Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Right now (a periodically recurring post)

Right now I am overcome with worry about Sophia's jaw, which is locking. We've taken her to a TMJ dysfunction specialist, who made a very expensive splint, which seemed to make things worse, not better. We have been serving up too much modern medicine to her--it's like we are making up for her completely healthy childhood with continuous doctor and dentist appointments her last two months of high school. The specialist is puzzled, which always makes me nervous. What if it's something more? What if it never gets better? What is going to happen to her?

Right now my new roof seems to be holding just fine.

Right now my sump pump isn't working and/or the french drain system is not doing its job. I am hoping for a dry summer so I can get it fixed. Until then, right now, I'm using a towel and a dehumidifier to keep mold at bay. So far, so good. But not what I want.

Right now I'm waiting for three bids for tree removal.

Right now my brother just texted with a picture of him holding the cat he's about to put down due to some horrible thing called FIP that came on strong and is making the cat not be able to breathe anymore and I think about his past and present and future and I can forgive him of some things because his face is heartbreaking in that photo and look at how far he's come. Also sad for poor Mittens. "Mittens the Kittens" as he called her. Their other cats Noodles and The Dude will be bewildered.

Right now Maeve is being interviewed for the longitudinal alcoholism study my family is a part of (because all the reasons). I wish they would interview me some more. They pay well.

Right now Sophia has committed to Colorado State and I am happy and nervous. Very nervous.

Right now I am so exhausted by rain and the school year and burning the candle at both ends of the day that I could fall asleep right here next to Rosie, who received an extra treat today because life is short and pets die too soon.

Quotes from terrible adults

"I know I could pay the tuition, but I don't want to. You know? So I think the parish should give me money instead of having to pay." (said by a mom of two kids who go to a Catholic school and who admitted her husband's salary eliminated them from applying for financial aid)

"I have a house, I have a car, I have a masters degree and a son who went to college. What do you want with your life?" (said to a 14 year old girl with zero prospects)

"Ugh I just want to make more money and I don't want to have to work for it" (by a woman involved in a pyramid scheme multi level marketing sales thing)

"I looked around the classroom and almost said, girls, your only chance for survival is lesbianism, I mean, their prospects suck!" (actually this one was pretty funny).

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

At Work

We have been learning about trauma and how it affects our children and how it affects us as teachers. At a professional development day, they had us take the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey) and cobbled together our results. If you don't know about the ACES, it gives you a point for every category of childhood adversity you survived: physical, sexual, emotional abuse; neglect; foster care or other removal from parent care; death, suicide, mental illness, drugs and alcohol, imprisoned family. Big things. The best score is a zero, of course, and the worst is a ten. For those of you who know about my former student who lived with us as a young adult, he would have scored a ten, and that's just based on what he told me at my kitchen table.

The higher your score, the worse off your adult life likely is. Scores in the 2-3 range have minimal effect. Starting at 4, though, people die younger, people get more chronic disease and cancer, people make reckless choices and don't do well. Remember John had a 10. And he was dead at 29.

Our faculty average was a 5.5.

Be the person you needed when you were younger, the sign once hung in my classroom. I think that's what's happening. I think that's why teachers stay and work against all odds. Against low pay and crushing expectations and inadequate supplies and poor leadership and little public support and random shootings and burnout and extra duties as assigned, against politics and many many idiotic people who think they could teach, just like I'm sure they could wait tables, even though good teachers aren't made, they are honed, against all of this, I think that's why they stay. And I think that's why some of them leave.

I'm staying because I'm 44 and what the hell else am I going to do? And sometimes when I look across the classroom, even now where these moments are fewer and harder to come by, sometimes I look and the kid is looking at me, hoping to get my attention, and we lock eyes for just a moment and we see each other.

If you can do anything else, don't teach. But if it is what you can do best, then come save yourself and maybe someone else too.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Teachers

1. Br. Stephen, the Benedictine author and middle school theology teacher who was the first person who told me I was a good writer and also, later, the first person to articulate to me that boundaries were important (that sounds sinister but it wasn't--it was when we were penpals long after both of us had left the school where we met, and I was kvetching about friends' problems).

