GRR to ATL and Back Again

The weekend before Thanksgiving I got on a plane and went to Atlanta for back-to-back English teacher conferences: NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English) and ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for the Adolescence of NCTE). It was an excellent experience, but man. I am so lame at traveling away from my family!

I left Friday morning. The whole family drove me out to the airport for my 8am flight (which means we left the house around 6am). Eddie–who is just a tad like me–had been worrying over my leaving all week. He kept saying things like, “This is the LAST time you will put us to bed” and “This is the LAST time you will eat dinner with us.” He is a bit melodramatic. I assured him I was going to Atlanta, not Heaven, and that I would be back home Monday night after they were in bed. He clung to me at the airport, not really wanting to let me go or say goodbye. Alice followed his lead and hung onto my leg or wanted to sit on my lap. I think she could sense that they were leaving me behind.

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Charlie, on the other hand, had been counting down the days until “we can bring you to the airport and see the planes and Dad Dad will make brownies while you are gone!” He was not outwardly concerned about my being gone at all.  However when we got to the part where everyone was saying goodbye to me, he wandered off (it’s a small airport, so it’s not like we didn’t know where he was), and avoided me. When I found him and knelt down to his level, he let me hug him. He said, “I love you, Mom Mom” after I told him I loved him. But he would not say “Goodbye.”

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I gave Cortney a long hug…both because it’s hard for me to leave him and because I knew it would be a long four days of parenting by himself. I hugged and kissed my three babies one last time, and I was off through security. This was my third time flying solo for a conference; the first two times were to California for BlogHer ’11 and BlogHer ’14 (I was pregnant both times). Both trips to California involved multiple airports and connections and layovers, so a direct flight that was less than two hours long to Atlanta felt like nothing! Although I will say the Atlanta airport is HUGE. I mean, I took a train inside the airport to get from one end to the other where my bag and the exit was. Crazy.

I must say, I am proud to be getting pretty adept at getting myself a taxi and having great conversations with the driver. I had a remarkable political discussion with my driver who was from Kenya. She was listening to a very conservative talk radio station and must have sensed my tension (I just opened a book and started to read), because she said, “You must wonder why someone like me wants to listen to something such as this.” And then she went on to say she listens to all of it: left, right, and in between. She wants to be informed. She talks to other immigrants who are now citizens–like she is–to hear their perspective.  I dare say it was one of the highlights of my trip!

Well, that and the fact that I tried Chick-fil-a for the first time (and ate there three times in four days…what? It was right across from my hotel!) SO YUM!

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Friday was a whirlwind of travel, hotel, lunch, exhibit hall (where I met authors and got free books!) and going out to eat with my editor and fellow contributor at The Educator’s Room.

Oh, and one of the author’s I met on that very first day was Dav Pilkey–you know—the guy who wrote the Captain Underpants books? Eddie and Charlie about died when I texted Cortney this photo of me getting the first book in his newest series, Dogman, signed. And yes, I am talking too much. I was telling him about how my boys LOVE his books and that we are in the middle of re-reading them RIGHT NOW at bedtime.

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Like I said, my editor at The Educator’s Room was there–she is local to Atlanta–so she picked my fellow contributor Colette and me up for an early dinner. We went to a place called Six Feet Under. It’s across the street from a large cemetery, naturally. She ordered us something called Spicy Rat Toes–jalapeños stuffed with shrimp and wrapped in bacon. Oh my gosh. So good. Then I got the crab cake sliders for dinner.

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I was so exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel room. I flopped into my jammies before 7pm. In fact, since my roomies were still out, I called home to talk to my loves after a long day away. The boys were super excited to talk to me. Charlie asked if I was coming home now with the Dogman book. I could hear Alice in the background being confused about hearing mommy’s voice, but not knowing where I was. It was good to hear everyone, but because I was so tired, it also made me sappy and wish for my own bed. Thankfully the roomies came back shortly after and we chatted and laughed until bedtime.

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Saturday was my big day of sessions. I was part of a round table at 9:30am that included authors Meg Medina and Kekla Magoon (both excellent YA authors. I suggest grabbing everything they’ve written for you To Read Pile). I then attended a session about the narrative of The Other in literature and in our students’ own narratives. After lunch, I joined back up with Educator’s Room co-writers and presented about using blogging and social media to advocate for teachers. I ended the day in a session about making nonfiction more accessible (and exciting) to students.

