December 29, 2012

I Hear the Bells

Many years ago I was shuffling through the crowds at the shopping mall.  People were moving along like an agitated herd of animals, gruff with anyone who caused an interruption to their frantic pace, clip with cashiers, and ruthless in the parking lot.  It was late in the evening, it was close to Christmas -- coincidentally, just the time when people start losing the Christmas spirit.  I was feeling sullen at the sight of it all.  At that precise moment, from the overhead speakers in the store I heard the carol playing, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."  The familiar 3rd verse sang:
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

That is how I felt sandwiched in the herd of shoppers.  But then the 4th verse rang out overshadowing the previous:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

That pierced my heart and changed how I saw and what I felt that Christmas and every Christmas since.  The season can be overwhelming with consumerism, cookie exchanges, parties, cards, gifting, decorating and the list goes on.  And when all is said and done, that may be all we see in the season.  This season saw unspeakable tragedy and I have felt my broken heart and wiped my eyes every day for those children, for those parents, and especially their siblings of Newtown.  There has been so much evil and heartbreak before and after that tragedy as well.  Other shootings, cancers, deaths and grieving have been all too commonplace this season.

The 4th verse of the carol is sometimes more difficult to see, but despite and through the heartbreaks, shallowness, selfishness, evils and sadness that abound, I have had a Christmas season that I have heard the bells peal louder and deeper.

My daughters held a dinner party with a few of their friends where they stuffed and licked 500 envelopes of Santa letters to help the initiative of a little girl suffering from inoperable brain cancer in our community.  These letters were matched with a $500 donation by Macy's to Make a Wish.  We had a discussion over dinner on how friends can help friends during challenging times.  It was so heart warming to see how incredibly excited they were to do this!

Alan took off for an entire Saturday during the middle of December to board a bus of volunteers that went up to New York to help the hurricane Sandy victims in the Rockaways.  I sent him off at 3am armed with some shovels, crow bar, bottles of water, protein bars, a face mask.  He returned at 11:00 that night exhausted, dirty and humbled.  His walked miles that day pulling a sled of tools behind him as he and the other volunteers in his crew hauled debris out and tore drywall out of basements that are now becoming mold infested hazards.  The residents were beyond grateful.  They hadn't seen a lick of FEMA yet, but they had seen plenty of our church volunteers in yellow vests weekend after weekend.  Their "angels in yellow" they call them.  He thought that there was no better way for a busy dad to spend a precious Saturday in December.  Love him for that.

Our family made dinner for the homeless shelter the following Saturday and had a neighbor join with us in our effort.  The kids assisted and were mixing casseroles and measuring ingredients for desserts all morning.  We delivered the meal to the shelter with the kids that evening.  While we were setting up the dinner, the girls, on their own initiative, helped to sort and organize the children's play area.  Love them for that too.

Our December has been filled with many other wonderful experiences that have made the bells ring louder to our family.  Most will remain private, ever only to be known between the recipient and us.  Being the self-confessed OCD person that I am - October and November is when all of the gifts are purchased, wrapped and neatly tucked away before Thanksgiving.  December is too important for such things and our December has been full of everything that is important.  I am grateful for those bells that do indeed peal the most important message of all to us - "that God is not dead, nor doth he sleep."  He is mindful of each and every one of us and has commissioned us to be His hands to help others feel the love of their Savior, not only in December, but every month of the year.

December 14, 2012

The Parable of the Ice Cream Ball

In my husband's large family, we draw names of his siblings to give Christmas gifts to each year. Then we think and stew and think some more of what would be the perfect gift for that family. We came up with an answer a few years ago for a family member - they are fun outdoorsy kind-of people, so we gave them a ice cream ball from LLBean. 

I thought it would be perfect.  I loved it.  Surely they would as well.

