Monday, December 16, 2013

Those Anniversaries You Don't Want to Celebrate

If I had known

If I had known, 
that this day would be the last -
I would have held him a little longer
I would have caressed his stubbly cheek
Stroked his smooth-as-a-baby's-bottom
shaved head
And kissed his dear, sweet face, 
one more time.

If I had known, 
that this day would be the last -
I would have given him 
all those letters and poems 
I wrote over the years,
the journal I kept of his life,
As I had planned to do that day, 
but forgot,
And told him again,
I love you, 
one more time.

If I had known, 
that this day would be the last -
I would have encouraged him more,
Nagged him less, 
prayed harder,
Spent more time with him
Celebrated his accomplishments,
Even if they were tattoos
I didn’t quite understand -
I would have hugged him a little harder
And a little longer
When we said goodbye

If I had known, 
that this day would be the last -
I would have invited more of his friends
To his surprise 30th birthday party
Spent less time in the kitchen
More time listening
Less time talking
More time with him, 
Made sure that he knew
Without a doubt
That his momma loved him

If I had only known

written December 4, 2013

It's rough, what I wrote above on what would have been Chris' 38th birthday.  I'm not even going to try to revise and edit, as I can barely see at the moment.  I meant to post that day, but was unable to do so, for a number of reasons.

Chris' 30th birthday quilt -12/04/2005.  He loved it. When he died
his step-daughter, Emily, claimed it.  I was ok with that. :)
Eight years ago today, in the early hours of December 16, I received the phone call from my daughter in law, that my son had shot himself.  My husband and I rushed to Emanuel ICU.  I know I screamed, stomped my feet, sobbed hysterically.  I asked to see the wound.  It was incredibly tiny, and I didn't understand how he could possibly have managed to do so much damage with such a tiny hole.  We were told that there was no brain activity at all.  He was a donor; on life support until his organs could be harvested. No one else was there, and after an hour or so (I don't remember the time, just that it crawled by incredibly slowly - in my memory, it was dark for weeks) Shari and the kids arrived.  Later, we drove home in shock, and crazily, we both got ready to go to work. 

Jessica and Kailyn were awake, getting ready for school. I think that's when I called my dad and my sister, but time is all mixed up. I don't know what I was thinking . . . except that I wasn't thinking. David left, I probably drove the girls to school, and I drove myself to work. The first person I saw at work was my friend Deb, who held me as I cried. Moments later, our principal came in, and insisted that I needed to leave.  "Go to your son!" she told me, practically pushing me out the door.   

I drove home (fortunately just a mile) and called my sister again, who came to pick me up and drove me back to the hospital. I think we picked up Kelli, my niece, on the way. 

Round two of the longest, most tortuous day I've ever known, as I watched the people who loved my son come to tell him goodbye. He was kept alive all that day in order to bring the gift of hope to many others, through his beautiful blue eyes, his warm and generous heart, his fully functioning kidneys, and numerous other parts and pieces of him.  I'm proud of him, for being a donor, even while I'm still an emotional mess from him choosing to leave this world as he did.

Suicide - the emotional roller coaster it sends you on is truly inconceivable.  And, it's the worst of the worst of those "clubs you never want to join" to be tangled up with. Only those who have lost someone they love through suicide can fathom what it does to your insides.  When it's your child, the guilt overwhelms you, despite everyone's insistence that it isn't/wasn't your fault.
Chris - proudly with his new instant family -
 Shari, Kenny, Emily and Arik
Christmas 1996 
I have a love-hate relationship with December, that's probably never going to completely leave me. But, today, after I post this incredibly selfish blog, I'm planning to spend time with my son, wallowing in my grief.  I'll dig through the boxes of photos, cards, letters, poems, report cards, and get out his baby book.  I'll sob, and probably pray, and I know I'll laugh too, because he was a very funny guy. My goal, as always, is an attempt to "get it out of my system" so I can celebrate the season with my family. Because I have a fabulous husband, two precious and loving daughters, wonderful family and friends, who care deeply about me. That knowledge is what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other, trudging through December, year after year. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks, for the Memories

