Who’s to Blame?

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It was right before our second visit with a geneticist when my sister asked, “Why?” How many times had I asked that question throughout my childhood and now as a parent? The previous visit to the specialist resulted in no answers my mother’s instinct didn’t already know; Amy’s differences were caused by genetics. Whose genes were the cause, the doctors didn’t know, but in the back of my mind I blamed mine. (I am not aware of any special needs on Todd’s side.)

At that first visit the doctor also recommended another visit in two more years as genetic tests were improving so quickly. I missed scheduling that next visit by a whole year. Amy was five, enrolled in an SLI-Kindergarten class, showing progress and many additional needs when my sister asked why we were bringing her again. “How’s that going to change anything?” I had pondered this same question, and it was one of the reasons I delayed the appointment. Amy was Amy. No genetic testing was going to change that. No special shot or treatment would make her “normal.” My only hope was three-fold: more information for the medical field to study, the possibility of a label that would allow us to connect to other families, and Ali, our other daughter. Even though she was only three, I wanted information to help her understand as she grew up.

At the appointment, the doctor informed us there was indeed new testing, a “fish tail” test. This test looked at the end of the genes, which previously were darkened so much they were blacked out. I don’t remember anymore about that appointment. I’m sure we revisited the information we’d given three years prior and updated it, but now we just waited for the test results.

What we eventually found out was the new test didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. We still had no answers to what genes caused the differences. We still had no label to link us to other families or specific support groups, nor did we have more information for Ali. It’s been eleven years since that visit. There are still days when I wonder if my genes are the cause, but then I read or hear something that reminds me to let it go today. Amy’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine.

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60th Bday

60th birthday smile

Today Uncle Dave would have turned 62. Instead he’s in Heaven. I miss him but not as much as I expected. Maybe it’s all the memories I still have or the busy life I lead. I really don’t know. I did think of him when I first woke up, during my morning walk, as I wrote the date on my classroom whiteboard, when I saw a colleague at lunch, as I drove to Ishpeming then visited with a friend and on my way home again. I wondered what words, if any, would push me to write. As I checked Facebook fifteen minutes ago, there was no urge to type. Then I read my cousin’s wife’s blog Demystifying Special Education.

At Uncle Dave’s funeral Johnny said his wife and I are similar. I agreed and after reading her post tonight, I agree even more. Thank you Chris for giving my feelings words today. As I read the post I was reminded of all the lessons I learned from Uncle Dave. Sure I may deserve the sibling thank yous, but today, on Dave’s birthday, I want to thank him for teaching me patience, flexibility, sensitivity, tolerance, understanding, perseverance, loyalty and unconditional love.

 

Just Listen and Learn

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During the funeral service of Uncle Dave, I leaned over to Todd and then to Pam and said, “I miss his echo.” During the next choral response, my sister waited a split second after everyone else and said, “Church.” It was at this point during the service that my hand instinctively flew up to cover my mouth and my laugh. It wasn’t Dave’s voice, but that memory still makes me chuckle as I write this.

Growing up and standing next to Dave in church was embarrassing at first. His voice mocked me throughout the entire mass. After each “Lord have mercy,” Dave’s voice echoed a half-beat behind, “..cy” while the entire church was quiet. I’m sure Father LaPine purposely waited for Uncle Dave’s echo before moving on. During the Profession of Faith and Lord’s Prayer it was sometimes difficult for me to say the right words because I’d start listening to the mockingbird next to me. Luckily it taught my ADD mind how to focus and not be distracted by outside stimuli.

Singing, in church or at sporting events during the Star-Spangled Banner, was the same except Dave not only mocked those around him, he held the last note a little bit longer than everyone else too. Luckily, unlike my own, Dave’s voice was beautiful.

While in church trying to ignore the mockingbird next to me, I would pray for an answer to a question that hounded me for years: Why did Dave have to live at my house? Then my own daughter was born, and we discovered her special needs. At that point God answered my prayer; Dave provided me 22 years of experience.

Once Amy entered grade school, she participated in her classes’ musical performances. It was tough to attend the first performances and see her not being “normal” like the others. Her differences became more apparent as she moved up in grade school. The other kids’ became comfortable in front of a crowd and could focus and remember the words. Their gestures were right on time, but not Amy’s. She might do a few gestures but she’d also be more than a beat behind. I knew there were parents wondering, “How could we, her parents, allow her to perform and obviously show her differences and even maybe ‘ruin’ the performance? Weren’t we embarrassed?”

Performance

5th Grade Performance

I’ll admit it was difficult to watch at first but I thought back to those years in church with David and knew we were doing the right thing. I learned to love the performance and know that I am example for other parents of children with special needs. We shouldn’t be embarrassed and withhold the opportunity for Amy to perform.

