Friday, January 01, 2016

Change of Time

The years go faster, these days, and putting feelings into words is oddly becoming more difficult. This song is running through my head as I try to write. The mood is as significant as the lyrics. Perhaps listening to it as you read will help distract you from the lack of poetry in this post.

It's the new year-- almost half way through the school year. It's the first time I can remember trying to slow down the clock and having the ball get stuck on it's way down, leaving us in limbo just a bit longer. My chest tightens as I type, so excited for our boy and so nervous about what comes next. He got his first college acceptance yesterday, which a significant scholarship attached. I'm sure there are more acceptances on the way, and probably more money, too. He's worked hard. He has gifts and has learned to use them wisely. He is also bigger than this place-- you can just tell he's going to do things that make the world better, and he's going to do it with integrity and kindness. I know he is ready to go-- I see it in him every day. But as his mom, who also sees the little boy in his ghostie sweatpants smiling up at me through Legos... I am not at all ready to not see him every day. I know it's life, and it's what I did to my parents 28 years ago, and it's so much better than him not going... but the selfish, mumma part of my heart cries every time I think about it.

And so I cried last night, after the ball did reach it's destination on time, and I'm crying again now writing this. I suspect I'll cry at tomorrow's ski race, and throughout the rest of this year, in fact. First of the lasts and all that... but they are all part of the rights of passage I make as his mother. His annoyance by my emotions are part of his rights of passage (although I never experienced that-- my mother becomes Spock when she hurts, so I never really knew if or how deeply it bothered her that her oldest was leaving.)

Change. It's going to be the theme of 2016. Life will look very different in a year, and then it really won't be long until it is just the two of us here, waiting for the kids to come home... but that is more than I can handle on this first day of 2016. 2018 is another heartache for another New Year's Day.

Plans for ths year-- resolutions, if you must-- stick to the theme. I need to get my health under control. More walking, fewer empty calories. I don't think I'm quite ready to completely quit sugar, but I think about it more and more often. My goal is to be thoughtful and deliberate again about those calories-- am I ingesting them because I want them or just because? I need to get back to regular walking. My lungs aren't happy, and I think the lack of exercise is a significant factor. I need to be able to keep up with these children of ours, who are going places and need me to be able to come to them.

It's time to apply for my MSW. Re-reading this blog, even the few posts I've written in recent years, is all the evidence I need. This is where I'm being called, and it's time to get the training and the credentials to do the work properly. It's going to be a lot of work, but is anything worth doing any other way? Starting a program in the fall could give me the distraction I need to help adjust to the changes here.

I also hope to be creative more this coming year. I haven't had the same energy to scrapbook or take pictures or write, which I know is due to all the emotional baggage I'm carrying, some for others and some for myself. It's time to accept what I can't change, and make the changes I can. And sometimes that means publishing a less than stellar post, just to get the ball falling...

Happy New Year. I hope it brings you the change you need.

Monday, July 27, 2015

that face

It was the same look on his face. The same look that she makes at me when I catch her off guard, and she knows I see the hurt and the self-loathing. A slight tilt to the head, and a huge grin-- but with the saddest eyes you've ever seen. A practiced look that disarms most people and allows you to regain control of the situation, if only because your smile told the other person you're fine. Except you're not. And I am not most people...

I knew things were falling apart again. He called me Monday night to tell me he'd given his girlfriend my number. "Just tell her how I get. Help her feel better." She called me first thing Tuesday morning, concerned he was drinking again. He was. His friends were concerned. None of us knew how to really help. GF started researching. We talked a couple times a day. I waited to go see him; if I went too early, he could feel threatened and I didn't want that situation (for either of us). Friday morning I got a text from his buddy: come get him. So I did. I didn't tell him I was coming, until I got to the shop and he was out with another friend. We gathered his things, squished all we could into my new car (with decidedly less storage space than the old mini) and headed North. She convinced him to go to medical detox-- she's worried about his health-- for which I was incredibly thankful; I don't have the medical knowledge to help him sober up safely, and I couldn't bring him to my house and have my kids and husband go through it as well. I got him registered (a long process, it turns out), only a little bit worried we were taking unnecessarily extreme measures. I knew I couldn't bring him home, and there was no where else he could go--M&D have moved West in their retirement, and both our sisters left New England when they went to college. His GF is in the Northwest (where he is headed this fall). Medical detox bought us time, and ensured his safety.

