Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Open House and My Love/Hate Relationship

My kids are funny at school. I know this because once a year our school district has an open house day where you can go sit in on your kids' classes without looking helicopter-y and like THAT mom. Being THAT mom, I totally go to all my kids' schools.

Monday of this week was this year's open house. I learned a lot of things that day. Without further ado:

20 Things I Learned at This Year's Open House:

1. It is extremely exhausting to visit all three of my special sugar-encrusted snowflakes in their natural habitats. I was at school as long as my kids were. Plus, I didn't get to pee or eat during that time. Note: I like to both pee and eat more often than every six hours.

2. Before deciding on the order of attendance at each of my kids' schools, I should have probably checked the hours of the open house. I lucked into choosing the right order, but it turns out that open house for one ended at noon and for another ended at 12:40. Thank goodness I had coincidentally made those stops one and two.

3. Jack is a participator. He raised his hand in both classes that I observed him in. Including math. Math! And he did it with no noticeable angst or blushing. I always thought that if my maternity were ever questioned it would be because of Quinn and his blond hair. Turns out it's going to be because of Jack and his friendliness and class participation and deep thoughts about math.

4. It is entirely possible that Jack has been lying about not having English homework every night, because I heard in class about the English homework he had and he sure didn't volunteer that information when he got home.

5. Quinn puts an overly dramatic, "BRO!" at the end of responses he gives to his (female) teacher after he gives an answer.

6. Quinn is extremely lucky that his teacher is cool.

7. Quinn is going to make a ceramic candle holder in art class.

8. Quinn plans to get rich by mass producing ceramic candle holders like the one he's designing for art class. He also plans to force his friends to be his workforce.

9. It is extremely difficult to find a parking spot at Sam's high school.

10. Few parents go to open house at Sam's high school.

11. Even *I* was a little embarrassed to be going to open house at Sam's high school.

12. It was totally worth it to go to open house at Sam's high school, because Sam is cool and I really like the relationship that I am developing with teenager Sam.

13. Going to a high school during the school day was vaguely uncomfortable and made me feel bad for all the kids who have to deal with four years of high school. It gets better, kids!

14. Sam learned in biology that the stomach can comfortably hold 33 ounces. This made both of us wonder how he ate that 50-ounce steak when we were on vacation in Wisconsin. (Yes, he really did. You'll hear about it if/when I am finally able to finish writing about summer vacation.)

15. I will follow the rule of “no cell phones or photography during open house” until the end of the day when I’m tired and hungry and I think the teacher won’t catch me.

16. Stopping on the way home to buy food for you and your eating machine teenager will make you feel ever so much better.

17. I have three very amazing children who are so fantastically different and wonderful.

18. Even though part of me kinda hates open house day, part of me is so grateful for it.

19. Sorry, kiddos. I'm coming to open house day until the bitter end of Quinn's senior year of high school.

20. I continue to be THAT mom.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Greedy and Unauthorized

I have a fat cat and a slender cat. And three other cats. (One of them is super ripped. We imagine her doing sit-ups while we sleep so she can get buff and keep the younger cats submissive. It's working.)

Anyway, we have a fat cat...

Wait, what did you just say?

...and a slim cat.


The fat cat is Oreo. She is named after a delicious cookie. She never had a chance. The thin cat is named Starfire. She's always been tiny.

Anywho, we wanted to put Oreo on a diet because that level of pudge isn't healthy for a cat and what with her and Quinn's weird (so, so fucking weird) and absolute codependence, she can never die. To facilitate this, we asked the vet how to trim her down.

We feed our cats canned food morning and night (not a lot, but some) and free feed them kibble during the day. The vet suggested we only leave the kibble out for an hour or so in the morning and the evening. Which we did.


None of the cats much appreciated not having access to food at all hours of the day, but I was more concerned about Starfire than anyone. I kind of feel that she needs to have the ability to eat whenever she wants to. I mean, she is practically emaciated. When we restricted her food, she started doing things like eating crumbs and leaves off of the floor.

Because we didn't want to starve Starfire to death and much to all five cats' relief, we returned to our freefeeding ways.

Then one day I was sitting in the vet waiting room flipping through a magazine when I came across an ad for the SureFeed microchip feeding system. This "pet food bowl" or "bizarre archway to lunch" has a lid that folds back when it recognizes the microchip from a specific pet.

