Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Work of Heart

I have been thinking a lot about the situation our teachers are facing in Oklahoma. I have read just about every opinion piece circulating, mostly for the strike, but some against. I have rattled words and words and words around in my head, asking myself if I have even one bit of new perspective to add to an already thoroughly dissected issue. I'm not really sure, but I'm going to try.

I taught in public schools for nine years. My first couple of years were fine, but things quickly changed to not fine at all. Nine years is but a fraction of the time many of my friends have taught, but nine years was enough for me. For my tenth year, I left to teach at a private school. I love teaching. I love watching kids learn, and I love when they surprise themselves with what they are capable of doing and creating. I love connecting with them, and I love knowing at the end of the year that I may have made some small difference in even one life. I still struggle with feeling a bit like a traitor, leaving my teammates behind. But I am still teaching, only now without all of the things I didn't love.

You see, I didn't love being told exactly what to teach and when to teach it, regardless of whether or not my students had grasped a concept and were ready to move on. I didn't love when a very high-ranking administrator told me that I was NOT to teach writing (or really anything but reading and math), because it was not on the state tests. I didn't love going behind that administrator's back and teaching it anyway, because it was what was best for the kids, but knowing that I very well could be answering for it later. I didn't love teaching to the test because my school would be judged by the performances of students who had a parent arrested the week of testing, or had been told that their parents were splitting up that same month, or a host of other things I saw happen come April. Funnily enough, kids don't care very much about a test when their lives are falling apart around them. I didn't love spending so much time focused on getting the low students to pass the test that I had no time to challenge the ones that were above the cut-off scores. I went home many nights thinking that another day had gone by that I had failed to connect with those kids that rested solidly in the middle, and that ate away at me. I didn't love hearing that I "only taught 10 months out of the year" so my pay was actually more than fair, even though when I worked out my hourly wage with all the extra hours I put in, it was somewhere around $13 an hour (which wasn't too far from what I made working retail in college). I mean, we pay our high school babysitters $10 an hour to play with our one kiddo! I didn't love spending so much of my money on supplies and things for my classroom, but it didn't occur to me that things should be any other way, because I had seen my parents (who were also teachers) do it for many years before I ever did; their careers offered just a glimpse into the unseen sacrifices I would be expected to make as a teacher. I didn't love when the copy count for our classrooms started to be limited; when people who had never seen us teach started questioning how much we chose to copy (and by extension questioning our professional judgement) through an inanimate object. And I didn't love when the standards kept changing and changing and changing and we were forced to spend many long hours of our own time trying to bend and revamp our curriculum in order to push our kids to learn things that seemed to be more developmentally inappropriate by the year. The list could go on and on, but that's not really the point. 

The point is that many, many of my friends are doing their jobs, and doing them extremely well, despite all of these things, and so many more things that lawmakers have never thought about for a second. My friends have taken on more and more every year, and they have done it under the radar, with such little recognition and respect that it still shocks me sometimes, now that I'm on the outside looking in. Were I still part of the public school system, I would walk in a heartbeat, not because I didn't care about my students, but because I absolutely did. Trust me when I say that if your child is being taught by someone who is still sticking it out despite professionally deplorable conditions in many cases, it is ONLY because they love their kids, your kids. It is definitely not about the money. According to the opposition, that's what getting a second job is for...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

My Skin Cancer Story

The phone rang. I saw the number, and I knew I was about to find out whether or not I had skin cancer. I almost didn't answer; after all, I had had the flesh-colored mole checked by my doctor and 2 different dermatology physician assistants over the past three years, each one more sure than the last that it was nothing. But even as I heard the kind voice on the phone telling me that I did, indeed, have basal cell carcinoma, I told myself that it was nothing to worry about, just a quick in-and-out procedure; maybe I'd have to sport a little band-aid for a few days. They gave me the choice as to whether I wanted to receive radiation or to have the spot removed. After a few days of going back and forth, I chose the Mohs surgery because it seemed more final. I just wanted it gone, and I didn't want to commit to 20 sessions of radiation over 6 weeks for something that may not work or something I might have a bad reaction to. I spent some sleepless nights after the surgery was scheduled searching online in hopes of finding anyone with a similar story to mine (same age, same place, etc.), just for some idea of what the end result might look like.

