Wrong Turn?

It’s been a little over a year since I walked away from my teaching career and started freelancing full time. I decided it’s high time to reflect on my so-called wrong turn. Fair warning: it’s a bit long.

It’s a hell of a thing to wake up when you are 34 years old and still wonder what you want to be when https://www.flickr.com/photos/memoryfreak/6511834823/in/photolist-aVqRCc-5MnsCd-aUDBTz-5AN6w4-aW1nnr-5AMnn4-5c62Qb-aH9b9M-5wqPta-7EFnR6-quvGkm-nnGct2-7fNUg1-gHYFC3-dmyfCP-akHicV-5PHjgc-aSiMac-9TGd3J-akKZfS-dTAKAs-9wkRVT-qeRLQt-qeNnXN-akH9hK-akHjQR-akKXtC-akH9XT-bV6Vif-dTAKQL-5PHfun-9PSLHY-52bYaY-5PHfur-5PHfuR-7fP58U-b3Hzjc-apemzB-bqCkMm-3cjrwC-hsbFtQ-dTAKJ9-akHket-akHhmx-akL6hb-akHbtR-akHceM-akHcux-akL1id-akL9ryyou grow up. It’s an even scarier thing when you’re saddled with a gigantic mortgage, a self-employed husband, and two kids who are just now starting school with hefty tuition bills and to play organized (read: who the hell knew it would be this expensive when they’re 3 and 6?) sports. But, that’s exactly where I am. And, I’m the one who put myself – and my family – here.

I had done everything right. I worked hard, got good grades, became salutatorian, got into a great liberal arts college, got on staff at the college newspaper as a freshman, and quickly became assistant features editor. Then all hell broke loose when I decided to transfer to another great liberal arts college to continue with my English Literature degree but get my teaching certification on top of it. I blame the adorable, energetic, eager to learn inner-city kids I tutored when I tagged along to a church to profile the Black Student Union for the college newspaper. They made me fall in love with the idea of teaching, even though I had come from a family full of educators and did not in any way, shape, or form want to become one myself.

So, I continued to do everything right after transferring. I commuted to save money, I increased my credit load in order to graduate on time, I became certified as a writing tutor, I did community service, I got a fantastic cooperating teacher and placement, and I graduated near the very top of my class again. I was hired as a middle school language arts teacher before I graduated, and I was writing curriculum before I knew it. I lived at home to save more money, got engaged, bought a fixer-upper, got married, got a dog, and had a great life.

Until I realized I wasn’t so much in love with teaching as I was with the idea of teaching. The bureaucracy and politics were one thing, the outrageous behaviors of some of the students were another thing, and I was loving my job a whole lot less than I thought I should have been. The bright spots were the kids who loved to read, who wanted to learn from their quirky teacher, and who appreciated my structured and fast-paced classes. I had never failed at anything that I had worked so hard to achieve, and I was struggling with accepting the fact that even though I was excelling at teaching I didn’t love it. I had all of the mugs and shirts about changing lives and not knowing where my influence ended, but I just wasn’t feeling it like I thought I should have been.

So, I decided to try again. I was hired by another school district and felt a new energy in a new building (even though I missed my original colleagues dearly and still do to this day). I had a much better first year. I had kids whom I loved and who loved me, and it was a good feeling to be teaching sixteen year olds to appreciate Shakespeare and Poe. So, I thought maybe it was the switch to high school from middle school that I needed. And then the years went by and the faces changed and I kept looking at myself in the mirror, thinking that I could not do this for another 30 years.

I wasn’t miserable. I loved my new colleagues. I loved my new school. I just didn’t love teaching. And, once again, I felt like a failure. My students were doing well and we had a great rapport and I was looked upon as a teacher leader, and yet, something didn’t feel quite right. Teaching is the hardest job in the world for so many reasons, and when you’re not sure it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life, you can’t do it justice.

I changed roles in my school district, becoming a coach to fellow teachers, and loved it. I didn’t realize how much teaching had strapped me down. You live by the bell, you pee when you can, and you don’t speak to someone your own age for hours at a time. In my new role, I was treated more as a professional, I was asked questions about my teaching philosophy and instructional delivery, and I put my brand new Master’s degree to good use. I attended conferences and mingled and learned and grew professionally more than I ever had in seven years of teaching. But, I was seeing a stronger emphasis on testing and creating a set of skills students should learn rather than a robust curriculum that allowed them to explore and read and discuss freely. I was uncomfortable with pushing teachers to standardize so much. At the end of the year, the funding dried up, and I was back in the classroom. That was when I knew the end was near.

