Thursday, March 31, 2016

Beer Me - oh who are we kidding, just pass my Stonyfield

This has been possibly the worst week of arguing with teachers of my life - and that is a high bar, I assure you.

Part of parenting, most even, is letting go. And I do understand this, but there's a small part that - even at age 10, is being an advocate and teaching your kid how to advocate for himself. And so it is that on Monday, he was given the following math problem (this is from memory, but if it's not the exact wording it's damn close).

  • Jamal woke up to find 42 inches of snow outside. This was three and a half times as much as when he went to bed. The new snowfall was five-sixths of the one-day snowfall record. What was the one-day snowfall record.

I glanced at his homework at dinner and noticed an answer of 50.4. I looked at Connor and before I could even question his answer he laughed and from there, life devolved. 

Connor: "I know mom. It's not the right answer - but it's the answer Mr. G. told me to put down."
Me: "But Connor, that answer is wrong."
Connor: "I know."
Me: "Did Mr. G explain to you how he got that answer?"
Connor: "He said something about snow melting."
Me: "Connor, that is ridiculous. The modifier of importance is "new" and I see he has marked your calculation of "new" snow (30 inches) as correct. 30 is not 5/6 o f 50.4."
Connor: "Mom, I know."
Me: "Maybe I'm missing something. Let's confirm with Dad when he gets home."

Eventually, Ed and I had Connor correct the problem, knowing that there was a decent chance a second math teacher would be grading the work, and a wrong answer wasn't going to fly. We even underlined the word "new".

And Mr. G argued with Connor and the rest of the group the next day about why 50.4 was the correct answer, and had Connor change it back to the wrong answer.

So here's the dilemma. I've been telling Connor when he disagrees with the teacher, he needs to ask for an explanation that makes sense to him. He needs to understand why the teacher has a different opinion - and why his answer was wrong. Presumably, they could discuss the problem and come to agreement.

No dice.

So I emailed the teacher and he defended his answer - with absolutely no logic - so I guess more properly he reiterated his answer, and then said that he and the other teacher had agreed to accept both answers.

And all the while I'm thinking - you have just taught my son that when you are wrong the best shot you have at getting through the argument is digging in, hard. That is not a lesson any child needs to be taught - which a friend of mine noted as well.

I'm still beside myself, but rather than eating my way through this with crap food, I'm sinking into some new Stonyfield Yogurt that arrived in my mail a few weeks ago.

This one was plain - but there's a whole bunch of flavors but rather than the fruit being mixed into the yogurt when it's packaged, it's in a little sidecar thing and you can mix in as much as you like.

My recommendation?  All of it. Because life is crazy and stressful and that extra bit of strawberry or blueberry sometimes makes all my problems disappear. Or at least I get a nice protein boost to fuel a run!

I'm a Stonyfield YoGetter and received free yogurt in the mail. Total delight. I loved it. Thank you, Stonyfield.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Connor has become a newspaper reader. For years, we sheltered the children from news - going so far as to never have even NPR playing in the car or home when they were around. When something scary happened in the world, we would wait to discuss it until evening. On the rare occasion that someone came home with information we would've preferred they didn't have, we'd suss out what the child knew, explain it in as simple a term as possible, remind the child they were safe, and we'd pretty much all move on.

Connor is 10. In the past ten years, wars were raging outside our home. Black men were being gunned down by police as if for sport. Coalitions fighting economic injustices were camping outside the White House. The economy collapsed. Housing prices rebounded, at least partially. Children went to school one morning in Newtown and never returned home to their moms. The finish line at the Boston Marathon exploded. The day Connor came home from first grade asking about 9/11 was one of many days my heart broke. What good was this information to a first grader?But in our house, one day was pretty much like the next. Love wins. Treat people kindly. Stop bickering with your sibling. Dinner is served.

But there's a point in life when your child seeks information, and resisting giving it to him will only make it more coveted. And that point has come. We are now subscribers to the Washington Post (I like the NYT better but I figured the local angle in the Post might interest Connor). Connor, in his typical consumer of words mindset, attempts to devour as much of the paper as possible.

It's a real change to have a 10 year old commenting on current events in our house. But I guess I should just celebrate the last 10 years as a victory and get over it. I suspect for the next few years, much of parenting will be learning about how little I'm able to protect my children from the outside world.




