Friday, June 24, 2016

More fun than reading about the end of the world

I let the kids sleep in this morning before camp because they are so freaking tired that yesterday at pickup everyone started crying the second the minivan's motorized door clicked closed.  We made a last second decision to turn right instead of left out of the camp that turned out to be the wrong choice because we immediately hit a wall of traffic that didn't let up for miles, which meant that I was trapped in a hot minivan with multiple crying children at 5:30 in the afternoon.  And the gas light was on.

 I called Ryan from the gas station we finally made it to like "Dude.  You have got to figure out dinner because I. Justcanteven."

When we got home I told the kids to go change into the comfiest clothes they could find and then come back downstairs for a movie and some pizza, but then the neighbor ladies were getting together and the kids were playing but as it turns out, nope.  The kids were too tired to do even that.  So they hung out and watched a movie and ate pizza as planned.  While *I* hung out at the neighbor's because dang.

This morning Wes got up and put his Batman suit on for superhero day at camp.  Halfway there he started sobbing and yelling "WHO IS BATMAN WITHOUT HIS UTILITY BELT AND BATARANG?! *MOM!!!* WHO IS BATMAN WITHOUT HIS UTILITY BELT AND BATARANG?!"

Here's some free advice: don't ever laugh at an angry kid in a batman costume, no matter how irrational and hilarious he is being. Just don't.

He settled down by the time we got to camp. It's good they got to sleep late.

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Dropping the kids off later than normal meant that I didn't have time to work out, which is just as well because I'm still full from the two fried green tomato BLT sliders and order of fries I ate last night at ten o'clock with a couple of friends. YOLO.

Yesterday I picked up the little kids early and took them to the pool so James could get some practice in. He wants to take the swim test before we go out of town on Monday.

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And in other news, today is James's last day of preschool EVER. I'm sure I have some feelings about that buried beneath all the Tired and the Overwhelmed and the Horrified by the International and Domestic Political News. He's ready, but this has honestly caught me by surprise. Isn't he still a toddler? I thought he was still a toddler.

Weekend plans include scraping six weeks-worth of filth off of every surface in the house, finding and eliminating car smell of mystery, taking James to take his swim test, and avoiding all news outlets at all costs (HuffPo has me checking the sky to see if any chunks of it are coming loose. Even NPR is bumming me out today.).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

WELCOME TO OUR HOME!!11!

We are in the middle of figuring out what to do for after-school childcare for Charley, Wes, and James in the fall.  The afterschool program was fine for one kid and Not Fine for another and based on the conversations I had, there was really no way to work that out without crushing someone's spirit.  SO!  That leaves us to find another nanny to do school pickup.  This is, all around, a great solution for us anyway.  We tried to do it for a year after Miss N moved and it was fine, but I really missed having the kids be at home after school where they would not get in trouble for things like speaking and needing to go to the restroom.

So the other day when a college student posted on our neighborhood webpage that she was looking for part time nanny work in the fall  I immediately messaged her and called DIBBS.  She came over for dinner last night to talk 1) after I had to reschedule twice and 2) had two wrap two naked couch cushions in a quilt and force them into their spots on the couch because the covers need to be, ahem, dry cleaned after this week's stomach virus.

I had arranged for my neighbor to pick Charley up from camp, tidied the downstairs, and started cooking dinner.  She was due to arrive at five o'clock.

At four-fifty there were hamburgers on the stove, fries in the oven, two children screaming at each other in the back yard, and our new potential nanny pulling up on the street in front of our house.  Wes screamed "SHE'S HERE!" and immediately ran to answer the door as I poked my head into the back yard to find and eliminate the source of the screaming.

Which is how I met our new nanny.  She was standing in my driveway, having been greeted at the door by a feral seven year old (who then disappeared for several minutes).  I was walking a sniffling neighbor child through the side yard back to his house while calling over my shoulder to the other neighbor child that "Sorry, honey, we have a guest and will have to play some more tomorrow!  Thanks for coming!"

She was dressed nicely and wearing makeup.  I was sweaty and barefoot and surrounded by 50% more children than I had told her about in our correspondence.

