Monday, October 31, 2011

Sometimes I Get Really Scared

     I have found that the things I feel the deepest about, I either can't write about right away, or sometimes not even at all.  I guess the things I can't write about are there, still there, too deep to bring out. and other things just have to settle a bit, settle like sand sifting to the bottom of a lake, fitting itself in and around the bigger rocks and pebbles.  Last Thursday was a day that has taken me til now to be able to ALMOST brush off. And yet, the fear that I felt then isn't really gone, it's down there, settling amongst the rocks, but not really gone. It just isn't on the surface anymore, like it was for a couple of days, so I can ALMOST laugh it off. And if I can't really even convince myself yet to laugh it off, at least I can take it out, examine it in words, and see what I can make of it now. 
     We have a week in October every year when two presenters come in to our 5th and 6th grades from a group called Project KNOW. It's a week where the 5th and 6th graders begin to learn about their bodies, the physical differences between boys and girls, puberty, learning to make healthy choices, self-esteem, etc. It doesn't really matter what it is for the purpose of my issue, but that's what it was. On Tuesday, one of the presenters checked with me to make sure that I would be at school that evening for the Parent and Child meeting of Project Know. I guess it is simply school policy to make sure there is a school representative there when an outside group uses the school to meet? I don't know, but I did volunteer to come back to school for it, since one of the other teachers lives out of town about 15 miles, and the other one who lives in town like I do has small children at home. I double checked the time with him, assured him I would be there by 6:45, and then went about my day. I never once gave that meeting another thought. Not once. So by the time 3:00 rolled around, I went home, cooked dinner, did whatever it was I did on Tuesday night that did NOT include going back to school for a Project Know Parent-Child meeting.
     Had I remembered it Wednesday, I might have been able to write it off as just a silly lapse of memory. But I not only went through my entire day Wednesday, including sitting in on part of the presenter's session with the 6th graders without having it click, but it took me until a full four periods into the day on Thursday before it dawned on me that I had TOTALLY forgotten the meeting Tuesday night. I think maybe one of my 5th graders said something - something very small - that triggered it, and all of a sudden, I realized I had not given it a single thought since we had talked about it Tuesday morning, 48 hours previous. It was like it had never even been discussed.  I got that terrible hot and cold and sick to my stomach all-at-once feeling, thinking I had forgotten to go the night before, went to one of the other classrooms immediately to confess, only to have the OTHER presenter coldly tell me that it was "actually Tuesday night," and then turn away from me to go back to her lesson. 
     I went back across the hall to my empty classroom, shut the door, sat down and had a mini-meltdown at my computer. See, I tend to be very forgetful on a typical basis. My kids tell me things ALL. THE. TIME. that I simply don't register. They will tell me, or ask me, to go someplace "on Saturday night," and then Saturday night rolls around, and I don't have any idea where they are planning to go. Typically, they sigh and say "But Mom, remember? I TOLD you..." and then, oh yeah, it clicks. Sometimes. But sometimes, it doesn't. But that happens ALL the time, not just sometimes when I'm busy.  I also NEVER remember a book after I've read it, a movie after I've watched it,  and half the things the kids say that all start with "remember the time when..." and half the time or more, I shake my head and think, or say, "No, I DON"T remember that."   Its been really frustrating to me for years, feeling like my brain is made of swiss cheese. I have told my kids at school, ever since I started teaching elementary instead of high school  more than ten years ago, "ask me or tell me something over and over. I won't be mad at you. I just won't remember unless you do." Like, if they ask me for an eraser, if I don't, or can't get it right that second, I won't remember 30 seconds later. If a student asks me to go to the bathroom, two minutes later when I go to do attendance, I have to ask, "Where is so and so?" and the rest of the class will say, "You said he could go to the bathroom, remember?"  and then it dawns on me that oh yeah,. I did.
     But Tuesday night's obligation? NO recollection of it. And the overwhelming feeling of shame that I had forgotten, had let down some adult whom I knew not at all but who was counting on me, as well as the parents and kids that did show up (probably not a lot, truth be told), and my two administrators who were also expecting that I would be there was quickly overtaken by a wave of chillingly cold fear. Fear absolutely and positively GRIPPED me - I must have Alzheimers. This is it. This is the beginning of it. All the years of general forgetfulness, of a sieve-like brain for facts and recall, and now, this one, identifying moment - it's clear it is probably the beginning of Alzheimers. Is it early onset? Do I, at my age, qualify anymore as early-onset? 
Since I was sitting in front of the computer, sobbing away, big heaving scary sobs, I quickly reached over and typed in "Alzheimers symptoms" and came with a check list of ten things. And it seemed to me that day that most of the ten really and truly DID fit. I know lots of people are forgetful SOMETIMES, but I sincerely do not know ANYONE who is as forgetful in general as I am. For years I have forgotten appointments, like dental visits and hair cuts.  I just feel like I can't remember ANYTHING, and it is so very scary.
