Sunday, August 23, 2009

Top 5 irrational fears about starting back to college

Classes start today, 11 am. No turning back now, right? Tons and tons of thoughts are flying in and out of my mind this weekend, and every so often is the thought "OMG I AM COMPLETELY CHANGING THE DIRECTION OF MY LIFE; AM I A TOTAL NUTCASE?"

So, with that in mind, here comes the no particular order of irrationality or fear-ishness. (not a word, I know, LOL)

1. I will show up at the first class today with no shoes on. (I'll pause a moment while you collapse on the floor with laughter at my expense) I did not make this up just for your entertainment, I promise. I have this sort of dream before every big/new/stressful life event. I dreamt it in the days before my wedding, before starting College Adventure #1, before my first year of teaching, etc. And the terror associated with this dream is real, no doubt. Imagine it: You arrive for a momentous occasion, first impressions really matter, you're sitting in your desk and all of a sudden OMG I do not have shoes on!!!!!! How did I even get here like this? And even more bizarre.......what does a dream like this symbolize? Any dream interpreters out there?

2. I will be the oldest one in the room(s), professor included. Why in the flipping world that even matters to me is not clear, but it does. I already know that my primary supervising professor is a year younger, and she's got her doctorate in MT already. I got mine in preeclampsia, with a concentration in the autism spectrum and special-needs parenting. No fancy degree certificate on the wall though.....just scotch tape residue, the remains of Mr. L's endless lists that he simply MUST display all over the house.

3. You know that scene in Finding Nemo when the fish are trying to join the "East Australian Current" along with those sea turtles, but it's going SO fast and they just can't get in? Yep, what they said. When I think of all the things that have changed since the pre-internet days of my last time in college, I feel nauseous. Do people even take notes on actual paper any more? Do I need my laptop in class?

4. What the hell do I wear? Yes, this is of great importance. Gotta not look any of the following: too old, too fat, too dorky, too teacher-ish, too much like I'm trying to look young, too out of style, too dressy, too get the idea. {sigh} I need a fashion consultant. Any volunteers?

5. There will be too much workload, too much writing/term papers, and I'll end up being MORE busy and more time away from my kids than I had before. I've already had to resign myself to sending them to the after-school care program 4 days per week this semester, based on my class schedule and how late the classes end. Yuck. I was looking forward to picking them up in the cute little carpool loop behind the school. Oh, and nearly $100/week for the afterschool program too........lovely.

Ok, I could go on listing forever, but I limited myself to 5 so that I can manage to not be late for the actual classes on the first day! Gotta go shower, put on the painstakingly chosen clothes, pack the bag with my supplies one more time, and drive headlong into this new phase of my life. Are any of you old enough to remember those old commercials for Nestea.......the Nestea plunge? LMAO at the thought of it, but that's pretty much what I'm doing today. Eyes closed, let go, fall backwards into a swimming pool and trust that it will be ok. I'll come out soaking wet, but hey, it's 90 degrees outside so who cares, right? ;)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Facebook drama

I love Facebook, truly I do. I've reconnected with so many people from various stages of my life.......high school classmates that I'd forgotten even existed, former students I taught, coworkers, college friends, even former teachers of mine. And therein lies the drama.

I have the absolute highest respect for teachers. They do a mostly thankless job, for little money and even less credit in the eyes of many. I was fortunate to have quite a few incredible teachers in my time, and now that I've walked a few thousand miles in their shoes, I understand even more how wonderful they are! So you can imagine how over-the-moon I was a few weeks ago to have re-discovered my very first band director, thanks to the miracle of Facebook. I was in his classroom more than 25 years ago (gulp!), and I admired and loved him in the sweet way of a 6th grade girl. When we moved during the fall of my 7th grade year, I was devastated and just knew I wouldn't like any new band director I might get. I wanted to stay with Mr. M, it was as simple as that. So after all these years, to find him again on FB........amazing! And he even says he remembers me! :)

Well guess what? Mr. M is raving right-wing lunatic. {sigh} And I do mean raving, ranting, unhinged, conspiracy-theory lunatic. You know, "Obama is the antichrist and is out to get us all" kind of thing, and he's ruined our country in a mere 8 months. Oh, and don't forget that public schools are ALL a freakin' disaster (or "dead", his words) and no one who cares about their child or this country would ever set foot in one. Makes me wonder why he still teaches in one. Things that make you go hmmmm.........

