Vacation!

I am now officially on Spring Break. I left the papers to grade at school, worked a couple of hours after the end of my day to make sure all the email and paperwork was done, and now have a week off!

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I am the only one in my family who does have a week off. My son’s term ends next week, and then he gets two weeks off, and my husband is slammed with work at the moment.

So, here is my conundrum. Do I

Sleep

Read

Knit

Garden

Relax

Pet cats?

Or do I

Launder

Scrub

Declutter

Tidy up

Scour

Organize?

Do I have some fun on my own and ignore the mess? Or does the mess just keep intruding?

I guess I’ll find out when I wake up tomorrow morning!

Bookcase of Memories

My son does not understand why I have shelves and shelves of books that I have not read. I admit, there are a lot. I’m pushing 900 unread books. He immediately reads any books he gets – at the bookstore, in the car, standing in the middle of the driveway with one foot in the air in a stalled step – and he rereads and rereads and rereads. On Christmas morning, if he opens a book package, he stops tearing up presents like a rabid wolverine and sits down and reads. An unread book is a situation to be remedied quickly, not something to accumulate.

And don’t even get him started on the 1100 or so books that I have already read, but keep all the same. He disapproves mightily (and hypocritically, since he rereads everything).

I don’t think that books mean the same thing to me as they do to other people. They are not disposable items to be whipped through, passed on, and forgotten. They are not challenges to conquer or trials to endure. My books are cherished and savored, and that includes letting them proudly shine on my shelves for years, read and unread, shoulder to shoulder, mapping out my life and my memories.

The thing is, I remember where and when I got every book that I own. I remember who I was when I purchased them, and what was happening in the world – my world, and the larger world around me. I remember the book that intrigued me and I guiltily purchased with my “thank you and goodbye” gift money when I quit my time and soul-sucking nanny job in college. I remember the summer that everything seemed to be Japanese – my book choices, art museums, quilting fabric, and so on. I remember which books caught my attention in the Washington, D.C. airport bookstore on a business trip with some admin and teachers from my school, and which plane reading I recommended for my principal, and the book that his wife started on the same plane and then sent to me. I remember which books were discussed at the conference where I was given a teaching award, and which books were gifts from the foundation that presented it. I remember which authors I discovered when I inherited a summer reading list for a 9th grade honors English course, and those which I discovered in graduate school. I remember which book I loaned to a friend, and she moved out of the country and I never saw the book again. I also remember which book she recommended to me as her favorite of all time. I know which book was gifted by my second best friend in high school, who went to the store to buy me a copy and shoved it into my hands the next day because I was not taking her up on her reading recommendation (given only a few days before) fast enough. I remember which book is the first one that I read to my son, and which book was the first one I read to myself when I was tiny. I remember which book caused me to cross a stormy strait on an island ferry while I was on crutches because I could not wait a moment longer to read it.

You get the idea. While others may see books as a means of learning, or escape, or a drudgery forced upon them by annoying teachers, I know they are a part of my life, my memory, and my soul. They are a map to me.

Now, if you will excuse me, I think I will go and read.

Mom, Do You Need A Hug?

Living with a child with ADHD is often a minefield. He’s not old enough to have developed executive functioning skills even without ADHD, so he literally leaves things all over the place, genuinely without the slightest idea that he has put down/dropped/abandoned a thing, let alone in a totally inappropriate place. My son’s ADHD is both inattentive and hyperactive, so he could literally drop an entire bag of marbles on the floor without noticing, walk two feet toward picking them up when you yell at him, forget entirely what he was doing while standing surrounded by spilled marbles, spring into parkour moves, bouncing off the wall, through the door, and knocking you over, and have absolutely no idea what he has done wrong and why he is in trouble by the time he gets to his bedroom where you have just angrily sent him.

It makes life interesting.

After two years cooped up in a small house, with parental injuries and soaring stress and burnout taking a toll on the ability to chase him down and continuously nag him to pick up what he put down down and put it away, it makes life a certifiable nightmare. Our house is a disaster zone of randomly placed objects and tripping hazards.

