27 February 2011

When your beloved has anxiety.

Tomorrow, Shaun will enter the outpatient psychiatric program at our local hospital for anxiety. He’ll go from 9am-3pm, for as long as it takes to make him better. I’ve been thinking all week about how to post this: how can I tell you, gentle readers, about what it’s like to be married to a man with significant anxiety? How can I present it in a way that is true to our experience, but doesn’t hurt Shaun, or minimize (or overstate) the impact of his illness? In my head, I kept returning to this form, which I’ve used once before, about what it’s like to teach. In some ways it's a copout, but I don't know any other way to say these things. I’m glad to answer questions, and I’ll probably write more about this, especially considering our current journey. For now, this is the best I can offer.

This is the way you cross your fingers before you get out of bed and pray today is a good day. This is the way you hope the diarrhea will stop, and if it doesn’t stop his therapist will be available sometime today. This is the way you hold his head in your lap, and brush his hair back from his forehead, as he weeps and begs you to help him, even though you don’t know how. This is the way you call his doctors over and over and beg them to help. This is the way you cook toast and scrambled eggs and rice and buy bananas and applesauce and Gatorade so as to not upset his tender belly. This is the way you drive him to the ER or the walk-in clinic, again. This is the way you choose your words carefully in front of the daughter you share, so she doesn’t learn more than she needs to about anxiety and illness and how terribly afraid you are most of the time lately. This is the way you change the sheets on the bed, again and again and again. This is the way you tell your colleagues at work that no, he’s not better, and no, thanks, you don’t want to talk about it. This is the way you call his family and tell them, as gently as you know how, that he is still sick, that you don’t know when he will be better, and that yes, you’re all trying very hard, and no, there’s not much they can do. This is the way you hire a professional organizer, and go to marriage therapy, and do anything you can think of to ease his fears, and this is the way you sometimes feel none of it matters. This is the way you miss class after class when you need to be teaching. This is the way you think and rethink who will pick up your daughter from school, and who will stay with her until you can get home, in case he’s not well enough to parent today. This is the way you try to remember how things were before he entered this most recent spell, and try to believe, everyday, that things will go back to that semi-normalcy again even though it seems this will never end. This is the way that you take deep breaths, and try to ignore the nightmares, and talk to the people who love you just to hear them say “I’m sorry it’s so hard right now. I hope it will get better,” because there is nothing else to say. This is the way, in the end, that you love him, as well as you know how.

21 February 2011

Boxful of V

I know that by making this wish, I'm ensuring widespread large-appliance failure throughout my home, but I would really like to have a big old box for V to play in. Something where we could cut out windows and a door and perhaps put in a wee table and chairs?
 Because this box is just not working out like we'd hoped.

20 February 2011

List #15: The Great Outdoors

As winter insists on continuing, and I'm running out of survival skills/patience, I'm going to let myself think about spring, dammit. Several of my friends have already started seedlings (or so they proclaim on Facebook: I never actually SEE my friends, of course), and I should get on that, though it's a bit early, I think. The last time I planted seedlings was 3 years ago, and as I recall none of my plants lived to see June, though several friends got productive tomatoes from that batch, I think. For list #15, I present a two-part list.  If the first one bores you, just skip to the second.

15A: Things I should plant.
Martha Stewart says I should only plant the fruits and vegetables I love to eat, and god knows Martha Stewart is smarter than I am.

1. Corn: I don't like corn in any other form than on the cob, with a little butter and a little salt. I could eat corn on the cob every. single. day. when it's good. Oh, mercy.

2. Green beans: I really love canned green beans (shut up. I have rights), but I also remember how green beans seemed miraculous to me as a kid. The soft, fuzzy crispness that is a homegrown green bean is something I want my child to know. Plus you can make them grow in a teepee. Awesome.

3. Pumpkins. Seriously. I know you can buy them fairly cheaply around Halloween, but there's just nothing like carving a jack-o-lantern from a gourd you saw from a blossom. And I'm more than a little freaked out by giant milk-fed pumpkins, but I think it's neat that it can be done. By other people.

4. Carrots: I don't really have room for carrots in my backyard garden (which is, actually, full of lilies, and so I plant my vegetables in containers), but like green beans, my childhood summer memories are full of carrots.

5. Eggplant: I've only eaten eggplant once, and I didn't really like it, but I love that something grows in that color.

As evidenced by #5, I'm mostly out of things to grow, per Martha's orders. I mean, I like tomatoes, every now and then, sliced thick with a healthy layer of sugar. It's how my grandfather ate them. But that one's just obvious, and I'm ready for the next list. Now.

15B: Things I really want to do this summer even though I probably won't because it's the story of my life.

