Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Grieving and guilt

I have been thinking about Papaw a lot.  Not in a crying way, or even in a teary way.  Just in a thinking about a lot way.

Of course, a few days after his funeral, I went to the grocery early in the morning and did become a little teary seeing all the old people doing their shopping.  I have such a sweet spot for old folks.

I began to feel guilty because I didn't do this when D's dad died in 2004....or at least I think I didn't.  I've had 12 years to forget how sad I felt then, so maybe I did feel this way and just don't remember.

When D's dad died, it was a complete shock.  He was only 58 years old.  We were all stunned to the core.  That made a difference in how we processed everything, I think.

And I was in the thick of my own mental health breakdown then, so I don't know that I felt anything accurately.  By the time T passed away on Dec 8, I was on medication (though considerably under-dosed) so I think I just felt a sad numbness.  Whatever I felt grief-wise probably got mixed in with what I was feeling or not feeling anyway--it was just a terrible time.

When T died, N was only 9 months old so we'd had very little time to develop a relationship with T as a grandpa.  He was very independent.  He and my MIL went on vacations with their friends and had their own active lives.  As a result of T dying, we enveloped my MIL, having her come to the house one night a week for dinner and going on vacations with us.  I'm certain we'd have a good relationship with my MIL even if T hadn't died, but I'm not sure it would be as tight as it is now.

I think after T died, we all pulled in as a family.  Papaw became the especially special grandpa because he was the only one on that side of the family; he was already loved, but I think in a sense he became revered in T's absence.  For the longest time, my kids didn't understand that Papaw wasn't married to Mamaw; that he was her daddy.  While we only had 9 months of Tommy as grandpa, we had 12, almost 13, years of Papaw as grandpa.

D and I were married 6 years when T passed away; we were married 19 years when Papaw passed.  In addition to 13 years of having him as grandpa to my kids and developing those memories, I knew Papaw almost 3 times as long as T.  That was 3 times as many Christmases and Easters and summer Sundays eating meals together.

I didn't come up with all this explanation on my own.  My feelings of guilt were really bothering me because I felt like I was dishonoring T so I talked to both D and my MIL about it, and they were the ones who kinda went, "Well, duh....this explains it."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Maybe paying off the house early isn't a financially smart goal

After my last post on personal finance, I got $20 in cash every time I had a big grocery run, set it aside, and when I had $100, I put it on the mortgage principal.  I did this from August through November.  

Good for me.

But then, a week or so ago, I sat down and actually used a mortgage calculator to figure out how much this $100 a month would mean in months taken off our mortgage loan.  

And it was nothing.....not even a year.

So then I figured out how much we'd have to pay off on the principal every month to see a sizable difference in loan reduction (like 2 years).  

It was something on the order of an extra $800 A MONTH!

Um, we don't really have $800 a month floating around doing absolutely nothing.  We don't live paycheck to paycheck, but we also save money in various accounts to help pay for car repairs and house repairs and Christmas expenses and medical expenses and travel.  It would be irresponsible for us to move our cash savings into the house, where it is stuck, and we can't get to it.  

I apparently forgot that in getting a 15-year-mortgage, we had already shaved off 15 YEARS of a mortgage, which is great.  I just wanted to shave off more.  

It was N's orthodontic visit, during which we got the go-ahead to have full braces put on (and the bill that went along with that that), that induced me to really run the numbers.  And I sorta realized that the $500 I had put on the principal might have been better funneled into our medical savings account...

because that is 4 months of braces paid off or over a month of weekly occupational therapy appointments for G.  
It is years of monthly viola rental payments paid off.
It is a little over what I just spent on tires and a coolant flush for my minivan, which really needs to last us another 5 years.  

Security has always been one of our primary financial goals.....having some wiggle room for the unexpected things that come down the pike.  As it happens, when I took the time to look rationally at the numbers (instead of emotionally at the numbers....which is what paying off the mortgage is for emotional desire), it seems that at this stage in our lives, that is not the smartest, most secure financial decision.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A completely useless, feel-good-only post (wall art)

A friend of mine blogged recently about the art on the walls of her home, and it was inspiring.  I enjoyed learning about where and why she got the pieces.  I think you can learn a lot about a person from how they decorate their home.

Lately, I've spent all of my blogging time writing angsty things, and I need to just do blogging lite for a minute.

A big part of my wall decorating is travel art.  Some of it I have purchased, and some of it friends or family have purchased for me.

If I know a friend is going someplace cool that I likely won't go ever or for a very long time
, I say, "Hey, can I give you some money and will you buy a piece of wall art while you're there?"

The best thing about travel art is that I have constant reminders in my home of special places I've visited or special people who have traveled to some interesting places.

My neighbor's daughter has traveled to India and Jordan, and she was kind enough to bring me back some pieces, which I love.  I always think about her when I see them.  (She is currently in England getting her master's degree---how cool of a 20-something existence is that?)

From Jordan

From India

My parents visited Greece, Italy and Turkey a few years ago, and since D and I had already been to Greece and Italy, I asked mom to pick me up something from Turkey.

I do have a couple small shelves in my dining room, where most of the travel art is, although the more places we go, the more I've been having to find new locations.  This shelf has a wooden container from Hawaii (from my parents), a small pottery piece from England (my MIL), a vase from Williamsburg, VA (bought myself) and a vase from Mexico (my MIL).  I have other small things that are currently in my bedroom closet that usually reside in my living room.  They will return just as soon as I put Christmas decor away.  

I just added this to the shelf the other night---my next-door neighbor gave me a cigar from Cuba (he returned not too long ago from his 3rd mission trip).

These two pieces are from Iceland, where D and I went in 2003.

This is from Strasberg, Germany (from my mom and dad).

I've got the Canadian section, which has these two:

Niagara Falls


I have an entire wall of US art, including....

 Charleston, SC

 The Grand Canyon

 Smokey Mountains National Park, TN

Savannah, GA

Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI

These are upstairs in our bedroom and bath.....because my US wall in the dining room is really full.

Sanibel Island, FL

 Edisto Island, SC

 Mackinaw Bridge, Michigan

This is one of my favorite pieces....a piece of lace I bought in Burano, Italy that I had matted and framed once we returned home.  It is in the center of my Mediterranean/Asian wall.  

This piece was given to me by my SIL and is from Mexico.  Right now, it stands alone...since when D and I visted the Caribbean prior to marriage we hadn't yet begun this travel wall art tradition.  If we had, this little guy would have some tropical friends.  

This piece hung in my home for years and years, but I changed things around and haven't found the right place for him again....because he is very long.  A friend traveled to Nepal and brought it back for me.  It stunk of gasoline because of the machines they made it on so I had to dry it with dryer sheets to make it tolerable to hang up.  I always think of RG and TL when I see it.

I think one of the things that makes our house reflective of us and what we value is our travel art.  I always look forward to going new places and finding new pieces to build my memory mosaic.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

The point is not (and was not) to lambast a school

After my last blog about N's middle school and our resides middle school, a friend contacted me and was worried about her own choice to send her kid to N's middle school.  Did my post spark her worry?  Possibly....probably....and that wasn't my intent.

Lord knows, I understand the stewing that middle school decision-making unleashes so to think that I unleashed it in someone else makes me sad.  