In January of her sixth grade year, Amy performed on the big stage–Kaufman Auditorium–with the other sixth grade students. Prior to the performance, Amy had shown me the movements, and I’d heard her singing in her bedroom or the bathroom during the weeks before the big night. Todd took off from work early and drove straight to Kaufman. We waited in the balcony, worried about just how Amy would perform on the big stage with spotlights. As she walked on to the stage, I saw her peering into the audience trying to find us. I had reminded her numerous times not to yell out, “Mom! Dad! Ali!” and give us that full-arm wave as she did in the past. This time she didn’t. Once she saw us, she only smiled and moved on.

When the music started she looked up at us in the balcony and smiled. After the first phrase of the song, I heard my newest mockingbird. Just like her uncle, her voice rang out a half-beat longer than the rest singing that last syllable. Todd and I looked at each other and smiled. Amy continued belting out each of the songs and doing all the hand gestures, some actually right on time.

Today, five years later, Amy’s singing gives Todd, Ali and me a reason to glance at each other and smile. She’s a One Direction fan, thanks to her sister, but in the car she’ll turn up other tunes too and start singing, a half-beat behind. I’m thankful now for this mockingbird. Her singing, just like Uncle Dave’s, causes me to stop thinking of life, focus and just listen and learn to enjoy the song.

 

 

Thoughts from a Winter Traveller

4:00 am wake-up. The wind is howling and there’s an inch of snow on the sidewalk, but that’s to be expected when traveling from Marquette in January. The commuter plane arrived last night and is scheduled “on time” according to the airline’s website.

I’m thankful for Todd’s willingness to rise early and drive me on this typical winter morning. It gives me time to change all my phone contacts in my iPhone from only numbers to names. How does a phone decide to make that change on it’s own the night before I’m leaving?

We arrive at the airport, and I notice the long line. It’s too long of a line for the size of the plane. Yes, they are looking for volunteers. Why is it I get these offers only when I don’t have flexibility in my travel plans? In the TSA line, I overhear others saying the same thing as me, “A voucher? What if the weather worsens? I need to get out today.”

No more announcements for volunteers. Someone (or two) had flexibility. Standing, not sitting, in the secured boarding area I hear another announcement, “Delay in boarding due to weather in Detroit.” Detroit? What about the cold temperature and blowing snow here in Marquette? No, of course that’s not a problem.

Thirty minutes later, it’s a go to board the plane. I’m thankful for the jet bridge but wonder why it can’t reach completely to the plane. Must there be a two-foot gap between the cover of the jet bridge and the actual plane? The blustering wind whips through the gap as I step into the plane and see the flight attendant holding the navy blue curtain as a shield around her while greeting us with a forced smile of friendliness on a frigid 5:50 am morning.

I’m in seat 11C. The woman next to me has a two and half hour layover. Me? Thirty-five minutes between this flight’s scheduled landing and boarding of my next flight. I can do it. I only had fifteen and then twenty minutes last time I flew this round-trip itinerary.

The captain explains the previous delay in Detroit and how once our plane is de-iced, we’ll be taking off. Let the de-icing commence!

And continue. And continue. A few pages of reading, a quick nap filled with head-bobs and another announcement. De-icing is taking longer than expected due to a build-up of ice, but we’ll be on our way soon. Scheduled departure was 6:00. Actual departure? 7:18.

We reach cruising altitude. It’s time for complimentary beverages and samplings, aka snacks. “…I apologize but the water tanks filled in Marquette are frozen so there will be no hot coffee or tea…” My feet are cold but the two-month-old in row 10 is quiet and will continue to sleep for the one-hour flight. I enjoy my string cheese, a little more time resting my eyes, and a smooth flight.

The bumps begin, but it’s time to prepare for landing. Seat 10A and B will need to rebook. “…our scheduling department is aware of our delay and will be rebooking many of you…self-help stations…any ticket agent…” Am I destined to a longer layover now too?   The sky is gray, filled with sogginess. I much prefer the white of snow.

I deplane and find a ticket agent. She inspects my boarding pass. “They’ve probably rebooked you,” as she scans my now invalid boarding pass. The new boarding pass shows my departure: 12:50 pm. So much for lunch in San Fran, but didn’t I know travel in January is always filled with potential?

Glancing at the departure board, I see my original flight still flashing, “Boarding.” Can I make it? A quick pace down the escalator, through the psychedelic tunnel, up the escalator, (why is it built this way?) and a right turn to Gate 34. Yes! People still standing by the gate.

