Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

This Christmas, I'm thankful for all of it. I'm thankful for the whir of the oxygen generator, and the fact that such miraculous equipment exists in the world... I'm thankful for an ex-husband who welcomes me, my husband, and my child into his home... I'm thankful for in-laws who stay away (even though I know they must be sad not to be with us) to protect Danielle from noxious illness germs... I'm thankful for a wonderful Christmas Eve service in a church I never would have known lest we had not embarked on the Lung Transplant Adventure... I'm thankful for sausage balls and coffee, eaten amidst the Christmas wrappings rubble, while gazing out upon a snow-covered yard. I'm thankful for a Windows 7 phone. I'm thankful for freelance writing and the prosperity it brings... I'm thankful for my husband and our soon to be 12th anniversary celebration. I'm thankful for friends who love me when I can't get off the closet floor. I'm thankful for a dad who tried his best while here on this earth. I'm thankful for my job and the laughter it brings. (A parent sent video clips of our Christmas party celebration... We were doing the funky monkey and getting the beat from our seat and my husband said, "They pay you to do this?-- You're teacher of the year?-- My God!" I'm thankful for friends who have moved away, and moved on to healthier, happier times. I'm thankful for Toy Story 3, and a Hello Kitty toothbrush. I'm thankful that Dave finally watched "A Christmas Story", and understands all the Christmas jokes he has been missing for years. I'm grateful for gay friends... (Yes, the happy and the other variety.) I'm grateful for food, family, warm clothes, sober, clear-headed thinking, and all the blessings that are mine to enjoy... Not because I deserve any of it... But, because somehow, God loves me. And, I don't get the whole "gave his only begotten son" message of Christmas, but I do fully understand the fact that truly, I don't deserve any of the blessings of my life. I am graced with all of it. And, I'm grateful that I can SEE it to be thankful for it all...

Love and Light~ Merry Christmas

Monday, November 29, 2010

Power to the Teachers

I don't live for the approval of others anymore. Sometimes it is nice, but it doesn't define me. The thing I am really learning is that when I am truly reliant on a God of my understanding, I don't need anyone's approval except that of my Creator. Further, I am created in God's image and likeness, making me a perfect expression in human form.

All of that being said, I think it is important for me to really know myself and my motives. I have a good friend who tells me there is no truly selfless act. In his mind, everything has a payoff. He is far more cynical than I, but in some respects I see what he is saying... When I do something, even if it is a kind or unselfish deed, I am rewarded by an intrinsic good feeling. So, am I doing something for someone else because of the good feeling I get, or is it because I am expecting something in return?

In education, teachers are largely undervalued. Oh, don't get me wrong... People can give us plaques and wax poetic saying things like, "If you can read this, thank a teacher..." It's all true. But, we are part of a crumbling system that has been dragged through the media declaring education a miserable failure for our children. We are mandated to death by politicians who have never set foot in a classroom and dare I say-- administrators who haven't been in the classroom for a very long time. And, we are trying to dig our way out from under mounds of paperwork assigned to hold us accountable, even in the face of parents who change their phone numbers and don't give the school an up-to-date contact in the event of an emergency with their child. Frankly, it stinks. And, I understand why so many teachers are leaving the profession. I get feeling completely fed up.

However, I would encourage teachers to take your power back. To the teacher who after teaching a full day rode the bus around the neighborhood to monitor student behavior, I will say, "You did that because student behavior is important to you, and you care not only about academic achievement-(Although, you ROCK at taking kids from the bottom level and moving them up and up into better performers than anyone ever could have expected...)-but, you care about kids growing up to be good people who are able to exhibit safe and socially acceptable behavior."

To the teacher who stayed late to tutor students long after everyone else went home, I would say, "You did that because you wanted your students to really learn the material, not just pass the test."

To the teacher who went out of their way to help another teacher navigate yet another computer program even though she went to a training over the summer, but had already completely forgotten everything about it, "You did that because supporting peers and furthering the teaching profession is important to you."

My teaching friends, you are doing all of the things you do because it is the right thing, and because somewhere down in your heart there is an intrinsic reward. If you are waiting for a thank you, or even an acknowledgment of what you are doing right instead of people constantly looking for where you are falling short, keep waiting and feeling frustrated and upset. You will never be told often enough, loudly enough or forcefully enough just how important you are. This job is hard, and the fact that you have chosen to undertake it anyway speaks volumes about your character.

We are doing the things we do because we love children, and we believe in our United States educational system in which we educate all the children, not just the top performers. Let the politicians and the administrators and outright nay-sayers do whatever it is they do... It's their job. But, our job is to teach... To teach the children... And to teach the children because it is what we know is right deep in our hearts. Thus, when faced with a discouraging moment, remind yourself, you aren't doing it for them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lungs! The New Reality...

Lungs! We got the call Thursday night (Friday morning) at 1:15 a.m. And, somehow it kicked me into a different reality. Dan has been waiting in Birmingham for three months, and has been listed for nearly four months now... So, I "knew" she was on the transplant list. A mental plan was on hold in my brain for what to do and how to do it when "the call" came. But, when I actually got the call, even though it turned out to be a false alarm, I realized my best mental planning was insufficient and needs to be revamped.

Funny, I didn't even realize I had a very specific vision about what I would do when the "the call" came. And, I knew the call could come any time day or night. But, in my vision, the circumstances of life were always the same. Everyone was always doing what they normally do, and were ready to fall into their roles toward implementing "Operation Double Lung Transplant". There were also a few things I hadn't thought about at all.

First, whenever I fantasized about "the call", my family would be in their places doing what they were supposed to be doing. So, at 1:15 a.m. on a Thursday night, Dave was supposed to be sleeping beside me, Sarah and Micah were supposed to be upstairs sleeping in their rooms, and Mom and J.R. were supposed to be sleeping next door. Since Dave was at an educational conference in Jackson and Sarah was in the hospital in Mobile, that immediately threw a wrench in the plan. Also, my sister, Micki, isn't where she is supposed to be, but she is where she needs to be and I am very proud of her for that...

Next, I had a general list of who needed calling, but I hadn't really considered "in what order"... So, Randy called me. I hung up and called Mom and J.R., and asked Mom to come over to take care of Micah. Dan had called Dave, so he called me and said he was on his way back from Jackson to get Micah. After I hung up with Dave, I called Reverend Christy. I got her voicemail, but felt better knowing everything would be held in prayer for the highest good. Then I called my friend, Kenna.

While all of the calling was taking place, I was simultaneously throwing things into my half-packed suitcase that has been in a "ready position" on my closet floor for three months. For the first month, my suitcase resided in the trunk of my car, but after a few hospitalizations with the girls I realized the "packed and ready like a pregnant person" method wasn't going to work for me... It only took about 5 minutes to pack, though, and I was ready to walk out the door within 15 minutes.

I called Dan back as I was walking out the door only to hear the tail end of the "one of the lungs was lost" conversation, and realize it was a false alarm call. Had it not been a false alarm, I would have left the house, called the 4th floor nurse's desk at USA and asked them to discharge Sarah immediately so that I could sweep through Mobile and pick her up on the way to Birmingham. Then I was going to call everyone else.

