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Attempted fortifications

My consolation in knowing that my child is struggling, a lot and in a way I’m not sure how to help with, is that he has us, a reasonable stable family, and we love him and try our best to help him work through his stuff. Not every kid has that, so how indeed can they make it through those days when they hate school and feel like they have no real friends, and forget to do their homework, and can’t take it any more?  The stress is not only from everyday school stuff, like being surrounded by 90% immature kids such as yourself who aren’t thinking about kindness and courtesy and reaching out, but mostly the moment, and posturing and drama and survival. And knowing you’re different, your friends are different, and wondering how to fit in, and whether you want to anyway. And being the youngest at home and subject to a good deal of self improvement advice and teasing there too, and parents who are increasingly busy with work and all.

Also there’s this: trying to process all that “helpful” anti-bullying information such as, “Mom, did you know that there was a girl who was bullied so badly, she killed herself? And, sometimes I feel that way, and if things don’t get better, I…” And pretty soon he’s identifying with someone’s suicidal thoughts, thank you very much, school counselors. Whose idea was that, that every kid should hear that story? Now every day after school it’s me and my son talking over what he’s going through–nothing tremendous from what I can tell, but he’s taking every teasing, every innuendo, every deficiency of love and affirmation, as, maybe like what that girl experienced, which was actually too awful to mention to the sixth graders, thank heaven, but so he doesn’t realize that this is more about rolling with the punches. Right?

Other days he identifies with the boy who was bullied all through school and then when he became hiring manager at some important firm, in comes the bully to interview for a job, and it’s time for consequences, buddy! Those days are better. But it’s a real battle now to walk with my son through these feelings, and try to remind him that he’s strong, that he can handle this, that, yeah, sometimes people are jerks, but we’re all capable of being mean, or at least not as nice as we could be, but that’s just life. No, we realize that the counselor is not the sort of person one would want to talk to about that, but is there a way to tell someone you think would have the wisdom to keep an eye out? If not, just concentrate on learning, and keep your eyes peeled for someone else that needs your kindness. And be patient–people mature, and things get better.

And I pray that he’ll remember how much he’s loved, and discover each day those good deeds that the Father is providing for him to do, and be a blessing out there in the world. Because Mom is committed to working now, and can’t quit to homeschool you through this. I ask the siblings to pitch in with the support of friendship, and redouble my efforts to fill his love account to overflowing. And don’t you ever talk about suicide, boy, I want to say, because it makes me mad! Mad at people who aren’t loving, mad at people who are good intentioned but thoughtless, mad with grief. And I even tell him, I even say, the meanest person of all is the one who takes himself away from the people who love him. Maybe it’s a stupid thing to say, but there it is, and by God I hope it doesn’t do any harm.

 

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family

 

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I want my best life now. Is it in the shed, or maybe in the attic?

Sometimes I feel I need to just pick up a copy of Joel Olsteen’s Your Best Life Now and give it a read. Can he help me with this?

After riding back from an especially grueling workout, I came up the stairs on shaky limbs to bring my bicycle in the front door en route to the storage area, because the proper route through the gate is now blocked by deer netting and bungee cords to keep the husky from jumping the low fence there. I arrive by the kitchen table and can’t get through because there’s a treadmill in the way, on which my daughter is finishing off her husky’s workout. I haven’t yet got a space cleared for it in the storage area by the shed. The dog needed to be tired out before her mistress went to school, so said dog would be less likely to dig under or break through the old, decaying fence again and bother our neighbor, who has already threatened to call Animal Control. Or less likely to scare the little girl up the road, and less likely to be confiscated from such incompetent pet owners who let their dog run around the neighborhood several times a week without a leash.

The dog, frightened by the new experience of the treadmill, has pooped on the floor. There is yelling, appeals to clean it up, use paper towels, don’t let the dog step in it. My daughter does the initial scoop but sees the clock and panics, says she has to go to school or she’ll be late. I consider taking my bike out for another spin. I don’t want to be the default shit-wiper any more. One son is reprimanding the daughter for causing the dog to poop, I’m trying to keep him out of it, husband is hollering from his bedroom office wanting to know what’s going on, I holler back not now!

