Sunday, November 17, 2013

Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

Since becoming an alternative ed teacher, I've spent a lot of time thinking about poverty and it's role in our schools. Today, I attended a session at the Maine Education Association fall conference that correlated the Govenor's (pathetic) grading system with poverty. Almost completely, the lower a school's free and reduced lunch rate, the higher it's grade, and vice versa. For all our talk as a society about everyone having equal chances at success, we have absolute proof that this is not true, brought to you by a man who claims to believe that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps while in actuality has worked hard to ensure the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.

It suddenly struck me that the real reason I've been hesitant to accept the shift to a standards based education system is because it's a formalized way to keep the poor at a disadvantage, couched in terms about helping everyone achieve higher standards. This is not to say that I don't believe in the potential of kids living in poverty-- that truth is what keeps me doing what I do-- but I also know that to discount Maslow's Heirarchy under the cover of improving education will, in fact, do the opposite.

For the sake of argument, I'll assume you haven't heard of my friend Maslow. He's the guy who formalized the idea that until your basic needs were met, you are unable to move forward towards self-actualization. When you think about it, this isn't news to any of us: have you ever helped a colleague through their work day as they were going through a family crisis? None of us can focus when we're consumed by a divorce, a death, or any major tragedy, and kids are no different. If you don't know where you're going after school, or if your mom will be black and blue when you get home, or if you'll be moving again in 6 weeks, or if tonight is the night the cops will bust the drug house in the back yard, or if the electricity will still be on or if there will be any food on the table, very little of what policy makers have defined as "essential academic knowledge" will matter much to you. Go back to that work friend of yours who is struggling with caring for an increasingly demented parent: they can barely make a pot of coffee without needing help, never mind make decisions that affect the future of the company. Kids are no different. They know that being able to tell the difference between igneous, metamorphic, and sedamentary rocks is important, but not as important as dinner. And who are we kidding here? They are absolutely right.

The standards movement is all about educational reform. I agree that our schools need massive change, but I think we need more acceptance of our differences and less of a move towards uniformity. We need more opportunity to meet kids where they are at and help them move forward, rather than judging them by whether or not they collect the right number of checkmarks in a 13 year timespan. Because make no mistake, that is really what a performance based diploma will represent-- the ability of a student to prove competency in multiple areas from grades k-12; no leeway for homelessness, no leeway for unexpected trauma, no leeway for anything. Those of our children who come from stable upbringings will be able to do this (assuming, of course, they don't come with a learning disability, which puts them in a different category anyway) but those who do not.... well, they have to work much harder to make it.

Our students come to us these days with all sorts of experiences and realities. In my county, 61% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. More than half. Yes, more than half the students in my county don't have their basic needs met. They are homeless, hungry, and struggling emotionally to make it through a day. That definitely sounds like a recipe for success in an algebra class, doesn't it? But to label them as environmentally disadvantaged... that would be cruel! Because it's not like classmates can recognize the smell of a a peer who doesn't have access to a working shower, or the emotional breakdown of a classmate who doesn't know if their family will still be there when they get off the bus. To not address these issues head on is to insult the intelligence of our students-- they all know what's happening around them, and we're teaching them through our actions to ignore what they know to be true.

Kids come to our classrooms with all sorts backgrounds, and all sorts of hindrances to their learning. Changing 'credits' to 'standards' only changes the language-- it does not change the reality of what kids are dealing with on a daily basis. Until we really address the impact of poverty on our students, we're playing an intense shell game where kids are paying the price for society's failings. And the governor has set the stage for the kids who suffer and the adults to hold no responsibility. Embarrassing, really.

What we need for educational reform is the freedom to meet students where they are and help them move further. We need to be able to get to know our students as people and as learners, and then tailor instruction to meet their needs. Right now kindergartners are being labeled as behind on their checklist after 2 months of school. Whatever happened to Piaget? Some kids start school before they have even turned 5-- and we immediately smack them with a 'does not meet' label. Gee, I wonder why so many kids hate school?

There are academic standards that must be met by all students, and there is no doubt that our system needs reform. But we are once again making subtle changes that make it incredibly difficult for students and families in poverty to succeed-- and pretending that we are doing no such thing. Until we can find a way to support learners who come from stressful surroundings, we'll never meet our own standard of leaving no child behind.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shoulda known better...

So much for that. A blog post a day... what was I thinking?

Back on the horse, y'all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

writers write

And clearly I am not acting like a writer.

I know I need to write more. Regularly. And as I'm sitting at the edge of NaNoWriMo, I know it even more. And yet.... this is what I'm writing. Better than the last 3 posts I've not published because I couldn't get them to flow, sure, but barely... only because I'm committed to getting it done.

So, with the very few of you who are still here reading, I am committing to writing in the month of November. Nothing on the level of NaNoWriMo, but daily. Because writers write, and I am a writer.

Monday, September 02, 2013

back to life, back to reality

It's Labor Day weekend, which means, for us, anyway, that we've been back to school for a week. It always amazes me how quickly I adjust these days-- I used to struggle to get to sleep those first few weeks, but now it only takes me one night. Adjusting meal times is a challenge-- in the summer, we're usually eating lunch around 4, and now I'm supposed to have dinner ready at 6? Bedtime at 9 is only a challenge when we're eating dinner at 8:30...

Back to School is a lot like New Year's Lite: it's the start of a new year, and therefore a good time to make some changes. My goals are similar to what they were last January-- walk more, write more, and forgive more. The nice part about the "more" piece is success is relative. I really need to start walking, period, and that will be lots more than I'm doing now. Writing... I need to write, even when it's not easy. Forgiving is the easy one and the hardest one simultaneously; I'm pretty good at forgiving people in general, but I need to get better at truly not expecting more from someone than they are capable of giving. It's a fine line, that one-- holding people to a high standard, but not one they can't hope to reach. Connected to that is finding the same line for myself-- and forgiving myself for not being superhuman.

And so, for the next 40-odd weeks, this is the routine. Work, eat, sleep. Walk, write, forgive. Which I guess is the same routine as summer, except in summer time matters less. Either way, it's a good pattern.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Don't be that guy.

As we pull into Chicago Union station 4 hours late, James (the band, not the brother in law) joins us on our homeward bound lament. The kids want to go home, right now, too. Our train (The Cardinal, heading from Chicago to NYC-- and way less classy than the Empire Builder from which we'd just disembarked) had left town 2 hours ago. We'd known this since ND-- so it was not a surprise to anyone. I will say, while a missed connection is a missed connection, Amtrak's approach is significantly more helpful than United's has ever been. Regardless, getting on a bus with a bunch of selfish folks took the wind out of our traveling sails.