However, once it was a false alarm, I called Dave back to discover he had already checked out of the hotel and had the valet bringing his truck. (Yes, the man is quick... He had to check back in with a very disgruntled night clerk.) Then I called Kenna, but got her answering machine, so I left her a message that the lungs were a "no go".

After updating Facebook and sending Reverend Christy a message there, and updating Caring Bridge, I took half a Simply Sleep and went back to bed. Kenna called by a 4:00 a.m. to find out how and where I was, and I realized she had never gotten the message that it was a "no go", so I felt terrible that she had been up fretting and praying all night. So, next time I'll have to make sure I talk to her if it turns out to be a false alarm.

While all of the scrambling and calling helped me realize some things I needed to do... (i.e. make arrangements for the care of our animals), I was also given the substantive truth that no amount of planning and arranging is going to prepare me sufficiently for what to do in that moment. When I write lesson plans at school, the heading on my plan reads, "Lesson Plans (Not Promises)"... I note that they aren't promises because in my classroom things are opt to change at a moment's notice. I will make whatever changes I deem necessary for the good of my students in an instant. And, I suppose this has to be the same way.

I would love for the whole process to happen exactly as I envision it, wrapped up neatly with a little bow. But, when I set my own mental limitations on a process, circumstance or situation, I am cheating myself and everyone else out of an opportunity for greater Good. God happens in the unplanned. God happens in the unprepared. God happens outside of my small, insignificant designs and ideas. Don't get me wrong. I still have to plan. The dog and cats need food and water... The mail must be checked. But, I just know that whatever happens can be all the more wonderful if I am simply open to the process. Being "ready" and planning are two entirely different concepts. And, the false alarm helped me to realize that God is truly making me ready... Making us all ready for the things that are ours to do.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Creepy Crawly Guardian

This summer a spider came to make its home outside my closet window. Not just any spider, mind you... A HUMONGOUS spider. She has a gold body with black stripes, and black legs with golden flecks sprinkled up and down them. We have loved her. I have a bench by the window, and Micah climbs up every morning to open the shutters and look out at the spider.

We have talked all about spiders. I have told her that spiders are arachnids, and that they have two body parts, unlike insects that have three body parts. I have also informed her of the differences in the number of legs between a spider and an insect. We have even been able to witness how she caught a fly in her web, only to find the fly mysteriously absent the following morning. (She's truly a humongous spider, so I'm not exaggerating when I say it only took the course of a day for the fly to be injested.) So, it has been educational, as well as a wonderful distraction for a busy two-year-old who loves to "do make-up" with Mom.

The web is absolutely incredible. It is so intricate in its design and covers an entire space between the eaves of the house, the window and the bushes. When we first saw it, Dave and I briefly considered getting rid of it. But, it occurred to us that in Mississippi in the heat of summer there are these horrible, large yellow flies... Yellow, biting flies to be precise. So, we quickly united in our adoption of the spider and decided to leave her alone. Our own personal guard spider...

Friday at school, a bee buzzed its way into my classroom. The kids managed to step on it, but it got stuck to a student's shoe, so I swooped in, tissue in hand, to remove it. Somehow, the stinger managed to poke through the Kleenex, and I got stung on the finger. Yes, I got stung by a dead bee. It wasn't too terribly bad, and I modeled semi-adult behavior by not falling to the floor grasping my finger while heaving in sobs... Which is kind of what I wanted to do. Ms. Leggett and Ms. Jordan (my dynamic teaching team) gave me lots of TLC, so I was able to struggle through the remainder of the day.

When I arrived home, Dave announced his plan to trim the azalea bushes out front. This is a chore he undertakes once a year in the fall, usually at Thanksgiving. This year, we will be in Birmingham for Thanksgiving, so he wanted to trim the bushes a little early. As we were talking, we both realized trimming the bushes would disturb our spider's home.

That night, somehow the two events weaved together in my brain to form a dream... Suddenly, I was alone in a large, grassy field when I noticed a swarm of bees coming. I was terrified, thinking of the swarms of African bees and how people had actually died from bee stings. I stood there absolutely frozen, watching the bees approach. As dreams have a tendency to make all things possible without the pesky interference of reality and possibility, my HUMONGOUS spider appeared and built an ENORMOUS web in front of me. The bees could not penetrate my spider's web. I was completely protected.

Later, it dawned on me this is how God works in my life. He is standing by watchful and ready to take an active part... To save me in an instant... To protect me from anything harmful. The bees of adversity cannot touch me because God is there, spinning His web of protection around me, ensuring I am safe. However, if I decide to get in there in an attempt to manage and control without first seeking guidance, I am apt to really screw it up. Like maybe managing and controlling the bushes? Thus, I'm sure if you drive by my house this afternoon, you will see perfectly manicured bushes, with the exception of one... The one outside my closet window where our own personal guard spider makes her home.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Yesterday, when I arrived at work from a morning training, I was informed that one of our assistant teachers had been in an accident and may not be in Monday. Our attendance clerk told me almost as an afterthought... "Oh, Christy, by the way... I sent Ms. R. (principal) an e-mail, but Dip's husband called and said she has been in a car accident in Jacksonville and may not be in on Monday. He is on his way to Florida right now to check on her." I think I said something like, "O.K." or "Gosh, I hope she is O.K. Do we know if she is hurt?" or something equally as inane... But, I was quickly thrust into the other drama of school life and didn't really think about it again for a couple of hours.

Upon reflection, I didn't think about it because I couldn't fathom it. I couldn't imagine Dip was anything except O.K. I couldn't imagine her not being at school. Dip Johnson was an assistant teacher at my school. She worked at Singing River Elementary for nearly 30 years... Or maybe more than 30 years... No one is really certain. Dip's name was Marva, but no one called her that. She was "Dip", and we aren't sure why her husband assigned her nickname, but everyone used it because it suited her.

When I first met Dip, I had just begun my teaching career. I had been placed in a precarious position because I had been asked to document my assistant teacher's performance. I wasn't schooled in the ways of public school... And, honestly, I don't think Ms. Johnson liked me much. She always came by to offer friendly words of support to my assistant. But, I couldn't help the situation and did the best I could, trying to be fair and kind with my assessment.

My assistant teacher retired after that first year, and Dip gave me a nickname... "Mrs. Axwell"... (She didn't realize I knew she had donned the name... Or probably she didn't care.) But, the name was assigned as a warning that once someone worked as my assistant, they just might "get the ax". Be forewarned... Dip didn't trust me. But, she watched, and I think she ascertained that I just might have a heart for children. So, at some point, I became O.K. with her... And, I was welcomed into the school as One of SRE. Really I don't think I would actually fully qualify as a staff member had I never gotten Dip's unofficial stamp of approval.

Once I was deemed worthy, I was privvy to the wealth of information stored inside Dip's brain. She knew everyone, remembered everything, and was eager to share her knowledge. Some people might have thought she was a gossip, but the things she shared with me were always pertinent to my students' welfare. "Ms. Maxwell, did you see the paper? ___'s house caught fire last night..." "Ms. Maxwell, ____'s parents were arrested last night. That daddy got drunk and beat up the mama." "Ms. Maxwell, ____'s sister lost her job and had to move back in with the family. Six kids are sleeping on a mattress in the kitchen." And, I don't know how she knew it all... Further, I don't know how she kept up with all of it. But, she did. And, because of Dip, there were days I was able to better serve children because I knew the "back story".

