Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tuesday Slice: When you don't have anything good to say

"When you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all."

How does that work, for writers?  Fiction is easier, I suppose.  One just re-enters the world created by the pen and continues where one left off.  Work the problems out, write the happy ending.

Real life isn't so easy to escape.  When bad things happen in clusters--even not-so-bad, just annoying and expensive--an overwhelming funk starts to creep in.  I try to remind myself that these issues are first-world problems; my basic needs are more than well-met, anything else is icing on the cake, and I just need to stop the whining and move on.  

The self-talk and gratitude journaling isn't working this week.  I just want to run away to a retreat center and sleep and walk and meditate and pray and eat salads, then come home to a magically clean house with all my bills paid and everything is fixed and all deadlines are met.  

Maybe escaping into fiction is exactly what I need.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Advent

Little by little, the season appears.  

Leaves fall
Cool winds blow
Trips to the mall

Lights are strung
Cards arrive
A wreath is hung

A manger goes up
Cinnamon in the air
Cocoa in a cup

Little by little, the season appears.

Boxes on the doorstep
Covered outdoor plants
Chilly mornings overslept

Homecoming hugs
Classes done
Red and green mugs

Making room for the tree
Sweaters unpacked
Finding the magic key

Little by little, the season appears.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Which weighs more?

The air was crisp, colder in the shade of oak trees refusing to give up their leaves, gleaning the last rays of autumnal sun on the hike and bike trail.  The crunching of gravel seemed almost too loud on this quiet, breezeless morning; I was glad when my path took me onto paved walkways for an auditory respite.

Too quiet.  My mind decided to fill the noiseless void with anxiety-ridden thoughts of parenting fails over the last two decades.

Mother-guilt is something I'll take to the grave.  The times I let them cry a bit too long before picking them up (the books said they're supposed to learn to self-soothe!).  The accidents that happened because I turned my back for a moment. The selfish, soft-spoken pleas to just-go-to-sleep, because I was the one who needed the rest. The times my patience wore thin and my voice got shrill and loud.  The days when I got in the car to drive myself around the block six times to calm down. When I was late for pickup, spent too much time on the computer, didn't set a good example in home-caring/self-caring/ being kind.

In an effort to make myself feel better, I thought of the things I did "right".  Rocking my babies to sleep with lullabies.  Filling the house with books and music and craft supplies to engage their minds and hands.  Reading bedtime stories and tucking them in with kisses and blessings.  Dropping them off and picking them up from school, with talk time in the car.  Attending parent conferences, band concerts, halftime shows.  Taking them to the doctor/ dentist/ orthodontist for physical and emotional needs.  Hallway hugs, phone call check-ins.  Traveling through states, out of the country, and establishing traditions at home.     

The older my children get, the more I worry about our past affecting their present and future.  The guilt makes me rejoice in the accomplishments they make in spite of my mistakes, but grows whenever there are issues I feel I may have caused. 

In the delicate balance of a child's psyche, which weighs more--the love and care we managed to give, or the times we failed miserably in that attempt?  I pray it is the former, not the latter--and that my children will forgive me my faults, perhaps when they become parents themselves.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Celebrate me home

For the past several days, I've been waking up to the same song playing in my head.  
It's a bit annoying, as my mind is breaking the "no Christmas songs until Santa arrives at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Macy's Parade" rule we have in this house. (We also listen to Christmas music until the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6th...but I digress.)

I'm guessing the mental jukebox picked this tune because it's our first empty nesting holiday season, and we'll have both fledglings under our roof come Christmas time--one driving home from college, the other flying in from Japan.  My father and his wife will join us for New Year's Eve--the most family members here since our daughter graduated from high school in 2012.  After my father leaves, we will meet our daughter's Japanese boyfriend as he visits our home for the first time.

