Guess What Time It Is?

Photo of Chester, my stuffed mouse, wearing tiny Mickey Mouse ears.Algernon got to go to Disneyworld, so now Chester gets a turn.

Nobody tell my kids that they are in line behind two stuffed mice.

My friend Heather and I are going back to Disneyworld, no kids included. This is actually harder than it sounds because I not only had to get myself ready to go out of town, but I had to get my entire family ready to survive without me. Thank goodness Heather is around to plan everything for everybody. Seriously. If not for her, instead of planning a trip to Disney starting Thursday, I’d be planning a trip to the grocery store—and I’d be doing it badly too.

Wish my family luck. Wish Heather and me a good time. Keep an eye on Chester’s adventures on Stimeyland’s Facebook page. See you early next week.

The Bus Stop

It’s funny, I have started to write posts about the school bus stop near my old house countless times since we started waiting there eight years ago. It is possible that I might have published one or two of them, but I don’t think I did. Regardless, the bus stop was a big part of my life for a long time.

We spent a lot of time there and our experience evolved over the years. Our first year, it was just me and one kid waiting with his little brother. Then there was the year that there were so many kids coming from places not even in the bus stop area that the bus was too crowded and the principal had to ride the bus to make sure kids from outside the area weren’t riding. (Although, frankly, it seems like maybe they should have added a bus stop instead of making those kids walk to school.) Then we stabilized into a core group of neighborhood kids who all followed Quinn in rolling down a grassy hill and messing up their hair and getting grass stains all before the morning bus came to take them to school.

It was a good bus stop.

I have heard that since Quinn left, no one rolls down the hill anymore.

Now we have a new bus stop. Jack’s bus comes right to our house and Alex drives Sam to school, so, just like last year, only Quinn and I have a bus stop wait.

We only have to walk a few houses down the street to get to the stop this year. There were a bunch of moms and kids there today. Yesterday there were a bunch of dads and one mom. I haven’t met many of our neighbors yet, so I’ve been nervous too, just like Quinn. I figure the bus stop is the time to meet these people and force their kids to like mine. (Kidding. Kind of.)

You know what though? It is hard.

There is one super nice woman who introduced herself yesterday and chatted with me today too. Yesterday Quinn was too stressed for us to get anywhere near anyone else, so we were a little isolated and the nice lady (also known as my new neighborhood best friend) only had a chance to introduce herself after I shoved Quinn on the bus.

Yes, quite literally shoved him on the bus. May you never have to do that as you kiss the top of your child’s head and whisper “You are brave. You’ve got this.” It sucks.

After school yesterday, Quinn got off the bus smiling. “It’s only because I was happy that I was at the right stop,” he was sure to tell me, lest I jump to the conclusion that school made him happy. No worries, Quinn. Those conclusions are still far away.

This morning (Wednesday) at the bus stop, things were a little better. I had done some sensory work with him before we left the house and I also had some bravery M&Ms to give him. He was more relaxed and a little less stressed. Plus one of the moms at the bus stop brought a small dog with her, which was excellent.

I still had to shove Quinn on the bus but I totally didn’t have to push quite as hard as yesterday, so that’s something. I did still kiss him on the head and tell him that he was brave.

Then the bus pulled away and the dog lady walked away and the nice lady started chatting with the other two moms there and wasn’t that just the perfect time to introduce myself to these other women, but instead my feet started carrying me away and I walked home wondering why I hadn’t taken advantage of that perfect opportunity.

Spoiler alert: I know why I didn’t take advantage of it and it has a lot to do with the same reasons why my child had to get shoved on the bus: anxiety and some social ineptitude.

I made plans with myself to talk to the women tomorrow, but then I realized that I have to rush off to work tomorrow, so maybe Friday? But what if it’s a dad day on Friday? And then I realized that I have many days to meet these women (and, I suppose, even the dads) and if I lurk close enough and smile broadly enough (that is, in fact, my entire social plan for pretty much everything), eventually I will talk to them.