I went in for the Mohs surgery thinking that I was pretty sure as to what to expect during the procedure. Goodness knows I had read enough about it. I knew that it could take hours for them to analyze the margins of the section they took, and that there is often a need for a second or third cut, followed by more waiting each time. I had pictured them taking off a few layers from the top of the mole, testing them, and then shaving down a bit further if needed, until I had maybe a tiny laceration above my upper lip (something like cutting thin layers off of a tree stump). The smell as the doctor cauterized my flesh literally right under my nose was something I will never forget. As far as pain, I felt nothing but pressure. I sat patiently and waited for the doctor to come back with the test results. When he came back and said that he had gotten clear margins after only one pass, I couldn't believe it. I figured it would be a very small little cut, and I wasn't worried at all until he told me that he was going to need to refer me to a plastic surgeon because he didn't feel comfortable handling the level of reconstructive surgery that I required. Apparently, in actuality, after he numbed me, he had dug a perfectly round hole out just above my top lip (think excavator). My heart started pounding, and I was not prepared for what I saw when I finally mustered up the courage to look.

When I saw the picture Erik took of the hole in my face, I started to cry. We had just seen Wonder Woman, and I envisioned myself looking like Dr. Maru when it was all said and done. Unfortunately, this image stayed in my head for quite some time.

When we met the plastic surgeon (who is younger than I am) just an hour or so later, he immediately set to work explaining how he would fix things and move things and skin flaps and asymmetry and honestly, it was over my spinning head. I just told him I trusted him and would see him soon. He covered the hole in my face back up and sent me on my way until the following day when I could see him for the surgery. I didn't know what he could possibly do that would fix something like that, but I went in bravely, ready to be sewed up. The surgery was more intense than the Mohs surgery. He let me pick the OR music and I laid on a steel table while they numbed me up and covered my face with a paper sheet. I was awake through the whole thing, and again, that smell of burning flesh threatened to make me sick right there in the OR. I asked the doctor at one point why my lip was twitching so badly, wondering if he had struck a nerve or something. He assured me that it was just his assistant putting cotton swabs into the hole while he was stitching up the muscle. It was a weird feeling. Then they moved to the outside stitches, and I began to relax. He was calming, confident, and funny, and I knew I was in good hands.

When it was over, he told me he would see me a few times over the next two months, and then I would switch to seeing him every three months. The initial recovery was not quite as easy as I had thought it would be. The surgeon told me that I had to stay in bed for a full week, and that I could only get up for absolute necessities; that may have been the hardest part. I couldn't even give Addison a hug in case she were to accidentally hit the stitches; I felt like a terrible mom. To make matters worse, I could not even open my mouth to eat, and I was not allowed to use a straw at all. My lips were so swollen, I looked like the victim of a botched lip augmentation. We had quite a time figuring out how to get me nourishment with me not being able to move my lips. FYI, eating a smoothie with a baby spoon takes HOURS. I had to have everything I ate completely blended, and I was so thankful during that time to have some wonderful moms from the school bring me amazing soups. I went through a lot of towels too, because when you can't close your lips, things tend to dribble right back out. I really could not talk at all (it turns out that having your lips touch is important to making coherent sounds) and if I was even tempted to laugh, the pain of stretching the stitches stopped me quickly. Once the surgeon took the stitches out though, it was a fairly easy recovery. I experienced lots of stabbing pains and uncomfortable twitching as the nerves regenerated, but it was bearable. . Once I was released to the outside world, I was religious in putting on my scar cream and keeping my scar out of the sun, and that allowed me to regain mobility and heal faster than my doctor expected. In fact, at my last checkup, he asked me if I even wanted to discuss the idea of having laser resurfacing, and when I told him no, he didn't bat an eye.

