Saturday, December 29, 2012

December is closing this sad year, allowing hope to peek in....

To say it has been a stressful year is to make a huge understatement.

I wrote. A lot. But still didn't make traction on my story/stories or my blog.

Mostly because my year was mournful.
~My mother passed away in June after an intense 5-week battle with lung cancer. ~My friend from school passed away from her intense battle with breast cancer. ~Teachers battled intensely on every front, the stigma society placed on us of being 'union thugs' and 'careless with their taxes.' (So while society tried to bridle us, we choked and spit and found ourselves still trying to hold the kids above the river we were all crossing, yet we knew these new tests would pull many of our children away from our grips. And still society wore us down by blaming us and claiming they were merely 'holding us accountable' was as if those-not-in-education had all suddenly lost their ability to reason and remember that kids do not do their best learning (nor do we do our best teaching) in linear standardized fashions.) ~Super Storm Sandy slammed into the East Coast and many felt as though we were seeing a third world country hit by disaster, not a land a mere 200 miles away. ~The loss of more than one student and more than one parent of a student due to accidents, drug overdoses and illnesses. ~The loss of friends' children from seizures, strokes, infections, and depression. Then something even heavier happened a couple of weeks ago, after several shootings at movie theaters, malls and colleges...there was a shooting in an elementary school and we lost again. And last week two volunteer firefighters lost their lives and two others have to fight for theirs because they were shot while responding to a fire.

Gun control. Mental illness. Mother relationships. Hero teachers. Who knows what the answer will be?

Who knows what the question is?

I'm going to take a poke at this. What if...the 'question' is --what the hell is going on?

What if the answer is...'us?'

What I mean is...what if by our way of 'Being' we are culling 'Others.' What if we find it so easy to blame others--ie teachers, firemen, police officers-- for our financial issues, so we cut the numbers of teachers, aides, secretaries, custodians, etc and by doing that we make it so children feel they are considered less important. What if they get lost in the shuffle...especially at the same time as we increase teacher evaluations (ie time teachers have to prep to prove themselves which means more time away from students) and standardized tests. What if those students feel even more pushed away from 'belonging.' What if we stop providing services for the many who need it and support for their families. What if we claim we have rights the Founding Fathers gave us--when did they become Gods?--and do we really think they ever imagined anything stronger than a musket that takes a full minute to reload when they wrote that amendment (you can keep your handguns, but do we really need assault weapons in the streets? I prefer my police and military to have that responsibility.) What if we didn't wait until a crisis to reach out to one another? What if firemen and police officers were respected every day and not just when they give their lives or a pair of boots? What if we supported science to research the ills that plague us?

What if we smiled more at one another? What if we randomly hugged our friends and family and said "I love you" "I am proud of you."

What if?

I have no answers, but I know that this year kicked me when I was down and stepped on my heart daring me to try to get back up again. I know many people who just couldn't get back up right away, too. We cried on one another's shoulders, we wrote, we tried to find a way to pull our selves and one another back up. And struggled trying to find joy again.

And many of us had so much weight pushing down. So much. How do we get back up?

I watched (from facebook) two friends I knew in high school fight cancer. I watched a friend of mine also from high school (also from facebook's vantage point) who lost her beloved daughter and she.kept.getting.up. These women filled me with wonder at their strength. They inspired me to be more --not only to my own children but to each of the kids who walk through my door...budget cuts be damned ...I try to find time to make personal connections with all who cross my path--I just don't always get to grading every piece of writing that crosses my desk anymore. I don't know who needs me to, they might not know. But I will be there.

What if we all said, "(whatever is trying to control us), be damned!" And we did more. Hugged...more. Paid attention...more. Donated time and money...more. Laughed...more. 'Liked'...more.

What if?

I gave Kath a bow off one of the presents so she could decorate and play with it. She told me to bend down then she put it on my shirt and said, "YOU are MY present!" She made me feel like I too could.get.back.up. What if we treated everyone like they were our presents? Even those we disagree with. What if we did that, "Crazy world, be damned!"

What if?

Friday, October 19, 2012

So excited for Autumn

I love the idea of seasons and the changes they bring with them better than some of the actual seasons. For example, my all-time favorite season is Summer, with Spring not too far behind. Then there's a bit of space before Autumn, then a pretty huge lag before Winter.

I have always loved Summer. I get to be with my family and read more. I love the heat. The beach. The food. The idea of travel. The funny thing is that for the last few years we have hardly gone to the beach or traveled and after a week in, we are sick of bbq.

Spring. Open with the feeling of new opportunities. Blossoming flowers. Earthy smells. Digging in the garden. The anticipation of Summer!

I have often said I would be content with just living through those two seasons, and just viewing pictures of the other two.

Although... the start of Autumn is a bit exciting with its brisk air, fresh air feel. The snuggling time. The start of the wood stove. But usually it does not give me the idea of 'restarts.'

But this year I am embracing Autumn like I have never done before. And that's because this Summer was so full of heaviness. This year my memory of Summer is not playing, laughing, reading, staying up late, writing. I remember needing naps because I didn't have the energy to get through the days. Grief for my mom wiped me out. It took until August for a sort of rebound. And on August 1st I told myself I needed to shift things, I couldn't remain in that spot, in the heavy yucky spot. So I called and made a reservation for Roger, the girls and me to head up to Indian Lake for a few days, at a motel right on the lake.

So, it wasn't even a regular was a lake beach. Very different.

However, bit by bit I felt my soul breathing in and not hurting as much as I moved into another phase of mourning. But then a week into school one of my friends at school passed away, also from cancer, and I felt that wave smack me down again.

Summer, sorry to blame you for the pain, but it happened under your watch. You usually are the beautiful border between me and the rest of Time. But instead you walloped me but good and soundly this year.

