Annual….

When you hear the word, “annual”, what comes to mind? An annual family reunion, perhaps; or possibly an annual sale at your favorite store. It could be those annual flowers that pop up after months of snow. Maybe it’s the annual fee on your credit card. There are lots of times for this word to pop up in our daily lexicon. For women, however, “annual” denotes a very invasive doctor’s appointment. We get the distinct pleasure of these visits because we were blessed with a uterus. I’m no physician but apparently that uterus is a complicated thing. I cannot recall another body part that needs to be scraped for cells on a regular basis. Could we not do this to the elbow? The ankle? Hell, your ankle is already right up there in the stirrups, go ahead and grab some cells from there too while you’re at it. But I digress. The point is that I just had my annual visit to my doctor. Gentlemen, you may stop reading here. Unless you haven’t eaten in a few hours; in which case, please feel free to continue reading.

 

I am not a particularly modest woman but I really dislike going to the doctor. Send me to the dentist all day long. They let you lay down and relax while you listen to relatively decent music and they clean your teeth for you. The OBgyn does NOT do any cleaning and there is no music. (Sidenote: OBgyns, you might want to consider music…) Anyway, there is nothing I like less than this visit, and after two children, I quite frankly would be fine if they shut that factory down and I could carry on with my life. But, alas, in the name of health…

 

So my doctor, with whom I have only met once prior to today, is one of those crunchy granola types. I ADORE her. She is just a little on the the hippie edge of things. When I spoke to her last year about my anxiety, which is a longstanding issue for which I am well medicated, she plopped some lavender oil on a cotton ball and sent me on my way, telling me to smell it whenever I was stressed. (For the record, I still have an active prescription to Lexapro and Xanax and I do not forsee substituting lavender for them in the near future.) With all of her earthy love and such, I should not have been surprised when she asked me if I wanted to watch her perform my PAP smear and pelvic exam.

 

“Absolutely not,” I replied incredulously.

 

She smiled a matronly smile. “Sometimes it makes people feel better. Did you know that some women have never seen their vagina? I mean if you’re here, you might as well get the full experience.”

 

My jaw dropped. Does she really think anyone wants to “experience” this more than they already must??

 

“Well, I prefer to keep this procedure limited to only sense, and I don’t need to feel it AND see it. I might not recover as quickly.”

She chuckled and patted my leg. “Ok. We’ll get started.”

And then she…just kidding. If you know what happens next, you don’t need to read about it. And if you don’t know what happens next, you don’t need to read about it either.

So once my legs were back together and I was in an upright position, I decided to pose the question that was burning on my mind.

“My husband has had a vasectomy. I know this is not 100% effective, but we are definitely done having children. Do you think I should go on birth control?”

And then she laughed so hard she fell on the floor and almost choked to death. Not quite, but you guys, it was seriously close. I’ve given that “are you fucking kidding me” look before and I know it when I see it. She informed me of the science of vasectomies (which I know) and about how it can NEVER be undone, which is an absolute fallacy. So the moral of that story is: A) my doctor thinks I’m an idiot. B) I’m not on birth control and C) I tried to share with her webMD info that she promptly rejected.

So, not only did I leave there exposed physically and mentally, I could get pregnant. Thanks, Doctor.

And this is why my kids are in daycare

Last week, when I handed my check to our daycare provider, I told her that if it were appropriate, I would kiss her. She smiled nervously, took a step back,  and then I flew out of there like Tinkerbell herself. The taste of freedom was on my lips. I was going to DO things. A pedicure? Sure. Shopping? Definitely. Visiting a friend? Put it on the list.  It’s not that I don’t love spending time with my babies. Watching them this evening on their Slip n’ Slide, giggling huge full belly laughs all covered in grass made my heart swell with a kind of happiness I didn’t know existed before parenting. But there are also other moments. For example, Ella brought me my ice scraper this morning while I was in the shower.  Also while I was in there, she asked me for a snack. While I was attempting to shave my legs she informed me that she needed lotion and I peered out from behind the shower curtain to find her hoisting one leg up on the bathroom counter.  Meanwhile, I believe Harrison has lost his sense of hearing because he has literally ignored every single direction I have given him all day. Favorite activities include, but are not limited to: hitting his sister, trying to knock me out of a rocking chair, and practicing lacrosse inside the house. He also decided to show his new and improved vocabulary to his grandmother. (Here’s how I found out which word it was that he said: “Harrison, was it the ffff sound or the sh sound? It was the fff sound. Spectacular.)

