herself out, the space was simple and essentially baby-proof. (She discovered her ability to open the doors within an hour of arriving and I must admit that the power rather went to her head.)

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Outside was a veritable paradise of woods, a long narrow lake, sandy beaches, climbing-accessible trees, and the ocean. (Also the fire pit, which Mica found fascinating but fortunately also a bit intimidating.) I’d chosen Fort Stevens not only for the deluxe cabins but also for the wide variety of activities available, and it totally paid off. One morning the kids and I took a long walk around the lake, picking huckleberries and climbing a handy leaning tree. We visited both the Russell Battery and Fort Stevens itself, although we didn’t give the latter nearly as much time as it could have warranted. Ryan liked talking about big guns and they both liked exploring dark, echoing spaces.

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Visiting the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip. The simple and miraculous joining of ocean to land was plenty to entertain the children by itself, but with a skeletal iron structure to climb on, and dodge waves near, and jump off of, they could have stayed for hours more — and that was before they discovered the fun of running and sliding down huge dunes of sand. Mica, after being thoroughly soaked and deciding she was done with the water, spent her time playing in the sand and trying hard to investigate a dead sea bird.

The final verdict was that two days was not enough. In addition to my month and year calendars, I now need to work out a multi-year planning system, so that in a few years I can be reminded to book a more extended stay.

Back To School Campout

Every year the Village Free School does a Back To School Campout, and this year it happened not too far south of us. I hadn’t planned to go at first — what do we know about tent camping anyway? and did I really want to do that with a baby? — but when I mentioned it to Nathan, he was hugely excited by the prospect. Both boys have been looking forward to Free School again, especially Nathan, and since one of my goals this year is to help them integrate better into the school despite being part-time, it seemed as good a time as any to dip our toes into tent camping.

We did compromise a bit on the logistics. Dave was not interested in participating, and I was not interested in managing all three children, so we split the family: Dave kept Mica at home, and the boys and I went on an adventure. Mica and I both found this a little uncomfortable as she is still nursing, but we managed. I did keep having “phantom-baby” sensations — the overwhelming sense that I needed to look around for her, or that I ought to be doing something with my hands. On the other hand, I had multiple long (10-15 minute! sometimes longer!) conversations with other adults, and even spent some time reading a book.

This was possible because the boys, unlike the baby, ended up being surprisingly self-sufficient. Sure, they needed to be fed and given an occasional hug, but otherwise I was astonished by how little effort they required. The camp site we were in was too dry for fires and too far from bodies of water for convenience, which limited the official activities available — basically it was a large field turned into a tent village, surrounded by trees and scrub. The boys hooked up with the other young kids they’d known from last year and would disappear for an hour at a time into someone’s tent, or take turns with them scrambling up into a tree, or… well, I don’t honestly know what all they did. Other than spot checks to make sure they were still alive, I let them go free range. There were occasional larger-scale games, like Capture-The-Flag (including a kids vs. adults round), and when darkness came the entire student population would try to freak each other out playing “Slenderman” (a more recent variation on the eternal bogeyman game) while the adults sat around talking or playing some of the games people had brought.

And for our first tent camping experience, I thought things went well. True, our first night included a pounding storm with one of the most impressive lightning displays I’ve ever seen — I lay awake for an hour or so watching the flashes through the tent roof. But that’s just part of the fun, right?