If, that is, I prep myself with some bravery M&Ms of my own.

Post-School

Well. It could have gone better.

For those of you who saw everyone’s smiley first day of school photos on Facebook and felt sad for your child because smiling was the last thing your kid wanted to do today, take solace in numbers. Trust me, y’all are not alone.

Both Sam and Jack say they had good days and managed their little commutes all right.

Three photos. There is one of each of my children. Sam is standing  inside in his photo in pants that are slightly too short for him. Quinn is wearing an entirely zipped up hoodie and walking down our outside stairs. Jack is smiling and has a goofy look on his face. He is eating some bacon.

1. Yes, I know Sam’s pants are too short. Shut up. I’m trying.
2. Yes, it was 80+ degrees today. That sweatshirt serves as Quinn’s shield.
3. Yes, Jack is eating bacon in that photo.

Quinn had a tougher time. He absolutely refused to tell me anything about his day other than, “I liked eating lunch,” but the logistics of the day didn’t go very well. To start, we missed his morning bus. We had a bad combination of a slightly early bus and my miscalculating what time the bus would arrive at our stop. God, that sucked.

Then, in the afternoon, Q got off his bus one stop too early and couldn’t find his way home and I think you can imagine how traumatic that was. That poor kid. Thank god for the nice neighbor lady who walked with him until he found me and thank god for the nice kids on the bus who told me where he’d gotten off. God, that sucked even more.

It has to go better tomorrow, right?

I put this note in his lunch:

A piece of paper held above a cookie. Written on it, I've drawn a picture of a cat and the words, "I love you. You are brave."

He is. So very brave.

Think about how much strength it took for that terrified kid to walk into a brand new school with all new people and new demands. I couldn’t have been prouder of him, even as he faltered.

I recently started a new job with all new people in an all new place with all new demands and an all new way of traveling there and I can tell you that even as an adult who has spent four decades working on controlling my anxiety and learning how to navigate the world and who knows where my house is and how to get there, that feeling of anxiety can be almost paralyzing. That Quinn was able to do it at nine years of age makes me very proud.

It also makes me very sad that he has to battle so much anxiety at nine.

I don’t know how tomorrow will go (although I do know that we will be at the bus stop on time), but I do know that I will continue to be so very proud of all three of my beautiful, brave boys.

Pre-School

The start of school kind of snuck up on me this year. All of a sudden it is the weekend before school starts and my kiddos are all in need of school shoes and information about their bus routes and very precisely sized binders.

Sam is in a good place this year because he is continuing on in the same school where he went last year. He’s all very casual and chill about the whole deal. I have been a little bit less chill because last May when Alex claimed that he walked into the school and changed our address, he actually did not, so I spent my summer worrying that the school mailed something that didn’t get forwarded and I would buy the wrong sort of graphing calculator, which, it turns out is kind of a big deal.

The big news in Samland is that he just found out that he made it into advanced (as opposed to intermediate) band. He couldn’t be happier. He wants to play in an orchestra for a living, so advanced band is clearly Step One for him. We’re all pretty delighted.

We’re also teaching Sam to ride a city bus in preparation for this school year. I took him on a bus the other day and totally fucked up on when to pull the cord to stop the bus. I pulled it something like four stops early and had to keep telling the bus driver that I’d made a mistake and Sam was all, “You’re not doing a very good job of teaching me to ride the bus.” A couple of days later, I dropped him off at the bus stop in the pouring rain with my cell phone, a bus pass, and a book. He refused the umbrella I offered. Upon his safe return home, he was absolutely delighted with the fact that he rode the bus by himself better than I had.

Because of this city bus riding, we got a cell phone for the kid. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the Costco wireless kiosk as a family of five for an hour the day before school starts.

Sam standing in the store looking down at his new phone.

It’s not a smartphone—more of a D-student phone, but it will text and let him take funny photos of the cats with it.