As I headed back home, it was that look he gave me that said it all. I've been on the front lines with her eating disorder for a year and a half now. It's as destructive as any addiction; there are strong parallels between her story and why she stopped ingesting and his inability to stop ingesting. I've also worked with many kids over the years struggling with one thing or another: I long ago stopped listening to what they say and what they are not saying. Body language tells me more than words, and silence speaks volumes. And that face-- that look, with forced smile and heartbroken eyes-- was when I knew gathering him up and getting him admitted was the only course of action available to me.

I'm not trained in any of this-- not yet, anyway. But I know I have to make decisions that I can live with no matter what the future brings. Neither of them have to like the choices I make, and frankly, they can tell me no at anytime, but they can't control what I do or don't do. Waiting to get him was the right thing, regardless of what his friends may or may not think. Bringing him to the hospital was the right thing, regardless of the guilt I feel not bringing him into my home. Giving her food is the right thing, regardless of whether or not she chooses to eat it.

I don't know what the future will bring: I am prepared for a wide range of outcomes, for both of them. I do know I will continue to love them, and support them to the best of my abilities in the choices they make. It's complicated to love someone who is addicted to something, but so incredibly important to do so: that face they make should be all the proof you need.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

All my life's a circle...

Star date: post summer solstice

Which means we are solidly in summer vacation. Praise to all that is good and holy that we made it here. There was a point in the year I wasn't 100% sure we all would.

For many reasons, these were the times that tried men's souls-- and while I may be the sunshine patriot in one measure, I am far from a summer soldier. This was the year that put my teaching to the test, but also helped me shore up my philosophy on what the role of school is. Next year will be different, although likely as difficult emotionally... although now I have a better sense of what to expect, and can therefore prepare to mitigate some of it.

I quickly jettisoned the academic rigor of content standards-- which in this teacher bashing era of standards based education is a radical and risky maneuver. I didn't have much choice however; in addition to being the only teacher (and usually only adult) responsible for providing content instruction in 9 high school courses, I was also working with a group of students who were dealing with significant personal crises. Watching a person implode on themselves is a tragic experience; watching 3 students go through that in one year is devastating on the classroom dynamic. Their situations affected everyone in the room, and triggered other less significant  (but no less serious, because any crisis you are experiencing is real to you, even if it's not as bad as the one the guy next to you is having) reactions in the rest of us. My goal for the year quickly became getting us all out alive. Literally for every one of us to still be breathing air: believe me when I tell you, that was not a foregone conclusion.

Public schools were created in America to provide communities with a well informed populace: how could we expect people to participate in democracy if they weren't able to think? Today, public schools become the place where we try to correct for the potential missing pieces from home while still teaching kids how to think. We claim that all children are equal, and it doesn't matter if you go to an inner city school, a wealthy middle class suburb school, or a poor rural community school: we'll take all the kids, balance for what they're missing from home, and provide the same quality academic education to all kids, Maine to California. That so many Americans have accepted that notion as truth is evidence enough that we aren't being so successful teaching people how to think. The kindergartner who comes on the first day having been read to, played with crayons and practiced writing, and knows that numbers and the alphabet exist and mean something can tackle learning to read. Unfortunately, we have many kids who come to school not knowing how to hold a book, never mind what it is for (I wish I was exaggerating; I have worked at k-screenings. I am not.) The same is true for every level of education: the child who comes from a home with plenty of love, basic needs, and safety is ready to come to school at 7:55 and learn algebra or language conventions or differences in rocks, whereas the child who comes hungry or from a dangerous neighborhood or from neglect and abuse isn't-- at least, not until you deal with what is missing. And in order to deal with the hunger or emotional turmoil, you have to put algebra on hold. So that's what I did.

 Make no mistake about it: I firmly believe all kids can learn, and it doesn't matter who your parents are to achieve great heights. It does, however, require different supports for different kids. It made more sense when I thought about it from my own experience. I had a rose colored childhood without question. My parents are college educated. My dad had a good job and my mom could afford to stay home with us until we were in school. They owned their house, in a good neighborhood. We had ice skates and bikes and toys and food and friends and family. We built tree houses and played in the rain. We did after school activities and had the proper gear required for said activities. We got good grades and graduated at the top of our classes. But when I was struggling with infertility during my 5th year of teaching, I was useless. I couldn't focus, and frankly, had a hard time caring about the quality of my work. I was in crisis. I was the same person, but my personal issue was all consuming. I've watched the same be true of people who were going through a divorce, family illness, or death of a loved one. I don't know why it's so shocking to think that kids who are in some level of personal crisis struggle to meet academic standards, too. And if we're going to really help them become the best people they can be, we have to help them deal with whatever the issue is.