On the way out my son knocks over a bicycle blocking part of the entry. No room for it in the storage shelter because there are tractor partsa lawn mower, a rototiller that doesn’t run, cut up wood from a renovation, another broken bicycle which I found out is not worth fixing but which my husband doesn’t want to sell because he paid so much for it and now it’s worth only $150. Some of these things might fit in the shed, but that’s packed with two rolls of fiberglass insulation stuffed into garbage bags because the dog shredded them when they were left untended last winter. Can’t throw that away, because they can be used in the attic, once we have time to get up there. I would do it, but I think I saw mold up there last time and I don’t want to deal with that in case it means we have to replace and re-vent the entire roof. Unless, of course, that spurs us on to tackle the addition project I have sketched out, since we’d have to cut into the roof for that anyway. But do we really need the addition? Yes, there are six of us living in 1200 square feet plus garage (half of which is a bedroom), but the kids are almost ready for college, and then what will we do with all that room, and how will we pay off the loan? At least in the summer we have the huge yard. All we really need, probably, is a nice bike garage.

Everyone has gone to school. My husband is working from home, and I assume he has had his breakfast, but when I sit down to mine, easy over eggs, hash browns, sausage, and steamed greens, he asks where’s his, and didn’t I think to get him some? I make excuses and tell him where the ingredients are. He’s a twin, so it’s hard for him to be left out, and he’s working, so why don’t I go get a job so he has time to fix his own breakfast? He doesn’t say this, but my conscience does, using his voice.The kids are all in school all day and I have no responsibilities, after all, and what am I going to do, work on my blog?

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Places & Experiences

 

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It might be like sneaking into a prison disguised as a guard or a prisoner, hoping I don’t get caught

Again I observe that I dread the responsibility of being in charge, but work very hard to craft a high quality lesson, one I can stand behind and which contains personal elements and something to truly engage. I spend too much time–will I ever get more efficient at this? I gather the best materials I can, write out the plan, create props and examples, envision active, enthusiastic students who want to go deep and do their best. I mix it up, with art or music, reading aloud, questions for discussion, and food if possible.I overplan, but then flex toward teachable moments so things often take a different direction–the path of most engagement with what turns out to feel most important for these particular students.

Also I doubt, and ask myself, what do I think I’m doing, all this for one hour, even half an hour, and not even to get paid and shouldn’t I get back into that? I question my ability, question any possible positive impact I might have, wonder if I should call in before next time and suggest they find someone who can wholeheartedly sign the statement of faith or be more less likely to suggest a different translation, someone who can stick with the program, pass out the colorful worksheets and follow the idiot-proof plan and above all, stay organized.

On the way I energize, talk to myself, mentally prepare, pray for a clear mind and a big heart that the students can feel. The radio is off and I review my introduction and check the flow of ideas and processes. I arrive early, jot down the general structure on the board so I can keep track, write my name up in the corner in case anyone needs it.

It’s a big group today, and an assistant has been sent. Good, I suppose, since I don’t always remember to use the discipline plan for the hyperactive boy, or even remember that’s it’s supposed to be a problem that he wants his drawing to be different from all the rest, or wants to sit on the spinning chair or say bunny is spelled b-u-t-t. I forget I was told that someone doesn’t like to draw, and never do notice who that might have been. When I’m teaching I mostly forget what was in the individual files and briefings–previous convictions, behavior-modifying medications, persistent attitudes toward authority figures. They are fresh humans, and I’m ready to look for the best they have. When adult helpers are in the room I mostly ignore them, though I’m getting better at asking for assistance with materials or engaging them in the discussion too. I give no special acknowledgement to my supervisors and overseers, though I suppose they must come around sometimes.

I love teaching. I can almost always find a connection with the kids on some aspect of the material. They ask questions, they tell stories, they create, they bring us in unexpected directions. Something good usually comes if it. My own children love to hear about my lesson, how it went, the challenges and how I handled them, the funny and interesting things that went on. They see my energy, probably wonder why I wasn’t always so uplifted when I was homeschooling them. More than one has already expressed interest in being a teacher themselves. And there I go again, I can’t give it up. I think about the moments of connection, each interesting person, and wonder what more can I discover, what more do they want to learn, and what will we do next time. I get caught up in the grand scheme, think of the possibilities, wonder how I can incorporate more richness.

And yet, when I think of what I’d have to go through as a teacher returning to the public school after all these years away, I am daunted. Study all my core subjects and take the West-E tests, update my endorsements, get enough teaching hours to work on the next level of teaching certificate. Make sure I fit the criteria for Highly Qualified. Solicit other teachers and administrators to observe and evaluate me, gather fresh references. Learn about the latest legislative developments, trends, fads, and take all the trainings. Learn to respect and submit to administrators simply because of their position of power and even though they left the role of classroom teacher and the opportunity to gain experience that would have made them worth listening to as a mentor and guide. Plan lessons for large groups of students rotating through in several subjects with an hour or two of prep time plus whatever I can carve from family time, sacrificing some of the support I would have provided to my four children in the mornings and evenings in order to hole up with classroom assignments and grade to the rubrics, quantify outcomes. Try to meet impossible expectations, be everything to everyone. Go to staff meetings that might be less than relevant, less than efficiently run, less than democratic, discussing ideas about things other than ways to improve our service to the children in our classrooms.