An excerpt from this evening:

When asked to clear the table for dinner, he looked at it in total shock and demanded to know who had spread a game out all over it. "That was you," I sighed.
"No it wasn't. I put this all away this morning!" rejoined the miscreant.
"You left it all over the table."
"Are you sure? I put it away. I know I did."
"No, you took it all out the 4th time I told you to brush your teeth this morning, and then put the little pieces in the bag when I told you for the 7th time to brush your teeth this morning. You left the rest."
"Oh."

He put most of the game back in the box and set the dinner table around the rest.

Now, after a lovely meal, I'm taking a nice postprandial limp around the house on a knee that is now chronically malfunctioning. I've been teaching pandemic addled 6th graders who are three days from spring break all day, then running errands. I have 198 emails to read and deal with, a three inch high stack of assignments that should have been graded a month ago, and need to do laundry so I can wear clean work clothes tomorrow instead of yoga pants and a t shirt. I am exhausted, and want to write and then watch TV in peace. Instead, I am wandering around, collecting misplaced items, not particularly happily.

"Here's his water bottle and his mask from the sunroom floor," I tell my husband, who is loading the dishwasher. "And here's the bag of crackers that he swore he would not leave on my bike desk as he put them on my bike desk. And the four new Hot Wheels cars that fell off the bike desk when I moved the crackers. Oh, and here is the salt shaker, which was on my actual desk for some reason. And his iPad, which was on the cat post."

As I returned the iPad to his bedroom, where it is used to listen to bedtime music as part of our efforts to keep his overactive brain in a relaxed state long enough to a) fall asleep and b) stay asleep and c) let me sleep, I tripped on his bathrobe, flung across his bedroom doorway and trailing into the hall. 

"Why is your bathrobe in the hall, tripping me? Why are you bouncing on your bed, half in pajamas and half dressed? Why was your iPad on the cat post???"

"You sound like you are having a nervous breakdown."

"I AM having a nervous breakdown!!!!!"

"Mom, do you need a hug?"

"Yes. Yes, I think I do."

Hug given and gratefully received, I reminded him to finish putting on his pajamas, stop bouncing on the bed, brush his teeth, and put on his eczema medicine, and then left the room to write my blog.

Five minutes later (and counting):

"Mom, can I have some extra pillows?"

"Look, I found this vase."

"Come see my room."

"Can I have this blanket that you are sitting under?"

"Can I have a second fitted sheet?"

"I think I've found a way to make a giant pillow."

40 minutes later, and he still has not brushed his teeth.

I think I need another hug.

Homecoming

Darken the city, night is a wire
Steam in the subway, earth is a afire
Do do do do do do do dodo dododo dodo
                               "Hungry Like A Wolf," 1982

On the way home from school, Duran Duran suddenly played on the radio.

“9th grade!” I shouted.

My son just gawped at me until I provided more contextual information.

“9th grade was all about Duran Duran,” I explained.

“It has a good polka beat,” I added, forfeiting any claim to a sensible answer from my son’s perspective. Gawping turned to bug-eyed astonishment, tinged with a shade of disbelief. I had to be messing with him.

No such luck. This was all true.

“Your Auntie Erin and I used to listen to this all the time. When we were visiting our grandparents, your great-grandparents, we could play it loud all over the house because Dad – your Grandpa Rich – wired up speakers so we could crank the record (oh, yeah, this was when there were records) in the bedroom in the back (where we stay when we visit Grandpa Rich and Grandma Pam, do you remember?) and we could hear the music play all over the house.

Sorting through this syntactical nightmare, Miles grasped the one fact that did not seem to imply that his mother had lost all her marbles. “Grandpa wired speakers ALL OVER THE HOUSE?” Not my point at all.

“Yes, yes, it was great.” I pushed past this apparently amazing feat of DIYing to get back to the meat of my story. “When we played this record one day, our Grandpa (your great-grandpa, remember?) suddenly announced that this song had a great polka beat. He yelled for Ginga (your great-grandmother) and called, ‘Virginia, BRING ME MY BONES!’ Those are instruments. Not actual bones. Though he was a doctor, so maybe he did have a skeleton somewhere, but I never saw one. Anyway, you know your stick instruments, the brown ones that we always tell you to be careful with –”

“Yessssssssssss,” he sighed, eye rolls evident in his tone of voice.

