I can hardly wait to be perfect.

laundry 2
Perfect Me

Someday, I’m going to be SO organized that I will be perfect. In fact, my entire family will be perfect, because of my contagious perfection. (And my husband’s constant, inspirational quest for self-improvement.)

This Perfect Me will get good exercise every day, outdoors when weather permits. She will remember without fail to take her vitamins. Every Saturday she will go to the market for fresh local food, which she will have lots of energy to cook into delicious, nutritious meals (because of the exercise, fresh air, and vitamins). Her family will therefore also be bursting with energy and happiness.

She has perfected the art of scheduling, such that her schedule doesn’t feel like a restrictive duty list, but rather a natural rhythm that makes impeccable sense.

Her rhythm includes enough housework each day so that clutter and dishes never get mountainous or impassable*; she also has developed a knack for making tidy-up time FUN so that the kids joyfully join in. In fact, the whole family cleans up together, singing happy working songs for motivation. At Perfect Me’s house, there are never piles of laundry large enough to suffocate a preschooler. The diapers are always out on time for pickup. The fridge never smells funky or contains ancient unrecognizable leftovers. The recycling cart never overflows, and the cats never poop on the floor two feet from the kitty box, because this family is totally on top of these things.

Even better, Perfect Me is so organized that she is more environmentally responsible: she always hangs out the laundry (weather permitting), and cycles to the grocery store.

Organization enables Perfect Me to find time each week for refreshing bouts of creativity (dancing, music, writing) and quality playtime with her children. She and her now-perfect husband remember to do fun things like take their kids skating and have picnics, and also have time for each other. (They even go on dates. Regularly.)

perfect picnic
The picnics will look almost like this – perhaps more endearingly mismatched. (Photo credit.)

Perfect Me has no trouble keeping her patience and treating the world with kindness because she’s terrifically healthy and balanced. Also, she’s so organized that she’s always able to make sure that her kids’ meals and bedtimes are consistent, so everyone gets lots of sleep and her kids whine way less than regular kids (which is what they are at the moment). Even when her children have cranky times, her mind is so clear that she is able to glean instantaneously what is needed (snuggles, tough love, body break, what-have-you) and deliver it with equanimity. She doesn’t find herself saying bitchy things and then immediately fretting about the example she’s set and the damage she might have done.

Perfect Me always has wet-wipes and great snacks on hand. And she always knows where her phone and keys are.

All this synergy gives Perfect Me the confidence and clarity to be more socially graceful. Her Christmas cards arrive before Christmas. Although her house isn’t magazine-neat, it’s tidy enough that people can drop by and she’s not embarrassed to invite them in. She always remembers to introduce people to each other and offer beverages. She makes a remarkably great cup of coffee. She converses and never worries that she might’ve just said something doofus-y.

When Perfect Me goes back to work after maternity leave, she will have such good practice at creating seamless schedules that she will be able to get the kids to the babysitter on time with nary a meltdown (not even on her part). She will magically find time to fit all the above-mentioned awesomeness into her days with lighthearted serenity, and even take on volunteer opportunities to give back to her community.

In case it sounds like Perfect Me will be smug and obnoxious, don’t worry. She’ll still be able to kick back and eat chips and watch movies sometimes. She will still be able to laugh at the mistakes she’ll make (charming things like forgetting to put the teabag in – not upsetting things like forgetting to send a thank-you card or swearing at her baby). Her meals will taste great but won’t necessarily be Pinterest-worthy. Her garden will probably never be breathtaking, although she will be able to keep invasive maples from cracking the foundation of her house. She will never be en vogue with the latest fashion trends, but she will have good hair. (You know, because of all the sleep and vitamins.)

If the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, I guess it makes sense to start by getting the laundry out of the dryer. It might even get folded today or tomorrow.

I feel more Perfect already.

we can do it
It’s gonna happen. Perfect Me is coming, y’all.

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*Let’s be realistic: Perfect Me probably has a dishwasher. And a garage.

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Dear Ontario Teachers

Dear colleagues,

I know I haven’t written about what you’re going through in a long time, not since the post that unexpectedly deflowered my blog three months ago. I want you to know that it’s not because I’m ignoring what’s going on; I think about it every day. (Well – and I did have that baby, too, so my daily priorities are often more nap-and-poop-related.)

I’d like to be able to say, “I wish I were there at school with you!”… but it wouldn’t be true. Not just because I’m delighting in my offspring at the moment – although that’s a big part of it.

Mostly it’s because I’ve been imagining being in your shoes right now, having to participate in work-to-rule, and I know how I’d feel. The stress would be eating away at me. Although I don’t presume to speak for you, I’m sure a lot of you must be feeling stressed.

If I were teaching with you right now, it would be a constant source of frustration and guilt to know that no matter what I did, I would be letting someone down: either the students and their families, or the union and my co-workers. That’s the reality of work-to-rule. People hate it when we disengage from extracurricular activities. It’s a tough situation to be in while trying to focus on the best ways to captivate the minds of a roomful of kids, this close to Christmas… especially if you have an overactive guilt reflex (which I do).

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I know that if I were teaching right now, in moments of fatigue and strain, I’d second-guess myself and my situation.

There would be times when I’d see kids’ disappointed faces and think, Do I HAVE to do what my union says? Is it THAT important?

Then I would go read Bill 115, and realize that I do, because it is.

The right to organize trade unions for collective bargaining is a fundamental human right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bill 115 says No, actually, forget rights and negotiations: YOU WILL DO AS THE MINISTER SAYS. You can produce a collective agreement identical to the one she presents, or she will “impose a collective agreement”. Seriously. How can you even call it a “collective agreement” when there is nothing collective about it, nothing agreed to? Laurel Broten, along with the Liberals and Conservatives who helped pass Bill 115, are apparently exempt from the UDHR. That is a scary precedent. If this kind of autocracy is allowed to persist, the Employment Standards Act – which applies to all working Ontarians – will be meaningless. (So if anyone reading this still thinks it’s about the money… sigh… then I’m afraid you’ve been brainwashed by McGuinty.)

