Thursday, September 3, 2015

An unexpected tribute

Every morning I check Facebook while I wait for N to drag her sleepy self downstairs and "officially" begin our day.

This morning, I read news that a friend from college died in a fall.  I thought it was a joke at first, or that it was about someone else.  But it isn't a joke, and it isn't about someone else.

I feel like I've been hit in the gut.

On the way driving N and our neighbor to school, the horrible pop channel that the kids like was playing the Charlie Puth song, "When I See You Again," a song I would, under normal circumstances, ignore and abhor.  And even though it is smaltzy, I started to tear up.

DS and I were not close.  We never hung out.  I don't know his wife or parents.  I think he is a year or so older than me, but I'm not entirely sure.  I have no real reason to feel so saddened by the news of his passing.

And yet, I do.

I debated whether to post any kind of tribute to him on Facebook and tag him, for his family and friends to read.  But I felt compelled, and I feel compelled to write this.

Isn't that the power of someone remarkable, that I don't really know him, and yet he made such an impact on me, on my memories of my undergraduate college experience, that I feel deeply saddened to know he has left this Earth?

Isn't that what any of us would hope our child to be and do in this life....to be so memorable in their kindness and gentleness that the small world in which they lived is devastated to hear of their tragic, accidental death?

Being an egotist (or at least fearful of being an egotist), I have asked myself whether this feeling of sadness is really all.about.me.  Has it rocked me because it has reminded me of my own mortality?  Has it knocked me for a loop because it has reminded me of how fragile my own life, and my husband's life, and my children's lives are?

Well, yes.  Of course.  Every death does that, I think.  Reminds us in a way we can forget in our normal goings-on.

But there are lots of people I know who might have passed suddenly that I wouldn't feel so sucker punched about.

DS was human, was fallible, was fragile, was sometimes mean or hurtful as we all are.  I never witnessed these, but all of us have our not-so-great traits.  But what I knew, and what I keep reading others say, is that he was helpful and quiet and friendly and all kinds of qualities that made anyone who knew him feel like he understood them.  He made me feel like I wasn't as weird or as alone as I might have felt (and, Lord knows, I felt weird and alone in the midst of college angst).

That is a tremendous way to be in life, and so a tremendous loss is felt.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Here is what being a SAHM of full-time school kids is like

Let me give you yesterday's schedule:

7:30 am--out the door with boys to go get allergy shot for me and M
8:00 am--in clinic, getting allergy shot
8:30 am--leaving clinic to take boys to school
8:45 am-dropping off boys
9:00 am--at Home Depot, buying mulch and flowers to plant at the school's Reading Garden
9:20 am--calling a former colleague for an interview for a magazine article I'm writing
10:00 am -- planting flowers
11:30 am-- finish planting flowers, laying liner and mulch
11:50 am--wiping off grit and dirt in my bathroom and changing clothes
12:30 pm--meeting friends for lunch
2:30 pm--picking up N and her friend from school
4:30 pm--getting boys off bus
5:30 pm--taking N to field hockey game
8:00 pm--coming home from field hockey game
9:30 pm--fell asleep

In those hour long breaks, I did things like plan lessons and write my articles and work on dinner and help people with homework and practice piano and read stories and take a shower.

Today's schedule:
7:00 am--take N and neighbor to school
8:25 am--get boys on bus
9:00 am--go to dr.
10:30 am--get gas and go to grocery
11:30 am--interview psychologist for magazine article
12:20 pm--drive to upholstery place
2:10 pm--get shampoo
2:30 pm--pick up N and friends from school
3:00 pm--eat lunch

Mercifully, tonight we are doing NOTHING.

I am looking forward to Friday when I will repaint the molding in the powder room and go through junk for the consignment sale.  I will be in my house for 5+ hours at a stretch and not be in REM sleep.

I am not complaining.  It is nice to be able to get a lot of things done that I want to get done.  It is delightful that I ran into Great Clips to get shampoo and it wasn't an hour-and-a-half production that involved begging and whining.

I know this pace will slow down, if for no other reason than because I collapse from exhaustion.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The "fun" idea that turned into a chore

I could be talking about parenting....seems like "fun" when you're in the thinking stages and early implementation but very quickly becomes a tiring, overwhelming, expensive confusing chore.

But I'm not referring to parenting.

I'm talking about a Pinterest-inspired saga.

On the occasions when I do visit Pinterest and see cool, creative upcycling projects, I think, "I can do that."  And I can.

But it is, in fact, a grand comedy of errors.  When you read blogs by Pinteresty-people-types, they sound as if it all goes supremely well or there is maybe a slight delay because of humidity.  They are either not idiotic (as I am), or they are idiotic and LIE about it.