I've UNfriended people on FB for less. Much less. Much MUCH less. I'm pretty much the polar opposite of where he stands in terms of my politics, and I do tend to post politically-oriented links and stuff on my FB page. I happen to proudly send my children to a wonderful public school (shout out to my AIMS peeps!), and am VERY proud to have voted for our President and to support his policies. And because FB is a world of my own design, I have been perfectly content to remove a "friend" or two when I've gotten nauseated one too many times at reading their drivel.

So if this were anyone else posting the "schools are evil and Obama is a disaster" crap, he'd have been long gone. I mean come on, what's one friend when you've got 447, LOL? But the whole teacher-respect thing is so ingrained in me that I can't even call the man by his first name, much less find the nerve to speak up and defend my position when it differs from his, as it does about 99.592760274% of the time. I'm an adult now, damn it, not a 6th grader. Hell, I'm older now than he was when I was in his band. But I can't make myself stand up to him and argue like I really want to, so I end up having to read his crap while biting my tongue until it bleeds. And I just "found" him again, can't stand the thought of the whole UNfriend thing.

So, blogworld friends......what's the answer? I know, I know, there is no good answer. Guess I'm gonna have to put up with it, or grow a backbone and decide to say something back to him one of these fine days when the preposterous rantings push me over the edge. I guess it's that old cliche: You can't go home again, or you can't find a teacher you idolized after 27 years and expect that he hasn't changed, or that you haven't. {sigh X 10000000000....}

Sunday, August 16, 2009

it's almost time

In tonight's late-night ponderings, I'm thinking over the fact that this summer has really big like one big time of preparation.........and that time is almost over.

Preparing for Mr. L to begin 3rd grade, which brings with it so many new things for him (3 teachers instead of 1, singing in the Chorus, being in the gifted program).

Preparing for the Energizer to enter Kindergarten. Hoping and praying that the teacher and classroom will be the right fit for him, that the medicine will last just long enough each day, that somehow we'll manage to avoid the dreaded "he just bit somebody" phone call.

And just as much, I'm preparing to re-enter school myself, 16 years after my first college graduation and with 14 years of teaching under my belt. This kind of preparation is just as much (or more) mental than it is practical. Ok, yeah......I did go buy a pack of highlighters today, and have rediscovered the joys of Sharpie fine point pens. And the $800 box of textbooks in the back of my van certainly cannot be ignored! But mentally, emotionally, I've had to do a bit of adjustment as you can imagine, and it's still ongoing. To be a student again, a learner; to open myself up to so much new information, new ideas and concepts; to be willing and brave enough to try new things at this point in my life (OMG, learning to play the guitar!)

And the other thing I've tried really, really hard to do is to get my home in some kind of respectable shape before the school year craziness starts. I didn't actually realize along the way that this was what I was doing, but now I see it. I've hung new shelving, gotten Mr. L a new chest of drawers, done insanely thorough vacuuming (including attachments!), had a yard sale, taken baby stuff to sell at the consignment store, worked on the flower beds and the kids' sandbox, and just generally tried to organize and declutter. Still have a long way to go, but it's amazingly better than when I started in May. Put it this way: You can actually see some portions of my kitchen counter now. It's dark green by the way; I'd sort of forgotten.

I think it comes down to this: My life is about to explode into its busiest time of the year. K is in marching band hell, so we basically don't see him from August to November 1. That means I'm mom, chauffeur, homework coach, discipline manager, grocery shopper, chef, maid, reader of Corduroy books and backyard beach volleyball star. Oh, and a full time student and music therapist-in-training too, just in case I won't already be busy enough. But, if on top of all of that, I pick up the boys and arrive home in the afternoon to a horribly messy, chaotic house, I will LOSE IT. Some days it might be 4:30 or even 5 pm before we get home, and I refuse to be greeted by a sink overflowing with dishes or floors covered an inch thick in cat hair and grass clippings. So, unconsciously, I've been cleaning, organizing, preparing for this new phase of life. I just had a strange's almost like "nesting", isn't it? You know, the thing that I'm told that pregnant women do when they get close to full term and are nearly ready for baby's arrival? Hyper-focused organization, intense preparation, cleaning like a mad woman? Yep, that about covers it.

