Sunday, June 28, 2015

On the Bus, Off the Bus

Not surprising to any of us that know her well, when she was younger, Jilly was a summer sleep away camp counselor for several years.  It absolutely suited her.

What we didn't know until about a year ago was that the camp in Minnesota where Jill counselor'ed was the exact camp where Linds (my sister) went when she was younger.  

(They did not overlap.  But, still, of all the camps, what are the odds?)

So, w/ her personal and positive camp experience in mind, I know Jilly is in support of Ro leaning into this adventure this year.  This is important to me.  B/c, odd as it may appear from the outside, I still feel like we make these pivotal decisions together.  

And as Ro's anxiety levels expectedly rose periodically leading up to our departure this weekend, I would attempt to reassure her, noting that both Mommy and Daddy know 'you've got this.'  

Is it a step into the unknown?  Yes.

Do any of us in our nucleus deal well w/ the unknown?  We do not.  

But, you, Rory Liv, will greet camp w/ your brand of optimism that will automatically permeate your experience.  If fun is to be had, you will have it.  

Travel up to Milwaukee yesterday - w/ Mimi and Poppy (aka Lustberg lifesavers) - was a breeze.  Ro was in her typical positive spirits.  

She carried this spirit to bed last night and woke w/ it this morning.  The kid was geared up and ready to go.  

We made our way to the designated hotel parking lot where a chunk of kids were to be picked up by charter bus, then shuttled another six hours up to northern Wisconsin.  

That's when shit went a bit sideways.  

It was time to board the bus and Ro's tears kicked in.  She Ro'd up, hugged Mimi, hugged Poppy, and fell into Daddy.  But she was still composed enough to make her way onto the bus.  

Of course we stuck around until everyone was aboard before waving them off.  Unfortunately, before departing, the bus door remained open.  That was Ro's out.  

The kid took off, down the bus steps, and back to Daddy.

"I don't think I can do this.  I don't think I can do this," she pushed out thru the stream of tears.

I'm not sure what I said.  But, to be perfectly honest, I was attempting to channel Jilly.

What would Jilly say?  What would Jilly do?  

Somehow, in an emotional haze for us both, Ro ended up back on the bus...

...then jumped back out to do it all over again.  Shit...

"Dad, I'm only nine years old," she cried out in my arms.

(Shit.  She is only nine years old.  And so logical.  Maybe this is too soon.  Maybe I need to whisk her away right now.  She doesn't need the strain, the pain this is causing her.  She's had enough.  What are you doing, man?  Save your kid.)

"Okay.  Do me a favor.  Take a deep breath."  (This always seems to calm her.  It did...a bit.)

I remember 'they' say to get down on a child's level - eye-to-eye - to underscore what you're saying.  

I knelt down.  "Ro, we're here b/c you can do this.  And you're going to have an incredible time...but, if you're not ready, let's go home.  It's okay."

I gave her the out.  

"I just don't know.  I don't know what to do."

She didn't bite.

At this point the assistant camp director interjected.  He said some things that I don't recall.  (To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure it all played out as stated above.  This is just what I'm recalling at the moment.  It was a heightened emotional state for all of us and my recall kinda sucks right now.)  

Well, she was ready to follow him - if not hesitantly - onto the bus, adding, "But, please just shut the bus door as soon as I get on."  She was implying that she may try to make a run for it again.  Oy...

Another quick hug and she was off.

Mimi, Poppy, and I waved to the dark tinted windows, hoping a smiling Ro was waving back.  

As soon as the bus was out of view, we walked back to Crindy.  

I bent over.  "I think I'm going to vomit."  

Mom and Dad said comforting things.  That's what they do.  

I didn't vomit.  

We received a couple texts from the assistant director, essentially stating that she had settled in on the bus and was getting acclimated w/ camp mates.  

Thank God.

They've arrived at camp.  I've seen a few pics and my beautiful kiddo is smiling real Rory smiles.


As I type this in an increasingly more quiet home (currently housing just Maybe and me), the absence growing in this space is not lost on me.  And I don't like it.  

Melodramatic?  Maybe.  It's my first day as a temporary empty-nester.  

The combination of your supportive texts, my parents' unbending encouragement, and knowing w/ great confidence that Jill remains in my corner is keeping me afloat today. 

But, enough about me...

All love,

J, J, & r

Friday, June 26, 2015

Campers Eve

I'm getting used to the quiet in this house after Ro goes to bed. (Is that a good thing?)

We're packed.  Ro has checked everything off the list...and then some.  How it all fits inside a single suitcase is a mystery to me.

Rory was seven when Jill first mentioned the idea of sleep away camp.

"There's this camp that is for kids living in a similar 'family situation,'" she said to me confidently.

I wasn't convinced Ro was ready for a 5-day sleep away camp.  (In retrospect, it was probably me that wasn't ready.  Why break up the nucleus when what we need now is to be together?)

So I got my way...that year.

Last year - when Ro was eight - her mommy wore me down and I gave in.  Rory was headed to a 5-day sleep away camp in mid Missouri for kids still in a similar 'situation.'

