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Friday, October 12, 2018

I Ran My First 5K! OK, No I Didn't.

Minutes before the first race I’d ever run, as the man in charge pointed to the wooden campground map and explained the tortuous path and sketchy terrain we would have to navigate, I whispered to my thirteen-year-old daughter. “I only see one or two other women who look like they’re in better shape than we are.” I also figured that at least a third of the twenty-five or thirty people running the Fall Festival 5K would probably walk it as a nice afternoon stroll through the woods.
Then the organizer yelled, “Ready… Set… Go!” and every single person there—including my own child—sprinted off the starting line, zipped down the paved path into the woods, and left me in a wake of dust.
I’m pacing myself, I reasoned wisely. These are clearly inexperienced fools who will burn themselves out after the first half mile, and I will calmly pass them one by one, like the proverbial plodding tortoise whose steady relentlessness takes the day.
After about a K and a half I finally got past the five-year-old who repeatedly whined to his dad, “We’re almost done, right?”
By the time I caught sight of my daughter again I’d revised my race goals from “Place at least third” to “Cross the finish line unassisted.”
As I approached my child she glanced back over her shoulder, saw that the footfalls she heard were mine, and broke into a fevered sprint. “I’m not letting my 49-year-old mother beat me!” she bellowed up into the trees.
I am going to get ahead of her and stay ahead of her and beat her snotty little carcass to the finish line if it’s the last thing I do in this mortal life, I resolved.
I ran flat-out to catch her, then she ran flat-out to stay ahead of me, then I slowed down, then she slowed down, then I ran flat-out to catch her, then she ran flat-out…
After we performed that combative pas de deux five times I called ahead to her. “Look, I promise I’ll let you come in ahead of me. Just wait for me and let’s do this together.”
“Why?” she called back suspiciously.
“Because it’s more fun to be together and enjoy each other’s company.”
“You sound like a Disney movie,” she sneered, but agreed to my terms.
At the second water stop we each chugged a bottle and I asked the woman stationed there if we were about half way. I hoped she’d say, “three-quarters,” or “four-fifths,” but she nodded. “Yep. Half.”
$#*@!%, I thought.
We took off again and shortly came to a fork in the path.
An unmarked fork.
We stopped and tried to remember what the map looked like. “Are we supposed to go left or right here?” my daughter asked.
I have the navigational abilities of a blindfolded dyslexic with a memory-impairment disorder. “You’re asking me?”
“Oh, right. Let’s go this way.”
Before long we came to another unmarked fork. And buildings. And a mom pushing a stroller toward a playground.
We heard cheering, turned toward the sound, and saw the finish line.
“Come on!” my daughter yelled and took off toward the ticking marquis clock. “We’re under forty minutes!”
Wow, that last half went really fast, I thought.
People lined the final, paved stretch of the race and applauded as we crossed the line.
Hang on a minute…
“I think we made a bad turn,” I told my daughter.
We consulted the man in charge of the race and looked at the map. “I think we went wrong after the second water stop,” I said.
“Did you go right or left there?” he asked.
“You should’ve gone right.”
We’d clipped nearly half the track with our unintentional short-cut.
I told him we’d have to disqualify ourselves because it wasn’t fair for us to get any of the top three prizes when we’d run less than 3K.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We’ve already awarded the top three.”
There needs to be a slack-jawed Emoji eating crow with a fuchsia blush of humiliation in its cheeks. Some of those people I’d disparaged as so far beneath my fitness level had finished a full 5K in less time than it took me to do 2.5.
The jury’s still out on what I learned from this. I’ve been working on my critical spirit for several decades now, but I’m not sure it’s waned one judgy little iota. I hoped maybe by entering a race I’d find my inner FloJo and get that runner’s high I’ve heard about but have yet to experience in the six or so years I’ve been forcing myself to do this tedious and painful activity. But that’s still a nope.
Maybe what I learned is I did the best I could, and so did everybody else, and sometimes that’s all it takes to call yourself a success.
Yeah, I’m going with that.