A couple of years later, we received a package in the mail from another of my husband's family members.  This family is always wonderful, thoughtful and caring in every way.  So true to their sweet nature they had sent us a housewarming gift - something I have always wanted -- an ice cream ball from LLBean!  It was in a slightly beaten up and well-traveled box, but otherwise identical to the one I had given to the other sibling two years prior, which coincidentally was long enough ago that they would have had been through the rotation of giving this family a Christmas gift as well.  Perhaps they gave them a LLBean ice cream ball?

I still smile every time I see it, because the truth is, I secretly really wanted it too.  Part of me would have like to just keep giving it and see how many times it would be cycled through the family, but we love ice cream too much in our house, and it has made plenty - by the kids and their friends, by my husband's scouts at camp, even Bridger enjoys rolling it around.  Just like I thought in the beginning - it is the perfect gift!

Moral of the story: 
Love to Give and Give What you Love [it just might come back to you!]

December 05, 2012

You Can Help

I often hear from people, "I just don't know how to help."  A family member excuses the burden, saying they can't help with childcare.  Then proceeds to do nothing.  I have never asked for childcare.  As people who know me can attest, I rarely ask for anything.  Sometimes it is because I just don't know what will help, just as the person struggling on the other end doesn't know either.

People can't lift and haul Bridger and his heavy equipment to and fro, in and out all day long.  They can't be covered in daily vomit as I am, attend the dozens of monthly doctors appointments, do the cumbersome bathing, listen to the hours of screaming - sometimes done directly in my ear, manage the hours of insurance work, endure the fat lip given to me in a swift uppercut by the hysterical child that did not want to leave the grocery store while I struggle to pin his arms away from his wheels to get him out of the store door while holding my groceries as dozens of onlookers gawk (pleasantries of yesterday).  They cannot endure the full sweat workout it is to change one of the 10 daily diapers of a large child who will fight with every limb to make sure that you don't.  They cannot wear the scars that Alan has on his cheeks from a new behavioral challenge we are dealing with from Bridger who likes to gouge at his dad's face when he carries him.  They cannot go tend to him in the middle of the billionth night in a row that he doesn't sleep or is screaming from the pains of reflux or nightmares.  People cannot take away my back pain caused from degeneration in the spine - exacerbated by heaving lifting of a 55 pound thrashing dead weight.  They cannot dry the tears of my little girl who just had a handful of hair ripped out by her brother because she got too close to him at the wrong time or stop people from staring at us every time we are in public.  They cannot spend hours trying to get Bridger to eat and do all the tube feedings throughout the day when he does not or draw out the daily meds precisely to the fraction of an ml (a skill I can do with my eyes closed no matter the size of the syringe). . .  The list of "cannots" goes on. . .

Nope.  People can't help.

At least, in these ways.

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings, from the final journey of Frodo where he is struggling and exhausted as he is carrying the ring to throw in the volcano.  His friend, Sam, hurts for the challenge he is witnessing his friend endure - helpless because he knows he cannot carry the ring.  But then he champions, "I can't carry it for you…but I can carry you! Come on!"

This is my ring to carry, and I have a great love and appreciation for the "Sams" in my life.

How can you be a "Sam" today?

There is a girl named Gabriella in our community that has inoperable brain cancer.  She is the family friend of one of Bridger's therapists.  Gabriella is collecting letters to Santa to deliver to Macy's, who will donate $1 million dollars to Make-a-Wish if one million letters are received this Christmas.  Gabriella wants to personally deliver 10,000 letters.  Bridger's therapist requested that I help them.  I made a goal to collect 500 letters by next Tuesday.  This supports me as I feel this is a way to return the love and devotion that this therapist has shown to Bridger.  It is a way to comfort the therapist's daughter, who is a friend of Gabriella.  To give the letters to this daughter, who can then pass them along to her sick friend, is helping her feel the power of being a "Sam" and how, despite the grief she feels for her friend, that she can carry her friend when she can't carry her ring.

