Stick Day 2016

Stick day sort of happened naturally last year. My gang of eight nieces and nephews were coming for a sleep over. I had the idea to have a stick picking up contest – we split into two teams of 4 (boys vs girls), I gave each team a tarp and set a timer for 15 minutes and whichever team had the bigger stick pile on the tarp won. As it happens, the piles were too close to call so everyone got a dollar (because I hadn’t planned ahead and do have a big coin jar in the laundry).
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Now, I may have a “usual sleep over gang,” but there are also a lot of other awesome kids in my life who I certainly don’t want to exclude! So this year I planned Stick Day in advance and invited a few other little friends. I told them about the stick contest (which is a mere 15 minutes) and then told them the rest of the day they can just play. Monica (age 7) wanted to make sure if the losers got prizes, they would be smaller than the winner’s prizes. James was suspicious that it sounded like work. Avery nagged her mom about it for weeks and the week of Stick Day, in her list of awesome things in her life, Stick Day was up near the top. AJ practiced picking up sticks in his own yard just to be sure his skills were up to par.
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Stick Day was actually postponed because the original date ended up being 34 degrees and snowing. The rescheduled day was perfect! 72 and sunny. Absolutely amazing. The crowds began arriving… I divided the kids into teams – there were 9 kids in attendance for the stick contest part. Assigned team captains. And started the timer. We went to the back corner of the yard where there were a ton of sticks because I neglected it almost entirely last year. The kids barely had to move the tarps once they started because there were sticks and logs galore. I loved watching them try to move huge logs, and break off branches. And how they pulled together making new friends and picking up sticks furiously!
 And we had another tie! Everyone got to choose three mini chocolate bars.
One of my favorite things about this little corner of the world is how much joy it brings to the little people in my life. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but this place has it’s own kind of magic. As my niece Lucy told me this weekend, “I love this yard so much because there are all kind of ecosystems here! Pine forest, fields, regular woods… EVERYTHING!”  Yes, I imagine that’s what it is: all the ecosystems. Or something. I think about how rarely kids have hours on end to just roam around outside creating forts and games and tribes and messes. It was one of my favorite things about visiting friends in the country and growing up in the country. I love that I get to share that adventure with these darling people.

After everyone had chocolate and snacks, they scattered. Kitty made war paint using ashes from the fire pit and soon had almost everyone painted up. Maria and Avery and Monica had an elaborate mud pie making operation. Norah wanted me to release the “Cannonball” (Daisy) so she could “skitter up a tree”. There’s something about the thrill of an energetic puppy to escape. Michael ground corn into flour by smashing corn kernels between paper plates on a stump (Norah brought the corn and directed the operation). At one point, I was helping the little boys build a hide out and Michael found the perfect stick for a bow and wanted string. (Apparently I need more string). I apologized that I didn’t think I had any. Lucy swoops in “What do you need?” “String for this!” He holds up the perfectly curved stick that just HAD to become a bow. “Oh I always bring my emergency kit when I come here. I have string, yarn, this elastic string, rubber bands…”  The teepee had sticks added and a clothesline set up (the girl with the emergency fun kit may have been behind this). Tribes were formed. Signs were made. Poetry was read.

It was Benjamin’s (almost 4) first time to stay for a play day (without his mom) and he was thrilled. He is usually wary of dogs after having been bitten in the past (by other dogs), but he and Suzie were fast friends and he even made friends with the energetic Daisy. I tell you, there is magic afoot.  Of course Suzie could be a therapy dog for kids afraid of dogs. She LOVES her kids. She always runs to see them and then stands there so they will scratch them. Once the kids discover that it is the secret to calming her down and making her happy, she gets scratched pretty much non stop. What’s not to love about that? AJ said several times “Suzie loves me the most because I give her nice big hugs and I’m a really good scratcher.” True story.

Daisy did mostly fine. One small person got scratched because I was in helping another person pee on the potty and she got too rambunctious. She spent the day in and out of her crate. Mostly out with us, with some occasional breaks when she got too rambunctious. My tribe for the event consisted of the three little boys. We played with the dogs, clipped branches, built a boy’s hideout, climbed a fallen tree. All the good things in life.

At my house we have a few rules:
We are kind.
We are helpful.
We are inclusive.

Next time, I’ll add “We never sit on the couch.”  After the gang left, I found charcoal war paint all over my couch. Thank God it came off easily with a magic eraser.

By the time the parents arrived to pick up the troops, there was a crowd of the dirtiest kids I have seen in a long time. And absolutely happy from their wild day in the ecosystems. On the way out, a few kids asked “Can we come back next weekend?”

And that my dear readers, is the magic of Stick Day.
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