I was giving higher-stakes tests to kids with each passing year. I was sitting in IEP meetings looking at sobbing fifteen-year-old students who weren’t going to be able to take a welding class if they didn’t pass the standardized state test. I was listening to administrators talk about data and results instead of kids and their needs. And, I was being told that we needed to be positive and not put out anything negative to the community while cheering on those blasted tests and their results. The tests were one thing; putting on a happy face and shoving them at kids who needed something else was quite another.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maduixaaaa/2567638237/in/photolist-4UTPoM-8pdi7D-4YEiod-AGAuv-qw3yq-5KDKgX-6VGpG7-8LWNy-es6do-4BHuFz-cXnQnS-NGu9r-HFzM8-6Qsm5S-aQUzkH-5uYFsX-qFSrEb-8HaxTp-9qZzSr-y5QQo-eEEUtL-5FDb6x-m69ai-r4AkuU-4fjrQ3-6nh2Nf-cAUanG-qhxiz-qF8GP-9TbbpY-4kELbG-9dx56x-6ayisx-8N1kAe-ahHEgA-7vMPcL-rZ2oCr-4AQq9Z-SVozu-7NwdQ-6BWLsL-iSWAj-iS5Ef-yxXYH-6kySLQ-aSFFYK-fn5Sv7-7bsCdk-qERwNJ-6NRXzsI knew I had to get out. I knew I could not continue to teach to a test not only in which I did not believe but which harms students. I had sleepless nights, panic attacks, and endless lists of pros and cons. How could I leave a salaried union job, a tiny yearly raise, benefits, and health insurance? How could I start a job that doesn’t guarantee work, which in turn doesn’t guarantee pay? How could I ask my husband to pay for our new health insurance plan? How could I throw away a Master of Education plus 60 additional credits? How could I walk away from 12 years of teaching?

The girl who never veered from the straight and narrow, the college kid who tutored in the writing center while carrying an overloaded course schedule, the student teacher who taught on her own for weeks while her cooperating teacher was out with pneumonia, the teacher who always did as she was told and whose students excelled, was going to do the unthinkable. I walked away. I took a leave of absence, started blogging and working as a freelance writer, and within two months had written a viral blog post in response to Campbell Brown’s attacks on public school teachers and unions. I was loving my new job, my new creative outlet, and the fact that I would not have to go back to school in August.

There truly was no looking back when my newfound courage led me to write very openly and candidly about some local education issues. I was very honest and had some strong opinions. Teachers were supporting me. Parents were supporting me. My district did not. And, being censored by my district was the last straw. I always taught my students to speak the truth respectfully and to support their opinions with truth, facts, and solid evidence. I would have been a hypocrite if I didn’t do that myself. I resigned.

Now, I am a freelance writer who barely has time to blog. I mostly write web content for various companies, but if you Google my name, you’ll only find my three blogs. I don’t have a by-line for my day job, but it pays the bills and I get to be home with our boys while I work. The problem is, my current position isn’t quite feeding my soul enough yet, either. I’m not naïve. I know most people don’t spring out of bed, bound out the door, and sing happily on their way to work, but writing about electrical engineering and Big Data isn’t quite what I was looking for, either.

So, why reflect on my sordid tale of being a lost 34 year old? (If you’re still reading, you’re a saint.) I know I’m not alone. Just in my small circle of friends, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count everyone who wishes they had chosen a different professional life. So many of my college friends are not working in a field even remotely related to their degree. Tons of them aren’t working the jobs any of us had imagined: one is a veterinarian tech, one helps at a homeless shelter, one gives music lessons to teenagers, one works as a librarian in a small public library, and the list goes on and on.

These are the brave ones who left their well paying professional jobs that match their degrees to do something else. They took a leap of faith before I did and served as my inspiration, but they’re almost all struggling to make ends meet because they chose to do the work that makes them happy rather than the work that makes them money. A noble cause, for sure, but we’ve still got undergraduate school loans and graduate school loans and rent and mortgages and life weighing us down.

Most of us are between the ages of 30 and 50. Most of us don’t regret any choices we’ve made because they’ve led us to where we are now. I am a much better mother and writer because I was a teacher. I am a much better friend because of my teacher friends. But, when I scan LinkedIn profiles to do my day job, I’m shocked to see that people in this age group have had what seems to be an average of at least eight different jobs. Where I come from, you go to college, get hired in your field, and hold that job until you retire. My parents still freak out about the choice I made more than a year ago. Where I come from, you just don’t do what I did.

Maybe this is what we need to be talking about more often. Maybe we need to figure out a way to help people struggling to make the decision to leave a profession or stick with it so they don’t put themselves through the wringer like I did. Maybe we need to help high school and college students with internships and job shadowing and work experiences before pushing them to make life decisions at the tender age of 18 (instead of shoving standardized tests at them that don’t mean a damn thing). Maybe we just need to share our stories so that other people who feel stuck in their profession don’t think they are just miserable people and that there is something wrong with them for not loving their jobs.

I’m still working it out, but maybe my wrong turn wasn’t such a wrong turn after all.

Images via Flickr by familytreasures and … marta … maduixaaaa

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On Registering for Kindergarten and Choosing a Catholic School

I can’t complain. I was fortunate enough to have a summer baby, so I got an extra year with my first baby at home while other moms were standing puffy-eyed and runny-nosed in school parking lots late last August. Instead of sending him off to kindergarten at the tender age of barely five, we are sending him off to kindergarten at the ripe, old age of six. I have read all of the research. Hell, I even did some of the research for my freelancing job. I know there are all kinds of statistics on the values of delaying a kindergarten start, just as there are all kinds of statistics on the evils of “redshirting” your kindergartener. But, I’m a mom who saw her child struggle with speech and some fine motor skills when he started preschool. I’m a mom who saw her son hang back even though he wanted to play and knew the answers but was afraid nobody would understand him if he spoke. I’m a mom who made the gut-wrenching decision to have him repeat preschool and watch his very first friends move on to pre-K without him. So, I redshirted my kid. And, I’m so glad that I did.