     My mom had Alzheimers.  My aunt - my mom's sister, and at least one of my uncles, her brother, also did. There was a pivotal Christmas when we all realized it, realized something was very wrong with my mom, and that something turned out to BE Alzheimers.  I thought, on Thursday morning in front of my computer last week, that forgetting that evening event at school was MY pivotal moment - that from that point on, people would use that to mark the beginning, the noticeable beginning, of my decline. Of course, that meant I spent the rest of the day wondering about the rest of my life. I'm not quite 50 yet... far too long to lose my memory, given that my physical health will have me living probably another 40 years. I can't bear the thought of being in a nursing home not knowing anyone for the next 40 years.  My kids are too young to "lose" their mother. Will I be able to finish my next 6 years of teaching, or will I have to retire early? Do I have things I need to take care of now, before it's too late to think about taking care of them? Should I change my life if it is going to come to this, or should I stay with the security, such as it is, of life as I've known it for so long?
     Maybe none of this makes any sense to anyone else, especially if you don't have any history of this devastating illness in your family, but I can honestly tell you... I'd rather fight a cancer diagnosis than one of Alzheimers. Maybe if you have a history of cancer in your family, you are hypervigilant about every little mole on your body, or are religious about getting your yearly mammograms in a way that I am not, because I have no history of that. Oh yeah, I get my mammograms sort of regularly, though when I went this summer, I think they told me it had been four years since my last one. But I went in knowing there would be nothing wrong, and came out with that just that exact assurance. It's hard to worry about cancer. It's just not in my genes. I do know it doesn't mean it CAN"T happen to me, but when I have an overriding family history of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimers, why would I worry about cancer?  Especially when my cholesterol level is through the roof despite taking medicine for it for years, and watching what I eat. It DOES seem like heart disease is far more likely. And while I do worry, a little, about a heart attack, knowing they CAN kill, I don't worry as much as I do about Alzheimers, because there are things I CAN do to help prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of heart disease. There is NOTHING I can do to ward off Alzheimers, and nothing I can take to cure it when it does come. I guess my unspoken prayer has kind of been, "Dear God, please don't let me get Alzeheimers any sooner than I have to, and I really would like to be old already when I do get it, if I have to get it."
     Nearly 49 is NOT what I call old, and no, I'm not at all ready. 
     So, do I have it? Am I showing signs? Is it early-onset? Did forgetting about Tuesday night's meeting until Thursday mean that I likely am hitting close to the pivotal moment when everyone will look back and say "it started then - we noticed it when she forgot that meeting at school"?  Thursday, I would have told you yes, I believed that, was afraid of that, sobbed my little heart out about that in between classes most of the day (and applied an ice pack to my eyes before my kids came back to the room to cover up the damage that crying does. A meltdown at school is NOT a good idea, and one I avoid at all costs, whenever possible).
     Letting four days pass, I can now say, "probably not." I don't KNOW why I forgot it. I DID go buy a monthly/weekly/daily planner over the weekend, and am now trying to write down every single thing that I need to attend or remember. I was given a post it note on Friday that said "Grapes and 2 large pumpkins" - my reminder of what I needed to bring in to school today. We bought the grapes on Friday night, and I sent my son to buy the pumpkins yesterday afternoon, so I did NOT forget those things. Does that mean anything? I don't know. Can I got back to teaching and not cry in between periods? Yep. Can I forgive myself for the stupid mistakes I made typing up Friday's vocabulary quizzes? Friday, no. Friday I was convinced it was one more sign. Today? Yes. Today I realize that I typically make errors when I type quizzes and papers up for my kids, because I am usually trying to do it in a hurry, at the last minute, and have 27 other things on my mind. I'm also under a lot more pressure at school this year because of a forced "team-teaching" situation in two of my four major classes. And there is a lot more pressure in my life in general right now. Not that my life is worse, or even as bad as, many many others. I just know that stress DOES affect me. I also know that I have pretty severe ADD, and always have. Maybe instead of worrying about Alzheimers, which is probably a stretch at this point, maybe I should go back to the doctor and try a different ADD medicine. It did help before, but the side effects were god-awful. But before I face a permanent sort of melt down, maybe I should give that a try again and see if it helps noticeably.  
     It's Monday. Despite the fact that it's Halloween, not ANY elementary teacher's favorite day to be in school, it was definitely a better day than last Thursday.  I remembered my two big pumpkins and my bag of grapes. I didn't make any mistakes on their vocabulary list I typed up over the weekend, and I remembered to buy candy to hand out for trick or treating tonight.My thoughts and anxieties have settled a bit, sifted down through to the bottom of the lake of fear for now.
     The fear, however, does remain. It's a cold hard ball, and one that can,and will, rise again, bubble to the surface,  way too quickly, given the opportunity I'm afraid. The trick is going to be figuring out how to LIVE with this fear, rather than being crippled by it. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Awesome Autumn

