Gone Girls

Hello from St. Louis!

Having the goal to blog each day is ridiculous when you have a giant conference in the middle of it. Ah well, at least I have a good travel story to tell you.

We decided to drive to St. Louis (and by “we” I mean the Pastor’s Wife, her 13-year old daughter N, and me). It’s less than seven hours and it’s much more cost effective than flying and then having to ship our books home and all that jazz. So we drove.

I brought along our Garmin, named Judy, to get us there in case we started gabbing, The PW downloaded a book by Jason Reynolds to listen to, and N had the whole back seat to herself. It was going to be great!

Since I had to work yesterday, we decided our departure time would be between 6 and 6:30pm. That would get us to St. Louis around midnight. Late, but not terrible.

When PW and N arrived to pick me up, I said my good-byes to the kids (which involved Eddie clinging to me, Alice screaming that she wanted to come too, and Charlie yelling he hated me and he didn’t want me to hug him–he has issues dealing with Big Feelings and saying “goodbye” for five days involves Big Feelings), kissed Cortney a thousand times, and finally jumped in the passenger seat.

“We have a full tank of gas!” PW declared as she backed out of my driveway. I got Judy Garmin up and running and we were off.

If this was a book or movie, that statement would be seen as foreshadowing.

We made it to Illinois and stopped at the Oasis to try to get the fast past working. That didn’t work because they were closed; however, we only ended up paying $1.10 in tolls, so it was a wash. Thinking that was our biggest drama, we set off for the next leg of the trip.

We listened to a book for about 90 minutes, which took us deep down into Illinois. Realizing we had been in the car for around four or five hours, I casually asked PW, “hey, how is our gas looking??

“Oh! The light is on!” she responded.

Huh. Ok, no problem, just pull over and get gas.

Except that we were in the middle of Illinois and it was like 11pm local time. So I whipped out Google Maps and said, “gas stations” and up popped three all within 5 miles. After two more miles, we pulled off the highway and into a Shell station.

That was closed.

But wait! Pumps will still work! They were on! They took the credit card and went through all the prompts and then…

no gas.

Huh. Ok, well, the next gas station is about 5 miles away. The car started, so we figured we could make it happen. Instead of putting us back on the highway to the next exit, Google maps had us take this weird little access road that ran along side the expressway and had fields or something and a train track and gravel roads on the other side.

Creepy, but whatever. We were close to gas.

Until we started slowing down and coasting.

Because we were out of gas.

I saw the panic creeping in on PW’s face and I thought quickly and said, “it’s fine. We will be fine,” as she called AAA. I did not feel 100% fine, but what does freaking out do? It doesn’t put gas in the tank, that is for sure.

So while she got on the horn with AAA, I checked to see how far away we were from a gas station. It looked like only a couple miles on Google Maps, but who knew if that one was open, right?

Once we were assured AAA was coming, I tried to reassure my friend with a little white lie, “I’ve run out of gas before. It’s seriously not a big deal. We will be fine.” It worked! Instead of worrying, we took out our conference schedules and started making lists and planning our time.

I’m not kidding when I say this was a creepy area though. It was pitch black dark and only about four cars passed us the entire time. One stopped to see if we were Ok (don’t worry, mom. We didn’t get out or open our door to strangers. We assured them we were taken care of). A train went by at one point lighting up the area enough to see that all the cross-roads were gravel. So creepy.

But my lie of having been through it before got us through. When the AAA guy showed up, he chuckled at how close we were to a gas station. Sure enough, once he gave us enough fuel to get moving, we crested a hill and man-made lights twinkled welcomingly to us.

Good grief.

Before we got on the highway in our full-tank-of-gas vehicle, I confessed my lie (because I can’t fricking lie and sit with it), and PW turned to me and said, “you’re going to blog this, aren’t you?”

“HELL YES I AM. I have a blog-a-day goal for November.”

We finally got to our hotel just after 1am local time (which means our bodies thought it was 2am). I had been up for around twenty hours.

You can imagine what today has been like which is why I am currently in our hotel room after presenting this morning and attending another session.

I need some rest.

Travel Anxiety

Since having kids, this is the fifth time I am traveling away from my family to a conference, and I still get horrible travel anxiety.