The fondest, and earliest Thanksgiving memories I have are of chaos!  What seems like dozens of cousins, three mostly complete sets of great aunts and uncles, my dad’s sister and her husband, my dad and the three of us kids, all crammed into my grandparent’s tiny house on Maple Street in Vancouver.  The adults crowded around the antique dining table, under the crystal chandelier that was rescued from the home of great grandparents I never knew.  This dining room was minuscule, about 10’ x 10’ with the kitchen so close, it was an easy reach to the counters and stove top loaded with myriad traditional dishes, lovingly prepared by the aunts. Candles were glowing and liquor was flowing.

All of the cousins, complete with olives on our fingers, were squished on the couch, or perched on creaky leather seated folding chairs (one of which I still proudly own!) with two-three uneven card tables, covered with damask tablecloths, befitting the holiday gathering.
My Uncle Dick, being silly outside his garage in the 1950's.
Dinner was rowdy and rambunctious, loud and oftentimes obnoxious, as dear great Uncle Dick was unruly in the best of circumstances, and more so with ample doses of brandy. The male oldsters argued about anything and everything, while the women attempted to keep the peace. I adored all of my aunts and uncles, and, as drunkenness was just part of the deal, I never knew any better.  The holidays were never boring with this crew.
1984 - Much of my Dad's extended family
our last Thanksgiving together
at Fruit Valley Community Center.
No one had a big enough house anymore!
We're missing lots of folks from this one.
And, many of those babies have their own babies now!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fabulous Fall

One of the two maples next to our driveway.

Finally, the maple trees in front of the house have turned red.  Several years ago, probably ten or more, we had new neighbors move in next door.  The first thing they did was chop down an old maple tree that was smack dab between our two driveways.  I came home from work to a very empty space, and a proud neighbor who shouted over to me, "Looks great, doesn't it?"  I wanted to cry, and I think I did.

The next weekend I went out to a nursery and bought two spindly maple trees and had my husband plant them on either side of our driveway, fully within our own property lines. Surprisingly, we still have a fairly good relationship with those neighbors . . . who have proceeded to chop down every tree on their property!

When I bought the trees, I asked specifically for trees that would turn color early in the fall.  Someone lead me astray and I got a little cranky that first year as I waited, and waited, and waited some more for the gorgeous red that comes so painstakingly slow to those trees.  But, oh boy, when it finally arrived, it was worth the wait.  I love the brilliant red, and have resigned myself to boasting that I have the last trees to turn in our section of town. 

This fall has been nothing short of fabulous.  Two weekends ago, I was fortunate to reunite with the infamous blogging Vashonistas, who all brought cameras and posted amazing photos on their blogs ~ DebDJanSallyJann, and our organizer, Linda.  I think I'm the last one to blog about the reunion!  I wrote about it last year here.  My camera took lousy photos, for some reason, so I am especially enjoying the ones my fellow bloggers posted!

Taking off for Vashon this year, Deb and I wondered if it could possibly surpass our inaugural meeting in 2012.  Spending precious time with Deb, my traveling companion, dear friend and confidant, and co-cook in the kitchen, was an added bonus.  We needn't have worried, as every moment that someone was awake was filled with conversation and laughter.  We ate well, got more exercise than some of us bargained for, and renewed our friendships.  The weather was nearly perfect, and the occasional drizzle didn't slow us down, or dampen our spirits, one bit.

This morning I am blessed with a bit of extra time, as I have a follow up appointment with the dermatologist in a couple hours for my full body check!  Not one I look forward to, as last time I had two biopsies and cancer was discovered on my face.  I neglected to post about that somewhat traumatizing experience, but it's over now, and amazingly, the scar is barely noticeable.  Those surgeons are pretty good!