“Well, those are your great-grandfather’s ACTUAL BONES. The instrument kind. Ginga brought the bones, and we kept playing Duran Duran really loud, and Grandpa started polkaing all around the kitchen, playing his bones, off tempo, and talking about how great the music was. We were shocked and I thought ‘Why can’t we have normal grandparents like everyone else, grandparents who cackle “Turn that junk DOWN, you whippersnappers!’ but no such luck. Ginga was not as big of a Duran Duran fan, though. She preferred Wham!. Oh well.”

In the sudden silence as the music ended and the DJ began his spiel, my son continued to stare at me, struck dumb by this bizarre recitation.

“I never had normal grandparents, but it is a good memory.”

I’m sure my son was thinking that the weird apple clearly did not fall far from the weird apple tree, but I wonder if there will be good (annoying) (no, good) musical memories that he tells when I am long gone.

Grandpa, I hope you are polkaing your heart out to Duran Duran wherever you are now. Don’t let anyone turn your music down.

A Monday Challenge

Today was really a Monday. Due to the time shift, my son was awake a bit later than he should be and had a very, very hard time waking up this morning. He literally was pulled out of bed by Dad. Dad’s usually already at the office when it is wake up time, and is not all that patient.) Grumpy, groggy and uncooperative, he did not do the required steps in order to earn an extremely limited amount of YouTube time before school, so that sent his routine out of whack. Breakfast was uninspiring. He lightly sprained an ankle on Saturday, so he had to limp a lot. I expected him to brush his teeth and put on shoes and socks. (Moms, amirite?) Then I expected him to put things in his lunch box and find his homework and his reading book. The horror of it all.

On my end, I could not sleep last night because my brain was firmly fixed an hour earlier, and I was nervous about the end of the mask mandate in schools and what would happen today. I was groggy this morning. It was raining. My knee was alternating between throbbing and crunching and grinding and popping in and out of the socket. My husband reported that the center lane of the freeway was closed. I have one more week until spring break and am so burned out that I am not sure that I care. Worse still, I didn’t have time to finish my tea, so I had a mug of “drink now” tea and a mug of “drink at school tea.” Balancing these with all my normal Monday gear, I opened the front door and watched one tea cup topple through the door and pour down the front steps, splashing me and my son, mostly my son, with hot tea.

By the time we got to the car, I was forcing cheerfulness, and Miles was oozing displeasure, anger, and misery with the black hole force only generated by tweens and teens. I tried to engage him in conversation. If I could coax him to speak at all (not easy when navigating a freeway with a closed center lane), I only got statements about how Monday was going to be terrible, and, in fact, the whole week was going to be terrible, just look how it had started. He was spiraling ever deeper. I said he had to try to be a bit more optimistic; he grunted that his optimistic bone was broken. At least I think that is what he said. All the mumbling made it a bit unclear.

I finally got fed up and told him that I was issuing a challenge. If he wanted to have any Xbox/iPad playing time today, he was going to have to find three things about school today that were good, and he was going to have to tell them to me after school. And none of this “lunch and recess were good nonsense.” I wanted to hear specifics about what exactly was good. Furthermore, since my morning did not go well and I was also having a hard time focusing on the potential good of today, I was going to do the same thing. I dropped him off at school, sighed as the sheer malevolent force of tween angst drifted away from the car, and went to work.

When I picked him up after school, he volunteered that he had rolled his sore ankle a few more times today in P.E., so it really hurt, but it was a mostly good day. I did not ask him about our deal. He said that he had thought good parts all day so he would know when they happened. He told me about the specific fun things that happened with his friends during recess, and how he designed three more paper machine objects that he has been working on, and even started making a list of all the cool things that they could do so he can have a catalog for his creations. He talked about friendship and we listened to music instead of him insisting that this was the worst day ever in the history of the universe and it was only going to get worse. In return, I told him some of the positives of my day. The majority of teachers and about half of the kids still wore masks. No one was rude about it or needling kids because they did or did not wear a mask. I could still identify the kids without masks, although they looked much different. I had two students in particular who were upsetting me intensely last week, and he asked about them. I talked about the improvements in their behavior today. I mentioned the flowering trees and the sea of daffodils I passed near his school. I was having trouble thinking of a third thing, so I really focused in on the students who were doing what they should instead of the ones who were not, and realized that I saw lots of good work in their book analysis projects so far. I saw clever memes linked to their stories and clear and detailed Venn diagrams comparing and contrasting their characters. I saw students who thought they were finished being receptive to constructive criticism and willing to revise to make their work better. I saw progress across the board from where they were in the pre-assessment. There was really some progress and a lot of hard work happening in my classroom.

