Sunday, May 31, 2015

Homeschool and holograms

I could barely comprehend the letter in my hand …it just didn't add up. … Which, I'll admit, was ironic since the page-long epistle was trying to spell out how my second-grader would surely benefit from summer school.

As I reread the words, I pictured his beloved summer camp and all of our day-trip plans disappearing with the liquid-y snap of a soap bubble.

He needs summer school? I thought he had improved so much this year ...

Of course, his teachers didn't call it summer school.

They called it “Invitations,” and sprinkled the script with colorful words that made it seem like it would be more fun than a barrel of simian superlatives.

They'd have to be crazy to think such a name would fool anyone, (much less a kid) into thinking a two-hour literacy class, scheduled smack-dab in the middle of July, was going to be a party.

Not if it didn't have basketball …

or Knock Hockey …

or ice cream and cupcakes ...

or firefighters, with a big red truck, who would spray all the kids at camp with a cool mist from the hose.

“How am I supposed to sell this?” I asked the dog, who had sidled up to me and dropped her head on my lap as I opened the mail. She was no help, though, and disappeared once she realized the fine people at Milkbone hadn't sent her any samples.

As a parent, I don't have to SELL anything.

It's having to do the unsavory for the good of humanity, or at least for the good of my future grandchildren who should have a father who can read.

No, this is just one of the many moments when parents have to do The Hard Thing.

The Parenting Thing.

The thing that rocks the boat and muddies the water.

The thing that hurts us more than it hurts them.

The thing that will, hopefully, make all the difference in the world.

And, according to the letter, the thing that will make a difference is sixteen more days of school.

I am prepped and ready.

I am talking the talk:

“Of course education comes first, of course it does,” my mother's mind says reflexively.

“Buuuuut … Education shouldn't be punitive,” rationalizes the kinder, gentler, pushover-like being in my soul who yearns for the calm and tranquil waters we will miss if we aren't poolside.

“Perhaps we can make some kind of compromise,” this touchy-feely mush mouth proposes. “Lots of people homeschool.”

“We know so many teachers … and there are so many programs we could use to supplement summer reading.”

Of course, I'm not opposed to threats.

I picture The Talk. The one where I sit him down and show him the letter. I tell him the predicament and give him a choice. He buckles down and does his reading and comprehension from now until school ends, or I sign him up for summer school.

He cries. I stay calm, cool and collected. The world doesn't implode.

I am patting myself on the back at my newfound fortitude. My we-pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps mantra when … an imaginary bubble hovered over my psyche. In it I can see my daughter vigorously shaking her head.

“Oh ye of modern motherhood's discontent,” her hologram-like apparition warns. “Woe to she who can't say no.”

“I know,” I reassure my tisking conscience. “Home schooling would be a huge mistake. ...”

Plip. Her bubble pops while mine slowly expands:

“But home summer schooling seems entirely possible.”

For a moment, my daughter's imaginary bubble returned, but she was speechless.

I took that as a good sign.

No, really. I can do this. Who volunteered in her kid's Literacy Block every Wednesday since October? I did.

And who actually went to Third Grade and didn't fail? Again … Me!

Who found all these cool, age-appropriate reading programs that even seem like video games? Me, that's who.

“We can do this. It's not rocket science. … it's third-grade reading.”

My mature child's bubble returned … and with it came another proof of my folly:

“And who celebrated a cavity-free dental visit with lollipops and licorice?”

To which I can only respond: “And who doesn't have cavities?”


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Magic miles

I was at the starting line.

I wasn't nervous. Not one bit.

Of course, I had been facing backward, but that's a mistake anyone could make.

“I'd trained for this,” I told myself and everyone who was in listening range. Two days a week whenever time allowed, and at six o'clock on Saturday mornings. I'd drag myself out of bed and lace up my sneakers, rain or shine. In just a few months time, I had accumulated an ever expanding weekly distance despite moving at a glacial pace.

Two hours and thirty minutes. That's when I expected to cross the finish line.

At some point during this middle-age experience filled with blisters and chafing and jogging uphill (both ways), covering 13.1 miles without using wheels had become not only thinkable but doable. It had also seemed like a two and a half-hour vacation at the end of each week.

I wasn't proud, exactly. I was amazed.

The kind of amazed I felt when I got married …. or when the kids were born … or when they started making their own lunches.

The kind of amazed one might feel when they get a hug from a child or a smile from a stranger.

Granted … it's not the kind of amazed one feels when seeing a George Lucas film for the first time. Or when a hypnotist at the county fair makes a whole bleacher-section bark like dogs. But that's beside the point.

This was real and somewhat elusive, albeit mundane. As I joined the ranks of the Spandex-clad huffing and puffing by the side of the road, somewhere inside my head I had to wonder:

Why do we put ourselves through this?

Shin splints, stress fractures, muscle tears and a laundry list of self-diagnoses ending in ITIS.

It has to be for something other than the subtraction of a few seconds from a stopwatch.

We all have our reasons: Testing limits; pushing boundaries; setting examples; strengthening our bodies; clearing our heads.

I used to think it was all just mind games, mostly.