 

It’s only Sunday night and it feels like I have been with my kids for seventeen straight days without a break. But no, it’s just a summer weekend. To be honest, I can’t even remember what I did on Friday, it seems so long ago. I can tell you that the kids were in daycare that day though, and I had some remnants of my sanity dangling from my conscience before I picked them up.

 

But this is where it gets dicey and where people get judgey. I don’t work during the summer. We send the kids to daycare two days a week because I need to get shit done. I also need to sit down and breathe and think a full thought without interruption. I’ve had moments of self doubt about this decision because, after all, I COULD be home with them every.single.day this summer. But then I’d return to teaching in the fall a frazzled crazy mess. Those two days per week that my children are in the loving care of another human being give me the ability to recenter my brain and my soul. I truly am a better mom when I pick them up after their day at daycare. I also feel that I should share the wealth. I mean, it wouldn’t be fair of me to keep all this fun to myself. I am so thankful that there is a human being who actually enjoys getting all of the 4- and 5-year olds in the whole town together all at once. Then she takes them out in PUBLIC, all at the same time, and somehow they all come back at the end of the day. Had this been my job, I’d have lost a child or two in the shuffle. Not only do they all come back but they all have their shoes on. Honestly, the woman is a saint.

 

Tomorrow, my kids are going to go back to daycare. I’m going to do things like take out the trash and empty the dishwasher. If I get adventurous, I might clean out my closet. But the good news is that I can shave my legs in peace.

Five

Five years ago today, I was in a hospital bed with no real intention of ever getting out. I was in so much pain that I could not conceive of the immeasurable task that lay before me. Five years ago today, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy via C-section in a very scary situation. I couldn’t imagine that it would ever be harder to parent than in that moment. Forget about learning to change diapers and breastfeed, I couldn’t even walk. How on earth was I going to care for this new human when I literally could not care for myself? Well, we made it, but there’s a reason why.

Luckily, Harrison and I had the love and support of Justin who nursed me back to health and nursed Harrison as well. Just kidding. He’s good but he’s not THAT good. (He did, however, go out and buy me a breast pump so that I could try in vain to breastfeed, and although that didn’t work out, we made a go at it.) We made it through those first several months by the grace of God. Even with the two of us giving our best to this tiny person, we still couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into.

New moms everywhere ask of veteran moms, “How do you do it?” and of course the answers vary greatly. Most honestly one might answer that you have no choice but to do it and hope you end up still standing by the time your kids learn to stand. For me, that was part of it. But the bigger part was the people in our lives. In the past five years, Harrison has had the love and support of three sets of grandparents, two aunties, and an uncle. He has two step aunties, and two step uncles. He has a great aunt, two great grandmothers, and a great grandfather. With each one of these people, Harrison has formed a special bond  because each person has opened his or her heart to him. They’ve let him in. They have inside jokes with him, he knows where they hide the cookies, and he knows that when he’s alone with that special person, there is adventure and treats abound. But I can say with certainty, that if the treats were gone, if the adventures fizzled, he’d still crawl into the lap of each family member and offer a snuggle because he knows that is his safe place. That is where love is.

There are friends we’ve known since his birth, and ones we’ve met along the way. He goes to an incredible school where his teacher extracted his love of learning and planted Miracle Grow in his brain. Because she gave him a safe place to learn and explore, he has had great success in the classroom. Harrison also has the best daycare provider I could have ever imagined for my babies. Despite his incredibly emotional tendencies, she opens the door to fun for him, and encourages him to let loose a bit.  

The countless playdates with mom friends who became just friends who happened to be moms showed me that I was not alone, that my kid is normal (sort of), and that we all have so much in common, all kept me grounded. They still do, as these friendships continue to form and grow. The children with whom my boy interacts give him love and patience and kindness and friendship. For that I could not be more grateful.

