Monday, July 18, 2016

How Does Life Change When You Have Kids?

I wrote this piece several months ago for a different project that I completely forgot about, so I revived it. Given that I just spent several truly quality days with my stepfather, it reminds me that if you are about to have kids, taking quality time to enjoy the small things is well worth it. The time zips by; embrace it.

When people ask me what changes when they have kids, I laugh and tell them that everything changes, and there’s really nothing you can do to prepare for it. However, the miracle of parenting is that just when you think you can’t love any more, your ability to love expands again, day after day, year after year. 
To be a parent is to know a love deeper than any love imaginable.
I had a rough pregnancy with a lot of the complications you read about in the books and hope you don’t have. When the big day arrived, the thoughtful birthing plan I’d carefully written that requested candlelight and a string quartet playing by my side as I gently pushed out a child was abruptly tossed in the trash. Instead of going into natural labor while rocking casually on a yoga ball, I got Pitocin. Instead of my water breaking during a romantic Italian dinner while my husband and I giggled and calmly headed for the hospital, a nurse with a giant knitting hook did the deed. The finale was an emergency C-section that my husband nearly missed because he ran home to bake banana bread for the labor and delivery nurses (true fact). I was in such bad shape during the C-secton that I didn’t even see my daughter goopy and newly-born, as they whisked her away for blood work while they sewed me back together. 
How does life change when you have kids? You become thankful for the truly important things, like having a healthy baby girl. You reset your expectations.
After recovery, I remember being groggy and looking over into a glass incubator in the middle of the night, and a panic set in.
“Do I have to take that baby home with me?” I thought to myself, terrified.
We took her home. I did my best. Despite my ample breasts that I knew my entire life were surely meant for nourishing a baby, breastfeeding wasn’t in the cards for us. The glowing halo I expected to appear over my head as I breastfeed never came, and in its place, a dark cloud appeared. Postpartum depression wasn’t in my birthing plan, either. I began to consider that I might be a complete failure at the mommy job.
How does life change when you have kids? You learn to forgive yourself for not being perfect. 
Thanks to the unwavering support of family and friends and an excellent doctor, I received the treatment I so desperately needed to ward off the dark cloud. I began to embrace the little things. The love that is deeper than any love imaginable kept me going. I took the baby to a baby massage class, and soothed her crying by pulling gently on her little toes. She began to smile at me, and I began to smile back. 
How does life change when you have kids? You’ll never sleep the same way again, because a part of you is always alert in a desire to protect your young. You’ll develop weird obsessions in an effort to ensure your child’s safety. If you’re a mom, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll never sneeze again without peeing.
It’s all worth it.
My daughter is now 13. I still sneak into her room in the middle of the night to verify the rise and fall of her chest. When she’s not mad at me (she’s 13, after all), we curl up on the couch to watch a movie and I still pull on her toes. I take deep breaths and I hold her hand and cherish our time together, because it truly goes by in an instant.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Camp James Day 6, and the Morning of Day 7

Another guest blog by my lovely sister. 

I can't love this more.I love the topic of being neighborly, the phrase "food monogamist," and the perfect description of what it's like to be at Mom and James' home. I also had the pleasure of discussing James and squirrel-eating, but forgot to write about it so I'm glad Emily did the honors.

On Day 6, I woke up at 6:45AM, only 45 minutes after James, who was clearly catching my “jetlag” feelings and sleeping in after our crazy late-night movie times! We began the day with a phone call from Mom, who was having lunch in York with her friends. As soon as I put her on speaker, James’ face lit up like the sun.  As a teenager, I used to roll my eyes about those two and their flirting, but nowadays, I feel like I never would have known true love myself if not for their example. They chatted for a bit, and Mom seems to be so excited and relaxed in her travels. Afterwards, we talked about all kinds of things happening in the world. I saw that he had read the paper, and as much as my sister and I would have liked to shield him from the story about Nice while Mom was travelling in Europe, he had read the headline, so we discussed how sad it was and our feelings about the state of things.  This conversation quickly led to him showing me a book, as James tends to refer often to printed-upon, drawn-upon, or written-upon paper, as opposed to shifting screens. 