But that's always how we all feel in the beginning.

When the gun goes off, and you start to run -- a slow jog that stops short a few times before the pack thins itself out – you realize how often we forget to hold ourselves back.

Starting out too fast is a common problem in all human races.

Eventually, I will pace myself. I will settle into a cadence I can sustain.

My body doesn't have much of a choice once my mind realizes it has to pitch in and help.

Miles one and two fly by as I keep up with the pack.

Eventually, I do begin to pace myself. Though my brain – the sad, tired, mathematically impaired thing that it is – can't seem to keep up. The mile marker has a number four on it. That can't be right.

What happened to mile three?

I kept rounding downward.

Mile nine seemed like mile seven. I had scaled the wall I usually hit full on.

I came up on Mile 12 with the feeling of invincibility.

So, of course, finally being the hare in this tortoise fable, I did want all hares historically do.

I started to walk, which startled the nice lady I'd passed at least five times already. She touched my elbow as she passed me again, this time saying the magic words: “We got this.”

We did have this.

I was going to finish.

I just wasn't sure my family would see me cross that line if I didn't slow down.

They'd never expect me to pull a rabbit out of my hat.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cleans up well

I love that jacket,” my friend exclaimed. She gestured for me to spin clockwise and then counterclockwise so she could see all its angles.

Such is the standard greeting in most corners of kinship. But finding myself in unusual territory, I turned my head to gaze down at my outstretched arm, needing a reference to remind myself what I'd thrown on that morning.

It was my faaaaaaavorite jacket: A black, neoprene hoodie with vents and reflective tape striping its length, and fashionable thumb holes at the end of each sleeve.

I mumbled a meek thank-you, but in my mind, I twirled through an awkward humble-brag response: “Oh this old thing? I found it washed up on a beach. It's practically an endangered species.”

Blank. Stare.

So … I wasn't just thinking that, huh?

See, this is just my fashion sense. Dulled, apparently, by thrift and absurdity. Someone compliments me on my attire, and I explain how I bought it for pennies at a flea market or fished it out of the trash.

Give it a shake.

Hand wash.

Tumble dry.


Still, with the staring?

I'm going to need you to explain that one,” she ventured.

Well, one morning last summer I was walking on the beach, and I thought a dead seal had been brought in by the tide. So I went over … you know, to poke it … and it turned out to be this jacket. One swim in the wash, and it was good as new.”

So I guess you could say it is an endangered species.”

I don't know if you can tell, but I don't receive many compliments.

Not that I would expect them.

My wardrobe consists of roughly a dozen garments that orbit my person in a fairly consistent three-day rotation.

Today is Sunday, so I am likely wearing my Lucky jeans (Marshall's clearance) a cobalt blue sweatshirt (Goodwill) and a green Lands' End hoodie (overstuffed hand-me-downs bag meant for the kids). It is also likely I'll be wearing several of these pieces come Wednesday, as well.

Now, you probably think I have nothing to wear.

Go ahead, pretend you are a 15-year-old girl and imagine me saying “I have nothing to wear.”

Can't do it, can you? You can't because you KNOW such a notion is totally ridiculous.

My closet -- like every 15-year-old-girl's in the western world -- is cascading with frocks and fabrics that haven't seen the light of day since they were acquired. These things are arranged by color (or, in my case, varying shades of lack of color) and hung like great works of art in a Closet Museum.

A dresser contains another wing of this fiber repository. I don't even have to claw through its deep drawers to find my usual favorites. Fancy fibers sink to the bottom; everyday wear floats to the top like flotsam.

Oh, I love this headband. I found it in a mud puddle in the parking lot of the supermarket. Came through the wash like new.”

I know I shouldn't be proud of this. I have socially acceptable clothes that take up precious real estate in my wardrobe but rarely get worn.
Doesn't matter how much I paid, I keep them around because of sentiment. Each clothes hanger holds the place of a distant memory that I don't want to see evaporate because of rote generosity. Therefore, I flout my own rule of thumb: For every Good Deal goes two for Goodwill.

Which means every year, I just wedge a few more pieces between the already tightly packed hangers. Clothes that are waiting to take a spin.

I'm not a clothes horse; I'm a clothes hoarder.

… But I could use some new shoes. It is almost beach combing season.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sleep walking

It's been a long time since I've just gone for a walk.

A get out of bed, grab a sweater and go kind of walk.

A don't really care what shoes you wear kind of walk.

A meet up with a friend and gab kind of walk.

A stop on the way home for coffee and a bagel kind of walk.

Walks like these used to be a routine. Now they seem to be a rarity.

Even the dog looks at me with disdain and the plumpness of four extra pounds gained since the Fall.

There's enough blame to throw around: Long winter, short-hair dog. The lure of an extra half hour of sleep.

When the veterinarian mentioned the weight gain, I immediately blamed the new cat, her overflowing food bowl, and her dainty little appetite.

But the real blame has to be be placed firmly inside my own orthotics-inserted, blue and orange over-engineered kicks.

I'd rather run.

And not just run. … Obsessively run. Compulsively run.

Run the way a handheld computer tells me to run.

