Coming home from camp is like returning from an enchanted forest through a wardrobe, or re-entering earth's atmostphere from space: you are leaving a magical place for an ordinary one. Home: a place you missed, filled with people you love but who just don't understand.

When I went to get Lu from Lantern Creek on Friday, I was semi-prepared for this bittersweet adventurer's homecoming. I wasn't prepared for how tall and tan and self-possessed she would be. How her teeth would fit her head better. How she would seem so in command of herself and her world.

She took me on a tour of camp, where I've been a few times, and feel like I know intimately because I've watched Liz and Sunni give birth to it these last two years. But I hadn't seen it through her eyes.

She showed me the Muse (the theater), where she played Wendy in their version of Peter Pan. I met Courtney, her BEST FRIEND IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I met various campers and counselors named Shout, Cupcake, Snowflake, Nando, Table, Shiva, and Vulture (fun exercise: what's your camp name? I am still working on mine). When I asked "Toad" her real name, she looked at me earnestly. "Just Toad," she said. And I liked that.

Lucy showed me the place she learned to use a drill and wield a hammer. Where she built and nailed her "one word" on a sign post (her word was "brave"). On the way to Mr. Barrett's Lake, she pointed out the tall grass where the ogres live, noting that ogres are only a little bigger than gnomes, but a lot uglier (I always thought ogres were really big, but I am not an expert on magical creatures).  At the lake, she showed me where Pixie (Liz) taught her to canoe. (Note: Liz also taught me to canoe. I was cool and didn't cry.) Lu tried to introduce me to Jerry, the rabbit who lives in a thicket near the garden, but he was otherwise engaged.

We walked by the room where the Dames meet — the Dames is her camp team, one of three teams alongside the Terras and the Gypsies. On the car ride home, I asked her what is means to be a Dame and she said, "Dames are confident and brave. You know, Mom — a Dame? A female warrior?" Duh. I always knew what I had on my hands, but until she drew the purple bead marking her as such, I didn't have such a perfect name for it.

Jason asked her about Jane's Night, a Ren-fair-style evening program that's a magical celebration of the legendary founder of Lantern Creek: the Dread Pirate Jane Brilliant. Now, I have known the founders of Lantern Creek since the early 80s, and neither of them are pirates (unless you count some unfortunate hoop earrings). Jason asked who Jane Brilliant was, and Lu, exasperated, said, "She invented the stars, Dad." Duh. This is the power of magic.

On the way home from camp, we stopped to eat at a Subway in Navasota (perhaps one of the least magical places in Southern U.S.), and she sat in the plastic booth staring into her bag of Sunchips, a bereft version of the self-possessed girl I'd seen at camp.

"What's wrong, babe?"

"I just don't feel right."

"Are you sick?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I'm glad to be coming home, but I just don't feel right not being at Lantern Creek. I belong there."

It's like she had the emotional bends.

Yesterday, we went to see April in the hospital, where is she recovering well from a mitral valve replacement that will (fingers crossed) give her a huge and long overdue quality of life improvement. April chose "Luna" as her Lantern Creek name, and in her honor, the girls at Lantern Creek sing every evening in a ceremony they call "Circle Luna." As a get-well card, Lu drew April a picture of Circle Luna, with all the girls saying goodnight. As Lu described camp to April, I could tell she thought April got it more than I did (April has a strong capacity for magic).

My adventuress-astronaut-dame was home all of 44 hours before we put her on a plane (gulp) all by herself to see Baga and Opa in El Paso. And that was just enough time for her to do her own laundry. A skill she learned at Lantern Creek.

So big. So great.

What it Looks Like When Your Dream Comes True

For a long time, camp was the only place I ever felt like I belonged. My real self would hibernate until summer, when I could go to a place that celebrated all my enthusiasm, creativity and strangeness. At camp, I was seen and known and loved.

And part of what helped me feel that way were these two counselors I had, who have now become my great friends. They graduated from camp and into their own "real lives," but had this lingering idea: what if we had our own camp?

After eight years of imagining, handwringing, sketching and dreaming, they bought 100 acres and some stark cabins in the piney woods of East Texas. And you know what those crazy fools did? They made a summer camp.

