Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What, No Clever Olympic Theme?

Here we are, forty-eight hours on the flip side of Sunday. Sunday that I spent watching Olympic athletes do crazy, uber-athletic things with their lithe bodies. I had hoped to deliver to you a cheeky synopsis of the experience - perhaps with honorary medals for various special moments - but I'm too distracted to be cheeky, so you're getting the straight up version.

First of all, we took a bus. A big white YMCA bus. The bus was not mandatory, but I thought the camaraderie would be good for the girls. The bus driver, who looked to be on his "retirement career," began our trip by announcing that he had not driven into Boston in twenty years. Yeah. It's changed a bit since then. Fortunately, he assured us, we were equipped with GPS. Judging by the chorus of groans rising up from the parent section of the bus, this did not have the reassuring effect that the driver hoped for. He did, in fact, get us into Boston before things went awry, at which point we pulled over on some desolate little road of nothing while various irate mothers barked directions at the poor overwhelmed driver. As it turns out, we were within shouting distance of our destination, so all out disaster was averted.

Our fearless leader, Head Coach M, had managed to get enough people to come along in our group so that we got to go to the Chalk Talk before the actual show. I admit, I was a bit star struck by this. Thirty elite athletes are warming up while you watch. Nastia freaking Liukin is right there, tossing herself around on those bars. Very buff boys are doing handstands everywhere you look. Meanwhile, three of the gymnasts sat and took questions from the audience and then gave out a smattering of autographs. Fifth Grader managed to get her program signed by Shannon Miller - the most decorated American gymnast of all time, mind you, yet a bit before Fifth Grader's time and therefore not the biggest thrill of her life. Oh well.

On to the show - but wait! I forgot to tell you about JF. Well, she didn't come...but the daughter did, accompanied by the two older daughters. You know, the amazing superstars that she bragged about? Let me tell you, I have not seen two sulkier teenagers since I myself was a sulky teenager. And not only sulky, but ravenously hungry, judging by the way they devoured package after package of...wait for it...Reese's peanut butter cups. I kid you not! Do you think I felt a little smug? Oh yes. Smug indeed.

Anyway, the show. The girls were very dancy. The boys did not wear shirts. The girls were beautiful and graceful and, at times, a little edgy and funky. The boys did not wear shirts. It didn't suck. I have a new found respect for these men and their athleticism. Good heavens, they were strong. And shirtless. I was a bit surprised at the amount of rock star-like screaming going on in the audience. I've screamed at a few rock stars in my day, and I doubt any of them could even spell pommel horse, never mind do the things these men were doing on one. Lesson learned.

The ride home was only slightly painful. Given the day's excitement, the decibel level on the bus was a bit heightened. We did make one rather misguided stop at McDonald's - just one more thing standing between the parents and much-needed cocktails, I'm just saying - but fortunately, we had a different driver who actually knew where he was going and made pretty good time.

So there you are. Only slightly cheeky.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Barbarella Strikes Again

If anyone had tried to tell me twenty years ago that someday I would spend every waking hour of my life at the Y watching gymnastics, I would have doubled over laughing. I would probably have laughed so hard that I would have accidentally spilled my Michelob all over myself. And yet, that seems to be how things turned out.

For instance, today. Today was Practice Meet day, the precursor to the official meet season that gives all of the girls the chance to perform in front of official judges without the pressure. What's cool about Practice Meet is that you get to see all of the levels perform in a quite condensed amount of time. The Level 8s and 9s are pretty fun to watch. Plus, they get to pick their own floor music, so you don't go home in a trance from the incessant repetition of your own child's floor music, which is exactly the same song for every single girl in her level. (Speaking of which, here's how old I am: today I saw a 16-year-old girl perform to the techno-enhanced version of Europe's "The Final Countdown". Do you think she had any idea what that song was when she picked it? I think not.)

I knew the seating would be difficult today, so I stuck around for the whole warmup just to save my portion of cold, metal bleacher. A handful of parents made a similar decision, but many chose to arrive right at showtime. At the end of warmup, Third Grader flew out to me. "We have five minutes to get a snack! I'm STARVING." Being the good mother that I am, I made her save my seat and tore down the hallway to the vending machine. What does a good mother get her starving child to eat right before an athletic competition? Chips? Candy? No. Peanut butter crackers! Yes!

I weaved my way through the horde of arriving parents back to my child and began to tear open the cellophane when, behind me, I heard, "Ohh! Peanut butter!" Sitting on the top bleacher is a bird of a woman, fluttering her little bird hands in front of her face in horror at Third Grader's snack. Of course, you know who this woman is. Yes - it's my friend Jane Fonda. "I'm allergic to peanuts!" she said, still fluttering her little hands.