Friday, March 25, 2016

Spring Break!

This year,  we traveled to Winter Park for spring break. We had originally planned to go to Steamboat (probably my favorite of all the resorts out west) but Connor's class had an overnight trip planned for the time we were scheduled to be in Steamboat, so we switched weeks and went with what was available.

Our impression before getting here was that Winter Park wasn't the resort that some of the others are, but as far as skiing goes - the mountain is great. The town isn't much, but it has everything we need (restaurants, jewelry stores,  toy stores) and we don't tend to spend a lot of time bumming around the town anyway.

A friend who lives about an hour away came up to ski with us for the day. She arrived a day before us, and was going to stay another day but school testing got in the way of that plan. No matter - we skied our hearts out. Helen and I stuck to the green trails with Ellen and her children while the boys adventured further afield. This was perfect, because for the first time in memory, I had a touch of altitude sickness. Prior to lunch, I wondered several times whether I'd be able to make the day without losing my cookies. After lunch, I felt much better.

Best about our meet-up was probably that Helen immediately fell into a friendship with Ellen's daughters, and the three of them quickly decided there was no need for mothers on the lift chairs. This meant Ellen and I could gab in 10 minute increments up the lifts. And frankly, we are experts at the 10 minute interrupted conversation because we met each other when we were already mothers. Interruptions are our lives!

We took two days off from skiing - one to go to a nearby YMCA ranch which had every activity we could imagine, and was the same place we had visited with my family a couple of years ago as part of our dude ranch vacation. At the ranch, we tried snowshoeing for the first time with the kids, and also enjoyed roller skating, tubing, dodgeball (Connor), ping pong, and wrapped the evening up with a horse drawn sleigh ride and a great dinner. The only thing missing was country dancing (which accompanied a similar event a few years ago). My family goes on these sorts of adventures regularly, but Ed's family tends to go to more mainstream restaurants and hang out at home - without the kitsch that I love so much. To my father-in-law's credit, I don't even think he sees these adventures as ridiculous anymore, and to Ed's credit - he's the one who planned the ride AND planned our dinner with pirates last summer. He has gone from rolling his eyes to jumping in with both feet.

Our other day off brought us to dogsledding, mini snowmobiles, and a bit of shopping. Helen is the proud owner of dangly earrings, which she adores. Watching the kids on the snowmobiles was hilarious. Connor was full throttle (which isn't particularly fast) from the moment he hopped on. Helen, on the other hand, cautiously steered her snowmobile as slowly as possible, letting us know she thought Connor was crazy.

Our condo has an arcade so it is truly unfortunate that my dad no longer travels on our ski vacation each year. He and my mom used to come and babysit while Ed, Ed's dad, and I skied. But now everyone skis, so we don't need family babysitting services. My dad has a thing where he's always bringing the kids quarters. And oh boy, if he was here, those quarters would've been put to good use. Even with limited quarters, Helen has become a pinball wizard. She's barely tall enough to see the console (it's a multi-game system where you move the joystick right and left when you want the electronic flippers to move), and she somehow has added in this little hip wiggle whenever she moves the joystick. It is hilarious. She made the high score board, only to be knocked off by Connor later that day. I got a free guy on Ms. Pacman and desperately wished my sister was with us. She used to own that game and I'm sure her legendary aunt status would be even higher if the kids saw her play.

I somehow jacked my elbow, and am hoping that it magically heals itself. I finally texted my brother-in-law for his always excellent sight unseen medical advice, and he's guessing soft tissue damage, nothing broken. Ironically, the last time we were in Colorado I was texting him photos of a weird rash Helen contracted. Perhaps this place is a bit cursed for us.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Helen's Odyssey of the Mind Experience

Helen had a fantastic Odyssey coach - the same woman that coaches her soccer team. Her coach had participated in the program as a kid, and was excited to coach a team. When I was getting the program off the ground, my biggest fear was not being able to find a coach for Connor and Helen and I contemplated coaching two teams. That would've made me completely insane, and because of the demands of Connor's team, I'm guessing Helen's would've fallen through the cracks somewhat.

When I told the woman who would eventually become Helen's coach that I hadn't had anyone volunteer to coach a team - but I had one parent with experience volunteer to assist, she jumped right in. It was at that moment that I knew we could have a successful year.