Dip served as an assistant teacher in nearly every grade in the school at one point or another. She worked with my own children. I can't begin to tell the number of times Dip brought one of the girls to me for a treatment or just because she thought they needed a little extra care and attention. She looked out for Dan and Sarah, acting as a guardian angel ready to swoop in and deliver them if necessary.

But, lest I give the wrong impression... Dip was only soft on the underbelly. She could lecture a huge 5th grade boy until he hung his head in shame with no choice but to think of whatever "crime" he had committed and develop at least 10 ways not to do it again. Further, if she thought someone wasn't doing the right thing for a child, she would give them "up the river" or "down in the country". She was a fierce advocate for the rights of children. And, she was fearless. It didn't matter if it was the counselor, or the nurse, a teacher, or the principal... If she believed someone was not doing the right thing for a child's welfare, that person would have no question as to her thoughts on the situation.

One year, Dip became angry with me for something. I don't even remember the exact nature of my digression. We had started inclusion, and I think she didn't like something about the schedule. At any rate, she didn't speak to me for an entire school year. She continued to look out for "Sarah-Jane", as she always called her, but wouldn't speak to me at all. However, the next school year, everything was fine again, and I was accepted back into the fold.

Last year, when Dan's health was steadily declining, Ms. Johnson would see me in the hall and say, "I'm praying for those girls, Ms. Maxwell... You know I love those girls..." And, I would respond, "I know, Ms. Johnson. Thanks." There were days when I was just putting one foot in front of the other, and I just couldn't talk about Dan or her health. And, I have no doubt that Ms. Johnson acted as a silent angel on my behalf beseeching others to "let me be."

Dip Johnson was a pillar of Singing River Elementary. She will be sorely missed. However, I feel compelled to speak on her behalf... And, I don't think she would mind. Dip Johnson would not want everyone to be shrouded in mourning and darkness for long. Last week, I saw her at a table in the 5th grade hallway, working with students and helping them stay motivated to finish nine weeks exams. She did what she loved until God decided her time here is through. Don't feel sad for her. I absolutely know Dip is right now in a corner of heaven, having grabbed someone to chat... "I'm so glad to see her here in heaven... You know, I taught her mama and her brother. That family was so special... Her mama worked for the soup kitchen, helping folks after the storm..."

I would say, "Rest in peace, Dip Johnson, " but she will not rest... It was not her way. So, instead I will say, "Work feverishly and joyfully in heaven, Dip Johnson. You are needed there, and we will all get by somehow without you by honoring your memory and always, always doing the right thing for children."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's Not Too Late- It's Never Too Late...

So, I'm growing tomatoes... Just like I have always wanted to... Just like a nice gal from South Mississippi should. And, it is amazing.
Probably, as a reader you aren't really impressed by this revelation. I suppose you would have to know a little of the background. Until this experience, my thumb has been notoriously brown. My husband jokes that I am a serial killer of plants.
So, back in July after Danielle was listed, I decided I was going to celebrate life by once again planting some plants. Micah was a motivation too. In the summertime she likes to go out on the front porch and listen the the birds, watch the squirrels and see all the bugs and other facinating things making their home in our yard. My mom has instilled in her a deep love of gardening. They go out every day in the summer, and every time she gets a chance to slip over to Mimi's and trot around her garden any other time, she does it. She loves everything about it. She loves the dirt. She loves the watering. She loves caring for the plants. And, to watch my two-year-old little daughter mimic every move of my mom when she waters by gently lifting the leaves and taking such care to move about her tasks so delicately makes my heart overflow.
Much like when Dan became obsessed with Batman and Sarah needed all things Wizard of Oz, I became interested in gardening again because my child expressed such an interest. Further I have sustained more of an effort because it is important to Micah. I have always loved the idea of growing plants, but the day to day drudgery of caring for them is where I fall down. However, looking at the plants through Micah's eyes has made it less drudge and more magic. Watching her squeal and 'Ooh' as she marks the progress of our little front porch garden project has been more wonderful than I ever would have thought.
The other amazing thing is that everyone looked at me sadly and shook their heads when I told them I was planting tomatoes in July. Tried and true southern gardeners looked at me with pity for my ignorance. Everyone knows you must plant tomatoes in the spring so they can bloom and produce all summer long. However, on my trip to Lowes, the tomato plants were just calling to me. And, I thought, "No one is going to buy these now. It's past time."
My next thought in all honesty was, "Well, I'm going to give it a shot because I will probably kill them anyway and it won't make a difference if I planted them in the spring or in the summer."
So, I bought a couple of plants... One has leaves striped with white, light green, dark green and yellow. The other one is a flowering plant. (I already have two geraniums that live around the side of the house. They do very well because the trick to geraniums is neglectful care, at which I excel.) And, I bought three little abandoned-by-everyone-except-me tomato plants. Two of them I planted in the Topsy Turvy contraptions and they are currently hanging on the back porch. Neither of those have produced any tomatoes yet, and I keep hoping... But, I also planted one of the plants in a newly purchased Dollar General pot made cheaply and cleverly from some type of foam or particle board. Let's face it. I wasn't going to spend $30 on a pot to hold a dead tomato plant. I also bought some basil because everyone knows you can't have tomatoes without basil.
Micah and I set about making it happen with our little trowels and her small rake. We planted everything and went out every day to water and care for our plants. I was cheering when all of my plants were alive after two weeks and now those two weeks have turned into two months. Everyone said the plants wouldn't produce fruit because it is so hot in the summer here and they do best when they can get a break from the heat with cooler night air. I read everything I could on the internet and proceded to feed them every week with low nitrate fertilizer. I even brought my tomato plants into the house for a few nights so they could rest in the air conditioning with the rest of the family.
And, lo and behold, my potted tomato plant on the front porch has not disappointed. In fact, it has shocked and amazed me. I was just excited that I was keeping them alive. Honestly, I think Micah and I are keeping them alive.... But, to actually see real tomatoes on them is so exciting! We'll be eating fresh bruschetta in the fall...
As I crept out to the front porch this morning while it was still dark to peek at my little tomatoes, the song, "It's Never Too Late" by Three Days Grace was running through my head. The song was popular this past summer and I would hear it over and over on my tearful rides to and from Birmingham. "This world will never be what I expected... Now and again we just try to stay alive... Maybe we'll turn it all around cause it's not too late; It's never too late." My tomatoes in September prove that theory. Hope does indeed shine eternal. It's not too late. It's never too late.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Balanced Life...