It’s not the actual traveling that freaks me out. In fact, I love the traveling part. I’ve discovered that not only am I great road trip buddy (this I have long known), but I do airports and ubers and taxis well too. Who knew this introvert actually does well with public transportation?

Anyway, it’s not the actual traveling; it’s the days leading up to leaving. I am a fricking hot mess.

I stress out about getting everything done on my To Do Lists for home and school so that my transition to not being here goes smoothly. Most days you can’t tell I have OCD just being seeing me, but these days leading up to leaving it gets painfully obvious that I cannot stop myself from the compulsive obsessing—which I guess is the definition of my OCD diagnosis: not being able to stop myself.

It starts out with lists. I make lists of everything. I even have a Master List of Lists and as I accomplish a list, I check that list off the Master List.

Then each time something “not on the list” pops up, I over-react.

What’s that? The kids all need winter coats, snow pants, and boots? NOW? THIS IS NOT ON THE LIST. I CANNOT DEAL WITH THIS EXTRA COST. WE HAVE A STRICT BUDGET FOR THIS.

Then I burst into tears, have a minor panic attack, and curl up in a ball until Cortney puts on his soothing voice and gets me to unclench.

On top of all this, I begin to have intrusive thoughts about “what if…?” But I can’t shut the intrusive thoughts down, and I’ve figured out via YEARS of therapy, that I shouldn’t try because I make the panic worse. Not only do I panic about what happens in my thoughts, but I panic that I can’t stop the thoughts.

I have tell myself, “This is an intrusive thought,” and let it play out if that doesn’t stop it. But I have to name it.

This is exhausting when I have to do this every time I think of something going wrong, or worse–something happening to me, Cortney, or the kids.

And then this is when my sleep anxiety kicks in. Will I get enough before the trip? Will I get enough during the trip? Will I snore because of this sinus infection that is on it’s way out (thank you, antibiotics)? Will I keep everyone else up? Will I stress out about my sleep sounds, thus keeping myself awake and being a total ball of emotional over-tired awful for the entirety of the trip? Do I have a plan to get the rest I need post-trip?

Will I miss Cortney and the kids too much? This is a definite yes. I cry at least once every time I go away from them.  At some point I will get overwhelmed, feel so very tiny in a huge city so vastly far from my loves, and I will cry. I know it will happen, and I still stress about it.

I DON’T KNOW WHY.

But here is the reality: I will cry and miss my family and have at least one introvert-induced panic attack, BUT this will also be so fun because I am road-tripping with a couple of my favorite people, sharing a room with people I feel close enough to fart in front of (heh…sorry, not sorry), and I’m going to get so inspired and filled as an educator.

It’s going to be great DESPITE this stupid anxiety leading up to it.

I Am Not In Church

For the second time in a month, I am not in church with my family.

The first time I was pretty horribly sick. I still have that sinus infection, but it’s not what is keeping me home today. I went last week and felt enormously…awkward. It wasn’t the people (although sitting toward the back didn’t help my feeling of disconnect), or the message, or really anything the church or the pastoral staff did or did not do.

I love our church because the familiar ritual of the pattern of the service have always given me a sense of calm in my crazy busy week.

But lately, it hasn’t been enough.

I am home today because, yes, I have tons to do before leaving for St. Louis on Thursday. I have school stuff to work on, writing to do, and between now and then this is the only alone time I will have. I needed these couple hours.

However, there is something else too.

My faith is hurting right now and going to church feels empty.

Whew. That was hard to write.

There is so so so much bad in the world and I do not feel comfort in that hour service like I used to. It feels…empty. It feels hollow. It feels like it’s not doing anything to help.

As we go through the familiar patterns of worship, I see how many people seem to be just “there.” They are not paying attention, on their phones, or more occupied with the drawing their kid is doing than what is being said/done in front of church. So what is the point?

What is the point of showing up if you’re not really there?

What good is sitting in church doing? What good are the words being said, the songs being sung, the bread being broken if we are just…there. How is that helping the the immense pain and suffering in the world?

I don’t know that there is a reason for everything. I don’t think I believe that everything bad eventually will bring a good. I don’t know if shooting up a church or a concert has a “good” to “even it out”. Or that God “has a plan” for shit like that.

I don’t think racism or sexual assault or bullying is part of anyone’s plan, let alone a God that is supposed to be love and goodness.