I am lucky to work in a building that believes in the importance of alternative education. I have the support of my colleagues and a principal who doesn't write me up for trying crazy things. But I also work in a building where more and more kids are on the verge of falling apart-- far more kids than I can work with in a day. Poverty is all encompassing-- our kids are poor because their parents and families are poor. There isn't enough work for everyone, and certainly not enough fair paying work. Because we're a rural community, we don't have public transportation so the lack of a reliable vehicle is devastating. As a school teacher, I make more than the median income-- by a significant amount. (You know you live in a poor area when teachers are the rich ones.) Our schools are not meeting the needs of all our kids, and we've been set up by society at large to fail.

Summer break is great for me, my family, my friends... but is often not great for our students in crisis. I'm not going to lie, without it, my job would be significantly harder, because by being on an extended break I can regroup and be better able to handle my job the remainder of the year. I hope most of my kids can do the same... and if not, I hope they just make it back to school in the fall.

Friday, January 30, 2015

head vs heart vs stomach

As I've referenced a few times, I've never been the healthiest kid in the room. And while I still don't describe myself as sickly, are are many times in my life I've been insanely sick. It's always just been the way it is. It got better for awhile, after I started drinking a regular amount of water every day, but it is slowly becoming obvious that that was a temporary solution... and I really don't like the idea of what really needs to happen: I need to radically change my diet.

And by radically, I do mean radical. Starting with the elimination diet, which really means you eat rice, veggies, poultry, and fish for 3 weeks. No coffee, black tea, alcohol. No dairy. No beef or pork. No gluten. No corn. Probably no eggs, I just can't remember right now. Definitely no sugar. Um...yea. I know.

The idea is you eliminate the common triggers of food allergies/sensitivities, and then slowly introduce foods back in and see what causes a reaction... and the reaction could be anything from a runny nose to sleep troubles to a skin rash. From what I can tell, it's more a overall feeling, like you just don't feel as good after eating the offending food. And it does make sense to me-- we are what we eat, and a lot of what Americans eat is really not good for us at all. But it is yummy, which is why this is an overwhelming thing to consider.

I know I could do it more easily if I lived alone, but let's all thank our lucky stars that I don't, because me starved for human companionship is even worse than me starved for potato chips. We've never subscribed to the separate meals way of living-- whomever cooks, cooks for everyone, even if it's not everyone's favorite. I know if would I benefit from this elimination nonsense, my family would too, but I also don't know that subjecting them to that is fair either. Three weeks isn't that long, but the reintroduction phase is described as longer... and it is a long time to do it alone.

I know that I would feel a lot better in 2 months if I commit, but that is a daunting thought. In 2 months we go to Spain, and I'm not sure I want to deal with some crazy diet in a place where I can't speak the language. I also don't want to have wasted 2 months of eliminating and have to start all over again. But I also think I'm stalling, and hoping if I ignore it long enough it'll just go away...

It's not going away, but I'm not sure I'm ready to leave my rich American diet behind. But every time a common cold turns into sinusitis, or my digestion gives me fits, or it feels like something is stuck in my throat, I know what I should do now, and most likely will do relatively soon. (Hedging my bets, right 'til the end...) This must be what it feels like to quit smoking: you know you'll feel better after you've quit, but the time between smoking and being a non-smoker is hell. And nobody likes to enter hell willingly.

Part of me is hoping I can skip the elimination diet and just have the allergist tell me what I am, in fact, reacting to so I can quit eating that and skip the trial and error piece. Then it's just the sugar addiction to battle, which again, is a lot like nicotine in terms of it's hold over you...

It's true, what they say, about ignorance.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

looking back in order to move ahead

2015. Dave read me something he found on the internet yesterday (which someone else probably read on the internet somewhere else) that has been running through my head ever since: we are now as close to 2030 as we are to 2000. Fifteen years ago I had a newborn and almost 2year old. I spent my days with 4 babies, from newborn to age 3. Dave's dad came by randomly to read to the kids so I could shower. We still lived in the village; we didn't have Kitty. Dave was working at Region 9-- and I didn't know that Alternative Ed existed. I was on the school board for Peru School District... airplane security was a breeze and Katrina was just a name. I can't even imagine what our lives will look like in fifteen years: the kids will most likely be married, and I could be GrammaNanny! I'll be approaching my 60th birthday... will I still be teaching? Did we build the dream home out back, or did we have to move because my body couldn't take the winters any longer? I can't wrap my head around it, especially while also looking back.

