Saturday, August 30, 2014

Two Kids. One School. Finally!

Finally -- one drop off, one school. Big changes for both girls.

For the first time since Marissa was in kindergarten, Lindsey and Marissa are finally in the same building. Their school is broken into Lower (grades K-3) and Upper Campus (grades 4-8) buildings which are an annoying distance from each other. Too far to walk but so short to drive that you spend more time at stop signs than actually driving.

Lindsey is in 6th grade;  middle school for her. This means she has 3 minutes between classes to get to her locker, change materials and get to the next class. She was nervous as could be Sunday night. She spent hours organizing her school supplies, labeled the binders and determining which ones would be used for which classes.  I kept reassuring her that all the 6th graders would be in the same boat, no one would know their schedules or where they're going, but it didn't do much to allay her fears.

Marissa is moving to the Upper Campus, where she will have more autonomy and responsibility. She also has the fabulous Mrs. O'Hara as her teacher, who was Lindsey's 3rd and 4th grade teacher. She already loves her teacher and her class. Even though she doesn't have many friends in her class at the beginning of the school year, knowing Marissa she will have lots by the end.
Another big change is that for the first time in their lives, the girls are taking the bus home from school. Now that I'm at a job where I'm working from home, they can take the bus which drops them off around 4:30. And a couple times already their first week, I was in our St. Paul office for the day and I gave Lindsey the key to the house. They let themselves in and the girls had their backpacks hung up, lunch boxes on the countertop and had started homework by the time I arrived home.

Marissa brought home a math test with specific directions from the teacher that students work on it alone with no corrections from parents, so the teacher could get a sense of each child's knowledge base. Marissa completed it in 10 minutes flat and when I looked it over she had gotten everything right, a far cry from last year's start to the year with her math assessment.

Lindsey got to sign up for an elective specialist and she opted for choir. She decided to drop orchestra after two years of viola.

More independence. More challenges. More fun. Bring on the school year!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Save the Animals but Break Children's Hearts? Apparently So.

Marissa visits with a guinea pig at Unleashed.
Back to the reason for Camp Kristi.

For several years, many of Lindsey's friends' parents and I have gotten together to plan our girls' collective summers. It would be easier and cheaper to put them in Minneapolis KIDS for the season. Instead, we chose to organize carpools, change work schedules and do what I've termed the "summer schlep" to create rich and rewarding activities for our four musketeers.

We do this planning in February, as many camps fill up within the first week they become available. We go through numerous websites with some easy and some difficult forms, pay for everything in advance on credit cards and then each week of the summer work out details of carpooling and after-camp drop-offs. This gets coordinated between two girls because Marissa doesn't always want to do the camps Lindsey does, and also has her own friends that she does activities with as well.  Many weeks we are dropping one kid off somewhere and the other somewhere else, then picking them back up at different locations than the places they were dropped off at. It's a lot of details to keep track of; I practically need a minute-by-minute scheduler for the mornings and afternoons. Oy.

Last year Lindsey and friends had participated in a camp hosted by the Animal Humane Society called Unleashed, and Lindsey absolutely loved it. They spent the week learning about different animals and visiting all the pets waiting to be rescued.  She talked about it so much her little sister wanted to take part in it this summer, too. Great. Let's make that week easy and register both of them at the same time, then work out carpools between the families.

This is one of the camps that fills up in a matter of days, so the minute the summer programs were available in February I completed a registration for both of them.  I felt like I was in a race to get concert tickets for a popular artist. Yet another website, another confusing registration form to figure out, and then afterwards, instead of getting an email confirming their registration information, I got an email that said the information was available on the website and gave me the link to log on to retrieve it.

As if a month later I could remember the username and password to one of a multitude of websites that I had filled out. I always said I'd check it later but didn't until the Friday before the camp, at which point I realized I had made a mistake.

In filling out the form, I had registered both Lindsey and Marissa for the camp for 3rd and 4th graders. Lindsey was supposed to be in the camp for 5th and 6th graders along with her friends. I was surprised the form even let me make the mistake. The form asked for the 2014-15 grade for the student, and I had entered "6" for Lindsey. So why would it let me register her for a camp for 3rd and 4th graders? I know that online forms can be programmed to limit selections users can make based on answers to questions, but this form was not built to do that. Even more surprising was that in the six months between when I filled out the form and when the camp was to take place, no one at AHS had caught my mistake either.

"Easily remedied," I thought, "I'll call the camp and let them know my mistake, they should be able to  add her to the roster for the 5th and 6th graders."

Silly me.