We were both happy when we came home. Sure, his ankle and my knee still hurt, and it still wasn’t spring break. I reminded him that he is allowed to feel frustrated and angry and sad, but he should not let it color everything around him. He had some ice cream. We played with the cats. He made me a cup of tea. Everything turned out okay. We changed our perspectives.

Back to…normal?

My last in person, inside event was March 8, 2020. My son went to his best friends birthday party (laser tag!) and I went to the local yarn shops’ annual yarn crawl. The day before, the boys had been to their monthly outdoor camp. The previous weekend had included a birthday party trip to the Monster Truck show with a school friend, and the one before had been the annual LEGO show. In between, my husband had had a cold for a few days, and so had I. My son, with the busiest schedule, had missed three days of school that week. It was normal life, with grown-up concern about what might happen with this virus, but no change in any of our activities. Outdoor School was starting for my 6th grade students the next day, and everyone was excited.

About a third of the 6th graders did not show up for Outdoor School, and the state cancelled all field trips and overnight programs midweek, so they were all hustled back abruptly in the middle of their trip. Schools and everything else shut down a week later, and I stayed inside. Despite being the first in my little family to be vaccinated (since I’m a teacher), I also ended up being the one with the least exposure to the outside world. I have asthma and catch everything that goes around and taught from home from April 2020-mid-April 2021. My husband had to go out sometimes to meet with his architecture clients anyway, so he also took on all the grocery shopping to keep the risk confined to one person. After vaccination, I went immediately into hybrid teaching while still recovering from pneumonia, so I did not get to ease back into real life at my own pace and on m,y own terms, and decided that my exposure through students was enough for the moment. I relaxed enough in June to take my mask off at our outdoor neighborhood block party. I took my son to the zoo. We went to the beach for the day. But then within weeks, we were hit with delta. Then fully in person back to school. Then omicron. Between an insane work load, health concerns, and an increasingly deteriorating knee joint, I have not even spent my normal amount of time doing outdoor activities. No hiking, no walks in the neighborhood – not even my normal gardening. Toss in some introversion, a healthy dose of social anxiety, and indoor hobbies (I can read and knit inside the house just fine, thank you very much), and it was beginning to feel like I would never leave the house again.

Finally, though, cases started dropping and things started opening up more and more. An event that my family really enjoys, the LEGO Bricks Cascade public show, was scheduled to return for the first time since late February 2020. Everyone would be required to be masked, and vaccination cards or negative PCR tests from the last 72 hours would be checked at the door. That finally felt safe enough to try. We made plans. We invited our son’s best friend, whom he had not seen in person for the last year, and not seen inside since that fateful “before” weekend in March. This seemed like progress.

A funny thing happened amongst all the plans. The state decided to end the mask mandate on March 31. On March 19. On March 12. Ultimately, the pandemic phase of the pandemic was declared over on March 10, and all mandatory restrictions of any kind were ended yesterday. Private businesses could make their own decisions, but the mandates were gone. At this point, like most people, we have no idea what is safe and what is not safe behavior. We can no longer make risk calculations, because we do not really understand the risks, or how they might compare to anything else. If I am vaccinated and masked, am I more or less likely to get sick than I am likely to be hit by lightning? Be in a plane crash? Win the lottery? Catch the bubonic plague? I have no idea.

We decided to stick it out and go out anyway. The kids had been vaccinated; the grown-ups had been vaccinated and boosted, and we agreed that we would all wear masks. If not now, we were running the real risk that one of us (me) might never go to an indoor public event ever again.