Yeah, I used the reason of needing to get stuff done to stay home today. And it’s not a total lie, but I definitely don’t want to sit in church and paint a friendly face on when I pass a peace I’m not sure I believe right now.

So I am not in church today.

Pharmacy Stories

I had to go to the pharmacy today because I actually saw a guy about my sinus infection, and he prescribed me an antibiotic.

Pharmacies are weird, sad little places, aren’t they?

I had to wait about 25 minutes for my script, so I plopped down in a chair with my tissues and phone, and pretended to be reading emails when in reality I could hear everyone who was talking to the pharmacy register ladies.

The lady behind me gave her birth date and leaned in and said not quietly, “I am here for my Wellbutrin. I need it. I ran out and I have to have it.”

Lady, I have BEEN there with my antidepressant. You are NOT alone. (Of course she could be on it to quit smoking or for whatever other reason, who knows).

Anyway, there was some sort of mix up where the pharmacist told her she didn’t have a refill until December 9, and she was like, “but I”m out. I need more.”

I could here the desperation in her voice.

Then there was the line of people behind her. Every one of them looked glum. All of them.

I suppose it makes sense. If you’re standing in line at the pharmacy it’s probably not for something great. You’re probably not there for recreational drug, ya know what I mean?

While I was slumped way down in my seat, another woman argued loudly with the pharmacist about her prescription costing way more this time than the last time. I started to get nervous that things were going to get out of control, but the lady stormed off–without a script.

I felt sad and a little nervous for her.

What kind of prescription wan’t she paying for? Was it that she couldn’t afford it or just didn’t want to pay that money? Was it for her or a loved one? Was this just one instance or was she someone who had to get dozens of meds for a chronic problem, or was this just something small she wasn’t in the mood to pay for?

Then there were the moms with full carts of groceries and kids who were hanging from the blood pressure machine and the wracks of first aid splints while she looked frazzled and totally over it. I have been there too. I imagined that she was picking up a script for a kid with an ear infection, and she really just wants a break.

I also watched as a very small elderly man set at least eight empty prescription bottles on the counter. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but he was shakily holding up one after another and talking to the pharmacist. She took about five of them from him, and he put the others back in the plastic bag.

As he walked away, I smiled at him and said a little prayer that he didn’t just negotiate which were the most important to fill. In my head, those meds were for his wife, but they could have been for him. Or maybe he was returning unused pills. I don’t know.

It was seriously busy, and when they called my name, I tried to smile at the tired looking pharmacist even though I had a horrible headache from the sinus pressure and I just wanted to lie down. I admit, I grabbed my antibiotic, and walked out head down, though.

No one wants to see someone they know at the pharmacy.

Sinus Infection?

I think I have a sinus infection.

I’ve had this head cold thing for what will be two weeks tomorrow. It started last Thursday with a bit of a scratch in the back of my throat. The next day my entire head was all blown up and feeling awful.

I slept a lot of the weekend.

Last Monday I maybe should have stayed home.

I didn’t. I worked all last week.

I tried to sleep a lot this weekend.

My nose has been running nonstop and now my nose is all chafed and red and raw and sore.

This morning when I still felt like a pile of snotty garbage, I messaged my doctor because come on. I’m supposed to road trip my way to St. Louis next week Thursday evening and then share a room with two other people. No one wants to share a hotel room with a mouth-breathing mucus face.

Also I lost my voice today, and that is just not a good thing for someone who has to do three presentations next weekend.

So, I messaged my doctor.

He thinks it’s probably a sinus infection and that I should be seen.

That is easier said than done with my doc, but the stars aligned and his office was able to get me in with the PA on Friday just after lunch. Yes, I will have to take the afternoon off on Friday (which I don’t like because I have three days off coming up and I’m trying NOT to leave my students with a sub more than I have to), but at least (oh please let it be at least), I’ll be able to get some meds to get rid of this nonsense.

I’m going to hobble through the next day and a half of work and beg my afternoon classes not to be poop heads for a sub on Friday, and I’m going to get better.

Because snot is dumb.

Continuing Education

Since telling people that I am applying for a PhD program I have gotten a lot of astounded looks and even more comments that sound roughly like, “GOOD FOR YOU! And with three kids and working full time? Wow!”

