Sunday, October 30, 2016

Unclogging. A sneak peak at the puzzle picture.

I felt the transformation on the way out, just as I did on the way back home from the writing conference.

On the way to Albany Airport, to Chicago and then to Vancouver and finally to Surrey, I felt the change from the all-encompassing wrapped-my-soul role of mom, Mrs Gaboury and the woman my husband rolls his eyes at to...me. To Veronica Steiger Gaboury, the writer from New York, the States, with an almost visible parenthesis around my location that apologizes for the horrible election everyone else is watching.

While I was gone, I didn't miss my roles like I thought I would. That surprised me, and probably anyone who knows me. I had said my goodbye's, wrote letters, left behind 3 pages of notes after trying to show for the last few weeks, "this is how I do it." And now it was someone else's turn to take over and I was on my way. For at least a couple of days.

Almost like a symbolic dip into a transformative pool, I stood at security and took off my shawl wrap, my scarf, my bags, my boots and immediately set off alarms, needing further clearance to leave.

For months since I pushed the registration button to the Surrey International Writer's Conference, I second guessed whether I should back out, get a refund, go another year. Despite the fact that I knew so many people who were attending this, so many from so far. Who knew when we would all reconvene again?

I was worried though because a couple of years ago I was asked to present at a National Conference for the National Writing Project in DC. It was a round table discussion with my fellow writers from my local Capital District writing group. At the last minute I let my group down, though they were gracious, and I bailed on them, feeling unable to leave the family behind to fend for themselves.

Because of Kath's disability she can sometimes be a handful for her dad or for others who may not understand her triggers and her rebalancing needs. Right before that trip things flared up and I couldn't imagine how many steps backward Kath's progress would take and how hard seeing the chaos would be on Alex. I bailed.

So here I was planning on going away again, not to present this time, but to attend, meet friends, to learn. The cost was much more. There would be much more traveling. I would be going with strangers I only knew from online. What was I thinking?

All summer I tried to prep everyone, including myself, and in-between I was cloaking myself in fear and doubt, thinking maybe I should cancel. I didn't allow myself to get excited or fully commit to the anticipation of this experience. I didn't think I could handle another huge disappointment if it didn't work out. School began and the girls and my schedules are pretty packed, how could I leave so much on their father's shoulders when he didn't know the lay of the daily land?

I think I may make it look easy. (Alex told me when I returned and she was giving me the play-by-plays of each day, that Roger had said, 'It's hard being mommy and daddy,' but she said, "He was just being daddy." Yet he did keep everyone alive and that counts!)

Finally, I decided to cancel my trip. I hadn't made flight arrangements yet, the hotel was sold out, and I had just hired a math tutor for Kath and signed her up for a science and an acro class. Alex had a comp workshop weekend coming up right after, Kath's birthday party needed to be planned. I went online to the conference's website to cancel and found out the deadline was the day before. I actually considered still canceling (just not going), losing my money and saving myself airfare and hotel, as well as, stress and incidentals.

But a friend of mine, who also has a chaotic home life like mine, told me I had to go. Had to. The family would be ok for 4 days without me, but that I needed this. I listened. (Not about going to the Halloween party this weekend, but to this I did.)

I committed. Then everything started to click, like puzzle pieces when you finally understand what the picture is supposed to look like. I suddenly had two sets of roommate options. Flight plans seemed to work out without too much jiggling. A shared cab from airport to hotel and a ride back to the airport at the end of the conference all worked easily into place.

I made plans for the house (did I mention I wrote 3 pages, many drafts), cancelled some things so my husband wouldn't be overwhelmed by my daily routine, made lesson plans for my 6 classes, discussed at length what the girls should do, how they should handle things, and packed my bags. (The only major thing I ended up forgetting was my inhaler...I didn't actually forget it, I packed one that didn't have enough puffs left to it, but after a day of panic, my breathing relaxed and I actually forgot I needed it, though I did meet someone who lent me her emergency inhaler just in case.)

Once things started to fit, the transformation began. I began to let myself get excited.

I have dreamed of going to this conference for at least ten years. I have followed the stories of online friends who went and how energizing this conference is for writers who do most of their work alone, but grow most by interactions with others.

I arrived at the hotel, checked into the conference and ran with my bags to the first Master Class. It was with Diana Gabaldon one of my favorite authors. The class was on How to Write a Sex Scene. Hmmm. I don't really need to write any scenes like this due to the genres I usually write in (young adult and non-fiction), but I just wanted to be in this class with the woman who helped me to survive some pretty intense times in my life: a divorce, a diagnosis for my daughter, my mom's death, my diagnosis, etc. I tried to absorb the 'what-would-Claire-do' factor (Claire is the main character in Ms Gabaldon's books and one of my role models) and I looked around and found some of my writing friends who always accept me to the online writing world despite how long I am missing.

Meeting up with these people I know through my writing was like a reunion; a coming home.

This experience was one of transformations, one which was the bud of a feeling and thought that perhaps my own words could become strong enough and perhaps I could write my Tabitha/Traveling Trees story and others.

For every person I met, as This-Me, it was like some archaeologically dust was brushed off and I became more uncovered and I loved what I saw. It was in my eyes, my walk, my heart, my head, my energy. I felt like I hummed at a different frequency.

I worried though that not enough dust was uncovered to complete the transformation, or to allow me to continue. It was only 4 day,s after all.

I was partially correct because once I came back it was hard to assimilate this new me with my many other roles. I returned to my old roles+plus, as though I was expected to make up time for daring to step out. Many friends asked me supportive questions about my journey. Many followed my trip on social media. My girls clung to me asking specific questions and wanting to see my pictures and hear my stories. My students were excited for me. My sons contacted me asking me about the journey. Not everyone asked or was excited, but I buzzed for days.

On the way home, after one hour of sleep, I wrote. Ten pages, handwritten. It was a rough draft for this blog, it was letters to my girls, it was a journal, so, not my story, but it was more than I have written in probably a year. I have a lot to do to make sure the dust doesn't gunk the cogs of my brain feeding the fear and self-doubt. Writing is the frequency I need to hum with. That much is evident after this trip.

More to follow....

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A year tomorrow. That was my last post- a year ago! That alone tells me how little I have emphasized my own writing time. I know it is my 'sanity' time, I know how important it is but I always put it on the bottom of the 'family's' priorities (even though I know my family does best when I am also a priority) so it does not often make it to the top. And when it does, it takes me so long to return to my Writer's Mind that I waste my time circling and circling and not writing anything of substance.

The problem is...me.

There is always something that pulls me. Pulls at me. Pulls on me. Pulls towards me. Grabs my hand and tries to drag me, but what I am going to work on is my writing-- the 'thing' that strengths my resolve and determines who I will be. I try to always make sure everyone else has Time for their events and activities, but I shuffle myself back in at the bottom of the deck.

I see the Facebook Memories of This Day and I see that many times I have said this.

Many times I have tried to shame myself into writing. I've tried to coax myself. Sometimes I have scared myself into writing and also away from writing. Mostly...I see that some of the same things I said a few years ago are still relevant: I have this story. I have this idea. I want to write. I think I can do it. If I try. Hard. If I give myself permission to fail, fall and time to recover and get back up.

I have finally grasped some form of Control in my life. Things don't always feel like we are flailing...even when I have no idea where the money will come for x, y, z or how I will juggle the schedules of the girls, husband and myself or, how I will handle a regular day in our world. Things are still flailing and out-of-control, but I have found a better way, most days, of dealing better.

