Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Parenting is not for the Timid - This is my Biggest and Worst

Parenting brings obstacles and challenges like none that we've ever dealt with before.  My first was when my son was born.  He was the most difficult baby I'd ever come across, and I got to be with him all the time.  I remember how defeated and discouraged I was, and how I thought to myself, "I can't do this.  I can't parent this child, make him happy, stay sane.  I don't even want to".  I didn't know how I was going to get through his infancy and this obstacle felt like the greatest obstacle of my life.

We got through it, I got through it.  Time passed and allowed me to forget the depth of the struggle so that when the next challenge arose, that one felt like a new biggest and worst.  The new challenge was now the thing that was going to end all civilized thought in my head.  Again, we got through.  Time and again, challenges, the biggest and worst, have arisen.  Each time I have thought, "How? What am I supposed to do with this?  Help!  Please!"  And, time and again, we've made it.  Help has been there, time has eased wounds and ironed wrinkles.  Knowing all that, I'm still not sure this time. I've reached my biggest and worst.  This feels like it.  

My daughter, the sweet, caring, quirky girl that she is, is sad.  She's riddled with anxiety about school and friends.  She's rekindled her previous preoccupation with death (she struggled a lot with this after her grandpa died).  My sensitive girl that won't even let us kill an insect in our home has taken to trying to cut herself.*  She did this in the past once or twice and has started again.  It is all superficial and experimental, but scary to me none the less (which she says is not an attempt to hurt herself, or to kill herself, but, a way to release anxiety and pain).  My daughter does not feel like she fits in, has the typical tweenage self-esteem issues, and has misplaced her usual joy for a somber existence of hiding behind her hair and expressing all of her feelings with a shrug of her shoulders.

This is a punch to the gut.  All of us watch our happy toddlers diddling with their toys and have visions of their futures.  When they play with their dolls we think, oh, what a great parents they will be!  Or, when they help around the house because they love sweeping, we feel pride that they will be orderly and clean.  When they play doctor we imagine them as real doctors, saving lives and making an impact.  You get the point.  We never look at them as they giggle and play and think, oh, what a depressed and withdrawn teenager they will be!  I sure hope they make it to adulthood after they experiment with _________.  But, that is where my head is now.  I see her, my daughter who truly was going to change the world, and I wonder, will she be there to change it herself, or will it be the memory of her that changes it?  How awful and morbid, I know.  But, it's my biggest and worst.

I hope this is a phase.  I hope that she is taking a little seed of normal adolescent sadness and blowing it out of proportion.  I hope this is all show.  How do I know?  I don't.  All that I can do is take this seriously and protect her and love her completely.  I can hold on to her everyday and let her know just how big a piece of my heart she holds.  I can tell her over and over how empty I would be with out her, how much her pain pains me, and that I will do anything and everything I can to get her through this.

There it is.  It's all out there.  I need help to help her.  If you have ideas or prayers, I will gladly accept both.

*I really wrestled with sharing this.  She's my child and I want to respect her privacy, and, there is a lot of judgement that comes with having a child that does this.  Judgement on her, judgement on us. However, I want to help her.  I cannot help her if the pain is hidden.  And, I need help of my own to be able to be there for her.


We've moved!

Many of you already know that Jason and I decided to buy a house in the Tri Cities.  This goes against everything we've been saying since we got here.  Our plan was 2 years, 3 at the most.  The desire to leave the Tri Cities is still very strong, but, it won't be happening.  We had a couple life events that told us that we needed to stay put for a while.  We may still leave, but it won't be for the next few years - probably not until the kids graduate high school.

The home we bought is great for several reasons.  It gives us just enough space to live and not be on top of each other all the time, it is located 3 minutes from the middle school so the Lily can just walk to school and home, and, it was cheap!  Another benefit of this house is that it has 1,000 little projects and fixes I'd like to do, so I'll stay busy (and drive Jason crazy).  It is not our dream home, but it is a good "for now" home.  Can you believe this is the 6th house we've bought?  The paper in your address book under "O" has probably worn thin from all the editing.  With that in mind...put this address in pencil too.  :)

Here's our new address:
5108 Dove Lane
West Richland, WA 99353

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Sweet Spot

I think I'm starting to like my kids...

