Passing The Torch

I pulled the box of camping supplies from the rafters in the garage. Jody and I are veteran tent campers: Boundary Waters, New Zealand, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, Itasca State Park and more. Crystel and a group of her friends were planning their first camping trip without adults over MEA weekend.


I asked her their destination. Pattison State Park south of Superior, Wisconsin. Situated on the Black River, the park contains Big Manitou Falls, the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. Besides the waterfalls, this park also featured Interfalls Lake, a beach and over 10 miles of trails for hiking.  The reviews of the park were excellent.

She wasn’t sure if the campground would have electricity or water.  “That would be important to know,” I told her. I pulled out my computer and started googling. Electricity was a definite No. Water could be shut off depending on the temperature.

“Maybe you should get a motel?” I said.

She looked at me horror-struck. “Ah, no.”

I was a bit proud of her. Wanting to go camping instead of staying in a motel. It would be exciting. I thought of my camping trips, cooking around the fire, being surrounded by nature, and dealing with the elements. It’s all part of the adventure.

A fusty smell rose from the storage box of camping supplies. As I began to sort, I started to wonder if I had anything of value left to pass on to her. More was going in the discard pile then the keep pile. It must have been over 20 years since Jody and I had tent camped in the Boundary Waters.

Unpacking the nesting pots and pans was like unwrapping a Christmas gift. I was delighted to pull each pot and pan out and marveled how items could become a plate or bowl depending on your need. After putting the set back together, I placed it next to the blue enamel coffee pot and matching enamel cups in the keep pile.

I was committed to setting Crystel and her friends up for success. Even though we had two camp stoves, I decided to make a quick trip to REI and purchase a new one. Being warm in a tent and having hot food would be essential. I picked a stove that had 2 adjustable burners with wind-blocking panels. Best of all it had a built-in igniter. No flame thrower needed. Even I could do it.


 Meal ideas, flashlights, kerosene, tent, sleeping bags, mats – I continued to prepare for her trip. I did ask her at one point if I was helping too much.

“Nah,” she said. I think she was beginning to see my value.

Her camping trip plans regressed as hastily as the weather. Cold, below freezing, rain, snow, partial sun, cloudy. Her numbers dwindled. It would be her and two other girls.

During our tent and camp stove demonstration, I mentioned to the girls that they needed to keep their camp food stored in their car so the bears wouldn’t get it.

“Bears?” one friend said.

Was it that comment or other variables that changed their camping trip to a day trip? The next day, when Crystel told me of the new plans, I confess, I choked back a sob. Her adventure was no more.

Last week she said that maybe she and I could go camping up north by ourselves. Hmmm. It could happen. Our camping supplies are already sorted. We have all the equipment. And, a camp stove I can light. What better way to pass the torch?

Try And Make Me!

9781623364069_p0_v1_s260x420[1]I still have my book. It has di Grazia scrawled in black magic marker on the front cover.

It is my guidebook, rules to live by. I have no intention of ever purging the book or giving it away as I have many parenting books.

Today, I leaf through try and make me!, pages stiff from absorbing moisture in the bathroom. “I’ve seen that book,” Crystel says as I carry it upstairs to write this blog. Indeed she has. For kids from 2 to 12 it says on the front cover. Antonio has just turned 12 and she’ll be 12 in six weeks. She most likely saw me reading on the couch when she was little. I also recall many times when I slipped away from the two toddlers to read a chapter that was happening RIGHT NOW. That’s what I liked about the book. I could relate.

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Defiant kids are born or made. Because Antonio and Crystel are adopted, I was constantly trying to determine where their behavior stemmed from. In the end it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a question that was on my mind when my three-year old was jumping up and down in Super Target yelling, “No, no, no.” Instead, I glanced around for a place to sit. Then said, “Let me know when you’re done.” (Thank you to the mothers who acknowledged me and asked if I needed help).

Once, I did ask for help. I asked a security guard at the Mall of America if he would escort me and my child out of the store. He looked like a policeman to the five-year old who immediately glommed on to my legs when he realized what was transpiring. “Do you see what is happening here?” I said. “I can’t walk you to the car alone.”

12-years old

12-years old

Page 6. Never, Ever Give Up. That was the child’s last fit. It took years of constantly disengaging from his behavior and letting his problem stay his problem.

Four characteristics of defiant children are: control-craving, socially exploitive, blind to their role in a problem, and able to tolerate a great deal of negativity. Beyond these characteristics there is another difficulty that can make a child seem defiant: inflexibility.