Jack is starting middle school this year, which is all very exciting. His bus drops him off right outside our house though, so he doesn’t get a phone, much to his chagrin. Seriously. He was really pissed during that Costco expedition, making the whole trip even more fun.

Jack seems to be pretty relaxed about going to a whole new school with a whole new system. Happily, both of his best friends are going to the same school, which is awesome for him.

All the middle schools here have a half day for 6th graders the week before school starts so they can experience the school before the big, scary kids get there. He did so well. He came home happy and ready to go back.

Photo of Jack standing in front of a wall next to some flowers. He has a big smile on his face.

I am always amazed at how brave he is.

We spent some time on Sunday putting Jack’s binder together with a tab for each of his classes. Being both a control and organizational neat freak, it was extremely difficult to let Jack write on his own binder dividers in his not super neat handwriting. (I have the same problem with Sam.) Once he got started though, I was glad I was able to stomp down my controlling tendencies because his binder dividers are better than any binder dividers I have ever seen.

Photo of Jack's binder dividers. He's drawn little pictures in each of his words. There is a "+" and "-" on  the math divider, the "i" in science is a beaker, the "o" in world studies is a globe, and the "o" in resource is a disco ball.

In case you don’t read Jack-writing, that “i” in “science” is a lab beaker, the “o” in “world studies” is a globe, and the “o” in “resource” is a disco ball, because of course it’s a disco ball. Why? What do you think happens in 7th period resource class?
(Disco.)

I don’t even care that he misspelled “resource.”

That’s a lie. I care a little bit. (Or a lot.)

That leaves the Q-ball.

Dude. Quinn.

That kid does NOT like school. Like, not even a little bit. Add in the fact that he’s going to an entirely new school where he doesn’t know anyone, has some severe sensory issues, and carries with him a healthy dose of anxiety and you can imagine how much he’s looking forward to Monday.

His new school has been under construction all summer, so it’s been hard to get in there to let him walk around and see the place. I had taken him to the playground before, but last week was the first time he’d been inside. I’d made an appointment for him to go in on Thursday afternoon and have the counselor show him around and introduce him to his teacher before the craziness of open house on Friday.

It was rough. He was in panic mode. He hid behind me and refused to look at or speak to anyone. However, I think it is good that we went in that day for several reasons even though it was so spectacularly difficult for him.

1. After seeing it Thursday, when we went in the next day for open house (with noise-canceling headphones on and an agreement about exactly what we were going to see, who we were going to talk to, how long we were going to stay, and what ice cream I was going to buy him afterward), he did a lot better and was significantly calmer and more able to interact with the world.

2. I was able to meet all of his teachers and pass out little one-sheet papers listing things about Quinn and how to help him.

3. I met a special educator who spent 15 minutes with Quinn and came to the conclusion that he needed a formal 504 or IEP, something I had tried to get for two years at his last school and had not been able to accomplish. (I’ve been meaning to write about this for a really long time. Often it seems that every blog writer gets the perfect IEP for their kid and that is really not the case. It was going to be titled, “Sometimes You Lose the IEP Fight.” Maybe someday I’ll actually manage to type it up.)

Regardless, I am hopeful for some real help for Quinn. His teachers have always worked hard to informally accommodate him, but I think we could have really stumbled into the right place (as far as local public school goes) for Quinn. This special educator is already talking about some significant accommodations. Who knows what will ultimately happen, but I am optimistic.

That said, I am not optimistic about how bummed out this poor kid is going to be for the school bus Monday morning. I wish I could make it better for him.

Photo of Quinn standing outside on a sidewalk.

I took this outside his school after his open house. He was a trooper. He always is.

So that is where we stand. Summer is over. It’s been a weird summer and even though it went really fast and I don’t feel as if I saw enough of my kids, I’m ready for them to go back so we can get back into a routine.

Wish them luck Monday. And if your kids are going back to school Monday as well, I hope they do as well as possible. Let’s send all of them wishes of bravery and kind teachers.