Now, I don't mean to make light of this affliction. I realize that this peanut allergy is a real and potentially dangerous thing. Nobody wants to asphyxiate, okay? But this woman was looking at me as if I had just whipped out a pack of Pall Malls and jammed one in my kid's mouth. So what did I do? Naturally, I hauled Third Grader into the bathroom so she could inhale a few crackers over the sink and then scrub the vile peanut residue from her skin. Isn't that what you would do? And what do you suppose became of my seat? The one that I had warmed for 90 minutes already while Jane Fonda snuck in at the last minute? Why, it was given away to Jane Fonda's parents, of course, who showed up while we were in the bathroom!

I don't think we're going to become friends anytime soon, JF and me.

Tomorrow we are taking a Y bus to Boston with the whole team to see the Olympic Gymnastics Superstars Tour. It should be a lot of fun - the tornadoes are really looking forward to it. I'm not sure if JF is actually going, but I should probably pass on that peanut butter bath I was planning to take tonight - just in case. With my luck there will be assigned seating and I will get stuck with her.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Yesterday was all kinds of fun.

First there was the early morning orthodontist appointment. Doctor Torture warned me last time we were there that this appointment might run a little longer. He had that glint in his eye when he said it, the one that wanted me to get the code. I got the code. So I prepped Fifth Grader with a little breakfast Tylenol.

She emerged from the torture chamber with three more brackets and brand spanking new wires. Noticeably thicker wires than before. She seemed unfazed, so I took her to school. It was too good to be true, naturally.

Just as I was settling into the idea of actually seeing my week play out exactly as I planned it, I got the call. The "come get your kid" call. It seems that Fifth Grader's breakfast Tylenol lasted her all of two hours before she went begging for more. The nurse refused her, but noticed that her nose was a little red and went in for a closer look. Then she called me. Apparently, Fifth Grader had cooties.

Are cooties real? I don't know. Probably not, but given the pitch and tone of the nurse's voice, I drew the conclusion that they are, and that my child must have them.

Actually what she has is a little skin infection. A very, very little skin infection. Like about the size of the word "like." Easily taken care of with a quick trip to the doctor's and a little tube of medicine - but highly contagious, it seems, so no gymnastics last night, and no school today. You would think this news would please the girl. A sick day without being sick! Woo hoo! EXCEPT she was too busy wailing like a siren from the pain of her newly adjusted braces to hear a word I was saying.

The wailing continued all the way home. All the way to drop off her sister at practice. All the way to the pharmacy. Two doses of ibuprofen and half a dozen freeze pops later, we returned to something resembling normal communication, which got us through Third Grader's commute from gymnastics to acting class. And then? More wailing. Begging through tears to "take these things off of me please!" The most delicate sips of a milkshake for dinner, followed by additional wailing. At this point, I am pretty sure I was wailing, too, at least on the inside - about how much it sucks sometimes to be the grownup.

She seems better today. Still sucking down the freeze pops and ibuprofen, but also thoroughly enjoying her day of sanctioned hooky. Well, wouldn't you?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'll See Your Special K and Raise You A Bowl of Corn Flakes

First things first: new column is up.

I've decided to switch to a Sunday night/Monday morning schedule instead of the mid-week thing I was doing. Partly because I think more people screw around on the internet on Mondays (that whole "I don't wanna go back to work" thing) and partly because, if the last few weeks are any indication, my own week has the tendency to implode by Tuesday. So give it a read, I think you'll enjoy it.

More importantly this evening: I am happy to say that I survived my first 5K! In fact, survived - please - I ran my best time ever! No doubt, I was NOT in it to beat anyone. I just wanted to finish the damn thing without collapsing in a heap. And finish it I did, in something like 28:30 or right around there...I was pretty much focused on remaining upright as I approached the finish line, but I know the giant clock had a 28 on it as I passed. I feel pretty good about the time, because I am actually a very slooow runner, but hey - you want some motivation? Ask someone fifteen years your junior to be your running partner! And, oh! Make sure that running partner knows everyone in the freaking city that is totally ripped and beautiful! And get them all to show up and talk about "respectable finishing times" in a circle around you while you silently panic! Yeah. That'll get your butt moving.

(Seriously, K, good race. We'll do it again. And next time, you can get new clothes - I promise I won't freak out.)