Homework by Chris YarzabIn this year of pre-K, my sensitive, bright, quiet son has blossomed. He seeks out kids to play with at school, after happily playing alone during his two preschool years. He now has rich discussions with the school helpers and teachers. In fact, the pre-K volunteer who helps the kids write journals once a week had no idea my son has overcome a severe speech delay. He also recognizes sight words and figures out words when we spell them instead of just telling him to do something (“Please bring me an e-g-g.”) He asks questions and makes connections and watches shows on The Weather Channel and The Learning Channel that I never imagined would interest a five year old. He writes notes to us in church. He helps his younger brother and cousin and pretends to read to them. And, he will start kindergarten in a few short months.

Last night we visited his new school and started the registration process. The principal, faculty and staff, and school nurses welcomed us with open arms and impressed me from the moment I stepped inside. I was more impressed by my son, however. He walked into the kids’ room, answered the brand new teacher at an appropriate volume with clear enunciation, and sought out the action. I wanted to follow him, give him a hug, and tell him that my husband and I would be right across the hall, but he turned and gave us a wave and said, “Goodbye.”

And, that was that. This child of mine about whom I have lost years of sleep is going to be okay. He’s going to be more than okay. He’s ready.

And, he’s going to be in a school that values faith and respect and encourages curiosity. He’s going to be in a school that proudly displays students’ writing assignments (completed in cursive!), creative artwork, group projects, and homework schedules on the walls. He’s going to be in a school that uses short, formative assessments as tools to evaluate students. The one standardized assessment utilized by the school is viewed as a tool to evaluate the programs and curricula, and not to evaluate students. He’s going to be in a school with a principal who stood and answered all of my “I’m a former teacher and want to know what goes on here” questions with honesty and compassion. There was no spin. There were no excuses. I may not have agreed with every single thing that she said, but I know that I will be able to communicate concerns to this principal without being snowballed or told “that’s just the way it is.”

I am going to continue fighting for public education with all of my might. I am a proud product of our public education system, and I was a fourth generation public school teacher. I will more than likely be sending both of our sons to public education for grades 9-12. I believe in public schools and the power of students, parents, and teachers to continue to work to get our administrators, legislators, and departments of education to right the course and get back to the business of teaching and learning.

But, our sons will be attending our local Catholic School for grades K-8 because I believe in small class sizes, strong curricula that includes science and social studies, and an educational environment that puts students, not tests first. I am putting my money where my mouth is, by putting my own child/student first while I continue to fight for others’ children and students.

Image via Flickr by Chris Yarzab

Christmas Morning

It is exactly one week before Christmas, and I am worried that I won’t be ready. I think I have purchased all of the presents. I think I have all of the ingredients to bake cookies. I think I have enough bows and batteries. I have plans to clean and bake like a madwoman this weekend, I made arrangements for our five year old to visit with my parents so I can accomplish more while he has fun with them, and I have cleared my work schedule as of Friday, Dec. 19 at 4pm, to give myself time to make Christmas magic happen. My real work schedule, that is. If only I could get paid to wash windows, scrub bathrooms, mop floors, vacuum, dust, and somehow get those Lucky Charms marshmallow spots off the carpet! At least my Christmas trees are up and decorated. A designer of Christmas ornaments and gifts, Patience Brewster helped inspire me to slow down and enjoy decorating the trees and reflect on our traditions.

In the meantime, my poor husband will be assembling toys, finishing the homemade Lego table, and making room for all of the gifts from Santa. He will be in charge of making sure that Cookie, our elf, finds his way to a few more really good hiding spots, and he will have the distinct pleasure of vacuuming our stairs, cleaning our banisters, making our oven and kitchen sink shine, and washing down the walls that are too high for me to reach – picture a 20-foot stairwell wall and a precariously perched ladder.

Christmas Eve will find us, after family dinner and church services and the battle of getting two so-excited-that-they-are-vibrating boys into bed, cleaning up for the final time, praying our angels stay asleep while we make trip after trip from the basement and secret gift closet, loading batteries into toys in gift bags, and preparing the shiny new iPad with games and apps galore.

With everything that I still have to do, I have one thought that gets me through the pre-Christmas chaos: Christmas morning. When it comes right down to it, Christmas morning is the reason I drive myself crazy from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. Truth be told, I have more trouble staying in bed on Christmas morning than our boys do. I wake up before the sun, if I Christmas Morning 004 by dony31even sleep at all, and force my grumbling husband out of bed. I start turning on Christmas lights and lighting candles. I turn up the fire, start filling the cookie trays, and then I just sit and take it all in. It’s the proverbial calm before the storm.

When I was young, my brother and I were not allowed to peek at the presents on Christmas morning until my grandparents arrived. It was torture, waiting for them to arrive, but we always did. I never understood why we had to wait, because I knew that we could just show our grandparents what Santa brought us; now that I am a mom, I understand. Christmas morning is more special for the adults than it is for the children. We get to see the kids’ faces and experience the joy and magic of Christmas through them. They get new toys and games, but we get the joy of being together and spending time in the moment as a whole family. I admit, I have made it a little easier for our boys by ordering my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to be at our home bright and early. The funny thing is, nobody really complains about the early hour.

