Monday, November 8, 2010

Thorns, Buds, and Roses

My school has something called Advisory, which is basically a small(ish--my Advisory is seventeen kids) group of students that have half an hour daily to do things like team building, study skills, listening practice, discussions on important issues (for example, we had an amazing conversation about wearing purple to support the recent highly publicized suicides by homosexual youths), and start to think about life and career goals. The incorporation of this sort of class is a growing trend, and it's kind of neat that my school is somewhat ahead of the curve.

Anyway, I mentioned Advisory because one of the activities that we are strongly encouraged to do with our students is called "Thorns, Buds, and Roses". (I've done a variation of this sort of multi-faceted reflection with my English classes for years now where the prompt for student writer's notebooks is "School: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly").

Basically, you're able to stop and think about where you're at, what's good (roses), what's not so good (thorns), and what sort of hopes you have on the bloom, so to speak (buds).

It occurred to me that this might be a neat blog post, so feel free to give it a shot (you can also focus it a bit--do it in terms of writing, in terms of your week, in terms of your day, in terms of your goals, whatever)

My Thorn:
Loneliness is killing me. I don't mean in terms of being alone--I'm surrounded by my students and colleagues all day and my family all night--but more a general impression that nobody understands me, that nobody has any idea of what goes on in my head (or even worse, that they really don't care). I have been used pretty relentlessly throughout my life ... but I was aware of it and it was something I chose to involve myself in. I'm at a point now where dishonesty and the "I'm there for you as long as there's something in it for me" thing are really starting to bother me, mostly I think because I'm there for people that need me no matter what ... I cannot comprehend people that don't have this mindset, although I'm starting to realize that I must be the strange one for always putting myself out there and getting nothing in return. Since I can't change the nature of who I am, though, this is going to be an ongoing thorn in my life--but I guess I'd rather that than become a person that I don't like. This might not make any sense ;-)

My Bud:
My writing. After a long (LONG) hiatus, I seem to be back on track with my writing. I've reread both the finished novel and the getting-close-to-finished one, and I'm really surprised and pleased at how really excellent I think they are. I've got a lot of ideas for finishing the WIP, and I'm contemplating redoing the query process with the finished piece. I'm really proud of the stuff I've been writing lately for Zelda Lily, and I'm also super excited about having rediscovered how much I love this little blog of mine :-) Hope springs eternal!

My Rose:
My students. There are days that I think I am completely wasting my time, and then there are the moments that I realize the little angels really do listen to me and care about what's going on. Seventh graders are reading The Outsiders and they can't get enough of that book--vehement non-readers are angry when we don't work on it in class. And my eighth grade classes are reading The Hobbit and, while they're not exactly loving it, they're getting something out of it (we talked about conflict today and how cool it was that Tolkien gives the reader a name for the internal conflict going on inside Bilbo--"something Tookish rose up in him"--and they really seemed engaged).

So there you have it :-) Leave a link in the comments if you decide to give it a try ...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sometimes the Stars Align

I've been thinking a lot today about how sometimes the universe gives you what you need, even if there is a cost that makes it seem less than sweet at the time. My great gift of the past week or so? Pancreatitis. Yes, I'm serious.

Pancreatitis is just what it sounds like, an inflammation of the pancreas. What cannot be put into words, however, is how painful it is. At its worst, it feels as though someone is drilling through your upper abdomen and all the way through to your back--it is relentless and there is no relief. It hurts to breathe, it hurts to wear a bra, it hurts to move, and I don't just mean "hurts" ... I mean agony. And my pain threshold is pretty high.

I have chronic pancreatitis as the result of a liver issue. Basically, when they tried to repair some damage to my liver, the doctors messed up my pancreas for life (I was in the hospital on a morphine drip for nearly a month following what was supposed to be a minor surgical procedure). It's a long and not terribly interesting story, but the bottom line is that I have occasional flare-ups that are incredibly painful but usually fairly short-lived--I haven't been hospitalized in almost two years.

Like pretty much any other chronic medical condition, stress and lack of adequate rest are contributing factors in the frequency and intensity of the flare-ups.

I am under an enormous amount of stress at work that, as I've mentioned before, I can't get into, much as I'd like to (I vent like crazy on my secret, hidden blog, though ;-)). Suffice it to say that I for the first time am wondering about some people's agendas--if you are not in the education field to educate children, then why in the world don't you go bring your two-faced, backstabbing tendencies into a job where it would be beneficial, like a collection agency or a law firm or Abu Ghraib?

I also have a tendency to burn the proverbial candle at both ends, which is nobody's fault but my own.

