Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who's a cute little poochy-woochy? You are! Yes you are!

Where did we meet this cutie, who not only will charm the pants off of you but will also fetch your Frisbee with blinding speed and accuracy?  You're going to have to visit the other blog to find out!

Obligatory First-Day-Of-School Post

Liza started going to "school" in 2006, when putting her in a one-day-a-week preschool program was the only way for me to retain my sanity (and get some Lazy Mama work done).  It was a place for her to play with other kids, eat food-coloring-saturated cupcakes that dyed her poop rainbow colors, and run around like a hooligan.  

When we moved to Cleveland, I was able to find a two-day-a-week program for 2-year-olds, and after a bit of adjustment (read, "I spent the first two months sitting in there with her so she didn't scream her head off"), she enjoyed that, too.  Okay, so maybe she just liked the ball pit and the building toys, but at least she tolerated being away from me, which was the whole point.

I wanted to get her into a program a little closer to home the next year, and she really loved it.  We kept her there for pre-K, too, and she made it through graduation with flying colors.

We had originally planned to send Liza to the (very highly ranked) local public school system, seeing as how the kindergarten is like 1/4 mile from our house and our tax dollars are paying for it and all.  I'm a big advocate of public schools, but the more I learned about our local program, the less thrilled I was.  It's only a 1/2 day program, which translates to around 2 hours of class a day, plus almost as much time on buses to get there and back (if we didn't just drive her to school ourselves).  They say they're set up to handle "kids who can read already," but the teacher's descriptions of how they handle those kids basically sounded like keeping them busy while the other kids caught up to them, not helping the early readers to continue advancing.  The kindergarten isn't even in the same building as the other primary grades, so they can't send the advanced kids down the hall to the older grades for reading or math.  Art, Music, and Gym classes all happen ... once every three weeks.  With only 2 hours a day to get even the completely illiterate kids up to speed, there's not much time for things like science or social studies, either, except where they can include it as part of the reading curriculum.

We looked into a Montessori elementary school, which I think would have been a good fit for Liza if we could have justified the cost ($6K a year, I think it was) and the distance (me driving the kid 30 minutes away twice a day really eats up my free time, you know?).  Then an acquaintance mentioned a local community school that's designed just for gifted kids ... and things started to look up.

Community schools are public schools funded by the state but not by any local school district, so they accept students from anywhere in Ohio.  They also operate on a much smaller budget than standard public schools, which means that parents have to step up and volunteer to help keep the school running, and there's quite a bit of fundraising required, too.  They're often set up to fill what parents perceive to be a gap in the standard school districts' coverage - in this case, parents were ticked that budget shortages were causing schools to get rid of whatever gifted programs they had in place for elementary school kids, if they even had them to begin with.

Because this school is specifically designed for gifted kids - kids who generally pick things up with less repetition than typical students - they can meet the state standards and still fit a lot more into their curriculum than standard school districts.  All the grades K-7 take Spanish, for example, and Mandarin is offered as an elective.  Art and Music and Gym happen each week, as does Technology.  Violin lessons are offered as an elective, as are some club activities like crafts and chess.  Things like science fairs and Lego robotics competitions are encouraged extracurricular activities.

The curriculum is also designed to be flexible to meet the needs of kids who may be advanced in some areas while being typical (or even delayed) in other areas.  Reading and math groups are assigned based on ability, not age, so Liza may end up going up to the second or third grade classroom for reading and the first or second grade for math, while spending the rest of the day with her 5-year-old peers.

The school has open enrollment, which means that students are accepted throughout the year.  But to get in you have to score above a certain level on one of a couple dozen cognitive ability tests which are administered free by school districts.  We took Liza in to the community school to be tested so she could begin the year there (rather than waiting to have her tested later this fall in the local school district), and she passed with flying colors.  Actually, her results classed her as "genius level," although these tests are notoriously unreliable for really young kids (and we did prep her pretty thoroughly for the test). 

And because the only entrance requirement is academic ability - not location, not income, not religious affiliation - the students are way more diverse than those in our local school area (according to wikipedia, it's 97% white around here ... it's like we live in WASP-World or something).  Of course, that means that the kid Liza is sitting next to in school right now has a last name that's a "V" followed by about 45 letters, but I'm sure we can all get used to pronouncing some new names, right?

