Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Anchors Away

I went away last weekend. I left on a Friday morning (4:30am) and didn't come back until 4:30pm yesterday (Monday).

It is the longest I have ever been away. And I was away. Far far away.

I went to Vermont. It's about as far as I could go without crossing a border or an ocean. I went to a place with no cell phone coverage and no internet access. I didn't talk to Jaime or Simon from Friday afternoon until Sunday night.

I was scared to go.  I was scared to go to the camp reunion of the place that I gave 23 years of my life to, as a camper, a staff person and then as the Director.

I was scared to go to this place that I have no doubt makes me so much of who I am, or at least the parts of me that I like the most. I was terrified to go back to this place that I have loved so much for so long. I was scared to be with people that I have felt so connected to....in another life.

And I was going alone. I wouldn't have Simon or Jaime with me. I wouldn't have that anchor, Simon my son, who grounds me with so much love to this life that I've been living for the last 4.5 years.  A life that feels quite far from the world I walked in 4.5 years ago.

Jaime made me go. Ok, maybe 'made me' is a bit strong but there was some scheming on her part with an old camp friend and a lot of gentle nudging to buy the plane ticket.

I don't know how to explain this place to you. Indian Brook was my home from the moment I visited in 1980 as a seven year old girl that already knew she was different from the other 7 year old girls at Orthodox Hebrew school. This was the place that kept me sane between Sept and May. This was the place that taught me about community, and friendship and power tools and what 180 women and girls can do to help you understand your own capacity for joy. It taught me to sing out loud and I mean that in all the literal and poetic ways you can imagine. It taught me to be brave and fierce and live with abandon and at the same time teach me about accountability and justice and diligence. I loved this place so much that I built my adult life around it. I planned my career around it figuring out how to stay on a school schedule forever so as to never have to leave.

But I did. Not entirely by choice, and not cleanly, but 8 years ago I ended my tenure as Director and had not been back since. Until this past weekend.

So when the 70th reunion of the place came around last year, we planned a family trip to go see it, have some time back east with my parents, and attend reunion.  Hurricane Irene had other plans and instead we, Jaime, Simon and I, got to see folks at a makeshift reunion in Boston.  It was lovely and moving and so very sweet to see folks that I hadn't seen in years or decades for a Sat night potluck and Sunday morning gathering.

This was different. This was at camp, on the land, for three days, without Jaime or Simon.

I felt it the minute that I took my first breath of Vermont air. We were about 4 miles from camp and had stopped to make our last cell phone calls before coverage ceased. That first inhale of Plymouth Valley air and I knew I was home. My body recognized that smell, those birch trees, the sounds of the birds, crickets and running water, the same way that I recognize my hands as a part of me.

It was on. The reunion was on. I was in it. I was back. We got to camp and my feet knew the paths with their roots and rocks. My friends, women that were my mentors, colleagues, and campers...we were all hugging and singing and laughing like no time had passed. There were full body hugs, old jokes, and songs to be sung and we were gonna do it. Indian Brook style.

That first night I sat down next to two old campers of mine who were all a-twitter that I was back and remembered them from eight years ago. My ego was being fluffed hard. I was asked to lead announcements the next morning and then singing the following night. I said meaningful things and got affirmed for them. People told me how much I had meant to them back in the day and how my name was still thrown about in a WWLFD  (what would Laura Fitch do) kind of way.

I fucking soaked that shit up.

I own it. I felt really good. Ego....mmmm Ego.

And I didn't talk about Simon. I didn't call home to see how Jaime and Simon were doing. I didn't think, it's snack time for Simon and I hope Jaime is remembering to give him his stool softener. I didn't even think about what time it was in relation to what I would be doing for Simon.


I thought about what time it was for me and did I have enough time to make it all the way down to the lake before lunch for a swim (yes). I thought about doing an afternoon craft activity with two dear dear old friends that I wanted to catch up with and I did.

I thought about staying up late and singing and dancing until my voice gave out...and I did. I sat in silence in the Quaker tradition three times in two days and I didn't feel distracted by anything but the sound of the wind and the trees that have I known for most of my life.

I felt the familiar on a cellular level and it was goood.

I wasn't even feeling guilty for not checking in. I was feeling old muscles revived and strong. I was glowing. I was sharing in that glow that we were all feeling. I was leading. I was a resource for camp history and lost song lyrics. Shit, I even said some meaningful stuff in an articulate way in front of other people and got told that I spoke other people's minds in a way they couldn't. I was on FIRE.

