Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday Slice: This is not a paid vacation

Last year, I wrote about my work-filled summer.  In that piece, I planned to really look at this summer's activities, and make them less work-related.

I didn't succeed.  I ended up working almost a week beyond my calendar, trying to catch up on tasks that didn't get done before my official last day.  Of course, those extra days pale in comparison to the number of weekends my colleagues spend working in their classrooms, a practice I successfully avoid.

I did make a point of signing up for library activities that came with a paycheck.  The five sessions of summer library afternoons, one evening of pop-up library time, and presenting a professional development are compensated hours. 

But....each one of those activities eats into my summertime.

Why do we educators do this to ourselves?  Do doctors and lawyers take their case files with them on vacations?  At the end of the school year, our administrators send us off with messages of "Relax!" and "Enjoy your break, come back refreshed!" How does self-care fit with the parallel, unspoken expectation to continue working?  Are they mutually exclusive?

I began thinking of this post when a blog about a summer bingo game for teachers popped up in my Twitter feed.  I get it; it's supposed to make work fun. But we aren't at work. We are on summer break.  You know, those days we don't get paid for. Viewing it from the lens of self-care, imagine my disappointment when every square was work-related.  If I were to make a summer bingo card for educators, this is what I would include:
  • Get a pedicure in a bright summer shade.
  • Turn off your alarm clock, and see how many hours of sleep you really should be getting.  Try to work that into your school year schedule.
  • Attend an adults-only event (or two, or three).
  • Read a fiction novel for grown-ups.
  • Read a nonfiction book that ISN'T about education.
  • Revive an old hobby.
  • Listen to new-to-you music; purchase whatever lifts your spirit.
  • Learn a new craft or skill.
  • Go off the grid for three full days.
  • Connect with friends/ meet new people who aren't educators.
  • Travel; visit a new-to-you place.
  • Get a massage, or two, or three.  Schedule them at regular intervals for the next year.
  • Find physical activities that bring you joy and health.
  • Get a physical checkup with your doctor.
  • Make a self-care kit with snacks, mints, gum, scents, deodorant, chocolate, cough drops, bandaids--whatever you might need to get through a long school day. (Yes, I know this is work-related, but the self-care aspect is what's important here.)

I know that great teachers are lifelong learners, and are always striving to improve their teaching skills.  It's an admirable trait, but I often wonder if we are truly compensated for our time and effort.  Yes, the intrinsic value is worth more than the paycheck.  I also worry that we become myopic in our definition of learning. We don't have to be all about education, all of the time.  

Especially during our summer break.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Packing for college

"We need a what?" my husband calls from the kitchen.

"A pillow and a blanket. And towels; they are only providing the linens," I answer.

We are packing for our son's college orientation--but not packing for our son.  Frugality won over convenience when my husband learned that we could stay in the dorms for a fraction of what the local hotel would charge.  Not the same dorm as the incoming freshmen, of course.  We will be in the Honors Hall, in separate rooms with single twin beds, sharing a bathroom.

This is a much different experience than our firstborn's college entrance.  At her tiny, private liberal arts college, orientation happened during the last two days of summer.  We attended a few parent sessions and helped her move into her dorm over the course of a weekend, with time to spare.  Our son's orientation starts today with an afternoon check-in; we have events through the evening, and lasts until late Thursday afternoon.  His move-in will happen in August, when we get eight hours to get him settled before being scooted away for his weeklong freshman transition.

I am more excited about this than our son, who is understandably upset about starting off college in a compromised physical state.  Unable to chew for two to three more months, and barely able to open his jaws three weeks into recovery, he worries about the social and academic implications of thick speech and dietary restrictions.  I try to acknowledge his fears and provide solutions, but my efforts have done little to elevate his mood. My hope is that the busy-ness of these three days will alleviate some of those worries, and that the staff will be compassionate and accommodating, as posted reviews have stated.

So off we go to college today, pillows and blankets and towels in hand.  Wish us luck!


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Two days

It's Sunday, June 18th, and my stomach is sour.