I ended the day meeting my three roommates (one of which is one of my best friends, The Pastor’s Wife) for the annual Scholastic Dinner. Scholastic invites anyone who wants to attend to have a full-on turkey dinner together. It was pretty sweet. Plus there was lots of laughs and good conversation.

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After dinner we went over and watched an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates (correspondent for The Atlantic and author of the novel Between Me and The World). While way brief (I blame the interviewer), it was worth hustling out of the Scholastic dinner and down to the auditorium to hear him speak about the presidential election and what is happening in society from his point of view.

Sunday was more exhibit hall, Chick-fil-a, and then that evening was the Author Reception for the ALAN conference that began the next day. The highlight of the Exhibit Hall for me was a tie between all the free Advanced Reader Copy books I got and meeting Matt de la Peña and having him sign a copy of Last Stop on Market Street for my kids. Let’s not talk about my bad hair, mmkay?

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As I said, the evening brought the Author’s reception and I will fully disclose at this point that I went a little fangirl on my favorite YA authors. I met Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (All American Boys), A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz), Laurie Halse Anderson (The Chains trilogy, Speak, and many more), David Levithan (Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, Another Day, and more) and others. It was a crazy two hours of conversation and selfies. I think there were appetizers and drinks too, but I was too distracted to stand in those lines.

After, The Pastor’s Wife and I went out for BBQ with some colleagues from universities around the country. We had fabulous discussions about YA over chicarrónes. I had an American mule while splitting brisket and pulled pork while talking religion and love. It was glorious and a definite favorite part of my trip.

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Monday was my last day, and the day I got to attend the ALAN conference. As you can see, it was a bit overwhelming. They handed me a box and a bag FULL of books. There were 500 people in attendance all sorting through their books deciding what to keep, what to get signed, what to trade. It was the most beautiful chaos I have ever witnessed.

I was privileged to spend the day surrounded by books and listening to YA authors. I am positive that this must be what heaven is like.

After shipping four boxes of books (I counted 88 when I unpacked the ones for my classroom…and there were quite a few picture books and elementary chapter books I kept for my kids on top of that…so probably over 100 books total), we grabbed one more meal of Chick-fil-a before getting an Uber to the airport.

The flight and everything was smooth and on time and I was on my own couch by 11pm. I sneaked into the rooms of my children and gave kisses as I tucked them all back in.

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Tuesday evening after school and running around, these two small people stuck to my side like glue. I think they were afraid I would go away again. I was cool with it; I missed my littles. Cortney an I were in constant text or email the whole weekend. My roomies thought it was funny, but I am just so bad at being away from their lives!

I will say it was a wonderfully awesome trip! I hope to go again next year when it’s in St. Louis!

If you’re interested in more of my professional highlights, I wrote about it at The Educator’s Room.

History told in First Woman

I’ve been quiet over here, but my head has been so very loud. I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about what is going on in our country right now, so that someday, when my words are gone, my children will still have my thoughts.

Last week started out so very exciting. I originally voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but since his loss to Hillary Clinton, I have been 100% on the HRC bandwagon. I’m not really going to go into the why behind that since this is not a persuasive essay and at this point, because she lost, it’s moot. I just liked her as a candidate and the bonus was that she is a woman.

I was so excited to vote for a woman. I didn’t really realize just how excited I was until I was standing in line to vote. The week was a busy one and it was only Tuesday: we had parent/teacher conferences for both Eddie and Charlie plus I had parent/teacher conferences at school. On top of that both Eddie and I were scheduled to get flu shots that week. It was busy. When I made my list of things to get done, voting happened to just be an item to do and then check off.

Until I got in that line. I walked up all smiles and filled out my little card with my name and address and hopped in line. It wasn’t a long line; I had maybe a 5-10 minute wait. As I slowly made my way to the table to get the actual ballot, I looked at the faces in line. I saw a mom with a little girl and something went funny in my throat. A huge lump formed and I struggled to keep the tears from falling.

I thought of my grandmothers who were born before women even had the right to vote.

I thought of the messy history of women’s suffrage and the racist white women who ended up getting us the right to vote in the first place.