The book was a gift from Camp James Phase 4 counselor, my absolutely stellar stepsister, Melissa, and it is comprised of 30 letters written to Pope Francis by children from around the world and his responses to these letters.  James encouraged me to read a few, as he noted how the questions the kids ask are difficult, and the Pope answered them in such simple terms, but with solid, reasonable, and wise answers.  I highly recommend picking this book up if you have the chance. It will make you hopeful and make you think. 

The previous day during “wine time” (a glass under the bower outside at 5pm), we had a great discussion about neighbors and what it means to be neighborly. The themes and conclusions were similar in this morning’s discussion about the state of our world and our politics. The ideas were as follows:

1.     We need more personal interaction for a more understanding world. Meaning, there is a benefit to getting to know our neighbors and forming communities, to travelling and familiarizing with other cultures, and also to hanging out with and having discussions with people who are not like us. 
2.     Interaction online and by phone is not the same as face-to-face. I know this is a common theme when discussing how volatile comment threads can become, but James wouldn’t know a comment thread from a stick, as he is strictly an ink and paper dude, so it was interesting to hear him bring this up. The idea being that it is much harder to be a bigot, or a bully, or even slightly condescending if the HUMAN is looking you in the eye.
3.     Neighborly and community interaction can be a risk, because it is “safer” to just surround ourselves with people who are like-minded. It’s the easy way out. But, as James said, “Life is hard from the moment we are born and realize there are other people on the planet.” But, as we concluded, life is also better from the moment we are born and realize there are other people on the planet. There will ALWAYS be differences of opinion based on everyone’s different life experiences, but what makes living and negotiating life so sweet and flavorful, is developing the skill of negotiating life together with all kinds of minds.

Amy and I grew up in the Bible belt, going to church and church activities as many as five times a week. We went to church with people who were on all sides and scales of the political spectrum, but when we were all gathered there, we came together under one roof and celebrated life and our common belief in something. In doing so, we fostered a mutual respect for and a community with people who had very different views, but if we had called these people at any time, night or day, (probably still to this day!), they would have been and would be there to help us, and vice-versa. James and I concluded that if more participate in things like church, or neighborhood associations, forming a cooking group, a scuba group, or an “I love Pokemon” group – whatever the case - and create TRUE relationships (*ones that take effort*) and support systems, that people can break down some of the hate and the ugly that is happening in our world and begin to understand each-other more.

Needless to say, this chat took a good several hours; the coffee was chilly and James, who keeps to a pretty tight schedule, was even further discombobulated. I had a small tinge of guilt that Camp James was becoming a rebellion, and then I warmed my coffee. After all, how often do these moments happen? 

By the way, it should also be noted, since Amy and I are so used to it by now, that coffee at Mom & James’ house is kind of a “thing”. Mom and James LOVE coffee, and the morning coffee ritual is probably the one thing that has never missed a day of their marriage. 

James makes the coffee the night before. In case you ever have the pleasure of staying the night in their home as a guest, bring earplugs, as the grinder goes off promptly at 4AM, and I swear they bought that thing in the early 1900s, because it sounds like a Zeppelin with a leak and lasts, in grumpy, sleepy time, FOREVER. When you do finally wake, this momentary disturbance is eclipsed by the amazing, way-better-than-Folgers aroma wafting through the house and the faint sound of the rustling of newspapers coming from the living room.  Since we are still on this imaginary journey, you will roll out of bed groggily, pitter-pat into the kitchen, and promptly “pick out your cup” (as James puts it).

This part of the ritual is very nostalgic when we come back for a visit, because the cups are a piece of history growing up with an artist and a musician. Mom and James have a lot of amazing friends, several of whom are potters, who live in various, breathtakingly Piney-woodsy, potter-appropriate homes/workspaces throughout East Texas. Throughout the years they have purchased their entire collection of dishware from their friends and other local potters, and grew a special addiction to coffee cups, each of which are unique.  

When you pick one out, if James approves of the way it feels in the hand, he will say nothing. If he LOVES the way it feels in the hand, he’ll likely point out that Dave Hendley made it special with a thumb rest and that it is one of his favorites. If you are really lucky, you can sit, sip coffee, and live vicariously through Mom and/or James telling you the story of the day they acquired said cup. 

Like I said, morning coffee ritual is kind of a thing, and one of my favorite things about coming home (insert cheesy Folgers music if you dare).

