Friday, May 23, 2008

Trouble with a Capital T That Rhymes with P that Stands for Pool

Before Duncan escapes the bath, and I get involved in the bedtime routine, about all I have time to say is that NEVER AGAIN in ONE MILLION YEARS would I be an adolescent.  We had just about every adolescent drama possible at school today.  As far as I know, no one stole anything, no one died, and no one came out.  Everything else was there.  In the everyday functioning of the school, it's easy to get wrapped up in the inconvenience of all these events, but I feel sad for what these young people have to go through.  Sad seems like such a small word to describe teen angst, but there's no word that comes closer in meaning.  Sometimes, I wish I could make all their lives easier; life should not have to be this hard.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Whatever You Do, Don't Look Down

I had an anxiety attack this morning.  It was a relatively small one, and it happens sometimes.  I suffer from an anxiety disorder.  I suppose I don't have an actual diagnosis, but I think my therapist liked to call it generalized anxiety disorder.  I stopped going to my therapist shortly after Duncan was born, and several people have suggested to me that that was not a wise course of action. However, I genuinely feel that she gave me the tools to keep it pretty well under control; sometimes the anxiety controls me, but those instances are pretty rare now. Today was one of those days.

Identifying anxiety triggers is pretty important in controlling them, and I spent a good part of today trying to identify what made me break out in a cold sweat during first period with my heart racing, my breathing shallow, and my attention shattered into a million pieces.  Eventually, I stopped thinking so hard about it, and the answer came to me.  Here's what happened.

I forgot not to look down.  

I suddenly realized this morning that I have been writing about my personal and work life on the internet and allowing people to read it.  THIS IS HUGE for me.  First of all, writing is like an art for me, and opening up my work to you, my dear readership of 8 or 9, is enormously stressful to me.  It's scary to share my writing, especially with people I see on an everyday basis.  In case you missed it (for example, you may have been residing under a rock), I am an introvert, extremely sensitive, and fearful of failure.  Whoa.  What was I THINKING?  Then, there's the little subject of the subject...somewhere along the line I stopped writing just about knitting and silly or annoying things Duncan does and started writing about myself. I don't do that kind of thing.  And then, I even started writing about my feelings. Good God.  I like to THINK that I'm good at feelings, but here's the truth.  I'm good at OTHER people's feelings.  I'm good at talking about what makes me angry, anxious, or sad, but that's it.  That's pretty much my public emotional repertoire. What have I done?????  See?  I forgot that you're not supposed to look down.  

For whatever reason, I'm over it now.  You've all given me positive affirmations, I'm still enjoying the writing, and you reading it gives me a purpose for writing. The more I write, the more I want to write.  That's kind of exciting to me so I'll get back on the horse.  I still like writing about silly things that happen in my family or what I think about when I'm not sleeping, but the worst thing that come of you reading that other stuff, the stuff about me, is that you'll know me a little bit better; how can that be a bad thing?  

P.S.  I'm trying to keep my dyslexic readership so what do we think of this template?  More readable?  I don't like the look of this font, but Verdana and Helvetica are the most readable fonts. More on that later.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light


I think that the darkness of my previous entry calls out for some light and color.  I think I'm too tired to write anything (2 nights of toddler-induced sleep deprivation) though I've got a really good pee story in the works.

In the coming weeks (well, realistically, after June 9th) I'm going to start experimenting with the layout of this blog.  I've become comfortable enough with the processes of writing, editing, and posting pictures.  I like this whole blue background thing, but it's just too dark.  I don't think white text on a blue background affords the greatest legibility.  And I think it might be time to take matters into my own hands regarding my layout.  As I start changing things, please let me know (all...8 or 9 of you) what you think.  

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dancing in the Dark

I have a friend who's afraid of the dark; if I'm to be truly honest, I have to admit that I'm more than a little (but less than a lot) afraid of the dark myself. Fear of the dark is such a primal fear. I haven't read much about it, but I'm willing to bet that it comes down to fear of vulnerability. In the dark, obviously, we can't see what's coming.  On a practical level, we can't see the saber tooth tigers, the rivaling tribesmen, the home invaders, or the mice until they are already upon us; thus, we are at a terrible disadvantage.  I think that over time, we come to associate the dark with the other, more abstract fears in our lives until the dark represents for us a blackened void in which to obsess about our greatest fears.