I was thinking back, my husband had made a comment about how I was being 'controlling'...like when things were moved or not put back where they belong and I got ansy; or when I said certain things, like meals, had to happen within a time schedule for Kath; or when I got upset about any kind of mix-up in Kath's schedule;...and I realized that I was indeed controlling about many things now, that before, I never was. I didn't have to be once upon a time. Before Kath, life moved along or things didn't get done, no biggie, or just a ripple of a deal. Things got done or they didn't, they didn't undermine months of scaffolding and work. But since Kath, there always needs to be a 'lesson plan' or a game plan or an explanation of Life as We Do It. And since I have figured out a bit more of how Kath's brain works, I have found that my 'whatever, it will all work out' way of being, my very essence of thinking, had to change or she wouldn't have a chance to be able to handle this world and its pacing. It had to be me helping her step from her brain to this world, who else could it be?

I had mostly been the kind of person who didn't stress too much over cleaning, organizing or schedules. I liked the ebb and flow of doing and moving on. But Kath and her stroke-brain gets stuck, her engine will continue to rev and she can't figure out how to get unstuck, unless I show/tell her, unless I explain step-by-step "Ok, so what you should do now is try to think of what you could do next so that you can get the rest of this homework sheet done, and not allow yourself to get stopped here at number 2 for the whole night. What can we do? How about we leave this and come back to it? Or let's go get a drink of water and take a little walk." And then we talk through the process of How and Why. Step-by-step. With me right there. Everything is step-by-step, organized, goal-setting, otherwise everything becomes an insurmountable mountain that immobilizes her and makes her shut down.

That's what I let happen to my writing, it became a paralysis, an insurmountable mountain. I couldn't even jump into conversations with my writing friends. I couldn't figure out my next steps.

I talk about wanting to write. I sit down and tap out a few sentences and then I get called away, and it's too easy to stay revved, distracted and stuck. So I stay on the peripheral and drown in the paralysis, hardly even remembering what I am writing about anymore. I am almost afraid to even try. How did *I* get to this spot?

I have Kath on a tight leash of, 'Ok, go brush your teeth and go to the bathroom, I'll be up in a minute." And then after 5 minutes I call up, "How's it going? Ok, you need to refocus, brush your teeth now." I have to check-in and continue to build small scaffolds so her brain can soon learn to go through the motions and she will know what to do without my check-ins. But I also give her, especially in the summer but also all year, chunks of "go play" time. And each summer I see her unfold slowly, at first she wants to watch a movie, she fears the freedom, then before I know it, I struggle to get her to eat because she has immersed herself in some imaginary play, relaxing into allowing her brain the freedom to roam.

I had to learn and relearn Kath's brain to help her to be able to make a place at the World Table, or at least her classroom and playground. I had to reteach my brain so I could scaffold teaching and learning for Kath...not just for short, 'minor' issues, like how to approach a homework assignment, but all the major Life Lessons too, especially Resiliency. I think I have had my brain on a short leash, always focused on 'what is next on our agenda and how can I break it down to build her up" and now I have to teach and learn how to unleash my brain and let it 'go play' because I appear to be stagnant, revving and not accomplishing what I should be able to do in my writing at this point in my life.

So. This blog looks like it will rebound a bit and be about getting myself back into my writing like I originally intended  (for at least this summer) in addition to our journey with Kath and her brain journey.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Ripples that started 8 years ago, still reaching changing the coastline.

It’s been awhile. Once upon a time I wanted my blog to be a share of my drive as a writer and a teacher.

Within a month of that decision, it became what we are doing as a family as one of us struggles with having survived a stroke.

What I found as time went on was that I needed more writing, more immediate feedback. So I turned more to Facebook and less to blogging. I could post a status and hemi-moms, and other friends would immediately comment and I would feel less alone.

Sometimes blogging is lonely. It’s like standing in front of an audience, an audience that doesn’t show its face and doesn’t give feedback other than staying in their seats. It’s a bit like Life. Day-to-day life is lonely sometimes, no one stays in their seats. I don’t have family nearby, I don’t have a support system that bops in regularly, and even if I did I probably would only be more self-conscious of my messy, frat-like house. :)

Once upon a time I wanted to be something different than what I have been morphing into, especially these past few years. I wanted to be a leader in learning. I worked so hard to get my degree in education, interrupted for awhile as my life took a different path; I became a young mother. But I doggedly continued my schooling and graduated before 30. Then after a divorce I thought I would step up my career again and focus on becoming a voice in teaching. But I fell in love, married again and became the mom to my two girls.

Daughters are different. Raising daughters after sons is different. One daughter having a disability changed everything. I still have a career but I no longer aspire to be an education guru.

Everything shifted. It had to. This past year made it even more obvious to me: Kath had some major injuries; I couldn’t always attend meetings and committees I had committed to; Kath’s learning issues will increase as she progresses through the school system; and Alex needs me to help her balance between being the sibling of child with a disability and being a kid.

I have to look at the world with different sets of eyes. I look as a woman, a woman in her 40s who has given life to 4 children. A women who has survived divorce. A woman who teaches young students and young writers of all abilities. A woman who has survived tweens at least twice. A mom who has survived tweens. A mom who has made many mistakes, but also done some pretty good things despite inexperience and lack of confidence for my sons. A mom who has continued to make mistakes but also done some pretty good things despite experience, fear and confidence. A wife who has struggled with relationships and knowing how to claim parts of herself in a life where all parts are already claimed.

I’m not often a good wife or friend. I’m not a good daughter, sister, niece. I’m not a good daughter-in-law, sister-in-law or cousin. I don’t have enough energy to do or be more than what I already struggle with.

I live in flight or flight and survival mode most of days. I live in fear. Fear of Katharina’s struggles; her balance issues which lead to falls which sometimes mean a hospital visit; her vision issues; her understanding issues; her friendship issues, her fitting in issues-her becoming a follower issues; her everything issues.

We were walking to the ballgame stadium on Saturday and I was holding her left hand, but I could feel her struggling, she had slowed down and was moving oddly. “What’s up, toots?” “Nothing, just trying to scratch my ear with my hand and it’s hard.” “Do you want to use this hand?” “Nope.” And so she worked at making her cerebral-palsy effected right hand (the one that doesn’t listen well to her brain) scratch an itch she had on her right ear. And it reminded me that…

I don’t only live in fear. I live in awe and amazement. I live feeling honored; Kath once told me that she chose me as her mom because I was the best-while I don’t believe that I am the best, I am honored. I live with someone who struggles to comb her hair, cut her food, dress herself, wipe herself, remember math facts and climb on playground equipment. I live with someone who can’t catch a ball to save her life, but she did learn to throw a frisbee and a ball, so we have hope that we can convince her eyes and coordination to get their act together for catching. I live with someone who can snowshoe, swim, and ride a scooter. I live with someone who knows that many things the rest of us take for granted, will be a challenge, that she will have to learn around her brain spots to be able to do it…differently…that she will have to work 10X harder…but she will do it to the best of her ability…eventually.

I live with someone who teaches me grace. I live with someone who teaches me patience. I live with someone who teaches me resiliency. I live with someone who teaches me strength. I live with someone who teaches me to laugh at myself. I live with someone who teaches me forgiveness. I live with someone who taught me things are different than my plan, but that’s okay. They are still beautiful, still tasty, still bright and shiny. I live with her sister who also teaches me these things every day.

I will never be a leader in education in the way that I envisioned for myself when I graduated from high school. There was a mourning for that version of me this year. I was angry, I felt it slipping through my fingers and I was mad because that version of me could not do what I needed it to do. And damn, did I try! I couldn’t be what I need to be for Kath and Alex and be that leader-woman. And Alex needs me just as much as Kath, just differently.

My career will be a classroom teacher who schleps her bags of papers back and forth, who reads and rereads 9th graders' writings, and tries to get my students to see their own value. I will not be a speaker at conferences. I will not be a presenter at workshops. I will not write that book about teaching.

I will be Chris, Nick, Alex and Kath’s mom. All I have is there. And it is more than enough. What a wonderful revelation. I am not 'giving up,' or 'settling.' I made a very thoughtful, very honest and genuine choice.

Over this past year I have had people grab my hand and say, “Hey, I’m worried about you, are you okay?” “You are tired, I know, but are you okay?” and even just those words make me feel less-alone and more-strong. This year was a struggle as I came to grips with myself and just what my plan, path and new goals will be.