It is Friday night and I've just attended a 3 day writing workshop intended to help some of us teacher types wade through the scary, wordy, commandments known as Common Core.  (Fearless leader, if you are reading this, fabulous job!  I am only a fraction as scared as I was before the workshop!  Only problem I'm seeing is that before the learning, I didn't know how little I knew.  Now I am fully aware of my ignorance and potential incapabilities…) One of the activities that we did in the room paired us up in groups of two and had us introduce our partner, answering these three questions: best job you've ever had, best place you've ever lived, and riskiest thing you've ever done.  I fretted over that first question.  Best job I've ever had?  Two jobs came to mind before I started to answer.  The first thought was…which one?  Then, it dawned on me, neither job was my current one, or being a teacher at all.  Was I going to be strung up by my fellow teachers if I didn't profess my love of my job and profession? Let's be honest - we ALL judge.  Don't you hate it when you ask your waitress which burger is best and she replies, "I don't know.  I'm a vegetarian" or when you ask your barista about the taste of the day's brew and he says he doesn't drink coffee?  So, how would I look saying, "I'm a teacher but, I'd rather be doing at least two other things."  I risked it and answered honestly.  My favorite job was not teaching.  I suck.

Guess what?  Not only do I suck for preferring to watch babies come out than shape tomorrow's leaders, I also suck for not choosing "motherhood".  As the intros went around the room, a couple of the women had chosen motherhood as their favorite jobs.  Each time someone said that, guilt settled a little deeper into my pores.  Why hadn't I thought of that?  I could have said motherhood!  I could have touted how awesome being a mom is and how that defines me, etc, blah, etc.  However, I would have been lying.  It is not my favorite "job".

The first, and most simple, reason I would never list motherhood as my favorite job is that I do not think of it as a job.  Not in the traditional sense anyway.  It is a job in that it is hard work, but, not the normal job that you apply for, go through an interview, and earn a paycheck. (Let's not get started on that - can you image the world if you had to apply to be a mother? Interview before becoming one?  Do a little more leg work than just bumping uglies together and mixing fluids?  Hmmm…)

I could say that is my reasoning for not even thinking of motherhood when asked that question, favorite job.  Since I'm being honest here, let me just say that even if I considered it a job, motherhood still wouldn't be my favorite.  I like being a mom, I'm glad I am one, but honestly, until recently my kids were not people I would have chosen to hang out with.  I mean, I would have chosen mine over yours (9 times out of 10), but I would probably have chosen you over my kids (it sounds so much more horrible right now than it really is).  I just don't love the small kid age - think 1-9. Those years are hard!  Labor intensive, little reward for a lot of effort, hard on the body and the wallet, never ending needs and wants, loud, and even with the greatest husband and support in the world, never enough hands to make for light work.  But now, (I started a sentence with 'but'.  That's not really allowed.  Don't tell.) I would chose my kids!  They are funny!  I like them!

Jaxon took it upon himself to join Instagram.  He has been making and posting short videos that KILL me.  He's funny!  And, (another conjunction leads the way…) he has this quick wit that means he is constantly having to explain things to his sweet, naive, older sister.  Yes, he is inappropriate all the time and still loud, needy, and labor intensive, but the funny…it makes up for it.  I want to hang out with him!  Lily, she's not funny.  She's the kind of not funny that compels a groan and a burying of the face.  (She doesn't know that though and she keeps on trying to earn that laugh.)  What she lacks in humor and street sense, she has in kindness (you're right, she doesn't get that from me) and vivaciousness.  She is giving, thoughtful, and smart.  I have a feeling that if we didn't live in such a small place we'd have 27 stray dogs, a few cats and a hobo or two.

I have long struggled with the fact that me+motherhood=rainbows & butterflies.  I'm not bad, and maybe I'm even a little good sometimes, but I am not a natural Mary Poppins.  It is work for me.  But…I think I'm hitting the sweet spot.  I'm coming into my own and my kids are, I'm proud to say, two of the best gosh darn people I know.  I choose them.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Skip 1, Cancer 0

It's been a while; a little more than 6 months to be inexact.  I was looking for a word to describe why I haven't written - a single word that could sum up my state of being in a succinct way that would leave you to say, "Oh, I get it.  No further explanation needed."  That word may be out there, but it is beyond  my reach at the moment.  Here is what I came up with: NEUTRAL.  Weird, until I really started thinking about it.  Neutral means having no strongly marked or positive characteristics or features.  The synonyms for neutral are: inoffensiveblandunobjectionableunexceptionableanodyne,unremarkableordinarycommonplace.  In other words, my attitude for the last 6 months.  I have a couple really good excuses that totally make sense, but really?  Who cares.  