What I appreciated about this experience was Amtrak was a part of the solution to our missed connection. They had a charter bus to take us to meet the train at a further stop. I will say that is gave me some pause that a bus leaving 2-3 hours later can catch up with a train, but perhaps that's part of the problem with these delays. We had to bring a group to Indianapolis (which was their final destination) and then the rest of us to meet the train in Cinncinati. Sounds like an excellent plan, and in truth, it was. Finding Passenger Services in Chicago Union Station was a bit difficult, and then they had their own Line From Hell form. One very pushy elderly gentleman jumped the line and just hollered at the woman who had come to get the group heading to Flint "What about those of us meeting train 50?" She told us to wait 'over there'; we did as we were told. She soon led us towards the waiting bus, and those of us sure we were going to Cinci boarded. Another pushy gentleman started asking the driver about food. He was obviously taken aback-- he was used to people wanting to rush out and make their connection, not planning rest stops. As we waited for the Indy folks plans to get sorted out and for checked luggage to find us, he kept asking. "I have one question. What about food? I haven't had anything since noontime." I kept quiet about the fact that I thought he was carrying enough calories that he'd make it through 'til morning. "We're not just freight here. We're people." The poor beleagured Amtrak lady headed back inside to figure that out, and the nice gentleman next to me who was trying to make his own connection to Charlestown, WV watched his journey lengthen as we waited for Mr. Selfish 2013 to hoard more empty calories for himself.  There are times I am very embarrassed by my fellow citizens.

The bus driver convinced Mr. S that he could go to the vending machines in Indy-- and took off before he had a chance to cause more delays. We went by White Sox park on our way out of Chicago, and I woke up as we drove next to Indiapolis Colts stadium. Dave and the kids got hot dogs off the roller at the bus/train station, but I passed, on multiple principals. I don't eat anything off a convenience store roller, and I wouldn't do anything to make that guy in the front think he was right. We rolled towards I70 and Cincinnati and continued our journey east.

As I type this, both Bono and I are stuck in a moment that we can't get out of. The train is pulled over outside of Hinton, WV for no obvious reason. I'm sure we have to wait for some coal cars to cede the tracks to us. Rail travel in America could be so much better than it is, but we value personal cars over mass transport. The American Dream, with it's personal possessions placed prominently on the pedestal for all to see. With any luck, the 4 hour layover scheduled for DC will be sufficient for us to get a real meal before we hop another train and ride the rails north. I've been thinking about the woman from NJ who was on that first flight of our journey. Her sigh was audible from the other side of the terminal. "This is the worst day of my life. The whole day is wasted on this one flight. I'm never flying to Maine again." She sounded like she could have been neighbors with Tony Soprano. Entitled Americans don't only ride trains.

It's much harder to take pictures around here. We've got to be in the heart of the Appalachians, and tall trees and foliage line the tracks. We passed through the Big Bend Tunnel, built from 1930-32 and near the Grand Bend Tunnel (1870-72). This is the site of the famed showdown between John Henry and the steam engine. There's a statue to good ole JH, although I missed that shot, too. The history here is sadder than out West; John Henry and coal mining towns don't have the happy ending that Lewis and Clark bring. The poverty is here, though. That part is truth in advertising.

I keep comparing flying and train travel. When we landed late in Newark 2 weeks ago, I turned my phone on to get a automated text from United saying we might miss our connection, and if we did we were confirmed on the same flight out the next day. As I ran to try to hold the plane at the gate, no one would help me. "There are monitors for you to check arrivals and departures." We ran through the airport, and slid on by the skin of our teeth. That is as close to The Amazing Race as I ever hope to come (although I'm sure there would be a PA to deal with my luggage, and I'd be dressed for running through airports. Poor Cate was in her flippy floppys-- not good race wear.) Last night, although the help was a bit chaotic, it was there. The conductors were sincere in their apologies-- on both trains. The current conductor apologized to each customer as he checked our tickets, and brought us all a free snack pack and water "I know you didn't get a chance for dinner." I don't know if the poor woman in Chicago contacted him or not, but I did eat that food, and was thankful for the kindness. I don't think it was enough consolation for the poor man behind us, though, who was definitely going to miss his connecting bus. I had the Mike's Hard saved from MT and Dave had the River Bend Ale: we toasted across the isle, and I fell asleep to Ben telling me about how early man learned about planting gardens (strawberries grew out of the latrines, and they figured out that the seeds must be getting placed there), about why stone fruit seeds contain cyanide (the bitterness would cause animals to drop the seeds further from the mother tree), and how horses became domesticated (man took the place of the head female horse). He is absorbing the material in that massive tome.

We passed by Camp Cupcake a few towns back, where Martha Stewart spent some time a few years back. The inmates waved as we passed by them at work in their garden. In White Sulphur Springs, there's a underground fortress and escape route for the President in case DC is attacked. On the other side of the tracks from the famous golf course is a dilapidated shack. I have to wonder if White Sulphur Springs was named to highlight its distinction from plain old Sulphur Springs. I've moved onto reading March, also by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach much of it. Chapter 2 ends with a savage beating of a female slave who asks a young Mr. March (Jo and the other Little Women's father) to break the law and teach a young slave child her letters. We're into Virginia now, and this is a part of our history that makes me sick to my stomach. While my self-absorbed fellow travelers have put their own needs above others, at least they haven't beat anyone bloody. It is small consolation-- on both counts.

The kids are both asleep again-- they couldn't sleep much last night. Readjusting to EDT and getting ready for school will be difficult this year. I may need to have them pull an all-nighter with no daytime naps to get them back on schedule. Air travel messes with my system, but it seems riding the rails isn't as good for them as it is for me. It's hard to look out these windows without getting motion sick, so perhaps it's good their circadian rhythms are a mess. They aren't complaining, which is a testament to who they are as people. They have learned how to be unhappy but not miserable, and how to endure something that is unpleasant but won't destroy them. I am always proud to be seen with them, and to be recognized as their mom. They will never be that sighing woman from NJ, or that selfish guy in Chicago. Fred and Cowboy Mouth have reminded them a lot that nothing ever goes as planed so get your head out of you hands. Oh yes, my kids will never be that guy. And with that knowledge, I can let go of Mr. Selfish, and Mrs. New Jersey, and be glad to be alive.

Stepped Onto a Steam Train.

Traveling by train is a different sort of experience. Time stops, in a lot of ways. When a freight train is coming in the other direction, we pull of and cede the tracks. Sometimes you come in through the downtown, although most times you skirt the edge. Some stops are within 30 minutes of each other, and some are hours apart. We're going to be about 4 hours late arriving into Chicago, which means we will miss our connection to DC. The trains are not equipped with WiFi, so I have no way of figuring out an alternate plan. The Conductors are telling us, however, that they know about all of us missing connections and we'll be greeted on the platform with a personalized rescheduled itiniary. So, for another 8 hours, we just sit back and listen to the wheels rolling along the tracks, and trust we'll have a plan when we arrive. I'm supposed to be at a training on Friday, and I'm holding out hope we'll be back by then, but there's nothing I can do about it now, so I'm trying to let it go.