I never said N's middle school is terrible.  It isn't.
It is overcrowded, and the layout is weird, and middle schoolers are just frequently assholes.
But that doesn't mean a school is terrible.
I certainly don't walk into her school and fear for my safety....or hers.

I had started this post anyway (before illness and death sidetracked my blogging), but I am compelled to say this in light of today's newspaper article about a small group of parents suing the school.  I am not saying these parents' children weren't bullied.  I know nothing about the case so it is entirely possible that their kids were bullied and experienced a living hell.  I have never personally witnessed bullying in my limited times there (subbing and volunteering), nor have I ever seen class changes when adults were not in the halls monitoring.  I can only say what I have seen with my own eyes.

Did kids buck me when I subbed there?  Yes, but it still didn't suck as bad as this 4th grade class.

N's middle school is a perfectly fine fit for N. It may not be a good fit for me because of the transportation, but I am willing (albeit with some whining on my blog) to transport because it is a good fit for her.

My post wasn't to lambast her school; it was to give kudos to the nearby school that doesn't get all the attention and "love." (Although given these lawsuits, N's school isn't currently getting any love either.)

My post was also to work through my own thoughts that N's school will not be a good fit for G.  They are entirely different people with vastly different temperaments.

I truly love my kids' elementary school, but there have been things and ARE things I don't like about it.  

I am definitely not liking the volume of 3rd-grade worksheets for homework, which are completely do-able when we have a normal stay-at-home evening.  But on an evening when we have something to do, having 2-3 worksheets (1 of which is usually 6 long-ass word problems) just about makes me come unglued.

I haven't loved the inconsistency of the afternoon bus in the past.....which (fingers crossed) hasn't been a problem this year.

As a general rule, I don't love it when teachers misspell content spelling words that they give the kids and then mark incorrect on spelling tests when the kid spells it correctly  (this did not happen to my child but to a friend's child).

No district, no school, no administration, no teacher, no student and no parent is perfect.

The "worst" school in the district is sometimes a hidden gem with a long-held bad rep that no longer applies, and the "golden child" school is sometimes resting on its laurels and not as great as it once was.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Such a tenderheart

G drives me bonkers regularly.  His anxiety sets off my anxiety in a big way so it sometimes feels like we are a whirlwind of uncontrolled fear and emotion.

But there are times when life sprinkles a little wonder in my eyes and helps me see my beautiful G for what he is behind the anxiety and the tantrums over not-tight-enough shoes and loose waistbands.
Last night when D and I discussed Papaw's wake and funeral, he said that when the visitation began and they stood at the casket, G had asked a million questions, like, "Why are Papaw's fingers flat?" and "So.....he'll become a skeleton, right?"

(M refused to look at Papaw in the casket saying, "It makes me sad, so I just want to look at pictures."  So while everyone else was viewing Papaw early on, M and I walked around and looked at all the photographs set around the room.)

At the end of Papaw's funeral yesterday, they had us walk up to or pass by the casket and then make our way out of the chapel.  G walked up and cried a little bit and then walked to the back of the chapel with D.  He sat in a pew and continued crying.

When I came back to the pew, I sat with him until everyone left.  He asked if we could go up and see Papaw again.

At the casket, he touched Papaw's hands and said they felt cold.  He rubbed Papaw's hair and said, "It feels like he's got some hair gel in there," and I explained that the funeral home had fixed his hair so he'd look nice.  G leaned over, with his head in the crook between Papaw's face and the casket pillow, and sobbed, trying his darndest to give his Papaw one last hug.

He then took a tear from his eye with his index finger and placed it on Papaw's heart.

We began to walk to the back of the chapel, and he tried to go to Papaw again, but I explained that we had to leave.

Once G left the chapel, he went up and gave a hug to every single person he saw.  Whether he did this for his own benefit or theirs, I don't know.  Probably a little of both.

Anxiety can feel like a tremendous burden, but yesterday, I saw how anxiety in my boy makes him so sensitive and empathetic, which is such a gift to others.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The eulogy I was most honored to give

In 2010, I wrote a post on my blog about Papaw Chester.  It was, in its own way, a love letter to him.  

Now that might sound a little strange, considering I’m an outlaw in the family and don’t have the stores of memories that De and J, Dn, Dw, Dv and B have.  I only really knew the Papaw aged 72-91.

But I was, and still am, amazed when people are adults and have living grandparents.  My grandparents were all deceased by the time I was 18 so it was the most awesome thing to have a Papaw and be old enough to know how cool that actually is.  

There are many things I think of when I think of Papaw Chester, but one of the first is Cheese Nips.  He always kept a box of them close to his blue chair in the living room, and G and M, even if they’d eaten a 10-course meal prior to visiting Papaw, would ask for some.

Papaw Chester always shared his Cheese Nips.  He also talked up their low sugar content.   It is no great wonder that he lived a robust 91….almost 92…..years between low sugar Cheese Nips and regular sips of apple cider vinegar.  He was a man who knew the value of taking care of something for a long, long time.  

Dv says, “My first memories of Papaw are sitting on his living room floor with B playing with the same old toys that had belonged to Dn and Dw because he kept EVERYTHING. 

Those toys that Papaw kept around the house were a lot like him.  They were worn around the edges, perhaps, but still functional and still fun to spend time with.  The pull-toy dog with the frayed ears comes to mind.  M remembers playing with the old Fisher Price red barn and the cars.  And that dusty, raggedy Garfield stuffed cat that sat on the back of the couch.

Dw says some of her best memories are when she and Dn, T and De used to camp with Papaw and Mamaw.  She says, “I remember catching my first fish with Papaw in his john boat. He was so patient while fishing and with me and Dn fishing, too.”   Mll says fishing is what comes to mind when she thinks of Papaw——his fishing hat and his rod rack in the living room and his “Wishin I was Fishin” t-shirt that I suspect he probably wore holes in.  

Dn remembers Papaw and Mamaw coming over to the house in the spring and summer to work in the back garden.  He says, “It seemed like they were over there every night gardening.”  Dw says she watched and learned about gardening by watching Papaw.  

I don’t think any one of us can think about Papaw without remembering him around dirt or plants.  During the late summer of 2007, Papaw came to our house and helped me plant some flowers in my backyard.  I was very pregnant with G and very much in the nesting stage.  I think back to Papaw at 82 and me with my belly sticking out to kingdom come digging around in the flower beds to get it all in the ground.  I’m sure we made quite a picture.  

Dn says, “Anytime you needed something fixed, you’d call Papaw and he could pretty well fix it.”  He showed Dn how to drill into mortar and helped him install lattice under the deck at our first house.  I don’t think any of us will ever know exactly how many times he fixed the concrete on De's driveway.  

Dv remembers fun times at Papaw’s house when she was a kid.  She says “Sleepovers at his house were something we looked forward too- he ALWAYS gave us what we call "papaw size" servings of desert after dinner.”  

Clearly, that hadn’t changed by the time I entered the family, and we had our regular dinners at Papaw’s house.  He made brownies or chocolate cake or pineapple upside down cake or strawberry cake, and sometimes it felt like he made ALL those desserts and expected us to eat “Papaw size” slices of each.  (I always found it remarkable the look he’d give anyone else in the family if they tried to give HIM a Papaw size piece of anything.)

Dv remembers how when we had meals at Papaw’s home he always tried to accommodate everyone’s preferences, and no matter how our family grew, he always made more room at the table.  