And so, while I continue to work on the projects that engage my attention and time at home and try to be a good mother and spouse, I try to find that opening, both in the field and in my own mind. Read all I can, try to get enthused and not discouraged or outraged, try not to create castles in the clouds with my ideas about itinerant teaching in the classical style, offering students after-school classes in the history, politics and economics of American public education, creating useful skills classes, converting school lawns into gardens and jackhammering paved play yards and strewing them with logs, boulders, digging mud holes then letting children jump in them, planting trees and letting them climb.

I think I just might become an emotional wreck if I go back. The beautiful moments–and there always will be those–would stand in such stark contrast to what I perceive to be the soul-grinding conditions of the modern public school teacher who wants to do his or her best for the students, I would be bursting into tears at the end of each day, and sometimes in the middle.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Education

 

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‘Twas three days before Christmas, and I fell apart

‘Twas three days before Christmas, and I fell apart

Weeping in my husband’s embrace on December 22nd. Reminds me of last year, but without the embrace–under the pressure of getting ready for Christmas gift giving. Pressure I’m putting on myself–it’s too much, and I need release. Again I have disappointed myself and not got packages mailed in time to my family back east. Not shown them I love them enough to plan better, not shown myself to be a put-together daughter and sister. And too much time taken on all that anyway perhaps with so many family members to think of here. I discover that my gift piles are lopsided and I have more for my older kids than for the younger. The daughter who actually begins getting disappointed before she even sees her presents, to get a head start, and the son who wails at any perceived injustice or sense of personal injury, are undergifted. Will I have time to finish the special school-colors blanket for her? Can I find a decent Lego set for him in the time remaining? Should I add up the totals and give extra money to make things even? Or just give the warning my mom used to give that it might not be everyone’s year this year, so be prepared.

I’m also sad that we have not read any Christmas books or scriptures, sung any songs, made any crafts together. The tree is up, lights hung, nativity scenes in place, but I’ve left it to the others to ask for anything special beyond that, and no one has cared. No advent calendar doors with candy, even. No working at the food bank, helping with Angel Tree, inviting stranded student in for the holidays. Just a few charity checks in the mail. This isn’t Christmas, I moan.

Then there’s the extended family gifts. White elephant and an exchange, which for us adds up to twelve presents. I grumble that it’s too much, and they’re all adults and can each buy their own, while I have to help my kids choose, or at least drive them to stores. Will the bath salts my son bought from a big box store really suffice for a dear grandmother? Will my niece appreciate the earth tone, locally made mugs, or should I switch out for the bath salts? I’m told I made my father-in-law a hat last year, so that plan is shot. My sisters-in-law and their very organized children were done weeks ago, I’m sure.

No pretty plates of cookies or even boxes of chocolates for the neighbors, who have watched my animals, taken in the mail, and shared their salmon catch with us, and I really wanted to show appreciation. Will they be hurt?

My husband leaves his paid hourly work on the computer, listens, holds me, rubs my back and says the equivalent of “There, there; it’s going to be all right.” He doesn’t argue that I’m being unreasonable, or demand that I pull myself together. He offers to find my father-in-law’s gift and our son’s Lego set, take the girls to shop for what they need, asks what else he can do, and pretty much comes to my rescue. Of course I realize I need to pull myself together, and after letting myself receive his comfort, I do. Of course I know I’m being unreasonable, and manage to invite some more sensible thoughts to the forefront of my mind after I calm down. Yes, I’ve probably had too much coffee and too little regular food, so I sit down and eat some leftover rustic chicken pizza I had the sense to pick up the night before. I don’t have to get up early tomorrow, I can stay up and sew, mail the packages tomorrow, and do what needs to be done, which is less than I think it is in my perfectionist frenzy. It’s going to be all right.

 
 

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Du courage, my friend

I have developed a tremor of some kind, low grade neural white noise. Surely a manifestation of some kind of disjoint between who I feel am meant to be, if I may imagine there is such a person, and the role to which I am trying, oft resentfully, to adapt. Not a tremor anyone would notice, but when I am coming up against obstacles, fielding impossible requests, looking at the fruits of apparently wasted efforts, I sense it in my hands first, sometimes my arms and legs so I have to sink into a chair and plan for my next move. When it goes on too long, it steals the physical strength I need for my weekly Pilates class, and puts my body into some kind of hangover the next day. Not normal, and I wonder if something’s wrong.