Everywhere I turn, there are these amazing people with whom I have shared my child’s life and who have helped him grow. I cannot believe that FIVE is here, but my heart is full with all of the love around us, that just wouldn’t have been without our boy. And I couldn’t imagine a better life for my child, so thank all of you for making Harrison’s life complete. IMG_0659

Playing Catch Up

Yikes! Where have I been?? I honestly couldn’t tell you all of the details of my past few months as a working mom because it’s truly been a whirlwind. We survived the holidays just barely, and all of a sudden I go outside and it’s 70 degrees out there. Here are a few highlights from the past months:

Ella turned three in March. She used her magic princess wand to turn boys into frogs. The child is wise beyond her years.

Justin suffered the man-flu. The first time around it was the man-flu. The second time it was pneumonia and bronchitis. I think there’s a story about a boy and a wolf and some crying here that might support my lack of sympathy, but the good news is that he is feeling well now, albeit the serious paper cut he has on his left pinkie finger.

My students are still appalled that we have to read in class. By the way, I teach English. To seniors in high school. I told them that this was a necessary evil that must be endured. They’re still showing up, so I suppose they have acquiesced.

“Acquiesced” is a vocabulary word this week. How’d I do?

Cousin Shellie, who lived here, moved out to house sit for my mother; but she has since moved back in. She actually wakes up early to come downstairs and “watch the madness.”

Harrison developed a double ear infection and upper respiratory infection on my 35th birthday. The doctor at urgent care didn’t actually say, “upper respiratory infection”, but she wrote it on the discharge sheet for an extra surprise when I got home. It was as if she just wanted to dig the knife further into the wound. Speaking of wounds, the antibiotics H was prescribed turned him into a big red blob of screaming, kicking, itching hives. I told the pediatrician I had been treating the rash with Benadryl and he was all like, “You shouldn’t do that. It makes kids drowsy” and I was all like, “Yeah dude so what’s your point?” and he was all like, “Well you don’t want your son to be sleepy all the time do you?” and I was all like, “umm well I don’t know the correct answer to this question.”

If you missed it in number six, I turned 35. This monumental event coincided with the man-flu and double ear infection/upper respiratory debacle. Cheers!

I managed to slam my fingers in a door, pinch them in a carseat, and lose a diamond from the ring I was wearing on that hand all in one day. My middle finger still works fine though.

Harrison demonstrated his literary prowess by practicing the alphabet on our walls. He tried to blame it on his sister, who does not have the same skill set at this current time in her development. Unfortunately he gave himself away with his repetition of H’s throughout the house. He cleverly wrote a bunch of E’s outside of Ella’s room but we weren’t fooled. On another note, we’ve had to engage in several conversations about how lying is wrong.

Summer is now on the horizon and I hope to get back into this, so stay tuned. I’ve included an actual picture of my children getting along. This will go in a museum one day.17498760_10155208101311383_1998342815584970627_n (1)

Just Another Monday

I don’t know, you guys. It was quite a Monday I had. Around every corner, a new and special surprise was waiting for me. My work days start out very early because I like to wake up and exercise. Just kidding. I like to not be fat, so I wake up and exercise. I figure 5am is the one time of day where I can get anything done uninterrupted. Sometimes I am proven wrong with this theory, as I was on this particular morning. Harrison decided it was time for an early soiree, so, alas, my alone time was interrupted by a four year old demanding breakfast.

No worries though, because I had at least managed to get some exercise in. I flew into the bathroom and hopped into the shower. I had the courtesy to say good morning to my husband, which isn’t always the case that early in the morning. In the shower, I was thinking about how awesome I am for A) getting fit and in shape and B) kindly greeting another human being before 6am. That was until I realized it was Justin’s birthday. Wife of the year, here, nice to meet you.

In my defense, because I clearly need some, I had an important observation at work first thing, so I was a bit distracted. Once I made it into the car and on my way, I re-centered myself, turned my optimism on, and then the phone rang. It was Justin telling me that he didn’t have any car seats. I was officially ready to turn around and go home so I could crawl into bed and start the day over. It turns out that I, did not, in fact, have the car seats, but I only realized this after ten minutes of beating myself up over the whole thing and blaming myself for putting my children in grave danger.

