“The Table Where Rich People Sit”

“But my mother thinks if all the rulers of the world could get together at a friendly wooden table in somebody’s kitchen, they would solve all their arguments in the half the time.”

As I read Byrd Baylor’s words aloud over the weekend, this sentence stuck with me. Perhaps the next presidential debate should happen in someone’s kitchen.

I was introduced to The Table Where Rich People Sit at my first post-college “real job.” For an entire school year, I read it nearly every Friday to my departing group of students. The gist of the story is that our experiences in nature- like seeing cactus bloom or hearing coyotes- can be assigned a monetary value so that we realize how rich we are, even if our cash is low.

The book has a serious, contemplative, poetic nature to it. I’d never had someone laugh out loud as I read it (okay, except maybe some kid who was only paying attention to the kid next to him and not my reading). That changed this weekend as I read it out loud to a group of parents.

In the beginning, the narrator talks about why she called the family meeting to talk about money and “I say we don’t have enough of it.” She goes on about her “worn out shoes” and how her parents need more ambition; different jobs. When you read this to kids, they are probably all seriously thinking “OMG, So true, I’m going to go home and make sure my parents know this.” To the kids this is a serious issue. To these parents it was a joke, picturing their child saying such a silly thing. They were cracking up. One even said “that sounds like my daughter.”

It struck me how perspective is everything.

Of course, that is the whole point of the that book, as the discussion of the family’s actual cash flow gets brushed aside by the larger conversation of “a special plan where we get paid in sunsets, too, and in having time to hike around the canyons and look for eagles nests.”

If you’ve been able to fall asleep immediately following watching the presidential debate, I’d love to know your strategy. Debate yoga? As for me, last night you could find me on the couch, reading to myself Byrd Baylor’s “The Table Where Rich People Sit.” If there’s anything I learned reading it aloud to adults this weekend, it’s that we are never too old to enjoy a children’s book.

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It Could’ve Been Me

I could’ve been struck and killed by a falling tree while camping on Basswood lake. I could’ve been the trip leader in a group with a casualty. Perhaps I’ve stayed at the very campsite where two Boy Scouts died last night. I’m sure that in my four years of guiding in the Boundary Waters, I paddled past it.

I am sitting here now in shock, one week after paddling out of the very same wilderness, past crews of boy scouts, past the Boy Scout Base, thinking it could have been me. I am a Girl Scout, a former canoe guide at the Girl Scout base just down the lake from the Boy Scouts. While I’ll be the first to point out that the Girl Scouts USA and Boy Scouts of America are indeed very separate organizations (especially when it comes to how they’ve handled sexual identity of members), the scouting movement is one and the same. Two of my own died last night in a place I hold dear to my heart.

I’m a straight, white, ciswomen with so much privilege it oozes out of the holes in my crocs. While hate crimes and systemic discrimination are far too abundant and deeply disturb me, my place in society affords me not to have to process the repeated shock of “it could have been me” every time the news comes on. I can’t imagine being in someone else’s (say an African American man’s) shoes. I have far too much privilege. But for a split second, a moment where time stops and I am late to my dentist appointment, I know what it’s like to grieve one of my own whom I’ve never met. It could’ve been me.

Storms happen, trees fall. There is no entity to be angry with, no cultural shift that needs to happen, no authority that needs to be questioned. The difference is glaring. Perhaps I shouldn’t even have made the comparison.

There are deaths we can’t stop and those we can. Perhaps that is the lesson here. That because death sucks so bad, we must do everything in our power to stop what we can. We must figure out how to stop the hate crimes, the brutality, the culture we have that breeds them. Maybe instead of letting my privilege ooze out of my crocs I should use it to make the world a better place. That’s the Scout way. That’s what our movement is about.

I’ll start by offering up the same sweaty hugs advertised in yesterday’s post.

Come find me if you need one. I’ll be here; my heart is on Basswood lake.

Where to begin? With the youngest people around

I spent the last week canoeing in the Canadian Wilderness and out of contact with anyone. Upon my return, my mom pointed out the real advantage to my trip- missing out on a week’s worth of tragic news.

Police shootings, shootings of police, mass shootings, terrorism, rapes…tragedy has touched so many recently as in the past. I try to remember in each of these instances that not only were humans turned to victims, but that the shooters, the rapists, the terrorists are also humans. Humans with feelings. I am say this not to diminish the feelings of the victims and their communities. I say this because I wonder how could these humans have ever become so crazed, fearful, angry, lonely, confused, sad, numb, or whatever emotion they were feeling that they acted so violently?

Each of these humans was at one point in time a 3 year old, a 7 year old, a 16 year old, and everything in between and beyond. As an educator, I can’t help but wonder, how did the adults around them responded when their three year old self was angry? When their 7 year old self was afraid? When their 16 year old self was lonely? How had the adults around them coached their peers to respond? How have we, as a human society, let individuals grow up to respond to their emotions with violence?