Running Strong

Now that things have settled down a little bit for me, I have been doing a lot of running. My team relay race is coming up in mid-October and I was also dumb enough to sign up for my first half marathon in mid-September, so there is definitely a reason why all the running is necessary—I mean, beyond the obvious mental and physical health reasons.

I’m happy to report that even though I did very little running in May and June, things are going really well for me and my feet. I mean, I do have semi-debilitating pain in a hip, a knee, and a peroneal tendon of the ankle. However, I’m kind of choosing to ignore much of that in a partly educated guess that it’ll all work out fine.

Because that’s what happens, right? Things work out fine.

Some running news from my life:

*****

I ordered a running visor online a few weeks ago, because I was way too lazy to track one down at a store. This probably bodes poorly for my ability to actually, you know, run, but let’s not look at that too closely.

Anywho, I got the shipping confirmation and it was all, “Please be aware that if it rains, your shipment may be delayed,” which made me wonder, how is this visor being shipped—by Pony Express?

******

My new house resides at the veeeeery top of a hill. Like in all directions. It is literally at the highest point in all directions. I’m pretty excited about this in terms of floods, but less excited in terms of running. I mean, it’s great when I’m leaving the house, but every single run ends with a half- to one-mile run up a fairly steep hill.

Sure, it’s probably good for me in terms of hill training and all, but it is terribly irksome when I am tired.

******

As I mentioned up there at the top of this post, I signed up for my first half marathon.

I am scared to fucking death.

I visited the registration page probably 8 or 9 times before I actually registered. Thirteen miles seems like a lot of miles. Plus, there is a time limit on this half marathon, which is extremely close to my running pace. They asked for my expected finish time down to the second, so I put 2 hours, 40 minutes, and 32 seconds, just to be a jerk.

Of course, that estimate is absurd. I plan to finish in 2 hours, 40 minutes, and 18 seconds.

Yes, I am aware that this time estimate is FOREVER in terms of a half marathon. I don’t care. I plan to be very proud of me when I finish.

******

I have been aware for a while now that if you want to run longer distances, mid-run fueling is important. I have also been aware that I could never consume anything that has a name pronounced “goo.”

I have a friend who suggested sport jelly beans. Nope, I couldn’t handle their taste and texture. I came up with the idea that I could eat Snickers bites on the run. Nope, I ate them all before I went running. For my ten-miler, I took Jolly Ranchers with me for at least a sugar boost. I’m not sure they helped, plus I think they were probably a choking hazard.

Happily, I have discovered Clif Shot Bloks, which are not terrible. Plus, you can get a flavor that comes with caffeine! I couldn’t be happier.

*******

I did a ten and a half mile run today, which was awesome. My feet and legs hurt at the end, but I could have kept running, so I feel good about that. I could not, however, have kept running up the hill leading to my house. I walked that motherfucker with a stop midway to stretch.

I tell you about this run not only to be all, “I did a ten and half mile run today,” but also because it started out really hard. I was scheduled for said ten-miler today, but was only three and a half in when my ankle started to hurt and I was tired and I almost stopped and turned around.

In fact, I did stop. Twice. I thought, “Today might not be the day.” But I’m reading a book by an ultramarathoner and I was all, I bet he never stops a run at mile 3.5. So I kept moving. I stopped my Garmin and I walked for about a quarter of a mile and then I started to run again.

So I restarted my Garmin and ran seven more miles. I didn’t even walk the uphills. (Until the end, naturally.) In fact, my originally planned route turned out to be not quite long enough for my planned ten, so I added a whole long section to extend the run.

Yay, me. I rock. I spent a couple of hours in pretty extreme pain after I returned home, but eventually much of the soreness dissipated and now I can totally stand up without crying.

******

I ran my last longer-than-10k race (a 10-miler) in March. I have been worried that because I didn’t run for a couple of months that I have lost too much fitness and that a half marathon would be too much for me. But based on my recent runs, I can tell how much stronger I am now than I was then.