I thought of how I wept when I voted for Barack Obama the first time, and how I had blamed it on the pregnancy hormones.

I thought of all the divisiveness that our country is going through with this election, and how I answered Eddie’s questions about who I would vote for by telling him I made my choices based on who I thought would help us be kinder, more unified, and more helpful.

I thought about the time a year earlier, when Eddie asked about presidents and Cortney told him there had never been a girl president before. Eddie’s response was, “WHAT!?! Well we need to vote for one! We need a girl president!”

I thought about all the times he corrected people when they used “girl” as a put-down by saying, “hey! Your mom is a girl! Your sister is a girl! Your grandma is a girl! Do you really think girls are bad? NO! My mom and sister and grandmas are AWESOME and SMART.”

I thought about all those things and the tears started to trickle down my cheeks. I tried to quickly brush them off, but I felt a hand on my arm. When I looked up, a young lady was smiling and nodding. “Me too,” she said. “Me. Too.”

I nodded and smiled. Then I took my ballot and went to the available booth.

I don’t always vote straight ticket, but I could have on this particular ballot. But I didn’t. I wanted to color in the bubble next to her name: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

After voting, I snapped a quick selfie, and went to Office Max, picked up Eddie, and then picked up the Littles just as planned. Then I went home and made us dinner, and helped with homework, and put kids to bed.

As I went to bed, I had a sinking feeling my candidate did not win.

But I hold tight to that feeling of seeing a woman (actually TWO) on the ballot, and knowing there is a long list of hope and possibility for our future.

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Since last week’s election, my hope has been severely tested. Every time I think I have it processed enough to write about it, more happens. I pledge to put it all down here though, because these are the stories that will someday be history. I want my children to have this when I don’t have the memories or words to tell them about it anymore.

Reasons Being A Grown-up Stinks

I have been adding to this list for awhile now. It’s not that I don’t really love my life, but sometimes? Being a grown-up stinks. Bad.

  1. Paying bills
  2. Paying for insurance
  3. In general paying for things that are boring
  4. Not being able to respond to your child like you would if you were a child. Example: “Your FACE looks like a disgusting dinner.”
  5. facial hair
  6. body parts that just hurt because you’re getting older, not because you injured it doing some daring stunt like crowd surfing.
  7. Cleaning the bathroom that other people make gross. I’m looking at you, Charlie. AIM YOUR PEE.
  8. Doing other people’s laundry. Again, Charlie, I’m looking at you. WIPE YOUR BOOTY BETTER.
  9. Dusting.
  10. Wiping other people’s booties.
  11. Worrying about how long the grass is.
  12. Adult acne
  13. Being exhausted…by just being awake.
  14. Starting to sound like my parents. “I am not yelling; I am speaking sternly. You will know when I am yelling.”
  15. Realizing that behavior that you find incredibly annoying is exactly how you used to act when “you were that age.”
  16. Kidz Bop being part of my life.
  17. Paying over $100 every 6-8 weeks to cover grey hair and remove other hair.
  18. Cracking joints.
  19. Needing glasses.
  20. Understanding why Garfield hates Mondays.
  21. Slowed metabolism.
  22. Being in charge…all the dang time.
  23. the practice of herding cats…all day, every day.
  24. The lack of nap time.
  25. Being the bearer of bad news.
  26. Realizing everyone else is getting older too…
  27. people you love start dying.
  28. Having to explain hard stuff to innocent people.
  29. realizing that you have an unhealthy one-way relationship with coffee
  30. Having to let your kids win at games once in awhile.
  31. Watching the news.
  32. Being responsible.
  33. Being punctual.
  34. Picking up after other people.
  35. Making decisions.
  36. Caring about things that with letters and numbers as their names: 401K, 403b, LMNOP3 (ok that last one is not real, but whatever).
  37. Having to talk about budgets.
  38. Math.
  39. Spending all that money-you-don’t-have-but-wish-you-did-so-you-could-spend-on-fun-things on fixing a 30+ year old lawn mower’s steering.
  40. Knowing there is no quick fix, silver bullet, and maybe not even a happy ending.
  41. Saying the same thing over an over and feeling like you are talking to a wall. “Quit bothering your brother. Quit bothering your brother. QUIT BOTHERING YOUR BROTHER!”
  42. Having to follow through with consequences that leave you without fun.
  43. Seeing your childhood through “adult eyes.” That thing that was so big and amazing? It’s really just normal…and kind of run down.
  44. Being able to relate to Cathy and her reaction of “ACK!” to everything.
  45. mortgages.
  46. voting.
  47. Having to do social stuff when you don’t want to do social stuff, but it’s sort of required social stuff, so you do it anyway.
  48. bad beer.
  49. pregnancy scares…especially when you have been, um, fixed. And you’re of “advanced maternal age.”
  50. Getting AARP mailings…when you’re not even forty.

