Welcome to Summer Camp 2.0

When our two daughters were 10 and 12, they spent hours during the winter in a closet next to the furnace making detailed plans for hosting a summer camp. They invited children for whom they babysat, and the backyard summer camp filled up every year for two weeks a year for the next nine years.My role was supervising bathroom traffic and being available in event of an emergency, which we fortunately never had. Of course, no one would do such a thing today without liability waivers and umbrella insurance policies, but that was then and this is now.

Camp often ended with the girls bickering over which one was being bossy and who needed to clean up what and then they both collapsed in exhaustion on the sofa.

Now, some 18 years later, with pandemic concerns still floating and many summer camps cancelled, the girls rebooted the backyard summer camp.

Together they have six preschool and elementary school children. They also invited a friend who grew up down the block to bring her elementary school-age daughter.

Camper screenings this time around were not about asthma or food allergies, but math computations on how many people each camper and their family had been exposed to, multiplied by the number of people the other campers and their families had been around. The results were a satisfactory small number and camp commenced.

Camp followed the old format: welcome activities, songs, story time, craft project, science project, lunch, all followed by changing into swimsuits and water play.

Two of the three moms, er, camp directors, have worked as teachers and the third as a physician assistant in cardiology. One of the teachers did a science project each day and the other a craft, both outdoing themselves with years of experience and resources, while the physician assistant provided snacks and was on standby for first aid.

Science time was over the top with lessons and activities on chromatography, centrifuge, sound waves and plant parts.

But science was overshadowed by a relay race where campers passed a cup of water overhead, often spilling it on someone else’s head.

The crafts were clever, cute, and creative, but they were eclipsed by a contest where players dunked a sponge in water, ran it to a bucket and squeezed it out. The first team to fill the bucket won.

Every craft, science project, story and song evaporated under the heat of the summer sun next to the glee of dumping entire buckets of water on each other’s heads. You want water? You got water!

The ultimate hits were water balloons and a pinata on the last day, which was followed by spraying each other down with the hose and more buckets of water.

All that to say, if you’ve missed summer camp this year, turn the kids loose with a garden hose and it will be time for school to restart before you know it.

Some things never change.

Oh, and the really good news—the camp directors didn’t bicker this time around, although they did collapse in exhaustion after the last day.

When spaghetti becomes wall art

It has happened again – another blob of spaghetti stuck to the kitchen wall. Same location—in the corner next to the highchair. Same suspect—round face, great smile, chubby legs, chubby cheeks, 18 months-old.

The abstract art on the wall escaped notice for the better part of a week and fossilized. We should probably put a frame around it and title it “Family Dinners.”

The real puzzle is how it stuck and that a mound that size did not fall to the floor. Gravity has failed us.

We had a book when our kids where young titled, “Teaching Children Manners in 10 Minutes.” It overestimated their attention span by nine minutes.

Now, with nearly a dozen grandkids often around the table, we are taking a second run at teaching manners, periodically reviewing basic rules of courtesy so that mealtime is not a three-ring circus.

For starters, no clowns in little cars circling the table and no trying to lift a cousin in a kitchen chair over your head.

Furthermore, all the interesting things you found outside stay in your pockets. That goes double if the interesting things in your pockets are still alive.

Please remember that the small lighted candles in the center of the table are not so much for ambiance, but to discourage you form lunging across the table for food you want.

When eyeing the last portion of something on a serving plate, ask if anyone else would like it. No sulking when someone says yes and offers to share it with you.

Please laugh at the little kids’ knock-knock jokes, even if you heard them before, and don’t blurt out the punchline.

Note that only the babies eat with their hands, everybody else uses a fork. The same goes for rubbing food in your hair. Babies only.

If you don’t like it, don’t say you “hate it” — it is ­ “not one of your favorites.”

Try one bite. Please. Thank you.

No yelling, screaming, shouting or name calling at the table. This is mealtime, not a political rally.

Don’t forget you earn extra points for saying, “Grandma is a good cook,” and taking your dirty dishes to the sink without being told.

Naturally, to encourage thoughtfulness, we practice thoughtfulness. We don’t buy orange juice with pulp — or “hairs” as they say, and we don’t give them sandwiches on bread that “crunches” (12-grain).

We make sure there is always chocolate syrup to go in the milk and promise Grandma will make cinnamon rolls for the morning when they stay overnight.

A small brood was here recently when I hopped up from the table to retrieve a dish by the stove. When I returned the kids were sitting quietly and one said, “Did you notice, Grandma?”