So instead I found myself thinking that Autumn had to be better than that! It's when the calendar begins its shift and with it the shades of the trees change. And instead of getting that pit in my stomach as I had to pull more blankets on last night, I felt a calmness. And a briskness, a 'good' briskness. And the new idea that Autumn doesn't have to be about dying and death, especially when Summer already was. It can be about what you do with those memories afterward. It can be about snuggling with the girls on the couch or during bedtime stories. It can be about meals in the slow cooker, making the house seem like a fortress to the calamity outside. It can mean running through the woods with the girls for cross-country practice. It can be about hiking through State Parks! It can mean making crafts, starting Christmas presents. It can mean finally being able to sit down and write out thank you cards to people who mourned with me. It can be a way of facing, letting go, moving forward.

It can be welcomed, embraced and valued for a side of it I never appreciated before. Just as the Seasons are cyclical, so, too, is Life. How soothing is that idea to my ruffled soul!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Crossroads. Making choices. Time is too short.

When my mother passed away I felt the panic of 'time is too short' set in.

I felt that dreams I had were slipping through my fingers just as quickly as sand through an hour glass.

Now I'm wondering if maybe some dreams are okay to slip through. Is it possible to have TOO many dreams?

Even when my son Chris comes up to visit--and he lives in NYC where they never sleep---he  says, "Wow, you guys pack a lot in one day."

Maybe my effort to 'do it all' is too much?

This summer when I was trying to regain my balance after my mother's passing, while reading all the articles and updates about the new teacher evaluations and the Core Standards for education, I began to wonder if maybe I needed to focus my energies elsewhere, career-wise.

I turned to craniosacrial therapy and massage to help me survive the loss of my mom. I slowly felt myself being able to breathe better. And think better. As I spoke to my massage therapist, Jamie, she said that being a message therapist was her most relaxed job ever.

What an idea and concept ... a relaxing job!!!

So, I started to want THAT life. I wanted to feel like I did in that room for that hour ALL the time.

I drove to the Center for Natural Wellness one afternoon and inquired about their massage therapy classes and started the ball rolling. I applied. I asked my therapists for recommendations. I got my immunizations and tests. I started to try to figure out how I would fit the rest of my world into my going back to school for the next 22 months.

Screeching halt.

Hmm...a full time teaching job, with new rules and regulations this year; a kindergartener with special abilities, who runs cross country, one dance class, and hippotherapy (which would directly conflict with my class schedule--meaning Kath would have to drop it); a 3rd grader who wants to do girls scouts/4H, who is signed up for two dance classes, wants horse riding lessons, runs cross country, wants to do gymnastics and OM (and she wants me to be her GS leader, her OM facilitator, and her official schlepper); older sons who still need me sometimes, one with a TBI; a husband with a TBI, also a teacher; and my own desire to write and read.

Then let's toss in 3 nights of classes a week with a couple of Saturdays a month. 5-8+ hours a week for studying. For 22 months. Driving to (45 mins) and fro (45 mins) each time.

So for months I've been trying to figure it out. Slowly my excitement for massage school has waned. Not because I don't want to be a massage therapist. Not because it seems too hard (though the science classes are scary!) Not because I don't want a Plan B for when education goes even crazier. Not because of money (though that is a thought since we are within striking distance of finally catching up after our mighty fall 4 years ago). Not because I won't have time to write or read.

But because of all of the above AND the realization that sometimes you have to pick and choose. That feels like giving up to me, a self-described overachiever, but really I suppose it's about making sure I'm on the right path. Sometimes I guess, I have to choose which dreams to follow.

The idea of being a healer is intoxicating. To make people feel better when their souls feel twisted up and broken. To help people care for their bodies so stress won't toxify their lives. I would love to be able to help my own Kath when she tightens up due to her CP. I would love to know how to take care of my own family with alternative therapies. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

Then, in the midst of my struggle and angst of indecision, several things happened. 1) Several old students reached out sharing with me how much I mean to them. In big ways, not the 'you helped me write a good essay,' but in "you made me feel like I mattered," "you believed in me even when I was a jerk," way. 2) I was considering pulling my daughters, especially Kath, out of public school as I thought about the unrealistic expectations on her teachers and on my daughter herself with these new standards and increased class sizes and homeschooling. But I found  myself at ease almost immediately with Kath's teachers and her classroom-- what a delight and a surprise. And Alex's teacher is marvelous too! 3) Then also (surprise!), I was approved to be the Dignity for All coordinator (gulp) for my school (a new law was passed regarding bullying and harassment). More responsibility, no pay increase. It seemed that teaching was pulling me back.

When I allowed myself time to reflect without guilting myself...haha, well THAT never happens!

But anyway, this morning I sat here thinking about how even though we are only three weeks in, I feel like I have a handle on things; my three ring circus. And then I thought-- do I really want to change things? Add another ring?? Do I really want to leave education? Do I really want to homeschool (that answer is always yes, especially if I could do everything else)? On any given day the answer to those questions is yes!!

At the end of the thinking though, I found that when I stepped back into my classroom, I didn't feel the same powerlessness I do when I hear and talk about the current education struggles. When I'm with the kids teaching, I feel like my soul is in the right place. I do good there. Despite the chaos of the education system right now, I am where I belong. Doing what I need to be doing.

I read an email about a friend I work with who passed away after her battle with breast cancer and I was brought full my mother's death and realizing life is slipping through my fingers. And I read a graduated student's comment to one of my Facebook statuses. He said "Write a book! I can't be the only one who wants to hear what you have to say next!" and several people clicked like on that post. A woman I'm friends with on FB, who manages an online magazine asked me to write for her. And lastly, a writer friend of mine said she'd like a copy (of the book)...and she actually does sit her butt down and writes! 