As I mentioned yesterday, part of the reason for this trip is to avoid air travel. I have learned to hate air travel. It really is a hurry up and wait sort of experience.-- you have to get to your airport a good 90 minutes early, to have enough time to take off your shoes and empty your pockets and unpack half your stuff to get through security. We walked onto the train without having to show our tickets-- just gave the conductor our names and he pointed us in the right direction. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to walk on with our open coffees; there are people with full coolers to avoid concessions altogether. I am also finding the staff has a different demeanor-- they are truly here to serve us, and the apologies about the delays have felt sincere. "Amtrak will do everything they can to get you to your destination." The conductor told us they've sent vans to get passengers to their next connection, paid for bus tickets, or put them up in a hotel. "No one will sleep in Union Station tonight-- unless that is your choice to do so." What a welcome change from United texting to tell me my flight from Portland might not make the connection in Newark, and we were confirmed for a flight leaving 24 hours later. Granted, flying is a lot faster, if you make all of your connections-- and on journeys this long, probably even if you have to wait in an airport for 24 hours. But the airlines know that, and they don't really seem to care if you're comfortable, or scared, or if your plans are all shot to hell because of the delays.

The passengers are different as well. I've seen quite a few elderly folk, as well as families with young kids. I have seen quite a few people who need walkers or canes to get around. Lack of balance is a concern, but I'm sure getting around in airports is an even more daunting thought. There's a guy who just rode his bike from Virginia to Seattle, and a younger couple traveling all around the country by rail. The dining car has family seating, so if you're not in a party of 4, you get seated with someone else to roundout the table. Our sleeper seats have already paid for meals; Cate and I aren't big breakfast eaters, so just Dave and Ben took advantage of that, and Warrior eating Dave wasn't hungry for lunch, so he sat that out. It's an interesting way to meet your fellow passengers-- and way more fun than being crammed into airplane seats together. There's a family of what I'm assuming to be Mennonites, dressed in black from head to toe, except for the white bonnet. I finished reading Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, and found myself wondering if the religious guilt poured over Bethia and other 17th century Pilgrims living in the Massacheusetts Bay Colony has lessended for these woman any. When they boarded, I knew instantly I'd never have encountered them on a plane, a thought that had never crossed my mind before. Suddenly my Lutheran upbringing doesn't seem so strict. My mom was raised Missouri Synod, which is less strict than Wisconsin Synod. Looking around me, I see that to be true.

Big Sky Country is behind us; rolling hillsides and more prominent tree lines in front. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi and are into LaCrosse, WI. It's an old brick station, and makes me wish for platform 9 3/4. Most of the stations don't have WiFi-- I did sneak on for a quick minute in Red Wing, MN, and almost got a guest connection from Winona State University-- too bad for them, because I would have recommended them as a school for someone to check out-- but I'm really doing ok without it. I only wish I had it to look up info about all the places we pass through. or to find where we are on a map. There are bars near every train station-- casinos, too, back in Montana and North Dakota. Restaurants, too, but the bars face prominently. Wild Light is singing to me about their hometown in New Hampshire. The country side looks like they have 4 generations of families with personal histories. The train runs on a diagonal across the town streets, showing lots of dead ends and hidden spots. I saw the old part of a major route coming out of Winona, MN-- the road ran below the current road and is only visible from the tracks. You see things you wouldn't otherwise see, and have the time to think about them. There are more hidden to the road family dumps, people with junkyards that rival the one back at home. I wonder if those fences are discussed at town meetings, or if being evident only by the tracks shields the owners from the ire of their neighbors? Tomah, WI, and the mennonite family is here to greet their weary travelers. It is like a scene out of Witness, and I am a hapless voeyor.

The kids have spent the day in the roomette, Ben reading his book (he was making progress when I saw him at lunch) and Cate on her iPod, both dozing. We're not supposed to have rooms for the rest of the trip home, so I'm glad they're taking advantage of it. Dave has been next to me, when he hasn't gotten restless and gone exploring. I doubt we'll travel by train again with all 4 of us-- the rooms are so expensive, and it's a long way to go in coach, but I could see Dave and I traveling this way when it's just the two of us. I don't like the "guilty until proved innocent" part of air travel. With that thought, I realize I am becoming my mother. Is train travel less crazy than using a camper as your primary vehicle? I guess only time will tell.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

iTunes is playing me You Better Be Home Soon (Crowded House) as I cross Marias Pass on the Empire Builder. I'm back on the right side of the Continental Divide, in Blackfeet country, thinking about Lewis and Clark in 1806 and how lucky they were to hook up with Sacajawea. From here, they still had-- oh, I don't know-- 2 years to get back home? We're running parallel to US Rt 2, which will take me back to my home and so many of the people I can't live without. I am sitting in a comfortable seat with my husband beside me, my cell phone and laptop plugged in and my camera on my lap. It may be a 4 day journey home, but I have it pretty good, and I know it.

We are road warriors. I  made reference earlier to riding shotgun til I die, but that really describes our marriage. I have the map, he has the wheel. He's a bit more adventurous, and I make sure everything has enough of a schedule that we don't have a mess to clean up when we get back home. Together we make a pretty solid pair. We've done some crazy things-- driving to a wedding in VA and back in a weekend comes to mind-- but as long as we're together I know we'll be ok.

Our first extended trip as a couple was to the 1996 Olympics. At that point, my sister and brother in law lived outside of Atlanta, so we drove down to see them, and the Games. On the way we stopped at my other sister's in Chapel Hill (and had some Hush Puppies that I still think about). We also drove the Delmarva Peninsula. Learn from our experience-- never take the scenic route when you're too tired to see straight. We had to pull into a parking lot and sleep for a few hours to be able to get to Dunwoody in one piece. Sadly, driving without stopping is a recurring theme of ours: our fathers are both responsible for that, but I digress. I made a mix tape for that drive-- remember those? Our trip home took us through the Blue Ridge Parkway, but again, I was too tired to appreciate it. I fell asleep and missed all the views, and Dave couldn't appreciate them and drive so we got back on 95N. The Mountains Won Again.

My sister enrolled in a Ph.D program at University of New Mexico in Alberquerque. That was our first experience flying with preschoolers. And carseats. They were troopers. Truth be told, so were we. The kids were 2 and 4. They each had their adorable backpacks (ladybug and Cookie Monster) filled with coloring books, crayons, lollipops, and M&Ms. It takes 3 planes to get from MHT to ABQ; I guess all I'm sayin' is you haven't lived until you've changed terminals with toddlers, carseats, and carryons. We were the first siblings to visit them, so they treated us to the full tour: Petroglyph Park, Natural History Museum, a ride on the Sante Fe railroad, Sandia Crest-- I feel like we saw just about everything except a Georgia O'Keefe instalation. And a George R. R. Martin fangirl experience, but I hadn't read The Game of Thrones yet-- maybe he hadn't even published it yet?-- so I had no clue what I was missing. That was also the trip I first rode on Route 66-- and when I decided that someday Dave and I would drive the whole thing. I don't know what it is about old roads, but I am fascinated by them. It's probably the same part of me that is thrilled to be on this train; I'm heading down the same path that brought our society to where it is today. We are all connected to the bigger picture.

