Boiling, Swirling Frustrations

There's nothing like being in the very last week of the semester (minus finals), feeling the crush of papers needing to be graded, gradebooks updated, assessments submitted, final exams printed off, all while being sick, tired, and bowed down under the demands of a child who uses you as crutches, another child who whines about her homework at eight o'clock at night and who has been working at said homework for several hours.

Boiling, swirling frustrations. Yup. I have them. 

I am sure, though, that many of my students feel the same kind of pressure. Final papers and projects to be completed, final exams to be studied for, and a thousand other things weighing them down.

I think we forget these things, that teachers and students often have very full, very stressful lives outside the classrooms where we meet each other. We fail to see the other as a whole person with stresses and problems. I've been fortunate to know many of my students pretty well, to be invited into their personal lives, and many students have had the chance to know me outside the bounds of the classroom. I believe it adds a layer of intimacy and makes the classes better, the learning environment more open.

 Not all students choose to fit into that atmosphere, though. Some students I barely get to know. Not all students make it through my courses or like my teaching style. Sometimes their personal lives and their school lives collide in ways that mean they don't successfully complete a course or choose to drop it or drop out of school.

Sometimes, situations, students, and I just don't mesh, and I'm not able to help them. That sucks. It really sucks when it gets to the last week and I realize how many weren't able to be helped, won't succeed this time around.

Yup. Boiling, swirling frustrations.


I'm bored, got no one to play with and nothing to do

"Grrrrrrr. Boring. And I forgot  what page I'm on."

"It's a boring book. All it's got is words and words and words."

"Chapter books are not very fun."

"Ohhhh, I got nothing and nothing and nothing to do."

                                      --some of Rosie's kvetching today

Day 6 of Rosie's sprained ankle. Maybe letting her set up camp on the couch was not the best idea for maintaining my sanity. She's still reliant on us to help her get to the bathroom and back, so keeping her out in the living room is easiest on us, even if it's tiring, as well (and loud). Rick has slept in the same room with her since this happened so that he can get her to the bathroom, so he's definitely on my happy list.

It's been a long six days for many reasons, not just Rosie's forced bedrest. Mom was in the hospital from Thursday to Saturday (but is home and doing fine). Rick and I are sick. Lil's complaining of an ear ache. Plus, she's whiny. Bobby's in a "let's see how many dishes he can break or melt to the stove" mood.

We have four more days of the ten days Rosie's to stay off her left foot, so this week is going to be logistically interesting for Rick and me. So far, keeping her entertained hasn't been too bad.

She's reading Junie B. Jones and started editing the first book.

 Hey, wait a minute! Sentences can't start with and!
Errors must be edited!
Didn't the writer know better?

I figure, nothing else, we've got another two dozen of these chapter books. She can sit and fix them. Maybe I'll pass some of my students' papers her way and see what she can do with them. :)


Boots, Boo-Boos and Bye-Byes

Bye-bye, boot.

Feet and ankles are not safe in this house. I'm constantly hurting mine. For the last three weeks I've been answering, with a wry grin, the question of what I did to get put in the boot. I've had to fess up that I saw an elderly woman fall at the Rehab, where the hospice I volunteer for is located, and that I ran to help her and her husband, that I ran into the building to get help, then ran back to the woman and her husband. That's it. I ran. No, I didn't twist my ankle. No, I didn't trip. Nope, I didn't fall. I didn't even know there was a problem. See, it's a bum ankle. It always hurts. It took looking down and seeing the swelling to realize I had a new problem. 

I'll see the orthopedist Wednesday and find out what's going on with my bones (two surgeries on the tibia and fibula to place a plate, screws, and a pin and to later remove them); apparently there are post surgery changes to the bones that are atypical and soft tissue damage. I'll find out if surgery is recommended or not. I've behaved and worn the boot for three weeks but I put my foot down yesterday that I wasn't putting the bastard back on. Period.

See, it's not bad enough that I hurt that ankle worse than usual--I had to go and dump an older CPU (think the heavy sum-bitches) across my feet last Thursday. So now the ankle hurts, but so do both feet. I've toyed with getting more x-rays...but let's be real. I can't wear two boots. Nope. And there's nothing really to be done but to wait for the feet to heal. I've been keeping off them as much as possible and hoping for the best. 

Here's the thing. I've got this internal quota for how many times I can tolerate seeing a doctor and I'm at capacity. I'll wait it out, especially since I'm on the pain meds I can be on; I've got muscle relaxers. Really, what are they gonna do for me that I haven't already done.