I created an email account to receive the letters I will present to her in Bridger's therapy session next Tuesday.  Email letters to  Type the text directly in an email or scan the letter and attach it to the email and I will put it in an envelope.  Letters can be from old or young and need not be anything beyond simple.

According to the analytics site I have connected to my blog, my last post had just over 1500 reads.  Is it safe to assume that I should expect to receive just over a thousand letters? :)  My dad passed away from brain cancer, and Make-a-Wish has supported Bridger and dozens of my dear friends who provide superhuman care to their medical fragile children.

I hope this Christmas season that we will look for ways to be a "Sam" to others around us, instead of wringing our hands helplessly and walking away because we cannot carry their ring.

November 20, 2012

Little Packages

Big things come in small packages.

I have to agree.

I never knew that human origami was one of her skills until she shouted a muffled "Mom, look at ME!" from inside the box.  Now knowing of hidden talents to fold herself into places a fraction of her size, I will think twice before I throw out random little boxes.  They might have my Eliza inside.

November 16, 2012

Happy Fall Ya'll

I love today.  I love every single minute from October 1 - November 30th.  The reason -- Fall.  Specifically, Fall in Virginia.  It is the reason you tolerate deathly heat and even more deathly humidity in Virginia in July and August -- because you know October 1 holds something spectacular!

We celebrated October's arrival with our annual spudnut and cider celebration at the cabin.  What a fun weekend it was to let our hair down and wear our pj's for a few days straight.  We picked up some cider from the local orchard and got the mixer cranking for a big batch of spudnuts.  The kids rolled out their dough and cut out their doughnuts - even Bridger got into the sticky dough scene!

Lance enjoyed being the head maple glaze man and the frequent licking of the fingers that comes along with that position.

Three cheers for fall!

I call it an all-you-can-eat spudnut fest because that sounds so wild and fun, right?  I have actually learned that the kids will still eat the same amount - stuffed after two (or comatose in Eliza's case.)  So why not let them think they could completely pig out if they wanted to - it helps me convince them that mom can be cool and fun sometimes. just sometimes I am told.

Even little Bear with his severe sensory disorders relating to food couldn't resist the peer modeling and had to eat a spudnut.  First came a cautious sniff of the sticky treat, then a little lick, followed by a small nibble -- and 2 whole spudnuts later he completed the fall initiation!

Later in the day the kids set out to play on our cabin playground - aka the huge boulders scattered all about the property.  Mother Nature's playgrounds are the best kind!  Can you spot 4 little Larson's out there?

October has come and gone.  November, I am still savoring you.  And when you leave, I will look forward to our next Fall Cider and Spudnut celebration - if I survive the next hot and humid summer that is.

Happy Fall Ya'll, from all of the Larsons in front of the camera, and the one forever behind it!

November 08, 2012

The Heart of Halloween

There are many holiday traditions for our family that have to be severely adapted or done away with.  Halloween included, for a variety of reasons.  Last year we made great strides with Bridger participating by passing out candy to trick-or-treat'ers while we held him on our front porch.  I use the word "passing out" loosely as it was more like him hysterically chucking candy at children when they approached using his bionic throwing powers.  Some children found that fun, others were a little scared. 
Bridger thought it was the best time of his life.  I smile at the memory of watching children have to pick up their candy that was thrown at them from our walkway.

This year we decided to try and take it a step further.  Sensory issues in the past had prevented Bridger from donning a costume, but cute facebook photos circulating around of adorable costumes incorporating a wheelchair made it too irresistible not to try.

Armed with the picture of a wheelchair-turned-bulldozer, I went to Home Depot to  collect pvc pipe pieces and joints, boxes and paint to create a very homemade bulldozer.  A kind man in plumbing was sweetly helping me with the different parts I would need.  Another Home Depot employee saw my efforts and took me to the front desk to the general manager.  He looked at my picture and started calling for some others to "get up here immediately!"

Before I knew it a team of builders was hovering over the picture speaking "construction speaks".  They then paused to look up at me and say, "Ma'am, we got it from here, you just bring your son in for a fitting.  Boys, I want this to look professional!"