The kids first rock concert kicked off our next trip. My uncle-- Mr. Fabulous himself-- organized a family reunion in Palm Springs, CA, where he lived. Rufus Wainwright, Guster, and Ben Folds were playing an all ages triple bill outside of Manchester, NH and that seemed as good a way as any to kick off another cross country plane trip with those darned carseats. By the San Fransisco/Humbolt County trip, we didn't need the seats. Meeting my brother when he lived in Chicago was easy; direct route, and the kids were old pros at this game--almost as easy as our annual drives to Cape Cod to see Dave's aunt. Through it all, we adapted to new situations, experiencing different parts of the country while catching up with family.

As of yet, the only times we've crossed international borders are also the only times we've not been going to visit anyone we know. For our tenth anniversary, we took the ferry from Bar Harbor to Nova Scotia. I was shocked at how motion sick I got. We rented a cabin and drove around the island, doing what we do best. For our fifteenth, we went back to Canada-- Quebec City, this time-- to see Arcade Fire and check out the old city. Live music and travel? An obvious choice.

My sister and family have finally settled in Montana, which means we're no longer cramming in the highlights when we go visit, but we have a laundry list of sites to check out in future years. (I think it also means they're done having children-- they had one in each location since Atlanta-- but that might just be a coincidence.) The first time we went out was after my youngest nephew was born. Dave was starting his Master's program through Montana State University; he'd discovered it and thought it had a pretty good program, and then my sister told us she'd accepted a job there. Fate does often wave her guiding hand our way. Anyhow, we drove out that time (thank you to those of you still reading now-- your encouragement of the first road journal is the reason this one exists), which really was an adventure in and of itself. And yes, we did stop to sleep; 500 miles a day is about all we can handle... and is definitely the outer reaches of what should be legal. We flew for the second trip-- Dave had to present his thesis, and that was enough pressure for one journey. Cate and I had our own MotherGirl last winter when we babysat the boys (As a side note, the difference between a 12 year old daughter and a 13 year old one is sort of like the difference between driving across country and flying. Holy moly, I'm out of my league here.) but that trip was about being together, not seeing the sights. Come to think of it, that's what all these trips have been about. Huh...

A few years ago, we arranged to meet my sister and family in DC. They'd come East to see his family, and wanted to see the Capital as well. Meeting up with them and seeing DC? Easy call right there. We've made it a goal to get the cousins together once a year, and for the most part we've been successful. It was easier flying home from that trip than the last Bozeman trip. We were grounded (in DC) due to late afternoon thunderstorms, and the autogenerated message from United told us we were rebooked for the following night, same time, same place...  and we knew the chances of THAT flight getting canceled were equally as high. We waited in a Line From Hell for 2+hours-- I felt for those ground crew members. There were approximately 4 planes of 100 passengers needing help-- and half the customers had originally booked on Continental before they got bought out. It didn't take a genius to recognize those 2 employees needed some help. We eventually got to a live human at 1-800-United and got that leg of our journey refunded, because we'd long since decided we were driving home. Remember before when I said we were known for crazy road warrior status? I present to you the penultimate example. We'd gotten up at 4 AM, Mountain time, and left DC at 11 PM Eastern. The plan was for me to nap, then I'd take the wheel and let Dave sleep, but I really should have known he agreed only so I'd go to sleep and not spend time trying to convince him to close his eyes. Ten hours later and after a 3 hour nap at my parents house, we returned the rental car to Portland and picked up our one checked bag (which HAD made it to PWM the day before. Go figure.) We were crossing the Canton/Peru line when the United autobot called to say the flight was canceled due to weather. It is nice to know that sometimes the stupid choice is still the right one. And to know we are officially too old to rock 'n roll all night-- but we can still pull it off when absolutely necessary.

Obviously, that experience factored into this Amtrak one. For this leg of the journey, we have 1 roomette, which is about the same size as the coach seats we also have, but contains 2 bunks and a door. The sleeper and family berths were way out of our price range, and when we booked last November all that was left was 1 roomette, which fits 2. As in barely. I was actually kind of happy with that situation-- it meant I didn't have to feel cheap about wanting a coach seat-- I was taking one for the team instead. We split down party lines, as usual-- Dave and Ben are technically in the room while Cate and I are holding down coach. Did I mention how out of touch I am with 13 year old girls? Have that girl be a first class introvert, and it didn't take long to realize she would be spending most of her waking hours in said room. Dave spent most of Montana wandering about, getting a feel for the different cars and what options exist. I haven't seen him for the last few stops, though, so I hope he's drifted off to sleep. He barely sleeps when we travel, so any chance he gets to sleep is a gift. Ben is enjoying the historical side of this trip as much as me ... well, not as much as, but more so than not. He's been reading Guns, Germs, and Steel for his summer homework (ok, needing to read, but he's reading now, Mr. Rowley) and it talks about the author's time in Montana as a young man. Again Fate waves at us as she passes by. (Ok, maybe this time it's Fate's cousin Coincidence waving, but still....)

The view out the windows is not completely what I expected. Yes, there are sweeping plains, hay bales and old homesteads mixed in with new farms. But there is also poverty. When the train tracks run behind knolls, what you see from the train side is very different than what you see from even the dirt road. Old vehicles from I can't tell how many decades ago rot in the fields, alongside trailers that I swear will blow away in the next big wind. I knew this would be part of the reality as we went through the reservations, but I guess I wasn't expecting it to be so stark. As I said in the beginning of this tale of wandering, I am very lucky. Not only do I have family spread all over the country, but I have the resources to go and visit them. Sure, we'll feel some pinch from this trip-- it's really been 2 trips; one to Bozeman to visit family and one to Glacier to visit the national park we love. But we'll still eat for the next few months, and eat pretty well at that. Our bills are all paid, and a broken water pipe or dead fridge won't render us living in the camper in the back yard. It is sobering to realize many people don't have it anywhere near as good as we do. Ben Folds sings to me his agreement.

Which is part of the reason we've taken the kids all over this country. We've wanted them to see different areas, for sure, to both appreciate what we have at home as well as figure out where they want to start their adult lives, but we've really wanted them to see how other people live. To understand what it is to live in a place where rain is a blessing. To see the people who grow most of our nation's food. To see the people who can afford to travel by plane, or train, or bus-- or not at all. There are some people who have never seen snow, and some people who have never seen skyscrapers-- or hayfields. When you have a sense of who else is out there, sharing oxygen and carbon with you, it's easier to know who you are, and what you value.

As we near the MT/ND border, we're crossing into the storm that's been raging off to our left. I watched farmers cut hay in the sun out one window, and lightening strike in the distance out the other. The rain is louder than I anticipated as well-- the windows are more flexible than you'd think.  It seems a fitting way to leave Mountain time and head into Central. For the record, I'll be very happy if I never see a twister in live time-- and from the looks of these clouds, that wish is not a guarantee. If the price of not being in a twister's way is not capturing a lightening strike with pixels, then that's a price I'll happily pay.