“Notice what?”

“We waited until you sat down and took a bite before any of us took a bite. You told us it’s polite to wait for the hostess to take the first bite.”

Ice cream for everyone!

Hands down this is a difficult mandate

While the pandemic is flattening in some areas and surging in others, the fundamental caution remains in place: Do not touch your face.

The bad news is that the world is divided into two sorts of people—those who constantly touch their faces and those who do not.

I am a face toucher.

My face and hands were made for each other. My chin nestles into my palm and my hand stretches out like a soft, comfy recliner custom-built for the side of my face.

Other times I touch the sides of my face rubbing my temples attempting to awaken brain cells. It hasn’t worked so far, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying.

Sometimes I touch my face brushing away stray hairs, pushing my glasses up or pulling at a glob of mascara on my eyelashes.

Then there is the itching. My eyebrows itch, my eyes itch, my ears itch, my nose itches, and sometimes I imagine things crawling on the back of my neck.

This morning, I tried removing a semi-colon from a sentence three times before I realized it was a tiny ant parked on my computer screen. Now I feel like the ant, although no longer with us, is crawling across my feet and circling my ankles making them itch, too.

I am a face-toucher itching from head to toe.

Of course, you know what happens to people who touch their faces when they put on face masks. They contort their eyes and wrinkle their noses attempting to scratch an itch and even rub the sides of their faces on their shoulders.

Most itching is caused by cold air, dry air, heat, outside air, inside air, allergens, pollens, dust mites and dry skin.

Two other things cause skin to itch as well – hand sanitizers and excessive hand washing, both of which happen to be extremely popular global pastimes these days.

I have often wondered if face touching and itching are contagious and was pleased to learn that scientists are researching what they call “contagious itch,” an itch that is visually transmitted, much like yawning.

My skin has been itching like mad this week. Now since I know that itching can be visually transmitted, I can blame it on others.

A good friend developed a terrible dermatitis of an unknown origin on her torso, arms and legs. Every time I hear about it, my arms and legs itch, too.

Then one of our sons-in-law developed an allergy to sunscreen. He has a terrible rash on his neck and arms that keeps recurring, swelling and itching and making him miserable. I call to see if he’s improving, get a report, hang up and immediately begin scratching my arms and neck. Then I wash my hands for the 345th time of the day and dry my skin even more.

You’re feeling it, too, aren’t you? Back of the neck. Left side. A little lower. There you go.


Flip flopping over vacation

To vacation or not to vacation, that is the question.

Some say “go” and some say “stay.” People are divided—and not just by 6-feet, which is the current social distancing guideline.

Many are making travel decisions based on distance. How far can we go without stopping to use a public restroom? Some can make a five-hour car trip to see family without stopping and some can’t. Who knew bladder control would one day be a key factor in summer travel plans?

One summer we drove 750 miles to a seaside rental with our son-in-law at the wheel. He is a great son-in-law, a wonderful husband to our daughter and fabulous father to our grandchildren—but he also considers stopping on a long-distance drive a sign of weakness.

I sat in the far backseat with a GPS app open on my cell phone whispering to it, “Find a restroom near me.”

Fortunately, one of the kids asked to stop before I had to. That third bottle of water I gave her did the trick.

With many vacation rentals iffy and vacation hot spots telling tourists to stay home, some are choosing to extend their three-month staycations and utilize nearby resources.

A neighborhood pool sent an email to homeowners announcing the pool would open but people must wear masks. Then they sent out second email clarifying that people should not wear masks while swimming.

At least one public park has sprayed white circles on their grounds to enforce distancing. It looks like aliens have used giant cookie cutters on the lawns. Other parks require groups be limited to 10. What happens when a family of five meets up with a family of six?

The rules are constantly changing and sometimes confusing.

The X spot feature is utilized everywhere—groceries, post office, hardware stores. An X on the ground or floor shows where you should stand. It seems to work well, but I’m not sure that would work at popular tourist spots. Mark Xs on the beach and the tide washes them away. You could carve Xs for distancing on mountain trails and in national parks but bears and buffalos have never been big on following the rules.

Some families are adding special features to their backyards to make them more attractive for at-home vacations. Sales of above-ground pools are making a huge splash. Some families are adding outdoor projectors. If the kids don’t get enough time inside sitting watching screens, they can now go outside and be sedentary. Something is so wrong.

Experts say if you do travel and stay in a rental or a hotel, you should clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, remote controls, toilets and sink faucets.

That’s what I’ve been doing at home for the past three months. It hardly sounds like a vacation.