The school is located less than a dozen miles from our house, and best of all - there are enough local kids attending that they actually run a bus from our school district, with pickup and drop off right in front of our house.  The bus ride involves a transfer at one of the local schools (which she would have had to do if she rode the bus to the local kindergarten, anyway), and it takes longer than if we just drove her there - but it's a pretty convenient option to have available.

I've been very impressed with how welcoming the other parents have been so far.  This summer one of the mothers of an incoming kindergartener organized a series of "get to know each other" playdates at the school playground, and we had a good time getting to know some of the kids Liza is going to see in class every day. And one of the local parents had a picnic for all the students from our school district so that they could meet each other before that first awkward bus ride to school.

Liza has been trying to make up her mind all summer - is she super-excited or completely terrified about school?  She was really excited ... then she found out about the dress code (white or navy tops, navy or tan bottoms, NO PINK OR TUTUS WHATSOEVER JUST KILL ME NOW) and decided she hated school.  She was super thrilled to pick out her school supplies - PINK SCISSORS AND A BACKPACK WITH A PINK STUFFED KITTEN KEYCHAIN CLIPPED ON IT OMG THAT'S SO COOOOOOL - and then horrified when I mentioned that she wasn't going to be the only kid in the class, she was going to have 19 strangers in there with her.  She loved riding the bus at Safety Town this summer, but sitting with strangers on the bus was thought to be a fate worse than death.

Sometime last week she made up her mind, though, that she was excited beyond belief about going to school.  We made up a poster with her morning before-school schedule on it, and we practiced getting up early and getting out the door by 7:10 without forgetting lunches or overlooking the rat's-nest hair problem.  We laid out her outfit for the first day ("Stupid uniform.  At least my backpack is the coolest thing ever!") and got in lunch supplies.  We checked out her class list on the school web site and read the bio of her teacher ("She likes art and music!  Could she be any cooler?  And look, she likes to crochet, so you'll have something to talk about with her!").  We had a ceremonial Last Field Trip of the Summer, and Tuesday we went to the open house at school to meet her teacher.

I think we got really lucky with the teacher assignment this year, because she seems like such a good fit for Liza's personality.  She's artsy and friendly and kinda goofy and enthusiastic and honest and she was smart enough to assign Liza to a desk that's right smack next to hers, which pleased the kid no end.  The teacher sent each kid a postcard at home telling them how excited she was to have them in her class, and she made up a scavenger hunt for them to do during the open house so they would get comfortable in the room.  I thought we were going to have to peel Liza off of the poor woman, she loved her so much.

Yesterday Liza was cranky all day because it wasn't a school day and she wanted to be at school NOW, darn it, not TOMORROW arglflarblgahhhhhhhh!  I ran her into the ground at two separate playgrounds with two different friends, then threw her in bed early and prayed heartily for a good night's sleep.

While I wouldn't say she popped out of bed all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at least we didn't have to deal with the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that sometimes accompanies an early reveille.  Clothes on, hair and teeth brushed, breakfast ignored, lunch packed, backpack on, and out the door with plenty of time to spare.  My big girl is ready to face the first day of kindergarten!

I'm generally not the sappy type, and I've been planning for years what form of partying would occur at my house once I got that kid on the bus (final decision:  blogging, followed by a pedicure).  While I was nervous this morning, it wasn't because I was horrified that they were taking away my ittybittylittlepreciouswumpkins, it was because I was afraid she'd have a last-minute change of heart and I'd be stuck manhandling her onto the bus and it would be all tear-streaked face and blubbering for her all the way to school.  But I will admit I was a little nervous about her ability to make the bus transfer at the local school, so I went into StalkerMama mode and drove over to the school to make sure she got on the right bus. 

That would have been a much better plan if you could actually see the bus loading area from the car parking lot ... as it was, I could confirm that her bus made it to the school and the kids were waiting there for the transfer bus to arrive, and then at the next stop I'm fairly certain that I saw a small blonde head in the window at the front of the bus before all the other kids got on.  I haven't gotten a panicked call from the school (or a neighbor of the school who found a kid wandering on their lawn), so I'm assuming everything went fine.  I guess we'll find out for sure tonight around 4 when she gets home.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Missy and Kissy

This morning in a fit of sleep-deprivation-inspired lunacy I announced that we would go over to the river to catch some tadpoles in the frog pond.