To combat these Jody and I keep to a schedule, have rules for the children, and when they don’t follow them there are consequences. Because we have been doing this since they were young, few words need to be spoken. “Dude, you just lost your electronics,” is sufficient. Sometimes, I just purse my lips (so I don’t respond in anger), shake my head back and forth, and say, “You can continue–but there will be a consequence.”

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

When the children were young I often looked for the root cause of a fit. In reviewing the Mall of America incident, I came to realize that I had broken my promise to my child to take him to the Lego Store. It had gotten late and I could see that he was over-tired (problem). I thought it was more important to eat than to go to the store because all of us were hungry (problem), which led to the broken promise (big problem).

If I had been proactive, I wouldn’t have been at MOA with a screaming flailing kid at my feet, concerned that I was going to be asked for identification. In the days to come, I apologized to my child and told him that we would go on a date to the Lego Store. “We won’t buy anything. We’ll spend up to 45 minutes looking at everything.” And that is what we did.

It was my child’s 12th birthday when I realized how far we’ve come. He was on his fifth day of a weeklong Boy Scout camping trip at Many Point. I promised him that we’d come see him on his birthday even though it was a 10-hour round trip.

Lots to be proud of.

Lots to be proud of.

He saw us drive into the parking lot, and ran hollering, “Mama Beth, Mama Jody, Crystel.” Before his long strides reached us I thought of the bugs, the night, and the uncertainty of tent camping and a group of boys cooking outdoors. All those ‘thing’s’ that bothered him as a child. When he was young, to reduce his anxiety we bought a tent trailer, cooked food HE liked (and didn’t let it touch other food on his plate), and I accompanied him on all Cub Scout camping trips. This time he was alone to manage for himself.

I started crying before he even reached me. This child had grown up and was doing just fine. I hugged him hard with the knowing of how far we both had come.

What’s In A Name?

di Grazia      I am finding out it’s a lot.

Recently, picking up Antonio and Crystel at a community education event, I was told, “I asked Antonio if he was Italian with a name like di Grazia.”

Standing next to me, Antonio says to the adult coordinator for at least the second time that day, “No, it’s Spanish.”

I didn’t say anything. But yes, she’s right kid. It’s Italian.

DSCN0725Jody, Antonio, Crystel, and I don’t have a drop of Italian blood in us.

At the time, Jody and I were choosing a family name, I was just thinking how pretty di Grazia looked and sounded. It seemed fancier than de Grazia. It seemed more different. It seemed like ‘us’.

I wasn’t thinking of the ramifications the name di Grazia would have for our family, the inquiries we would face. Even now, I am asked from time to time if I’m Italian.

No, and I don’t much like pasta, either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdi Grazia means “of Grace.” Jody and I were creating a family from grace. We didn’t have this family yet. We didn’t even know how this family was going to come together. Had we known we were going to adopt two infants from Guatemala we might have chosen the more typical Spanish spelling, de Grazia.

But, probably not. We had already decided that we liked di Grazia.

When I first realized that the last name di Grazia posed a hurdle was when Crystel was three years old, eye to eye with a goat. And, I seriously wondered if she could overcome the hurdle.

DSCN0210We were camping at a campground that had, amongst other things, a petting zoo, pool, and horses.

After visiting the petting zoo, Jody and I took separate routes back to our campsite. When we got there I looked at her and she looked at me.

“Where’s Crystel?”

“I thought she was with you.”

“I thought she had gone with you and Antonio in the car.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoth of us jumped into our vehicle, headed back to where we last saw her. The only thing I could think of was that Crystel could not talk. Her speech was not intelligible. The person who most understood her was Antonio and he was with us. She could tell no one her first name, her last name, or who her parents were.

When you have an articulation disorder, Crystel di Grazia, is not a good name to have. Now if she had my name before I changed it … Ann Smith … she could have spit that out – nothing to trip over there.

Fortunately, she was right where we last saw her, staring at a goat. Somehow, she knew, to stay right where she was and not move when her family was lost.

The next time that I was aware that our last name posed a problem was when Antonio was four years old and he was being asked in preschool to practice printing his last name. I looked at him and shook my head. First, he would have to understand that it was a small di then a space then Grazia with a large G.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I was thinking was, just give it up, kid. It’s not going to happen. You’ll never learn how to say your last name much less spell it.

Fortunately, he didn’t listen to me.

And, if he wants di Grazia to be Spanish, then it’s Spanish. After all, it’s a created name. It’s different. And, it’s ours. We’ve grown into it.