Three cheers and burgers on the grill for dads

A cousin sent an email saying she had been out mowing for two hours in the hot Nebraska sun and the smell of new mown hay was in her nostrils. She said it reminded her of her dad “alone in a hayloft, waiting for the next hayrack full to be ‘dropped’ on him to scatter.

“Not a breath of air in there, work shirt buttoned at the neck and cuffs, unbearable for all the crew but Dad. At lunch break, Dad would have a couple of sandwiches and skip the iced tea. He’d have creamed coffee right out of a glass jar wrapped in a tea towel. That was my hero, my life example . . . my Daddy – loyal, very, very hard-working, so wonderful. Funny what a whiff of new mown hay does.”

Her dad and my dad were brothers. There were five boys and four girls in the family. The boys were cut from the same cloth. Every one of them enjoyed hard work. I have an idea they took after their dad. He died shortly after I was born, but the stories still live.

Picture taken of four remaining brothers after one was killed in WWII.

It wasn’t easy raising a large family during the Depression, yet their farm was the first one for miles around to have electricity. Their dad cobbled a small power station together using batteries. Resourcefulness was second nature.

When my parents married, they had a card table and two orange crates for furniture. When they got a dog, Dad built a doghouse from scrap lumber using the only tool they owned – an ax. Nobody claimed it was pretty but it did the job and the dog never complained.

This is my parents on their honeymoon, a bit different from today’s expectations. Makes the story about building a doghouse with an ax and starting with a card table and orange crates believable. They lived life full throttle.

I think of my dad when I see a charcoal grill flame. He loved to grill. Burgers, dogs, steak, ribs. For years, he and Mom hosted a huge Fourth of July brunch and he’d grill pancakes and sausage before the neighborhood parade.

He loved grilling out most of all when the temperatures soared – 90 was good, even 100 wasn’t daunting. That was also his favorite time to mow. He and all of his brothers were most comfortable outside. It came from the farm imprint, spring planting, summers in the fields and fall harvest.

At my dad’s retirement party (they used to have such things), at a large university where he had worked his way up to purchasing director, he was standing by himself, looking at the crowd, having a good time when he chuckled and said, “I never did want a desk job.”

Switched from this wardrobe to suit and tie

I don’t think I realized until that moment how much our dad had loved us. Oh, he had enjoyed his career and the people he worked with, but ‘til the day he died there was nothing as beautiful as a stand of wheat or a field of corn.

Here’s to dads everywhere who work hard and do what needs to be done for the love of family.

Now somebody light the grill.

Middle children becoming a rarity

There’s a new addition under consideration for the endangered species list – the middle child.

Researchers who track such things say that more couples are having fewer children, often stopping with one or two. Middle children are disappearing, to which middle children everywhere respond, “We’re surprised anybody noticed!”

Middle children will tell you that theirs is the most forlorn place in a family. Squished in the middle, theirs is the birthday Mom is frequently confused on, the one for which Grandma forgot to send a card.

They claim nobody notices that they even exist. Or gradually cease to exist in this case.

There’s even a movement to formally recognize Middle Children Day. For a group that claims to be overlooked, they do a good job grabbing the spotlight.

When our middle child said she felt invisible, we told her that being the middle child was special—like being the filling in a sandwich. Her siblings were simply the bread on either side. Which would she rather be—the yummy filling or plain ol’ bread? We told her not to tell her siblings we had referred to them as plain ol’ bread.

We told our oldest that he had a special place in our hearts because he was our first, the first baby we held in our arms, our first tiny miracle. We also told him to keep that to himself and that, no, he could not put a sign on his bedroom door that said, “A Miracle Lives Here.”

We told our youngest that her older siblings were like the first pancakes—test pancakes because you’ve got the skillet too hot or not hot enough. But by the third pancake, you’ve got it down to a perfect golden brown. She smiled knowingly. On weekends she’d ask for pancakes and turn up her nose at the first two.

I come from a family of two children and am the firstborn, the proverbial bossy big sister, three years older than my brother. I had some size on him and gladly wielded my power over him for a few brief fleeting years. They were good years as I recall. Then he shot up, grew to be a good foot taller, a great deal larger, and is still paying me back.

Middle children help shape a family in a unique way. They keep life off balance. When there are three or more children in a family, kids learn how to scramble for a window seat in the car. Singles and pairs never get that opportunity. They grow up thinking everybody gets a window seat. Life is setting them up for disappointment.

