Behind the 8 Ball

My “song a day” in December went off the rails on Monday, as I ran out of time before midnight to post. Then, on Tuesday, I had intended a “two for Tuesday” to get myself caught up, but found myself in the ER with my mother, followed by 4 days of the worst viral gastroenteritis I have experienced in a long while.

Therefore, I will attempt to “catch up” today by writing about a favorite artist and sharing several of my favorite songs by them instead of writing 9 separate entries. Be on the lookout for that post later today. 🙂

Without

When I was 17, I wrote a sonnet for my high school crush, Bryon.
I never gave it to him.
I never told him how I felt.
(How I got twitterpated whenever he walked into a room, how his smile made me feel like a million dollars, how our short conversations, no matter how brief, helped me feel worthwhile in a school where I felt anything but…)

Part of me thinks that he knew, but was kind enough not to break my heart by confirming that he wasn’t interested; that it was enough for us both in that socially awkward time of high school that it was undeclared, unrequited, and otherwise unknown to anyone else. That’s wishful thinking. I had a crush on Bryon from the moment he entered our middle school in 7th grade, and just as immediately, I knew that I never had a chance. 
He shared the same bus route with me, but being painfully awkward and low on self-confidence, I never attempted to build a friendship with him. Being alphabetically close to him (in last name…thank you blessed alphabet) allowed me to share physical space with him at school (locker assignments, seating arrangements in many teacher’s classrooms), but again, I never took advantage of it by getting to know him, or allowing him to grow to know me.
I miss psychology class in Mrs. Pepper’s room. He and I shared several classes that school year (advanced math and English too), and I felt that was possibly my best chance, if ever I was going to tell him, it should be then. But I never got up enough nerve. The next year (our senior year), he was gone, transferred to another school, in another part of the state. 
High school was an extremely lonely time for me, and I felt his absence acutely. Many of my friends were developing their outside hobbies, interests, jobs, and romantic relationships that meant they had less time to share, and I found myself retreating more and more to the internet and online gaming, where I felt comfortable. I detested going to school, where I was picked on and bullied for my intelligence, my weight, or my geekiness, but if I went…I’d get to see him, and to my knowledge, he never once made fun of me. His departure hit me harder than I was prepared for, given that he and I weren’t close.

He was smart and had a good sense of humor, and our interactions were often the high points of my day. In typing class, (thank you again, alphabetic seating) I’d get to sit next to him and share an occasional snarky comment about our teacher, under our breath, while his back was turned. In psychology, we may end up discussing the reading or doing group work together, that always made my day better. If we ended up at our lockers at the same time, maybe we’d chat about the Red Wings (if I was in my Osgood jersey) or some other small talk, and the rest of my day would be elevated by the brief but pleasant conversations.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t fantasize that one day, on a shared bus ride home. that he’d choose to sit next to me, ask me what I was listening to on my discman, and share music with me until his stop. I’d be lying if I said that on those long bus rides home each day I didn’t mentally choreograph elaborate meet-cute situations where we’d develop an adorable and lasting romance. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret ever telling him (at the tender age of 17) that I thought he was cute, smart, and funny, a real triple-threat, and that I’d love to go on a date with him.

So, like anyone else who has had a crush but never revealed their true feelings, I’ve had to live without knowing what would have happened.

Without
I can imagine not, my life without
Your brilliant eyes and smile, though cringe I tight
To hear you speak upon me with such doubt.
Your words sting hot, like fiery flames, and in spite
As coals they linger. How I hate to play
Your wicked game; I dance, you pull my strings.
Perhaps it’s I, not thee, who holds what may
Become. I could this second clip my wings,
Muzzle my heart’s low, lonely cries
To bide my time far from your gaze’s snare.
But that would only shield me from your eyes,
And leave my heart an open sore to bear.
     My life devoid of you would slay my soul
     But that which you are part of is never whole.
*this poem wasn’t written based on any specific interaction, simply based on my feelings of being unrequited. I remember writing the final couplet first, and the strong feelings of loss I felt not having Bryon with me in advanced English with Mrs. Pepper.

Sister Suffragette

Continuing with my theme of sharing a song day through December, today’s song is from the musical Mary Poppins.

Now, I absolutely adore Julie Andrews and it would make sense to choose one of her songs (to be honest, for a while today I was on the fense between “Stay Awake” and “Feed the Birds” which I sang as lullabyes to both of my children) since she is a fierce and fantastic woman. However, I went with the more comedic showpiece, “Sister Suffragette,” sung by Glynis Johns.

Yesterday’s song choice of “Turn the World Around,” had me revisiting my childhood and thinking about the songs that have stuck with me from a young age. “Sister Suffragette” was a fun piece played to comedic effect in Mary Poppins, but as a child, I emulated not just Mary Poppins, but Mrs. Banks in this scene. I found her to be powerful, vivacious, and convincing. But what was more effective than even her performance, were the discussions that I had with my grandmothers because of it.

