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.

But…

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”

“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

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…

We need roooooommmm! Basement remodeling decisions

I was going to write about my sister and how she’s really pissing me off by making my mom feel guilty and she’s passive aggressively dissing mom on social media. But when I started writing, I realized giving Julie that much of my time and attention was making me really, really angry. She’s crazy, and always will be. (And for anyone I know IRL who’s following Julie’s FB “health” drama, don’t believe the hype, and please don’t think my mom and I are not involved. We just know how this plays out because we’ve been there, done that, and we’re over it. Julie’s using and abusing the new BF and his family – they’re just too new to know who/what my sister truly is. But, hey, Julie’s getting a newly remodeled home out of the deal, so grossly exaggerating things and lying is okay, right?)

Ahem.

Let’s talk basements. The topic will still stress me out, but in a much nicer way.

When I bought this house, I really liked that the basement was unfinished. I’d seen some homes with poorly designed basements, so a large, empty, open concrete slab (with decently tall ceilings), was a selling point. Clean slate. Do what I want, when I want, figure out what works for the kids and me.

In the four years since we’ve lived here, the basement has become a four corner dump pile – storage here, kids’ toys there, stuff for a yard sale here, holiday decorations there. There are also about 15 large moving boxes STUFFED with packing paper, making a cardboard wall separating kid space from yard sale stuff. Organized but not useable.

Sure, the kids will play down there every once in a while. And I’ll run/walk on the treadmill (which can’t be plugged into the outlets in the basement, so a heavy-duty extension cord runs up the stairs – super classy). But it’s cold (no heat), and a little dark, and really not inviting.

Last year, I thought I’d get it finished, but, you know, cancer. (Damn, 2015 was a wasted year.)

Now this, THIS is the year: the kids are older and need more space – Lauren’s dollhouses and dress up clothes and babies are taking over the living spaces where I never intended toys to be (dining room, front room, living room, entryway, kitchen – girl stuff is EVERYWHERE); Ethan doesn’t always want to watch “Wild Kratz” or other Lauren-type shows and is at an age where he needs to have a little bit of his own time and space. And I’m tired of stepping on Legos when he spreads himself – and those damn plastic foot-destroyers – across the living room floor.

And, as B and I work toward merging our family together, more usable space is becoming necessary – a place where all six of us can (comfortably) gather, a place where he can play his bass and I can arrange/organize/use crafty and gift wrapping stuff.

I started getting bids for the job.

  • First guy: REALLY young (not that age is a big deal), ridiculously quick, didn’t seem super thorough, plans didn’t reflect some of the things I asked for, some of the design elements didn’t make sense (i.e., walling around the furnace and water heater so close that neither would be able to be removed should I have to replace them in the future), kind of got the sense he might nickel-and-dime me when things don’t go as planned.
  • Second guy (and his wife who is his design partner): straight shooter, super thorough, pointed out some things I should correct now (whether or not he does the job), his bid was about $10K more than I want to spend BUT I think he’d do an amazing job (and he guarantees not to go over the budget).
  • Third guy: walked him through what I wanted, spent half the time he was at the house talking on his phone to someone (I was upstairs; he was supposed to be doing measurements), pointed out stuff I should do now (like guy 2), can’t get me the estimate until he has his electrician AND plumber AND carpenter all come out separately – like “Hey Dude 3, what’s your job if you’re not qualified to figure this shit out?!”
  • Fourth guy: got his name from an remodeling referral service at a home improvement show this weekend (he was the only one of four names sent that had a website, and I’m leary of builders and remodelers who are not showcasing their work on the internet or social media), from his website he is really receptive to working WITH the homeowner on budget and design, GREAT phone conversation with him, he’s coming out tomorrow.

This is a CRAZY big decision to make. It’s a lot of money. I want it done right. I want it to feel like part of the house, not just an afterthought or nasty scary basement. I don’t know enough about remodeling or building or plumbing or electric or drywall to know if someone is doing a good job or not. I need to have full-faith in the person doing the work.

Guys 1 and 3 are out.

I like guy 2, especially his no bullshit attitude, but he’s expensive.

Guy 4 *might* be the answer.

Oh boy, adult decisions are hard.