Did My Brain Fall Out?

Haven't we all asked ourselves this question? There are days I am quite sure my brain did fall out - I can barely put one foot in front of the other and I forget everything. I know you can relate!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kellin, the Super Symbolic Hamster

We’ve all had a helluvayear here. 

Today, the hamster died. We were devastated.

It’s a helluvathing.

And I know some of you reading this are thinking, “it’s only a hamster,” and although you are right, Kellin the hamster was a furry blob among the many other furry blobs (big and small) we cohabitate with, she had so much more meaning. She was the symbolic hamster.

No, this is not hyperbole. It is not the delusions of an English teacher gone over the edge.

Kellin symbolized, for all of us, especially C2, the ability to conquer a demon so large, so hurtful, so painful, so sad, that even typing these words are making me cry. Kellin symbolized 128 days. That little ball of fur with the beady red eyes (ech) symbolized mental health and positive choices.

So let me explain. A year ago C2 revealed to me in the Walgreens parking lot that she had been injuring herself. I like to think I reacted well, but on the inside I was confused. I was so sad. I just wanted to fix this. I may have stammered. I wanted to be full of God’s grace; I think I was not.

Let me help. Let me help you, baby.

So we got her help. And it’s been quite a journey. We’ve forayed into EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). She got really skinny. I really thought that we would lose her. I would lay awake at night and plan, and plot and check on her, to make sure she was still here, and here, present in the moment, in our family and still alive in her bed. I questioned my parenting, my marriage, my job. I considered quitting work to stay at home with her. I wanted to pull her out of school because of those bastard middle school little shits who brought her pain and heartache. I wanted to throttle the administrators and guidance counselors at her school who seemed to be so incredibly clueless and ineffective. I wanted to do….something.

Something ended up being time and patience. Something was many late nights reading about cutting, EDNOS and suicide on the internet. Something was my maniacal decision to hide everything that I thought was a potential danger in the house behind locked doors. Something was tossing her room like some Russian spy looking for the Holy Grail. Something was love. Something was tears, alone in the shower and together with C2. Something was long drives to nowhere with my baby. Something was writing her notes and leaving them in secret places. Something was watching my husband trying to cope. Something was watching my husband, who has wrestled with his own recovery for the past 28 years, relate to C2 in a way that I couldn’t.
Something was waiting for C2 to decide that she wanted to get better.  

I can’t lie and say I succeed in all of these somethings each and every day. In fact, I know I was so far from what C2 needed on some days, that I was more of a hindrance. And I also like to think that many of those days I was just what she needed. That she KNOWS that every day with her here on Earth is what I need. That she is my blessing. My everything.

So C2 decided that she wanted to get better, so we drew butterflies on our arms (check out http://butterfly-project.tumblr.com/ for more information) and talked about “triggers” and we counted days. We hung her count on the fridge. We celebrated when that number increased. 10, 42, 75, 84, 97, 128.

 And a relapse.

Talk of hospitalization. Frantic calls to her counselor and the crisis line. And then we went back to doing our somethings. We circled the wagon, kept her close to home, and we began the count again with the promise that when she reached 128 days again she could pick something that she really wanted. She picked Kellin.

So, that hamster was so much more than another furry mouth to feed. She was special. She was a reward for SO MUCH HARD WORK…WORK that C2 should be SO proud of. So, yeah, we’re overwhelmingly SAD that she died. And YES, I let my kid stay home from school today and eat ice cream and watch an entire season of Glee because she was SAD because that was a SOMETHING, the something that she needed today.

C2 – can you pick a new reward that can’t leave us!

*There are over 2 million people in the United States who self-harm. Of those 2 million, the majority are young girls, although it does affect boys too.
Know the signs, open a dialogue, get help.

Dear C2:
I cannot express how proud I am of you. Your journey is yours, so thank you for letting me share this. Know this for certain, you are MY LOVE, MY LIFE, MY EVERYTHING. I am so blessed that God sent you to me. I am so happy that you chose to stick around, to get healthy, to keep moving forward, one step at a time. I am thrilled that you put up with me, my uncoolness, stupid jokes and sometimes thoughtless words. Know this, each and every day that I am here on this Earth, I am here to keep you safe. I am here to love you. No matter what you do, you can’t EVER shake this mama bear. So, thank you for choosing to get better. Thank you for being you. Xxx000

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Misnomers and Fallacies of the "Inner-City" School: Why it drives me crazy to work here....