Both of my grandmothers were born shortly after the 19th amendment was ratified in the U.S., and while they grew up in a different world than their mothers did, they still faced a lot of the same gender discrimination and sexism that persisted. My paternal grandmother, Busi, faced sexism and traditional gender roles in her own family when she decided to work for the State Department as the United States moved into WWII. She was barely 20, had already turned down a suitor who had asked her father for her hand in marriage, though not her (which did not sit well with her at all), and {gasp} she came home from work one day in trousers. Her parents both threatened to throw her out of the house immediately if she didn’t “stop this nonsense at once and act and dress like a lady!” She ultimately stood her ground, but by today’s standards it seems a ridiculous fight to have. Busi taught me how to bake, how to paint ceramics, and how to be creative with few ingredients or supplies.

On my maternal side, Grandma J was far more an outspoken trail-blazer, taking part in numerous protests and demonstrations throughout her teens and twenties. She was active in a theater troupe, and when she and my grandfather lived in California (he was in the Navy) they were both active in Summer Stock. Grandma J was the woman who taught me that Necessity is the Mother of Invention through her clever repurposing of old clothing or household items to fit needs that arouse while I was staying with her in the summer. She also taught me how to hunt for a bargain, negotiate a good deal at a rummage sale, and how to volunteer my service to those in need with a humble spirit (and not, as she would emphasize, to increase my own importance by rendering service).

I was raised by strong women, and I’m saving two or three entries this month simply to focus on my mother’s influence. But my grandmothers were equally as important in my upbringing, not least of all because they would sing with me, cry with me, and encourage the hell out of me. My grandmothers were both tough cookies, and they were always good shoulders to cry on, but once the emotion of the moment was spent, it was time to work on addressing whatever caused it, and that’s what I still do to this day. I hope that I am laying an equally strong foundation for my own children, and that one day, decades from now, my daughter will look back on the lessons of me and her own grandmother and sing:

“Our daughters’ daughters will adore us
And they’ll sing in grateful chorus
‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!’ ”

 

 

Turn the World Around

This isn’t because of an online challenge, but I’m going to try and share a song a day from today through the end of December to help all those who read my blog to get to know me better. I could post the songs without comment, but I’m going to post them along with my thoughts/feelings and reasons for sharing it with you. I hope that you enjoy my little experiment.
 
 
The album version is the one on my Spotify playlist that I sing to and with my children, though the performance from the Muppet Show is why this song is so important to me.
 
I grew up in a very racially homogeneous area with little diversity, so my first memories of seeing people of color was through the movies and television shows they were featured in when I was a little girl. Thankfully, my parents (and grandparents) were pretty conscious of this and the bulk of my early exposures to POC in media were positive (Sesame Street & tapes of The Muppet Show) instead of negative (pretty much anything that would have made the news in the 1980s).
 
I instantly loved Harry Belafonte when I saw him on the Muppets. His demeanor was gentle and kind. He had a drum battle versus animal and neither one won – they both pass out from their exertions. His voice was so soothing, when speaking or singing, and I still remember his explanation of how he came to write this song while visiting the country of Guinea in Africa. The song is about unity, and that if we take the time to really understand each other, to understand that we are really not that different, we can change the world. It’s a message and a lesson that I have hung onto since I first saw that episode of the Muppet Show (on Beta-max…my grandfather had taped every single episode of the Muppet Show and I would beg to watch both this one and the one with magician Doug Henning). I was also fascinated by the African inspired masks used during the Muppet Show performance, and my mom and I soon exhausted the books about peoples, traditions, and cultures of Africa from the local libraries.
 
However positive these experiences were for me, they were not based or grounded in reality or real people that I intereacted with on a regular basis, and I grew up with a lot of racist and prejudiced influences around me, along with a lack of POC to include in my social circles until I went off to college. I fully acknowledge this, and know that I have a lot of work to keep doing to address my unconscious and conscious biases/prejudices in order to be a better human, friend, and ally to my friends and students who are POC. I want to do my part in understanding others’ positions, backgrounds, and points-of-view so that we may Turn the World Around.

Starbucks is Pretentious

I am at a Starbucks, desperately trying to get caught up on grading and planning but fighting against ennui and a cloudy mind. After tossing my trash from an earlier coffee treat I walk up to the counter and wait for the apathetic barista to acknowledge me. She does so, clearly put out by either being at work, the last rush of customers, or me interrupting her current task; I can’t be sure which. I smile polietly and place my order.

“Venti Earl Grey Latte, please.”

“What?”

She’s more questioning than dismissive, so I enunciate a bit more thinking that perhaps in my hours of quiet work here I have developed a lazy mouth, “Venti Earl Grey Latte, please.”

She taps a button on her headset and says something to her fellow baristas about how the customer wants an Earl Grey Latte and do they have that? I smile and force myself to soften the light in my eyes that I can feel is turning dark with aggitation. Another barista walks over, taps the screen, doesn’t even look up at me and says, “Is that the London Fog you want?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that – is that what an Earl Grey Latte is called now?” I notice for the first time since arriving that this location does not have a menu up at all, save for some iced drinks – the rest of the boards are chalk covered in coffee themed drawings.

