Monday, September 25, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Old Photographs

Tomorrow is picture day -- another side effect of #teacherlife (as one of my new students loves to say) is that you NEVER escape picture day. I have to go in front of the school picture camera every year and try to convince them that while tipping my head down will eliminate glasses glare, it will also give me a couple new chins (I don't wear my glasses anymore for pictures), and this picture lives forever in the yearbook, for a few years on the Class Of __ plaques down in the main hall, and maybe for a little while on my Mom's fridge.

I usually show my kids my own 8th grade school picture as a cautionary tale -- I am wearing SWEATPANTS for one, for two, my henley shirt and my sweatpants are in matching pastels to the LASER background (oh 1989, you space age), I have a terrible short haircut (Dorothy Hamill I was not), and I'm smiling with my mouth closed to hide my braces.

I couldn't find it.

What I did find, however, was an envelope of old pictures of myself that my mom gave me while doing a purge at her house -- like REALLY old pictures, some of which I'd never seen before.

Going through them in detail was really neat, but it was also really sad.

No one is going to have those curls or gray-blue eyes passed down to them.

And who am I going to give these to when I clean out my house in my 60s? Who will care about my childhood photos, little snapshots of the late 1970s and early 1980s? It took something entertaining and gave it a decidedly morbid, morose tinge.

I'd like to share a few with you, so that they don't eventually end up disconnected to my own life, so that I can feel like they can have a little life of their own right now, since (hopefully much) later they may end up in a box that no one cares to have.

Me and my Popie, many moons ago. You might think I'm wearing legwarmers a little early for my time, but...
Those aren't legwarmers. I'm happy anyway, but do you see something odd about the stance of my legs? 
Yeah, that's a double cast, because the hurdles came early. I had congenital hip dislocation that wasn't detected until months later (the doctors scornfully told my young mom "all babies cry" as I kicked one leg and howled, but there was a reason!). I'm sure that was tons of fun for diaper changes. I'd never seen these photos until I was bequeathed the envelope. 
I love this photo -- look at that HAIR! This was two months before my sister was born. And the cast is gone! 
There's no notes or anything on these, but I'm thinking this is shortly after my sister was born, because of the crib. That truck thing is crazy. 
This is probably my favorite. Love the hair, love the pensive look, love the bellbottoms, love the ugly plaid couch that I totally remember. This one made me so happy and also so, so sad.
I actually used this one today for a question flood with my students. What is going on in this picture? Am I lost? Is there a polar bear to my right? I think I'm maybe 5 or 6 here, but again no notes so I'm not sure. Strange sort of Little Girl Lost shot, this one. 

Thanks for sharing in my old photographs and keeping them alive somehow; it makes me feel a little less sorry for myself.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Summer Reading Challenge

I absolutely love to read, and over each summer I aim to read at least 20 books. Except for last year, when the Summer Reading Challenge started.

Bryce bet that I couldn't read 30 books over the summer. Challenge, accepted.

And I "won," because last summer I read 32 books before the first day of school with kids. And I got to go out to a fancy dinner at a place where they serve you complimentary bubbly if you are celebrating something, and that something was reading more than 30 books in less than 10 weeks.

But this past summer, Bryce set the stakes even higher. He set them to 36 books. THIRTYSIX books. Um, I am a fast reader but I was nervous about that one. And as summer was drawing to a close and I hadn't yet read 25 books as of the end of August, I admitted defeat.

It's not just sour grapes, but I don't want to do the reading challenge anymore. (Definitely not because I ended up having to do cat boxes for four months straight as a result.)

The thing is, last summer was so very different from this summer. Last summer I was overwhelmed and, frankly, depressed, and so I did less and read more. I am all for reading, and it is my favorite thing to do to relax, but you read a heck of a lot more if you're not, say, out for hikes or actually gardening with some regularity or going for amazing two-week trips where you do things out and about all day. Last summer was very much an "insulate myself and get lost in other people's lives because my own is a bit of an exhausting mess" type of deal.