So I loved the adrenaline rush of being in that crowd, and I'll definitely be running more races. In the spring. My plan is to get into 10K form by then, so I'll have to take a look at the training schedules that I photocopied - er, I mean, took copious notes about on a separate sheet of paper. Also, don't a lot of athletes have rituals? I need some rituals. Starting with my pre-race breakfast: corn flakes and coffee. Next time, more coffee. But definitely corn flakes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No One Likes A Bragger

GUESS who I chatted with last night? Wait, I'll give you a hint.

Yep. Little Miss Jane Fonda.

Thankfully, she was dressed normally. She did not stretch or bounce or flail around like a crazy person. She just perched her miniature little person on the vacant chair across from me. I didn't protest, mostly because I didn't notice her right away. I was too busy trying to locate Third Grader. I noticed her when she spoke to me, and the conversation was thus:

JF: Are you looking for your daughter?
Me: Oh...uh huh. I just saw her...
JF: She's probably in the bathroom getting dressed - these girls out here are just levels 5 and 6 now.
Me: Uh, yeah, she's practicing with them.
JF: Oh? Is she a level 5 or 6? I don't think I've met you before.
Me: ...No, she's a 4, but she's asked to stay for the extra half hours at the end. She wants to move up. (Please stop talking to me. Where is Third Grader? Ah - there she is.)
JF: Oh, isn't that cute. So-and-so is my third competitive gymnast, so I know all about how they can push themselves.
Me: (Of course she is.) Huh.
JF: We used to go to a private gym, but I really wanted this daughter to just have fun, you know? Take some of the pressure off. They're all so competitive with one another.
Me: Uh...yeah.

Then there was a lot of blathering on about how amazing and marvelous her two older daughters were, how much they won, how they eventually burned out and became raging drug fiends...just kidding about the drug fiend stuff. Meanwhile, the group of "level 5s and 6s plus my daughter" were working on back handsprings on the low beam. I can't imagine a scarier thing to put your body through, and these girls all looked mighty scared, even with a spotter.

JF: My goodness, that's a level seven skill, you know! How wonderful that they're working on it already! And look at that little tiny blonde girl, my goodness! She's almost got it already! Whose daughter is that?

Me: ...well, that's my daughter.

That shut her up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I SAID Get The Funk OUT

If yesterday serves as any indication of whether the universe is listening to me, I think it just gave me the finger.

It wasn't a devastating day, mind you. As days go, it was just your run-of-the-mill disappointment. In fact, I'll amend my earlier assumption about the universe giving me the finger by saying I didn't actually SEE the universe give me the finger - but I'm pretty sure it was. At least behind its back.

Let's begin. Given Monday's encouraging world events, I set off for work feeling pretty optimistic. I had good things lined up. If all went as planned, I would make several people a little fatter and happier. This week would be simpler, perhaps healing in ways. Plus, I had time to make my own lunch - your standard tuna fish sandwich and shiny apple - and therefore would not have to squander seven dollars in some middling sub shop. All in all, looking good.

My first candidate for fatness/happiness called to cancel his appointment. I writhed in pain for several minutes, then spent several hours watching my printer chew up perfectly good pieces of paper. That's all you really need to know. The rest of the day went accordingly. My one bright spot was lunch, which provided me another opportunity to savor the feel of seven dollars remaining in my wallet.

Late afternoon meant - what else? - gymnastics practice for the Tornadoes. The timing of Tuesday practices usually allows me a few hours to go back to the office, but I decided I had had quite enough of that party for the day. Numerous errands later, I allowed myself some quiet time in my car to finish the book I'm reading - The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. A word about my selection process: When I'm feeling the most boxed-in, I typically go for travel writing. Lately I've been battling regret that I did not take the girls on our planned road trip this summer, prudent as that decision turned out to be. This particular book details the author's road trip through 38 states after having lived abroad for several years. I'd never read Bryson before, but for some reason I had it in my head that he was the worldly intellectual type. What he is, it turns out, is incredibly snarky. I like snark as much as the next person, but I was not looking for snark. So - disappointing.

I went in to watch the rest of practice. While I almost always get to see Third Grader practice, Tuesday is typically the only night of the week that I actually get to watch Fifth Grader. This is because there is only a forty-five minute gap between when their classes end, compared to two hours on the other nights. So last night, I watched Fifth Grader for forty-five minutes. For forty-five minutes, she worked one one skill. One. It's called a "squat-on" - charming, right? - and it basically involves balancing your body at the abdomen on the lower bar, hurling your legs backwards and landing with your feet on top of the bar. Squat on. Get it? Fifth Grader somehow managed to completely dominate the attention of not one but TWO coaches who got her to try about a hundred of these in a row. She landed maybe five of them. It was heartbreaking.

