Monday, June 18, 2007

Camp Mather, Part II

The second of two overly verbose descriptions of a week spent at a rustic resort. Feel the pain of the Drunken Housewife as her children chant, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" Thrill along with her tales of boredom and alcohol amongst the frolicking bourgeoisie:

Day 4

Iris, Lola and I slept through an earthquake and almost slept through breakfast. In line at breakfast, the earthquake was all everyone could speak of. Joyce became fearful for her cat Bobo's safety back in San Francisco, while her husband longed for news to come that it was in fact a neutron bomb. He admitted to a survival strategy for neutron bombs, but a failing in his plan was that he estimated canned food would last him only the first three years or so and he had nothing set up for thereafter.

For the first time since I arrived at Camp Mather, I had some energy. I took Iris for a shower and then organized our cabin, draining the cooler and getting fresh ice. I rinsed out Iris and Lola's tie-dyed shirts, which turned out to be satisfyingly garish, and did a load of laundry. After lunch, my energy was gone, and I was left to beg the children to nap with me.

I perked up, though, later, and we played badminton. My sister and I hated each energetically throughout our whole childhood, but in the summer, we used to play badminton. We were good at the game, and on the rare occasions we played someone outside the family, they were usually surprised at our prowess. Playing badminton with Iris and Lola is very frustrating. Lola just wants to throw the birdie back and forth with her father and brandish her racket threateningly. I taught Iris how to serve, and she could do it quite competently, but she'd take five or six practice swings before each serve, and it was rare that she could return a shot. Finally the children tired of badminton, and Anton and I were able to play. For a while, I was playing quite well, but then at the husband's requests we moved to the other court, where he'd no longer have the sun in his eyes and I occasionally had it in mine. My performance sank as a result.

At night, it was family bingo night! Iris and I had been traumatized the year before when we couldn't find seats (various people were hogging huge swathes of tables and chairs for their imaginary friends and families who were supposed to show up later. Eventually a kind man made his wife yield some space to us, but for a while, we were sitting on the floor). This year, we went very early. Iris was so excited that she kept singing, "B-I-N-G-O" to the point of insanity. I won a round of Bingo, gratifyingly enough, and it was a "good neighbor" game, meaning the people sitting near me, Iris and Joyce, also won certificates for ice cream cones. Iris was beside herself with joy. "I like life! Life is great!"

When I went to perform my evening ablutions, a mother was screaming at her children in the women's bathroom. "Goddamn you!" She was sitting on her generously proportioned rump, screaming at an older child to help a younger one get into pajamas. "She's only eight! She needs help!" I didn't understand that, as nearly-eight Iris has been dressing herself since she was a toddler. I wondered how this woman talks to her children in private, if she's willing to scream "Goddamn you!" in a women's bathroom.

Day 5

I woke up, and Anton was missing. I assumed he'd gone to check his voicemail and email again, but it turned out much later that he went exploring around by bicycle for hours. He told us that he wanted to return to somewhere he'd hiked to with a naturalist's guide in order to to identify a flower he saw. The children found that plan repugnant. Iris complained of boredom. Anton asked her if she'd like to go see his flower, and she retorted, 'I want to reduce my boredom, not add to it!"

At breakfast we ran into Jack, a man I'd had a spirited conversation with on a prior day in the breakfast line. His attention had been caught by the the book I was carrying, "Send In The Idiots" (a book written by an autistic man who sought out his former classmates at a pioneering program for autistic children to see what had become of them in adulthood). Jack told my husband how fascinated he'd been to hear about this book from me, and the husband was embarrassed to have to admit that he had no clue what I was reading. "She reads so many books."

After breakfast, we imposed a hike on the children. It doesn't take long to hike away from Camp Mather to quiet trails near the canyon, with bees, birds, and wildflowers everywhere. The husband and I were enthralled by the nature, but the children whined incessantly about the heat and perked up only when we're back to camp. "I hear Camp Mather!" said Lola ecstatically as we drew within earshot of the dusty little playground by the badminton courts.

Anton cooked up a plan with Joyce for her to babysit Iris and Lola. His plan for us: a very long hike. My plan for us: to go to the bar at the Evergreen Lodge down the road from Camp Mather. But first, horseback riding for me and Iris and a burro ride for Lola. At the stables, the other two children signed up for the same ride wore helmets. Anton and I exchanged a familiar, long look, the look of underprotective parents surrounded by overprotective parents. A girl who looks about 12 was extremely distraught over having to wear her bike helmet on the ride. Her father clearly still thinks of her as a little child, because he tried to cheer her up by offering to blow bubbles on her stomach, going so far as to tug at her shirt and bend over towards her stomach, but she became nearly hysterical with embarrassment.