M says when he thinks of Papaw he thinks about ice cream sandwiches.  In addition to Cheese Nips, G and M could pretty well count on Papaw offering them a frozen treat when they visited.

Funny how we’ve circled back to food and Papaw.  

When N thinks of Papaw, she thinks of going up into his attic to pilfer through his closets.  She would dress up in old heels and fur coats that belonged to Mamaw Mll and parade back down so Papaw could see her fashion show.  I think any of us who ventured upstairs at any point can’t get that ginormous owl lamp out of our heads. 

We will all remember the smell of his wood burning stove in the winter and the warmth of his home, especially the excessive warmth of his home on Christmas Eve’s when we were packed to the gills and sitting on top of each other and wishing we had worn short sleeves.  

When Dv thinks back to those childhood sleepovers, she says, “Papaw would pull out the fold out bed for Mamaw and we would help her put the sheets on.  He never let us watch what we wanted, so usually it meant falling to sleep to an episode of Heehaw.  He didn't say much, but when he spoke, you took it all in. He never raised his voice, but when he had something to say everyone listened.  He left us with many lessons reflective of his approach to life. He taught us that people should talk less and listen more. I know that he had lots of opinions, but we didn't often hear them.”

Papaw seemed to be really good, at least in the years I knew him, at accepting his family warts and all.  “They just can’t help it,” was a phrase I know he said about probably most of us at any given time.  I suspect his wisdom helped him know the difference between what any of us could change and couldn’t change.  

Like he never got angry when G said stuff like “Why don’t you have any teeth, Papaw?”  Either he couldn’t hear G or he just simply thought it was funny, even if the rest of us were maybe a little mortified that it was rude.  

Papaw never forgot his kids’, grandkids’ or great-grandkids’ birthdays.  Dv says, “Every year I would get a card with a puppy or a kitten on the front of it. On the inside was always $30 and a simple message  'Love you, Papaw.' After I was in my twenties, I remember telling my dad that Papaw didn't have to do that for me anymore and he told me that Papaw still gave him a card with $30 in it for his birthday every year.  He was sweet like that, always thinking of his family.”

After seeing some photos of Papaw with his great-grandkids on Facebook this week, a friend of mine remarked, “The love in his expression (with his great-grandkids) is heartwarming.”  Dv says, “ I loved seeing how his eyes would light up when my kids would sit in his lap.”  There are few things as wonderful as seeing the look of absolute joy on Papaw’s face whenever he had a great-grandchild in his arms.  

I think Papaw must have changed a lot as he got older.  Dv says, “As a child he always seemed so serious. He wasn't the cuddly type but he was always kind, and we knew he loved us without hugs and kisses.”  I think something about having great grandkids around made him increasingly welcome hugs and cuddles.  

Whenever any of us would leave Papaw and offer a hug, Papaw would follow up with a hand squeeze.  A little extra touch to take with us on the road.  For me, it was sometimes followed up with a “Bye, girl.”  G says when he thinks of Papaw he thinks about fun and love and giving him hugs.  

Papaw did many amazing things….from serving in World War II to building his own home….but I think he’d be pretty darned pleased to be remembered for fun and love and hugs.  If anyone asked in that Papaw way if his life was “any count” we could answer with an absolute yes.  

Monday, December 12, 2016

This "making me stronger" business is kicking my butt

Monday, Dec 5--
9:00 am
D, who had been diagnosed with diverticulitis the week prior, went to the ER for a CT scan to determine if he had a blockage.  
Thankfully, no blockage.  But possible gastroenterologist referral in his near future.  

Tuesday, Dec 6--
Confirmation that my mom's niece has stage 4 aggressive cancer.  

Wednesday, Dec 7--
G has increasingly frequent meltdowns about tying his shoes.  I suspect he needs an increase in his medication since he has gained 10 lbs and grown 2.5 inches in a year.  

Thursday, Dec 8--
5:15 am
G pukes all over his bedroom floor.  Home sick all day with D (who has been working from home for 3 weeks due to sinus infection followed by diverticulitis) since I had a subbing gig.  Out both ends.

3:00 pm,
Take N to orthodontist where we get the good news that if we do expensive orthodontia now, we might be able to avoid her facing jaw surgery when she is 17.  To the tune of $4,000.

Friday, Dec 9--G still run-down so cancel OT but do take him to psychiatrist.  Increase medication as expected.  Feels like elephant sitting on my chest.  Also known as anxiety over having a child who has anxiety and freaks out about tying his shoes and whether his pillows are just so and whether a freckle is a tick.  

Occupational therapist emails me that G is still a year under where he should be developmentally.  Looking at continuing OT at $85 a week for our 4th year.  

Saturday, Dec 10--
Get the phone call that Papaw Chester has died.  He was found on Friday, but probably passed on Thursday, which is the exact anniversary of when D's dad died in 2004.  

Sunday, Dec 11--
My body says, "I fucking give up."  Honking, snorting, sneezing and generally feeling like I want to sleep for 6 weeks.  But carry on.....because what choice do you have?

Monday, Dec 12--
G eats fine all day but complains of stomach hurting at dinner.  Could be leftover from virus? Could it be medication side effects?  Anxiety through the roof again.  
I break the coffee pot trying to get the fucking cat out of the kitchen sink.  Same cat proceeds to Christmas tree where she knocks down her 276th ornament.   
D has the honking, snorting, congestion now, too.  

It is not Aleppo or Palmyra.
It is not the direst of straights.
But man, life just feels all kind of hard right now.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I will miss you

Dear Papaw Chester,

I got the news this morning that you are gone.

Just a few days shy of your 92nd birthday; D and the kids and I were going to come visit today to celebrate.

You had made yourself a cherry pie and were retrieving a napkin from the kitchen to head to your favorite chair that everyone wished you would replace with something more sturdy for your bad knee.  It was walking to that chair that you passed onto and into whatever comes after this life.  I like to think you have moved to another dimension, unseeable and unknowable to us, but still hovering nearby.  You are in our hearts, of course, but maybe also closer to us that what distance and busyness often allowed in this dimension.

I have pulled out some photos of you, but it makes me cry to look at them.  It makes me cry because I will no longer be able to take pictures of you with my that I have treasured these many years.  We have all been so, so fortunate to have our Papaw (and our great Papaw) in our lives for so long.

G said his heart hurts, and I told him that is normal.  Your loss is their first loss of someone close to them in their young lives.  Even though I am sad for myself, I am mostly sad for my kids and your grandkids and your children.

I am ever so thankful to have known you, my adopted Papaw, my not-by-blood-but-by-commitment Papaw.

I probably said everything I ever wanted to say when I posted this.

In the course of those 6 years since I wrote that you slowed down quite a bit. We stopped coming to your house for meals, and you stopped coming to Mamaw's house on Sundays.  This past summer you gave up your garden.  Did you know it was coming or were you just wise enough to accept aging without fussing and fighting?  I admired this about you, Papaw.  You seemed to just roll with the punches, doing what you could with what you had available.

Given how I sometimes feel at 43 years of age....the tiredness and achy were always my hero because at 91 you could put on your own pants and fix your own dinners.  You were always a rock star in my book.

I threatened D quite often with sending him to you so you could teach him to cook.  I will always think with fondness about those meals you fixed us, when we invaded your house, and it busted at the seams.

