Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It's Probably Time

"It feels like weakness, but it's a sign of strength." I said these words to a young man last week at school.  I was specifically talking about asking for help in times of trouble.  And when I walked out of that meeting, after counseling this kid who made a bad decision when he was having a rough time, I had to look in the metaphorical mirror and realized that I needed to take my own advice. 

Over the last month, instead of feeling better, I've been feeling worse.  I've been more on edge, less able to control my emotions or my mouth, and my sleep hasn't improved.  I feel like I'm about to burst into tears pretty much all the time now.  Worst of all, my teaching is totally in the tank.*   So it's time to get some help.

So over spring break, I'll be seeing somebody to get some meds.  And I'll be looking for a therapist and finding the time to schedule meetings with them.  Because asking for help, it feels like weakness but it's a sign of strength.

Feel free to share your favorite meds or Philly area therapists in the comments. 

*In the tank by my standards.  But every time I see somebody give a demo lesson, read a twitter edchat, etc. etc. I realize even mediocre me is still a pretty good teacher.  But the point is, I feel like I'm doing a terrible job and there are things I'm dropping the ball on. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

As Long as We are Talking About the Children

People keep asking how the kids are doing.  The eldest is going to the Geek Dance.  Her project took a first at the science fair so she's on to the next round at Penn State.  There's a dance.  So that's how we refer to the state science fair around these parts, the Geek Dance.  Her project was on preventing wild fires in the American West.  I didn't help her with it at all.  Really.

The youngest boy seems to be doing well.  He recently appeared as a dancer in a local opera and rehearsals start soon for his ballet concert at the end of the year.

And the middle boy, the one who was supposed to start therapy back in September but couldn't go because Lori broke her ankle.  He's having his best school experience in a long time.  And he's discovered a passion for writing.  He recently attended a poetry writing workshop.  He would not show his stuff from the workshop but he did show me this poem he wrote for class:

The Dream We Share

There’s a dream that we all share.
A hope for a better planet.

The dream of a clean earth
The sky blue, the ocean too
The land green, it’s all clean
The clouds white, not grey with smoke
The streets fine, no litter to cloak

A dream of equality
A house of diversity
A planet of harmony
A land of the free
A place for you and me

Here is a dream that we all share
No time to relax, no time to spare

We save it today, not tomorrow
To spare ourselves from so much sorrow

* * 
Pretty good, huh? I think the kids are alright.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Letter to my youngest

My third grade son is student of the week for next week.  I had to write a letter to him.  This is what I wrote:

Dear Weber,

Ms. Schreiber asked me to write a letter to you.  The instructions were kind of vague, so I’m taking this opportunity to tell you some of the things I like about you.

  1. You do what interests you.  You decided you wanted to learn to tap dance, so you got your sister’s friend Liz to teach you.  You then did routine for multicultural day last year.  You didn’t care what kids thought, you just knew you liked dancing.  Now you dance ballet and it’s the same thing.  Keep doing what you love, no matter what other people say.
  1.  You have an open heart.  You may be a Slytherin in your ability to get people to like you, but always use it for the power of good.  You like to help people.  This will serve you well in the years going forward.  Mr. Rogers, the great TV host, used to tell people “to look for the helpers.”  It was something his mom told him, and he told us.  I know people will look for you when they need help.

   3.  I never have to tell you to do your homework.  Being responsible for yourself is a big thing. Keep doing it.

4.  When you were a baby, you were very mellow.  Some of that was because you are a third child.  If you cried, your mom and I would say “Are you on fire?  No?  Okay, it will have to wait.”  It seems like you’ve always solved your own problems and you can usually roll with any unexpected contingencies.  

5.  You probably won’t ever know how much mom loved you, but she did.  A lot.  Remember that.  Always.  She was really grumpy those last few months cooped up in the house with a broken ankle.  Don’t remember that.  Remember mom at the beach, or the way she beamed with pride when you would visit her office and help out by disinfecting all the surfaces and filing all the staplers.   Most of all remember the feeling of love when she hugged you.  

6.  Your best days are ahead.  It’s been a rough school year so far.  But you’ve faced it with grace, grit, and optimism.  There will be more hard times ahead.  I know you can handle it.  Remember:  Hug your loved ones, mend your fences, do some good.  This life is too short.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

An Immodest Proposal

So, you want every school to have armed guards to protect the kids and psychological services for troubled kids so they don't turn into shooters?  Gosh that's a lot of money.  How could we fund those programs?  How about a 5% surcharge on all gun sales to pay for the security AND a 10 percent surcharge to pay for qualified school counselors and nurses for every 150 students in a school.  No exemptions for private sales or gun shows.  And for magazines?  50 percent tax rate.  If we are going to be a country that has pervasive guns, we need to build an infrastructure to accommodate that.  And we need to pay for it.  One of the first principles of conservatism is that "you don't get something for nothing."  Time for gun owners to pay up.   