Monday, October 1, 2018

My #MeToo

My husband and I were talking about the Kavanaugh hearings when I asserted that if I took a poll of all the women I know who are around my age (pushing fifty), I’m willing to bet that more of us have been sexually assaulted and/or date raped than not. I added that, gratefully, I am one who has not.
Then I remembered an incident my freshman year of college that would qualify, by the strictest definition, as sexual assault. My female friend and I were studying with a classmate of hers in his dorm room. We all started getting silly and pretty soon the three of us were tickling, pushing, and wrestling. Then the guy pinched my right nipple.
I remember vividly which nipple it was, because even as I recount this humiliating experience, I can still feel his fingers close on it.
The incident ended when I slapped him across the face—to which he made a snide remark—and then I left.
When I began to tell my husband this story, here’s what I heard myself say:
“There was this one thing that happened, but it was really stupid of me to have put myself in the situation that I did.”
I blamed… myself.
A guy I hardly knew, who maybe hoped he was about to get a threesome, chose to grope a sensitive and private part of a body whose owner he hardly knew, rather than exercise any other possible option. He might’ve tried to kiss one of us if he genuinely thought the evening was going that way. Or he could’ve simply asked if we were interested in a romp. But instead, his first impulse was to go after the nearest boob.
I never told anyone about that evening until I sat across the dinner table with my husband thirty-some years later, both because it seemed trivial compared to what other women I knew had suffered, and I figured anyone I told would say something like:
It doesn’t sound like you were there to study.
What did you expect, when you started wrestling with him?
You’re lucky you weren’t alone with him.
(That last one’s probably very true.)
I doubt if that guy has any memory of this incident. I’m sure it was no big deal to him, except that he didn’t get what he was hoping for that night.
But today, I’m less angry that he honked me than I am that I took responsibility for it. And I’m angry that he got away with nothing more than a slap on the cheek and some sexual frustration. And I’m disappointed that some people will read this and still think it was my fault, that it was no big deal, that boys will be boys, that I got what I deserved for being young and stupid and there.
This has always been and still is a country where men can do what they like to women, with little consequence, in my and many of my female friends’ experience. And I’m as guilty as anyone for letting it continue to be that way.

Friday, September 7, 2018

"Alexa, Parent For Me"

I’m turning over parenting responsibilities to my Echo device.
Our home now holds two teenagers, as well as a ten-year-old with the alpha tendencies of a firstborn, the verbal and negotiation skills of a middle child, and the entitlement outlook of the tiny baby princess. I can no longer speak words to anyone here and expect a pleasant—or even a benign—response. A simple “Good morning,” might get me steely eyes, snarled lips, and “Whatever.”
Recently, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, I thanked my oldest for liking one of my Instagram posts. He hunched down in his chair, darted his eyes right and left in a furtive scan of the room, and hissed, “Geez, Mom! Come on!”
“What?” I asked.
“That’s so embarrassing!”