So, here is my final product, which took the entire summer:


Three windows, for $10 each.  Three containers of flat glass from my best friend that were leftover from years ago when she took a stained glass class.  All of my glass beads that had been cluttering up my house for endless years plus at least 7 packages of new glass beads.  More clear E6000 glue than I care to think about.  One container of white grout that cost about $11.  One container of very old caulk.  One can of white exterior paint (maybe $17).  3 feet of chain.  6 regular hooks, 6 eye hooks, a couple of weird adapter type chain thingies.  

This upcycling project probably cost me at least $75 and took 11 years off my life.  

I did the middle one first using glass beads.  I grouted it, but some of the bead color came off since I had to rub and rub and rub the beads to get the grout off.  

On window #2, the one on the right, I used only flat glass from my friend.  I put some of the glass in a ziplock bag and whacked it with a hammer.  This worked fine until I ran my hand over the window and sliced a finger in numerous spots.  I really didn't want to buy grout since it is expensive, so I thought, "Hey, I'll use caulk.  It dries and then I can peel it off using an exacto-knife from the places where I don't want it.  

Apparently, the caulk I used is really, really old because it has been weeks, and that sh*t still isn't fully dry.  I gave up and hung the darn thing.  

By the time I finished window #2, I was over it.  So window #3 (on the left) is the I don't care anymore project.  I used every piece of glass that was leftover on it.  I didn't have a game-plan or design.  I just glued junk down.  Didn't grout it or caulk it.  Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care.

I'd like to think this has been a good lesson learned, but I am already thinking about repainting the powder room.  Someone save me from myself.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

We don't like the continuum

I am in a limbo that I can't discuss publicly, and I hate it.

Limbo forces you to hang, to wait, to see how things play out and to be patient.  You can't make a move in limbo.  Well, I guess you can make a move out of limbo prematurely, but then you are potentially setting yourself up for all kinds of additional problems.  As uncomfortable and nerve-wracking as limbo is, it is often better to just wait it out.

It is this personal limbo, this holding in the middle, that has me thinking about how people react to the continuum in general.

As a species, we seem to like the ends of the spectrum---the "THIS" or "THAT."  The middle, the continuum, the in-between, makes people uncomfortable.  It feels safer to be at one end or another.  It is definite; it feels secure at the opposite ends.

And yet, there are few absolutes in life.  When I try to think of things that are definite ends of the spectrum, I have a difficult time.

A person who is left-handed doesn't have a useless right hand.  He or she is more adept, more skilled, more comfortable with the left hand, but the right hand can still do things.  How many brown-eyed people are completely, 100% brown-eyed, without a fleck of green/gray or yellow?

One of the most fascinating examples of the continuum, at least for me, is tetragametic chimeras.

The things that seem like definite ends of the continuum are man-made constructs.  Democrat or Republican.  Pro-life or pro-choice.  Pro-Target toy department by gender or anti-Target toy department by gender.  You can't make an easy-peasy soundbite out of the middle of the continuum.  The limbo, the hanging in the middle takes discussion, explanation, reflection.

Even killing someone isn't totally on one end of the spectrum.  It is if you just ask, "Is killing wrong?"  But what if someone is trying to kill my children, and I kill them to save my kids.  Is that still on the "wrong" end of the continuum?

I just finished the novel Sarah's Key, and am going to spend the rest of my life (probably) reading a biography of Alan Turing.  These have me thinking about limbo.

Sarah's Key is full of horrors about Nazi France, and I found myself wondering, "How could Paris citizens not say anything, not do anything?"  But that is me wanting to place them on an end of the continuum.  That is me not understanding just what kind of painful limbo they were in.  Perhaps terrified and angered and disgusted by the removal of the Jews and yet terrified for their own safety and that of their families?  If the authorities would round up Jews just for being Jews, what would happen to someone who defended the Jews, who lashed out for justice?

We watched The Imitation Game recently, which inspired me to pick up the Turing bio.  The film suggests that the British kept the breaking of the Nazi code a secret in order to keep the regime from changing.  They made strategic decisions, which may have allowed some people to die, although ultimately the war was shortened as a result of Turing's machine.  That is certainly a moral limbo; to know the code, to be able to keep some people from dying but not be able to because it would result in the Nazis regaining the upper hand, which would ultimately lead to more people dying.

Turing himself, as a gay man in a society that criminalized homosexuality, was in limbo.

I guess my brain tends to go to these things when I'm stuck in my own limbo because I want to DO SOMETHING.  I want to say or hear YES or NO.  I want to get the heck out of limbo so I can move forward.  Whenever I'm in a limbo, I want to plan a vacation---to feel a sense of control over what I am going to do in the future.