Still, even knowing how regressive Bill 115 is, if I were teaching, there would be times when I would overhear parents’ understandably frustrated remarks – even comments about us holding the kids ransom, using them as pawns, depriving them – and think, Do we really have to do it this way? Is this the only option?

Then I would think of the Queen’s Park Rally for Education, and the countless other rallies organized by teachers, students, and supporters in the last several months, all of which seem to have gone unheard… I would consider all the written protests, the letters and petitions and votes that remain unacknowledged… I would keep in mind that last February at the Provincial Discussion Table, three bankruptcy lawyers represented the government and there was no actual opportunity for discussion – and that when union reps were in talks with the government last month, it was the latter who abruptly ended things. All of this tells me that work-to-rule is not the only option; but this situation calls for us to use as many options as we have. We wouldn’t be here if any of the earlier objections had prompted the government to repeal Bill 115.

Of course, parents want their kids to have everything. We want that too, obviously, which is why we do all those activities in the first place. I believe most of us would far prefer to still be doing them. But the children’s right to field trips does not trump our right to collective bargaining. So I’ve vowed to disregard words like “pawns” and “ransom” and “deprived”, because I know there is nothing malicious or underhanded about this job action. (Unless people want to direct that language at the Minister. THAT would be valid.) Also, I’m ignoring parents who say we are “not letting the students” play sports or do drama or what have you, since we have forbidden nothing. That’s Ms. Broten’s territory.

queens park rally for education
Queen’s Park Rally for Education

If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the general public opinion – the rampant vilification – would weigh on me. I might wonder, Is my union really representing my best interests? Would it be better if we just dropped it?

Then I would give my brain a shake and remind myself: no, Bill 115 is not a fight we should drop. Our union representatives are doing their job by making sure that we, the members, know this. They are also doing their job by asking for more than they actually expect to get in negotiations: that’s the nature of bargaining. They know the contract inside and out, and keep high ideals in mind. This is how, over the past several decades, they have negotiated many necessary improvements to working conditions in schools. We know the budget is tight right now, and compromising on contract points during negotiation is something we can do. Giving up the right to negotiate is NOT.

The government portrays us as unreasonable in the midst of the mess they created, despite giving us no opportunity to be reasonable. They have obscured their role in this standoff and everything that led to it, knowing that we would have to resort to measures that affect children (we’re teachers… everything we do affects children). Colleagues, I’m sorry you’re bearing the brunt of this. It is sad that the alienation strategy has indoctrinated so many people – but we don’t have to internalize it. We know we have support from each other, and from other critical thinkers, in spite of it all. We’ve all talked to parents who, despite the fallout of work-to-rule, understand and support what we’re fighting for.

If I were teaching right now, there would be times when the haters – the ones who go beyond complaining, who spit venom in the form of ignorant suppositions and really nasty language – would get to me, and I’d feel like crap. This did happen when I wrote that other post: at first, it was exciting to try enlightening some web trolls, but the vitriolic content (not to mention the effort it takes to be educative, diplomatic, and civil when responding to these people) wears a gal down after a while.

What made it worthwhile was discovering that many of you found the post encouraging at a time when you needed it. I’m very, very thankful for that.

If I find myself discouraged by the antagonism, I take a deep breath and remind myself: this viciousness has nothing to do with me, as a person. Haters will be haters. Trolls will be trolls. Some people will always be hostile to us. Some people have chips on their shoulders and feel the need to unload their bitterness on the web or in the Op-Ed section, where they can be anonymous. As teachers, we have taught kids with those kinds of anger issues, and know that they are usually in need of help.

I want to remind myself, and all of you who could also use the reminder: You are a good human. You try hard. You work hard. You teach, to the best of your ability. That is what matters.

Dear colleagues, I’ve realized something while writing this, and you probably have as well: in spirit, I am there with you. This mess sucks, and it’s obviously far from over, but I’m with you for as long as it takes. Good luck, and bon courage. And happy holidays.

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A NOTICE TO POTENTIAL COMMENTERS:

This not a news source. It is a personal blog, written by a teacher. Please don’t expect it to be unbiased.

You are most welcome to leave comments. Mature discussion is great.

Please be aware, however, that if you use inflammatory language and/or make arguments based on wrong assumptions or inanities (especially if they demonstrate that you have skimmed this post, seen that it’s pro-teacher, and decided to rant irrelevantly), I’ll delete your comment. I’ve already taken too much time to respond to people like you over here, and I’m done. I have a baby to feed.

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The Ladies of Election Day

Here we go, Americans: the Day of Reckoning. I hope you’re on your way to vote – or have already done so.

According to the Chicago Tribune, lots of voters wait until Election Day to decide whom their ballot will support. That seems so strange to me, in a country with what is essentially a two-party system, with wildly differing candidates.

As I see it, if you support the Republicans under Romney, there’s no way you can support the Democrats under Obama – and vice versa. Either you blame Obama for stuff that’s occurred during the last four years that you consider bad, or you credit him for stuff you consider good.

It’s not really my place to weigh in on the American election (even though I know who I’d vote for – and can’t imagine doing otherwise). Frankly, I’m fairly disillusioned up here in Canada, where we’re currently living under the sneakiest, most underhanded Prime Minister in history. I don’t want to talk about that guy either.

What I’m wondering today is what those two women are feeling – the ones who are poised as potential First Ladies for the next four years.

Over on BlogHer, shortly after the big presidential debate, I read posts by each of them, talking about their husbands and the campaign trail. It’s pretty interesting reading. Naturally, each woman speaks of her man with esteem and love, vouching for his character and her faith that he can fix things. I hope that all of this is sincere, but I can’t help wondering if these women would like to say things they don’t say.

Ann Romney has battled multiple sclerosis and cancer. She writes that Mitt is her hero, and that he has always stood by her during the tough times. She also writes: “I have to admit, though, five years ago at the end of the last campaign, I told Mitt I would never do this again. Mitt laughed and said, ‘Honey, you say that after every pregnancy.'” (The Romneys have five children.)