Emotions are tough. Helping kids deal with them, while we as adults deal with our own, can be even tougher. The research is there on just how important a task this is. Going about it is easier said than done. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.

So yesterday, when a six year old girl on the first day of camp was close to tears because she missed her mom, I knelt down and talked to her. First, I tried the normal distraction topics, talking about things like favorite foods, what she did at camp that day, and how independent she is riding the bus from camp by herself.

She was still on the verge. I was running out of distraction topics. It’d been thunder storming all afternoon and we’d been stuck in a hot, stuffy building with lots of noise. Quite frankly, I’d rather be with my mom right then, too.

Then, I thought about how healthy it is for kids to know and understand and feel their own emotions. And then learn to cope with them. I’d been to training’s on this; I’d read up on it. And yet here I was, trying to make both of us pretend she wasn’t sad.

She broke down sobbing. Ok, maybe I didn’t actually think about the psychology in the moment preceding, maybe I just ran out of things to distract her. But as I looked at this six year old breaking down, trying to snuggle up against me (yuck, it was so HOT, but I let her lean on my shoulder anyways), I knew that I’d failed at keeping her distracted from her sadness. More importantly though, I’d succeeded in helping her overcome this sadness by first letting her experience it.

I looked her in the eyes and told her that “it’s OK to be sad.”

Yes, it’s ok to be sad. Emotions are tough. The news is tough. The news makes us emotional and yet all those people in the news have their own emotions. There are so many underlying societal issues leading to these tragedies- racism, homophobia, access to mental health care, objectification of women…too many to list…..

If we can’t even list them all, how can we even begin to solve them all?

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.

Here’s one way to try to heal our world: Listen to the needs of the six year old in your life, wipe their tears, and let them go in for a hug, no matter how sweaty it is.

Imagine if Every Girl Grew Up in a Place Like Connecticut

Think about the last time you went to watch a sporting event. High school, college, semi-pro, pro. Any sport. For me, it was a Mountaineers baseball game this summer. I assume for many of us, myself included, that the athletes you watched were male.

I grew up in Connecticut where, when people watched sports, talked sports, and breathed sports, the chances were slightly higher it was female athletes they were following. In Connecticut, “did you watch the game?” in February probably means did you watch the UConn Women’s Basketball game.

Sure, people from Connecticut watch males play sports, too. They love the Patriots, they are loyal to the Red Sox or they despise them, and they are all in a tizzy over the new minor league “Yard Goats” team. It turns out, UConn even has a men’s team. Remember 2004 and 2014 when both the men and the women were national champions?

Imagine being a girl, growing up in a place where not only were your role models female athletes, these athletes were household names. And not just in your slightly progressive sports-obsessed nuclear family household. Back then, not knowing who Rebecca Lobo or Svetlana Abrosimona was in Connecticut, would be the equivalent of not knowing who Tom Brady is. Now it’s Brenna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. Say those names where I live now in Vermont, and people look at you like you are speaking a foreign language.

Growing up, my sister, Abby, and I were obsessed to say the least. We went to live games, we went to my Grandma’s to watch games before we had cable, taped Sports Center recaps and watched them on repeat on the VCR over our school vacation. I’ve seen more Liberty Basketball games than any other professional team. Did you catch that part about going to my Grandma’s to watch the games?

My grandma watched the games, too. Everyone did. She’d been a school nurse and we always joked that she knew everyone in town so going to the grocery store was a multi-hour affair by the time she got through chatting. She loved those Huskies as much as she loved chatting, and women’s basketball was one thing we could count on talking about. Shopping was another pastime of hers, and she made sure we all had UConn t-shirts to wear on game days.

And my grandpa on the other side of the family. He was from a generation that would’ve made him a prime candidate to roll his eyes when Title IX came about and took away funding from men’s team in order to support women’s teams equally. He was no progressive feminist. But he’d talk UConn Women’s Basketball for days. He’d play HORSE with us in the driveway and pretend to be Svetlana. For him, watching women’s sports meant watching not only the Huskies, but also my sisters and I.

We grew up believing that we, as girls, could be strong, powerful, successful athletes. My attempts at rec basketball didn’t go so well; I switched over to track and field. But I never stopped watching UConn, nor did the rest of my state.

In Connecticut, the culture of obsessing over a women’s sports team brought us together and brought our daughters belief in themselves. What if every girl grew up in a place like that?

What if we all gather our friends and go watch a women’s sporting event, be it high school, college, semi-pro or pro? Think of the message it would send to the young girls in our lives. Take them, too, but take others so they know that girls’ sports aren’t just interesting for girls.

