It’s Been

One week since my child began high school.  I’ve adopted something of an air accomplishment, my freshman having gotten to school five days and home four to date.  I realized this is not an accomplishment, and even less so my accomplishment, but hey!  He made it, and so have I–our butts are draggin’ to be sure, but it’s Friday.  One week of high school under his belt, one more week of Fiscal Year 2019 under mine; one week of morning routines upended topsy-turvy; one week spent ratcheting back my alarm earlier each day to get him (us) to the city transit bus stop by 6:53 in the AM.

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I’m super time anxious, as most of you know.  I’m that nettlesome “I’m late if I’m ten minutes early” person.  My son does not share this same anxiety, afforded is he the special egocentrism through which teenagers float.  He does exhibit his own variation of time-related angst however.  His discomfort peeks out from the clouds when I frantically announce deadlines such as, YOU HAVE TO BE AT THE BUS STOP IN FOUR MINUTES AND YOU DON’T HAVE SHOES ON YET, or organization-related elements like, YOU HAVE GOT TO PACK THAT SHIT UP THE NIGHT BEFORE, SON! (and yeah, those are direct quotes).  My heart rate has hovered around 100 for much too much time this week.  It is no inverse relationship between my heart rate and my having to be or get someone somewhere on time, get someone somewhere early.

My son remarked that my morning stress levels are probably related to his new school routines.  He noticed (even he couldn’t not notice), and I felt terrible.  I wrote him this letter yesterday to explain, to try to anyway–

My Baby Who Is Not My Baby Anymore,

I am excited for you and proud of you for having stepped up and taken charge of a whole new high school world.  It’s one thing to have prepared for it–applying, touring, testing, purchasing supplies, even taking the bus for the practice run, but it’s another to be doing it in real life.

Any stress or weird behavior from me is MY responsibility; it’s all on me.  Of course I worry about you, and want things to go well for you.  I want you not to struggle, so I want things to go smoothly.  But my anxiety and my stress aren’t because of you being in high school.  I’m just wired differently than a lot of people.  Trying to work out timing of anything causes me to overthink and become unduly nervous.  When I get nervous and feel frustrated, I tend to swear or have those little fits.  I need to work on that, but it is important to me that you know it’s not because of you.

Your job is to focus on your studies, Kid.  You’re going to work more and harder than ever before.  Take it all in.  Try to see how you fit in to the world around you.  Look around and make connections between the world and your classroom learning.  Never settle.  Never.  Ever.  Always shoot for the “A.”  You will settle for a “B” from time to time, but I want you to think in terms of A, advanced.  IB (International Baccalaureate) will help you learn for life.  Great things don’t happen when your highest aim is to be proficient.  Every day of high school prepares you for what is to come in college and in life.  Be great, not just good enough.

Hard work and thoughtful attention to your studies and the people around you will make you a good student, and more importantly, a good person, a good friend.  No matter what you do, never settle for less than your best.  Even when it’s hard or it’s a subject you dislike, do your best.

Your grandparents always told me that if I gave anything my best effort, did all that I could, that’s all they’d ever ask of me.  And now I am telling you that same thing.  It’s good advice, son.

Congratulations on making it through week one of high school.  Can’t wait to see what you’re going to accomplish.

Love, Mom

Despite having places to be each night after work and school this week, I made a point to attend yoga last night.  I’m pleased to report that for the first time since re-re-starting, I didn’t wake up achy and stiff today.  Progress, that’s what we call that.  Before class, I attended the funereal visitation of a man whose son played baseball with mine three and four seasons ago.  I didn’t know him well, but his wife and I remained Facebook friends and continue to share inappropriate, sassy and snarky memes and baseball mom messages from time to time.  He lost his life at age 35, and all I can think about is how much he will miss.  Such an early passing is tragic, every passing is painful, but to be gone from your children so early is unthinkable.  My heart aches for his wife and three children.

My son read and saved my letter.  He may have even hugged me (but don’t tell anyone, OK?), and relief washed over me like a cleansing rain.  During last night’s final pose, shavasana (savasana?), lying on my back in a tightly cramped yoga studio, I shed tears.  I couldn’t help myself.  Though my body was present, my mind raced, reflecting on loss, love, connections, missed connections, growth, and how there is never enough time.  The tears refused to stop until I sat upright, but my heart knew peace.  I know that reads totally cheeseball, but my heart felt good.  I bowed and uttered namaste for the first time with not even a hint of fraud, sass, or irony.

