Friday, February 19, 2021

Moving Forward Is Sooooo Hard

Mentally I have a paper bag to my mouth and my head between my knees right now, hyperventilating. 


Because I started my new space. And I'm not saying this my last post on My Path to Mommyhood, mostly because I like to leave doors open (literally, I am physically incapable of closing cabinet/closet/bedroom/bathroom doors all the way, just ask Bryce), I don't want to say LAST. I'm keeping this space open. 

But, the NEW (albeit still under construction) space is here, with a brand-spanking new first post: 

Finding A Different Path

I am excited at a new adventure. I've had support in making this move for a while, and it's just that taking the actual leap is SO HARD. I don't like to let go of things. I keep singleton socks far longer than they deserve, because I just keep holding out that the missing one will magically appear. I have underwear I bought forever ago that doesn't even fit but I can't bring myself to throw it out (some of them have cupcakes on them! Although cupcakes are probably one reason they don't fit anymore). I keep pens that have run out ink for some reason. Oh, and once upon a time I did 13 cycles of IVF, which also is indicative of my complete inability to LET THINGS GO. 

So I'm going to cheat. I'm linking to Finding a Different Path here but not retiring this space. Once I figure out how to do tabs in the new space, I want to have a way to link to this space too. If that's even possible. I kind of need some blog-tech-savvy help on some of the ideas I have rattling around. It took me the better part of the day to just get a basic setup going. 

I am excited to write under an umbrella that matches my authentic experience -- I've felt wrong about being known as "My Path to Mommyhood" now that it's been so long since I've actually been on that path. "Mommy" has absolutely nothing to do with me. This space holds ten+ years of my life -- unimaginable pain, joy and hope, and a resiliency that I'm so proud of. But it's time to move forward and show that I am truly embracing this path I'm on. 

I write because it helps me to process, but I write for the community, too. This community has saved me time and time again and I am SO grateful to you for reading, for sharing in my pain and joy and ridiculous laughter, for helping me to feel less alone and hopefully for me to return that favor to some of you. I am excited to continue being a part of the community, just differently! 

Thanks and see ya later! (Like really, please see me later, I am feeling a smidge insecure and needy about this whole change thing. A friendly comment would make me feel so much less like I'm entering into the Bermuda Triangle of blogging...) 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Taking the Plunge

I did something on Saturday that scared me. Every so often, I like to push myself to do something outside my comfort zone, even though I fully admit that I will be neurotic and vocally fearful leading up to the moment that I do said thing. 

It started with being late after school on Thursday. I had a meeting with the reading specialist, and then I stopped in to chat with my friend who teaches the 12:1:1 program (all but social studies, which is mine), and then I made it to the other reading specialist's room to chat, and really I was just wasting time bigtime. But, we never see each other and are always rushing from place to place, so it was nice to actually have a social interaction. (A masked, socially-distant interaction.)

At my first stop, the reading specialist brought up the Polar Plunge. That a small group of people from my school were doing it on Saturday to support Special Olympics, and it was a bucket list thing for her, and she thought I should give it a shot too. 

HELL NO was my response. 

Not 45 minutes later, I was 80% in. 

How did this happen? PEER PRESSURE. And also, the appeal of doing something batshit crazy for a good cause, and, as the reading specialist said, "if ever there was a time to fully LIVE, to go for the gusto, NOW IS IT!" The seed was planted. And it grew and grew until I could think, "Yeah, you know what? Why not plunge in single-digit windchills?" 

I have always looked at the Polar Plunge as an act of organized insanity. Usually, it is organized and on Lake Ontario, with a roped off area and "heats" of plungers and a full EMT staff and a warming tent. Well, not with the pandemic. 

With the pandemic, people were encouraged to SAFELY plunge in small groups, from what I was told. I didn't do any research because I didn't want to psych myself and decide not to do it. The organizer teacher came out of his classroom as we were talking about it, and he was like, "YOU can DO this! I do it every year! Nothing bad will happen! You're in and you're out, and I'm First Aid certified!" 