I think the dark is a little easier for me as an adult who makes her own hours than it was for a child who was annoyingly reminded to turn out the light and go to sleep. I remember at 8, 9, and 10 getting up to check on my sister, 7 years younger, who suffered from asthma. I fell asleep in her doorway while I lay listening to her breathe. When she was older, I often woke her up by diabolically asking her "if she was afraid" and then set about convincing her that she should be so that she would come sleep in my room with me. I don't remember what my fears were then, but I'm sure chief among them was the fear of death.  Having seen my sister hospitalized with pneumonia at 1 and taken numerous times to the emergency room for asthma attacks was my first acquaintance with mortality.  I was aware that it was possible to lose the people in my life, and my night waking subconsciously helped me to safeguard them.

As an adolescent, I remember staying up late reading (often Stephen King - no wonder I had issues) until I fell asleep with the light on. I remember reading in the bathroom in the early hours of the morning. I lost a grandmother and a grandfather and another grandmother, and my fear of mortality was strong.  I struggled with adolescence and spent a lot of my evening hours fearing myself - who I was and who I would become.  In college, I don't think there was much darkness to sleep in. There were always roommates and suite mates and people returning at strange hours and hall lights and long nights studying. It was strangely peaceful.  There was no opportunity to be afraid; there was no darkness. Then, during my junior year, in my tiny, quiet, peaceful school, a female student was attacked in her bed by a man from the local town. The next year, a young woman was attacked walking home from the library, and I learned that darkness is a relative term. What was to be feared then was not the darkness in my room as I tried to sleep, but the darkness of a jaded world that forced its way into my life. The bogeyman was not in the closet or under the bed, but in the shadows as I moved about the world at night.

After college, I lived alone until I was 33 years old. I lived in apartments in dormitories so I was always surrounded by people. Much like college, the buildings didn't have to be dark, and I liked that. In my own space, however, I avoided the darkness. I read at night until I literally fell asleep with the light on and a book over my face. A few hours later, I woke up enough to realize I was completely exhausted and then turned off the light. If I chose not to turn out the light, then I was perceived as an overly competent dorm parent who watched over her charges all night. Who were my bogeymen then? Sometimes they DID live in the closet or under the bed. Sometimes they were cancers waiting to seep into my cells. Sometimes they were visions of being alone for the rest of my life. Sometimes they were voices inside of me who really didn't like who I was. It was comforting to have other people living around me, but my bogeymen could always find their way in.

Living with my husband and sharing my bed with another human being has helped me forge a better relationship with the darkness; however, it also brings an unwillingness to drag him into my depths. I can no longer fall asleep reading, and it is no longer acceptable to sleep with the light on. Occasionally, when he was out at night, and I was home alone, he returned to find me asleep, in bed, with every light in the house blazing. On the few nights when the bogeymen sneak in, I am no longer content to lie in bed, heart pounding, hiding from them. Now I get up, go to another room, and read. It's a little like falling asleep with a book except that I have to get back up and find my way to bed. Having a baby also changed my relationship with the dark. When you have to get up between 1 and 4 times a night, you want to do it in a way that interrupts everyone's night as little as don't want the baby to be tricked into thinking it's daylight, and you want to be able to get back to sleep as quickly as you can because you don't GET a lot of sleep. Despite profound sleep deprivation, I did enjoy quite a few nights of rocking Duncan in the dark. So, I'm often too tired to be afraid of the dark, but sometimes they still get me, those bogeymen. Now they don't lurk outside my window but my son's. They are registered sex offenders who sell crack at the playground in downtown Amenia. They are drunk drivers who barrel into school buses. They are defective smoke detectors. They are men with the power to detonate weapons of mass destruction. They are leukemia, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, global warming, autism, and MRSA. Whereas they used to be everything that had the power to hurt me, they now hold the power to rip from me the people I love most.

And so, my night-fearing friend, I wish I could tell you that your fear of the dark will go away, but I can't. I don't know if there are treatments or reinforcement schedules or therapies that can cure us. What I can tell you is that it's a lot easier to get through the night when you aren't alone. And alone is a figurative term. Sure, it's easier with someone else in the bed (who sleeps on the side closest to door so the bogeymen will get him first while you jump out the window). But it's also easier when you know there are people you really COULD call at 2 am if you were truly desperate, and when you start to collect a little group of insomniac friends you can IM when you can't sleep. Most importantly, though, it's a little easier to get through the night when you wrap yourself in the collective good thoughts of the people who know, care about you, and love you the most.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Career Day

Sometimes, work can seem so tedious from day to day, but there's a lot of excitement going on at the Kildonan School right now. Today, despite the chill and rain, we had a fabulous career day. Dyslexic speakers, including alumni and other distinguished guests, met with students and faculty to talk about their experiences and the interesting paths their lives took on the way to their chosen careers. Architects, artists, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, humanitarians, economists, and others spoke candidly about their lives during and after high school and how dyslexia has affected them in the work force.