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Sixth Stage of Grief

The experts tell us there are five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.   I admit that I've experienced the other stages.  And I am deeply appreciative that the people who came up with the stages, acknowledge that they are metaphors and that people don't move through them one at a time but might experience them simultaneously and non-sequentially.  It's a useful framework, but in my own experience there is a sixth stage:  Fear.  In the last few weeks, it's become the dominant emotion in my life.

There are the conventional fears of twenty-first century Americans. How will I pay for the kids' colleges?  Will the kids be safe at school today or will they become a statstic?  Am I parenting too much or too little (I lean towards the latter, quite frankly.   My parenting style is best described as "feral.")  Is that headache a brain tumor?  How do I get my kids to have healthy sex-positive relationships in ways that are safe and age appropriate?  Is that my hair in the drain in the tub?   But each of these are amplified by Lori's death.  She outearned me.  If something bad is going down at school, I'm at risk too and even if they are okay, I may not be and then what?  Who do I talk over parenting decisions with?  It's not a tumor.  But if it is...?  Nobody knows on that one, but who do you commiserate with?  Assuming at some point, I want to date again, bald guy, ugh.  And so on. 

But then there's the more gnawing fears.  What if I turn into one of those people who forgets how to talk to adults?  Lori was in charge of the bills because I am absentminded, there's a load of minefields there.  And I'm not exactly having my best teaching year.  Will I ever get my teaching mojo (such as it was) back? 

And worse fears still.  I'm fifty and alone.  I planned to grow old with someone.  Is it too late to start over?  Lori and I by no means had a perfect relationship, but we worked hard at it.  We survived some really rough patches that almost broke us up.  Our relationship was better than it had ever been in all phases of our lives. 

I was talking with some newlyweds not so long ago, before "the recent unpleasantness."   I was telling them how much better my marriage was in year 15 compared to year 1.  "There's just so much more trust, now," I said.  "And that allows you to do things you didn't even know you wanted to do when you first got married."  Like change careers, or start a blog, or have children.  Am I ever going to trust anyone that completely ever again?  And if I don't, does that mean I'm going to be alone forever?  And am I turning into a selfish asshole if this is what I think about at 4 am and I can't go back to sleep.  I haven't even scattered Lori's ashes yet and I'm worried about my next relationship?  Christ, I'm a selfish dick.  So now I'm afraid that I'm turning into a selfish dick.  OK, more of a selfish dick. 

And there's more complicated fears.  As long as I have been competent to think fully about these matters, (so from the age of twenty-three on), I have believed that it is my obligation to give my life meaning through deliberate action.  I feel like I am losing my capacity for deliberate action, for agency.  I am losing track of the meaning-making.  In his book, The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman created a world where the main characters reached a point at the edge of the known and stared off into a void and watched the new earth being forged.  It's a nice metaphor for the way I thought about my life with Lori.  Together, we made a new world.  Now, I relive the old rituals we made but I have not been able to imagine anything new.  And I am all the poorer for it. 

And so this weekend, I tried the new.  I had three meals with adults and no children and they were wonderful.  There were two different breakfasts in Center City with old friends.  There was a dinner with my brothers that featured cocktails and excellent food.  There were adult conversations and despite the fact that  I no longer have those every night, now, I seemed to hold my own.  So, in the future, I have to seek them out.  I have to consciously make time for them.  I suck at planning.  I have to get better at planning. 

Planning, of course, is an exercise in "what if?"  I used to be good at "what if?"  I could "what if" my way into some fantastic futures.  I built a marriage and a life on "what if?"  But that was before "what if" gotten taken over by the sixth stage of grief.  So, for now, every day, I'll try to imagine one positive "what if?" and see if I can reignite the old habit and ditch this terrible, awful, no good, very bad new one.  Wish me luck. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Night Before Ice Cream for Breakfast Day Or Where is Michael Keaton when you need him.

Dear Lori,

It's the night before another one of your favorite holidays, International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.  (OK, actually it's the night of, but we had to move it to Sunday this year because of scheduling conflicts).  It's 12:30 and the house is cleanish.  After I finish writing this, I'll put up the dishwasher, grab a few hours sleep and get up and run to the store to get whipped cream and sugar.  The mint chocolate chip is in the freezer.  The syrups and gummy worms are on the kitchen counter.  Lenny has gone over the ice cream scooping procedures with me multiple times to make sure there is no cross-contamination. 

Normally, I'd be sleeping more, but the nighttime is fraught.  During the day, I'm okay.  I'm surrounded by a caring, loving community of colleagues, students, and parents.  Folks bring us meals twice a week.  Web still goes to ballet on Friday.  Becker is doing better than ever in Middle School.  He's only gotten two homework slips since "the recent unpleasantness."

But then there's the sheets.

