Short Stories From A Busy Week.

On Saturday, we went on the newish-annual Road Rally.

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This isn’t new for my family, as my Dad has driven in epic road rallies (like, China-to-Paris epic) and has created many slightly-less-epic road rallies for different groups pretty much our entire life. But last year was the first year he revived the practice to share it with our Sunday School classes.

It’s the most fun you can have on a Saturday morning.

When in creative mode, he and my Mom spend countless hours concocting a course on sometimes harrowing back roads (there was one road…that was decisively one-lane…but was meant for both directions of traffic…and containing many hairpin turns. And of course I had to meet a car coming the other way on that hairpin turn. Newsflash: I still have last-year’s-wreck PTSD.)

The way my Dad’s Road Rallies work is…

– You don’t know where you’re going,

– You don’t know how long it will take to get there,

– But you get penalized for being more than three minutes early or five minutes late.

He hands out directions and an overall average speed that you should shoot for, and from that, you must derive your arrival time. Oh – and all while answering sometimes very tricky scavenger hunt clues along the way (which is the fun part.)

This year, Chris had already signed up for a half marathon, so Not-Crazy-Renee was going to go with me (which would have, I’m certain, created a new Not-Crazy-Renee story), but her kids just had to get sick. So instead, we had an in-family insanely complex distribution of children, drivers, and navigators, as follows:

– I drove. My sister-in-law was my navigator. One of her children went with my Dad as a rally organizer helper, one of her children went with my Mom as a rally co-organizer helper, and one of her children rode with us. I had my two kids. And we had a two-year-old I’d never laid eyes on in my entire life – let’s call him Johnny. Mostly because his name was Johnny.

– My brother drove. My brother’s navigator was his friend, coincidentally the father to Johnny. They took my brother’s two-seater convertible, cruising along the back roads with the wind gently massaging their scalps. While we had four kids, one of whom said, less than a mile into the rally, “Hey how much longer is this gonna take because I’m getting bored.”.

– It is also worth noting that the reason my brother’s friend came along is so he could give his wife the day off. I would like to make sure that it is noted, dear Johnny’s mom, to not give Johnny’s dad complete credit for your day off. Although Johnny was a complete gem and adorable rallying companion, I had Johnny for 3 hours and 20 minutes of your day off while Johnny’s father was riding around in a topless car getting his hair tickled by the wind.

Now that we got that out of the way, spoiler: WE BEAT THE CONVERTIBLE DADS.

And yes, we got extra points for our tiny baggage (1 extra point per kid under 7 and 1 penalty for each kid over 7, giving a total of 2 extra points), but WE EVEN BEAT CONVERTIBLE DADS WITHOUT OUR EXTRA POINTS.

Because we’re spectacular.

(For the record, we came in second place.)

(But all that mattered was beating the convertible dads.)

By the way, if I can find the time, I’m considering creating a road rally that maybe would take the course of some of my favorite Instagram spots. Who local would be interested in participating?

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Thanks to my little tumble last week, I currently look like the cover of a Trail Running Magazine. Or at least what the cover of a Trail Running magazine SHOULD look like, if they were honest.

Trail Runner Magazine“You too can look like me – with a little trail running experience. And by little I mean VERY LITTLE.”

All of the bruising, which I am indeed proud of, is actually from internal injuries – that part of my arm did not hit the ground.

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Which makes me all the prouder.

…Because if I’m going to be injured, I might as well find something to get excited about.

(My elbow is feeling much better, although my physical therapist says my professional baseball career is over. My shoulder is slowly getting better. There are two directions that it gets VERY ANGRY about bending. One of them being the angle one must assume to take a shirt off. So that’s convenient.)

As far as my finger, the only thing I actually broke, it’s fiiiiiine. Other than being faced with the perplexing dilemma of what one does if they accidentally dip the tip of their finger splint in the toilet while they still have 8 days left of wearing said splint.

(A hefty scrubbing of antibacterial soap is what one does, in case you wondered.)

(Feel free to decline any dinner invitations to my house until I get my splint off next week.)

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I republished one of the only posts I ever deleted. It was a jewel – I just published it “too soon” originally, and deleted it two hours later out of fear/guilt. If you missed it originally (or if you just wanted to re-read it), you can give it a go here.