And this summer? This summer was our honeymoon. It was the beginning of our new reality. It was the summer of making my office out of a nursery, which was horribly difficult but also very cathartic all at once. I love that stupid room. I spend a lot of time there. It was a time of healing and getting together with friends and family and just trying to figure out...what now.

So reading, while still a big part of my summer (the count ended up at 26), wasn't quite as all-consuming. I think that's okay. It was a different summer, a new beginning, a rebirth of sorts, and that took an awful lot of energy.

The challenge actually stressed me out. It made me feel like I wasn't enjoying the reading time as much; I felt too often that I was just clocking hours. I'm all for goals, but this time I found myself not reading books that I wanted to because I wasn't sure if they'd afford me the time to read others within the parameters of the challenge due to length or complexity, and so I feel that I lost in more ways than one. It was fun last year, when I needed a distraction, but I think I like it better when I am in control of why I am reading, and how much.

I keep my lists on Google Keep for what I've read during the school year and each summer, as well as books I want to read. I love it, because I can easily tell you what I read and when. And I read some great books! Some were eh, but that's always the case. I'm proud of my list of 26 books, and feel a little freer knowing that I can read without parameters moving forward, that a challenge is fun but when it interferes with enjoyment...not worth it anymore. Plus I am so sick of doing the cat boxes. Ha.

In case you are interested, here is my list from this summer.

The Books of Summer 2017: 

1) The Raven King by Maggie Steifvater If you haven't read the Raven Cycle GO DO IT. It is SO good. This is the fourth and final book in the series. I cried when it was over, because it was such a great world to inhabit for a time.

2) The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud Loved this one for her voice, and maybe because I could relate to the main character in some ways. Great betrayal in here, too.

3) The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg Really good Swedish crime fiction. Super disturbing and twisty, a nice fast read.

4) The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix So many people I know read this last year, so I decided to give it a try. I loved it. What a great interweaving of stories, what a great dysfunctional family.

5) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas LOVED this book. If you enjoyed All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely, you'll love this one too. Also reminiscent of Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Really thought-provoking, totally relevant to current events, and the second book this year to have me looking up interesting stuff on TuPac Shakur.

6) The Raft by S.A. Bodeen Same author as The Compound, a really disturbing YA novel, and this one was a plane crash/survival at sea story. Gripping, and I want credit for reading it less than two weeks from leaving on a plane to California.

7) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This was beautiful, and haunting, and a lot of reading about death from the perspective of a doctor and the perspective of someone who is actually dying. It made me feel very sad, and while it was worth reading, I felt perhaps it wasn't the best choice for summer.

8) How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip by Hitha Palepu This was a birthday present from Bryce, and it was the BEST BOOK EVER for streamlining my packing for the trip. Some of her advice is a little wacky (like when to get your manicure and blowout pre-trip, or having girlfriends over to drink wine and help you pack), but because of this book I discovered packing cubes and the joys of a travel jewelry case, and it was a lot easier to fit everything in my bags and not be overwhelmed. Great little book.

9) And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman I love Maira Kalman, and last year got The Principles of Uncertainty for Christmas from Bryce, and this one I found in a little shop in Rhinebeck, NY while visiting with my best friend. It was a bittersweet thing though, because it was written when President Obama was inaugurated and was all about the hope and optimism of everything and now I am NOT FEELING HOPE AND OPTIMISM when it comes to our leadership, and so I think I may have cried while reading this one (and not for When Breath Becomes Air, which is just odd). But the illustrations are gorgeous and the paper is heavy and glossy and her thoughts are so quirky and fill me with joy. Love her.

10) Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett Loved this book, a quirky coming of age story involving deadly sleepwalking and potentially deadly sleepeating. It was really, really good.

11) Commonwealth by Ann Patchett I love just about anything Ann Patchett does and am slowly making my way through all her books. This one was a new favorite, and I didn't throw it across the room by page 26 (unlike State of Wonder, which had an infertility subplot that was pretty pervasive).