     When you teach writing to kids, it's hard to not spend a lot of your own time "thinking like a writer." I only wish THEY would spend half as much time at it as I do!  .
     Last Friday we began something called "showing, not telling," whereby I am trying to get them to add details to their writing to allow the reader to FEEL what they are writing about, not just read ABOUT it.  Some of them  "get it" and some of them don't (and never will, I'm afraid).
     Saturday morning, when I got up to let the dogs out just before 6 am, and then again about 8-ish, I had the bold thought (I know, it's a big one, and before coffee, even) "It's Fall."  And then, like a writer, or rather, like a writing TEACHER, I thought to myself, "Really, Laurie? How do you KNOW that? SHOW me."
     In the summer, when I open that door to let the dogs out, the air is warm on my face, the sun halfway above the fence already.. Today, the air is not only much cooler, but it is crisp, crystally.  The air feels chill,  as though there were a frost last night, and the last of the icy crystals are just now evaporating into the feeble,distant, thin sunlight. The mist-covered sun, though, is just beginning to be visible through the trees, low to the horizon, behind the fence. It is rising, but it is not up high enough yet to actually spread any warmth. The trees by that back fence, a thick mass of green in the summer time, are now covered in  golds and russets and oranges,  leaves that still cling, tenaciously, to the uppermost branches, not shaken loose yet by the autumn winds that have passed through. Brown and yellow leaves litter the ground underneath, and rattle like skeleton bones as the dogs run over them, through them. The chill in the air has made the dogs quite frisky - three of the four of them chase, tumble and run past each other as they chase around and around the yard, while the fourth one, too old and achy in the joints in this crisp morning air, stands stiffly by my side, barking out her encouragement to the younger ones. I shiver, involuntarily, standing there in my thin tshirt and jeans, and wish the coffee was already done, wish I had a warm cup to wrap my hands around, tendrils of coffee steam spiraling upwards for me to inhale.. Breathing in that fresh, clear morning air, smelling the lingering scent of wood smoke, left over from last night's fire in the wood stove, feeling happy as a few geese in a straggly V formation honk noisily overhead, I realize that fall has come to New York.
      It's autumn here- colored leaves stand out brightly on the hillsides against their dark evergreen counterparts, crisp morning air greets you and lingers until mid morning at least, crunchy tart apples in bushel baskets beg to be eaten, the bright orange globes of pumpkins on front steps and the yellows, rusty golds and reds, purples, whites of fall mums in beds hold a beauty so singularly breathtaking it is hard to soak it all in. Fall is such a short season here, but a glorious one.
The view from my friend Holly's house; taken by Holly LaBenne