Not our cat. Our cats are strictly bichromatic–not garish orange.

This was the answer! The pet shelter where we got our cats microchips all of their animals, so Starfire was all ready for this system. Once we purchased this bowl, Starfire could eat whenever she wanted to and Oreo could not.

We bought the bowl and I set about to reading the instructions, which were hilarious for many reasons, first of which is that they were very law and order with instructions that started with "If the pet is authorised and allowed to eat..."

Also you can tell that the instructions are fancy because they use an "s" in "authorized" instead of a "z." Furthermore, this instruction book was clearly not written by someone whose first language is English, leading to fun subject headings like "Learning your pet into the feeder," which is really just a couple of typos away from becoming some sort of animal horror snuff film.

There is a whole process involved in teaching your authorised pet to eat from this thing, first of which is getting the bowl to recognize that (and only that) cat. The way to do that is to push the "add pet" button on the back and then wait for your thin cat to poke her head through the arch while you lurk around trying not to scare her away from the feeder at the same time that you do try to scare away the unauthorised cat.

I didn't want to stuff Starfire through the thing, thus ensuring that she would freak out and never go near the bowl again, but the instruction book told me that "no amount of waving your pet in front of the feeder will have an effect," which could just have easily said, "Don't be a dumbass about this, Stimey."

I spent the better part of the day lurking near the food bowl with no success until my actions motivated Sam to prove he was better than me by luring Starfire into the archway, causing the bowl to recognize her. I was so relieved that he'd done it that I couldn't even be annoyed by his smug little attitude.

I only added Starfire to the bowl because, let's be honest, none of the rest of the animals really need to snack throughout the day. If I'd wanted to though, I could have added up to 32 pets as authorised eaters. I have lots of thoughts about someone who would need 32 pets on this thing. I also have thoughts about how sad it would be to be the 33rd pet.

My favorite part of the instructions, however, was one sentence about the cat this bowl is designed to keep out. It didn't speak of the cat with the medically sensitive diet or the cat with slight self-control issues. It flat out fat shamed the fuck out of Oreo:

"If an unauthorised greedy pet tries to eat from the feeder when the lid is closed then the lid will simply not open."

I like the lack of comma there which implies that the subject is a "greedy pet" modified by "unauthorised," as opposed to a normal pet, modified by both "unauthorised" and "greedy."


We spent close to a month moving through the training stages. At first you just leave the lid open, then you set it so it closes just a little, then more, then more and more. It's pretty clever actually, getting them used to the short noise and movement gradually in something like five increments.

Two days ago, we were ready. I pushed the button that closed the lid on the bowl and waited to see if Starfire would manage to open the bowl and if Oreo would lose her shit completely. Yes on both counts.

Poor Oreo. I watched her look carefully through the clear plastic lid to the food beneath. She sniffed the feeder. She moved around to the front and nudged it with her nose. Clearly, she thought, this is broken. Somebody should fix this.

Then she clawed at the lid. She tried to bite the lid open. She stood on top of it to investigate the back of the lid perhaps in hopes that the open part was now on the back. Then she clawed and bit at the front of it again.

It was sad. I too have been pudgy and hungry myself and it sucks.

I literally just now heard the bowl open and I looked into the feeding area only to see Oreo kind of nudging Starfire out of the way so she could get to the food. She got just about one mouthful before the lid shut on her.

Again, very sad.

If cats could speak, two of these would be saying, “It is 8:38 for chrissakes, it is well fucking past dinnertime.” The third one would not be saying that. Because it is always dinnertime for her. Plus, she doesn’t use curse words.

Maybe if you could be less greedy and unauthorised, you could eat at lunchtime too, Oreo.

I hope you all feel good about yourselves.

I'm so glad I am not a cat, subject to the whims and laughter of my owners.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Both Sides of the Water Stop

You know how I won't shut up about my running-induced hip injury? Well, you should know that it hasn't just led to me being a whiny, whiny cry baby. It has also led to volunteerism and giving back to the running community and forcing my family to suffer right along with me.

I had three races in a one-week period that I wanted to be involved with last month. I intended to run two of them and volunteer at another, but after my body rebelled, I knew I couldn't run my originally planned 33 miles of racing--or even my plan B of 23 miles of racing--in a week.

The race that got the cut was the Parks Half Marathon, which I ran once and cheered at once, and fell at three times. I deferred my entry to next year (dammit, now I have to run it next year) and signed up instead to work at a water station.