Maybe I'm already living my dream and I just need to go a little further to see it fully, to work a bit harder to make it all come true.

While maybe not everyone might want to read or hear what I have to say...maybe, just maybe MY way of healing souls is through teaching and writing ...and I can go to Jamie for my own massages and healing.

At least for now....

What if we come to places along our Life Journey where we question the Path so that we are not just blindly following that path? What if I had this slight detour/dream so that I could double check my desire and passion to continue in education? What if I had that dream so I could see that I could go elsewhere if I was ready to give up on public education, so I could see I do have options? SO I could see that I was not as STUCK as I had been feeling, that I always will have a choice?

 As I survived the first weeks of school and prepare the girls and myself for the week coming up, I recall this summer of doubt, of thinking about what I want. Really want. I want to be able to be the best mom to my girls and sons as possible, while being the best wife/life partner I can be to Roger, and still be the best, most effective soul-filling teacher and writer I can possibly be. And maybe that's enough.

I love to sit on my front porch with a cup of tea. I love to sit in bed at night and read to Kath, even if it's the same book for the 100th time. Talking to Alex about her hopes and dreams while driving her and being her cheerleader is fun! I love having students feel like I am a safe person who cares about them and always has time for them. And, taking the path of massage school at this time would mean that I would not be able to enjoy those simple pleasures as much, and for this intersection, this moment in time, I am not ready to give those up.

Not today. Right now, this path feels right. And when I have to soul search this again for March's admissions I might be ready to jump into the insanity of taking classes, working full-time and raising my children, but for now, my soul needs to stop and absorb these moments right in front of the best of my ability.

Afterall, time is too short....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Writing AND Teaching and well, LIFE is a kind of fire...

There's a poem by Taylor Mali (Taylor Mali's Poem) where he talks about the only thing he could envision that would make someone jump from a building was fire...until his first wife committed suicide from her depression. Then he says that depression too is a kind of fire. I'm not trying to minimize depression (I would never!) but I think writing, teaching and life are also a kind of fire. For me they are the things that push me out of my comfort zone into unknowns in ways I could never imagine.

I sit here the weekend before my classes begin and I feel unprepared and scared. My old students going off to college share stories about not being packed and ready...they are nervous about this life change. I am not ready for my new batch of students. I feel hesitant for the life changes heading my way this year too.

Teaching. I love my old kids. I love who they are, who they became before my eyes. I put so much into my day-to-day teaching, getting to know them personally so I know how to teach them individually that I'm exhausted by March. Especially if the kids are having a struggling year.

I'm not sure of what other career is like teaching in this regard. Each year I get a new batch of students. Some love school, some hate it. Some can read and write like they were born doing it. Some have been told they aren't good at they believe and stopped trying. Some have so many issues going on at home that learning Shakespeare is just way beyond what they can handle right now...even though the Bard might be the one to show them that the world and life is cyclical...badgoodbadgood and not with many absolutes. And I feel my job is not only to teach English and literature but to also either show them how they are connected, or to reconnect them, to the world around them and thereby show them they are also responsible for the world around them.

So here I am on September 1st getting nervous and upset as I think about the new people I will have to try to teach. And this year with the new core standards and new teaching evaluations my 'job' has just been twisted into something that is not quite the kind of teaching I do. So my plan? Continue with what I do and try to squish in what the state SAYS is core and important. What's core and what's important is the CORE of the student, the humanity...and I'm hoping that as I jump off this high building and begin to run my marathon sprint (how I describe the school year) I have what my students need and I have enough energy to do it all.

Writing is a kind of fire too. I want to be so good at it. I have all these stories that chase me down the supermarket isles and pop up in faces of pedestrians as I drive my chores. But for this summer my keyboard has been silent. I planned on tracking down my Facebook statuses so I could compile them..a sort of bio of the past few years. I planned on getting the first draft of my young adult story done and contacting possible agents. I planned on starting the children's story and the mom warriors book and weekly blog posts. Blah, blah, blah...I did none of this.

Without writing I'm disorganized and cranky. Yet, I stay away until I'm at the end of my rope as I try to figure out how to best assimilate my day-to-day life with my need to write ( I treat it like a luxury instead of the lifeline it really is)...and my need to write always seems to slip down the list of things-to-be-done after everything is completed...and everything is never it seems as though writing has to be made into a kind of fire. I need to jump off that high building and see if I can fly on the way down...because waiting until it fits into my day, or I have time, is just not working.

And my mother's passing has made me reevaluate every priority I ever had. She thought she had plenty of time..she was buying Christmas presents....Sigh. You don't want me to reopen that vein right now, this is long enough!

So, here Sept 1st as the whole family embarks on transitions...
Chris is continuing his grad program Chris' website post
and Nick begins a new job at the Baergarten;
and Roger cuts back on his second job (weekends only);
and Kath begins kindergarten --integrated into a regular education class (while still struggling with toileting issues);
and Alex begins 3rd grade wanting to continue and up dance classes to 2 nights a week, run cross country, take a gymnastics class, take piano lessons, and so on;
and I start back to school in October for a massage therapy program (their part time/two year program);

I guess the best thing for me to do is jump and hope I learn to fly as I do. Afterall, this is all Life (and good stuff) and Life is a kind of fire. Here we go! Wish us success!

Monday, July 30, 2012

When I don't know things are bad. But I was finally able to write about it.

Wow...really? Since February? I really don't even know how to catch you up. Why haven't I written? Well, life went too fast and I always think that if I just go to bed instead of writing, I might catch up on sleep. Or if I read instead of writing, I might catch up. It never happens. All it really does is make me a slightly-more-insane-mom/teacher. I need to write.