2. Mrs. Chott, the second grade artist and poet who taught me nothing but Edna St. Vincent Millay and Shel Silverstein and how to paint flowers with tempera on construction paper. Those will sustain you long after other lessons slip through your mind.

3. Coach Peacock, who understood that coming in 6th in regionals after a season of learning how to run the 880 was actually something to celebrate with high fives. She had a light hand at the rein and made me want to be faster. She taught me to run.

4. Dr. Barmann, who opened my eyes to bigotry as well as excellent journalism and made me want to read medieval primary sources on antisemitism. My only analytical historical class in college and oh, I almost missed it.

5. Dr. Murphy, the Boston Irish army veteran who taught me how to dream in Russian. Now he and my mother take Gaelic together.

6. Mr. May, the high school army veteran who taught me how to see in Russian. Even if I don't know the word automatically, I can read it. It is so natural to me that it surprises me when people can't pronounce what they see.

7. Fr. Kavanaugh, who articulated the Catholic World View in humble Jesuit words (there are two types of Jesuits and he was the good kind).

8. Mr. Green, who taught me that art was more than drawing and that once people know you are good, there is no going back to being mediocre.

9. Mrs. Gabel who took that raw creativity that Br. Stephen encouraged and honed it into academic writing such that no paper, no essay, no 50 page masters thesis, can scare me now.

10. Dr. Bahr, who showed me just this past fall that I really lived and breathed what I do for a living. I know things and I can show things and I can teach.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Things I'm wondering as I sit on my couch with my tiny dog in my quiet house...

1. Should I accept the friend invite from my cousin who does vampire conventions around the country and is barely holding on to her health and sanity? I just don't know if I have the energy to see her posts in my facebook feed. I unfriended her, though, back when her mom died. My dad's oldest sister, maybe 7 years ago. She posted something about looking in the mirror and seeing her mom looking back at her in the lines of her own face and it was too heartbreaking to keep reading. And she was a vampire convention goer. It wasn't just grief. But that was the moment when I couldn't anymore. Now I feel bad. But.

2. Do my kids suffer when they are with my ex? I don't mean emotionally or physically. I mean, like, I send him reminders about having Leo study for his social studies test, after sending him reminders about the test and the festival they are having at the end of the week. My reminders seem to be a surprise each time. It makes me feel bad for not being with them all the time.

3. Will Colorado State give Sophia enough scholarship to make next year work? What if they don't? My God what will I do?

4. I think the online courses I'm taking from Arkansas State may be a scam. But they were already approved for salary advancement.

5. ------------------------------------------------9

6. Rosie the bichon poo wrote #5 with her chin. She knows the computer is important but can't figure out why. But I sit very still when I'm near it and that makes her happy. I think.

7. Did Robert Plant have to try in order to make his voice like that?

8. My ex has gotten a sweet job working from home. The last time I stopped by, he had little dungeon and dragon minis (like little pewter and plastic figurines) lined up on the coffee table getting ready to paint them. And yet the front porch of his house is still falling down. How frustrated and, let's be honest, seething with rage, would I be at this point, with him at home painting minis and watching TV while I have a 27 mile commute to my rough, trauma-infused middle school job?

9. My parents told me a couple of weeks ago, "If we were to both die at the same time, we want to be cremated," and I asked, "what if you die one at a time?" not realizing until now that they said that because if they both die at once, like in a car wreck, the other one won't be there to take care of the arrangements. How daft am I?

10. Why is my face breaking out in my mid-forties? This isn't fair. I had good skin for like 15 minutes when I was 37.

Potential answers:
1. Probably, and put her on mute
2. Probably not but I can't think about it too hard
3. Probably
4. Probably
7. Probably drugs
8. An infinite amount of rage and frustration
9. Pretty damned daft
10. Maybe because I need to sleep more, drink less, eat better, exercise more, and wash my damned face.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Oh, you're getting divorced?

This is a post I've been thinking about for a long time.

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, but I'm Catholic in origin and so at Leo's school, I'm the only divorced mom in his class. At the girls' school there is more variety (it's a Catholic high school but not everyone who goes there is Catholic). I still find that I do not have many models and I have no divorced friends.

I had a lot of weird responses to my disclosure that I was getting divorced. Few of them were hurtful but many were puzzling. At this point, I've been official for 14 months, and separated for 4 more than that. I am happy, and although it has made many things very hard, I do not regret the process or decision we came to.