I have benefited from very many water stations in my running career. There is rarely one that I pass without partaking. Sometimes I even take two cups. Water is gooooood. Yet I didn't know what it was like on the other side of the table.

Yes, I realize in this photo that I am still on the runner side of the table, but to serve my metaphor, let’s pretend that I’m on the other side.

The great thing is that the woman who was in charge of the water stop had been doing it for years and totally had a plan and kept us organized and efficient and there were plenty of us there to keep everything moving smoothly. I've run past water stops where the volunteers were in a state of panic trying to fill up cups not quite keeping up with demand. It always looks like not a lot of fun when that happens. I'm happy to report that that was not us.

I helped pass out and pour the Gatorade. You know what word loses all its meaning after you say it sixteen thousand times? "Gatorade."

The next race I was involved in was the Kensington 8K. I love that race. When I started running in 2012, it was the first race I ran. I was sooooo slow. And it was really hard. But I did it and I was so proud of myself and I have run it every year since then. This year I had signed up for a 20-mile race the day after the Kensington 8K, so I knew I couldn't run it.

I decided to volunteer to course marshal the course during the race because that seemed like the most fun and easiest thing to do. Then I remembered that my kids are forced to do volunteer hours to graduate from high school, so I signed the whole family up to help with the night-before-the-race cone-drop. That entailed sitting in the back of a pickup truck and throwing cones out on the sidewalk at intersections along the course route for course marshals to set out the next morning.

The cone-delivery truck was late getting the cones to us, so my kids learned about how they could earn volunteer hours by swinging at the playground while waiting for other people to do their jobs.

Just because I cut much of each of them out of the photo doesn’t mean I don’t love them.

Finally the cones arrived and we set out. I sat in the front of the truck with a race director and shouted out how many cones Alex, my kids, and the race director's kids needed to drop off the back of the truck.

Before. See how Alex doesn’t look even a little bit like he wanted to kill me? That would change.

I think the kids had a lot of fun. I don't know if they've ever ridden in the back of a pickup truck, which is--let's be honest here--one of the most fun things in the world. Plus we had flashing lights rotating on the top of the truck and they got to jump in and out of the vehicle. It was all kinds of great.

Alex, on the other hand, had all kinds of complaints: "That flashing light is really disorientating." "That guy needs to stop accelerating so fast." "That traffic cone distinctly smelled like shit." "I might barf."

There is really no pleasing the man.

The next day I sauntered off to claim my intersection, which was a really important intersection because I had to send the runners off in one direction toward a turn-around and then make sure they headed off in a third direction on their way back. This was complicated by the fact Ragnar DC took place that weekend and my intersection was where those two races collided--going opposite directions. It was exciting.

My baby.

I really could have used a couple of extra cones though. Someone should have told the cone-droppers that. I had a cop with me as well because I was at the edge of the course and evidently they don't want cars careening through the course. Prior to the race, I did have a couple of irate car drivers. I had a bunch of really nice car drivers who understood that the roads were closed and/or closing, but there were two who were visibly and verbally annoyed--both of them told me they had to get to a church. Ironic.

It was very enjoyable to point people to the right direction and cheer them on. At one point I was cheering on this kinda confused-looking kid who wandered off shortly thereafter only to be brought back to me by a nearby homeowner who was all, "So this guy was supposed to be running the 1K fun run and got lost."

That kid was almost two miles into the race. I told him he pretty much won. I had a little interior discussion with myself (the mental equivalent of walking in confused circles) while I considered sending him back along the race course with instructions to go from course marshal to course marshal and whether this constituted an "emergency" that meant I could call the race directors like my instruction sheet told me. I finally decided to keep him with me and instructed him to cheer for the runners after I determined that, yes, a lost kid is an emergency and I called a race director and told her I had a lost kid.

(Yes, the instinct to avoid phone calls is strong in me.)

The race director tracked down his parents who eventually showed up after the last runners had passed. They were very grateful. Apparently they had moved to the area a couple of weeks ago and they were walking the fun run, but their kid wanted to run it so they told him to follow the other people and ZOOM! suddenly he'd run three fun runs.

I'm not going to lie; I felt a little bit like a hero.