No. The door is closed. “Status: Closed.” The tip of plane’s tail and wing is visible through the window, but another look reveals the door is still closed. I slowly lift the new boarding ticket in my hand and begin the walk to Gate A68 for a 12:50 departure. Maybe the sun will come out and shine through the windows during my layover and writing time.

Post Script: The natural sun never appeared but two blog posts were written (including this one) and my rebooking included a seat in first-class. There is sunshine in the grayness of winter if we are willing to wait to see it.

It’s a Wonderful Life

“I think I’m okay.”

These were the words I said as I entered the chapel for Dave’s internment ceremony. There were no more tears to shed, no more deep breaths to compose myself, only memories. Memories of a wonderful life.

  • An Easter basket filled with pastel foiled-wrapped chocolate eggs, tears pouring down my cheeks and anger in my heart over someone intruding upon my life.
  • Grumbling on the other side of the bathroom door as I frantically knock trying to get in for a morning shower.
  • Teenage tears as I tell my parents Dave-sitting is interfering with my social calendar.
  •  The tussling of my hair and a giggle when he thought I was funny.
  •  A black tuxedo and proud smile as I walked down the aisle.
  •  Arms cradling each of my daughters.
  •  Intertwined hands as I struggle through the crowd and he shakes every Packer fan’s hand in celebration of the win.
  •  Congress Pizza and Christmas TV shows while Dad and Cheryl are away.
  •  Mosquitoes intruding while Amy and I push his wheelchair along the nursing home’s wooded path.
  •  A taste of pureed pumpkin pie eliciting a mumbled, “Yummy.”
  •  The scowl as I videotape him and interrupt his meal.
  •  A salute and a smile as Todd enters the serenity room.
  •  Holding his hand, fists raised, cheering for the Hematites to win another state championship.
  • Tears blurring my vision, my heart breaking as I give him my last kiss on his forehead.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s guardian angel earns his wings by showing how interactions can have positive effects. As a young child I often wondered why Dave came to live in my house, with my family but as I reached adulthood I began to understand, and I am certain many bells rang when my guardian angel, Dave, earned his wings too.

Gratitude Attitude Bulletin Board

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One of my least favorite teacher tasks is designing bulletin boards. Tonight after reading an article on how to build gratitude in the classroom, I decided to Google gratitude bulletin board ideas. I found plenty with Fall/Thanksgiving themes: Turkey feathers. Colorful leaves. Seeds (of thanks).   What happened next inspired this blog post. I wanted to do a gratitude bulletin board after Thanksgiving and through much of December, but I came to the following realization: December is the “Wish List” month. Huh.

How can we so quickly move from giving thanks for what we have to wanting more? How many of us complain about the Christmas displays arriving earlier and earlier each year? Is Santa even ready for us to be thinking about our wish lists? Do we even have time to give thanks if we need our wish list ready not by Black Friday but by Halloween?

I’m going ahead with plans to have my students focus on having a gratitude attitude not a wish-list, gratitude-dissing attitude in December. I think I’ll start with being grateful I have a bulletin board idea.

Balance: Day 12, Not Really

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Day 12 Balancing Life

Day 12 blog post. It’s actually Day 21 of the challenge, and I’m not actually writing to Day 12 prompt.  Life sure is interesting sometimes. As I tempted some of my colleagues with the 30-day challenge, there was a concern in my mind as I looked at the dates. How would I write a post every single day of September? The concern didn’t arise from the fact school started on September 2, and I would be busy teaching. No, the concern came because of my personal life. September is a busy month. An anniversary, birthdays, the girls’ school events, and those last few precious summer-like days occur. One of the first pieces of advice I share with pre-service teachers observing in my classroom is, “A teacher’s to-do list never ends. You have to decide when to stop.”

My family is a blessing when it comes to helping me balance life and work. I know I’d be a workaholic if it weren’t for them. When I start to put in too many hours, it negatively affects my family. I first noticed this when my eldest daughter was about four.   She has special needs, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives. (Check out my post about traveling with her.) Another of those positives is her need to be with me.

When she was young, the need would manifest itself through her “meltdowns.” Her behavior would require me to sit on the couch holding her closely, sometimes for 20 or more minutes. At first I was angry because I just had to get other work done. Her behavior was taking me away from my work. I don’t exactly remember when, but at some point I began to reframe her behavior. I realized her behavior of this type occurred when I was extremely busy and had been away from home for meetings, etc. in the evenings.   When I finally noticed the pattern, I took it as a sign from God that I needed to refocus my attention to what really mattered—my family.