I know.

Luckily, it was early enough in the morning that we didn't have an audience.  There's just something unsettling about the idea having people watch me balance on one hand and knee while leaning precariously over and scooping rotting leaf debris out of a pool of fetid water.  Thank goodness neither of us lost our balance, as it would take weeks to get the stench out of our clothes.

One "extremely nasty kitchen strainer and a tupperware bowl I'll never use again" later, we've got two tadpoles.  Since we didn't bother to do any research at all before we caught them - that would have made too much sense - we just filled up the bowl with scummy pond water and brought them home in that.  Thank goodness we remembered the lid, because the water is, um, fragrant.

"Fragrant," as in "I haven't smelled that particular smell since we had to culture pond water for biology class in junior high school."  Yech.

So now I have a gallon of the most disgusting water imaginable sitting on my kitchen counter, waiting for our new aquarium to equilibrate so we can transfer the little darlings in there.  In addition to the rotting vegetation and other debris ("Look a dead snail shell!  Let's throw that in there so the tadpoles feel at home!"), I can count at least a dozen different types of nasty swimming microscopic creatures, and that's not including those slimy grey squirmy things down in the leaves.  Seriously - every tiny little dot you see in the water is swimming.

Meanwhile, after five hours the two tadpoles are still alive, despite their rather rude removal from their vernal pool and the subsequent jostling trip home.  Certain people have been cautioned repeatedly against thumping on the side of the tupperware "to say hello" and/or getting any of that filthy water on their hands/their clothes/my kitchen.  They've also been taught the words "Giardia" and "explosive diarrhea," as well as how to wash their hands with blisteringly hot water and half a bar of soap any time they so much as look at that end of the kitchen.

A quick bit of google-fu determined that the tadpoles are probably bullfrogs, and bullfrogs are ridiculously slow to mature, so we decided we'd better get set up for the long haul now.  One plastic aquarium, two plastic plants, a bag of gravel, and a cute little purple net later, we're only 22 hours away from being able to see the little dudes without looking through water made hazy by so many flagella.

They've acquired tentative names, too, despite the fact that they're currently indistinguishable.  Whichever one is currently making puckered fish mouth movements is called "Kissy" (he's on the left), and whichever one is hiding under some piece of putrescence is called "Missy" (she's on the right, partially lurking under a leaf).

I know.

I tried to convince her that "Casanova" and "Godot" would be better, but somehow I lost that battle.  I couldn't even get her to agree to Bonnie and Clyde, Max and Ruby, Thelma and Louise, or Frankie and Johnny.  I think I'm losing my touch.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

My walk

It started before dawn on Friday, with 900 walkers plus countless crew and support staff gathering in the shadow of Browns stadium in downtown Cleveland.

Water bottles were filled, pink bunny ears were distributed, and port-a-potties were visited.  The sun rose, the opening ceremony was held, and we were all psyched and ready to go!

We weren't doing it alone, though.  Spaced out along the 60-mile route there were official cheering stations where our friends and family could come to support us.  They were there with candy, and water, and cheers, and candy, and signs, and candy ... did I mention the candy?  I'm pretty sure nobody lost weight on this walk, thanks to all the proffered Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers.

The crew and support staff were right with us, too, keeping pace with us in "sweep vans" that would take walkers to the next pit stop if they didn't feel up to walking the distance.  Each van had a different theme - here's my favorite, the Boob Marley, complete with enormous pool-noodle dreadlocks on the back and reggae music blasting from the sound system.

Not all of the cheering went on at the official stops, either.  All along the route our families and friends - and even complete strangers - set up unofficial cheering stations in front yards and parking lots.  They made signs, put up balloons, wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk, set up sprinklers to cool us off, and even handed out things like beer and cinnamon rolls (although not at the same stop - that would have been gross).

As we walked, we carried dozens of flags used in the opening and closing ceremonies.  Each listed ideas or people that we might be walking to honor.  One person would carry a flag until they had had enough, and then leave it at the next pit stop for another person to take up.  I grabbed the "My Daughter" flag on the second day, because part of the reason I walked was so that Liza won't have to worry about the disease when she grows up.