I've heard it said that balance is the point some people run right past on their sprint from one extreme to the other. And, I try hard for that not to be true for me, but I'm afraid it applies sometimes. Thus, I am able to recognize the trait well in others. School districts and some other politically motivated institutions are infamous for this particular quirk of character... Not just my school district... In fact, not just school districts at all... But, it is a trend that promotes terrible stress for everyone, ultimately leading to less productivity and (I'll go out on a limb here and suggest- GASP) maybe even a decline in student achievement... The exact thing the organization was trying to "fix" in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I am certainly no expert on how to achieve the fleeting concept of balance. I get one area clicking along, and really start to feel successful and competent, when something breaks lose in another area. Maybe that is just life. Mostly I try today to offer myself the same forgiveness and compassion for my mistakes that I generally offer to others.

Beyond that, I try to practice balance... And, practice~ just like with students~ means exactly that... Practice. Not perfection. Not mastery. Practice.

My life is very busy. And, the busy-ness of life usually serves to throw me perpetually and evermore entirely out of balance. But, I'm learning that balance isn't about sitting pristinely on the fulcrum... It is about learning to adjust myself on one side of the beam to meet whatever situations are currently resting on the other side.

Life and its expectations are consistently changing, challenging me to sort out what is most important in the moment and for the future. And, sometimes I must concede that I cannot do it all. Or, at least, I cannot do it all well. Caring for the girls' medical needs, sorting out insurance, taking care of my home, spending time with my family, teaching and devoting an "appropriate" amount of time to my job (Teaching, and all it encompasses could easily take every bit of my life if I allowed it), engaging in things I enjoy, and taking care of my body, mind and spirit... It's all a balance. And, if I devote too much time and energy to any one of them, I am neglecting something else.

Honestly, having Micah at an "advanced maternal age", and Danielle's declining lung functions helped bring more balance into my life. I really have a sense of what is important, and what is much less important. I don't want to miss any moment with my kids. Never have I regretted spending time with Dave, shopping with Sarah and Dan or playing blocks with Micah in lieu of writing lesson plans, doing laundry, or cutting out laminating. Attending church, meditating, writing, reading... All of it recharges me so I have the energy to call back yet another medical provider or insurance representative.

The other thing that I'm learning about balance is that I must remain "mentally" balanced. When people have expectations of me, I can try to meet those expectations, but if I fall short, beating myself up about my shortcomings is completely unproductive. I cannot give all of my mental energy entirely to any one endeavor. I need to be vested in whatever I am doing in that moment. And, if I am not involved in the activity in the moment, I really don't need to invest a lot of energy dwelling on it. Further, constantly feeding myself a mental barrage of all I need to do only leaves me feeling overwhelmed. Making a list, working on the things I can, and being centered in the "Now" helps me feel competent and balanced... Being in the moment generally results in my presenting my best self and conceding that I am not in control. God's in charge, and I try to work as His servant. It's the best I have to offer. And, it is sufficient!

I have friends who are currently struggling with balance, and I would offer this suggestion... "They" can't have your mind if you don't let "them". You are worthy. You are good. You are doing exactly what you need to do in the moment. If you aren't, you know that too... You don't need anyone else to tell you. Be kind to yourself. Realize you can only do the best you can... And, your best is good enough. It is all God wants from any of us.

"Evermore in this world is this marvelous balance of beauty and disgust, magnificence and rats." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving." - Albert Einstein

"There's no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves." - Frank Herbert

~Namaste', my friends...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A New Kind of Gift Basket

This week I finished my MAPQSL Summer Program. What's that, you ask? It is the acronym for "Mississippi Alternate Path to Quality School Leadership". That's right. Be afraid. Be very afraid... I will soon have a one-year alternate license for administration. And, after I complete my internship this school year, I will have a full-blown entry level license in administration. So, now I can administrate something. Bring it on.

People who know me have heard this and exclaim in wonder, "You want to be a principal?" Well, I if you had asked me before these three weeks, I would have replied, "Absolutely not. I would like to go into special education administration..." And, the saner part of me thinks that still might be my response, but another, more daring and adventurous part of me thinks I really could be a great building principal if I choose to accept that challenge.

Three weeks doesn't seem like a very long time to learn something, but considering I was in class EVERY day from 8:00 to 3:00 with only a 30 minute lunch, (Thanks for the strictest adherence to that tight, tight schedule, Jim and Mr. Mack :-), the learning time is pretty much equivalent to graduate level course requirements in regards to time. All that was missing was summarizing tortuously dry journal articles or creating Power Point presentations with a "collaborative group" in which two of us did all the work, and the rest of the members slacked off and stood around. I didn't miss it, frankly. And, those of you who have enrolled in college courses know what I'm talking about...

So, while my interest and passion is still primarily in the area of special education, I have perked up to the possibility of being a principal some day. I have discovered being a principal isn't necessarily everything I always thought it was... (Unclogging the toilet, and listening to teachers complain) And, I knew all the unappealing "stuff" of being a principal before I ever hit the door of my QSL class. The amazing challenge of being a principal is somehow being able to gather the collective conscious of a building, with all its personalities, strengths and challenges, and channel that energy toward a common goal. It's kind of... Well, impossible. Or is it?

I have come to understand most of administration is about implementing the mandates of law and policy... The only problem... Well, the major problem is I don't always agree with the laws and the policy. And, in administration, it's not my job to agree... It's not even my job to change it... It's only my job to implement it, and see that everyone else implements it. And, therein lies the very intriguing challenge. Can I manage to pack an old leaky carburetor, banana peels, dirty baby diapers, and an apple core in a pretty, skillfully crafted basket, wrap it delicately in cellophane, tie it off with a lovely ribbon and sell it to a highly educated group of people? That, my friends, is the true challenge in educational leadership. And, that is the thing that piques a part of me that always strives to do the impossible.

And, at some level, I think I could do it... I think I could do it because with every law, or mandate, or flat out stupid thing we are called to do in educating students, I can generally find a positive intent behind why it has come to be. One of the teachers for the class, Mr. Mack, proposes we brought No Child Left Behind on ourselves. Refusing to champion the child that doesn't learn in the standard, sit-in-your-desk-and-listen kind of way and "educating students into mental retardation" revealed a need to establish systems of accountability for student achievement. That system of accountability is completely unrealistic, and in my mind severely inappropriate for some students, but it wouldn't have been necessary if we had done the "right" thing in the first place. Make no mistake, I firmly believe in the premise of inclusion and educating our students with their peers, the people with whom they will interact for the rest of their lives.

As much as I hate it... As horrible as I think it is for children... As much as it entirely ignores the premise that each child must be recognized as a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being and educated accordingly, the intent was to make our system fair and available to all children. So, that part of it, I can sell. As much as I hate our RTI (Response to Intervention) process, it was implemented in the spirit of seeing each child as an individual and tailoring education to that child before simply sticking them in special education so they can remain "special" for their whole lives. Special education was the Hotel California of academia... You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

So, now that I have been teaching in the public school system for over 10 years, I get it. I have been full cycle. I began when our first state testing was being piloted. I saw inclusion on the horizon and developed best practices in our school. I have gradually watched the population of learner served in special education change, and I have watched the struggling students remaining in general education increase... That was the point. Thus, by most accounts, No Child Left Behind has been successful.