I don't worry, though, that we won't be happy. We'll have solid friends around us, helping us get through whatever international tragedy becomes reality. We'll have our kids, who will be doing amazing things.... whatever those things may be. Life will be complete, because whatever path we take to get to 2030, it will be the right one. I do take comfort in that.

But today... today I can understand. And there are things I can do now to make the next 15+ years easier and better. I was told this week I probably have a food allergy: I actually hadn't considered that, so it was a bit shocking, but it also makes a lot of sense: my digestive system (and my reproductive, but that's another post for another day) has never really worked quite right; I wasn't a sickly child, but I was never totally healthy, either. I get strep throat, a lot. I catch colds which become bronchitis and sinusitis fairly easily. Sometimes food just doesn't sit right-- and sometimes I needed hospitalizations for rapid dehydration or extreme pain. I haven't ever really worried about it-- it is normal for me, and I just cope with whatever I've got and move on.

Since my my second foot surgery in 2012, I've had issues with my throat. We're pretty sure the antibiotic I was on to prevent a bone infection is the trigger-- but it has caused me a lot of issues. I ended up with a c. diff infection-- I'll spare you the details but it's not something anyone wants. As 2013 progressed, I kept feeling like food got stuck in my throat. We tried heartburn meds, which helped some, but turns out my intestines didn't like that as a long term solution. My throat was annoying, but so were my intestines (and my ovaries, but again, another story) so I just kept on living.

Monday I had my third EGD in 2 years... and again, I didn't think this was typical, but turns out it's really not. I was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis after the second EGD, but the doctor I had this time looked at my chart with a lot of questions, so I'm wondering if it's truly in my throat, or if it's really in my intestines and has moved around. I was 6 when I had my first GI testing done (diagnosed with a 'nervous belly'-- I hated PE so much I'd get sick thinking about going to school on gym days); in third grade I had a case of gastroenteritis that had me hospitalized for a week, and then again in fifth grade. No one could find the cause-- again, we all just chalked it up to Rachel being Rachel.

Which brings me back to today: having a significant food intolerance (quick internet research says an allergy would be life threatening) would actually make a lot of sense. I don't like the idea, but again, you don't get to choose these things: you have what you have, and you cope and move on. 

All of this is the long way 'round to getting to my resolutions for this year. I have a feeling my diet is going to dramatically change. I don't know what they'll find in February when we start the allergy testing, but I would not be surprised to find wheat or dairy a major culprit. (I also have to remember to ask about hornet stings-- I'm noticing those are getting worse the more the bastards attack me.) To that end, I really need to start eating more vegetables. I'll never become a full vegetarian (by choice, anyway), because I do enjoy the taste of meat, and like what a nice stock can do to most of my recipes. But I really need to significantly increase the veggie intake. My goal is to have 2 veggies at each dinner, which then leaves me options for lunch leftovers. For the short term, I probably should buy more convenience items while trying to establish the habit-- especially on the weeks that I don't have time to prep a week's worth of snacks.

I also need to move more regularly. I really need to take at least a 15 minute walk, daily. It doesn't have to be crazy-- but it does have to happen. I'm not ready to commit to strength training or anything like that, but walking some every day... that I can do. I know it will help my digestion and my circulation, and probably my blood pressure and stress levels, too. 

And while I'm cleaning house, I really am working on having us debt free by this time next year. Well, not totally free-- I will not pay off the house loan anytime soon-- but pretty darned close. If we can enter the college tuition years without crushing debt, we'll all be better off.

So there it is: increase veggies, walk daily, and pay off bills. Sounds manageable. The delayed payoff is appealing too-- work hard now, and reap the benefits in the years to come. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's a Wonderful Life

I had errands to run today-- a turkey for my Girlie's birthday dinner, and picking up 1970s-esque lights for my bestfriend. At Hanaford here at home, I did finally find a little turkey reasonably priced... and I ended up in line with one of my current and former Sunnie's grandmother.  It's always nice to bump into family of my students, because I get some insight as to how they're doing-- not just what they tell me, but what their grandparents see. For the most part, it's good.