That feels great. Like really, really great.

I have a healthy layer of chub on my body, but you know what is under that soft, bouncy surface? Rockin’ muscles.

Sure, I’d rather those muscles were on the outside. I’m still not happy with my body shape. That said, I am very happy with my body. It is pretty awesome and can do a lot.

Hells yeah. Bring on 13 miles.

The Ugly Emotional Arc of New Car Buying

Prelude:

First, you take your old car to the mechanic.

Cartoon drawing of me standing in a mechanic shop. The mechanic says, "I will fix your car for you so you don't die in a fiery crash." I am saying, "Yay!"

Emotion: Happy and looking forward to a nicely running car.

Four days later, you go pick your car up from the mechanic.

Same cartoon. Mechanic says, "I fixed your transmission then found and unfixable engine problem. Here is your broken car back." Me: "Yay?"

Emotion: Confused and bummed.

Me: "Will this engine problem kill me in the next week?" Mechanic: "Maybe."

Emotion: Concerned. Extremely concerned.
This drawing is an exact representation of our conversation, by the way.

In the cartoon, I am holding a wad of cash and have a sad look on my face. The mechanic says, "That will be $700, please."

Emotion: Sad. Also poor.

Chapter One:

Because your car is not just a death trap, but also ten years old, you decide to buy a new car. Daredevils both, you and your husband jump in your rattlemobile and drive to the dealership that is the farthest away from you in the world because they have the car you want in the color you want.

Cartoon of me and Alex in a gold car.

Emotion: Imminently even poorer, but excited.

Chapter Two:

You sit for your first extended wait of the afternoon as someone brings your new car from The Other Lot.

Cartoon drawing of Alex and I sitting behind a table at a car dealership.

Emotion: Patient.

Chapter Three:

You will test drive a new car, which will be better than your ten-year old car in every single way it is possible to be a better car and even a couple where it is not.

Cartoon of me and Alex in a red car with huge grins on our faces.

Emotion: Pure joy. The last joy you will feel for THE NEXT FOUR HOURS.

Chapter Four:

Now is the time in the car buying process when the dealership will take your death trap trade-in to see how much it is worth. I suggest that you take this time to place bets on what offer they will come back with.

We're sitting at the table in the dealership again. Alex says, "I think they will offer us twelve dollars." I say, "I think they're going to make US pay THEM."

Emotion: Unease.

Chapter Five:

Now they will tell you how much they have decided to pay you to take your car off of your hands. You will be momentarily excited that you won your bet, but then the reality of how little money they are paying you for the second most valuable thing you own after your house will hit you and your emotions will change.

A man has joined us at the table. He says, "We will pay you a pittance." Alex says, "How about a pittance plus $500?" I say "Please?" The man says, "No."

Emotion: Resentment.

Chapter Six:

Now you haggle. You can avoid this most terrible of steps by paying full price (not recommended), using a pre-negotiated car-buying service (highly recommended), or faking your own death so your significant other can get a sympathy discount.

Drawing of black squiggles with stars, exclamation points, and various limbs sticking out, indicating a massive struggle.

Emotions: Hunger Games-esque

Chapter Seven:

Your car salesman will bring you a paper with all your charges and discounts listed on it. He will have intentionally left out at least two of your discounts in hopes that you won’t catch them.

Same cartoon of us at the desk. There is a paper with a dollar sign on the desk. Alex is saying, "It seems that you've, ahem, accidentally overcharged us by more than $1500." The salesman says, "Oopsie."

Emotion: Deep-seeded anger thinly veiled by fake conviviality.

Chapter Eight:

You will now be left alone again for a long period of time. Why is unclear. A price has been agreed upon. The car is there; you know because you were just in it. It can’t possibly take more than three or four seconds to print out a sales contract. Nonetheless, you will sit there unattended for what feels like hours.

We are sitting at the empty table. Alex has circles under his eyes. My head is down flat on the table.