Three or more siblings learn how to form alliances. One day you side with an older sibling, the next day you may team with a younger sibling. It’s great training for the business world or a career in politics.

My sister-in-law grew up in a family of eight children. She has amazing coping skills, quick reflexes and is fearless—all of which she learned sandwiched smack in the middle of four brothers.

Never underestimate the value of the middle.

Revisiting the basics in time of crisis

In a time of crisis, it is helpful to review the basics.

The most trustworthy basic I know is the Golden Rule. An expert in the law heard Jesus debating in public, admired his answers and so asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the greatest?”

Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

It sounds so easy; but we all know it’s hard.

For starters, we’re terribly busy these days. That “love the Lord your God” business gets pushed down further and further on the To Do list.

Then there are our “hearts and souls” shriveling from poor nutrition and outright neglect.

Our “minds” are occupied with social media, browsing the net, online shopping, and streaming Netflix.

“Strength?” It sounds so, well, tiring. Maybe someone will make an app for it.

Moderns have put a spin on “love your neighbor as yourself,” claiming the verse is actually a command to love yourself first because you can’t love others until you love yourself. That might be true for a few but, for most of us, love of self comes naturally. Often, too naturally. Dangerously naturally. It is our loving others that needs cultivation and examination.

C.S. Lewis, author “The Chronicles of Narnia,” once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal . . . ”  It’s a shocking claim on the surface, but the reason there are no ordinary people is that we have been created in the image of God.

Lewis went on to say that our greatest joys in life come from relationships between people who take one another seriously with no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption—relationships in which people think before they act or speak. If only. Yet, things impossible to man are possible with God.

There is one more “basic” that keeps running though my head. It is the prayer that never fails. It was told to me by an older gentleman, a former Marine thrust into World War II as a young man with brief preparation. He and his fellow Marines were basically abandoned on the battle-entrenched island of Guadalcanal. They were sick with dysentery and malaria, surviving on meager rations. When one of them threatened mutiny, he knew he had to act quickly, so he prayed the prayer that never fails, “Lord, help.”

A fine prayer then and a fine prayer now.

Does the “Best Ever” game ever end?

The husband has a “Best Grandpa Ever” hat. I happen to know that the same kids who gave him that hat also gave one just like it to their other grandpa. “Best” isn’t as exclusive as it used to be.

I wonder what would happen if every grandpa wearing a “Best Grandpa Ever” hat or T-shirt ran into one another at a large gathering. Would they have a Grandpa Showdown to determine who is the best once and for all? What would a Grandpa Showdown look like?

I imagine it would include older men giving kids horsey rides on their backs, holding kids’ hands while letting them walk up their legs and then flipping them around.

Grandpas could also toss babies in the air and catch them. In a process of elimination, grandpas would be ejected from the contest the instant the babies’ mothers yelled, “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!”

A Best Ever Grandpa game show has possibilities featuring an entire category for Creative Greetings and Farewells. One grandpa we know stands by the family car when it leaves and runs alongside the car throwing little plastic dinosaurs in the car at the kids through the open windows.

I was at a funeral where someone mentioned the deceased always kept a pack of gum in his shirt pocket for his grandchildren. It was so sweet and touching, you could hear soft sobs. Surely, I wasn’t the only one crying.

There could also be cooking categories including a milkshake contest based on speed and another competition for baking frozen pizza the fastest.

Moms and grandmas don’t seem to receive as much of that “Best Ever” line of gifts and clothing. Although, I do have a fluffy white bathrobe monogrammed “Best Grandma Ever.”

One of our daughters saw me in it and asked who gave it to me.

“Why does it matter?” I asked.

“I’d just like to know.”

“Fine,” I said. “I got it for myself.”

“You bought yourself a robe that says ‘Best Grandma Ever’?”

“Yes,” I said. “I bought the robe online and saw you could get it monogrammed for only a few dollars more. One of the sample monograms was ‘Best Grandma Ever.’ So, I got it and I love it every time I wear it. Sometimes even a grandma needs a little pick-me-up.”

She looked bewildered, so I reminded her about the time that her grandmother, my mother, had an on-line credit with a florist. She was feeling weary one day, so she used the credit to send herself a cheery bouquet with a note on the card that said, “Get Well Soon.”

“It runs in the family,” I said.

The doorbell rang.

“It looks like a delivery truck outside,” my daughter said. “Maybe a florist?”

“It’s nothing,” I said, rushing past her. “You stay put; I’ll get the door.”


Getting a grip on the future

We are opening back up here. Slowly. At the speed of a turtle. Make that a turtle in its shell, but it is happening.

