Cancer update: reconstruction and a bone scan

While I was diagnosed as cancer-free in September, cancer stuff will never completely go away. One of the PAs in the Cancer Center met with me a few months ago to outline my long-term plan: mammograms and ultrasounds every six months for five years, then annually after that; appointment plans with oncologists (every three months for a year, then six months for two years, then annually), radiation docs (every six months), breast surgeon (every six months for a year, then annually), and plastic surgeon; and my final surgery.

I had my final surgery during spring break last month. This time to reconstruct the left breast to match the right one. I had to wait six months after radiation before I could have reconstruction, which meant eight months (surgery was in July, then waiting period, radiation, and another waiting period) of two completely different breasts. The new right breast was perky and sat high on my chest. The left breast showed signs of my 40+ years and the tolls of gravity. There was more than an inch difference in nipple placement, and because of areola resizing, the left was twice as big as the right.

Since June, I’ve worn a “regular” (nonsurgical) bra only a handful of times. I had to lift up the left side to try to get it to look like the right. I used breast inserts to try to get the shapes to match. It always started out okay, but within a few hours, gravity won, the inserts shifted and everything looked lopsided, lumpy and weird.

Reconstruction surgery went well. It’ll be another month or so until everything settles, but I’m pretty close to “matching.” I’ve retired the scarves and asymmetrical necklines that have helped mask the difference. And the scars are very faint already.

Unfortunately, in follow up with my oncologist over the last few months, my blood work has shown some abnormalities indicating a concern about my liver. Levels of certain liver-function/enzyme tests were elevated. Between October and February, four of the five liver tests were elevated. By April, one test was one point higher than the normal range, but a second test (ALP levels) just kept getting higher in the five times my blood has been tested since October. It wasn’t at “dangerous” levels, but my oncologist was “mildly concerned.” He ordered a bone scan, since this particular enzyme could be indicative of something wrong with the bones as well as the liver (since the other liver tests were closer to normal, concern shifted to my bones).

So I was injected with a radioactive tracer, sent away for three hours for it to collect in my bones, and returned to lay on a table for two hours while a machine took images of my skeletal system.

I could tell what part of my body was being imaged by the questions the tech asked:

Have you ever broken a bone in your arm? Yes, my wrist when I was like 11 or 12.

Have you had issues with your hips? Yes, I was born with hip dysplasia.

Which hip? Both hips.

Have you ever had spinal issues? Yes, I was diagnosed with an S curve in my spine and treated for scoliosis from elementary school through high school.

(Side note: after 18 months of all kinds of medical tests, hospital stays, and doctor visits, anything that requires minimal invasion and just laying on my back listening to music WINS. Bone scan = not bad, perhaps among my favorite tests of 2014-2016.)

The results came back a few days later – all clean, no issues. With lack of any other areas of concern, we’re now working on the assumption that I have naturally high ALP. Or I’m growing.

Otherwise, I’m feeling great. Work on my stamina continues, after a four week hiatus post-surgery. After being fairly non-active for the last 18 months, it’s a pretty big hurdle.

Focus on love and bullying: a response to “Karen”

All you need is

“Karen,” I don’t know your situation or what you know about kids and grief, but it’s a horrible, bumpy, rocky road. There are steps forward and giant leaps backward. There’s regression and repeating the standard grief steps over and over as he reaches different maturity milestones. As a parent, you just never know what will trigger a regression or how long it will last. Continue reading

What problem? Meeting recap and the start of making a decision about the kids’ futures

WARNING: Long, 2,000 word dialogue reconstruction follows. This is a recap, to the best of my recollection, about yesterday’s conference with Ethan’s teacher and principal.

I have a very difficult decision to make. It might be time to take both kids out of their current school and into a new educational environment.

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But first: Couldn’t have been better timing. Pillows made from one of Mike’s shirts arrived yesterday. (I only had this shirt and another one plus an old hat of Mike’s. Ethan has the other shirt and hat.) I asked his parents for a few things after Mike died (like his ties – I wanted to give Ethan one of his dad’s ties for every special event he attends), but… nothing.

