I think it was Wallace Stegner who, when asked how on earth he had time to write Pulitzer Prize-winning novels while teaching undergrads at Stanford, replied, “That’s what summers are for.” I feel the same, but in reverse – how to be a mom and a writer? Well, that’s what the school year is for, and school for us begins tomorrow. Hallelujah. At the end of every day this summer, emotionally and physically depleted, I sat down to my blog and found I had no energy to write, no inspiration. I tried a couple of times, I swear I did, and all the postings read the same way: “It’s very hot today, over 100 degrees, and we stayed inside. I played Star Wars, and was forced to be Emperor Palpatine - again. One more time, I shrouded myself in the Emperor’s hood of darkness and fought my sons - the good guys, of course, wielding light sabers made from swimming noodles - using his electric fingers of evil. Why can’t I be Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia just this once? ‘You, mommy,’ said my youngest son Zane, jabbing the end of his chubby little finger into my thigh, ‘are the bad guy.’”
Determined to create some non-scripted free time for my children - especially for Holden, my oldest, who had had a long year in kindergarten, sitting in his chair for seven hours at a clip filling in worksheets - I brazenly did not enroll them in one summer camp, lesson, or activity. Instead, we held Camp Korbey (I came up with that myself) at our place, which included trips to museums and libraries and especially swimming pools and spray parks, daily activities I bookended with plenty of time for wandering around the house eating snacks, playing Star Wars and basketball, and of course, when it was just too hot, TV. This reminded me of my own childhood summers, which on some level I took great pains to re-create – first, because I really, really enjoyed them, especially the wandering around the house eating snacks part, and second, because I didn’t know what else to do. Overall, Camp Korbey appeared to be a success, but not one without its struggles.
For the first few weeks, Holden and Zane argued all day, every day, to the point where I called into question my efforts in creating Camp Korbey (wouldn't they just be happier at Lego Camp?), not to mention motherhood in general. They argued about everything, and at the same time nothing, and it went on forever.
Holden: Zane, you do NOT need the black marker any more. That’s enough. What you need is green.
Zane: NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! (clenching black marker between his teeth) You are idiot! You are stupid and dumb and a real dummy!
Holden: MOOOOM! Zane called me an idiot! And stupid! And dumb! He said all of those things! You need to put him on his bed!
Zane: NOOOOOOOO!!!! Mommy, please, please, please, Holden is dumb and he is idiot, but please don’t put me on my bed, I don’t want to goooooooo!!!
And so on and so on into infinity every day, at least until dinner time, at which point my husband would walk through the door and I’d already have my shoes on, my eyes filled with tears, ready to escape Camp Korbey and all its knotted, confusing arguments – arguments that soon became between the three of us, trying to sort out who had done what to whom and who deserved the dreaded time alone on their bed. I began wondering why I did this in the first place, they weren’t enjoying each other, and they certainly weren’t enjoying me, mostly because I was yelling at them all the time.
By the end of June, the arguments had mysteriously subsided - were they worn down, or getting used to each other? - and Camp Korbey slowly plodded into a kind of peaceful honeymoon phase, where all my plans happily fused into a (mostly) steady summer rhythm. Holden was drawing lovely pictures with accompanying stories without an ounce of input from me; Zane would drag out his Star Wars figures, set them up, and talk to them for an hour. I even caught them laughing together a few times, telling each other invented jokes that always have something to do with a chicken and a road. Feeling quite proud of myself, I was beginning to have the sort of summer Michael Chabon would approve of, not wandering in the wilderness of childhood exactly, but at least giving my children some time to explore, and relax, and have fun without having a reason to have fun. The end of June was how I envisioned the real Camp Korbey: long days getting wet, changing clothes, then getting wet again if you felt like it.
But because of my full days, I didn’t have much time to write – a few evenings filled with scribblings I eventually tossed – but I knew that school was coming. Secretly, I was counting the days. And now, those days are finally here.
A lot more happened this summer, we took two trips, to Nashville and to Maine, and actually ended up harvesting some of the food I planted, and I’ll get to that later, but the important part is that my children’s time to be free is over for now, and tomorrow it’s back to school for them and back to writing for me. Camp Korbey, for now, is officially closed.