I have included some pictures below to show the initial "hole" and then the recovery, as this is the thing I could not find much about (except for the worst case scenarios) on my many late nights of searching and wondering. Will it come back? Will I still look like myself? Will this scar be the very first thing people notice about me from now on? In six more months, when my scar is no longer under doctor care, I am sure I will be even happier with the results, but right now, in this moment, I can say I rarely remember that I have it or worry what people are thinking about it. In fact, I tried to take a picture of it many different times in many different lights to show my six month picture, and although it is still visible in the mirror, it hardly shows up in pictures, if at all. I am still worried about the fact that I am likely to have more skin cancer in the future, but all I can do now is stay out of the sun and be vigilant with sunscreen. The damage has already been done. I can count on both hands the number of times I have visited a tanning salon, but I did receive many bad sunburns when I was a kid/teen, and with my fair skin and family history, it seems that me getting skin cancer was just a matter of time.

A word of advice: If you have a spot that you are even the least bit suspicious of, please go get it checked BY AN ACTUAL DERMATOLOGIST. It's what they're trained in and what they do. Get a referral if necessary. Do not just blindly trust your primary care doctor or settle for a PA. If I had trusted myself and ignored their "It's nothing!" assurances over the years, chances are it would have been a quick freeze for a precancerous growth. Instead it had time to take root and grow over a long span of time. Listen to yourself and go with your gut. Demand that they test the spot if they don't offer. You are your own best advocate. I wish it hadn't taken me so long to become mine!

The hole in my face...deep and round enough to swallow a dime.
The dots around it indicate how much bigger it could have been had the margins not been clear.

Stitches before the swelling set in

People actually pay for their lips to look like this?!

A month makeup on it. I was already having trouble getting the scar to show up well in pictures.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Give Me Five!

My Favorite,

I am so, so proud of you, my darling daughter. Today, on your fifth birthday, as my heart overflows with love and joy, I wanted to share my thoughts.. 

Just a few short weeks ago, you made the most important decision you will ever make, and that is to ask Jesus into your heart. At first I thought you were too young to understand, but then as we talked more and more, I realized that you were indeed ready, and you grasped what it meant to start the most important relationship of your young life. I have never felt such peace as I did in that moment, knowing that one day, no matter what happens here on earth, we will be reunited in heaven. I can admit that even today I still cannot fully comprehend the amazing grace and sacrifice of Jesus, but that first moment of surrender to Him is but a beautiful starting point of a lifelong journey. 

Although everything else that has happened this past year pales in comparison to that decision, you have done some incredible things as a 4 year old. This year, I gave you a reading placement test with our school's new reading program. I knew you were reading, and reading well, but I was shocked to see that you tested at a 3.5 grade level. I am simply amazed by your intellect. Your daddy and I have always known that you were incredibly bright, but to see your performance at school this year, I am so proud. You are also quick to smile and laugh, you tell hilarious stories, you still sing praise songs at the top of your lungs, and all of it is beautiful music to my ears. Your quick-witted answers keep us laughing constantly, and your compassionate heart often melts mine. You know who you are, my child. You have never been one to follow the crowd, and I see evidence that you never will be. Even more important than that, you are always confident in your choice to stand out in the ways that matter. You teach me things every day, and even at your young age, you cannot imagine how often those teachings point me to Jesus. 

Your daddy and I love to speculate on your future career each year, as I know that someday it will be so fun for you to look back on our musings. I still see your love of animals, and you still love to pretend to be a vet, but if I had to pin down a prediction this year, I would say you are going to be a teacher. You have the sweetest spirit when helping younger kiddos, and you love to help me grade and organize things in my room. However, earlier this year, when I asked you what you thought God might want you to be when you grew up, you exasperatedly said, "Just a grown up!" It reminded me that even though I have so many hopes and dreams for you, right now you are still simply my little girl. And I have never been more grateful.

All my love,


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

So "Four"tunate...

My Sweet Girl,

It has been a month since your birthday; I am a little behind this year! I absolutely cannot believe that you are four! It seems impossible, but when I see your hair growing longer by the day and your jeans growing shorter by the week, I cannot deny that you are, indeed, growing up!