So yesterday when I resolved to take the damn boot off my foot and be done with it, it was a blessing in disguise, as Rosie fell at her my mom's and sprained her ankle and is now on crutches...no way to help the child get around with the boot on my foot.

Rick and I spent the evening in the ER with Rosie while she got X-rays, her ankle wrapped, and her first pair of crutches. You know, you never forget your first pair of crutches. It's a special moment in a klutzy person's life. I remember mine...I had a motorcycle wreck in 8th grade...I've been on crutches more times than I can remember. Got my own personal wooden pair--old school. Hey, and next time, my right ankle screws up, I've got my own walking boot.

Rosie, after crying in the car that life was so hard and finding that a chocolate milkshake fixes a lot, decided she was going to be okay. She's getting round better with the crutches than I can. It's a good thing, too, if I've passed the klutzy gene to her.

Doesn't hurt that her big sister literally has her back just in case she wobbles.



Piles and Piles to go Before I Sleep

Such is the life of an English teacher--not miles and miles to go before I sleep, but piles and piles to go. Each day I tackle the magically reappearing stacks, find stray essays tucked into bags, find the bags themselves multiplying.

I have bins and bins of papers from previous years that also seem to magically multiply. Extra copies of worksheets and readings are crammed into bookcases and on the floor in piles. Old syllabi linger, showing the evolution of courses taught year after year, and psychology tests are stuffed in desk drawers as I tinker with the tests, working to make them better each time, but ready to be pulled out and put back to use at a moment's notice.

I've been immersed this semester in my classes, my students, their work, and trying to find just the right balance of assignments to help them master critical skills while still leaving me with time to sleep and breathe. When I haven't been invested in the classes, I've been fundraising with students for free mammograms for women in need, for the American Cancer Society, for the local food  bank, for Autism Speaks. I've spent hours each week visiting hospice patients or making bereavement calls. I've spent the rest of my time with my kids, trying to help them navigate an increasingly complex world that makes ever greater demands on them that often highlight their weak areas rather than their areas of strength. And somehow, I've even found time to read the first four Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich, too. Even paid attention to my husband, had lunch with friends. It's been a productive (and painful, klutzy) semester.

All of this has meant that my time for reading blogs and news stories relating to autism have been severely limited, as has been my writing time. I think this is a good thing, all in all, given the rancor and  divides that exist within the online autism community. As Bobby says, too much drama.

Too much drama.

Our real lives are surely full of enough drama. I decided awhile back that the Age of Autism and vitriolic anti-vaccine contingent was interested in distracting themselves from their real-life drama with online drama. And maybe I was, too. Dealing with online drama lets you distance yourself from the real world drama taking place.

Some people play solitaire or mahjong or Sims. Some play even more aggressive games, like shooters. Some people read trashy novels. Some watch reality tv. We all do what we can to distract ourselves, transport ourselves outside of our lives, whether they be good lives, or difficult lives. We all need a break, a chance to see something outside our lives.

It's easy to vent anger into the internet and take it out on strangers. Easy to sit in front of a computer screen and feel smug self-righteousness as our fingers pound the keyboard. So easy and it has the cheap thrill of a whirlwind shopping trip at a dollar store--you get a lot of crap for your money (time), but it's still crap.

Too much drama.

I don't miss it. And I hope my children choose to fill their lives with meaningful activities in the real world that give them what they need for self-validation. Dipping their toes in, reaching out to connect in positive ways to create a mutually supportive online community, that's all good. The drama, not so much. I will teach them to avoid unnecessary drama and cheap thrills.

Although...I wonder, would virtual drama distract me from all those piles that keep growing?


I'd rather...

I've got a serious case of the I'd rathers. I suspect most of my students feel the same way about now in the semester. This morning, as I sit in my recliner in the just-now emptied house, I'd really rather climb back into bed and go back to sleep. I'd rather snuggle in the covers and wish away the last remnants of this cold away. I'd rather not put on the walking boot, too, so that might have something to do with it.

I've got a lot of I'd rather nots. I know my students do, too. We're tired. We've worked hard for thirteen weeks, and we're ready for the end of the semester. Maybe not the end of our time together, though. I was blessed with great classes this semester, students whom I've come to know well and care for, and we have a great deal of fun being in each other's company. No way I want that to end, but I'd rather the endless stack of papers end for a time.

We've got two regular weeks left (and next week is just two days). We're mentally done, calling it quits, and yet we're not at the finish line, and we've work to do. So even though I'd rather cancel the day and go back to bed, I won't, because in the end, I'd rather be with them to see what silliness we can bring to the day, what new thing we can learn together, and because...I've got another stack of papers to take up (although I'd rather skip that part).