And now, a new challenge is being born... There is a push toward moving all states toward a national curriculum. The same set of objectives and standards for all students across America. And, given that our children are going to have to be competitive in a different world than the one in which I was reared, I believe this makes sense. Technology has allowed people to connect in ways we never could have imagined even twenty years ago. But, America is funny... We strive, strive, strive to propel ourselves onward and upward, only to look back saying, "Don't make me go! We are moving too fast!" States have resisted moving toward a national curriculum, and so the government's response has been to tie it to money.

There is a program called "Race to the Top"... And, states are indeed racing. At least they are racing to get a piece of the 4.63 billion dollar pie available to school systems willing to write a grant for the money and sign onto a curriculum sight unseen. But, the curriculum is aligned to the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). So, in applying for the funds, a state is in essence agreeing to move toward a national curriculum. People around me are concerned, but secretly, I'm kind of pleased.

Living in Mississippi is different. We are a Confederate state. Whether I like it or not... And, even though the Civil War has been over for a long, long time, there is still a little bit of that rebel spirit running through the state. Folks from here have some sort of genetic imprint pumping through every fiber of their being that says, "We don't have to do what you say... We seceded from your Union." And this attitude, while I like it when it comes to things like car inspections, hinders us in so many ways keeping our population steeped in ignorance and misunderstanding. We are last in all the things that count, (i.e. education, business, health care), and first in all the things that don't (i.e. obesity, teen pregnancy).

The frustrating thing for me, personally, is the unfairness of the rest of the United State's perception of us. I hate that people think of Mississippians as backwards rednecks with no shoes or teeth who bathe only once a week. And, I hate it because that isn't my experience. Well, it isn't entirely my experience... My family is from Ovett, after all... Some of the smartest, most forward thinking, innovative individuals come from Mississippi, and guess what? They were educated here. But, moving toward a national curriculum might just be one of the ingredients lessening the percentage of infant mortality, improving the number of high school graduates, decreasing the number of teen pregnancies. I don't know for sure... But, I think I could sell the idea.

Don't misunderstand me... I know it will get muddled. I know it will be mandated to death, and more accountability standards will be shoved down our throats. But, ultimately, when almost everyone I know in education signed on because they have a passion for children and because they want to see our students able to compete in a new, close-knit, global economy, I think I can embrace that vision and move a group of teachers toward that. So, maybe... Just maybe one day I will decide to take on a principal's job. I like that the word, "administration" includes the root "minister", meaning "to give".

Thus, I think I really could "give" something if I can only manage to believe in it as something good for children. And, who knows? Maybe that all just boils down to acceptance and perception. A very wise gentleman once said, "Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake." I have found that to be true in everything from education to double lung transplant processes. God can use it all for good, and I can just show up and offer to give and minister. Maybe that is the best way to think of it, rather than selling a basket of crap I don't really believe in... Showing up to "administer" knowledge, kindness, and goodness to any group of people can always be a good thing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Life in a Tank Top

It's been a while since I have updated my Blog. I have updated Dan's CaringBridge. I have updated my Facebook. I have updated via e-mail. I have updated via text message, actual phone calls, and even face to face... But, my Blog. Well, it has been neglected and somewhat abandoned. My Blog is more like a time for reflection. And, I haven't wanted to reflect. I have only wanted to keep my head down and keep moving forward one step at a time. This morning, though, seemed like a time ripe with bloggable thoughts and opportunity to write. So, here I am.

Currently, Dan and I are sitting in USA Women and Children's in Mobile. Sarah was just discharged yesterday. The girls' lung functions had both dipped down, and Dr. Sindel deemed it necessary to get them both in, treat them with antibiotics, and make them well once and for all. Well, "once and for all" for now, anyway. There really is no such thing as "once and for all" with CF.

Lately, I have been in really a pretty good place... "Place" meaning that emotional, mental and spiritual place that isn't really a location at all, but is probably far more important to how well a person functions than any physical location could ever be. I took about three months after Dr. Hoover told us Dan would need a bi-lateral lung transplant to completely fall apart. I was basically just going through the motions of everything, and felt like I was walking around in a fog. We were still going back and forth to Birmingham regularly for Dan's hospitalizations, and she was SO sick. Much of the time, even though I never voiced the fear, I thought I was watching my child die before my eyes. And, I kept praying, and crying and pleading with God... Please. I'm not ready. I didn't count on this. It wasn't supposed to happen when she was only 17.

Further, I had helped care for my dad over the summer after his diagnosis of colon cancer. Dad died after Thanksgiving. My relationship with my dad was atypical, but sadness and loss hung over every aspect of life. I felt as if someone had turned me inside-out leaving my tissue and organs exposed to the elements. I hurt. And, I hurt all the time. And, I wasn't sure how to keep going.

I was also angry and driven by ten thousand forms of powerlessness. Our lives had been precariously balanced with treatments and therapies. For the girls' whole lives I had ensured treatments and medications were taken faithfully. We balanced that with extra curricular activities, school functions, family vacations, church and anything else people cram into a life together loving each other. And, everything was punctuated with hospitalizations and at-home I.V. meds. I did all the stuff. I was a good CF mom and I believed that my reward should be simple. My kids should live. And, they should live without a constant thought of dying. However, that was no longer the reality.

But then, time kept passing, and Dan kept living, and even though she was sick, I realized I was wasting time. I was wasting time being sad and sorry and begging God, so I had to shake myself or slap myself or something and get back to the business of living happily in this new reality of life. Dan was perfectly accepting of her medical situation, and approached everything with a completely positive outlook. I, however, had not fared so well. I burst into tears regularly, and friends weren't quite sure how to deal with me. In fact, many of my relationships changed signficantly too. My best friends couldn't make it better, so they stood by looking down at the ground and turning their toes in the sand. They were there whenever I couldn't get up off the closet floor, or when the oxygen bottles clanked together in the back of the car causing me to fall into hysterics. They were there when I was driving down the highway crying hysterically while listening to Bulgarian politics on public radio. But, no one knew how to comfort me, and my pain hurt them too.

So, the B team of friends took over. People I wasn't particularly close to, starting doing for me things I could not do for myself. And all of a sudden, the B Team was the A team, and I was left wondering, "What happened? Life is totally different." And, for a while, I was mourning. I was mourning all the change. My friends and family merged into one big team, and I am forever grateful for the support everyone has offered. Many of my support systems are different. My Weight Watchers meeting closed, my church closed, and my principal and friend got promoted. But, I've made peace with all of that. I'm adapting.

Now, it's June. It has been eight months. And, I feel better. I'm not the same. Not at all. But, I'm better. No longer do I hear The Script on the radio and burst into tears... "I'm still alive, but I'm barely breathing. Pray to a God that I don't believe in. Now I've got time while she's got freedom. When the heart breaks, no it don't break even.... I'm falling to pieces." The song is about a romantic break up, but when Danny O' Donoghue (lead singer) belted, "I'm falling to pieces," I was right there with him.