I was informed that she would not be able to take part in camp with the 5th and 6th graders, that not only was the camp full (I knew that; a fourth of the campers were Lindsey's friends), but there was a waiting list and this wasn't fair to those who were on the waiting list.

"Yes I understand," I said, "but I'm not asking you to add someone who suddenly decided today she wanted to go to this camp, I have already paid for the camp. I did so six months in advance, as a matter of fact. I am just asking you to put her with the appropriate age group so she can take part in the camp with her friends."

Sorry, I was informed. Not possible. The only way she could take part in the camp was by doing the curriculum with the 3rd and 4th graders. No exceptions. The good news, I was informed, was that she would be doing the camp with her sister.

I was pretty sure Lindsey wouldn't think that was "good news."

Oh and by the way, there are no refunds at this point in time, I was reminded.

Late Friday afternoon when Lindsey got home from the final day of that week's camp experience, I let her know of the error and of our only option, which was to take part in the camp with the 3rd and 4th graders. She resolutely refused to do so and said she wouldn't go to the camp.

At first I told her she didn't have any choice and had to go. I was all of two weeks into a new job and would be driving to Oakdale for training throughout the week. No one would be home and we had nothing else lined up.

After discussing with Wayne and Kristi, they both sided with Lindsey that it was a bit much to ask a middle schooler to take part in the camp with 3rd and 4th graders. They convinced me that the embarrassment factor was quite high, especially when she would be within eyesight of her friends who were in the other camp group.

We decided to take the risk that the camp counselors would be more accommodating and try to send her anyway. I had been talking to someone in the main office, who clearly has to follow the rules. The person I spoke to on the phone didn't state that safety or census requirements would be violated by accommodating this one child, only that it wasn't fair to others on the waiting list. Surely the counselors themselves would be more understanding.

Thankfully Kristi had much of the week off and was going to be dropping the girls off at camp on their first day anyway. If it didn't work out for Lindsey to take part in camp, she and Kristi would make plans for the week.

When Kristi arrived at the camp with the two girls in tow, the counselors had the groups line up by grade; 3rd and 4th graders on the left, 5th and 6th graders on the right. When they saw that Lindsey's name was with the 3rd and 4th graders, they said she would not be able to switch groups. Kristi explained the mistake; they understood the issue as they had been told about the phone call the prior Friday, but there was nothing they could do. Either camp with the 3rd and 4th graders, or don't camp.

"Then she is not taking part in this camp," Kristi said, and they walked away. A fellow parent who was dropping off Lindsey's friends saw them leaving and asked what was going on. He couldn't believe that an 11-year-old was being turned away from camp.

Kristi and Lindsey ended up having a lovely day, and ultimately an amazing week. After the first day of camp I received an email from the camp asking for feedback. They got it and I subsequently got my refund, minus the administrative fee, which is fine; I took up their time and energy to process her registration and deal with my ire. They also received letters from the parents of Lindsey's friends, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the "options" we'd been given, and expressed how not having Lindsey be a part of this camp affected their own children's camp experience.

Lindsey visiting the animals (and her friends) at AHS while picking up Marissa at the end of the day.
Here's my point on this: people make mistakes, and clearly I was at fault for registering for the camp incorrectly. No one caught the mistake for six months, despite my having identified her as a 6th grader on the form. When I realized the mistake myself, there were no creative solutions presented. No solutions at all, actually, considering that the impact of this mistake fell upon an 11-year-old.

I fully support the good work of the Animal Humane Society, but I do not choose to support them through their camp offerings. We will not be signing up for this camp next year.  I urge anyone who does so to make sure you register your kids correctly.

Tell-Tale Tourists

Wisconsin Dells has a population of 2,600 people and its neighboring town, Lake Delton, has a population of 2,900. Which totally explains the dozens of restaurants, water parks, attractions and theaters in these towns.  Actually, families like ours explain all of that -- tourists.

Look out! The Floria-Horsman tourists are in town!
Spending a week at Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells is like being transported to another world, one in which money doesn't matter because everything you do you charge to the room. Even buying tickets to other attractions in the area can be done at a discount and charged to your room. Why not do it all, it's all free!! (Ignore that piece of paper under your door on the last morning of your stay, it means nothing.)

Since it was all free, we rode the Ducks, those 7-ton hunks of 70-year-old metal that move from land to water and back again. You may remember them from that beach in France.

Lindsey went zip lining while the less adventurous of us went on a horse-drawn carriage of a canyon. Yes, a canyon, carved by a prehistoric glacial lake smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin.

We explored different restaurants and spent hours in the various pools at the GWL water park, sipping those free margaritas by the outdoor pool while the kids splashed and played in the water.