A later start gave me the luxury of an invigorating walk before breakfast, and although it is still foggy, it was pleasant wearing a sweatshirt.  It was the first walk I've taken since the Vashon weekend, as I ended up with quite a bit of knee pain for most of the week following our hike. For those who knew me before partial knee replacement in 2011, I'm still fighting discomfort and unable to hike as I could prior to surgery.  In fact, I have an appointment with the surgeon later this month to discuss the situation.

I love the vibrant colors of fall.  I love crunching through crisp golden leaves, big harvest moons, and cold, clear days. Walking into work last Friday, I looked over at my favorite maple tree in front of the school and realized there were just a few straggling leaves left.  Just a hint of moisture hovered in the air from my expelled breath and as I burst into the office I exclaimed, "Call me crazy, but I absolutely love fall mornings!"  The secretary looked at me as if I was truly insane, and shook her head, laughing.  Not everyone is an leaf lover, I guess.

Autumn is chock full of some of my favorite things ~ crisp apples, orange pumpkins, and anything made from either of those two food items.  I look forward to the new school year, fresh faced students, the heady scent of a just opened box of crayola crayons.  The days are full of promises, and the nights are beginning to lengthen ~ I anticipate the pleasure of curling up with a good book and a cup of tea in front of the stove.

This year feels like an ending rather than a beginning.  As I readied my classroom, met my students and their parents, began the arduous task of learning new requirements, and planning for upcoming curriculum changes, I found myself at a crossroads.  It's leaving time.  If I stick to my plan, this will be my last "beginning of the year" September. I thought I'd be excited about it.  I thought I couldn't wait for this.  But now, I don't know what to think.

I should be rejoicing. I feel like crying. And it's not just because it seems I always have a week's worth of papers to read, mark, and record.  Surely I would miss this aspect of teaching, wouldn't I?

I suppose.

Just a couple weeks ago we held fall conferences.  I diligently went through the grade book, determined averages, recorded missing assignments, and typed up a half-sheet to give to the parents of each of my 27 students regarding each subject.  At first, I was just planning to do this for my ELL students, as they will be translated into Spanish.  Then, I decided, "What the heck!  I'll just do it for everyone."  While I've always prepared a hand written sort of progress report for parents at conferences, I hadn't typed them up before.  I now think it's a great idea and wish I'd thought of it years ago.

It doesn't really make much sense, but I'm going to miss fall conferences!  Exhausting as they are to prep for, I love the opportunity to get to know the families of my students, and for them to get to know me.

As I write, I also think about why retirement seemed like such a good idea last spring when David and I talked about it.  We had just lost David's closest and longest friend to brain cancer.  We were numb with grief and the shock of how quickly life can be extinguished. We looked at each other and both agreed that life was too short; and we wanted to make the most of whatever years (months?? days??) we have left. So, we discussed finances and made some decisions.  I was practically giddy with the thought of being "done" with the continual political demands of teaching that have so little to do with teaching.

Right now, I can honestly say the last thing I want to do is retire.  I love my job.  I love the kids, and some of my favorite people are my fellow teachers.  And, I selfishly think about how much I enjoy a steady paycheck, that allows me to live, if not in luxury, at least in comfort. I'm happy with my life as it is, and while I really do want to retire and travel in the near future, I'm not so sure it needs to be this coming June.

I'm not making any definite decisions, yet.  But I am going to enjoy this fabulous fall with every fiber of my being, knowing well that there are no guarantees in how many my future holds. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The ADD Teacher

It’s the third day of school and I can’t find my lunch count paper and money envelope.  The kids keep coming up and asking me, as several have cash for lunch, and I haven’t a clue. I can’t remember if I picked it up from my mailbox that morning, or the afternoon before.

Fortunately, I have a one-on-one staff assistant this year for a student in a wheel chair with muscular dystrophy.  I ask her to please run to the office to check my mailbox.  She returns empty handed, telling me she checked the other boxes nearby, the staff table, and the women’s restroom, all for naught.