Several reasons for my discomfort come to mind--the pizza from the new-to-us restaurant yesterday, the overabundance of fast food I've been consuming lately, the overindulgence in sweets and carbs....the stress of my teenage son's surgery.  We leave before dawn for the hospital tomorrow.

I've gained the ten pounds that should be on my son's frame.  What will happen when he can't chew for the next 120 days?

Seeing a movie together is but a momentary distraction; the surgery is already on my mind before we leave the theater.

*****************
It's Monday, 330am, and I am praying.

Prayers of gratitude for medical expense loans, to cover the large check I must present this morning.  Prayers for compassionate nurses, competent doctors, effective pain management.  

We arrive at the surgery center at 530a, as directed.  The doors are still locked in the predawn gloom, with only a receptionist visible in the office across the foyer.  Someone else finally comes out and opens the door for us.  At 630a, we are taken back to the pre-op area.  Preparations are made, and he is wheeled to the OR just before 700am.

Still Monday, 900am, and we are anxiously awaiting an update.  Crocheting keeps my hands busy, the nonstop barrage of TV chatter only mildly distracting.  The update comes a few minutes later.  The surgery is going well.  Then it's 1030a, and we get word that they are a little over halfway through.  Surgery was supposed to take four hours; the math in my head doesn't add up.

Noon, and we are finally ushered into a small consultation room without enough chairs, to hear from the surgeons.  They are happy with the outcome.  

We are called back to recovery a half hour later.  Our son is still drifting in and out of sleep.  He looks pale.  When he wakes up, he coughs up blood, bright red splatters on the blanket and paper towels.  There is a man shouting from across the room, hidden by his curtain.  At first his rants just seem like a bad reaction to coming out of anesthesia, but then he yells "INCOMING!", and we realize he suffers from PTSD.  In the midst of my worry for my own child, I feel for this soldier and his family.

It takes our son forever to wake up long enough to raise his oxygen levels without a mask on.  We remark to his nurse that we haven't watched a monitor this closely since his sister's stay in the NICU.  He is the second-to-the-last patient to leave; the shouting soldier is long gone. It's now 515pm.

We get him home, thankful we had prepared the couch the night before with sheets and a blanket--but the blanket is white, and soon ends up in the washing machine, spattered by another bloody coughing spell.  Old towels are quickly piled up and put to use, as he drifts in and out of sleep again, only to wake and cough some more.  At some point, he is alert enough to change into comfortable clothes, and then falls asleep on the couch for the night.  I listen to his breathing, see his chest rise and fall in the dim light from the kitchen.  

I fall into a fitful sleep in the chair next to him, only to awaken minutes later and often through the night, not unlike his first night at home, nineteen years ago.
*********************

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Fear and hope

I went to bed last night wondering what to write this morning, and awoke without inspiration. I decided to read first while waiting for my coffee to brew, and this quote grabbed me, forcing me to reread it several times.

"We do not become hopeful by talking about hope.  We become hopeful by entering darkness and waiting for the light.  We become hopeful by being honest with one another about our pain and then waiting, together, for God to show us a way toward healing."
--Mark Yaconelli, The Gift of Hard Things: Finding Grace in Unexpected Places

Optimistic realism is my status quo.  I firmly believe in Stephen Covey's principle of only concerning myself with that which lies within my sphere of influence--a message that's been repeated to me in related readings and by nurses in a NICU while my daughter lived there for 65 days.  The principle that got me through deaths of loved ones, children's illnesses, lay-offs and job changes.

That's what moms do, right?  We face fear--our own and that of our loved ones--and then roll up our sleeves and get to work, doing what we can to alleviate the anxiety, doling out the hugs and the bandaids, making the phone calls, dealing with the paperwork.  And if that doesn't work, we clean the toilets.  Or bake a great cake. Or fill in the calendar, plan the menus, talk about work. 

Anything to move forward through the fear, the grief, the unknowing.

I don't know if we ever allow ourselves to really enter the darkness.  

As I get older, I find it harder and harder to cry.  Crying means stopping, giving in, wallowing.    

