How to Race Like a Jerk.

1. Give Pro Tips to Random Runners. They LOVE it.

Chris and I discovered several races ago that, although I like running with him quite a bit on normal days, I like running quite alone for half marathons. Besides the fact that I run more positively when alone (I always feel like I’m trying to keep up when running with others, but push myself to be faster when alone), there’s something so fulfilling to my introvert’s soul to be surrounded by people, yet be under zero obligation to interact with any of them. Every now and then I’ll chat for a second with another runner, but I spend most of my 13.1 miles silent.

We had a half marathon in our city earlier this year. It is a relatively big one, so I was enjoying immensely the droves of people surrounding me, all who expected nothing of me. I was pushing myself a bit – I’d had a PR (personal record – fastest personal running time) the day before at the 5K, and foolishly thought that I could have two back-to-back PR days. But my legs hadn’t recovered from their fastest pace ever the day before, and I was working hard. 

I’m a heavy breather while running anyway – I noticed this a while back. It’s fine. I don’t care. I might sound like I’m dying but I’m successfully getting oxygen into my lungs so I just go with it.

The stranger at mile two who came up over my left shoulder, however, did not feel the same.

He was a guy in his fifties, a guy I wasn’t aware existed until, as he was coming up behind me, began speaking rather loudly into my ear – something I never appreciate in any context of life.

“You need to save your breath. This is just the first hill, you know.”

What the…did someone order me a personal coach? This is the worst gift delivery ever.

“I’m just a heavy breather. I’m fine.” 

I sped up to try and shake this dude who had enough energy for his own race and to mansplain mine. 

It didn’t work.

“This course has rolling hills for the next several miles. Lots of ups and downs. You really need to pace your breathing.”

SERIOUSLY DUDE THERE’S ENOUGH OXYGEN IN THE WORLD FOR ME TO HEAVY BREATHE AND MAKE IT THROUGH THIS RACE.

And also, I’ve done this race three times. I know the hills. 

I still hadn’t seen this guy’s face, but I had a vivid mental image.

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I really thought Mr. Mansplainer would fuel me on with rage and indignation to speed up to a pace where I could absolutely smoke him (he was, after all, behind me and my heavy breathing until just a few seconds ago), but somehow he (or my PR from the prior day) made me slow down quite a bit for those next two miles.

Which only made me feel even more irritated at his unrequested coaching.

At least I had something to think about for a few miles.

2. Assume that You are THE Most Important Participant and Act Accordingly.

I never saw Mansplainer again (then again I would only recognize him from his heavy talking in my ear…someone should tell him to save his energy for the rolling hills,) but his performance of arsishness got significantly outdone towards the end of the course.

This particular marathon is a double loop course. Which means us half marathoners are finishing up as the whole marathoners have to start all over again. Which also means that I always get lapped by the lead whole marathoner a couple miles before I finish my half (meaning that he’s approaching the end of his second lap, 26.2 miles, as I’m approaching the end of my first and only lap, 13.1 miles.) Because wow people can run fast.

This year I was super proud of myself. He usually catches me 2-3 miles from my finish. But this year, I made it all the way to less than a mile from the finish line before I heard the sirens approaching. I always get excited about this because much like swimming, you cannot fathom how fast a fast runner is on television. You must experience it. You must feel his thirty-foot long stride in perfect rhythmic pounding shriek past you at a speed you didn’t even know was possible by a non-furry mammal to truly appreciate an elite runner. 

I prepared myself for excitement and paid attention to the lanes to make sure I didn’t get in the way. They’d already separated the full and half marathoners with cones down the middle of the street – we each got a full car lane to continue our race. I got to the far side of my half marathon side of the street. 

The two motorcycle cops came by, sirening and loudspeakering that the winner was coming through and everyone needed to move over. The police SUV and the news crew SUV were not far behind. 

Except that…there were three full marathoners (who were just finishing their first lap) that took exception to this well-known practice.

They began yelling at the motorcycle cops.

“This is our marathon too!! We’re not moving!!”

 Now let me remind you. This dude has just run twice as far as them in the same amount of time, is a feat of humanity and is about to win a freaking race.