There's a homecoming today, too.  I join current and former staff and students as we meet in my neighborhood elementary school to celebrate its fortieth anniversary.  Our daughter and son both attended the school, and because of their age difference, I was an Anderson Mill parent for eleven years before becoming a teacher there for three more.  I have fond memories of the tiny resource room I inhabited, all the while working on my Library Science degree, supported by the principal and mentored by the librarian. I'm hoping to see several of my students this afternoon.

We will be celebrating our loved ones home this holiday season, indeed.  Maybe I'm not so annoyed by the earworm after all.



Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tuesday Slice: A good day

"I've already planned to take the day off.  Do you want me to go to your appointments with you?" I asked over the phone.

"Are you sure you want to spend your day off going to doctors' offices?  I can think of more fun things to do than that," he replied.

"If you get good news, you'll want to celebrate.  I could take you out to eat--to CHEW--afterwards."

"Yeah, but if I get bad news, you'll have to listen to me rant the rest of the day."

"Either way, you'll need someone to celebrate with or yell at.  I'll go, if you want me to."

"Okay."

******************

Appointment number one: orthodontist.

"So, what did the ortho have to say?"

"He said something about this being maybe the second to the last time I'll have to see him."

"That sounds like we're getting close to the end!"

"Yeah, I guess."

*********************
Appointment number two:  oral surgeon.

"He looks good.  See here in the x-ray, the bone is just about healed; can barely tell he's had surgery.  Let's put him on the scale...good weight gain, too!  I'd like to see him in a month."

"But what about chewing?" I ask.

"And playing French horn?" the patient asks.

"Oh, yes, chewing soft foods is okay.  And horn playing."

We are both beaming, walking out of the office, high fives in the parking lot.

**********************
"Dad's home!"

"What did the docs say today?"

"Let's head to IHOP, so the boy can CHEW some French toast.  Oh, and his French horn needs fixing again. It's been a good day."

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday Slice: The thin veil

Today
And tomorrow, and
The day after that
I will remember

The saints that guide me
Catherine of Siena
Anthony of Padua
Therese of Lisieux
Hildegard of Bingen
Patrick and
Brigid of Ireland
Their lessons I glean

Today
And tomorrow, and
The day after that
I will remember

The ones who loved me
My mother
My grandparents
My cousins
My aunts and uncles
My family-by-marriage
My friends
Whom I love still

Today
And tomorrow, and
The day after that
I will remember

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Cowboy boots

Scuffed, pointed toes peek just a few inches from my bootcut jeans.  "I bought them when I was pregnant with my firstborn," I said. "That makes them twenty-five years old. I thought they would be my last big purchase ever, figured all my money would be spent on my kids after that.  They've been resoled once, at the shoe hospital."

The boots, dark caramel brown and creased from wear, sat unused for months at the bottom of my shoe pile until this past week, when the "Wild West" theme of our fall book fair fundraiser called for an appropriate costume.  I bought Wrangler western style shirts, one red and one blue, with pearl snap buttons.  A bandanna and a sueded plastic cowboy hat from a party supply store completed the look.  It was a hit with the students, who commented daily on my "cowboy clothes".

I've lived in this state for over thirty-six years, and those boots still feel like a costume.  Not a huge fan of country music. Don't really know how to two-step or do a boot-scootin' boogie.  Rarely does a "y'all" slip from my lips.  I'm Texan by residence, not by birth.  Two-thirds of my life spent here, and I can't bring myself to call this place "home", though I find thoughts of leaving our house, our neighbors, the lives we've built for ourselves discomforting. 

This must be the legacy of being a military BRAT: no matter how comfortable you are, or how long you stay, a place is never really home--but the people and the circumstances are the closest things to home we know.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday Slice: A room with a view

The small, wooden back door lies directly in my line of sight from my desk in the study at the front of the house.  I've always thought it practical, but ill-placed, opening as it does into our living room.  An easy access for bugs and windborne leaves when open, and cold winter drafts when closed, the door stays locked most of time, occasionally blocked by a Christmas tree during the holidays.