On Wednesday morning, a pancreatitis flare-up came out of the clear blue sky like a gunshot (kind of felt like a gunshot, too :-(). It was so bad that I called the doctor to make an appointment (I refuse to go to the ER in general because they'll make me stay in the hospital for a week and I just can't do that) ... and I also cried in a meeting, which is most unlike me.

So I went to the doctor that afternoon, by which time the pain was still pretty bad but not wall-punching, tear-inducing unbearable. She did bloodwork (and was unsurprised with the results), gave me more Percocet, and suggested I go to the ER if it got unspeakable again. I explained that this was not going to happen, so she told me that I had to take the next day (Thursday) off from work and wrote a note to this effect.

Yeah, I HATE to miss work and had been out four days the week before because I was in Vermont doing work on a school reaccreditation team. So I went to work on Thursday and had what might well have been my worst day ever in terms of losing any last shred of respect I could potentially have ever had for a couple of my colleagues. It was dreadful and, as I was exhausted and in a tremendous amount of pain, I decided to take Friday off so that I could hopefully get some rest and start to bounce back a little bit.

Best decision ever.

I have been resting (like, sitting down, only getting up to pee or get some more ginger ale resting) for three days. I've been reading a lot and writing even more--this blog, for example, a place that I swore never to abandon, had been kind of abandoned, and it's been great to be able to post a few pieces. I wrote some pieces for Zelda Lily that I'm really proud of--one on direct instruction in areas like empathy for school children, for example, and one on baby steps (but steps nonetheless) being taken to address sexual abuse in males which is kind of a forbidden topic--and I even revisited my second novel, the one that's 3/4 of the way finished, and got some ideas for directions to go in.

I relaxed with my kids, my mother, and my dog. It's rare for us to all be home together, but it was a nice treat. I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd been able to eat something other than chicken broth, but then again, maybe that's part of what made it so enjoyable, joking around about all the good stuff they were eating (popcorn with extra butter while watching The Perfect Storm ... mmmmmm, I was so jealous!). And Addie, who got her license on Friday, drove by herself to an event at her school, and Belle and I got to read a lot together.

So it's Sunday night now, and I'm feeling pretty good physically. I'm also feeling really good emotionally, and I think it's kind of interesting that somehow the stars aligned so that I could have a few days to do nothing but rest, to recharge my batteries, to worry only about feeling better.

I wish that it hadn't taken a 10 on the pain scale to get me to slow down and take it easy for a couple of days, but I'm kind of dense about the small stuff--taking care of myself physically, for example--sometimes.

Thank you, stars, or God, or fate, or karma, or whatever. I really needed this little rest!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sunday Stealing: A Fourteen Question Meme That's Making the Rounds ;-)

You do find some odd things out there when you're sitting at home on a Saturday night ... check out "Sunday Stealing" here for a thorough explanation (or to join the fun ;-)).

1. What do you consider your hometown to be?
Dover, New Hampshire. I lived there for most of my life, and I hope to return there sooner rather than later.

2. What’s the hardest part of your average day?
Waking up in the morning. I have extensive fogginess (and a lack of ability to do anything, pretty much) until at least the second cup of coffee. This has been exacerbated lately by the alarm on my new phone, which I can't get to make noise. It just vibrates annoyingly, then the 3/4 asleep me turns it off, and then ... well, yeah, you can see where that goes.

3. The easiest? Why?
Doing Belle's nightly reading with her, an activity that gives both of us a great deal of pleasure. Observing a six-year-old develop as a reader is cool enough, but being part of it? Freaking amazing :-) We have it down to a pretty cool science now ... she'll read a couple of books to me (her teacher sends her home with a "just right" book for her reading level every night or she'll read her library book or grab one from her bookshelf), then I'll read the next section of the chapter book we're working on (it's James and the Giant Peach at the moment).

4. What beverage do you reach for to quench your thirst?
Barq's root beer.

5. What is one not-so-secret goal you have for your life? I’ll let you keep your secret ones to yourself.
To be a published novelist.

6. What physical pain do you fear most? For example, I’m trying to decide how bad my jaw pain needs to get before I risk a potential needle from my dentist. So, for me, throbbing is preferable to jabbing.
I fear pancreatitis pain, which is rather unfortunate since I'm having a pancreatitis flare-up at the moment. I've had root canals, a tonsillectomy, a broken wrist, a ruptured appendix, two childbirth experiences, and a lot of other things I can't think of right now ... but none of them came remotely close to pancreatitis. At all.

