Sunday, January 26, 2014

My science girl project

Tomorrow marks my last day as secretary of my neighborhood homeowners' association, a role in which I have served for 3 years.

As is my way, once I stop doing one thing I usually take on something else.

My "something else" this time is a stint as a GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science) Club coordinator at N's school.

It is a brief stint---once a month from January-April--but I have been planning and testing experiments for me and 26 third and fourth grade girls to do.

This is what I do instead of watching tv.

It all started last fall, when a friend of mine and I were Facebook chatting about girls in math and science.  She asked if N's school had a GEMS or STEM club.  Soon after, I emailed the Learning Lab teacher, Ms. K, about whether the school had an after-school science club.  I may or may not have also suggested that I would be willing to coordinate one.

Months and many meetings later, we're set to roll this coming Wednesday for our first session.

It has been fun researching experiments for the girls to do without the headache and hassle of "testing" hanging over their heads. So much of current education sucks all the joy and excitement out of the sheer wonder of just LEARNING.  (Although I have to say that the Learning Lab at the kids' school is amazing, as is Ms. K.  G has a serious crush on her.)

Even though I'm not certified in science education, I have always loved science.  A big part of this  GEMS idea is just to help my daughter develop, if not a love of science, then a feeling of interest and accomplishment in getting her hands dirty with science.  A broadening of her horizon.  The benefit of coordinating is that N gets to attend no matter what.  I'd be lying if I said pure self-interest for my child wasn't my primary motivating factor in trying to get this ball rolling.  That darn Adam Smith and his invisible hand.

The other girls who were invited to attend were selected by their teachers.  I wish I could offer it to every student, but I was told that interest in this club, if open to everyone, would more or less knock me over where I stood and be a bigger beast than I'd want to or be able to handle.  

And as much as I want this to be fun for the girls, I also want it to FEEL fun for me so being overwhelmed by students sounds far more stressful than I'd like.

I expect the experiments on tap for this week to fail, which is why my handout to the girls says "Failure is a Part of Science" and I include a quote about Thomas Edison in which he says, "“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Who needs mass media entertainment when you've got wires, crocodile clips, batteries, voltage meters, lemons and inspiration from Mr. Edison?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I don't want to savor all of this

People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren't so crazy about the first time around.
----Author unknown

There are many things I miss about when my children were babies.....

Like their sweet coos, holding them in my arms for hours, rocking them to sleep, nursing them, seeing their innocent smiles.

But when I really think back, and if I wrote it as honestly as it was when I lived it, it would be like this--

Like their sweet coos .....but not that newborn baby mew that wouldn't stop no matter what I did.
holding them in my arms for long as I had pillows on each side to bolster my elbows.
rocking them to sleep....when they fell asleep within 10 minutes but not when I couldn't set them down without them instantly start squawking again.
nursing them....once my nipples healed up after 12 long weeks and until the kids started biting.
seeing their innocent smiles....which often were the precursor of spit-up all over my lap.  

The same thing goes with every stage they've been through thus far.  Some of it is brilliant, but a whopping buttload of is it sometimes miserable and often challenging and makes a person want to pull her hair out.

I don't want to remember all the bullshit.  All the tears and tantrums and how many times have I had to wipe this kid's butt over the past 6 years and when will the butt-wiping cease to be part of my job duties????

Because of this reality and because of my personality, it makes me want to scream whenever I read or hear people talk about their children's childhood like it is one big ice cream sundae of wonderful.  

In my head I think to myself, "They are not being real and honest."

But I guess they are.

It is simply that my worldview and attitude and personality are so different from theirs that is just seems to me that they aren't being real.  That they are lying or just trying to drive me crazy with their optimistic vision of life.  

What they experience and express is very much real to them.  

It is simply a foreign concept to me.

The winter that is consistently making me lose my shit (a reflection on routine)

I had a revelation recently about routine that has given me insight into my personality and how I mother my children.

Even as a child, I hated days that didn't follow routine.  Major holidays were especially awful.  I'm sure I liked summer, but I was always more than ready to get back to school in August.

