Saturday, January 27, 2018

my crazy

I don’t know why the things that stress me out are so stressful. Everyday things that don’t bother most people send me right over the edge. And I can’t explain to you why. I’ve only recently been 
able to express that they do put a strain on me. It was so hard for the last 40 years to admit that the
idea of bringing my car in for service or planning an event for someone or making particular phone calls  inspired days of hand-wringing anxiety.
Perhaps I can’t tell you why because there is no good reason. What I have been coming to grips 
with is that there doesn’t have to be a good reason. I feel the anxiety and I have to work through it. And sometimes, I just can’t. The anxiety exists, good reason or not.
The stress of driving a car that should have work done is somehow less than making arrangements to have the work done. It doesn’t make sense. But does anxiety have to be somehow justified? 
Doesn’t that, then, make it something other than anxiety?
And, what people don’t understand is that I can thrive in certain stressful situations and still falter in these mundane ones.
I go to a stressful job every day, often with a positive sense of anticipation. I prepare by reading, 
talking, assessing student work, and writing lesson plans, but I know going in that nothing will 
ever completely match my plan. I try to anticipate who will struggle with a certain concept or 
activity, I plan alternatives and “what ifs”, and still have to think on my feet to address my 
students’ needs in the moment. Several researchers have talked about the stress in professions 
where we have to make hundreds of little decisions every day, constantly assessing, choosing, and then reassessing.
But, that I am able to work in this stressful environment and make decisions doesn’t make buying, or not buying, Christmas presents any easier (Should I buy for this person? Oh no, how did I forget to buy for them? Will they like it? I’m not going to give it to them, they won’t like it. Am I overstepping my bounds? Did I misread the signals? I hate Christmas.)
But someone loves my crazy.
I know that loves comes with its own frustrations, and I won’t lie to myself that it’s easy living with me. Nor do I think that it gets me off the hook to try to work through my anxiety and participate as much as I can in our life of servicing cars and planning parties.

But it feels good to be accepted, warts and all.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow Day

On a normal day, the students would be filing off buses about now.

But today is not a normal day.

Today is one of those joyful treats of being a teacher.

Today is a snow day.

It's the 6th snow day of the year. Of course, the first two days off had nothing to do with snow but were the result of dangerous winds in October that knocked power out for most of our schools and for most of our families and staff as well. We just don't have anything else to call them. Severe weather days? Unexpected-stay-in-your-pajamas days?

I know the argument against snow days. It means we'll stay in school until the end of June. True. Because of today's call, our last day of school has been bumped to June 20. And we haven't even entered February, traditionally the snowiest month in New England. But our contract states that we can't stay in school past June 30th, so I can still make summer vacation plans. (Family trip to Spain, hopefully.)

I was at class last night, a class for teachers who want to become specialists in reading, and we were all talking about the coming storm. "Has your district called it yet?" Everyone of us was talking about it, though some with dread.

"I just hope they call it in time so I can turn off my alarm and sleep in." said one young teacher who clearly didn't have children at home who would wake up anyway. "Oh, I want to get up. I hate to miss any of my snow day." I answered. That earned me some odd looks. That's OK, I'm used to odd looks.

But I know I'm not alone. A snow day is a special gift that I do not want to squander. Sure, I stay in my pajamas well into the day, sometimes even ALL day. For me, a snow day is an opportunity to read, to write, to make plans for that lesson I wasn't sure how to figure out, to read student work, to look at the big picture of the upcoming unit and get a clear idea of where I want students to end up. A snow day means listening to the radio longer, putting on a second pot of coffee, cleaning out a drawer or a closet that I've been meaning to get to. On snow days I put the kettle on after shaking the snow off when I come in from shoveling so we can all have hot chocolate. I eat a hot lunch, a rare luxury on a school day.

It's time for school to start and on a normal day I would have rushed through getting showered and dressed, making my lunch, helping my teenager get to the bus stop on time, packing my bag and making sure my coffee thermos was filled. Instead, I have read a chapter for my class, written a review on my 4th grade website for a book I just finished (and started a new book), put a load of clothes into the washing machine, celebrated the day off with my teenager (who just now got out of bed), and started the assignment due for my next class.
Oh, and put on a second pot of coffee.