First of all a disclaimer (on my own personal blog) that my opinion in no way reflects the opinion of my employer or my colleagues, although I bet you a million bucks that many in those two groups would agree. Does that ruin the disclaimer?

The following reasons are why it drives me nuts to work at an inner city school. It's not all the name is cracked up to be.  I love my school, I love my job, I love my students, my friends, and my colleagues. In fact I love everything about my school.  So, to those of you who have ever said or thought any of the following, we don't need your pity, your hate or your sympathy. Just remember what you put "out there" has a ripple effect, like a pebble dropped in a pond. Words are like toothpaste, once they're out of the tube it's impossible to get them back in.

1. People automatically assume that an "inner-city" school means more than the label connotes. We are a school. We are located in the "city" however this in no way implies that we are unsafe, that we are made up of delinquents or that we are failing our students. Quite the contrary. We have 1600 of the most amazing, fun, talented and intelligent students under our roof each and every day. Our students go on to the best colleges. They are competitive both academically and athletically.  Just ask some of our famous alumnus; Trot Nixon, David Brinkley, Roman Gabriel, Sonny Jurgensen, and Jay Ross. We have quite a few state titles to call our own, 33 and counting. We don't have bars on our windows, graffiti on the walls or security guards posted in each hallway. We are not riddled with drugs, gangs or crime. We are one of the oldest high schools in North Carolina. We are statuesque, we are beautiful, so when someone hears "inner-city" they think "Dangerous Minds" or "Stand and Deliver."  I am here to tell you...this is not the movies.

2. When people hear where I work they say, "I'm sorry." WHY ARE YOU SORRY? My dog didn't die. You didn't ding my car in the parking lot. However, you are implying that there is something horrible about my job, and it is so insulting! Hey you! You work at the bank? I'm so sorry. You're a dentist? Ooooh, I am SO sorry. Drive a truck? That sucks.Yo Pope? It must really be a drag to serve God's children. #sorryyouworkatthevatican.  I am never sorry that I work here. As a result of #1 and the negative media propaganda that surrounds my school (see #3) people think it's a horrible place to work. We are safe. We are happy. We are a school doing great things, every minute of every day. I am surrounded by the best educators I have ever had the honor of knowing. Why else would I have sent both my children to this school? Let's get something straight: teachers don't have to stay at schools they don't like or where they don't feel safe. Don't insult us with your pity.

3. We have no successes. I mean we can't because they are never celebrated in the media, right? I don't turn on the news and hear that two of our students received full rides to some of the country's most prestigious colleges or that our amazing athletes are being scouted by the top universities in the country. No, the lead is usually a crime or incident in the neighborhood which MUST include the name of our school  EVEN THOUGH IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH US. Our school is in the city, just like Starbucks, the county library and the Fluff-and-Fold. Focus on the crime, not what it's near. Why? BECAUSE IT SENDS EVERYONE INTO A PANIC and THIS IS HOW WE GET A BAD RAP! (see #1,2,3). My God, it never ends. Our school has safety measures in place just like every other school, however when every lead in the news mentions the name of our school in relation to the location of a crime, it it is viewed as one and the same. It is unnecessary to give the location of a crime and then say it's so-and-so blocks from the school. Stop making us all seem like the same thing - we are not interchangeable and should not be lumped in together. School+Building+Students IS NOT EQUAL TO  Crime+Off-campus+gangs+drugs. We are not responsible for what our student body does off campus on their own time, just like my employer isn't responsible for the carton of Cadbury Eggs I ate or when I ran that red light (I swear it was yellow). We have enough responsibilities as teachers so don't tie the criminal and the crime to my SCHOOL. The guilt and sadness that overwhelm us when one of our "kids" gets in trouble is too much to bear and you just make it worse.

4. Our kids are all gang members, drug dealers or juvenile delinquents. Nope, nope and nope. Just no. Just STOP. They are teenagers, they lose their minds sometimes, they incite drama, they fight, they make mistakes, they have issues, but show me another high school where this isn't the norm and I will eat this keyboard.