We posed for a 1930's gangster style photograph and had to keep straight faces through our giggling.

We spent a rainy morning in the arcade, spending that "free" money to buy cheap prizes for entertainment.

We ordered ice cream, muffins and iced coffee on a nearly daily basis from Bear Paws, the cute bakery/coffee shop/ice cream shop in the resort. Why not, it's all free!

Our last evening we went to the Del Bar for dinner, a restaurant that's been run by the same family since 1943.  We were the only ones wearing our typical tourist t-shirts with GWL water park bracelets on our ankles. The hostess took one look at us and said, "Enjoying the Dells?" We were the tell-tale tourists in this place, because everyone else looked like locals.

When we walked in I felt like we had stepped back in time, in a really good way.

The bathroom was vintage, with alternating pink shades of tile on the walls and floor and a lounging area before the swinging doors that led to the toilets and stalls. And while the bathroom was entertaining for the girls, their wine list was extensive and their steaks divine.  That had to be our best meal out of the entire week.

Our best customer service experience was at the arcade at GWL. Lindsey had won a game that dispensed 1,000 tickets. (For context, the previous day her entire evening's activities netted her only 285 tickets.) They put all the ticket points on a card which is then traded in for prizes. She couldn't decide on which prizes to get, so she decided to wait and come back later.

Unfortunately she lost the card in the few hours she had to hold on to it. We tore the room apart, looked up and down the hallways in case she had dropped it, asked various housekeeping and retail staff and eventually declared it lost. We went back to the arcade and explained what had happened. The manager took our word for the number of tickets that were on the card and gave us a new one with exactly that many points on it. What could have been a downer for Lindsey turned out to be a high point.

I keep saying that each vacation we take is the best vacation we've taken. I guess the best vacation we've ever had is always the one we took most recently. Each time, we are making memories we will cherish. I'm pretty sure that's the point.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Don't Scare Me Like That!

Our youngest daughter has a bit of a dramatic flair. She's the one who will tell you her toe was "practically ripped off" on the playground, only to see that the actual injury was just a small scrape. She'll milk any injury for what she can, unless she doesn't know she has it. One time I pointed out a large scrape on the side of her knee and asked, "How'd you do that?" She didn't have any idea it was there. But once she knew, boy oh boy, it was the reason why she couldn't bend down to pick up her clothes off her floor.

When she started complaining of a painful neck a week or more ago, I took her complaining with a grain of salt. A large grain of salt. I expected it to go away, yet after three days she was still complaining about it. She said it hurt to take a full breath, but the pain was in her neck. I couldn't feel anything and massaged it, thinking it was tight muscles. She kept complaining. Her Aunt Kristi listened to her lungs, since she said it hurt to breathe, and she sounded fine.

Finally, one day last week she came up to me with her back to me and asked me to feel her neck. From behind, I could tell that one side of her neck had a hard lump. It almost felt like a bone it was so hard, but I knew it couldn't be. It was located where she had a lymph node on the other side, which is normally soft and rolls around a bit under your fingers. Not this thing -- it was hard and stuck in place.

I know people tell you not to do this, but it's hard not to resist. I can make a personal recommendation on this one: do not Google health symptoms, especially "hard, immovable lymph nodes."  The first page that showed up was the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, followed by the American Cancer Society and then the oncology page for the Mayo Clinic.

I made an appointment for her at her pediatrician's office at 11 a.m. the next morning to have it checked out.

I absolutely expected the doctor to come in, examine her and say, "Oh it's this muscle group, blah blah blah, have her do these stretches and ice it. Here's a sticker."

Instead, he found the spot after much description from Marissa and pointing from me, and got a puzzled look on his face. He asked another pediatrician to come in and assess the spot as well, then the two of them went into the hall to consult.

"Well," he said when he came back, "It could be a muscle group that's spasming, but if that were the case she would be in a lot more pain. We think she needs to see a specialist to get a second opinion, so we'd like her to see an ENT. Today."

We already had a relationship with an ENT due to Marissa's ear tubes and adenoid surgery as a baby; amazingly enough, he had an opening at 2 o'clock.

The ENT also found the spot on her neck and said it was a deeply seated lymph node that was acting up; none of the other lymph nodes were involved, and otherwise she was a very healthy girl; no fever, no night sweats, no loss of appetite. However, the possibilities if it was an indication of a greater illness was too serious not to fully investigate.

He ordered a CT scan, and insisted that we have it done as quickly as possible. When we were first given an appointment time of the following Thursday, he had his nurse call the hospital back and get it moved up to the very next day.