Around the noon hour, I took off for a bit to have lunch with my dad and stepmom at a deli. James fended for himself in the fridge. I stopped by the store on the way home to buy him bananas, as during one of our many talks, he said that if he had only one food to eat for the rest of his life he would eat bananas. I said burritos because it’s a complete protein (?), or if I had to choose only ONE like he did, bananas and not a combo food, it would be blueberries… Or maybe chocolate... Or steak…

Let’s just hope we never have to become food monogamists.

After the bananas arrived, James reached into his pocket and pulled out his notebook, and thumbing through it, said that he had more things he needed to buy. He seemed almost panicky about this, which I truly didn’t understand, until he read the first item on the list: sketch pads. Since I am not one to deny a Camp James care package item, we hopped back in the car and went straight the art supply store, where he found buy one, get one 50% off sketch pads, and all was right with the world. After finishing these errands, James sighed and said, “Emily, you have made all my dreams come true!” and started to laugh. NEVER deny an artist his canvas. 

I settled on making another one of James’ favorite things for dinner, a recipe for shrimp boil from the Trube family of Tyler, which I can’t share, because, shhh! It was delicious, and we continued our talks. Hours pass by when talking to James; such a mind on that one. 

Trube Shrimp Boil!

After dinner, we settled into Netflix early, since I wanted to get camp back on schedule before the next counselor came in. I rifled through titles, wondering what else would be quality enough to show James. When I told him “OH YES! We are totally watching this. It is sooo your music”, and began the documentary about the Carter Family entitled The Winding Stream, he grinned from ear to ear with the first bars of music, and told me he used to listen to the Carters on Border Radio growing up in Sabine. At one point he asked me if I had ever eaten squirrel. 

Hard to believe someone so worldly, open-minded, incredibly intelligent, patient, artistic, and intuitive, used to dig around the grey buckshot in his piece of cooked squirrel by the Sabine River. Live a full life, folks, and you might be lucky enough to end up even a little like James. 

The next day, we walked up the street to a garage sale where James made friends with even more neighbors, a couple of young Hispanic dudes who were just delighted to sell us a bright orange $3 hard hat and meet the man who lived in the house with a bridge around the corner.  I’m not sure why James was so dead set on buying a hard hat, except probably that it was the most colorful thing at the sale, and he is an artist, so… but, here he is donning it proudly:

Afterwards, I cleaned up and prepared to hit the road and pass the Camp James torch on to my stepbrother Chris. James was so excited for the new arrival, and we talked about how rare this time together had been, how much he loved his time with Amy and Rosie, and how great it was that he was getting even more with his amazing son and daughter in the upcoming days. 

All I know is that it had been a long time since I had uninterrupted, quality time like that with a family member, and I won’t take it for granted.  I am already thinking of how to go back to Camp James next year, and get to see more of the world through his eyes.   

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Camp James, Day 5

This is the first time I've invited a guest blogger to contribute, and now I know I'll do this more often! Since Emily Rose and I left on Thursday to return to Austin, I figured the Camp James updates could continue in our absence. I love the new perspective and my sister's hilarious storytelling. 


In an attempt to get myself onto Camp James time, I set my alarm to 6:30am, finding immediately that I was experiencing some sort of jet lag.  

The night before, my sister, niece, James, and I watched Dr. Zhivago until the Entr’acte, at around 10pm (2 hours after James’ proclaimed “perfect bedtime”), when James and I wimped out and went to bed. As Amy mentioned in previous Camp James accounts, we discovered this week that Dr. Z is a long-ass film, and of course with settling in and checking the news of the world online, I didn’t really pass out until 11:30, a primary factor in my grogginess the next morning. 

Fully expecting that James would be sleeping in past his usual 4am waking hour, I was shocked to find that he had already read his paper, had his coffee, and was outside petting Callie, the wild Calico. My stepfather is and always will be a “morning person," and was delighted to see me peeping and not sleeping.  We chatted for a bit and he set out on his morning walk, returned, had his breakfast, and shortly after, Amy (sis) and Emily Rose (niece) joined us in the morning rituals. We finished watching Dr. Z, discussed what a beautiful piece of work James’ favorite film was, and I helped his Camp James (Phase 1) counselors pack up their car and head on down the road. 