We open our stockings first and hand out presents to family members. We are not one of those families that takes turns opening gifts, but we do try to keep a slower pace to the opening frenzy. Our boys are still at the age when they enjoy handing gifts to others – and occasionally helping to open them – so we do get to see the surprises hidden in the packages, for the most part. We snap pictures and we struggle to open cardboard boxes and those straight-out-of-Fort-Knox plastic straps that hold down each and every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure and accessory. My favorite part is watching everyone’s faces as more wrapping paper flies and more wishes come true.

After the gifts are open, we start our traditional family breakfast. English muffins, Canadian bacon, dozens of eggs, and stacks of American and cheddar cheese appear on the counter as we make our homemade breakfast sandwiches. My grandmother is in charge of the eggs, my mom is in charge of the Canadian bacon, and my aunt and I are in charge of the toasters. After all these years, it is embarrassing to say that we still have to ask everyone how they want their eggs to be cooked. But, I know my grandmother will gross out everyone by putting jam on her sandwich. I know my brother will drink a quart of chocolate milk by himself. I know our younger son will refuse to eat until he is seated on my dad’s lap. And, I know that it will be another Christmas morning that makes my heart smile.

In the meantime, I just remembered we are going to ride on the Polar Express Sunday afternoon. Who schedules a Polar Express train ride four days before Christmas? What the Hell?

Image via Flickr by dony31

An Open Letter to Campbell Brown from a Teacher on Leave

Dear Ms. Brown,

I saw your interview with Stephen Colbert. I wish I could have been one of those protesters outside the studio. You see, I don’t support people who are not educational experts attempting to reform or really even discuss education in such a public forum. That may be because I am a teacher.

I am certified by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to teach Secondary English for 99 years; in other words, I have earned my permanent certification. I have a Master of Education plus sixty additional graduate credits. I have been in the trenches for eleven years. In those eleven years, I taught English and reading and remedial reading to students in grades seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven. I also tutored students who were performing below grade level and who were not proficient on our standardized state assessments. I was considered a teacher leader in my building, and I was hired to be an Instructional Coach (i.e. a teacher who coaches teachers on strategies in the classroom) for one school year. That position lasted only a year because the grant that funded the positions expired and the Instructional Coaching positions were dissolved. During my eleven years – yes, I earned my tenure during those years – I received satisfactory ratings. My students also scored some of the highest marks on their standardized writing tests of any students across the state, and I was recognized this past school year by the head principal because my students achieved academic growth above the predicted levels. Despite all of my success as an educator, I am taking a leave of absence for this upcoming school year to pursue freelance writing because I disagree with the idea that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” THIS is transparency in education.

Unlike you, I am not funded by any political backers. Well, to be fair, you wouldn’t reveal who is funding your group, lest they be subjected to harassment. If only teachers had such a luxury! I do not have legal counsel. I do not have anyone doing pro bono work to find the latest statistics and jargon to use in a marketing (well, let’s be honest here – smearing) campaign against teacher unions. And, in the name of TRANSPARENCY, let’s be honest again: you and your group are against public educators and unions, but you are hiding behind the issue of teacher tenure.

You see, if you had done your homework, you would have found that teacher tenure is not a guarantee to never receive a pink slip. I know you alluded to that fact during your face-to-face, but your spin may have confused some people. So, in the name of TRANSPARENCY, let’s make it clear: teacher tenure does not guarantee that teachers can teach until they die. This is not the United States Supreme Court, after all. If you really want to attack tenure, let’s attack the system that can allow you to work until the day you die; you still retain your black robe, even if you decide to put religious and corporate rights above individual rights. Their effectiveness rating is not very high at the moment, and their approval ratings are very low. Maybe you should find a group to go after those Justices, in the name of that “equality” you keep mentioning. I mean, if we’re going after tenure that seems outrageous, let’s go after the most unjust tenure system in this country.

But, I digress. Yes, you pointed out that teachers receive due process and that it still can take hundreds of days to get a teacher fired. You also pointed out that it’s often the policy of last-one-in-first-one-out when school districts need to cut professional staff positions. And, you recognized the fact that it can take three years to determine the effectiveness of a teacher. So, you don’t agree with the least senior teachers being let go, even though they have not had the adequate amount of time to prove their effectiveness? This is starting to smell like a double standard.

Are there teachers who deserve to be fired? Yes, just as there are individuals in any number of professions who deserve to be fired. If teachers are harming students or violating their contracts, they should be fired. I’m not sure that you’ll find many teachers who disagree. But, if you are simply using the statistics you flaunted during the interview to determine teacher effectiveness, you are playing a very dangerous game. You see, I analyze language. That’s part of my job description. You came armed and ready with what you thought was your silver bullet: 31% of NY students are reading on grade level. That’s the point you were sure to emphasize. But, those of us who are in the business of educating realize you stopped a little short of yourself. Typically, when we discuss reading ability, we talk about students who are reading below grade level, on grade level, and above grade level. You merely pointed out the average students. How many are above grade level, Ms. Brown? I have a feeling that statistic of yours may change a bit. You may want to alert your spin machine to this one. Trust the lady with the teaching degree.