While I appreciate that the physicians wanted to get us an answer as quickly as possible, the fact that they all wanted this thing checked out immediately was disconcerting.

Friday morning was supposed to be the start of our vacation. Wayne was going to be starting his Ragnar 200-mile race Friday morning, while Kristi, the girls and I were going to be driving to Wisconsin to spend the weekend with my parents. Instead, Kristi and I and the girls would be checking Marissa in at the hospital for this procedure, while Wayne debated whether or not he should do the Ragnar race at all. (I insisted that he did it.)

This felt like the start of a journey I did not wish to take.  

The ENT thought Marissa would have to be put under for the CT scan because they would need to put in an IV to inject the contrast dye and he didn't think she'd sit for it. The next morning when we got to Children's Hospital, the nurse there thought that she would be able to do it while just using nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas. We decided to give that a go.

Marissa got to keep the mask that's in her hand.
Apparently my hair looks like an afro that reaches the ceiling under the effects of laughing gas.  We told silly stories to distract Marissa and she did really well.

We got the results on Tuesday of the following week: normal. She does had one swollen lymph node and the ENT recommended putting her on antibiotics to help her body fight whatever it's fighting, but otherwise she is a perfectly healthy kid.

We were so relieved.  That's a scare that I can do without.  And now, on to vacation at Great Wolf Lodge.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Camp Kristi

Summers are supposed to be fun. Sleeping in, playing games, biking with friends. At least, that's what it should be to me. My kids have different summers than I had, since they have two working parents. But this means their days are filled with day camps that are a blast, something I never had as a kid.

Except when something happens and your child is turned away from going to a day camp. That's what happened to Lindsey when her registration for "Unleashed" got screwed up. She had been looking forward to this camp hosted by the Animal Humane Society all summer, only to literally be turned away at the door on the first day of camp.

Her Aunt Kristi was supposed to drop her off that same day, only to walk away with Lindsey still by her side. They could have walked away dejectedly, heads held low. But not them.

Instead, they went and had breakfast at Bruegger's. And then they made plans for the rest of the week.

They went to the Big Thrill Factory.

They went horseback riding. They went to the Galaxy Drive-In for lunch and played chess on a huge chess set that made Lindsey feel like Alice in Wonderland.

And of course they had to visit the animals at the Animal Humane Society, which was her favorite part of the camp that she was sad to miss. That way she got to see her friends at the end of their camp day, too.

We came home from work to a tired, sweaty and smiley girl. All thanks to Aunt Kristi, who gave Lindsey one of the best "camp" experiences of her summer.

Thank you, Aunt Kristi!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On Turning 50

To make this clear -- I have not hit 50 yet. But I have friends who have, and they have funny ways of celebrating it.

Our friend Mark had a backyard party to celebrate his 50th. We drank and ate and laughed like teenagers, while our kids ran around spraying each other with the hose and jumping on the trampoline. Some of the moms took a turn on the trampoline as well, showing off with backflips and somersaults. Gymnasts, those two.

Yesterday a group of us celebrated my friend Janey's 50th with a pedal and pub tour of Minneapolis breweries. Our friend Eric (henceforth known as Eric the Bike Man) organized the tour, with his considerable experience of the bike trails of Minneapolis. We met at their home, close to Lake Calhoun, to begin.

This was probably the most fun I've had on a bike. Ever. Rain sprinkled on us a bit on the way between stops, which made it all the more fun.

We biked to Harriet Brewery in the same amount of time it would have taken to drive and park, minus the hassle of driving and parking. It happened to be Food Truck Festival day, so the parking lot was filled with about a dozen food trucks Chicken wings, burritos, fish tacos, cupcakes, smoothies, pick your palate and enjoy.

Then off to Fulton Brewery, a brewery that started in our neighborhood of Fulton and moved its operations to downtown Minneapolis near the Target Field, where the Minnesota Twins play. Another food truck and an amazing patio, with a view of downtown Minneapolis.

We ran into a group of bikers wearing matching jerseys that read "Liver Strong," with graphics of a liver that is actually a beer tap. They had stickers to share with all.

At one point Janey commented to me that she felt so fortunate to have friends who were up for this adventure. As I looked around at the group, I realized that at age 43, I am the youngest. Everyone would be classified as mid-40's to early 50's. Biking for 12 miles at an average speed of 15 mph was no big deal for any of us.

We talked about moving out of our homes and taking over one of the beautiful condo buildings we biked past. When we get old.

By the end of the evening I had determined a philosophy for turning 50:

Turning 50 should feel like being a teenager again. Only with money.

Just good health, good friends and good times.

I'm pretty sure a classmate of mine wrote that in my yearbook back in 1989.