Category Archives: Excavating

Fort Luz

Summer vacation just started for my children.

Which makes me think of my own summer vacations several decades ago. My sisters and I would sleep in til 7:30 (only 10 minutes later than we grudgingly awoke on school days), eager to suck the marrow out of all the daylight. We’d get dressed and chomp down some Count Chocula, sailing out the screen door with our pigtails flying behind us.

We’d start playing with these, making as much merriment noise as we could to get the other neighborhood kids to come out and join us. Soon Gaylee and Pam, Tyler and Greg and assorted other grade-schoolers poured out of their houses and into the street. We’d play kickball and kick the can and explore the woods on the edges of our neighborhood. More days than not we’d do our absolute favorite activity, building forts.

We’d head into someone’s backyard, usually ours because it was the flattest, and put all the webbed lawn furniture on its side. We’d grab towels and blankets from our moms and begin constructing our “homes.” Always the youngest girl would have to be the Clothespin Lady — often my sister Sheri until our sister Tami was old enough to take her place.

The Clothespin Lady’s job was to deliver one clothespin into the hands of whichever builder had called for her, and with the same precision that a surgeon expects of his instrument assistant. She was not permitted to arrange chairs or place blankets or even make suggestions. Her sole purpose was to serve up wooden clips to the master builders. When a new family with a younger child moved into the neighborhood, the Clothespin Lady was especially excited to be able to relinquish her position to the new kid.

Our forts were patchwork-y on the outside and cozy on the inside. We’d play house, the older kids as the moms and dads and the younger kids as the sons and daughters.

We built and played Forts for hours on end. Late afternoon we’d take a break and go inside to watch Zoom and have supper. We’d snarf it down and beg to be excused to re-congregate in the street for one last kickball game and to tear down the fort before the streetlights came on.

The other day I made a pit stop at WalM*rt. Now that I was grown up and understood concepts like weight and density and had more experience with drape-age, I knew that I’d be able to build a spectacular fort if I used lightweight sheets instead of the heavy blankets and towels of my childhood. And I’d thereby impress Tessa and Reed with my master building skills. They’d not yet discovered fort building and I would be the Awesome Mom who taught them how to build the best. fort. ever.

So I picked up a bag of clothespins and a king sized flat sheet. With those purchases, the children somehow guessed what we would be doing, even though they’ve never seen a clothespin in their lives (do you have any in your house?). When we got home we found a flat and shady place and configured our plastic chairs in something of  a circle. We floated the sheet over as a roof and covered the sides as necessary with old towels and blankets.

Reed later had the bright idea to poke a long stick in the ground in the center to tent the sheet and give us some more head room (he wanted me to tell you that). Tessa laid down a comforter to blanket the floor, along with some pillows. We brought in a few books and read together for a bit.

Then a spider ruined it all, having the nerve to crawl on top of the blanket rather than stay under the radar, heading straight toward the girl-child. Shrieks and a startled jump from one unnamed child tore down the fort in an instant, chairs splayed in a wide radius. The quippy child said to the freaked out one: “That spider’s the only thing that’s been attracted to you all year!”

We have not reconstructed the fort since that first day. Chair-henge remains on the lawn as evidence of our one-time project. To my dismay the kids have not, so far, proven as enchanted as my sisters and I were with fort building. It’s much less alluring than Wii and the rec center swimming pool and playdates with kids outside the neighborhood and watching DVDs while mom tries to work.

My sisters and I had access to none of those things — we solved our boredom only by being imaginative.

I didn’t start writing this post thinking it would be wistful, but as I compare my memories of childhood with their experiences today, I am sad for my children. Fort building, such a simple thing, brought us so much joy and fulfillment. Swimming and Wii and on-demand cinema seem to suck the spontaneity out of a summer.

To be fair, as I write both children are out with neighbor kids playing swords and house, so their imaginations are engaged in their own ways. And also to be fair, my recollections of my childhood summers could be drastically different from my mother’s accounts. It’s quite possible that to her, summers were full of us whining and bickering and her giving orders to “go outside and play already!”

Whatever the reality, in my memory building forts was one of the sweetest parts of summer.

What are your summer memories? What do you want summers to look like for your child(ren)?

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All of me

I wait in the clearing for them to join me. It is my celebration, after all.

The sun is shining, bathing the lea in a warm glow. There is an entire meadow of soft greenery for us to dig our toes into. Nothing sharp, nothing dangerous, nothing to mar our time together. There is just the slightest breeze. The sky is the most pleasant timeless blue imaginable.

The first to arrive is a girl about 8 years old. Her skin has a sage tint, the downshot of difficulties in breathing. She brings me worms, leftover from when she gathered a bunch for her sister’s birthday. For some reason she thought worms would make a good gift. She is a bundle of fears, although she is well-fed and well-loved. I just want to hold her while she breathes. I want to breathe for her.

Soon, the 17-year old comes upon us, all arms and legs and attitude. She is skittish, like a colt, just waiting to be hurt. It’s because Doug, her boyfriend, has just dumped her for the 4th time. Well, they’ve broken up 4 times, but she was the dumper at least once. I think about telling her there will be many more heartbreaks, and that she’ll have ample opportunity to be on both ends of them. Each one hurts, but when it’s all said and done, she’ll be thankful that she and Doug (and the many that follow him) parted. I’d tell her, but she wouldn’t believe me. She hands me her diary, the one she just started and intends to keep for the rest of her life.

The next young woman arrives in a black gown and mortarboard and with a gold cord dangling from collar to waist. You can feel the promise that fills her. She looks both ready to tackle and tame the world and also petrified of taking her next step. She will face rejection after rejection before she comes on a job with a meager paycheck that will fulfill her emotional, if not monetary, needs. She is planning a wedding, but is having thoughts of calling the whole thing off. The burden of this thought weighs down her shoulders. I whisper to her, “listen to your gut.” She looks at me hopefully and shows me the keys to her first apartment. Where she will live alone.

A very sad woman enters our circle. She’s in her 30s and she’s been crying, crying, crying. The losses she has endured have sucked the very life out of her. She has beautiful, glorious child-bearing hips, which are going to waste. Her dreams have evaporated. She feels alone (although, still well-loved) and without hope. We instinctively move toward her, trying to sense if she will allow us to comfort her. I barely recognize this woman — the toll has been so drastic. Can’t she see that this chapter, like all the others before, will end? Her hands hold only tissues full of tears.

The next woman to grace the clearing has graying hair, still long like I knew she would. She is weary — after all, she is raising teenagers. The one knows how to trip all her wires and the other is just growing up and away too quickly. She has a peace about her…the peace that comes from repeatedly being shown that this, too, shall pass. Her eyes pierce through me, chiding me for my petty complaints about the drains of childrearing. She has brought me a watch — one that ticks twice as fast as normal.

We turn to receive our final guest. She walks toward the west and is a few inches shorter than the rest of us grown women –still a head taller than the child. She is white-gray in hair, fissured of skin, and her eyes and lips have lost several shades of their original vibrancy. For all her physical feebleness, the corners of her mouth are upturned. Her eyes are kind, and she exudes patience. Like the sky above us, there is something timeless about her. She extends only her trembling hand, representative of the enduring body that houses her immortal spirit.

These are my Selves. They have come to honor the fact that I have been on the planet for another turn around the sun. They bring me their tokens and dreams and insights. I envelope them and am enveloped by them. One by one, I welcome each into my heart, accepting the gifts they have brought. I acknowledge the gift she is, she is, she is, she is, she is, she is.

I am.

Image: Vic-Art

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