This wasn't our first trip up to Glacier National Park. We went 2 years ago, as a celebration for Dave earning his Master's Degree. It's about a 5 hour drive from my sister's house: that time we borrowed their second car and drove up and back in a 3 day time span. We stumbled into Two Medicine valley as our first entrance into Glacier. It's at the outer edge of Blackfoot country, and Sinopah and Rising Wolf mountains called to us before we even knew their names. I'm not sure I'll ever live anywhere but Maine, but we'll spend more time in and around Two Medicine: it is simultaneously calming and energizing. Our full day in the park was for a Red Bus tour, which would take us from East Glacier across the Going to the Sun road and back along US Route 2. We'd booked that months earlier, too, and had no way of knowing they were experiencing record snowfall. The GttS is usually open in late June, but that year record snowfall kept the road closed until July 13... and we were there July 5. We still got a wonderful tour, but it left crossing the GttS on the list.

It is no longer on the list, at least not in the same sort of way. This time we rented a car, and planned 3 full days in the park. West Glacier was our entrance point this trip-- if you're going to call someplace your favorite national park, you probably should check out the whole park. And so we did. We swam in Lake McDonald (warmer than the Atlantic at Nauset Beach, but not much) at the Apgar boat launch, drove out Route 2 (no goats at Goat Lick this time, but our falls were still there), said hello to Sinopah and headed up MT 49 towards Canada and Waterton Lake. Cate's car sickness took over, however; after we stopped for lunch at Two Sisters Diner, outside Babb, we decided to just come back through St. Mary over GttS. We were rewarded for putting her needs above our own (and probably for bringing the much needed rain the day before) by a lengthy big horn sheep sighting near Logan Pass. They grazed for a good 15 minutes, and even sparred for us for a moment. This Red Bus tour was also impacted by said rain-- we still went, but couldn't see anything but the impressive Russian laborers stonework as a barrier between the road and the mountainside. Waterton via the Red Bus next trip? Yea, that's what I was thinking too.

Which, once again, brings us back here, being rocked by this Eastbound No. 8 train. As we sat down together for dinner-- I am so thankful our meager coach seats allow us to dine with our only-slightly-posher-roomette family-- the sun came back out. We're trained rainbow finders, all of us. We saw it begin to take shape; within minutes, we were treated to the full bow, stretching out on the plains beside us. Other diners noticed eventually. The sky was a deep blue-gray, and there were still some distant lightening bolts around. My camera was back at my seat, so I cannot share it's brilliance with you. Rainbows as we're headed home are a recurring theme, and as the train wound it's way across the tracks we crossed underneath. I hope some really talented photographer was out there and captured what I knew was happening. Somewhere under the rainbow is home, and tonight we are homeward bound.

Monday, July 29, 2013

I'll stay shotgun until the day we die

This leg of our vacation has is camped at my sister's house. That part isn't unusual-- they have more than enough room for us to stay, so when we come out we stay with them. What is different is they aren't here. This year they celebrated their 20th anniversary, so we made a plan for us to watch their boys while they went to Hawaii together. What we didn't know (and couldn't have known when we scheduled this trip last fall) was that our youngest sister would be here, too.

What this means is we 3 different approaches to daily living, however, which has taken some getting used to. Caroline has been here for a month or so, so she's mastered the boys routines. This is also her Stateside home, whereas we're in vacation mode. Among the 8 of us, I think we've pulled off what needs to happen as well as what we'd all like to do.

What has been an added bonus about Caroline being here with us is not everyone needs to go on every outing. On Friday, the oldest and youngest nephews came with us and explored Virginia City, an old mining town. Yesterday, all 3 nephews were tired and wanted a day chillaxin' at home, so they stayed behind while we went to Gardiner and then toured through the Paradise Valley area. As much as I would have loved to have my nephews along, it was also good to have a day with just the 4 of us. My babies are definitely not babies anymore, and I treasure every moment I have with the two of them-- I only have to look at how often my siblings and I are all together to know the future is wide open. We started taking a family vacation on the '5' anniversaries-- 5 year, 10, etc.-- figuring the kids are a part of our marriage. I hope we are able to continue having both of them (and their eventual families) meet up with us for future trips, but for now, I'm thrilled with any chance to have the 4 of us in a car, exploring together.

What I am reminded of when we travel is how in sync Dave and I are. We balance each other out nicely, and often it only takes a single conversation with him to make me feel better about the world. He and I went off to the store the other night, and then he saw the impending sunset and took me to a place where I could capture it. We got about 90 minutes together, and my outlook on life was so much... calmer, I guess, as a result. He is enjoying being my camera tech, and I am always happiest when he is driving me somewhere. In many ways I feel like I lucked into this life-- how did I get such wonderful kids and supportive husband? Some of it is work-- we have not taken anything for granted-- but it also has a level of good fortune to it. Regardless of how it came , I'll accept the gift and be very thankful for it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

still Grandma*

Thanksgiving 2010. Cape Cod. Before.

Life isn't fair: the sooner you get used to it the happier you'll be.

I've been known to say this a time or two, and it is sadly true. Our family has been living with this reality as my dear mother in law has been losing her ability to think and communicate. We can tie the beginnings of her losses to the fire that consumed their house back in 2006. Their house burned to the ground, with all their possessions inside, while she was away working. At that point, she was renting a room closer to her work, as the commute was over an hour each way-- which meant she had a few of her things, mostly clothes-- and while she was spared the panic of watching the house engulf, she found out in a shocking 'I-don't-believe-it-is-real' sort of way. They rebuilt, and all seemed normal, but looking back, that is where the problems started.

At first it was just word finding issues. Heck-- I have word finding issues, for Pete's sake. The issues were growing, though, and coloring her ability to communicate. She had talked to her doctor, who said she had aphasia, not dementia, which we had no choice but to accept. When she retired from proofreading, she told me she couldn't keep up with the young ones anymore, but she was 70... so yea, that seemed normal. It turns out she suspected then the issues were more significant than general aging-- although she did not tell us about her fears. I can't say as I blame her.

Dave's dad had to be hospitalized a few years ago, and that is when I started to realize it was really becoming an issue: she couldn't tell us why he needed to be admitted. Soon after that she got lost driving to Dave's sister's house, and had a harder time taking different routes to familiar places. Last summer we brought her with us to her sister's house on Cape Cod. Her parents built that house in 1955, and she'd been visiting there routinely ever since. At varying points on that trip, she did not know where she was or who her sister was. Regardless of her diagnosis, something was wrong.

Last week, things reached a crisis point. Dave's dad has done an incredible job caring for her, but her needs have superseded his ability to keep her safe. Sundowning has been a problem-- when we took her to meet both her sister's at the other sister's house this April, she'd forgotten that we'd gone already by the time we got her back home. She's been sleeping less and less, and she started leaving the house after dark. This once strong, independent, creative, and intelligent woman can no longer stay safe in her home; I think I mentioned that life is not always fair...