Did the primary teams get started off on a good foot? No. Did everything end up completely perfect and awesome for Helen? Yes.

The original team I put together was a mixed gender team that included a boy up the street who was in class with Helen in first grade. Both the first grade teacher and the gifted teacher have observed the two work well together, so I was excited for this collaboration. The original team included a male and female coach, which both coaches (who have previous experience) thought was good. As things would play out, another parent ran a huge recruiting effort which resulted in two additional teams. Helen and this student were split. She ended up being placed on an all-girl team, and after hearing comments from three of the four other coaches, I'm confident saying that Helen's team was clearly the team that worked the best together.

By the time competition day arrived, Helen had been talking about her skit for weeks. She went from wanting a very tiny part to wanting a much more central role. She handled the larger role beautifully. She was confident, she delivered her lines well, her acting was fantastic.

Most importantly, she's very excited to be on a team next year, and has asked me to coach her team. While coaching two teams would've have been crazy this year, if it comes to that next year, I know exactly how to handle it. Particularly since the middle school lets out much earlier than the elementary school. I told Helen I'd coach her team if she needed me, but did point out that she had a great experience with two coaches this year and I didn't want to mess with that.

This has been such a fun experience. I am so glad to have brought the program to the elementary school. Hopefully, it'll get some big roots and continue to grow.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Is there a point when we stop saying things, because the message just doesn't seem true?

The longer this campaign goes on, the more pessimistic I find myself. So a few days ago, when the principal at my children's school posted a photo of a girl on facebook with the shirt "why be a princess when you can be the president?" my only reaction was "we keep telling them that, yet not one example".

Which started me thinking about the million other things we tell our daughters that ring hollow, for the most part. And so I decided I would run a Girls Excelling in Math and Science club at Helen's school next year. As the name suggests, this is a club focused on math and science for girls - and the introductory materials for potential group leaders are very powerful.

For example, they not only cite the research that, particularly in middle school - girls drop out of math and science, but they point out things that teachers do that encourage this. For example, teachers often call on the student jumping out of their chair waving their hand, the student with the first answer, the student who blurts something out. (And even if the teacher doesn't call on the student blurting something out, that student has likely taken the wind from the sails of the student who will eventually answer.) Girls aren't as likely to do any of these things.

When it comes to science experiments, girls become the data recorders, rather than the people performing the experiment - hands on. And of course, the data recorder is important - but it shouldn't be the girl's job all of the time.

The solution? The club guidelines ask club leaders to always wait about 15 - 30 seconds before calling on anyone for an answer. While waiting, the leader should look around encouraging all of the girls to come up with the answer. The leader is silently letting them all know that each of their opinions are valuable, whether they come to the girl immediately or it takes a few moments. The leader should, of course, rotate who she calls on, to give everyone air-time. I love this advice, and I'm going to start using it in my book clubs. Often, I'm sure I let the person who seems most excited talk, because their excitement is contagious.

The next important thing about the club is that the club is run by women - and the leaders are called on to bring in examples of scientists working in various fields. In this way, our daughters can see people who look like them in the jobs we are telling them they are qualified for - yet every book they read will be loaded with male examples and the female examples will be few and far between (Curie, McClintock, Goodall, Lovelace, Carson, and Hopper).

So I sent an email to several parents at our school who seem to know everyone. I asked if they could connect me to a mother, grandmother, or even a high school girl who was a scientist (whether or not that person was currently working in a science field). I can cover math, but I'd love a science partner.

The response so far?  Nada.

And so I'm left wondering, in a ridiculously wealthy community that hosts plenty of highly educated women - are there really no scientists?

This might be harder than I imagined. Thankfully, a friend reminded me that AAUW has a local chapter, and they likely get requests like this all the time.

So continue to hunt, I will.


Wrapping up Odyssey of the Mind

Tournament day was a whirl of action. Most of these notes are for me to look back next year. Yes, NEXT YEAR!

Huge kudos to the team. The things that went right went really right. The team placed 5th. Their total score was 291.78. This was 2 points less than the 4th place team, and 27.58 points less than the first place team. The 6th place team was 13.81 points behind our team. So I'd call that pretty close to a tie for 4th.