This past year we have made a lot of fun memories! We got to see you ride your first roller coaster, write your full name, start "school," really begin to enjoy swimming, and make your first (human) best friend. Your love of cats has waned over the past year, but now your love of dogs rivals my own, much to my relief!

There are so, so many things I admire about you. You are yourself. You dance when there is no music, you sing at the top of your lungs without knowing the words, and you say whatever is on your mind. You are funny! Oh, how your quick wit and quirky sense of humor can make us laugh, even on our grouchiest days!! You are so generous. When I presented you with our "Operation Christmas Child" shoebox, you were so excited to pick out all the things our little boy might want. You never once asked if you could have something for yourself, but continued adding more and more things to our stash for him!  You are honest. If you do something wrong, you immediately own up to it, unflinchingly. You rarely need more than a reminder or a look to do the right thing, and your teachers at school say you are kind, considerate, and so smart.

Your intelligence still astounds us! You have been reading up a storm all year, and I love hearing you sound out unfamiliar words as you plow through new books. Recently, when I brought home a puzzle game intended for my students, you surprised even yourself by mastering it immediately! Your spatial reasoning is already better than my own. (You get that from your dad). You have the memory of an elephant. If you say something happened, we can be sure that it will be correct, usually down to the last detail, and we often count on you to find things, because you always know right where they are!

Things weren't all butterflies and sunshine this past year, though. Daddy and I often found ourselves looking at each other and mouthing the word "threenager" when you would have one of your sassier moments. Sometimes those moments were nothing short of exasperating, but mostly, they were a glimpse into a future that is rapidly approaching, a future I am not ready for. As the next year sees you starting Pre-K and (hopefully) taking our first family vacation, I know that I will often find myself holding my breath, hoping to stop time and keep you small for just a little longer.

Oh, how I love you my child. And no matter how time speeds on, or how tall you grow, that is something that will never change.

Yours "four"ever,


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Tribute to Koda...

It's been exactly a year since you've been gone, Old Girl. But today, it feels like we lost you only yesterday. I wish the last day of your life wasn't a memory. It was one of the worst days of my life. I will never forget your big brown eyes looking into mine, begging me to do something to take the pain away. As we sat on the floor with you and gave you our last goodbyes, I literally felt like my heart was breaking in two. Thankfully, that was only a day in your ten years. And in those ten years, I have more memories of you than I could ever detail, and that one day cannot overshadow them. Here are the ones on my heart tonight:

I remember the night we met you. You were a silly, clumsy puppy, but already so smart. We ran inside to grab some food at Braum's and left you in the car with the motor running. The next thing we knew, you were hanging out the window about to jump to freedom, having opened it by standing on the switch. Erik ran out and kept you in Jeep Jail, much to your dismay. I still smile thinking about your goofy, happy face, tasting freedom for a few moments.
Our first night with Koda.

One of our all-time favorite Koda pics.

I remember the many, many tricks we taught you. You amazed everyone with how you would get a Kleenex when I would sneeze, how you could turn lights off  and on, and how you would obey every command with merely a hand signal. I remember one year when we were showing off your Kleenex trick at my birthday party, and you got a little overzealous. You started pulling tissue paper out of all of the sacks and you were just so pleased with yourself! You had a knack for making people laugh.

Koda loved to "laugh." (These pictures were taken years apart).

I remember how you used to lay in the doorway every single morning as I was getting ready for work. You would roll the ball to me with your nose, and wait for me to roll it back. It was one of my favorite games to play with you, our private ritual. But on the mornings that I was running late, I would refuse to play along and ignore you altogether. Oh, how I wish I could have a few of those mornings back!
Our house on River Birch
New house, same routine...

I remember the night you got stung by something. Maybe several somethings. Your nose was swollen and misshapen and your breathing was heavy, and I stayed up all night with you, barely daring to blink. I rested my head on you and lay on the floor with you the entire night. The morning couldn't have come fast enough. It was my first taste of how it might feel to be a mom.