12) The Nix by Nathan Hill This was recommended by the English teacher I work with, and he read it twice last year because it was a new favorite. It was so, so good. I loved the twists, I loved the un-like-ability of some (most) of the characters, I loved the arc of the was just plain lovely. Highly recommend.

13) All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker Um, this one I struggled with. For lack of a better term, it was real rape-y. The concept was interesting -- a treatment is available for people who have sustained trauma of various types that allows them to forget the traumatic experience, but is it really the best thing? If it keeps you from remembering things that could bring your rapist to justice, is that okay? If you don't have memories of the trauma but you still have the aftermath of having sustained a horrific trauma, what good is that? Fascinating premise, but SO MUCH BRUTAL SEXUAL ASSAULT. Again, not sure what I was thinking since I read this one in California.

14) Chemistry by Weike Wong This one made up for #13. It was really clever, very cute, lots of funny (and true) references to the hell of doctoral programs, a romance gone horribly wrong and a bit of a breakdown. Now THAT I could relate to (not the romance bit, but the falling apart and feeling like goo part). Highly recommend.

15) The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy This one was super creative -- sort of futuristic, a world where you can become a Body and take these pills called Lotuses so that you can become a vessel for a client's dead loved one's spirit. What could go wrong there? It has murder mystery, it has romance, it has intrigue, it was really a fascinating concept. Loved it.

16) How to Be a Wildflower: A Field Guide by Katie Daisy Ok, this one was totally a bit of a cheating choice, but Bryce bought it for me in Carmel-by-the-Sea and it was part beautiful watercolors and part inspiring things about the importance of surrounding yourself with nature on a regular basis, and it was just a real feel-good piece of fluffiness. And it was physically beautiful.

17) Mischling by Affinity Konar Nothing says summer vacation like Josef Mengele's "Zoo" where he kept twins captive for horrific experiments. While not a light, funny read, this was absolutely beautiful and a testament to resilience. It was brutal (because it WAS brutal), but also beautiful. An important read.

18) Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn't Happen by Lisa Manterfield I don't think I really have to say anything further about this, other than that I slowly made my way through it starting in May, and finished it over the summer. I still have some journaling prompts to do. This is a really helpful, but emotionally difficult, book.

19) Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman Last summer I read My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by the same author, and loved it (it was one of two absolute favorites that year). This is a continuation of the story for Britt-Marie, a character who is not entirely likeable in Grandmother but who winds her way thoroughly into your heart in this book. Loved her, loved it. (Nope, still haven't read A Man Called Ove)

20) The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge This was a birthday present from Bryce, and it was really intriguing YA fiction. It involves a tree that grows a fruit when you feed it lies that you've spread, and the difficulty with being a person of religion when Charles Darwin brought evolution to the forefront. There's "accidents" and murder and lies and a feisty young woman. Great historical fiction with a little supernatural bent.

21) In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume Second plane crash book of the summer! I waited on this one until AFTER the flights to and from California, and was glad, but LOVED it. It was so interesting, in part because it really happened, and because of the masterful way Judy Blume interweaves storylines and so deftly writes coming of age stories.

22) The Red Tent by Anita Diamant I have had this book on my shelf for years, borrowed from my best friend, and I never read it. At first I was like ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? because I was like, "ah, that's why I never read it, it's all about fertility and the womanly bonds of motherhood and blah blah blah." But it's about a lot more than that. And plus, it has the whole thing with Rachel who was infertile and had a baby through Bilhah...and if that sounds familiar it's because IT'S THE BASIS FOR THE "CEREMONY" IN THE HANDMAID'S TALE! Whoa. It was quite good once I got past the fact that everyone was getting pregnant or not getting pregnant and the central theme was reproduction.

23) Green Angel by Alice Hoffman This was another cheating one, because it's a real slim YA volume, but it was BEAUTIFUL. Nobody does magical realism like Alice Hoffman. The cover art turned out to be real interesting in the context of the book, too. Gorgeous little book.