But you know what? That nesting time is almost over. Tomorrow, I take the boys to Meet the Teacher day, and on Tuesday they start school. I start the following Monday, August 24, which also happens to be my birthday. What a present, huh? Welcome to 38, here's your student ID card! :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

This Lovely Life

I literally devoured this book......."This Lovely Life" by Vicki Forman.

Ok, well, I didn't actually tear out pages and consume them with a side of french fries. But I read through that book as fast as anything I've read recently, and that's saying something. 2 days, maybe 3 tops. Wanna hear about it? If you had a preemie, you do, trust me.

***warning, spoilers below! If you don't want to know how the book ends.......I guess you'd better go play some games on Facebook, or run to Starbucks, etc while we discuss. :)

This Lovely Life is the story of Forman's twin pregnancy, and delivery at 23 weeks. Her time in the NICU, the early loss of one baby and years of health problems and disabilities for the other. You can imagine that I found lots to relate to in her story.

Her babies (one boy, one girl) each weighed slightly less than my youngest son did at birth. And overall, both of my NICU experiences were "better" than hers were, if you can use such a word. But in Energizer's 11 weeks in the hospital, he suffered through so many of the same things as Forman's son Evan........I was just nodding my head when she spoke of brain bleeds, PDAs, oscillating vents, apnea monitors, the endless variety in the personalities of nurses and doctors, and the constant feeling of fear, dread and anxiety that NICU parents live under.

And out of all of the "yes, I remember, I understand" moments I had while reading this, one of the most poignant was her description of how your child, while in the NICU, never really feels like he's yours. I told K this on the morning after Mr. L was born......."I don't feel like there IS a him" was my response to being asked if I wanted to go up and see him. Forman points out that you, the mother, can do almost nothing for the child, especially at early, critical moments. You can't feed him; he doesn't take feeds yet anyway. You can't hold him, or if you can it's only in conjunction with an artificial schedule and only if a nurse agrees (it's a lot of work for her to take the baby out, after all). You can probably change a diaper, but heaven forbid if you actually throw the thing away without weighing it first. Result: This doesn't feel like your child, it's their child. You're visiting, you're observing, and then you go home or to your hotel and your/their baby goes on about his day and night whether you can be there or not. :(

Forman's book is probably considered controversial by some, and in all honesty it's a little disturbing to me at times too. I can't separate myself from my past, my experiences, so I know that my judgment is skewed, but.......when she tries to insist to the neonatologists that her babies should be DNR, I have a hard time understanding. I don't judge, really I don't, but I know that a DNR would not have been a choice I could have made. But she foresaw a future for her babies that would be filled with DIS............DISabilities, DISorders.........and she didn't know if she and her husband were up to the task. And, they had a preschool-aged daughter at this point, so that was an additional variable to consider.

As the first few days progressed though, they began to realize that a DNR was both impractical and not really what they wanted. After originally telling the NICU docs to discontinue all care (and finding that the docs didn't obey), and learning more about the babies' odds, etc, the DNR request was withdrawn. Forman's daughter lived just a few days, her son lived until age 8 although he continued to suffer health problems, seizures, and the loss of his sight due to ROP.

When I read something from a really good writer, I always run across passages that just "speak to me". Something about that phrase or sentence reaches out and grabs me, makes a connection with me through a deep understanding of where it's coming from, I guess. I've gone back and started to re-read the book, and am marking pages with those powerful phrases on them. Now, I want to share a few of them with you, for the sake of the NICU moms out there and the unfortunate sisterhood in which we find ourselves.

After Forman's baby daughter dies, family members are helping her with funeral arrangements. One day, at her home, Forman allows the phone to ring and does not answer. A family member criticizes, tells her she should answer. Her thought is this: "In my grief and panic, I also resented the fact that Curt still lived in a place where if you were good and honest and right, if you were polite and answered the phone and called people back, if you did all that, everything would turn out okay. Our time in that place had ended." Heartbreaking way of describing how different the world becomes once you lose a child, or are a NICU parent of a child with disabilities.