Four miles today, five tomorrow, eight to ten by the end of the week.

Easy. Slow. Fast. Race pace.

Run with all the gizmos that, as I cross my fingers and mouth a silent prayer, I hope will help me shave off a few measly seconds from my best time.

Which, let's face it, never seems fast or far enough. Not to mention that it doesn't allow the time my furry friend needs to sniff fire hydrants or chase squirrels.

Yes, It's all my fault. I would rather run, and the dog slows me down.

More and more, I'm coming to the realization that I'm not running for the health benefits as much as I'm running for the data.

Rafts and rafts of it, over various applications. I know how far, how fast, at what elevation; and, mile for mile, how it compares to other runs going back all the way to the beginning.

Even when I measure one run on one device, I enter the metrics into four others.

Because …

Well …

I'm insane.

Which reminds me ...

Now I have a new device.

A Pebble Watch, which is like the Apple watch, only not as Goliath.

It tells the time. And buzzes my arm when I receive text messages. And it shows the data from my running tracker without having to fish my phone out of its sleeve.

It also tracks my activity throughout the day, as well as the quality of my sleep. All of these numbers, however, have made me skeptical of their validity.

As if the chunk of plastic strapped to my wrist is a tiny Dr. Oz reminding me I've bought into the amazing properties of snake oil metrics while the price was at its height.

Of course, even snake oil works some degree.

For instance, the watch has determined that I sleep only six hours (two of them deeply) most nights, which can only be accounted for because I usually manage to walk 80 or 90 steps in my sleep.

However, the prospect of exercising in dreamland turned into a nightmare as the watch logged a meager 3,000 steps on days I don't run and barely reached the target 10,000 on the days I do.

Then my crazy suddenly blossomed. Standing at the bus stop my watch-side arm started to twitch. Then swing. And then, before I knew what was happening, any passerby would have thought I was snapping in time to some doo-wop band in my head.

At baseball practice more of the same. I was lurching forward and backward like I'd developed a palsy or some previously undetected tick.

All to log just a few more steps.

Metric compulsions from which my dog would soon benefit.

I got the leash -- and a big, goofy smile from the dog – and I set my tracker app to "Dog Walk."

“Wipe that smile off your long face,” I warned. “We're stepping it! No squirrels. No birds. And no sniffing fire hydrants. We're on the clock.”

Sunday, May 03, 2015

No appointment necessary

She was at the door when I arrived, a bundle of nerves rising on tiptoes and weaving back and forth. I hadn't even gotten into the house before she thrust a $50 bill at me and her teal-colored lifeline, its touch-screen glass all smashed to smithereens.

Tears were in her eyes and a chunk of her savings in her hands.

I dropped it in the driveway. It didn't even land on the face, but it shattered anyway. I didn't mean to … it was an accident. I looked it up, I think it will cost about $50 to repair.” The declaration seemed to come out of her mouth as one long, beseeching word.

And then she paused and said slowly:

Are you mad?”

See, that's what she was really afraid of. That I would be mad at her the way I am about homework and arguing with her brother, and all manner of other little incidents that neither she nor I can really control .. like the spilling milk … or cereal … or milk with cereal.

“Of course I'm not mad,” I say, reassuringly as if she'd have to be crazy to think that I'd be mad about something like that. As if all accidents were the result of carelessness and that all carelessness could be avoided with a modicum of forethought.

And as if all forethought wasn't somehow linked to me saying “I told you so,” in the harsh light of an inevitable outcome.

But the truth was, she'd gotten me on a good day. I didn't have anger or resentment or anxiety hanging over me, so I could handle news of a disappointing nature with an added amount of grace.

Which I immediately translated into guilt currency, and how much of it I owe.

I hadn't been so gracious with her brother the day before … you know … Crying over spilled milk?

Turns out, I'm not good with tears. The crying? The carrying on? The Whole World is Ending phenomenon because someone is using his scooter … or because she can't get her hair into a bun … or because we arrived at the party four minutes later than everyone else? The helplessness I feel at the meltdown that follows?

That. Makes. Me. Completely. Insane.

And it occurred to me, it's because I don't know how to fix it.

I know what to do about a broken computer screen. I know it will take time and money and a trip to the computer store's “Genius Bar.”

But a broken heart isn't as easily mended.

And at that very moment, as I was pondering all the things that I don't know how to do (and trying to get an appointment at the computer store) while simultaneously perusing Facebook, I clicked on a link to a Huffington Post story. It was a piece by Rachel Macy Stafford, an author and special education teacher, who put forward a simple answer in the form of a question:

“How can I help?”

As I reread the piece, it occurred to me that I don't have to have the answers. I don't even have to feel bad about NOT having the answers. I just have to be willing to support someone as they figure out what they need to do.

The next time emotion overtook my son, I took a deep breath and tried saying those four words, only this time without my usual sarcasm.

How can I help?”

Before I could begin listing ideas, he had stopped crying.

I know what to do,” he said, drying his eyes.

For a moment, I felt like I'd gotten the key to the universe.

And it didn't require fifty bucks and an appointment at the Genius Bar.