The barista rolls his eyes slightly, cocks his head and finally makes eye contact with me to say, “It’s Teavana. Earl Grey, steamed milk, and vanilla – is that what you want?”

I’m both amused and taken aback by the baritas’s attitude. A waterfall of thought cascades through my mind in an instant:

  1. Bitch, I was in love with Teavana before you even knew what an Earl Grey Creme was.
  2. Damn, you must be having a really bad day, I’m sorry about that.
  3. Dude, why the fuck was it so hard to just give me an Earl Grey Latte in the first place? It’s tea + milk. It’s among the easiest of orders. I didn’t realize this was going to be such a production.
  4. Patrick Stewart’s voice commanding the computer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

Instead, I take a small breath and reply, “Yes, that sounds lovely, thank you.” I smile again, but both the baristas and I know this is all forced civility ingrained into us for the survival of humanity.

I go back to my seat and wait for my drink to be called (no one asked for my name). When it is, a third barista who was not a party to the earlier antics at the cash register says crisply, “London Fog!” As I walk back to my seat with my drink I long for the impersonal precision of the Star Trek computer and Majel Barrett’s voice which wouldn’t have made me feel like such an imposition for wanting some tea with freaking milk in it.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

If you have read my blog at all, you know that I am a teacher. I work hard, every day, to help my students learn not only academic content, but life skills as well. I have spent class periods diverging from discussion of the themes of The Odyssey and Hamlet to show students how to apply for scholarships and how to check college/university credit equivalency. (Our high school does have a single academic counselor, but we won’t talk about how over-taxed our school staff is and how we all share roles to make our school a community of learning and growth right now.) I’ve even spent a class period on how to make a simple budget because many of my students are income contributors in their families and they have bills they have to pay each month.

Which brings me to today, and how I spent 15 minutes before school this morning helping a student to navigate his recently created 401k account. My student, M, talked about how his parents have nothing saved and how he’ll have to support them completely soon as they are growing older and have many health problems between them. M is the son of immigrants who came to this country from a war-torn country. His mother has never worked, does not speak English, and culturally is not expected nor wanted by her family to work outside of the home. His father did not complete high school and works long hours in someone else’s store – he never learned about “saving for retirement” because in their home country, it is assumed that the parents will simply live with one of their children until they die. M, however, has.

M has been working in the U.S. for the past two years for a well-known chain retail store. Once he turned 18, (last month), he received some mail that he brought to me about being eligible to contribute to a 401k and he wanted to know what it was. I spent my lunch hour for several days after that helping him to fill out the paperwork and teaching him how to use the internet to search for information about 401k, Social Security benefits, etc. for future use, and showing him several different ways to calculate his personal budget.

After working with M the last few weeks, I have also begun looking far more closely at my own finances as well as our family budget and how we spend and save attempt to save money. I never had anyone mentor me through these topics when I was young and actually had money to invest/put away; everything I have learned about finance was through the School of Hard Knocks. Yet, by the time I began a retirement account in 2010, I had a great deal more financial and personal responsibility than I did ten years ago, working in a profession that is underpaid, making it even harder to put away a significant amount each paycheck.

Fast forward nearly ten more years to 2018 and I have roughly $10k in my 401k, and I’m beginning to truly worry for the future. According to my investment account, this is where I am:

Retirement Calculator March 2018Something tells me that the “milestone” on that sign won’t remotely be enough by the time I am “retirement age” (is that even a thing anymore?). Also…I’m not remotely on track to reach my bare minimum retirement goals:
Hypothetical Retirement Income March 2018
According to these calculations, I will be dirt poor, living under a bridge.
I’m scared. I know that looking too far ahead isn’t healthy because we cannot tell the future, and worrying about it will only negatively affect my mental state and my physical health. This is particularly difficult for me in that I’m a planner, and I need to plan! Being unable to come up with a feasible plan is difficult to deal with as someone with anxiety and depression. Planning helps me to relax and feel more in control of my surroundings, and not being able to come up with a better plan that the current one is upsetting.
Until recently, I was only contributing 1% to my retirement fund. I dropped from a 5% to a 1% contribution in 2013 after I found out that I was pregnant with my first child and we had to begin saving for medical costs, furniture, and diapers. My employer matches up to 3% contribution yearly, so that’s where I have it at for now as we try to use all available funds in our plan to become debt-free by 2021. I know that NOW is the time that I should be saving as much money as possible in order to allow my investment to grow. But when you’re scraping by, living paycheck-to-paycheck, planning financially for the future is an exercise in frustration and sometimes feels like an impossibility.
One of the biggest lessons I took away from my courses in economics is the concept of an  “opportunity cost” (which is also something that I teach to my students at the beginning of each school year). In short, an opportunity cost is a benefit or outcome that could have been received, but was given up in order to pursue another opportunity. For example, if I spend $5.85 every Friday for a Venti Java Chip Frappucino at Starbucks, my opportunity cost is what I could have gained with that money instead:
  • a McDonald’s biscuit breakfast combo with coffee (and I’d have change)
  • a new coloring book and crayons for both of my children (and I’d have change)
  • 2.34939 gallons of gas for the car (at $2.49 a gallon)
  • a gallon of milk (1.99) and loaf of cinnamon swirl bread (2.99) (and I’d have change)

I don’t think about these things constantly or 100% of the time, but I do find that lately I have been weighing opportunity costs more and more in order to try and squeeze more money from our family budget.