I was stunned.  As I left the store I started crying.  Who cries at Home Depot?!?  I was just so touched by the simple act of love that has an effect far-reaching beyond its original efforts.

I brought Bridger back while the men were on their hands and knees around him trying to measure every nook and cranny of the wheelchair as Bridger patted their backs and kissed their heads.  I brought my other children along to see this wonderful act of service that people would do for pure strangers because of the goodness of their hearts.  They were so excited at the thought of their brother to be in costume and trick-or-treating right along side of them.

When we came in to pick up the dozer, employees were lined up in the front of the store to present an apron signed by each employee and his very own hard hat that lights up.  They assembled the costume on Bridger (which included headlights on the overhead canopy and a flashing tail light, wired to a battery pack that attached under his chair) and lined us up for a group photo [or 20].  At this point we had attracted quite a Saturday afternoon audience.  They snapped the pictures while I tried to hold an eager-to-get-moving Bridger in place.  After the photo shoot, I let go of Bridger and off the bulldozer went to a roar of applause from customers and employees.  Following behind him, I again became the tenderhearted fool that starts crying in a home improvement store.  I turned around to see that I wasn't the only tenderhearted fool.  A couple customers also shared my tears.

Hopefully, beyond my expressions of gratitude, these men and women know how much this means to me, our family, and others in the special needs community.  It gives us hope that there are good people with good hearts out there, that can stop in their 'busyness' and, giving through the talents that they have, bring a lot of love to a family, especially to a little boy, who just wants to be "one of the kids" - if only for brief moment on Halloween.  And he was.

**UPDATE:  I am excited to report that the CEO of Home Depot, Mr. Frank Blake, read my blog and sent representatives to my local Home Depot to present those wonderful employees with a certificate of appreciation for their wonderful act of kindness to us! I love the power of a blog!

October 25, 2012

Leggo My Egg-ohhh. . .

How could she?

How could this sweet, so adorable-I-could-eat-her-up, sugar-voiced little imp DO such things???
Where some see sweet, adorable and precious I see a calculating, mischievous and methodical spitfire.
The latest crime is of eggstraordinary proportions.
I should have seen the precursor when Evie came down stairs last week with an egg in each fist and said, "Mom, here are the eggs from Eliza's room."
I went to the stairwell to see Eliza sulking at the top of the stairs holding a third egg, clearly thwarted by her sister ratting her out.
Fast forward to this week when I thought I would check Eliza's seldom-used pocket in her backpack to perhaps find some hidden artwork from preschool.  As soon as I unzipped it I was assaulted by the foulest and overwhelming odor.  After my eyeballs stopped watering I saw two crushed shell, half dried balls of goo and a third egg still intact.
"Eliza," I said in my sugar voice, "why do you have eggs in your backpack?"
"Becauth they don't have any eggths at thchool."
Of course.  How dull the pretend play kitchen must be when everything is just, you know, pReTEnD!
Being the quality wife I am, I made Alan clean it out when he got home.  Two days later we just can't get that smell out.
**Dear Minnie backpack, it has been a great two weeks use we have gotten out of you.  But backpacks - just like towels, sheets, shoes, underwear, pillows and anything else that gets bombed by putrid odor saturated fluids, are considered disposable to us.
Off to Target to get a new backpack, a fresh carton of eggs, and possibly a refrigerator lock.

October 05, 2012

Man Overboard

Thrown over by mom.  All is forgiven.

We like to keep our kids' immune systems strong, so some exposure to bacteria in river water every now and then keeps them healthy.

The last week of summer we had a young couple watch our two little ones and took the older three off for a river adventure down the Shenandoah.  It is an adventure that Alan and I did quite often before those others came along.  Instead of renting a cozy canoe for two this time, however, we rented the large raft for 6.  With 5 paddlers - that should allow us to reach the speed of a motor boat, right?  Well, the front person was paddling, another was paddling [backwards], another was swatting water bugs, another was on the floor of the raft with his swampy fingers digging in the bag of Cheetos and I was in back steering to make up for all of the other paddle commotion taking us adrift.  It made for a good 3-mile workout.