Although I am sad, I am also so happy because I took advantage of enjoying and appreciating you---the photos, the quick visits, the birthday drop-ins with balloons.  I have no regrets about this, and that is probably one of the best feelings to have even in sadness.  I think it is easier to appreciate someone else's grandparents when you don't have them for very long to begin with in your own life.

You weren't a perfect human being and to suggest that would be syrupy sweet and not in my style of remembrance.  But you were a fine man, a man who lived a simple life, a man who valued family.  A man who headed a family that I now (and for 19 years) have called my own.

Thank you for that.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A year and a half into N's middle school....and thinking ahead to G

I don't regret allowing N to apply to her middle school.  She has been happy there.  Her grades are good.  No problems at all of which to speak.

Sure, there have been some minor what I consider excessive busy-work in Social Studies, but I think I would probably end up being annoyed with Jesus himself.  I am fairly easily annoyed with minor issues.

However, after having subbed at both N's school and our resides middle school, I feel about 98% confident that G will not follow in his sister's footsteps (we don't actually know yet whether his AP scores would even allow him to do so, but even if they are at or near or above her scores, I don't intend for him to apply to her middle school).

I have subbed a couple of times at N's school, and I subbed on Thursday at our resides middle school, where I would have preferred that N attend for a number of reasons.  The first reason is that the building is one level with wide hallways. Secondly, we have transportation by bus to our resides school.  Thirdly, there are AP classes at both schools.  She applied to an "optional liberal arts program" of which I have seen zero benefit.  I don't mind shlepping her back and forth for three years for participation in something "special."  But shlepping her back and forth without any evidence of anything special has grown annoying.

I had been eager to sub at our resides middle school so that I could see first hand how the show operates.

Now I fully recognize that subbing at any school doesn't make me an expert on that school, but I do think being a sub gives a person a better indication of what "really" goes on that just visiting on a school tour or at an Open House.  Being a certified teacher substitute with middle school experience also gives me a different picture because I am talked to with a different level of "insider understanding."  (This could be completely off-the-mark, but that is the impression I get.)  Plus, I've walked the walk and remember what goes on in middle school hallways on a full-time basis.

My impression from these limited subbing experiences is that my daughter's school doesn't really deserve the stellar reputation it has gained.

The teachers are fine.  I have no qualms with the instruction.  People at all of the schools have been personable.  In terms of bells and whistles (teams and activities), my daughter's school is great.

But the behavior issues at her school were worse than the behavior issues I've seen at the three other middle schools (including one in Portland, which many suburban white parents would deem the 7th ring of hell simply because of where it is in the city).  When I have subbed at these middle schools, N's was the only one in which kids outright bucked me, and my de-escalation approaches did not work.  (I work very hard to keep from calling SRT, and I had to call SRT at her school a couple times or literally march someone out of my class and into the AP's office.)

The reason I'm writing about this is because there has been a long (and hopefully waning) dialogue about CrMS (N's school) being all that and a bag of chips and CaMS being bad.  It is part of the reason I stewed mightily about where to send N to middle school.

N is a laid back kid who isn't fazed by much.  She wanted to go to CrMS and has been happy, although any number of her friends actually go to CaMS, so I know she would have been just as happy there, too (and I wouldn't have to shlep her back and forth for three years).

G, however, is a high-strung kid who is fazed by things he shouldn't be fazed by.  To put him in an environment like N's middle school is a recipe for disaster as far as I'm concerned.  I think he would be much better served in a smaller, drastically less crowded environment, with wider hallways, that may not have the "bells and whistles" but will provide him with an equally good education.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for a blessed curse

I am not talking about my menstrual cycle.

That is an annoyance and one that will, eventually, go away.  It is not a lifetime sentence.

But being an empathetic person is different.  It is both a gift and a curse.  I cannot imagine being any other way, and yet I often wish I could shrug it off as easily as a coat.

My best friend, K, and I used to have discussions in college about our tendency to overthink, which I now suspect is our shared tendency to both overthink and over feel.  It is exhausting.

I have said for many years that I catch people's emotions like a hooker catches the clap.  Having three children isn't easy for someone who has this tendency.  It's is like dodging emotional bullets all the time.  It feels like I have a harder time than many shaking emotions off.  (Of course, I don't know this for sure since I only have the misfortune of being inside my own head and not every other person's head.)

I suspect this is why I can't lose myself in movies and television the way other people can.  Seeing people emote on television is inviting more psychological bullets into my life for me to try to avoid.

One thing I wonder is whether my empathy spawns my anxiety or whether my anxiety spawns my empathy?  Perhaps they aren't related at all?  I don't know.  But I know for certain that fear is an emotion it takes weeks and weeks for me to work through.  I watched the films Melancholia and On the Beach (remake of 2000), and I still am not over them.

Reading is different for some reason.....maybe because it is imaginary and not in-my-face like television or real life.

As much as I hate being empathetic because of the emotional discomfort it causes me, it is also something I consider a gift.  Maybe I'm off my rocker about this, but I almost feel like people can sense it about me.  Kids, especially.  Maybe I am more obviously vulnerable than what I think I am.

I think my honesty is part of it.  I say what others think and are too uncomfortable to say themselves.  Is this empathy or stupidity?  Maybe both.

Every year around Thanksgiving, I try to think about all the things for which I am grateful, and there are many.  Most of them are things I didn't earn.  A family of origin that loved me and taught me responsibility and the value of learning.  A brain that works quickly and makes weird and wonderful connections.  A body that is mostly healthy with all appendages working up to this point.  A husband who values many of the same things I value and three healthy children to whom I am trying to instill those same values.

I despise sentimentality so it is in looking at my life that I acknowledge the burden of these things, too.  The brain that works quickly is also the brain that worries and has caused me pain with its over-empathizing.  The relationships that are well worth it but also, at times, the cause of much worry and anger and frustration.  The mostly healthy body that also currently has laryngitis and nighttime coughing fits that are interrupting my sleep.

These are not overwhelming burdens.  They can barely be considered burdens in the grand continuum of burdens, really.

But in my empathizing heart today, I am with those who have lost mothers and fathers and siblings and children, with those who fear what may come politically, with those whose financial burdens seem insurmountable, with those whose lives are chaotic, with those who learn frustratingly slowly, with those whose emotions they cannot control, with those who lack friendship.

My empathy forces some of the joy out of my personal thankfulness---the darkness and the light combined. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A different goal for 2017

In 2016, I set a goal to read 45 books.

I didn't really think this through, but I figured that since I had read 44 books in 2015, I could probably add one more without too much trouble.

The problem with setting goals is that then you feel compelled to meet your goals.  And depending on what is going on in your life, meeting said goals can feel, or actually be, impossible.  And even if it isn't impossible, knowing that you have a goal to meet and a deadline can make you feel a little stressed.  

I don't really like feeling stressed as it concerns reading since reading is my escape and relaxation.  

These are the books I have read in 2016:

A Man Called Ove
Out of My Mind
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Ordinary Grace
The Things They Carried
The Girl on the Train
As I Lay Dying
Good Masters, Sweet Ladies
A Single Shard
Julie of the Wolves
Long Day's Journey Into Night
So We Read On
Modern Romance
All the Light We Cannot See
We Were Liars
When Breath Becomes Air
Their Eyes Were Watching God  (a reread in order to teach)
Stone Fox
Slaughterhouse Five
The Double Bind
The Light Between the Oceans
The Mysterious Benedict Society
When You Reach Me
The Hunger Games
And Then There Were None
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night
Catching Fire
The Little Prince
The Family Fang
Gathering Blue
The Doll Bones
The History of Love
Beowulf (Seamus Heaney version)
Light in August
The Outsiders
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Life Drawing
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Gertrude and Claudius
Fortunately, the Milk
The Speckled Band
A Case of Identity

I just started The Shack and will finish that up before the end of the year.  