Mitt and Ann Romney campaign
Mitt and Ann Romney

This has been a vitriolic, exhausting lead-up to the election. Is there part of Ann that wishes her family weren’t having to go through all this? Has the presidential race turned out to be more than she meant to sign up for? Does she ever worry about how things will be if her husband actually becomes the President?

Michelle Obama writes very proudly of her husband’s election priorities, as well as his accomplishments thus far. She also mentions that the night of the debate was her and Barack’s 20th wedding anniversary – a big milestone.

michelle obama campaign debate
Michelle Obama

When you’re the First Lady of the United States, do you ever get to show frustration at the inconveniences that must be part of that role? Does Michelle ever wish she could just go back to being normal? Does she feel that the man she married has changed in ways she doesn’t love? Does she secretly kinda hope Barack will lose, so that she can, in some measure, have her husband back?

I’m sure that each of these women feel just as passionately about the outcome of this election as other engaged voters do: they want their candidate to win, because they feel strongly that he will help her country the most.

But, to be blunt, I think I’d hate being a First Lady. I mean, I get exasperated when Sean works extra hours unexpectedly and it infringes on our plans; I also treasure my freedom to disagree with him. And for that to be our business only. I have no desire to be nationally – much less internationally – recognizable and famous. I could probably adjust to the adoring masses’ adulation of my husband (eventually), but I’d be severely uncomfortable with the vilification that would be just as inescapable. As a borderline introvert, I’d be drained meeting and chatting graciously with so many strangers all the time. And I really don’t think my fashion sense would pass muster with the critical public.

It must be really tough. I don’t envy Michelle or Ann at all. But I hope, for each of their sakes, that they love their roles – and their husbands – as much as they seem to.

It’s gonna be a crazy, difficult day for both of them, no matter what happens. I’m wishing them strength… and some relaxing, quality family time some day soon.

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Is this what it’s like to be popular?

So, lovely Di-hards, how do you like the new look? Isn’t it pretty??

I’d like to declare a huge thank you to my big brother, Uncle Ben, a.k.a. Eupharos, for taking a nice theme by NodeThirtyThree and customizing the whole thing according to my inexperienced ideas. He’s got skillz. And he’s even going to help with different versions of it for different seasons, so we don’t get bored. Yay! Merci!

(Incidentally, we are still working out a few kinks of the changeover… like you might notice the comments suddenly aren’t threading, for some unknown reason… but we will figure it out, I’m sure.)

I also want to express my thanks to everyone who read – and everyone who shared – my last post about teachers. I never expected that the aforementioned facelift would coincide with a much larger event.

It has been humbling and wonderful and more than a little freaky to watch my traffic spike over the last week… and when I say “spike”, I’m actually understating it a bit. Through last Monday, I got nice, regular, very modest traffic (100-200 page views per day) where I knew most of my actual readers personally, and the rest of the traffic bounced across my blog looking for movie reviews, Kate Winslet naked, Salma Hayek’s cleavage, or Reese Witherspoon’s legs.

On Tuesday, I suddenly had the most one-day page views of my li’l blog’s history, including more than 500 just for my teacher post. I was all like, “Woohoo! How exciting!” Then, the next day, views for the post jumped, such that Tuesday’s numbers became tiny. By yesterday, the post had been shared so many times on Facebook (over 1K) that my widget stopped counting.

I know these numbers are not huge by internet standards in general, but to me, they were nothing short of shocking. By yesterday evening, I was feeling a bit more “Um, holy crap,” than “woohoo”, because what the heck do I know about getting this much attention?? As of this writing, Those Greedy, Lazy Teachers has been viewed 14,000 times and counting. (Please don’t think I’m boasting here – it’s more like boggling.)

Again, thank you. I am honoured that you found my words to be worth passing along, that you chose them to help represent teachers’ situation. And a special thanks to all you supportive non-teachers – you make such a huge difference at times like these.

I’m figuring that this will be simmering down pretty soon. I think it is most likely a one-post flash in the pan for this blog, indicative of teachers’ level of frustration – not to mention need for understanding – in the current climate.

As such, dear teachers, I hope that reading this helped, for a moment at least. You have proven what a tight-knit, solid community we are. I hope your first week back with the kids was stellar.

And I hope that at least a couple people who needed that clarification have gotten it, and understand a bit better. It’s hard to tell about that.

You see, along with all the page views, I’ve also had an unprecedented number of comments, and… my very first trolls! (It’s funny that I vowed in my post not to read any comments on online forums… I didn’t realize I was going to create one.) And I was very nervous about those trolls before they showed up yesterday, knowing it must be only a matter of time before they stepped up to the plate… but then I got a comment from “Fred”, and honestly, I was grinning. Silly though it sounds, it made me feel that I’d “arrived” somehow – to be spread far enough to get me some haters.

Anyway, after congratulating Fred on being my first troll, I was amazed and relieved to realize it wasn’t just me against him: other readers were stepping up to enter the discussion. (If you co-defenders are reading – again, thank you.) It got rather interesting. And THEN, there was Thomas, who made Fred look like a relatively good-natured mischief-maker.

All this served to remind me of something I think I already knew: if a mind is tightly closed, you can’t just go and open it.

I think, to get into a mind like that, you would have to come at it sideways, far from the protective anonymity of the Birdhouse. You’d have to meet that person, in person, in an entirely different context… see each other as humans first, do something unexpected that peels back a layer of baggage. Like in this story from Momastery – I love how Glennon wrestles (philosophically) with herself and the jerk beside her on the plane, and they both learn stuff.

And hey, just for fun, since I’m all wicked-popular now (get it? I’m sooo funny), here’s a song that I hope might give me guidance on what on earth to do next.

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Those Greedy, Lazy Teachers

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. After that, I wanted to be a novelist.

It didn’t occur to me to want to be a teacher until later. As a homeschooling kid, I didn’t even have teachers other than my mom.

Then I went to public high school, and had many different teachers, including some really amazing ones. It was my senior French teacher who inspired me to consider a career in education. She was (and is, I’m sure) a wonderful, talented person who taught because she loved kids and wanted to engage with them and help them to do better in life. I loved her class.