I keep a smile on my face, and shuffle through my desk drawer for an envelope to put the kids money in.  Then I write their name, lunch number and amount of money on a post it, along with the lunch count and my name and room number.  I smirk a bit when I notice my coffee mug;  “Keep Calm and Carry On” emblazoned across the front.

A few minutes later, the kitchen lady calls my room and says she doesn’t know who brought money.  It seems the post it fell off.  The kids and I recreate the needed information.  Once again, we carry on.  The next morning, I stop by the kitchen and humbly ask for a replacement lunch sheet and envelope.  I had thought perhaps I had picked them up inadvertently and left them with a stack of correcting at home.  I had not.
Of course, several days later I did find the missing materials, under a stack of “Read All About Me” posters on the counter.  I now have a spare set, which I will surely use.

The morning progresses, with my usual hunt for my favorite purple dry erase marker, or my cute new owl pointer, and the never-ending search for the clipboard with my planning notes. It’s a typical day in Room 111.

Later, I’ll be frantically tossing papers off my desk, trying to find the science folio that I was reading while eating my salad at lunch.  I give up; open the connecting door between my room and Angie’s, telling her I can’t find it. She offers hers, which I gratefully grab as I’m opening my door for the kids to come in. This year we’ve extended the lunch recess, and given up the late afternoon one.  Great idea in theory, but in reality tough, as there is no break between literacy and science, so I need to be prepared for both before the kids return from lunch recess.

I shouldn’t really need the teacher notes, as I’ve been teaching this same exact science unit for a decade!  I know it, or should know it, by heart.  But, a funny thing happens on the way through my lessons.  I forget chunks, or fairly important vocabulary words, or leave out part of the directions.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve taught it so much that I just forget I haven’t already said what I need to say (this year!), or if it’s the ADD running amok within.

The day before I had merrily taken the kids on a jaunt around the building, with notebooks and pencils in hand.  We were busily counting our footsteps, along each wall, and we were going to create a “birds eye view” map of the building. We’re all having a grand ole time, despite the 95-degree temp.  We return to the classroom, and I model for them how to draw out the building, and never once get back to the averaging lesson I had planned on, using their group data to determine approximate distance for each wall.  I also neglected to discuss and post the new vocabulary: model, grid lines, boundary, map, and cartographer.  There’s always tomorrow.

Suddenly, the patrol kids are getting ready to go, so we stop for planners, then the kinder helpers get ready to go, and the rest of us get ready to go and play silent ball. Day over!

Nobody tries harder than I do to stay organized. I am the Queen Bee of organizational tools.  I have labeled file drawers, labeled cubbies.  I label the supply drawers.  I have files and file holders and labels up the kazoo . . . and I can’t find a darn thing. I paid my daughter to come in last spring and completely reorganize my four-drawer file cabinet.  She did a beautiful job, and all files are in alphabetical order: algebra, area, decimals, division and so on.  She consolidated all multiple folders into one, (I think she found four or five labeled algebra) and I love it.

The problems arise when I remove a file, or a few papers from a file. They get lost, buried beneath the scads of papers that pass through my fingertips each day. I have a file box labeled with the days of the week, presumably so that I can file the papers I will need for any given day.  This would be fabulous if, one, I actually put the papers in the correct file, or two, if I remember that I did put the papers in the correct file folder! Many days I’m looking for a set of papers, that I had seen moments earlier, but forget that I put them in the file (and never once look there until I am filing the next week’s papers!)

When my dear friend Deb was my teaching pal, she always kept the important papers.  She kept an accurate calendar, knew when to order what, and the 5th grade team was a smooth running machine.  When she moved to another school, she passed all her files on to me.  Yep, it was scary.