Some want a faster open, some want continued closure. Some say it is time to get on with it, others would wait until the last coronavirus micron has been eradicated.

We have become a nation of armchair quarterbacks. We will all know what the perfect decisions would have been after some imperfect decisions have been made.

Sounds of traffic from the interstate reverberate on our patio in the early mornings. Traffic is picking up. Select businesses are coming back to life, while others are poised and ready, waiting for the green flag.

Hardware stores, along with lawn and garden stores deemed necessities, have been open all along. We passed a family-owned nursery the other day and saw their parking lot filled. Overflow cars lined the street.

Tucking annuals into spring soil, planting tomatoes and peppers, oregano and rosemary, are affirmations of life. A declaration of better days to come.

Social distancing guidelines are easing. It has been two months since we have hugged a grandchild. There are so many factors to consider. For starters, we are in a high-risk group. I was as shocked as anyone to learn this. I was reading about risk factors one day and called out to the husband, “Am I elderly?”

“You’re over 60. Yes! You’re elderly!”

When did that happen? I still feel 17 inside.

We have a nephew, young and strong, who got the virus and was sick several weeks, flattened by extreme fatigue. The parents of classmates our kids went to school with got it. They were hospitalized, released and recovered. Elderly parents of an acquaintance both caught it. He survived, she did not.

The pandemic is a complicated equation with many variables.

Social gatherings of 25 are allowed where we live. Still, caution abounds.

On Saturday, I dropped some things off at our youngest daughter’s house. Her little girls were outside chalking the sidewalk and running circles in the grass. Their “baby” is our youngest grand. She turned 2 last month. We had wished her happy birthday through a plate glass door.

She’s talking up a storm these days, saying words like quarantine, “pandemica,” and corona.

The toddler and momma invited me to walk with them. So we walked. Apart. She’s so young, I’ve often wondered what she remembers about us. Then she took her momma’s hand. I saw it but pretended that I didn’t.

Her momma said, “We’re not against holding hands, Grandma.”

As if on cue, that chubby, silky soft hand reached for mine. It was a mix of emotions, joy for the moment and sorrow for the many losses that have swept the world.

Of course, when our walk was over, we all resumed obsessive-compulsive hand washing.

But for a moment, I held the promise of better days to come. Slowly, but surely, they will.

Now needing a refresher in social graces

We are going to need a refresher course in social graces before rejoining humanity when this virus thing cools down.

I get dressed every day, but usually in workout clothes. Workout clothes don’t have zippers and waistbands. Do you know how dangerous that is?

If you saw what I wore every day, you’d think I am an exercise nut. You’d be wrong. At least about the exercise part. The husband dresses like he’s going to the gym. The gym has been closed since March.

A lot of businesses used to have Friday Casual, where the dress code was relaxed on Fridays. We’ve expanded Friday Casual to seven days a week.

I see nice clothes hanging in the closet, but I can’t remember the last time I wore any of them.

We need to revisit table etiquette as well. We now eat dinner many evenings with the television on because that’s when news updates about the virus are on. I used to insist the television be off during mealtime, but I no longer have the strength to say no.

We also used to clear the table for dinner and set a nice table. Now we just crowd our plates in next to the husband’s laptop, multiple external hard drives, a large scanner and towering piles of old family photographs he is archiving, also sitting on the table.

There was also a time we never had cell phones at the table. Now our cell phones are parked where our knives and spoons used to be.

I haven’t given up my will to live, just my will to nag.

Then there is the shouting. We both talk back to the television. Most every news report on the virus is contradicted by a subsequent report.

“Make up your mind!”

“Pick a side!”

One of the kids called the other night and asked what all the yelling was in the background.

“Your father is watching the news,” I said.

At least we both shower every day, although you-know-who sometimes doesn’t shower until late afternoon. The sun hasn’t gone down yet, so he says it counts.

Then there’s my hair. It’s like a large overgrown shrub in desperate need of a shearing.

It’s been 80 days since my shearing, but who’s counting. I thought the length might pull some of the curl out of it. It did.

Then the humidity came.

Humidity gives curly, frizzy hair more density, more volume and more frizz. My hair looks like the world’s largest dust ball that was ever swept from beneath a bed.

We were looking at a cell phone picture of one of the grands when the husband said, “Look at what smooth, beautiful hair she has. It’s perfectly straight.”

When he was in the other room, I may have stirred his old family photos and gotten the top few out of chronological order. He walked in and I said, “I was just tidying up.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

We’re making progress.