On the Spectrum From Crazy to Normal

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August 21, 2014 by Julia

Last weekend was four days of nonstop, intense family quality time – one night of tent camping, and then Jack’s 3rd birthday. I gotta say, it was exhausting to orchestrate both events, back-to-back. But there was so much good, too. Is there a more recurring theme in parenthood?

I had multiple meltdowns in the days leading up to our long weekend, because I was aware of how much work it would all entail, and because things had already been hectic for several days in a row, and because I had PMS.

(News flash: PMS really makes everything at least twice as horrible as “reality;” guys, it’s like the hallucinogenic gas or whatever that Scarecrow uses on his victims.)

Also, Robin Williams committed suicide last week. Which knocked the wind out of nearly everyone who watches movies, as far as I can tell. It felt personal for a lot of us who didn’t actually know him personally. The suicide part of it still feels unreal to me. Not because I struggle to understand why, but because it reveals the personal desperation of someone who has long been a legend of almost mythical proportions. Until now, he seemed more like that brilliant legend than a person.

And many of us who struggle with mental illness paused, feeling the pull of darkness and twinges of fear. I know this because I’ve been reading it everywhere online. It’s good that so many people took the opportunity to share hotlines for help. I’m lucky in that I’ve never experienced suicidal thoughts – even when I’ve looked half-dead and everyone is like, “is she okay?” But my depression felt more…real last week. Like an actual disability, a shackle around my ankle that made everything more difficult.

Most times I feel like a regular person, with the usual struggles and joys and emotional ups and downs. But last week, the media’s coverage of mental illness coupled with a visit to my psychiatrist in which I admitted I hadn’t been feeling the greatest this summer, brought old questions to the forefront: “Does depression mess with me more than I realize?” “Am I different than the normal ones, and everyone sees it but me?”

The thing is, though, that we’ve all got disabilities of one variety or another. Some worse than others, but no one is exempt. There isn’t a clear-cut line between the mental illness people and the so-called normal people.

Last week, this was the kind of observation that would have discouraged me. But this week I’m feeling better, and it actually comforts and inspires me. We’re all in this together, we all struggle, we are all trying to work through our personal demons and overcome oppression.

So, we camped in tents again this summer, and I think we are on to a family tradition. Each year will be a little easier, as the kids get older, and get more used to the whole concept, which is admittedly bizarre. I probably spent more time packing and unpacking and doing laundry than we did on the actual campground…but still, being in nature for twenty-four hours like that spoke to my soul. And I know it affected the kids wonderfully, too, despite Fiona’s declarations of boredom, which I chose to interpret as an “adjustment period to peace.” I knew she wasn’t bored. At least she had a frame of reference for camping this time, unlike last year, when she was all, “What the heck? This is it? I have to put on shoes and walk through woods to the bathrooms?”

But really, they love it. I mean, how could you not, at ages 3 and 6 (or 35)?

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We could also drive to a nearby tire playground, and a sandy, rocky beach that was great for swimming.

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Fiona and I walked far out into the surprisingly warm, shallow, calm bay. We were in heaven together. I got that clear, happy feeling I get when I am totally surrounded by water, trees and sky. It is something specific that I long for in nature; it is the reason I’d rather go to the mountains than the cities. 

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We met my parents for dinner at the campsite, made s’mores, and Dennis took the kids for a little walk in the dark woods in their pajamas.

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At bedtime Fiona had high expectations for smack-down kick-boxing/wrestling with Jack in the tent, because they thought it was so funny last year, but Jack couldn’t keep it up for longer than fifteen minutes.

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He caught me playing a game on my iPad by the campfire (my second moment of rest all day) and instantly demanded it for himself. Which prompted a tantrum from Fiona. Because she wanted to keep fighting with him.

Her sobs could be heard all over the campground, and we were all like, “Shush! You should be able to cry quietly at this point! You’re six years old!” which now that I write it, doesn’t sound all that old.

Kids! Crying about fighting, and then crying about not-fighting!

It took another hour or two to get Jack to fall asleep next to us in the tent. I was dozing, taking the brunt of it (as we mothers tend to do *cue violins*) while he rolled around and sat on my head. Finally, I was like, eff this, he’s going between me and Dennis – my husband decided to have this kid right along with me, and besides, two adults will fare better, especially when one of those adults is 6’-4” and getting increasingly grumpy. I was right; Jack threw in the towel soon after.

It wasn’t so bad, though. We’d survived tent-sleeping once before; I never doubted that we’d survive again. Once we were all out, I slept better than ever outdoors (the cool temperature and forest sounds were perfect: cicadas, frogs, soft wind in leaves), and we somehow didn’t wake up until around 7:30 A.M.


Yep, my dad really is that tall. 6′-6,” to be exact. You see where the kids get their freakish tallness, between him and Dennis!

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I die.


We had coffee and bacon around the morning fire (best ever), and then went with my parents back to the beach and playground, before hiking to the local lighthouse.

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The kids were so tired on the way back that the men rotated carrying them, and Jack fell asleep in my dad’s arms. He continued to sleep as we put him in the car, drove to a quaint nearby town (we can’t resist the quaint), and carried him into a restaurant for a late lunch. I am grateful for these moments in which he is still a baby.

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And then when we got home late Saturday afternoon, it was time to not only unpack and do laundry, but prepare for Jack’s birthday!

I am the kind of person who does not like to spend hundreds of dollars on a three-year-old’s birthday, but I am also slightly crazy-into birthdays, which can be a challenging scenario for a parent. We were only planning to celebrate with family at a park the next day, but I have a big family, and these things always steamroll as you realize, “Oh wait, something about this gathering has to say ‘birthday party!’, AND we have to feed a bunch of people.” Also,  I am not immune to the allure of theme. Every kid’s party has to have a theme, these days.

So there I was at Party City at closing time Saturday night, trying to find monster balloons AND monster TRUCK balloons, because otherwise my son’s life would have been ruined for two seconds.

I’ll let you decide where I am on the crazy parent spectrum, cause it felt both crazy and normal to me; I have no idea. Keep in mind this is the night after tent camping.

Of course it was a success by the most important standard, which was whether or not Jack had a good time. I swear next year we’re paying for a big party at some bouncy house place with lots of his cute, beloved friends, though.

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We then had a family day, just the four of us, on his actual birthday, which involved morning presents, a birthday serenade by the servers at Friendly’s, and of course, bouncy houses. And then gymnastics class.


Artwork by Dennis, as usual!


I’m now this many fingers!

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Dennis and I were so tired after all of this that we could only relieve our stress with a little catching up on season four of Downton Abbey, while adding loving, mocking commentary. When all else fails, provide your own voice-overs to shows. Oh, those dear English bastards, with their restraint and hyper-awareness of class and tradition. We eat it up.

This guy is just begging to be ridiculed:


“I-I-I can’t can’t tell you – uh -um -yes, yes. I seem to have lost my balls. Oh dear. They MUST be around here somewhere, they simply must be. Oh-oh dear.”

I mean, if he were a real person, he would have my utmost sympathy. But he’s just a character! The joys of drama never cease.

One of our favorite imaginings is of shock manifesting itself in unexpected vomit. The residents of the abbey are just so easily shocked. We get to make vomit noises through entire episodes. 

If I knew basic Photoshop I would add the vomit here. I guess you can imagine it on your own, anyway.

That is all for now, possibly for all time, after all these ramblings and pictures.

Kidding! I’ll be back. If you’ll have me. Okay. Done!





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