So here goes. School, of course, became insane as budget cuts came into clear definition. Many of my friends will not return this fall. Class sizes will increase. Services will be cut. Supplies have been chopped. State standards and Federal expectations have skyrocketed. I am relieved that instead of being transferred to our middle school, I will remain in the high school next year. But my love--Education--is being trampled by people who are seeing the Little Picture and not the Big Picture, with the ripple effects these Spartan financial decisions will cause. I believe we will reap what they are making us sow, and it will not be good for awhile.

Physically for me, my body went crazy and a little out of control, then suddenly stabilized and I am not longer contemplating a hysterectomy. I feel grateful that I found craniosacrial therapy because I feel that is one of the reasons I am doing better. Physically...and mentally. Hopefully no more scares for me.

Fortunately I found craniosacrial when I did because life ramped up the stress level after Alex's 8th birthday. My mother became very sick, went to the hospital and was soon after diagnosed with lung cancer. The week after, we found out the cancer had attacked her liver and brain as well. My mother chose to fight the cancer with chemo. She was told that without the chemo she would only have weeks to live. But with the chemo she would have months, but no more than a year. She said, "Even if it just gets me one more day, it will be worth it." And her fight began.

Every weekend, except the weekend of the girls' dance recitals, I traveled downstate to Long Island, sometimes with various family members in tow, sometimes without. Usually just for the day because I was so overwhelmed with home/school stuff; and because Roger works two jobs (he needs to get up at 2:00AM, and it's a little hard to find child care at that time of the morning); and Kath was struggling, so we thought the stability of being home more would help her. Didn't really work out that way, she was still nuts. :)

Every weekend I went downstate, the changes in my mother were so marked, it was frightening. Yet each time I told myself on the 4 hour drive that my job was to be positive, be whatever she needed--if she was willing to fight it then I would too. All my positive thoughts were geared towards her healing and being the miracle. And why not her? Someone gets to be the miracle. Why not my mother?

I tried to also be calm and healing. I tried healing touch (though not trained at all and without her knowing) and positive thoughts. I asked my facebook friends to pray for her. I tried to just be with her. She didn't seem to want to say how bad it was. When I asked her once why she didn't tell us that the back surgeons had found something in her lungs the month before, she said, "Why? Could you have fixed it? You couldn't have done anything other than worry." Maybe not. It was ultimately her decision. She set the ground rules. As it should be, I suppose.

My 4 hour drives back home were filled with tears and anger and all sorts of turmoil. I do believe in angels because I have no idea how I drove back and forth being so distracted without causing an accident or falling asleep while driving home.

I planned on heading down to Long Island with the girls after school ended to spend time with mom until my two week writing camp (then I'd go down on the weekend). After the camp I planned on staying down there to be with her as much as possible.

She had other plans.

Saturday was graduation. Monday the girls had craniosacrial therapy (their first appointment). I thought I could fit everything in.  When I left my friend Jessica's spa, the girls and I stopped at the Food Co-op and bought healthy food. I was going to cook and bring down some meals since I didn't feel comfortable cooking on mom's gas stove. But when we got out of the co-op I saw I had two messages on my phone. One from my brother, the other from his wife. Uh-oh.

They were heading in from Staten Island to see mom. John said he wasn't sure if I should come right down. He'd let me know. (At least that's what I heard.) So, I started to try to convince myself that it wasn't that bad...we had a few false alarms in the past couple of with my plan to head down the next day I thought (and hoped) it was another false alarm. Afterall...I planned on spending the whole summer down on Long Island with mom and the girls. We were going to really bond. I was going to be there for her for whatever she needed. She would never be alone. She would have help when she needed it, unlike when she was in her apartment knowing she had something brewing, but didn't tell anyone. Unlike all the times she was in pain alone, I would be there. And when it got to be too much for the girls I would have Chris, Nick or Roger help.

That was my plan.

About two hours later (I really have no clear memory of time for this time period), I just remember telling myself that, "It was okay, it was alright, she was fine, everyone was exaggerating," which was part of the mantra I adopted for the following 5 weeks. Anyway, two hours later one of my mom's friends, who I came to count on and love, Mary K, called me and put the phone to my mother's case I didn't make it down in time.

That was one of the most difficult calls I've ever fumbled through.

How do you sum up all you want to say, all you thought you had all summer to say, in one conversation...that you know is on speaker phone? The answer is you don't. And if I had all summer I still couldn't have. I told her I loved her. That I thought she was one of the bravest people I knew for fighting this cancer the way she did. I told her I looked up to her. I told her I loved her. I don't know if I said anything else. My head was starting to pop and I started to allow the fear of the thought that I wasn't going to make it in time. That she really was going to die. The girls told her they loved her, she said she loved them too. My brother told me to pack ...accordingly (aka for her wake).

So I packed. And I tried to text my husband and my sons again. I couldn't reach Roger or Nick, though I could reach Chris in NYC. I was alone except for the girls and I was trying to explain to them their own mom's sudden strangling fear, without being scary. Remember what I said about how nuts Kath had been lately? I was afraid this would set her off. Nope, she pulled it together in a way I never expected. I told the girls we were going to visit grandma but it wasn't because she was sick this time. I told them it was because she was dying. Did they understand? Alex said yes, Kath said no. Ugh, so now with my head swimming I had to explain "Death"?!

Suddenly what popped into my head was, "It's when you go to sleep here and you wake up in heaven."

Kath didn't even blink an eye (or worry about going to sleep in the stressful days to follow)...she said, "Ohhhh! So grandma is going up to God. God fixes everyone! So she will be okay, just like Jesus!" (I am still not sure where she even got this from. I don't think we ever talked about this before and we don't go to church every week.)

