Monthly Archives: April 2011

Preschool Confidential II

Years ago, I was contemplating going to college for early childhood education. I talked to my mom (a teacher herself) about it, and she asked me why I wanted to be a teacher. I listed all the reasons, including the so-predictable “Kids really like me!” It was a sad, transparent list. When I was done reciting my list, my mom said, “Well, you know that if you become a teacher, you will have to wear pantyhose to work every day.”

And that, my friends, was the end of my desire to become a teacher. Of course, preschool is different. The teachers wear casual clothes and sneakers. But I think what I’m trying to say is that pantyhose is all it took for me to change the direction of my career.

(Pantyhose. That is such a silly word.)

Now, as a parent helper at Rowan’s school, I have a unique opportunity to have that decision validated. And validated. And validated.

1. There is no way on this earth, no matter what you offer me, that I will ever touch the following:

Larvae

Silkworms

Bugs

Furthermore, there is no way on this earth, no matter what you offer me, that I can pretend to think these things are both amazing and neat. Because they aren’t. They are disgusting.

2. I’m cool with a lot of things. Nose picking, for example. When my kids pick their noses, I pretend it really bothers me, but dude. We live in Arizona. Snot gets hard. It needs to be picked. However, I do watch the follow-through. Like today, when a little boy picked his nose, wiped it on his shirt, and then handed me a cracker. Not so cool. That’s the sort of thing I tend to see in slow motion, and in my head I am shouting—very slowly, due to the slow motion: “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

3. If you haven’t noticed, my brain works sort of cinematically. It is virtually impossible for me to watch normal events occur at school without imbuing them with silliness. What is painful is that I not only see these things and make tiny little movies out of them in my head, but then I feel the need share them with the people around me. Sort of like Tourette’s.

You need an example.

Today, I saw three girls from our preschool class mosey on over to the other yard, where the younger kids are. It is barricaded by painted saw horses, which is to say, not really barricaded at all. They stood as close as they could get, and three little girls from the younger class walked over. They stood there not saying much for about 5 minutes, during which, in my head, I created a scenario involving (as I so compellingly pointed out to the adult next to me, who was just barely humoring me) the Bloods and the Crips, a knife fight, and one girl standing over another, screaming “don’t you EVER touch my glue stick again!”

4. I seriously eat, like, all the crackers during snack time.

5. There is a boy in the class who is super-duper big. If you look really quickly, you may mistake him for a TA. But really, he’s just 5 and happens to be one of the largest boys in the class. I have overheard this kid say things to other kids that would not sound out of place in the big house, and there, would probably get him shanked. I have gasped, audibly, in response to what comes out of his mouth and how he says the things that he says. It’s like he’s got the world by the balls, and he’s seen enough hurt in this life that everyone else is a fool. And you better give him is mother-fucking ball back or he’s gonna regulate. I’m actually a little frightened of him. He’s almost taller than me. For real, this kid could take me.

So today, we were alone in the room together and this tough guy was doing . . . art. So already I’m thinking, what a pansy! No, really, I was intrigued by the fact that this kid was doing art, so I asked him what he was making. And he turned around to me and started talking. In the few minutes we talked, he (A) used the word “middlest” when describing where he was in the family, which made me immediately love him, and (B) described some family members as being “teenagers,” who, when I asked him how old they were, he told me were 10 and 12. That is just adorable.

So, what’s the problem with this? Just the fact that I had judged this kid so quickly. I seriously saw him as destined to be a thug, and, well, that seems to solidify the fact that I am not teacher material.

6. I’m much nicer to people after I have a glass of wine. I’m pretty sure that it’s against some sort of policy to have a glass of wine at 8:30 am and then take care of some kids.

7. There are days when, no matter how hard I work at it, I just don’t want to be around people. As a mother, this has happens to me often, and each time it makes for a pretty hard day, but manageable because I only have two kids. On a day that I have to be present in the classroom for 12 kids? Not so pretty. And as we all know, I am a terrible actress. So if I don’t want to play Candyland, well, the entire planet can tell that I Don’t. Want. To. Play. CANDYLAND!