The ride, billed as an hour-long beginner's horseback lesson, was over a surprisingly rough trail. There are branches so low over the trail I had to repeatedly duck. At a couple of points, the terrain was covered with large rocks and indeed, boulders, over which the horses pick their way carefully and bumpily. On one of these stretches, we went downhill at such a steep angle over the boulders that I became highly alarmed and gripped the horn of the saddle so hard that my hand got cramps. Iris admitted later that she was a little scared at that point, but I suspected it was only because I poisoned her mind by describing it so floridly to Anton afterwards.

When we returned, Lola jumped up and down with excitement at seeing her mommy on a horsie. Anton explains that they led Lola's rented donkey, Jingles, over to Joyce and Phil's cabin, where they had to be very quiet because two year-old Violet had just gone to sleep. Anton and Lola fed Jingles a whole bag of apples, and Jingles slobbered voluminously all over the steps of Joyce's cabin, and Anton had to clean up the donkey spit. (I resolved to hear Joyce's side of this later).

Lola was sad at being babysat, but Anton was thrilled and even shaved in preparation for our date. We drove away from Mather, seeking a particular trail to some highly-touted waterfalls, but we thought we drove too far and end up walking by the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne River. I was paranoid about bears because Claudia the Camp Mather manager told how there used to be a campground at the exact spot we were hiking, but it was relocated due to too many bear run-ins. We didn't see any wildlife, but it was peaceful being away from the bustle of Camp Mather, middle-class San Franciscans everywhere you look.

After our walk, we went to the bar at the Evergreen Lodge, a cute, rustic bar with $10 cocktails. I had a couple of Moose Drool ale and Anton an Arrogant Bastard. Eager to gather news of the outlying world, I asked the bartender my two burning questions: "What was the Richter of that earthquake, and is Paris Hilton still in jail?" [Answers: 4.6 and yes]. We split a couple of appetizers and a single entree. I was tempted to use the internet at the lodge rec room, but I resolved that it was good for me to be on an internet vacation, so I virtuously paid attention to my husband instead.

We got back to Mather early, and Lola was in fine fettle, running around and climbing rocks with Baby Violet (who will be called "Baby Violet" by our family until she's old enough to be offended, at which point HOPEFULLY we will be able to drop the "baby" sobriquet. I hope that unlike the stomach-bubble-blowing father, we're able to treat a 'tween with dignity). But poor Iris was very upset and having a hard time holding back tears: she suffered a trifecta of insults in our absence. First, as Lola described it: "Iris was just holding Joyce's hand when a MEAN, VICIOUS BOY came riding along this fast on his bike [Lola demonstrates by running as fast as she can] and RAN RIGHT INTO HER. And she cried, and I cried." Then at dinnertime Phil and Joyce mistakenly assumed the corn dogs were vegetarian, and Iris accidentally ate some, which was extremely upsetting to this vegetarian-to-the-bone child. (Lola, in contrast, remarked the other day that she wanted to try "chicken and meat", which I did not answer. Iris shouted, "That's gross!", though). While Iris was very upset about having eaten meat, a girl from her school, came by and cross-examined her about her vegetarianism, unable to understand Iris's being upset. "If you were starving to death and there was meat next to you, would you eat it? How do you feel if meat touches you?" and on and on. This made Iris feel freakish and all the more upset. Poor Iris was in a funk all night.

At night, I had some insomnia again, and I decided to execute a previously-thought-of plan of watching for bears. Reportedly bears prowl through Camp Mather every night, and in my wakefulness, I could hear a sound like a bear in the distance trying to open a dumpster. I wrapped up in a wool blanket and left the cabin. However, I soon lost my bear-observing nerve, feeling naked without my wooden exoskeleton, and decided to go back to bed.

Day 6

We nearly slept through breakfast, and I didn't feel like making the kids go to the dining hall and instead authorized them to watch an episode of "the Simpsons" on Anton's laptop while I showered. This made Anton cranky with me, and he made the girls get dressed and go eat a bowl of generic Cocoa Puffs (after giving in on the going-to-breakfast issue, I had them eating scrambled eggs and hash browns, but Mr. Nutrition brought them Cocoa Puffs, which stopped the nutritious eating cold).