The one thing I found most interesting was that alumni who were asked what Kildonan experiences most impacted their success invariably commented on persistence and structure. The very structure that our students strain against each day (from proctored study halls to a strict residential schedule that includes dorm check-in, cloisters, lights out) was the one thing they felt helped them become successful. As teachers and administrators, we SAY this all the time to our students, but it was eye-opening to hear the first hand accounts. Through their daily struggles, our alumni learned to work hard. They weren't afraid to fail because they had already done it so many times and fought their way back. Because they were used to taking twice as long as "average" people to perform tasks, they were also willing to work the kind of long, hard hours in the work place that ultimately led to promotions. They kept pushing, day after day, until they made opportunities happen for themselves.

Another popular theme was the importance of finding something you feel passionately about...and doing it, passionately. For some, it meant giving up a family's expectation of entering law; for others it meant pursuing an interest in art. Many observations went like this "I started to do...but that didn't work out. I realized I had always I thought that might be a good direction to turn." Some of them simply chose career paths based on their interests; others used their interests to develop the courage to change their paths. All loved their jobs.

Perhaps my favorite observation of the day was that our visitors unanimously agreed that they didn't appreciate Kildonan while they were there, but now they think it made all the difference in their success. Our Academic Dean, Bob Lane, is fond of telling frustrated teachers that we are not in a business that has a particularly appreciative clientele. In general, dyslexic students don't WANT to be in school. Would you want to spend each day engaged in the very tasks that are the most difficult for you? It's a difficult road for them. At times they are appreciative, but teaching them is not a career (vocation? avocation?) where the client base says "Thank you so much. That was a great lesson; I appreciate all the time you put into preparing it." The clientele hates the service regardless of its quality. It is reassuring that 20 years later, they might finally realize the value of their Kildonan experience.

Those of us who work in this field, and plan to do so for the long haul, have learned that we have to take dramatic leaps of faith. We have to remind ourselves daily that what we are doing makes a difference; it may not appear to make a difference today or tomorrow, but the small successes accumulate over time until eventually a successful adult can realize "you know, that teacher really made a difference in my life." Teachers of students with learning differences have to believe, and sometimes against all odds, that we are changing people's lives. I am truly blessed, for I love what I do. I found what I feel passionate about, and I stick with it even when I want to give up, even when THEY want to give up. I can teach people with dyslexia to read; it sounds so simple, but it is profound. Through teaching students and training teachers, who will in turn teach more students (it's dizzying, isn't it?) Persistence, structure, passion...with these qualities, I make a difference each and every day. What an incredible gift that I have found this career.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boys to Men

This is an entry about Jay, about whom I threatened to write each day until he visits my blog, and about Duncan, who is a regular feature. I have taught Jay that a decent writer does not begin a piece of writing by stating outright "This essay is about..." But guess what? I have also taught him that one must not begin sentences with conjunctions. The beautiful thing about creative writing is that the author can break any conventions he or she chooses. I also believe that I have sufficient writing experience and knowledge of the English language to know when I can break rules for effect. So there.

I've learned a lot from spending two years with Jay. Most of it is his own business that I will not share (at least not without permission), but some of it is my business. I began teaching Jay six months after Duncan was born. I was constantly tired, and the perfectionist in me struggled already to balance my job and my family. I'm not sure how that balance has tipped, but that's a story for another day. I was an experienced teacher and an experienced administrator facing a huge learning curve in the mother arena. One of the facts I needed to come to grips with was the basic male-ness of my child. I didn't find out my baby's gender before he was born. He was a long time coming, and I was happy with whatever baby fought his/her way out of there, but I TRULY DOWN DEEP IN MY HEART believed the baby was a GIRL. In reality, I had 0.5 seconds to adjust my focus before falling deeply in love with Duncan, but he did continue stubbornly to be a boy.

Everyone told me, pre Duncan, that I didn't want a girl. I have been an adolescent girl. I have been the sister of an adolescent girl. I have been the dorm parent of adolescent girls. I have tutored adolescent girls. On the whole, I am not fond of adolescent girls. I knew that eventually adolescence would come to that girl I believed I was nurturing inside me, but I also knew that I safely had (maybe) 12 years of pony tails, pink dresses, black patent leather shoes, and ballet before the trouble hit. I had that long to forge a strong enough bond with the mystery girl that adolescence would be...blissfully...okay. I could not envision any way in which I could relate to an adolescent boy. End of discussion. When he came out, stubbornly male, I felt the time during which I could relate to Duncan would be very short. I was sure the moment we moved from roll around blocks to trucks, I was sunk.