I asked about what happens if I have a heart attack. What happens if I trip and hurt myself. How likely was it I'd end up in the hospital, a place I DO NOT want to be right now. Or ever, actually. Everyone was like, "You're such a worrywart! None of that is going to happen!" 

Yeah. Well, I have made a habit of falling into the "unlikely, low percent" for all kinds of weird shit. I have had THREE Hold-In-Place drills in my honor. I have left school in a wheelchair and had Bryce called for all of those. I had all kinds of unlikely things happen during infertility. I didn't want to tempt fate, but I also didn't want to hold myself hostage to my fears. 

I committed. 

We were going to jump into Irondequoit Creek, which runs all through the county. They chose a park that the organizing teacher swore would be a good spot. I started gathering supplies: 

In this giant bag -- three towels (mostly in case someone forgot theirs, which turned out to be a good thing to plan for), a sweatshirt, my giant nose-to-toes fleece zip-up bathrobe (which was a GODSEND), extra cozy socks, a waterproof-backed fleece blanket, layers of long sleeve and short sleeve shirts, and leg warmers. 

I was going to wear tights instead of shorts, but then Bryce said, "You know, you probably want something you can take off real fast and not have clinging to you, you can dry your skin real quick but the tights may keep freezing water on your skin longer." So I ditched the tights. I wore my crabby socks, and put on my snow boots but brought my water sneakers for going in the water. 

I think you can tell from my facial expression that I am thinking this is a real stupid idea at this point, an hour from arrival. I did get a text from the retired school nurse who was there for all my unfortunate events, and she said she was coming with her kit so she could help if anyone needed it, which (not so) strangely made me feel better. 

I pulled into the park and saw the creek -- and the FIVE FOOT DROP to get down towards it. Oh hell no. The organizing teacher was walking around with a rope, sussing out the situation. ARE WE RAPPELLING DOWN TO THE CREEK? WHAT? NOOOO! I started hyperventilating. But no, the area where we parked was deemed private, but not safe enough for easy access. 

So we drove to the other parking area, for the dog park, where there was a more reasonable access point. Of course we had to tromp with all our supplies past the dog people, with my assistant principal dragging his mobile audio setup playing "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC, and so there was no secrecy to be had. My heart was racing, but I felt exhilarated. I WAS GOING TO DO THIS. 

We set up on the bank of the creek, and my principal started a countdown WAYYY earlier than we were shedding all our warm clothes (oh cozy fleece pants, you were so wonderful). We lined up for a picture once we were all plunge-ready: 

I'm the one not protected for anonymity. Second from the right. I think we are yelling "We are Martha Brown!" like total lunatics. Look at that stuff on the shore, like we're setting up at the freaking beach. And LOOK AT THE ICE! At least we could walk right in here. 

We turned around, and faced our fate. 

Clutching on to my special ed coworkers for DEAR LIFE. It's GO TIME. 

My face in this picture is, "WHAT THE EFF ARE YOU DOING, CRAZY PEOPLE? I AM NOT PLUNGING ALL THE WAY! NOOOOO WAYYYY!" I did squat down but was not about to have frozen underwear. Can I just say that it was 16 degrees (F) out with single digit windchill? 

We scrambled out, dried off, and got dressed again. The crazies who went all the way in needed to change all the way, so we made circles of towels and I used my giant bathrobe as a screen to protect their nakedness. Their freezing cold, damp nakedness. 

There was ice in the water that floated past in the current, and somehow I was the only one who left the water bleeding. Nothing major, just a few bumps and bruises and scratches from rogue ice (ice sharks? Ice leeches?), but I was thrilled that was my only injury. 

Not super impressive, but this was all swollen up and I have a few of them along my shins. 

After the dip, we met back at the other parking area and had a firepit, and I may have sipped a bit of Constant Comment tea with some bourbon in it. Hey, if St Bernards bring it (the bourbon) to you in the Swiss Alps, it's got to be worth SOMETHING! Also, that is a really good combo. Kind of like a badass little old lady teatime drink.