I met with Ethan’s teacher and principal yesterday about his behavior. It was a ridiculous waste of time. Meeting recap (keep in mind, they called the meeting):

Principal: We’re here because we’re concerned about Ethan being ready for middle school. He won’t have a base homeroom like he does this year. This lady (pointing to his teacher) has been fantastic with him. Taking time with him. Blah blah. (Words of awesomeness directed toward his teacher)

Me: OK. I’m confused. I haven’t heard anything for months about Ethan’s behavior, then there was the email last week to which I responded. This is the first I’m hearing of concerns about middle school.

Teacher: Well, he’s unorganized. He refuses to use his accordion folder and he won’t have a desk next year so he’ll have to stay organized in his locker.

Me: OK… He’s 10. And a boy.

Teacher: Well, he won’t listen to me about using his accordion folder to stay organized.

Me: So, that’s not in your email…

Teacher: (recaps her email)

Me: (recaps my email) I want you to know that I read my email response, and your email, to Ethan so he could make sure incidents were portrayed as how they happened. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. I want to him to stand by what he told me.

Teacher: It’s interesting you bring up your email, and that you read it to Ethan. You’re giving him excuses for his behavior. You’re justifying it. And by reading it to him, he’s believing the excuses you’re giving him.

Me: No. I don’t do excuses. Your email questioned what has changed since spring break, and I answered. It’s three things: testing, bullying by (four names) and Family Life.

Teacher and Principal: Oh no! Three of those boys would NEVER bully someone. The one, though, yeah, we know about him.

Me: And I understand that the bullying isn’t limited to Ethan, that at least one other mother has indicated concern.

Teacher: So you talked to (mother’s name)? Yeah… (looks at principal)

Me: It’s an issue, so what’s the plan to resolve?

Teacher: Well, Ethan bullies back. He says things to (bully name) that are similar to what you say the (bully) says to him. But I’ve never heard (bully) say anything to Ethan. I can only respond to what I hear about, and (bully and his three cohorts) tell me all the time things Ethan says to them. I’ve even heard from their parents that Ethan is bullying them by name calling.

Me: So Ethan’s not tattling on these boys, and I’m not calling you telling you (name) called him a lesbian, so Ethan’s at fault? The other boys are quiet in their comments so teachers can’t hear, but Ethan has a loud voice that carries, so that’s what you hear and react to? Because here’s the thing: my attitude is “no tattling. Period. Figure it out, unless someone is bleeding.” It’s all stupid shit that doesn’t warrant the attention of an adult. But you want the tattling? You want Ethan to tell you when the boys are bullying him or other kids?

Teacher: I can’t help what I don’t know about.

Me: OK, I’m telling you…I’m not saying Ethan’s innocent – hell, who wouldn’t call someone names if that person kept bullying them? They need to work it out.

Principal: I’ll bring them both together tomorrow and talk to them.

Me: Great. And I’ll tell Ethan to tattle more. Now about Family Life…

Teacher: I really don’t understand why you want to take him out. He has such insightful things to say and questions to ask. He brings a different perspective to the class. This is a hard conversation to have, but he’ll bring up his dad and the things his dad did and ask about it.

Me: Yeah, so the book really doesn’t represent “family” life as portrayed in the real world.

Principal: Can I see the book? What do you mean?

Me: Well, to start with, just look at the pictures. Families don’t look like that. There are no mixed families, no interracial adoptions represented, no single parents, no same sex parents…

Teacher and principal laugh hysterically.

Principal: Well, it is a Catholic school, so we would NEVER show a gay couple in “Family Life.”

Me: But that’s the real world. That’s part of “family life.” You can discuss the church’s views on homosexuality, but you can’t deny that these families exist. It’s legal. It exists. It’s my job as a mom to make sure my kids are prepared for the world, and that’s part of the world. I would like the name of the person at the archdiocese in charge of curriculum because I’d like to discuss the outdated notions in this book. As Ethan told me, “look at the cover.”

Teacher: It’s so funny you say that because that’s exactly what I told the class – “look at the cover. Does anyone’s family look like that? Because mine doesn’t.” We talk about family differences. Like I asked, “who in your house mows the lawn?” I had them raise their hands for it’s hired out, I do, mom does, dad does. And we marked it on the board to show how different we are. And how our families operate differently.