When I was teaching, I realized that what I especially liked about my profession was that there was the overall structure of the day, the classes and their times, but within that structure was lots of newness.  Different kids, different ways of teaching them, different books.  It was "structured chaos," and I very much enjoyed it.

What I have recently recognized about myself is that even though I am very motivated and organized and routine-oriented, I am unable to CREATE my own routine.  I must have routine thrust upon me from the outside.  Once I have this, I am able to function and excel.  Without it, I don't cope well.

After N was born, my mother suggested to me that I have a day for different chores.  Monday would be vacuum day, Tuesday would be laundry day, and so on.  But not only did this not sound appealing, I instinctively knew I could never hold to that structure because it was something I would have to do myself.  I clean when stuff is really funky dirty or when my children are getting on my nerves.

When my children were potty-training, I never did charts or M&Ms or anything like that because I cannot keep up with it.  It seems another case of me having to rely on myself to create what is essentially an arbitrary routine.

My discipline follows this similar route.  I don't do behavior charts and "good deed" jars and all that.  My discipline is "In public, you don't act like a bratty ass-hat or we leave."  At home, you don't hit or kick me, you talk respectfully or I lock you in your room (or hide in my own room until you get your shit together).  This loosey-goosey discipline at home may be part of the reason G has trouble with me at home and not school where there is more.....ahem, structure.

I'd be willing to suggest that this whole routine thing within my personality plays a role in how I act and feel about religion, authority, and politics.

Maybe this is why I've never been a huge fan of beach vacations where endless days are spent just being on the beach and pool.  The only reason I think I am better able to handle the prospect of beach "lazy butt" vacations is because at least 2 days I plan some kind of activity that sorta buttresses me.

I think when my kids were babies, prior to school, the routine of my day was based around naps.  Once they started school, I was able to slide back into that comfort of school providing the basic structure of the day.

For all of these reasons, snow days are absolutely abysmal for me, and this year my kids have had 5 snow/cold days off from school in about 6 weeks time, plus 2 weeks of winter break and Martin Luther King holiday.

Not only does the specific snow day deprive me of structure, but the continuing snow days make it difficult to maintain the routine of the routine.  You can't rely on a routine if the weather is constantly upending your expectations of what the routine should be.  My kids, especially G, who takes after me in all the wrong ways, have been bucking me and the unfairness of life whenever they do have to go back to the routine of school, since in all truth it hasn't been routine at all this winter.

I don't do well with the lack of routine of summer, either, but in summer I am able to structure our activities, give us a general outline of a routine to follow.  We join the pool and go there a few days a week.  Every evening we play outside once the day cools off.  Plus, summer doesn't sneak up on me.  I know the day it will start and end.  There is an order on which I can rely.

Snow days....not so much.  It is freezing outside, nothing is open, the roads are terrible, and there is no expectation of what the following day will bring.  Delay?  No school?  School is on?

I know I'm not the only mom in the world who abhors snow days, but it helps me to understand that a big part of my snow day despising has nothing to do with my children and everything to do with simply who I am and have always been. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You aren't all you are meant to be as a kid (a comment on all this standardized testing bullshit)

I try, try, try mightily to not get hung up on grades or test results.  I spent most of my educational career prior to my master's degree too concerned with what grade I got.  After teaching 6th graders who could not read, I became very unimpressed with the whole concept of grading.

Of course, it is an altogether different story as a parent because I want my children to do well, to as often as they are able do their best, to take their education seriously, and grades are, unfortunately, part of that equation.  

Last year, N took the CogAt to determined whether she is "AP material."  She scored a 23.  I started looking a bit into middle schools and discovered that a downtown school that feeds into one of the best high schools in the nation has a 24 as their minimum score for acceptance into their "gifted and talented" program.  So I suggested N take the AP test again this year....just to see.

When I opened the result yesterday and saw that on her second go she scored a 21, I was briefly disappointed because 1. this score was lower (and lower always means bad, right?) and 2. it means that downtown middle school isn't really a feasible "plan" (her mother's plan, I mean) anymore. 

But after that feeling, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders because the decision of whether to attend this particular school was taken away from me/us without any stewing, hemming or hawing on my part.  