Last week she started living with Dave's sister, in preparation for being checked into a memory care unit. I know she did not want to go, but I do think she heard us when we explained we needed a safe place for her to live. His sister found the perfect place near her that has 2 cats to pet and gardens in which to get her hands dirty-- two of her favorite things. It's never easy to make these decisions, but it is easier knowing she's in a good place. One of our former babysitters works there, and she was incredibly helpful throughout the intake process. Neighbors helping neighbors, indeed.

While I am not glad they had to endure the fire, I am thankful they got to experience the outpouring of love and community support that came after the devastation: not everyone gets a chance to be present at their own wake, and in many ways, that's what the benefit supper was. In light of where her path is taking her, I am so glad she had the chance to be lifted up by that experience. I hope she knows that this move is an act of love.There are a lot of people who love her very much-- her siblings, her dear friends and neighbors who were instrumental in her being at home as long as she was, her extended community of support, and her husband, kids, and grandkids. I hope this feels like home, and that she is happy.

*The title is a nod to Lisa Genova's book Still Alice, which is about a woman who contracts early onset Alzheimer's disease. It's not the best written book ever, but it is filled with helpful information about what happens in the brains of people with dementia. I highly recommend it if you're interested in the topic-- or caring for someone afflicted.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

enough influence to last a lifetime

Season 12 of Project Runway aired tonight. For the last 12 seasons (and 2 of PR All Stars), I have watched on the east coast while my fabulous uncle has watched on the west. Every weekend we would exchange a flurry of emails dishing on the designs-- and the designers. We'd make predictions on who would make it to the finals, who would get auf'ed, and who the judges would demoralize next. One of the hardest things for me to do would be to wait to read his emails if I had to wait 'til the weekend to watch the replay online.

My uncle played a huge role in my life, and I think I did the same for him. Uncle Bob was Fabulous, in every sense of the word. He was single, neat, and over 30... not that there's anything wrong with that. When I was a junior in high school, we spent Thanksgiving with my grandparents and him (he was living with them, providing support after my grandfather had yet another stroke). He and I would stay up late talking, and one night he showed me a movie. He loved movies, and classic Hollywood actresses... but this one wasn't a classic. It was about a young boy who figured out he was a homosexual. I didn't pick up on his reason for showing it to me immediately, which I'm hoping is because it really didn't matter to me, but more likely because I was a very black and white thinker as a teen. When I went to visit him as a new college graduate, he told me stories about the Vietnam War protests at UWisconsin-Madison in the late 60s, the early 70s in San Franscisco, and when the "gay man's cancer" hit in the early 80s-- he worked in the hospital credited with identifying AIDS during the outbreak. Largely because of AIDS, he moved to AZ to care for my grandparents-- consciously choosing to help them with their lives and probably saving his own. After they passed, he moved to Palm Springs and worked for the Barbara Sinatra's Children's Center and at the Desert AIDS Project, as a volunteer coordinator in both places. He made a career out of helping people in need, but was one of the most judgemental I have ever known. "Remember Darling-- you'll never get a chance to impress them with your brain if they don't like what they're looking at..." He taught me about growing up, and I helped keep him young.

He never married-- nor did he have any desire to. He couldn't understand why so many of his gay friends wanted to be in a legally binding long term relationship-- but completely supported their right to ruin their lives if that's what they so chose.  He came of age during the Stonewall Riots, and almost lived long enough to see DOMA struck down. He never had kids-- my Gawd, so messy!-- but I know my siblings and cousins filled that role in his life.

I got a perspective on life from him that my parents could not give me. He rounded out my thoughts-- starting with that movie in 1986-- and continuing throughout my adulthood. He took me clubbing after I'd graduated from college. My parents flew me out to stay with him, and he asked his straight friends where the hot clubs were. It took all of 15 minutes in this joint for him to lean over to me "You want to go someplace fun?" I danced like fool, and was in no risk of sending the wrong impression in my Victoria's Secret dress.

He had his first heart attack at 44. There's a family history of deadly cardio events-- my grandfather had his first stroke in his 40s (which he survived, but eventually is what got him), and my great and great-great grandfathers dropped dead in their 40s. Luckily for me, he had access to great medical care and survived it-- but he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure by 55, and was not supposed to see 60. He died this March of a massive heart attack. He had just sent me an email about his youngest brother who had died suddenly 2 weeks before, of a bleeding esophegal ulcer, and his cousin who was only a few years older than him who also died suddenly in her sleep. "Do you know The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? I'm afraid to close my eyes!" He signed off with a Game of Thrones reference-- I'd told him to read the series after he started watching it on HBO. Hodor (Hodor Hodor Hodor) signed off that day, now carrying me around on his shoulders for the rest of my life, helping me get through whatever may come my way. When they went out to take care of his things, my mom and Uncle Jim found the signed and stamped birthday card, complete with the $5 bill he sent for our birthdays every year, ready to be mailed. In his final hours, he left me multiple sources of comfort to hold onto-- including the knowledge that his final acts were done knowing how deeply he was loved and how much he meant to me.

Back to Runway. Tonight as I watched the premiere with my family, I didn't get teary watching, which sort of surprised me. I think it's because I could almost see him here with me, straightening the remote controls to be perfectly parallel to each other, cigarette in his fingers, trying to figure out who should be in, and who would be out. He looks like he did when I went out in 92-- probably because he'd rather that's the image I see than how he looked this spring.

As I've told many of you, I bought a Chloe Dao dress for my cousin's wedding, in his honor. When I got the email from Chloe's sister explaining it was their mistake but it was only available in a size 0 I figured Fate had spoken. (Sorry, Uncle Bob, but my size 0 days are long gone.) I got a follow up email saying since  it listed on her website as being available for a sale purchase, they would make this one special for me, in whatever size I wanted, and honor the sale. Yes, indeed, Fate was speaking... and I know he was very proud of me in that dress. In fact, I know he was very proud of me, period. There is no greater gift than that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

zen and the art of preserving

I love prepping for winter. I know it's an odd way to describe berry picking, making jam, working at my local CSA farm, and freezing and canning the produce, but there it is. Yesterday I went raspberry picking with my friend, and we picked for 2.5 hours. Honestly, I'd have kept picking if I could have, even in the heat and humidity. It was me, the plants, the berries, and the task at hand. That's it. There was a nice breeze, and I was free to think about what I wanted to make with all my berries (ps: 12 quarts is a lot) while also thinking about song lyrics, my to do list, and anything else that's been floating around in the deep recesses of my mind. I get the added bonus of knowing that the work I do now will pay off in January makes it all the more satisfying.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

gotta get it out

There is a lot going on in my head, and my life these days. Without going into too much detail on this ole' wide open interweb, my head and my heart are processing through easing my in laws through their own aging process, guiding my children through the teenaged years, balancing my physical and emotional needs with all I've said I would do at work and in the community, and being the best wife, friend, daughter, sibling, and person I can be.

My guess is it's fairly obvious that it's my needs that are taking the back burner... and as a result, my body has started yelling louder and louder that I need to listen or I'll be in a world of hurt. I keep thinking about the flying analogy-- in the unlikely event of a fall in cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting those near you. I have never been good at this... and as much as I know I need to get better, my actions are not matching my intentions.