Specifically, I’m seriously thinking about dropping AFLAC as a benefit/insurance. I currently carry short-term disability and accident coverage from AFLAC. Thus far, in the three years I have carried the extra insurance it hasn’t paid out a cent to me in wage-benefits when I have had health related illnesses and absences (like my gall bladder removal and extended hospital stay in 2015 for which I filed all the correct paperwork, but somehow did not meet the requirements for wage assistance). Though, it did pay some of my medical bills related to a car accident from November 2015.

This coverage costs me $65.64 a paycheck. $131.28 a month. $1,575.36 each year. So by the end of this school year (June 30, 2018), I will have paid $4,726.08 to AFLAC without seeing a direct benefit from it.

Now, rationally I know that this is smart coverage in that I make the majority of the income for our family and that if something happens to me, we will really be hurting. But the opportunity cost for AFLAC is so high.

  • Bi-weekly, that money could go toward diapers, food, or as an extra payment on a bill to help us get out of debt faster.
  • Monthly, that money could go into my 401k (I could double my current 3% contribution!) helping to reduce my future income gap by increasing the amount currently invested
  • Yearly, that money could go into our savings for a house, which is another one of our long-term goals
I recently had to take 4.5 days (not consecutively, but all within a two-week period) off of work to care for myself and my two children. Between the three of us we had pneumonia, influenza B, and a double-ear infection, some of us with more than one at the same time. Fun! At any rate, the absences cost me over $1000 in lost wages because I did not have enough PTO to cover all of the time. AFLAC doesn’t cover any of that because a) it wasn’t just for me, b) the absences weren’t consecutive, and c) I wasn’t hospitalized.

On the other hand, AFLAC is a preventative cost – so one can’t really weigh the opportunity cost the same way. If I terminate the coverage and then need it in the near future, I’ll be kicking myself. Conversely, since it’s preventative, if I continue working and do not end up needing/using the coverage, there are no refunds, and all of that money that could have been doing so many other things for our family will have been spent for “peace of mind,” but nothing else.

I don’t have an easy answer today, but I do know that the struggling to get by is taking it’s toll on me and by extension, my family, and I’m tired of it.
Yet, for all the exhaustion, I know that I have to keep going. I have to keep finding ways to make it work not just for myself, but for my family.

Distraction, or “OMFG this hurts!”

I had to go to the ER on Wednesday night for severe back/kidney pain that I (and anyone I disclosed my symptoms to) thought was a kidney stone.

The pain started around 2pm while I was on my prep period at school, and I thought it was just from my lazy posture while sitting at my desk grading, so I got up to stretch and walk around. It didn’t help.

By 3:30pm (dismissal), the pain was coming in waves that spiked up to a 6 or 7 out of 10, accompanied by nausea that was enough to make me gag.

By 4:30pm (I was still at work, grading and planning since it’s the end of the semester and shit has to get done regardless of how I feel), the pain had elevated to the rank of “what fresh hell is this?” or 9 out of 10, and I began dry heaving and finally, before 5pm, vomited. The vomiting continued for some time, despite my stomach being fairly empty.

I then had to stay at work until nearly 6pm because I could not get the pain/nausea under control enough to feel safe to drive home during rush-hour traffic. When I finally left (just after 6pm), I took the side roads in case I needed to stop suddenly and did not arrive at my apartment until nearly 7pm.

At home, I sat on the couch, my two young children (ages 4yo and nearly 2yo) climbing all over me as I became more and more irritated – not at them, but at the fact that nothing I could do was making my pain any better. I was also extremely annoyed at the prospect of an ER visit, the likelihood of passing a kidney stone, and probably having to call off work (anyone who teaches knows what a pain-in-the-ass it is to be absent, even if you are TRULY ill and need the time off to recover). When my husband got in the door from work half an hour later, it was clear that I couldn’t continue to simply bear the pain and both he and my mother (who watches the children while we’re at work) encouraged me to go in and be seen.

My husband, despite not having eaten dinner, changed out of his work clothes and grabbed a phone charger as well as his Kindle Fire to drive me and keep me company. When I was apologetic for forcing him back out after he’d only gotten home he smiled, “Are you kidding? I’m bringing the Kindle, we’ll have a ‘date night’.” He knows that laughter puts me more at ease, and this was no exception.

The ER was terribly busy, as I knew it would be from my own past experiences as an ER tech during flu season. After a quick and dirty triage I was placed on a gurney in the hallway next to a mural of sea turtles and fish. I couldn’t even hold a conversation with my husband because I couldn’t concentrate beyond the pain and onslaught of nausea, so I attempted to distract myself with games on my own tablet.