I am not just invisible as the supporting actor in my children’s and husband’s lives (Or my students').

I am me, writing my awareness posts so maybe Kath’s life will be understood by those who fear ‘others’ who are ‘different.’ Maybe my status writing and blog will help people to remember that the siblings of a special needs kid are also people who despite how amazing they are, still need support.

I am still very determined to work on my novel stories. I still have my dreams of being the best teacher my students need and a published writer.

But this year I realized my path swerved again and it’s okay. This summer I am not teaching, or going to conferences or workshops or trainings. I am teaching my girls ‘summer home-school style’ and helping Kath see how to scaffold for herself. We are writing, going to museums, the lake, reading, adding, subtracting, dancing, acting, playing, coloring, visiting family, working on projects around the house, hoping to learn sewing/quilting. I am still writing. I am still listening to my husband as he shares his career dreams that once were mine too.

And I am finally (almost all the way) okay with my new shift.

When one of us had the stroke, we all felt the ripples and we have all dealt with the life shift and change it brought, reidentifing us in our own ways. We have all morphed from who we were before the stroke to who we are during our dealing with the ripples and waves after the stroke.

And here I am.
At least for Today. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dear Governor Cuomo

While this might be too long of a letter to actually send, not sure he reads what he receives anyway, I think it is something that needs to be said. Or at least I need to say it.

To Governor Cuomo,

What can I say that others more eloquent and knowledgeable haven't already said?

My story.

I am the mother of 4 children. Chris is 27. He graduated from NY public schools and attended Bennington College in Vermont. He now works in Washington DC at a job he loves. Nick is 25, almost 26. He graduated from NY public schools. He attended the University of Rochester. Alexandra is 10 years-old, she is in 5th grade and she has gone to Miller Hill Elementary School her entire education career except that year in our local pre-school. Katharina is 8 and she has spent more time in educational programs than any of my other children had at this point in their lives. Her path has been different.

My first 3 children have always been full of curiosity, they loved to learn and had wonderful educators who helped bring them along to their next level of education. Many times that level was ahead of their peers and ahead of grade level, but these teachers were not concerned with keeping students "on the same page" or on "test prep," nor were they concerned with a formal formula curriculum, so these educators helped to feed my children's curiosity and allowed them to keep growing at their own paces, which further encouraged them to have curiosity and love of learning. It's a great natural cycle.

And these educators did it for all of their students. They met the students where they were and brought them as far they could. Not everyone reached the same end points...but they learned as much as they each were capable of. They had individualized instruction because everyone knows that everyone learns differently.

My last daughter, Katharina is a stroke survivor and she has had to be more involved with learning how to learn and formal education for some of the years my other children had free-play time. She has mild cerebral palsy, vision issues, cognitive delays and speech delays. But before you discount her as someone not worthy of a 'normal' education, let me tell you about her.

Katharina fought like hell to survive and be here. She survived a stroke before she was born. She has been blessed to have wonderful doctors at Albany Medical Center and now specialists throughout the Capital District. She had wonderful therapists and programs through the Rensselear County Early Intervention program and has amazing public school teachers in our home district of Averill Park.

My Kath has a burning curiosity and desire to learn. Just like her siblings. She has more empathy than many adults. She has the resiliency and the persistence that would outshine Olympic athletes. Her laugh is contagious, her hugs are healing and her eye contact is steady. She dances in ballet, tap and jazz with accommodating teachers who see potential and not disability. She rides a horse at hippotherapy. She loves museums and books and dolls. When she grows up she wants to work with Winter, the dolphin that the movie "Dolphin Tales" is based on.

Kath knows she had a stroke. She's beginning to understand that's the reason she can't always keep up with friends on the playground and in the classroom.

Kath is beginning to understand that for her, her life will always mean that she will need to work harder and smarter. She knows that learning her math facts means spending 5 times (or more) longer than the other kids. She knows she might not get through all of the stations in physical education class or have the time to complete an art project or finish reading the library book in the given week of borrow time. She knows she wants to play an instrument when she gets to 5th grade, besides the piano she already takes weekly lessons on with another wonderfully patient teacher. She knows when we sit to do homework each night it will probably take her two hours to do the work she missed during her different therapies as well as the 'normal' homework.

My community--Averill Park, Miller Hill Elementary School, Albany Medical Center, Rensselear County, Isabelle School of Dance, EBC Horse Therapy, Ms Mary, my friends and her siblings-- have surrounded Kath with so much love and support that Kath has succeeded in ways none of us imagined when she was first diagnosed as a massive stroke survivor.

However, what I fear now for my amazing daughter, as well as for my other daughter, my students and my husband's inner city students is a one-size-fits-all education model which does not work for the various abilities and strengths our real life children (the children behind the data) have.

We, as communities, have an obligation to raise our villages up. To lift one another to our highest branches. Our children each bloom at different times: some need more sun, some need more rain, some need more time, some need it all, but they bloom and they grow...given the respect for who they are and what they can do. And given the time they need.

The idea behind making sure that each student has an equal opportunity at a solid education is a noble one. The idea of testing and forcing each student to gallop through the curriculum regardless of how they learn is devastating to our children. Tying students' scores to the effectiveness of a teacher is insane. Teachers are not quality control agents inspecting each product and passing them along or rejecting them.

My beautiful, courageous, strong, smart, caring daughter struggles to take tests, especially timed tests. She shuts down and cries when we try to practice at home. Her confidence-level is fragile and this education reform of standardized one-size-fits-all education is chipping away at her and other students who teeter in your data margins.

The idea that next year she will be asked to have hours of test prep instead of furthering her love of learning, her curiosity, her math facts, her reading, her love of cultures is frightening. The fact that with her disability she will be permitted extra time for this insanity...time which will be taken from learning...means that my daughter will not have a chance to 'catch up'...she will not be able to ever ever catch up.

This education reform that you are pushing through, Governor Cuomo, goes against everything we have found to be research-based. This education reform will mean that only certain students will be able to get a decent education, the rest will be forced into more 'academic intervention services' (missing more classroom/learning time) for prepping for tests that are developmentally unsound and unjust.

I never want my daughter, or other children who struggle to learn the 'normal' way and speed, to believe that they are 'not-good-enough' or that there isn't enough room at the school tables for them.

I beg you to reconsider your position and your push for Common Core, standardized testing and draconian teacher evaluations. Our children need us to be the village that can help them through their school years with support and research based methods for teaching and education.

Thank you for taking your time to read this,

Veronica Gaboury
Mom of 4
Public High School English Teacher

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This was the speech I was asked to give at the Women's Business Council of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber today.

A few months ago Angela Tobin asked if I wouldn't mind speaking for the Bus Stop Club. I do not think I am a good public speaker-I am great and more-than-fine (and humble) in my classroom-but in front of other people who I have one-shot to make an impression?? I don't think I am good at first impressions. But because it was Angela and because it was for the Bus Stop Club I did it. I drove through ice and snow and I spoke and cried in front of people who had supported the Bus Stop Club for the past year. I made them cry too, so I think I did okay and I think that maybe they know a little more of what their financial support means to their Adopted Nonprofit group, the Bus Stop Club. And as the year closes out and you might be considering donations, please consider the Bus Stop Club and other groups like this. 

This is what I said.

Thank you for welcoming me here today to hear what the Bus Stop Club means to my family and so many other families.

Let me start by telling you a little about me. I am the kind of person who takes great pride in being able to take care of myself and my family. I can actually be a little crazy about it, defensive even, if someone seems to suggest that I can’t do it all.

Or at least that is how I used to be before I had my last daughter Katharina.