Also, I cheered a little when Mr. Colbert questioned you about making the resources students receive – specifically money – equal, since you are doing this in the name of educational equality. I was disappointed, however, when he did not push this issue any further. You see, to be fair and truly TRANSPARENT, we need to know how many of those students were reading on grade level when they entered their particular grades. You see, we don’t get to pick and choose who walks into our classrooms. We have students entering kindergarten who have never seen a book, who have never held a crayon, and who don’t even know that words, much less letters, exist in written form. We have ESL and ELL students who cannot speak English, yet the state testing system (at least ours in PA) requires they take the standardized tests in English. I am not complaining. And, I certainly am not blaming the children as Mr. Colbert so facetiously suggested. Rather, I am living in reality. All public educators are.

And, if you really want to talk educational statistics, we don’t just need to know how many students started the year reading on grade level. We need to know how many of those students are living in poverty. Countless studies have shown the direct correlation between students’ socioeconomic status and educational achievement. If 31% of students who are living in poverty are reading on grade level, we need to stand up and applaud those NY educators your group essentially is attacking. Even more important, according to some experts in education, is the percentage of students who have an IEP. Because if their written IEP goal is to read with a particular percentage at their actual reading level, not their grade level, and their teachers helped them to achieve that goal, that is another statistic we need to know and applaud.

Look at it this way: If a dentist from a rural community offers to work pro bono at the dental clinic and 10 patients walk in, all with nearly every one of their teeth rotting out of their mouths, we are not going to measure that dentist’s effectiveness by how many healthy teeth his patients have when they leave the clinic. We are going to rate his effectiveness by how many teeth he was able to save, and his patients’ oral health over time. It’s the same with teachers. We can’t control how much knowledge and prior learning and life experience our students possess their first day in our classrooms. We have to work with what they arrive with and then “grow” them from there. If none of the dentists’ patients have to have another tooth pulled after the initial visit, he’s effective. And, if all of the teachers’ students leave their rooms having achieved one year’s worth of growth, they’ve been effective teachers.

I am sure that legal team of yours will take issue with some of my points. And, I’m sure some researchers and “educational reformists” will attack every fiber of my literary being. But, in this year off, I feel a little more free to speak for the teachers who are unable to speak for themselves because of the culture that is being perpetuated by groups such as yours. In this age of undermining the profession – yes, teaching still is a profession despite efforts of groups like yours – educators are hesitant to speak up for themselves. Is it any wonder, when they are under attack at every turn from people who don’t hold teaching certificates, who never have taken an education class, and who have no more stake in “educational reform” than a politician?

It’s a shame that teachers cannot defend themselves because of the political backlash and push to weaken teacher unions. It’s a bigger shame that instead of using your public standing and credentials to help teachers to have a voice, you are using it to cut us down. Maybe if people listened to the educators, the true experts who actually deserve to have a stake in the discussion, we could fix this “crisis.”

In the meantime, those teachers who are dedicated to educational equality will continue to prepare to go back to the classroom in a few short weeks. They will face uncertainty and more stress in an already stressful profession because of your group. But, because they are professionals, those NY educators will approach those students, even those whose parents are filing the suit, with the intent to help them learn and achieve and grow. Who knows? They may even be effective teachers this year, despite all of the attacks from those who are not experts in their field.

With as much respect as I can muster,

Bailey Shawley
Teacher on Leave

***April 3, 2015 UPDATE***

The events of the past week in New York State are dealing devastating blows to public education and teachers. Campbell Brown is not stopping her attacks, even after the new evaluation measures have passed as part of Governor Cuomo’s budget. She and her Partnership for Educational Justice are pursuing her lawsuit to challenge tenure and job protection statutes. For more, follow me @TruthInTeaching, visit TRUTH In Teaching online, and Like TRUTH In Teaching on Facebook.

I’m Contributing to a Book – What the Hell?

So, this isn’t exactly an official blog post, but I finally can share the news: I’ve been asked to contribute to a book project.  While in its very early stages, the book is “Becoming Mother: Narratives of How One Becomes Two,” by Sharon Tjaden-Glass. You can view the project on the blog: www.becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com and see my contribution: http://becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com/other-true-stories/bailey-how-could-i-be-a-mom/. I’ll be featured in the “Other True Stories” section.

This may just be that first small step into a writing career. What the Hell?

Relishing the Boring Stuff – What the Hell?

My addiction to Disney movies is not something I’ve ever tried to hide on this blog. So, it should come as no surprise that this blog post is inspired by one of my all-time favorites: Up. The beginning love story sequence makes me cry. Hard. Ugly, shoulder-shaking, snot-sucking crying. It’s bad. I don’t even have to be looking at the screen. As soon as I hear the music, I know what’s happening, and I start to cry right around the time that they are in the doctor’s office. Again, regular readers will know why. There is just something about the whole movie that gets me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had students like Russell, or if it’s because the love between Ellie and Carl is timeless, or if it’s because I’m just a sucker for Disney movies.