Sometime this fall, after a discussion with my book club momma friends, I began to consider the idea of whether it would be better for N to be a "big fish in a small pond" or a "small fish in a big pond."  Her personality would be much better suited to the former, and the honest truth is that if she had scored well enough to get into this particular downtown middle school, she would be a small fry.  Any anxiety she might suffer as a result of this situation would, of course, become anxiety for her mother.  And we don't want that, even if we temporarily thought we might.

I am working diligently to remind myself that all this testing and AP and pre-emptive middle school decision-making is really and truly ridiculous.  I "get" the need for proficiency and the desire for distinguished, but none of these kids is who they are meant to be.  In all our efforts to reform education and make a common core of knowledge, we forget, I think, that these minds are so young and unformed and...stupid, in their own wonderfully naive way.  

As a 40-year-old, I am far, far more intelligent than I was a kid.  I understand math problems in a way I never, ever, ever dreamed I would as a 3rd or 4th grader.  I can read a book I read as a high schooler and be amazed that I only got a 1/4 of its meaning and depth out of it.  

When I get to worrying that my children aren't as smart or witty as I think they should be or I worry that they don't understand math as deeply as they might or their vocabulary isn't exactly where I think it could be, I think about all the things I wasn't when I was in elementary and middle and high school.  

I think about all the things I'm better at now that I'm older.  All the ways in which the knowledge I had as a kid has been filtered through experience and change and practice and wisdom, and these are not things that standardized tests of any kind will ever be able to measure or appreciate.  

god doesn't directly work for me

As all this stuff with G is playing out, I have been thinking that I have become one of those folks who goes to  I did my own personal therapy for my postpartum issues.  D and I have done marriage therapy.  And now whatever it is we're doing with G with the psychologist and OT.  Plus, physical therapy with N when she was a baby.

For a very long time, long before I was medicated but when I almost certainly should have been, I tried praying as a means to deal with my own dissatisfaction/suffering/anxiety.  I would fervently pray, and with my obsessive streak prior to meds, when I say fervently pray, I mean it.  And I would temporarily feel better.

But as soon as I backed off from the obsessive prayer, my anxiety/suffering/dissatisfaction would return, which made me feel like god was letting me down.

I compare it to people who go on carb-free diets, eating nothing but red meat and broccoli.  They lose weight until they start to eat a regular, more realistic diet, and then they see their weight pick back up because the first diet really wasn't something they could maintain in the long-term.

For reasons I don't fully understand even to this day, the god of my life was never a terribly compassionate god who didn't want to witness my struggle and stood with me in my pain.  That was never how I envisioned god.  He/she/it was always sorta standoffish and critical (maybe because there is a sizable chunk of my own personality that feels standoffish and critical?)

Perhaps because of my earlier experiences, I not do anything like "typical" prayer now.  I think good thoughts for others, wishing them peace in their suffering, hoping that whatever is best for them will happen, but I do not ask god specifically for anything.  I generally don't say, "Dear god, please help so and so recover from cancer" or "Please allow so-and-so to get that new job."

There are a couple reasons for this:
1. Just because I or the other person might want recovery from cancer or that specific job, that might not be the way things are meant to happen.  I believe that I know nothing about the ways of the world/existential universe so maybe me asking for certain specific things is really asking for the wrong thing?
2. If I believe god answers prayers, then it makes sense to me that god sometimes doesn't answer prayers, and that seems kinda ass-hole-ish.

I find that for my own blood pressure, it is best that I just keep people in my heart, wishing them peace, strength, rest, comfort, etc and so on.

Because of my personality or for whatever reasons, god does not speak to me in any form of a direct line.  I think this is why it sorta weirds me out when I hear people who deeply believe say "God spoke to me" or something along those lines.  God and I don't talk, text, IM or anything of that nature.

What I eventually came to understand is that for me to feel god's presence it has to be through interaction with other people.  I generally don't feel god when I am alone (although sometimes if I am alone in nature I do).  I don't have a calming sense of god's presence, feeling his/her/its goodness wash over me.  I don't even experience this when I am around people, in the midst of them, like at Sunday service.