At this point, admittedly, I found myself feeling a great pressure. I suddenly realized that I had not prepared myself to be a Camp James counselor, and that maybe I should have come prepared with projects or a schedule of events! After all, it seemed like following the delights and creative family time of the Arndt counselor team would be like following a cameo of Beyoncé at a Karaoke bar (and if you don’t think that’s a proper reference, I will now point out that my Word program just made me correct the Lady B’s name with the proper accent – Word even knows who she is, people).  

In all seriousness, I had a moment where I began frantically searching for cool things to do in Tyler. With little to no recent reference as to what is the haps in T-town, TX, aside from the sparse results of a Google search, I suggested a few events to James, and he settled on a visit to the Tyler Museum of Art.

I had not visited the museum since high school, and although I remember fondly the days when James was on the museum board and our cool family friend ran the museum and brought in musical acts like Joe Ely to give concerts in a room that sat maybe 40-50 people, I figured it was a whole new world by now. Naturally, I stepped up to the front desk, pulled out my wallet, and said to the curator-lady “Two, please," when suddenly I see James’ hand come around me flashing what I can only imagine is some sort of Lifetime VIP card of sorts.  

At the same time, the eyes of the man sitting beside her, who could not have given two hoots about my approach, start to get very wide and he stands up, practically bowing, saying “Well, I do believe it’s James Wilkins!!”, at which point I stepped aside like the carriage driver, and let the entire museum staff, which quickly included the director and a guy I went to high school with, revel at the presence of a man I already knew was the sh*t . 

At some point, we politely took leave to go view the collage art exhibit, and once more I remembered what it was like to be with James in his element. We created a pace, as people tend to do when examining art, and made little comments and critiques along the way. 

Now, I should disclaim that, as Amy and ER were getting ready to leave earlier that morning, James had come into the living room to give me a little instruction about his hearing, or, rather, my voice. “Now, just to let you know, I have had my hearing checked out and everything taken care of, but you have a very soft voice, so, please, when you speak to me, if you could do it face-to-face and speak up really loud, so I can hear you, especially if it is something important.” I, as I normally do when someone has this chat with me, explained that I knew I had a little voice, but that I sounded very loud inside my head, so I would do my best.  My friends are probably laughing by now as they no doubt only hear half of everything I say. In a museum setting, however, this became quite humorous as I was inclined to whisper and James never even turned his head. So, I was THAT museum cat lady.  Whispering to meself. Yep. 

It quickly become like old times hanging out; being impressed with the intricacies of some pieces, being blown away by one of the collage artists and sitting for a long time on the bench, staring at two giant collages in awe (at which point the museum sound track from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off gets stuck in my head – argh!), and, finally, that awkward moment when James turned to me in the quiet room that is right next to the front desk area and said, “This one looks like a toddler threw paint on the wall!”, after-which we both started church-giggling hysterically. 

Clearly the staff missed our rebellious remarks and giggles, as they continued to chat James up upon our leaving, until he grew slightly over it and shouted “Well, Goodbye!”, and turn-tailed it out of there. We left the museum discussing all of the changes it has gone through in the past years, but how it still retains its charms. 

After a lovely dinner at a Greek restaurant that he frequents with my mother, and where he is also a celebrity - or at least it would seem so by the fact that the owner did that whole come-out-of-the-kitchen-to-greet-only-James schtick (did I mention people love James?) - we settled back at the house. James announced at this point that his “perfect bedtime”, as aforementioned, was 8pm

It was 7, so we agreed that if I started a movie that was fine, but he would bow out early for bed. We began watching Philomena, and in no time James was, once again, hanging in with end credits rolling. He told me, with no grumpiness at all, that he couldn’t help it, he got “sucked in”, and that it was a wonderful movie, and we sat and discussed it for another 30 minutes.  With almost childlike excitement for learning a new piece of history and not a bit of weariness in his eyes (could he ALSO be a “night person”?), James finally turned in after another fun day of camp, and as I did the same, I began to think that maybe I was the camper, settling into a new schedule filled with thoughtful, mostly-TV free activities, lots of nature, life lessons, and the coolest counselor on the planet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Camp James, Day 4

We started the day by ripping another piece off of the Judy chain, then James promptly headed off to his doctor's appointment. When he returned, he told us all about the nurse, and how her name was Lara, spelled L-A-R-A. James asked Lara how she got the name, because to James, anyone named Lara who spells it that way surely is named after Lara in his favorite film, Dr. Zhivago.