Even though I beat my goal, I think I've decided that next year I'm going to have a different strategy.  Rather than quantity, I'm going to focus on selecting some quality books that I've never read.  I did a bit of this in 2016 with Faulkner.  I had never read him and knew that I should probably forfeit my English degree as a result.  There are other authors I know I should read but whom I haven't yet, such as Dostoyevsky.  Some authors I have read, but I haven't read their magnum opus; Les Miserables (Hugo) and War and Peace (Tolstoy) are examples.

The first of these "quality books" for 2017 is Moby Dick.  Brave New World or Alas, Babylon might make the list, too. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

I'm still not back to normal

Let me preface this post by saying I am not suicidal.  I have no plans to kill myself.

But I admit I have been thinking a lot about not existing anymore.  I have felt very overwhelmed, and there is something that comforts me in knowing that at some point, I will be free from consciousness.  I do not remember my life before my birth, and I expect death will be similar.  There will come a point when none of this will matter.

It really makes me look at the whole scrapbooking thing as a bit of a time-waster.

(My kids might care about my scrapbooks a little, but their kids won't, and their kids won't.  It will all eventually be garbage.  I admit this is not a hopeful outlook on life, but that is how my brain works.)

I am still angrier than I should be, perhaps.  I think what I am most angry about now is that I feel like I can't trust media outlets for news.  Am I reading real news or fake news?  Should I do my due diligence and read 26 other news articles to corroborate the news that I just read?

I feel a lot like I did when I had gestational diabetes and every single bite of food I put in my mouth was analyzed and scrutinized and very much not enjoyed.  That feels a lot like trying to be a responsible person who keeps up with world events right now.

I have lurked a bit on Facebook, and posted a couple things via Instagram, but I find it a little troubling how quickly everyone went from election elation/agony to posting photos of dinners.  Of course, at the same time, whenever someone I know does post something political, I feel my chest tighten up because I'm wondering about the validity of information in the post and what lens they are viewing things from and what source they got the info from and whether they skew left or right or whatever.

Suffice it to say, social media right now is not my friend.

Substitute teaching would be a good distraction if it wasn't so damned depressing at times.  I am often subbing with kids whose lives are chaotic and the stuff of which nightmares are made.  Kids who have been getting their education in the midst of being in a treatment facility for depression or other more difficult and complicated psychological issues.  Kids who flee their homes in the middle of the night because a parent comes in and starts whooping up on them.

I have been submerged in my little middle-class cocoon for many years and forgotten.  I guess it has been good for me to be around middle schoolers who don't read as well as my first grader.  It makes me thankful for my own life and determined to make whatever positive difference I can make in their lives.

But it is not much....that difference.  And that is when I take a deep breath, think about my future freedom from consciousness, feel a wash of comfort at my trivial place in this world, feel a wash of sadness at my trivial place in this world, and continue (somehow) plugging along.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

If Macbeth came to Jesus

A big part of teaching is theft.  You see someone else's good idea, and you swipe it to use with your students.

That seems like a really bad way to begin a post about Macbeth coming to Jesus.

I guess I should qualify this statement by saying I thieve things that are free online.

The point, though, is that sometimes, in the interest of not spending every second of my life creating questions from scratch for my students, I use questions that other people have been kind enough to write and share.

When we studied Macbeth, one of those questions was about Banquo, and it was kind of a loaded question.  The question was:  To what extent does Banquo deserve the death that befell him?

On the one hand, you might say that Banquo sensed that Macbeth was acting weird about the witches and felt pretty sure he had killed Duncan.  Given this, he didn't get the heck out of dodge and away from Macbeth.  Rather, he told Macbeth, "Why, yes, I'm going riding alone in the dark woods with my son, whom the witches have said will be the progenitor of a long line of kings, while you, Macbeth, will remain forever childless and won't be king for long."  This seems a little like "blaming the victim," but it also seems a little like, "use your good common sense to avoid psychotic tyrants."

On the other hand, does anyone ever deserve death?  (Another potentially loaded question, there.)

A prospective parent sat in on this particular class and made a comment about the bible, which is appropriate since this is a Christian cottage school class.  It got me thinking.

So the next week, I asked the students what would happen to the story if Macbeth accepted Jesus as his savior and became a better, nicer, less murderous human being.  One of my students said, "It would make the story suck!  I would be disappointed because it was like, 'That's it?'"

That isn't to say that coming to Jesus makes everything in one's life easy or perfect, but it does provide a cleansing of the soul (as does any religious conversion, I imagine), and one of the greatest dilemmas for Macbeth is his increased understanding that he is on a path to his soul's condemnation.  He understands that he is at a place where to turn back to good is as long of a journey as just moving forward into full-gone evil.

I admit I was sorta happy that my student offered his comment on Macbeth's conversion because this was my thought as well.  Macbeth is a tragedy and what makes him tragic is that he could make different choices and doesn't.  If he repented, I'm not sure what we would call it, but it wouldn't be a tragedy.

Macbeth's pathos stems from the fact that he doesn't repent--he keeps plugging forward even as his world crumbles at his feet.  He is a lost soul.  What is interesting to me, as a teacher, is asking my students to use their Christian world-view to dissect Macbeth's character.  Asking them about his motivations (not that they excuse his behavior, but perhaps they help explain his behavior).  Asking them to consider what choices they see being made in our modern world and how those align with Macbeth's grasp for power.  What are the dangers in ambition?  What codes of honor (against kin, king, and guest) do we see being violated in real life?  How, as moral people, do we reconcile forgiveness with the horrors that Macbeth enacts?

To say, "Because Jesus" and be done with the struggle in Macbeth is simplistic.

As readers, we have polar opposite wishes for Macbeth:  we want him to keep making terrible choices because that makes the story better, but we also wish that he would do differently.  We both know that it is a story and lose our selves enough in it to feel like it is real life.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I'm angry, too

As a kid, I often felt sad.  Not chronically sad, but sad enough.  Maybe more sad than other kids.  I felt like my heart was so easily broken.  I was just a sensitive kid.

At some point in my life, and I'm not sure exactly when, I determined that sadness felt weak.  I was tired of feeling sad and tired of feeling easily heart-broken.  I determined that anger was better.

Anger didn't seem to last as long as sadness...although I have reservations about this sentiment now.

So over the years, I became quite adept at feeling angry.  I trained myself very well since anger is still my go-to emotion.

I rarely cry, but I frequently rage.

If someone hurts my feelings, I get angry.
If I am frustrated, I become angry.
If I am uncomfortable or tired, I very easily swing into anger.

I have this sign hanging in my kitchen:

When G and I were in therapy to try to manage his temper tantrums, our therapist wrote these down for him.  Considering my own issues with anger, I felt it was probably good to keep it up for the both of us.

It isn't easy to talk about anger.  People don't know what to do with anger.  Even if someone is not directing it at you, it feels like they are angry at you.  And when someone feels like anger is directed at them, they go into fight mode, which results in greater anger on both sides.