 "Yes, but she will be staying up there" ( I didn't want any ideas about resurrection popping into her brain!).

 "I know!" And that was that. Whew.

Just as I was packing the car and getting the girls in, Roger came home and asked me to give him an hour and he would join us. I told him he had one hour. He took two and I almost killed him (he had to do 'sub' plans for the morning delivery person who was working for him, so it was understandable, though maddening). I don't think I spoke civilly to him for the trip down. I was getting texts from my brothers every half an hour to hour asking me how far away I was, when would I arrive, and to consider not having the girls go in to see mom because mom's body has swelled up overnight, her eyes were swollen shut, she couldn't see.

I told the girls I didn't think they'd be able to see grandma, her eyes were swollen closed. I have very stubborn children (I don't know where they get THAT from!?). Kath told me that she would ALWAYS recognize grandma whether her eyes were swollen shut or not...they had the same hair! (They are both blond-headed.) And Alex told me that 'Grandma is my grandma no matter what and I love her and want to see her even if her eyes are swollen." In the end I did allow them to see her, I thought not seeing her and not getting to say goodbye would end up being much more devastating for them.

Halfway down to Long Island my son Nick got in touch with me and said he'd come down with us. I told him it was too late, we were on the road and to grab a train, I'd pay for it. My other son Chris was stuck at work in the city, but took off Tuesday to meet us thereat the hospital.

When we finally reached Long Island --we had miraculously missed the bad storms--we were treated to an amazing double rainbow. It was one of those breath-of-fresh-air moments, I knew we'd make it in time and I felt a calmness settle on my shoulders.

However, when we pulled in to the parking lot I still practically ran into the hospital while Roger got the girls out of the car and to the rest room.

I never would have recognized her. My mother's poor body was so swollen. One of her lungs had collapsed and her body swelled; her face was so swollen, I couldn't recognize her facial features. But I grabbed her hand and wouldn't leave her side for the rest of her life, and even a couple of hours after.

I told her we were there. But Chris and Nick would not be there for awhile. But that Roger, the girls and I were there.

The girls came in and they were great. They rubbed her hand, told her they loved her and didn't seem scared by her appearance. They showed their love. And then they played with my sister-in-law and her sister. My brothers were blown away by how well they handled it. My kids are amazing.

My brothers, my father, my brother's wife and my mother's friend seemed to think mom held on for me to get there. Then Mary K, my mother's amazing gift-of-a-friend, told me I had to tell mom it was ok for her to go, to tell her that I would be okay.

But I wouldn't be okay. Wasn't anyone paying attention? My mother and I had a strange relationship my whole life. This summer was going to help that. Each summer I felt us getting closer to it. Every weekend for the past 5 weeks, when I drove back home crying for hours, I promised myself it would get better. Let her go? No.


But I did. And I told her we (she and I) were okay. We were good. I loved her. And if she needed to go, she could go.

I stroked her head, held her hand and repeatedly told her (and me) that "It's okay, it's alright, it's okay, it's alright" in a singsong voice for hours. And finally I told her not to wait for the boys--in case she was--they wouldn't get there until tomorrow.

And a few minutes after everyone else, except my brother John and me, left the room...she passed. She put this determined look on her face before her last breath and she was gone.

And I was glad for her. She worked and fought so hard against that cancer and she didn't need that kind of pain. I just wasn't glad for me.

John and I stayed around for the next couple of hours. We didn't seem to know what to do next. They didn't call her death until Tuesday at 12:05AM, even though when we looked at the clock it was 11:38PM Monday. That bugs me.

Crazy stuff? 
~ Chris called me and left a message at 11:36PM Monday to see how I was.
~ After tossing and turning for at least an hour I finally fell asleep that morning around 3AM and dreamed that she was smiling and telling ME it was okay, we were good, it's alright. With a huge smile on her face.

And that dream made it so I could get through the week and the wake. But by Friday I was exhausted. Roger had not been able to stay with me, he left Tuesday with Nick to go to work and came back Wednesday night for the wake then left again on Thursday night with Nick after the last set of wake hours. (Mom was cremated privately Friday). I had the girls to keep me going. Friday I felt crippled; my body ached. No energy. Exhausted. Sad. Saturday I decided to take the girls out for a few hours. We went to see the movie "Brave." My poor girls had not been out of my mother's apartment except to the funeral home or hospital since Monday. "Brave" ended up being a movie that deals with a mother/daughter relationship. Who knew? I didn't, not even after we watched 5 movie trailers! Oy.

Survived that. And started to really live in the ebb and flow of grief. I would be 'okay' then wham I was under the water trying to figure out which way it was to the surface and sun. A deep sadness settled on me and though I felt like I could pretty much exist and do things (fake it), I did need a nap every day for at least that first week. I was exhausted just trying so hard to be 'okay.' I'd walk past my bed and then just sit, then lay down and wake up hours later.

Thankfully I had to get my head back into teaching. I taught at a summer writing program the following week for the Writing Project and I swear that was such a life saver. The kids were great, but so was my teaching partner Dan, who really made it easy for me to come back to life slowly and safely. I'm more grateful than I can ever say.

I also decided I needed to take care of myself in a way I never had. I got a massage for healing, had my hair done, had craniosacrial therapy and went to a psychic. I kept in touch with mom's great friends Mary K and Diana, but struggled with my own friends, except, of course, Donna and facebook. I still had times I'd be driving along and suddenly I'd be in tears. But slowly I began to not be so heavy. Slowly the flows started to last longer than the ebbs. I felt like I had been faking it...but finally I wasn't faking it so much and I was starting to laugh-for real-again...thank goodness for teaching and good patient people.