Anyway, there is one line in the movie that hits home with me every time. Russell is talking to Mr. Fredricksen about being a kid and says, That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” (Don’t send me a nasty email if I misquoted that a bit. I’m not so good at quoting movies; that’s my husband’s claim to fame.) As a mom, I try, at the very least, to make each day fun. They’re not all smash hits, but if we laugh and smile and spend time together, then I’m happy. The rest of the tribe seems to be, too.

I see all of these moms on Pinterest and Facebook planning these elaborate day trips and play dates, and to be honest, there are times when I wish I had the creativity and the patience and the time to do half of those things. I envy their energy and their enthusiasm and their eagerness to be perfect moms. But, then I stop and wonder if that just makes their kids expect every day to be a grand gesture. Would they even appreciate the “boring” things that our family does? That’s when I realize I’m glad that we have that boring stuff. That’s the stuff of real life, and that’s what makes our family… well, us.

I like our nightly pillow fights and tumbling shows. I was thrilled when the big kid asked to help me make a chocolate chip banana bread yesterday, but “this time without the volcano.” I love knowing that I’m going to get the little guy out of his crib each day after his nap and see his smile and answer that daily question, “Daddy home?” And the next daily question, “Brother home?” And the one after that, “Turtle game?” We may have our boring routine, but there is comfort in that schedule. We know we will be together and play each late afternoon and evening. We know the Phillies game most likely will be on after bath time. We know we will make our wishes and read our books and talk about our days, head-to-head on the pillow. I even love knowing that we go to our favorite family dinner spot so often that they know what to bring us to drink and that we don’t need menus; knowing that we can leave with a screaming little guy without insulting anyone is kind of awesome, too.

So, yes, the boring stuff is the stuff I will remember the most. And, I hope it’s the stuff our boys will look back on and remember with fondness. We may not have done something awesome every day, but we did spend time together, as a family. When I figure out how to pin that and update that, I will. In the meantime, I’ll check out what those other moms are doing, and for once, I’ll be able to think I may just be doing something right. What the Hell?

My Son’s Other Woman – What the Hell?

I’ve written about it before: the unbelievably tight bond between my older son and my mother. It’s something that amazes me, warms my heart, and makes me jealous, all at the same time. That’s tough for me to admit, but it’s the ugly truth.

This past week has been rougher than most in the he-likes-Gatoni-more-than-he-likes-me category because he is crying for her every night. This is very unusual; typically, he cries once a week for her, the night after his super-awesome sleepover at her house. This week he’s having a rough go of it because he knows she is going on a little vacation in a few days.

I was worried about her dogs and her house. I was very worried about fielding all of the phone calls from my grandmother and my grandfather and my brother; I swear they call her twenty times a day, each. I was worried about having to answer all of the questions about where she is and when she will be back and why she isn’t available to get my brother groceries. I was worried about what would happen if I didn’t remember how to follow that one recipe or how to deal with the latest little boy ailment: the usual reasons for my twenty phone calls a day.

I wasn’t prepared for my kiddo to have himself all upset about her leaving. And, I’m really not sure how to make him feel better because he’s never really had to miss someone before, let alone his person. I’m sure I won’t live up to his super-awesome weekend expectations. I’m sure I won’t come up with the most fun games ever. I’m sure I won’t indulge his every whim. And, I’m sure I won’t fill that hole in his little heart when he can’t see his Gatoni for four days.

But, I’m his mom. And, even though it hurts my heart to see him so upset and sad because he’s anxious about losing his grandmother for a few days, it hurts me more to know that he’s not seeing it as an opportunity to spend more time with me. I was expecting to feel this when he got a girlfriend. I never thought I’d have to deal with this at age 5. What the Hell?

Another Injury – What the Hell?

My boys are not delicate flowers. If they were, I’d be very concerned because I was a tomboy and I don’t really know how to do quiet games and sit still for long periods of time. Unless it’s to read a book, but I’m usually scribbling furiously in the margins or taking notes or highlighting or writing as I read, so that doesn’t really count. Anyway, because of their rough-and-tumble natures, my boys look like they’ve been in some sort of horrible accident. At any given time, I can find a bruise, a brush burn, or a scab with little effort.

I’m starting to worry, because as they grow older and bolder, their injuries are becoming larger and much more noticeable. My immediate family at least has learned to stop asking, “Oh, honey, what did you do?” and start asking, “What did you do this time?” And, bless my pediatrician because he looks them over and says he’s glad we are so active and outdoors so often at our house. I haven’t had to worry about a call from CYS yet, thank goodness.

But, I am noticing that the boys are starting to be more daring in their escapades. The five year old is climbing trees and jumping out of his clubhouse, which is attached to the swing set. He won’t yet jump off a swing, but I’m sure that’s going to happen soon. He is running and jumping into the swimming pool, going down the slide into the water, and, just recently, flipping off the diving board. Most of these activities are harmless and there is always a throng of people ready and waiting to catch him, ask him if he’s okay, or pick him up if he falls a little too hard. He has more bruises and scrapes to prove his bravery, but I don’t make it a point to tell him that they are badges of honor; though, I know at some point in his little boyhood another rough-and-tumble kid will tell him that’s what they are. I don’t curb all of the flipping and running and jumping, but I’m certainly not going to make it a show of honor yet.