1. Get ourselves to Duluth. Shaun's sister and her family have lived there over a year now, and it's just over 4 hours for us to drive there. We are not good people, so we haven't been to see their new house or anything yet.  But we will, before too long, and V will get to see the Greatest of the Great Lakes.

2. Build V a  playhouse or treehouse or some sort of thing. Perhaps I could combine list 15A #3 and dry a giant pumpkin and turn it into a house. Of course, these options (minus the pumpkin) are ridiculously expensive. Right now, I'm obsessing over this dinosaur head, and the idea that it can be on the ground, or in a tree, or part of a larger structure. Plus, it's cheap!

3. Visit Graceland and/or New Orleans (perhaps with V and maybe Shaun if he wants to go which he likely won't because that's his way). For some reason I feel a hankering for travelling down south lately. I've never been to Graceland, which is a sin, and I want to see even more of New Orleans.

4. Go camping with V again. Okay, this one can probably happen. It's so much easier to go when I have real camping friends who know how to start good fires and how long to grill a hotdog. And who pack extra food for when my five year old who eats like a teenager needs a second or third breakfast.

Ah. I feel better already. Now I'll just remove my slanket, tuck V into bed, and dream of warmer days.

How do you get through the February slump, gentle readers? And will you help me build a playhouse in a few months? Do tell.

Freedom of speech and other misunderstandings

Last week, I ran across a news story of Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in a suburb of Philadelphia, who had a blog, on which she occasionally (around 25 % of her posts) ranted a bit about her students. And by "a bit" I mean she called them "rude disengaged, lazy whiners," and "utterly loathsome" among other things. She's been suspended with pay: her lawyer states he'll be filing a lawsuit soon, as it's a first amendment issue.

As a teacher (albeit for a college) with a blog, I also sometimes write about work. Some of my students are occasionally rude, or disengaged, or lazy, or whiners, and sometimes all at once, though I try hard not to write about them (unless they cheat. Plagiarists are the bane of my existence, though I will always protect their anonymity). I understand her frustration, and I'm sure it's magnified a hundredfold within the high school setting. To her credit, she didn't mention her students by name, nor did she use her own last name or the name of her school. She claims the blog was for herself, her husband, and seven friends, which is all well and good, but that's what phone calls are made for: blogs are public, usually, and so bloggers should always be mindful not to say anything here that they wouldn't want announced from the stage of the auditorium (actually, someone once told me that about e-mails. It's even more true for blogs, though, I'd say). Still, her feelings are certainly valid, and she has a right to express them.

But if she was V's teacher, I would have been crushed to read her words. Even if she insisted V was not one of the "rude disengaged," for me it would be heartbreaking to know that someone charged with my daughter's education was so clearly burned out, so obviously angry.

Now, Ms. Monroe points out that her writing has been taken out of context (she's removed all of the earlier blogposts, so I can't see them IN context), and that she did say positive things. Though I never saw the blog in its original form, I believe her. And I fiercely defend her first amendment rights. But I also defend the school's right to put a teacher on probation, and, after careful consideration, perhaps terminate her contract.  Even as I type that sentence, though, I cringe, because I know of many teachers who certainly said worse things about my generation, but because it was pre-internet it stayed within the bar or home or gymnasium where it was uttered. And I have said things to my colleagues, angry and exhausted things, that I would be embarrassed to have the public know about. And I certainly don't want MY contract terminated.

But I didn't put those things on a blog for the whole wide world (or my husband and seven friends) to see.

I know this is all still relatively new territory. I know the internet is complex and distracting and marvelous all at once. And I know teaching as a profession is hard, hard work, but also full of incredible rewards. Perhaps, as Ms. Monroe herself has suggested, this controversy will lead us to more honest discussions about education in the 21st century.

Truthfully, students today don't engage in the same way my friends and I did when I was in college.  I'm not sure how to best address the issues we all face in the classroom today, but I'm pretty sure railing against parents and students is not going to solve things. And though she claims her blog was only for venting purposes, and that she has not dwelled on these issues, I hope Ms. Monroe's time out of the classroom helps her to refocus, and remember the non-loathsome parts of the job, if only in case she ever ends up in front of a classroom that includes V. Because my daughter (and yours) deserves better.

14 February 2011

"The course of true love never did run smooth."

There seem to be 3 Valentine's Day camps among my Facebook friends: actively pro, actively con, and pretending it's just another day. For V, it's a day full of candy, and she got to wear pajamas to school, and we bought her a helium heart balloon. For my mama, who is recovering from a sinus infection, it's a day to rest and try to recuperate, and we bought her a yellow rose, because we love her and she loves yellow roses.

