(Written longhand on Thursday, January 10th)
When you are at peace, everything is at peace. What seemed like cacophony becomes the music of the spheres. A suite for unaccompanied mind. Stephen Mitchell
It’s over. The suitcases have been stuffed to the brim, the overflow of gifts and souvenirs have been packed in boxes to mail at a later date, the floors have been vacuumed and scrubbed and polished clean again, the toys and cardboard-stiff baby books have been thrown into a wide-mouthed basket, and the last of the good-byes, the hugs and the squeezes and the “I’ll miss you’s”, have taken place. Twenty-three days of Camp Haskell Remien officially came to a close last evening as the January sun was setting over our neighborhood’s rooftops. We did it! We managed to live together, guests, who are not really guests, but grown-up boys who once were kids in this very house, and their partners, and their dogs, and a baby, we did it, hosts and company alike — not only did we live together, but, in the midst of the chaos and the cacophony of barking dogs and baby glee-screeches and a million different agendas, we managed, miracle of miracles, to have fun.
Sure there were moments. There were temper tantrums over sink-loads of dirty dishes; there were sore throats and runny noses; there were occasional tears and a grandma who was beginning to feel like an old hag on Day Three with no time for a shower; there were clogged toilets and cars running on empty; there were frayed fingernails and frayed nerves. But these were just moments. And this grandma, who doesn’t usually feel like an old hag at all, had done her prep work for this three and a half weeks of Camp Haskell Remien. Not only had she listened to her young friends who advised her to buy diapers and a full-sized crib, to set up a changing table for the baby and a rest-area for the dogs, but she’d also done her own research into running a three-ring-circus-of-a-camp. And sometimes the greatest research of all emerges from simply sitting down and watching a good movie. What started out as a one-night stand back in November with the movie, Dan in Real Life, became a month-long research project that required many many watchings of this story of a multi-generational family coming together for their own version of holiday camp. I soaked in the quirky and the chaotic, the sometimes inflammatory, often funny world that this family inhabited, memorized the words that Steve Carrell’s character’s mother shared with him as he metaphorically beat himself up for falling short of his ideals. “Please!” she said, “Love is messy.” As I plunged heart-first into the world of Camp Haskell Remien, I pushed the save button, remembering not only these words, but also the love in which the mother in the movie shared them.
Yes, love is messy, and indeed, there were plenty of messes at Camp Haskell Remien — there were snow-covered floors and hallways piled high with winter coats and boots. There were messy diapers and barking dogs. And sometimes, there were moments of messy emotions, too. How could there not be?!? And isn’t that a part of real life?!? I was prepared for the messes, both physical and emotional; what I wasn’t prepared for was how little the messes would bother me, a gal who likes her world tidied up. And how wonderful the three-ring-circus of a holiday camp could feel to this camp-counselor grandma. Beforehand, I had been so focused on the troubleshooting, the defensive measures to prevent major mishaps — like the guest dogs eating the host cat — that I had forgotten that there would be gifts, a multitude of gifts, tucked within the hustle and the bustle, within the turned-upside-down schedule of a holiday camp .
It was the ski on the afternoon of Christmas Eve as soft snow floated from the sky, the pushing off on a groomed trail with the two guest dogs and the two grown sons and the girlfriend who was new to the sport and catching on quickly; it was the motion and the stride and the witnessing of these sons skiing in synchrony that I cherish when I think about Camp H.R.. And it was the yoga class at Joy Center, eight days later, on the first morning in January, with the young women, daughter-in-law and girlfriend, guiding us in one hundred and eight Sun Salutations to welcome in the new year, that fills me to the brim, the way that these women who I adore are comfortable in their own skin, comfortable with their own yoga teaching styles. It was the evenings of Downton Abbey and the midnight chats and the afternoons of errands and the seven pies and the turkey and the countless meals and the game of Balderdash. And it was the baby! In the midst of everything, it was Baby Viren! What could be better than rolling around on the floor with a rolling giggling six month old bundle of squirming joy, or holding him on a hip while setting a table or singing him to sleep in your arms, or witnessing the changes that occur in an infant during a three and a half week of holiday camp?!? On New Year’s Eve, we all — except the guest dogs and the host cat — shared a meal at Sweetwater Cafe, and we passed the baby from father to mother to grandma to grandpa to aunt to uncle; again and again we passed the baby around. I’m sure we spilled something during that meal — we spilled something during just about every meal. After all, love is messy. But it sure tastes good!
Viren and Grandma reading the snowman book