I loved it. I realized how much I missed it. I realize that those are parts of myself that I really like. The Laura that expresses joy without reservation so that others might do the same. The Laura that can sometimes articulate something out loud  that honors those that might not but should be feeling honored. The Laura that leads, that inspires, that helps other people laugh, think, be present. I love that Laura.

And I was in great company. In a room full of women that were hot shit. It's something that the place inspires. Growing up there meant that I got have the very best in me nurtured. Being a staff person there meant that I got to help create that space for the next group of women and girls coming through.  Getting to be back there meant that I got to feel all of that over again for 48 hours.

It was heady.

No cardiomyopathy. No medications. No tube feedings. No pragmatic speech delays. No OT, PT, or therapy appointments. Nothing to do, no place to be. No special needs. None of it.
I was not attached in any way to aforementioned. It was time and space apart.

For Simon when you are old enough to read this:  I love you. Please know this for certain.  I love you and wouldn't trade a moment of being your mom for anything. I love being your mom. I love the life that you brought me because it is with you. You are exceptional and every moment with you, even the really really hard ones, have been a gift to me.

And, I didn't choose this life that I now live. This stay at home mom of a kid with intense medical and developmental needs. It's mine though and it feels like mine. I own it.  Sometimes I even feel like I Rock it but I didn't choose it. It's exhausting and full of lots of AFGOs (another fucking growth opportunity). It's also full of lots of amazing people that have shown up in amazing ways. It's full of community and celebration and love. So much love.

And I didn't choose it.
And I spend lots of time by myself or with a Little One who is not quite as good as giving as he is at taking, demanding, whining, and stating/exclaiming versus conversing.

 He's PERFECT! He's four.

I'm a parent. The above mentioned is not a surprise to me. It was on the list of things to be expected when we decided to have one of the swimmers meet the egg.

Parents are a nutty nutty breed that sign on for a life of putting yourself second (to varying degrees).
Those of us that get handed the parenting plus contract....it's a whole 'nother level of degrees. I got a nursing degree, a social work degree, a developmental pediatrician degree, spiritual degree, a pharmacist degree, a OT/PT/ Speech/ Feeding therapist degree, an insurance case manager degree, a durable medical equipment degree, etc etc.

But for a weekend, I was away. No degrees. Just green mountains and singing and good food and memories of an awesome time in my life.

Re-entry was rough. From the time that I left camp Sunday afternoon to the time that I picked Simon up from school Monday afternoon. I was a wreck.

I was angry. I was grieving. I was confused. It sucked.

It was too much. It felt like too much had been different for those 48 hours and how could I go back to this live that had been handed to me. I knew somewhere that it wasn't about not loving Simon and Jaime and this life. It wasn't about that. Both were true. I loved this life that I was coming back to AND I missed these parts of myself that felt like they couldn't really be a part of my life now.

I am a stay at home mom. I'm not a social worker anymore. I don't work with young people. I don't do political and anti-oppression work with children. I don't lead group activities that are about experiential education. I don't stand up in front of a group of people and mirror back to them parts of their best selves.
I'm a stay at home mom and while I hope that I bring some of those things to my parenting...I'm a stay at home mom.

I never expected to be. I didn't choose it. I don't know when it will change.

But 4.5 years ago, I really loved those parts of me. They were as much a part of my identity as my name.

I don't want to go back to work. I don't want to pay someone else to take care of Simon right now. I love being there for him when he's leaving for school, coming home from school, and in between when he's throwing every element of his therapeutic meal across the table and pulling his feeding tube out from his extension so that the floor gets more of his blended food than he does.

It's not about that. We could win the lottery right now (please) and I could hire the most loving, most well trained person in the world. I wouldn't.

Still, for 48 hours I got to flex those muscles that don't really get worked right now and it felt amazing. It also felt a little futile in that, nothing's really going to change. It's not one of those moments where you have an amazing experience and then get to figure out how to integrate this new found whatever into your life.

I think parents in general are amazingly selfless. There are always exceptions to the rule but on some level, especially when they're young, you give a lot of your time/$$/resources/life to your kid. As the parent of a child with special needs, I felt like I grew a whole new heart that's just made for giving. For better or for worse it's been my modus operandi and I'm working to strike a better balance.

This weekend just threw the scale out of wack for a hot minute and I'm trying to equalize.

