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.


  1. You are right about James. I met him years ago in Los Angeles and he is indeed a special and gentle man. And talented too. Nice writing Amy!

    1. Thank you, Colleen! I'll pass along the compliment!

  2. Thank you Amy. What a good reminder that it pays off once and a while to slow it down! Looking forward to Day 2.

    1. Thank you, Mary! It's been great to slow down. It wasn't easy at first, but after three days, we've decided to stay an extra day!