I do a web search on “muscle tremors” and find links to neurological disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, generalized anxiety disorder, multiple sclerosis, and stress. I’ll take stress, please, for five thousand. Or maybe generalized anxiety, if it means I can take a ferry to an island next week and hang out at a beach cabin, drinking coffee with cream and taking occasional visitors. And let’s have a tidy diagnosis, a simple and effective treatment, and no one will get hurt. My friends and family don’t need me falling apart right now. “Why didn’t she tell anyone?!” We all know dang well why–because we had enough on our plates, and it’s better to know after the fact, when it’s too late to fail to know how to help.

But I do have help. No one knows how much general anxiety my dear, doughnut-delivering friend relieves in this world, preventing the onset of ever so many tremors and worse. Always a hug from her, no matter how brief the passing while exchanging kids for a play date, dropping off a borrowed book. No one knows how dear is the encouragement of a fellow writer as he explores the angst of existence and finds the sparks, the reasons for hope, the unmistakeable beauty in every life. How sweet is the “Good night; I love you” of a daughter or son. As the apostle Peter said, “Love each other deeply, because covers a multitude of sins.” Pushes back the darkness, fortifies my sinews and begins to restore that neural electrolyte balance. The unspoken whispers of “Du courage.”

 

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A poor excuse for a woman’s retreat

Half an hour left in my self-initiated overnight retreat until checkout time. Last night I decided just to sneak an overnight bag and my laptop into the car, say I was going to find a quiet place to write, and head over to the Comfort Inn. Quiet, clean room, internet for blogging and a copy of Farley Mowat’s The People of the Deer. Free breakfast included, and I control the remote. Cheaper than a bigger house, I wrote in the note. Then took the note with me, because I couldn’t leave it on the pillow while my husband was asking me why I wasn’t okay.

Other women go on retreats, take short vacations and trips, go to conferences. Just because I didn’t book ahead, it seems strange that I’d take one now, without anyone’s say-so. A hundred bucks is cheap for some space, though, and packing tent and gear was not an option.

I cheerfully book into my room, turn on the lights, try to welcome the empty spaces I apparently needed, yet which feel stolen and accusing. They’ll understand, won’t they? I finish a blog post, work on a few others, catch up on reading a few others. It’s past bedtime for the kids, so I text my husband from the hotel instead. Cowardly I know, but I just didn’t want to try to explain, and I feel a twinge of guilt, leaving them all like this. He is asleep by that time, in front of the TV.  Later but woke me with a phone call, said he was worried, but quietly accepted my brief explanation.

Morning light filters into the tall, narrow window that looks out onto the parking lot full of cars with BC license plates. I wasn’t choosy as to venue, even thought I could conveniently get gas and a few things on my list before heading home from this part of town. It’s still very quiet, which is not entirely soothing.

I head down for the breakfast bar in my socks with my book. Nothing much healthy there, as usual for such places, and all served on disposable dishes taken away in more plastic after the meal. Even in my green city, hotels are bastions of backwardness, though they give lip service to saving the environment through washing bedding less than daily. I want to put a word in with the management, which this time won’t irritate my family, but I head for the elevator instead. I’ll mention it on the feedback card.

Time to go, and what did I accomplish? I am not refreshed, not much. If I could figure out, articulate and organize what I need that is not already worked into my life or its margins, I wouldn’t resort to just driving off like this. Like my mom occasionally did, leaving us wondering what it was all about. Maybe if she had just said, “I love you all dearly, but I am very tired and grumpy now and don’t want to bring you down. Be dears and help out with the chores while I go take a break for my nerves. You understand, don’t you?”

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Places & Experiences

 

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When your circumstances make you too stupid to deal with them properly

Heard an interview on CBC Radio 1 “The Current” with Eldar Shafir, one of the authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. What caught my attention was the idea that when the human mind is occupied with too many concerns, using up both central and peripheral cognitive bandwidth, there’s not enough margin for decent problem-solving and prioritizing, so we make dumb decisions that don’t help our situation in the long run. Shafir pointed out that while we can step away from certain concerns to get a grip–work, or a diet, for example, the poor can’t take time off from poverty (without taking a high interest loan), and so good decisions sometimes remain inaccessible. Parenting suffers too, so the poor can end up being worse parents because their brains can’t manage the complexity of all that at once. Or parenting/family relations might be the thing using up so much bandwidth, and if there are too many things demanding attention, there’s overload and a kind of paralysis.

I’m in some kind of a fog myself, and sure can’t find the bandwidth to describe it. I keep trying to get the fog lights to work, or at least low beams trained on the bit of ground right in front of me, but I can’t tell how the road curves or branches up ahead, let alone make decisions about my route. I’m trying to write it out, as usual, and dose with caffeine, but, heck–I’m in a fog. That’s all for now.

 

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