Keep trying.  Do your best.  Admit when you’re wrong.  Apologize when a situation demands it.  Be good.  Do good.  All of this.

Grade 9

It was all I could do not to title this, “This is me in Grade 9,” a lyric any even casual Barenaked Ladies fan would sing, rather than read, aloud.  But this is serious, people, maybe even Serious with a capital S: My son starts high school tomorrow.

He’d clobber me if I divulged his super secret identity–that’s mine, the tall sloucher on the right with two buddies he’s known since K4 and K5.

Is he ready?  In the technical sense, sure.  His new backpack is loaded with all the correct supplies direct from the prescribed list; we scored the insanely pricey graphing calculator at an insanely reasonable price; he received his eighth grade completion gift today, his new laptop; Friday morning, he and I completed a dry-run of his bus route together–his school doesn’t run yellow school buses, no.  He gets a County Transit bus pass and will hop mass transit, transfering about 25 blocks from here due south to high school; my husband is assembling his new IKEA desk as I type.  In every technical sense of the word “ready,” my boy is.

But he’s nervous.  Weren’t you before your first day of freshman year?  Were your parents dying the thousand deaths I am today?  Did you sleep even a wink??

Me, ACTUALLY in grade nine.  Yeesh.

En route to my last (better be my last?!!) stop to gather the boys’ last minute school supplies, I listened to the song Grateful, my summer jam by Better Than Ezra, and cried.  Like tears ran down my cheeks cried, thank you very much Kevin Griffin, Tom Drummond, and Michael Jerome.  Non sequitir:  You know how my dedication to my concentrated hobby has landed me in my superfan group, the Ladies Ladies?  Ultra-mega-mega fans of Better Than Ezra call themselves the Ezralites, a name that tickles me a whole lot–it’s awesome.  Anyway, Grateful.  It’s a nearly perfect song, just not long enough really.  Long enough to elicit tears it seems, but I always listen to it twice in a row because I wish it was longer.  Anyway,  after snapping up two college ruled composition notebooks, I became paralyzed with terror, right there in the checkout line: Who will he sit by at lunch tomorrow?

Will kids be nice?  What if they’re assholes?  What if he unknowingly plops down at the cool kids table and he’s treated the way kids are ostracized on television?  What if there’s room for eight kids and he’s ninth in line?  What if the reality of his school cafeteria is the scene out of every 80s movie, or worse?  What if he drops his carton of milk or can’t open his water bottle?  What if it really is more like the high school depicted in Thirteen Reasons Why?  Laugh if you must, but this is the kind of shit that steals my sleep.  I experienced a similar terror the first day he took hot lunch in four-year-old kindergarten.  Anxiety is not Johnny-come-lately to me.

I am inert, so I busy myself with mundane tasks around the house, and I’m not doing those well or with attention either for that matter.  I have failed to locate a very important work binder brought home specifically this summer with the intent it stay “safe,” that it not get lost at my office over the summer.  Yeah.  Super.  It’s my first student day as a speech-language pathologist (year 28, yo!) tomorrow too, and I’m what you might call distracted.  Sorry other students, my own kid is top priority today and tomorrow.

It’s OK though, right? I didn’t get to this ripe, old age without surviving freshman year, and neither did you.  He’s nervous, did ya hear?  He’s nervous, but his mother puts on one hell of a game face.  I tell him it’s OK to be nervous, a little nerves are expected, appropriate even, that it’d be weird were he not a touch butterflies-in-tummy.  We’ve discussed his 504 plan, about which his new school’s 504 coordinators have already contacted me, so he’s on the radar.  I’ve assured him that he won’t receive detention for being late to class, that he’s got a contingency if his fingers choose not to cooperate.  He doesn’t have physical education first semester, and I’m working on some alternatives for next semester in that regard, so thank STARS for that!

He thinks he’s nervous?  Jaysus, the boy’s got nothing on his mother.  He doesn’t catch me tearing up because I’m the mom, and mom’s gotta keep that shit together.  He doesn’t see that my Fitbit reads about 102 all the time (which, for what it’s worth, is not a sustainable heart rate for daily living–it’s exercise simply being me, ofttimes).  He doesn’t see this stupid blog and read how nervous I am.