I can't tell you the last time I washed the sheets.  I know you helped me make the bed.  I've been sleeping on your side, snuggling ghosts and shadows, breathing deeply pretending the sheets still smell like you even though there's been so many cats and the occasional small child sleeping in there that whatever traces of you are masked by cat dander and Weber sweat.  I tried once last week to wash them.  I stood in front of the bed for ten minutes willing myself to remove the comforter.   I couldn't do it.  Maybe next weekend will be the weekend when I'll finally strip the bed and another piece of you will slide away.

Letting go is so hard.  Even on the nights when I don't stay up to the point of exhaustion, so that I can go to sleep immediately without having to be without you in the  place where we spent the most time together I'll lie awake and alone in the dark feeling your absence, trying to find the hollow in the bed where your hips went, reaching out in the darkness for a non-existent curve, repositioning an arm that isn't there, piling up clothes and pillows to get the right weight and shape in a pale simulacra of you.

Today I went to school's annual student-run diversity conference.  I attended a session on practicing vulnerability.  We were told that if the workshop got to much for us, all we had to do was say "Beetlejuice" and leave the room to make those feelings stop.  After some opening exercises, we were given a sheet of paper.  On one side, we filled in a head-shaped figure with the "face we present to the world."  On that face, I wrote, grieving, funny, intellectual, caring and a bunch of other things.   I am, as one student wrote to me last year, always the most authentic version of myself.  But now, well now, things are different.  I've gotten very good at performative grief, at consoling others and putting on my brave face.  When I run into people who don't know, I'm blunt "Lori suddenly dropped dead in the laundry room last November.  It' sucks."  And we move on.    But today that language left me.  I ran into parents of long ago students in the coffee shop this morning, all these people at the conference who didn't know me, and it took it's toll with each telling.  By the time I hit the workshop, I was already on edge.  On the back of the sheet, we were supposed to write the things we don't share.  In October, with the exception of some things that were just between us, our little private mysteries, that side would have been blank.  But now, now it was a full page.  With some help, I was able to read it to the people in the room (well not the private parts but the rest of it.)  And I really wanted to write about it, I really do, but as I try all that comes out is...


Trying to sleep.   


The wrong song comes on the radio.


Trying to figure out the laundry and the dishes and the driving and the schedules and the food shopping and what the hell professional dress is for teenage girls much less why they are required to wear it for science fair.


I was walking down the hall to lunch a little early to beat the line and in that empty corridor I suddenly had a vivid memory of pushing one police officer out of the way and desperately, fruitlessly giving you mouth to mouth while another  policeman pounded on your chest and reminded me to bend your head back as you went cold and glassy-eyed until the EMT's got there and took over.  


But there's never a door to walk out, nor a room to leave.  Just me and the pain and the ache that won't go way.

Next weekend, maybe I'll wash the sheets.  Yeah, next weekend.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I has rage and I know how to use it! or ISTE is less awful.

Hey all.  Taking a break from #deadwife blogging to use my rage productively on things besides screaming at the universe for it's arbitrary and unfair nature in it's role in ruining my life as I knew it and/or crying quietly into my pillow at night so the kids don't hear me.  (NB:  No one can hear you cry in the shower either!  I'm super clean these days.)  (Also, if you somehow got here without knowing about #deadwife blogging see here, here, here, and probably the best of the pieces this and this.

The International Society for Technology Education filled up my facebook feed today with an ad for their annual conference in Chicago.  ISTE wants you to think that it's an advocacy organization for teachers who want to use technology.  For years, it wasn't.  It was an organization whose primary purpose was to advocate for and sell education technology to governments and schools.  And for years they were successful.  In 2014, I called out the con and issued a manifesto (read by literally dozens of people and a couple hundred Russian spam bots). 

In it, I declared I would be boycotting ISTE until they met 5 conditions.  Let's check in:

1.  Adopt an anti-harassment policy as part of their Code of Conduct  

ISTE adopted this shortly after me publishing my manifesto.  I think their move probably had more to do with Audrey Watters earlier announcing she wouldn't speak there anymore unless they did this.  Watters inspired my longer list.  

2.  Half the governing board seats should be reserved for full time educators.

The governing board appears to have been dissolved.  The Board is almost all educators.  The professionals who run the organization  have appropriate backgrounds. 

3.  Fees need to be lowered to those that are similar to other academic conferences.

Okay this one still needs to work.  ISTE is twice the price of a the American Historical Association annual meeting.  Vendor fees are even proportionally higher (which I'm okay with, most vendors at AHA are non-profits; most vendors at ISTE are for profits.)   At least part of the issue here is the size of the administration of the respective organizations.  ISTE has 50 people on payroll, AHA has twenty.  They engage in pretty similar activities.  Both do advocacy and lobbying.  Both publish journals and  magazines.  I'm not sure what else ISTE does. 

4.  A scholarship fund needs to be established to help bring in under-represented groups


5.  Put a cap on the number of corporate or product sponsored panels - say no more than 5 percent.  


But hey!  They are moving in the right direction.  So credit where credit is due.  If this keeps up, in four more years I can maybe attend their conference again. 

AHA 20 staff ISTE 50 staff