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.