Tonight at dinner, we were talking about how D is the type of person who shuts completely down when confronted with anger, while I'm the type of person who would engage in an angry battle.  It didn't take very long after our marriage for me to realize that getting angry and blowing up wasn't the way to get anything accomplished with D.  In some ways, this blog has been a communication tool for us.  I write and try very hard to work my feelings into some thoughtful shape.  He reads and is able to see what I'm thinking and where I may be coming from without feeling attacked.

I saw this the other day, courtesy of The Gottman Institute, and realized that this is what half the electorate is feeling.  Anger masking all kinds of other emotions.  Anger was felt by a different group of people in 2008 when Obama was elected president.  What was motivating their anger? Was it the same thing that is motivating people now to feel angry?

For me, personally, even though I know that people had a variety of reasons for voting for DT, I have found myself watching people.  I am looking at them as if I could bore a hole into their souls.   The people in line in front of me at the grocery store.....are they xenophobic or racist?  Are they anti-Semites?  What is in their hearts?

It is hard enough to manage my grocery shopping without fretting about the intentions of my fellow cart-pushers and whether they would do harm to others.

I have never felt this way....this wondering what people are really feeling.  I know people hold darkness in their hearts...we all do in some small way... but I never felt like it was pulsing right under the surface, ready to bubble up, potentially ready to blow.

Now I worry that it is.

And I'm angry about it, too.  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The dream, The Chosen, and the reality

Yesterday morning, the day after the election,  I awoke from a bad dream at 5:30 am.  I don't remember too much about the dream.  There was one part where I was watching men landscape the grounds at my sons' school.  I'm not sure if I was happy about this or angry in the dream (in reality I would be very, very happy since I'm usually the one doing the landscaping at my sons' school) because from what I can remember the dream soon switched to me throwing a full-on temper tantrum.  I even picked up M and threw him at someone (no small feat, considering he's over 50 lbs and 4'2.")

I woke up startled and moody as a result, and I felt that the dream was a foreboding.  I don't think I'm a modern day Cassandra since it didn't take a rocket scientist on election night at 10 pm to see where things were headed.  I look at the campaign as one gigantic temper tantrum, so perhaps my unconscious mind was just playing it out for me.

My day yesterday was uneven.   I felt out of sorts, a bit uncertain that reality was jiving with me.  Unpleasant dreams can do that.  So can unpleasant campaigns and elections.

I heard an interview yesterday in which a Republican discussed her confusion about whether to vote for Trump in the general election.  She voted for him and when asked how she felt now that he had been elected she said, "Terrified."  I'm not sure how I feel about people voting for a person that instills them with terror once elected (since that was an obvious possibility of running in an election). However, I must admit that my own feelings had Clinton been elected might have been a decided, "I feel uncertain." (This would mostly be because I suspect unhappy Trump supporters would be behaving exactly as unhappy Clinton supporters are now.)

Back to the temper tantrum theme again.

On election day, because I couldn't tolerate too much social media, I opted to complete my annotating of Chaim Potok's The Chosen.  I had read it before, but I will be teaching it to my high schoolers in the spring, and that requires more careful study and consideration.

It was a balm to me to reread this story---the story of two boys, both Jews, but decidely different types of Jews, with decidedly different interests and academic strengths, with decidedly different home lives and relationships with their fathers.  And despite these differences, there is friendship between them, even in the midst of angry words and lashing out at each other because they are a safe haven in which to lash out.

This is a book that made me cry the first time I read it---if the final chapter doesn't tear at your heart, you might not actually have one.  It is a book in which love and suffering and compassion are deeply entertwined.

This is not a book of feel-goodness, of platitudes and optimism and "we love each other; we're all the same" like what I see as I check-in but am not currently participating in social media.  I put little store in platitudes.  If you know me at all, you know I am not a "love you to the moon and back" person.

What I do put store in is meaning....depth....development and change as a result of discomfort and pain and suffering.  I put store in my own experience that whatever I've gotten too easily I have forgotten or not valued as I should have.  What has changed me the most has been difficult and has pushed me to the far corners of my comfort zone.

What I put store in is my firm belief in the Golden Rule, and that regardless of how anyone else lives their lives, I can live no other way than to treat others the way I want to be treated, even if on the inside I am vexed and uncomfortable and apprehensive and uncertain and all the things that I am right now.  Even if I feel like yelling at people and being downright nasty because I am overwhelmed with said vexation and discomfort and apprehension and uncertainty.

I feel quite certain that no matter who won this election, I would be feeling these things but for entirely different reasons.

It made me happy to have spent my day gaining perspective from literature.
It made me happy to be here last night, with my Girl Scout troop, doing community service by hanging out with children whose parents are learning English as their second language.
It made me happy to see their faces light up when I used my very limited Spanish to try to make them feel welcome.

It was a day of living a meaningful life and living the Golden Rule and modeling both of these things to others.

Not a bad ending to a day that began with a nightmare.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Something else I enjoyed doing more that I still enjoy but don't do as often


For years, blogging was a lifeline for me.  A way to stay sane.  A way to vent all of my frustrations and catalog my life in a way that made it feel more meaningful.  I mean it was meaningful, but staying at home with one's children is an isolation unlike any other.

Didn't I just blog about how I like being socially isolated----why, yes I did.

But there is a difference in choosing to be socially isolated when I have the option and ability to be (which is now) versus the isolation imposed on a person when she stays at home with her baby and has to put her baby's needs above her own.  And even though I am socially isolated in terms of entertaining or "hanging out,"  I am not socially isolated in that I am around people all the time by teaching and subbing.  And I have three children now who often max out my sociability by the time 9:05 am rolls around.  That sits in stark contrast to first-time mom with a newborn who is in her house all the time after being a professional working gal for a decade.

I still enjoy blogging, but I often find it difficult to find things I want to write about.

There are topics about which I've thought of blogging----

*like about how I wonder if I did things as a childless teacher that the parents of my students felt like ringing my neck for because my assignments and their due dates probably didn't take into account how freaking difficult it is to manage homework for children in the midst of fixing dinner and getting baths and doing activities.  I don't remember, but I ask myself if I ever gave assignments over long weekends when families probably just wanted to do nothing and not have the hassle of a long-term assignment.

*like about how when I sub at the high school for kids with emotional problems, I see myself in them, especially now when I can fly off the handle and rage for seemingly unimportant reasons (mostly PMS-related).  But I see the combination of my OCD/GAD and my hormones and what they make me feel inside and how they make me lash out at times.  I see this in those kids.  I worry that G will be the same.  I think that it is probably a bonafide miracle that I am not an abusive parent.

I used to regularly do NaBloPoMo, but now to blog every day would feel like a chore rather than a lifeline.

And yet, to not blog, to give it up completely, would leave me empty.

I'm working on this balancing act.  

Things I did that I enjoyed even though I don't normally enjoy them

Sometimes I wonder if I spent the early years of motherhood in an invasion of the body snatcher-type scenario since I volunteered to coordinate class parties and be a room mom, and I enjoyed it.

When N began preschool, I eagerly went to planning meetings and parties.  I took photos at every party.  I even dressed up for parties to be festive.  Same for G, although with decreased enthusiasm.  By the time M was in his second year of preschool, when parties were on Fridays, I was working at the cottage school and wasn't able to attend them except for the one in December.  And I didn't entirely mind.

