The fire in the grill crackled, the sticks beneath the flame changing from brown to black and the coals beneath them gray and hot—perfect for roasting marshmallows.
It was one of the last Saturdays of summer. Earlier that day, the girls had asked if we could make s’mores after dinner. Never one to turn down fun dessert ideas, I said sure. A quick inventory of the kitchen cabinets, however, revealed that we only had marshmallows on hand—we were missing the other two ingredients.
Not to worry, I told my family. I promptly swung by the nearest grocery store and picked up a box of graham crackers (size: Family) and bar of chocolate (size: Giant). There are few things in life I love more than a Giant-size candy bar, friends.
Go big or go home, amirite?
There are few things in life I love more than a Giant-size candy bar, friends.
After dinner, Stanton helped Grace and Anna slide their marshmallows onto sticks. We watched as the girls held the sticks over the fire. Slowly but surely, the marshmallows transformed from white squares into ooey-gooey gobs of roasted, brown-twinged treats.
“Yum-yum-yum,” Anna said.
Stanton sandwiched Anna’s roasted marshmallow in between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate, and then did the same for Grace. “Awesome,” they each proclaimed soon after.
I had a s’more, too, and I agreed: awesome. “Dad has great survival skills,” I told the girls.
“Mel.” Stanton shook his head. “Roasting marshmallows is not a survival skill.”
Stanton and I share many of the same values—love of family and friends, harmony, fortitude—but we’re very different in some ways too. For example, Stanton spent his free time in high school working on becoming an Eagle Scout. Among (many) other things, he fine-tuned the art of building a fire.
Which I find so cool because, as a high school student myself, I went to writing camp once summer vacation hit.
Yes, that’s writing camp, not riding camp. (No horses and equestrian vaulting for this girl, thank you very much!)
As much as I like to think of myself as adventure-y and outdoors-y…I’d have a slim-to-none chance of winning “Survivor” (now in its 41st season?!), and so I appreciate that Stanton has some survival skills, should we ever need them.
Like building a fire. And roasting marshmallows.
In the meantime, I suspect my storytelling skills would be welcome around an eventide campfire. We’ve all got our gifts.
Yes, that’s writing camp, not riding camp.
I know roasting marshmallows isn’t, technically, a survival skill. It’s not critical like finding and purifying water, or dressing a wound. I know this.
There are things, though, that can be as vital to our health as the basic needs of food, water, air and shelter. Certainly, this pandemic has shone a light on many of them.
Human beings need one another, for one—in so many ways. We need doctors and nurses, truck drivers, teachers, conscientious leaders. We need one another’s company, beyond the squares and mute/unmute buttons of Zoom meetings.
We need space outside to stretch our arms, move our feet. We need safe spaces to do this, especially our children.
My children were lucky to have the choice to return to in-person school this fall. This week, they’ve been back in school for the first time since March 13. Six months—unbelievable (except it all really happened).
Two mornings ago, I was taking a shower when Anna opened the bathroom door. “Mom.”
“What can I do for you, honey?”
“Mom,” Anna repeated, “why did you put Scooby-Doo! gummy snacks in Grace’s lunch box and not mine?”
“Didn’t I ask you and Grace not to open the lunch boxes after I packed them?” I asked.
“Yes, but we did, and we saw you gave Grace Scooby-Doo! gummy snacks but not me.”
Despite the fact that I’m not a morning person, and my 5-year-old daughter interrupted my shower, and both my daughters didn’t follow my directions…despite all this, I smiled. I smiled because it had been six months since I packed the girls’ lunch boxes, and six months since one of them had whined about getting the short end of the stick where Scooby-Doo! gummy snacks were concerned.
Basically…this felt somewhat normal, at last.
…despite all this, I smiled.
In the mornings, I walk the girls to school. Every morning, I tick through a mental checklist with both Grace and Anna: Do you have your folder, your lunch box, your water bottle, your face mask, your extra face mask?
Then, my last question: “Do you have everything you need?”
Do you have everything you need, friends?
When I was pregnant with Grace, I read the hallowed “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” with more interest and passion than anything I ever read in any of my college or grad-school English classes. (Sorry, Shakespeare.) I underlined sentences, starred sidebars, took notes in the margins.
Looking back now, I have to wonder…did I think there would be a final exam at the end?
I’m a fairly Type A person, and I was gunning for an A+ on that imaginary final exam. As it turned out, of course, there was no final exam when I finished the last chapter—just a beautiful baby girl, and then another beautiful baby girl three and a half years later, both of whom I had very little idea how to care for in the beginning.
I can say, with utmost confidence, that if anyone’s been grading my parenting thus far, it has not been an A+ performance—far from it.
Like all of us here, though, I have tried. I’ve made an honest effort.
As it turned out, of course, there was no final exam when I finished the last chapter…
As my family and I get back into our morning-rush, out-the-door routine, I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to share with my daughters. All the things I want them to know—survival skills, more or less. All the things I want to pass along, before I hug them goodbye at their elementary school entrance.
These fall mornings, the girls and I walk together along the sidewalk, the early-morning air crisp on our skin, the still-low sun lighting the path forward.
At the forefront of my mind are the basics: Make sure you have your lunch box, your water bottle, your face mask. Food, water, air.
School has its moments, though, its challenges. Life too. So then I want to tell my girls…
Be flexible. Collaborate; go with the flow.
Be grateful. Acknowledge the goodness.
Don’t be a stranger. Get to know the world around you.
Be strong. Stand up for yourself, what you believe in.
Make healthy choices. Take care of your body; eat those Giant-size candy bars in moderation.
Last but not least, make it count.
Photo credit: Pixabay
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