It was actually more like a 4-miler because we began by paddling up river to some fast moving shallows where we catch our own bait.  It is our secret spot stocked with hidden buried treasures of the most disgusting and juicy scorpion-like creatures called hellgrammites.  The bass eat them like candy and you can't hold your cast for more than 5 seconds without a bite.  They live under the rocks in the river and you catch them by placing your net under the fast flowing water and rapidly picking up and tossing the rocks in front of the net, which catches the bugs as the flow right into the net.  Eva was thoroughly fascinated, Sadie was equally freaked out.  Lance was mildly disgusted, not to be out-manned by his younger sister, however, he bravely held the bait bucket where we tossed them after netting them.

After we baited up we went off to fish and float.  Midway through the trip we told the kids to go cool off in the river.  Eva thought that was against the rules.  Whose rules that govern what I am not sure.  But after we satisfied her conscience, she jumped in.  Sadie, who is just as happy to be a rule-breaker if there were such restrictions on a person in a river, happily followed suit.  Lance. . . sweet, cautious, mild-gutted, Lance.  He wanted to just sweat it out in the raft.  No swimming for him in that cloudy green water.  That is, until I took charge from his blind spot and kicked him overboard.  He came to the surface completely stunned.  Then a smile took over his face and he loved every minute of being free floating in the beautiful, wild outdoors.

Alan and I lazily sunk down in the raft and took in the sun as the kids played around us in the water.  Complete bliss.  "This must be," he said, "what life is like for the other 99%."  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Any activity we do is made incredibly complex and exhausting when performing it with a 50 pound 'special' cutie on wheels (I could write a whole blog post on all the challenging elements that are included under the title 'special'.)  We felt like a normal family for a brief moment - where mom and dad can enjoy the activity, can spare a moment to smile at the other kids and at each other, and can enjoy a  brief moment of being perfectly still.

We finished our long raft trip and the kids excitedly chose a souvenir tee from the canoe shop.  We headed out to have a fun lunch followed by frozen custard, of course, and headed to the cabin for the night.  The cabin is such a different place without Bridger.  He loves it there and asks to go there almost daily.  But to be there without him added a whole other layer of relaxation.  No screaming, no exhausting moments of hauling him to and fro', sleeping in. . . you picturing it?  We dined at a quaint restaurant that was the original log cabin built around the natural spring in town dating back to the 1800's.  Again, no screaming, no throwing food, no vomiting.  Just delightful juvenile conversation.

The next morning we slept in until the ripe ol' hour of 8:00 (which is drastically sleeping in for us) and returned home to our two little ones who were anxious for our return.

Raft rental:  $$
Souvenirs:  $
Meals:    $$
Child Care:  $$$
Time alone with our Rat Pack:  Priceless

August 17, 2012

Looking in the Mirror

Have you ever seen a Dwarf Blue Sheep?

Me neither.

A Nothern Muriqui?


Seen a Malatan Large Spotted Civet?

Don't even know what animal family that might resemble.

Another Bridger?

Nope.  Until just recently.

All of those critically endangered species have populations larger than the occurrence of Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation in the U.S.  Less than 200 "Bridgers" in the United States, and I just saw a whole beautiful room full.

We recently headed to Chicago to the Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation Family Convention.  Not many people have that on their summer itinerary.  I can only imagine what the obligatory back to school essay of "What I Did This Summer" will say that will soon be written by my children.

We made record time driving across there in one day with our signature prize buckets that the kids could pick a new item from every two hours.  We arrived late at night and creatively configured our sleeping arrangement in our adjoining hotel rooms.