So here I am. We went down two weekends ago, rented a UHaul and cleaned up mom's apartment. Chris (he has been such a godsend too-checks on me every day, stayed by my side through the wake, amazing kid. :)) came out from the city to help; stayed overnight and helped us pack up; drove out to his place with Roger and dropped off some of the things he adopted from mom's. I stayed with the girls and packed up everything else.

I have never had to do that before... pack up someone else's whole life. The fact that her cabinets and freezer and refrigerator were full of food were enough to make me cry again--my mother planned on coming home! She didn't plan on dying 5 weeks after being in the hospital for back pain. She had a turkey in her freezer for crying out loud! Packing up everything and putting it in the truck knowing that I had no real idea how we would assimilate all of the things in my already over-packed chaotic house...but knowing I couldn't leave her life's-things to go to strangers...ugh. Unpacking that truck, with Roger, both of my sons and both of my daughters was actually a bit healing. She never took me up on any of my offers over the years to move upstate with us, but now mom is kind-of here. More now than even before, if that makes sense.

I still have 'sightings.' I imagine I always will. (My friend Kathy Piccolo died a couple of years ago and I still have sightings of her.) I think I see mom, I go to call out, "Hey, mom!" but the woman turns her head and I am left feeling lost all over again. I have started to text her and call her so many times, too. Sigh.

Now I am completely surrounded by her things and although at first it was so sad, now it's actually very comforting. And it's forcing me to do a massive overhaul and scrub of my home as I organize to make room for her, so that can't be too bad. My mom would be proud.

And as sad as it all is that my mother passed at 62 (way too young), and as mad as I am at cancer and cigarettes...I'm alright. I am okay. And she is in a better place now. Even Kath says so.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kath asked me if I had a baby in my baby, that's just my popcorn...

Wow, that certainly tells me I need to get back in shape if nothing else. Good way to start Lent off too!

Seriously though, it's been awhile and let me catch you up. One huge mental thing for me is actually something I should have gotten over last August, however the paperwork was misplaced until recently and so I had to 'go through' it all again. "IT" being Katharina's neuropsych evaluation. Although I am a staunch opponent to standardized testing I did sit and read the results. And the part I allowed myself to get snagged up and tortured with were her IQ scores. Kath tested at an 88.

I KNOW the girl had a stroke. I KNOW she has cognitive delays. But somehow seeing that test score...below 100 (average)...I was wrecked for days. "Normal scores are from  85-115." I wanted her to blow the test away...even though she put the pencil down, crossed her arms and climbed into my lap on more than one occasion during the test. I wanted the score higher even though when asked colors she told the doctor three...when she knows them all except the variations of shades. I wanted her to blow the test away even though she couldn't draw the eyes of a person in a face, or make a cross, or remember a phrase. I wanted at least a 100 even though she only knew 6 letters of the alphabet at 4 years-old.

I wanted that because to me Kath is not a standardized test score, she's my flesh and blood, crack-me-up child who sees the world with different lenses and makes me see the world (YES THE WORLD!) with a new appreciation. And I was deathly afraid that any educator who saw those scores...and had Kath in their class or on their workload...with all of these educational and intervention/therapy budget cutbacks... would have to look at the numbers and go from there. Instead of giving her a chance to prove herself.

So it was a blessing (one I didn't know I had) that Kath's scores were never typed up and sent to our school district in August because her scores were never used to place her in school program this year. Instead MY voice was heard. And I felt like I was listened to. And Kath has had four months as being Kath, and not just an 88 IQ stroke survivor, with cerebral palsy and vision issues.

Now that I know Kath's teacher I know she wouldn't have handled her as a number and a diagnosis. But I didn't know her in September. And in the prior spring I was seriously considering homeschooling because I was afraid to trust someone else with my precious girl.

Now when I look at my Kath as a mom AND my students as their teacher/lobbyist/advocate, I see what a huge disservice is being done by our politicians (I live in NY so you can look up my governor and know who I mean) when they are trying to make their budgets work...on the backs children and teachers in education.

In our state of NY our governor has cut state funding for education. In the past 4 years it is roughly 14 million dollars our district alone has lost. At the same time he has placed a tax cap on what schools can ask for in tax increases to 2%. So we will continue to lose ~ teachers and programs (programs that could help Kath, as well as all students, like art, music and library) ~ because the cost of living is higher than 2%.  More will be asked of the remaining teachers and therapists who are already doing their own jobs plus the jobs of coworkers who have lost their positions in the last few years. All the while being insulted by being told we make too much money and we need to cut the ahem...popcorn. 

And to add salt to this wound, our governor has passed a new teacher evaluation system which will use standardized tests to show which teachers are 'effective' and which are 'ineffective.' Although IQ tests will not be used, tests will be used statewide to show which teachers can get students to score well on an exam. An exam that may not really show critical thinking, however, it may show which students have the ability to be good test takers. NYC has already started to publish teachers' names and their scores. Many scores are incorrect, or taken out of context look bad, but don't come with the explanation of what actually happened, what was really learned in the classroom. For example, how far the class came in learning how to work as a team, or how they overcame family or classmate tragedies, or absentee problems, etc. ...many issues which are out of a classroom teacher's hands, yet impact test results. Anyone who really knows kids...and teaching...KNOWS that there is sooo much more to teaching than a score on a test.

I fear for the state of our education. I worry about what will happen to my daughters in a system where testing will 'indicate' what their ability is alleged to be (I also worry about my role in all of this, as a classroom teacher, I despise the idea of teaching to a test.). I look at Kath and her test scores and I know she is so much more than that 88, not just because she can now make a cross, and now knows her ABCs and numbers. Not just because she is doing things that a year ago I feared she would never do, but because if our society has not learned by now to look at the humanity of ourselves to see, if we look at teaching and education and only see test scores as a way to show what is learned, then I am saddened by what we are creating. Since when is education a 'pour in the liquid knowledge and see how much volume is poured out at the end ' type of endeavor??

