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.
Ethan started opening up at school to his friends and teachers about his dad and his death. He really hadn’t said anything or even wanted to talk about Mike at school in the past. And it all started with a book the class read a few months ago.
In this story, the main character, a little boy, notices changes in his grandfather with whom he lives. The grandfather becomes very sickly, unable to get out of bed and his personality changes dramatically.
It was while discussing the grandfather’s illness and its manifestations that Ethan spoke up for the first time. “Sounds like what happened to my dad,” he said. He then started talking about how Mike was a great dad – until Ethan was about three years old. Then he started to get mean and yell at Ethan for no reason. And how Ethan, as a four or five year old boy, couldn’t wake his dad up, and how Ethan rarely saw Mike get off the couch in the basement. Ethan talked about his memories of hearing about his dad’s death while at school and the funeral and how he felt about his dad’s passing.
The reading teacher, who was Ethan’s first grade teacher when Mike died, was stunned that he was opening up. The class was quiet as they listened respectfully. One little girl came up to the teacher afterward to tell her she understood Ethan a little bit better after his story.
The teacher called me that night to tell me this story – and to see what she should do if/when he opens up again. “Let him talk!” I said. “It’s good that he’s comfortable with his classmates and you. He needs to get these thoughts and emotions and feelings OUT!”
She completely agreed and was very happy to hear that I was supportive of allowing Ethan to talk.
Fast forward to this week.
Ethan’s school lets out around 2:15. I teach until 3:15, then have a 40 minute commute, so Ethan attends an after-school program run by the local parks and rec department. He’s been in the program, with the same leaders, since he started at the school. They’re familiar with our situation and Mike’s death. And they’ve been very supportive and understanding as we’ve gone through milestones and anniversaries.
Apparently, Ethan decided to open up to a group of kids this week. I’m not sure what triggered his desire to talk about his dad’s death, or even what EXACTLY he said. But the leaders of the program freaked out.
I arrived shortly after the “incident.” The leader pulled me into a nearby room to talk privately. “Ethan was talking about his dad’s death today,” she said.
“Yeah…” I said.
“And it freaked out the kindergarteners. So we told him not to,” she said.
“Not to what?” I asked.
“Talk about how his dad is dead.”
“But that’s his reality. His dad IS dead. It’s not right or wrong, here or there. Mike is dead,” I said.
“Yes, but we don’t want the younger kids getting scared that their parents will die,” the leader continued. “So we asked him to talk to us and not the other kids if he wants to talk about his dad’s death.”
“But the kids’ parents ARE going to die. We’re ALL going to die. Ethan just learned the lesson earlier than most kids,” I said. “It’s healthy and natural, and I’m encouraging him opening up about Mike’s death if he wants or needs to.”
“He can talk about it with me or Miss B, but not the other kids,” the leader said. “It scares them.”
“So you told him NOT to talk about death?”
“Well, he can talk to us, just not the other kids.”
“But the other kids can talk about their moms and dads?”
“Of course. And Ethan can talk about you and his sister and his grandma. But not his dad.”
“Do you see a problem with that?” I asked, as politely as I could but starting to get really irritate.
“No. Death scares the kids.”
“Yes, and this is the life Ethan lives. He lost his dad and his grandpa. The kid has experienced more death than some adults I know. This is his reality, and he needs to be able to talk about it.”
“Well, I just don’t think he should talk to the kids about it.”
I grabbed Ethan and walked out of the school. Over last few days, I’ve tried to steer conversations with Ethan toward finding out what happened, without asking directly. He hasn’t mentioned anything nor seemed phased by what happened. The after-school teachers also haven’t mentioned it again – but I grab Ethan and leave as quickly as possible. I’m not really interested in small talk with them right now.
Would you be as pissed off as I am about this request to NOT talk about his dad?