When I decided I wanted to teach, it wasn’t because I wanted to be rich. (I already knew that teaching is NOT the way to get rich.) Ditto being famous. I wanted to use my languages, to help other people find their love of language, to impart knowledge and connect with young people. To teach. It sounded so rewarding, so community-oriented, so purposeful.

I remember that my awesome French teacher came to my farewell party before I left for France, after I’d finished my degree in French and Spanish at university (which was also inspired in a large part by her). I hadn’t seen her in four years – four years during which Mike Harris had wreaked havoc on Ontario’s education system. She was looking forward to retirement, and she was feeling, for the first time in her decades-long career, disillusioned and sad about teaching. I remember her saying, “It’s different now. The government speaks badly of teachers, so the parents speak badly of teachers, and the kids come to class with that disrespect in their minds. It’s a terrible atmosphere to teach in.”

The same thing has been going on in British Columbia now since 2001 – an agonizing demoralization of educational professionals through consistent bad-mouthing and a gradual stripping of contracts and working conditions.

Now here we are in Ontario, once again, dealing with a provincial government who blabs on about “putting kids first” as they scramble to lay blame for the deficit. (Ask any Ontario public school teacher – this catch-phrase is so hypocritical it makes us want to throw up.) Continue reading “Those Greedy, Lazy Teachers”

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School Snippets: Stuff that made me smile today

It’s December!

I wasn’t planning to blog today. I was all like, whew. November’s over. Then when I got home, E was out gallivanting downtown with Auntie Em, so I went to pay the bills. Then I felt rather stressed, so I thought a blog post might do me some good. Just a little one. (Along with hazelnut Baileys and David Francey.)

Here’s some stuff I liked about today.

1. Discovering another activity, besides story time, that holds kindergartners rapt for several minutes at a time. What is this magical thing, you ask? Taking turns throwing bean bags into a bin in the middle of the circle. Even my wiggliest group sat quiet, waiting for their turns. And all for the sake of learning positional vocabulary – based on whether the beanbags landed inside or outside the bin. [I taught them to say, “En dedans! Excellent!” (it rhymes in French, I swear), and “En dehors, essaie encore.” They sounded cute.] [See how I’m all gifted with French rhymes? I even have a French version of “Heads Up 7 Up” you can ask me about.]

2. Seeing the Grade 4/5 class working on their “eco-houses”. Once a week, I go into their class to help out, and they’ve been working for several weeks now on planning and building a model of an environmentally efficient house. You should have seen the solar panels, rooftop gardens, greenhouses, windmills, and geodesic domes. Not to mention hearing them tossing around the ecological terminology like little experts. ‘Twas awesome.

3. Doing my phrase mystère with the 5/6 class. Once a week or so, I write a fun fact in French on the board and we translate it as a group, using the cognates, our basic vocab, and deductive reasoning. Today, our phrase mystère was about how polar bears hide their muzzles with their paws to complete their camouflage when tracking prey. They were stuck on museau (muzzle) and guessing all kinds of semi-logical things. They guessed “den” and “hole” – and I couldn’t help it, I got the giggles when a couple of them started doing impressions of airheaded polar bears inadvertently drawing attention to their dens by trying to hide them with their paws. (I guess you had to be there.) I totally pictured them like the silly bears in this clip:

And if you’d enjoy another example of how much the youngsters rock the casbah, try reading Blogging…With, um, Kids?, by Aunt Becky. You’ll like it.

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Kudos to the Kindergarten Teachers

I’m friends with lots of kindergarten teachers. Skye is one of them; Mr. A is another one; and there are a bunch more. Thank goodness, because I am joining their ranks (sort of), rotating through the French immersion kinder classes to do math, and having one class all to myself for most of every other Friday. Let me tell you, it is a huge relief to know people whose brains I can pick.

Kindergarten is a whole new world. Other than a tiny piece of kinder planning five years ago (in which I learned of the extreme randomness of small children’s thought processes), this is my first foray into the beginner stratum of public school. And when I say beginner, I mean the kids (and sometimes the parents)… not the teachers. Teaching kindergarten is not for the faint of heart – or the weak of stomach, or the feeble of feet, or the poor of energy. Kindergarten teachers have my everlasting respect.

Friday was my first day this year teaching full-on all day long – two solid (100-minute) blocks of kindergarten, lunch yard duty, then two core French classes. I think it would have been fun, if my head hadn’t been full of congestion and my energy level down in my shoes. As it was, I asked myself (as I have many times over the years) “Why did I have to pick a job this hard?” If teaching is a study in sheer energy output, kindergarten is the ultimate test.

Notwithstanding, I still managed to fall in love with several of the kids – and gained some new appreciation for my junior students (Grades 4-6) who are so self-directed, hilarious in their own right, and whom I also love – for different reasons. I guess that answers my aforementioned question.

Here are some things I’m learning about kindergarten, so far:

  • “Can we play now?” (This as soon as they walk in the door.)
  • Kindergarteners are cute. You want to kiss their little faces… but you’re not allowed to, in case it is construed as a “no” touch.
  • Luckily, they are also affectionate; I’ve received lots of hugs already. When they throw their arms around you, it’s basically impossible not to hug them back.
  • They have almost no sense of time or sequence of events. After being there for an hour, half of them think it’s home time; then they can have their snack, and after 25 minutes of recess, they’ve forgotten all about it and think it’s lunch time.
  • “When can we play?”
  • There are huge discrepancies between the abilities of kindergarten students. Some are almost entirely self-sufficient, and some don’t even know to ask for help putting their shoes on.
  • These kids are raw humans. They say whatever they’re thinking, they cry when they feel like it, they hit when they’re mad, they spazz out when the mood strikes them. There’s little to no social filtering or niceties.
  • By the same token, they know how to do undiluted joy. Seeing their ginormous grins elicited by the feeling of simply running as fast as they can… it’s fantastic.
  • “Is it play time yet?”
  • Like most of us humans, they are sheeplike. For instance, if one of them decides something is funny and starts laughing, soon they’re all cackling like little loons.
  • Singing is amazingly effective in getting their attention. Mr. A has thoroughly harnessed this power: he has songs for lining up, sitting on the carpet, tidying the toys, washing the hands, etc.
  • There is no limit to the amount of silliness they can take in stride. The crazier the faces you make, voices you use, and things you do with your limbs, the better.
  • Now can we play??”
  • They learn a LOT from playing, from social interaction to fine and gross motor skills to basic physics. It’s a good thing, too, because playing is what they would do all day long if you let them.
  • I’ve been (re)assured that curriculum takes a backseat in kindergarten. I’ve seen for myself how much day-to-day life stuff they still need to learn. Skye helped put it in perspective by telling me what she considers her job’s priority: helping these kids like school and want to come back.
  • I have the distinct impression that in a kindergarten classroom, at any given time, chaos is only a hairsbreadth away. So I’m hoping that with practice, as I work my kindergarten muscles (the ones used to keep lids on things), it will get easier.