Here I am, in the parking lot, cold but toasty from adrenaline and bourbon and the knowledge that I DID SOMETHING SCARY AND IT DIDN'T KILL ME. I did not let the stupid voice in my head talk me out of it. I helped raise money to support Special Olympics so they can run safely this year. And I bonded with my coworkers in the craziest of ways. 

I'm actually not sure if I would have done this if not for the pandemic. I may do it again, who knows? All I know that is that it showed me that I am stronger than my fears. And maybe a little stupid crazy. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Valentine Challenge

Yesterday was Valentine's Day (is that just a States or an Anglo-y thing?), not that you could miss it for the decorations and excessive social media posts. I made the poor choice of going to the grocery to pick up some things on the day itself, and it was a madhouse -- the flowers were all wiped out and there were chocolate strawberry stations and baked goods and king crab legs and lobster tails galore. There was also a cherry picker thingie with a guy taking down all the hanging heart decorations and another employee replacing Valentine chocolate with Easter chocolate. Poof! Holiday gone! 

But, Facebook was a stream of Valentine's day stuff, for DAYS before, largely due to the "Valentine Challenge" -- a hashtagged invitation to share your couple-y coupledom, from beginnings to traits to photos. It was EVERYWHERE. 

All I could think was, "for single humans, this must feel like the Mother's Day onslaught feels to me." Which was verified when a teacher friend posted, "never am I so aware of my single status as I am on Facebook on Valentine's Day. ☹️" 

I know that you can't ever make everyone happy, And I know that everyone will be excluded from something at some point, but these challenges make me cringe. They fill the feed with even more highlights of what some have and some do not. It can feel like a tidal wave of exclusion, which is how Mother's Day/Christmas/Back to School/Easter feel to me. 

So I didn't participate, and I didn't even post anything from our Valentine's mini celebration, which was super low key and involved handmade cards and wine and food and me falling asleep on the couch and then talking in my sleep and waking up while Bryce was trying to make sense of the nonsense I was saying and feeling super confused (apparently I do that a lot, which is a horrifying revelation). It felt kind of nice to keep our evening a bit more private, a bit less on display, a bit less in the face of people for whom Valentine's Day is an unpleasant reminder. 

Right before we put pajamas on

Always need a stupid face photo

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

What's Your Identity?

Some days, you feel super well-adjusted. And other days, everything seems to weigh so heavily that the tiny hairline cracks in your mended porcelain gape and split into shards. 

I am exhausted. The cumulative impact of pandemic stress and feelings of living in a neverending cycle combined with the joys of IEP writing, early meeting dates, and being the owner of the schedule as lead special education teacher this year, it all has me so tired and thin-skinned. Add on to that that yesterday afternoon my district announced that we are going back to in-person on Wednesdays (alternating cohorts, but now I will be in the building all 5 days), and they are pushing for a return to 5 days a week for every student school with 3 ft distancing, and I am just overwhelmed and frustrated. 

So when we had a faculty meeting that was small group facilitation around cultural competency, I was a little nervous about how that was going to go. Today's topic was identity -- what is your cultural identity, how do we see others' cultural identity, what is above the waterline and what is below (enter iceberg visual here), and 20 minutes before the meeting I realized there was a reflection activity we were supposed to do ahead of time. So I read it. 


Part I was to think about different categories of cultural identity and reflect on your own experiences:

LANGUAGE - what language do you speak, what language do you work in, language of family

MIGRATION - where is your home? where were you born? when did you come to the U.S. or to our county? If you're not from here, what made you relocate? What did it feel like to relocate? 

CULTURAL BACKGROUND - How do you describe yourself ethnically/identify yourself culturally/describe your cultural background? 

FAMILY'S ROLE - How do you define family? Who are family members? Where are your family members? How involved do you wish your family to be? Who raised you? Who parented you? Are you/did you parent your children? Who did if not? ETC ETC INSERT INCREASED HEART RATE HERE. 

SOCIAL NETWORKS - Who are your sources of support? Who do you rely on? Activities/hobbies you enjoy? Community connections/resources? Groups? 

RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL BELIEFS & PRACTICES - is religion important to you or your family? Do you feel comfortable sharing your beliefs? Is it important that your beliefs are represented in school culture?Are you connected to a spiritual leader? Have you experienced a school system, as a student or staff, that overtly or subconsciously reinforces certain religious beliefs or traditions at the exclusion of others? 

EXPERIENCES OF TRAUMA - has your cultural background had some effect on how people have treated you at school/relationships/social settings? Did you experience any form of intolerance at any time in your life? Have you experienced discrimination, prejudice, and/or marginalization due to any aspect of your identity? Have you experienced or witnessed any loss due to natural disasters or human-made disasters? What are your experiences of toxic stress, childhood adversity or acute trauma that impact your life? Have you experienced the loss of someone who was important to you? 

There's two more categories but that was the point where I got a little panicky. Was this just for us to think about, or would we need to share?

It was definitely interactive. At first pretty benign, but then the question became, "Did you find any of those questions difficult? Was it difficult to answer any of them?" And there was silence. 

So I volunteered to speak. 

I said that answering the questions wasn't difficult, it was thinking on the answers themselves. It was realizing how multi-faceted cultural identity can be. It was realizing that while I am decidedly dripping in white privilege, I also belong to some groups outside "the norm." 

The facilitator asked me to elaborate, so I chose "childless" as opposed to "atheist," because I work in a fairly religious community and that one can be tough to swallow for some. 

"I am not a parent, and I will not ever be a parent, and that can be very difficult working in a school environment. Everything is based off the presumption that you are also a parent, that 'as parents' or 'for our own kids' or a million other statements that assume that everyone in the room is a parent. And that being a parent is the holy grail, that it's the most important aspect of your identity. Which then takes people who don't have children and minimizes their contributions and/or worth, like I'll never understand or have the MOST IMPORTANT JOB EVER, which is the unfortunate inverse of those statements. And I'm not alone -- there are many people in our school who do not have children, either yet or who won't ever have children, but we are forgotten and invisible in the culture." 

Then the facilitator said, "It's interesting that you said, 'invisible,' like you feel that due to this aspect of your identity you aren't there?" 

"No," I said. "it's more that I'm there but not seen. It's actually quite painful." 

Then the facilitator skillfully noticed someone else nodding while I was talking, someone who interestingly HAS KIDS. He called on her and asked if she was agreeing through her body language. And this person, who I could have hugged, said, 

"Yes, I totally agree. The parent role is put up on a pedestal. I will never forget a time I was in a parent meeting and this parent said, 'You can't possibly understand, you're not a parent.' All I could think was, 'What if I never have children? Will I never be seen as good enough because I am not myself a parent?' It was painful." 

That was amazing, because I didn't realize that she had that experience. It was lovely to have that feeling reverberated by someone else, differently, who actually is a parent now but remembered how that felt. It was a demonstration of empathy I don't often get to see at school for non-parents. 


The last activity we did was to take four small pieces of paper and write four sections for the book, "The Story of My Life." I thought, I'M GOING TO NEED A LOT MORE PAPER, but I followed the rules. We were to pick four categories of our experiences/identity. After we picked, he said, "you need to eliminate one, sorry, shorter book." That choice was pretty easy. Then he said, "Yeah, more people are contributing so you need it to be down to two." 

That left me with LOVE and LOSS. Seems appropriate. 

But then, he said, "as your editor, I am going to choose the next one to eliminate. You only get one. Take away the one on your left." 

And so I was left with LOVE. Which really is the ultimate triumph in my life. It was somewhat of a nice feeling to have LOSS taken away (if only it was that easy!), and then I thought about all the LOVE I have. 

Bryce. My friends. My family. My students. My coworkers. My job. All of you. 

Loss is all through everything too, but I'm glad, even though it was completely random and not intentional, that love won out. 


The entire exercise was exhausting, emotionally. The end takeaway was that we often only see what's above the iceberg, and some of our students' and families' identities are taken out of sight and we don't get to see them, but they are there. The more that we can understand all the parts of everyone's identities, the better we can reach and teach them especially in times of trauma. 