Soon thereafter, Forman's son takes a turn for the worse and his sats dip drastically. The doctor calls her back to the hospital at night, and she tells the story of what it's like to watch that O2 sats number on the monitor........."this was also the machine that sounded an alarm every time the saturations went below a certain number, usually 85. This was the machine I followed intensely in those first few weeks, as if by counting the numbers, I might also watch Evan survive......I touched my son's inch-long foot and saw the numbers go down even farther......."

Oh how I remember this. I would look at that O2 number and "will" it to go up, or to stay at a certain level and not dip below. I've never concentrated on anything so hard in my life, just focused on that screen and that number as if by the force of my thoughts I could make the number go where I wanted. And all that you want to do, when your child is in distress, is to help in some way, ANY way. You can't pick him up, you can't rock him and console him and make it all better like Moms should do. The worst thing of all is when you do the little you can, like maybe put your hand on the baby's back, head, leg, etc, and the result is that the number goes DOWN instead of up. The guilt of that feeling, knowing that I'd caused a desat due to overstimulation or whatever, will stay with me forever. :(

Part of the book consists of Forman's journal entries that she wrote during those NICU days, and it's a window into exactly what she thought and felt at that time. The August 30 entry goes like this:

"I do fine until I compare Evan to the others, the babies that arrive and depart, those not on a ventilator or oxygen, the nearly full-term babies. Monsters, I call them. Monster babies. My walk to the neonatal unit takes me past the nursery, where a fresh crop of newborns appears daily. Even harder is my glimpse down Labor and Delivery. Mothers-to-be stand waiting for their turn at birth. I remember seeing a pregnant woman the day after I gave birth to the twins and feeling so confused: Why me, why not her? How long will it take for that confusion to go away?

Thirty-two week twins arrived in the nursery the other day--I heard the nurses discussing the mother's labor, how the doctor had planned to deliver them soon. Thirty-two weeks? A whole 8 weeks longer than I was able to keep Evan and Ellie.....To accept all this, everything else needs to fall away: the pregnant women, the full-term babies, the preemies older than mine. In any comparison, I come up short, as does my son. It does him (and me) no good to dwell on this, to resent being so much at the bottom rung, to wish another super-preemie would show up so that I could feel better. Nothing I can do will make Evan bigger and better, able to hold his own against the monster babies. We're alone in this."

Aaah, yes. The comfort of recognition, of understanding, of saying "been there, done that." And no, my sons weren't born as early as Evan, or quite as small, and our "outcome" in terms of health and development was certainly better, luckier, however you want to put it. But nonetheless, everything else has not "fallen away" for me yet. Reading this book helps, because Forman comes to an amazing acceptance of her situation and of Evan's reality. And I do mean amazing. So many people have said to me over the years "I don't know how you do it, I couldn't be so strong" etc. But I feel like I should say those same things to Vicki Forman. I've never met her, probably never will, but I do want to thank her for sharing this story and helping us all to know that we are NOT alone in this journey of preemie parenting.

**Excerpts taken from "This Lovely Life" by Vicki Forman, copyright 2009 by Mariner Books.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

miracle baby, year 8

Not quite a wordless Wednesday here, but today's post is going to consist mostly of pictures........a trip through time, the evolution of my oldest son. His growth into quite a smart, handsome and talented young man, despite his preemie challenges and the autism-spectrum struggles he still faces.

Happy Birthday Mr. Literal! I could never have imagined, on August 10, 2001, the amazing, scary and uncharted roads we'd travel with you. I sat at your bedside in the hospital on 9/11, have driven the wheels off of my van in taking you to therapy appointments and doctor's visits, and proudly watched you graduate from preschool and go on to be selected for the Chorus and the gifted program at your school. Being your mother has made ME so much of a better person than I ever was before, and I'm constantly learning from the many things you have to teach me. I love you more than I can put into words, and I am so incredibly proud to be your mother.