What I have experienced is that when I have been at my most desperate and have sought out the help of others, I have felt a sense of peace.  Even when I haven't sought help, but have been given help or companionship by others, I feel a tremendous sense of something akin to peace washing over me.  It is the space between me needing and/or asking for help and others offering it and helping me understand my pain that I have felt a sense of god.

A year or so ago I read The Five Love Languages, and "helping others" was my way of showing and receiving love.  I'm not touchy-feely, I blow off verbal compliments, and I do not enjoy receiving gifts, but if someone offers to help me in some way (taking time and effort out of their lives), I feel loved.

So I guess, then, it makes sense that when I am being helped is when I feel god's presence.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

The OT evaluation

G is my riddle wrapped up in an enigma, but the OT evaluation makes me think that his sensory difficulties and tantrums are not just a figment of my imagination.

He was given the BOT-2 test, which examines a number of motor abilities and gives the age equivalency of the child's skills.  Out of 6 categories, G is below age level in 5, although in most he is barely or not too far behind.

G's age is 6.3 years.

His fine motor precision age equivalency is a 5.10-5.11 year old child.
Fine motor integration= 5.6-5.7 year old equivalency
Manual dexterity= 6.0-6.2 year old equivalency
Upper-limb coordination= 5.8-5.9 year old equivalency
Bilateral coordination= 6.6-6.8 year old equivalency
Balance= below age 4 equivalency

That balance score surprised me.  I was half expecting the OT to tell me G is just a turd for me and otherwise perfectly fine.

I don't fully comprehend how vestibular issues can lead to sensory and behavioral challenges, but I'm taking the OT's word for it and will proceed with therapy for G one a week for 6 months.  He and I will continue to see the psychologist for the time being, about twice a month.

There is a part of me that keeps thinking, "Maybe it is a maturity thing.  Maybe he will grow out of it.  Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill.  Maybe he just has a prickly personality."

I'm not sure if this is denial or what, but if it is, I'm not going to let it stop me from trying some things out in the hopes they will help me handle him better.

Shame, suicide and the fragile mind

Twice now, in less than a year, I have gone to funeral visitations for people who committed suicide.  My cousin was the most recent.

I did not know my cousin well.  Barely at all, if the truth be told.  So I am not personally sad, but I feel sadness because of his mother's (my aunt's) grief, because of the grief of his siblings.  I feel sad because suicide leaves so much unsaid and unresolved.  If someone has a terrible disease and has struggled physically, there is almost some relief when death finally comes.  There is release from the pain, the struggle, for the one who died and those left behind.

With suicide, the mental anguish of the person who commits suicide is merely transferred from him to his family and loved ones.

Many times people say things like, "I can't understand why the person committed suicide," and that is a blessing for them, to have never felt so much pain and internal roiling that the only clear relief within sight was death.

When I was in the midst of my breakdown in 2004, I both knew I wasn't "right" in my mind and yet couldn't see how irrational my thinking was.  I never really considered suicide, but I did call a suicide prevention line because I was grasping for straws, trying to find a safe way to get help without someone knowing I was full-blown crazy and taking my daughter away from me.

I think back to that call when I explained the downhill slide that had gotten me to panic attacks in my sleep and constant crying.  I told her how my ob/gyn told me I might have to stop nursing my daughter, but my daughter wouldn't take a bottle and what was I going to do?

The "counselor" on the other end of the line started speaking reason to me.  I remember her saying something like, "Isn't it more important for your daughter to have a mentally healthy mom even if you have to give up nursing?  You've breastfed your daughter for 9 months, which is a long time."

But my brain, in its flawed, fragile state of the time, did not understand reason.  I heard the words she said to me, but they did not register as helpful.  They were words that only brought more fear and uncertainty into my heart.  To my mind, she was "siding with my doctor who didn't understand how important this was for me."

Nine years later, after therapy and experience and medication, I can look back to this experience and understand that the counselor was right.  It is critically important for my kids to have a mentally healthy mom, probably far more life-impacting than whether I breastfed them and for how long.  To my mind of this moment, it seems ridiculous that I was letting breastfeeding get me so upset, but then I remember that it wasn't that I was allowing something to get the better of me.  I had no control over what was going on inside my head.  Irrational thinking was in the driver's seat, and I was along for the ride, terrified by thoughts I couldn't stop, no matter how much I tried or hoped they would cease.