But they aren’t having it.

The motorcycle cop megaphoned right at them. “Move out of the way! Winner coming through!”

They got screamy. 

“WE HAVE NOWHERE TO GO!! THIS IS OUR MARATHON TOO!! WE! ARE! NOT! MOVING!!”

There was an easily accessible and completely empty sidewalk to their left. And there was my lane, which I was gladly willing to share, to the right. But they had “nowhere” to go.

A race official on a bike reached them. He started screaming at them.

They screamed back.

The news crew and police SUV were nipping their heels. I could feel the lead runner’s Olympian footfalls closing in.

But they would. Not. Move.

The lead runner went around the two SUVs and around the immovable runners. The news crew, whose job it is to live-broadcast the winner finishing this race, swerved into my lane. I moved over further to allow him room.

The police SUV just kept going forward. Nipping those runner’s heels. And was never able to get by them, that I saw.

If only Mansplainer could have been there at that moment, to run up behind them and talk loudly into their ear. 

“You need to save your energy. This is just the first lap, you know. There are a lot of rolling hills in the next few miles, and if you use up all your energy turning and screaming like that, you’re never going to make it.”

3. Write Exposé on Other Misbehaving Runners and Mock them Mercilessly.

uh….oops.

On Becoming a Spelling Bee Drama Queen.

We Callahans like Spelling Bees. There’s something so…objective about spelling, and yet so very challenging as well, because English is stupid. Every year at the beginning of the school year, I check the Scripps site daily for the release of the year’s list of 450 words. Because you can never be too early in starting your study process. 

And process is exactly what we have. I call out the words, the kids spell them, I write down (twice) the words they miss – once in my notebook, and once in theirs. They rewrite and study from their notebooks, and I use my notebook the next day to review the words they missed, then call out another batch of words. At the beginning of the year, the process is taxing on me, because Noah is an agonizingly slow speller. So I leave myself plenty of margin for what I call Patience Doodles – a skill every homeschool parent needs in spades.

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After five months of practice on the 450 words plus the extra word lists, it was time for the Homeschool County Spelling Bee. In Alabama, there are 67 counties – except when spelling bees are involved, in which there are 68. Each county has a county bee for public and private schools, but all homeschoolers in the state are shoved into Homeschool County.

(Which, as with previous years, I spent much time pondering what Homeschool County would look like, if it were an actual geographical location. So many Chick-Fil-As. The thrift stores are full of denim skirts from homeschool days past. The hair length is three times the national average. Every car has a CC sticker on it. And the entire county absolutely REEKS of Lavender and Thieves.)

This was our first time participating in Homeschool County, because in years past, we’ve had Regional bees, from which the top three go to Homeschool County. Two years ago, Ali got fourth place in Regional  (or, as we like to call it, First Place of No More Studying), but we’d never broken through to Homeschool County before. But this year, they cancelled regionals and compiled us all into Homeschool County, meaning that Ali and Noah would both get their chance to shine.

This was the first bee we’d participated in that was on a Saturday, which meant that Chris would get his first experience as Spelling Bee Dad. I explained to him beforehand that though the bee starts at 1pm, expect a lengthy amount of time set aside for explaining the rules. It’s best to be prepared for such things, and as he told me later, about halfway through the rules, he was super glad I’d warned him.

One of the rules is about an appeal. It’s always given as an aside, with a “we really hardly ever need these, and I haven’t seen an appeal in years, but if you find yourself needing to make an appeal on behalf of your student, go to the back and get an appeal form.”

Every time she states this rule I have a picture in my mind of Appeal Mom. She’s a total stage mom, the kind that yells at the teacher when her kid gets into legitimate trouble, and who is always convinced that everyone is out to wrong her kid. I mentally shake my head at her obnoxious entitlement. Good thing she doesn’t exist in Homeschool County.

We began the bee. As always, I wrote down every word with my own legend attached to it. The only reason I do all of this paperwork is to keep my own jitters at bay, my hands from shaking, and my heart rate down. Writing soothes me and keeps my stomach from cramping when it’s time for my kid to spell again. Oh – and I mark the homonyms because I like playing the game “what in the world is a homonym to that word?” in my head. One must have coping mechanisms.