I am back, possibly in limited release, we'll see.  (I have missed this blog dearly.)  It was so easy to keep up while we were away, the anonymity that distance created was quite a strong security blanket.  I didn't have to worry about running in to you or anyone that may have read my work when I was away.  I was away!  Now, I may say something here and have to own up to it tomorrow.  It'll be over lettuce in the produce section or while dropping my kid off at karate.  "Yeah, I said that…but, it was in writing which is so much different than talking.  See, if I wanted to talk about it, I may have, or I may not have, which is why I wrote about it.  Get it?"  Here is the crap that made me abuse the keys again:  Skip has had cancer.

Those of you that really know me know that Skip kind of saved me from myself (no, I'm totally not dramatic.  At all.)  He came into my life in the beginning of my parents' super shitty divorce.  I hated him for all the reasons that a 9 year old girl would hate Mom's new boyfriend.  Despite my best efforts to chase him off, he stuck around.  By the time I was 16 I was (half) joking that if he and Mom were to ever divorce, I would choose him. I still feel that way today.  He's pretty much a rockstar, without all the musical ability.  Skip became my Dad.  He never missed anything that was important to me, knew all my friends, walked me down the isle, etc.  He is the only Dad my kids know me to have.

A little over  years ago Jason lost his Dad (Elliott) to pancreatic cancer.  That was the single most difficult time I have ever lived through.  A year ago, I lost my own father to lung cancer.  This was also difficult but less so and for very different reasons.  So, Skip is all we have left.  He's our one and only Dad.  At the end of March he told us that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Having researched this particular disease before, I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew it to be slow growing, often curable, and common.  Skip's was not that kind.  He had the most aggressive form that grew quickly and has a higher likelihood of returning.  Long story short, he waited an excruciating 7 weeks to have it removed surgically.  His surgery was Monday, May 19.  When the docs got inside, the tumor had grown outside the prostate but had not spread yet, so they were able to get it all but it took longer than expected.  The preliminary reports all indicate  that he is in the clear.  He'll have to go in for quarterly checks for a while, then bi-annually, the yearly.  

This was hard.  I think it was made harder by the scars we carry from losing Elliott.  Knowing what he went through and what those around him went through  - that makes cancer super scary.  As if it needs all that clout to make it worse!  I think that Jason was hit pretty hard too - he sort of made me take time off work to go up and see Skip earlier than I planned to go. Skip and Mom needed a little help, but I think that we needed to see them almost as much.  Skip is sore, not walking very fast, and hates the glue they used to put him back together.  He's not taking anything stronger than Excedrin for the pain (crazy!  bring on the drugs!), but he's doing alright.

I am thankful.  So stinking thankful.  I am blessed to have more time with Skip and lucky to have Jason, who values my family as his.   I have two additional people in my life with active cancer battles going on right now - I have been thinking of them often these last few weeks - hoping that they too are doing well and that everyone will come out on the winning side.  Join me! 

Thanks to the couple friends that have been helping me through this - the texts and calls really meant a lot.  You never know what one little text at some god awful hour can mean to someone...Good night!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mixed Blessings

I was really fortunate to face the school year with two job offers.  Living in the area that I live where there seems to be more teachers than jobs and everyone knows everyone, I was concerned that I would not find a position for myself.  The first job I was offered was to teach Math and Science with what I could tell was a great team of women at a really low income school.  The job was only .6, so not full time, but it was supposed to go full time before the year started.  I accepted.  I love science.  Not so much math.  I can do it but it bores me...I didn't care.  I was excited.  Then I got the offer to teach full time, language arts.  The team was less inviting but the day in, day out seemed better.  English over math? Yes please!  So I switched.  I have wondered since then if I made the right choice and I am often left in the corner thinking...no.

Here are the blessings: first, two job offers in a pretty competitive environment.  Then, family was really supportive in helping me prepare for my new role - which included a lot of studying, worrying, and shopping.  Also, Jason has really helped pick up the slack that has developed since I am now away from home all day.  He's not only been supportive emotionally, but in all the domestic ways possible.    Another blessing - I like my students.  Mostly.  There are certainly a few I would rather not have, but who doesn't feel that way?  Besides, I've known them all of two weeks.  I guess it is hardly the time for me to be making judgments. So, I like my kids.