There is a part of me that loved every second that I was away (except for the wicked turbulence on the ride over) and a part of me that almost wishes I had never gone. I was in a groove. I had all but forgotten what it felt like to be completely focused on myself. And, I feel a little embarrased about how much I reveled it. Not quite guilty. It's confusing. A weekend away in San Francisco or Calistoga with a friend or my sister or even by myself feels doable. Wonderfully relaxing but I'm still connected, I'm still grounded in this life.

 It feels really confusing to have had a weekend away that feels like a lifetime away. Less so after seeing Simon and having him run up to me at Temple Sinai aftercare offering me Challah and a hug.

Much less so but I'm still feeling the duality of it. It's not nearly as painful as it was yesterday this time but I still feel it.

I'm a stay at home mom of a child with significant medical and developmental needs. I am.

I used to be a camp counselor, outdoor/experiential/ anti-racism educator, social worker for young people who loved her job. A Lot.

I'm not that anymore. I know it's not that simple and I'm sure lots of you want to tell me that I still am all of those things. Thank you.

It's still really hard right now.

I'll post pics of Simon and the amazing weekend he had another time. Here's where I was this weekend.

Thank you to all the amazing folk at Indian Brook this weekend. Thank you.

Written by:


Rachelfrida said...

Wow. I had a microcosm of that experience. Just minus the intense special needs and bring the kids with and only travel 80 miles. But that duality is some complicated shit! And both times I left f&w (after being a camper and a decade plus later, after working several crews and summers), I left in really rough shape mostly around my addiction/recovery/relapse hell. And it tainted my memories in a really painful way. And yet I too felt alive at IB in a way I feel no other place. I recognized the contours of the land, the smell of the air, everything in such a deep and bittersweet way. I'm so glad I was in your presence and that you articulated your experience here. It helps me process my experience. Love you lala

Abby said...

thank you for sharing this. I appreciated reading it.

i had quite a lot of pain with my previous visit to F&W, though not this one, and it's tough, to feel pain in a place that also brings such solace. not to compare experiences, but merely to say, I "hear" you.

josie d. said...

Preach it like you do. I want to stay in that hug with you for like 5 years. I'm still working on my stuff from Saturday. Too good, too strange. I know that I love all of the yous and the mes hugging in the time space continuum that I felt so hard this time up in that magic place.

lafitch said...

Love you Fleeeda. Love that we got to hold hands for a few seconds and that I got to see and record you and Ira doing the pants dance.

Rachelfrida said...

Next time in bezerkeley Lala. I promise!

TA Loeffler said...

I have my bottle baked and placed in a place of honour. I loved that we painted and chatted and I got to glimpse, once again, of the delicious wickedly awesome humaness that you are in your totality and I appreciate how you can mirror/reflect/share words that ripple across the pond of loving kindness and reach us all deeply in the heart. Transition sucks. Thanks for risking it to come spend 48 hours with us.

TD said...

Scoops - Bummed to miss you On Fire, and so glad you had that time for you. That is your element, no doubt. And no one plays that space like you. Sending nothing but Big Love from your (former) camp husband in VT to Team Shimmy in the Bay.

Anonymous said...

Today, I went to the beach with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old
daughter and said "You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear." She placed the shell
to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit
crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!

LoL I know this is totally off topic but I
had to tell someone!
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sarah caddy said...

Ah, but here's the thing- I ask WWLFD all the time but it is not limited to the IB world.

You, Jaime, and Simon are incredible. I just want to say I'm holding you in the light right now. -Caddy

sadie said...

A friend just sent me your video and blog. She said that I must read this and watch. I understand why. Our stories are similar. There is nothing like Dr. Doom and Gloom sitting down with you to explain very clearly that your child might die. The medical diagnosis of our sons are different, but the degrees you feel like you have, I resonated with that. I have gained similar ones over the past 5 years. I stay home, my husband works to provide for us. And the clincher.. ... "camp". I loved every word you wrote about your camp and structuring your life so you could continue to go back, etc.. I did the same. My camp is the place that made me feel alive, helped me understand who I am, and who I wanted to be. It set the tone for my life. But I would not give this life I have now up for the world - the stay at home mom of a special needs kid. Thank you for your story and sharing your beautiful wife and son with all of us. It's good to hear similar stories of other parents doing what I'm doing. It doesn't make me feel so odd or misunderstood. Thank you in a heart warming way that you might say to a close friend who really understood or "got you". Even though we are strangers, your slice of life helped me not feel so alone. Peace to you and your family.

Becky said...

I really loved reading this, Laura. So much of what you wrote about camp was and is true for me too. I was only at the reunion for about 8 hours and the following week was horrid! Thank you so much for writing and being you, and love to your beautiful family.