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The Summer of My Initiation

It’s almost time to go back to school. Being in the school building this past week, I could feel reality setting in. It’s time to get my act together.

Before I get completely immersed in that (so to speak), there are a few more things I need to officially process. I think all summers are life-changing – moments of suspension at the top of the parabola, where you can ripen new parts of your life. But of course, for our family, the summer of 2011 was more than that.

I asked Sean recently, “Do you think you’ve become a different person this summer?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Yeah. If any part of me wasn’t a real adult before… it is now.”

Naturally, becoming a parent is a big step in feeling like a bona fide adult, what with all those responsibilities, but in some ways it is also an extension of childhood, as we rediscover parks and bubbles and Lego. Surviving the fall of becoming a bereaved parent is another level of adulthood entirely.

To make myself feel better (comforted, organized, summarized… summerized?), I am making two lists about My Summer Vacation. The sad one and the happy one, twelve points each. You already know about the worst moments of my summer, and some of the best, but there are a lot more I need to let out. Okay?

Sad list first. (Raise your hands: how many of you, when told that there’s good news and bad news, ask for the bad news first?)

  1. The first trip to the funeral home, the day after Sebastian’s stillbirth. Everything was still so raw. The woman who helped us, Janet, was lovely, very good at a delicate job, but it was still hard to be there. I lost my composure several times. One point of relief: they don’t charge for services for infants. We saw the list of expenses, and even the minimum charges for an adult are, by our financial standards, huge. All we paid was a $10 fee to have the death registered with the government, thank goodness.
  2. Deciding what to send with Sebastian. I was glad Janet had offered us the opportunity to bring in some things we would like to be cremated with him, and told us what kinds of things people tend to send (special clothes, a stuffed animal, letters, etc.); it’s definitely something that helped with closure. But the very idea of choosing something to give to your baby boy, who has to go on a journey alone, farther than we can imagine, and never return… well, it still makes me cry. We were both teary when Sean confessed to me that he’d like to give Sebastian a copy of his favourite book (The Lord of the Rings). Even more heartbreaking was Sean’s sweet idea that maybe E could choose a toy to give his baby brother… but I could not handle that. Could not imagine asking our innocent toddler to try to understand giving a gift to someone he was supposed to love and will never meet.
  3. The milk. It came in on Day 2 (Sunday) instead of Day 3, and I immediately started to do the recommended things: icing my breasts (luckily it was stinking hot out, so this was not unpleasant), wearing the tightest sports bras I had and stuffing them with cabbage leaves, drinking the bitter sage tea. I did spend Day 3 wondering if I could pump and donate the milk to someone – it seemed such an enormous waste – but there is only ONE milk bank in Canada, and it’s in BC. The midwives didn’t know anyone in need, and I couldn’t psych myself up to explore more avenues. (I still kind of wish I had.) As it was, I found myself joking occasionally about my huge rock-hard porn boobs… because if you don’t laugh a little, you’ll just cry.
  4. The unreality. By Monday evening, I was feeling… off-kilter, on top of the sadness. I eventually realized it was because as time passed, the whole surreal experience of Sebastian’s death and birth seemed more and more dreamlike and faraway. It was awful because I needed to be able to own that experience, and I especially needed Sebastian to be real. I fervently wished I could see him again, just to prove to myself he existed. I also tried to express to Sean how wrong it felt for Sebastian to be changing hands (from funeral home to hospital to a different hospital and back) without us, all by himself… and he agreed. He said it exactly: “He should be with his mom and dad.” It’s a universal truth about babies – except the still ones. As it turned out, we didn’t see him again; technically we could have, but Janet recommended not to after the autopsy and the move, and we trusted her. It was hard to hear, but I didn’t want to mar my memories of his face.
  5. E’s baby brother. It was Tuesday morning when E first seemed to notice my different-sized midsection and asked, “Where’s my baby brother?” We had often asked E, “Where’s your baby brother?” to see if he remembered it was in Mommy’s belly, or if he’d lift up his shirt and point to his own belly. We tried hard to help him understand what would happen, but I’m sure it seemed like a joke or a game… and when his baby brother never materialized, even more so. I had been wondering when this moment might arrive; the grief book said to give information only when your child asked for it, so we hadn’t tried to explain yet. When he asked, he wasn’t upset, but he may have been confused. I think Mama Bear kicked in then, because somehow I managed not to lose it, and told him calmly that his baby brother had been in there (so he wouldn’t think it hadn’t been real) but then had to go to the hospital, and now he was gone. I said I was sorry his baby brother didn’t come home with us, and I gave him a hug. And he was quiet for a minute, and then pointed and said, “Me have that book.” So that was that. The next morning, having a lazy family snuggle in bed, he put his finger in my bellybutton and said, “That’s my baby brother. Be gentle.” This time, I didn’t succeed in not crying. Sean lovingly reiterated what I’d said, and again, E seemed basically unaffected and changed the subject. This issue has been one of the hardest parts of this whole process… but I’ll have to come back to that. MOTL.