After the grocery store, I went to the local ho-mart. It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I am not a fan-- in fact, I think all 3 of my readers know this fact. But I remembered on my way to the grocery store that my bestfriend forgot to go pick up these lights at the 50% off sale yesterday... and once I remembered for him, no amount of business hatred would stop me. So in I went, as quickly as I could pull off. I noticed one of my 2014 graduates working a register; I had overheard another cashier thanking her for being helpful.... which is pretty gratifying to overhear about someone who initially introduced herself to me as a "b&^th, and someone you won't like"... really, honey? Is that how we're playing this? Cause trust me, sweetie, I'll form my own opinion.... and we'll see how I describe you at the end of our run together. So I sorta snuck up on her with my purchase; her reaction to seeing me in her line was to run around and tackle me with a bear hug. Yup... exactly as I'd expected. She told me about her Christmas day with her son and long lost cousin... and as much I hate shopping there, I was thankful to have seen her.

But then I saw one of my first Sunnies in the parking lot. In many ways, he is the reason I am the teacher I am. He came to me because he was considered too "dangerous" for regular school... but he was never dangerous with me. He had a lot of anger, sure.... but when I helped him make peace with his past and embrace his future, he became the biggest softie-- which is the only kid I ever saw in him. He's the one who named me "Buckaroo"... and part of the crew that gave rise to the Sunshines. And seeing him, with a gift for his nephew, telling me about his new (better) job, and how his elementary school son was doing... well, it was better than any present I could have received.

Each of these interactions with sunnies and their families made me so thankful to have stumbled upon this job 10 years ago. Make no mistake, I am not the best teacher out there: I can't teach algebra, or how to write an effective thesis statement, or why we need to know about chemical reactions. But I can help kids figure out who they are and where they are going... and when I get to see the results, either through Grandma's eyes, or a co-worker, or the Sunnie himself.... well, it's amazingly gratifying.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I'll love you 'til the end

Friday night Dave and I stacked 2 cords of wood. That may not seem like a major event-- and in all actuality, it wasn't-- but it was one of those events that remind me I married the right man.

We were planning a bonfire for Saturday, in honor of what would have been his Dad's 81st birthday. Earlier this week we had a load of firewood delivered.... which I unintentionally had dumped right next to the fire pile... which I realized after they drove away. Between coaching, open houses, and general exhaustion, we couldn't get to this task until Friday around 6. He grabbed a beer (I grabbed my second) and we started moving the pieces that abutted the burn pile. Without speaking, we found a rhythm: he loaded into the wagon, I pulled isolated pieces, one at a time and walked them back and forth until the wagon was full, and then I helped push it up the ramp while he pulled. He put The Pogues on, and we chatted and stacked the evening away. At one of the trips into the house, he asked the kids who was making dinner, and they stepped to that task without question. (My plan to have them each cook dinner one night a week has fallen down, but it's stuck enough for them to continue to gain knowledge and confidence.) We were going to stop when we got the pile a safe distance away, but it was still light, and we were not hurting, and honestly, we were having fun together. We finished up as darkness fell.

There's the age old question of how to choose a life partner: should it be someone who you makes your heart go pitter-pat or someone with whom you enjoy spending time? Obviously, the hope it you get both... but as I've said a few times over the years, even chocolate chip cookies can get boring when you have one for lunch every day. I can honestly say I had some doubts on my wedding day. Was I marrying the right man for me? Would we end up in a loveless marriage, hating each other? When I looked at our bestfriends, I didn't think we had the same relationship they had. But I had to trust that I knew what I was doing, and on we went down the isle and into our life together.

At times, that first year was rough. Blending the needs of two independent adults is harder than it sounds. We never fought, but learning how to compromise without losing yourself in the process takes time. We were committed to making it work; not in an overt way, but it was a fact we didn't question. He knew what I needed, sometimes when I didn't. And he could always make me laugh.

It turns out we didn't have the relationship of our friends. If you had told me that only one of our marriages would last, I never would have imagined it was ours. Looking back, I should have known we'd be ok: not only were we both committed to being happily married in 50 years, but we were also happy spending time together. We didn't have to take our clothes off to have a good time.

Everyone in America knows half of all our marriages end in divorce-- but that also means half of them make it to death do us part... which brings me back to our wood stacking date Friday night. Working together towards a common cause. Good music. Great conversation. Laughter. And enough love to get us through anything that may come our way. If that isn't the recipe for a successful marriage then I don't know what is.  I'll love you 'til the end.