For a couple years, I was the only consistent member of the team, as my teammates kept changing grade level positions. I was in charge. Yikes!
I managed to hold it together, and get things ordered in a timely manner, for the most part. I was good about passing materials on to my teammates, but it was a running joke whether I could keep track of my own.  I was often borrowing back one copy so I could go run a copy for myself until I ran across the curiously hidden copies of my own.  Just so you know, I nearly always find my papers eventually.  I draw the line at wasting paper on making new ones (unless they’re really important.)
You’d think that, as a teacher, I would recognize ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in myself.  Lord knows I’ve had plenty of students who are “attention challenged”. Yet, it wasn’t until one of my daughters was diagnosed while in high school that I realized I was, too.  After going over the checklist of behaviors for her, it was sobering to discover there were very few I didn’t exhibit.  I just always thought I was scatterbrained.  (Which I am, but, there’s a diagnosis for that now!) Whew!
Several years ago, while chatting with my then principal, I mentioned it.  She looked at me and said, “It must be very hard for you!” It is, no question about it.  It’s hard keeping track, and it’s even harder to stay on track.  But, I’m a good teacher, and maybe, the ADD kind of works in my favor.  I totally “get” the kids who share my challenges.  I can laugh with them.  I hopefully help them with organization.  My kids grow and improve and test scores demonstrate success. My students love me as much as I love them.  They continue to come back to visit, volunteer in my classroom when in high school, and invite me to their graduation parties. 
The current kids help me, too. They become pros at keeping track of my teaching stuff.  It’s way better losing my clipboard at school, as one of the kids can spot it in a matter of seconds.  At home, it’s a totally different story.  I can lose stuff for years.  (Well, I can do that at school too.  I still can’t find my favorite red timer that I lost last April!) It’s a mystery.
This may, or may not, be my last year teaching.  I would imagine that any job is hard if you’re ADD, but I find it incredibly frustrating.  I waste a lot of time, searching, shuffling through stacks of papers, and sadly, re-creating. It is a daunting task to attempt to keep up, and I fail miserably on a daily basis. Across the room as I write, there is a rolling cart stuffed with papers that I brought home on Friday to sort through and organize.  I’m exhausted just thinking about that task. Yet, it true and typical ADD fashion, I’ve completely gotten sidetracked and written this blog post instead of doing my homework!

This weekend I have to prepare files for three students who will be leaving my class on Wednesday.  Emotionally, that’s hard.  I’ve known since the first day of school (nearly two weeks ago) that we were overloaded, but the shift wasn’t decided on until Friday.  Sitting in the conference room with the principal and the other 4th and 5th grade teachers, trying to determine who would be a good “fit” for the newly created 4/5 split, was hard. 
The general public often doesn’t understand the teacher heart.  We miraculously love those kids the moment we meet them.  They may try our patience, exasperate us, and confound us.  But nothing stops us from that unconditional love that seeps into our heart once a child is placed in our classroom. When they leave, either willingly or unwillingly, a piece of our heart goes with them. This may be truer for elementary teachers than middle or high school, but I think all teachers feel the tug.
That’s another post . . .

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On the Road Again . . .

 Not sure how the title will fit this blog, but let’s get started!  Background first, since I haven’t blogged in a bazillion days . . .

Over the past couple months I’ve been on yet another “road to health” that has left me with mixed emotions.  Yeah, I’m losing weight, and I’m more active, and I’ve given away every piece of clothing that is too big. This meant two trips of boxes and bags to our local family homeless shelter, as I found several bins of “just because” clothing on shelves in the garage while doing my summer cleaning! But . . . I’m fighting a very real feeling that this isn’t the health program for me.  I don’t like the road I’m on for a number of reasons.

I won’t go into the details, or badmouth the program, as many love it and are true blue fans.  That’s ok for them, but it isn’t feeling right for me, and quite honestly, I had to talk myself into it in the first place. I haven’t been 100% committed, although I have followed it faithfully, hoping that I would find myself in that state of near Nirvana others spoke of while taking this particular road to good health. (It didn’t happen; more energy and euphoria continues to elude me!)