The closet was the perfect size for Eliza.  She was a little unsure of what her crazy parents were subjecting her to until we called it her "nest".  We made her nest full of fluffy things and told the little bird to get in.  She immediately assumed the roll and chirped into her nest where she happily slept the rest of our trip.

Sleeping arrangements on the road with Bridger become a little more complex.  He can't sleep in a regular bed and would never understand the concept of staying put in a sleeping bag.  My brilliant $19 solution has served us well for the past 3 years.  His little car tent - which is just the right size for an air mattress or extra blankets to pad and clear top and see-thru sides so he doesn't get anxious fit perfectly in the accessible bathroom. . .er, uh, I mean the attached suite.  Unfortunately, this trip he learned how to unzip the sides and get out.  Must applaud those skills, I suppose.  But I quickly thwarted them when I wrapped a twist tie around the interior and exterior zippers to keep him safely inside.  Quite proud of myself for thinking on the fly like that.

We came down to the restaurant to breakfast the next morning, I turned the corner and froze.  In front of me was the only CDG child I had ever seen.  I couldn't help but cry as I looked at his beautiful face, charming smile, long slender fingers softly shaking in the air and those amazing eyes that stare at you yet through you at the same time.  I hugged the mom.  I felt like I was hugging a long lost sister.  We made the introductions.  Cried some more.  Then we met another beautiful girl with CDG and her mother.  My kids were excited to see a brother just like theirs.  They were also excited to meet some typical children that had a brother or sister just like them.  Just as breakfast wrapped up and I had gained composure, we turned the corner to go and there was another CDG family with a boy just Bridger's age.  I lost it again as I hugged his mom.  This is my long lost sorority of women.

a new friend sharing her communication device with Bridger
We spent that day touring Chicago. The bucket list: Sear's Tower and Gino's famous deep dish pizza.  The girls were tickled to be someplace that they could actually write on the walls.  Hopefully Eliza won't bring any ideas home with her.

We had a private consult with a geneticist and then prepared for the Family Meet and Greet that night.  I couldn't ever prepare for such a sight. I walked in the convention room doors with my crew and then came those tears again.  Beautiful families, just like ours.  Little boys in wheelchairs and blue jeans with worn out holes from scooting.  Grandparents eagerly smiling to see the support that exists for their children and grandchild in an otherwise lonely existence.  Parents that had an extra smile of softness from understanding - because they have been doing this for decades more than me.  Moms that had my same weighted heart.  A room full of a lot of love.

I smiled as I watched my other children who felt quite at home.  While Lance was waiting in the buffet line, he was being kicked from behind by a boy in his wheelchair.  The mother apologized to Lance, who then exclaimed with a smile, "That's OK, I'm already SO used to feeling THAT!"

We met this beautiful baby and his sweet parents that reminded us of Bridger just a few years ago.  I couldn't get enough of him, nor could Bridger.

Bridger, always smitten with blondes, found this little cutie almost immediately and was vying for her attention every chance he had.

Then there was this sweet boy - Bridger's playmate for the evening.  Typical boys. They didn't want to be in the party, they wanted to be outside playing where the boy used Bridger's wheelchair for support as he pushed him around the courtyard.  I laughed until I cried. . . or maybe I cried until I laughed.  Whatever the order, it was the most beautiful sight.

The next couple days were workshops in genetics, research, neurology and a host of other mind-numbing lectures using big words that have become such an all too familiar part of my vocabulary.

We spent our final night at the famous Navy Pier.  Ferris wheel, carousel, greasy treats.  So much fun.

Bridger on the ferris wheel with his beloved Katie and her beloved Lake Michigan
Time to go home.  Time for lots more tears.  We packed up in the car and started our trek Eastward.  I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude.  What a beautiful experience we were all able to share and heartstrings connected with other families that will continue with me forever.

Bridger trying to drive this sweet and very tolerant boy's chair.