Now, at least 12 years since, Amy still has some moments, but they are fewer and farther apart. It isn’t necessarily that my life has gotten less busy; it’s just that I’ve learned to read the signs much sooner. Learning the lesson to not push my family aside too often, sometimes causes me to not do everything I want to accomplish, but that’s okay. I’ve also learned to not feel guilty about saying no to a request or not posting for Days 12-21. It’s going to be okay. I can always write more than one post a day to catch up, or maybe I’ll still be posting in October

Observer

Not a Lecturer but an Observer.

Day 11 of @teachthought 30-day reflective teacher blogging challenge.

What is your favorite part of the school day and why? My favorite park of the school day would have to be when my students are engaged, and I’m more of an observer than anything else. When I look back to yesterday’s prompt, another list was, “Share three things that you hope for this year, as a ‘person’ or as an educator.” My hope as an educator is that the majority of the time my students spend in our classroom is filled with engaging work for them.

I have many pre-service teachers observe in my room, and I always tell them my number rule for eliminating negative classroom behavior—student engagement. If students are interested in the task at hand, they don’t think of being disruptive. Does it work 100 percent of the time? No, but I certainly spend many hours outside of class developing lessons that scaffold my students’ learning so they can become independent.  I tell my students to think of me as a resource but not the only resource. I answer their questions with questions to help them find the answer on their own. Teaching eighth graders requires me to teach in a manner that will result in independent learners. My hope for each of my students is for him or her to be a successful, productive citizen. I don’t expect every one of them to attend college, and I tell them this fact. What I do want for them is the ability and understanding to make choices based on what is best for them, not what society has chosen for them. If they choose to work in a career which pays less, that should be their decision, not one forced on them because they have not learned the skills to work in a different job.

If my students learn to do more than sit and listen to a teacher, I am successful. If my students learn how to learn, they are successful. If I spend more of time as an observer in my classroom rather than a lecturer, because I’ve worked many hours after-hours, then both of these will happen.

Day 10: Blogging Challenge

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I’ve taken the Teachthought.com 30-day blogging challenge.  I’m happy the prompt was a list today, though I chose only to write the first of five lists in the prompt.

Share five random facts about yourself.

1. I love porches (and big kitchens). When my husband and I were looking to purchase a house, he commented he should just buy me a kitchen with a porch. I agreed.

2. Cross-stitching was a hobby of mine for many years. I learned cross-stitching in high school and didn’t stop until my kids were about 1 and 3. I made many wall hangings for gifts, along with the ring bearer pillow for my own wedding and Christmas stockings with the nativity scene for our first Christmas together.

One I did and actually kept.

One I did and actually kept.

3. Visiting Hawaii is not on my bucket list. Okay, if you want to pay my way, I’ll go, but if I have to use my own budget, Hawaii doesn’t make the top half of my list.

4. I will probably be a gray-haired, coffee shop waitress when I retire from teaching. I loved waitressing and at one point in my late teens/early twenties, I thought about earning a degree is hospitality management.

5. My favorite time to walk is during winter snow flurries in the early evening. There are few, if any cars, but pure white innocence brightening the evening. The wind is white noise blocking the outside world from entering my private thoughts.

Early winter evening.

Early winter evening.

First-Year Teacher after Sixteen Years

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This is Day 9 of the @teachthought 30-day blogging challenge.

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care). Being a first-year teacher in my nineteenth year of teaching.

Last year I began my nineteenth year of teaching but my first time in sixteen years teaching Eighth Grade Social Studies. Even though I taught the class before, I knew I couldn’t teach it using the 1995 method. I knew I couldn’t just open up the textbook, read it, have students fill out worksheets and then take a chapter test. I knew I didn’t want my students to believe knowing names and dates meant they knew history. I wanted them to understand how it’s about perspectives, argument, interpretation, and so much more. I wanted them to realize history matters today.

Was it perfect? Of course not, but it certainly was better than I even expected. As I planned, I gained a better understanding too, which resulted in me wanting to bring in just a little more information.  This was dangerous though. On Sundays I’d sit at the dining room table, surrounded by documents, exploring the web to a point of no return (really there were times I couldn’t remember my reason for searching) and then the tears of frustration. The realization that after hours on a Sunday, it was now 9 pm, and I still wasn’t sure what my lesson would be the next morning, let alone the entire week.   The idea of teaching history as a timeline didn’t make sense to me anymore. I was constantly spiraling back and forth. I thought how teaching writing is messy, but thankful of my experience as a writing teacher. I was okay with the messiness, the non-linear approach, the “let’s think like a historian” mindset.

Reflecting on last school year, I’m thankful for the experience. It reminded me of what it’s like to be a first year teacher and the feeling of accomplishment after that first year is stored away (on Google docs and iCal so I don’t have to be a first-year teacher again this year).