So I thought about what does feel right ~ frequent small meals that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates, exercise daily, stay clear of sugary treats and junk food ~ and decided that I will wean myself off of the program and instead trust myself to make healthy choices on my own.

Novel idea, I agree!  I know my strengths, and weaknesses, quite well.  I know that in the past twenty-five years I have been unable to maintain any kind of weight loss program on my own. I’ve needed incentive to stick to it ~ other people to commiserate with, and usually paying big $$ for food and/or supplements.

(Little FYI ~ I never had a weight problem until I quit smoking 26 years ago.  Do I have a compulsive personality?  Yeah, I think so.  However, I draw the line at picking up the smoking habit as a mode to weight loss!  Some roads I simply will not take again!)

But, alas, this past was before I changed to my new primary care doctor, who has left no stone unturned in making sure I get healthy, come hell or high water.  Our first conversation was 75 minutes long last January.  I was in tears: I pretty much hated her and never wanted to see her again.  She told me I was depressed, and I didn’t believe her until I started a medication for depression.  She was right, I got really depressed when I gained 10 more pounds in a month!

In the meantime, she had ordered blood work that came back leading her to believe I was on the road to self-destruction. (I guess my “road” title is working out) She said, “Get some weight off, NOW!”  I cried some more and blamed the medication . . . so, she changed it and told me I had three months to bring down my cholesterol and blood sugar numbers before I’d be put on more medication.

Well, the new depression medication was amazing.  I didn’t know I was supposed to be happy, and was surprised to discover that I liked being in happy mode. Hmmm . . .

There were a few other medical alerts during the spring: suspicious moles (I had a chunk of my cheek removed due to skin cancer, which was sewn up beautifully!) and problems suspected in my bladder and kidneys (had a couple unpleasant procedures, and then had a kidney stone blasted to smithereens, as it was too big to pass without surgery).

I lost a few pounds on my own, but heard about a “miracle program”  (I know, where was my brain you wonder??) and I was enticed with the magic of dropping more weight quicker and being in a state of “Optimal Health” so I signed up and got started in May.

Within a week, since I had a re-check appointment with Dr. Kill Joy (not her real name), I was half hoping she would tell me I couldn’t do the program.  She snickered when I told her what it was (first time she has cracked a smile) asking how I liked the food (I personally think it’s pretty awful!) and agreed I could stay on it, as I was already losing weight and she was happy to see that.  However, she ordered further blood work to be sure my numbers were where they were supposed to be. 

My blood pressure had been high the last three times, however in all fairness, two of them were prior to medical procedures and I wasn’t too alarmed.  Dr. KJ was, naturally, and told me to stick to a low sodium diet, buy a blood pressure cuff and record readings at least twice a day.  Luckily, this food program made it easy to track the sodium, but it was still a challenge to stay below 1500 mg per day.  And, my blood pressure continued to be in the “you’re not dead yet, but you’re in danger” zone, so the doctor required me to start blood pressure medication.  The first one made me dizzy, despite the fact I was on ½ of the dose.  However, the current one is working well, with no dizziness.

I’ve learned a few things on this road trip to health. 

First, although I should have been prepared for this, I am more fully aware of my limitations as I flounder in the 60’s. Nothing comes easy, everything takes twice as long as it used to, and half of what I used to know I’ve forgotten. 

Second, I’ve found myself scared into submission.  The focus has shifted from “I wish I could lose weight” to “I have to lose weight” if I want to enjoy a certain quality of life.  Lately, I like the fact that I can easily bend over to pick beans in the garden, or paint my own toes.  Simple pleasures, but I’ll take them.

Third, I have two daughters planning weddings in the not so distant future.  I really want to look good in those family photos that will hang for posterity on the family room wall.

Oh yeah, and if I eat right, exercise and take care of myself, maybe I can keep a few of those prescriptions out of my life a while longer. 

There has never been a better time for me to reward myself with good health, so I’m on the road again . . .