This Lara was named Lara because her dad is named Larry. Also, she had never seen Dr. Zhivago and didn't know what in the world that was.

James was blown over.

"I can't imagine someone has never seen Dr. Zhivago! Can you imagine that?"

Well, come to think of it, while I've always known it was James' favorite movie, I've never seen it in its entirety. I always heard that it was James' favorite, but that it was basically endless, as in hours and hours and more hours.

So, I told James that if he wanted, we could watch it. After all, ER hasn't seen it, and Emily would arrive that afternoon so we could all watch it together. Thanks to Apple tv, we can pretty much watch whatever we want, so I checked to see if it was available and bam, we were ready for a movie night. James was happy about that, but did remind me that it's a long movie, so we'd need to start it nice and early.

While we waited for Emily to arrive, we relaxed around the house. James worked hard in his studio on an illustration project based on a children's book idea ER came up with when she was very little. I've been wanting to have James draw the scenes for years, so our time in Tyler gave us the perfect chance to make it happen. Stay tuned for what I expect to be a very cool children's book.

Emily's arrival late in the afternoon was exciting for all of us, as it's her turn to enjoy a stay at Camp James. At 5:00, we continued the tradition of having a glass of wine together. Mom and James have a 5:00 glass of wine each day, and they usually sit outside. Here's the view from where they normally sit. It's so relaxing, and I love that there is another example of James' art out to look at while you're there (See Rock City). 

See Rock City below the bridge!

Camp James offers wine at 5pm sharp every day.
Callie, Mom and James' cat. She is pretty, but mentally unstable. Would you like a cat? We really mean that. 

Despite the lovely, welcoming area to sit outside for wine, today we decided to shake it up a little and sit inside since it's about 9,000 degrees outside this week. We hope Mom would approve.

At James' suggestion, we piled in the car for dinner at Tyler's Torchy's, which was a taste of home for the Austin gals in the bunch. James digs their shrimp tacos, so we were in business.

Even better than the queso and hip decor and the shrimp tacos was that at Torchy's, we ran into our long-time friends Judy and Arnold Sherman. We sat in the booth next to them and shared some great laughs about the trips we took with Pollard Methodist when Em and I were kids. To this day I can't get over how patient Arnold and Judy were, dragging 25 giggly teens around the United States in two 15-passenger vans with a few more adults to keep us somewhat in line. They are some of the best memories of our lives. It was great to catch up over delicious tacos.

After dinner, we stopped for movie candy and came home to turn on Dr. Zhivago as quickly as we could. Friends, that movie is TWO HUNDRED minutes. No wonder I've never seen it! I never have two hundred minutes to do anything in one sitting.

We made it to the intermission and by that time, ER had pretty much completely tuned out and Emily was dozing off (she had driven 5+ hours from San Antonio that morning, so she gets a pass). James hung in there and was still awake at intermission, when we decided to pause it and take a family vote.

There was NO finishing Dr. Zhivago in one sitting. Off to bed for James, who stayed up much later than he's used to, and off to bed for Emily. ER and I have agreed to leave the Apple tv with Emily and James so they can finish it tomorrow, and now, I'm left wondering what in the world happens to Lara? As of intermission, Dr. Zhivago is a bit of a downer but James assures us that it gets better. No spoilers, please! 

Tomorrow, ER and I will pack our stuff and leave Camp James. We miss home, but we will also miss our incredible time. I'll miss the slower pace and the quiet. Aside from movie nights, the television wasn't on the entire time. With a different pace, it's easier to see the world through someone else's eyes, and we really like the way James looks at the world. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Camp James, Day 3

By day three of any camp, you start to get in your groove. Camp James is no exception.

We started the day out by ripping off another piece of the Judy chain, and promptly hopped in the car to take ER back to Marvin for volunteering. I got my times mixed up, so Mom FaceTimed us while we were in the car. I pulled over and pushed buttons until Mom's face popped up. 