This weekend I stood at the door, coffee in hand,  transfixed by the swaying of my potted milkweed and the winged creatures visiting the bright orange and yellow flowers.  The winter winds will come soon enough; for now, I'm content with the view. 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tuesday Slice: In the company of women

Four-twelve.  I left work earlier than usual last Tuesday, acutely aware of the time.  Driving downtown on a school night is not my usual routine, and I was already nervous.   Almost an afterthought, I got a drive-through dinner, hoping it wouldn't be a lead weight in my stomach but knowing I had to eat before the long night ahead.

No time for a shower, just a change of clothes--jeans with a cute top and lacy cardigan to layer against the air conditioning, comfortable shoes because of the light rain and uncertain parking location.

Traffic flowed quickly until it didn't, slowing down to twenty miles per hour on the freeway, surprising since the gridlock was heading in the opposite direction.  I kept glancing nervously at the clock on the dashboard, regretting the extra ten minutes a stop at an ATM had cost me.  I made it to campus by six, only to wait in a long, slow line entering the parking garage.

At six-twenty, I took my seat among hundreds of women in the concert hall.  The energy was palpable and positive, the air humming with conversation.  I sat in a strange quiet bubble, one of the few lone participants observing groups of friends taking selfies.

The lights dimmed, and the stories began.  

Two lovers took turns describing the day they met, and the days after, making a new version of family, expanding their definition of love.

A slight woman with close-cropped hair in a bright red jacket insisted she was going to be a doctor, until a college class convinced her otherwise and her talents led her in a completely different and successful direction.

A woman with a cool leather hat, side braid, and gold rings on her fingers described the day she defended her mother who was being sexually harassed, becoming a crusade against locker room talk and sexual assault, reaching thousands of college and professional athletes.

A migrant worker in a plain bright top, accompanied by her interpreter, taught us that farm workers are subjected to sexual assault at an alarming rate.  She decided enough was enough, and rallied her female coworkers to bring awareness and an end to their abuse in the fields.

Halfway through our three-hour gathering, a fitness leader had us moving and breathing, opening our hearts and roaring, releasing any darkness weighing us down.

Two women took the stage, both funny in their own right.  One now empowers girls in middle school, the other speaks her truth on YouTube.

A local celebrity continued the theme of speaking truth to power.  She lost followers and suffered financial setbacks at first, but gained peace of mind and an even larger audience.  At her lowest points, she went to her kitchen and cooked for those she loved.

After hearing all of these women talk to each other, bouncing around their definitions of hope, we were treated to a love letter.  Every word rang true in these troubled times.  Every word was light in the darkness.

I didn't get home until after eleven, but I was buzzing from the experience as my alarm went off at five the next morning.  What an amazing night, in the company of women.

http://togetherlive.com/

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Bad news on the doorstep

I was blissfully busily unaware of national news yesterday.  Mondays are usually my flex day in the library with only a handful of classes, but we had picture day last Friday, so I flipped schedules. Thirteen classes came and went in a flurry of activity, capped with covering a fifth grade class for the last half hour and attending a team leads meeting for another hour and a half. 

I didn't hear a word about the Vegas shootings until I collapsed at home.  My husband filled me in on the details from his computer screen.  He read the president's inane Twitter response; par for the course, pun intended after 45's empty gesture of a golf trophy for suffering hurricane victims.  Our dinner was peppered with rehashing our shared views on gun control, homegrown terrorism, and the need for a better president.    

The doorbell rang; my neighbor, with copies of medical papers I signed for her.  More bad news from her husband's doctor led to tears and hugs.

Is it any wonder that I tossed and turned last night?

My students were better off with an ignorant librarian yesterday.  I focused on my lessons and the needs of my patrons, as I should. I'm hoping I can do the same today.  Maybe a second cup of coffee will help.  Maybe seeing Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker tonight will help.  Maybe singing "American Pie" at the top of my lungs in the car on the way to work will help....if I can do so without crying.