I shook her hand and introduced myself, then put her at ease by noticing aloud that the top button of my shirt had undone itself and that everyone could see my bra.  Mary wandered out the open front door, hair askew, face sticky with strawberry juice.  I introduced her as she coiled her arms around my leg like a boa constrictor.

I introduced James and then had him walk his two friends home, which he did, walking carefully across the hot street barefoot (does anyone in this house wear shoes??).

And then we went inside where I suddenly remembered that I was COOKING HAMBURGERS.

I cheerfully chatted about her college and her major and where she was from as I put the finishing touches on the (thankfully not burned) hamburgers and put out strawberries and tomato slices and ketchup and mustard (she helped with these jobs, which was very nice), while simultaneously breaking up the loud fight James and Wes (who had reappeared as if by apparition by this time) were having in the backyard.  After the third time I had to yell out the door to KNOCKITOFF (!!!) James came inside and Wes spitefully let all the air out of the wading pool.

By dinner it was like a switch had flipped and the fighting stopped and everyone turned into Stepford versions of themselves.

"Wes, would you please pass the ketchup?" James trilled, while literally batting his eyelashes.  "Here you go, James!" Wes said, passing the ketchup around the table instead of lobbing it directly to James like a Hail Mary pass.  Mary asked "Can I have the strawberries pweese?" and then daintily scooped some out using the serving spoon.  They were smiley and polite and--it was WEIRD, you guys.  Our new friend commented "Wow, everyone is so well-behaved!" as Mary gazed at her beatifically.

With impeccable comedic timing, Charley came in, fresh from camp (and by fresh I mean sweaty and dirty and loveable).  "Hi guys!" he called out cheerfully from the kitchen door, before wedging himself between James and Mary at the table and DEMOLISHING a hamburger in about five bites, answering questions with head nods and grunts and minimal eye contact.  When he was done he spent some time retelling the Legend of the Snake in the Lake, complete with details like "it had red eyes and algae on its back" and reminding all of us (including Wes) that he was the one who yelled "SNAKE!" and made everyone get out of the lake before finishing up by asking if our new friend would like to hold one of his frogs.

I wondered if she was thinking about her career goal to "work with children with autism" because I certainly was.

And then I made one too many beer jokes in a misguided attempt to be cool and also spent an awkward amount of time talking about Miss N in a "maybe you're not ready for a new relationship" kind of way.  She asked if we knew who Duran Duran were and then waved her hand and said "Maybe you're too young.  My parents are into them."  Blink blink.

Mary began eating strawberries directly from the bowl with her hands.  When I asked her to please use the spoon, she began licking the serving spoon extravagantly.

All the kids asked to be excused (!!) and ran out to play.  While Charley talked to her about frogs I communicated with Ryan via facial expressions and gestures "What do you think?"  "Good!"  "OK!".  We talked through the details about what I need help with in the fall (basically, rides home and a warm body to be there while they have free time with possibly some light dinner prep and maybe homework help if someone is being punished).  She commented again about how well-behaved they are.  I tried not to giggle too much. 

  When I left to go to a class Charley was leading her by the hand to the hole in the ground where he finds all the frogs and James was showing her how he rides a two-wheeler.  I think she will be great.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend of James. And Sunrise Sunset

Our Father's Day Sunday plans were thwarted by the sound of a kid puking on the stairs at four o'clock in the morning.  We had planned on canoeing at the lake and having a picnic before maybe getting some ice cream and coming home to eat brisket from the slow-cooker  Instead we skipped church and hung around at home until it was clear everyone was getting really restless and it would be a good idea to get some kids out of the house.

So that's how Ryan spent Father's Day 2016 taking three kids on a bike ride on the neighborhood trail, having a picnic, feeding ducks, and catching crawfish while I watched Wes convalesce on the couch, read three People magazines, ate half a sheet of Rice Crispy treats, and fell asleep on the couch.  Festive!

They were gone for five hours and came home sweaty and happy.  Charley showed James some fish scales in his microscope, we ate dinner, took showers, and had everyone in bed right around seven o'clock.  James was asleep in SECONDS, which is good because House of Cards wasn't going to watch itself.