It was not as scary as I thought it would be. At least 80% of the people were masked, and everyone was friendly. No one got any grief for wearing or not wearing a mask. LEGO people are always polite and friendly and today was no different. We saw some amazing builds and clever ideas, the kids got to renew a lifelong friendship which had lately been getting strained by limited and virtual only contact, and I was allowed to spend way too much money buying weird little military LEGO things for my 11 year old. Then we went back to our house and he and his friend got to play inside for the first time in two years. I got to hear kids playing in the house again.

Of course, this also involved hearing conversational fragments like, “I have a glow in the dark assault rifle,” and “These LEGO guys have cheated at war, so now they are being executed for war crimes.” I thought executing little LEGO minifigs with giant Nerf guns seemed a bit of overkill, but the boys just rolled their eyes. Apparently, the LEGO guys had been REALLY bad.

So, everything is settling back to normal. Or as normal as it gets with tween boys running around.

If you need me, I’ll be hiding from the Nerf guns.

Today I…

Got my son up, fed, and dressed.
Reminded him that it was "Trenchcoat and Fedora Friday" – his own invention.
Found him a snack for his short school day.

Started the run to school.
Traveled through town to avoid a freeway accident.
Pulled over and worried as my post-op husband battled nausea.

Arrived at my son's school on time.
Let my husband recover,
Then took him to the doctor.

Listened to the prognosis (good) 
and added my two cents.
"He's complaining about pain, Doctor. He never complains about pain."

Put gas in my car at the cheap station.
Still just under $5, but not for long.
Arrived home and collapsed for a bit.

Checked email, did laundry, knit a few rows,
Stabbed myself when the kitten stole my yarn, 
Running off with it and my knitting.

Early lunch and then back to school.
Fridays are early dismissal.
Negotiated a brief run to the game store.

Caved in and bought pókeman cards,
Son cavorted with friends, hanging out like big kids.
I bought some board games- rain and spring break are both in the forecast.

Got home and made one lunch for the kiddo,
And a few bites for the woozy hubby.
Set up one of the new games, but no time to play.

Fight traffic back across town.
Time for the after school ceramics class,
Usually just a few minutes from Dad's office.

Different plans today. 

Home again.
For an hour.
Rested? No, more laundry.

Across town once more.
Wondering why there is less traffic
At 5:15 than there was at 3:30.

Hyper child, excited about clay.
Radio plays "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen.
Son says, "I feel like that guy!"

Home at last.
Seventy miles on the odometer.
Thank God for leftovers.

Surgery

My husband had eye surgery today. Again. This is the second one in a month, and the tenth overall. I thought it was the eleventh, but he says it was the tenth, and I assume he would remember. It all got a bit blurry after the fourth or fifth surgery anyway.

Nearly 20 years ago, his misdiagnosis of migraines was properly diagnosed as intermittent and astronomically high pressure in his eye which caused temporary blindness and great pain. Medication immediately eased the pain, restored his vision and stopped the increasingly frequent headaches cold. We thought it would be okay. We thought it was all over.

But then.

The eyes refused to stay healed. Any decrease in the medicine (and at first, we were administering eye drops every two hours, around the clock) immediately spiked the eye pressure. Something else must be underlying the problem, triggering the intense pressure. Inflammation is usually the culprit.

But then.

The doctors found none of the usual signs or symptoms of inflammation. More medicine. More doctors. Appointments weekly, twice weekly, three times weekly. Emergency calls on weekends. The private cell phone of his doctor – call any time, if anything changes at all.

But then.

On the day after Christmas, when we met a young eye surgeon at the back entrance to an empty office for yet another emergency call, we got a possible diagnosis. Posner-Schlossman Syndrome. He had heard it described, but had never seen a case. Most of the surgeons had not seen a case. There were treatments, and often it could be wrestled into something like remission, if not cured outright.

But then.

It turned out that he has an atypical version of this already rare eye syndrome. It affects both eyes. It cannot be controlled to a point where steroid drops can be stopped. The cyclical nature of the flare ups in the eyes turned out not to be cyclical, but rather constant. When medicated, his eyes would appear normal. If his doctor was away and he had to see someone new, that doctor invariably tried to remove him from all medication, with predictably disastrous results.

