As I write this, I am sitting with my knees under my chin, traveling on a public school bus somewhere in southern Pennsylvania. I've just spent an exhausting twelve hours chaperoning a day trip to Hershey Park with seven children under eight years old, two summer camp employees, and two other parents. The Dormouse's body actually fits on a seat and so she is stretched out, comfortably sleeping through the turbulence created by our very young bus driver who seems to have a knack for hitting every pothole on I95 and enjoys using the rumble strips on the side of the road for driving by Braille. My body, however, does not fit in a seat when I lie down. In fact, it does not fit in a seat sitting up and if I want to cross or uncross my legs, I have to stand up to do so, then sit back down. When did school buses get so small? They used to have tons of room when I was a kid. (And yes, I realize the logical point I'm missing here... please don't spell it out for me.) I'd like nothing better than to pop a few Percoset (What? I still have some hoarded from my last c-section.) and sleep the rest of the way home but I'm afraid I'd wake up with my knee behind my head, not be able to straighten out and have to walk around looking like a question mark for the rest of my life. That and I unwisely left them at home.

Hershey Park is outrageously expensive and fortunately, the large one's summer camp program paid for my ticket in. Otherwise, I don't think I could be so philosophical about it all right now. It was fun, but I can think of a lot better ways to spend a day. Actually going on a ride that didn't spin around and around would be one of them. I love roller coasters but kids' rides tend to just be circles in different shaped cars and due to a series of eye operations in my youth, I can't spot well, so that kind of thing makes Momma throw up. Also, for whatever reason, we weren't allow to go in the water park section. So my options for activities with a five year old in tow at Hershey Park are limited to going on circle rides and feeling nauseous or standing around watching my kid go on circle rides and thinking how nauseous that one would make me.

When I told people at work I was taking a day off to accompany seven elementary school kids to Hershey Park, the most common response was horrified silence and then an incredulous, "You? Why?"

This question, I commonly answered with, "Because I am the stupidest person ALIVE." Which is, in part, true, let's face it. But the real reason I agreed to go is because she WANTED me to go. I am enough of a realist to know that there will be precious few trips in her life that I can attend, much less ones that she even wants me to go on. So I bit the bullet, signed my name to a list and showed up a o' dark thirty with bells on.

A couple of years ago, I heard Michael J. Fox tell this story on Inside the Actor's Studio:

You know, we've all got our bag of hammers. We've all got whatever our thing is we have to deal with and there's a story of God getting all these people together and having them form a circle. And then they all put their worst problem in the middle of the circle. And then they all step back and after a minute, they all get a chance to pull whatever problem they want out of the pile. And everybody takes their own problem back. And that's kind of what it is. You realize where you're fortunate and what you have.

I've thought a lot about this on the bus back home after spending a day with other people's kids. Not that my kids are my problems... at least not all of the time. You know how you spend time with your kids until you just can't stand it anymore and then you spend time with other people's kids and you realize your kids are not so bad? That's what I think I've just come to terms with. Hanging around other mothers' kids, I realized mine is pretty damn good, in fact. Sure, she can be too precocious and attention seeking and a pest and she never stops talking and if you give her an inch, she wants not just a mile, but twenty. But all things considered, I'll take it. I could have gotten some other person's kid and who knows where I'd be then? Oh right... dead.

The Dormouse is sweet and thoughtful and thinks about other's feelings. If some other kid in the room is crying, she's the one sitting next to them, patting them on the back, saying "It's alright," and feeding them goldfish crackers until they're ready to rejoin the group. She genuinely wants to help. Even when she's sometimes not being so helpful (and that's often) it's always coming from that place of wanting to help. She's seldom selfish and she tries to remember to be polite - and succeeds much of the time. I've spent much too much time focusing on her faults as of late.

I realized (or better said, I RE-realized) that I generally like The Dormouse. I want to spend time with her. Once your kids go to school, you are no longer the overwhelming influence in their lives. Teachers and friends spend more waking hours with her than I do and while it's nice to have the break some days, I'm a bit jealous of that. Jealous of the fun conversations with friends, of being there for the discovery of new things, of playing patty cake games. Oh sure, I got a taste of this when she was in preschool but for some reason in kindergarten it became more pronounced. She's so much more grown up and... I don't know... It seems to matter more now. This year she'll be in first grade. Who knows what worldly things they'll teach her there? She may come home this year after a basic course in stipper pole dancing. That's what this whole Camp Sweatshop thing has been about this summer. And that's why I've spent so much time posting everything on the Intertubes and documenting it all with photographs. Because I'm basically a lazy person and I know myself too well. If I don't set up some sort of accountability for myself, I will let the summer pass by while spending the bulk of it yelling at her for messing up the house and letting her watch TV when I tire of that.

As I look across the bus aisle at my exhausted, but very happy little girl who just got to spend an entire day with her friends and her mom and thought it was one of the best days of her life... BECAUSE she got to spend it with her friends and her mom, I wonder how many more chances like this I'm going to get with her. A dozen? Maybe two? Sure, it was a long day. A long drive. I'll have an extra day's worth of work to go back to tomorrow. Tiresome. Noisy. But worth it? Oh yes it was.