Packing it in or Tossing it out

In this school year, there is only one more day of exams and then Friday is the final day for entering grades and packing out. We have to remove “all personal effects” from the classroom as they plan to paint the walls and rewax the floors, so I’m going to do my best to simply stuff everything into my tiny closet (that has not had a door since 2015 when we broke the 50+ y/o rusted hinges out along with a deadbolt in order to pry the humidity sealed wooden door from it’s place) and pray that it’ll be okay.
Because of a major self-initiated purge of unnecessary crap, files, and “stuff” from my classroom in the spring of 2017, my classroom has been much easier to pack up at year’s end and I continue to sort/toss/donate throughout each year, particularly during mid-terms and finals when I have some “down time” during the testing to quietly sort through papers and resources that I have not used or touched in several months. During the year, my classroom has also become slightly easier to keep organized, though that’s sort of a crap-shoot by 7th period each day simply because I teach 4-5 different subjects in any given semester (with no extra pay or compensation because no union to help us bargain or protect us when we attempt to bargain for better working conditions, but that is a tale for another time). Here’s hoping that with another minor classroom purge this week that the coming fall semester will be easier to organize and begin fresh.

I’m proud of myself for starting this journey of purging and reorganizing in my classroom in May/June 2017, and that it continues to carry over into my home life, where I have been paring down whatever I can, when I can. This isn’t simply inspired by Kon Marie, though I did enjoy watching her Netflix show and seeing how clutter has affected different types of families. My mother is a hoarder, and while I am choosing not to address the details of that topic right now I began seeing myself falling into patterns that I still see in her; I want to avoid going down that path if I can.

 

In January (a water pipe for the boiler heat for the apartments above froze and burst) was a large help in that arena. Because of our two small children (at that time they were 5 and 2), we had to move because of the extensive repairs that were needed, and while we only had to move down the hall to another vacant unit, my husband and I took the opportunity to not move anything that we didn’t intend to use/keep.

 

So, in the space of 24 hours, multiple carloads of donations were taken to local thrift shops. We also made our peace with our need to “keep it, we might need it” and threw out/recycled a ton of garbage that we had once convinced ourselves we needed, “just in case.” The movers that came to help us also relieved us of some of our possessions (wine glasses still in the box from our wedding that we had never used, baby items that we no longer needed, extra dishes and plates, etc.).

In clothing, I am happy to say that I am down to a modest amount that I like to wear (both winter and summer items – winter currently being packed away under the bed) and everything that I was keeping simply “because it fits” is gone. I deserve to be happy with how I look/feel, and I keep that in mind when considering a new clothing purchase.
In the kitchen, we’re still struggling to make the small space work for our little family. I love to bake, but in truth I haven’t been able to find the space/time to do what I love since 2013/2014 when my oldest was still an infant. Once school is out, I have promised myself to take a careful look at all of my self-proclaimed “MUST-HAVES” in the kitchen and pare down to the simple essentials. I love Alton Brown, and I know that we have far too many “uni-taskers” in our kitchen that are easily cluttering up space that could be better used for something else. I’d also like to get my stand-mixer some dedicated counter-space in order to bake more frequently and involve my children in the process more.
In the two bedrooms, we still have work to do. When we moved after the flood, both my husband and I had cluttered personal areas in the bedroom that need to be sorted through with a careful and ruthless eye, yet them moved over with us because of the lack of time. Stuff that is still in boxes since we moved 6 months ago needs to be opened, glanced at, and if nothing is wanting, donated as is. Clearly, if we haven’t needed it in 6 months, we likely to do not need it at all. The same can be said for the children’s shared bedroom, where there are three medium-size U-haul moving boxes stacked just inside the door that we haven’t opened since the move.

The living space is also the children’s main play-space (it’s hard to make them play in their room when their room is small, holds two beds, a dresser, and a train table for trains, cars, and marble tracks). Keeping the living room clear and clean is difficult, but it will happen, eventually. In the meantime, I try to remember that this season with small children is short; my oldest will be in Kindergarten this fall, and his sister won’t be far behind him.

Our largest area of struggle though, is books. Both my husband and I are avid readers, and we both have a collection of classic books and important books from our childhood, as well as more contemporary favorites that we reread when we have the opportunity. I also teach high school English and love picking up new YA books to read and then place in my classroom library. We are hard pressed to let go of books, and it may be the one thing about clutter that my partner and I agree on most – books just aren’t “clutter” to us.