A place of belonging. A place for girls to make their art, tell their story, find their voice. If I could have conjured the ideal place for my enthusiastic, creative and strange daughter — and my own eight-year-old self — it would be Lantern Creek. She's there now, just wrapping up the evening's closing circle, watching the sun set on a dream come true.

Oh, and that's the two of them — Piper and Pixie (a.k.a. Sunni and Liz) — in the photo above. Just another day at the office.

Conversations with Milo

I have many things to share with you, dear reader(s), and I will, don't worry. But, in the mean time, I leave you with this snippet of conversation, which captures the verbal and rhetorical advances he's made since I last wrote. Milo, after throwing a colossal fit and weedling his way into being rocked to sleep: "Mama, I like to rock."

Me: "I like to rock, too."

Milo: "I like rocket ships. Do you like rocket ships?"

Me: "I do."

Milo: "I don't like bugs. Do you like bugs?"

Me: "I like some bugs. Ladybugs are bugs. Butterflies are bugs."

Milo: "No, they not."

Me: "They are bugs."

Milo: "No, they not — I like them. Can you sing a song now?"

I grasped mentally for a song about bugs, then defaulted to Beatles without explaining myself to him, but felt superior nonetheless.

Child - Good Hair, Partially Potty-Trained - Best Offer or Free (Austin)

Craigslist won't officially let you sell children, but, at current writing, I am willing to let Milo go for a really good price on the black market. Milo, a student of the Lu school of dramatic arts, is  just a turban and some eyeliner away from his close-up, Mr. de Mille. Only he doesn't fully speak English and he still poops his pants.

Seller would also consider rental.

[It's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests or other children. Because we have plenty of those already.]

A Sampling of Today's Conversations with My Children

Exhibit AOn the way to school, Milo went on this diatribe made up of animated, complex and unintelligible sentences. As best I could tell, his narrative had lots of action — I made out several "...and then..." statements where he was stringing together descriptions of things that happened. He also seemed to convey strong feelings of injustice and outrage: scowling, pursing his lips, shaking his hair and, at one point, saying, "NO, I don't like that!" Then, to close, he explained, "Lucy MY sistoe. She not you sistoe. You her mommy and you my mommy and she my sistoe!" And then he looked at me in the rear-view mirror expectantly. Like he wanted applause for his monologue.

Exhibit B After we dropped Milo off, Lu stuck her head out of Harry Potter long enough to notice that we were driving past T3, my old (and still beloved) agency. She asked about our friends that still worked there, and I talked about a few people, including "Mr. Lee and Ms. Gay," whom Lu remembers not just as my bosses but as great hosts who always showed her a good time (and continue to invite her out to the ranch).

About ten seconds later...

Lu: Mom, what does gay mean?

Me: Well, it's a name, like Ms. Gay–

Lu: I know, and Mr. Gay, the second grade teacher, but I mean, the word. You know?

Me: Well, you know how Dad and I love each other romantically — we are together? Do you know what I mean by that?

Lu: Uh huh.

Me: Well, sometimes men and women love each other, like Dad and I do, and that's being straight. And sometimes people who are the same gender love each other [I go on to enumerate the many friends and family members in our tribe who are gay], and that's being gay.

Lu: Oh.

When I Am Old

Lately, I have found myself griping about being old, but it's only vanity talking. This weekend, I saw what old looks like. And I want some of it. We had a Ratliff-Major family reunion and celebrated the birthday of Minnie, who turns 90 in August. I started to refer to her as "Aunt Minnie," but quickly dispensed with that, as she is my first cousin twice removed, not my aunt. What's more, her own children and grandchildren call her simply Minnie, because "how much cuter of a name than that do you need?" Indeed.

Minnie retired from her pediatric practice in Chattanooga less than two years ago, after nearly 60 years taking care of children of every class and color. She went to medical school at a time when the secretarial pool was a high ambition for women, joining her male cousins in a strong showing of physicians throughout the family. She reminds me very much of Uncle Bob — the shape of her chin, her jokes, her direct manner.

Minnie uses a walker, but she thinks it was the skiing that did her knees in, not old age (she gave up skiing in her 80s). She is a bit concerned about Lu's allergies, and recommended something (Claritin? I wish I could remember because I need free medical advice). She thinks Milo seems just fine. She says it's okay if Jason and I have just two children, because we are busy, and the ones we have seem good. She loves music. She is doted on by her brood of bright, sweet, talented people — the kind of people I like to have as friends and am lucky enough to call cousins.