In the long-term problem, the students had time called before they could complete steps that had a total point value of 30 (which adjusts to 35.87). Their long-term score was 160.24 - so if they had continued picking up points at the pace they were picking them up - they would've had a total score of 188.52. That would have put them in 2nd place (yes - they picked up 88 percent of the points they could - amazing). They would not have reached 1st, which is the only place that moves onto the state meet. So, effectively, not completing the problem didn't mean much. And, I am extremely delighted that their CONCEPT was so well received and they even had a chance to be 2nd place.

I had asked one of the team members, who had always been reluctant to take on any responsibility, to time the performance and make sure it got going fast, but she declined. My guess is she's one of the more disappointed people at time being called. But, of course, I don't have a lot of sympathy for her since she could've easily bought them 30 seconds off the top - which might have been enough to collect about 20 more points. In addition, she set her prop incorrectly, behind another prop. This meant the team had to maneuver their vehicle - an only barely controllable hovercraft - around an additional prop that they never had to maneuver around before. This cost them several more seconds, which again - could've been enough to make up the time. I hope she takes away the lesson that it's important to work as a team - and that not doing so is to the detriment of the whole group. I fear she took away a "well, I did what I was supposed to do and nobody else got it right" message. That message would be incorrect.

Connor worked his heart out. I was the coach, which put a lot of extra pressure on him. He delivered. His friend, Aaron also worked many extra long hours, spending an afternoon practicing driving their vehicle. They experience a LOT of failure in this process and they kept coming back. Both of them had down moments at times, but when it mattered, they delivered. I really hope Aaron comes back. Connor's friend Griffin also went the extra mile - even though he had multiple commitments that day. These are the two people Connor had the most fun working with, often combining playdates and work. Again, hopefully G will be back next year. The three of them could form a solid core for a team.

One of the girls on the team was a fountain of creativity. However, she totally balked over the script at an important moment. I wasn't at the meeting so I don't know all the details, but it was very stressful and my takeaway is that in the future - nobody gets to say they aren't part of the performance and just work behind the scenes. You've got to be willing to be all in for the big event.

One of the team members was completely absorbed in making one thing, that ultimately kept breaking so we didn't have it scored. This ended up being a lot of deadweight for the rest of the team to carry - something I'll work to keep from happening in the future. He had a ton of great ideas, and was our best team member when it came to particular spontaneous problems - so we did really need him. But as a coach, I needed to find a way to tell him to stop fitzing on move on! Lesson learned on my part. His dad, however, told me what a great experience this had been, and how he'd already seen some really positive benefits come out of it, and for that I am very happy.

After the competition, the problem captain wrote me a note letting me know that she had coached for 9 years, and she and all the other judges were completely impressed with the team's solution. She told me she could not even tell me how much she was bragging to everyone about how creative the solution was - and her kudos were echoed by another judge who didn't know I was the team captain and was bragging about the solution in the hallway. My heart just burst with joy when I heard this. Another coach came up to me and said she was blown away by the team's solution. I'm not exaggerating when I say these comments were all very meaningful and I absolutely love the community of OM people. Lots of fun, lots of encouragement, and a real attitude of let's be great together.

The team was 4th place in spontaneous, so my best guess is that they repeated each other a few times, because they really are a clever bunch. The team that was 4th overall beat them by 5 points here. They also beat us on "style" by several points, and we beat them by quite a lot of the long-term solution.

My overall takeaway is that the team nailed it. Technical problems can be cleaned up in future years. The team had great ideas and clearly delivered what the competition was asking for. We're coming back next year with the 3 - 4 core team members, and we'll add up to 3 - 4 more members, hopefully addressing weak spots in the current team.

I had a couple of friends with OM experience who were willing to talk me through stress. I lost a LOT of sleep. I really wanted to solve some problems for the team, but a coach cannot do that. I was very proud that I declared the outside assistance I provided, it was deemed legal assistance, and my team lost no points. Not bonking them over the heads and screaming a practical solution was hard for me at many points.

In the end, Connor had a fabulous time which is the thing that mattered most to me. He wants to continue on next year, which I am absolutely willing to do. I'm hoping there's a photo or two of the team out there that I can add to this post. I have a video, but I haven't sat down and watched it yet.

