I have this fancy task management application that I sometimes use but mostly ignore, and it’s had a to-do item in there for, I don’t know, maybe a year or more, filed away in the “Kids” project under a folder titled “Teach Riley to swim”. The first action item in this carefully-organized project was “Call swimming center re: lessons”.

And there it’s sat for all these months, which is my main problem with fancy task management software applications: they lack the one mission-critical feature I need, which is for a tiny boot to emerge from my computer and give me a swift kick in the ass.

Meanwhile, Riley not only didn’t learn how to swim, but he got pretty scared of water in general. I don’t mean the bathtub, but the fearless baby who happily splashed around the Umpqua River on his dad’s shoulders is gone, replaced by a suspicious preschooler who wants nothing to do with that shit, and by the way are there sharks in rivers?

We finally got the damn lessons booked (which, as a sidenote, has officially tipped our family Busy-O-Meter into the red zone; not that the kids are over-scheduled but I sure as hell feel like I am) and his first swim day was Monday.

Riley is a bit of a tentative kid, maybe a little extra sensitive about certain things. He’s not a fan of loud noises or startling images or pent-up anticipation (remind me to tell you about the time a well-meaning doctor blew a latex glove into a balloon for him during a checkup! Actually that’s pretty much the whole story, except for the part where he shouted NOOOOOOOOOOO and she was all HOLY FUCK KID I WILL PUT THE HANDBALLOON AWAY NOW), and I assumed this first lesson would be . . . difficult.

And it was, a little. He wailed when he first got in the water, he cried when the instructor held him and moved away from the safety of the pool edge. He cried off and on for the entire half hour.

But get this. Not once did he call to JB or I. He didn’t try and scramble out of the pool and away from the water. He just endured, clearly frightened but sticking it out.

The teacher did all kinds of clever things with Riley and the two other little boys in the class: she had them throw floating toys into the deeper section of the pool, then she’d carry them to go pick them up. She sprinkled water on their heads with a little watering can. She put all three of them on a floating piece of foam and swirled them around.

By the time he was done, he was shivering and still sniffly but smiling. We told him over and over how proud we were of him, and he said “I cried a lot but I did good,” and we said yes, you sure did.

Later, I talked to him about bravery and what it means when you do something even though you’re scared, and his eyes were like big dark pools as he listened to me.

Yesterday was his second class and he didn’t cry once. He squealed with joy when he got swirled through into the deeper end, he floated by himself on a big foam noodle, he squinted but didn’t complain as water was poured on his head.

At the end of the lesson, the instructor coaxed him to jump from the edge of the pool into the water where she caught him, but not before letting him completely submerge. The first time he was shaky and stretched a beseeching hand to her and I could barely watch, and then he did it—jumped, a tangle of skinny boy-elbows and bruised knees—and I sat there on the bleachers and cried like a giant wuss while he climbed back out and did it again.

I took him by the grocery store afterwards and as we were walking the aisles I told him again how incredibly proud I was.

“I’m proud of me too,” he said, then something caught his eye. “Hey Mom? Can I get these Transformers bandaids?”

You know I bought the damn things, right? And a box of mini chocolate donuts to share with his brother, even though it was almost bedtime.


I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly good at math, and if you’ve been reading here for a while you probably know I’m sometimes prone to over-exaggeration—although I swear to GOD the spider I found on our bathroom wall two nights ago was the size of a fucking Airstream, I actually saw visible biceps on each of its trillion horrifying legs—but I promise that my math deficiency is exactly as described, which is why I break out in a cold sweat when I hear the term “solve for X” (X? What? Now we’re involving letters? And all of a sudden this is a murder mystery and I have to be a detective and shit?).

It turns out that if you follow a career path that mostly has to do with words, you can get by with very few math skills. Sure, there will be the occasional moment when you’re having lunch with friends and the bill comes and you’ll have to throw yourself to the ground and fake a seizure to avoid enduring the humiliating public process of mentally calculating what you owe (pro tip: for authenticity, weakly push your wallet in someone’s direction and beg them to “just take some cash”, while simultaneously urinating in your pants), but overall I’ve had great success in avoiding math for many years now.

Let me clarify that it’s not that I hate math, although I certainly hated the busywork involved with it when I was a kid (I have particularly bad memories of endless chapters of long division problems, one after another, with the dreaded SHOW YOUR WORK command on every page); it’s really that I never learned math for shit. I barely know the basics, and anything approaching an algebraic concept has long been forgotten.

I have a long math-road ahead of me in school, obviously. I’ve thought about trying to self-learn enough to test into pre-algebra, but I think I’ll probably end up taking one of the “So You’re Kind of a Math Dipshit” courses that, on the flow chart of prerequisites, doesn’t even COUNT for anything other than allowing you entry into the next class, “So You’re An Average Math Dipshit, Unless You Don’t Know What ‘Average’ Means, In Which Case Go Take That Other Class Again For Chrissakes”.

I joke about this being one of the areas in which I am almost painfully stupid, but really, it’s never bothered me overmuch. Until last night, that is.

The nutrition class I’m taking (which is awesome, by the way, I’m really enjoying it so far. The instructor is a highly opinionated naturopathic doctor from Bastyr, so it’s interesting to get his take on things like the food pyramid [he hates it!], artificial sweeteners [you might as well be drinking DDT!], and anti-depressants [too many people are taking them! Try amino acid precursors first!]) has a weekly quiz, and we had our first one yesterday. I was buzzing through the answers, feeling good about how prepared I was, and then I got to this question:

Christopher’s lunch contains 121 grams of carbohydrates, 40 grams of protein, and 25 grams of fat. What percent of calories in this meal come from fat?

Uhhhhh. Uhhhhhhh.

Well, first of all, Christopher, that is a mighty big lunch you are eating, and I for one—

Okay wait, that’s not one of the answers. The answers are . . . oh hell, the answers are numbers. With one obnoxious “this answer is not possible to determine” choice just to fuck with me.

I got as far as I could, which was to multiply each nutrient count by their per-gram calorie count (4 for carbs and protein, 9 for fat, if you’re interested), then add the totals together, and then I had this to figure out:

What percent of 869 is 225?

And I had no. Idea. How to do that.

As it turned out, I was super lucky and of the answers provided I guessed the right one (26%), but damn, I felt like a total loser sitting there scribbling numbers on the test sheet, blowing eraser crumbs around, with absolutely no clue what I was doing. It doesn’t help that this class is made up of children, practically zygotes (no lie, I overheard one guy talking about the original Tron movie yesterday and he was all, “It’s not like I saw it when it came out, I mean, that was in the eighties“), and they’re all fresh from high school trig and biology and shit, and there I am in their midst, an aging sag-bellied mouthbreather lady who hasn’t been faced with a math question in FIFTEEN YEARS.

ANYWAY. So math. I need to work on that, sooner rather than later. Because goddamn, I am learning that I’m good at school now—like, for real, I’m a good student, you guys—and I want to ace this course despite the gaping numbers-shaped hole in my head.

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