The next obstacle was to somehow survive my observation. You guys, I’ve been observed zillions of times, but not very often by the superintendent and several other administrators all at once; and NEVER EVER have I been observed when teaching math.  You know why? Because I DON’T TEACH MATH. Except, sometimes I do. And one of those times happens to be Monday morning in a carpentry class. (If you know nothing else about me, you should know that I have no place near numbers or power tools. This was going to be FANTASTIC.) The good news is that I did survive that observation, and the superintendent survived too.

As most days that begin in a whirlwind go, so followed the rest of my work day. I was in somewhat of a spiral for the remainder of the day, what with it snowing and all. I was surprised to find out that even seniors in high school are completely inattentive to classroom happenings when the flakes are falling for the first time of the season. A special fun fact about my classroom is that some genius thought it’d be a good idea to exclude screens from my windows. So, naturally, why WOULDN’T kids want to open the window, stick their tongues out, and catch snowflakes in the middle of my lesson on comma placement? The cool part about teaching seniors, though, is that the show must go on, and so I did. They’ll have to make up for their lack of focus on their own time (Score for secondary ed!).

I left work quickly to drive (in the snow) to pick up a Christmas gift for Justin. The gift happens to be a large one so I had to make arrangements for the thing to fit in my van and get help putting said object in the car. That part was actually not much of an ordeal, but the problem was that I had to get it out of my car all alone. So there I was, in the garage, pushing and pulling like an idiot to get this monstrosity out of my car. Time was running out because I had to pick up the kids from daycare before they closed. I was really stressing because there was literally NO way I could get the kids without getting this thing out of my car first. Finally, I did get the object out, and I only suffered minor injuries.

I knew that I could breathe a big sigh of relief once I got the kids from daycare on time. Except, I couldn’t, because it was Monday. The special surprise waiting there at daycare for me was a notice that two lice cases had been reported at the daycare center, five had been reported at the after school program, and one was reported at Harrison’s pre-k. There is nothing worse than the impending doom of lice. The itchy paranoia of tiny bugs taking up residence on my children’s heads has still not left me. They are, however, doused in tea tree oil.

After the little heads were checked, bodies bathed, and mouths fed, Justin came home and reminded me that we had a sitter so we could go out for his birthday. Although I had forgotten this small detail, I figured it would be nice. That’s when I realized that I’m eating vegan for the month (don’t ask) and we were going to the best Italian restaurant in town. Do you know what kind of strength it takes a person to sit amidst ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, and keep her hands to herself?? Our server, who happens to be a friend, assured me that my order was in fact vegan, and you know what? I don’t care if she was lying. There is only so much saving of animal lives that one can do after a day like that.

A Voting Girl

OK, everyone, this is NOT a political post. I don’t DO politics. I don’t understand enough about politics to go on the Internets and provide my opinion and expect to be taken seriously. But something monumental did happen tonight and I need to share it with you.

You will not find out from me who I voted for in the presidential election this year, because it really doesn’t matter. I have my beliefs, and if you want to have a conversation with me privately about those beliefs, I might oblige, but only after I do all the other things I need to do first. Included on that list of things is teaching unenthusiastic high school seniors conventions of the English language, changing diapers, folding laundry, helping my 4 year old with homework, taking the recycling to the refuse station, folding more laundry, brushing the teeth of toddlers, and fishing dismembered crayons out of the vacuum cleaner.

Despite all of the minutiae that piles up on my proverbial doorstep, I do find time to do important things. One of those things is taking my little girl to the polls this afternoon.

My boss let us leave work a few minutes early to vote today. Although Justin advised me to go vote before I picked up the kids from school and daycare, I decided I would pick up Ella and take her along with me. We don’t get to do that a lot, go places just the two of us, and I appreciated the time we had together for so many reasons. Upon a bit of reflection, I realized how big of a deal this mommy-daughter date really was.

First, I am a working mom. When my grandmother was pregnant with my aunt, and then my dad, she had to leave her teaching job. She was not ALLOWED to work (teaching kindergarten) while pregnant or with small children. Just a handful of decades ago, I wouldn’t be wondering if I SHOULD or COULD be a working mom. I would not have had the choice.

Second, being a working mom, it is important to note that I have a female boss. My female boss is also a working mom. She and I both have two children under the age of five. We’ve been able to pursue our passion as educators AND raise children. We also happen to be friends who have supportive husbands who give us opportunities to spend time together while they care for the children. Everything we have would have been unheard of in my grandmother’s time.