I realized last night that I've put my head down and pushed through a lot of the issues without fully processing them. As an extreme extrovert, I don't do well when I don't talk about what's bothering me, and I haven't been talking enough. (I know-- that seems almost impossible.) And so back to the ole' blog I go, as a place to process my thoughts without driving my poor introverted husband into hiding.

I am going to be as cryptic as I can be (which is the whole reason I stopped writing in the first place-- trying to protect the privacy of others), but my health is suffering, and I need to get it out. And so out it shall get... although be warned, any resemblance of the names and situations described in the coming months to anyone you know is purely coincidental.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

*chink chink chink*

Forgive me, Reader, it's been 4 months since my last post...

This one won't be a long one, either, but you've got to start somewhere.

I'm most likely leaving this address behind and starting a new one. I've been saying "when I write my book..." for a few years now, and it's time to get started. I don't have a good word processing program on my laptop, and I'm too cheap to buy one, and I'm tired of using those as excuses. The idea came to me to start a new blog and use that as my rough draft. If you're interested in the new address, let me know. You'll be called upon to help me reflect, and edit, so realize it comes with strings attached.

Thanks for reading and commenting all these years. I don't know if I'll keep 2 blogs going (I've done such an amazing job of keeping the one) but I can't imagine this one will disappear any time soon.

Monday, February 04, 2013

ready for step 2

There's a lot of current brain research in the area of long term effects of constant stress on executive functioning. This article highlights what all educators have noticed-- the kids who just can't "keep it together" at school are getting younger and their behaviors more extreme. I'm glad we're identifying the problem, and acknowledging it's real. Too many kids come to school without the luxury of a carefree, innocent childhood. I've seen the impacts of living in a constant state of stress for my entire teaching career. What I need now is solid ideas on how to help mitigate the effects, and help kids thrive at school regardless of what's going on at home.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

my rationale

One of the most powerful moments in my teaching career was the day I explained unconditional love-- and a sophomore boy understood it for the first time in his life.

We were playing a "would you ever" type game-- would you keep a thousand dollars if it landed in your mailbox unannounced? Each kid tried to give me a more impossible hypothetical: would you call the cops on me if you knew I was on the run? Would you visit me if I went to jail for murder?

It's important to understand what I do for a living. I teach alternative ed at our local high school. Kids come to alt ed usually because they have suffered some sort of traumatic loss in their childhood. Often times that loss is of childhood itself-- either poverty, substance abuse, pregnancy, divorce, violence, or family tragedy forced them to grow up fast and take on adult responsibilities before their brains were ready. School becomes something to be endured, and often puts up roadblocks to their day to day success. Back when kids could get decent jobs without a diploma, this wasn't much of a problem. In today's world, though, being a high school dropout has severe ramifications, so most public high schools have an alternative ed program to try to help find ways around said roadblocks. So these "would you ever" games are fairly common in my classroom, and they have real value. I teach a lot of  coping skills through these conversations. (Honestly, I teach coping skills more than I teach any credit class, but that's another story for another post.)

So the questions kept intensifying, sort of along these lines:
Would you visit me in jail if I committed a murder?
Yes, sweetie, I would.
You would? But I'd be a murderer?
Yes, honey, I'd be disappointed in your choice, but you'd still be one of my sunshines, and I'd still love you.
Wait a minute, you'd still love me? Even if I killed someone?
Again, I would not be happy with you. I would certainly not be proud of your actions. But I can't stop loving someone every time they do something wrong. I'd make darn sure you paid your debt to society, but I'd come visit and help you through it. It's called unconditional love, and it means just that: I love you, without conditions, forever.

The look on his face said it all. At age 15, he did not believe me when I said I love him because of who he is, not what he does. He was certainly floored by that knowledge, but I was just as moved. I grew up in a perfect, rose colored childhood, surrounded by love, support, and opportunity. I knew from the time I could walk that I was loved and valued. How did he not know the same thing? How could anyone grow up not knowing that they would be loved forever? But that day... he did know it. When I look back, I can trace when he started to "grow up" and make better choices to that conversation. Wow indeed.

That moment, among others, helped cement my teaching style. My number one priority is not awarding grades or credits or diplomas: I am here to teach kids that they are worthy of being truly, absolutely, and completely loved, valued and respected. Which does not mean that I respect each choice a kid makes (because I know they make many bad ones) nor do I let them off the hook when they screw up. It is my life's work to help them learn how to make better choices for themselves and then have enough pride in their reputation to have the strength to make the hard choices. I'm not a trophy-for-every-participant kind of self esteem believer-- not even close; but when you can help a kid (and like it or not, teenagers are still kids) stand up a little bit taller because they are proud of who they are becoming, or owned up to a mistake and made amends, or pushed themselves harder than they'd ever pushed before-- well, that's the kind of self esteem I'm trying to teach. Because ribbons fade and tatter, but character endures.

Whether or not a student is able to earn his high school diploma by the age of 18 and graduate with his 4 year cohort, I can teach him things that will enrich his life and hopefully enable him to get that diploma in his 20s, when he is ready. I do not define my success on my graduation rate, no matter how much the current chatter about the problems with schools does. For me, it is when I start to see the subtle changes in how a kid sees himself, and starts to make decisions based on a positive reputation and not a negative one. That will take him much further than any piece of paper could.

Many of my colleagues think I'm too easy on my students and don't hold them to high enough standards, and I can appreciate why they think that way. My classroom does run differently than the other classrooms, but it says so in the title. Until the kid is willing to come to school and try to learn, no amount of rigor is going to make a difference. I don't take their concerns lightly, but I also don't take them to heart. If the general track was what was going to work for them, they'd never end up crossing my threshold. But if I have to make a choice about sacrificing content or relationships, well... without a relationship, no one cares about content.

Yesterday I saw another post about this very topic. I'd never put it into words before, but I realized it is what I do. I can't not do it-- I have been blessed with the ability to love everyone I encounter on some level, so this isn't something I've taught myself to do but something I have just lived my life doing. But I can do this job-- and believe me, there are some very difficult days-- because I am able to love each and every kid just because they breathe. It's a powerful notion, with powerful implications. I'm pretty sure that every kid who has ever entered my room has left it knowing I enjoyed spending time with them-- even when they left as a result of having made poor decisions. If I've done nothing else, I've done that, and that is enough for me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

unpredictably predictable

I have always believed in fate. I wrote an essay in high school-- probably after reading some Shakespearean play-- that debated fate vs free will. My thesis was that it's not a debate at all, but an exercise in irony: we believe we have free will, and are making choices all along the way to control our own destiny, but in fact all those choices are predetermined, being guided by the hands of fate. I'm sad to say my teacher did not get it, at all-- but I'm sure my writing skills did not do justice to the task at hand, either. To be honest, I'm not sure I can communicate it right now, either, but that has never stopped me from trying.