But I’ve discovered that they’ll take anything if it comes from Alexa. Her voice is that of the worshipful empress and her orders are un-disobeyable. She’s the fount of all wisdom, the go-to for all questions and insights, and the matriarch who awaits a summons to action with the silent, immutable presence of a Zen monk.
You know, all the stuff Mom is supposed to be.
Anyway, I loaded her up with reminders that she announces on schedule:
7:00am – “Firstborn, walk the dogs.”
7:15am – “Middle, pack your lunch.”
7:30am – “Baby Girl, put on your shoes and go to school.”
Not one child ever squabbles against these dictates or argues with the Alexa.
Surely they must know that their annoying, needlessly overprotective, and profoundly clueless mother entered these instructions into the device?
Why is the messenger’s voice so much more palatable than the dispatcher’s?
We purchased Echo Dots for the kids’ bedrooms. (Yeah, yeah, privacy, Big Brother, yadda yadda. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.) The kids use their devices to set alarms, listen to their hideous music, and find out what the weather’s going to be like so they can beg for a ride to school if it’s going to be too rainy, too hot, too dry, too cold, or too all-around weather-y.
But even better, all the Echoes can talk to each other:
Mom: Alexa, drop in on the girls’ bedroom. Girls! Stop talking and go to bed.
Girls: (Yelling, fighting, blaming, claiming they were already asleep, yelling some more…)
Mom hangs up and enters a new Reminder in the Girls’ Echo Dot.
Girls’ Echo Dot: Girls. Stop talking and go to bed.
The bedroom falls silent.
The children like Alexa better than they like me. I want to say, “Yeah, well, Alexa didn’t push with pain and blood and sweat and tears your nine-pound-plus carcasses out of her bleeding uterus, you ungrateful little rug rats.”
But they’re far too big to be called rug rats anymore.
So I’m just going to roll with it:
Kid: Mom! What’s for dinner? (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: Here’s a recipe for Mac N’ Cheese.
I’m not sure I’m even a necessary presence in the house anymore, to be honest.
Kid: Mom! I don’t remember the Pythagorean theorem! (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: For all right triangles, A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared.
In fact, I’m thinking about leaving, and seeing how long it takes anyone to notice.
Kid: Mom! Where’s my blue skirt? (Refer child to Alexa.)
Alexa: I’m sorry, I don’t know that. Maybe if you’d put your things away instead of leaving them all over the house you’d be able to find them when you want them.
I’m only dreaming about Alexa saying that last part. Perhaps when AI gets a little more advanced. Or when Alexa gets fifteen years of parenting under her belt, and the children ignore her, and she starts feeling exactly like I do.
Kid: Alexa, have you seen my mom anywhere?
Alexa: (Enormous sigh of unfettered irritation.) Go ask Siri.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to Fix a Puzzle That's Missing a Piece

Finishing a 1000-piece puzzle only to discover one of the tiles has gone missing is a clothes-rending, teeth-gnashing sort of experience. It’s like maintaining first-place in a 26.2 mile marathon only to trip on your shoelaces in the last three meters.
At least I’d guess that’s how it feels. If I ever run 26.2 miles in a single stretch you can assume the zombie apocalypse has occurred and I’m fleeing to save my brains.
But there’s an easy fix for the puzzle problem: Make your own last piece.
No joke. It’s not nearly as hard as you might think, and it doesn’t even have to be perfect for no one to ever realize what you did there.

     First, put a piece of plain paper (cardstock is good for the stiffness) behind your puzzle and trace out the missing piece.

      Cut out your traced piece and you’ll have a blank tile that fits snugly into the hole in your puzzle.

      To build up the thickness so it matches your puzzle’s girth either trace your new piece onto a piece of cardboard, or onto two or three more sheets of cardstock, then glue them on top of each other.

Trace the outline of your blank piece onto the puzzle photo.
If your puzzle came with a photo of the finished puzzle, find a spot in that photo that matches your missing piece. The photo is probably smaller than the puzzle, but unless your missing piece is very detailed and central to the visual effect of the finished work, you can fudge this.
(If your puzzle did not come with a photo, and the box itself doesn’t offer a good replacement section, simply draw in the missing parts on your new blank piece. Fit the piece into the puzzle, pencil in the design so it lines up with the surrounding pieces, then use markers or paints—or even crayon—to fill in the design as closely to the colors as possible. To approximate the gloss on the puzzle pieces you can lay Scotch or packaging tape over top of your new piece if you don’t have something like Modge Podge handy. Just trim the excess tape and voilà!)

      If you’re cutting a piece out of the puzzle photo or box, lay your blank replacement piece over top of the section that best approximates the missing bit. Trace it, cut it out, and glue it to the top of your blank piece.

When I did this with my puzzle I discovered that the color of the photo didn’t quite match the color of the puzzle, and my replacement piece stuck out visually. My artistically gifted daughter suggested glazing over the new piece with some watercolor paints, so I tried that. It worked great. I even painted in a new tree trunk to line up with the surrounding pieces.

We love puzzles in our house. I frame them and hang them up. Every time I look at one I remember when we sat around the table piecing it together as a family.
Why let one missing piece ruin all that?
Happy fixing!

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