Everywhere we go, people stare. Sarah gets aggravated, but I don't mind. Dan doesn't seem to mind either. It is odd to see a beautiful, otherwise healthy young girl pulling an oxygen tank. We are thinking of having cards printed saying, "Give to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation" to give to the people who really stare openly. But, no longer am I mourning the loss of my child before she is gone. I think the realization about what I was doing to myself came when I watched Jared Lawrence, Dan's prom date, back down the driveway with her perched on the front seat of his truck sporting her oxygen canula in a formal gown. Tears were streaming down my face as I thanked God that she made it. She made it to prom. And, as wonderful as that was, I thought of other families without kids with CF, who were perfectly healthy who had lost children in a tragic accident. Those parents did not get to watch their beautiful daughters going to Senior Prom. Those parents didn't have the opportunity before-hand to dread the death of their son or daughter. It was simply over. And, given that death has showed up simply hovering over our lives, it could be an opportunity. And opportunity to love more, to do everything, to live without regret... An opportunity that others don't always get. And, I wasn't going to waste another moment.

In that spirit, we are sneaking out of the hospital. Dan is waiting and Old Navy is having a sale on tank tops for $2.00 each. Life awaits. And, we will be living it wearing layered tanks with a smile on our faces, dragging an oxygen generator behind.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Break

Spring Break has started off with a bang. I engaged in a hair color experiment that went seriously awry, and thankfully, I have a week before going back to school to sort it out. Although, looking like an Easter egg during the Easter season isn't so bad, really...

Then I developed a cold or something. I have felt miserable for two days running fever off and on. And, even though I feel bad, I hesitate to complain because I know that my girls can trump my silly little health complaints any day of the week. But, it is hard to keep going with everything that needs doing when I am feeling less than my best.

And, finally, yesterday I went to the plastic surgeon's office and had two cysts removed that had developed in the corners of my eyes. After 3 hours of waiting and 5 minutes of surgery, I am cyst-free!

So, today I look like a sick, sniffly Easter-Egg Headed lady who lost a prize fight, but it is all good. I'm just grateful to be home and to have Dan home. Sarah is out with friends, but maybe we will all be able to get together and head out for a little adventure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Peeing My Pants

Dan is shake, shake, shaking in her vest. We are in the hospital in Birmingham just vegging out and watching mindless television. She hasn't felt well today, and even began running a bit of a fever this afternoon. Generally, she is better than this after she has been on I.V. antibiotics for more than a week. I know she is frustrated. She wants to feel well. And, I want her to feel well.

I was supposed to come home today, but stayed an extra day. (That seems to be a recurring theme, since that is what happened during my last visit.) But, it's okay. I love my beautiful Dan-Dan and it is an honor to be here with her, shivering in my jacket since she keeps the room like an icebox. I love the Mom-Job. And, most of the time, we have fun together. Even in the hospital... Even with things like lung transplants, and weight gain requirements, and strange fungal infections looming over us.

But, honestly, I don't want to talk about sad CF stuff today. Sometimes I get sick to death of my own drama. I just want to take a commercial break from worrying about Dan's CF stuff, worrying about Sarah and how she is handling her sister's recent turn of events, worrying about how all of this could possibly affect Micah, considering if I am living as a faithful Child of God, and beating myself up for feeling as if I am unraveling at the seams part of the time. So, for the remainder of the time I am typing this post, typical CF fodder is off limits. Instead, I want to focus on some of the more curious and amusing aspects of this life we lead.

The other night, Mom and I were driving up to Birmingham in a torrential downpour. I mean, the water was coming down in buckets. J.R. was following behind us. (Truthfully, I had been upset earlier, so Mom didn't trust me to drive up on my own, so she was guarding me from the passenger seat.) And, I was entertaining her with funny stories about my kids at school. We were laughing, and driving slowly and carefully to navigate the weather. I could only see a few feet in front of me, until lightening flashed intermittently, briefly lighting up the highway and the surrounding woodsy tree-lines stretches of nothing that line I-65. We had planned to travel up because Dan was scheduled to have a G-tube surgery, but the surgery got cancelled and we still wanted to make the trip up to visit. So, I packed my little rolling hospital suitcase, my oversized comfy pillow, and 12 small bottles of oxygen. I packed the oxygen with the plan of giving it to Grammy and Grampy so they can bring Dan home when she is discharged from the hospital.

Now, I'm not sure if the general public is aware, but oxygen is flammable... And, those bottles are kind of dangerous. When instructed on the use of oxygen, one is taught a lot of safety rules about correct procedures for handling oxygen safely. In fact, during the training session, the words "potential missile" and "explosion" were clearly mentioned. Now, initially, it freaked me out. But, now... We're kind of pros. We just chuck those bottles in the back and move on down the road.

But, driving down the road in the torrential rain, with lightening flashing and thunder rolling, I had an acute awareness of the oxygen bottles resting in a duffle bag in the trunk of the car. And, imagine my keen, spine tingling, hair-standing-on-end experience, when a fire ball fell from the sky probably twenty-five feet to the right of the car... My little, red Jetta careening down the road with me driving and Mom in the passenger seat carrying twelve little potential missile-like projectiles with the ability to explode and kill or maim us all, and maybe even some innocent travelers navigating that same stretch of I-65 on that rainy, dreary night. Well, holy cow, Batman! That was something to consider.

I picked up the cell phone and exclaimed to my dad, J.R., "Did you see that?"

He replied, "Yep! I just peed my pants!"

And, it was a pee-your-pants kind of moment. I have never been that close to lightening in my life. It was amazing and scary and comical. Recently, I spend more time than I would care to admit thinking about life and death as it relates to me. I spend more time than I would care to admit thinking about living life as it is, and living life after the scary, miraculous lung transplant for my daughter. And, I spend more time than I would care to admit thinking about what life will hold for me if I have to go on without one of my kids. It's morbid. It's sad. And, sometimes it leaves me frozen. (And, I realize I am violating my own commercial break a little here, but I say all of this for a reason.) As that lightening bolt crashed down hilariously and dangerously close to my car filled with oxygen tanks, it became glaringly apparent that none of us have any kind of a handle on life and death. It could have been over quick as a wink, and I would have been staring at God, hands on hips, saying, "You're KIDDING me, right?!"

So, I was jerked back into the crazy reality of my life, and the almost comforting understanding that none of us is promised anything. Life is a gift. And, it is fun. And, I am ever so grateful for the moments that really make me want to pee my pants.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


I'm sitting in the hospital listening to the gurgling sound of the oxygen coming from the wall. Dan is resting, and I am relatively content and at peace. Initially, I was planning to come home today, but I decided to stay an extra day when the doctor came in with news of the "events" of the day. Danielle had a special Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) in the "Box", and they also wanted to do an Arterial Blood-Gas Test (ABG). So, I'm glad I was here for all of that.

Dan gets so freaked by needles because her veins have been terrible for years and she has had a lot of trauma with getting stuck over and over. I try to help her remain calm, but sometimes Fear just grips her and there isn't much I can say to help... But, I'm here. And, I don't leave her because, while I completely understand feeling afraid since I have such an intimate relationship with the emotion lately, I don't like Fear being allowed to snuggle in next to my kid... It can come and terrorize me. Whatever... But, I want Fear to leave my girl alone. "You can't have her! She already has CF. She doesn't need you, Fear, cozying up and making a home in her..."