How many of us know someone who--DESPITE the education system years ago which focused on memorization and testing--- were able to carve out a successful life with plenty of contributions to better their spot of the world? Usually they were able to do this because at some point someone saw them as an individual, stood beside them, encouraged them, pushed them to go around the blocked path that education put in their way. Why do we think that testing for knowledge in the same way will work for kids nowadays? How dare we forget our own stories and those of our parents?

Parents who really work with their kids know that sometimes when you teach a child, you don't see immediate results of a lesson. Sometimes a month later they point out the window, see a tree and explain how it pulls the water from the roots, etc, they were able to finally pull it all together, even though that specific day when you tried to teach it they looked at you like you had three heads. 

And parents who really care know that sometimes on any given day, you really don't know why your kids are crazy and not listening, but there, it doesn't mean you don't have control, it doesn't mean you don't have (classroom) management skills, it might just mean the kids stayed up too late, there's a full moon, they're hungry, wearing uncomfortable clothes, etc...AND despite how 'crazy' your kids are, you still have to accomplish your day's goals...OR you decide to take a different path and come back another think about a teacher and the idea that THAT can happen in a classroom FULL (and increasing, every year due to budget cuts) of other kids (with their own issues).... and your child/grandchild/niece/nephew/friend's child is just one of those children in that room. How can a teacher teach individually each day when more is being asked of her and less is being supported?

I know many teachers who can do that! And do that each day! My daughters' teachers are just two examples, but what they need is more support, not less, for the amazing feats they accomplish.

Education is not just a test. Education is not just the facts. Education is the humanity of teaching humanity how to learn while adjusting each day to each student's needs. It's embracing the child in front of you and challenging them to reach just a little bit further than they did the day before. It's not memorizing facts for a test, it's knowing how to learn, so one day the student can live and lead a good life, hopefully making good choices and taking care of others.

I worry about what we are doing to education. I will be at our high school Tuesday night writing letters to my government begging them to rethink their thoughts about funding and cuts and I will do what I can to make sure each student who walks in MY classroom door feels like I know him/her as a person, not only by their most recent English score.

And I am relieved to know that Kath and Alex are both surrounded by teachers and therapists, who look at them individually and reach out to the child before them, regardless of the IQ scores and the paperwork, and they take my girls' hands and hold them while showing them the bigger world. Their teachers know the humanity of teaching and understand how important that is in their day-to-day responsibilities as educators.

That is education.

And if we keep chiseling away at what is currently in place and working, we are going to mutate learning into a factory type bureaucracy that pumps out non-critical thinkers, non-creative beings who don't see the value in humanity (but score well on meaningless tests!!) ...and we will reap what we sow ...especially, when the children of this process are the ones who will choose how to take care of our old bodies and will do so perhaps as they were taught, without thought to the humanity aspect of our lives.

We are dealing with humans, with growing brains and bodies and we need to stop treating the education of our children as if they are an inanimate product we are constructing in a factory. We need to see the Katharinas and the Alexandras and the other children as growing beings who need us right now to do what is right for a better world tomorrow, not just a better budget right now.

The human aspect of my children is what I hope is seen, understood and fought for. The Katharina, not of the IQ of 88, but the Katharina who when she sees she has made her sister sad, hugs her, apologizes and tells her she loves her. 

Shouldn't we all be doing more of that? Taking care of one another with care and love and not acting as if we are not truly connected to one another, as if the outcome of one of us doesn't also impact all of us?

My Kath is not an 88. My daughter, as many of my facebook friends read in my updates, is a perky, funny, curious, wild 5 year-old who loves. Loves and Cares and Thinks. She is more than a test score as a child, and so am I, as a teacher. Aren't we all? Aren't all of our children worth more than a test score? Aren't all of us worth more than a number? And if we do not stand up for one another, for kids and teachers now, don't we risk living in a society where humanity isn't valued? Maybe I am oversimplifying...but I don't think so.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Pastor Martin Niemöller

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A New Year

I don't feel I have anything inspirational or motivating to say, I actually am pushing myself to write this. The woodstove is calling me and wants me to sit closer, students' writings beckon to be read, lesson plans beg to be planned.

Yet, the siren call of writing has sat my butt in my chair while the girls "help" wash dishes (Read: waste water, make a mess).

Oh, wait, yes I do have something to say. I have no idea how inspirational it will be but here it is.

The turning of a new year has made me rethink my life it does every year. And so does a scary couple of weeks while I waited test results after a gynecologist appointment showed endometrial cells where they should not have shown up.

Things like that make me rethink the lessons learned. I have so much I want to do, more than I could possibly fit into one life. And even though my outward and inner patience has increased wonderfully, I still feel impatient that many things take me so long to do or understand. I turned 44 last month (December), shouldn't it all be easy-street now?

And in many ways it the way that I walk with and feel a confidence my 20 year-old self never understood or imagined. True, my body sags and parts alternate in not-working-properly, but this body has been through so much with and for me. How can I not love it? It gave me 4 beautiful children who make my soul smile. It's wrinkly, bulging in the 'wrong' spots, my hair is graying and thinning but I love it and appreciate it more than I ever did when I was twenty, in-shape and my clothes fit me ...nicely.

When I was younger I showed my impatience, like a badge. Swerved around slower drivers, sighed heavily and hurried my boys. Although I still do some of all of that sometimes, I have also realized that I usually end up at the same light as the slower driver. And those extra seconds can be used towards something more staying in a good relaxed mood, breathing and listening to the stories of my daughters. And if I find that I am rushing way too often that is my indication that I have WAY TOO much piled into my life and it's time to cut back.