My support system was incredible, with Jason taking full responsibility for Liza while I trained and did the walk.  He chauffeured me back and forth each day (because I wasn't about to sleep in a tent when my comfy bed was only 10 miles away) and made sure that he and Liza made it to as many of the cheering stations as possible. It really helped to know that there were friendly faces waiting for me twice a day, and more than once I decided to skip the Sweep Van so that I could walk into the cheering station under my own power.  By day 3 he had managed to supplement his abysmally pink-free wardrobe with a pair of ginormous pastel Crocs that were a gift from another spectator.  He says they're amazingly comfortable.  He even wore them to mow the grass today.  Now that's something I never imagined I'd see!

My friends came out in force, too, with signs and hugs (and candy, and popsicles).  They've had to listen to me for months as I yammered on and on about my training and mileage and blisters and the wonders of Epsom salts.  They didn't shun me when I tried to guilt-trip them into signing up to walk with me, and several of them went out of their way to keep me company during training.  I couldn't have done it without your support (and indulgence) ladies!

By the third day I was barely trudging along, so it was a good thing one of my training partners was able to join me for a couple miles along the route.  The fact that the route went right past my house could have been a problem (bed!  air conditioning!  pizza!  quiescence!) if she hadn't been there to make sure I kept on going.  Thanks for all the miles and support, Tab!  

Why yes, I am wearing socks and sandals, thanks for asking.  As you may remember, I was having some, ahem, issues with my blister-prone feet during training.  About two weeks ago I decided that I was either going to have to take a knife to every blistery part of my sneaker (i.e. the whole damn thing) or walk in something that didn't give me as many problems.  I had a pair of "hiking" sandals in my closet that seemed to fit the bill, but my feet were already torn up enough that I didn't trust them to go barefoot in the sandals for 60 miles.  So I bandaged and taped up all of the known problem areas on my feet and wore my sandals with my best walking socks.  Worked like a charm, with one exception, which I'll get to later.

My most frequent training partner was too young to walk with me during the event, but her hugs at the cheering stations helped me stay strong.  Liza clocked countless miles in the strollers at the mall, and in the wagon in our neighborhood, while I was training for the event.  She rarely complained (especially if I bribed her with enough hot pretzels and brought along enough Magic School Bus books), she pestered me to go walking when I didn't really want to, and she told all of her friends how I was walking "to help save breasts."

It was hard.  It was grueling.  It was boring, and funny, and sad, and motivating, and depressing, and uplifting.  I was thirsty, sweaty, hot, cramped, and blistered.  I've never been thanked or blessed or hugged by so many people.  I have never been so happy to see a frozen Peppermint Patty in my life (frozen chocolate?  Served at the bottom of the big hill we had to climb out of the park?  Bless you, anonymous supporters in the park!).  Only professional athletes get more high-fives than we walkers did this weekend.

I perked up every time I heard Lady Gaga music, which meant the Kids' Crew was coming down the street with speakers taped to the roof of their dad's minivan and kids hanging out of every door and window, waving and shouting.  I cracked a huge grin every time I heard Jerry's voice, hoarse from shouting his football-coach-style encouragement to his wife and all the other walkers as he popped up in random places along the walk all three days.

I buckled down and kept walking, no matter how much my feet hurt or how much I wanted to quit, especially when I saw the walker who was 31 weeks pregnant (I asked) and the other lady who did the whole event in a walking cast.  Every time I felt sorry for myself and my aching feet, I saw someone ahead of me with bigger blisters, more swollen legs, or even more weight pounding down on their feet with every step.  I realized that while I didn't have to walk the whole way - that's what the sweep vans are for, and there's no shame in admitting you need help - I wanted to, more than I wanted to stop.  And so, with metered doses of Advil, caffeine, and some really stubbornly vehement walking meditation (thank you, Frank Herbert, for the Litany Against Fear), I made it all the way.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.  Decided to skip the closing ceremony, which wasn't going to start until more than two hours after I finished the walk.  I was hot, sore, and really wanted to treat my injuries someplace that wasn't right next to a horse paddock or a port-a-potty.  Compared to what some of the other walkers suffered, I got off pretty easy.  The toenail I damaged during my training doesn't hurt at all, and trimming off the dead bits every few days is kind of fun in a sick way.  It stuck around for the whole trip and never complained even once.  Way to go, mutilated toe!