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(Yes, I misspelled homonym the first time I wrote it on my legend. Yes, Chris caught it and giggled silently at me.)

Spelling bees are for first through eighth graders, all grades together. Noah, being in second grade, had only made it through studying the first 250 words. He spoke confidently and accurately, though, and was doing quite well. When it got to round five, I whispered to Chris “this is probably Noah’s last round.” But no – he spelled cardboard correctly, cheering me at the fact that he got as far as he possibly could have based on what he’d learned. As expected, he spelled out in the next round, came and sat down beside me and whispered “We never studied gangrene!!” 

Ali was still going strong. She had memorized all 450 words, and had studied quite diligently into the extra word lists as well. But I was still nervous – because panic and accidental mistakes are easy to make.

By round nine, there were only six spellers left. When it was her turn, she was given the word tetrarch. My eyes widened. My brain began spinning. I definitely did not remember that word on the lists. And I could tell she didn’t either. She asked for the definition. She quietly thought. And, completely without surprise to me, she spelled it incorrectly – tetrark. 

She came to sit down and I whispered, “Do you remember that word?” “No!” 

I did a mental checklist of all of the other words in the round. All the other words were straight off the word list, right around the 400s. I scanned the 300s and 400s. There was no tetrarch.

I had Chris re-scan them. He couldn’t find tetrarch. 

And, before I could consider my actions, I stood up and walked to the back of the room to get an appeal form.

The room let up an audible gasp. Or maybe it wasn’t audible. Maybe I just felt the mental gasp from everyone in the room.

Chris later admitted that he was shocked at my sudden turn into Appeal Mom, and had a Hamilton moment as he watched me gear up for my first duel…

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I whispered to the official that tetrarch wasn’t on the word list, but we clearly weren’t “off-list” yet (what happens when the 450 words are used up), as all the other words that round had been on the word list – I knew since I wrote them all down. She agreed that I should fill out an appeal form.

I did, and at the end of round ten, the pronouncer called me up to see my appeal form. I explained. She did a search on her computer and showed me where tetrarch was: Word #408. There it was, right there, on her computer screen.

I walked back to my seat and pulled out my folder again, and they started up round eleven. I found the right page and began scanning. 

And this is what I found:

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I DID NOT HAVE A WORD FOUR OH EIGHT.

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How even.

What even.

It just was not there.

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Without thinking, I stood up and walked to the back of the room. For an unprecedented, nay historic SECOND APPEAL.

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I took my laminated word list with me. The official, as I was, was dumbfounded. 

At the end of the eleventh round, upon seeing my Double Appeal Mom behavior, the pronouncer called for a ten minute break. The crush of guilt and shame at somehow becoming THAT mom overwhelmed me. So I very apologetically showed her my word sheet. She added herself to the count of dumbfounded individuals. I told her that I understood that too many rounds had gone by to let Ali back in, and would be fine with whatever they decided.

There was ten minutes of deliberation. Much discussion. Much look at that missing #408.

While we waited, Ali was both excited about being out and excited about being put back in, as she had a basketball game right after the spelling bee, and if she were out, she’d be on time. I asked, “Do you want me to go ahead and tell them not to worry with it? You can be done…” She looked at me like I was crazy. “NO WAY!!! I want back in if I can get in!!”

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And they decided that, since this was a Scripps Spelling Bee and that clearly Scripps had made a mistake, Ali should be allowed back in – but that she had to spell two words correctly, for rounds ten and eleven, to earn her spot. They explained it very well to the whole crowd, so that there were no misunderstandings as to why they were making an exception to the rule. She finished up her explanation with “And if you have a problem with this, don’t bother to appeal – you can only appeal for your own speller.” 

Boom.

Then,

“No pressure, Ali. Are you ready?”

I sat on my hands.

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She spelled her first word flawlessly. 

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But then her second word. Oh, her second word. 

This time, it was all my fault.