I'll post more about Helen's experience later, but the preview is that it was superb.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Rock and Roll Half - Take 2

Saturday was the third time I ran the DC Rock and Roll marathon (2015) or half marathon (2014). I was somewhat ambivalent about the race. My training has been a bit up and down and I couldn't figure out what a good goal would be. I was somewhat shooting for 1:50, but mostly - I wanted to finish with enough energy to get through my day - which included seeing Helen's Odyssey of the Mind performance, coaching my Odyssey of the Mind team, celebrating my Odyssey of the Mind team, attending Connor's Cub Scout banquet, and attending Godspell to see a friend of Connor's perform. I was hoping to make it to a friend's house Saturday night after Godspell to catch up with running friends in a sitting position, but by the end of Godspell, my body was done.

It was a lot.

I got off the course at 1:53:39. I ran the half very steady, with a teeny negative split. I added about 0.2 miles to the course, mostly trying to get around groups of people who were running 3 - 4 abreast. Pretty typical, overall. I ran mile 8, my half marathon nemesis, mile like I meant it. I also ran a pretty fast last mile. But at the end, I stood there feeling really good and thinking - wow, that was just like a training run instead of a race. I guess now I know I need to set a big goal and go hard if I want to PR.

I knew several people starting in my corral, but didn't end up seeing them before the race. I started off with a friend's husband, but he was a bit in front of me when I needed to stop and tie my shoe (stupid mistake on my part). There was no way for him to know I stopped. I also had awakened that morning with a migraine, and with a fair amount of certainty I would puke during the run. I almost did - but somehow managed to keep everything that was supposed to be inside of me on the inside. Running under those conditions was definitely new to me. I do not recommend them.

On the upside, I really did feel like I could tack on many more miles at this pace, which means I'm getting closer to my required marathon goal pace. I need to run a marathon at 8:35, and I averaged 8:41 at this race. I'm looking forward to training, especially since some of that training will happen on vacation in Prague and Vienna.

After the race, I hopped on the metro with a few friends who waited for me at the finish line, grabbed my car at Ed's parking lot, dashed home, showered, and made it to Helen's Odyssey performance on time - with a few minutes to spare. Thankfully, Ed was at the tournament site and was directing me to the room via telephone. More thankfully, a chair was free right in the front of the room, which I happily grabbed.

I felt like I had crushed "momming" on Saturday. I was able to do something important to me (run) and something important to my children and me (Odyssey of the Mind).

  • 5 KM27:05PACE8:43
  • 10 KM54:22PACE8:45
  • 10 MI1:26:55PACE8:42
  • PACE8:41
  • CHIP TIME1:53:39
  • CLOCK TIME02:01:59
  • OVERALL2623 / 14470
  • DIVISION75 / 982
  • GENDER968 / 8740

Often, runners are allowed to have a few characters printed on their bib. I had forgotten what I had printed, and seeing it at pick-up made me feel like my last year's self (when I signed up to run) was giving my this year's self a little hug.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Elementary School Protest

Connor has been involved in a few protests at his school. The biggest one was probably "line order" in 4th grade. The teachers implemented "line order" which meant you had to line up in a certain order, typically alternating boy-girl-boy. This was done, of course, because they switch classes for every subject and they sound like wild banshees when they make their change. The noise level is not different from middle and high school - but it's more disruptive since children in younger grades are only switching classes for "specials". Often they're at work when the older students storm the halls.

The teachers squashed the protest pretty quickly, letting students know their resistance would be met by a visit to the principal's office. In the end, Connor and his friend somehow managed to be the last people out of the room consistently, so they just continued hanging out together at the back of the line and weren't very affected when "line order" was the rule of the day.

Helen's friends are mad about field usage at the school. The boys not only take the field over at recess to play football, but they try and "make the girls play football" (Helen's words) and naturally, this annoys her. (For reference, earlier in the year when the boys didn't want the girls playing football, Helen insisted on being allowed to play.)

A pack of six girls has decided the field is for everyone, and if they want to be on it not playing football, they can be. Yesterday, they all decided to wear mismatched shoes as part of their protest. (Ironically, the ring leader wore matching shoes, claiming she thought the protest was scheduled for a different day.) I adore this, and can only imagine how powerful they all felt before recess, looking around the room subtly confirming who was "ON" their team and who was "OFF" their team. I'm sure the boys had no idea what was about to hit them.