But this is the way I've always felt about things. I was born in the greater Bangor area, but my dad got a promotion and we moved when I was 8. Time passes... and when I get to college, I meet up with a girl who was close with someone I was close with back in first grade. Whatever the reason, I was supposed to know her, and while I thought it was my choice to go to UMF, perhaps the universe had spent 10 years trying to find a way for our paths to cross again. After graduation, I had two job offers-- coastal and mountains. I chose mountains and proceeded down my less traveled path. One of my colleagues decided to pursue his administration certificate, and ended up interning in the very building on the coast that had offered me a job. And in all honesty, knowing that I would have met him either way is still a great comfort, as he died from cancer 12 years ago. Even me marrying WB-- we'd met in anatomy lab when I was a freshman and he a junior, but he was dating someone else. The universe reconnected us at Peru School a few years later, and that time it took.

This week, my bestfriend's mom was hospitalized for pneumonia. The norovirus going around is a particularly pesky one, so this news wasn't terribly shocking to me. The story came back that Pepere took her pulse, didn't like how low it was, and called 911. Bestfriend and I talked about this-- of course her pulse would go down as she was resting, that's the point, but he did the right thing for sure, so who cares what his reasoning was. He and I (fatefully?) were both on the team scheduled to visit a high school down the road from his parent's house, so we made arrangements to ride together and visit them after. As we were waiting for them to get home from being discharged (a way lengthier procedure than was necessary, but that's a different rant for another day) his brother stopped in and mentioned the "clippy thing Dad used to check her oxygen". My ears perked up: my asthmatic daughter learned at age 4 what the pulse/oxygen meter showed, and when the numbers were lower than 95 she was struggling for air. It turns out that last Tuesday-- 5 days before he used it-- Pepere picked one up just to have on hand. When he used it to read her pulse/ox levels-- not just her pulse-- he knew that she was in severe oxygen depletion, and rightly called 911.

How did he know 5 days before Memere even got sick that he'd need that simple little tool? What caused him to miss Mass (something Pepere never does) and check her oxygen levels? We'll never really know what caused him to make those little decisions, but there is no doubt in my mind that it's because it wasn't her time. Had Pepere not made any one of those choices, this story would probably be ending differently, but God took over and changed his path to ensure that the story played out to it's fated end.

As an aside, I know many people struggle with fate vs God's Will. For me, they are one and the same. I also believe that all religions stem from the same God, so no matter what you call him or what your specific belief system is, the same Being is running the show. Call Him God, Fate, Great Spirit-- heck, call him Zeus if you want-- but to me, all faiths lead to the same place.

I don't know why some of the things that happen in my life happen; I've long since stopped trying to understand it in the moment. Sometimes I get lucky enough to find out within a short time span, but most of the time I just trust that the universe knows what it's doing, and that someday it'll make sense to me.

I'm so glad you're still hanging around, Memere. I wasn't ready for you to go, either. I'm glad the Heavens agree.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

being there

On the list of stupidest things I've ever done, attending today's Nordic ski meet is at the top. The universe tried to talk me out of it, but I wasn't listening... but, I guess that's not surprising: I have been known to have a stubborn streak every now and again.

I had overslept-- woke up an hour late, with no time for breakfast or the deeply desired Dunkin stop. The meet was taking place at a school with athletic fields that are on three levels of hills-- I've been there before, and knew I'd need my boots to see anything. I couldn't get it on over the ace bandage, but I figured I could take that off and stuff my foot in when I got to the meet. I'm sure you've deduced by now that was some faulty logic.

And so, I put on the one boot and climbed the hills in my walking shoe.

I know. I could have turned around, and my son would have understood why. WB was with his middle school team at their meet at Sugarloaf, so I was the parent available to be there. It was his first high school meet, and I was 50 yards from being able to see him ski. Those of you who are parents will understand why I climbed that hill, stood by the fence and watched him leave the start line and enter the woods; balanced on one foot as the wind almost blew me over; and recognized his gait as he emerged from the woods the last time to swing around the lower field and climb the hill and ski by me towards his finish. I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up watching him go by, or if I said it was only because my foot was starting to make it's displeasure known. But watching him ski-- seeing the confidence, dedication, and determination as he made his way around the course-- well, that's why I went, and why I stupidly climbed that hill.

I'd told him I'd be there but wouldn't stay long after, so I hoped he trusted in that fact. I cheered for him as he went by, but who knows if they really hear you or not? When I ran (stumbled? hobbled?) cross country in high school, I could only focus on finishing... but I knew, somewhere, at least one of my parents was there. After he finished, I tried to find where the team was, but I couldn't see them, and at that point I knew I was risking damage staying on that snowy hill. (As I was typing this post, in fact, he texted me-- he tried to get to me before I left, but couldn't reach me in time.) So far, he's unaware of the depth of my folly, and part of the reason for this post is so he might have a glimmer of understanding why I pushed the edge of my physical abilities to be there: I'm pretty sure he won't fully understand, though, until his oldest has his or her first high school meet.

Our job as parents is to be their personal cheering squad, following them around through their various events, giving them support. Sometimes it's advice, many times praise, and every so often a kick in the behind. In many ways, it's all about being there, watching them grow and mature and figure out who they're going to be as adults. As I said before, at least one of my parents was at each and every one of our events. I took it for granted as a kid that everyone had the same experience, but I know now that was never a safe assumption. If it is all possible, one of us will be at each of our kids events, too-- and if it's not, we'll line up someone else. Gramma (and Uncle Uncle) played that role the night of my surgery when Cheer Chick did her Christmas routine at their game. It matters to kids that someone is there watching them. It matters a lot.

Being there was worth the discomfort. I'm proud of you, buddy. Hope you had a good first meet.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013 is being brought to you by the letter W

I'm not usually one to bid a fond farewell to the year gone by, but this year is one I'm glad to leave in my dust. It was really the Year of the Doctor: I started in January with an ovarian torsion caused by a pesky cyst, tests for which revealed I also had gallstones. So, in February I had my gallbladder removed, just 17 days after losing half my left ovary. Originally I had planned on getting my second foot repaired in May-- right after the recital. I could not bare the thought of a 3rd surgery in 5 months-- nor could I have another week-plus absence from this group of sunshines. But.... 2 surgeries plus other random maladies rack up the deductible points pretty quickly, so it made sense to do it before the new year. And so, 2 weeks ago I went under the knife again. If I could resolve to do such things, trust me, staying out of surgical suites would be on my list every year.

Last year my resolutions were simple ones-- only 2 of them, really. Write more, and be aware of other's struggles and don't make them worse. I did pretty well on the former... but regular readers of this sad blog should show that I did horribly at the former.

But all this is just avoiding the subject. What am I resolving to do this year? As I said in the title, there's a W theme. I feel like Bert from Sesame Street... except instead of talking about lightbulbs and lampposts I'm talking about visiting Weld on a regular basis, writing more, and walking again. I also want to keep focus on my photography, but I haven't found the W connector for that yet. Hmm... maybe... a women's photography club? A friend of mine said she and some other friends were talking about starting such a thing, so maybe that's the link.

So here's to you, 2013. Let's stop meeting in hospitals and doctor's offices, ok?