The two year old’s latest trick is to jump off the love seat and land on one of our bean bags. We now are on our second set of bean bags because the first set is as flat as pancakes from the big kid’s shenanigans. We use them as buffers along our hearth, and it’s a system that is working well so far. The problem with the little guy’s jumping routine is that he sometimes doesn’t jump out far enough from the love seat, and I’m afraid he’s going to hurt his leg. Last night, though, he was launching himself so far that I used a second beanbag as a “safety net.” I was having heart palpitations because my baby is turning into an acrobat before my very eyes, and I wasn’t ready for his bravery to kick in yet.  Chalk it up to yet another way he’s growing up that Mommy isn’t ready for. When he slid down the indoor slide right into his brother’s head while I was picking up toys (I really can’t take my eyes off them for a second at this point), there were a few tears but no blood. I felt better because the big kid wanted me to rub his noggin and check his head, and the little guy wanted my husband, his Nuk, and his Lovey.

I guess these boys are growing out of their Sesame Street toys and Little People play sets. We are moving on to tumbling mats and trampolines soon, I fear.

I will patch up the skinned knees and put Aloe on the brush burns for as long as they want me to. I will hug them and hold them when they get a little too wild. I will warn them to “Be careful,” even though I know I should save my breath. I’ll willingly offer them comfort after a tumbling accident as long as I can. But, when the day comes that they don’t come running to me with an injury, I will not be able to handle it. Somebody will have to give me a hug because all I’ll be able to think is, “What the Hell?”

The Potty Battle – What the Hell?

I know it’s been all over the internet on Mommy blogs and parenting sites and Pinterest: people are potty training their kids in a matter of seconds, and they are celebrating with awesome displays of balloons and parties and domino rallies.  Every time I see one of those jubilant faces, I want to yell, “Bullshit!” with the same gusto I used in high school when I learned how to play the card game.

I can’t take any credit for potty training our first son.  It was a battle of the wills, and I lost.  Two stubborn people are not usually good together under any circumstances, and when you add puddles of urine and stickers that aren’t being put onto the cute homemade chart that took one of the two parties HOURS to put together, a disaster ensues.  We had potty chairs that he chose at the store, proudly holding them in the cart on the way to the checkout aisle.  We had stickers with his favorite characters to put on that damn chart.  We had candy dispensers when I finally resorted to sugary bribes.  We had those special potty-training pants with his favorite characters on them.  We had underwear with his favorite cartoon guys on them, waiting in the drawer for when he was a big boy.  And, I had a headache and he had a warm stream of pee running down his leg.

I don’t know what my mom did to finally get him to use the potty on a regular basis, but she worked her grandmother magic somehow.  I think it involved lots of peeing on trees and into metal buckets, but whatever worked for her eventually worked at our house, and I didn’t complain about her spoiling him during the potty-training process.  I worked the chart into our daily routine, and enough stickers earned him those coveted trucks from the store, until he was peeing and pooping on the potty like a champ.

Somehow in the years between child one and child two, I forgot how awful it is to try to force a small person with different equipment down there to pee on a potty.  I forgot how cold the bathroom floor can be when you sit on it for endless stretches of time, just praying for one little tinkle into that potty so you can high five and dance and sing and give chocolate to a kid who has no real concept of why what he did is as awesome as you’re making it seem.  I forgot what it’s like to watch a clock and put a tiny body on a potty every fifteen minutes and pray that you’re not somehow scarring him for life; I don’t even want to know just how much will those therapy bills cost later on in life.

This time around, it’s worse than the first time.  This child wants even less to do with that stupid potty chair.  This child will not even look at the potty chairs at the store because he’s too busy screaming, “POTTY, NO!” at the top of his little lungs.  This child knows that every single person in his life uses the potty but him, and he’s just fine with that, thank you very much.  This child, who will normally do anything for chocolate, will not even look at the Hershey bar being dangled under his nose when he gets near the potty.  This child is going to be the death of me.

I know you’re not supposed to push potty training with kids who just aren’t ready, especially with boys who just aren’t ready.  I’ve discussed this with fellow parents and my parents and our pediatrician.  They all say to give him some time.  And, trust me, I’d be more than happy to give him time because I know I’m looking forward to the whole process less than he is.  But, the diapers are no longer containing his rivers.  We are changing his clothes top to bottom – yes, even the socks – at least once a day.  I’ve tried all kinds of diapers.  Different brands, different styles, different sizes, different everything.  I’m convinced they don’t make a diaper for my child because his body IS READY for the potty.  It’s his little mind that isn’t.

I don’t know how I’m going to get him to do this.  I don’t think my mom wants to put another child through her potty-training boot camp: especially this child, because for all of his adorableness, his nickname isn’t TROUBLE for nothing.  I can’t keep washing his clothes and our carpets and his crib as often as I am, or everything will just disintegrate some day soon.  Of all of the times I’ve wished for a magic wand or just one wish to be granted by the big blue genie from “Aladdin” during my lifetime, this is the time when I want someone to pay up.  One of us isn’t going to survive this potty battle.  What the Hell?

I Became an Adult Today – What the Hell?