The interesting thing is (well, if you know me, it's not interesting, it's actually banal) that I'm handling the trucks just fine. I'm enjoying the trucks, the mud, the throwing of sticks into puddles, and the ride-on John Deere tractor. Thomas the Tank Engine is okay. I almost know the difference between a front loader and a...well, I only know front loaders. Clothing manufacturers actually DO make cute clothes for boys, though the choices are more limited. My potential window for "relating" to my son grows each day. There's time. In short, I'm doing fine as a mom of a boy.

And then there's Jay, on the cusp of 18, heading to college in 4 months. He is so blissfully not anything I fear my child will become. My standards for adolescent boys were pretty low in 2006: swearing; spitting on the floor; drinking; smoking; being rude to young women; being rude to older women; being rude in general; refusing to comply with authority; setting dry fields on fire; wearing pants around their knees; wrapping buildings in caution tape, but I digress. Am I being sexist, or am I biased by the population I teach? Jay may not like this about himself all the time, but I have found an adolescent boy (who is really a man now technically, but that's just weird) with whom I can have a reasonable conversation, whose company I enjoy, and who I would trust to take care of my own child (though I would fear finding them both perched on the tallest piece of furniture in the house or climbing up a high rope...whatever). He has helped me believe that someday I can be a reasonable, likable parent of an 18 year old male type person.

I am developing self-efficacy in the area of parenting boys. If Duncan at 18 is anything like Jay, I'll be a pretty happy mother. In the meantime, I need to glue back Thomas' face and start learning my trucks.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Morning After

Duncan woke up at 6 am in Full Frontal Whiny Boy mode, which feels like a dagger in the base of my skull. There is no telling what the day holds. Last Saturday began like this (albeit on 8 hours of sleep) and made a swift turn for the better. One can only hope.

Friday, May 9, 2008

1:20 a.m.

I'm tangled in my bathrobe, which I am still wearing after getting up to comfort my son who cried out in nightmares. From inside my pocket, Thomas the Tank engine jabs me in the hip. He is yet another symbol of all that I cannot accomplish in a given day. A Christmas gift of Duncan's, Thomas was relegated to my pocket when his Chinese-produced face fell off the engine part thingy, for which I have no name because I am a woman who never imagined parenting a boy. Each day I am reminded of my inability simply to Superglue Thomas' face back on.

I have not yet slept. In fact, the people in my house (all three of us) have slept only intermittently this evening. The moon must be full. Caffeine has not been my friend today. My nerves are jangly, and the ambient noise drills pinpricks in my eyeballs. Whatever the opposite of ambient noise is (imbient noise? interbient noise?) it is hammering from the inside of my brain to get out. Even the sound of my husband breathing is interrupting my ability to slip into sleep. The furnace, which usually provides a jarring rumble of sound, is my only respite from the auditory disasters inside and outside my head. If the furnace would stay on, I might have a fighting chance at sleep.

This is the third time this week I had difficulty sleeping. I am to blame. Coffee, laptop addiction, an inability to leave work at home. I suspect it is primarily the light from my laptop screen, which I have recently read has detrimental effects on sleep. It is also a crazy time of year at school; each day, even though I have written my commitments in no fewer than 3 different calendars, my brain struggles to remember that this is the day: I'm administering diagnostic testing; working with Marcie; meeting with Devin; going to the doctor; picking up Duncan; getting a hair cut. Eventually, I will drop one of the balls I am juggling, and I can only hope it will be something benign yet irresponsible. Tilly says it's the state of modern motherhood; we all try to do too much. I have to agree though I have no point of reference. This is the only life, the only motherhood, I know.

So here I am, drinking warm milk, trying to unify the wife daughter mother sister friend employee teacher student teacher-friend (don't be offended if I omitted anyone) me's of me...and we're all really, really tired...and we can't sleep.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pictures of You

I love this child...I LOVE this child...I love THIS child. I love this CHILD.

Anyway, I know I'm biased, but he's darned cute. Enjoy some photos of Duncan and some peaceful lack of text from me! The TV picture didn't come out as well as I would have liked. It's Big Boy Duncan watching Baby Duncan on TV.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Anna!

Dear Anna,

We are so sorry we had to miss your birthday party and your dance recital. It feels like only yesterday that you were born. Uncle Jamie and I came to visit you in Pennsylvania when you were just 6 weeks old. You were so teeny tiny! Surprisingly, your parents let us babysit you while they went out to the movies. We walked you around and around the downstairs of your old house, with you draped over our arms. That was how you liked being held best at the time. You were just starting to smile and were trying really hard to hold up your head by yourself. Since then, you have grown like a weed! You went through your punk-rock spiky hair phase, your crawling phase, your walk around Grandma and Grandpa's kitchen while talking 500 words a minute phase. Now you're in pre-school and going to dance class!