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ALSO THIS WEEKEND!!

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James graduated from preschool!!! (technically he still has a week left). It was a sweet little ceremony on the playground. He popped out of his chair when they called his name and walked proudly to the podium as the director read "This is James and he would like to be a WIZARD when he grows up!"

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It was hard to switch to a new school two years ago, because we really loved our cozy little church preschool, but this has absolutely been the best thing for our whole family. James loves it and has learned so much independence. His favorite thing to work on (calling things "toys" or "playing" is a Montessori no-no, this took some relearning on my part) was geography and he loves maps, which he comes by honestly. He has nice friends and two of them are headed to the same school with him in the fall for kindergarten. And it's not goodbye because Mary is going to be in the same class next year that James just left!

After the ceremony they had a carnival aka a two hour period in which we had only a general idea regarding the location of any of the children. I lost track of James for a little while there but looked up to see him ride by on a horse, not wearing any shoes. Hashtag montessori.

They also had snowcones. Unlimited snowcones. Charley ran up to me and proudly announced "If I eat one more snowcone, I'll break the record for most number of snowcones!!"

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Afterward we joined a couple of other families at a hamburger restaurant with a playground for the afterparty, which ended abruptly when we heard honking and looked up to see the three graduates peeing at the edge of the playground. #notthatkindofplace

Saturday night we took everyone to the pool for some summertime magical funtime and a dinner picnic. The big kids took their swim test for the year and passed with flying colors. When they ran off to go on the slides all by themselves James decided he'd had enough with floaties and hanging out with the parents and decided it was about time he learn to swim. We spent a few minutes passing him back and forth and encouraging him to KICK KICK KICK KICK! before I decided to just see what happened if I didn't grab him *right away* after he pushed off the wall and GUESS WHAT? He SWAM!!

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It was such an exciting moment. Just ask anyone at the Y pool Saturday night who heard me screaming "YOU'RE SWIMMING! JAMES YOU ARE SWIMMING!!!!!" I mean. We were at a pool, so DUH.

He spent the rest of our two-hour visit practicing every conceivable situation, learned to jump off the side and start swimming, and is completely ready to take the swim test and join his brothers on the slide. It will happen by the end of this week.

So I guess now that he can swim and has graduated from preschool and learned the word "balls" from his older brothers, he's really not a baby anymore. Sigh.

He wanted to teach Mary to swim after that, but I put my foot down. I WILL NOT HAVE ALL OF YOU JUST GROWING UP WILLY-NILLY. Mary still wears a floatie and calls ice packs "super duper colds" (as in, "I hurt myself, can I have a Super Duper Cold?") and sleeps with her bottom up in the air. Even though she is turning the age we do not speak of in August, we can still call her a toddler until then.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dinner Conversation

Last night at dinner I asked the kids how camp was that day.  The big story was The Snake in the Lake.

Charley began.  "I was swimming in the lake during waterfront time. I swam across to the other side and turned around and there was a huge gray SNAKE looking right at me."

(The appearance of the snake became more sinister with each telling. By the time Charley went to bed it had glowing red eyes.)

"Wow! What did you do?" I asked.

"I yelled 'SNAKE!!!!' and everyone started swimming back to the beach to get out.  And then! A lifeguard came over to where I was and yelled to the other lifeguard 'All clear! No snake!' then turned to me and said 'I totally see the snake, we just don't want people to freak out.'"

"Crazy!" I said.

Wes piped up. "I hardly got any waterfront time today because right after I got in someone yelled 'SNAKE!!' and we all had to get out."

Charley interrupted, talking with food in his mouth, "Yeah, that was me!"

Wes continued "AND, I hardly got any pool time either because I had to sit out for two minutes for some stupid reason and then there was a snake in the lake!"

"So what happens when there is a snake in the lake?" I wanted to know. "Do they allow the whistle and yell "SNAKE DRILL, EVERYBODY. SNAKE DRILL. EVERYONE BACK TO THE BEACH."

I laughed at my own joke, imagining a Jaws-like scene as a hundred Y-campers ran screaming from the lake.

Wes, looked at me with bored exasperation, "No, Mom. It was not a snake *drill* because there was an actual *snake*."