Sure, worry seeped into Rory as camp neared.  (She's a Lustberg.  Anxiety is part of our DNA.)  But, Ro - as she does in most circumstances - rose to the occasion and squeezed the most joy out of her experience.  She absolutely loved it...allowing Jilly to point the told-ya-so dance at me.

I remember when we went to pick Ro up from camp last August.  She kept touching Mommy, kept rubbing her arms, holding her hands.  It was so apparent to both Jill and I (not Ro) that Jill pulled me aside later, "Did you see how she just kept touching me?"  Jilly was beaming.

Rory loves her mommy.

Camp Kesem pickup

In the prep leading up to what I've been (unfairly) calling this 'real' two-week sleep away camp, I've had Jilly in my head, in my heart, and by my side as I go thru the physical and mental checklist to ensure I'm covering all bases.

What's the best kind of bug spray?  

Do I need to pre address Rory's envelopes for letter writing?  

How many care packages should (I hate 'should') I send to camp before we even depart?

I think I've got most everything covered.  But, I'm also convinced Jilly would somehow have done something more and better to add her own brand of shine to the prep.

Case in point, I was writing little mini messages to Ro the last couple days and tucking them in her suitcase.  And as I'm writing them, I notice my handwriting.  It has a harsh quality to it.  It's not warm, not to mention borderline illegible.  Jill's didn't have any of these characteristics.  Her handwriting was all love and positivity.  So, how will Ro receive my notes?  Probably not the same as she would from Mommy.  And maybe Mommy would add a smiley face here or a filled in heart there.  Doodles.  I didn't doodle.

So while I may be doing it, I'm not convinced I'm doing enough.

B/c for better or worse (certainly worse), I'm both now.  I'm Mom and Dad.  And the reality is that I barely know how to get by as one.

And that's well beyond unfortunate for my daughter.  If anyone deserves better...

Anyway, she came home yesterday from day camp...smelling.  Her pits are the pits.

My little girl stunk.  So I trekked out to the store and picked her up some deodorant.  That was a first.
So, tomorrow I'm driving my nine year old on the precipice of puberty up to Wisconsin for what I hope and pray will be the a time of her life.

Not until now had the anxiety kicked in for me.  As I expressed to someone recently, it feels unnatural to ship the centerpiece of my life away for two weeks.

What will become of me?

Regardless of location and proximity, I love my girls.

All love,

J, J, & r

Just cuz

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Happy With a Hole

Sometimes I think Ro is going to be okay.

There's this bit that (of all comics) Ray Romano does about having kids.  He describes driving w/ his ~5 year old daughter in the backseat.  He glances back at her and notices that she's quietly gazing out the window w/ an unmistakable smile on her face.

Of course he asks, "Whatcha thinkin' about, honey?"

"Candy," she responds contently.

That always stuck w/ me.  To me, it exemplifies the pure joy that kids (if they're lucky) hold in their hearts.

When I look back at Ro in the car on the way to camp this morning, catch her smiling out the window, I think she's going to be okay.

Now, admittedly, I don't know what's prompting Rory's smile.  But I prefer not to think it's the result of her finally perfecting her plot to conduct a coup d'etat in our home.  (Although I'm sure that's just a matter of time.)

My mom is stepping up her mimi game this summer, putting in overtime hours to ensure I don't have to be pulled away from work to snag Ro from camp.  While I know it's no chore, I know she always has a choice.  And I'm grateful she chooses us.

On one such day last week, Mom and I were catching up at the house after camp while Rory decided to take an early shower.  We were talking in the living room and Ro struck up the one-woman chorus in her bathroom.

Now, if you know Rory, you know this is not unusual.  The kid has pipes and more often than not, she chooses to amplify them while the shower water is running.

But, for whatever reason, this time her singing struck a (different) chord.  And both Mom and I acknowledged our genuine appreciation - almost amazement - in this child's ability to express this brazen joy.

Given what she's dealt w/ and witnessed in (the vast majority of) her very short life thus far, this kid has the audacity to keep the positivity at a high level.  Always.

She's a fucking superhero.

Just like her mom.

Somehow this superhuman is able to disregard, or maybe shine thru the dark cloud that's been dropped above her head.  And, from the outside looking in on her, it appears almost effortless.

I've mentioned this in previous posts.  I've mentioned this directly to some of you.  I've certainly expressed this to Jill on more than one occasion.  One of my biggest concerns was whether Ro would bounce back.  Whether she would be able and willing to reignite the inner joy.  Thus far she's proven that that flame was never extinguished.

Rory continues to have her moments, still often asking the succinct, but unanswerable question, 'why.'  And I can more easily absorb these challenging moments when I know they'll likely be chased by shower singing, kitchen dancing, and uncontrollable laughing fits.  (I like to think I play a role in the latter two.)

So, at this stage, in this chapter, I feel confident saying that Rory is happy.  She is a happy person.

But certainly the hole remains.  It will always remain.

My promise and my privilege is to do my part to ensure that Rory's happiness outshines the hole.

All love,

J, J, & r