Friday, October 21, 2011


 Concord Grapes. Did you know they grow on trees in Western New York?  Well, at least in MY back yard they do. Look closely. Can you see them there, hanging overtop of the bird house, in the tree above my fence?  What? You've never heard of tree-grapes before?  Never planted a grape tree?

 Yeah, me either. But I AM lucky enough that the neighbor's vines, behind my fence, grow up OVER my fence, and on up into my trees. Except that the higher they grow, the harder they are to pick!

But they are oh-so-sweet, and make the best jam ever. And since my neighbor works even harder than I do, and has less time off, and not enough time to use them all, I'm free to claim as many of them as I want. I think THIS weekend will involve some home made grape jam, some home made grape JUICE, and some grape pie.
Grapes growing in trees in my back yard. One of the sweetest things about fall in my area. Literally!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stress, Oh How I Love Thee

    Lately I've been repeating a quote to my older daughter so many times it has become a mantra of sorts: "When you're going through hell, keep going."  Little did I realize that the mantra may have been as much for me as it was for her. I'm not sure it's helping either one of us, truthfully. But on the other hand, what other choice does one have, really, other than to just keep going on, one foot in front of the other,getting through each day. 
     I guess the problem is two-fold - part of it is when expectations come up against reality, and the two don't match.  The other part is that I guess I never really expected such a large part of my stress at this point in my life to still come from my children, who are now all nearer to adulthood themselves than childhood still. Sure, when they were 1,3,5 and 7, there was lots of stress. And even when they were  11, 13, 15 and 17, they were the requisite handful that one would expect out of raising 4 children that close in age. I expected that, and was not disappointed in the least!  :)
     But I guess, as they began to get old enough to head off to college in the past few years, and did do just that, fairly easily enough, it seemed, I began to prepare myself for a year with just my last one left at home. We've talked about it a lot in the past few years, what it would be like when it was just her left. And as the activity level around my house has decreased greatly, (along with the food bills, the piles of laundry, the mess and noise in general), I began to look forward a bit to that "empty nest" syndrome. I loved it when my house was full of noise and kids for all those years, and it has taken me a very long adjustment time every time one of them has left. But eventually, I DID adjust, and kind of got used to it. And it is sometimes nice to just MISS your kids instead of having to deal with the constant bickering between them, and such.  
     So as the third one went off to college this fall, my eldest, who graduated in May, ended up coming home, due to lack of a solid career or further education plan on his part. I won't bother going into the details, but suffice it to say, though I love him to death, I am NOT happy to have him home again under these circumstances. He has a degree, he SHOULD have planned better, should have studied harder, SHOULD have done a lot of things he didn't, and because he didn't, he is now living back at home, working 30 hours a week at a minimum wage job, trying to figure out the next course of action for his life. OK, so the job market sucks for everyone these days. I get that. And it makes it a LITTLE easier not to be completely pissed at him, and to be fair, he does try to do a little more around here now than he did when he was growing up. But, it's not what I expected. At his age, I had graduated, had my first real job with my first real income, was living on my own, bought my first car and had a car payment, bills, and was in grad school.  I am worried mostly that he will STILL be living here, STILL not gainfully employed at 30. That worries me.
     And the girl, now in her third year at college, a college that becomes more and more difficult to pay for in this economy, (no little part of my insomnia many nights) the girl who has had the same room-mate for both of her first two years, best friends and "roomies for lyfe" as they always put it, now that they have moved into a triple, instead of the double they shared, is the one who is "going through hell."  Suddenly, out of nowhere, not only is she not getting along with her roommate, but her roommate has teamed up with the other girl in the triple, AND the three in the room next to them, to pretty much launch an all-out attack on my daughter's personality. It's hard to feel good about yourself when there are 5 people confronting you about how much they suddenly hate you, and everything about you. It's been absolutely miserable. And, in the end, today, my daughter is moving across campus into a new room with a complete stranger. It sucks. The whole thing sucks. And although I know her personality has its quirks and I know she can be annoying as hell at times, she also has a heart as big as all outdoors, and does NOT deserve this. I just want her to get settled in, and for her life to settle back down. Unfortunately, it's a small campus, and I don't know that moving is going to make life all good again. So, although it's her drama, it has taken a huge toll on me, worrying about her, listening to the crap her room-mates have been putting her through the past couple of weeks, and really not being able to do anything at all for her, except listen to her cry over the phone, 300 miles away. It sucks. 