But he also doesn’t know how excited I am for him too. It’s a whole new world, high school.

He, and every other kid matriculating tomorrow, gets a clean slate.  He gets to be the same kid he’s always been, or he gets to reinvent himself.  HE gets to pick.  What a gift and adventure on which he’s about to toddle those shaky first steps.

My fingers are crossed and I also kinda want to puke, but as the song says–

I’m gonna be grateful every day

Make a little wave and we’ll ride it

I’m gonna keep shakin’ off the shade

Make a little ray and then shine it, shine it, shine it on.

Shine on, my baby.  Oh, how I love you, and how grateful I am for the opportunities awaiting you.  Got a million things to do, what’s the point in trying, trying?  Keep trying anyway.  Go get ’em, Class of 2022!

#47

Before I left for work this morning, I posted errantly on Facebook, “celebrating” my forty-sixth first day of school.  Today was, in fact, my forty-seventh.  Poor Mrs. Goldberg, my kindergarten teacher!  I left her caught in the cobwebs of my aging memory.  How could I forget my first-ever school experience?  Kindergarten–one-half day of nickel pints of milk, graham crackers for snack, and PASTE! Man, I loved how paste smelled and felt (no, not tasted!)–laid the educational foundation for all the learning that followed.

One year of kindergarten, plus grades 1-8, high school, college, graduate school, and now, twenty-eight years into my career as a school speech-language pathologist equals forty-seven.  I began five-year-old kindergarten when I was four years old, FYI, lest you tack another birthday candle on my cake.

In that incorrect post, I remarked that the first day of school was cooler when I got a new pair of shoes and a bunch of new clothes to mark such a momentous occasion.  And OK, mock me, go ahead, I loooooooved school supplies.  Still do.  I looked forward to the first day of school with gleeful anticipation every year.

Now?  I would like to sleep just a short while longer each morning.  I only cried once on my first day of school, after hitting my head on my desk.  I am certain that individuals employed by Google or IBM don’t have to sit on the filthy floor below their desks, struggling to shift fully loaded file cabinets in order to plug in their computers, but I do, and I bonked my head on the way up. I dropped the first of many, many, many workplace profanities for Fiscal Year 19.  Starting strong, yo.  My mouth that is, not my head.

I don’t have much new to say, friends.  My dog is sick again, I’m home for good from my (for me) long stretch of travel, I’ve read a number of books, though nothing life-altering recently, I’m still riding my bike, getting back into yoga, baseball season is over and we await callbacks from tryouts for next season, my big kid gets braces Wednesday, and starts high school in a week.  I’ve hit the end-of-summer blahs like a switch.  Can malaise have a switch?  ‘Cause it feels like malaise would be more like an ooze, you know?

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Apropos of absolutely nothing but blahs and malaise, here’s an extreme close up of my goofnut dog’s snout during the height (or maybe the abyss?) of yet another round of “I have a weak stomach.”

I did want to share a non-blah blast from my big kid’s College For Kids Young Writer’s Academy a few weeks back.  I’m not a poetry gal.  Never was.  But I discovered a new genre at parents’ day.  It’s not something I’m likely to pursue (because, poetry), but it’s a neat little conceit: found poetry.  Ya see, whatcha do here to create a found poem is take an existing piece of literature or news article, select snippets containing powerful words, and lay them down.  You can leave the found poem as is, or use it as a basis from which to edit.  The instructors provided a variety of texts, including the Shepherd Express, a local weekly not penned with the arch-conservative set its target demographic.

I opened the newspaper randomly, also randomly choosing an article.  Here’s my found, unedited poem (guess what was big news mid-July?)

My children are just broken

My kids distraught

Lessen the number of families being separated

We saw it in slavery

We saw it in internment camps

No religion anywhere

Treated like an animal

People need to come together

Supporting each other

Ta-da!  The best poem I ever/never wrote.