Let me just first say that I know that the there is real affirmation behind these comments, and that the people saying them are really impressed (or at least I am choosing to assume positivity). I smile and nod, and mutter something like, “Well, I’m going to try.”

Honestly? I am terrified.

The last time I was in a graduate program, I didn’t have any kids. Shoot, I wasn’t even married for the first half of it. Yes, I was working full time, but the rest of my time was super flexible. The only person’s obligations I had to worry about were mine (and sometimes Cortney’s, but let’s be real: it did not matter if he had a haircut or meeting while I was in class back then).

Now, we are talking about a major disruption to our already crazy schedule. I already feel like our week’s are jam-packed with soccer (done now, whew!), scouts, consistory, and bowling. Now we are going to throw in a night that I am completely gone for class too.

Then there is actually the time I will have to do my homework.

I have my Master’s degree in the same program I am hoping to get my PhD in, so I already know it’s going to be a lot of work. I know there will be a lot of reading and writing. I am sure there will be some sort of online thing attached too. I graduated 9 years ago. Lots has changed since then, so I know every day will have to have some sort of block for me to just focus on class work.

Plus I will still be working full time.

Sometimes when people give me those, “WOW!” comments, failure flashes before my eyes and I wonder why I told ANYONE what I am doing.

At the same time, I am so excited to get back to being a student. I am eager to continue my studies and learn more about writing, literature, and the teaching of both. I am actually looking forward to research and picking apart the results of that research.

I’m excited to try new things.

I’m also terrified of failure.

But I have to try.

I have to do this. For me, but also to show my kids that when you have a dream, you have to at least go for it.

 

NCTE17

 

Last year my good friend, the Pastor’s Wife, convinced me that I needed to attend the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Atlanta. I had been going to our state-level conference, the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE), for a few years, and she was sure this was my next step.

I balked a little at the cost: ticket price, hotel, conference passes (If you go to NCTE, you may as well stay and spring to go to ALAN–The Assembly on Literature of the Adolescents of the NCTE–as well. It was just a lot. Plus having to take time off work, make sub plans, work out the details of Cortney being the solo parent for a long weekend right before Thanksgiving. It really seemed to be too much.

She is convincing though, my Pastor’s Wife friend. She even somehow made it not just sound ok to Cortney, but he was all on board with how great this would be for me. Then the Pastor’s Wife convinced me to submit to present. And THEN I was accepted on a round-table as a respondent AND as a panel member.

NCTE in Atlanta last year was one of the best things I have done for my career EVER.  My whole recap is here.

This year NCTE and ALAN are in St. Louis, and the Pastor’s Wife (who is a college professor, in case I didn’t mention that) and I are ROAD-TRIPPING! We are leaving Thursday, November 16 after a full day of teaching, and driving through to St. Louis where we will stay until Tuesday morning.

I am part of THREE presentations this year: I’m a round-table presenter, a round-table respondent, and a panel chair with The Educator’s Room.

I am almost exhausted just thinking about it.

But I’m also really, really excited about it.

And stressed because I only have 2/3 of my presentations set.

But it’s going to be great. I’m going to learn and grow as a teacher, and I am going to fan girl all the YA authors

 

Feeling Like a Phony

Our new Sunday routine for the fall has me driving separately to church and leaving after the service while the kids go to Children in Worship (our church’s version of Sunday School) and Cortney stays back to count (he’s a deacon) or go visit his grandma and then picking the kids up.

I don’t leave to go take a nap–although today I was very tempted to do just that–I run any errands and then take my Chromebook and any school work or writing deadlines I have and head to our Barnes & Noble cafe section and work for a couple hours.

I’ve been delighted to notice that there is a whole crew of regulars here including the most adorable elderly couple who seems to be arriving after church for some coffee and chit chat. Even the barista must have this as her regular schedule. Today she said, “Oh welcome back. are you going to be one of our new regulars?” I smiled and said, “Probably. I’m more productive here than in a house full of kids.”

As she was ringing up my order I complimented her on the tattoo of a beautiful ship on her arm. She asked why I had “Write.” on my arm. “Are you a writer?” I fumbled. This isn’t the first time I have been asked this since getting that ink on my arm.