Emotion: Boredom, the kind that comes after mind-numbing.

Chapter Nine:

You will turn down a service contract sixteen times in five minutes.

A salesman says, "This service contract is great because..." Me: "No." Salesman: "But this one will work because..." Alex and I: "NO!"

Emotion: Annoyance.

Chapter Ten:

They will send in a third person to try to sell you a service contract. And undercoating.

There is a woman saleslady at the table now. She says, "If there is *one* thing you need, it's..." Alex says, "I said no." I say, "God, please. Make it stop."

Emotion: Hopelessness. Utter and complete. They’re never going to let us leave, are they?

Chapter Eleven:

This same saleslady will then put sticky notes as bookmarks in your owner’s manual so you will be able to find such important information as how to set the clock. She does this by looking in the index. Because, you know, not many people know about the index.

The clock-setting lecture takes place three and a half hours into the process. It is ironic, what with the fact that TIME HAS LOST ALL MEANING.

We still sit at the table, looking even more downtrodden than before. The saleslady continues, "And if you look here on page 86 of the owner's manual, you will see how to preset a radio station. Of course, page 87 tells you about the clock. And I see in the index that..."

Emotion: Incredulity. Are most of the people who buy cars here illiterate, or do the salespeople just assume they are?

Chapter Twelve Through Eleventy Billion:

At this point you are so worn down that you would consider paying for the optional paint protection if it means they will just let you go home. You will eventually be moved to another room where you will sign anything they put in front of you just so you can leave. The business manager who is handing you these papers will uncover a $345 in-your-favor mistake the salesman made. When the salesman tells her to just waive the $345, you are so grateful, not because of the money you are saving but because you would not have been physically able to stand the extra four hours it would have taken to fix the mistake.

Image of the word "DESPAIR" in different fonts and at different angles.

No explanation necessary.

Yes, DESPAIR. In all caps. BECAUSE ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!

Chapter Eleventy Billion and One:

You are done. You have your owner’s manual. You have your keys. You are sitting in your new car. Your salesperson will still not let you go. Evidently, you have to connect the bluetooth so you can talk on the phone in the car.

Presumably to the salespeople who want nothing more in life than to chat with you.

Cartoon image of Alex and I in the car with a salesperson in the seat behind us. He is saying, "Now I'll call you so you can hear the car ring!"

Emotion: Murderous exasperation. It is so an emotion.

Chapter Eleventy Billion and Two:

You will drive home, all the excitement of buying a new car stripped out of you.

Drawing of me and Alex driving home in the car. My eyes are closed. He has circles under his.

Emotion: Tired. So very tired. Also, poor again.

But don’t worry. Tomorrow you will love your new car. And just like with a new baby, you will forget how painful the act of acquiring it was.

Photo of Alex and me in the new car. We are smiling.

Emotion: Happy. Bonus: No crumbs under the seats.

You may even remember how to smile again.

My New House, a.k.a. the Anti-Blogging Kingdom

It turns out that my new house doesn’t want me to blog.

Honestly, that’s the only reason I can come up with for why I’ve barely written a word this summer.

It turns out that having a separate office where my computer lives means that when I collapse in the family room in the evening, my laptop is in a whole other room aaaaaalllll the way across a hallway.

I’m really supposed to traverse that far? Come on, people.

I’m going to put some of the blame on the new sectional couch we got to put in our family room as well. After some back and forth and bargaining (and pleading and one or two threats) with Alex, I selected my spot in the middle of the “L.” Once I’m in it, it’s tough to climb out unless I’m really motivated. It’s a really deep couch.

I’m a hell of a lot more relaxed, but not very creative anymore.

I’m not ready to give up this creative outlet yet though, so I’m working on an elaborate pulley and conveyor belt system to serve as a laptop-to-couch delivery route. It’s still in the planning stages, but I imagine it will be ready for me to start writing again by next spring, 2016 at the very latest.