I remember the darkest of days, when I would sit on the floor and cry, or stay in bed recovering from yet another procedure. You would lick my tears away, never intruding, just there. My healing shadow. There were days you never left my side, wouldn't even go outside for a potty break. You knew I needed you, and I can't imagine getting through some of the hardest days without you.

I remember you with Addison. You were only a part of her life for a brief time, but you were her best friend. She still prays for you every single night, without fail. Seeing her rest her head on your belly and read to you would always bring me such pride in both of you. Your kind, patient temperament was such a marvel to anyone who didn't know you. Those of us who did, well, I'm sorry to say that we often took it for granted.

You were such a beautiful dog. You were a conversation piece everywhere we took you. From the ever-popular "I didn't know they came in black," to the curious, "What kind of dog is that?!" we responded to questions and comments about you left and right. I always thought that one day, that gift could translate into you becoming a therapy dog, but you just had such a puppy-like spirit, even at the age of ten, that it seemed a shame to try and rein in that exuberance.
Koda loved her daddy.

We grew up together, you and I. You saw me go from a silly, adult(ish) woman, to a nervous, but overjoyed, mom. I'm so glad you got to see that transformation. I know the sadness of our hearts had to affect you, as you were such a sensitive dog, and I'm relieved to know that in your final years, you lived in a house of contentment and peace (definitely not quiet, but peace nonetheless). You brought us so much joy, love, and companionship over the years, Old Girl, and I can only pray that we gave you even half of that in return.

I brought you home,
A ball of fluff.
You licked my face
I was enough.

My tiny shadow
Grew big and tall.
You had three loves:
Mom, Dad and ball.

We saw the light
In your dark eyes.
Your happy spirit
Shone through gray skies.

When Addison came
You took her in.
Soon enough you
Were such close friends.

That bleak day came
Caught by surprise.
We saw that look
In your kind eyes.

It broke our hearts
To say goodbye.
For days I couldn't
Help but cry.

I pray someday
We'll meet again
A gal's best friend.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

It has been many months since I have blogged. I remember finding it so easy to write when I was in the midst of pain or anxiety, but I find it much harder now, when I feel like my days are (thankfully) more mundane. Today, I was reminded that it is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, thanks to post after post on Facebook. It seems fitting then, that tonight, I write.

My last loss was in April of 2011. I remember it vividly because I spent my 30th birthday not out celebrating, but recovering in bed from yet another D&C. When I was going through my 5 losses, I only knew one person that had suffered a miscarriage. Now, I know too many to count. Back then, I had never heard the term "rainbow baby." Now, it is a universal phrase of hope. I pray that it is because we are finally understanding that miscarriage is not something to be ashamed of. Not something to blame ourselves for. Not another reason to look in the mirror and feel like we aren't enough, don't have enough. Maybe it is finally becoming okay to talk about your loss, to feel it, to grieve it, to share that grief with others.

I know from experience that grief is so very complex. Completely universal, yet incredibly personal. Here are just a few things I wish I had known years ago:

Grief does not, and will not, look like someone else's. I know some were incredulous that I did not plant trees, buy necklaces, or really do anything tangible to remember my babies. But I didn't, and now I don't feel the need to. They are in my heart, and that is really all I need. Don't feel guilty because you aren't grieving like others think you should.

It's okay to ask for help. I certainly did. I knew I wasn't dealing with a lot of things during those dark years. Our marriage was in shambles, my grief was eating me from the inside out, and to everyone else I still looked like I had it all figured out. We did not escape unscathed, but we were able to persevere and grow with the help of an amazing counselor. There is NO shame in admitting you cannot navigate it alone.

You don't have to keep it together for anyone. You will make people uncomfortable. It is not your job to worry about that. Yes, talking to someone about death is hard, but experiencing that loss without support is even harder. Good friends will listen, give you grace, and not expect anything in return. You need to take care of only you, for at least a little while.