I am not an expert on the subject, having only done it once after all, but when I ruminate on the last year and a half, here are some things I've considered.

At the beginning:

1. When someone, a friend, relative, acquaintance, work friend, whoever, discloses an upcoming divorce or recent decision made to separate, don't ask them if they have tried marriage counseling. Marriage counseling is not like some pyramid scheme multi level marketing product that no one has ever heard of. People getting divorced know about marriage counseling. Perhaps they have gone. Perhaps not. But it's no great secret that it exists.

2. In the same situation, don't tell the person that they owe it to their kids to stay together.

3. Don't tell them they owe it to each other.

4. Don't tell them to pray over it. Again, likely already happened, or if it didn't, they aren't the sort to start now.

5. Telling the person that you will pray is fine, if that's your thing. But don't give that a destination. Do not say "I will pray you two can work this out" or "I will pray for the sanctity of your vows." Please just don't.

6. Don't ask for details. People asking me, "why?" was one of the weirdest things to handle. I would simply answer, "It was a long time coming" and leave it at that.

In the middle:

1. I had one friend who was close enough to me that I opened up to about this and I knew I could go to her anytime with this stuff. Added to that, my (twice divorced) uncle texted me and asked me to go out to a bar and just talk. He scheduled the time and just listened. You might not have that time or headspace to allow for a conversation, but I was so lonely when I was going through the divorce. I think a lot of people didn't know what to do. I lost a lot of friends to my ex, and the ones I still had kept their distance. I didn't necessarily have to talk about the divorce. I just needed a friend.

2. If you are a bridge between the couple (like, you have kids the same age as they do and you are on the same youth hockey team or whatnot), it is fine to talk about logistics ("when your son is at your house, can we carpool since we live so close?") and it is fine to text and see when kids are where. Don't apologize. You don't know all the details and they should understand that.

3. One parent from Leo's volleyball team told me how nice it was that I could sit on the bleachers at the same games as my ex and nobody felt weird about it. This was actually a nice compliment, because I was working hard at that very thing.

When it's done:

My definition of done, here, is a year after the ink has dried. It feels very much like part of my past. Things are less awkward now. People have figured out how to interact with me and the only thing that really makes me cringe is at work, where my married last name is my email address but the name on my door is my birth name.

So I get a lot of "Ms....." and a cringey gap before they decide which last name to add. But I help them as much as I can. The funny thing is, amongst equals (teacher level staff), my school's employees use last names as first names. Like, "Go ask Smith what she wants to do with 8th block." Since I started the year with my married name, I still go by that at this level, and that's fine. Next year I'll move up with my kids and be on a different floor and start fresh.

1. I am sometimes acutely lonely. Not for my ex, but for the social connections I used to have. Divorcing and losing my job in the same year ripped a lot of things away from me. My church friends dropped away shockingly fast. The women who lived on my block almost immediately lost touch with me when I moved (and my first move was literally one block away to my parents' house). My ex was still living there; he was invited to the things now, not me. Leo's school's parents are friendly with me, but we aren't close.

I have my sisters and, like, three good friends...and one of them just moved to Maryland. I know I need to help myself, but my advice would be, don't assume that your newly divorced friend has a full brand new life. She may be walking very much alone for a very long time.

2. Don't ask when dating will commence. Don't assume it will, and don't assume it will be what you think it will be or should be. Don't tell the person that it's time to "put yourself out there." Don't set them up without permission, or frankly, maybe don't interfere at all.

Just be a friend.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Schitt's Creek

Please watch Schitt's Creek.

It's on Netflix, seasons 1-4 Season 5 is on Pop TV or on Amazon.


I'm a long time fan of Eugene Levy, mostly from his Christopher Guest days. I love him, and guess what? His son Dan makes me want to take him home and make him a cup of tea. His character on this show, David Rose, my God, I want to be his friend.