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Ali was disturbed when she realized her little brother had more wealth than her.

She wants to make money. This is very crucial to her long range plan of being very very rich.

So she asked me if I could please think of jobs she could do to make money.

I mean, I can give her all the normal kid jobs of unloading the dishwasher and sweeping, but more importantly, I’m thinking…

– Bring me breakfast in bed for the summer, .50 tip per day (.75 if you deliver it with a small piece of chocolate.)

– Learn how to perform a proper back massage and foot massage via YouTube, practice daily on your mother – .25 per massage.

– Read some parenting books and figure out how to get your little brother out of his narcissistic phase – $25, plus the added bonus of having a more personable little brother.

– Research recipes on Pinterest, create grocery lists, and teach yourself how to cook – $7 per meal.

– Write quality and original blog posts – $5 per post.

She’s already working on a prototype spreadsheet to track her receivables – clearly we still have some fee negotiations to handle.

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But regardless, my summer is going to be AMAZING.

It’s Not Summer Until Somebody Cries at Swim Lessons.

I have a stubborn, finicky five-year-old. Who tries to convince me and everyone else otherwise with his charming blue eyes.

Noah

No really. He’s stubborn and finicky.

It is for this reason that, when he began swimming on his own two weeks before his first round of swimming lessons, I texted his father and said “Swim lessons should be a breeze. Unless of course he decides to make me go insane.”

I am fully aware of his abilities to make up his mind not to do wonderful, delightful things and nothing will change his mind.

Such as the time we blessed the children with a trip to our local minor league baseball stadium that houses half a dozen brilliantly unique inflatables, which he normally adores. But for completely mystifying reasons, he refused to get on any of them. Then, when we went to our seats, he begged us to take him back to the inflatables. When we decided to go back to the inflatables much later, he refused to play on them again.

So yeah.

He can be like that.

But. I blame the failure of his swim lessons completely elsewhere.

You may remember, three years ago, that his older sister got fired from swim lessons halfway through her first week for refusing to put her face in the water. But, despite being totally cool with his face submerged, Noah didn’t make it nearly that far.

The wonderful teacher that we used with Ali hasn’t taught the last couple years, so we decided to try a different method of lessons for Noah – lessons provided through the pool of which we are members.

It was inexpensive, close by, and seemed like a great solution. Ali could swim while he lessoned, and we could even use our enrollment fee to pay all but $10 of the lesson fees!

WHAT could go wrong?

I wasn’t super thrilled that it was four days a week for two weeks – I prefer more of a spontaneous lifestyle, and eight appointments in ten days was definitely a cramp to my style. But kids need swimming lessons. Parents must make sacrifices.

We showed up on the first day and swam for a bit, then headed to the indoor pool for lesson time. The teacher was finishing up with the class before.

We sat for a bit and watched – surely this would be good for the kid to get to see the easy easy things he would have to do – all of which were way below his self-taught abilities.

Then it was his turn. He was in a class with five other kids, all of whom looked younger than him. Six 3-5 year olds sat on the side of the pool, squished together as only 3-5 year olds will do. I sat off to the side, watching. Another mother came and sat next to me, waving her hand in front of her face as if she had the vapors* and and saying “I am SO nervous!”

WHAT could there possibly be to create nervousness??

* I know “the vapors” is a thing of the past, since now vapers are people who smoke fake cigarettes. But hopefully we’re all old enough to remember what the vapors meant five years ago. However, this post will be a fascinating relic in five more years.

The teacher stood in front of the gaggle of tiny humans, saying something quietly to each one of them. They silently sat, staring at her.

After going down the whole row, she looked incredulously at me and Nervous-Mom. She threw her hands up and with wide, shocked eyes, yelled across the pool, “They won’t even tell me their names!!”

Um. Yeah. They’re 3-5 year olds. They don’t talk to strangers until they warm up to them.

Duh.

I started to join Nervous-Mom in her nervousness, but for different reasons.

An assistant teacher walked up and hopped in the pool next to shocked and dismayed teacher-who-has-never-met-a-small-child.