My dear, only niece, you are turning into such a wonderful little girl. You are so polite and lovely. You're interested in the world, and you love to draw and make things. You still like to talk 500 words a minute, but they're real words now. You have so much patience with Duncan, even when he is NOT being polite and is still working on learning his manners. I can't wait to see what kind of woman you will grow up to be. We love you lots, Anna Ballerina, and we hope to see you soon. Have fun being 4!


Theresa, Jamie, and Duncan

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Showing Up for the Muse

I've been thinking a lot lately about Tilly. If you don't know Tilly or her art work, you should, especially if you live in the Hudson Valley. Check out her blog, Showing Up for the Muse at Tilly taught art at Kildonan for a long time and then retired from teaching to pursue her own art full time. I love Tilly's art, but at the moment, it is her dedication that I find inspirational. In the spirit of Albert Einstein, who said that genius is 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration, she decided to challenge herself to complete a painting each day, regardless of what is going on in her life. The philosophy is that you can't sit around waiting for inspiration. At minimum, you have to be present in order to make it happen: you have to show up for the Muse. That philosophy has recently begun to have enormous effects on my life.

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I wrote tiny poems and stereotypical stories with relish. I continued in high school; I read voraciously, kept notebooks and journals of quotations I enjoyed, and continued to write poetry. In college, I took a poetry writing course on a lark and loved it; it forced me to share my work with others, open myself to constructive criticism, and value the processes of editing and rewriting. Before I graduated, I even submitted a few poems to my school's literary journals and was thrilled to see my name, and my poetry, in print. Even though I studied psychology, when people asked what I wanted "to do," I always replied "what I REALLY want to do is write."

And the rest, as they say, is history. I graduated, came to work at Kildonan, wrote about 3 poems and gave it all up. Periodically during those 21 years, I wondered why I quit writing. Occasionally, I started a journal or read a book about writing, and then I drifted back to my everyday life. I continued to catch myself saying "..., but what I really want to do is write." I was good at generating excuses: I don't have time; what do I have to write about; who cares what I have to say. But I didn't write anything.

Then, I discovered The Yarn Harlot. I loved reading about Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's experiences with knitting and her stories about her family, and I found the photographs irresistible. I checked in daily to see what was going on in her life, and I began reading her books. Soon, I had whole roster of blogs to keep up with (too many actually). Some were about knitting, but many focused on parents' experiences raising children. I rediscovered Tilly's blog. Even though I didn't venture to comment on any of those blogs, I felt a sense of community there; I found people who were experiencing what I was: potty training, insufficient time for knitting, lack of free time, difficulty juggling motherhood and work. And I began to think "I could do this." Without knowing if I would actually stick with it, I began this blog on February 28; this is my 35th entry (counting these words of brilliance, "Hah! It's a blog.") I still don't know if I will stick with this, or if anything will come of it in terms of turning me into a "writer," but 35 efforts is pretty substantial for me. I understand you have to engage in a new activity at least 15 times to make it a habit, so I'm optimistic.

I may never become a writer in a professional sense, but I adopted Tilly's philosophy. If I don't show up, I'll remain firmly on my course of not becoming a writer. If I show up, I have a fighting chance. It sounds simple, but it is life changing.
As I mentioned in a previous post, writing releases a part of my personality that is otherwise held captive in my introversion. That change is perhaps the most important. I've also discovered that the more I write, the more I want to write. I am beginning to crave time to write; on the days that I don't write, I feel like I am missing a piece of myself. Maybe this summer, I'll take the Tilly challenge and attempt to write every day for a month. I have become pathologically attached to my laptop. I sneaked it to Vermont with me when Jamie and I went away; I think at first he thought I wanted to surf the web for two days. The truth was that I needed it in case I wanted to do some writing. A few weeks back, the IT guy at school (he's SOOO much more than 'the IT guy at school' - forgive me Stephen) took my laptop overnight to install a new operating system. The next day, I confessed that I felt naked without it. I began a list of things I want to write about; it's in my pocket as we speak. I am even going to procure a tiny notebook so I can write down (tediously, by hand) ideas that occur to me throughout the day. And also very important (and paradoxical for this introvert), the more I write, the more I want to share what I have to say. I don't know if any of this makes me a writer, and it's certainly not padding my savings account, although it does, without a doubt, make me a person who writes.

I'm having a blast! Thanks for sharing my 35th post with me. I hope that you will all keep showing up to read as long as I keep showing up to write; maybe, just maybe, I'll write the next, great American young adult novel that will convert all dyslexic reluctant readers to just never know.