"Yeah, Mom, drills are only for practice. This was REAL. A real snake. And I am the one who saw it!"  Charley provided helpfully.

Wes was barely holding it together. "*I* was swimming with my friend Evan and he said he thought he kicked a snake and since I was the only kid with goggles on I swam under the water to see if I could see it but you can only see yellow under the water.  And because of Charley, I didn't get any time to play in the lake or go down the slide or see Chase or anything and the lake is the best part of camp and I missed it because of YOU!!"

Then he jammed his thumb in his mouth and laid his head on the table.

Charley expressed hope this morning that the counselors had safely relocated the snake. I am in the whack it with a shovel camp, but you know, I'm not a nine year old boy.

SNAKE DRILL.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Snippy Snippets

1. This morning Wes was in my closet with me helping me pick out my clothes for today. He fingered a blue and red striped dress and asked me "Is this only for when you are pregnant?" I responded, "No, I don't have any of my pregnancy clothes anymore." He seemed alarmed. "Why not?!" "Because I'm not going to be pregnant anymore," I responded distractedly. "WE'RE ONLY GOING TO HAVE FOUR KIDS?!" he wanted to know. "How come on Cheaper By the Dozen they get to have TWELVE KIDS?!" I didn't have a good answer, but was thinking in my head "DUDE, it is SIX O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING."

2. James has this pair of pink cowboy boots that he absolutely adores. He is only allowed to wear them to church on Sundays because they are Very Special and also because his teacher said the heels are too high for school and they were making him trip in the boys' room, a conversation that really deserves its own post except that being told my son can't wear his pink, high heeled cowboy boots to school doesn't register as high on my surprise and amusement scale as it used to. So he had his boots on at church on Sunday. During the service he asked if he could go get an orange crayon out of the basket of crayons they keep in the back of the sanctuary. When he came trotting back to the front where we were sitting, it was quiet and his boots made a clippity-clop noise as he ran. Ryan leaned over and whispered "THE REDCOATS ARE COMING!!" and I laughed so hard my nose started running.

3. The other night I was tucking James in before I went to bed and found a mysterious package wrapped in a pillowcase in bed with him. I removed the pillowcase to find a CANOLA OIL BOTTLE FULL OF *SLUGS*. I am accustomed to finding weird containers full of critters in weird places in my house, so I just took it downstairs and put it on the counter. In the morning we were eating breakfast and I picked up the bottle and asked if maybe the "friends" should go live outside where their food is. Mary looked at me with pity and scorn and said flatly "No, Mama. Those is James's pets."

4. For dinner on Sunday night Ryan grilled chicken legs using a recipe I found in a book I am loving called "A Homemade Year", that is like a tribute to my past when I had time for craft projects and making cinnamon bread and creating magical childhood memories for my (two) children. I am really enjoying the book and I am realizing that I have more time than I think I have. It's helping me rediscover the part of my self that is not living from one trash fire to the next. To go with the chicken legs, I cooked the rainbow chard and green beans we'd harvested from the community garden at the kids' school Saturday morning. It all looked so pretty on the plate I just had to take a picture of it. And this morning when I was uploading it I realized I got just a hint of the Mason jar I was using as a water glass in the shot. Fortunately you know me well enough that my life is way less Pinterest than this.

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Tonight we are likely having mac and cheese that I harvested from a box and maybe a veggie medley from my very own freezer because I will not have time to stop at the store between working outside the home and picking my kids up at camp, where I abandoned them all day to be raised by someone else (someone else with a pool, canoes, a zip line, and a neverending supply of neon colored chips).

5. Also, how on earth do you cook chard so that it does not taste like literal dirt and take fourteen minutes to chew each bite? Hippie fail.

6. We also made homemade ice cream yesterday. This cozy scene ended when someone put a crayon in the mixer. Later James found the plastic pull-tab from the whipping cream carton in his bowl. #magicalspecial

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7. Our enrichment activity for yesterday afternoon was to ignore their complaints of boredom, shut the door, and drink a beer on the back porch in our new Adirondack chairs repurposed from our neighbor's trash. It took nearly an hour, but ultimately they coalesced around a plan to build towers out of pool noodles in the baby pool then take turns crashing into them from the slide. It was fun for more than an hour until someone hit someone else in the face with a noodle and then it was time to come in for a dinner of grilled chicken and dirt-lettuce. We have a plan and it's called building character.

