Addiction sucks the motivation from a person. Addiction clouds his/her judgement. He/she becomes unstoppable, paranoid, and thinking he/she is right while everyone else is wrong. Addiction talks louder than any other voice, drowning out any rationale thought. Addiction is right. At least to the addict. Continue reading
I’m pissed. I’m sad. I’m literally crying in a Panera Bread right now. (Since it’s too early for a drink, I’m medicating through pastries and massive amounts of caffeine.)
The kids attend a Catholic school, which means there’s an expectation for parental volunteering. I could write PAGES on how I feel about volunteering and how it’s (mis)handled at the school and why it’s best for everyone that I do the minimum (lest I be seen as a raging, controlling, know-it-all bitch), but that’s not today’s point. At the beginning of the year, I signed up to help with “Friday folders” in Ethan’s class. Basically, once a week, all the tests and homework and notes to parents have to be sorted and put into the correct kids’ folder to go home. It’s usually less than an hour every three or four weeks. I can do it alone, first thing in the morning when I drop off the kids, and still have the rest of my day for grading, yoga and errands.
Generally, I don’t pay much attention to anything I’m sorting. Look at the name, put in the kid’s pile, move on to the next. But there was one assignment in which I was interested.
The kids were asked last week to talk to their parents about where they were when the Challenger exploded in 1986. The kids had to write (or have a parent write) the response for extra credit. I told the kids the story of where I was and how I learned of the explosion. It was long and convoluted (junior high, screaming crying science teacher, seeing it on TV in the classroom after lunch, watching endless coverage that afternoon/night, sister’s birthday celebration that night downgraded and somber, Chicago Bears Super Bowl decorations still out around my grandma’s house where my sister and I were staying while my mom was in the hospital and dad was out of town). See, lots of detail. I remember it well. So I wrote the response. It was an entire page.
Ethan added a second part of the extra credit – how many Earths would fit into the sun? (1.3 million, if you were curious.) And he turned it in.
Today those responses were part of the work to be sent home. Most were short – “my mom was in high school” – few went into much detail – “my dad watched it in the library at UWM.” Mine was by far the most detailed and longest. (And it was the only one written in green Sharpie. Green for science, get it? Color coding!) Ethan received two points extra credit (one for my response, one for the Earth/sun question). Great.
But several kids in the class received THREE points on the extra credit assignment. One point for the Earth/sun question, one point for mom’s response, one point for dad’s response. The teacher made three check marks on the papers that received three points – one check next to the Earth/sun question, one next to the mom’s response, one next to the dad’s response. Three points.
Two-parent families, in which both parents contributed to the “where were you” assignment, were rewarded more than those in which only one parent responded. (And, quite frankly, the generic nature of the majority of responses – “My mom saw it on TV. My dad saw it on TV.” – make me question how meaningful some of the conversations really were, and, honestly, if some of the conversations actually even took place.)
Spoiler alert: in our household, there is only ONE parent capable of responding since the other is, you know, dead.
It feels woefully unfair. It’s exactly what I don’t want Ethan – or Lauren – to experience: “your dad is dead and you’ll never be on the same playing field as kids with two, living parents. Those kids will always get three points, and you’ll be stuck with two points. You can’t ever get three points.”
Exaggeration? Yeah, sure.
It’s just extra credit, you’re thinking. Big deal, right?
Wrong. This is a kid who continues to struggle with his memories of his dad. A kid who is still coming to terms with his grief. A kid who is ANGRY that his dad chose to drink beer and vodka and whiskey instead of choosing to LIVE to see his kids grow up. A kid who is very aware that he is different because his dad is dead. Dead. Dead.
Yeah, to THAT kid (and his mom), losing out on one point is a much, much bigger deal. It’s symbolic of what’s lost and can never be replaced.
It’s another more hurdle to overcome. One more time in which he won’t have something others will, through no fault of his own.
He will always be one point shy of his classmates’ scores.
Updated: I sent the teacher the following email (yes, regardless of what I say in the first paragraph, I’ve already jumped to conclusions, but I needed to write/post this blog or I would explode with rage). I’m eagerly awaiting her response:
Hi (TEACHER NAME) –
While doing folders this morning, I saw something that really disturbed me. I wanted to ask about it before I make any assumptions.
On the “where was my parent when the Challenger exploded” and Earth/sun extra credit, some students received 3 points, while others (like Ethan) only got 2 points. The only difference between those who received 3 points and those who received 2 points was the inclusion of information from both parents (Earth/sun=1 point, mom=1 point, dad=1 point).
Please clarify the point system, and if Ethan did not get a third point because asking his dad is impossible. Thank you.
While Ethan has handled the news of my diagnosis well at home, apparently he’s not doing as well at school.
His teacher emailed last night about problems staying focused and being disruptive in class. He told his teacher that he “wasn’t allowed” to talk about my cancer. He was also in trouble for saying “Paul Revere rode like hell to warn the Colonial militia about the British.” (OK, he shouldn’t have said “hell.” I get it. Also, thanks, History Channel documentary for putting that phrase in his mind.)