I traveled without my parents for the first time when I was 17.  It did not go well, because I was in a car accident with my friend and had to be rescued near Hershey by a state trooper and then eventually by my dad and grandfather.  I moved 4 hours away from home to attend college when I was 18.  I got my first full-time job when I was 22. I bought a house when I was 23 without any co-signers.  I was married that same year.  I bought my first brand new vehicle when I was 24, and I negotiated without my dad.  I gave birth to my first child when I was 28.  I sold my home when I was 29 and built a brand new house when I was 30.  I gave birth to my second child when I was 31.  But, it was not until today that I became a real, live, bonafide adult.

I don’t handle blood and guts and gore well.  I’ve been known to get lightheaded just watching ER and Grey’s Anatomy.  I can’t handle pictures of gutted deer (don’t forget, I live in central PA), and I can’t watch anybody clean a fish.  I can’t watch my son wiggle a loose tooth, and the day that he pulled out his first tooth I thought I was going to die.  When a former middle school student cut his hand on a locker right outside of my classroom, I gathered him up and put pressure on the wound and screamed for another teacher to help because I was already starting to pass out.  The other teacher swooped in and saved the day while I sat on the floor with my head between my knees and another teacher put a cold compress on the back of my neck.  I was never so humiliated in my life, but I did all that I could before I became the patient being loaded into an ambulance.

When my husband cut his hand in our basement years ago, he wrapped it up and came upstairs and hid his arm behind a wall while he told me to sit on the couch.  Once I was no longer standing upright, he told me that we had to go to the hospital and called my mom to give us a ride because I was already sitting with my head between my knees just because I thought about the blood.  Once we arrived at the ER, I sat in a chair in the waiting room while my mom helped my husband.  Nurses kept checking on me because I was so pale.  I couldn’t look at his stitches.

A couple of years after that, my husband had his first surgery of our relationship.  He had to have his wisdom teeth surgically removed.  My mom offered to go along because she was afraid I wouldn’t “be able to handle it.”  I refused her offer and happily accompanied my husband because I knew I wouldn’t have to be in the room during the procedure or see any of the blood.  I was just a loving, supportive chauffeur.  I didn’t know the doctor was going to call me back into the recovery room and start describing the procedure in detail to me while my husband was still groggy.  I didn’t know I should have been sitting down while he was talking to me.  If I had known, I would have told him to stop talking and put my butt on a chair.  Too late.  I passed out and hit the floor and my mom had to come and drive us both home.  Humiliating life event #2.  I, the ride, had to be given a ride.

When I had a C-section with our second child, I could not look at the incision or clean the site or change the dressing.  When they came in to remove my staples, I cried and begged the nurse to do it as quickly and painlessly as she could, and I made sure I was lying down with a firm grip on the pillow because I was positive I was going to die.  When I came home with surgical tape on the incision, it was my husband who had to check the site and clean it and take care of me because I couldn’t look at it, touch it, or think about it.

Before you start thinking that I am a complete imbecile who needs everyone to do everything for me, let’s get a little perspective.  I have had my own wisdom teeth surgically removed and did not pass out.  I have given birth: once naturally and once by C-section.  I have cleaned belly button stumps and put ointment on newly circumcised penises.  I have cleaned poop out of car seats, off of walls, out of the bathtub, out of carpet, and just about everywhere else shit can happen.  I have wiped noses with my shirt and stopped pee fountains with my hands.  Being a mother is not glamorous or hygienic, and I have done all of those things (and more!) with no help because my husband was dry heaving in the background.  It’s blood I can’t handle.

So, when my husband came into the house with his hand wrapped in his handkerchief today and told me that he had just cut himself and needed stitches, I could see that old look of panic on his face.  Not the I’m-worried-about-my-hand-and-don’t-know-how-bad-it-is look, but the can-you-drive-me-to-the-hospital-without-passing-out-because-I-can’t-drive-myself look.  I decided then and there that I was calling my mom.  But, this time, I was calling to see if she could stay with the kids while I drove my husband, because on THIS day, I was going to stop being a baby about blood.

While I was driving, I didn’t look at his hand.  I was gasping for breath and feeling faint.  I answered him in short phrases when he asked me if I were okay.  But, I drove my husband to the ER and didn’t pass out.

And, I accompanied him to the exam room and stayed with him the whole time.  I didn’t sit down because I NEEDED to; I sat down because it took forever.  I didn’t feel queasy when the doctor started to manipulate his fingers and asked him questions about whether his hand were tingling or stinging.  I watched the doctor glue him back together and wondered how much money we would have saved if I had just gotten the Gorilla Glue out of the cupboard and done it at home.  (Note: Apparently, that wouldn’t have worked because that glue is toxic, but I still think we could have given it a try.)  I listened to all of the at-home care instructions and follow-up duties and didn’t even feel lightheaded.  I drove him back home and was doing a little jig about my success.  I probably could have been a little more concerned about his hand and how he was feeling, but I had a major accomplishment to celebrate.  I think making it all about me helped me to forget all about the blood and huge gash that was simply glued back together and seemed like it could burst open at any minute.

It only took 33 years and lots of hurdles and stumbling blocks along the way, but I did it.  I became an adult today.  What the Hell?