     Meanwhile, the boy in Ohio, 7 hours away, has decided that there is simply no way he can live 7 hours away from home. He has burned through all his money that was supposed to last him for at least an entire semester by coming home nearly every weekend, because he can't stand to be out there, that far away from his life here he loved, with nothing to do. He doesn't like the school, doesn't like being away, doesn't want a job out there because he just wants to be home. So, while dealing with the issues of the older two kids, there has also been this,  ongoing with him. It came to a head this weekend, while I was away at an EMS conference. I was on the receiving end of dozens of texts and phonecalls this weekend, begging me to let him come home. On his own, he applied to a tech school near here last week, to transfer to in January, closed out his bank account today, withdrew from college out there, packed up his entire apartment full of stuff, and is currently on his way home. 
     And then there is child number four, my senior in high school. The one who was looking forward to being the only one at home for a year, who now has to share that time with both her brothers.  She has been looking for a college to apply to for next year, and although we visited one in Asheville, NC this summer that seemed like it was going to be "the" college for her, it was not. So last weekend we took a 12+hour trip to Maine and Massachusetts to look at two more "perfect" places.  Now, she "doesn't know."  Seems like that should be HER worry, HER concern, but again, as a parent, her worries and concerns ARE mine. Not only that, but since she has doubled up her last two years of high school and bundled her junior and senior years into one, and is actually graduating a year early, will, in fact, be 16 when she enters college. That is a HUGE concern to me regarding her choice of a college.  I can't seem to divorce myself from worrying about any and all of my kids and their issues. I know, that's normal, and I would be worried about my ability to be a good parent if I WEREN"T concerned about them. But lately, it just seems like every single one of them has such BIG issues, and all four of them together, that I feel like if I don't keep moving, don't keep "going," though this current little hell, if I stop to think about any one of them too long, I'll drown. But I'm getting tired of constantly swimming alone against this current, too. 
     And it's not like I'm without my own every day issues with work, finances,  and life in general. I think I could manage to deal with those better if I didn't just feel so overwhelmed by so much else, by all my kids' problems.  I think about taking some time out, taking a weekend off, and do, in fact, have a quiet cabin weekend coming up in two weeks, but instead of looking forward to it, hoping it will help me to step back and breathe again, I know it will only be full of trying to get caught up on the school stress of not having papers corrected and lesson plans done, while at the same time worrying about THREE of my kids being at home together with no adult supervision to keep them on task and not bickering and fighting with each other all weekend.  They are nearly adults, so I shouldn't HAVE to worry about that. But they are NOT adults yet, just bigger, taller, heavier versions of themselves at younger ages.  And as I struggle to find my place again in this unexpected, unplanned, world of THREE of my kids living at home again when I had only planned for there to be 1 left at this point, I know they, too, are struggling with the changes they hadn't counted on, either. 
     Thankfully, I guess I should be glad that home is still their sanctuary, still a place they WANT to be, still the place that is their respite from stress... but I pray they are not all still here when I retire in 6 more years, or there will be hell to pay then. And I will NOT keep going - I will stop and demand that they GET OUT. No, not really. But lordy, I do hope things start taking on a brighter hue, a better tone, soon. I don't swim well to begin with, in fact, don't even like to be wet. And right now, I'm barely keeping my head above the puddle.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Want LAST Weekend Back Again...