I am a mom of 4 children. Chris is 27, Nick is 25, Alexandra is 10 and Katharina is 8. I am a high school English teacher. I am co-advisor to Key Club (a Kiwanis group), A World of Difference (a group based off the anti-defamation league), and a group called the Knit-Wits (who like to sit together on Fridays after school and knit, crochet or learn how to knit or crochet). I also advise a group of kids after school in a writing group. I am a member of the Capital District Writing Project. I am used to being the person who holds it all together and still finds time to sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee on a summer morning.

But 8 years ago my son, Nick, who is now 25 had an accident in high school that resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury, months before I had Katharina. Katharina was diagnosed 15 months after she was born with having survived an in utero stroke, resulting in mild cerebral palsy, vision field cuts, cognitive delays and speech delays.

My world was flung into complete and utter disarray for a few years. I went through a grieving process as I watched my honor’s student son struggle and eventually drop out of college due to his concussion issues. As Kath’s therapies increased and we began to be able to feel around the outer edges of her diagnosis, I struggled with just being able to make a meal, pack a lunch, and pay the bills. I read every piece of literature on strokes I could, I found a wonderful group of parents online who eventually moved to Facebook to share stories with. I grieved the loss of the life I imagined Kath would never have access to.

Slowly over time I grew beyond most of that and my son traveled down a different path, not the one I envisioned for him, but one he has found success and validity on. And I realized that my little girl was a warrior in her own right who was not defenseless. I learned to embrace more freely who she is and how amazing she and this path we are on own, is.

I have met some of the most amazing people who have stayed when it would have been easier to leave and others who I found because we travel the same road.

But one of the most amazing and wonderful people who has blossomed right before my eyes is my daughter Alexandra. While Chris and Nick—awesome siblings in their own ways--have only lived at home for a short period of time since Kath was born, Alex has been the one who has been there every single day that Kath has been alive.

Alexandra is now 10. But she has a soul that is old and wise. And she always has. From the time Alex first met Kath at the hospital, a few hours after she was born, Alex has been linked to Kath in a way I have rarely ever seen except in fiction movies. Alex has always been a Little Mommy to Kath. When my mind blew at the fact that Kath had a stroke, Alex was solid. Poor Alex had to take on roles for older people…she found that if she didn’t put a paper in front of me with a pen in my hand, I probably wouldn’t remember to sign it. If she didn’t remember whatever was going on and needed for school and dance, it was forgotten. It was like that for a couple of years as I put everything I had into understanding strokes and what could be done around the massive damage that Kath works around.
Not once did Alex ever act out. Not once did she throw herself on the floor and demand that she get equal attention. Not once did she blame me if she missed out on something because I forgot. She would rub my back, like she was the mom, and tell me, “That’s okay, mom.”

Who does that at so early an age?

For several years we had Kath’s therapies at home. I was job sharing so every other day I was the one sitting on the floor learning how to make Kath’s muscles want to move and her brain engage; on the alternative days it was my friend and sitter; and every single day, it was Alex. She watched the therapists and then she played games with Kath that made Kath use the same skills she just learned.

Who does that at so early an age?

Alex could get Kath to do things on some days that the therapists and I couldn’t. Many times Kath…even now…will call for Alex to help her before she will call for me or her father.

I often kid around and tell people that Alex was really supposed to be MY mother and I was supposed to be her daughter. Over time my world has righted itself and I am back to being able to think and plan better than those early years. I remember when I was starting to come back and I got frustrated because Alex kept asking me about something, trying to make sure I understood something, and I got defensive, “Oh course I know *that*!” and I realized how far gone I was that she felt so responsible to make sure I got it right.

It was a bit like cold water in my face. I had focused so much on Kath that I often didn’t focus on Alex. After all, she was okay. She knew what to do and how to do this and that…and I then I thought, “Wait a second…she is only 8! She shouldn’t *have* to know all that!”

I was into alternative therapies for Kath as well as the mainstream therapies. We drove, and still do, an hour to hippotherapy…Alex had sibling lessons. When I think of that I cut myself some slack because I think that maybe…maybe…I was not AS bad as I think I was with Alex. Maybe she didn’t raise herself…completely! I did think that *she* needed something that was for her.

I also started to take Kath to massage therapy, the owner of the spa worked to loosen up Kath’s tight limbs. And I let Alex get a massage too, she worked hard with her sister. Why not?

Then one day a retired teacher, the receptionist, who worked at The Ivy Spa told me about the Bus Stop Club. She knew I was trying to make sure that I didn’t let Alex slip through the cracks. She told me this was a group she volunteered at which supported the sibling of a child with a disability.

The second meeting Alex could have gone to was a trip to Target, to go shopping. Each child was given a gift card to pick a gift for themselves. I didn’t send her because I felt like I didn’t know these people who would be taking my daughter on a bus to a store. And what was with this spending money? Huh.

After that Alex went every month. My quiet, shy girl loved going. She got to have pizza! Although I waited in the building, grading papers at a small table at the YMCA, she felt like a big kid, going to the meetings by herself. She had time to talk to other kids who had brothers or sisters with a disability or illness. Many times she told me how much easier she had it than other kids. Every time she felt like she belonged.

The people who volunteered made my quiet, shy, strong girl feel special. They listened to her. They asked her questions. They didn’t make her feel rushed (something I was often guilty of). After a sharing time the kids played games and then they had a choice of swimming or basketball. Alex always chose swimming. She is a fish who loves water…it doesn’t matter if it is 20 degrees outside. She loves the Y’s pool.

When Alex gets in the car after a meeting, she is relaxed and excited. She has talked with other people who ‘get it.’ At school she is an academic. At home she is many things—daughter, sister, Kath’s cheerleader, mother’s helper. At Bus Stop Club, she is Alex. She has a sister who has different abilities, but she is still Alex.

During the last 8 years my family has continued to struggle financially. Because of Bus Stop Club we have been able to take the girls to basketball games. Alex has even gone down to the court at half time and taken shots! We have gone to baseball games! We have gone twice to Six Flags in MA. We haven’t taken a vacation in years so having the bus, the tickets, and meals taken care of for the day made it so we could concentrate on just the kids for the day. My son Nick has even come and shared the day with us. Alex did go shopping at Target last year with her gift certificate and she bought herself something and she, of course, bought Kath a little something.

Alex has not been able to go to meetings this school year because she has made her dance school’s  competition team and both are on the same night. But we look each month to see when we get the emails to see if there is something she can attend. And we will keep doing that because we know she will be welcomed back at any time. What a great feeling.

Alex made connections through Bus Stop Club. She felt like she was not the only person in the world with a sister who had a disability and a family that struggled sometimes.

It’s harder for adults to make these kinds of connections, but when the families all sit together in an arena, or on a bus, we may not have deep conversations about the future of the country or religion, but we all know that we are all going through something similar. And for just a couple of hours we are less alone.

And that less-alone feeling that is provided by you, by Bus Stop Club, makes it so we families can sometimes reset ourselves, stop the teetering for a couple of hours, so we can do what we need to do the rest of the time. I will never again believe I can do it all on my own, but I also know that it’s okay that I need and get help sometimes. Thank you for all you have provided my family and so many other families.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Stay With Me

I was reading an article on my front porch this morning and it made me sob. November is always tough for me. It used to be that I struggled with this month because it is a light-less month. It feels suffocating to be in the dark so long.

It’s also a month where I start to feel overwhelmed by school work, by the needs of my students, the needs of my family, the lack of time for me. I had to cancel pamper time (I planned at the beginning of summer) for me yesterday because I couldn’t be two places at once. I needed to be somewhere for Alex.

But now it’s also a month where I relive some of the most challenging times of my life.

Kath’s birth day. And the year before and the year after.

The year surrounding her birth was one of my most difficult. My son Nick had an accident the previous February in physical education class that landed him with a Traumatic Brain Injury diagnosis and 4 days in the hospital, 3 of them in ICU. It put the brakes on the life he had been flowing with; he has struggled to come back up to a place he feels he belongs and can get foothold to move forward.