So, I stay... And, I try to bring Peace, our sometimes fleeting friend. Sometimes, I try to invite Humor, who will appear readily and unexpectedly. But, most of all, I just try to bring Comfort. Sometimes I'm lucky because Comfort stays with me often, and I am able to send her out in times of strife. She is able to hold hands, stroke hair, bring wet wash cloths, and look into eyes. She has empathy and compassion for Fear. She also is able to co-exist with all of the Emotional Visiting Family Members. Comfort sustains us through all the trials, and if I am able to bring her along, I will always stay.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rod and the Staff

I'm up. It's officially 3:12 a.m. and I'm up. I got tired of just lying there pretending to sleep, so I decided to get up and write. Tonight my mind wasn't plagued by the racing thoughts that sometimes haunt me. It was annoyed by one line in a really beautiful song I was listening to earlier. I have a dear friend, a Secret Pal, in fact, who gives me different CDs with uplifting songs. One of these CDs has an incredible rendition of the 23rd Psalms. I'll have to find out the artist and post the name here, but I am unwilling, even though I'm up, to trod out to the carport in my underwear to retrieve the case right now.

But, the 23rd Psalms has always been one of my favorite verses. Probably, it is a lot of people's favorite since it is kind of famous and all that... I'm mean, it is a goodie for funeral choices. Recently, it was read at my dad's funeral. But, tonight, as I was lying there trying to sleep, that line, "Thy rod and thy staff... They comfort me..." And, ahh... I felt the peace that usually comes... A little spiritual connection... And, then I thought, "Wait a minute, why is God comforting me with a rod and a staff?" Why not a nice blanket? Why not wool or linen or feathers? Didn't they have soft, squishy things during Biblical times? Sure they did. Or how about a hug? My friend, Cora, gives the best, mushiest, 'I love you even though I'm not saying it' kind of hugs... But, God is choosing a rod and a staff to comfort me. Those are hard and stiff and very straight.

So, I got up and Googled "rod and staff". Well, I discovered that Rod and Staff is a publishing company for homeschooling materials, which was kind of interesting... But, then I stumbled upon all kinds of websites discussing the merits of beating children and defending it with Bible verses... Hmm... Still not what I was looking for exactly. Then, good ole Wikipedia came through. A Shepard's rod and staff is used to guide sheep to insure they don't wander into dangerous territory. That's kind of nice. God is keeping me in a safe place where he can look out for me. I like that idea.

Then I also discovered that the rod and the staff were considered to be a symbol of authority and sometimes to have great and miraculous powers. The Red Sea was parted by Moses' rod... He also brought water from a stone using his rod. These rod and staff miracles were during the time of the Plagues of Egypt. And, I knew about those miracles. I mean, I kind of have an embarrassingly little general knowledge of Biblical history that I remember from children's Sunday School, and thank you History Channel for the specials that sometimes enlighten me... Anyway, I also learned something new... Moses was creating his miracles during the Plague, but did you know that the whole Plague of Egypt started with a rod and staff miracle?

Evidently, Moses had a sidekick... Aaron. He and Aaron visited the Pharaoh to try and warn him. Well, the Pharaoh wanted some proof that Aaron and Moses were really trying to tell him something "Divine", so Aaron threw his stick down [clank and clatter] and it turned into a serpent! Holy Cow! (Oops... Is that blasphemy?) Well, the Pharaoh didn't want to be outdone so he ordered his Sorcerers to throw down their own rods, and yep... You guessed it. They turned into serpents too. But, Aaron's rod/serpent gobbled up all those other ones. This was supposed to be a warning sign, but the Pharaoh still didn't listen. The Bible says he was stubborn, but maybe he just didn't understand the sign... Maybe he is like me... Looking for signs, misunderstanding the signs, seeing signs, missing signs... It gets very confusing.

Anyway, later on, during the another plague, (which were very common in Biblical times, I'm guessing) Aaron's rod produces flowers, plants and ripe almonds. What happened to this rod? Some believe it was preserved in a Tabernacle for the Aaronic Priesthood, but the Jews believe it was used to slay the giant Goliath and was passed down through King of David's lineage.

Of course, this is all just Christy's version, and you can Google it yourself to read the real version because I'm sure my summary is missing some key elements. I have to break the Bible down into an almost kindergarten-like version because I find it confusing and sometimes even a little scary. In fact, there are many parts of it that I don't think children should be studying until they are much, much older... But, that's a topic for a different day.

For today, I would love to tell you that I am full of faith, but the truth is, I am plagued with fear. There's that word again... "Plague"... Maybe I do need a rod and a staff. I am overwhelmed with all that life has offered lately. I walk around feeling like someone turned me inside out, and I just want some kind soul to gently turn me right side out again like I sometimes have to do with the kid's shirts at school.

I worry for Dan. The other day, my doctor-friend (Yes, you'll be happy to hear I am under a physician's care) told me that I have to find a way to have some fun because this is my "new normal". And, still, I am struggling. I keep hoping that Dan will come home and somehow, through the miracle of consistent exercise and faithful treatments, her lung functions will improve. I watch her trying to gag down enough Pulmocare to help her gain weight. She struggles with the decision of whether or not to get a G-tube. I watch her... I help her lug oxygen tanks... And, I don't want this to be my new normal. I'm sad. And, I'm angry. I'm mad at Cystic Fibrosis, because dammit, we always tried to make a friendly place for you here in our lives and this is what you have done with our hospitality.

And, to make matters worse, Sar told me that she feels like I'm ignoring her. She feels like I am so preoccupied with Dan that she doesn't even exist for me. So, I need to do a better job with that because Sarah is my joy. She is the one who makes me laugh, and challenges me to think outside the box and always be one step ahead.

My girls, all three of them, have been such a tremendous blessing to me. I try to focus on that. I chose this life. I could have chosen a different path seventeen years ago, but the world wouldn't be nearly as colorful and alive without Danielle and Sarah. Micah may not even be here if I had taken a different road. And, I do believe that however floundering and child-like, I have always tried my best to seek God's will. That being said, maybe God is having to man that road with his rod and staff to keep me on the path, so he can look over me and be with me.

The Jews are a lot more specific about that rod. They believe it to be made of sapphire. It weighs about 10 lbs. and bears a Hebrew inscription that translates: "To the extent of God let these come to pass." I don't really know what that means, but I have always loved sapphire. In fact, when Dave designed my engagement ring, he designed it with a diamond in the middle and a sapphire on either side to represent both of the girls. He was marrying all of us. And, the idea of "let these come to pass" does give me comfort. Passing seems like enough.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Space Between Us

Earlier, I was having a text messaging conversation with a dear friend. She was sharing struggles with her preteen son, who has an illness that sometimes requires hospitalization. While our children have incredibly different diagnosis, both require various types of at-home care, and we struggle to do the best, and be the best for our children. However, there are moments when it all feels so enormously overwhelming.