It wasn’t a sudden decision to start purging, this has been coming on gradually for a number of years, though Marie Kondo, my mother, and the burst-pipe flooding us out certainly helped. I know that if I were to die suddenly, I wouldn’t want my family to have to dig through so much clutter. I want to reclaim time for myself and my kids, and knowing where things are and reliably being able to find them helps. Most of all, I know that

  • my classroom is easier to maintain and find the things that I need
  • I’m less stressed in spaces with less clutter
  • laundry is easier to manage now (less clothing means that you have to wash laundry more often)
  • I still have work to do

Closing up my classroom each June always makes me feel a sense of closure and hope for the coming school year. I’m hopeful that cleaning out and organizing our home will help do the same for me, my husband, and my kids before fall comes and the harried school days begin again.

Family New Year’s Eve Memories

I grew up in a little town south of Jackson, MI, surrounded by farmland and nature. Though my nuclear family was rather isolated from our extended family, I was lucky to have had one set of grandparents within a 15-20 minute drive from our home.

On New Year’s Eve, we always had my grandparents over for dinner, dessert, games, and to watch the ball drop. My Busi (grandmother) delighted in watching the ball drop, so around 11:30pm we’d pause whatever game we were in the middle of and gather around the TV in the living room to count down the last of the year with Dick Clark. Sometimes after the ball dropped they would spend the night, but unless the weather was bad, they typically braved the cold and drove home before the bars closed down at 2am.

I remember playing Yahtzee, Monopoly, Rummy, Life, and all of the other classic board and dice games around our dinner table.

I remember eating so much junk food that my stomach felt sour and I’d end up curled up in a ball on our couch, my head in Busi’s lap as the ball fell.

I remember the first time that my parents let me invite a friend over for New Year’s Eve and after the board games, junk food, and ball drop we giggled together in the dark until we fell asleep.

I remember having a Tetris tournament with my mom and brother the year we received the Nintendo for Christmas. Mom won, no contest.

I remember the sweet way that my Dziadzi (grandpa) kissed my Busi (grandma) after we counted down the outgoing year and how she’d smile after. In those moments I knew that I needed to find myself someone who loved me the way Busi and Dziadzi loved each other.

I remember how different New Year’s Eve was the year that my Dziadzi died, earlier that same December, and how sad my Busi was all night despite our attempts to lift her spirits. She went to bed before the ball dropped that night, and there wasn’t so much laughter around the table.

I remember living on my own and trying to recreate the magic of New Year’s Eve with my college friends, but gaming becomes more difficult when alcohol is involved, and it’s frustrating trying to play a game that no one else is really serious about playing because they’re having more fun being social.

I remember the New Year’s Eve with my first steady relationship in my 20s. We played Scrabble, watched movies, and slow-danced in my little one-bedroom apartment as the new year rolled in.

As I got older, I returned to having New Year’s with my family, but it had shrunk in size. My parents were divorced, my grandparents deceased, and my brother off doing his own thing, meaning that mom and I were on our own to ring in the new year. We’d rent a movie, grab some pizza, and play two-handed Hand-and-Foot or Perquacky until the ball dropped.

When I met the man who would become my husband, he slowly became part of my mom and my New Year’s tradition of movies, games, and food. Then, in 2013, my son was born on December 24, meaning that his brit milah was held in the early afternoon on New Year’s Eve. My mother was already over for the ritual and ceremony, and she stayed that night, allowing me to get some desperately needed sleep as a new mom.

Since my son and daughter’s birth, New Year’s Eve has been pretty low-key in our house. We typically watch a movie together, celebrate “yay, it’s a new year” with the kiddos, and then if we’re awake enough to stay up after getting them to bed, we might play a game together or watch another movie. Tonight, my 2yo daughter was asleep in my arms by 8pm (watching Lego Batman with her brother), and my son is still awake, hanging out on the couch watching vintage Reading Rainbow waiting for daddy to come home from his job.

I look forward to another year of personal growth and quality time with my family, and in the not-so-distant future, I look forward to New Year’s Eve game nights not unlike I had growing up.

 

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.