I'm not a big Zinnia fan, but I thought these were beautiful anyway.,

Last weekend, well nearly TWO weekends ago now, since tomorrow is Friday again (where DO my weeks go???) was filled with flowers, cookie making, fresh fall apples, and lots and lots of productivity.

Behind the Gladiolas I bought from a local flower farmer, you can see the piles of laundry I folded. HATE folding it, but love having it done, even though it only lasts a day before the piles of dirty laundry start building again. I love starting my week with the laundry done, folded and put away  taken upstairs to sit in piles for another week or two.

The Glads were especially beautiful, and at a quarter a piece, I think they're a steal. They remind me of my childhood. My next door neighbor, who stood in as my adopted grandfather as well, grew rows and rows of beautiful Gladiolas every summer in his garden. He made sure my mother had a vase-full throughout the summer. He also grew cucumbers, and would always pick tiny ones for me to eat fresh, dirt and sun's warmth included free of charge. The Glads brightened up my weekend, both in their own beauty, and in that of bringing back a treasured memory from long ago.
Fresh Cortlands say "Fall."  Yum.Crispy, a bit tart, but filled with all the sweetness of autumn in western NY.

All four dog houses got stained, twice., and their new lids 3 x.  Love the way they look, all fresh and cleaned up for a new season. Love that the dogs don't have to be hooked out or use their houses all summer, but glad they have them, all warm and cozy, in the fall and winter when I'm in school. 

Got some good tug of war time in with my gorgeous Bramble dog. She loves nothing more than playing, playing, playing, and I always feel guilty that I don't provide her with the level of activity she craves and needs. So I'm always glad when I have time, or MAKE time, to play with her. SHE was thrilled!  And loves her new pink tug of war rope from Tractor Supply.

Other puppies were glad to be outdoors as well. It was a BEAUTIFUL weekend, for all of us. 
And THEN, there was LAST weekend. 

It rained. ALL weekend. Which was ok on Saturday. I did go to that big craft show/farm market Saturday, and it was cold and rainy and brisk, and it felt good to be outdoors in the weather. Even though it was, in some opinions, a crummy day, I felt refreshed by the wind and rain and cooler temperatures. I had a great day. I bought nothing but a jar of black currant jam (I want to plant black currants, but wanted to make sure I liked the jam. I did, so planting them will be a good choice), and a used book that I need for one of our book club selections later this year. Oh, I bought a pumpkin spice latte to drink while I wandered about in the rain, which also buoyed my spirits. Nothing better than the beginning of "pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING season"!
But Sunday? That was a different story. It continued to rain, but I was locked indoors, in my classroom, trying to get ready for the week, and trying to STILL get caught up.

This is the view from my classroom window this year. Yeah, beautiful., I know.  More like, DEPRESSING, with a capital D. My room looks out over the roof to the cafeteria, and has all these vents and blowers and other half walls. UGLY. And with the rain, and being captive in my classroom all day, from 10 am until 7:30 pm, and leaving then STILL not even CLOSE to being caught up, it was a dreary, dreary, DREARY, and oh, did I mention DEPRESSING Sunday? Sigh.

Oh yeah, and then, to top off the just "perfect"  weekend? I lost half a tooth while munching away on Jordan Almonds. Losing a tooth = an automatic call/trip to the dentist. Honestly, I'd rather give birth again. There is simply NOTHING on earth I fear more than going to the dentist. The split second I realized I was chewing on a part of my own tooth, I got hot, then cold, then sweaty and clammy, and felt like throwing up, THE DENTIST. Double UGH.
Could I PLEASE just have last weekend back again? You know, back when life was all about playing tug of war with my dogs, and painting dog houses, and eating apples? Because I COULD eat apples back then, not just the apple SAUCE I've been sucking down this week because I can't eat anything hard? Yeah, THAT weekend. A formal request for a weekend do-over has been filed.