People have compared the pain of a kidney stone to that of labor pains, but having gone through two births (induced with pitocin), I can honestly say that that hormonely fueled hell was worse than this…but it is a damn close second. On the drive to the hospital I remarked to my husband that I was at the point, pain-wise, where I begged for an epidural. Of course, it didn’t help that the road to the hospital was riddled with potholes from the snow plows and it felt like we were riding in a 1870 covered wagon vs. a 2004 VW Passat.

Regardless, the night in the ER passed rather uneventfully. Based on my symptoms the attending physician ordered the “kidney-stone protocol” and I had an IV placed, blood drawn, urine sampled, and CT scan. Because of the pain and my lack of ability to keep anything down from earlier that afternoon, it took a while for me to be able to provide a urine sample, and when I finally did, it was…gross, to say the least. And I should know, while pregnant with both of my children I had to give urine so often at my OB appointments that I am confident urine should never, ever, look like that.

When I came back to my bed in the hall I was instructed to place my sample on the back of the gurney on top of a plastic bag with my name on it. It was some time before a nurse returned to check on me, and it was a different nurse from the one who had checked me in and as she pulled up her computer cart beside me she exclaimed, “Oh! Is that your urine back there? Fantastic!”
I laughed out loud musing, “You know, I can honestly say I have never had anyone so excited to see my urine before.”

After that and the CT scan, it was just waiting: waiting, waiting, waiting.

As I said previously, I was not “good company” during this time. I didn’t feel like talking, and it was all I could do to play my silly little shape matching game on my tablet while breathing thorugh both pain and nausea. It took two doses of Zofran before I felt any relief from the nausea, and whatever they gave me for pain (liquid Motrin, I think) wasn’t touching it.

Diagnosis: “Flank pain – unspecified”

The CT scan showed no visible stones anywhere in my kidneys or urinary tract, and while there was a definite presense of blood in my urine (along with white blood cells and hyaline casts), there were no visible stones their either. So they talked me through “pain management” and following up with my PCP but that the diagnosis could not be specified beyond “possibly you had a stone and already passed it,” or “you may have a kidney infection…we’ll have to wait for cultured results to know more about that,” or “it may be something else entirely.” Isn’t modern science a marvel? /sarcasm

My husband took me home in the wee hours of the night and I went to bed, vowing to call off if the pain/nausea returned or if I was going to allow myself to recover and heal as I should. The pain lessened overnight, but I still felt bad enough to call in, which I did at 5:30, submitting my lesson plans from my phone before returning to bed. I slept in, rested and took things quite easy all day and aside from some residual achiness, was not having “pain” like I had the day before.

But I was up late last night because the nausea crept back along with the pain, and then woke up sometime between 3-4 with the same stabbing pain and nausea great enough to force me from my warm bed to sit by the toilet “just in case.”

I did make it to school this morning, but immediately put in a call to my PCP to be seen as soon as school is dismissed (Fridays are always early release days for PD, don’t ask, it’s a separate and equally stupid issue) and have been taking long, slow, deep breaths to keep the nausea at bay. I also logged onto my electronic chart and read through all of my medical reports and tests from Wednesday night. (For those who do not know my background, I was a certified Emergency Medical Technician in the early 2000s and was continuing my education to become a nurse, but ultimately I changed my trajectory to become a teacher instead of staying in medicine.) The chart confirms everything the medical professionals told me last night, but reading through my CT scan, I had a number of thoughts (bracketed words are mine):

History: Cholecystectomy. [My gall bladder was removed]
Flank pain. [duh]
FINDINGS: Without contrast, CT of the abdomen and pelvis was performed. The
lack of IV contrast limits the solid abdominal viscera. [We can’t see stuff as well without contrast, but we can see most of the stuff.]
Clear bases. [good] Significant pericardial or pleural effusion. [hmmm…fluid around my heart and/or lungs and no one mentioned to me that it was “significant?” likely means it is related to current infection/not to worry, but will ask anyway] Hepatic steatosis. [Fatty liver – pretty common in adults my age, likely caused by my being obese]
Spleen, adrenals, pancreas unremarkable. [as they should be] Gallbladder removed. 
No hydronephrosis. [no visible swelling/inflammation of the kidneys]
Appendix not seen with certainty. [huh…maybe cause I’m too fat? or it’s such a small organ…] Small bowel loops are not dilated. There is
no free intraperitoneal air significant free fluid. [both good] Uterus and ovaries grossly unremarkable. [Bitch, what do you mean, ‘Uterus and ovaries grossly unremarkable?’ Fuck you dude. My reproductive organs are the SHIT! Evidence: My kids.’ …ahhh…if I don’t laugh, then the pain has won]
IMPRESSION:
1. No obstructive uropathy. [no kidney stone or obstruction, i.e. no answers]
Having been through undiagnosed pain for years (2008-2015, ultimately turning out to be a bum gall bladder) and feeling ignored and misdiagnosed (likely on account of my being a woman who is medically obese), I am not about to sit on my hands while the pain continues.