Friday, June 10, 2016

It was OK. Phew!

You guys have no idea how much all the emails, comments, phone calls, texts, and offers of alcohol and refined carbohydrates mean to me. I mean it. You guys are the best. Lesson number one: have good friends and vent all of your junk on the internet.

Also, an UPDATE:

After spending much of the day Wednesday staring at my computer in a stupor and experiencing a fight or flight response every time my phone made a noise (which was a lot because see above: awesome people), I bought myself an ice cream cone and drove to the camp for pickup. I finally got up the nerve to get out of the car and approach the pickup area, where I found Charley happily sitting on a bench he had made himself at the "carpent-ing" station (his word that is now my favorite), like "What? Yeah it was a good day, why do you ask?"

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Look at that sweet face, could you just die? Could we freeze time for just a little bit longer?

We picked up Wes and a friend and were invited in for a beer when we dropped off the friend and we had a perfectly lovely evening with earlyish bedtimes and happy children and I was left wondering if I'd made too much of the whole thing. Perhaps something I need to work on is allowing the kid to have a bad day once in a while like a normal person without turning it into a BFD existential crisis. Even though everything still FEELS like a BFD existential crisis, which is I think perfectly reasonable given our experience of the last two years (a realization I had when a psychologist came to talk to our Sunday School class about teenagers' brains and when I described our experience in the broadest possible terms to her she looked me hard in the eyes and asked who *I* was seeing to support *me*. Answer for now: my wonderful, long-suffering friends).

Yesterday was another good day because they went to a waterpark and did some other fun things I haven't been able to figure out and got a ride home with a friend and immediately jumped into our wading pool and ate tacos outside for dinner. We were supposed to have another friend stop by, but they ended up having a conflict which was just as well because around the time they were supposed to arrive James and Wes were engaged in hand to hand combat over, oh, I don't know, splashing? Slide rights? Who the hell knows what they are fighting about all the time.

But they were being really fun and cute for a while:

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I also took a picture of PTO (Pool Time Out, not Paid Time Off) in the name of journalistic integrity.

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Things came to a head when Wes maliciously let all the air out of the pool. We were upstairs angry-changing into pajamas and angry-teeth brushing when Ryan came home. Today we have after-camp dinner at the pool with friends plans that are absolutely pushing it as far as tired kids go, so next up you can expect either a hilarious rant about the time I had to carry four screaming children to the car or gauzy pictures of magical summer funtime Norman Rockwell #happychildhood #blessed nonsense. It will not be in the middle, this I know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

This is not a happy morning

Well, haven't the last eighteen hours been a fun disaster! It started yesterday with camp pickup, which was completely insane. The kids were in countries by groups and the groups were spread out on a field marked by their country's flag. Because I don't know offhand what the Bahamian flag looks like, this presented a problem. Since I was already tired and hungry, and Wes's group hadn't gotten back yet and Charley's group was in a different party of the camp altogether, and since I lost Wes when I was trying to find Charley only to find them calmly sitting together under a tree with Charley's group, totally ignoring the way I was storming around calling their names like a crazy person, I was in NO MOOD to receive the negative behavior report from Charley's counselor (that I had actually been expecting/dreading. And it was a Big Deal.).

So I spent the first several minutes of family togetherness for the entire day yelling incoherently into the back of a hot minivan at a kid who, as far as I can tell, does not give one shit about what I or anyone else thinks about his behavior.

We rode the rest of the way to pick up the little kids in silence, except for me crying in frustration. I attempted a few times to salvage the conversation by asking about how the rest of the day had gone, but my heart was not in it, though it probably should have been. Finally, my sweet complicated wonderful boy tiptoed into the water and asked cautiously "How was your meeting this morning, Mom?" And I told him in a strangled voice that it had been good, very good, my students had done a really good job and I was proud of them.