8. Puppets.

So today, I was sweeping up the utter disaster that was snack time. And to tell you the truth, this is my favorite activity. I can do it alone, it is meditative, and no one is touching me. So, imagine my disappointment when the teacher (who is, like, the nicest person on the face of the earth) asked me to put on a puppet show with her. I literally said, “Can I finish sweeping first?” to which she informed me that it could wait. Until after. The puppet show. I looked longingly over my shoulder at the broom as she led me away by the hand, over to the puppets. And then I proceeded to put on the worst puppet show ever. I’m surprised I didn’t get booed. She had to coach me from behind the table, feeding me my lines, which were things like, “I want to go over the hill to eat!” and, “I’m little Billy Goat Gruff!” I was an embarrassment to puppetry.

9. I think this may have been touched on before, but I love Rowan. This time that I get in the classroom is, of course, worth it to me because Rowan is there. But instead of being at school, all I really want to do is be with Rowan. We are never alone anymore, except for the short car ride to and from school on the days I help out. So there are times, when I am the helper parent, that I feel resentful. I don’t want to play with other kids (she says, stomping her foot) and I find myself gazing over their heads, searching for Rowan’s blue cap. I just want to take my kid by the hand, hide out in the digging pit, and play with him.

Last year, I decided to take Rowan out for pancakes, just the two of us, and it really freaked him out. The entire time we were there he was all, “But why are we here? Where is Papa and Luca? Can we go home?” So, going on “dates” won’t work. All I have is this time with him, once a week, for 12 weeks. I know now that this is all I get. So I go, and I try to make the best of it.

It is literally like that Bryan Adams song “Everything I do, I do It for You.” Which is a terrible song. But relevant.

We have only a few more weeks left of school and then Rowan will be a Kindergartener. I can only hope that he will still sit on my lap during story time, and pull my head down so he can kiss me, and rock me back and forth. I hope he still saves me a seat at the snack table, and asks me every single day, all year, whether I am the helper parent that day. And when I tell him, yes, I am the helper parent, I hope he still claps his hands and jumps up and down with delight. I will treasure my time in the classroom not because I love it, but because I love Rowan.

(For the first installment of this post, click this link: Preschool Confidential.)

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Filed under Children., Confessions.

Compassion Is Medicinal.

This winter sucked the big one for me. The children and I were continually sick. Little Luca, as some of you may know, was the sickest of all—he tends to surpass us all in that respect. He had such a high fever that I could have put some dough on him and baked a freaking loaf. I don’t feel like I handled this particular issue well; my pediatrician’s office can testify to the embarrassing number of times I called in sheer panic over the fact that he was just so hot! It freaked my freak! Eventually, I realized I needed to check myself (before I “wrecked myself”). For me though, any seemingly small symptom that I see in my kids tends to set me off because I know that a fever isn’t always just a fever.

One of my first memories, is of a hospital room. Or at least a very hospital-like room. Memory is a tricky thing, and mine is trickier than most. I remember everyone wearing surgical green. And that I was crying for my mother. I can see my mother leaning over me, trying to comfort me. It’s a difficult image, and when I think about it, the emotions of the moment flare up. I always thought it was a dream, not a memory, until one day I asked my mother about it, and she said, “Oh, honey. I can still hear you crying ‘MOM-MY!’”

(I’m sitting on the front porch of our house in Lockport, New York. I was adorable! And let’s face it, I still am. I mean, really. Have you seen me? Note the size of my right knee.)

I was two and a half years old. My mother was looking at some recently developed pictures when she noticed that one of my knees was much bigger than the other. In the baby book she meticulously kept for me, she notes that I had my first ear infection in 1976. A blood test and fluid draining followed in May and June of 1977. The results were confirmed in July of 1977. I had Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA).

(And just because I know you will all think this is adorable, I had my first cold when I was three weeks old. I know because she wrote it all down. She wrote everything down. I bought a baby book for the kids and haven’t been able to find it since 2006. Sigh.)

Many people are still surprised to hear this. Not the fact that I can’t for the life of me keep notes about the children and still manage to dress myself every day, but that kids can have arthritis. They can. 300,000 children in the United Sates have arthritis. From my own experience and observation, I know that it can range from tremendously to mildly painful and from quite livable to extremely debilitating. I feel almost silly writing about it. My own experience, now so far in the past, is faded and almost impossible to articulate. What I remember from that time are things like hospital visits—too many to count—to have the swelling checked and charted. And blood draws. So many that still, almost 20 years later, I instinctively lift the sleeve on my left arm and say, “this is the juicy one!” whenever I get my blood drawn.