Minnie has done so much. And she is not done.

When I am old, I want to do all the things I love doing — loving, mothering, traveling, working, being a friend, cooking, exercising, making fun of you — until I am done. On my 90th birthday, I want to be by the creek in Wimberley, doted on by the bright, sweet, talented people I love. I need to check with my cousins first, but I bet you will be invited.

Sneaking Around 101

Tonight Milo went into our bedroom, and I followed along, because we were playing, and I assumed I was invited. And also it is my bedroom. After I crossed the threshold, he stopped short and said, "You go out there," pointing to the door. He has been deliciously clingy for the past 48 hours that we've been home from Europe, so his sudden desire to be alone was fishy. Then it dawned on me...his sudden desire to be alone with the television. He said again, "Mom, go out there. Shut the door." And I said, "Milo, are you going to watch TV?" And he tucked his chin and looked up at me through overgrown blond bangs and said, "You go out there." "Milo, we're not going to watch TV right now." Then, defiantly, he turned on the TV, I turned it off, and the whole exchange just fell apart hysterically.

I was torn between feeling thankful that he hadn't been able to lie and thinking, "Dude, be less obvious and you could maybe get away with it."


Lucy is eight years old! I started this post with maudlin and graphic recollections about what I was doing at this very moment eight years ago, but I decided instead to write about Lu. We think a lot as parents about our role in helping our children become good people, and with this in mind, I surveyed my child:

Lu is a highly relational creature. A billboard we drive by, a story on NPR, something they’re reading in language arts, weather reports, overheard conversations between adults: she is always trying to relate the information to experiences in her own life. Making connections is her most persistent narrative.

When Lu says something, she will repeat it until you have responded in some way (and nodding your head doesn’t count). She wants to be heard.

She argues and negotiates constantly. Jason has banned the word “wait” from our family vocabulary and if he could ban “but,” I think he would. This kid is ready for the Supreme Court.

She empathetic and kind and melodramatic and impulsive. She is both flamboyant and nuanced in her communication. She reads social cues well. She cares about other people, but she wants to (and likely will) have her own way.

Her curiosity is exhausting (to her and to us). Her creativity is boundless (ask to see the wallet she made out of duct tape).

She is an optimist with a consistent capacity to forgive. She can be in a wailing heap on her bedroom floor over some injustice of the mother regime one minute, then saying “Mom, can we start over?” the next.

Knowing how much I admire and love the person Lu already is, I am forced to reconsider my job as a parent: maybe I’m not supposed to help her become anything, but to keep safe all these great qualities so she can be, into adulthood, all that she already is.


I was on a work call when I pulled up in the driveway tonight (late. sigh). Lu was riding her scooter, circling near my car and making a funny face every time she got near my window. When she signaled me to roll down the window, she was polite and experienced enough to stage whisper, "MOM, WHY ARE YOU STILL SITTING HERE ON THE PHONE?" And I said, "Go ride some more, kid. I am enjoying watching you, and I'm almost done."

She rode manic circles, still waving with every round. And after two minutes, I got out of the car and paced around the driveway as she rode, still on the phone. During one pass, she intercepted a shred of conversation: the word "hash." As in "hashtag," as in Twitter strategy, as in let's talk social media, as in my job — and she said "HASHBROWN??!!!" and started cracking up and rode her bike around saying "hashbrownhashbrownhashbrown." At which point I had to get off the phone because everything I was talking about was instantly less interesting than breakfast potatoes.


Sometimes, when you are very busy with your very important life, and your baby son (who is very busy being a boy and not a baby) wants your attention so much he says "Mommymommymommy" in several different charming voices, then puts both his tiny hands on your cheeks and turns your face toward his to look right into your eyes (he is scowling up through long blond bangs that need a trim and long blond eyelashes that are really too much) and says, finally, "Mommy " You stop.

This pause gives you room to think, "This is a good life. And this kid really should run for office."

Then you are back to the brushed nickel drawer pulls and the laundry and the current legal environment surrounding Pinterest. But you are smiling.