Me: Two things: so Ethan heard “look at the cover” and tuned you out. I guarantee it. Because there’s nothing there he can relate to. And examples like that show families are different, but in Ethan’s mind, it’s reinforcing HE’S different because dad mowing the lawn isn’t an option. No matter what you ask the class about family roles, he can NEVER raise his hand that his dad does this or that.

Teacher: I really don’t think his dad’s death is still an issue. He talks about him in class, which is something he didn’t do before. He’s over it.

Me: No. And Family Life is reinforcing that he doesn’t have a dad. Look, I’m personally offended by a lot of content in the book. (Refers to the father/mother section) This is not representative of my life now, nor when I was married. I was the primary bread winner. I traveled a lot. I had a lot of stress. I would’ve liked to participate in the kid’s activities more but couldn’t because of work obligations. It’s really unrealistic.

Teacher: We talk about how this is how it used to be and then discuss how things are now.

Me: Kids see a book that you’ve put in front of them and consider it to be what you’re teaching. I don’t care what your in-class discussions are, the perception is that this is “family life.” It isn’t being taught as history; it’s being taught as “family life.” Also, I thought parents were supposed to see the book before it was taught.

Teacher: Oh no, not this book because we’ve never had a problem with it. There’s a bigger text book that talks about sex that would go home to parents first so you could decide if you wanted your child to participate. This is just a workbook for discussions to set up the bigger text book.

Me: Yeah, Ethan will not participate in this class. Not now with the workbook, and I can’t even imagine how the text book will work, so I revoke my permission for that, too.

Principal: This is taking the place of religion this quarter, right?

Teacher: Yes.

Me: Well, Ethan will have to be somewhere else during this discussion. I would like your lesson plans and I will instruct him myself on “family life.”

Teacher: I have a packet for you. You’ll really have fun having the conversations with Ethan about this stuff. But I really don’t think it’s a dad-issue for him. He says such nice things about his relationship with Mr. B and his Big Brother…

Me: Yes, he has male role models, but HIS DAD IS DEAD. NO HE’S NOT OVER IT. AND YES I WHOLEHEARTEDLY BELIEVE FAMILY LIFE IS TRIGGERING HIS BEHAVIOR THAT YOU SAY HAS REGRESSED SINCE BEFORE SPRING BREAK.

Principal: Let’s bring Ethan in.

Ethan came in and I asked about his day. His response was typical, “It was good.” I asked if he got in trouble or had to be told not to talk out in class. “Once in Miss J’s class,” he said.

Teacher: REALLY?!

Ethan: Yes?

Teacher: Well, I don’t always correct him, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t talk out or have a good day. I’d say today was a medium day.

Me: So if you don’t call him out, how is he supposed to know his actions aren’t appropriate. Or how you perceive his day to have gone?

Teacher: He knows.

Ethan’s skin turned red and blotchy.

The teacher brought up tutoring to help Ethan with math. Ethan LOST it. I’ve never seen him break down like that. His eyes teared up, his voice was LOUD, and he just said, “No, no, I won’t do it.” His head was thrown back and he refused to make eye contact. His hand went to his head and he rocked back and forth a bit. He slid low into his chair.

Me (reaching out to touch his leg): What’s the problem? Do you know what tutoring is? It’s not a big deal.

The reaction from Ethan didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop it. The teacher and principal couldn’t stop it. Finally, I told Ethan to get a drink of water and come back.

Teacher: That’s what I deal with every day.

Me: I’ve never seen anything remotely like that before from him.

Teacher: I can tell by your expression that you’ve never seen it, but that’s how he reacts. A lot. It might be because of math or because of an assignment he forgot. Anything will set him off.

Ethan came back into the room.

Me: OK, so you started this meeting talking about middle school. One thing we all know is that Ethan doesn’t do great with change. One reason he’s had a decent year – which I’m going with since I haven’t heard much from you – is because he knew (teacher) from last year. Is there any way Ethan can meet with the three middle school teachers before school starts?

Ethan flew into hysterics again. “I will not do that! I don’t want to talk to them! I don’t want to go here anymore!”

Principal: We can work something out. (Ethan continued his tantrum.)

Me: Ethan, can you tell me why? Why don’t you want to meet with the middle school teachers? What’s wrong with the school?

He couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate his feelings. The meeting concluded shortly after.

Ethan and I talked a lot last night about Family Life. Ethan believes it’s a contributing factor to his behavior the last few weeks. I told him that now he’s removed from it AND the bullying issue will (hopefully) be addressed, he needs to back it up by pulling it together at school.

Me: Let’s show them that we’re right. Bullying and that stupid fucking Family Life bullshit book are the reasons. But that argument goes in the garbage the first time you act out, you realize that?

I’ve been thinking about the conversation with the teacher and the principal, and the follow up with Ethan. I wish he could articulate what it is about the school – this isn’t the first time he’s mentioned he wants to change schools. I’m generally not one to give in, but if the school thinks Ethan is or should be over his dad’s death, and if I have to continually have the same conversations with the same people, maybe it’s better for everyone to change.

We live in an open enrollment state. I applied to a couple of public schools outside our district today, and I talked to a mom who has kids in a different Catholic school in the area. I haven’t filled out the “are you returning” paperwork at the current school yet, and I’ll probably not do it until I finalize my decision on where the kids will go to school next year.

To be continued: To change schools or not to change schools?

Mom, dad, 2.5 kids: really, you couldn’t figure out this would be an issue?

Apologies in advance for length and stream of consciousness, as this post was written  quickly between doctor visits, but I really needed to get these thoughts out.

Last night I received a really bothersome email from Ethan’s teacher. It was a LONG email covering everything from his disrespectful behavior in class to exhibiting an “aggressive look” while playing football at recess. The crux of the note was to let me know that Ethan’s behavior has really regressed in the last two weeks (since returning from spring break), and could there possibly be anything happening at home that might be fueling this change?

Ethan and I sat down, and I read him the LONG email from his teacher. He said he was stressed with the standardize testing that started after break, and he was being bullied by a group of boys who keep calling him things like princess, queen, and lesbian. I knew this group of boys were being mean to Ethan, but I’m old-school when it comes to bullying: figure it out because bullying is a part of life. That advice is not working because in verbal retaliation to these boys, it’s Ethan’s loud voice that the teacher hears and E gets in trouble.

Then there’s the matter of “Family Life.” (Fellow StB moms: I highly recommend you read the book, if you haven’t already. I respect if your opinion is different than mine, but it’s worth a look if you haven’t reviewed.) 

The Family Life class was introduced after spring break and is part of the local Catholic school curriculum, as I understand it. Coincidentally, the introduction of this class corresponds to Ethan’s change in behavior.

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The cover of Family Life

When I asked E about the class and if it bothered him, he said no. Then he looked away and HUGE tears started to fall from his eyes. His face turned a splotchy red and he started sobbing. “Look at the cover,” he said. “The whole book is about families with moms and dads. Even kids with divorced parents have a mom and a dad.”

“I feel like an albino zebra because I stick out so much,” he cried as we hugged.

Ethan said the teacher asks questions like, “Who are you closer to, your mom or your dad?” The class has opened up the flood gates to a host of topics including bestiality (which was described as 2 animals having sex) and how a judge who imposes the death penalty is committing a sin. (A good Catholic judge cannot do that, was the message.) 

Over the last two weeks, I’ve asked every day about the lesson, the questions asked/answered, and corrected the issues I thought were misrepresented by the teacher, I.e., what bestiality really means. (Also, the judge is doing HIS JOB, and by that logic, a Catholic cannot act as an attorney, serve on a jury, be a lawyer in a criminal case, or act as a legislator making the laws – the laws the lawyers and judges are following when they impose or recommend sentencing.)

After he went to bed, I thumbed through the book. Images of smiling, very traditional families stared out from the pages. Mom, dad, 2 kids. There was diversity, but not within one family. White parents had white kids. Black parents had black kids. Asians with Asians. There were no mixed race families, no adoption of children of another race., no same sex parents or transgender discussions.

 

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OMG! These homogeneous families are so damn happy!

I read with interest the section on Fathers and Mothers. A few excerpts:

On Fathers, page 34:

Fathers come in many sizes and styles. Some are forceful and outgoing, others are quiet and strong. Some love sports and others love music. Some like to cook, and all seem to enjoy a good home-cooked meal! Some have to travel or work late a lot, and some may have lots of pressures on them. Some still find time to coach a sports team or to teach a child to ride a bike, and others wish they could. Some fathers may tell funny stories to their children or listen to their problems. Very few fathers, however, are just perfect.