For awhile, I hesitantly told teachers that if they were absolutely desperate I would be room mom (or preferably, share room-mom duty), but if someone else wanted to do it, I was happy, thrilled, ecstatic to let them have at it.  I am not, nor have I ever been, a room mom who aspires to Pinterest-greatness.  I have far too much party-related crap in my house to want to be the person who gives kids party-related crap to take to their own homes.  I think this is one of the reasons I'm more suited to middle school---give 'em pizza and let them listen to music or watch a movie.

This school year, for the first time, I didn't even put my name on the lists as even possibly being interested in helping with parties or being room mom.  I'm happy to buy icing and stickers and send them in, as well as attend the party if I'm able, but I don't want the responsibility for the party or the room decorating or the door decorating or the anything entertaining/festivity-related.

I am not a person who enjoys entertaining.  I never rarely invite people to my home.  I invite my brother, my parents, my MIL, and my SIL to the kids' birthday parties, and I host bookclub one time a year.

I don't just invite friends over for brunch or a party.  D and I don't invite couples over for dinner.  Maybe once every other year we meet another couple for dinner at a restaurant.  That's it.  I cannot imagine ever traveling with another couple on a trip.

I enjoy visiting with one friend at a time.  I enjoy going to bookclub but especially when there are only about 5 people in attendance, when we can have one single conversation that stays on track and doesn't end up being 2-3 separate conversations around the room.

For someone who likes to discuss things with other people, I really hate socializing.  If you are one of the five people on the planet (my mom included) whom I meet with for coffee or to take a walk or something....well, you are pretty damned special.

Anyway, the point of this whole thread is how I enjoyed doing things that I don't, when other opportunities abound (like teaching or writing), enjoy doing.  I'm not sure what to think about this....I ask myself, "Was I faking?"  I don't think so....I did really enjoy doing these things, and I wanted to do these things.  But my preference, especially after I've done them for years and years, is to do something else that I naturally enjoy (and it helps if I'm getting paid to do those other things).  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My sorry attempt at a post about the election

I've tried, at least 15 times, to write a blog post about the upcoming presidential election.  Each and every time, I save the draft, return later and delete everything I've written.

If there is anything good about this election, it is that it has forced me to really think about not only where I am coming from about my political beliefs, but where other people might be coming from.  I have friends and acquaintances from both parties, and this hasn't been an easy ride for many of them.
Under no circumstances do I understand the appeal of Donald Trump, but I feel like I can understand the desire of people to vote GOP because that party aligns with their general belief system and that, for them, means voting for Trump, even if they are dry-heaving as they do it.

What has been most uncomfortable for me is what this election has made me feel inside because it has brought a lot of my own internal ugliness to the forefront of my consciousness.  I say ugliness but maybe the better word would be honesty, which can sometimes feel ugly even though I'm not 100% sure it is actually ugly.

This election has made me ask myself "Where the hell do you stand, Carrie?" and the answer is that I'm sometimes in the midst of playing an internal game of Twister, with one foot in the GOP ideology, one foot in the Democratic ideology, and a hand in the third party ideology....on the exact same topic.

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." 
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

I can't, in all honesty, be a person who loves all and welcomes all unabashedly, which is how I sometimes see the Democratic party, as a big party of love.  This feels far too hokey for my personal taste.  I am far too cautious to be this way, but neither do I like what I perceive to be a party of exclusiveness and avoidance of the other, which is how I often perceive the GOP. 

I do not think abortion is right, but I also don't think I can force my belief on something that is wholly someone else's choice, even though I sometimes shudder to use the word "choice." Having carried my own babies, I would have been devastated had I lost them at 16 weeks of gestation, even though I know they were unable to survive outside of my body.  Even though they were alive, without me, they were nothing.  That seems like holding two opposing positions in my head and trying to remain sane.  But if I don't want others telling me what I can do in my bedroom, with my birth control and with my body, I can't really force my own confused and uncomfortable beliefs and feelings on someone else.  It feels an awful lot like splitting hairs when I think to myself, "I believe that life begins at conception, but I also believe that it is unviable life without the mother, and I think in this regard the mother's autonomy outweighs the life's autonomy at least until viability."  Could that be more complicated?  

I fully support LGBT rights, and yet am pretty darn conservative when it comes to marriage, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual.  I'm not always sure I understand my own feeling of "Do whatever you want with whomever you want until you promise to marry and have children.  From that point on, you stick with your promise."  And that is not even a hard-and-fast rule because I know there are all sorts of circumstances that make sticking with one's marital promise impossible.

I dislike stupid regulations but also know that businesses cannot be trusted to run without regulation of some kind.  The almighty dollar doesn't have a conscience.  

How can I feel that Donald Trump's groping statements are sexual harassment and that men should never say or do such things but also feel that women sometimes do really stupid things that certainly aren't "asking for it" but set themselves up to be in harm's way?  As a person who doesn't have a sexy bone in her body, I cannot wrap my head around women who want to dress in tight sexy clothes.  They have the right to wear whatever they want, but I have the right to think they are ridiculous for putting their bodies out there and then claiming they want people to judge them on their minds.  People will not judge you on your mind because they are distracted by your body.

Having that thought makes me uncomfortable, but I can't feel differently than what I feel. It's maddening.

This election has made me consider my own implicit biases, and I have them.  We all do, whether we think we do or not.

This election has made me consider whether I dislike outright lying more or less than sneaky lying (and we have two candidates who excel in their respective categories).

This election has exhausted me.  I am about at the point where I just want it over and don't really care anymore what happens.  It has been a fun exercise in near-constant rehashing of my personal belief system, but I'm tired.  

To find meaning in suffering

There was a time when my mood disorder caused me suffering.  Fortunately, as a result of medication, my teeth give me far more problems now than my OCD and GAD.  I am very thankful for that, although having dental work sucks.  It doesn't suck as badly as feeling like you're going crazy, though.  Dental work gets done, and you move on with life, perhaps $600-$700 poorer.  Intrusive thoughts go on and on and on.

(I also feel compelled to distinguish between what I experienced as suffering and what seems like capital S suffering, which would be living in a war-torn nation, like Syria.  Like so many things, suffering is a spectrum with degrees.  An untreated mental health disorder is on there, although not as extreme as war.  Of course, depending on the severity of the mental health disorder, they might be pretty darn close.)

Suffering has also come in the form of helping G deal with his mental health issues.  The differences between our situations are many.  He is a child, and I was not when I hit the mental health wall.  He didn't see a problem in what was going on (his behaviors), while I knew very well that something was horribly wrong with my brain.

I am not, by nature, an optimistic, glass half full person, but I can see that there has been much good for others to have come from mine and G's mental health suffering.  Having experienced this as an individual and as a mom, combined with my openness about both, have been very beneficial to others who are going through similar things.

It is a very common occurrence for people I know to confide in me about their own mental health struggles or those of their children.  And I am not particularly close to many of these people---they are acquaintances.  I am often asked questions, and I frequently provide resources to others who are just beginning their journey into treatment.