7. Where do you find solace?
Writing, reading, or walking on the beach.

8. What makes you the saddest when you read/see the news?
I'm saddened by violence (recently the Steven Spader trial in New Hampshire) and by ignorance (the crazy woman who somehow thinks her husband's suspicious death IN MEXICO reflects on Barack Obama's immigration policy, for example, or the Tea Party).

9. What do you eat for a favorite snack?
Clementine oranges ... or Cheetos lol.

10. What movie could you/would you watch more than two or three times and still enjoy just as much as the first time?
The Star Wars movies. It's a longtime addiction based in childhood that has always been with me.

11. What boy/girl first made you cry?
I'm going to take the easy route here and say my brother was the first boy to make me cry and my sister was the first girl to make me cry. Obviously I'm just pretending that my reading comprehension fails.

12. What brand of coffee/tea do you drink most often?
Dunkin' Donuts. If I don't have my Dunk's coffee every morning, the entire day is a nightmare.

13. Dig in the dirt with or without garden gloves?
Without ... I like the way that dirt feels and the things you notice that you never would if you were wearing gloves.

14. James Taylor or Carly Simon?
James Taylor (although I like Carly Simon too)

I'm Sorry, Kermit!

When I was seventeen, I hit a chipmunk on my way to work. It was the first time I'd ever killed anything in my life (I'm one of those people that catches a spider or bumblebee then releases them outside--the only exception is mosquitos), and I was distraught. I was such a mess, in fact, that I actually got sent home from work because I couldn't stop crying.

I've had other roadkill incidents since then, and while I always feel badly about it, I no longer go into hysterics. I mean, sometimes those squirrels just run right out in front of you. I always try to dodge them if possible, but sometimes there's just nothing you can do.

Something happened one night last week that reminded me of my utter devastation over the first chipmunk I hit, and it got me pondering the proverbial food chain and the equity (or inequity, I guess you'd say) of the animals, big and small, that are killed incidentally by human beings.

I live very close to the ocean, and there is a lot of marshland surrounding the roads near my house. Sometimes at night, you can hear the frogs singing, a beautiful choir that's obviously not planned but somehow sounds intentional anyway.

One night last week, I was coming home from dinner in Massachusetts with a friend. It was pretty late--bordering on midnight--and it had been raining all day and most of the night. All of a sudden, with no warning at all, the boggy road I was on was covered with frogs. Covered.

I felt a twinge of the girl I was at seventeen rise up inside as I realized that I was driving over frogs. Like, multitudes of frogs. We're talking froggie family reunion here.

I considered reversing up the road, changing direction, getting back on the highway, and going home in a way that would have allowed me to circumvent the avenue of amphibians. If I'd been seventeen, I would without question have done it. There were two things that stopped me:

1) I could see in my rear view mirror that the frogs that had escaped certain death under the deadly wheels of my car were hopping over their dead and injured brethren, bound for the relative safety of the moonlit marshes on either side of the road. They had avoided the wheel of fortune's death knell once, and it seemed cruel on a whole bunch of levels to reverse over them--I don't know much, but I do know that fate only goes your way so many times, and they'd already been scared and shaken.

2) It was very late, I was exhausted, and I wanted to be home as quickly as possible.

And so I plowed ahead, flattening countless frogs in the process because they were so prolific that attempting to dodge them was futile. For nearly a mile, though, I weaved my little sedan slowly around the larger gathering spots, avoiding sitting water because they really seemed to conglomerate in and around puddles on the road.

And I cried, not with the sharp and sudden agony of knowing that I'd killed a little chipmunk dashing across the street but with a longer, stronger awareness that the road was basically paved with frogs, that I did not want to hurt them and wished that they would hop off to froggie endeavors that would have kept them off the road, and that, ultimately, there was absolutely nothing I could do to change my undesired mass murder of dozens, maybe hundreds of frogs.

It occurred to me as I drove, trying to ignore the fact that the normally smooth road was characterized by scores of small but frequent bumps, that there were many metaphors to be drawn here ... and that none of them were happy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Circle of Life at the DMV

Addie got her driver's license today.

I think part of me just assumed that driver's ed would go on forever, that the list marking off her hours would just keep growing without ever reaching that magic 40 hours, that she would never drive off on her own where the roads are full of bad drivers ...

I'm having the typical mother's angst about it, of course, but I did make the agonizing choice to let her take the car to the football game where her marching band is playing tonight. It was made slightly less agonizing by my need for a prescription painkiller that I would have had to put off for about four hours if I'd had to go pick her up, but it was still agonizing.