I remember when I was pregnant with Kath and I prayed, as I stepped in to watch a class for a special education class for a few minutes, that I would never have a ‘special ed’ child-- I was so wrapped up in worry about not being able to help Nick; watching as my other son Chris was moving on in college-- and I knew I could never handle what these women, these moms of kids with disabilities, dealt with every day. This stuff, this life I was in, was hard enough.

It was a soul exhausting time and I remember that first night of Kath’s life. I sat crying because it hurt to get up and down with her but I was afraid to fall asleep with her in the hospital bed. Roger had gone home to be with my other daughter Alex and to work on school work. I questioned myself and being able to handle what I had already and now there was someone new who needed me even more. I know now most of this was postpartum, but at the time, I knew how to behave and answer questions to the nurses so as not to raise eye brows. I was ashamed, what kind of mother has these thoughts?

I lay in the dark watching the nurses come and go and I felt trapped. It wasn’t just about not being able to get up and down without pain. It was about my body being stretched out of shape, again. It was about my nipples hurting so much from nursing attempts. It was about putting the hard-fought career I had been building on hold, again. It was knowing that my writing would again take a back seat to my care and love of this new little one.

A woman’s life changes in so many shallow and deep ways. I knew that my breaths would be for someone else. Yet, one more piece of my heart was now on the outside of my body. I don’t think men feel it that deeply.

I lay there feeling selfish, unworthy and very much alone. How dare I be a mom of this miracle, I had this beautiful perfect baby, and all I could think about was what was going to shift in my life?

I’ve tried to tell others but my thoughts always felt ‘wrong’ to share.

We brought her home. My husband named her. My one contribution of her name was making sure there was the “h” in her name (Katharina) and it is the part that is mostly silenced or left out by others. 

Everything changed for me. Child four. I held her and she pushed me away. I tried to nurse her and she pushed me away. She’d stare at me and behind me. She’d smile above my head and I said she saw her angels. But I felt alone.

I took care of everyone. But didn’t take care of anyone. I couldn’t get it all balanced. I put her on my hips and ran after Alex. I put her on my hip and cooked meals for everyone. I put her on my hip and sang to her and danced with her as I drove around trying to keep my head together going to the other kids' events.

My love for her was as deep as with my other children but it also moved me onto another path, a path where I was alone. None of my friends were having babies, except one friend who lost her baby during her second trimester; being around me after that was too painful. I am an 'older' mom. My husband has his career and his own life shifts he was dealing with. When I struggle, I wrap myself up tighter, self-protection-mode. I am not easy to deal with.

There were mornings Kath smiled and my world lit up. And other mornings where she would not smile for anything, she would not reach her arms up for me, she didn’t want me, I thought.

A year after her birth I traveled to Nicaragua to visit my oldest knowing when I came back Kath would be going to start a string of specialists because through it all, I finally knew something was wrong. What made it so she was missing her milestones? I had my other kids’ baby books out and she was far outside their boundaries. I thought maybe she was on my hip too much. I put her down. She sat and watched us but wouldn’t move beyond swaying. If someone came near her she would startle and scream. No one wanted to hold her and I wouldn’t have let them anyway. Momma bear was rearing up.

When we saw her pediatrician in November she told us, “I am not worried yet, but I trust my parents,” and she set us up with Early Intervention therapists. They came and evaluated Kath in December and before they left they said she qualified for services and the plans started, she would start immediately.

Two weeks later, in January, Kath began Physical Therapy. Kath had started to learn that she couldn’t do certain things, like move her arm so Sue taught me how to show her to work around her brain and make memory paths in Kath’s through repetition.

At the end of January we met with a neurologist. He said it was either cerebral palsy or degenerative autism (or something, I don’t recall). I remember hearing ‘CP’ and knowing of two students in my school who were in wheelchairs, I was shaken to my core, deeply. We scheduled an MRI and waited. Fortunately there was a cancellation and two days later we got the call.

Katharina had survived a massive stroke during her second trimester that caused damage to both sides of brain but mostly her left occipital parietal lobe. It meant her vision was probably damaged, she would have cognitive and speech delays as well cerebral palsy on her right side.

This morning's article that made me sob lightly touched on what I felt at this point. I did what I could to live a healthy life, but I still couldn't prevent this or protect my daughter. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink (I do drink more occasional glasses of wine now!). I exercised, somewhat. I took my vitamins, but somehow this had to be my fault. I didn’t keep her safe and healthy. I screwed something up…and then I remembered my secret prayer to God all those months ago, “Please don’t give me a child with special needs.”

I had done this. I had cursed her with this life because I was so selfish.

I know most of this sounds crazy and unreasonable to most who will read this. I know I didn’t do anything to cause her stroke, but sometimes these thoughts leak through my pores and spill out into my life.

A mother's world changes in ways a man will never know. A father may glimpse at it.

But it is usually a mother's world that shifts and must accommodate the fault lines.

I grieved intensely for a long time, for her and for me. I knew I wouldn’t go into any sort of leadership or consultant path now. I knew life would be a struggle for her.

When I look at old pictures I can see how my once open and bright eyes became distant, pushing the smiles. My husband and I dealt differently. Roger dealt by starting a second job. He was asleep by the time I got the girls to bed and was up and out before the house woke up. He was still taking classes, he stayed at school late. I dealt with the therapies, specialists and the day-to- day juggling act.

Two weeks after the diagnosis, while he was driving home during a snowstorm from an administration program he had started that fall, Roger answered my phone call. While telling me he was almost home, he flipped his car in a ditch. The last thing I heard was, “Oh no, hold on a sec.” then the phone went dead and I was standing on the stairs, with Kath in my arms and Alex nearby, screaming into the phone, begging him to answer me.

There are times I swear we can feel our brains shatter. Mine had done a good job trying to hold it all together, but it chugged to a halt that night and I felt a shift. Yet another one. This was one of self-preservation.

Roger needed 6 staples to his head. He refused to quit the second job, despite the anxiety I was in every single morning he left; despite how it was twisting our relationship; despite how it made me the one who shouldered all the decisions about Kath’s care, as well as Alex’s; however, that job is why we have been able to hang onto our home despite great financial challenges. But I felt more alone. I know he did too. We moved in parallel worlds.

He worked. I read lots of books, blogs, articles and I read… Kath.

Kath struggled with transitions so everything revolved around learning how to best teach her, how to make it so she could learn. The year before I returned full-time to teaching she had 13 therapies a week. I kept the therapies at home instead of at a school because that seemed to be best and the calmest place to center her.

I learned that she couldn’t see peripherally so I made sure I positioned her when holding her or standing near her that I blocked her so people couldn’t startle her when they seemed to come out of no where. I learned to warn her verbally about people coming up to her.

I learned that too much stimulation made it so she couldn’t figure out what to focus on; we stopped going to busy places, like Chuckie Cheese or the mall. We left events early if she seemed to get overwhelmed. Poor Alex had to leave too.

I learned how Kath’s balance could or would not compensate for other children, for different and uneven surfaces and for various lightening. My hands were always close enough to catch her or to at least make sure she wouldn’t break when she did.

I learned that she watched face expressions carefully and if she thought you were upset with her she would try to make you laugh. She was my Muppet’s Fozzie Bear. But she would take it to the point that one of her first teachers at a special education school thought she was misbehaving. This teacher then wouldn’t give Kath the positive smiles she sought, so Kath started to fear and hate school. Until she met her public school special education teacher, Mrs. Brown, that is.

I learned that she had swallowing issues that made nursing difficult, then later chewing and swallowing solid food. She pocketed food like a chipmunk and didn't know how to get it out of her mouth. We worked on teaching her and reminding her to swallow.

I learned that if she was not hydrated she would be challenging, if she ate too much sugar she would lose her mind, if she didn’t have enough protein she couldn’t pull herself back from the edge.

I learned that she hates having her arms immobile, held against me when nursing, even now she needs her arms out of the night blankets, she doesn't like to feel trapped.