24) A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielson This was YA historical fiction, but it wasn't WWII, it was the Berlin Wall era. A family is separated the night the wall goes up, and the daughter and son left behind by their father and younger brother need to figure out how to convince their mother that they need to get out from under the oppressive and brutal rule of the police in East Berlin, and then execute that plan without getting imprisoned or shot. It was tense and believable and the first Cold War historical novel I've read.

25) Thrillplex Theater by Brandon Swarrow File this one under "real weird." It was a question mark book given at Christmas to me by Bryce, and it was sort of a screenplay, sort of a novel, definitely someone who has an interesting view of teachers, and after going to Universal, particularly fascinating for the design of the Thrillplex Theater. I think it's self published (distracting things like a blank spread in the middle threw me off).

26) The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs. Okay, I know it's weird to end the summer with yet another memoir of someone dying of cancer, but THIS WAS AN AMAZING BOOK. It is one to go out and read, because Nina Riggs was a poet, and it is evident in how she writes this beautiful tribute to a life that ended so unfairly, but that she squeezed every last drop out of with her family and her friends. It's the kind of book that makes you shake your fist in the general direction of whatever diety or force you may believe in, but it makes you think about the glory of this life we get. I may have cried and cried while reading. At the gym. On my kindle. On the elliptical. I would read this one again and again.

The end...thanks for sticking around, happy reading!

Monday, September 18, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: So It Goes

This is a pretty good representation of how I feel right now. An old picture, but still relevant.

I got the email I was waiting for today, while I sat in my car waiting for the AC to gear up (summer is really hanging on with some seriously muggy talons this week in Rochester).

It didn't work. It was negative.

I feel a little shellshocked...I am sad, so sad, but I can't seem to express it at the moment.

I am grieving for this couple who is trying so hard to add to their family of two.

I am grieving for my genes which will never continue on, and for the realization that I won't be receiving any letters or pictures of a little girl or boy with curly hair or gray-blue eyes or knock knees.

I am grieving for my optimism in some ways -- how stupid I feel for thinking that it could ever go any other way when we are involved, that my hope that these embryos with someone else could become something more than yet another personal tragedy, with shockwaves racing outward from the Midwest.

I am just dumbfounded. And I can't help but feel that for as sad as I feel, the couple who received the negative test must be just devastated. I remember that feeling, and all the sadness-anger-disbelief-numbness that goes with it. I am just so sorry, even though I know it's not my fault.

Au revoir, the last of the Jess possibilities. I hope that the Bryce batch holds the secret to a positive outcome, somewhere in this tangled web of infertility.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Weird, Vicarious Two Week Wait

We had an update on the embryo adoption process, around Labor Day weekend. They decided to thaw the blastocysts, which are my eggs and donor sperm. 

One didn't survive the thaw, so they did a single embryo transfer. 

I am trying not to read anything into that. Why does it seem that we are cursed with everything that touches our infertility journey? We NEVER had any frozens not make it to thaw and transfer. I don't know if it's just that particular embryo, or because these embryos have traveled so much. It makes me nervous. 

You know what else makes me nervous? That the transfer was going to be at the end of August, we got an update that it happened and wasn't affected by Harvey (because wouldn't you know the clinic is in Texas, but luckily not an area that was affected by the flooding). And now it's SEPTEMBER 14TH. 

Those were blasts, 5-day embryos (technically frozen on day 6). So, uh, that test should have happened by now, right? 

Going to the other side, I cannot imagine going through a two week wait knowing that some other couple with some small (miniscule, really) stake in game is awaiting your news. That you have to accept that phone call, process it, and at some point (preferably sooner than later) update Snowflakes so that they can update us. That would be real weird. And I might feel a mite resentful in the moment. 

But we haven't heard anything, and I find myself in the incredibly odd position of NOT being in a two week wait (not my baby, not my pregnancy), but also TOTALLY being in a weird psychosomatic two week wait because this is the last of my genetic material that has a chance to become something, and I can't stop thinking about it. 

I can't stop wondering...did it work? 