So when Luca spikes a fever (symptom of JRA!) or complains that his knee hurts (could it be?) or gets more ear infections than Rowan (you see where this is going, right?) I can’t help but think: did I pass this on to my children? My father, when he read on Facebook that Luca had pain in his knee, sent me a private e-mail making sure that I had checked for swelling, redness, and heat. We were both thinking the exact same thing.

What stands out most about my arthritis experience are the other children with JRA I saw at the hospital each time I had an appointment. Well, that and the pills. I took a crapload of pills. At first, my parents would tried to hide them by crushing them and mixing them in with my food. Eventually though, I just swallowed the suckers—upwards of sixteen a day, as I recall. I was a tiny pill popper.

For about eleven years, I was a regular at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. That’s where I really began to notice the other kids. Some were in wheel chairs, others in casts. Some were unable to walk the length of a short hallway without pain and limping. Some were unable to walk at all. I saw crutches, and braces, and kids of all ages suffering in many different ways from this disease. I was always left feeling incredibly divided: both sorry for myself—because I felt actual and acute pain—and very lucky at the same time. I had it good, really. What I had was manageable. What I saw others dealing with looked simply unbearable.

Eventually what had begun in my knee became present in every joint. My fingers were very obviously swollen with arthritis, along with my wrists, toes, ankles, and, of course, both knees. Those were the visible areas, and it both hurt and embarrassed me. All the time. I felt deformed and incredibly insecure, acutely aware of the swollen, elderly look of my hands. I was in seemingly constant pain and only felt a little relief once I took my medicine.

It’s funny. I recently learned from my father that I never actually complained about being in pain. And I learned too, that I resisted any method of pain relief other than medicinal. For example, I took a class in a heated pool with eight elderly men and women that focused on stretching and exercise for sufferers of arthritis. This apparently was not my thing. To be honest, it’s entirely possible that I was both really freaking lazy and embarrassed to be seen in a pool with a bunch of senior citizens. I was a teenager by then. As I grew older, things improved, and I began to see the, um, usefulness of my disease. Let’s just say I didn’t overexert myself in gym class. At all.

Now, as a grown woman with my arthritis firmly in remission, I marvel at the strength and dedication I see in parents with children with difficult illnesses. And I’m humbled by what my own parents, especially my father,  did for me when I was a child. I find myself realizing just how overwhelming it must have been for them to be genuinely compassionate all the time. Especially at night. Nothing is more challenging to me than being needed at night. Usually I end up frightening the children, not comforting them. I’m a freaking psycho at night. A total. Freaking. Psycho.

Well, not anymore, now that I’m medicated. But the psycho lives in me.

A year ago I tried to contact the doctor that I regularly saw for my arthritis as a child. Dr. John Baum, a man always in a bow tie, with a balding head, and a disposition that made him a memorable and totally appropriate child’s doctor. He was always smiling and goofy. Always. I never once dreaded my hospital visits. Not one single time. After all these years, I wanted him to know what became of me: that I became motivated by my history with pain to become a reliever of it. That the compassion shown to me was not wasted on me but became the foundation for my career choice—a model for me, one that makes me better at my job. It taught me how to be in the world, and that no one—not one single person—should live a life without relief (however occasional or fleeting) from pain.

Two weeks before I found his address online, Dr. Baum passed away. I had wanted to say thank you for being one of the people in my life who was a champion for me, but I missed my opportunity. A lesson learned. Never wait to share your appreciation. Never wait to thank someone for teaching you one of life’s most valuable lessons:

Compassion is medicinal.

Tucsonans: Please consider walking with me at this year’s Arthritis Walk. Save the date: May 7th, at Brandi Fenton Park, from 8 am to 12 pm. Message me if you want to meet up.

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Filed under All of them., Childhood.

Do The Evolution.

I don’t feel like writing about my kids. I don’t feel like writing about any crazy antics from my past. And I really don’t feel like writing about motherhood, mostly because we have been having a fantastic week, and I tend to want to write about the kids or motherhood when I start to feel like slitting my wrists would be a good idea. I like my wrists today, though. They are attached to my hands, which are really freakishly strong. Seriously. Ask anyone. My hands are fierce competitors.