Try not to stress the excitement out of your next pregnancy. Sometimes I wonder how much my story has colored the lives of those around me. I know of only one woman personally that has suffered more than one miscarriage, and yet I have tried my best to reassure so many who are terrified of that very thing. I am a fraction of 1% of the population. Please learn from my mistakes. I thought during each pregnancy that if I just prepared myself enough, detached myself enough, that I wouldn't feel it if or when I said goodbye to a once-beating heart. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't do so many things for Addison's pregnancy; now her baby book sits unfinished in a drawer, a testament to my worry that a loss would happen again. I let my fears leach away what should have been hers.

Grief does diminish over time, but it is still there, may always be there, lying dormant, waiting. Facebook posts, a friend's loss, a certain time of year...grief will return. It may not be as strong as it once was, but you are allowed to feel it. And you should. It is a part of the healing. And although I'm not sure if anyone ever finds total healing, I feel like you can get pretty darn close. For us, it came through God in November of 2012 in the way of Addison's big blue eyes, bright red lips, and squishy pink cheeks...a rainbow baby if there ever was one.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Longest Goodbye

Dear Lakehoma Family,

I can remember the first day I walked into Lakehoma as a teacher like it was yesterday. My nerves had my stomach in knots and my heart started to pound the moment I unlocked my door and stared at my unoccupied classroom, envisioning it full of excited students, all relying on me to teach them. Yesterday, as I locked my classroom for the last time, my stomach was in knots just the same, but my heart pounded, then broke into pieces on the tile floor as I imagined someone else standing where I have for the last 9 years. I have endured (and also chosen) a lot of hard things over the years. This ranks right up there as one of the most difficult.

Today, as I reflected on all of my teammates who have stuck by my side, I was reminded of how very, very blessed I have been through these last 9 years. I have made some incredible friends, taught some amazing students, and made countless memories. I would have never believed in myself enough to take this next step were it not for some very, very extra-special coworkers.

To Paula: Thank you. You have been my mentor, friend, safe place, and reinforcement. I could not have survived some years without you. I owe so much to you, for without you, I would have been in the loony bin long ago. I have learned so many things from you, and I love you very much. You are, without a doubt, the most dedicated person I have ever known.

To Miranda: I love you My Friend. You have done hard things. You have listened. You have acted when no one else would. You have been there when lots of others were not. You are selfless and you have taught me a lot about being a better person. I will miss you every single day.

To Cindy & Liz: You two are a force. You make things happen, and you make it look easy. I admire and respect you both, and you have been a sounding board over the years for many, many things. You've talked me off of ledges, and pushed me off of others. I will miss you both so much. Thank you.

To Sheri: Your quiet grace and understanding are beautiful. You are calm and collected when most would not be, and you see so much good in the world. You were a raft on an ocean on the bad days, and I love that about you. You will be missed.

To Karis: I'm so glad you joined our team 2 years ago. You are so much fun and provided some much-needed comic relief. I loved being your partner this year and I'm certain that many more kids will be touched by your math wizardry as the years go by. Thanks for listening this year!!!

To Vicki: Even though you left 2 years ago, that hole was never filled. You were my partner-in-crime, my work mom, and my favorite. I still miss you, and I've often found myself wishing I could open that closet door to tell you some random something. Love you!

To Jenny: Thank you for helping me get my foot in the door, for directing me as I tried to navigate my first years, and for taking a step back when I needed to find my own way. You will always be loved, my "other mother."

To Shawna: It is rare to have a boss you love. You are an encourager, a friend, and a wonderful principal. The fact that your door is always open is rare, and your willingness to help is always appreciated. We grew up together, teacher and principal, and I'd like to think that even as we move apart in proximity, we will stay close as friends.

To Anita and Jill: You two are too much fun! You've known me forever, and you've loved me like your own. I could not have done my job each day without you both. You are equally loved.

It seems fitting to end there, with the first and last people I saw on a daily basis. I could go on and on, but I won't. 

I've watched people wordlessly come and go over the years, and it always seemed too abrupt. You don't leave a place like Lakehoma unchanged. You all deserve the love and appreciation you've earned to be put out into the world, to be spoken and heard. And so it has been...