Course instructors again hit us up for a six word memoir, and this year, unlike the my introduction to this kickass exercise, I was pleased to share mine:

Writing tells me how I feel

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Today, writing tells me that I’m a little sad to be back at the 40-hours-per grind.  I feel as though I’m missing some critical pieces in my kids’ lives, like being at work right now means I’m denied some of their secret dreams and hopes.  Writing tells me I’m anxious about my kid getting braces and starting high school in the same week.  It tells me that while I’m taking strides toward better physical health, I must continue to seek outlets for supporting the health of my heart and mind as well.  I’m not sure that a new pair of shoes or a fun new outfit would serve that purpose, but surely they couldn’t hurt, right??

Apparently I’d Be A Good Funeral Director

Monday begins my twenty-seventh year as a speech-language pathologist.  I’m the rare freak in today’s world of work: I’ve had but one employer.  Early in my career, when I was even more broke than I am now, I provided speech therapy per diem under the employ of a handful of rehab agencies.  But for my “actual” job, my full-time gig, my paychecks have been funded by the same entity.  Twenty-seven years and not even a stinkin’ pin for my 25th anniversary.  A “thank you” would’ve been nice, sure, but whatevs, that’s probably not in the budget either.

Labor statistics startle me, and my observations in my own professional department leave me with the only conclusion to be made: Nobody sticks around anymore.  I wasn’t kidding when I labeled myself a freak.  I am.

Until recently, I’d given no consideration to engaging in any other kind of work.  The litany of skills I don’t possess is long, and my experience is narrow.  Plus, I’ve not felt a calling to shift careers.  I’m an excellent mentor for speech-language pathologists (see here if you don’t believe me), but my profession doesn’t support hired guns as mentors.  That gig is rather in-house supported in the various environs SLPs find themselves providing services.  I enjoy speech-language therapy, I do.  But what if I was actually meant to do and be something different?

I vowed to take a career inventory in 2017, and what better time to do that than the eve of back-to-school?  Today is my last alarm clock-free morning and my shoulder injury allows little sleep anyway, so let’s carpe this diem and discover what I might be better suited to do.  I created a fake persona, because really, what better way to enter the second half of my career years than under false pretense?  Nah, I did that just to avoid the spammy emails.  I was also (so far) unwilling to make any financial investment without proper vetting of these sites, so I’m not all-in trusting what I “learned” about myself in 100 online questions.  What I’ve received thus far isn’t a comprehensive list of jobs, but a collection of broad areas of strength, weakness, and attitudes about work.

Based on my response profile, judged to be valid and reliable, I’m supposed to be a writer.  Apparently I’m also well-suited to be a funeral director or involved in food service or the outdoors.  I am realistic, attentive, and investigative (not social?).  Any one of my co-workers can attest to my being realistic and attentive, and I suspect they want to beat me over the head for my workplace pragmatism and my vision of how we fit in our workplace “real world” (and when I say “fit in” I mean how at “our level” we must defer to every layer of higher administration, which kind of means “Shut up, Wendy.” And why am I so overusing the quotation marks and colons today???).  Investigative?  Not so sure about that one, although as an SLP, one often finds herself unraveling the mysteries of a child’s communicative weaknesses and creating a pathway toward competence.  I choose to believe I’m investigative after all.

I’m not a writer.  Nor am I involved in funerary responsibilities, food preparation, or the Parks Service.  Not yet anyway.

Monday I’ll drag my ass out of bed, carry my left arm and shoulder to the shower, and fire it up for my forty-sixth first day of school.  I am good at what I do, and the students and speech paths I support and mentor deserve nothing less.  I can’t help but wonder though, what if I could be good at or even better doing something different?  Those deep thoughts will likely percolate, then emerge here as I inch closer to my birthday–the round one, that really big one looming. . .  This is not a midlife crisis, you guys, unless I live to be one hundred.

But today?  Today we celebrate the end of my summer!  Once they finally drag their tween and teen butts out of bed, my middle schoolers and I are going to enjoy our day under the unseasonably cool, azure, perfect last day of summer vacation sky.