being a grown-up

I realize not everyone has the same experience as I do. Some people never have kids and are still jumping out of airplanes at ninety years old. That is not the life I chose for myself. This list is not meant to be a big fat downer on my life, either. I really do love my husband and kids and life, but seriously. Sometimes things stink. So I made a list. What would you add? Let’s vent, shall we?

Pearl Jam at Wrigley Take Two

Three years ago, in 103 degree heat, while rocking a UTI, and then being evacuated for three hours due to a wicked lightning storm and high winds, Cortney and I saw Pearl Jam at Wrigley. It was epic for a number of reasons. Clearly. In fact it took THREE blog posts to write all about it.

Things went much more smoothly this year, but not at first.

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We were about an hour or so into our drive in pretty stormy weather (my weather app told me Chicago would be done with rain that night for the show, but we would have to drive through some gnarly stuff), when my phone blew up with tornado warnings. Um. Apparently there was a tornado sighted just east of where we were driving. Since the weather was moving quickly to the east, we decided to stay on the road and keep driving (sorry, mom!). Then I checked Facebook and saw that my parents’ (who had the kids) were also under tornado warning, so I texted my mom to make sure everyone was in the basement.

Everything ended up fine; no one was swept away in a tornado, and in the end we had one of the quickest trips into Chicago we have ever had despite the severe weather.

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We got to our hotel right at 3pm for check in and then headed to the closest train station to get our tickets so we wouldn’t get stuck in the mad rush before and after the show. Then we decided that since we skipped lunch and it was close to 4:30pm our time (3:30 local), we would grab burgers at the Weber Grill.

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After dinner we were super full and had some time, so we headed up to the room to refresh from the drive and get ready to head out to the show. When we left the hotel for the train, the sun was shining and we were super excited.

As soon as the train came out into the open, it was pouring rain. Thankfully, it only last a minute and by the time we found our way to the Will Call line, it had passed. Good thing because it took almost an hour in line at Will Call to get our dang tickets.  Longest line EVER.

But it meant there was lots of time to people watch. Before we got there, my brother and his friend saw the drummer, Matt Cameron, walking around with his little kid. We were not that lucky, but I did see a LOT of beards and undercuts.

I also listened to a bunch of conversations because, well, it was crowded and everyone was very close. Lots of talk about the last time PJ played Wrigley and we were all evacuated for 3 hours due to the storm. Most of those stories had a lot of “dude!” in them.

The couple behind us made me realize how long we have been journeying to these shows. The guy was on the phone with what I assume was one of his parents. I heard snippets of “when you get there she will probably have to go pee pee or maybe some poops” and “at bedtime just read her a book and sing her a song. You can just make it up, but put her name in it. She will probably go to bed then, but if she says no, just say, ‘one more song and then you have to go to sleep’ and that will usually work.”

I chuckled to myself as I calculated that it had been eighteen years since my first PJ show (Alpine Valley, WI in 1998), and those were NOT the conversations I was hearing back then. At all.

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One in we quickly found our way to the field where we had 4th row tickets (think right field) behind the general admission people. So, excellent seats, basically. This friends, is why Cortney keeps his fan club membership current. It pays off awesomely for shows.

My brother and sister-in-law were also there and we found them before the show. My brother, Chris (the older of my two younger brothers), was with me when we both saw our first PJ show. Again, eighteen years ago. We both confirmed that at 38 and almost 36 we were too old for general admission tickets and needed a seat for our aging booties.

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They also had 4th row seats, but in left field. After the show we met them back at the Weber Grill (because it’s attached to our hotel) for drinks and snacks. It was fun to be able to have a little adult time with them since between us we have six kids.

The show started shortly after 8pm and went until just after 11pm.