I just finished reading the book A Man Called Ove, and I very much enjoyed it.  One of the things I especially appreciated about it was that Ove, a curmudgeon to the core, was also a profoundly giving person.  I felt like I could relate to him in many ways.  When he saw things that needed to be done, people who needed to be helped, he helped them.  He was an utter pain in the ass, and a man who was experiencing a great deal of internal pain, but that didn't stop him from helping others.  It was a frequently laugh-out-loud story (and reminder to me) that what you say or what you think is far less important than what you do.

I often give myself a lot of internal grief because I am not a "classically thoughtful" person who does niceties for people.  I don't make bread and give it to others.  I don't see trinkets I think someone would like and purchase it for them "just because."  In my own way, I am a callous person.  When my own mother underwent a procedure earlier this year that caused her a lot of discomfort, it never occurred to me to make a meal and take it to her and my dad (my sister-in-law did this, which I thought was very nice and thoughtful).

As I "grow up," however, I am starting to see and, more importantly, appreciate that I have my own unique ways of being thoughtful to others.  I am starting to understand that even though my way is not "classically thoughtful," it is still giving.  Like Ove, I assist others ways that feels natural to me, even if it's not detailed-oriented niceties.

Also like Ove, the people I assist may have to contend with my curmudgeonly mouth and general outlook on life.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Kid magnet (and what I like and dislike about subbing)

My theory has usually been that middle and high schoolers are like cats, and elementary students are like dogs.

Similar to cats, a middle- or high-schooler will come around on his/her own terms--if they want and/or need you.  But if you make a move toward them, they instantly flip their tails, turn on their heels and throw shade at you.

Elementary students are yippy, energetic and bound around your feet, whipping past your legs, knocking over dogs.

Elementary school kids invade my personal space to a degree that gives me a bit of the willies.  A very sweet 4th grade girl gave me approximately 4,000 hugs in the 3 hours I was with her class the other day (teachers were having meetings).  Told me she loved me more than my own children have.

It makes me think I am a bonafide kid magnet.

I like it.....and then I get another squirt of hand sanitizer.

This year, subbing has been much easier than April and May of last year.  I expected to have zero jobs in August but easily got my 5 days in at both my kids' schools.  I am learning more each time I sub and paying attention to what I see teachers do that I like and is effective.  Like a new hallway prep song I learned:  My hands are by my side / I'm standing straight and tall / My eyes are looking straight ahead / I'm ready for the hall.  Singing or saying---it doesn't matter---1st graders ate it up.

Germs aside, there isn't much I don't like about subbing.  I like working with kids, and I like walking out the door and being done.  I like the flexibility.

If there is anything I don't like, it is not knowing which kids have what needs.  I was in a 5th grade class the other day, and a kid was being challenging.  I felt like he was bucking me a bit---not attitude, but squirrelly silliness.  Class clown-type thing.  As it turns out, I later found out the child's medication was wearing off.  I don't know if having this info would have changed how I managed the child's behavior necessarily, but it would have internally changed my understanding of the child's behavior.

I don't blame teachers for this.....they have enough to worry about in leaving good lesson plans, and it likely doesn't register which kids have special needs and situations---they are used to it and it likely just doesn't cross their mind  But it is helpful to know.

I feel like I'm getting better at subbing at the elementary level, which is not my natural forte.  I feel more comfortable among people who understand sarcasm and with whom I can use the phrase "jacked up."  First graders are not those people.  But little people are very sweet (and germy) but mostly sweet.

It's that whole animal thing, I think.  I like dogs and can spend a little time with them, but I love and can live with cats.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Oh my heavens, my bonus baby is now 7!

Dear M,

Every child is a special miracle, but you are especially miraculous and always will be.  You slipped in under the wire.  You weren't expected, and you weren't planned, but you are evidence of wondrous life happening in spite of our plans and our expectations.

I sometimes consider what life would be like if you hadn't arrived.  Who would have sung us "Bring the Chainsaw Back?"  Who would be penis bros with Daddy?  Who would provide G the buddy and helpmate he needs?  Who would be the easy-going bread on the other side of N in the family sandwich that has G as the tangy middle?

You will always be my Monkey M, the baby in the monkey costume who did his monkey crawl along the sidewalks on Halloween night.  You will always be the long-term nursling I always wanted and had to wait through two kids to get.  You will always be my special bonus baby.

Even though you are a personality at home, you tend to be shy and more reserved among others.  You are my sensitive boy who cries easily when something unexpected happens or someone unexpected appears.  And you definitely keep a wary eye out for your Uncle K, who is the world's biggest tease and likes to see if he can pull one over on you.

I love it that you put your swimming goggles on so tightly that you look like a little Asian child.  I love it that you still have a squeaky little voice.  I love it that your laugh, when you really cackle, can crack anybody in the room up and still often results in you racing to the bathroom to pee.

It astounds me that 7 years have passed since we heard the doctor say, "It's a boy!"  And even though I really liked the name Maeve Catherine, I'm really, REALLY glad I had the opportunity to use M**** D****** for you.

I hope you have great fun at your party this weekend.

All my love, always,

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The lure of travel

When D and I decided to start trying for a family way back in the day, we were sort of burned out on travel.

We certainly weren't super-adventurous travelers, but we did a bit in our 8 years of togetherness before children (2 before marriage and 6 after):

Caribbean cruise (St. Thomas / Barbados / Dominica / Martinique / Puerto Rico / St. Maarten)
Grand Cayman Island
Las Vegas, NV
The Grand Canyon
Death Valley, CA
Virginia Beach, VA, including Chincoteague, VA, Assateague Island and Colonial Williamsburg
Savannah, GA
Panama City, FL
Niagara Falls
Toronto, Canada
Italy (Florence / Rome / Isle of Capri / Sorrento / Venice)
Greece (Athens / Olympia / Delphi / various islands)

Since having children, our travel has changed.  In the past 12 years, we've been to--

Orlando, FL (Disney / Universal Studios---3 times, and if I never go back again it will be too soon.)
Traverse City, MI and the UP
Gulf Shores, AL (2 times)
Sanibel Island, FL
Edisto Island, SC
and a slathering of other small, closer-to-home places, like Indianapolis, IN, Columbus, OH and Nashville, TN

The kids have gotten to a point where I'm starting to think we can travel to some more interesting places, although the way M carried on complaining as we walked through the Indy Zoo the other day leaves me wondering how rational this plan actually is.

My goal is to take them to Utah in two years to see the Mighty 5 National Parks (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef), although realistically I'd be happy to see Zion and Bryce and call it a day.

Eventually, we want to take them to Washington, DC and over to Delaware, but that will have to be when M is closer to middle-school age.  There is enough shite in DC to not have to listen to more of it coming from my complaining kids' mouths.

Next year, though, we'll probably just go to Hilton Head, SC.  All of us love the ocean, but G, especially, loves being in the waves.

My parents always talked about taking me and my brother to a dude ranch when we were kids, but we never did.  I'm not sure why.  My parents made the mistake of listening to what my brother and I said sometimes, so when we complained about the prospect, they might have heeded our fussing.  They never did this when we complained about going to church, so I suspect a dude ranch wasn't a top priority for them.

On my personal list of places to see is the following:

Key West, FL (the tentative plan is for me and D to go here next year for our 20th anniversary--hence the reason we'll just head to the beach with the kids for a "simple" vacation.)

Maine (Arcadia National Park)
Quebec, Canada
Africa (on safari)
Yellowstone National Park

Talking about travel is one of my absolute favorite things to do if I can't actually be traveling.