Update to -1

Ethan’s teacher responded to my email. She was “surprised” that I sent an email and “sad” that I thought she “would be such an inconsiderate teacher.” After a couple of email exchanges, I have a bit of clarification, but not satisfaction.

Students were told to ask “any adult” to tell the story of where they were when the Challenger exploded. Some parents, as the teacher pointed out, were only a year old at the time, so it could be any adult. (A year old in 1986!? Now I feel ancient…) She said she specifically told Ethan he could ask his grandma for a story. Students received one point for each “story” they brought in.

Fine. However, “story” seems to be a pretty broad term. Literally, most students had one line – “my dad was home sick.” That’s not a story. That’s a statement. I wrote a story. A one-page story. The only story.

Also, while the kids see my mom regularly and B is becoming a more regular fixture during the week (YAY!), there’s one “adult” with whom the kids have regular contact. Me. It’s presumptuous to assume there’s anyone else around the kids on any given day. There is simply me. That’s only one extra credit point because there was only one adult around the dinner table with whom Ethan could get a “story.”

On the night of the assignment, I picked E up from school, and he was with my mom for about 40 minutes while I went to the gym. In that 40 minutes, at minimum, she emptied the kids’ lunchboxes, made snacks, ensured Lauren had all her winter snow gear for the next day, went through Lauren’s school folder, listened to Lauren read a story, helped Lauren with homework, and took the dog out to potty. She probably also moderated arguments between E and L, coerced them to change out of school clothes, tracked down Lauren’s water bottle (she always leaves it in my mom’s car), and who knows what else. Point being, there wasn’t  a lot of time for my mom to chat with Ethan about her recollection of that historical day.

Sometimes adulting is hard. Sometimes it sucks. Today is one of those days.

 

And you get -1 for not having a second parent

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.

Fuck.

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.

–J

 

Ours

“Beautiful children. Are they all yours?”

We stopped for lunch at a mom-and-pop restaurant in a smallish town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on our way home from spending Thanksgiving with B’s parents. (More on that another time.) An older woman behind the counter asked the question.

B was carrying his youngest daughter, following the server who was taking us to our table; Ethan was close behind, talking nonstop in B’s ear about something or other; and I was shepherding Lauren and B’s other daughter as we traversed the small entry of the restaurant, filled with knick knacks and tchotchkes for sale.

“Yes. Yes, they are,” I said, barely making eye contact with her as I made sure the girls’ heavy winter coats didn’t knock over something I really didn’t want to buy. I was busy holding the hand of one girl while directing the other by the shoulder.

The woman behind the counter followed it with, “But you both look so young…” and a sort of tsk-tsk sound.

Crazy lady, I thought. Of course they’re ours. What other kids would be with us? Does she think we found some kids alongside the road and brought them in for Swedish meatballs and limpa bread?

We were at our table at the back of the restaurant when it finally hit me what the woman meant.

“Are they all yours?”

Oh… are they OURS? Like O-U-R-S, mine and B’s? Well…

I felt a little foolish for  misunderstanding the woman. Yeah, they’re ours, but not technically O-U-R-S. Like if we start getting into if they’re our biological children and genetics and stuff… well, then…

But then, I realized I didn’t misunderstand the woman at all. YES, they are O-U-R-S. Damn, it, all four of them. For all their faults and all their goodness. For all the little arguments we referee. For all the cuddles we share. For the goodnight stories and kisses and late night movies and board games. For the helping make Christmas cookies. For the knock knock jokes at dinner. For the tears, for the laughter. For better or worse.

“Are they all yours?”

Hell, yes. Yes, they are mine. Yes, they are B’s. They, all four of them. They are ours.

Two weeks

I’m two weeks post-surgery today. I feel great – no pain and full range of motion on my right side – so much better than I thought I’d feel at this point.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had four doctor appointments, and one more scheduled for tomorrow. Thank goodness the cancer center is only a few miles away! The surgeon couldn’t believe I wasn’t in more discomfort or pain. The plastic surgeon checked all the incisions, removed my drain, ordered me to not lift more than 10 pounds (an increase from five pounds – yay!), avoid stress that would lead to high blood pressure or increased heart rate (easy with kids, right?!) and to wear a bra 24 hours a day (ugh). Also, I have to leave on a clear sticky surgical tape covering my incisions for another two weeks – because it’s so sticky, it’s full of little fuzz balls from towels and clothing. Yuck! The oncologist was giddy with the pathology results. He actually giggled at the success of the chemo and surgery. Of course, he’s also the one who proclaimed he loves “to kill cancer!” The oncologist said based on the pathology report and after I complete radiation, my odds of a reoccurrence would be “really, really, really low.” Woot!