  6. Returning to the funeral home. We went back to pick up the remains of our son. I hate that word, “remains”; it sounds at once grisly and clinical. Like “cremation”, it’s a word you don’t want to associate with your baby. It was Janet who met with us again, and gave us the very small, sturdy cardboard box of Sebastian – it immediately brought to mind a blog post I’d read by another babylost parent, called the smallest jar. Such a small amount of ashes, even though he’d had letters, flowers, a photo, a circlet of sweetgrass, and a paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings (probably as heavy as he was) with him. Janet had done as we’d requested, and collected a lock of Sebastian’s hair and his hand and footprints. She’d done such a beautiful job that at my first sight of the prints, I felt a big, genuine smile come over my face. Of course it was soon followed by tears, but I was – am – very grateful for these keepsakes. And grateful to have these ashen traces of Sebastian to keep, sad and meager as they are. (I know I am far from the only mother to weep in bed at the thought: My son is in a box.) We plan to spread his ashes in two different places, but Sean and I each have some in a hollow pendant to wear… and I think we will save some in case E and his potential sibling(s) would like to do the same.
  7. The Crying Quota. Obviously, tears are important at a time like this. I’ve discovered that I need to get right into it and purposefully be sad at certain times, otherwise grief will jump on me later, probably when I’m not ready. Especially at the beginning, I needed to do this a lot (blogging was perfect for this purpose) or I would find myself leaking tears at some other random thing. It’s still true now, though the quota is smaller. (Now that I’m returning to “normal life”, I also have to be careful about breaking the seal – if I haven’t cried for a while and suddenly start, it’s hard to stop.)
  8. The unexpected precipices. Talking with people about this experience is precarious sometimes. Mostly, I feel confident: I can converse calmly, even in detail. But once in a while, the ground drops away and the equanimity disappears. I feel fine when I start to speak, and suddenly – whoosh. I’m a mess. This happened when I phoned the Birthing Unit at the hospital to ask if we could have one of the dove markers like the one they put on our door, as a keepsake. I heard myself asking this pitiful question, then I could hear my voice wobble… and the seal was broken. The poor nurse on the other end was very kind, and, I think, a little worried – she said, “So… your husband will come pick it up?”
  9. The first dry day. Just over two weeks after the birth, I had my first day without tears. It was the day we went to Family Camp, and we were so busy packing and travelling and unpacking and seeing people, I just didn’t go there. I was aware of this, and when I saw it was almost midnight and I was going to get through the entire day, it actually made me feel sad and empty instead of relieved. Being relatively far from home, I felt removed from the whole mess, and consequently from Sebastian… and I didn’t like it. It was an unexpected understanding: that as time helps me to grieve less, there will be a different kind of pain in knowing that it has been that many more days since I held my baby boy in my arms.
  10. Talking to (semi-)strangers. It’s hard figuring out what to say to the various people in my life who aren’t friends. When I spoke to a man at the teachers’ union a few days after, trying to determine what my options were, the sudden change in his demeanor when he heard why I was calling was enough to make me suddenly teary-eyed with vulnerability.  About a week later, I had a dental appointment, one that had been scheduled specifically to occur before my due date. I don’t know if my hygienist remembered or had written down that I was pregnant, but she didn’t mention it. When she asked, “Any change in your medical situation?” (last time I had answered, redundantly, that I was pregnant), I felt a pause hang in the air before I landed on saying, “Um, no, not really.” The first time I actually had to deal with the dreaded, “Oh, you must have had your baby!” it was from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, just a couple weeks ago. This particular woman clearly takes notes on the people she chats with. I calmly told her I had, and that he was stillborn – an important step for me, probably best taken with strangers like this, who deliberately practice their kindly doorjamb manner. (They visited again a couple days ago, and brought bereavement literature.)
  11. Those accidental kicks in the teeth: Getting an email from the school board asking me what I’d like to do with my benefits while on mat leave… Getting a letter from the government scolding me for failing to register my child’s “Live Birth”… Then, the other day at the park, an unsuspecting toddler mom actually asked me, “When are you due?” (Fortunately, my sangfroid did not desert me in any of these instances, but this last one was especially not what I needed, less than three days before returning to work. I know this woman felt awful for asking, especially when, in an attempt to explain that she wasn’t completely wrong, I said, “I’m not expecting… but I was.” It was just a no-win situation.)
  12. The uncertainty. I have lots of hope for our family in the future, but I’ve never been as unpredictable to myself as I am now. I’ve had one phone appointment with a counselor from the EAP, to talk about going back to school, and I felt okay beginning the conversation… but as per #8, I was crying as soon as we got past the background questions. So I’ve figured out that I’m not as fine as I thought I would be, based on the first few weeks (news flash, Dilovely: grief is not linear!). I’ve never had my brain let me down to this extent before (see previous post), so my plan-making lacks confidence. But it has to get better. Right? Once I get back into a routine and into the classroom, some teaching instinct will have to kick in and take over the parts of my mind involved in decision-making, planning, and patience… and I’ll be okay.

Whew. Okay. And now for the much-needed happy list!