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The last time we were here, there was the most blown out couple of all time in front of us. This year we got The Pearl Jam Mega Fan. He remembered to pack not just his air guitar, but also his air drum set and air keyboards. He had a Tommy Boy hair cut and jumped around like House of Pain was giving him direct orders. You better know his favorite songs were the old ones from Ten that have been played to death on the radio. Dude almost lost his mind when they played “Alive.”

We were entertained.

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I absolutely loved the show. Loved it. They opened with “Low Light” (after the opening chords of “Baba O’Reily”) which is one of my faves and then went into “Release”. I admit to crying. That song has always been a powerful reminder to me of how hard I fight my depression and anxiety disorders.

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in the lower left corner you an see PJ Mega Fan jammin’ out.

This is the whole set list:

  1. “Low Light”
  2. “Release”
  3. “Rain” (Beatles cover)
  4. “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”
  5. “Do The Evolution”
  6. “Last Exit”
  7. “Lightning Bolt”
  8. “Sad”
  9. “Amongst The Waves”
  10. “Evenflow”
  11. “Light Years” (Dedicated to Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip)
  12. “I Got Id”
  13. “Mind Your Manners”
  14. “Unthought Known”
  15. “Masters of War” (Bob Dylan cover)
  16. “I Am A Patriot” (Little Steven cover)
  17. “Daughter” (with the “W.M.A. tag at the end)
  18. “Jeremy”
  19. “Betterman” (with the “Save it For Later” tag at the end)

Encore #1

  1. “Bee Girl”
  2. “Just Breathe” (had a couple on the stage: Amy and Kyle. Kyle is a serviceman and Amy surprised him with tickets, so Eddie Vedder had them on stage. Kyle proposed during the song to Amy. ADORABLE)
  3. “I Believe in Miracles” (Ramones cover)
  4. “Let Me Sleep”
  5. “Inside Job”
  6. “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd cover)
  7. “Interstellar Overdrive” (Pink Floyd cover)
  8. “Corduroy”
  9. “Porch”

Encore #2

  1. “Go”
  2. “Black”
  3. “Surrender” (Cheap Trick cover)

Encore #3

  1. “All the Way”
  2. “Baba O’Riley” (The Who cover)

Cortney made the statement–I don’t think it was a complaint, but maybe a little?–that the show was “cover heavy”. That is true, they did eight covers (9 if you count the started the show with the opening of “Baba O’Riley too). He also mentioned it seemed “slow” compared to three years ago when he felt his face had been melted by the sheer rock n roll of it all.

I didn’t feel my face was melted, but I definitely enjoyed this show, maybe even more than last time because I wasn’t dying of heat, drenched from rain, or exhausted because it was almost 3am.

I would have liked to hear “Future Days” rather than “Just Breathe” and it would have been nice to get a few songs of No Code. They only played two songs off their latest album, Lightning Bolt, which I thought was surprising. More songs than I would have liked from Ten, but what can you do? People like the old stuff, I guess.

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I couldn’t help but think about how Eddie Vedder used to hang from the lighting equipment during “Porch” and he even reminisced about where the song “Bee Girl” came from  talking about how he used to worry about the boy from the “Jeremy” video who was only twelve at the time it came out. Lots has changed now that the band members are all around fifty instead of thirty.

And we fans aren’t teenagers anymore and have our own kids. In fact, they play another show at Wrigley tonight and my brother is bringing his eleven-year-old son with him.

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But man, Pearl Jam can still fill the stadiums. The place was PACKED. And even though there were definitely some “interesting” people there, Pearl Jam fans are still, for the most part, super cool. People are kind and helpful and fun. They are devoted too! We met a couple in our hotel who was there from Florida!

If seeing Pearl Jam wasn’t awesome enough, the next morning we got to have brunch with my best friend and her husband and son who live in Chicago.

I went home a very VERY happy girl. It was the perfect way to kick off my last week of summer vacation before heading back to school for the year.

Thank you to Cortney for picking me as his date to the show!

Mother Teacher

Back to school surprised me this year.

I was going along, enjoying summer, having hernia surgery, thinking everything was grand and then there it was, staring me in the face: Back to School.