Companionable Silence

Silence is often something I hunger for; it's rarely quiet at our house, and with the tinnitus I deal with, there's an added element of noise I'm always putting up with. Sometimes, the auditory stimulation is more than I can deal with and an intense migraine follows.

So my car is a quiet place, no noise other than the air conditioner at full blast and the sound of the engine. Sometimes drives with Bobby, though, are loud and busy because there are issues we need to deal with or things we need to try to straighten out. Bobby reads books while he waits to be picked up, and sometimes we end up discussing the books and trying to realign what he's taken in with what the book really said. Those conversations on the drive home can be frustrating for both of us.

Other days, we ride along in companionable silence, at ease with each other and just happy to be together, no words beyond the initial greeting necessary. I crave these moments and treasure them when they happen. They are centering experiences where it's just enough to be together and know acceptance.

Our lives are often messy, loud, and chaotic in the middle of trying to create structured, ordered, functional day-to-day routines for our children so that they will have guideposts to anchor them. Sometimes we forget we need the guideposts, too.

The other day, in the midst of cleaning house, I stopped and laid down across my bed and looked at the ceiling. I lay there, looking up at the dark purple, the bed curtains, the flowers hanging, and I stared for awhile before I hollered for the boy to come in the bedroom with my camera. I made him lie beside me and stare up. "Why?" he wanted to know. I told him to just be for a moment and look at that space, that dark purple empty silent space. It was nice. Clean. Quiet. Peaceful.

My house is cluttered, filled to capacity and then some with books, bookcases, and our various collections. It is BUSY. But I realized this weekend that there's peace, there's space, and there's quiet here, too, if you know where to look.

Later I ended up on the bedroom floor looking up and saw that there's really this massive space that's empty. The boy walked in on his way to the bathroom and asked me what I was doing now, and I told him I'd found more space. He shook his head and muttered and went on, but seriously, I've got two thousand square feet of space I'd been missing. I think I'll spend more time lying on the floor looking up. Cats like to come over and see what you're doing and lie with you. They get it. They stay with you in companionable silence, and the peace that comes from knowing that silence, that space, is priceless. Maybe I'll even talk the boy and the girlies in spending some time staring at the ceiling. Quietly, of course.


No one does disdain like a cat

Lucy (the daughter)

Mabel (the mom)

Like mother, like daughter.


A Pokemon Conversation

Lil and Bob are behind me in the kitchen having an animated conversation about their Pokemon Nintendo DS games. They're talking rapidly, wrapped in each other's words, following the other's speech with no problem. It's a wonder to hear; they understand each other completely and are completely absorbed in their conversation. And they can go on for hours. And hours and hours. And hours. Seriously.

One of the things I'm grateful for is that Bobby has sisters who are ready to enter his world, share his interests and spare me the need to remember Pokemon names and battle strengths and weaknesses and attack points. Now if I could just make them have the conversations where I didn't have to hear them?

Who would have thought Pokemon would go on for more than a decade?


Things I Notice...

Snapping photos of the girls playing this afternoon at my feet, it didn't escape my notice that the string of items behind Rosie in this shot are permanent displays, not because they're playing. I may have more toys than them. And the weird juxtaposition of stuffed bunny, Madonna, rooster, brain, dinos, and star trek, along with the eclectic book choices around them...that's me, in a nutshell. Weird and geeky.

 Setting it all up.
 What's Star Trek without reptiles?
 Spongebob invades Star Trek.
Getting Star Wars out to add into the playing mix.


Are Your Ducks in a Row?

 It occurs to me if I were lining them up,
I'd do it so they were battling each other.
Unicorns and cupcake ducks against
the cop and military ducks.
Viking ducks waiting to swoop in.
So are your ducks in a row?
Mine, not so much...
Bum ankle.
Bad cold.
Flushing from the steroids.
All equals
varying levels of miserable at the moment.
If only it were in pink.
That would be awesome.


Strides Forward and Steps Backward: It's All Uncharted Waters

I've been sharing the good, the difficult, the worrisome about Bobby's journey to manhood for nearly three years now. He's made huge strides forward in independence, in moving out into the world by volunteering 28 hours a week in the kitchen at Meals on Wheels and a couple hours on Fridays at the local SPCA. He's happy with what he's doing and by all accounts helpful.

He cooks many of our meals, at home as well, and other than occasional missteps, he does very well. He never walks away from the stove and stays focused on what he's doing. Sure, he occasionally tries to spice it up so much that my tongue falls out, but overall, he is highly competent in the kitchen.

