A Spectacle of Days

Dear family,

“Oh, the wonderful and long days of summer! Just to hold a whole day in your hand and have it and think that it was empty to begin with but that each moment could, would, contain so much.”

from “The Alley,” by Eleanor Estes


Eleanor Estes paints a chest-achingly nostalgic picture of 1950s-ish childhood, often set in a fictitious Connecticut seaside town, as well as Boston and/or NYC. And while my personal affiliation with the above-described scenario concerning Wonderful Summer Days is almost entirely aspirational, the quote reminds me how many situations depend a super upon your point of view.

For example: a few months ago, we were staying in a beautiful campground in a lovely part of the world, and during the flashback I’m currently describing, four out of the six people in the campsite were whining or complaining or screaming (and none of those four were Jeff or me). I finally had a little Mama Explosion. I told Ben that if he had just brought out the trash the first time I asked, WITHOUT bellyaching, he could have been back and forth to the trash can twenty times already; I reminded Eliza that even if her life was as terrible as she thought, she’d be wise to stop screaming before someone assumed she was being beaten and called the police; and I barked at Jem that maybe he should JUST TRY to Find Another Family To Live With Who Wouldn’t Require Him To Do Any Chores - but since he was currently a member of OUR family, he should DO THE GODDAMN DISHES.

Very sensitive and eloquent, don’t you agree?

Anyway, the net result was a minor miracle: everyone pulled together. Ten minutes later, the campsite was clean, Eliza had decided to shine the camper with a spray bottle and a rag, Jem was industriously doing the dishes, Ben had taken out the trash, and even Ivy was doing something sort of like helping, involving the whisk broom.

At that moment, a retired couple pulled in next door, and commenced setting up their camper. An hour later, the man came around to our front “yard” (where the kids had somehow found all sorts of interesting play with which to occupy themselves) and announced: “You have the most WONDERFUL family! We just wanted to tell you that. When we pulled in, your kids were all working together, everyone doing a task and getting everything done, and it was just a JOY to watch. We’re so glad to be camped next door to you!

You see? These things just happen on those Wonderful and Long Days of Summer…


Here in Moab, summer is back for certain. It’s been a hundred degrees on most days this week, and while the RV Park where we’re staying is really lovely, and the spring-fed swimming pond is truly fantastic, I am still getting over the fact that a young campground employee came around on Wednesday, dosing any living weed that dared to emerge on every gravel RV pad…with Roundup. :(

This is one of those times when I feel like the world is just out to sabotage us all, health-wise, and it’s hard to see whether all the hard work of even TRYING to positively affect our health is worth it. Is glyphosate poisoning my children this week, and just reversing all the health-giving properties of the expensive organic food we eat?

Who knows? That’s the extremely unsatisfying conclusion I often come to, before dragging myself back to the task of Getting On With Life Anyway.



Ivy has mastered her balance bike, and it is amazing to see. She is so tiny, and the bike is tinier still, yet now she can lift up both her feet and revel in the freedom of two wheels. She likes to keep her feet off the ground and coast until the last possible moment. Tonight she came to a stop, looked carefully down at the street, and said definitively, “Rocks don't live on the road!”

Later, on the same ride, she stopped to examine a plant and crumbled a bit of dry, dead flower between her fingers. "What's this? Are seeds inside?" my daughter asked. Which was so conversational, and also a genius statement, I think, because it was such a curious, genuine, actual question AND a theory! She is not just a little toddler parrot anymore, but a growing-up kid (well, except when she’s totally irrational and throwing herself on the ground screaming, like a hyperactive parrot of her brother, “It’s Not FAIR!!! It’s Not FAIIIIIRRRR!!”).

Ivy Lyn: semi-unpredictable, rewarding, and exhausting small human:

“I’m cute in wis face!”

Baby frogs = "tadfishies!"

To Jeff, “Handsome papa!” Earlier, to me, with a smile on her face, “You're cute and sexy!”

Describing the thorns on the ground: “I needa get my fwip-fwops on! It's ouchie on my tootsies.”

So grown up: “I want you help me. …Fanks!”

You're so cute! I say, cuddling her on my tummy. "You're so cute too!” says Ivy. “And warm!”