The first season is a little rough, as many first seasons are. It's hard to like the characters for a while. But it is worth it. The end of Season 3 through the end of Season 5 is just spectacularly heartwarmingly awkward and funny and made me cry just a few times thus far. In a good way.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

My quarterly report (ala Indigo Bunting)

I haven't made a list like this before--a report of the birds seen since the turn of the year. I do keep a life list and was able to add one this first quarter for the first time in many years. I haven't traveled much in recent months until this spring break, so most of my birds keep on being most of my birds:

Mourning dove, rock pigeon, mockingbird, cardinal, robin, Canada goose. Red tailed hawk, northern flicker, mallard duck, European starling, American crow, blue jay, red bellied woodpecker. Coopers Hawk, bald eagle, house sparrow, downy woodpecker, turkey vulture. Dark eyed junco, house finch, Eurasian tree sparrow (in my yard), American tree sparrow, chipping sparrow. Hairy woodpecker, pine siskin (NEW).

The Eurasian tree sparrow is not a native species to the US, but was introduced in St. Louis in the 1800s. It didn't spread well (as opposed to the starling and the house sparrow). I had only seen it one other time before moving. I am close to a small river and more open land than I was in my old place, so that might have something to do with it. At first I thought they were house sparrows at my feeder (there are always house sparrows at my feeder), but I realized they had little ear muffs on and I had to be happy. Invasive species are not good, but these little guys keep to themselves.

Monday, April 1, 2019

I'm still here

I miss being part of a blogging group. Last year was really good for me to have this connection to women around the country and English speaking world, frankly, reminding me of the song in my heart and playing it back to me in their own words and making me feel noticed and cared for during a very very rough year that began with my divorce being finalized and tumbled from there.

I moved into this cute button of a house in February, and then spent the spring building IKEA furniture with a friend and making this place into something I could call home. It is so clean and so tightly pretty. It feels like me.

I was walking around on a broken heel that whole time and finally took myself to the doctor and got that mended, and then followed it with physical therapy all summer and now finally a year later I don't hurt anymore mostly but sometimes in the morning.

This whole time too I was working on my masters in special education and already working in the field after losing the job before that in a career-shattering heartbreaking move that cost me many things but most of all my faith in the human organization of the Catholic Church. What was left of that faith anyway.

My oldest picked a college. My middle one picked a high school. My youngest merrily skipped along, easy with his classmates and a favorite of his teachers. Thank God. Something, somebody, needs to be easy sometime. He went back to speech therapy for one last shot at the apraxia and it worked a little bit. Some things will be who he is and I have to learn to love the pauses.

I grew a lot of tomatoes and got a little bichon poodle mix who fits this house and this new little life of mine. My girls settled in the attic and I got a barbecue grill.

And then I spent the fall fighting fucking crime again. And my roof leaked. I feared so much failure, my God, what if I've made a horrible mistake moving here?

But I hadn't. I threw a nice little graduation/Christmas party for myself and people came. Old friends and new ones too. My sister and her boyfriend stayed until after 1 in the morning.

The year turned over to 2019 and I got a roofer to come look at the house and insurance is helping to pay. Anxiety is heavy on us over college funding but we are still hopeful. The job, it's a hard job, but my boss celebrates me and I'm good at it, most of it anyway, and I don't own the heartache like I once did. It was a good rebound to land where I am, where I will likely remain until retirement if I can hack it. I don't work for a district as much as I work for an educational agency, county-wide, so I have some chance of fluid movement later as my seniority increases. I think this way now. Successes are fewer in special education but they are sweetly won.

My ex-husband has a girlfriend and his front porch is falling down just as badly as it was when it was my front porch and I sat there drinking whiskey and soaking up moments with my children, my neighbors, and that stolen summer I got to spend with John before he died. It's still broken-down, but I'm not.

I find dimes everywhere. I can't explain it.

Maybe I'm a dime.

There are things I won't say here because I'm more cautious than I once was and I think about that and the privacy of those I love. But just to say that things keep being hard, things keep being heartbreakingly beautiful and I am soaking up so many moments.

So I am still here. I was reading my old blog, one where I met many of you, South City Musings, which is now closed, and I realized I used to have a lot to say. Now I have a lot to do. But I miss it, the self-revelatory moments and the comments and the community. Without a church, I have fewer communities than I once did. Without my old block. Without that little school I helped found.

There's been a lot of loss.

But I've gained myself.

I am a dime, yeah, I think that's how I would put it now.