I understand people better. It's true that I may never understand those who are close-minded and small-minded whether they hide behind the belief that their religion calls them to be so or simply because they are close-minded and small-minded. But I do have a patience for those who think differently, behave differently, love differently. I have always been open-minded but now I am open-hearted, not just to those who are good to me and treat me right, but to those who don't too. It just feels right, I don't really know why. And I'm okay with that.

I have faith. My faith may not fit in a specific religion, but lately I have felt drawn to going to mass. I believe there is more, a bigger picture. I also like to go for pyschic readings, and I believe in the Law of Attraction. I believe in an underlying goodness in people, and I think that when I show it to others they respond positively and with a goodness. You can ask the teacher whose room I use for my studyhall, she has seen me disarm unruly students sometimes by just asking how they are, how was their weekend. I believe that I am where I am supposed to be, things feel right, most days. There have been a few times in my life where things felt good for a bit, a minute, a day, a week, but this has been feeling 'better to good' for awhile.... I can't do it alone, I couldn't have reached it alone. So I have Faith in something bigger than me.

A support group is necessary in life. My husband. My children. My friends. My fellow hemi moms. My fellow teachers. My fellow writers. When I got pregant with my first son at 19, and my second son at 21, I thought I had to it would show that I couldn't handle it and didn't deserve them. I thought I couldn't share bad things from my first marriage with friends...that would be akin to 'hanging my dirty wash out to dry' took me an unnecessarily long period of time to realize that it is okay to need to help. It's okay to vent. There are parts of my life that were really bad and they didn't need to be as bad or as dark as they were, but I thought I had to do it all myself. Then Kath came and I found out I HAD to have help. It was a humbling time, I need to count and reach out to others. That was a hard lesson for me. I know now it's okay to ask for help, you aren't weak if you need help.

Time is neither a blessing or a curse. Spending TIME with family is a blessing. Waiting for a doctor exam and the results feels like a curse. Actually, Time is just Time. It is what you make it. Sometimes I use it wisely, sometimes I squander it...or maybe not 'squander' in the usual way...but go sideways for a little while. But if I have a choice between cleaning and hanging out with my family, or going for a cup of coffee...I never choose cleaning. Never. :)

Laughter is healing. When I look back at the hardest times in my life, I remember them being devoid of laughter. They were heavy with sadness and frustration at not being able to alter things for my children, and laughter-less. But when I try to keep that one foot in the door of the place where people laugh...then I get to laugh and that helps to beat back the darkness. Not laughing can break you faster than the actual problem you are facing. Laugh deep and often.

**** I started this a month ago then immediately--before I even got to edit it--fell off my 'writing-wagon.'
I'm not sure why I stopped writing. Maybe I felt overwhelmed. Maybe I felt I was sharing too much. Maybe I felt I couldn't live up to things. Maybe it's just winter. Maybe it's just laziness.

Whatever it was, I feel I came up with a good final lesson to leave this piece on. Although I am sure I will have many other lessons I wish I added...tomorrow when I am driving down RT43 I will thunk my head and say, "Hey! What about..., ya dope?"

But this is it: Don't allow yourself to give up. Especially on yourself. If you do then it is too easy to expect less from others too.

I was thinking today, giving myself permission for getting the most out of shape (read: NO exercising, okay a little yoga, but more cookies than yoga) I've ever been; giving myself leeway for not writing each day (Hey, you are busy, you have a family, a house, a one REALLY expects....); but then I thought of two major things.

1) I have been honing my writing for years. I feel I have gotten pretty good at it. I feel it's a gift. So who am I to hoard my gift? I have story ideas popping into my head, why am I shrugging them off and allowing them to lay dormant when I should be rushing to write them down? What am I so afraid of? Why am I giving up on myself? I have read stories in my life that truly felt like they 'saved' me, helped me put my feet back on the ground...etc...what if (here comes a humble part) one of my stories could help someone else live life a little better?

2) We don't allow Kath to give up on anything. We work at what is hard and we rework it and we keep going until she can do it to the best of her ability. We have had people tell us how wonderfully she is doing, said with the air or words to the effect that we could have it a lot worse, as if we should be grateful that she is beautiful and that she is not more damaged by the stroke, as if she has reached her apex. Well, we are grateful, but we also won't allow her to just settle for 'just fine' when she can and will do and live 'amazing.' And we won't give up on her.

So my lesson...if my 5 year-old stroke survivor can get up every day, smile and work to use body parts and brain parts that are resistant to progress then I can push myself to reach beyond my comfortable place and use what I've been gifted too. If my 7 year-old can struggle so much with her asthma and still dream of playing soccer and running track as well as continue to learn dance (she wants to do 3 classes next year), then I can get my body back into health too. If my 22 year-old son can sustain a traumatic brain injury that bounced him into a very different life path than he was dreaming about, and force him to deal with seeing his friends going off in all their different directions while he resets and refigures the one he now lives on, then figures out how to push it to fit the new him, then I too can find my valued friends and step back on my new path and shape it Veronica-Style. If my 24 year-old can deal with trying to figure out where his place is, in a world that promised, "If you go to a good college, you will find a good job and do what you love," but in reality shut shop on him and changed the game, then I can also reshape and advocate for myself and others in my teaching world.

I'm not sure what this all means. Many times I write and have a goal and purpose. This post has been unwieldy and messy in my head. But maybe that's okay too...maybe sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to reach and see if, just maybe, we can reach when we really aren't too sure, when all we feel like doing is sitting in front of the wood stove with a cup of coffee, playing it safe.