You see, I always look up the pronunciations of words that I don’t know, of which there are always plenty, like mille-feuille and recherché and netsuke. But if it’s a word I do know, and I’ve been pronouncing all my life, it doesn’t occur to me that I might be wrong. (And, for the record, I’m wrong a lot. So many words are “reading only” words and I find out years later that I’ve been saying them incorrectly in my head all my life.)

Her second word was Phaeton.

Go ahead – pronounce it mentally.

Did you pronounce it fay-TON?

Well, you’re doing it wrong.

The pronouncer pronounced it FAY-uh-tun.

Which, when spoken aloud, sounds nothing like fay-TON.

I cursed myself for my mispronunciation.

I cursed myself for not telling Ali “Now, your mother is a serial mispronouncer. If anyone says a word you’ve never heard, search your memory for other spelling words that are KIND OF like it to see if perhaps your mother has mispronounced it wrong all her life.”

And, as expected, she did not spell it correctly.

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So not only was I Double Appeal Mom, but I followed that up by being Hijacker of my Own Daughter’s Success Mom. If only there were a bee for that.

Epilogue:

…Ali was just relieved that she made it through the Spelling Bee without any (of her own) dumb mistakes, and she made it to her basketball game happily free of Spelling Bee anxiety.
…I was relieved when our beloved Spelling Club leader, Miss Melissa, got home and immediately checked her own word lists and also found that she was missing Word #408.
…And next year, we’ll definitely use those Scripps recordings for
ALL word pronunciations.
…Last night, Chris and I were watching a British Drama after bed. They referenced their fay-TON. I screamed “fay-TON!! fay-
TON!!! I’m just British, you see!!!” – it did not help regain anyone’s Spelling Bee Glory, but it also didn’t wake up any children, so we’ll call it a win.

The Ballad of Nearly Headless Noah, or How to Give a Kid Hair Stitches.

I have paranoid, careful children.

They get it from their father.

I mean, while growing up my family made fun of me for being too paranoid, but next to Chris, I’m basically tightroping across Niagara Falls every dang day.

Having such a careful family does much to mitigate our injuries.

(Other than mine, as I am not as careful when I sleepwalk. But that’s been a while, so there’s that.)

But every now and then, things go awry. And if things are going to go awry, of course they’re going to go awry at bedtime. Such was the case a few Saturday nights ago.

Noah was quite hyper right around bedtime. He was acting the fool in our bedroom while Chris and I were laying in bed taking a moment to zone out before the time came to put the kids in bed. 

…And we were doing the same after the time came to put the kids to bed – because bedtime is Chris’ job and sometimes Chris lets the kids stay up late.

(So obviously, we know who to blame for the forthcoming catastrophe.)

Noah fell purposefully on the (carpeted) floor laughing, but his laughs quickly turned into screams. It took me a couple wails to realize the changeover had occurred, at which time I hopped out of bed and sat down to comfort him, assuming it was just another one of those bumps.

It also took me a minute to notice that his head was bleeding. Somewhat profusely. Not quite dripping-on-the-carpet profusely, but definitely at the level of I-can’t-begin-to-tell-where-you’re-injured profusely. Apparently, his head had found the corner of the rocking chair when in downward motion.

There’s always one parent that is panicky in a crisis, and one parent that becomes more calm in a crisis. In my experience, the Panicky In A Crisis Parent is also the Let The Kids Stay Up Late Parent. So I took over the situation of calming the child and the husband and giving the husband jobs to do to keep him from bashing himself on the head repeatedly for not putting the children to bed two minutes earlier.

(The PIAC parent also constantly analyzes and optimizes every situation to mitigate unnecessary risk, while the CIAC parent has taken all of the ER trips in our 18 years of marriage (dang you, sleepwalking and avocado), so personal experience in a crisis helps.)

I waited until the crying subsided, checked for any signs of concussion (it was obviously a flesh wound and his brain was in proper working condition), ordered a comb be brought to me from my panicky servant, and carefully combed the hair away from the general bloody area, desperately trying to find the offending fault line.

I still couldn’t tell.

I took a picture of the now neater-brushed but still quite bloody head and texted it to two friends: a Pediatrician (that just so happened to be working in Children’s ER at that moment), and a nurse, hoping that one would check out my bloody pictures and tell me whether it was an ER-Worthy head bleed or not.