Then why did this passage bring tears to my eyes?  Because I realized that I am afraid.  In less than a week, my son will have surgery.  His orthodontist and oral surgeon believe that by moving his jaws forward and reconstructing his nasal cavity, his airways will open to allow him to breathe fully, possibly for the first time in his life.  

Breathing is good.  So what am I afraid of?  The surgery, of course--he will be under anesthesia for four hours.  The pain he will most undoubtedly suffer, even with medication.  The changes to the face I love, that I look at more closely these days, knowing it will be different afterward.  The four months of recovery, in which he won't be allowed to chew food.  The difficulties and details this adds to beginning his freshman year of college in two and a half months.  The insurance company, taking its time to re-examine our doctor's findings after denying coverage.

I will allow myself to cry.  And hope.  And make the phone calls, deal with the paperwork, plan activities that will get us through the pain and fear.

That's what moms do.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Lessons that stick


This past week has been stressful in good and bad ways.

A lesson on "eustress" is one I haven't forgotten from my high school psychology class. Good stress is still stressful, my teacher said.  It can tax your body and wear you out.

The last ten days have been focused on end-of-school-year celebrations and goodbyes, the major transition of high school graduation for our youngest child, the celebration of his accomplishments, and the preparation for his upcoming major jaw surgery.

The heightened social activity at work and home has exhausted my introverted limits for interaction.  I am yearning for a solo retreat that can't happen because of the surgery preparations...Which will lead to the surgery recovery...Which leads to college orientation and preparation...Which puts us right back to the beginning of next school year.

Yes, most of this is eustress.  I've wrapped up a successful fourth year as a librarian. It's a good thing that our child has grown, will be healthier as a result of this surgery, will go off to college to pursue his dreams.  But stress is stress, and it is wearing me out.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday Slice: My personal dig site

My desk is covered in a twelve-inch high avalanche of paper.  It's really that high; I just took out my measuring tape and assessed the situation.  The first thought that came to mind as I surveyed this paper mountainscape is that an anthropologist could figure out my entire living situation using my desk as a dig site.  Just scanning the bits that are sticking out, here's what I spy in the dim light of my study:

  • a printed Slice that I meant to put in my yearly planner
  • receipts I meant to put in my check register
  • notes from an online webinar, written on a sticky pad
  • coupons, and online codes written on scraps of paper
  • medical paperwork (it's important, so it's on top!)
  • pretty stationery
  • bills that have been paid, and bills waiting to be paid
  • a catalog for high school class rings
  • recipes
  • a punch card for a painting workshop
  • a postcard from my car dealer
  • an owl diecut notepad
  • a high school football game ticket
  • Christmas cards
  • books
  • card reminders for appointments already kept
  • my checkbook and register
  • a current PTA membership card
That's just the paper bits.  There are non-paper paraphernalia adding to the peaks and valleys:
  • my phone, charging
  • various pens
  • a bag of goodies from my recent 5K
  • three owl candleholders (without burning candles, for obvious reasons)
  • our digital camera, waiting for a download of photos
  • a cute keyring bracelet of ceramic beads from my neighbor
  • small boxes containing owl figurines 
  • an empty Japanese beer bottle--with an owl on it
  • phone cables and earbuds
  • reading glasses
  • patches that need to be sewn onto my son's letter jacket
Some of this mess needs to be filed; some clearly needs to be tossed or shredded; and there are bits I'd like to hold on to for memory's sake. I clearly need either intervention, or an entire uninterrupted weekend to sort this out.  Since neither is happening soon, I'll have to settle for an hour of tossing and re-piling this evening.  Guests are coming, and I don't need the avalanche sliding into the front hallway.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Lasting times

High school

Summer practice.
Parent meeting.
Dance.
Halftime show.
Line of hugs.
Report card.
Band trip.
Classes and exams.
Yearbook.
Banquet.
Sleepovers.
Concert.
Graduation.

High school 

firsts
have become

high school

lasts
in a bittersweet 
heartbeat.