I learned she didn’t lift her arms for me, or hug me, because she couldn’t.

I learned that other people have no patience for little kids, but they fear how to handle a child who has ‘issues.’

I learned that friends cannot always deal with difficulties and they move away from being with you because you are too heavy. Everything in your life is about what you are dealing with. And it should be because you are the one who has to give subtitles of Life to your little one. I also learned that sometimes they feel guilty about it so they make you hurt on their way out.

I learned that it is lonely being different from mainstream.

I learned that just as I have to teach Kath to be careful of others, I too can’t be too careful. I still share too much in my effort to understand my world, in my effort to make sure no one else ever feels as I did, in my attempts to make people understand her and me.

I learned I have to teach her where her weak spots are so I can also show her where her strengths are.

I learned I have to teach myself the same thing.

I learned that this wasn’t my fault. We had her blood tested and everything came back normal. We didn’t have my blood tested. So there is always the, “it could have been me” but I have also been told that it could have been the environment (whatever that means) and I have been told “sometimes these things happen.” But the guilt is there. Always, anyway.

The oxygen turned off while she was in my body. She had a massive stroke. The oxygen came back on. Unborn babies can have strokes, I never knew that. Another lesson.

When she was real small and I had started to try to explain her stroke to her she said, "I remember when I was in you. You told me to stay with you. And I did."

I never was on this shift, this journey, by myself after all. She is right there. And regardless of my guilt she loves me.

Maybe when she gets older and understands it better she might blame me for her shifts and struggles. But for this year I am getting better at forgiving myself. Or maybe I am just getting better at being okay with losing control of the plans I make. Maybe I am getting better with being okay with being alone sometimes and seeking out those who can handle me when I need them.

Maybe it is about the resiliency of reaching out, staying and proceeding calmly.

I’m still learning, and my girl teaches me every day. And she gives some of the best hugs.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Balancing Act of teaching...writing...and being a family.

Balance

This summer, I have spoken a lot about balance and sustainability with Roger, my husband of 12 years. We are both writers and teachers, me for 17 years and him for 15, with big plans for what we feel we want to accomplish. And we are parents to 4 children: two sons, aged 26 and 25 who are off and on their own, and two girls, aged 10 and 7 who are still in the need of having parents who prioritize them. Our seven year-old is also a stroke survivor who has mild cerebral palsy, vision issues, cognitive delays and speech delays.

Balance is not something either one of us feels we have done well in the first 12 years of our lives. Our married lives anyway. So now, before we head into another school year, we want to have a plan.

He has just experienced a week of the Freedom Writers Institute with Erin Gruwell. A week he feels empowered him, surrounded him by people of a variety of ages and backgrounds and teaching levels, all searching for what I consider the Golden Ticket.  A way into making their teaching magical and powerful and everlasting. He immersed himself into the program so much so that we barely heard from him: he barely responded to texts; said goodnight to his children or me; and rarely checked in just to make sure we were all breathing. Sure there was a 3-hour time difference to contend with but it would have been nice to hear his voice more often anyway. And this is something he has always struggled with anyway … during the school year, he leaves for school often before the girls wake up and gets home shortly before their bedtime, most nights anyway. And summers he fills with professional development opportunities, curriculum development and overall “thinking about” school rather than recharging and reconnecting with family as the main priorities. It is something many teachers struggle with…balancing the need of your students with the needs of your family. 

He came out of this latest experience feeling he ‘found his smile’ like Billy Crystal in the City Slickers movie and that this experience surrounded him by a legion of people who made him feel like he was ‘not alone’ in his classroom anymore and that he was ready to use his new-found anger to make the changes in his inner-city school in a more powerful, aggressive, meaningful way.

I, of course, feel jealous and hurt that he had to find his smile elsewhere but he assures me that though he found his smile elsewhere, his happiness is with me. Aren’t those words sweet?

We met as teachers. In a Shakespeare workshop. What a surprise, right? Our first conversations were all about our philosophies in the classroom. One of his first statements that we laughed about was when he said, “I hope to see your room one day!” after hearing about how I described my classroom. He meant my classroom. I thought he meant my bedroom. And that symbolizes us. He is more about furthering his career and I learned from a failed marriage that I need to work on being there for the people who I treasure. Neither is wrong.

I have struggled with the balance of family and career as well, but maybe because I have had family before my career it is a different path for me. I had to go finish my teaching degree and master’s degree part time while raising my young boys, working and going through a rough soul-ripping divorce. I made sure I cooked a real meat and potatoes meal every night possible (now I’m okay with occasional cereal and sandwiches because I am around much more). I went to every one of the boys’ games and events that I could, even if it took me longer to get there and drive back than to actually stand there watching. I drove to pick them up from Ski Club –out of state—when it would have been easier to pick them up from their school after the bus dropped them off, and it would have given me time to do some of my schoolwork. Then I remarried and when we had the girls I stepped down from my full-time job and job-shared my position so I could be home to raise our children. When Kath was diagnosed I hunkered down and focused every waking moment into making sure she had what she needed---therapy-wise, attention-wise (she choked often when eating too) and then I tried to make sure my other children did not feel like ‘my other children.’ My classroom teaching was far from what I consider being an excellent educator … especially because I took forever reading and commenting on assignments, grading tests and so on. My interactions with my students were solid, I paid attention to the humans in front of me, I had good plans and ideas, but my follow through with turning back assignments was horrible because when I came home … I was Mom. I leave my school every day after school, no matter what by 3, so I can be the girls’ pick-up, I don’t stay until the students decide to leave. I have come to the realization that I will never be the Teacher I once thought I would be. I can’t be that person I dreamed of … because I cannot put my career ahead of my family. They need me even more than my students.

Even in how we handled our anniversary shows how we have grown to value different things. I worked for a week on a 5 page letter to him, re-dedicating myself to our marriage and our lives. He gave me flowers, let me nap, and cleaned the area in the garage where I need to go to reach dinner prep stuff. He had planned to make me a trellis for my garden but wasn’t able to get the saw and the wood he needed because he didn’t look for them until the day of, and after the hardware store had closed. We move differently and prioritize differently.

The man who grew his hair because I said I loved running my fingers through his long hair. The man who practiced a song for weeks to sing to me at our wedding. The man who surprised me with a horse drawn carriage from the church to our home reception ‘ran out of time’ to make me something or write me something. But he made sure he did things he thought I would treasure as a symbolism of our 12 years.

And I have decided that maybe that is our balance.

Balance. How on earth does one create a balance as a teacher---a job where one can easily get pulled into the lives of the 25-150 students in front of us…then come home and be mom and wife/father and husband in any real way? And write? And read? And keep individual dreams alive?

That is what my husband and I, as teachers and partners, are trying to understand. I contend that we need to understand what our goals are. And make a plan. I contend that we need to schedule and be merciless in that schedule and rigor … yes, in regard to our careers, but never to the detriment of our loved ones. We agree, at least until September. J

I don’t think that is possible for many of us—to really budget career and home. Yes, you see some teachers leaving when the bell rings, every day, and you know they are going home and not bringing schoolwork…but does that mean they are not attending to their students and their career in the same way? On the other hand, you see some teachers who leave late, lug home bags and lug them back…does that mean they are attending to their family?

Where is the balance?

Is it making sure to maintain eye contact, that visible connection, with family during dinner around the table every night? Is it in each parent trading off the responsibilities of planning and making the dinner? Is it in limiting the after school activities of the children so there can be time for homemade meals and sit down dinners with all of us? Is it in making sure each partner gets some time to explore their writing, their teaching, do their grading and planning…in a non-guilty take-turns way?  Is it in waiting for the kids to get old enough to swap in to take over some of the chores?

What if we…our family…could find a way to balance and take turns so that we can all achieve all of our goals and desires?