The Pediatrician called. He confirmed that there were no signs of concussion and said that he thought I could handle it with a bit of careful braiding (“Braiding??” I said, thinking of my son’s short and fine hair, and he said “Well, knotting would work.” Yes, as if that makes it easier.), but he was going to need to see the depth of the wound first – which meant I was going to have to wash that head.  

Thankfully, Noah had calmed down from the initial shock, and was even calmer still at the realization that me handling it saved him from the ER, so was impressively amenable to his head being flushed in the sink. He watched as the bright pink water went down the drain, adding his own squeamish commentary.

“OH! That is DISGUSTING!! That is the NASTIEST water EVER!!”

Wash,

Rinse,

More combing,

Another round of iPhone pictures and texts.

Yes, the Pediatrician definitely thought the cut was such that hair stitches could hold it in place.

“We even do them in the ER sometimes. You just take a little bit of hair from either side of the cut and tie it together. It helps if the hair is coarser…but try it and see what you think.”

So I sat in the floor with my son, carefully grabbing tiny tufts of his silky fine hair from each side of his bleeding brain crevasse, and began tying them together, therefore forcing the two sides to come together and join as one. But the second I let go of the knots, no matter whether I single, double, or triple knotted them, they immediately unwound themselves, reopening the Canyon of Blood.

I knotted. I reknotted. I thought. I sighed. And, uncharacteristically, Noah found himself full of gratitude and encouragement.

He rubbed my arm and said “Thank you for trying to fix my head, Mommy. I know you can do it.”

This kid did NOT want to go the ER and endure real stitches.

Chris suggested bobby pins, and found my stash. As I suspected, they didn’t have enough grip. I dug around in my hair supplies and found two hair clips, but Noah didn’t have enough hair to keep those in place. So Chris fashioned a thickener of rolled-up toilet paper, which acted also as a blood mop, and we placed it across the sealed crack, pulling the two clips, holding the ends of my two hair stitches, in the opposite direction.

It. Was. Perfect.

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Now all we needed was a device to keep it from coming undone in the night. Because by now it was 10:30pm and we would very much like to see our son in bed.

We borrowed a cloth hairband from Ali, and our masterpiece was completed.

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We had medically cobbled together our son, ALL ON OUR OWN. Albeit with some incredibly helpful expert advice.

The next morning, all was still in place. Not wanting to disturb the lovely healing process going on under that TP, we left the contraption in place – despite it being Sunday – and stuck a beanie (with light-up Christmas lights – which is very distracting in January) on top of the whole contraption. And we threatened him within an inch of his life against any movement in Sunday School other than raising his hand to say “Yes ma’am”, “The Bible”, or “Jesus”.

At the recommendation of the doctor, Noah’s lifelong dream of not having to wash his hair came true (at least for a week), and then we resumed normal life, other than us calling him Nearly Headless Noah on the regular.

Last night, upon the fourth washing of his hair, I inspected the situation and discovered that the scab was fully separated from his head and just hanging out in his hair.

So I sat him down and began carefully removing it, then placing the bits of scab, entwined with clumps of hair, in his hand. He was not nearly as thankful as he had been that first night. 

“Why do I have to hold the scab? It’s disgusting!!”

“Because I don’t have another hand. But you know if you put the scab under your pillow, the scab fairy will come.”

“Why bother? I know it’s you.”

“What?? Do I LOOK like a scabby fairy?!”

“Well you’re the Tooth Fairy so you’ve gotta be the Scab Fairy too.”

“Have you ever noticed that pepperoni looks like a scab? We should call it scabbaroni.” 

I finally got it all out, then inspected my unbelievable, gorgeous, lovely, stunning work. He had a small pink scar, perfectly aligned, with no lumps or bumps. I was definitely ready to be a brain surgeon.

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So what did our family learn through this experience?

…Hair Stitches are amazing and will save you hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours in ER visits.

…Put the kids to bed on time so no one splits open a head.

…And Pepperoni Pizza is not a recommended meal right before removing scabs.

To see allll the pictures of the whole process, click here. Bloody pictures are only for people who like that sort of thing.