My heel, on the other hand, suffered a bit.  The sandals that I was wearing were my usual shoe size, and as all long-distance runners and walkers know, you have to get your athletic shoes at least a size larger to account for all the swelling your feet will experience during the event.  I didn't have time to break in a larger pair, so I went with what I had.  This meant that the very back edge of my swollen left heel was sort of hanging off the edge of the footbed of the sandal, so every time my heel struck down the edge of the footbed sort of poked the very back of the callous that was already there.  A couple of long-distance training walks thickened the callous up nicely, and while it wasn't super comfortable, it was a lot better than dealing with the Sneakers of Multiple Very Painful Blisters. 

After the first day of the event I had an even thicker callous, but it still hadn't crossed over from "uncomfortable" to "painful."  It certainly hurt less than the blister I got on my pinky toe from the sneakers I changed into for the last four miles of the day.  By halfway through day 2 things were the same (or so I thought), and at one pit stop I decided to go ahead and change into sneakers to give my heel a break.  I pulled down my sock and found ... a stealth blister I didn't even realize I had!  

From what I can tell, the area underneath the callous was so irritated it tried to form a blister, but the skin was so thick it wouldn't stretch out to accommodate the fluid (or break to let it out).  So the pressure from my heel hitting the footbed forced the fluid up into the softer skin at the back of my heel, where it formed a completely useless, completely pain-free blister of epic proportions.  My first thought upon seeing it was, "AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHH," followed closely by, "Where's my camera, I've got to show this to my blog readers!"  The other walkers got a good laugh out of me photographing my injuries before treating them.

Needless to say, I wasn't about to put a sneaker on over a blister that was maybe 1.5" across and almost 1/4" thick, so I did the rest of the event in the sandals.  I drained the blister on Saturday night (several times - I'm a prolific serum producer, apparently), modified my shoes a bit to change my gait so I might have a shot at avoiding a repeat, and I hit the trail again on Sunday.  Sucker puffed right back up like a balloon, and even got a little larger.  It didn't weep serum all day like the blister on my other pinkie toe did (squish), and it didn't hurt, but it sure was impressive to look at.  I named it "Hercules."  Herc was at least 1/4" thick and about 2" across at his widest point, and had a lovely translucent quality that was really fun to poke at.

Somehow, after walking for 60 miles, sitting on the ground under a tree with untreated blisters and nothing to read or knit just didn't appeal when I had more important things to do at home ... like take a shower, wear anything other than a sports bra, and eat huge amounts of barbecued ribs and corn.  So Jason came and got me, and Hercules and I went home.  Mission accomplished!

I slept in on Monday, then I spent most of the day staggering around like an arthritic drunkard, but by the end of the day I was doing much better.  It's now two days after the event, and aside from some lingering stiffness in my behind (which isn't any worse than after a long day of gardening), I'm pretty much back to normal.  I've got all the blisters deflated, and as disgusting as it sounds, cutting the top off of Hercules was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.  Don't know if it's a sick fascination with cutting off part of my own body, or just the knowledge that with the opened blister on my foot I won't be able to put on a pair of socks for at least a week or so, but daaaaamn, that felt good.

Every single person I've talked to since the walk has asked one question after they've finished with the congratulations and high-fives:  Will I walk again next year?  I honestly don't know.  If you had asked me while I was walking, I can guarantee I would have said no, then smacked you and possibly kicked you in the private parts (if I could have lifted my leg that high).  My thinking during the walk was that I would try to crew next year, which would require a lot less of an up-front time commitment (no training walks!) and no minimum fundraising quota.  And I still may do that, especially if I can get together a few friends to crew with me.  But the idea of walking again does have a certain appeal.  I enjoyed the training walks, enjoyed watching the town come to life throughout the spring and summer.  I enjoyed parts of the actual event, especially the parts that passed through sections of town I didn't even realize were there.  I also found the house I will force my husband to buy me next time he gets a promotion (or I get a really, really high-paying job in radio - ha!).  I think if I could find a really, really good pair of shoes (or sandals) the walk would be a lot more comfortable.  And I think if I was there as part of a group the time might have gone by a bit quicker.  And training walks would be easier to do this year, with Liza in school all day ... assuming I'm not working at that high-paying job so we can afford the house I found, of course.