“Um, well, I write a lot, and um…I’m actually an 8th grade English teacher. But I’ve been blogging for ten years…and, well…I have been published a couple places and I guess that makes me a writer.”

I winced in my head. I have the word permanently on my arm and I seem so unsure of it when asked.

“What are you writing right now?” She asked me with clear curiosity.

“Um, well, I’ve been working on my statement for my PhD application and I have a chapter in a book I am writing…a book about teaching. I’m writing about teaching a certain book with a grief focus. I’m not sure it will be included, but I want to use it because I need a ten-page writing sample for my application too. So nothing, like, for publication, but yeah.”

OH MY GOSH. I internally rolled my eyes at myself. What is wrong with me?

“That is really awesome! A PhD! Then everyone can call you Doctor! So cool! Good luck!”

I shrunk into myself and hid myself in a corner table. I immediately decided to grade essays because I had NO idea to revise my statement, and I don’t actually know where to start with the book chapter, and WHO DO I THINK I AM?

A total phony, that’s who.

I am in one of those funks where I have this paranoid feeling that I have people snowed; that they think I can write these wonderful things, but in fact I am a terrible writer. I sent a draft to a friend recently and I am surprised–no, SHOCKED–she still thinks I have it in me not just to do this writing thing, but to get a higher degree in English education and teach other people to do this stuff.

I have doubts, is what I’m saying.

Today I do not feel like I can do it.

Today I feel like an impostor.

Today I feel like I have nothing together.

So I’m going to pack it up for today, but I will try again next week. Because I made this commitment and even if I totally blow it, I have to try.

A Decade of Words

Ten years ago today I opened up a new blogspot account and started Sluiter Nation. All of our closest friends had moved out of state, so I thought maybe having a “website” to post pictures would be a good way to keep everyone up-to-date.

I’ve been consistently (sometimes more consistently than others) putting my words here. They range from the mundane (updates and giveaways and some product reviews) to the deeply personal.

I believe this blog made me the writer/teacher I am today.

This little blog of mine reunited with me with a high school friend named Emily (formerly known as DesignHER Momma) who had moved to Indianapolis. She connected me with Indy bloggers like Casey (Moosh in Indy) and to Curvy Girls like Brittany Herself who made me want to write better. They also showed me BlogHer.

Emily’s honesty helped me recognize I had postpartum depression after Eddie was born.

That led me to all the Warrior Moms.

I started to write very honestly about my struggles.

I went to BlogHer. I tried to find myself as a blogger for a long time. I did product reviews occasionally, giveaways here and there, and tried to separated my writing and teaching lives.

It wasn’t until after Charlie was born that I realized that my writing and teaching actually fit better together than trying to be a mom blogger.

It was also during this time that some of my personal essays about my struggle with my mental health were published in anthologies. I started to realize that maybe I have a gift. I’m not a best-selling author–nor will I ever be–but I have the ability to put my thoughts into print.

I started to read Young Adult Literature and become passionate about my career in a way I never did before. I began writing for Education sites, (currently I write for The Educator’s Room). Friends and colleagues encouraged me to write about my teaching experiences and research for education journals.

Now I am in the process of applying to a new graduate program to get my PhD in English Education.

Wednesday I was trying to trace back how I got to this place, and I believe it comes back to this space.

I’ve made true friends because of this space. I’ve traveled across the country by myself because of this space. I have taken so many more chances on opportunities that I would have NEVER done because of this space.

On an internet where more and more bloggers are closing up shop, I plan to keep my little space open and chugging along. This is our life right now. It’s who I am right now.

Yay, Ten!

The Uncomfortable Brightness of Motherhood

Motherhood is weird, right?

We long for a light in the darkness, and yet…

sometimes the sun shines so brightly that we have to squint and shade our eyes and smile through it even though it’s almost painful.

We work so hard for these sunny times that even though they are often blinding, we will take them.

My Eddie with his eyes shielded, looking forward for his mom with his hand on my shoulder.

My Charlie squinting and throwing up rock n roll horns even through the sting of the sun for his mom mom with his other hand on my back.

My Alice closing her eyes and smiling because momma said to and she trusts me completely while gripping my arm tightly.

These kids man.

Not what I expected at all.

Uncomfortable at times.

But Better.

Brighter.

Charlie’s Card he made me in Preschool. My boy knows me so well!

 

 

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