When the gossip you overhear is about you

Few things are as disappointing as being reminded that adults can act like overgrown kids in all the worst ways: the bullying, the carping, the backstabbing. 

Last year, I agreed to write a story about school volunteers and how dedication - extraordinary dedication in many cases - helps the school offer such a wide array of clubs, sports teams, festivals and the like. It was a volunteer project in itself, one of the assignments I took on to acquire the 50 hours of volunteering the school requires of all of its families. 

Another parent, in the role of editor, assigned the story and gave me a list of people to interview. She had a very particular idea of what she wanted, one that sounded easy enough to execute. It was a happy, feel-good, straightforward story of a group of individuals who gave a huge number of volunteer hours to the school with particular emphasis on a pair of volunteers who, I was told, kind of fell into the positions, but nonetheless took them on with gusto.

The only problem, one of the main sources she suggested didn't like the story idea at all. The phone interview was, shall I say, prickly. But I turned the story around on a tight deadline and tried to forget the behavior I thought unkind, aggressive, condescending. 

Today, in a strange turn of events, I found myself on a bleacher four rows down from the prickly source and the editor and what do you think they talked about? The source was still miffed about the story and the editor? She never owned up that it was her idea or that it was delivered precisely as she asked. 

I sat there paralyzed, unable to turn around and defend myself and equally incapable of just walking away. Each new thing they said felt like holy water splashed on the devil at an exorcism. The singe hissed in my ears and burned my skin, the back of my neck especially. 

Mercifully, Desmond started to act like a jerk about three minutes into the conversation and I shuffled him off to a quiet place where my ears weren't ringing with gossip about me. I put the guy out of my mind a few months ago. I'm finding it harder to do that again now. 


Global Cardboard Challenge

You wouldn't think a conversation about barefoot running would end up with a mission to hoard cardboard. But it did.

It started at the dinner table where Esme, now in third-grade and eligible for the track team, asked me to help her practice on the days she doesn't get to work out with the coaches. 

"You used to love running when you were a kid," she said. It's true. I used to sprint like a bullet and beat the Catholic school pants off the boys in elementary school: David Kwok, Brian Fuller, Matt Power. It was seventh or eighth grade before they could finally outrun me. 

It started even earlier though, in the court near my house where I'd race Donnie what's his name barefoot on the asphalt. 

I was such a little punk - all full of wild summer, myself and my speed - that I once challenged a college-aged kid from the neighborhood to a sprint. He patted me on the head and laughed before he blew my ego up with a crushing defeat. 

Somewhere along the way running turned from joy to a chore to endure. On long runs during high school lacrosse practice, I walked when the coach wasn't looking. I never ran as an adult, not until I hit menopause and found running the only avenue out of my desperate head. 

It didn't last long. My body crumbled under the strain. First my knee, then my heels. I gave up before I ever really got started. The pain was unbearable. I didn't push through it or search for ways around it because running was never my thing, right? 

Then a friend gave me "Born to Run" for my birthday and I got the fever for running all over again. Here were people running with joy, for freedom, with love and, most importantly, without pain. I threw out my expensive sneakers and set about learning how to strengthen my feet in order to take a second go at running. 

Which led me to the dinner table tonight and the discussion about Esme's three loves: "reading, writing and running."

"I want to be a scientist and find a way so that people can live on Mars," she told us. "I want to find a dinosaur that nobody has found before. I'd like to be a famous writer, and I'd like to be in the Olympics in archery, running and diving. I have one more: be a mom with four children, a hamster and a dog. The hamster will be married so it can have babies."

Josephine honed in on Mars and protested that the Curiosity rover beat Esme to the planet. "She can build a different rover," I told her. And before I'd even finished rolling the final "R," I shouted 'Hey' to all of them. Remember the boy in California who built the arcade out of cardboard, I asked them. "Yes, yes, yes," they all answered. Except Tobias. He didn't remember. "He met one of the guys who built the rover," I told them. 

Do your dinnertime conversations wind and jump like this? 

Remember Caine's Arcade? The movie about the boy who used cardboard from his father's auto supply shop - and a limitless imagination - to build an elaborate arcade? I shared the movie with the kids last spring when it went viral and like everyone else who saw it, they were captivated. 

There's another short movie about Caine making the Internet rounds lately that I stumbled on to Saturday. It recaps the hoopla surrounding the debut of Caine's Arcade, shows Caine with the NASA engineer who built Curiosity (he used to build cardboard spaceships as a kid) and culminates with the news of a worldwide celebration of imagination on Oct. 6: the Global Cardboard Challenge.

In a nutshell: kids all over the world are encouraged to get together, tap into their creativity, play with cardboard and raise money for the Imagination Foundation, a nonprofit formed to foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship for kids. 

"Do you guys want to do something?" I asked the kids. 

The answer was unanimous, euphoric and loud. And there's now a growing pile of boxes, paper towel holders and fruit cartons on the kitchen counter with an accompanying note: "DO NOT THROW AWAY! Global Cardboard Challenge."

Want to join us?


Ode to Great Books

When I love a book, when I crave the story as much as water, I dig myself deeper into the chair, pull my knees to my chest and throw my head back and laugh. Or tremble with excitement or exclaim: "Holy shit!" I lose all sense of control, really, as I'm transported beyond the pages and into the adventures of someone else. 

I watched Esme react exactly this way when she came to the end of the Harry Potter series. She curled into a ball in her chair, overcome with anticipation and the need - the compulsion! - to learn how it all ended. 

This morning, I found Desmond cackling like a madman in the front room as he raced toward the end of "The Mysterious Benedict Society." He could not contain his joy. It made his feet move, his body dance. If he was a comic character, multi-colored sparks would have flown from his head. 

It was awesome to behold.


Family Camp 2012 - The Movie

The lonesome, languid calls of the loons kept me awake our first night at camp. They echoed over the river and sang through the stately pines in the morning as well. Waterskiing the first day, I raced past a mother and chick and marveled at how unconcerned they seemed. I skied with them nearly every day after and looked forward to watching them curl and dive below the surface.

I don't recall loons in years past. I'm told my recollection is faulty, though, that their calls have always filled the woods. 


Rentry into post-Kingsley Pines life is proving tough. We crawled along the Massachusetts Turnpike Saturday in bumper-to-bumper traffic then sought refuge in a chaotic rest stop teeming with people and noise and anger and anxiety. It was jarring in a most horrible and offensive way. Sad too. Such a contrast to what we left behind. 

Later, I washed sand and dirt from my toes and sighed. 

When I found the loon call on iTunes last night, I immediately set about the project I had planned to get around to sometime. Sometime later. But the call put me back in a place I never wanted to leave to begin with - of bare feet, fresh air, dirty clothes, sweaty hair, wet towels, bathing suits, camp-fires and thrills.

We look forward to camp for 364 days, then we get there, blink and it's over. 


Maine is Magic

"Home again, home again, jiggity jig." We've only been home a few hours, but I keep running the nursery rhyme over in my head.

I'd rather we weren't. Home again, that is. 

It's nice enough here and there are big adventures waiting: the first day of kindergarten tomorrow, Tobias' 4th birthday next weekend, Esme's first year on the track team. 

It's just that Maine - Kingsley Pines, more specifically - is such a magical place for our family. Filled with challenges, love, exploration, quiet, independence, joy. And a fat lot more. Over the next week or so, I'll sort through the 400-plus videos and photos I have and make a movie of our third year at the camp. Until then, my favorite photo. It's something about the late afternoon light, Kent's love and the fierceness of Josephine's eyes here. I get lost looking at it.