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“Dad, can I have a Members Only jacket, too,” junior asks admiring the soft khaki fabric and the numerous pockets. “You have to work hard, travel a lot, and love sports or music first, Big Guy. But now, let’s say we go home and eat a big home-cooked meal?” dad responds.

On Mothers, page 35:

Mothers fill many roles in today’s busy world. They may work outside the home, as well as care for their families. They may work as volunteers. They have many things to do, but mothers try to constantly be aware of then needs of their children.

Interesting. So dad’s all busy with his travel and stressful schedule, and mom… What? She “may” work outside the home? Heck, as long as she’s home in time to make her husband that “home-cooked meal,”  it’s probably okay for her to have her little “outside the home” job. Dad, as we all know, is the real hero in this story. 

WTF, Family Life?

Here’s what I get from the book: moms talk on the phone a lot, as evidenced by the only two photos showing a parent without a child in the book. Seriously, there are no “this is just dad” photos. Just these two of women, no kids in sight, talking on CORDED phones. These ladies are probably sharing casserole recipes to make that hardy home-cooked meal men love so much! Amiright, ladies?!

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The section concludes with this, page 35:

Men and women each have important roles to play in God’s plan. Sometimes children experience the love and care of just one parent. Sometimes children don’t have any parents. Yet, it is a great blessing for children to grow up in the presence of two loving parents, a father and a mother. Both give love and attention, both offer models of what it means to be a loving and faithful man or woman.

So, my child isn’t blessed because he has one parent? He gets the shaft because his dad chose the bottle? Gee, kid, sorry about that, but look around, the rest of your classmates have this “great blessing” that you don’t (and won’t) have. 

Um, not a great message. No wonder he’s acting a fool in school. Hell, I’m sitting at Panera writing this and SEETHING with anger at this bullshit book.

Let’s talk about sex, page 39:

“It’s good to meet you. Where are you from?” People you meet often want to know where you were born or where your ancestors come from. Knowing where you came from helps them understand who you are. You came from God. God created you. Before you came to be, God thought about you and loved you. Everyone who has ever was or ever will be came from God. That’s why you can say you are part of the Family of God. Your parents cooperated with God’s plan for you. Through the miracle of procreation, they assisted God in bringing you to life.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure Mike and I just got busy. Sperm. Egg. Boom! Miracle of life. And if someone responded to my inquiry of “Where are you from?” with a bullshit “I’m part of the Family of God,” I’d pretty much write them off as coo-coo birds.

I’m not saying Ethan and Lauren aren’t part of God’s plan, but this is a pretty limited, self-serving explanation. To be fair, the book does include a little bit more on pages 48-49, but it’s VERY limited and focused on outdated notions. (Go figure!)

I responded to his teacher with this note:

Thank you so much for your email. No, Ethan did not tell me all this (except the testing stuff). We are still seeing his therapist, every other week. This was not one of the weeks. However, Ethan and I had a VERY good talk tonight.

There are three big issues here:

  • Testing pressure. Ethan has been stressed about the Iowas for months. I’ve let him know to just do his best, but he always stresses about tests. Testing causes him a lot of internal turmoil, particularly when he’s being asked questions he’s not familiar with. I’m not sure how to encourage him more than I have. And I’m not surprised that he’s upset during a testing week.
  • Ethan has been on the receiving side of some major bullying for the last few weeks. My attitude toward bullying is old-school – bullying happens at all life stages, so find a way to deal with it. My advice is obviously not working. In the last few weeks, a group of boys (NAMES redacted to protect the underage guilty) have been calling him names including princess, queen, Hillary Clinton, and lesbian. Ethan’s response to retaliate verbally is getting him in trouble – Ethan’s voice is LOUD, so he’s the one being heard with his retaliation. (However, racial name calling is NEVER tolerated, and we discussed that at length.) He feels like he has to say something back to the boys because walking away makes the other kids laugh and Ethan gets embarrassed. He hasn’t mentioned the bullying to anyone at school because he doesn’t want retaliation from the boys finding out that he tattled. He’s afraid it will cause even further name calling and more aggressive bullying. Ethan also said nasty comments are not just directed at him – this group is making comments about teachers behind their backs (including the art teacher mentioned in your email). In the art situation, Ethan was trying to call out the boys for looking at the teacher while saying “we like you” but behind the teacher’s back, the boys were saying some REALLY nasty things about him. Ethan was trying to let the teacher know what the boys were really saying. He did not handle it appropriately and he acknowledges that. The bullying issue is such a big deal to him, that Ethan talked to his therapist about the bullying issue a few weeks ago, and she indicated that she would mention it to someone at St. B. I’m assuming that connection didn’t happen?
  • Family Life. ETHAN NEEDS TO BE REMOVED FROM FAMILY LIFE IMMEDIATELY. First, perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought it was mentioned at the beginning of the year that the book would be sent home for parents to review in advance. That didn’t happen. I’ve had concerns the last few weeks about what was being taught – Ethan has come home asking about bestiality and why judges who impose the death penalty have committed a sin. (Note: Ethan’s dad was an attorney and we have A LOT of attorney/judge friends.) In addition, this subject IS the major difference in the last two weeks, as the book was introduced after spring break. Tonight, I asked Ethan about Family Life and if it was the reason for his behavior changes. His immediate response was “no.” Then he started to completely break down crying (the major, ugly kind of crying and sobbing). He said, “I didn’t even realize it until now, but Family Life time is hard for me. I thought I was over daddy’s death, but I’m not.” Take a look at the book – most of the photos are the shiny happy stereotypical family: mom, dad, 2 kids (I’m surprised there aren’t more white picket fences and dogs). Yep, there are photos of mom with the kids, but there are also a lot with dad and the kids. (And a strange number of photos of mom on a corded phone, no husband or kids around?) Discussions about “who are you closer to, your mom or dad?” (or however it was phrased in class, Ethan didn’t remember the exact wording) are causing major issues with Ethan’s mental health. THESE DISCUSSIONS ARE A TRIGGER FOR HIM AND HIS GRIEF, AND (AS I’VE MENTIONED BEFORE) TRIGGERS CAN AFFECT ALL HIS BEHAVIORS AND THESE EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS ARE NOT GOING AWAY, even outside of the lesson. I really believe spending time with this book and these lessons are hurting his attitude and his behaviors at school. Ethan and I agree that there is value with Family Life, and I would like to keep the book and teach the lessons to my son myself. We can coordinate what lessons you’re teaching each week so Ethan can stay on the same page as his classmates. But having him sit in class where a more “traditional” family model is discussed is very hurtful for him. (In his words: “Even in divorced families, the kids have a mom and a dad. I feel like an albino zebra because I stick out so much.”)

Finally, I want to clarify the activities on the playground. When the boys play football, it’s aggressive all the way around – the GAME is aggressive. There’s a move that the boys came up with earlier in the year called the “(LAST NAME) Attack” in which Ethan acts as the rusher. You can’t have a rusher and/or a move called “(LAST NAME) Attack” without an aggressive facial look. (Also, Ethan played tackle football in St. Louis before we moved and rule No. 1 is to look tough. Seriously.) The aggressive look might appear out of context from where (name of recess dictator redacted) stands observing the game. If football is allowed, aggressive looks (and, let’s be honest, aggressive actions) should be allowed. Other kids are knocking down players and throwing the ball too hard resulting in injuries. Kids are getting bruised, and yet a lot of the class wants to play. Aggression is part of the game. Let them play the game, or ban the game. It’s football, not ring-around-the-rosie.

Ethan and I have talked about appropriate school behavior, not talking out and being more respectful. If the bullying and Family Life issues are addressed, his behaviors will change dramatically.

Today, in response, Ethan’s teacher asked that I reconsider removing him from Family Life because he asks good questions and leads the discussion. He’s not afraid to ask questions that other kids are too shy to address, and she feels it’s good for everyone if he’s part of the group since he plays a lead. Um, no, I stand by my position to remove him from Family Life.

And if she wants him involved, then she has to deal with the consequences of his behavior triggered by this bullshit, outdated, superficial, Pollyanna class. We’ll see how Monday’s meeting goes…