After breakfast, Iris and I hiked to a nearby "lake" (they call every body of water greater than a puddle a "lake" here. I would call this particular geological feature a "small pond" myself). Last year, this "lake" was the most vibrantly alive natural spot I had ever seen, with frogs, birds, bugs, fish, and even water snakes teeming about. However we just had a dry winter, and so the pond was only about a third of the size it was last year. We didn't see any snakes, but we heard bull frogs and occasional splashes signifying fish or frogs. It was a hot, dusty walk back to "Birch Lake" (another modestly sized pond) to rendezvous with Anton and Lola. They had achieved the goal of capturing a polliwog, putting it into a bucket to admire it, and then releasing it back into the wild.

At this point, I became overcome with a head cold. I've never had a cold hit me so suddenly. I arrived at the pond feeling hot and dusty but healthy, and within a short period of time, I was severely congested, groggy, and miserable. I spent the afternoon in bed with a box of Kleenex, utterly miserable.

Anton took Lola to the nearby Evergreen Lodge to check his email. Lola found this boring. Anton wanted to discuss the drama going on at his start-up employer, but I was feeling too miserable to hear it (bad spouse!). I had only enough energy to sit around reading, and Iris kept me company with volume eleven in the Lemony Snicket series. My ten year-old acquaintance stopped by and ruined the ending of the entire series for Iris, informing her that "they kill Count Olof in Volume Thirteen." Iris had held an irrational distaste for this child the whole week, and now finally she had a reason to get her hate on.

Some days earlier, Joyce and I had committed to volunteering at the T-shirt table this evening, and Iris was keen to help, wanting to outsell Joyce. "I'm a cute little girl! I can sell more!" I felt so miserable, but I dragged myself down with a box of Kleenex. It turns out that the two oldish men who were representing the Friends Of Camp Mather in the merchandising department had a lot of emotional attachment to how things were done at the table. I set up the t-shirts, but it seems I did it all wrong, and it had to be redone by one of the men. I'm not sure why we were recruited to work at the table, as our superiors pretty much remained there the whole time, surveying us with an eagle eye. We couldn't run our foreseen raffle ticket sales competition, because only one book of raffle tickets could be used to sell under the established system (this was to keep the tickets in numerical order and thereby have a record of which numbers were sold, but it lowered our efficiency hugely and was frustrating, as someone would actually want to buy raffle tickets at the table and we'd have to say, "See that little girl over there? As soon as she's done selling that ticket, you can buy some from her."). Perhaps the gentlemen knew what they were doing in staying about, as surely Joyce and I would have broken out the other, forbidden raffle ticket book in a drive for greater efficiency.

Iris and Lola fought over who could be in charge of holding the money envelope with the raffle ticket proceeds.

The older gentlemen in charge of the table generously bought buttons for the girls and presented Anton and me with Friends of Camp Mather Volunteer buttons. One of them reminisced about what Camp Mather had been like after the end of WWII. It seems that back then, it was all about volleyball, no basketball, and the returned WWII vets loved to play volleyball. It was played on asphalt, as injuries were not considered so important back then. Other than that, apparently it's still much the same.

In the evening, the talent show Iris had signed up for finally happened. Iris knows a good magic trick (I shall conscientiously not reveal how this is done), and I was her assistant. "Ever since Iris was born, she has been a magical child with amazing powers! Iris, how would you like to demonstrate your powers this evening?"

"I would like someone in the audience to hold up fingers for a number from one to ten." Iris then disappeared backstage, and I cautioned the audience not to speak the number out loud. I chose an adorable little girl to pick the number and summoned Iris back, and she easily got it right. This was highly satisfactory for Iris. After the children's talent show, I went back to the cabin, soon joined by Lola, feeling too miserable for more society.

Day 7

I woke up feeling miserable and skipped breakfast. After breakfast, I had an unsolicited, hemorrhagic nosebleed which lasted much of the morning. Mere tissues were meaningless to this nosebleed, and I ended up using a bath towel. Later I managed to drag myself down to the pool to meet the children and husband. I had another gigantically profuse nosebleed in the afternoon, and I felt groggy and miserable.