  1. Cherries. Seems like a funny one, but cherries are my favourite summer fruit, and seriously… have they ever been this good??
  2. Harry Potter. Skye and I went to the VIP (over 18, reserved seating) theatre to see HP 7.2 at the midnight premiere. It was less than a week after Sebastian died, but we’d had our tickets for weeks, and I knew that if I didn’t go, I’d just be at home being doubly sad that I was missing it. And it was great! (I have a few bones to pick about the changes near the end… but overall, it was a totally thumbs-up experience.) AND we got the limited-edition round Harry-style 3D glasses. WE ARE SO COOL.
  3. The wedding. The day after HP, we attended the wedding of friends of ours, along with lots of other mutual friends. It was a beautiful (though hot) day; our friends were awesome with the hugs, as well as the support (both stated and implicit); the speeches – which are my favourite part of any wedding – were touching and funny; being in a love-filled room is just good for the soul; and there was gelato!
  4. The meteor shower. There were lots of good times at Family Camp, but the night before Sean had to go home was especially memorable. When I came into the main hall after putting E to bed, Sean could tell I was having a tough evening and followed me outside. (It was the first night I started to feel stressed about going back to work.) We decided to get a blanket and lie out in the field to look at the stars… which I haven’t done in way too long. It’s gorgeous. And we were blessed to be there at the start of the Perseid meteor shower, so we saw some amazing shooting stars, with tails that sliced the sky. Sean gave me a quality pep talk and I was reminded of how lucky I am to have him as my life-teammate. It was good.
  5. E’s songs. As I’ve said, E is the source of most of our joy these days, for countless reasons. One of the things that tickles me most is that this summer he’s started to sing. This began at Camp too, when on some nights he would start singing along with the lullabies I sang for him. He seems to have very little sense of tuning – he just puts on his “high” voice and says the words as sweetly as you could possibly imagine. Hearing him sing things like “My bambino, go to sleep,” and “The lovers, the dreamers, and me…” It’s priceless.
  6. The wine tour. Sean and I spent a beautiful day, sans toddler, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in honour of our anniversary (but a couple weeks late). The weather was perfect; the drive there was lovely; we visited four different wineries and tasted thirteen different wines (and bought five bottles – should last us the year); we had good food, including ice cream; we dipped our feet in the wading pool; we shopped; we sat by the lake; and we thoroughly savoured each other’s company.
  7. A family visit. My brother and sister-in-law came to Ontario from New Brunswick for a visit, which happens all too rarely. It was great to watch E enjoying his uncle and aunt. It was also wonderful to have real, in-person conversation with them – particularly a special one with my sister-in-law, who is also a bereaved mother. She is one tough woman, with really good advice.
  8. The lightning storm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen awesomer lightning than the night there was a tornado warning in our region. E was up WAY past his bedtime, saying, “Whoa! That was cool!!” with every big flash. He also got taught such words as magnificent, fantastic, and phenomenal.
  9. Giant bubbles. One of Grammie’s birthday presents from Papa was a giant-bubble-maker… and it worked! Those bubbles were HUGE!
  10. Wild Waterworks. My sisters and I have a tradition of going to the water park around the time of Beth’s birthday (D was with us too): wave pool, waterslides, picnic, lazy river. It’s like being a kid. 🙂 And it’s quintessential summer.
  11. Beth’s 30th birthday. Auntie Beth’s boyfriend D planned the best, most thorough 30th birthday festivities I’ve ever heard of, and we got to participate in the picnic lunch and the celebratory dinner – and the sparklers afterward. (And E sort of participated in the canoe ride; that is, he sat in the canoe while it was on the grass and told us all that it was his boat, and he wore the life jacket, which came down to his knees.)
  12. Quality time. Often, at the end of the summer, I wonder where the time went, and why I didn’t take more advantage of it. This summer, I actually feel like I got to spend a lot of quality summer time with people I love – drinks on decks, barbecues, good conversations in patio furniture. Right now, as I head back to “reality”, I’m going to keep that stuff close to my heart, as sanity protection.

All right. That should do it. Silly Dilovely… up past her bedtime… on a school night.

Sigh.

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Hypes and Gripes – June 2011

  • Gripe: My blog DISAPPEARING for a week. Now that I’ve looked at my stats, I can see that it was a blank, unviewable page for seven whole days (even though I didn’t realize it for the first few). Scary.
  • Hype: It’s back! My daddy fixed it!! Yay! Dear blog, I apologize for updating your plugins so infrequently and for not upgrading to the new version of WordPress many months ago as I should have. Won’t happen again.
  • H: Yearbook DONE, at long last! Now let’s hope we didn’t leave out or misspell something important.
  • H: Report cards DONE, at long last! Now let’s hope I didn’t leave out or misspell something important.
  • G: Yearbook and report cards wiped me out, coinciding like that. I was very tired and grouchy for at least a week there. (Actually, I’m still working on catching up. Not too resilient right now.) You can maybe tell that the errands mentioned below were done during that time, hence the inner kvetching.
  • G: The cover story on Star Weekly (“number one source for celebrity news”, they’ll have you know) about eating disorders and starvation diets, featuring shocking photos of ultra-skinny celebs, mostly in swimsuits. I saw it in the checkout line at the grocery and it frankly pissed me off. This is the same dishrag that regularly highlights “Best and Worst Beach Bodies”, designed to make all normal women feel awful about themselves, because it is heinous to show up on a beach with muffin top or cellulite. What the eff-bomb do they think celebrities are going to do??
  • G: Bra shopping. Why don’t they seem to make my favourite bra in my size anymore? There is just no way I’m ever going to be quite as boobelicious as a DD. And bra shopping is a pain in the you-know-whats now that I’m old and have been through the lactation experience. When you’re a thirteen-year-old late bloomer just hoping you might actually, finally fill an A-cup, the adventure of trying on different bras is quite titillating (sorry, couldn’t resist). But now, I just look at the overwhelming panoply and grumble inwardly about how I don’t have time for this – plus, the super-power-push-up-supreme-cleavage-deluxe bra is just NOT practical, thanks! I need the girls to stay in there.
  • H: My new two-year-old enjoying his birthday presents. He has been particularly stoked about the travel easel, art supplies, bouncy ball, bubble maker, sidewalk chalk, and toy school bus. In fact, he was so sad to let go of his school bus at bedtime the first night that he apparently sobbed bitterly and had to give it a kiss and a hug to make himself feel better.
  • G: His irrepressible passion for his markers. Good thing Crayola knows how to make ’em washable. (Note: he DOES know better, he absolutely knows that we only draw on paper, but he was so pleased with himself that he romped around the crib with a big grin during his time-out, watching Daddy clean up. Also, he markered all over his own legs, but because he was without pants at the time, the photos are not bloggable.)