And my funny valentine? In our first few years of marriage, this was a big day for Shaunsie. One year I came home from Crookston, exhausted from teaching, and smelled chocolate cookies. I thought, honestly, that his mother had come for a surprise visit, or someone had broken into our house to do baking, before I realized he had made the cookies himself. In the oven. Another year, we went to see the movie Miracle on February 13, and went to dinner at Denny's beforehand (because that's how we roll), and he had a group of local musicians show up at Denny's and sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." It was ridiculous, and sweet, and I'm giggling a little just writing this.

This year? This year we're all recovering from a stomach bug (well, Shaun's not recovering yet. I'm hoping that happens soon), and the house is relatively clean, and our primary babysitter has a sinus infection, and we're trying to save money for car repairs and an emergency fund and all sorts of unromantic things. As I type this, he's rubbing his tummy and watching WWE Monday Night Raw, and I'm googling Shakespeare in another window. We are different, aren't we?

A year ago, I wasn't entirely sure we'd see another Valentine's Day together. I certainly didn't expect that our house would be this clean, or we'd be actively working to heal decade-old wounds, and moving towards better partner-i-ness.

I love him, for those marvelous Valentine's Days, and for these less exciting ones, and for most of the days in between. It's not been all good, but it's mostly good, and I feel hopeful that our future days, valentine-y or otherwise, hold more goodness to come. Maybe chocolatey cookie, four-part-harmony type goodness, or some kinds we haven't discovered yet.

I hope your day is sweet, whichever camp (pro, con, or ignorance-is-bliss) you're in. The Rock just showed up on Raw for the first time in seven years, so I should probably go listen to what he has to say (Compromise is, truly, the heart of marriage). 

I may just slip a Shakespearean quote under Shaun's pillow before bed, though.

(Edited, in the interest of full disclosure: by "mostly good," I mean literally 51% good. And Shaun wants me to tell you the cookies he made were the pre-made, take-out-of-the-freezer-slice-bake-and-eat kind)

06 February 2011


My father-in-law David suggested these mini-snow drifts, atop the shed door, to me. I hadn't noticed them (she said embarrassedly). They are the mushrooms of wintertime, don't you think?

To get good outdoor shots, sometimes a photographer has to be willing to get dirty. Or wet. Or cold. Or frostbitten. At one point (for one of the pine shots in the "Trees" post) I was standing mid-thigh-deep in snow. And I was not dressed for it. See what I endure for my art? My poor Dansko boots will probably never fully recover. I had to shake the snow out of my socks afterwards, too. It was worth it for you, gentle readers. I think.

I take a lot of photos like this, trying to capture the snow of the front yard, lakeside. It doesn't really work: my photos don't capture the depth and sculptural qualities that 18" of snow has on a lot full of trees. I like the shadows here, though.
 Winter mushrooms. Thanks, Dave.


Yesterday morning at the lake was foggy and frosty, though not terribly cold. I worried the sky was too grey for good photos, but it seems to have made the photos just seem a little frostier.

I assume the fact that the circle is off center here is because of the developer, not the photographer (ahem), but I may be wrong. In these four, the black frame seems more distracting than in the last post, though, and it's the off-centeredness that seems to be key here. I dunno. What say you?


These pictures have a little Through the Viewfinder feel to them, mostly because I used a guard on the lens of Marie's camera that I think is intended for a  longer lens, not the regular one I was using. But I like the black circle it makes around the photos.

This was one of those rare winter days, sunny and warm and not snowing. It felt good to be outside for a change. A desperately needed change.

04 February 2011

Last day of chemo!

Today my mother-in-law, Mary, went to her 8th and final chemo treatment. I got to go along (after getting the car stuck in the driveway and triumphantly digging it out all by myself) and meet the sweet nurses who've cared for her and David during this dark and difficult journey. I'm so humbled by the work of oncology nurses, and so hopeful that Mary (and all of us) will never have to see that floor of the clinic again. There is much rejoicing. And napping. Because frankly, that's a good idea for everyone after chemo.

The first appointment with the radiation doctor is in 2 weeks, and from there Mare'll have perhaps a month of radiation? Or more? It's hard to know. Firm answers are not easy to come by around here. Radiation five days a week for four weeks. Over 2 hours of driving round trip. Everyday. This fighting cancer business really eats into one's social life, apparently.

But by Easter, hopefully, she'll be all done, and cancer-free, and we can be joyful and gleeful and giddy and grateful, and breathe a collective family sigh, and eat some chocolate bunnies. Nothing counters chemo and radiation like chocolate bunny eatin', I hear. I can hardly wait.