I have read on multiple forums that CF parents are often overprotective and overinvolved. It's a challenge. You could add overtalkative, overopinionated, overanxious, overprayerful... I could probably qualify as any variety of adjectives with the prefix "over" in front. But, really... There isn't much choice. They send you home with this little bundle of perfection, and inform you that your precious little baby requires this specialized care in order to just keep living, and that even if you do everything EXACTLY right, your little fragile gift from God is likely to become sick anyway. It is the ultimate responsibility. And, there is no way to do it perfectly... In the striving to be the perfect CF parent, you can drive yourself crazy. Sometimes, despite medication compliance... Despite following all the rules, illness comes without rhyme or reason. When this happens, I find myself flipping through my mental Rolodex of every decision I have made on behalf of my children trying to determine if I had decided differently at one particular moment in time, would it have changed the outcome for this moment today?

But, guess what? After talking to my friend today, I realized CF parents don't corner the market on this life experience. Parenting is hard and there are no guarantees. I mean, I watched Intervention last night and wanted to slap the crap out of the girl on there, and grab her parents by the shoulders so I could shake them until their heads goggled around in circles.

Part of the transplant procedure requires a psychological evaluation and an assessment of Danielle's support network. Well, we have the support network down pat. I mean, if anything, we support. We hover. We downright suffocate. But, gulp... Psychological soundness? How can we fake that for any length of time? What's involved? Is there some type of sliding scale? Do they use norm referenced scales? Can I research and learn the correct answers to these questions? Are there penalties for being overly studious and neurotic?

I do know that while I in no way have a handle on mental and emotional stability, I am working on establishing some healthier boundaries with Dan and Sarah. Lots of times, when one of them is hospitalized, I say "we" are in the hospital. Well, the truth of it is "I" can walk out anytime I want without any repercussions, except perhaps the nagging parental guilt that plagues me. There is this mean little girl that lives in my head who says things like, "Great! You give her a defective gene and then have a hard time watching them stick her? You stay in there for this... You suffer through the boredom and the torture of a hospital stay right alongside. This is your cross to bear too." But, when I'm able to put the mean girl that lives in my head in time out for a while, a nice little girl comes calling to say, "God chose you to be their Mom. You are the supporter. You have to be in optimal condition to do the emotional support job. Be kind to you. Take care of you. As much as I know you would take CF in a heartbeat and have it for them, you can't. That's not your job in this life."

It's hard. But, as my mama always said, "Who promised you easy?" Nobody. Not today anyway...

Saturday, February 06, 2010

This is the Only Face I Have

"How are you?" This is the question everyone asks with compassion in their voices, sometimes tears in their eyes, and all the while deeply probing into my eyes with their own earnest kind-hearted ocular glands. And, it is sweet. And, I am so grateful. And, I am so humbled. And, it is killing me.

There's nothing to do about the question. It's there. It has to be there. And people aren't asking it just to make small talk. They really care. I don't really want people to stop asking... Well, kind of, I do. Because I don't know what answer to give.

I could give the psychological, academic answer: "Well, A-Hem, I believe I am coping extremely well given the strange series of trauma that has occurred all right in a row in my life. My limbs seem to still be attached, and I am walking around, appearing normal, but might possibly undergo a psychotic break any day now. Be on the look-out!"

Or, I could give the spiritual, airy-fairy answer: "I am great because I know that all is in Divine Order. This is a spiritual process called chemicalization in which lots of things go wrong at once in order for God to make smooth and perfect my way in the quickest earthly time possible. Did you know this world isn't really real, anyway? It is all just a grand design for the growth of my spirit! Isn't that fantastic?" Which, by the way, I really do agree with the spiritual, airy-fairy answer, but it would be hilarious to unleash that on people when they wander up and ask how I am.

However, I have chosen the more casual, walking-down-the-hall-in-passing answer, "I'm hanging in there!" And, I think it speaks to everything that is happening. It's a truthful answer. It tells I am putting one foot in front of the other, but reveals there is obviously "stuff" I am having to deal with. It's just that this answer isn't great when someone is holding both my hands and peering deeply into my oh-so-green irises in an attempt to read them like a crystal ball.

My friend, Amy, called me the other day just to check on me to make sure I'm O.K. There are certain people who get more than a "hanging in there"... Although, some days, that's all they get too, so don't feel left out. She said, "Hey. I was just called because I saw you and you looked... Well, I don't know. I just wanted to make sure you are O.K." And, I would like to say that this was just an example of my good friend noticing something that no one else can sense, but evidently, it's not. Cora approaches me all the time and says, "You O.K.? Let's have a hug." I walk down the hallway and people say, "Smile." (And, this has never been a smart thing to say to me... Even if I'm not in a bad mood, it puts me in a bad mood. Such audacity to think you need to have control over when and where I smile. Get a grip.) I guess the point is, I don't know what my face is doing, but this is the only one I've got. And, I imagine there are moments throughout the day when I can't make it do what I want. I want it to be a mask.... A mask that hides the stress, worry and pain of everything that is happening in life right now, but it can't. And, probably, if it did, people would really freak out anyway.

So, for future reference, I have a Conscious Discipline suggestion of how a casual conversation needs to go:

Person who cares and wants to let me know they are thinking of me and wishing me well: "How are you?"

Me: "Hanging in there."

Person: "Great! I'm thinking of you and wishing you well. You can handle this! You are doing it!"

Me: [insert smile here]

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chink in My Armor

It was completely unexpected. The uncontrollable crying started, and I just couldn't stop it. I had taken a half-day yesterday, so I could drive up to the Children's Hospital in Birmingham to spend the weekend with Dan. We are planning to go home on Monday. She is really doing better; although, she will be coming home on oxygen. The tentative plan is to keep her home for three weeks and check back in for another admission in three weeks. If she gets sick in the interim, we can always bring her back early.

So, I left work and went home to complete my packing and load the car. Dave had arranged for me to swing by the Vo Tech to pick up gumbo for dinner before I left town. As I turned out of my little dead-end street onto Hwy 90, the oxygen tanks clinked together in the floorboard of the backseat... And, I don't know... Something about the sound sent me over the edge. The tears came. The sobbing started, and I was just unable to continue on.

I turned into my school, entered the office and headed for the Principal's office. I guess that might seem a little odd to some, but it was my "safe place" for that moment. Ms. Bridget found Dr. C for me, who sat by saying comforting words, even though I'm sure he was completely at a loss as to what to do with me. Ms. Shelley got me a diet Dr. Pepper, and Amy was ushered into the office to hold my hand while I cried. Becky Bailey is totally onto something with the whole school family idea. My school family does comfort me. They all care. They go out of their way to take care of me. And, I am so blessed and lucky to have each one of them.

My whole school district has been so supportive. They are going out of their way to make sure Dan can return to school, even with oxygen. And, I just stand by in awe of the love and support being offered so freely. Being loved like this and watching people love my child is just a true testimony of God's love in action.

Really, I have been O.K. Most of the time, I am walking around with a sense that God is doing for me what I cannot do for myself... But, yesterday, the clink, clink, clink noise of the oxygen tanks broke through my facade of O.K. and found that place of hurt and fear and all the stuff I try not to pay attention to. In education, behaviorists believe ignoring some behaviors will extinguish them entirely. And, who knows, maybe that is true for behaviors... But, sometimes feelings can't be ignored... They come bubbling up to the surface in the strangest ways at the most inopportune moments. And, all I could do was feel the feelings, cry the tears, and let people love me.