So, the mixed part?  I accepted the second job and wasn't really told what all my roles would be.  I asked, what's the job?  The answer, teaching special ed English.  That I can do.  What they didn't tell me was that I am the Work Experience Coordinator, the Transition Planner (or something) and that I would have no curriculum.  That's right - there is no plan in place, no program for these kids to follow.  They just want me to come there everyday and create it all myself.  Now, I get that some teachers would love that.  give me 5 years of experience and I might love that too.  But for me, green, new, fresh on the market, I want a book to follow.  I want a general idea of what I am supposed to teach these kids.  And, I want to focus on that, not on transition planning and work experience.  Then came caseload management.  Every kid in the special education program has a case manager.  We have enough students in our program that I have been assigned 28 kids.  That is small by some standards (think Seattle) but large by my oh-my-G! you want me to do what? standards. Being the case manager means that every year I am responsible for writing a new Individual Education Plan for each of my kids.  These are reports that can be anywhere from 10 to LOTS of pages.  They involve all kinds of tests, measures, contact with teachers, etc.  Each one requires a meeting with a wide array of people including the parents and administration at the school.  Now, to the seasoned teacher these are alright - they take time but are not overwhelming.  To me they are like hieroglyphics.  Today I looked at the list of my case load for the first time and I have 15 of these due between now and Thanksgiving.  To say that I was disenchanted would be an understatement.  I am fried.  Two weeks in and I am already to throw in the towel.

I guess I just feel that it is too much.  All at once.  You know?  I've asked for help and people are willing but they are still speaking a foreign language to me.  I know that in a few months I will be fine.  I will understand all these reports, all the legalese, the adaptions and services being offered.  I don't need a pep talk.  I don't need to be told I can do it or that I will be great.  I need someone to come sit with me, hold my hand, and help me do my first 2 or 3 IEPs.  I need someone to explain to me why I am going to pour over reports and hound teachers for information that I am going to put into a report that (probably) no one will really read and will not be implemented.  Example: Many IEPs call for the student to be put in small classes.  It has been determined (by someone high up in WA) that small classes where Special Ed is concerned means 12.  My classes are 16 and 17 and growing everyday.  I have a para-educator but even with the two of us there are kids not getting the help they need.  I have 12th graders reading and writing at the kindergarten level.  How does being among 16 other kids that are not in the same place help them?  What do I do with all my other kids while I teach him or her to read?  I could go on...the bright eyes and bushy tail have left the building.  I am seeing why so many teachers leave special ed.

I can't even begin to tell you about my students.  In my four walls they are pretty good.  I have a few that like to growl at me, stare at me with daggers, curse and swear at me.  They threaten violence but I have not seen it yet.  Those kids do tend to get to me a little.  But so do the several kids I have that have criminal records with weapons charges, sexual offenses, and drug charges.  I have students that have to be escorted everywhere they go for the safety of others.  It's a little unnerving at times.  But, they are good.  I think they want to be anyway.

So, that's the mixed part. I like my kids, I want to help. But I don't have the tools or the time.  There isn't enough.  I know lots of general ed teachers that feel exactly the same as they are faced with class sizes of 30 and more.  30 kids in one class is so many!  No matter the level.  I am kind of hating where our educational system is going.

What are your thoughts?  Do you feel like our kids are being offered a disservice by our system or are they getting something great?  I hope that no matter what I fail at this year, I still manage to get something good out to my kids.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Surgery

I started my period when I was 11 years old.  I remember going to the nurses office at school that day because my lower back hurt so badly.  It felt like nothing I had ever felt before, but was a feeling I would become quite familiar with.  Imagine there being a bowling ball inside your body, resting on your tail bone.  It causes pressure just sitting there.  That was a good day.  The bad days were when that bowling ball was being ground into my back - from the inside trying to find a way out.  Later, when laboring with Lily, that same feeling was there.  Lily was upside down and her head was resting on my tailbone.  The contractions that drove it deeper into the bone were killers.  So all those years of imagining my inner bowling ball were not that far off!

In those first few years of cycling I would often seek out the hardest surface I could find and just lay on it, trying to flatten my back into it.  Our living room floor usually did the trick - a cement floor with a thin layer of carpeting and not much padding.   The best countermeasure for the pain was pushing right back into it.  My Mom and Skip would often push into my lower back, counter pressure, but that could only last for a little while.  Between the hard surfaces, the pushing, and the bright orange 800 mg ibuprofen pills I was taking every 4-6 hours, I still missed school and stayed in bed for whole days once a month or so.  I was just miserable.  At some point in all this my Mom took me to the doctor and I was diagnosed with Endometriosis. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/endometriosis/DS00289)

My doctors were blunt with me and told me that the longer I let the disorder "grow" unchecked the more difficult it would be to become pregnant.  With that in mind I had my first surgery in 1998.  It was simple.  The doctor made a little slit in my belly button and one in my hairline and went in with a laser to zap away as much of the growth as he could.  I then took Depo-prevera for 3 years, putting me into a kind of synthetic menopause.  It was pretty awful, being 18 and feeling that bad.  I was having hot-flashes, weigh gain, etc.  But, no back pain or periods so it was worth it.  When it was time to start thinking about a family I went off the drug and was able to get pregnant with Lily pretty quick.  I wanted to start young since the doctors had always warned me that waiting could mean not being able to get pregnant.  9 years after the first laser surgery (laparoscopy), I had a second one.  By that time my pain had come back and was severe once again.