My brain at the time wasn't reasonable.  It was full of panic, worst-case scenarios, catastrophizing.  And this wasn't the brain of a depressed person; it was the brain of an anxious person who wanted to avoid death at all costs.

My experience with mental health issues makes me feel empathetic towards those whose demons got the best of them.  The ones who couldn't find their way back to their rational thinking minds.  The ones who didn't seek out help or couldn't find the help they needed fast enough.

It is the reason I don't want there to be shame associated with suicide, the pervasive sense of "hushing" that often goes along with this kind of death.  Suicide is sad, not shameful.  In the lost opportunity of someone's life is the opportunity to educate, to make mental health something we discuss without fear or disbelief.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I'm still alive

You might think this post is about surviving yesterday and today with my children since the school district did, in fact, cancel school because it is cold.  We're weather pussies here, I tell you.
No, this post is about watching Pearl Jam: 20, a documentary by Cameron Crowe on "the" band that was my soundtrack for 4 years of undergrad.  The band I saw in concert and for which I skipped Shakespeare...the ONLY class I ever skipped in college.

I was, and continue to be, so completely bad-ass.

Watching this film as a 40-year-old, as a mother of 3, as I walked on the treadmill and then lifted weights, was a bit surreal.  When I was highly into the band, they seemed so much older than me, so far removed yet with an anger, a dissatisfaction that I could taste because that same anger, insecurity, dissatisfaction was what I ate and drank as well.

I don't know if it was shared overgrown teenage angst, the rut of late teens and most of one's twenties that makes people so lost, or if it was a cultural response to the politics and economics of the time.  But as I was watching the snippets of Andy Rooney complaining about the nonsense of "these kids being so angry.....and about what?," I didn't find myself agreeing with him, which is sorta what I expected.

The members of Pearl Jam are now middle-aged dudes with kids, and I am a middle-aged woman with kids.  Perhaps we need to be as old as Andy Rooney was when he launched that diatribe to get what he was saying?  Or perhaps it is a generational thing?  Maybe my entire generation, though mature now and with some wisdom, is still dissatisfied?  Though we've settled into ourselves and lives and our roles within those lives, perhaps there will always be a part of us that is inherently unhappy with the way things are with the world and within ourselves?

Or is it an artistic thing?  I have always been a writer, though on my itty-bitty scale of life, and not on the world stage at LARGE as Pearl Jam was and is.  Artists of various kinds often tend to be unhappy, morose, serious, deep, whatever.

And yet, watching the documentary, I felt a pulse of understanding of this aging experience.  The words do not mean to me now what they meant 20 years ago, but I can still feel what I felt then as I listened.  I remember what they meant.  I remember that vast lostness that surrounded me.  There is a part of my soul that remains stuck in it.

Am I not feeling it as intensely because I'm blessedly medicated or because I'm older?  Or both?

At 40, I'm past so much of that angst, but there is still the longing, the questioning, the existential turmoil that pinches me, keeps me churning, although at a much less hectic pace than it once did.  
Is something wrong, she said.
Well, of course, there is.
You're still alive, she said.
Oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And, if so, if so,
Who answers?
Who answers?

I, oh, I'm still alive.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Crazy stuff a momma thinks when winter break is ALMOST over but weather dudes are forecasting ample snow the day BEFORE school resumes

It is Saturday.  My children have been out of school since December 21, which makes 15 days of togetherness.

Fifteen days of togetherness....
When it is bitterly cold and there was no snow in which to play until yesterday (and there was only a dusting).
When everyone else is off work and school and are, therefore, clogging up the malls and cinemas and fun joints.
When I've just spent a buttload of money on Christmas presents and windows so the idea of spending any more money makes me feel queasy.

I have been trying to keep my calm.  Not get annoyed.
But I have reached critical mass.
I am to the point where I am getting fed the fuck up with my daughter's American Girl doll that Santa brought her because that bitch is high-maintenance.  She has been going everywhere with us and showing up in our family photos and losing her clothes and jewelry when she visits the grandparents.