Ivy’s takeaway concerning Staying Safe In Bear Territory (after listening to her brothers discuss the topic A Lot): “When you see a bear, you SHUTUP. You move your arms slowly, back up slowly, and SWING the bear away.”

What we think we're teaching Ivy by clipping her nails: good nail hygiene. What Ivy thinks we do when we clip her nails: "I got to sharpen my fingers!"

On the topic of nostrils: "You have two nose fings, an’ I have two nose fings!"

Kwawala = koala. This is what Ivy used to say, before she (overnight) bonded with a small stuffed koala and began carrying it with her, playing games with it, sleeping with it, and chatting with it. Now she pronounces koala very clearly, and has named hers “Koali.”

But Ivy, I say, you’re going to have to wait outside the bathroom, because you don’t have any shoes on! “Dat’s okay. Case you come out, there I are!”

We were very worried when you fell off the ladder! (This was an understatement, since I actually watched her fall, diagonally headfirst, onto the bumper of our camper!) Ivy’s response, as if she didn’t quite recollect the hours of post-accident sadness, nursing, ice packs, etc.: "Aw! Poor me!"

Smelling lavender: "Num, that's nummy! An not yucky."

Asking me to blow on her hot bite of food: “Mama, I want you cool on it!"

To Jem: "I abradab you! You’re a girl."

An unexpectedly comprehensive apology: “I’m sorry I pulled your hair. It's okay! I didn't mean to pull your hair. I was just jumping a-down here. It was fun! I didn't mean to bump you."

"Double-U! Double-U! Double-U! Double-Me!"

Singing: “…evil means wah! Wah! Wah!"

Grabbing our hands: “This is my Liza...an’ this is my mama!"

“I keep seeing a little birdie...it's a little cutie! It was so cute and cuddly."

"Where's Uncle Wyef?" Ivy asks. Oh, he's home in Billings, I tell her. "I want to go to Uncle Wyef's house!" Ivy says. "PLEASE can we go a Uncle Wyef's house again? Acuz he not have a camper..."

It is sometimes very amusing to write down Ivy’s speech phonetically: “I wanna get anunna piece a wunna weez!”

Giving a little, grown-up laugh: "That's funny! I was in the car waiting...and you camed!"

A frequent inquiry: “What you doood?”

Gisbits = biscuits

“I WANT you, Mama! Do you want me?”

On the merry-go-round, no hands: "I don' needa hold on!"

Fifty billion times per walk, she squirms and wriggles and says, “Put me down! I want to walk!” Then she walks three feet, stops, plays, walks the other way, stands still. “Carry me! PEEESE!”

Running toward me with no clothes on: “I’m SOOO naked! I want my shirt on.”

Next to a flower garden, she repeats instructions under her breath, almost as if she needs to give herself moral support in order to Do The Right Thing: "Letemgrow! Don't pick weez. A-body planted ‘em…”

On the big toilet: "I do it my own self, no-handed!"

“Where you goin', my mama?!”

Singing: ”Ben and Jem and Ben and Jem goin' on a bike ride, ridin' on a pony, tuck a feather called it macaroni!"


Eliza: Ivy, you shouldn't dribble a ball in the house!
Ivy: I know! I'm not. I just in the camper.


Before her bike arrived…

Ivy: I'm gettin' a balance bike!
Eliza: Soon you'll be able to ride with me!
Ivy: I able now - I can ride the girly bike!



When Eliza makes presents for someone, she often makes a stack - and then looks through the pictures or whatever, and picks the “best” ones to keep for herself. Maybe this bugs me so much because I remember doing the exact same thing.

Eliza is definitely still having a rough time of it, though by dint of three-times-daily spoon-feeding, she is eating mostly sufficient nutrition, which mostly keeps the demons just the other side of crazy. (More on all this later.) Meanwhile, I try to work Positive Psychology into our interactions when I’m not feeling completely fried by parenting a child who so often seems so incredibly uncomfortable, unsatisfied, and unhappy. She is so very smart. I pray that her smarts will help her when her intuition gets misled or stuck.

Waking up in a new campsite: "Huh? ...I clearly did not remember where we were!"

Concerning her temporary excitement after getting new clothes: “I’m make-suring I wear all my pants!"