I went out for drinks with colleague friends last night, so I didn’t get home until nearly kiddo bedtime. My mom took Lauren upstairs for a bath, and I sat down with Ethan. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Do you know why your teacher would have emailed me today?”
He started to rub his eyes. He admitted that he has too much on his mind: my diagnosis trigger thoughts of my health, my mom’s health, and the deaths of his dad and grandpa. He also feels completely abandoned by Mike’s parents, who remain MIA (despite having multiple ways to contact us).
He’s afraid to say anything to the kids at school because he thinks a few of them will make fun of them or laugh about my hair loss. “Ethan, most of the moms know,” I told him. “And if anyone makes fun of you because I have cancer, I’ll call their parents directly and take care of it. Or I can take the kid out on the playground and kick their ass. Your choice.” (Wisely, he opted for me not to kick any kids’ asses.) I also assured him that I am fine, and I’m going to remain fine.
I assured him my mom is doing well. Her health issues seem to have disappeared, and other than arthritic pain from passing weather fronts, she’s doing really well.
We talked about Mike, and he cried because he can’t remember many of the good things about his dad anymore. I told some stories, and we laughed.
Overall, I think we’ve lost traction in the grieving process. We’re back to Ethan blaming himself for his dad’s drinking (“I should have stopped him. I should have told you.”), and Ethan worrying about what happens to him and Lauren if something happens to my mom or me.
The solution is just time. Time and talking. Time and talking and the generous understanding of those around him.
Good God, this kid’s been through a lot in his 9 years.
Unrelatedly, genetic testing is back and… of all the genes tested, all are negative for mutations. My genes are normal! This means genetics did not cause the cancer, and I don’t have an increase (compared to the average population) of getting breast cancer again or any of the other cancers examined in the test (brain, thyroid, ovarian). What it doesn’t answer, though, is why I did get cancer. It could be environmental. It could be a mutation on some other gene yet to be discovered. It could be that science just doesn’t have the technology to “find” the mutation yet in the genes examined.
I really don’t need the answer for “why me,” and I’m taking this as very good news. The information will help me and the medical team finalize surgery plans. It also means the kids do not need genetic screening for these cancers. However, Lauren will need to talk to her doctors when she’s in her early 30s about starting mammograms sooner than traditionally recommended.
I found my kryptonite – Breast MRI. I tried again, with lorazepam this time. The test didn’t even get started before I quit. I just couldn’t get enough oxygen laying on my stomach. I was worried about hurting my recent port insertion site. And I fought the “relaxing” effects of lorazepam with all my might. I was the opposite of relaxed. See, lorazepam was one of the anti-anxiety meds Mike took after he lost his job. He took the pills like candy, to the point of being zombie-ish. Then he started combining the pills with alcohol, which rendered him virtually comatose. I just couldn’t shake the image of him on the couch, not opening his eyes, mumbling incoherently. I wouldn’t let myself relax, not with THIS in my body. I didn’t want to be like THAT. So, I basically walked in the MRI room and walked out – didn’t even start the imaging. Not happening.
After last night’s session with Ethan’s new therapist (D), I feel even more sure that Ethan’s problems in school are very heavily grief-based.
She started by asking really basic questions to get him more comfortable. (Where do you go to school? What grade are you in? What’s your favorite school subject? What do you like to do for fun?)
Then she moved to word association. Mom, she said.
“Pretty good,” Ethan said. “Nice, but I get mad when she won’t let me play my 3DS.”
D looked at me. I could see her smile through her eyes. Grandma, she said next.
“Good,” said Ethan.
Ethan’s body tensed. He covered his face with his hands. He started to get very fidgety. His fists balled up. He arched his back.
“It’s okay,” D said. “How do you feel about your dad?”
“I don’t have a dad,” Ethan said.
“Yes you do,” D said. “He’s just not here with you. How do you feel about your dad?”
Ethan started punching the ball he was holding. “Mad,” he said. “I told him to stop drinking beer. I threw some of his beer away once. I got in really bad trouble.”
“What happened?” D asked softly.
Ethan continued hitting the ball. He turned his back to us and punched at the ball.
“Daddy yelled – LOUD. Then I got send to my room. He should have stopped drinking.”
“It’s okay to punch that ball,” D said. Ethan continued his physical outburst for another minute or so.
D looked at me and whispered,” Did you see those physical changes? There’s a lot going on there.”
The rest of the session went well. It was hard for Ethan to focus after talking about his dad. The three of us played a game involving placing stones on Ethan’s body to encourage him to lay still. Then we played a board game called Stop, Relax & Think, which got him opening up a bit about his feelings and start thinking through possible ways to relax and deal with stressful situations or things that make him angry.
At one point in the Stop, Relax & Think game, I had to sing a song until D told me to stop. Ethan apparently was not amused with my singing and told me to stop a few times. I kept going until D told me to quit, per the rules. D turned to Ethan and explained that it was never the job of the child to tell his parent to “stop.” Instead it is the job of the parent to correct the child. I liked D even more after that.
We go back to D in a week. She’s going to do good things with Ethan.