ANT RANT

We have ants.
We have been battling ants for weeks, if not months: the little tiny ants that are hard to see unless there are many of them swarmed on a crumb (gross) or there’s only one on a completely clean, light-covered surface.
 
I spent the better part of the last 3 hours hunting ants through our apartment with a vacuum and a gallon spray jug of Home Defense. Imagine a woman possessed, clad in a pair of socks (cause I don’t want ants on my bare feet again…GROSS) and a cotton nightshirt with sweat stains forming in the center of her back and under her arms from effort and anger vacuuming with wild abandon and cackling anytime she happens upon a number of them which would eventually lead her to their lair.
The trail led me to the corner of my son’s room, between his dresser and the wall/end of the radiator. There were dead ant bodies and live ant bodies mingled together in that corner, and they haven’t been there long, but long enough to be disgusting to look upon and make me ashamed that it’s been more than a week since I last vacuumed in his room.
 
I Hoovered the hell out of the carpet and went after the radiator and underside of the radiator with the attachment. Using a bright flashlight to peer beneath, I saw fresh enemies emerging along the pipe connecting the radiator to the boiler system. I sucked them up before they even knew what the hell the loud noise was. Then I sprayed. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed until the pipe was dripping Home Defense and the carpet surrounding the hole was saturated. I also lay two bait traps beyond that in case any of those little fuckers managed to get past the toxic chemicals and fancied a snack. 
Taking a break to assure my 4yo son that I was, in fact, not crazy, but attempting to address a pest issue, I chugged an entire 24 ounces of water, grabbed my laptop, and went to our apartment complex’s website to file a maintenance request.

Reason for request: MOTHERFUCKING ANTS MOTHERFUCKERS
No, this is unprofessional, unkind, and unnecessary. The apartment management company did not personally put ants in our apartment. Be reasonable.

Reason for request: I have spent the last three hours hunting down tiny ants in our apartment. After hunting for them in all of our living areas, I tracked them to my son’s room where they seem to be coming through the hole in the floor that leads to the radiator. This is unacceptable, for what the rent is on this apartment we shouldn’t have infestations of pests that require me to spray toxic chemicals everywhere and still find ants about. I have two small children and a cat – I don’t want them playing with ants in the carpet or inhaling toxic fumes.  
Too passive aggressive, stick to the facts.
Reason for request: ANTS. I have spent the last three hours hunting down tiny ants in our apartment and traced them to the pipe connection on the radiator in my son’s room. I watched as ants came up the pipe through the hole. Please, send someone as soon as possible to examine the connection, plug the hole, and schedule our apartment complex for insecticide spray in the spring to help ensure that this doesn’t happen to us or other residents again. Thank you.
Truth: the actual message sent was somewhere between the second and third message.
Yes, passive aggressiveness may not be mature or the best means of communication, but I’m NOT DONE hunting ants tonight and have the creepy crawlies  from having seen so many little pests this evening to give a crap if the person who receives the message feels personally attacked or not. Honestly, I want them to feel somewhat personally attacked…BY ANTS, so maybe they will get their collective asses out here in a reasonable time frame to address this issue.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go hunt down more freaking ants.

P is for Potty… or Poop.

Warning: I AM NOT ASKING FOR ADVICE.
If you have a quaint anecdote about how your child learned to use the bathroom in 24 minutes or some other fairytale bullshit, please keep it to yourself. No, really,…do not come at me with any of that crap. I won’t believe you, and we won’t be able to speak for a long time because I will harbor a deep and enduring resentment for you and your perfect potty-using child.
I need to vent. I need to unload my burden and hope that someone, anyone of my fellow parents (or caregivers) out there can relate to my problems and hold me while I cry and tell me everything is going to be okay. It will be okay. …right? 😦
My son will be 4 in just under two months. He will not use the potty.
Today, he went more than 8 hours without urinating because he will hold it as long as possible before he can’t anymore and then floods his pull-up or diaper and needs to be stripped, showered/bathed, and redressed. It gives him stomach cramps. His back hurts (his poor kidneys). I’m shocked he has not had a UTI.
I’m at my wits-end.
He does not care about “potty prizes:” sticker charts, toys, prizes, new undies, new clothing, unlimited tv shows while he sits, a BIG toy from the Learning Store {cough “up to $50 and it can’t make noise…} – NOTHING EXTRINSIC APPEALS TO HIM.
He will not go naked. He hates not wearing clothing and will scream and tantrum if we try and have him go “without pants,” but wearing undies, so he can feel when he needs to go.
He doesn’t give a fig for Daniel Tiger using the potty, or Elmo, or any other character or program that talks about using the potty. “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away…” Yeah, D.T., go find a trolly and *dingding* yourself.
He was closer to using the potty at 18 months than he is now, at nearly 4 years old, and I’m terrified. I’m scared that there is something wrong with my child. I’m scared that we’ve waited too long and now he’s not going to be able to learn how to go without some massive intervention and money that we do not have to get a “potty specialist” or some other new-fangled bullshit that no one ever needed before. I’m scared that our anxiety about his inability to use the potty is bleeding over and causing him to internalize it and make him not want to use the toilet even more. I’m scared that his bathroom avoidance will transfer to Z (my daughter) and that she’ll never use the bathroom either. I have nightmares that I’m suffocating in diapers and my children can never go to school or camp or anywhere far from home because they’re still in diapers and they won’t use the bathroom.
The rational part of my brain tries to assure me that he will learn, that he will be able to go to school and won’t need to call me or my husband from work because he pooped in his pull-up and the school isn’t allowed to change him. However, that part of my brain is being over-ruled by the anxious and over-worked parts of my gray matter that, while exhausted and over-taxed, still finds a way to have enough anxiety juice to fill me with existential dread and self-doubt.
I’m in touch with his pediatrician. I’m awaiting an e-mail reply that will assuredly tell me to relax, that my son is healthy and stubborn and will go when he’s ready. It doesn’t make the waiting or the situation any easier.
The only easy thing about parenting is loving your children;
the rest of it is incomprehensibly difficult.