And now, for the kicker. I took my child to vote in the first ever presidential election where a female could legitimately (and I say that loosely…) win the election. Regardless of my thoughts or points of view on the eligibility and quality of the candidates we’ve been presented with, I need to step back and recognize the importance of this moment.

Will my daughter, age 2.5, understand today? No. Her main focus this afternoon was seeing how many goldfish crackers she could consume while I was filling in bubbles in the voting booth.  But as parents, it’s not always about what our kids remember or understand. It’s giving them those experiences  anyway. It’s about making memories, and making history. It’s about a working and voting mom, her girl, and a female on the ballot. 14500493_1081574558577713_7535224357630993022_ophoto courtesy of Kim Hilgendorf 2016

The First Homework Assignment

For years, I assigned homework. Every summer before school started, that homework board was prominently placed in my classroom. In the fall, once students trickled in, I would color code assignments with my brand new dry erase markers. I would implore my students to copy my words down in their planners. Special protocol was put in place to hand work in every morning and I’d chase kids around who hadn’t completed the tasks I so clearly laid out for them. Students were all over the place in their proficiency of this task; some completed their work with diligence and pride. Others looked at me as if I had just appeared from outer space when I asked them about their assignments. Phone calls were made to parents; meetings were scheduled with administration. I did not understand how this could be so difficult.

I did not understand the effect of homework until I had my own child. As a matter of fact, homework graced the Clark household in a rather surprising and unexpected manner. This fall, we sent Harrison to pre-k. Things were going great; I was packing his lunches with care each evening. He was bounding into my arms after school proclaiming that he had a fantastic day. Addition and subtraction problems were recited at meal time. He could write “Mom” all by himself. He was loving pre-k and so was I. Then one day, as I routinely went through his Take-Home folder, I found it. In the midst of his colorfully drawn pictures and a lunch calendar, there it was. A cockroach could have crawled out of his backpack and I probably would have been less frightened. I guess I knew it would come to this. I thought we might get through kindergarten at least, though, before the torment and doom reigned down on our house in what can be known as the first Homework Assignment.

As someone who was the responsible party for assigning homework for YEARS, you would think that I wouldn’t have had such an adverse reaction to it, but I have to be honest: my heart was heavy; there was a lump in my throat, and I teared up at the thought of even one moment of the precious time I have with my boy after school being dictated by someone else.

The assignment was easy enough; Harrison was asked to illustrate a picture of himself. He could add things found around the house like wrapping paper or buttons. It was quite a nice assignment, to be honest, but I couldn’t get past that terrible feeling, the realization that so many times parents must have had convulsions as they pulled out their students’ homework planners to find some spelling packet or reading assignment they needed to ensure their child completed. To me, it was another THING that needed to be done. Add that to the laundry pile, the dishes, and scrubbing the toilet. One more THING was taking me away from snuggling with my kids, or reading to them, or spending an extra few minutes giving them their baths. This particular assignment was to be a family task, so in reality we were all together for it. But it is still hard to know we have a little less freedom with our, well, free time.

I value school (good thing, right? Because, you know, I teach at one). I value my son’s teacher. A LOT. She’s pretty much on rock star status around here. I value the work she does, and as a fellow teacher, I understand the (sometimes) NEED to have homework. However, I can say without reservation that this experience has changed me completely as a teacher and I will be much more cognizant of how homework assignments affect families. As a matter of fact, last week, I ran into the parent of a former student and actually told this story to him. Then I apologized for all of the nights his sons had homework from me that maybe could have been avoided if I had stopped to think about the impact it had on families. Being a parent is stressful enough without this aspect added in.

We received a second assignment already this year. I put the paper on the fridge and stuck the due date in the back of my head. On Friday night, Harrison said, “Hey Mom, I think it’s time to get started on my homework.” I almost broke my neck when I snapped back to see who this responsible and eager creature was sitting at my kitchen table. And there it was, my second revelation of the school year: this homework was helping me see what kind of learner my little boy is turning out to be. I know I can’t be there in class with him every day now. I won’t always be able to hold his hand through everything, but right now I’m being given an opportunity to watch him grow and learn in a new way. Just because I understand what’s going on, doesn’t mean I am adapting well. img_4784-1I think this is what they call “growing pains”.