Ah, Open House. The sweatiest of teacher nights. A night of smiling nonstop, of trying not to get ambushed, of hoping you sound as intelligent and awesome as you just know you do every single day in front of middle schoolers, and then realizing that parents make you inexplicably nervous and tongue-tied.
First, the parents. Every year they seem to get younger and younger. (It's not at all that I get older and older.) Subtly, a little infertile twinge from standing in front of a room of people who are now your age, some younger, some not that much older, but much closer to your age group than they ever were before. And they have 13-14 year olds. And you have...cats.
Then, every year, there are the really bizarre parent-child-lookalike things. Every year. A parent walks through your door and you're like, "HOLY GUACAMOLE, you look just like Johnny!" (Johnny's name has been changed. I have no students named Johnny.) Bizarro, really strong genes, a cosmic ha-ha. Except.
Except when that happens, I mourn a little more that our kids will be missing at least one of our genetic components. At least for right now that's the case -- we're mourning Bryce's genetic loss, but we also still have those frozen embryos from the donor egg cycle so it's not 100% out of the question that we could have children that don't have my genes. Or we could have one of each, if we manage this on our next try and then go back for a sibling with the embryos we have in the freezer. Or, they could decide it's completely my lining's shenanigans causing our woes, and none of this donor nonsense was needed. (Unlikely it's just one thing, but who knows.) Regardless, now those freaky parent-child double situations are a little stabby poke between my ribs, because in all likelihood no one will say that about our children. And then, this year, one classroom that I was in was flabbergasted by how UNLIKE the child the father was. They couldn't stop talking about it, even this morning. Which set me off a bit, because sometimes that's how genetics work, and sometimes genetics have NOTHING TO DO WITH FATHERHOOD. Or motherhood. It is so hard not to be sensitive to comments like, "He looks NOTHING like his son. Is he even the REAL Dad?" Yes. People still say shit like this around me. They get temporary amnesia about the incredible intricacies of my incredibly unsuccessful family building attempts, and forget things such as that the phrase "real Dad" is HORRIBLY OFFENSIVE and INACCURATE. But whatever. I made my snippiness known. I just wish there was one of those Men In Black memory-wiping wands for phrases like that.
Sometimes you see unexpected people at Open Houses. People like, say, administrators you had four years ago when you were in a different building, who knew about your babymaking efforts then and hopefully aren't feeling horribly sorry for you now (or worse, looking at your larger profile and wondering if you are still carrying the baby weight from that mythical baby you just haven't made yet but may as well have from the way your body's flub has redistributed and gathered around your midsection thanks to fertility drugs and questionable coping mechanisms). They may not remember, but you do and can't stop thinking about a time you tried really hard not to cry in their office as you explained you had to be out AGAIN for an IUI. (Yup, four years ago, when IUIs were still all the rage, and I had a hard time coping with all the appointments. Ha HA ha ha.)
Sometimes that unexpected person is the school psychologist at one of the buildings you taught in a few years ago, when you were doing donor egg and were completely at the mercy of an anonymous angel and yet annual review (IEP meetings) schedules had to be made and you embarrassingly had to reveal that you were undergoing procedures with unspecified dates attached and so could you please have your meetings as early as possible, in March? And then when he looked all concerned when you said, "I'm having some medical procedures and I'm not sure when but I'll be out and/or unavailable for parts of the day and it could span a few weeks depending on how things pan out, but March should be safe so I don't have to reschedule later," you realized maybe it would be a good idea to make sure he didn't think you had cancer. So you said you'd been doing IVF for some time and then he actually wanted to know more details, and that was sort of refreshing, so you launched into an explanation that later you felt was a LEETLE bit too detailed for someone you see everyday. And then the donor egg cycle happened and you didn't get pregnant. And then you came back in September and you did a FET and you didn't get pregnant. And then in winter there was a meeting with special ed and school psychologists about behavior plans and you were late from lunch and had to sit on the stairs and he stood up and said, LOUDLY, "Jess, do you need a chair? ARE YOU PREGNANT?" Good times. This person totally means well. And his job is to ask about feelings and make sure people are coping well, but sometimes at school I can't have people asking me all the time if I'm ok. (I know, tricky tricky, because it can be isolating if no one asks if you are ok, but constant asking is too much. Because lately, all too often, the answer is NO. I AM NOT OK.)