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Eulogy for the caterpillars that died on my back porch

Eulogy for the Caterpillars That Died on my Back Porch

What happened?
They were fine yesterday
Housed in a lovely box
Topped by netting,
Fresh leaves to chew
Safe from predators

When last spied alive
one was hanging from the netting
and refused to let go, 
all its tiny feet clinging to the fine strands
Another, the largest, hanging upside down from a leaf
wriggling this way and that
presumably molting for its last time
The last two perched on milkweed leaves,
resting, perhaps, after eating through more greenery

I rushed home
expecting to see the biggest one
hanging in a J, or maybe a chrysalis already formed
and the others happily munching away

Instead, the hanging caterpillar was lifeless
as were the other three,
blackened and shriveled and lying sideways 
on the white paper towels
leaves still there for the eating,
and no sign of foul play

I'm sorry, so sorry!
I thought I was protecting them
from fowl and foul weather alike
leaving them under the awning
on the glass table, on the back porch

Perhaps the sun was too strong
the heat too oppressive
their home, too inhospitable

Whatever the reason, 
they suffered an inglorious end
the largest, dumped into the yard
the others rolled into the paper towels and thrown into the trash
the box relegated to the laundry room

Reminding me of my failure
with every load of dirty clothes.

Tuesday Slice: Nothing new

It's Tuesday Slice time, and I haven't a clue about what to write.  The details of my current life seem either too mundane or rehashed so often that they feel like a poorly made Hollywood do-over.

I've counted my blessings.  I've bemoaned my struggles.  The most interesting stories seem to come from my children's lives; I hesitate to write about them, because the tales are theirs to tell, not mine.

I can't even continue the saga of the back porch caterpillars from last week, because they all died, presumably from heatstroke.

There is nothing new to see here; you can move on to the next blog!
Image result for quotes about routine days

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Babies on my back porch

It's butterfly season again.  Or to be more specific, caterpillar season.


Most of my milkweed is shoulder-high, making it easier to stoop and look under leaves for my yellow-and-black striped visitors.


Do two sets of horns mean monarch, or queen?  It had been a year since I last hosted the caterpillars, so I had to look it up.  Monarchs for the win!

Last year I used a sun tea jar to house the caterpillars until they turned into chrysalises, but it was difficult to transfer them to a bigger space.  This time I'm using a box on the back porch.  Little bud vases are just the right size to cover with plastic wrap and keep the milkweed fresh for a day or two.


With a little luck, we'll see four monarchs born in the next few weeks! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Grownups need reader advisors, too

Rambling through Facebook posts this past summer, one caught my eye.  The American Library Association had shared a post from the Multnomah County Library in honor of National Tattoo Day.  If you shared a picture of your tattoo and the story behind it, the county library would recommend a book for you.

So I shared a picture of my most recent tattoo, and the story behind it. An owl for wisdom, the light of the moon to guide me, and writing my own story past my 51st birthday--the age at which my mother passed from ALS.
Multnomah responded within a day. Their recommendation: Wild:From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, about a woman picking up the pieces of her life after her mother's death.

I would have never picked this book for myself.  I saw the movie trailers, and remember thinking "meh" about the content.  But I've spent several hours over the last three days reading about Cheryl's chaotic young adulthood, empathizing with the raw emotions that fueled her rash decision to walk a thousand miles in the wilderness by herself.

Adults need reader's advisors, too.  My life's work is encouraging students to read and pairing them with books to suit their personal and academic wants and needs.  It's been awhile since someone's done that for me--and it feels like a gift in my hands, each time I open this book.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tuesday Slice: The changing of the purse

It's the day after Labor Day, and you probably won't find me wearing white shoes until March.  I don't remember blatantly being told "wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day", but I do remember wearing patent white shoes to church for Easter.  Maybe my penchant for cyclic colors started when I was young, attending Catholic Mass. Ceiling-hung banners, altar cloths, and priestly vestments declared the liturgical season--green for Ordinary Time, purple for Advent and Lent, white for Easter and Christmas.  Speaking of green, here's the purse I sported through spring and summer:
Now that I reside in the endless summer of central Texas, I like to think that my color choices are more practical than fashion.  I cannot fathom attracting even more heat by wearing dark brown and black in triple digit temperatures, so those clothes stay boxed up until September.  We're dropping down into the eighties this week--a cold front!--and my air-conditioned workplace will keep me comfortable in darker hues.  Come March, though, I'll tire of my fall and winter colors.  Spring Break will find me unpacking the light greens, yellows, and peaches of my warm-weather clothing yet again. 