After all of that, I finally got to run a race the next day. That race, Revenge of the Penguins, has a 20-mile version and a 10-mile version. I had originally signed up for the 20-miler, but stepped it back to ten miles after my injury. Even that was a little bit of a stretch. I hadn't come close to running ten miles at one time in weeks. I was determined to get the race jacket that came with my registration though.

I love this jacket. That penguin is exactly what I’d look like running if I were a penguin.

I ran that race so goddamn slow. But I ran it. It was a beautiful canal-side course that was mostly flat. The last couple of miles super sucked, but I ran 'em. And I said thank you to every single person who handed me a cup of water or Gatorade.

After. I was a little sweaty.

It was a super well-organized race in a beautiful location with super nice volunteers. If all goes as I hope, I intend to triumphantly return next year to do the 20-miler.

I also intend to continue volunteering at races. Because there's nothing like getting to hang out at a race with other runners and not having to run. In fact, it may be the perfect solution.

That said, five days from now I have another race--the Army Ten Miler. I hope to run this one faster than snail speed. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Gosh, look how time flies. You look up and all of a sudden three weeks have passed, summer has turned to fall, it's October, and all your great intentions to write stuff last month have fallen to dust. Let's catch up, shall we?

I spent most of last month withdrawing from drugs. I had an antidepressant medication change, which has led (happily!) to the removal of Lexapro from my daily regimen. Have any of you done that? Well, I can tell you that it is un-fucking-pleasant. Lots of lightheadedness, irritability, and—my favorite—face tingling. Urgh. I'm in the lucky segment whose symptoms have lasted for multiple weeks. It's super great.

Now that you know that I've been off balance for the past month-plus, it seems like a good time to tell you that I bought a bike. You probably don't need to feel stable for that, right?

I decided that it was time for me to add some sort of cross training to my workout schedule, partly because my physical therapist told me it would be good for me and partly because I saw the words "cross training" on my marathon training calendar and I was all, "Huh, maybe I should find a way to actually do this." Also, I was worried about my hip injury and thinking that I should come up with another way to exercise if I could never run again.

Unfortunately, I had no idea how to buy a bike. I had vivid images of me entering a bike shop, walking in confused circles for a few minutes, bursting into tears, and leaving—maybe after having fallen in an unbalanced heap onto the floor. Fortunately, my friend Sherry was passing through town and she had a few hours to spend with me. Seeing as how she is the person in the world who knows more about cycling than anyone I know (and probably anyone you know), I made her take me to a bike shop to help pick out a bike. For most people that might have been the most obnoxious thing to do to an out-of-town guest, but Sherry said that it seemed like the most fun thing to do and as it behooved me, I chose to believe her.

We spent a solid two hours at my local bike shop where I learned about everything from making sure your bike helmet has a hole for your ponytail to the difference in width of pelvic bones in men and women and how that relates to bike seats. Then we test rode a bunch of expensive bikes around the parking lot of a homeless shelter, which felt a little troubling, but that was the parking lot at hand.

They didn't have the bike in stock that I ended up deciding on, so I left clutching a business card on which Sherry had written the specifications of the bike I wanted. I ordered it a couple of weeks later and kind of wish I still had Sherry with me because the questions the clerk heaved at me were hard: Do you want red or black? What kind of lock do you want? You should probably buy all these accessories; which accessories do you want? This little bell is really loud, but this one is shaped like a coffee cup; which do you choose?

(Red. The one the guy recommended. Just a water bottle cage. I don't drink coffee, so the loud one.)

I was concerned when the guy asked me if I wanted matte red or black because I thought a red bike would be like a rolling invitation to steal. In fact, Sherry had schooled me on how to make a new, expensive bike look old and crappy so no one would take it. But red seemed sooooo much more fun than black. So I chose the red.

OMG YOU GUYS IT IS THE FLASHIEST, MOST FLAMBOYANT BIKE I COULD EVER HAVE CHOSEN. I can never lock this thing up out of my sight because it shines like the sun. I've been watching bike racks and there are NO bikes the color of mine locked up on them. Probably because they've already been jacked.

It doesn’t look quite so shocking from this far away, but trust me, it is BRIGHT.

Although I am now a certified bike owner, I should admit that I am terrified of riding bikes. I haven't regularly ridden a bike since I was a teenager—and even then I didn't ride them all that much. Fortunately, there is someone in my family who is similarly nervous and new at cycling, so Quinn and I headed out to a parking lot near our house last weekend and rode in circles.

I didn't fall once! Neither did Quinn!