It’s funny how I only want to eat a crapload of food when I am in a bad mood, or when the weather sucks. Or how I can so easily access the macabre of motherhood shortly after Luca pees on the same spot on the floor for the fifth time in three hours. Which he is totally doing lately. Peeing on the same spot in his bedroom. He actually bypasses the bathroom, pulls his pants down, and pees. It isn’t even remotely close to an accident, although he tries to play it off as one. It’s delightful, really.

Anyway, it seems like my greatest motivator has become, well, crankiness. And as much as I enjoy the process of eating a ton of food, or even writing a blog post fueled by angst, I have to say, I really like being happy more.

And I’m totally happy. How completely boring!

Most of my 20’s found me battling my own head. That sounds weird. I was going to say I have battled depression but I know that I’ve never been clinically depressed. I‘ve never needed to be medicated—well, until I had children. No, what I battle is the beast of thinking. I overthink and overanalyze every single aspect of (almost) every single thing that happens to me. Or even you, if you tell me about it. So, um, don’t tell me about it right now. Because, well, I’m happy.

I have had arguments with John—and I am talking Long. Freaking. Arguments.—that literally become arguments about arguing. And then—AND THEN—we actually start to fight about how we are arguing about arguing! It’s like tripping on acid!

When I was twenty years old, I began having panic attacks and insomnia. I would be up until 2 or 3 am, usually smoking cigarettes and reading Bukowski. Which is sort of embarrassing. (Could it have been the fact that I chose to read Bukowski that was keeping me awake? I mean, really.) And when I wasn’t reading, I was thinking. I can’t even tell you what it was I was thinking about, but I remember the rapidness of the thoughts. If I had been able to move that energy out of my head and into my body, I would have cleaned the crap out of my apartment every single night. But I was usually stoned, thus rendering my legs immobile.

Awesome. So proud.

Of course, I was going through some emotional stuff, and to me it felt extremely heavy and sort of looming. I was in my early twenties, after all. The panic attacks were more fleeting than the insomnia, which I had every night for at least an entire year. As anyone can tell you, panic attacks are terrifying the first time you have one, and then you sort of get the hang of them. At least I did. Don’t get me wrong, it sucked. All of it. I would never wish panic attacks on any one. Well . . .maybe, like, Hitler.

So, I cherish the moments in my life that are simple, exciting, encouraging, or just plain easy. I don’t have to overcomplicate them as I did most everything when I was in my twenties. I can surrender to the moment. Be here now. Blossom where I’m planted. Live in the moment. Become one with how completely annoying I am being right now.

Exciting things are happening. My children are at this incredible age where they, like, play and, like, talk. With each other. And get their own food sometimes. Rowan can dress himself, of course, and Luca is well on his way. He can most certainly undress himself. And pee on that spot on the floor. And a lot of the times in the actual toilet, which is exciting. However, he is scared to death of pooping in the toilet after one traumatizing painful poop about a year ago that seriously scarred him. That whole “I do it by myself!” stage that made me want to smash glass against a wall is totally paying off! It’s great!

I’ve had enough perspective-builders within the last six months to last me a good ten years, so I’m feeling pretty good about most everything. I have friends and people in my life who are outstanding. Seriously, you should all be jealous. Except, wait! You are probably all my friends! Ha! You are super cool! Can you be jealous of your own self? I can’t even get all depressed about the fact that many of you live thousands of miles away, because you are still accessible to me. So I can stalk you. Which I do. Every night. With a secret camera.

No, really.

And then, I am heading into my twelfth year of being a massage therapist, a career that I love more each day for its fluidity and satisfaction. Some of my clients have been with me for my entire career, and have seen me through marriage, kids, and multiple apartments (I will always have a special place in my heart for the client who begged me to move out of the apartment next to the drug-dealing midget). Do you know how amazing that is? These people know me in a way not many people do! They have truly seen the evolution of Sarah. Poor saps. But seriously, what I wouldn’t give to provide every one of you with the sort of contentment I feel about my job. Those of you who have it, consider yourselves lucky. Those who don’t may want to consider becoming massage therapists.

My heart is just so full today. My head is quiet, I look forward to tomorrow and am so grateful for today. I’m going to try not to overthink it and just, you know . . . be.

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Filed under Confessions.