She looked at the new arrival and threw her hands up again. “They won’t even TELL ME THEIR NAMES!! WHAT am I supposed to even DO?!”

Assistant teacher said quiet and calming words. They seemed to work, because Teacher-From-Mars took a breath, got her paddle board and convinced Nervous-Mom’s daughter to grab ahold of it and kick her feet. Then the second kid. And then it was Noah’s turn. She motioned to him and pointed to the board. Then motioned again, impatience pouring out of her eyeballs.

I saw Noah begin to get up from his middle position in the squished gaggle of kids. This couldn’t be good. I figured I’d walk over and try to help.

I got within talking distance and told Noah calmly that he needed to obey his teacher, all while she nodded vehemently and looked at me with an incredulous and hateful gaze for creating such a disobedient human.

Noah ran over to me, threw his arms around me, and started crying.

They weren’t shy tears or belligerent tears this time.

These were real tears of “someone is not being nice to me and I can sense it.”

I removed him from the swim lesson area and found a quiet corner.

I tried reasoning.

I tried bargaining.

I tried bribing.

We tried FaceTiming his father and letting him reason and bargain and bribe.

Noah couldn’t quit crying and made it clear that he could not participate in swim lessons.

Every now and then I glanced behind me to keep an eye on Ali, who was swimming laps, and also caught glimpses of Teacher-The-Child-Hater.

One time there was exaggerated eye rolling.

Another, arms thrown up.

Incredulous eyes and looking at a tiny humans like they were the stupidest.

Looks of shock and mistreatment like these little beings came just to torment her otherwise perfect existence.

Looking around at all the parents, trying to find sympathy for her martydom.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope.

I’m one of those moms that think their kid needs to do what they are told to do, but there was NO WAY that I wanted to put up with this teacher for eight days, let alone subject my tiny progeny to her.

I went and found the paperwork girl that had come around to get our information earlier. I informed her nicely, “This isn’t going to work for us. He’s not going to be able to do it. He could hear and sense her stress and it totally freaked him out. We’re not going to come back.”

She didn’t flinch. “I understand totally. I’ll get you a refund processed.”

“Thank you.”

We went back out to the outside pool. Noah sat in a chair for a bit to gather himself, then jumped in and swam better than he’d ever swum.

After a while, a changing of the Lifeguard occurred, and I realized that the one standing right next to me had been this morning’s assistant. She realized it too, and soon we were talking.

She pointed out, “He’s swimming way too well for that class anyway.”

I asked, “Why was she so stressed? Or was it just me getting that vibe?”

“It wasn’t just you. She’s normally a swim team coach. She doesn’t know how to deal with kids who don’t swim.”

“And, apparently, little kids in general.”

“Yeah, that too.”

So the moral of this story is: stick with swim teachers that come with high recommendations, because some teachers may despise the “swim lessons” part of swim lessons. And if your kid teaches themselves to swim, that might just be good enough. At least for one summer.

The Lilies, the Snakes, and the Misplaced Boob.

It was time for a new adventure. And I wanted to see firsthand, for the first time in my life, The Cahaba Lily.

It’s a famed flower in our area, being very rare, quite endangered, and living in sparse, hard-to-access clumps along the Cahaba River, which is a relatively tiny waterway that winds itself through nearly every suburb of south Birmingham.

So I needed to experience the Lilies for myself. And with my camera. And why not – with my children. So I asked my group of adventurous friends if anyone would like to join us, warning them that this adventure would be in completely uncharted territory and so it was not for the faint of heart or diaper.

The only takers, out of the 20 or so in the group, were my sister-in-law Lindsay with her three kids and Not-Crazy-Renee – but only with her oldest kid this time.

I had a friend, Leigh, who regularly visited these elusive Lilies, who gave me directions on how to get there, including such fantastic advice like “Wear good shoes and watch for snakes…you’ll have to jump over a creek bed…go UNDER the train trestle.”

Sound words.

So we parked in the lot behind the Bar-B-Q place, as prescribed, and set off for adventure.

The first challenge was the “jump over the creek bed.” Either Leigh has Amazonian legs or the last time she went out there it had been during a drought. There was no way us adult ladies were jumping over, let alone our six small companions.