I signed off after a collective deep breathing exercise, where my eyes filled up and I worried they'd spill over, and then I just sobbed at my desk (at home, at least for a few weeks more). I just felt exhausted. Wrung out. Emotionally spent. In a (mostly) good way. 

It was scary to share my thoughts, but worth it.

Monday, February 1, 2021

It's Not Too Late

I went to get new glasses a little while ago, and my eye doctor at Pearle Vision changed from an older man to a middle aged woman. 

At one point in the eye exam, she asked me if I had children. When I said no, she said, "me either."

Then she told me about how she had focused on her education, and then her career, and she never met the right person in time to have a family of her own, and she grew up without a father and so didn't want to raise a child alone. She clearly felt very comfortable sharing her life story while setting up my new prescription. 

She also said she didn't feel like she had a hole in her life, because she had nieces and nephews and she was an Auntie, and that was just fine: she loves her life, as is. 

How refreshing! 

Except then as I was leaving, she asked, "how old are you?" and I told her. The next statement blew my mind. "Well, it's not too late!" 

"I DON'T HAVE A UTERUS," I said, followed by "and I'm actually happy now, I love my life as is." 

This is the SECOND time I have had to throw out my missing reproductive organs to say that yes, it's "too late." How old do I have to be before people who know nothing about my boundlessly spectacular infertility stop saying how I could possibly still have a baby? 50? Older than Janet Jackson? 

And more importantly, what happened to bring resolved and "not having a hole in your life?" It felt like that message got diluted by the "but wait! You could maybe still get pregnant, because that's what you really want, right? That's the only ending people actually want, so it must be what you want, too, you sad childless lump." 

I AM HAPPY AS IS. It took a lot of work to get here. Bryce and I have built a new life, in a new house that was never meant for children. I am glad I have no uterus anymore. I am glad there's no ambiguity about my (in)ability to conceive. 

It seems weird that this happiness isn't believed though, that it sense the possibility of a late life surprise pregnancy is considered a prize, a winning lottery number. Weird and disappointing, especially from someone who professed to be a whole, happy childless person.  

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

#Microblog Monday: 800!

800. This is my 800th post. That is CRAZY. It's a lot of change, a lot of reflection, and a lot of connections with people. I missed International Blog Delurking Week, but if you have been reading me and you don't normally comment, I would love for you to just say a quick hi. 

Today is also my 12th Engage-o-Versary -- it was 12 years ago on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day when I made a nice dinner, set out a lovely pinot noir, lit some candles, and greeted Bryce with a letter I'd typed up that was actually a marriage proposal. I love that I proposed and he accepted, that we did it differently to make it our own. It's also crazy that this June we will have been together 15 years. 

He actually has MLK Day off for the first time, EVER, because his company has finally decided to make it an official holiday (finally!). We have spent it doing insanely romantic things like starting to de-Christmas our house, vacuuming, and catching up on work after a more relaxing weekend, but it sure was nice to sleep in a bit and have a more leisurely morning than usual on our special day. He's making cochinita pibil tacos, which will be amazing (slow-cooked, fall-apart citrus pork! poblano tortillas! habanero-carrot sauce! pickled red onions! avocado! yumminess all the way around). They already smell AMAZING.

I think this is the year I update my blog, or change it up to a new one. I hate change, but "My Path to Mommyhood" is just not authentic to my experience anymore. I have been officially off that path for over three years, and it's time to name it something different, or start something new. I don't want to disappear, though. Any thoughts on how that works? 

I'm looking forward to this week, while also dreading the threat of violence. I hope that we can have a peaceful transition of power and enjoy having an Executive Branch that is based in empathy, compassion, science, humanity. I hope that there can be healing from what's happened in the U.S. -- the fear, the hate, the intolerance, the destruction from within. Sigh. 

I hope that I can chalk up most of January to a 2020 hangover, and we can have a 2021 that goes in more hopeful direction. 