Is Balance sometimes deciding that maybe…just maybe…the balance is bigger? The balance is me stepping back so he can step up to do what he feels he needs to do and me stepping up in the home areas to take care of what I feel I need to do? Is maybe balance of family and work in a family of two teachers and writers…could it maybe be about reworking the boundaries and reworking the definitions so you can see if it can work and everyone can get what they want and need?

This year, with his new-found smile and legion-backing of the Freedom Writers and his desire to change the world, and my rediscovered storytelling world and desire to be Wife/Mom/Teacher and my desire to make my place, my here and now,a better place…maybe we can balance one another out, strengthen one another, not leave the other feeling disconnected and adrift? And at the same time strengthen our family? Maybe we can both reach our goals, sustain one another and balance our family out.

Stay tuned to see what we discover.

PS He helped me edit and clarify this post. :)



Sunday, August 10, 2014

August is like one long Sunday night, said someone, probably a teacher. (Snippet of my story included)

It has been a wonderful summer. We have played (Alex was in the play School House Rock Jr Live, her first experience), we have  swam, we have gardened, we have had dance classes, writing camps, and reading. We have had museum visits and traveling to DC to visit big brother Chris. Kath has gotten her leg brace (that's for another post, later). We went to Six Flags (girls earned free tickets through school because of their reading) with big brother Nick. Roger did raise the money to attend (he is there right now) the Freedom Writers Institute. We have two events still to attend with the Bus Stop Club (they pay) including a baseball game and another Six Flags trip, this time to MA. I have had many morning coffees on my beautiful front porch. We have paid off 3 more bills (it's amazing how in-debt one little family can get in a few short years and how it takes double that time to pull out of crisis, another post on that later too! It's probably not so amazing how Centered financial struggles are to how a family functions, but still very important) which will make our lives much easier--once we start getting paychecks again, but we are still going to squeak into September paycheck season on a wing and a prayer, as usual, though maybe a little harder-hitting this year (unless we win Lotto, haha). And I have found a powerful, inspirational on-line (open 24 hours a day and many write fiction) writing group to compliment my in-person (mostly non-fiction/teacher oriented writing) local one.

But it is August. For teachers that is like a month of Sundays (ie anxiety, nightmares, and feelings like time was not well spent).

And the bank accounts are depleted.
And there is a big chance my friend who has watched my girls since shortly after I started back to work after Alex was born will not be able to take care of them this year (Defcon RED has been reached).
And I have not completed all the projects on my summer list.
And I have not read all the books I wanted to read.
And I haven't gotten in shape (though the girls and I ran/walked a 5k yesterday!).

And well...my first draft isn't done.

I told myself at the start of the summer that if I didn't finally get out a first draft of the story that has been bugging me for years, that I was going to put it down and move onto my other stories, other pieces of writing. I have made a ton of progress, but I am not there yet. So to push me towards that final sprint of August  I decided to Shame Myself into sharing a bit of what I do have. Is that okay? I did, afterall, start this blog 6 and a 1/2 years ago as a Writing Blog, but it morphed into a Life-ish blog when Kath was diagnosed. Anyway...here is me, challenging myself to finish.my.damn.story. Disclaimer...still in rough rough stage.

Here it is:

I hadn’t been in the woods for a bit. At first it was because of what happened to my grandma. Even though no one found her body, it was a pretty mysterious way for a 60 year-old to disappear. When the police first came to investigate, they asked questions about grandpa’s and her marriage and they asked us if they had been arguing. It was clear that at first they expected something strange had gone on between grandma and grandpa, which anyone who knew them knew that they loved one another greatly. Grandpa would rather die than to have anything happen to her.
At first I was mad at the woods because that’s where grandma went missing, and no one would let us kids near the trails, but over time, no one stopped us. But also none of us tried to go back into the woods. Why would we? I’m not sure what they decided happened to grandma, but no one seemed to think there was anything sinister in the woods. Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed, because I couldn’t seem to remember things like I used to, like the day that grandma disappeared, I was with her, but I couldn't remember anything. My lack of memory was a bit scary, but I didn’t want anything else to be wrong with me so I pretended I was fine and went about my days as usual. I didn't tell anyone.
Shrugging off my negative thoughts again, I grabbed my backpack which I always had stuffed with my notebooks, pens and granola bars and headed towards my door. With any luck, everyone would still be sleeping and I could slip out unnoticed and be back before anyone suspected I had gone. Hopefully my parents would just think I was sleeping in.
As I began to pull the bedroom door closed behind me, my eye caught a glimpse of the picture on my wall. It reminded me of a picture from the children’s book grandma read to me a child, Goodnight Moon, even though the view was not of the quiet sleeping room, but rather it was of a gothic looking house with two huge stained glass windows. It had the same green walls and a red balloon floating in the background. Even when I was a kid, I always did a quick double check on that balloon, it always appeared to be coming through the frame and into the room, or at least moving around.
But that was crazy.
And I saw a shrink once a week to stuff that kind of crazy back in.

Breathing in deep I could she smell bacon. Mom was making Saturday morning breakfast. That usually meant the regular chores would not be completed. Chances of my hike just improved greatly, everyone would be in relax-mode.
I heard sounds from my brother’s room, but they stopped when I paused by his door. Latham probably woke himself up to play video games but didn’t want mom and dad to know because they would make him do his chores or homework first.
I continued down the hall to the stairs, but it was right there as I took my first step down that I finally realized what was wrong, what felt different when I first swung my legs over to get out of bed. It shook me so much that it was as though I was being pushed from behind. I grabbed the banister so I wouldn’t fall.
I wasn’t limping.
I wasn’t tight.
I didn’t struggle with pulling up my jeans or pulling my shirt over my head.
I just did it. It was as if I woke up and didn’t have CP, or at least this is what I *thought* that would feel like.
Not knowing what to make of this all I decided to just keep going and try to figure it out as I hiked. I had felt like I needed to be alone today; now it was imperative. Maybe I was really just starting to go crazy. What was it that Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451 said, "I'm 17 and crazy"? Well, I'm only 16 but maybe crazy starts sooner in the country.
I knew my father was awake because the coffee was brewing as well the bacon was sizzling, he was the coffee maker. But he wasn’t sitting at the table nor was he between me and the door. No one was tending to the bacon, so I got to the mudroom and grabbed my boots. I didn’t even want to take the time to lace up them, I didn’t want to be stopped. I grabbed the boots in my hand and slid out the screen door into the early Indian summer morning and headed towards the small, almost invisible to the eye, opening in our berry bushes.
I walked across the yard, my socks getting damp in the morning dew, but I kept going. If I made it without being noticed I could sit on the bench at the start of the trail and pull them on, unseen by anyone looking by chance through a window in the house. If I didn’t, well…I didn’t want to think about that, I already was feeling insane, being caught walking in wet socks wouldn’t make me look any saner.
I looked back once I made it to the bush divide and I thought I saw the curtain in Latham’s room shift but I turned and continued on. He’d rather play his games then come for an actual outdoor adventure. He wouldn’t want to get cold or wet or use real muscles. He also wouldn’t want to risk telling on me and having to follow me out here today. So I knew I was safe as I headed down the hill to the bench.
Maybe I was dreaming. This was all just so weird. Maybe I really was still in bed with Buffy laying across my legs pinning me to the bed, stealing my blankets. I had that weird feeling that time was moving at a strange pace so maybe I should just go with it and maybe I’d find that it was all okay. Just a dream. A pretty elaborate dream...but a dream.
I started walking the path. The leaves were so thick on the trail that I shuffled through them, making quite the noise emission as I went. I’m sure every woodland animal heard me coming from a mile away. The rustling of the leaves were such that I never even heard him until he tapped my shoulder and I screamed, turned and punched him right in the mouth. Latham's eyes flew open and he held his hand to his jaw with a shocked expression.
“What?! Why would you do that?!”
I ran to him and tried to touch him but he backed away, now starting to get angry. “I’m sorry Latham. I was just so surprised! I was in my own thoughts, the leaves were loud…I was thinking about grandma….”
His look softened as he rubbed his jaw. “Ok, but still. I had no idea you could move so fast!”
I bit my tongue because I didn’t really want to tell him about my weird feelings…feelings like the cerebral palsy I was born with had gone away when I woke up this morning. That would sound so weird and he would drag me back home to tell mom. And I felt a pull, a need, to continue on.
“Yeah, well. Don’t scare me.” I turned and continued on. I expected that he would just turn around and leave me alone, but nope, he followed me.
“So where are you off to today? You haven’t hiked in a long time,” he started to try to bring a conversation into our walk.
I didn’t really want to talk, I had been looking forward to this walk all week and now he was ruining it…making twice as much noise and trying to talk to me. I could not catch a break. I just wanted to be alone to try to figure things out. ‘It’ being the lack of muscle tightness. And ‘it’ being the cafeteria fiasco yesterday and my crazy friends. "It" being everything in my life that didn't make sense. Everyone said that your teenage years were supposed to be your best years, but if this was 'good'!? Oh boy. I just wanted some time away from everyone, time to think.
But when the albino deer stepped into the path and stared at us both, I was suddenly very glad Latham was by my side, even if he took an extra step and walked into me before noticing the deer. The way the deer stomped its front right paw, lowered its head and stared without blinking was not very deer-like. It was more aggressive than any deer I had ever seen in my woods before.
“Shoo…go along now, shoo,” I said to it. I was tired of everything getting in my way today. Now a deer?? This was just ridiculous!
“Are you trying to be scary,” said the deer, “or just dramatic?”
Now it was my turn to take a step back. How was this deer talking? If I felt like I was in a dream before, now I knew I had to be! This had to be a dream and I really was just in my bed snuggled in. That idea helped me not to panic and run away screaming.
But there was another part of me that felt almost like this was déjà vu. Especially when the man dressed all in black stepped out from the curve of trees.
“Were you really just talking to a deer? That’s kind of cute.” The deer stamped his foot again like he was angry at those words, turned and walked back down the trail a little more, then it stepped off the trail and disappeared down a ravine. A steep one judging from how quickly it disappeared from my view.
“You both need to come with me. We have been waiting a long time for you.” And with that the man swirled around and his long duster swirled with him, miraculously not catching on any brambles. It was almost like he was a hologram because I kept getting caught and had to pull thorns out of my skin, which lead me back to realizing this was now my number one reason for knowing this couldn’t really be a dream-- I was bleeding. But the insanity of the moment was too much to process so I decided to pretend anyway.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What does summer mean?