(As an aside, I have to say that I LOVE their coaches. They are awesome. They're encouraging and inspiring and sometimes tough - but nobody's shooting for the Olympics here, so the girls always have a lot of fun as well. I just thought I'd mention that, lest you think I am subjecting my dear girls to involuntary torture)

The end of practice eventually arrived. Fifth Grader managed to regain feeling in her jello-y little arms by the time we dropped Third Grader off at acting class and reported to our regular Tuesday night dinner haunt. She ordered her regular roast beef sub from our regular waitress and it all felt very comforting and familiar. Which was exactly what we needed.

Third Grader, bless her heart, remained her cheerful, oblivious little self through the entire day. I suspect the universe will never give Third Grader the finger, even behind its back.

So yet again, I am declaring it a New Day. Let's see if this one takes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Get The Funk Out

Understatement of the year: last week sucked. It sucked big.

It seems that, when it comes to our jobs, a lot of bloggers draw themselves a line that says "I will only discuss this so far." Me? I refuse to discuss it at all. Because that's not why I'm here. I'm here to discuss pretty much anything BUT my job. In fact, one of the things I most love about writing - be it here, my column, a note inside a birthday card - is that it has the effect of squeezing out any remnant of work-related thought that's still kicking around. I like that very much. Even on a slow day my job can be pretty intense, and it is with a glad heart that I come here to forget about it and tell you trivial stories.

And I still don't want to talk about my job. But last week? Well. You may have noticed that the world is a little grumpy right now. You may have noticed that fortunes are being lost. You may have noticed that an election of substantial consequence is looming directly over our heads. And last week - actually, the last few weeks, but especially last week - I have had the great discomfort of repeatedly hashing these things over with a variety of people hour after hour, day after day. Oh, and also trying to reassure them that the world is not ending.

Second biggest understatement of the year: This can tire a girl out.

So I missed my column deadline last week. Okay, it's a self-imposed deadline - but still, missing it is not exactly good for its promotion. I could barely summon the energy to breathe at the end of each day, much less write. Anything. Hopefully I didn't miss anyone's birthday...but if I did, seriously, I'm calling a mulligan. That's why Hallmark invented "belated".

But it's Monday again, and time for new hope. New energy. New starts. And I have identified the following silver linings in last week's cloud of gloom:

* No potato chips entered my house. If ever there was a week for a potato chip chow down, that was it.

* I actually didn't mind that my girls had standardized testing most of last week - though I fiercely disagree with the whole concept - because it meant little to no homework to tax my one remaining nightly brain cell.

...That's all I've got. There's no school today, so I'm working from home, which means I will require large quantities of coffee. Better go get started.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Good Thing I Passed The First Time

I seem to be failing the fifth grade.

Important distinction: Fifth Grader is doing swimmingly, as evidenced by her first progress report, which featured such comments as "extremely organized" and "working hard on her math facts." I believe I have made it clear that math is not my forte, so Brava! to Fifth Grader for persevering with my limited usefulness.

Having said that, I am actually good for something. Namely, I'm good at instilling reading habits. I have so thoroughly convinced the Tornadoes that reading is an authentic and worthwhile choice of how to spend your leisure time, in fact, that they are both a little bit obsessed with it. On any given day, they are each reading two books at a time. This is in addition to the fact that we are engrossed in a book together as part of our bedtime ritual, alternating readers nightly. Then I retreat to my own room and pick up my own book.

So, yes. We are a big bunch of nerdy bookworms. But you'd think this kind of behavior would be looked upon favorably by a teacher, wouldn't you? Particularly by a teacher who made it very clear at Open House that READING is the epicenter of the fifth grade curriculum? Who went so far as to proclaim that she does not assign homework because she expects her students to spend that time READING?

Mais non.

For starters, that "no homework" thing is a crock. Or maybe I wasn't supposed to notice that. For another thing, there seems to be this whole new microscopic way of reading - or at least of monitoring said reading - which should be working in our favor, quite frankly, but is not. This new method includes the "Thinkmark" upon which Fifth Grader is required to jot down any astounding passages, words, or ideas that she discovers. Then there is the "reading log" upon which she is required to record how many minutes and pages she reads each day and which I am required to initial. Finally, there is the "book log" upon which she will list all the books she completes this year. My guess is that this system replaces the antiquated book report of yesteryear - more importantly, though, to a family of readers? It is a veritable loaded crack pipe. We are so going to excel at this. Except we're not.

Yesterday I received my third chastising note of the year from Ms. Teacher imploring that Fifth Grader must read one book at a time. Additionally, she must bring that one book to school every day to demonstrate that it is her one book. Furthermore, it is imperative that Fifth Grader refer ONLY to this one book on her "Thinkmark" and reading log. Please sign and return so that Ms. Teacher knows that I understand.