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

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Power of Music

Music, for me, is an emotional touchstone. It can link straight to memories that bring feelings of joy, or grief, or an association. 

I will never hear Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" or "Circle in the Sand" without being transported to the house where I lived from age eight to 22, sitting on the couch with my dad while he watched the movie Cave Man (with Ringo Starr!) and I listened to my Belinda Carlisle tape on my Walkman. That was also when I realized that when I made my Barbie and Ken "do it," I was setting it up all wrong. Please tell me I'm not the only girl who just mashed Barbie and Ken together and called it sex. 

I am sad that I won't have much opportunity to serendipitously hear my wedding song with Bryce, "Rings," by Leo Kottke, because it's not exactly in the radio rotation. We can make it appear at home, but that's not really the same thing.

However, I do hear my first wedding song, try not to gag too much, "Don't Want to Miss A Thing" by Aerosmith (it was 2000! And yes, it was from the disaster movie Armageddon, the irony of which is not lost on me) from time to time. It used to make me physically nauseous, and now just leaves me feeling vaguely icky. It does not remind me of the wedding. It reminds me of the tenuous period after infidelity(ies) was discovered, and I was still living in our house but he was living on a friend's couch, and he would come get stuff and then be gone by the time I got back from work. I would go to the bedroom and see the dvd player going, and when I turned on the TV, Armageddon would be cued up on loop, ostensibly to remind me of all the good things and that I shouldn't leave but the result was more... growing unease and the gelling thought that this was my out, that I would not be staying. 

When I hear Ani DiFranco I think of my sister wearing hippie dresses, home from college for the holidays. When I hear Chopin piano pieces I think of my mom's senior recital, her fingers flying across the keyboard. When I hear Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers' Christmas song, "With Bells On,"  I am back at my best friend's childhood home, dancing in wild circles around the big dining room table. When I hear the hymn "Be Thou My Vision" I remember playing violin for my grandmother, and then playing it with my mom accompanying on piano for her funeral service. 

Today, I had a visceral reaction to music that was played on Vermont Public Radio's "Sunday Cinema" with Lynne Warfel, which we listen to every Saturday morning at 11:00 while we eat breakfast shamefully late after sleeping in. I can't hear this music without crying. Literally I hear the strains and I see the images that go with it, and the feelings just leak out my eyes, down my face. 

It's the instrumental theme "Married Life" from Pixar's Up. I linked to it without the visuals, because it is goddamn traumatizing. Basically, it's Karl's backstory -- he's a grouchy, curmudgeonly old man, and this short vignette lets you know exactly why. It's the whole story of his marriage, including a devastating turn of events where they lose a pregnancy after decorating a nursery and you can infer that they are told children won't be possible, because Ellie, the wife, sinks into a depression where you can feel her numbness, and he gets her out of it and they follow other dreams, planning a trip to Venezuela that just keeps getting pushed due to life hiccups and expenses and then she gets sick AND DIES.  

So that's why he's a grumpy old guy.

JEEZUS, PIXAR. What a way to start a movie with a balloon-flying house and a talking dog with ADHD that's FOR KIDS. Way to dissolve the adults, particularly those with histories of loss. There's a reason why I watch that scene on YouTube when I am emotionally constipated and need a good cathartic cry. 

When I hear that music, I see the whole thing. And I am struck by similarities and fears. Replace Venezuela with puffins. I feel her excitement and joy when decorating the nursery.  I feel her pain and disbelief when she's sitting in the garden after their loss, all empty-eyed and hollow. And I fear someday leaving Bryce a widower, alone and curmudgeonly. 

So I cried. And then I explained it to Bryce, who was looking at me with concern while I cried during the song at breakfast, and then when he understood where it was coming from, he cried, too. 

But then the music changed and it wasn't the intense sadness trigger anymore. My face was a little puffy, but then the day moved on and that crushing memory of grief didn't follow either of us. 

I'm glad that music can make me feel so much, but I'm also glad it can touch those places in my emotional memory without breaking me for the rest of the day. What music moves you?