Educational Triage

10 steps to losing one’s mind and reaffirming one’s purpose as a high school teacher:
Step 1: You have written an educationally sound but also fun/entertaining activity based on a Viking webquest found on the internet to use as a pre-reading activity for Beowulf
Step 2: You have written a guiding handout for said activity, edited, revised, printed, and copied it – all of which take precious time, but you did it anyway because the results will be worth it.
Step 3: Present activity to students, getting them excited, only to find that the technology will not work in the classroom (not on my teacher computer, not on their Chromebooks) because of a missing FLASH plugin. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? WE CAN’T HAVE FLASH? And GOD FORBID we be allowed to download and install ANY programs without an administrator’s permission, password, and a pint of blood. What do you think we’re going to do? FIX SHIT TO MAKE IT WORK?!?!?!
[Deep breaths reminicient of The Muppet’s, Animal, after a freak-out]
Step 4: Nearly cry in front of students out of epic frustration that has been (and is still) building and building and building
Step 5: Abruptly leave the classroom full of students to go one door down and commiserate with a colleague instead of losing job for setting the place on fire (2 minutes – hopefully no one will notice)
Step 6: Go back to classroom and tell students, “I’m sorry things aren’t working here – you will have to find another way to complete the assignment outside of school hours.”
Step 7: Field student bitching because “it isn’t fair” that the technology at school doesn’t work
Step 8: Not so discreetly eat an entire chocolate bar that a colleague gave me this morning (On Monday a different colleague had given me the gift of chocolate, but that is long gone)
Step 9: Put on my “brave face” because there’s still several more periods before my prep
Step 10: Skip ahead two periods to relish in the AP Student’s Literature group discussions (only one more week before they turn in their group project on their first of seven novels and switch with another group to start reading a new one)
  1. King Lear group discussing nakedness (3.4 “Is man no more than this?”)
  2. Kite Runner group discussing wedding scene vs. death scene – what part does the life cycle play in humanity?
  3. Jane Eyre group discussing characterization of Jane and how one’s treatment shapes their personality
  4. The Road group discussing forgiveness and the purpose of prayer in an apocalyptic landscape – plus, “the old man”
  5. The Bluest Eye group discussing the reliability of the narrator (Who wrote stream-of-consciousness Chapter Titles? The narrator? If it’s Claudia does that make her an unrealible narrator? Are there other elements that make her an unreliable narrator?) and Junior’s introduction and the large number of events surrounding his introduction
  6. Gulliver’s Travels group struggling and arguing over who the people of Laputa represent (sooooo good, lots of fantastic discussion happening here)
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale group discussing surrender vs. rebellion and tying in current events re: the oppression of women
The little negative stuff piles up: it’s extremely frustrating and hard to get past when these “issues” are so routine and they stop your lessons in their tracks, causing you to shoot from the hip, again and again, in order to fill the time and meet the standards.
The occurrences that battle these negatives are also little, but far more powerful. It’s things like my AP English Literature class holding their own Literature Circles like bosses, holding themselves and each other accountable. I get to walk around that classroom during those discussions and feel like a goddess of pedagogy. The best part is that I’m not even doing anything; the students are. However, they are doing it because I showed them that it was possible and believed that they could do it. If the average person walked into my classroom during Lit. Circle discussions (every Friday), they would see 7 small groups in animated discussion, but may not understand how much work goes into them (both on my end front-loading and modeling for them and the students preparing discussion questions, reading and annotating, and drawing connections to their own lives).
Those who think that teachers are overpaid, or that teachers do not deserve to be paid as highly as other professions with equal educational requirements don’t understand just how much work a “good” teacher does. They might see my messy desk and think, “she isn’t even organized, how can she be an effective teacher?” Or, they might walk past and see my students all talking and think that they’re not working, but socializing. (Administrators have assumed this, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the public did too.)
I work my ass off, as do many of my colleagues, but we are beset on all sides by increasing educational and administrative (paper work) demands without an accompanying increase in time, supplies, resources, or monetary compensation.
Something has to change. My students deserve my best, but I can’t give them that when I have 5 different subjects in one day. I can’t. I’m only one person.
So, I triage and prioritize.
  • ELA 12 (1st and 2nd periods) typically gets second best. I enjoy the literature available to me to teach the required standards and they tend to be more mature than their younger counterparts. I’m pretty active in these two classes, but more subdued – gotta save my energy for AP.
  • AP (3rd period) gets my best, every day: no question. They get the most physical Mrs. Magy – up and everywhere around the room, in and out of small groups, lots of reading, discussion, and writing. I write exemplars for them and model reading and writing like what will be expected at the college level. And it’s my writing, so it’s damn good.
  • Then I have back-to-back hours of ESL students for two different purposes. I really struggle with these two periods. I specifically avoided elementary education because I dislike teaching basic concepts. It requires an intense amount of patience, and when you add in that these students are new to this country, you add in behavioral issues because the students have not acclimatized to the expectations and social norms of American culture yet.
    • In 4th period, I’m helping my ESL/ELL students build their basic reading and writing skills.
      • We are focusing on close reading strategies and annotating for non-fiction sources (they have a separate English Literature course where they focus on fiction).
      • Every single student receives individual reading comprehension work at their reading level (or just above it) to challenge them (from books that I purchased, with money that was not reimbursed despite the clear educational need for them).
      • I meet with students individually 2-3 times a week during this period to discuss their reading comprehension work (How does their annotation look?, can they identify main ideas, supporting details, organization, etc.).
      • The student’s reading levels range from pre-reading (they know their alphabet and can sound words out, but have very little vocabulary) all the way through 6th grade.
      • And there are 24 of them, all in the same classroom.
      • Two students are already making visual, measureable progress, but their SAT scores will still be low becuase they’re reading levels are so far below the readings on the standardized test.
    • In 5th period, I’m helping my ESL/ELL students prepare for the SAT.
      • All of us teachers that teach a semester long SAT Prep class (for either English or math) hate it. It’s drugery. I do not believe in standardized testing, yet I am held accountable as a teacher by how well my students perform on them (poorly, duh, they are mostly ESL/ELL and immigrants to this country – the tests are white-biased and do not measure what they claim to, but that’s another post for another day).
      • Since the students are far below grade level, I focus on writing during this period since we focus on reading during 4th period. It’s like a double-whammy of Mrs. Magy’s Magical English Elixir.
  • Finally, I have SAT Prep (7th period) for the highest achieving group of 11th graders (our students are tracked – it is what it is).
    • Obviously, I cannot use the same lesson plans that I use for the ESL/ELL students, but by this point I am so tapped out that I am using the Cambridge Preparing for the New SAT workbooks, that our school spent so much money on, and give them lots of time to practice reading the more complex text passage types found on the SAT. I have them do lots of pre/post tests, but do not grade based on their achievement so much as their improvement and effort.