So it flabbergasts me that a week ago, while he was home for a couple hours alone, he chose to microwave his lunch, input numbers into the microwave that were far greater than needed, walked away from it, and came dangerously close to starting a fire--the dish melted in the microwave, the house filled with smoke, and even now, more than a week later, the smell of that burned/melted/utterly destroyed meal lingers in my house. We've got to replace the microwave, and I find myself questioning leaving him unattended at home at all if he can so easily get lost that he doesn't notice the problem until it's nearly too late.

It feels both like we've taken a huge step backwards and that we've been incredibly lucky nothing like this has happened before.

And yet, this morning, he donned a chef's jacket Kathleen had sent him and decided to make omelets, a dish he and his grandma had discussed. It was a wonderful meal (although more scrambled than omelet) and he was incredibly proud of himself.

The reality is that we are, each and every day, in uncharted waters. Somedays, he is incredibly focused and does very well. Other days, the fog he must navigate through is almost visible to us. Throughout all of it, I believe he tries to do the best he can and that acceptance of the variability of his ability to function is key to making the best possible life for him and us. We must be reasonable in our expectations while working to help him exceed those expectations in a way that keeps his psyche intact and whole.

I think that we stumble through each day together, all of us trying our best to do right by each other, and that when we slip, we work hard to make it right, but our life is far from perfect and some days are hard. Not just for me or Rick, or my parents, in our interactions with Bobby and trying to assess whether it's a good day or not for him, or whether we're asking too much, but also for Bobby, who tries to make sense of the world around him and the kaleidoscope of people and voices and demands for his attention.

It cannot be easy for him, and I cannot allow my hopes, wishes, or fears to in any way make it harder for him. So we're pulling back on time spent alone and insisting he stay with his grandparents those afternoons I can't be home, which he seems to be more than okay with. We're requiring him to pay for a new microwave, as well, but we're not yelling, we're not punishing. We're hopefully not overreacting. We're just navigating those uncharted waters together the best we can and hoping we'll reach the other side intact (and not smelling of smoke).


Honoring Loss

Last night was the annual Candlelight Memorial service the hospice I volunteer for provides for the families we assist. There's nothing like coming together for the common cause of remembering those we've lost to foster a sense of the sacred and profound, to realize that loss is a common feature we all share, and that we all too often keep locked up and hidden away.

Rick and the kids went with me to the service, where pictures of those who have died were shown, whose names were read, and for whom candles were lit in remembrance. Hospice's whole purpose is to serve those individuals who are dying and their families, so it's not surprising how many candles were lit. Sad, heartbreaking but not surprising.

We hide death and the very real effects that loss has on us; even as television glorifies killing, it denies any lasting effect on the characters who both kill the enemy and lose their comrades to battle. It causes a schism, a disconnect, and it's no wonder we wander around in our society with no clear way through the dark days of loss. We expect things to go on as if nothing had changed. But it does not and should not.

Remembering those we've loved and who've gone on before us is important. Taking comfort in remembrance and honoring of our loved ones provides meaning and connection. On days where I need grace, I wear my maternal grandmother's perfume. Each year, I buy a new bottle of it, and the truth is I wear it most days, as I'm always in need of some extra grace. My other grandmother's cheap little cat figurines are in a curio cabinet in my bathroom, so that I am reminded of her several times each day in a positive way. Monday, I wore a twin set that my paternal grandmother would have worn and a sweater my maternal grandmother would have worn, and I felt wrapped in them all day. Not a bad way to go through a day.

Loss is inevitable and terrifying. Its inevitability should help remind us to make the most of each day, the most of our time with the people we care about. And when we are in the midst of that loss, hopefully we will remember that others are out there going through similar situations and we will reach out and connect with each other.


I Don't Wanna

I don't wanna...

wear this damn boot...

I don't wanna...

feel old and hobbled.

I don't wanna...

clomp around, slowed down...

I don't wanna...

get dressed and go to work...

not because I don't want to teach,

but because of the walk in and through the building.

I don't wanna...

do a whole heap of things.

But I'm gonna

Do it all anyway.

I'm gonna do it...

all hopped up on chocolate.

If you have to do something

You don't wanna,

You should have chocolate.


Bad Kitty

I kept thinking the kids weren't shutting the chip bags.
I'd come home and find them open.

Nope. Lil Dude is the troublemaker.

Regrouping for a moment.

 Once he pulled the chips out of the bag, I moved
 the bag so you could see how greedy he is.
 He grabbed one and took off to the living room.
He left no crumbs, either.

So, if you see an open bag of chips on my  counter,
you might want to think about eating any.


Tuesday Dreams

I dream...
that everyone's day is filled with beauty
that everyone knows love today
that everyone finds something to be joyful for
that those who are bitter will know peace.