Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sleepaway Camp Recap

We got back today from picking Nate up after two weeks of sleepaway camp. What an emotional mixed bag these two weeks were!

Nate was super-excited about camp all through dropping him off. We had a great time touring the camp but he was obviously ready for us to leave. It was very poetic; as we finished our picnic and he made a friends, he dropped by for a final goodbye. His new friend Cayden waited while he hugged each of us - as he finished up Cayden said "Come on, Nate! Let's go!" and they walked off together without looking back. So fabulous.

Then we didn't hear from him for a week and the camp posted some nice photos so we were pretty content that he was content.

Then *the* letter arrived: I love you Mom. I miss you Mom. I cry for you every night Mom. I want to come home.

Ugh. A huge punch in the gut. I called the camp to ask how to proceed and they said the director would check on Nate and get back with me. He called back quickly and reported that he'd spoken to Nate and that he was definitely homesick but also having a lot of fun. The director didn't feel that Nate was in crisis or needing to be picked up in any way. So I crossed my fingers and resigned myself to leaving him there for another week.

We got a slightly better letter, very sentimental, appreciating the care packages and letters and saying how much he loved me and wanted to come home, but also that he was having fun and had made a lot of friends. That was a little better. He also mailed my parents a letter and Stewart's parents, along with Aunt Deborah.

Saturday morning we woke up super-early to go pick him up. Pickup time was 10-noon and I wanted to be there at 10 to make sure Nate wasn't seeing other kids being picked up and sitting there forelornely. We got to camp around 10:10 which thrilled me. Jack River was with us, so he got a chance to see the camp for the first time. We walked through the woods and past the dining hall, turning the corner to head to the bunk area. After a few feet we saw him - out in the clearing, tossing a ball to himself. We walked for about 20 seconds before he turned to us and I waved my arms in the air to him, probably a little frantically. He dropped whatever he was holding and ran full-on at me. I threw my purse down and ran to him. At the last minute I pulled up; the kid's pretty big at this point and he was running at full speed!! I grabbed him and we both started crying. He's not much shorter than me at this point, it's amazing.

We spent a while together and then we walked around the camp so he could say goodbye and also show Jack around.

This is my kid: he wrote five letters. He took his vitamins. He brushed his teeth. He washed and conditioned and brushed his hair. He wore sunscreen. He ate from the salad bar (though he said he should have done it more, that he ate a little too much junk. I told him that you're supposed to do that at camp.) He kept his things organized and packed himself up really well. He wrote in his journal almost every day, sometimes a list of activities but mostly the same thing: I miss you mom a lot, and I want to come home. Ugh. He did the Polar Bear Club - getting up early five mornings in a row, putting on his bathing suit, completely submerging himself in a cold stream, getting out into the cold air, and getting dry and dressed for the day. Nobody in his bunk did even a single day of it; he did all five. I told him how impressed I was, and he told me he had wanted to make me proud. I told him I was always proud of him. I asked him how he felt about trying something new and then sticking with it, and he told me "I was thinking about perseverance." He's eight years old.

Nate, I'm always proud of you. I think you're so cool, so put-together, so mature, so funny, and so sweet. I think you have the world at your feet. I can't get over your goodness and playfulness. Keep being you. If you want to go back to camp, I'll make it happen. If you don't want to go back to camp, we'll find something else for you. I think every kid wants to make their parents proud and I won't try to take that away from you. But I love you and I'm proud of you whether you go back or not. Whether you Polar Bear Club or not. It's true that I'd rather you do it than not. It's true that I want you to take risks and put yourself out there. But I promise: I love you any which way. I couldn't stop loving you if I tried. You're my heart and soul and you always will be.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Panama

Two years could never have gone by so quickly if they hadn't been outstanding, wonderful years. I am so glad we took this chance.

Nate has bloomed. When he was younger he was a quiet, sometimes-anxious little boy. There were often power-struggles and grumpiness. Now he glows. He is happy, content, easy, and a hell of a risk-taker. He has friends, loves school, does his homework without complaint (except for reading!), and goes about his life at home without much of a fuss. He does his morning and bedtime routines without a second thought. He eats whatever is put in front of him. He is a neighborhood favorite with the little ones; caring and considerate and sweet. He delights in the babies. If only I could get him to be kinder to Jack he would be 100% perfect.

Jack River is still a love, a dear, my heart's joy, but he has changed in almost the opposite way of Nate. When he was younger my cousin Charlie called him "the golden retriever of babies" and he nailed it - Jack was cheerful, social, happy, and easy-going. Now my sweetest boy sports quite a temper. Most playdates are interrupted by him perceiving someone being mean to him resulting in him yelling, crying, and generally being hysterical. This morning I accidentally poked him in the eye while doing his sunscreen and he was furious with me - "you did this!", pointing his accusing little finger at me. Jeesh, kiddo.