I know teachers that would only plan for AP and phone in the rest with this schedule. I know teachers that would maybe plan for AP/ELA 12 and discount everything else.

But I can’t. It’s not who I am. I became a teacher to help students learn. Even on days when I “take it easy,” I’m still doing more than most, and yet, it’s never enough. I always feel like I’m not enough, and that I’m not doing enough. Part of that is my personal depression and anxiety (for which I do receive medical care and treatment), but part of it is the administration and the Charter company who constantly find ways to tell the educators that we aren’t doing enough.

In some areas, I honestly haven’t. For one thing, I haven’t been diligent about uploading my lesson plans each week in the multi-page Google Doc format required. Triage. I have outlines of my lesson plans hand-written on my desk calendar. I know what’s happening, why, and when. Come ask me or talk to me about it, but I don’t have time to write it all down in your ridiculous bureaucratic form that everyone knows you don’t read anyway. Yet, if they aren’t there, I will be marked down for being “ineffective at planning.” {eye-roll} If I was ineffective at planning, the students would run my classroom and they would never make progress. That simply isn’t true.

What standards am I covering? All of them, Bitch. I’m a master educator. I’m working my students up-down-and-sideways and your silly forms will not tell you that, only visiting my classroom and seeing my teaching first-hand could.

Every day teachers perform triage, and every day teachers are making the best educational decisions they can for their students based on that assessment. But what happens to the teachers who don’t add their own self-care into their triage? Burn-out.

I haven’t been able to spend quality time with my family like I’d like because of my work demands. Triage. I get some of that time back by NOT doing the multi-page lesson plans. It’s 2-4 hours of time, but I’ll take the hit on my educator effectiveness to be able to participate in bathtime and story time each night with my kids; to be able to sleep an extra 1-2 hours each night (so I actually get 6 hours of sleep instead of 4 hours); to be able to get home before 6pm each night.

Triage. Reclaiming my time. Today I will sit in 3.5 hours of pure meeting hell that administration calls “Professional Development,” but as educators who triage important educational and personal decisions every day, we all need to reclaim our time and demand that the excessive paperwork and meetings that do nothing to push forward academic progress need to stop.