Happy snow day everyone.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

30 year old pain

Thirty years ago I drove my mother’s stationwagon through a stop sign that I didn’t  notice, or noticed too late, or didn’t take seriously enough, and into the path of a red pick-up truck. My friend in the passenger seat was cut in a few places by flying shards of glass and sprained her wrist in the impact. The driver of the pick-up fractured a few ribs. A man driving a third car experienced whiplash. In a swerve away from the stereotype, I, the driver who caused the accident, was the most hurt. I split my head open, took the entirety of the driver’s side window in my face which ripped my eyelid nearly off, struggled to breathe through my collapsed lungs, and broke my arm in 4 close-together places just above my elbow. My head was stapled back together pretty quick, though that injury may be why I don’t actually remember the accident, putting my faith in the stories of it that others have told me. The plastic surgeon used a skin graft to repair my eyelid and sewed in what felt like a million little stitches on the left side of my face. Still, I was still picking little pieces of glass out of my cheek three months later, a phenomenon the nurse called “normal.” And the orthopedic doctor did what he could with my arm. I was in some level of a cast for almost a year. It took six month before I could move all my fingers, another three months after that before my thumb would respond to my brain’s commands. If you feel my arm, you can still find the outcropping of bone that never did heal in the right direction.

I’m thinking of this accident not because of year-end nostalgia but because my arm hurts. My arm has hurt at some point every year for the last thirty, at varying levels of ouch. But the long-lasting cold snap we have been living in since Christmas seems to be the worst thing for a thirty year old break and I have been in constant discomfort, with regular jabs of pain, for three days. It hurts more now than it has in a long time and I’m hoping that this will not be my new reality as I leap toward fifty.

Pain like this can stop you from doing things. It makes it hard to shovel snow or open jelly jars or keep a civil tongue. When you are in pain you get grumpy, you get impatient. Perhaps that’s where the stereotype of grumpy old folks comes from.  I don’t want to be that grouchy old lady that folks tolerate. I have plans for my next 50 years and they do not include family members avoiding my company.

Nor do I want to be that old lady who talks about every ailment the same way some folks comment on the weather. But I feel like, for myself, I need to acknowledge that I have this injury, that I did not hypochondriacally make it up, and that the pain is real. And, doing that, I can move toward dealing with it.

On this last day of 2017, I’m feeling the pain from thirty years ago, looking ahead to another year, grateful that I’m here to feel it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fat and healthy

Is fat a bad thing? Inherently? Always?
I carry around a few extra pounds. Yeah, more than a few. The report from my annual physical includes the word obese and has for years now. I shop more reliably in the plus size section, though I can still often find some good pieces in the regular clothes (though it upsets me that I felt compelled to say that last part). I shy away from certain styles.
But am I unhealthy? Less healthy than thinner people?
This school year, as other teachers have fallen to the germs so generously shared by elementary students, I have barely had a sniffle (until the Christmas break, of course). I climbed a mountain in 90 degree heat with less trouble than my “more fit” peer. Though I’ve hit a slow down because of the cold and early setting sun, I usually walk 2 miles a day at a pace to increase my heart rate and usually meet both the standard FitBit 10,000 steps and my Apple Watch 600 burned calories benchmark.
But, I am fat. And I know that my choices and habits over the past 20 years are the cause. I eat too much sugar, I’m inconsistent with exercise, my muscles are weak and so my metabolism is slowed. I make regularly renewed efforts to get more healthy, without sacrificing chocolate.
At the milestones of the year - the start of spriong, the start of the new school year, and now the new year - I review and reflect and set goals for improving my health. I try not to make my goals about weight, or at least not about weight alone. I want strength to keep up with my husband on hikes and bike rides. I want to be strong enough to haul my future grandchildren around, earning the moniker of the fun grandparent. I want to live independently into old age. So, I pay closer attention to what I eat and resolve to decrease the sugar and increase the vegetables. I look at my schedule to see where I can dedicate time to exercise. I eye sleeveless dresses and pick up the hand weights to build some fashionable muscles.
Fat is a symptom of some health problems, but is not itself my health problem. I may make big improvements to my physical health by increasing my exercise consistency and decreasing my sugar intake and still not decrease my clothing size by much at all.

