First day of school tears (for me)

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Obligatory first day photo shoot.

Ethan and Lauren started school today. Sixth and first grades. And I cried.

I don’t remember crying when they went to preschool or kindergarten, but this year was different – and super emotional. The kids are going to a new school. Each to a different school, actually. And I’m happy and I’m sad and I feel completely and utterly overwhelmingly guilty.

When Mike and I decided to have kids – actually before that – we agreed that we wanted the kids to have a Catholic education. It was so important that I converted to Catholicism before we got married so this would be a family thing.

When the kids and I moved here, Mike was fairly involved in the “finding a school” process. We continued to agree that the school should be Catholic. As I looked at areas to live, Mike was looking at schools (via the Interwebs). While he never visited the schools or talked to anyone, he had a say in where our kids would go.

And I really liked the school we chose. Then Mike died.

I’ve written about it before – just weeks into his new school, Ethan was called down to the principal’s office to get the news. His teacher, the principal, the priest, the families made us feel so welcome and so much part of the “school family” in those difficult early days and weeks and months (and beyond). Same when I was diagnosed with cancer. I truly loved love the families at the school.


The school isn’t a good fit for Ethan. That’s hard to think, to write, to say because I did a lot of research to find this school.


  • With only a couple of exceptions, school activities are limited to sports-related things, and Ethan’s not sporty. At all. (Plus sports remind him of Mike, who coached Ethan in little league and soccer, so there’s an emotional connection that Ethan associates with sports. And not a good one since Mike was sloppy drunk the last year he coached.) New school has OPTIONS, so many options, like a robotics club, a reading club, chess, yearbook – and several less competitive intramurals like dodgeball.
  • And when I found out two of Ethan’s greatest allies/friends were leaving the school, I knew middle school would be hard for Ethan without these boys. These boys stuck up for one another, and Ethan would be miserable and bullied – with no support. I know he had other friends, girls mostly, but that only added to the bullying he was experiencing at the end of the year.
  • Ethan has asked for years to go to a different school. Having his dad’s death happen so soon into his time there AND finding out at the school have tied all those memories together. I’m not sure Ethan can separate things in his head, and that’s made for some self-imposed difficulties at the school. The new school is a fresh start. A clean start. No one knows him there, and he can create the persona he wants to be (starting with today’s outfit, which he introduced as his “new look” – much different than the athletic shorts/stained t-shirt boy I looked at all summer).
  • I won’t even go into Family Life or the repetition of explaining childhood grief to the administration and teachers… New school has an onsite counseling DEPARTMENT, and it hosts workshops and meetings for kids who’ve lost a loved one, or have anger issues, or are dealing with family status things (remarriages, parents dating, divorce, etc.)

And I feel guilty about making the decision – the best decision for him and one he’s asked for for several years – to change schools. Guilty because Ethan will attend public school for sixth through eighth grades. And that’s not what Mike and I agreed to. And Mike’s not here to support or refute my decision. And I can’t discuss it with him. And I can’t get his okay.

I CAN’T GET MIKE’S OKAY. I will never have his okay…


So, regarding Lauren, I decided to move her to a different school, too. I’m keeping her in a Catholic school (for now). I’ve met with the principal and her teacher to discuss the situation, and they seem more competent/compassionate/understanding. I’ve explained some of the childhood grief issues we had at the other schools, and they seem better equipped to handle it. Lauren’s a completely different kid with different needs. She’s going to be alright no matter where she goes. I feel really good about her new school, and wish I would have moved Ethan here last year (it only goes to fifth grade, unfortunately).

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.


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…


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?