This may have been James' first actual FaceTime session outside of the practice one we did in the living room before Mom left. He was very excited to see his wife's face on the screen, and also excited to see Rike, the beautiful German exchange student who lived with Mom and James and Emily the year I was in Berlin. Rike flew over to London for the day to visit Mom, and they FaceTimed James to bring him in on the action. 

James told Mom how beautiful she looked, and though I'm sure she will hate this photo, I agree with him. She looked radiant and beautiful and happy, and it was so great to talk to Rike! I wish we could zoom in on James' face. He was giddy and impressed.

Afterwards, James commented on the fact that it's absolutely crazy that we can communicate with someone across the pond on a telephone with a video. He asked me to explain how that worked. I did a terrible job of that.

On the way to drop off ER, James pointed out that Tyler has started a program where they have artists paint the traffic light switch boxes. I love this one:

Before lunch, we stopped by Tom Sorrels Insurance Agency. James drew the cars on the sign on the front of their office on Vine. I never knew that until today, though we see his designs all over the place in Tyler (he even drew the original Greenberg Turkey logo). 

We thought it would be fun to add Dino to the photo. More on Dino in a bit.

I've known the Sorrels family since I was a little kid, and they are all great people. (If you need car insurance in Tyler, call the number in the photo above, and you won't regret it.) However, I have to admit that when I'm in Tyler, I very, very rarely see my friends from growing up because I'm hard pressed to get enough time with my family members when I'm here. However, Leslie Sorrels Russell happened onto a puppy in the street, and she had been posting pictures of the puppy on Facebook, trying to find the owner, and I knew ER would love seeing a puppy that reminded us so much of Taco when he was little. 

So we got the double joy of catching up with Leslie, and squeezing on the puppy who has the temporary name of Penelope. The goal is to find the puppy's owners, but as the days pass, Leslie is figuring out that the puppy may have been dumped on the road, which makes me absolutely sick. The next step will be to see if Leslie's uncle will adopt the puppy.

In other words, this puppy is not up for adoption. 

ER has other thoughts.

ER is not an emotional sort, but she fell so in love she got teary-eyed, and I tried my best to be firm because had I gotten soft on her, we would have run out with that puppy so fast, Leslie wouldn't have time to even call the police. So I had to stay strong.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to stay strong around a puppy this cute? Even James, who can't stand the word "cute," said, "That puppy was so cute! I wanted her to be still so I could draw her."

We had lunch across the street at Bruno's. James asked me how long I've been eating there, and I calculated that it's been at least 35 years. That's 35 years of the best pizza on the planet, but today, I opted for spaghetti, one meatball, and their delicious simple salad of cold, cold lettuce, mozzarella, tomatoes and green olives. 

Tom Sorrels ad is permanently decoupaged on the table. How cool is that?

Okay, back to Dino. Dino is this squishy toy dinosaur I've now had in my possession for several months. I found him on the street outside our house, and I keep thinking I'll find his owner, who I'm assuming is a sweet toddler who is still screaming for him to this day. In the meantime, Dino and I have had a lot of fun adventures together.

Today, when I introduced Dino to James, things got really exciting. James is the kind of person who is completely willing to play along, as witnessed by James holding Dino up to model for the Sorrels Insurance photo. In the car on the way home, Dino rode on James' lap and bit him on the finger a few times. When we got home, James informed me that he was going to borrow Dino to draw him. James was particularly interested in the writing on Dino's belly. I wondered briefly if James might decide to kidnap Dino permanently before I got a chance to call the police. 

James retired to his studio for a while, and returned with the drawing below (see photo). He made a copy to glue in his journal. I'm thrilled to have the original, which I plan on framing. I'm also thrilled that James returned Dino, who is back in my crossbody purse where he lives.

Also, an announcement: Our time at Camp James was scheduled to come to an end tomorrow, but my sister Emily arrives tomorrow, and we're having such fun we decided to stay an extra day. 

Wouldn't you?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Camp James, Day 2

Day 2 of Camp James was a hoot!

James had so much fun on the first day of camp he didn't get up until after 6 am. (He usually wakes up in the 4s, so this was kind of a big deal.)  In all fairness, we did keep him up a few hours later than his usual bedtime last night because we watched the documentary "Bill Cunningham New York." If you're not familiar with his work or his life, you should see it. I was happy that all three of us were able to settle on a movie that we all really enjoyed. 