5. We must not have school pride.  I do not know one student in any of my classes over the past 8 years who hasn't been proud to go to our school. We bleed black and orange. We pack the gym for basketball games. Our stadium shakes and rocks under those Friday night lights. We have learned to celebrate each other - we understand that if we aren't our own biggest cheerleaders no one else will be. Our school has an amazing history, a loyal faculty and high standards for education. When the focus is always on the perceived negatives (and mostly imaginary at that) it's hard to convince the public that there are any positives. Ask our parents, ask our teachers, ask our students; we are THE PLACE TO BE!

We are a family. We have weathered everything imaginable and we stand here, together, willing to work hard for ALL of our students, for their education, their well-being, their success. Never forget that. What more could a community want for a school? A building is just a building; it's what we do in that building that matters the most. 

Don't sell us short. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

My Pay as a Teacher Should Be Based On My Performance...

My pay as a teacher should be based on MY performance, so come into my classroom anytime you want and see what I do. I can control what I teach and how I teach it; this is my performance.  

What I cannot control is my students' lack of motivation to complete the assignments I work hard to prepare. I cannot control their apathy towards the standardized tests the state rolls out. It is unfair to evaluate me and base my pay or my "performance" on the performance of my students, especially based on ONE TEST that is four hours long - a test of endurance even for the highest achieving students. 

In the private sector is your raise or evaluation based on the performance of the guy in the cubicle next to you? The one who listens to his iPod all day, texts his friends, talks back to the boss, starts fights with his co-workers, is late to work every day, who never hands in a project by the deadline? I don't think so. Would you stay at a job where you haven't had even a basic cost of living raise in five years? In fact, where you received a pay cut? I didn't think so. Stop teacher bashing and listen to what we have to say.

I cannot force a child to take a stake in his education; I can provide engaging opportunities to learn and succeed. At some point the onus is on the student. I have upwards of 30 students in my classes for 90 minutes at a time, 3 classes a day, so I am responsible for at least 90 students each and every day for 180 days out of the year. I spend hours of unpaid time calling parents, preparing lessons, staying after school to help my students be the best they can be. I attend countless days of professional development to improve my strategies, to bridge the gap, to improve reading levels and various other "bandaids" that are thrown at us. I think the perception that the majority of teachers are incompetent is completely off base. Everyone I know works hard for YOUR children, as do I.

As a parent of two school-aged children, it is up to me to make sure they are well prepared and attend school every day. I wish I could say the same of the parents of all of my students. Don't make the teachers' job harder by teaching your children that the teachers are the enemy. Too many children are being taught that education holds no value.

Longer days? I leave home at 7am and get home around 5, if I'm lucky. I don't get paid for my 10 hour day. I don't get a lunch "break." I grade and plan for at least 6 hours each Sunday and for at least 2 hours every night. Unpaid. Phone calls home? That's in my "free time" too, on my own dime. But o.k, bring it on. A longer school year? Sure, but make sure your child has pencils and his completed homework everyday.

It takes a village to educate a child. This teacher is tired of being the village scapegoat, sacrificed to the parents, the media, the state and the Department of Education each and every day.

*This is MY OPINION and although some other teacher people I work with may agree with me, this OPINION is mine alone and does not reflect the opinion of my employer or anyone associated with my employer.

I hate that I had to write that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Know This Girl

I know this girl.

She’s pretty awesome.

You might know her, too.

In fact you probably know a lot of girls just like her. Smart. Sassy. Beautiful. Compassionate. Kind. Funny. Loyal. Honest.

Confused. Hurt. Lost.  Rejected. Silent.

The rejection is palpable. The hurt is tangible. The confusion makes us cry. The silence is heartbreaking. We all just want to find our way back home. 

It’s easy to shrug and just say “hrumph, teenagers!” because we all know growing up is hard. If you say that you had an awesome adolescence, I call bullshit. I don’t think there is such a thing. It is filled with heartbreak, awkward changes, impulsiveness, bad choices…a road littered with shit and more shit, usually left by friends who suddenly turn on you for no apparent or logical reason. It is pimples and periods and passive-aggressiveness. It is meanness and mourning and middle-school manic moods. It is little victories like a text from a boy you like and a reprieve on an assignment you missed.  It is moments where you are stuck between wanting to be a grown-up but needing your mom to take care of you.