Later I rallied somewhat and drank some Prosecco and mixed up some margaritas with the strawberry-infused tequila I'd dragged along, plus some simple syrup I'd made the night before leaving and some Cointreau. Joyce and Phil were a bit shocked by the strength of these margaritas, served on the rocks, but I credited their vigor with getting me down to the family dance. Iris had looked forward to this dance all week, but her mood was dampened after an altercation with her father over whether she could get a CD called "Italian Cafe." Iris had somehow gotten an employee of the camp store to let her take this CD on the promise she bring back the money later. Anton lost his temper for awhile over this, but the shared Italophilia of a mother and child who once shared the joys of Rome and Venice cannot be denied.

At the dance, my ten year-old acquaintance kept doing the robot over to Iris and me and making rather suave eye contact, then roboting off. Iris, her spirits still quashed from the CD altercation, asked to leave early because she was tired, and given my cold, I took her up on it.

Day 8

I woke up feeling utterly miserable, with a pounding sinus headache and a runny nose. Thankfully the ever-energetic Sober Husband was more than up to the task of bundling up all our possessions, loading them into our U-haul, and driving us posthaste back to the city. We were on a tight schedule to get Miss Lola back in time for the pirate-themed party of her preschool paramour, the boy whom she intends to marry some day (the nominated groom is himself silent upon that issue). Upon our return, all the pets were living, the house was clean, the poppies had burst into glorious bloom, and I said, "Best. Housesitter. Ever!" to the husband.

And herein ends our tale of Family Fun amongst those famed thrillseekers, the middle class families of San Francisco. Stay tuned for next year's installment!


Anonymous said...

I feel like I was there. Great post. I particularly like the wooden exoskeleton. (I wish I'd thought of that, Damnit!)


I'll be in SF by Thursday! Hurray!!!


hughman said...

who assumes corn dogs are vegetarian?

Anonymous said...

I loved hearing every minute of it. And why would corn dogs be vegetarian, and if they were filled with some soy version of a hot dog, would it be something you'd want to eat?

I'm sorry for your head cold. I came down with one two vacations ago and learned no one cares when Mom is sick until you get the look of death on your face, and don't care.


the Drunken Housewife said...

In actuality, vegetarian corn dogs (as manufactured by the Morningstar people) are one of the Sober Husband's standbys. He serves vegetarian corn dogs with catsup often, when I don't feel like cooking. He himself can eat four at a sitting, with a lake of Heinz.

I think Iris ate the corn dog in large part because she's used to eating vegetarian ones with her father.

Freewheel said...

Days 6-8 sound pretty miserable. Hope you're feeling better now.

Never tried a vegetarian corn dog.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a vegetarian, but those veggie corndogs rawk, and you don't have to deal with the Fear Factor gross-out brain weasels that go with the other kind of corndogs.

hughman said...

to clarify, i wasn't questioning IUA choice of eating a corndog but her babysitter's choice. as always, IUA is beyond reproach (and i'm sure she'd agree).

Anonymous said...

Great, great story!! I found this blog one day when I googled "Camp Mather". As it turns out I was actually there that same week with my kids. ( I figured that out when you talked about the earthquake) I'm sorry to hear that the end of your week was not too great, but I hope you had some fun. I did!!

Hopelessly middle class san franciscan said...

although I read both part 1 and part 2.. I don't find her funny. If you are so much better than camp mather, GO!!!

Leave the camp with it's crowd of wonderful San Franciscan's, tons of children on foot and bikes, lake, lagoon and pool to those who do love it.

Shhhhhhhhhhh, some of even get away to other destinations during the summer and love those destinations just as much as we love our Camp Mather Week.

May we never be at Camp on the same week!

the Drunken Housewife said...

Well, honey, just stay away from Week #1! That's my week!!!

My kids love Camp Mather. So it's not my dream vacation (my favorite vacation destinations to date are Borneo, Panama, and Venice); it's a lovely family activity we do. That's nice for you that you can afford to take another trip as well; maybe next year I'll be able to as well (but maybe not, by then I'll have two kids in private elementary school).

Anonymous said...

Wearing a bike helmet or other helmet while riding a horse is NOT overprotective. Horses are wonderful creatures that I love, but even expert riders get surprised by the unpredicted stumble. They don't call them brain buckets for nothing. Just because Americans have romantic notions about the cowboy hat, doesn't mean you would enjoy scrambled brains.