Then an hour into the journey home I was smacked back into reality as Bridger started throwing up somewhere mid-Ohio.  As Alan and I were anxiously watching for signs indicating an approaching gas station, one of the three oblivious children in the back announced her startling discovery, "Mom, it doesn't SMELL good in here!"

We found a truck stop that only had a hose with a nozzle the equivalent of a power washer and water so cold it must have been from Lake Michigan.  So we stripped Bridger down and started the Arctic power wash of him and his entire section of the car.  Yes, it was everywhere.  That plague accompanied us all the way home, only interrupted by the excitement of hitting a large bird smack in the middle of our windshield and the remaining bird guts that we couldn't scrub off to save our life.  He remained sick for the next 30 days - complete with all the doctor and hospital visits that accompany such illnesses for him.  Just a day in the life.

Nevertheless, we were glad to be home and in our own beds once again and are savoring the sweet memories of our opportunity to finally look in the mirror and see a reflection of ourselves.

June 27, 2012

Happy Campers?

When Alan and I were married, one of the gifts purchased for us from our registry was a very large tent.  We loved the outdoors and, anticipating having a large family one day, we wanted room to grow.  We got a lot of use from that tent early in our marriage and our friends that we went camping with often made fun of us for having such a enormous tent.

Then the babies started coming and our anticipated family camping trips never seemed to come to fruition.  The entire first decade of the 21st century found me pregnant (don't want to sleep on the ground in that uncomfortable state) or with a newborn (don't want to take those wee ones camping).  So besides the occasional back yard stint, that big tent gathered dust.

With that blurry decade now a distant memory and all the little ones somewhat more managable, I decided Father's Day weekend was perfect time to dust off that tent.  We bought Alan a great new sleeping bag for Father's Day that we were excited for him to use.  The girls and I readied all of the classic camping food and off we went to a fun campground.

Bridger was showing his ultimate excitement with our adventure by wiggling every muscle in his body as we walked into our campsite.  We set up the tent where the kids played while I got dinner ready.  Every few minutes Eliza would unzip the tent to yell, "MOM, 'sure having a good time in HERE!" - then disappear from whence she came and the tent would continue rocking.

We roasted hotdogs and invented a new s'more -- the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup S'more, which soon will be patented.  Bridger had to copy his siblings and hold a hot dog on a stick - even though he didn't understand the concept of proximity to the fire while holding that stick.  It was picture perfect, the camping trip of our dreams.

Then night came.

We nestled into our tent.  The once ginormous tent was filled to capacity and then some.  We gave Bridger his ipad to settle him down with.  There was no settling down Eliza.  She pounced and danced all over our faces.  Perhaps she had one too many of my signature s'mores.  Then the tent started shaking with the sound of dad's snoring.  Nobody was going to sleep through that.  So at 2am it was decided for the benefit of the other 6, that he was to go sleep in the car.  So that left me and the five kids - four of whom had finally fallen asleep.  Except for that naughty little thing.  She would not even so much as give a long blink.

Bridger also has uneven sleep patterns and as I lay there in the dark I would hear him wake up and go back to sleep.  That is, until I heard his older brother talking to him for some reason.  I said something in the fierce mom whisper that all mom's have, Lance rolled over and went back to sleep.  But his tent mate, thinking it must be morning now, hollered, "BRUDDER, BRUUUDDDDEEERR!" at the top of his lungs that echoed through the entire campground.

3:30 a.m., there I lay with two wiggly ones on either side of me, not having slept a wink.

The climax of misery happened when, at 4 a.m., I heard the car start from the parking lot down the trail.  Alan was freezing.  He finally came into the tent at 4:30 and I groggily welcomed him to join our party and offered a slurred, "happy. . . father's. . . day".  We finally got Bridger and Eliza to sleep around 5:45, woke up at 7 and came home.

Not sure if camping will be in our near future.  Miraculously, all that the other kids remember was mom's amazing s'mores, Alan remembers freezing in the car, and I remember how much I enjoyed Alan's new sleeping bag  - even with its 2 uninvited guests.