Andrew close up in NICU





Andrew\'s a graduate









Tuesday, August 4, 2009

autism angels

Have you heard that term before? Not sure where I ran across it first-- probably in an online forum--but I can't get the phrase out of my head today. The best way I can describe an "autism angel" is that it's someone who makes a positive difference in the life of a child on the autism spectrum. Even more so, it's someone who isn't looking for accolades or glory, just doing their job, doing what they consider ordinary, but it's oh-so-EXTRAordinary to us, the families of those ASD kids.

When I stop and look, I can see these amazing angels all around me, and I'm humbled by how fortunate we are. Like the sweet concession stand guy at the minor league baseball game last Sunday night.....or should I say, the NONgame. It rained, and rained, and rained, and we stood there under an awning for an hour hoping it would stop. Dreading the moment we knew was coming, when we'd have to tell Mr. L that the game was called off. And it was, and we did, and he did.........meltdown, that is. Crying, sobbing, almost wailing. He'd asked to go to this game for his upcoming birthday, we splurged for seats right behind home plate, and now there's no game. The concession stand guy motioned K over, and gave him a bag of cotton candy for Mr. L, to try and help us I guess. I can't say that the meltdown was completely stopped in its tracks, but the cotton candy was a definite distraction, and that's almost always good. Bless you, nameless concession stand vendor!

Or how about Mr. L's 2nd grade teacher last year? The sweet young lady who freely admitted that she had to look up what Asperger's Syndrome was after I told her about Mr. L. Out of all of her great qualities, the one thing I can say that was best is that she "gets him", if you know what I mean. She's patient, listens to him even when he takes forEVER to get to the point of a story, and has learned just how to handle him with the kid gloves that are often required if you want to avoid meltdowns. And best of all? After telling me in the year-end IEP meeting that she'd think through the 3rd grade teachers and decide on one to recommend to us, she did just that. Went and spoke to that teacher privately, gave her background info and suggestions, and recommended to the school that Mr. L be placed in that class. :)

That new 3rd grade teacher even earned a spot on my autism angel list! Today, we got a postcard in the mail from her, addressed to Mr. L. It welcomed him to her class, assures him they'll have a "super year" and she is so excited to start, etc. He's been apprehensive, and I've tried and tried to tell him to give 3rd grade a chance, see what it's like before you make up your mind that it's hard, teachers are mean, etc. But after reading the postcard, he said something like "now, maybe I will begin to believe her, that it WILL be a super year". :) 4 sentences on a postcard accomplished more than I have all summer!

I could keep on listing, but I'm going to sum it all up by telling you about one especially priceless autism angel---Mr. L's baseball coach from this season. He's a pretty young guy, single, drives a cool sports car, you get the idea. K and I decided from the start not to "come out" to him about Mr. L, just to go along and see how things progressed. If he needed to know, we'd tell. As it turned out, we didn't tell until after the season ended.

But Mr. L demonstrated his fondness for meltdowns early on in the season, and Coach T quickly realized how close to the edge Mr. L strikeout, one dropped ball, and you could be witnessing an unstoppable screaming, hitting, wailing explosion. He took extra care to be nothing but positive and encouraging to Mr. L, even letting Mr. L throw the ball at him after Mr. L was hit by one of the pitches. That broke the spell of the meltdown somehow, and made him laugh, and then everything was ok again.

During the season, in casual conversation, he learned that Mr. L loves Lakers basketball. Coach T had seen the Lakers in person a few years ago, and so he brought Mr. L some of his up-close pictures of Kobe Bryant. And now, that the season is over........well, this week I was told about yet another angelic act from the coach, and I just about started crying. Coach T plays adult softball, and as it turns out, his team plays against the team of Mr. L's former 2nd grade teacher (see above)! So she emailed us, told us she'd seen him, and that he told her the story of the playoff game that ended Mr. L's season. He was the last batter, last out, of the entire freaking season for his team. :( Coach T told the teacher that he was actually praying as he pitched that last ball to Mr. L. That he'd never wanted someone to hit the ball and get on base so badly in his life. I know that's how I felt, but to know that he did too.......

Coach T, your halo is on its way. Not a coincidence, me thinks, that your team was called the Angels. And for you, the concession stand guy, the teachers, the lady at the baseball clinic that gave us a T-shirt during the collapsing-on-the-ground meltdown, and all the rest of our autism have my unending thanks and gratitude. Your real reward is in Heaven.