These experiences are incontrovertible. They have been shared by teens around the world since the beginning of time. Cave girls who put on their best furs to lure their lovers. Girls from the 50’s who put on racy red lipstick in the school bathroom and dreamed of wearing Biff’s letterman’s jacket. Those of us from the eighties who rolled up our skirts and waited by the phone to find out who was meeting at the roller rink or movie theater.

Incontrovertible, for sure, but what has changed for our daughters and sons is the access to each other. They have never heard a busy signal, have never had to wait to use the phone or wait a whole day for an answer to the “Check-Yes-or-No-Do-You-Like-Me? note”. They text, they use Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Kik to chat. They are instantly rewarded or rejected. And what these kids have to say to each other can be pure evil. Evil. And the words, there forever, easily read and reread, are deeply scarring. 

At my house we are trying to slow the flow of hatefulness and unseemliness by limiting access, by talking more and having “courageous” and very uncomfortable conversations. I thought I was savvy because I am friends with my kids on FB, I follow them on Twitter…but I underestimated the ability for a teenager to circumvent my “safeguards,” and now we are dealing with circumstances that are mind boggling, consequences that will last a lifetime for everyone involved.

The rejection is palpable. The hurt is tangible. The confusion makes us cry. The silence is heartbreaking. We all just want to find our way back home. We’re tired of stumbling around in the dark, looking for the light switch that someone moved while we weren't looking.

I know this girl. She’s pretty awesome. 

And she’s going to be ok. She’s smart, sassy, beautiful, compassionate, kind, funny, loyal, honest, strong and brave.

She’s mine. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wishy-Washy Mojo?

C2’s therapist told me that I am wishy-washy. That hurt my feelings. We have some real crap happening here at the house and I HATE that I AM wishy-washy. So, am I wishy-washy because of the culture in the house or is the culture of the house because of my wishy-washiness? And can we come up with a better term than wishy-washy because it sounds awful when I use it 5 times in one paragraph?

For so many years I have walked around on egg shells, and autism parents can feel this; I’m sure I’m not alone. I avoided situations that would throw C1 into a meltdown. We stopped eating at our local Pizza Hut because the door squeaked and would set off her supersonic, bionic hearing, leading to an under-the-table-top-of-the-lungs tantrum. We swore off restaurants all together because she would pitch a tantrum every time we went out to eat.

And here is where I know that I have become complacent, or wishy-washy, that I have lost my mojo, because there was one night where we headed out to dinner for hubby’s birthday and C1 pulled her usual performance, and I sat in the car with her while the rest of the family went in and ate dinner. Now, I could probably have picked a better night than his birthday to try the tough-love-tough-shit strategy, but that night I was strong enough to do it. I sat in that car for 90 minutes while she screamed that she wanted to go in and eat (this was after the 30 minutes of screaming the entire way there that she didn’t want to go “there”!) until, finally, she stopped. And you know what? SHE NEVER THREW A TANTRUM ON THE WAY TO OR AT A RESTAURANT AGAIN!

So, knowing this, how have I become a lazy parent? Because it’s easier and faster to just give in, that’s why. This goes for both my kids. Giving in takes 2.3 seconds where toughing it out can take hours, sometimes even days. Who has that kind of time? 

And I hate conflict. I really do.

So now we’re going through non-autism issues with C2 and I am so ill-equipped for it. You know, part of me has always had that “it’s autism” excuse, but with C2 I don’t. There is no excuse other than the mansy-pansy parenting and rationalization I have employed…the self-speak of “I’m doing the best I can,” and honestly I thought I was. Now I see I could be doing better.

And I know it’s going to be hard. I need to go back to trusting my parenting instincts, to do what my head says is right, to not be ruled by worrying that I will hurt C2s feelings. I need to be a parent and to do that I need to trust myself again. I need to get my parenting mojo back, because somewhere, between IEP meetings, OT appointments, mama bear mode, my fears, my career and all the barnacles of life, I got scratched up, banged up and started to drown.

I’m coming up for air, so sorry kids; I’m washing off the wishy-washy. Mama is BACK.