Other than the temper, Jack is a fabulous kiddo. He has gone from not knowing any letters or numbers at the beginning of the year to reading (thank you Miss Kris!) Jack cried the other day, just thinking about leaving Panama and leaving Miss Kris. He rides a bike and a scooter, plays Halo with his friends (which I did NOT know about until a few days ago!) and has the best hair EVER.

We have done so much in Panama, but I want to remember the small things too: where we shopped and where we ate. I want the kids to remember our everyday lives, as much as the big trips we did. So here we go:

These are the gates that lead up to our neighborhood and our wonderful guard Levinson:

I shop twice a week at the asian vegetable market, lovingly called a "China" here in Panama:

Chickens roam the China parking lot, little babies following behind!

Our local version of CVS is called Arrocha and halfway through our time here one opened just a few blocks from the house!

Next to it a fancy wine store / sandwich shop:

Just a block from our neighborhood is a little strip mall with a flower shop, a bakery where Stewart likes to get a coffee (and the kids and I love their ridiculously unhealthy ham-and-cheese-filled croissants for $1!), and a market. We call it the 7-11 since we walk there for treats like we used to walk to the 7-11 near our house in DC. I think it's called the Embassy market and it has chips, candy, ice-cream, sodas, and ridiculously overpriced groceries for when we need something last-minute.

PriceSmart! Pronounced Preesay-Mart (as in Tarjay). It is very similar to Costco, complete with snack bar. It's a great place for our needs, filled with dried fruits, nuts, huge bags of apples, and even frozen vegan Boca burgers. It has certainly made our adjustment to living here very easy!

My main grocery store was El Rey. The one in Bethania was my favorite.



The Embassy pool with friends:

Metal playground equipment in the blazing Panama heat with no safety features the way GOD INTENDED (check out the exposed concrete blobs at the base of the fireman's poles!):

Nate and his BFF Jaydon. I hoped for a best friend for Nate and he couldn't have gotten luckier than Jaydon. J is kind and sweet, easy-going and good. Last month I took them to an arcade and then out for lunch and they each downed a foot-long sub combo! Growing boys.

A week off school is hard on everyone, but Panama has been great for being able to book easy getaways. A few weeks ago the boys and I stayed at the Intercontinental Playa Bonita for 3 nights. We met a lovely family with four little boys and everyone gelled nicely. Life has been so easy like this, here.

Panama opened up it's brand-new Metro system while we were here and it was fabulous. Clean and easy to use. We spent a weekend day taking it from one end to the other and back again. Nate was thrilled.

Standing in the hallway of the kid's school we could see ships going through the Miraflores lock of the Panama Canal!

Nate heading out on an overnight field trip to El Valle with his friends from school Jack, Kobe, and James):

A fabulous trip to Boquete with Grandma (one photo isn't enough!):

My darling Nate made me this necklace out of little orange flowers at the Embassy:

Track and field day at the school. Good fun!

Nate's love notes from Maddox:

And his hate note (which my girlfriends think is a love note in disguise, and which Nate got a HUGE kick out of. Another way my boy is cooler than I've ever been.)

We rented a house for a week in Coronado with the Rivera family. We had a pool, a huge gazebo with hammocks, a hot tub overlooking the beach, and one flight of stairs down to a door that opened directly onto the beach. It was phenomenal.


Multiple trips on Grumpy Captain Carl's Monkey Island Tour:

My cutie-boy was used in a print ad for his school!

We shared two wonderful Seders with our dear friends Nicole and Eric and their kids and his parents. The second one also included our friends, the Khoshen sisters - Adi was Jack's PreK4 teacher and Shoonit is Nate's 3rd grade teachers. Also attending were Adi's gorgeous twin sons, and the Vargas family and their 3 kiddos. As Eric opened the Seder, he said "We're here tonight because we're all Jewish. Sort of." :-) They were untraditional, but beautiful and funny and captivating Seders. So thankful.

This year's Passover, Nate and Jack really pitched in to help. Nate made the charosis almost entirely alone, and set the table. Jack helped make the Seder plates and also made the applesauce, turning the Foley Mill for minutes at a time.