 

My Satellite

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No souls are so brave and hardy as those who take up the charge of educating middle schoolers, especially seventh grade middle schoolers.  Ask any teacher which students are the most smelly, emotionally labile and least logical, and you’ll get seventh graders.  Hands down.  The refrain is a constant:  they’re a tangle of hormones which leads to a series of inexplicable body changes which lead to a series of poor decision-making.  They assert a fierce need to exert independence.  They need you more than ever while at the same time hate needing you, so, and let me say this loudly enough for those of you in the back:  I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP, MOM.  *roll eyes, skulk off, maybe huff petulantly*

In seven days, I will be a mother to a seventh grader.  I haven’t written about my big kid much this summer, since camp anyway.  It’s not that I’m any less worried or engaged in his life than I’ve been at any other time.  I think I’m avoiding reality, and not the I’m getting older because I realize my kid’s getting older reality.  I’ve come to learn and accept that my child has long known he was different.  I’ve written that here before, but there are moments when that truth speaks more clearly than at other times.  Right now?  That truth is screaming in my ear.  He has never been one of social giftedness, and clearly, he’s not gifted with athletics or agility, so he’s found a comfortable spot on the bench orbiting, but not being in the center of the action.  He’s always been just a spin on the outside of the action, always known he’s a satellite.

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My children attend a K-8 school, which means that they more or less have the same classmates from K4 through eighth grade.  I’ve been thrilled that my son has had the same nice group of friends most of his life.  While he’s never been “in there” with the guys with physical play nor with video games, mostly that’s been OK, and he’s been content to watch from the sidelines.  See, the outliers know they’re outliers.  He knew he wasn’t skilled at those things back when we thought he was merely clumsy and/or lazy.  His friends included him, even though he has never been quite in there with them, and I’d always been grateful.  From about first grade on though,  I’d always feared that status would change.  Fortunately that change has been slow in coming, but it’s coming, of that I am sure.  And that shift in the social world of seventh grade?  For my boy, for right now, I fear this more palpably than the fear of his muscular dystrophy gaining on him (possible overstatement, I do that).  I fear for him the social world more than homework, physical declination, and his class trip all wrapped up in one.  But I’m not kidding anyone, myself especially, as everything about this year is wrapped up into one, and each affects the success (or lack thereof) of the other.

Think back:  were you the seventh grade cool kid?  If you were, you know you were.  Were you the nerdy, geeky kid, the one who scored good grades, but hid that from the cool kids because you so badly wanted to be like and liked by them?  You know if you were.  Were you the pariah, the kid who suffered dreadful acne or had but two pairs of pants and maybe, if you were lucky, had two clean shirts?  You know if you were.  Were  you the always a beat behind kid, the one who never got the jokes, but laughed a little too long and loudly anyway?  You know if you were.  With the grace of time, our seventh grade selves forget being whichever outlier we felt we were.  Or do we simply  move forward?  We painfully, awkwardly trudge into adulthood and find ourselves (and for some of us–can’t be just me–the trudge is ongoing, and continues throughout adulthood).  We find our place in the world eventually though, and thrive.  Maybe we just survive, but we don’t remain the exposed hormonal/neuronal mess we are in middle school.  But we also don’t completely forget that time either, do we?  No, we don’t.

One of my son’s friends told him that he finds him annoying.  My child is annoying, I mean, hello?  He’s a seventh grader, so I understand why this friend finds him so, but it hurt both my boy and me.  I’d say mostly him, but the fallout from the exclusion was shared, and no one hurts more than the mom whose child’s heart aches.  Another kid made fun of him for not being able to keep up as they were messing around, kinda running and tearing around.  No one rolls eyes better than a seventh grader SO DONE with another seventh grader (except probably my seventh grader’s mom–it’s a gift/curse that has gotten poker face me into more trouble than I’d like to admit), so when Other Kid sighed at him in annoyance, I heard a tone in my big kid that voiced a lifetime of frustration:  “I HAVE MD, Other Kid’s Name here, GOD!” And then shortly thereafter after he recovered, “Mom, I’m ready to go now.  Can we go?”

Yeah, we can go.  But where do you go?  You still go to school, you still must learn to navigate the social labyrinth that is adolescence, so you can’t hide behind the keyboard the rest of your life, my boy.  You also can’t play the MD card when things get uncomfortable, kid.  It’s real, and it’s not taking a break from wrecking your muscles, so you better play nicely with this jerk disease in the sandbox together. Ugh.  My annoying, sweet, not-so-gifted socially, but decent, honest child.  Where will you go?  I knew this day would come–no parent gets a pass–so why all of the sudden is this stealing my sleep?  I don’t have a moral of the story or anything, but I think, which means I hope, you can be a satellite and still plow right through the middle (school).  I sure hope so.

The bell is ringing–time to get to class!