Summer means that I can think about my family foremost...and not my students, state ed, grading and the assorted groups I advise.

Summer means I can clean my frat-house-like house.

Summer means that I can teach two weeks of a teen writing camp and one week of a young writers camp. Imagine teaching to students who WANT to be there and who want to write!

Summer means that I get to have luxurious cups of coffee that I can drink while hot.

Summer means being able to go to the bathroom when I actually need to.

Summer means I can refill my brain with stories and words that I use during the school year faster than I can refill.

Summer means I can reconnect with my family.

Summer means I can sit without moving.

But mostly for me, this summer especially means that I am giving myself an ultimatum. This summer I must get at least a shitty first draft out of the story I have been gnawing at the edges for in one form or another for the past several years.

I have danced around writing Swinger Of Birches. I have set it aside to care for everyone and everything else and I have pushed back my writing as though it were that luxurious cup of coffee.

This summer is it. I will write or burst. And now I have written it down and posted it, not just said it to my writing group. The pressure is on.

Feet to fire.

Summer means ...giving myself an ultimatum. Write this story or finally move on to another writing piece.




Monday, May 26, 2014

Traffic Circles

Sometimes I feel like life is a giant traffic circle.

I think you can almost figure out how one handles life by how they approach a traffic circle. Or at least how they handle life at this particular phase of their life anyway.

One day about a month ago I was at a traffic circle on Fuller Road in Albany. The people in front of me, about 4 cars ahead, were stopped because there were cars whipping around, no one was doing a long enough pause at their red yield station to allow another car at another station a chance to pull in...the take-turn method was clearly not working with this particular group of vehicle users, our part of the circle was stuck waiting for a chance to break in. So the man behind me began to beep his horn, angrily. I put my hands up so the car in front of me knew it was not me beeping and I decided to try to ignore the man, so I could give attention to what was going on in front of me.

When it came my turn, again people were speeding around, faster than traffic circle speed limits. This time I could see a young driver approaching and he was obviously struggling with his speed and which lane and so on, so I waited. I am a teacher after all, I can wait for a young person to figure out something painfully obvious to me. I began to prepare for my turn to pull out when the male driver behind me (the one who was beeping seconds before) just about lost his mind and suddenly appeared on my left, almost grazed my car in his effort to get around me, nearly hit the young driver and gunned it so he could make a right turn around me...I was going straight into the circle.

My daughter Alex was in the car with me. Had this man hit my car and injured her I am pretty sure I would be in jail right now because the anger that welled up was so intense and primal.

He did not hit me, nor did he hit the young driver. He pulled way and off into the sunset. I am pretty sure he thought he taught us all what to do in a traffic circle. You go.

I have since been reading posts about traffic circles on Facebook (funny how that happens, you experience something and you notice people talking about the same subject) and I have been watching how people handle them in various towns where they have sprung up.

It seems to be there are very specific ways people deal with traffic circles.

And I imagine this is how they handle life, especially the people they interact with. I have found that the way I handle traffic circles is how I handle people and I am proud of it. I can sleep at night knowing that the three seconds I could have used to get ahead of that slow driver were not necessary nor worth putting everyone else's lives at risk. I waste more time than that checking Facebook for goodness sake!

There are the people who pretend there is no traffic circle. They don't slow down. They don't look to the sides to see who is coming. Everyone else must watch out for them or rue their choice. I imagine these people are the ones who see inconvenience in most parts of life and are angry that they have to even deal with other humans. I wonder how they would deal with my students who struggle and need more time. I wonder how they would take the extra seconds it takes to re-explain something to my Kath. If they don't have patience for something so minor, like waiting their turn for a traffic circle, what kind of patience do they show to other parts of humanity throughout their day? How many other times during the day do they only think of how things affect them and just push their own agenda through?

There are people who come to a complete stop even if no one except them (and me behind them) are on this strip of road. Maybe they had a bad experience before so they just.stop.and.won't.move.for.a.long.moment. Are these the people for whom life moves way too fast? Are they my struggling students, my grieving friends who just need a second to remember where they are and where they are going? I imagine those times when I realized I drove upstate to Long Island when my mom was dying and I had no idea how I did it and I don't remember much of the actual driving. Are they dealing with something I cannot even imagine?

There are the people who pause, foot on break, coasting and testing the waters, gauging the pace of the other cars, ready to stop when that one person speeds up or doesn't use their indicator. There are people who know that there are all different types of people going through all different issues.

At one point in my life I would have been the first driver and just said, "You don't have a red light, you have a red yield, go. Go! Hurry! We are going to miss our chance. UGH. Why didn't you just go, dammit. Now I'm going to be late...."

Then life happened. And I'd like to think I grew up.

Now I look at the drivers. I look to see if they see me, if they are looking where they are going. If they slow down, unsure, I don't make them more anxious, I give them space. And I don't drive up next to them sneering at them if they do something jerky.

I'll get to where I need to. And I will try to do it without making anyone else more anxious, angry or unsettled. I picture my friends in the other cars. I have patience for them, why not have patience for someone else's friend? I picture my mom or my dad in the other cars. I have patience for them, why not for someone else's mom or dad? I picture my students and I picture my kids. I have patience for them, why not have patience for someone else's kids?

What if how we handled a traffic circle was how we handled everyone in all our interactions; what if we just gave one another a second to breathe, think and go at their pace? Imagine that world? That's where I want to live. And that's where I want this next generation and especially my children to live. Don't you?