At recess, the girls marched together to the field (if only I had brought my camera to school to bear witness). They sang a song. They told the boys what the rules would be. Every time a boy got annoyed and interrupted, they started back at the beginning - singing their song (which was completely unrelated to the protest topic, but impressed me since music has long been a tenet of effective organizing). When they felt their point had been made, they stomped off the field together and decided to crush some rocks. I believe they are planning on turning their crushed stones into chalk (perhaps to make signs supporting their next movement?). Helen packed safety goggles in her bag this morning so as to not risk errant rock chips flying into her eyes.

Soldier on, sister! Soldier on!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

It's a Wrap

Helen has been attending a weekly theater class through a local children's company. She has been having an absolute hoot. The theme of the class is running away and joining the circus. Due to snow cancellations, the last class was moved from last weekend to this weekend. Sadly, Helen cannot attend this weekend because her Odyssey of the Mind team is performing at the same time her class is being held. Lucky for me, the teacher let me watch their rehearsal last week.

First up was a skit where each child motivated why they were running away and joining the circus. Helen's skit was about Connor and Ed arguing at dinner. Although I don't doubt that there was much arguing many weeks ago when class started, dinner has been going much better for the past several weeks, so I don't think the sketch reflects our current reality. At the end of the scene, Helen stomps her foot and shouts "I'm running away and joining the circus". Each child in the class had a separate story.

After that, Helen was a baby bugging an older sister and a few other supporting roles.

Finally, she made it to the circus and performed an amazing feat of walking on a tight rope. She didn't fall off once. It was a jump rope on the floor, so if she had fallen, it would not have been far.

She was, of course, the star of the show (IN MY EYE) and was thrilled to share all her hard work. I captured some of it on video, but my stupid phone filled up quickly so I don't have the whole show. I wasn't confident I'd be able to watch so I didn't have my video camera with me.

Helen will take another class this summer. After that, I'll be surprised is she doesn't fully catch the theater bug.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Primary Voting - and the Road Ahead

Today, Connor, Helen, and I made it to their school earlier than we have ever been there. It was BEFORE the crossing guard was out. Both kids were amazed - and noted the absence of the guard. Why were we there so early? Because that's where I vote. I wanted to vote before heading in to work, in case things got nutty and I didn't get out on time to make it after work.

When we arrived, younger students were being shuttled upstairs (they normally hang out where voting was taking place) and older students were being shuttled to their normal holding pen. When the principal directed Helen upstairs, she looked at me in a panic. You see, we've been talking A LOT about voting for Hillary. And I had promised Helen she could vote with me. But there was no need need for worrying. The principal of course understood that Helen and Connor were sticking with me. We had very important business to do. We were putting our dents in that glass ceiling and frankly, I have voted for very few primary winners over the year. I needed witnesses for this vote.

We stood in a line long enough to be a general election (that moved slower than it needed to because the only people seemingly available to work at the polls are people who seem unfamiliar with the technology they are asked to use to look voters up). But before the school bell rang, we had cast my ballot.

And only then did it really start to sink in. If all goes as the pollsters say it will, Hillary and Donald will be the presumptive nominees of their respective parties after today. It seems almost unimaginable to me, and for sure I am in the camp of people who - even now - think it is simply not possible for Donald to make it out of these primaries a winner. But if he does, Hillary is in for a world of hurt. And my heart is already breaking.

I don't doubt she'll win it all if she gets the nomination. I believe Sanders will rally his troops (just as she rallied hers for Obama 8 years ago in what is still one of my favorite political speeches of all time), she will shore up her voters, and moderate Republicans will cross party lines or stay home. But I also don't doubt that he is going to sling more lies and hateful comments her way than anyone would want to deal with. (If Sanders were to make it out of the primaries the winner, I'm confident he could also win, but I'm equally confident he wouldn't be subjected to the muck that Hillary will be subjected to.)

And so it goes. She will fend off these mostly baseless attacks. She will be dragged through the mud. How I wish it would be different. That we'd have an intelligent conversation about his ideas to move the country forward and her ideas to move the country forward.

But I'm not very hopeful that will happen.

Thank you, Hillary. Nobody would want to go through what you're about to go through.