On the whole the roads are pretty good here but it's definitely not up to US standards. One of my favorite aspects is the lack of SAFETY features on every bit of the world, warning us not to do stupid things that we shouldn't be doing anyway. So it's common to have a large hole in the sidewalk without a note telling us not to fall into the hole or a barricade to prevent us from walking into the hole:

The trans-American highway (on the way to Coronado, Palmar, and El Valle), with a bit ditch running along the road (don't drive into the ditch!):

This was my favorite, though. I'd always gotten a kick out of the cut-out bit of the floor which I'm sure would never be allowed in the US. On my last visit there was an extra sign explaining that the railing needs fixing. I jiggled it and it nearly fell out of the wall. But I love it, honestly I do. And this was in the NICE hospital here!!

We took several day-trips to Palmar beach. For $30 you get to park your car all day and rent a little gazebo with a table and several hammocks. And if you're lucky enough to have a professional photographer in the family, you get photos like this there:

We have a nice little neighborhood group that got together often on Friday nights for pizza and beer. The parents sit and chat while the big kids ride bikes in the street and the little kids ruin the house of whoever is hosting. I don't know why we don't have any photos of it, but I'm glad to remember it.

Also in the neighborhood, Santa lands in a helocoptor every Christmas and then hands out toys to all the good boys and girls whose parents have arranged for it ahead of time. :-) They also load the streets next to ours with bounce houses and slip-and-slides and they make a day of it. It's a lovely, fun tradition.

We've taken three trips to El Valle, once with my Mom and twice with groups of friends. We've stayed each time at Los Mandarinos which is lovely. On one trip Eddie Dolan, whose grandma lived in El Valle, showed us a neat hike to a waterfall. We also hit the mud baths and beautified.



Jane Goodall spoke at the kid's school!

A mother-son trip to zipline in the middle of nowhere past Colon. Nate had no fear; he went first despite never having done it before!

Later we came back here with several groups of friends and the Eders. It was a blast every time. Remember the huge hill we had to drive up and back down to get to the check-in spot??

My friend Nicole and I took our four kids to Coronado for a long weekend. The hotel was wacky and unfinished but it made for some laughs and good stories!

After someone told us about the movie Nitro Circus, we fell in love with it. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that the hotel Nitro City, in Punta Chame, was owned and operated by the Nitro Circus guys! Once we figured it out we took several day-trips there. I still need to get back to do motocross before we leave in a month!!

Whenever Jack River comes to the China with me we get a thing of pre-cut mango and stuff our faces in the car. Yum.

Playing with Annabelle

Rainstorm + nekkid boys + soap + trampoline = evening shower, revised edition

Jack learned how to ride his bike!

The Blue Boys of Miss Kris's Kindergarten class

Our kids have gotten SO lucky with their teachers. This year Jack has Miss Kris who is truly phenomenal and last year he had Ms. Adi and Ms. Dalbina who were fun-loving warm-hearted members of the Jack River Fan Club. I'm going to miss them like crazy, and I'm so grateful that these women were such a wonderful introduction to "real" school for my sweetie-boy. Last night Jack was talking about how much he would miss Miss Kris and he said "She's like a family to me." Sniff.

Nate had a "just fine" teacher last year and this year he has Ms. Adi's sister - Shoonit Khoshen. She has blown all of us away with her amazing attitude, passion for teaching, love of our kids, and ability to juggle her classroom and kids with parents and projects without ever wiping the smile off of her face. She keeps everyone in line with humour and grace. Love her!

Nate as Odysseus, just because I think he's gorgeous and fabulous:

Outing with friends to see Rio 2 in Espanol:

Stewart and I chaperoned a trip out to the Kalu Yala indigenous area where Nate hung out with friends and explored the jungle and was swarmed by stinging ants.

One of the last Diablo Rojos. They're phasing them out with a fancy new Volvo bus system which is obviously safer and more reliable but not nearly as much fun to see on the road!

Home sick with stinging ant bites, Nate and I finally got the "pile of meat" from Lenos y Carbon.

Jack with Rebecca and Annabelle. R&A often stopped by after A's nap and hung out with us. Jack was always (mostly) a wonderful "big brother" - getting her toys, distracting her when she cried, and playing trains with her. 

Nate weaving newspaper into a basket for Grandma at a craft-event at the embassy.

Things that Panama has taught me:

* How to pull out into a two-lane road where traffic is heavy and constant both ways: wait for a small break in the lane coming from your left. Ease out slowly until you're blocking traffic that way. Wait for a small opening coming from the right (or a kind soul to let you in) and stick your nose out into that lane and get going. Helpful in countries where there are very few traffic lights.

* Slang for thank-you is "porfa" and all the cool teenagers say "que xopa?" instead of "que paso?"

* Spanish for "croissant" is "croissant." 

This isn't everything but if I don't click "publish" it may never get published. I hope this is a good memory tool for the boys. I dream of traveling back to Panama with the boys when they're older!