So most of us decided to de-shoe to cross, with a couple others opted for the risk of wet shoes. We got over, re-shoed, and continued our journey. Up the hill,

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under the trestle,

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up a little further,

Hiking-to-Lilies2and there they were.

The magnificent Cahaba Lilies.

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They were bigger than I expected and there were more of them than my companions expected. We were all breathless in wonder of their bright, shining beauty.

It took no time for us to find a way down to the creek, and the kids began re-de-shoeing (in order of bravery) and wading into the creek rapids while I took pictures.

And while Renee found another rock to sit on and said,

“Um. Hey Rachel? There’s a BOOB on my rock.”

I looked over. She was messing with something.

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She moved out of the way and I grabbed my zoom lens and focused on the…boob?

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HOLY CRAP IT WAS A BOOB.

The kids noticed the commotion.

Ali asked, “What’s that?”

I asked, “Is it hollow or solid?”

Noah asked, “Hey miss Renee will you go get me that big shell on that rock? IT’S GIGANTIC!!”

Renee said, “Ummmm Rachel? What do you want me to do here?”

I didn’t know what the right thing to be done was but I had to examine the misplaced prosthetic. Lindsay and I scrambled over.

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“How did it get lost?”

“My guess is a capsized kayak incident. The cutlet just slipped out.”

“That poor lady!”

“I wonder why it’s so wrinkly…”

“I think it’s just because it’s laying down. I bet if we pick it up…”

Lindsay and Renee both grabbed that breast at once. I grabbed my camera.

The-Boob

This was a bonding moment between the two of them that could never be forgotten. But the hypothesis was right. What a perfect (albeit a bit muddy) boob, when held aright.

So we let the boob live its life and sat around it to take pictures of our children.

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And they were fully photogenic, exploring the waters, looking at the flowers but NEVER touching (thank goodness for Wild Kratts drilling into their heads the severity of “endangered”), smelling the flowers, looking for real shells, and in general living The Good Life.

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A  train even went by, loudly making the day even grander.

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I took plenty of pictures of the Lilies from a distance, but I was aching to get out there. I spent half an hour weighing the risk of tip-toeing out with my massively pricy camera, and finally decided that with Eli’s agility on my team, I could do it. So I called in our most in-tune-with-nature cousin and asked him to hold my hand out to the lilies.

Every rock was covered with tiny shell creatures that felt like I was walking on a bed of nails. And I have terrible balance. But I made it out to the stream to get the pictures I’d craved.

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While I was shooting, Lindsay took a picture of me and sent it to my husband. It took his second look to notice the artistically endowed foreground.

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Meanwhile, some of our children had ventured fairly far upstream and out of earshot. Renee was worried about them, so she’d gone back up trail to check. After I managed to wade back to shore, I joined her.

Four kids were out on a rock in the stream, and Renee and our youngest cousin, Andi, were on the shore.

Andi had just quite nonchalantly said to the other kids, “We found a snake, guys.”

Renee assumed she was trying to freak the other kids out because she was standing next to Andi and had certainly not found a snake. “Andi, we didn’t find a snake!”

“Well. We found a snake BODY, anyway!” She pointed right where Renee was standing.

There was a fairly large adult snake wrapped in piles over a patch of brush.

Renee came and got me. “Hey Rachel? Andi just found a snake down here. I think it’s a Copperhead. Can you come see?”

“Sure! I follow a snake guy on Twitter. I should be able to tell!”

I went down and examined. “Oh. I think that’s a banded watersnake. Definitely not a copperhead. Harmless! But I’ll take a picture and ask my snake guy.”

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I was feeling just swell about myself, diffusing danger and fear like that, and I began taking pictures of the two kids remaining on the rock, Tessa and Loulie. (Ali and Eli had wandered in the water in front of it looking for neon crawfish.)

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They were staring at the clear waters, when one of them yelled, “A snake!!!”

Renee, clearly tired of snake calls, said, “Where? Are you SURE?”

I lowered my camera and looked out in the water. There was a tiny bright orange snake swiftly swimming toward Ali and Eli – with its back arched and its head out of the water and its mouth wide open, angrily showing the white insides of its mouth.