Well, I ran into the school psychologist at Open House, and right before my first presentation of the night, for my Reading class, a class I am ridiculously passionate about and normally speak really coherently and intelligently about, but for SOME STRANGE REASON I sounded like a nervous person who had possibly done a boatload of speed right before, he asked me all about how things were going. NOT WELL, I said. He asked, and that is super nice, but it took a lot of energy not to get really upset. I think my poor performance in my first presentation was in part due to this conversation and in part due to some intense staring I received from the audience, a phenomenon I haven't had before. But maybe the staring came after I sounded slightly insane and maybe under the influence of drugs that had my heart racing. I wasn't, I'm on NOTHING but prenatals right now, but man I was sweaty and fast-talking and shaky. Anyway, the conversation went along the lines of this:
"So, still nothing?"
"Yes. Still nothing."
"Are you still trying?"
"Yup, I have surgery in a couple weeks and then we do another frozen transfer, but they have a good plan."
"So there's a plan?"
"Yup, some somewhat experimental, cutting-edge stuff. They're hopeful."
"Oh wow. Are you hopeful?"
"Well, I guess if they are I can be, right? It gets harder and harder though. This last cycle was my 10th transfer. I'm tired."
"So, when do you decide if you're going to continue or not?"
"We bought a package, and we will go until we run out of tries or they tell us to stop. Whichever comes first."
"So like one more time?"
"NO. Actually, it could go through the summer." [this is where I vomit a bit into my mouth]
"OH WOW. WOW. How do you do this? How do you do [gestures around the halls] all this and do ALL THAT?"
"Good question. I DON'T KNOW. Seriously, I really DON'T KNOW ANYMORE."
"Thank you. I hope so. I'll take your word for it."
And I headed up to give my presentation. Can't imagine why it was shaky/sweaty/red-faced/tongue-tied after all that deepness.
It's kind of my fault...I could have just said hi and then made like I had to be somewhere, stat. I didn't have to verbal vomit my sorrow all over him. But he asked. And I kind of feel like, if people ask, they must really want to know. And the funny thing is, he did. I probably gave him more than was necessary, in the halls of my middle school on Parent Night. And it probably sent me into a funk way more than it did him. He might go home and be like, "That poor woman," for a short period of time, before bed in conversation with his wife. But it has spun in my head for over 24 hours.
I don't know what to say anymore when people say "I don't know how you do this." Because I don't know how I do it, either. School is kind of like a haven for me. I can usually shut all this off like a switch and perform all day long, being Mrs. T, goofy teacher. A teacher of reading that can take a conversation about nonfiction features for an article on the plight of the Monarch butterfly and suddenly have it turn into a really meaningful conversation about ISIS. A teacher of resource room who, when quizzing for the vocabulary quiz, has kids come up with sentences for the word "tedious," and when one student says, "It's probably tedious for you to clean up after your dirty little kids," is able to say, "I don't have any dirty little kids. I wish. I have dirty little cats," and NOT CRY. I can have a student in my English class who is working on his personal narrative about his name and himself, when discussing family traditions of middle names, look at me like I'm crazy when I say, "If I had a daughter I'd probably use the middle name Rose after my grandmother, because she means a lot to me" and exclaims, "You don't have a daughter?" Like that's some kind of weird anomaly. "Nope, I don't have any children." I say. WITHOUT CRYING. And when he says "Why not?" I say, "Because sometimes you don't easily get the things you want most." WITHOUT CRYING. Because I am playing the part of a person who is not living out a personal tragedy in her off hours. Because this week is different from last week and the week before, when I failed at that acting job and got messy all over my off periods. BUT I DID NOT CRY IN FRONT OF STUDENTS. And honestly, I don't know how I do it. I compartmentalize. But I don't know how I KEEP doing this. Especially when I am slapped in the face with HOW LONG we've been doing this, and how MASSIVELY UNSUCCESSFUL we've been. When I see a student in one of my English classes whose older brother was in my class two years ago, and I'm STILL not on maternity leave. Maternity leave is not even on the horizon this school year.
Open House is hard enough without all this added in. I do it, somehow, without crying. Without accidentally saying something stupidly inappropriate about my lack of children, when how many children you have and what grade they're in seems to be the universal opener for many teachers. I put a picture of me with my husband over the summer on a boat in Maine up on my smartboard. He's not the same kind of cute as a picture of our babies would be, but he's darn handsome and that's the slice of my personal life that I can share. Someday maybe my kids will grace the Smartboard. Someday I'll go to Open House and either be pregnant or toting pictures of my baby. Or maybe, next year, I won't be at Open House at all. My long-term sub will be. I'll be home spending precious time with my hard-won baby, snuggled on the couch with my little family that once seemed so impossible, and so far away. And that will be the best Open House EVER.