After breakfast, James ripped off the first link off of the Judy chain, and we thought about her long journey and how much fun she must be having on her first day there, which also happens to be her birthday.

Later, we dropped off ER at Marvin Methodist to log some volunteer hours with my absolutely amazing stepsister, Melissa. Melissa runs the mission program at Marvin and if you were to write a list of all of the things she does to impact positivity and change in the world, you'd have a phonebook-sized list. Melissa is a super star.

I snapped this before ER got started. 9am is very early for a teenager, so this smile might not be entirely genuine. James never smiles in pictures, so trust me, he's having fun here.

While ER worked, I needed to knock out some errands, so James came along. He opted to sit in the car while I ran into Walgreen's for toilet paper. James noted that he is CVS loyal, but I think more than anything, the mere thought of shopping for toilet paper is embarrassing to modest gentleman James. 

Afterwards, I needed to wash the car, so we hopped into a place called Soapy Suds. I was hoping for the kind of drive-through car wash where somebody else does all the work while you sit and drink coffee, but by the time I got in line and paid, I realized it was a self-serve variety. You get what you get for $5, Amy.

As we pulled in and the car began wobbling from side to side, James' eyes got very big, and he said,

"It looks like we're being attacked by a hula skirt! Can you imagine if your great-great grandfather saw this?"

This was our view as we wobbled along.

We laughed and laughed as the air dryer blew our car here and there, and laughed even harder when I had to vacuum the inside by myself and nearly strangled to death when the vacuum tried to eat my summer scarf. Who wears a scarf while vacuuming a car? This lady, that's who.

In the afternoon, we cracked open our friend Bernadette Noll's new book, "Look at Us Now." The book is a creative family journal that allows you to fill out pages with your family, so I brought it to Camp James thinking he could fill out pages with his kids.

We flipped through and had James yell "Stop!" to select pages to fill out randomly. We did a few pages, and loved drawing together, the three of us huddled over the pages drawing our favorite foods and finding the right color of pink for shrimp, one of James' favorites. 

James said, "I don't think I've ever done group drawing before!" 

There's a first time for everything, James. We love Bernadette's book!

"The family that colors together..." James said.

Later, while I napped, ER baked a cake for Mimi's birthday, despite the fact Mimi isn't here to enjoy it. ER loves baking cakes, and I love her creative use of simple construction paper to decorate in the absence of fancy stencils. 

Plus, it gave us the perfect opportunity to fill out this fun page in "Look at Us Now:"

We rounded out the day with a trip to one of our Tyler favorites, Don Juan. We picked the original version because James likes it best. We had a terrific dinner, and I bought a t-shirt that says, "Me Gusta Don Juan." I can't wait to wear it. 

I love the decor at Don Juan. It's a happy space. We wish Judy had been there to join us.

We have more big plans on the agenda, so we'll turn in early tonight, and look forward to Day 3 of Camp James tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Camp James: Day One

Big excitement this week! 

My mom left this morning for London and Scotland with a busload of chorale singers and their guests. These gifted musicians have been looking forward to this trip for two years, and it was exciting to see them loading up their luggage on the tour bus to take them to DFW for the first leg of their 12-day journey.

I've never put my mom on a bus before. I'm used to her being the one putting me on a bus, telling me to be careful and call her when I arrive safely. Roles reversed, I had to fight back the instinct to tell my mom what I tell my youngest when she hangs out with friends:

"Don't get in white vans. Be cautious, but not fearful. Brush your teeth."

Instead, I asked her to text us when she made it to Dallas and when they land safely in London. I made a corny joke about wanting to hear chorale singers doing a version of "Wheels on the Bus." As we hugged goodbye, I looked at the reverse stair step that is suddenly my life. My 13-year old, who is so tall I have to reach up to hug her, shaking hands with adults she's never met and discussing her high school options. My mom, who I need to reach down to hug, kissing my stepfather goodbye. I thought about the year I spent in Germany as an exchange student, and wondering how in the world 
my parents must have felt putting me on a plane for a year when I was only 18 years old. That felt like it happened last year. Time is weird.