“Oh now THAT is a cottonmouth. Ali and Eli!! GET OUT OF THE WATER!!”

The girls on the rock began freaking the freak out, and Ali and Eli began trying to run on the shelly bottom. Chaos ensued. As Ali scrambled out first, Eli yelled, “We’re supposed to stay together!!!”, and the girls on the rock were LOSING THEIR MINDS.

At one point in our attempt to calm them, I remember yelling over at Loulie, “YOU HAVE A PET SNAKE! Why are YOU freaking out?!” Because I believe in child-shaming, apparently.

The two in-the-water kids were safe, and now it was time to address the two marooned children. Or we could leave them. I mean, they were relatively safe up on the ROCK THE VENOMOUS SNAKE CAME OUT FROM UNDER, as I discovered later when I was editing photos.

SnakeRockLook below the rock right between the two girls.

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This is when it’s good to have a Not-Crazy-Renee in your life.

She looked at me with a determined expression and said, “I’m going to get Loulie. You watch my path and let me know if you see the snake again.”

“So you’re just gonna LEAVE Tessa?” (I’m such an encouraging friend.)

“No. But I can only get one girl at a time. I’ll go back for her.”

(Meanwhile, Lindsay was staying very quiet on the trail with the four children we had left. She would be happy to pray for Renee while she rescued their children. Prayer is powerful, y’all.)

Renee got in the water.

Eli yelled from the trail, “A SNAAAAAAKE!”

Renee yelled up at him, “NOBODY say ANYTHING about a SNAKE unless you SEE one at my FEET!!!!

She was in full yoga pants and tennishoes. Surely that would help her rescue the children. Yoga pants are powerful, y’all.

Right as she stepped on a large, flat rock, I remembered that was the very rock I’d see the cottonmouth swim under when it disappeared from view.

I felt this wasn’t the best time to tell her that, and just watched her feet even harder.

She got to Loulie and commanded, “Okay. I am going to GET YOU OFF of this ROCK, and then I am going to PUT YOU IN THE WATER, and we are going to WALK BACK and you are NOT GOING TO FREAK OUT. GOT IT?!!?”

Her voice was impressive – she could lead infantries with it. Loulie obeyed perfectly. They scampered back to shore.

Then she went back for Tessa.

This time I had the forethought to warn her before she stepped on the snake rock.

She looked at me icily. “You let me step on that rock the first time!”

“It was too late. I didn’t want to tell you while you were already there.”

“Good choice.”

She grabbed Tessa and hurried back to shore.

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I said goodbye to my beautiful banded watersnake with one last close-up picture, then I scampered up to the trail.

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Oh – and later when I checked Twitter…I found out that sleepy, docile, large banded watersnake I’d gotten so up close and personal with? Was also a cottonmouth.

Thankfully, my snake expert @AlongsideWild also sent me a blog post he’d written discounting everything else we read on the internet that day about the extreme aggressiveness of Cottonmouths. They act aggressive, but they really don’t want to bite us.

They’re just a sorely misunderstood snake with anger issues. That’s all.

We emerged from our adventure, amazed that we’d only traversed a third of a mile from civilization – we were sure we’d slipped through a wormhole or out the back of a wardrobe or into a tardis.

As we sat at the playground reminiscing about our day while listening to our children speaking in excited tones to every other kid they could find, we marveled at how the books were actually right. Having an actual adventure is FANTASTIC. And exhilarating and every bit as good as reading a well-written piece of literature. Even with the peril that must also be present to make it an adventure.

We, as well as our children, were over the moon about our travels.

But this post isn’t about snakes. Or lilies or children or even grand adventure.

This post is about The Boob.

And there is nothing more that I want right now in the whole entire world than to see that lonely boob reunited with its rightful chest.

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So please, spread the word. Spread it far and wide. Spread it until we find the prosthetic totin’ kayak rowin’ adventurous women that just happened to capsize somewhere near the Cahaba Lilies on Buck Creek so that we can let her know that her boob is there waiting on her. And that it is enjoying the flowers until they return.


Editor’s Bonus: A research collaboration piece from later that afternoon:

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