The rest of the afternoon was middling, we picked up Chinese before heading to our house and dove right into dinner when we arrived. Everyone had goofy fun using their chopsticks and reading their fortunes. It was a nice dinner. Afterward we ate leftover cake and went to the back yard together to blow up the pool, which turned out to be total chaos since we don't currently have a gate on our fence and Mary kept disappearing into the front yard or the back yard and I had to chase her and help set up the pool and answer a thousand questions from James and also it was hot and there were bugs and I was completely exhausted.

By the time Ryan got home I was not exactly June Cleaver, unless June Cleaver had off-camera F-bomb laced-tirades in the driveway when Ward arrived home after a long day at the office. Maybe she did?

Needless to say I did not sleep last night. Not sleeping is pretty much my plan for the summer since every week we have a new arrangement for childcare and new arrangements are scary and tend to go badly (as we saw yesterday!) for one member of the family. And of course this makes me feel like shit because we wouldn't even be in this situation if not for my selfish need to try and have a meaningful career. If we were just hanging around at home all day, eating watermelon by the pool and riding our bikes, everyone would be happy and no one would have to sit out BB gun time at camp for disobeying instructions.

But yesterday at work was a really, really good day. Which makes this all even more complicated in my head. Of course I should quit and focus on the kids. Clearly they need me. Of course I should keep working because after seven years of scratching together a research program, things are finally starting to happen. It is exhilarating and satisfying and 90% of the time works well with the kids' schedule. Of course the kids are most important. Of course my feelings matter. Of course the money I bring in, an increasingly significant chunk of our income, though not large in an absolute sense, especially given the number of years of education required for this job, is important to our family finances.

And even though I hadn't slept and was still feeling like I'd had the wind knocked out of me from the day before, I arranged myself into a picture of confidence and maternal warmth as I went about the process of waking everyone up to get ready. We focused on the positive. We were laughy and jokey during breakfast. All four kids squished on top of each other so they could watch Charley's frogs in their tank. Ryan took a picture it was so adorable. I started to relax.

And then the child in question went outside "to get some running in before camp", which is something we started doing when he went to his old school and had to tap off energy before being asked to sit in a classroom with the Wicked Witch of the West for seven hours. This was fine and, I thought, a great way to start the morning. Burn off the nervous energy and start camp with a calm brain! Except when I went out front to get everyone in the car he was attempting to drag a seven foot long plastic outdoor plastic toybox across the street from our neighbor's trash pile. I told him calmly and kindly that we were not going to bring that to our house and to please put it back. He responded by doubling down and ignoring me, getting out a hand truck from the garage to help move it. Still calm, but firm and serious, I told him to PUT IT BACK once again. He stalked back across the street and I had to ask him to go get the hand truck and put it back in the garage. SEVERAL MORE ITERATIONS of this occurred and by the time I was ready to take the little kids to school I was FUMING. That's when one kid asked his brother to help him by running across the street to put a sign on the box that said "not trash", which we had already clearly and explicitly told him not to do.

And the crazy, driveway yelling she-devil came out again.

Yelling at your kid in the driveway at seven thirty in the morning is both classy and a great way to start the morning off on the right foot.

I backed out of the driveway and parked my car directly in front of the box, got out, ripped the sign into little tiny pieces, and shoved it into my friend's recycle bin, then got back in my car with a loud SLAM and drove the little kids to school.

And then I went to the Y.

I wanted to go get a breakfast taco and a donut, but I've been doing so well at losing the 2014 (the year of the shitstorm) weight that I told myself I had to at least attempt to deal with the rage in a healthy way before worshiping at the altar of the carbohydrate. I still felt like a treat after that but was able to stick to an iced tea and the popcorn I'd brought in my lunch. Calories saved: 10,000.

And now I will attempt to read about rain and El Nino and ozone and do all the things that are so freaking important that I have to *force* my kid to go to an awesome camp that has a waterslide and archery and arts and crafts and snack all day. My self-care plan involves leaving a bit early to stop at the grocery store BEFORE pickup and also to buy the Hamilton soundtrack on Amazon and listen to it in my office at an unprofessionally loud volume.