Tomorrow (on my marathon training cross training day) I plan to do a two-mile loop that passes the market where I can buy a soft serve ice cream cone. (A suitable reward for taking my life into my hands, I'd say.) I'm going to have to go down a hill—with speedbumps. *nervous face* Then I'm going to have to push the bike back up the hill. *out-of-shape face*

Also, bike helmets are the WORST, but I like my brain, so I’ll wear one. Sherry always looks super cute in hers. I don’t know why I look like a blue ladybug.

Another thing that has happened in September is that school started. Sam is in high school now and seems to be doing all right. He's doing stuff like learning to speak Chinese and doing math that is far beyond my abilities. Jack and Quinn are also doing math that is far beyond my abilities. (I'm not very good at math. My skills lie elsewhere.)

Jack and Quinn are in the same schools they were in last year, so there has been no major upheaval for either of them, which is great, because next year both of them will be upheaved and in two entirely new schools, both to them and to me.

Speaking of which, I swear to God, being a parent and having to learn a new school is awful. Really, really awful. I kind of took the last couple of years off from being super involved in my kids' schools, but I decided that high school is the time to get back into it. One music boosters meeting at Sam's school and I remember why I'm not really a "joiner."

I'm sticking it out though. I am going to Be Involved if it kills me. (It might.)

I also have a new Homework Check-in System™ for my kids. It's an upgrade from me asking them when they get home if they have homework and them lying to my face and saying no only to freak out at bedtime or the next morning before school when they remember that they lied to me and they have to do ALL THEIR HOMEWORK RIGHT NOW OMIGOD!

This being the beginning of the school year, I am all motivated and determined that this? This is the year we're going to do it right! Seriously though, we're maybe five weeks into the school year and Homework Check-in is officially the worst.

I'm chugging away at it though. Every stupid night I sit at the table and make my kids bring me their binders and we check their grades and email and Google Classroom and I help them study and I sit there while they do their homework and my hope is that eventually this will become habit and what they are used to doing all the time and thus Homework Check-in will have taught them to be effective and productive students.

I had a similar program I instituted at the end of last year that I called Executive Function Friday (also ™) that I started after hearing a story on NPR about executive function coaches who helped students organize and prioritize their homework and after having an immediate reaction of I SHOULD SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON A COACH FOR MY KIDS, I realized that this is something I could do sorta easily myself and for free.

I know you all are like, "Oh, you are now reminding your kids to do their homework and making sure they do it and you somehow think this is revolutionary?"

Yes. Yes, I do.

Two of my subjects diligently trying to convince me their homework is complete. They are lying.

I can't even tell you the executive functioning skills required for this. My kids have 27 classes amongst them. Twenty-seven.* It is awful. I have been coloring to keep myself busy without doing something that takes too much of my attention like reading or crushing candy while they work. I mean, that candy isn't going to crush itself, but that's what I do instead of blogging now, so it will still get done. Promise.

I think we're largely caught up on September now. Oh, except for now that I have a high schooler, I have to go to things like the teen drinking town hall I attended last night. It was terrifying. I walked out of there having learned three things: (1) It is a miracle I survived college mostly unscathed what with my unhealthy drinking habits, (2) All the teenagers are in extremely imminent danger, and (3) I have to buy locks for all my liquor storage areas immediately! Like yesterday.

I was in a golden period of parenting for a while where all my kids were old enough to dress themselves and buckle their own seatbelts, but they were still under my control and/or supervision at all times. That's starting to change what with Sam off riding the public transportation system with his friends and going to movies with them and going places where I am not. And—if the professionals from this town hall meeting are to be believed—evidently buying and using cocaine and Red Bull. It's scary. There is a lot to shepherd kids through during their teenage years. There is so much they have to deal with. And it's a lot of hard work. I mean, it's worth it and all because my kids are the best and all, but geez.

So that's it. I am off to crush some candy now while I let the computer and television parent my children. That isn't counterintuitive to everything I've just said at all, is it? I have some posts percolating in my head, so hopefully it won't be another month before I show up again. 'Til then, Happy October!

* I was proofreading this post and I had to get out a piece of paper and scribble some figures on it and count on my fingers and then pull out a calculator, but I discovered that three kids times seven classes each equals twenty-one. So my problems are nowhere near as bad as I thought they were. Except I turn out to be perilously unqualified to perform even the most basic of calculations.