But there are far worse kinds of limbo to be hanging in, and that, I suppose, is a good reminder.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

Insomnia and the life vest (and teacher sexual assaults and the brain and probably the kitchen sink)

3:00 am--awake with insomnia

I haven't had insomnia all summer, even with the graduate class, but elementary and middle school meet & greets in a 3-hour period AND an editorial miscommunication email with the magazine apparently needed to spiral in my mind in the wee hours.

I woke up to the life vest squeeze.  Eventually, after thinking all of my thoughts, I engaged in deep breathing and got back to sleep.

One of the things I'd never fully understood was the actual process by which anxiety affects a person, that whole "fight-or-flight" thing.  It was part of my grad research project for this summer's class, so in light of my recent episodes of panic/life vest squeezes, I am trying to explain the process to myself as I'm being squeezed.

What happens to me, at least, is that I am feeling a physical "fight-or-flight" without even being aware of what is causing the "fight-or-flight."  Like I'm surprised that I'm having minor panic.  But this makes sense given that panic/anxiety is a process that leaves the rational part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) out of the equation for a long time.  The sympathetic nervous system is working, the hippocampus (memory) is working, the thalamus (sensory processing) is working......the amygdala (emotion/fear-center) is off-the-rails, but the PFC hasn't been sent a memo.

So my body (the squeeze) is out of my control before I can even get my brain working properly to analyze what the heck is going on, to rationally examine anything to determine whether it is a real "threat."  Of course, modern life is a barrage of unreal threats that feel real.  I have yet to encounter a feral boar or saber-tooth tiger.  They might be less exhausting than meet & greets with 700+ people mulling around.

The benefit of my medication is that it helps quicken the time it takes for my PFC to begin working.  Prior to medication, it would take me weeks before I was able to rationally investigate anything going on in my head.  The physical "fight-or-flight" panic would lessen over a week or two.  Now, I might have a day or a couple hours of physical sensation before my PFC goes, "Ok, what is this all about?  Let's apply some CBT practices."

I am forever amazed by the brain.  In addition to being an astrophysicist, I think if I could be anything in the world I'd want to be a neuroscientist.  Basically, I want to explore the unknowns of space and the mind---the two big black holes of stuff we can't wrap our puny little understandings around.

Within the past month, a former colleague of mine from a decade ago was convicted of raping one of his students, a situation that makes me feel all weird inside for a variety of reasons.  I am shocked because I never, ever would have thought this possible of him.  I find myself thinking, "Maybe he is innocent?" because it just seems so.....horrible that someone I actually know and worked with would do such a thing.

This week, I had an online discussion with college friends about claims that a former college professor sexually assaulted a teenager.  Now this guy I could totally see doing such a thing.

Isn't it interesting and troubling that I could totally imagine one man doing that and another one completely not?  It makes me question my own judgment of others.

These two episodes makes me think about the brain and what it tells us.  I tend to believe that most people who commit crimes of any nature are either 1.desperate or 2.mentally ill.  Mostly #2, which can make a person feel #1.  I say this from personal experience with OCD.

(TRIGGER WARNING)
I think I've written about intrusive thoughts---those repugnant, random ideas that pop into someone's head.  If they are in any way sensitive or conscientious, that person will feel mortified by those thoughts and believe they are going crazy.  I suffered from intrusive thoughts when N was a baby---imagining myself stabbing her with a knife as I was cutting apple slices.  I wasn't angry, frustrated, provoked....nothing.  Just slicing an apple for lunch and having this reprehensible image pass through my mind.  I doubted myself.  Did I want to hurt my daughter?  I didn't feel like I wanted to hurt her, but if I was thinking this, then maybe I did?  Can I trust the thoughts in my own brain?

Even though I was medicated when the boys came along, I would sometimes have an intrusive thought of a sexual nature when I changed their diapers.  By that time, I had read enough about OCD to know that 1. these thoughts were my worst possible fears flitting through my brain and 2. just because I had a thought didn't mean I wanted to do it or would act on it.

We all have sometimes reprehensible thoughts, and most of us do not act on them.  Some of us are lucky enough to not even pay them any attention.

So what makes a person move from the thought to the action?  The conviction of my former colleague and the claims about the college professor make me consider.

This line of thinking makes me wonder about intent.  Is intent thinking about something?  What kinds of crimes would any of us be guilty of if intent was any random thought that popped into our heads?  Is the difference between intent that a reprehensible thought scares us to death or a reprehensible thought makes us feel excited?

Whenever I hear about a female teacher assaulting students, I am usually pretty astounded by this, more so than when I read about male teachers.  Yes, some teenage boys may look like adults physically, but eventually they speak, and it becomes quite clear that they are children.  I often question the maturity of the 46-year-old boy with grey hair who lives in the house with me.