Now it is 2013. The last year has been pretty unbearable at times in regards to the pain.  Fortunately, the pain only comes for about 5 days around the start of my periods and a few days near ovulation.   I've always just done what I could with it.  Lots of over the counter pain killers, night caps, hot pads, and showers.  It has only been about 5 years since my last surgery but in the last 6 months it became clear that it was time to go in for a third. This time was not as cut and dry as the last two.

Last Friday I went in for surgery, hoping for just laser removal of scar tissue and adhesions, but ended up having my left ovary and fallopian tube removed.  The doctor had asked permission ahead of time, promising to leave them alone if they looked okay.  I agreed and knew then that he'd pull them.  Just Tuesday Jason took me for my follow up visit and the doctor showed us pictures of what he saw in there.  I'm no doctor but it looked pretty bad to me.  He told me that both sides were bad and indicated that maybe they both should have come out.  Instead he left one so that I would be able to have my natural hormones for a few more years.  I'm hoping the keep the rest of me intact until 40.  My Mom had this same disease and had hers all yanked at 36.

Now I 'm in recovery.  It hurts.  A lot.  It's only been a week so maybe I need to be more patient. But I want to be able to walk full speed again and roll over in bed!  Even just sleeping on my side would be great.  I have an incision in my belly button and one on each side just over where the ovary is/would be, making life painful!  The next step is "aggressive treatment" (doctor's words).  I'm taking 6 months worth of shots and pills that will put me into forced menopause and then I will go onto an IUD or something that will keep my hormone levels very low in hopes of feeding my endometriosis as little as possible.  Unfortunately, there is no cure and surgeries only get most of it.  This is something that I will deal with until I not longer have periods.  I'm ready to give those up but menopause at 33?  That I would rather not have.

So, that's what I've been doing this week...that and learning how to be a high school teacher.  More on that later.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer

Now that summer is (almost) over for us I asked the kids what their favorite memories were.  We really didn't do much this year, but here are the highlights:

1) Camp Sealth
Jason grew up going to Camp Sealth on Vashon Island every summer, first as a camper and later as a staff member.  This summer our two kids were able to go for their first time.  They loved it!  The camp was about a week long and they got to swim, tie dye, hike, sleep outside, ride a ferry, do archery, etc.  Both were nervous to go and be away from us for so long, but neither one was really ready to come home when it was over.  Both were already talking abut going next year before I had their suitcases in the trunk.  A good sign!



The man with the kids is Paul Dudley, a Seattle area photographer that drove the ferry when Jason went to camp and is still doing it now.  Jason asked him to look out for the kids on drop off morning.  When Paul saw Lily he called out to her and Jaxon over the loud speaker on the boat.  I think that simple act eased her fears and made her feel that someone was watching out for her.

2) Lightning storms
We basically live in the desert.  Over here there are many lightning storms in the summer.  One came in late June while Jason and the kids were at the swimming pool - they had to get out quick because it was striking close.  The mountain just outside our apartment was hit and caught fire!  Fortunately rain followed the storm and the fire was out in no time.

There was a night in early August that we spent the night at my Mom's in East Wenatchee.  The storms were wild that night - thunder and lightning well into the night.  It was beautiful, but dangerous since there was already a pretty big fire going in the hills.    We tried to catch the lightening on film be we are just too slow - but here is a professional picture from the Wenatchee area that shows the lightening and the fires.

The lightening was the highlight, not the fires.

3)Jumping in the Lake

 

We were lucky to spend some time at Leslie's, Jason's Mom.  The kids said that staying there and spending an afternoon swimming in her lake (Lake Sammamish) and jumping of her dock was a major highlight.  They got some diving lessons from Jason and swim master David Shoup.  They also took the paddle board out for a little jaunt.  They were awesome!

We also got to go to Lake Chelan for a couple weeks.  The lovely Warren family visited us one weekend and the Shumways came twice.  Chelan always feels so great to us - just as we round the corner and pull into town a sense of rightness settles in.  Maybe it is because we lived there for a short while between our two Japan trips.  I don't know, but we love it and look forward to going every year.

So, that is about it for our summer.  We didn't do a lot - Jason was busy learning his new role at Starbucks. When we weren't on one of our little trips to see family we were in our pool, growing tomatoes and peppers, and walking Chase the Dog.















We hope everyone had a great summer.  Here's to a great school year!