But I don't understand. So...she should not excel?

I know there are some teachers out there reading this post. I ask you, what is up with this? Is mediocrity the new black?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Quintessential Fall

It's late Sunday morning, and I'm about to be invaded by guest tornadoes for the day. I've been up for almost three hours and haven't had my coffee yet. What's wrong with this picture?

For what it's worth, I haven't had my coffee yet because I demanded four miles on the treadmill from myself before I would be allowed such delights. It wasn't a pretty four miles, but I did them. It looks like a positively gorgeous fall day outside and I did consider that I should take my run out there this morning - but it's fairly nippy out. I don't do nippy.

While I was running, each of the girls appeared in front of me with phone in hand, asking me do I know what so-and-so's number is. And so, because I knew the answer, I am about to be invaded. Serves me right for being such a baby about running outside. Anyway, having served my time and showered, I decided to keep the healthy groove going and prepared a little smoothie for Fifth Grader and myself. It was fabulous, I must say: mango, banana, sunny D and a little orange sherbet. Third Grader shuns my smoothies on principle - they do not contain cheese - so Fifth Grader and I slurped it down and made many loud proclamations of how tasty it was and how Third Grader would never know such joy since she will not try new things. Third Grader was unaffected.

Somehow I ended up sitting on the couch with my smoothie and the Sunday paper and determined that I would sit right there for the rest of my days, never to get up again. Never to cook a meal, wash a dish, bark at a child. I would live and die in a comfortable little ball on that couch, reading the Lifestyle section and drinking fruit potion. Then I remembered the pending invasion.

So I got up.

It's almost a moot point at 11 a.m. to start loading up on caffeine, but if you've ever suffered the effects of withdrawal, you will agree that it must be done. At any rate, there is a ginormous bag of apples down there with my name on it, and I have promised pies and crisps and the like, so I am off to peel my brains out. And drink my coffee.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We'll Call It the "Special K"

It's October First, which means that it is now okay to acknowledge that it's Autumn. Hello, Autumn. I love you.

I know we are ten-odd days into the season already, but some part of my insides refuses to acknowledge its presence until October arrives. Perhaps it's because those first ten-odd days don't look a whole lot different than the thirty or so before them. It also might be because, once Labor Day hits, my life becomes one big blur and I forget to pay attention for a little while. But right about now is when the foliage begins to change in my neck of the woods - and since I am quite literally surrounded by those woods, I wake up.

"Pretty!" I say to myself. And I am right.

Autumn also means that I have to take my running inside. It's now pitch black out almost until school bus time (Hello, 7:05 school bus. I love you.). I'm not one hundred percent on this, but I'm fairly sure that if I were to run in the dark and encounter a bear or other woodland dwelling wildlife that had not yet had its breakfast, my failure to return home might make a couple of little girls I know cry. This is a shame - the not running outside part, I mean. The good news is that I got a truly kick ass new treadmill about a month ago that - in addition to allowing me to watch movies while I run - has also made me a little less stupid.

In the roughly year and a half that I have been running on a consistent basis, I have graduated from huffing and puffing through the shortest imaginable session to running four miles a few days a week. I only know that it's four miles, mind you, because I drove the route first and measured out a circular mile that I can run four times. It's important that you know that.

Anyway, I began to picture myself running longer and longer distances, even someday completing a marathon. I wondered how one trains for a marathon. I thought it might make sense to try out some road races first. So I signed up for my first 5k, which takes place in about three weeks. Then I wondered how one trains for a 5k.

Luckily, my kick ass new treadmill has an "events" button with programs for 5k, 10k, half- and full marathon. How convenient. This is where the story takes an embarrassing turn. I decided to give the 5k program a whirl after giving myself the following pep talk: "This won't be so bad. How much harder can it be to run a 5k than it's been to run four miles every other day? I can so do this."

Well, yeah, dumb ass. Last time I checked, 3.1 miles was less than 4 miles. I'm telling you, sometimes I just don't know how I've made it this far in life.

This awakening naturally made me completely doubt that I knew what I was doing at all - like maybe I was even running wrong, maybe putting one foot in front of the other on a repetitive basis was completely loony - so I did what I always do when I confront my own stupidity. I read three books about how to run. It turns out that the "one foot in front of the other" method is cool...but the four miles every time I run? Not cool. Who knew?

I am now on what I think is a sensible running plan, and looking forward to completing my first 5k. I hope there isn't an IQ test at registration.