Here's to the turning of the seasons, starting with a new purse.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Seventeen inches

I emptied the rain gauge thrice last weekend, keeping track of the amount each time.  One and a half, then six, then six and a half, then three.  Seventeen inches of rain from Friday through Sunday.

We had electricity with only one "blink", running water, gas, and food in the pantry.  Our thirsty yard soaked up the water, as did the field behind us and the grassy culvert beyond.  Some blustery gusts knocked small bits of branches down without damage to our house or cars. 

Widen the circle a bit, and we had friends without power for up to twenty-four hours.  A tree was waterlogged and split in a neighbor's yard.  Flooded low-water crossings prompted official requests to stay home, or at the very least "turn around, don't drown".  We complied for the most part, my husband running some errands on Sunday but coming back frustrated with an incomplete merchandise return due to downed computers at a store.

The news to the southeast was more dire.  Evacuations of floodplains, highways under water, towns gone.  I stayed glued to Facebook for much of the weekend, checking in with friends in the hurricane's path and watching weather reports and live footage.  So far, the friends are all right, high and dry, though one family will be dealing with damage to their almost-new home.

It felt surreal to go back to work yesterday, with a two-hour delay to accommodate more rain, knowing that the sprinkles hitting my windshield were nothing compared to what our coast will continue to get throughout the week.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tuesday Slice: One less

A song from 1970 has been running through my head the last week.  It started one morning as I was emptying the dishwasher, thinking about all the drinking glasses my son went through in a day.  It occurred to me that there would be a lot less to put away once he started college.

"One less bell to answer..."  No more getting up from a comfy seat to open the door when he's locked himself out.  No more phone calls to be picked up from a friend's house, or requests for chicken and fries on my way home from work.

"One less egg to fry..."  He doesn't eat fried eggs.  But this summer of recovering from jaw surgery found us focusing on what he could eat, and trying to get as much of that in him as possible.  I'm happy to report that he's found at least one cafeteria on campus with grilled chicken he can "eat".  He knows he has to meet with a nutritionist this week to make sure he continues to gain weight. 

"One less man to pick up after..."  We just got home Sunday night from college move-in, so there's still the aftermath of packing to deal with.  We'll clean up his spot at the table, wash his bed linens for his next trip home, and do the last bit of laundry in his hamper (though I suspect he'll return with more).  But there will be no school papers strewn on the living room floor this fall, no eyeglasses left in the hallway, no sneakers to trip over.

"I should be happy...But all I do is cry."  The one line that doesn't ring true for me.  I am happy for our newest college student.  I thought I'd cry when I came home to an empty house, but have yet to shed a tear.  Chalk it up to exhaustion from the move or the chaos of starting my own school year in the library, or maybe it's the feeling that we have graduated as parents.  Our fledgling has left his little cage of home for the aviary of college, and I am looking forward to seeing him fly.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Chaos and control

Chaos

The frenetic thoughts ignited by the buzzing alarm
Tiptoeing around a cluttered home
      and the pillows knocked to the floor by the couch-sleeper
Adding to the ever-growing pile of college dorm supplies overtaking the living room
Baking pans and mixing bowls left in the sink
Papers on the dining room carpet displaced by the air conditioner
Papers on my desk threatening to avalanche
Papers at work calling out to be filed
The library arranged for adults not children
Tables everywhere 
Cables in dangling tangles
Chairs stacked at odd angles
My attitude at odd angles

Control

Getting up in the dark with time to spare
Dressing in workout clothes
Morning coffee in a favorite mug
The familiar routine of writing
Lists written and items crossed off at home and school
Emails written and answered
Appointments made and kept
My work clothes laid out the night before
Healthy food cut up and packaged for the week
Reaching for the water instead of the wine
Turning off screens and going to bed before the evening news
The grateful thoughts penned in my journal as I set my alarm.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tuesday Slice: After the rain

The rain started around 4am on Monday, thwarting my plans for a walk in the predawn gloom.  I did a quick workout indoors after gently awakening my son for his morning dose of antibiotics and extricating him from the couch, his preferred sleep locale when his tiny bedroom gets too hot or cold.