Part of the reason my daughter and I were there to put Mom/Mimi on a bus is because this week, we're spending a few days with my stepfather James. As a family, we agreed that a trip this long would be nicer for James if we were around to keep him company. What's even cooler is that we've divvied up the days so that James gets visits from several of his kids (he has four biological kids and 2 stepchildren, so there are plenty of people to go around despite our crazy schedules).

I've decided to call it Camp James.

A little about James. He's one of the most unique, intelligent, observant, and talented people I'll ever know. A professional artist his entire career, James wakes up every day, has his walk, and finds something unique to draw in his sketch book. As a result of this ritual, James has piles of finished sketch books full of beauty and hilarity and his unique view of the world. How many people do you know who make art every single day of their lives? Knowing someone like this is a treasure that's kind of impossible to explain. For anyone who's had the pleasure of being around James, he's someone you don't forget.


When we arrived back at home after dropping off Mom, it was all a little strange not having Mom in the mix. We all got busy doing our own things. James made himself busy cleaning the coffee pot. ER crawled back in bed for a nap (hello, teenager). I ate a jalapeño pig in a blanket from Star Donuts and poked around on my phone checking Facebook. It was very quiet. After a while, James came into the living room with a small slip of paper. 

"I made a grocery list," he announced.

I'm not usually around for Mom and James' regular routine, so I asked if he would like to join me at the grocery store.

He sat thinking for a minute. 

"I think I will go. I think I'd like that."

We left ER napping and headed to the store. On the drive over, James gave me directions. At the store, I instinctively grabbed a cart and James stopped me.

"Give me the cart," James said. "It is my job to push it."

I had no idea James was the family cart-pusher. It's usually my title, but I gladly obliged.  

We roamed the aisles. It was a different shopping experience. It was slower than my normal frenzied pace, and since it's not my usual store, it was also an adventure. There was a shared sense of overwhelm at the cheese section. We hemmed and hawed over Ritz cracker selections. We picked out a soup that James seemed excited to try, and I wondered if it was a little tiny rebellion that he was picking a soup my mom didn't know about. Together, we navigated the store, an 85 year-old without his daily companion, and his stepdaughter, who usually zips from aisle to aisle wearing headphones and listening to smooth jazz.

Often, I tell my 13 year-old, "Rosie, be in the world." It's usually to tell her to put down her phone and experience the moment. She often reminds me that I need to follow my own advice. 

Today, James and I were in the world. It was really nice.


We arrived back at mom and James' house, and I realized that this is the longest that James has been without my mom for a long time. I thought back to when I left for Germany, and how my mom made a paper chain for each day I would be gone. The chain was made out of 365 some-odd pieces of yellow, black, and red colored construction paper - the colors of the German flag -  and she hung it in the hallway of our house. Each day, mom would tear off a piece of the chain, say a prayer for me, and count down until she would see me again. She did the same when my sister spent a year in Switzerland, 365 days of red and white pieces of construction paper, carefully made into a chain.

This morning, I decided to make a chain for James. I'm not a very Pinterest kind of gal, but I have to say this is a pretty cool idea for people who are on the home side of long trips. I did a small twist on my mom's chain and added highlights of her itinerary so James can think about the things Mom will be doing while she's away. Each morning, James can tear off the previous day, and count down the days until she returns.

When James went on his morning walk today, he was disappointed that he hadn't found anything of interest to draw. I presented the paper chain, and James immediately went to work on drawing it in his sketch book. The chain was a hit.

James realized quickly that 12 pieces of multicolored strips of construction paper aren't easy to draw. We talked about things that are hard to draw. I think noses are impossible to draw, and I love it when kids say, "Noses are hard." James noted that he is terrible at drawing women, then I asked him if he ever drew live nudes in school, and he said that he did, and I tried to hide my amusement at the thought of a young James Wilkins drawing a live nude because he is such a modest gentleman. He told me a great story about how the nudes would come into the classroom and disrobe, and they would put paper over the windows and doors so nobody could peek in.

As he drew, the television was off. I snapped this pic, but otherwise, I stayed in the moment. Slowing down isn't easy for me, but I'm savoring the tremendous gift we've been given to spend quality time with James. 

The first day of Camp James has been a great success. We'll continue to update as we tear off pieces of the Judy Chain, wishing her well on her travels, and savoring the moments until she returns.