But then.

Surgeries started. Creating a channel in the eye to drain internal fluid would regulate the pressure. It is apparently all very simple fluid dynamics, but he’s the one with the physics degree, so I just think it is sort of magic. The pressure came down. More surgery for the second eye. Things were looking up.

But then.

The eyes still would not stabilize. He was on post-op recovery status for nearly a year of weekly or bi-weekly appointments, and reduction in the medicine could not be sustained. He was no longer on medicine every two hours around the clock, but he was continuing to use steroid drops six times a day and take oral steroids as well. More doctors. Specialists and teams of doctors at one of the two biggest eye hospitals on the West Coast. There was a small study in France that was having good results. The techniques did not work on him. A study in San Francisco revealed a possible connection with a common virus that most of the population has had infiltrating the eyes and triggering this syndrome. Blood tests revealed that he had the antibody markers for the virus, but tests on the fluid within his eyes revealed absolutely no virus or antibodies in the eyes. Another bust.

More surgeries. The steroid medication corrodes and clouds the corneas, essentially creating cataracts, so he had corneal replacements in both eyes well before his 40th birthday. There were injections. There were reductions in medication so gradual that his body let them slip by. He came off the oral steroids. The drops decreased from six times a day. Then, the channels built in the first surgeries began to heal. They had to be rebuilt. First one revision- easy and a great success. The drops were gradually reduced again. Antiviral medicine was added. Second revision- the pressure ended up too low, but it was stable for a long time. Nearly eight years.

But then.

The very low pressure dipped into extremely low territory, and the risk of the eye deflating grew greater and greater. His vision began to distort. Surgery was again needed. After a detour for a spontaneously torn retina and delays due to the pandemic, everything finally got back on track and last month he had the surgery to once again rebuild the channel in his eye to try to increase the pressure slightly, but not too much. It’s delicate work. It seemed successful.

But then.

Within a few days, it became apparent that the sutures were not holding and the eye was not healing. Not only did the pressure not increase after the surgery, it started to go down again. Without sufficient pressure in the eye, it could not heal. Without healing, the pressure would drop. More changes in medication, application of contact lens bandages, adjustments of sleeping positions, restrictions of movements. No change. No change. No change. No change.

So today, he went back in for surgery again. The problem seemed to be that after all the surgeries, the tissue in the eye was too thin to heal. The surgeon inserted donor tissue into the eye to stop the leak, much like patching a bicycle tube. With luck, it will hold, and the eye will heal where it should and stay open for drainage where it should.

So now, we wait.

Further Adventures of Krazy Kat

I introduced our Savannah kitten earlier this month, and she has continued to keep up occupied with hilarious antics. After a couple of days that felt like the worst in my 20+ years of teaching, I was stressed to the point of physical illness and needed to take today off. While Ariella curled up on my feet and purred at me gently when I went back to bed after dropping my son off at school, Aliza opted to be more actively encouraging.

At one point, I could not find her anywhere, so went looking for her. It seemed likely that she was sleeping on top of the furnace again, since she was not in any of her usual spots upstairs. I did not find her on the furnace after all, but followed the sounds of her rusty meow replies to my calls. It turned out that she was inside the wall, draped across a big round duct, cozy and warm. She popped out and let me cuddle her toasty little body for a few minutes before taking off on her own again.

Later, Aliza joined Ariella by my feet, just long enough to give Ariella’s right rear foot a drive-by bath, before darting off and leaving a confused, but presumably cleaner, cat behind.

Having done her due diligence by circling through all the windows to menace any passing birds and squirrels, she decided that climbing onto the built in spice rack, where we store spices and tea mugs, would be a good plan. Never having attempted this before, she was shocked to discover that both spice bottles and tea cups move and rattle when you jump on them, so, with a St. Nicholas on the rooftop amount of clatter, she took off at high speed, failing spectacularly at nonchalance. A moment later, a load of crashing and banging echoed from the basement, as she once again bounded into the wall in order to settle down with the ducts.

She’s asleep down there now, draped precariously over a duct like an unusually adventurous tube sock, her mission to distract me from my work woes thoroughly accomplished.

Have a nice nap in the wall, Aliza.