I’m fat, and I’m healthy. My New Year’s goal is to make more healthy choices, eve if I still shop in the plus size section.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


When I was little, my Nana called them “sewing needles” for their long body shape. As kids we heard “needles” and thought “sting” so we splashed water to scare them away any time we saw them hovering around the pool.

But dragonflies don’t sting.

When my girls were little we had Judy Allen’s book Are You a Dragonfly? In our collection. I think it was with that book that my distrust of the flying sewing needles turned to love. By then I had a garden of my own that taught me to enjoy the buzz of bees and delight in the sight of worms in the dirt. Dragonflies became my late summer friends, more abundant than butterflies and, when you stopped splashing them so you could see, just as beautiful.

In my garden now, I leave the stalks of spent lilies because they turn into dragonfly flowers in August. Some afternoons you can see ten or more dragonflies perched on the top of the stalks, waiting for the hunt or basking in the sun or meeting up with a friend. The slow dance of wings as they sit could be a signal to another, or perhaps they are just stretching. They rest, fly up, then rest on another stalk. At the end of the summer, when thoughts are focused on the start of the new school year and the butterflies start fluttering through my stomach, the dragonflies are calming. Despite my neglected yet ever-growing to do list, I can sit for long stretches watching them play around the dead lilies.

This year, it seems there are not as many dragonflies. I’m worried that the same carelessness that is harming the bees in our world is getting to them. They do not appear on the endangered list for my state, but still, it’s different.

I miss them.

My Nana has been gone for 35 years but every time I see a dragonfly I think of her. And then I think of Judy Allen’s book and sitting in the garden with my little girls. They never called them sewing needles, never splashed water at them to scare them away. But when I leave the lily stalks in the garden I feel like I am connecting the thread between us all: grandmother, author, growing girls, dragonfly.

This is my Slice of Life.
It's blurry, but there is a dragonfly on top of the lily stalk. There were 3 others in the garden.

Friday, August 11, 2017

same face through generations

Pauline, Albert, and Florence
I've been browsing through old photographs and am struck once again by how the same faces keep popping up through the generations. 

This black and white photo is my Mom with her brother Albert and sister Florence (my Mom called her "Sister"  or "Sis" for her whole life, and we called her "Aunt Sister" - it never seemed weird until I had to explain it to someone). 

It is so easy to see my siblings and I in all of those faces. 

That high forehead on my Mom, the littlest one on the left, she gave to me. I spent much of my life pushing my hair over that forehead, trying to deny it. As I approach 50 I'm finally willing to push my hair back, but you can see my bangs in the photo below (center). 

Wanda, Laura, and Wayne with Dad
That little boy in maroon pants, my brother Wayne, looks a lot like my Uncle Albert. 
And, depending on when I look at the photograph, in Aunt Sis I see my sister Wanda, my sister Brenda or my brother Lenny.

 And then there are my own little girls. Their round faces and high foreheads are certainly from my Mom, from me. In different pictures when you look fast you might think a photo is any number of cousins only to find out it's a photo of an aunt or uncle, a generation or more apart. 

My childhood was remarkably different from my Mom's, and my girls' quite different from my own, but we share these faces. 
Anya and Thea

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My mother's hands

I just got off the phone with my doctor's office to have my pinky finger looked at. I noticed two days ago that the finger was bent at the top knuckle, and swollen. It didn't really hurt, though once I noticed it it was hard not to continuously notice it. The finger has now started to hurt a little, so it seems best to have it looked at.
But, my finger is the least of my troubles right now. I've been fending off anxiety for the few days, with pretty good success for a while there. But the butterflies have had full range of my stomach for a few hours now, my shoulders are tensed, I can't sit still, and I really just want to have a good cry. There is no good reason for this panic attack, though I guess there rarely is. I mean, there's a lot going on - Thea is preparing to go to college in just over a month while battling her own issues, I'm beginning my post-graduate program at the end of August, the current president is a greedy, self-absorbed corporate tool using the presidency for financial gain at the expense of people and the planet - so, yea, there are lots of reasons to panic.
But, what I think I'm grappling with is the look of this bent little finger. My hand is starting to look like my mother's hands. And I would like very much to hold my mother's hands.