Last night I was so in need of some momma decompression out-the-house-time that I went to Target (which is on my shit-list for jacking up my Red card with all their less-than-stellar fraud protection).  And I have absolutely no desire to buy ANYTHING.  It was just the only place I could think of to wander aimlessly and not get arrested.

As much as I cringe at the prospect of summer break because of its length, it is a trillion times better than this stuck-in-the-house-ness.  There are parks and splashpads and pools and the frickin' hose outside that I can spray them with if I feel desperate.

And now the weather people are talking about frigid temps and snowfall for tomorrow, the day BEFORE school resumes.  The day BEFORE my first day of routine and normalcy and "3 hours of bliss 2 days a week" that I have missed.  In this neck of the woods, the public school system has been known to call snow days because it was gonna snow at 2:30 pm.  It has been known to cancel school because of frigid temperatures.

The kids had 2 snow days in December, and the only good thing about those was that it means that I WON'T have a week off with them in February, which is even worse than winter break because they don't have new toys with which to play.

I need my children to go back to school for many reasons.

I need to throw away these stale Christmas cookies and broken candy-canes, and they need the distraction of school to forget that these items are in the pantry.
I need to throw away the various boxes and wrappings and, let's be honest, garbage that my children think is valuable stuff.
I need a little bit of time in which my children aren't in the house so I can get 1-2 things done without having to stop every 28 seconds to give someone a snack.

I'm trying to stay calm.  I'm trying to let this dust over my like flakes of snow.
But in my efforts to think positive, the only thing that comes to mind is that ample snow will give me a place to temporarily hide the bodies.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Suggestions for 2014

I don't really like to think of what I do on New Years as being a resolution since that takes a lot of....resolve.  I'm so completely out of my routine groove that scrounging up an ounce of willpower is almost more than I can manage.  My abdomen is proof.  

Whenever a new year comes around, although I recognize it as being an artificial restarting of time, I am always happy to see it.  However arbitrary, I like the idea of a fresh start.  A space in the continuum of life to take stock, rid myself of baggage, see if I can find ways to be a better person.  

In 2013, things felt different.  G began kindergarten, M started preschool, and I started my slow re-entry into professional educational work.  I'm not sure all of this translated into "better," but it was different.

There were some things I saw fulfilled, namely getting through Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, a task that was two years or so in the making.  Teaching forced me back into classics, which helped make this novel feel do-able.  

Right now, perhaps because of the excess of the holidays (foodstuff and stuff-stuffs) I am less about starting new things as I am about completing things I've wanted to do.  Using up what I have.

So my suggestions to myself for 2014 as as follows:

1. Finish reading the books that are on my bedside table, especially the ones I began in 2013.  And if this doesn't work, MOVE those books to another "holding tank" so that I'm not looking at them every night and feeling like I'm so.far.behind. 

2. Recommit to working out 2 times a week and eating "whole."  I had been doing this fairly well until December when everything went to hell.  The windows, G's tantrums, sickness, an overabundance of sweets and miserable restraint that was stress- and PMS-induced.  I don't own a scale, but I'm feeling more doughy than I'd like.

3. Try, even though it is not in my nature, to stay more calm.  I'm a yeller, a freaker-outer, a blow-my-top gal.  I don't doubt at all that part of G's problem with tantrums is my reaction to G's tantrums.  I am determined, with the assistance of the psychologist and the occupational therapist who will evaluate G on Friday, to try to hold myself together better, to not let G's issues, whatever they are, make me blow a gasket.  I am certain I will fail miserably at this on an almost daily minute-by-minute basis.  But my heart is in the right place, if nothing else.  

(I've got lots of other ideas about what I could or should do, but trying to stay calm in the face of my highly persistent 6-year-old is about all the self-betterment I can stand.  Ultimately, I can't change my basic nature.  I am a bitcher, a whiner, a venter.  I will never be the type of person who oozes love and adoration for anyone, even the people I love and adore.  It just isn't how I roll, and it will never be.) 

4. Save more money.  (This I love to do and even consider it fun.  I gotta have an easy one in here.)

And that is it.
I resolve to consider these suggestions as things I may like to do in 2014.