“I think I've grown longer, because this sweater has grown shorter!”

“When those two cars went by, I had the thought: they have eight wheels!”

Why don’t you find something to do, Eliza? Maybe a pretend game! “I hate pretending!!” my daughter exclaimed petulantly. After a good long round of whining, she settled down and played almost happily with a few parsley stems and her imagination for an entire hour.

"Ivy, you and I could take off our clothes, and in our ponytails we'd be matching!"

“I hate it when Papa makes those jokes about giving us away, because you're the only person in the world I love except I'd take Ila’s mother or Karen or Oliver’s parents because other people would have kids for me to play with.”

“I find it very embarrassing to smile”

Books recently enjoyed by Eliza, in addition to everything Boxcar:

The Four Story Mistake, by Elizabeth Enright - “It is so great!”
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney - “Very Good!”
The Secret Diary of Raven Queen, by Heather Alexander



After a late evening and his many birthday activities, Jem told Jeff, "I like being born!”

In between Jem’s 2016 and 2017 birthdays, he rode 829 miles on his bicycle. His cycle computer further calculates that he rode those miles in a total of 145 hours and 28 minuntes.

Building a sand kingdom on the river bank with Ben: “We are INVINCIBLE GODS!!!” At that moment, a horsefly takes a large chunk of his leg. “….YOOOWWW!!!”

Books Jem has enjoyed recently:

“A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson
“Things Not Seen,” and “Extra Credit,” by Andrew Clement
“Holes,” by Louis Sachar
“The Whipping Boy”, by Sid Flieschman
“The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Last Battle”, by C.S. Lewis
“The Cat Ate My Gymsuit,” by Paula Danzinger
“The School Story,” and “No Talking” by Andrew Clements
“The Matchstick Castle”, by Keir Graff
“One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mulally Hunt
“The Call of the Wild,” by Jack London


Jem is in that crazy-short moment in time when he is no longer little, but he’s definitely still a kid. But he’s growing fast…

On a recent afternoon, he was driving me crazy while he dawdled for forty-five minutes before beginning to wash the dishes. “Jem!! What are you DOING?!” I cried in despair, when I found him flipping the dishpan over and over while the dirty dishes attracted flies on the table in front of him.

“I’m thinking,” he said. “Mama, It would be awful if my future wife cheats on me!"

“Um, yes, sweetheart, um, it would!” I said to him, a little taken aback. (He’d just finished Cheryl Strayed's "Wild," and I’d kinda forgotten about her promiscuous and drug-addicted behavior that precedes her adventures in wilderness backpacking/survival.)

"How do you make sure that wouldn't happen?" Jem asked.

“Well, uh…I guess you get to know a person and you get to trust them...and in the end you just can't be inside another person's head, and you can’t control what they do, so you have to trust them.”

"I think I'm gonna spend a LOT of time with my potential future wife, before I marry her," Jem decided. “And I think I’m gonna marry someone who does ALL the cooking AND the dishes!”

Jesus Christ. I want my child to be adorable and fantastic and lovable, but I don’t want anyone to hurt him! Nor do I want him to be a jerk. Also, I’d like for him to be humble. What if somebody DOES break one of my children’s hearts?! Or MORE than one of my children's hearts?! I guess this heartache I sometimes feel, concerning my children's present/future lives, may be a forever kind of thing…



Working on his sand castle kingdom, very happy: “Mama, come see! We have nuclear bombs, and here's a protecting moat, and here's a tunnel they go through, and here's where they can go inside, if there were people.”

Ben has recently enjoyed reading a number of books, mostly reference tombs, but also a few novels, including “The Map Trap, by Samuel Clements, and “The Twenty-One Balloons,” by William Pène du Bois



"I like making things work."

“It's better if you think of parenting like a prison sentence. Like you're under house arrest. It's bad, but it's not THAT bad. You just have to compare it to the right things! You don't have solitary confinement; you have ‘bedtime duty.’ You don't have to eat shit food; you get to feed good food to twelve other people at once, while some of them get distracted and whine and spit it out! At least it's not Sysco Grade E But Edible…”

To Ivy, on a particularly whiny afternoon: “You are messing up this day, and I didn't even PLAN you!"


And now, from Moab, with love,