If it did, that will be bittersweet for sure, but it will be something happy for them and sad for us and happy for us at the same time -- one of them made it! It will probably create some level of feeling like WHY THE HELL COULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN US, and wondering if all the people who offered us their uteruses (some posthumously offered  uteruses that don't exist anymore, "oh if only I hadn't had that hysterectomy a few years ago!") maybe had the right idea and it would be worth the legal rigamarole and tricky logistics of gestational carrier in NY state. But there's hope that something good could come of all this mess, although it would be good in the most vicarious of ways on our end. 

I am terrified that it didn't work, and that the last of my possibility for passing some level of my genetic presence on has left this world. Which puts another layer of finality into our situation. I think actually a negative test would feel far worse at this point, because it would possibly have me relive the losses that brought us to this point, and feel the terminal nature of our situation. 

But now I am awash in a sea of uncertainty. Waiting for an email (thankfully the phone is no longer my frenemy in the voice sense). I stalk the red M icon that means I got a new message, and am always disappointed when it's actually something from a shopping site, or a credit card reminder, and slightly less disappointed when it tells me that my latest Stitch Fix has shipped. Ha. 

I go through the old cycling thought patterns...if they are waiting to notify us, is it good news? Bad news? Is it waiting to see that beta numbers are strong, or not having the wherewithal to call and say that yet another cycle didn't work out? I can't imagine adding that layer of complexity. It was hard enough to deal with those calls when it was just us who were in the loop. But every day that goes by without news has me wildly speculating all kinds of scenarios, none of them really productive or helpful. 

I cannot wait for all this to be over, and hopefully have good results. I hope it works. I hope that we hear sooner than later. It would be nice to have this one last uncertainty in this arena come to a close. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Finding a New Quote for "Who I Am"

When rewriting my model "Who I Am" essay for my students, I realized I didn't just have to update the part about my dreams of having a child...I needed to update the quote in the opening paragraph, too.

Last year it was, "Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory," said by George S. Patton. Well, I accepted the challenges but I wasn't left feeling exhilarated in my victory, but battered and reduced to transformative goo, so it just felt...wrong. The quote is supposed to relate to your life, to introduce this idea of Who I Am. And that just didn't feel like a representative quote anymore.

So I found this one:

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." 
- Helen Keller

Way, WAY better, no? And applicable to so, so many different types of trial and suffering. Good one, Helen Keller.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Who I Am

The beginning of the school year is a funny time. I feel an incredible degree of anticipation (and a fair amount of anxiety) for the new year. Teaching is like a miracle of rebirth -- you have this whole year to build up a community and have your classroom evolve into a brand new microcosm, and then it ends you start again with a different group the following year. You could do the same exact thing every year (but why would you?) and it would still be completely different because of the different personalities, the different climate of the world around us, the different groups of students, the different dynamics of parents, and clearly yourself -- the world builder. I love this about teaching, that it's got a sort of life cycle of its own, and every year is a new chance to have an amazing time with a new group of young people, teaching and learning and growing together.

I am really struggling with some dynamics of this coming year, though...and I am hoping that this anxiety will be short-lived and that this year will be the hardest of all the ones to come because it is a year of transition.

It's the first time I am starting a new year as a full-time, probationary/tenured teacher that I am not embroiled in family building (unless you count the continuing mystery of embryo adoption/donation). And I so recently was. That was so much of my identity, and now it is gone, past tense instead of present and future.

Which wouldn't be such a big deal if I wasn't so open about our journey, or if I didn't have students who are younger siblings of students I had when I had to give the "my phone could ring at any time" spiel, or if it was true as I thought that our websites from last year were going away at the beginning of the year rather than December, so it still says that we are "patiently waiting for the call that will change our lives" when that is just not true anymore. When asked "do you have kids?" I won't get to say "not yet" or "hopefully soon" or "we're working on it," I'm left with, "No." or "I have cats." or "That didn't quite work out as expected."