Because, for those of us who grew up in Connecticut during the time of Geno Auriemma, girls sports are for everyone. Uconn, congrats on your 11th NCAA title. And thank you, from all the girls who grow up believing in themselves (and all the boys who never questioned that) because of you.

**Thanks, Dad for the edit (and the years of UConn Fandom). I will say it was in the spirit of my late grandpa that my previous post said Jen Lobo instead of Rebecca Lobo or Jen Rizzotti. Bopper, as we called my Grandpa, was forever butchering names and thanks to his awesome sense of humor you’d never know if it was a mistake or a planned joke. 

Another Summer, Another Song

The other morning, I heard “Uncle John’s Band” (Grateful Dead) on the radio on my commute to Burnt Rock Farm. The tune brought me back to a crowded and hot, loving and joyful building on Cragged Mountain in Freedom, New Hampshire. Yes folks, this is another post about summer camp.

And yet, Cragged Mountain Farm is not just another summer camp. If it were, perhaps “Girl Crush” (Little Big Town) would be stuck in my head as the song that brings me back to my time there, July 2015. And sure, there were plenty of moments when pop music would be played on the radio on the van ride to or from a hiking trip. “Girl Crush” certainly takes a close second for the song of the summer.

What stands out about my time at Cragged Mountain Farm was this incredible sense of community that comes from having 8 year olds sing the very same Grateful Dead songs in the very same building where their parents did. This was my first time working at a legacy camp and the difference is palpable. And to see kids, even if only for a moment or a few weeks, caught up in something other than pop culture is a breath of fresh air.

Of course, these kid got lots of fresh air as I took them hiking and canoeing. To see 9 year olds with oversize packs bagging a peak many adults would struggle up was exhilarating, if not exhausting for all involved. The magnitude of the accomplishment was over the head of most of these kids, but I hope in time they will see how incredible they are.

We ran into someone I knew in a trailhead parking lot in Maine, and the kids all loved petting her dog. Later that night, reflecting on the day, one camper said the best part of the day (a day of beautiful views, not seeing another person on the trail, that kind of day) was the dog.

Whatever we all took away from July 2015, I think it was a blast and a half.

Song of the Summer

Last week, I walked to the grocery store in shorts and a swimsuit, because that’s what I came home from work wearing. I was sunburned and sporting a whistle on a lanyard with some rhyming song that ended in “kick your boyfriend out of town” stuck in my head. As a day camp counselor, I spent my days getting paid to eat ice cream, do science experiments, and get motion-sick on long bus rides, right alongside the kids.

Working at day camp (at an age when most of my peers have “grown up,” no less) was pretty awesome. In many of my previous summers with kids, most of my time was spent dragging them up mountains or across lakes on camping trips. Those were truly spectacular times, and I hope when they are older, these kids will be able to have those sorts of adventures.

Going into my summer of day camp counseling, I had no idea what it would be like. Just as I’d discovered that like going on wilderness trips without kids is a whole different ballgame, I wondered would kids without the wilderness be a whole different flavor of fun?

Why, yes, of course it would. But it was no less exhausting or rewarding. I found that not only are wilderness trips a ton of fun with kids, so are trips to the FIRE DEPARTMENT. That’s right, no need to paddle and camp in the Canadian wilderness for a good time, just walk around the block to the fire dept. Open up some trucks, sit inside and you’re having fun! It was also amazing and inspiring to bring a group of kids to the State House and see them actually interested in learning about history.

It was great to watch these kids have fun, learn new things, and hopefully grew just a tiny bit stronger. Even if that was from getting blisters from the monkey bars (so many bandaids!!) or walking two miles on the sidewalk to the pool and back. No, we weren’t teaching them to portage a canoe or paddle in headwinds, but when you’ve got 4 year olds in the mix, every walk becomes a hike. And a great opportunity to hear whatever it is that’s on their mind. (And sometimes a great chance to carry them. Especially at cross-walks where tired kids might not walk fast enough to make it before the light changes!)

Bus rides are also a great way to hear what’s up in kids’ worlds. And learn a clapping song or two about “Lemonade….kick your boyfriend out of town…”

The daily bus rides of the summer made me wish that VT had billboards to make playing the A-Z sign game more fun and left me wondering just what is the pop hit song of the summer?

In previous years, driving a 15 passenger van headed for the trailhead, I accepted requests for pop radio and now associate “Cups” with Camp Wabasso (2013), “Call me Maybe” with Tin Mountain (2012) and “Hey there Delilah” with Tanglewood (2007).

I will remember Camp REACH and summer 2014 as the summer of “Lemonade/Kick Your Boyfriend out of Town.” And it’s not Anny Kendrick, Carly Rae Jespen, or the Plain White T’s I’ll be hearing in my head when I remember it.

It’ll be the kids.