My husband found a nail in one of my tires over the weekend, so I was forced to drive our ancient Durango in the pouring rain to my first day of work for the school year--an all-day meeting for district librarians. The rain even affected my planned wardrobe; I put aside the cute dress and lacy shoes, opting instead for jeans and rubber boots, not knowing how far away I'd have to park.

The precipitation lasted as long as our meeting.  We were rained on as we walked between portable buildings to meet with vendors, and as we stood in line at the food truck for lunch, a row of umbrellas gently poking at one another as we chatted about the details of our summer break.

The sun broke through as we left for the day, the rising temperature and humidity making for a sticky walk back to our cars.  Overwhelmed by a growing to-do list, coming home to a teenager rightfully frustrated by recent medical woes that I could not fix, I decided to go for a walk on our hike and bike trail.

Lush greens, purple martins swooping to catch the buzzing insects, and happy dogs straining their owners' leashes soothed my soul at the end of a long day.







Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Ninety-four

In May, when folks asked about my summer plans, I replied that my focus was going to be on getting my son through jaw surgery and helping with his preparation for college.

As my summer is winding down, I'm reflecting on where the days have gone.  I now realize the focus has been on food.  Too much for me, too little for him; every day, walking the tightrope between concern and nagging, service and encouraging independence.  Avoiding eating his favorite foods in front of him out of sympathy, but then crunching away at handfuls of chips when he's out of sight, swallowing my own worries and frustration with each salty mouthful.

I'm slowly regaining control of my eating habits, forcing myself to acknowledge what I'm feeling as I'm standing in front of the refrigerator or pantry, deciding if it's really hunger or avoidance of tasks and worrisome thinking.

But for our son, now dealing with having wired-shut jaws for two weeks after a second round of surgery, it feels like a loss of control.  He was just back to eating small bits of "real" food (he isn't allowed to chew for months) when his oral surgeon decided that the jaw placement needed adjustment, and that wiring was necessary for proper healing.  Our son was angry, but signed the papers and submitted to the procedure.  Nothing but liquids for two weeks.  The most calorie dense concoction I can come up with is a mixture of frozen custard, protein shake, and protein powder whirred together in my mini-blender.  He likes it, but his shrunken stomach can only take so much at a time, in a day.  A diet of chocolate shakes sounds wonderful until it is all you are eating.

We saw ninety-four on the scale yesterday.  I pray it doesn't get any lower.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Forgot it was Tuesday

It didn't occur to me until three hours post-wakeup that it was Tuesday, my personal Slice blogging day.

I'm not exactly sure why I forgot.  It can't be summer mode, as I never really got to enter into that zone this year; too many obligations and appointments have kept us busy.  I was at a professional development session yesterday morning, for crying out loud; should have remembered that it was Tuesday today.  

Things I do remember:

  • the appointment we have with our son's oral surgeon this afternoon
  • the looming deadline for the professional development I'm co-presenting, and the amount of work left undone
  • our houseplants need watering today
  • I'm a day behind in washing bath towels (that alone should have reminded me of Tuesday, as Monday is towel washing day)
  • it's my weights workout day
  • I'm cooking pork chops tonight, since they've been defrosting in the fridge
  • the books I'm meaning to read today
  • the planning I need to do today
  • the cleaning I need to do today
Maybe today's mental file cabinet was just a bit too full to remember the day of the week.  That's what I am going to tell myself, at least.  

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.
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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.