It feels like a slippery slope whenever I think of these things.  I certainly don't condone such behaviors in any way.  I ask myself repeatedly when I think of my former colleague, "How in the world could a person do such a thing to anyone, but especially a child?"

But I also know from my own experience not being able to control my own thoughts that I can't be too high-and-mighty when it comes to others.  Maybe I've only been extremely lucky that my thoughts have remained random thoughts and not anything more.....maybe the majority of us are lucky in this regard.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

My life in terrible iPhone pictures (Aug 3)



Operation "Get Some of this Crap Out of My House" is slow-going.  Mostly because the kids are in the house all the time in summer, and I can't surreptitiously throw their crap out.  N's interests are American Girl dolls and hoarding.  I have determined that the less space she has for plopping stuff down, the better.  This desk is on its way out.  D asked what I was going to put in its place.  I said, "Empty space."

Hey!  More of N's stuff.  
A doll whose legs fell off, but she wants it to go in her storage "memento" box.  
I've got a better box for it....the garbage can "box."  


N's middle school uniform collection.  Bought shoes yesterday.  
Yeah for my daughter going for comfort (Keds=cheaper) over trendy (Sperry=more expensive).  


My clothes.  My closet is quite large, and my actual clothes take up a small portion of it.  
Now, if I could only get the kids on board.  


Bifocals.  I look happy about that, don't I?


Another window to hang from the covered deck.  Work in progress.  


Meh.....the PTA

Every year I join the PTA.  I am even a chairperson on the PTA at the elementary school.  
But I really don't like the PTA. 

Don't get me wrong, the PTA has never done anything to me.  I like the people who participate in the PTA with me.  I know that what they do at the school builds interest and enthusiasm and generates money... all that good stuff.  

But the PTA tends to get a little....weird.  A little too much like a clique or a middle-aged sorority.  I don't say this as a negative about my kids' school.  I think EVERY school PTA tends to get this way.  

So this week's relaunch of the PTA grind (and it becomes a grind) is something I'm meeting with underwhelming resignation.  

Last year I felt compelled at the first PTA board/chairperson meeting to announce that I'd talked to at least 3 parents who complained about the clique-ish-ness of the PTA.  Basically, I said something on the order of, "Quit talking to your PTA friends at school events and welcome parents."  I think things improved.  If nothing else, we got bright t-shirts that say "PTA" so parents who don't know us personally can at least zone in on the shirts and know whom to direct questions (if anyone is spending too much time PTA-socializing and not enough time being welcoming to people they don't know).  

This year's shirt says "Peace, Love, PTA."  I didn't vote for it.  In my experience, there is very little that is peaceful or loving about the PTA.  A better descriptor would be "Freaking Out, Tolerating, PTA."  PTA volunteers are often freaking out about the amount of work involved.  At best, they are tolerating all the busyness and politics.  But whatev.  I was outvoted and accept it.  I will wear the shirt if for no other reason than to have one extra day a week that I don't need to do laundry.  

But I totally, TOTALLY get why the PTA becomes clique-ish and weird.  There is a small group of reliable, consistent volunteers.  They try to get other people involved, and no one helps, which means the reliable, consistent volunteers band together.  "Hey, you help, and I can count on you.  Let's be friends and develop inside jokes and all that stuff."  It is what happens.  (The other parents arrive at the carpool line 6.5 hours before school lets out and dork around on their phones instead of coming into the building and volunteering.  Or helping me pull weeds at the carpool line.)

I am in "charge" (and I say that with a looseness that is ridiculous) of Beautification.  Basically, I do a shitload of weeding and organizing and don't get paid.  But I really do enjoy gardening (I kind of Zen out so it is meditative), and I'm ok with it.  

I refuse, REFUSE, to do anything more than this.  I will never, ever, ever run to be a president or a secretary or a treasurer or a VP of anything on the PTA.  I would be the worst-possible president, secretary, treasurer or VP of anything because I'd eliminate like 3/4 of the activities.  As a teacher, I was never the type who did fun stuff.  I made my learning activities interesting and enjoyable, but I was all business.  If I were heavily involved in PTA, I would want to eliminate all the cool activities (like festival) because they are 1. too much work and 2. I don't care about them.  That is not the kind of person you want to have in charge of PTA.  

The periphery.  I tend to hang on the periphery of things in life, including the PTA.  And I know there is a little part of me that would like to be in the clique, to feel included and popular, but I also know that if I was included, I wouldn't actually go to anything.  I'd want to do my own thing.  Which is apparently weeding and organizing.