It wouldn't be such a big deal if I didn't have FOUR things that I have to redo because of this change:

- My website (we are switching to google sites, and I am woefully behind, but my About Me page won't have any mention of kids or their possibility.)
- My Quotes To Inspire Poster (in resource, now work lab this year, I had students pick a quote to lift them up on tough days and surround it with pictures (drawn or printed and colored) that share stuff about who they are -- mine had "MYSTERY BABY" on it with a pink and a blue question mark...clearly can't use that one anymore.)
- My letter for the gen ed English class where I am the consultant teacher (The English teacher I work with has this wonderful start to the year activity where he (and now me, too) writes a letter to the students about beginnings, family of origin, education, career, family, hopes for the year and then we have the students write one back to us. They tell us a TON about the kids. In the interest of being honest and showing that things sometimes take a turn you don't expect, I include my divorce and then  finding Mr. Jess, and then I mentioned the cats and our quest for parenthood through adoption. CLEARLY I have to edit that one. Working on it today and tomorrow and hoping to get it to a place where it is still honest but doesn't make people question my sense of boundaries...ha HA ha ha.)
- My project for my self-contained English Class, Who I Am. Oh, Who I Am. I did it for the first time last year, based on a very short personal essay in the literature textbook called "Who You Are" by Jean Little. It talks about how you can be a million different things and it's okay to not want to define yourself in ORs but instead with ANDs (I hear it in Lori Lavender Luz's voice all the time). That you can be an airline pilot AND a lighthouse keeper in your mind, that now is a time of possibility and you don't have to lock yourself in to one identity...and the identity you see for yourself may be different than what people perceive on the outside. It's short but powerful and I use it as a model text for the students' first piece of writing for me.

Naturally, I write one about myself, too. And again my adoption journey made an appearance, and my hopes for a family of my own beyond me and Bryce. Because that's been so much of Who I Am.

So WHO AM I, now?

Now that I am not striving for something that just didn't come to pass, now that I am not beating my bloodied forehead against a wall without actually going through the door I'd wanted? Now that I had years of trauma and unhappiness trying to get through a door that apparently didn't exist for me, but once I took the other door (for the source of all this door talk, please go to Mali's amazing post about Infertility's Waiting Room, which is a must-read) I found a peace and the promise of a new life, although not the one I thought I'd have?

I think it's so important for students to know that you can work at something and have it not work out, and that you can BE OKAY if this happens. You can adjust your sails, or brush off the ginormous pile of shit you've landed in and take a different, less shit-laden path (yeah, probably going with the sails one if I'm going to address this with 13 year olds). I don't think I have to talk ovaries and miscarriages or anything, but it's okay for me to say we wanted kids and it didn't work out in the end after trying so many things and becoming exhausted in ways I didn't quite know were possible. That life goes on, and it can find a way to be beautiful.

So who am I? 

I'm a teacher who cares not only about her students' academic learning but the development of their character.

I'm a beloved wife of a beloved husband and in awe of the life we've built together, the parts that have worked out better than we'd hoped and the parts that are metamorphosing from the goo of our personal tragedies.

I'm a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, daughter-in-law, cousin, friend, Mother of Cats.

I am a gardener, a cultivator of green things and fluttery and slithery things that come to visit my wild(ish) spaces.

I am a creator of cozy spaces in my home.

I am the creator of music (when I pick up the violin that has been fairly dormant recently, shame shame shame).

I am a reader, an escapee into different worlds both totally invented and incredibly true.

I am a writer, telling my story with honesty and a smidgen of dark humor. Putting it out there to both not feel so alone in all this and to help other people not feel so alone, to shed a little light on what it's like to not always get what you want, to end up "empty handed" at the end of the day (although my hands are often full of cat, and dirt, and Bryce's broad shoulders or stubbly face, and keyboard, and thin paper pages...).

The beginning of the school year is hard, but beautiful in all the possibilities that await. I will figure out how to rewrite the things that need rewriting in a way that is professional yet is true to who I am, and how things can turn out -- messy but beautiful, petals and thorns, and unfurling buds of all the good stuff to come.

This is not in any way a microblog, but if you'd like to read some actual concise posts, go here and enjoy! :)