The fourth appointment was with the lymph edema clinic – and a new doctor. Because lymph nodes were removed (only the three sentinel nodes), I’m at risk for lymph edema. After meeting with the lymph edema team, the thought of this condition scares me more than anything I’ve been through. The chance increases the more nodes are removed, and since I only had three removed, my risk is slight. But it’s a condition I’ll have to watch for – for the rest of my life. Any break in the skin (from a bug bite, needle stick, scratch), burn (including sunburn), “crushing” (like laying on the arm at night or having blood pressure taken on that side), or repetition (like up-and-down painting of a wall or the motion of cross country skiing) could cause a build up of protein within the cells that cannot be filtered out through the lymph system. This could result in swelling requiring compression sleeves and gloves, the need for lymph massage (not the relaxing kind of spa treatment I enjoy), or other treatments depending on the severity. It sucks.

But my biggest issue right now is figuring out what to do with the left breast. The right breast is amazing, but the left one… well, a friend summed it up by saying I’m my own before-and-after, at the same time. The left side is larger and lays lower on my chest – heck, it’s been exposed to gravity for 41 years so it sags a bit. When I look down, there’s a two-inch slope downward from my right breast to my left. It’s temporary – reconstruction has to wait until six months after radiation, and I thought it would be no big deal. But it is. I’ve scheduled a few appointments with bra fitters this week (what’s a few more appointments?!), but I don’t want to spend a ton of money (since it is a temporary condition). Worse case scenario, I’ll wear a LOT of scarves to cover my chest. Thank goodness I live in a climate where I can wear scarves from September until May! First world problems…

The kids have been great through all this, but they’re starting to get antsy, and, unfortunately, school doesn’t start until the end of the month. It hasn’t been the most fun summer – no road trips to the Gulf coast or weekend getaways this year. Everything has been dependent upon “how mom’s feeling.” Sure, they’ve been mini golfing and to the movies and fishing/camping (with my mom), but it hasn’t been our usual summer. I really need to think of a way to make next summer extra special…

Almost 100 percent

I’m back.

Last week was rough. A GI virus that took down my mom and Lauren for about 12 hours spent about 10 days rattling around my body. It didn’t help that it was my “low” week so my body had NOTHING to help the fight.

Day by day, I tried to stay on top of rehydration, but the faster I put fluids in, the faster they were (violently) ejected from my body.

I went to work every day, but I won’t win any awards for my performance – it was all I could do to teach the bare minimum to stay on schedule. Usually my teaching style is very dynamic. I move around a lot, making use of the entire classroom. Last week, I didn’t leave my chair at the front of the room.

I slept. A lot. Because I was up all night, I slept until around 10 a.m., got up, went to work, came home, slept more. I had zero energy.

I was REALLY grouchy, and sometimes dizzy and light headed. I almost passed out after climbing about 40 steps in the parking garage – 40 freaking steps and I had to sit down for 10 minutes on the frozen concrete because I was seeing black spots. Good thing I didn’t park where I normally do or I definitely would have passed out on the walk to my office.

On Thursday, my tolerance reached a low point when I got mad at my thermos for keeping my soup hot and at my scarf for hugging my neck too tight. Getting angry (like, CRAZY mad) at inanimate objects for doing their job? Yeah, that’s not right.

I had been talking to the doctor and his nurses all week. Various tests came back normal. I finally laid it out for the nurse, “If I can’t get in today, I will go to the ER. I desperately need fluids, and I just can’t drink any more.”

I drove straight from work to the cancer center. Two bags of fluid plus magnesium and potassium and instructions for how to manage the GI virus symptoms, and I felt better. I slept through the night on Thursday.

I was still tired and weak and grouchy on Friday. I went shopping with my mom – as a birthday/Mother’s Day present, I wanted to buy her a new oven. She found one she liked and the sale was ending, so we had to go on Friday. It was all I could do to tolerate the appliance salesdude and his incessant repetition of the installation instructions. A trip to Target afterward was cut short because I just wanted to go to sleep.

Reread that – I didn’t want to shop at Target because I was tired. That’s pretty freaking tired, people.

My mom took the kids home with her Friday and Saturday nights so I could rest without interruption. I also decided to ignore the clear liquids/BRAT diet instructions I had been following for the past week. I was going to eat whatever my body told me it wanted. I needed nutrition (and to actually CHEW food) – more than comes from clear broth or jelly toast. Eating felt good.

By Saturday afternoon, I was feeling much better. By Sunday, when the kids came home, I was back to myself. Today, I feel about 95 percent “me.”

Friday will be my last dance with the red devil. I’m doing everything possible to stay on top of my health to get through the next few weeks before “regular” chemo starts. I’m told that will be the easy part.