It wasn't just the pancreatic pull for percocet, though. Something incredibly spiritual happened at the DMV today, sort of a message from some sort of higher power that everything goes in cycles ... even driving.

Addie didn't have school today because of a teacher workshop day, and I stayed home from work to get some rest--I was supposed to stay out of work yesterday (had a doctor's note stating it) but went in anyway, which was clearly a mistake since I ended up in even more pain as well as being completely exhausted by the time I got home. I hate to miss work, but I guess sometimes it's the right thing to do.

Anyway, when I woke up from my very long morning nap, Addie was counting up the hours on her driving log, although I think she must have known she was all set. She looked at me with her big blue eyes, smiled hopefully, and asked if I felt well enough to go to the DMV ... after all, it wasn't like I had to drive or anything.

The line was pretty long when we got there, which was kind of boring. At one point, the door opened and it was one of Addie's friends ... she'd just taken (and passed) the state test, so she and Addie hugged and did the adolescent girl squeal. After that, though, we just kind of stood in line; it was pretty much too loud to talk, and both Addie and I are kind of into people-watching anyway.

I didn't notice the elderly man directly in front of us at first other than to observe that he was very tall and had a cane in his hand. When his turn in line came up, though, something told me to listen.

"I need to turn my license in and get a non-driving picture ID," he said.

The DMV woman looked confused. "Did you lose your license, sir?" she asked. "Was it revoked?"

"No," he replied politely. "I'm just not able to drive anymore."

"But your license isn't expired? You still have it in your possession?"

He took out his wallet with hands that shook, although his voice was strong. "It's right here, ma'am. I just want to turn it in for a non-driving picture ID since I'm not able to drive anymore."

"Well, I can do that, sir ... but, uh, why?"

"That part of my life is over," he said. "I've had a driver's license most of my life, but things are different since I've had some medical setbacks."

"I'm sorry to hear that, sir."

"Don't be. It's just how things are."

And then the next DMV person became available, so Addie and I got caught up in turning in paperwork, verifying stuff, and the clerk explaining to Addie the nuts and bolts of the written part of the test ("written" being a relative term ... it's actually a touch-screen computer test).

The old man next to us had been talking to his DMV rep about how excited he was to be able to keep the picture from his old license, since good photos are such a crapshoot.

As Addie went into the computer testing room, he caught my eye. "Is this her first license?" he asked me.

I nodded in reply. "Well, assuming she passes the test."

"She'll do just fine." He widened his gaze to include the DMV lady. "You have a brand new driver with a lifetime of travels ahead of her and a man with a lifetime of driving memories behind him."

The clerk looked bored and annoyed--or both, and to be fair, the line was pretty darn long--but I literally felt chills. Not bad chills; just the contrary, in fact.

It was like this man was effectively stepping down from his driving life so that my daughter could begin hers. I know it sounds stupid, but it really felt that way. A feeling of serenity just overtook me at that moment, and I smiled at the man and thanked him.

When Addie got out of the computer testing room, he was just getting into the passenger seat of a car in the parking lot. His wife opened the door for him and helped him fasten his seat belt because his hands were shaking so much. I looked away then because my sweet child was pumped about passing the written test but was freaking out about the driving part of the test (she ended up passing it, of course).

When we finally left the DMV, the old man was long gone, of course.

I don't think I will ever forget him, though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Bother ...?

You might have noticed that my absence from the blogosphere has a direct correlation to the start of the new school year. To make the understatement of the decade, things are a little tense at work.

Whenever I start writing a post here, it turns in a direction that leads directly to work, and the nature of my job is such that I can't talk about it publicly. I don't mean to be enigmatic--and I LOVE my students, this has nothing to do with them--but I am finding it very difficult to write under the necessary constraints. And of course not writing makes me crabby, which makes everything seem just even more overwhelming and surreal and utterly ridiculous.

After making extensive effort, overtures, and dedication to what is best for kids and getting shot down, humiliated, or tongue lashed to the point of tears on a daily basis, I want to scream, "Why bother?"

But I don't, of course, because I know the answer. All 100 of them, in fact: kiddos that are the bright spots of every work day.

My pancreatitis is flaring up. Stress is unquestionably playing a role. Percocet, not eating solid food until Saturday, and taking tomorrow off from work will help ... but the problems aren't going anywhere, no matter how hard I try to solve them.

No matter how hard you might try, there are some stones that are just too heavy to move. I'll keep trying, though ... because the education of children is 110% worth the bother.

I'll stop rambling now ... damn Percocet ;-)

Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...