E's marker work on rocking chair

  • H: Skype date between E and the son of Auntie Em’s best friend. She was visiting their family in North Carolina – this little guy is 16 months older than mine, but they’re both cute and blond and articulate, and totally able to take in stride the miraculous futurism of video-chat. It was cute. They compared balls.
  • G: My boy swearing like a sailor. He’s gone from filling in for “What the…?!” to simply saying, for the joy of it, “Heck. Heckheckheckheckheck. Heck!” And watching us defiantly the whole time.
  • H: Hearing it was hilarious. (But it’s really hard not to laugh at these moments when you know you mustn’t because it’ll send the completely wrong message.)
  • (Side note: This morning I actually said “What the heck?!” in E’s presence, so of course he jubilantly chimed in. I tried to fix it by saying things like “What in the world?!” and even “What in the Sam Hill?!” with lots of expression, but they didn’t take at all. Guess there’s nothing so satisfying as good ol’ heck.)
  • H: A couple other recent habits my son has picked up: talking about what he likes or loves (e.g. when the window is open in the car, he’ll say, “I like the wind!” many times in a row, or when we reminded him on the way to a visit that Grandma has a pond, he said, “I love the pond!” ad nauseam); and loving Mommy’s arms. He will take hold of one of my arms and hug it and kiss it, and blow raspberries on it. (I taught him the word “embouchure” to refer to his raspberry technique.)
  • H: Grapefruit Splash hand soap in my bathroom. It’s so juicy and zesty that I can hardly wait to wash my hands. Not to mention deliciously fragrant samples of certain skin care items from Nature Balance Wellness, where my sister now works. Including some soothing products for baby bums. 🙂
  • G: Speaking of babies, Baby #2 has been poking me in my right side for a month straight. It’s getting rather sore.
  • G: Today at the midwives’ I found out it’s not a knee or an elbow, but his head. Which means A) said head is not remotely where it’s supposed to be yet, and B) he’s in there diagonally, reclining like he’s in a La-Z-Boy. If my uterus wasn’t already some weird shape, it is now!
  • H: Other than that, Baby #2 seems great so far. Only two months (or so) left – I can hardly believe it! (Wow, we really have to get on that name thing…)
  • H: Performing this Friday! Two of the five of us performing the Invoketress group numbers are 7+ months pregnant, so it’s kinda special. Plus, really good choreographies that are actually performance-ready!
  • G: One of my costumes took some serious adjusting this afternoon, and now I’m all needle-pricked and I even burned myself on the glue gun like a doofus. Sigh. Why do I procrastinate on these things? (The answer is, I do not have an affinity for sewing.)
  • G: I’m missing the end-of-year staff party in order to perform. This year, due to major rearrangement in our Board, we are losing many beloved teachers all at once, so I really wish I could be there for the official farewell. There’s going to be lots of crying (in which I would no doubt participate), and heartfelt speeches I really don’t want to miss. [Sad face.]
  • H: Only a week left of school!! In my case, I’m most psyched about A) not climbing four flights of stairs several times a day while pregnant, B) not spending time on the third floor of an un-air-conditioned 90-year-old school while pregnant, C) not rushing to get E to the babysitter in time to get to school for yard duty, and D) not having to quell the antsiness of large groups of children who just want to get to summer already. Go nuts, kids!

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My List of Excuses

Okay. So here’s why I have been so shamefully neglecting Blogland.

1. Report cards, a.k.a. “Where the @#*! did all this unmarked work come from?!”, a.k.a. “Why the @#*! didn’t I do this marking earlier?!”, a.k.a. “How is it possible that I have half as many students as usual and somehow it seems like more work?”, a.k.a. “In heaven’s name, does anyone really care whether Jimmy’s reading comprehension was satisfactory or considerable??”

2. The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins, a.k.a. “Reeeeead meeeee… NOW! Cast away your report cards, let your child go play with random kitchen utensils, it’ll be okay if you just READ ME.” (Yes, I liked it. Compulsively loved it would actually be a better term. The story, the characters… and especially the horribly imaginative yet profound underlying messages.)

hunger-games-suzanne-collins-book-cover

3. My husband, a.k.a. the devil: “No, it’s okay, honey. Just leave the dishes. You go ahead and read your book. Your report cards will be fine. Have a rest and read.” I love him so, my sweet and generous bibliophile.

4. The germs, a.k.a. the time-vanishers. We had a snow day, a very rare occurrence where the entire school board actually shuts down, perfect opportunity to kick some report cards outta the park, and I had the flu or something that day and had to waste the whole thing. Slept for like five hours while E was at the babysitter’s, and was too zonked… even to read.

5. The star, a.k.a. my progeny: constant entertainment + constant requests for stories, crayons, food, trucks, movies, piano, outside, baths, more food, and more stories.

6. The lethargy, a.k.a. dragging myself around as if hung over.

7. The exhaustion, a.k.a. pathological napping, even without the flu.

8. The queasiness, a.k.a. “I’m hungry, but I can’t imagine eating anything containing sugar or salt or any of the foods from the food groups.”

9. The stupidness, a.k.a. brayn onli worx at haff-speed, haff the thyme. Stuff allwez falz out uv it.

10. The freeloader, a.k.a. the tiny human in my belly. Yes, we’re with child #2!

All of the above points can be blamed on Number 10. Well… okay, maybe not report cards… and I guess not the irresistible power of The Hunger Games. But my Number 3 has been lovely about the naps and the resting, partly because I’m busy making us a Number 10. Number 4 is  just accentuated by Numbers 6-9, as is my ability to keep up with Number 5.

We had a dating sonogram on Tuesday. Being told by the ultrasound tech (just as with E), “Wow, this baby’s very active… Swimming!” was a jolt of joy. Especially because there’s always part of me that irrationally doubts that there’s actually a baby in there at all. When you can’t feel the movement, it’s just hard to believe a person is not only forming in there, but jumping around and expressing itself.

Thankfully, now that I’m 13 weeks along, the worst is over. I have some appetite and some energy back, and it’s a lot easier to be excited about a brother or sister for E, and another chance to snuggle a newborn. 🙂 🙂 🙂 In fact, it’s easier in general to be excited, because now I can picture having a baby, for real. The first time, you can try to imagine, but you can’t actually understand how precious that being is going to be, how thrilling its very presence.

And I can’t wait to see E interacting with a brother or sister. I don’t think I have illusions about this – I know there will be bickering and hitting and screeching, but I feel confident there will also be hugs and kisses, and eventually, bizarre conversations only kids can understand, and games of imaginative awesomeness.

Alors, voilà. I’m hoping to enjoy more frequent blog-moments from now on. (This sounds familiar…) Really this time.

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