It started with an innocent text to a friend, The Pastor’s Wife. We had talked about having a cocktail hour on her deck all summer and it hadn’t happened yet, so I texted to see if she wanted to put something on the calendar. The Pastor’s Wife happens to teach at the college level, and her response was: I would love to, but I go back on Monday.

I just stood staring at the text for a couple seconds. How could that be possible? It was still early August!

When I asked her as much, she said, well, students are back Aug 22, so inservices, etc.

That is when it hit me: it was NOT the beginning of August anymore, and I had to be back to school August 29…two weeks.

The spell of summer was broken and my brain officially started thinking about my classroom and all that had to be done. I couldn’t shut it down, the launch sequence had begun. So I went in and started gathering my thoughts…and putting desks in groups.

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I’ve got lists and piles and projects to tackle in the next couple weeks before a new crop of 8th graders walk through the door to room 103 on September 6.

While I prepare, I am still in the role of Stay at Home Mom for a couple weeks too. Counting today, I still have the kids all to myself for five more full days. While I am excited to start a new school year and get back to being a Working Mom, I am finding myself realizing we won’t have a summer with a 7, 4, and 1 year old ever again.

We recently finished up Eddie’s back to school shopping. We were given his supply list back in June, so as soon as I saw sales, I stocked up. Going into 2nd grade this fall, the coolest new purchase for him was a new lunch bag since his old one up and fell apart after two years of abuse. This afternoon we get to head to his school and see what teacher he will have. They go old school and post class lists on the office doors…just like when Cortney and I were little.

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My Charlie Bird is going to school this year as a big preschooler! We bought him a backpack–dinosaurs, as requested, and just received the letter in the mail telling us that his teacher is a friend of mine from high school! He will be going four afternoons a week and he is pretty excited about it. I actually am too. I remember being SO sad when Eddie was school-aged, but I am excited for Charlie! He is going to do so great!

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Alice will be back with Ms. Carolyn full-time. They adore each other, so I am not worried about that in the least, but I will miss my little shadow. It was so darn much fun watching her grow from a baby to a toddler with sass this summer. I know when summer comes around again she will be that much bigger and more independent, so I am trying to get in as many little snuggles and cuddles as I can with my Alice Beans.

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We have worn a groove into the summer: Mondays for library, Tuesdays at Ms Carolyn’s, Wednesdays to the Farmer’s Market, Thursdays at Ms. Carolyn’s, and Fridays for Free Fun. I even had laundry loads assigned to each week day so that we would be free for family time on the weekends.

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I was supposed to be keeping track for Eddie’s Summer Stretch homework of how many minutes he/we read this summer. He was supposed to do 100 minutes a week. I just told him to color in the whole chart. I’m sure we read enough. We averaged 20 books per week at the library plus the books we already have at home, plus the countless reading he does over my shoulder, on TV, on signs…it seems like if it has words, he’s reading it to me. Including a sign that said, “Bitchin’ Kitchen” while we were on vacation last month. HA!

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So the end of summer caught me by surprise. We posted a Wish List in June of what we wanted to do this summer. It included:

  • go on vacation (check)
  • go to the beach (check…more than once!)
  • go on a boat (check…thanks, grandpa!)
  • go swimming (so much check!)
  • swim in a pool (check)
  • go to the splash pad (check)
  • visit the Farmer’s Market (lots of checks)
  • play at some parks (check)
  • have a campfire (this has sort of happened, but not as a family)
  • run in the sprinkler (lots of checks)
  • play with friends we love (lots of checks!)
  • visit the zoo (maybe next week?)
  • go to the playground (check)
  • eat lots of ice cream (CHECK!)
  • Go to Sundaes on Wednesday at church (check)
  • Play on the slip n slide (check)
  • Chalk up the driveway (check)
  • ride bikes (check)
  • wash the cars by hand (check)
  • go fishing (check)
  • go to the donut shop (check…many times)
  • visit the library (check…each week)

I’d say we’ve had a pretty darn good summer. And if we can get to the zoo next week, that will be a great last hurrah before I head back to work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the boys and I are doing some bead art stuff while watching Loony Tunes while Alice naps before we head out to see about that class list. I am required to help sort colors.

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ps. do you like the new header on the blog? That was done by Erin Barkel Photography. She really did a fab job!

pps. I have a project that needs funding over at DonorsChoose.Org. I need shelving for my classroom library! Can you help? Donate here.

About That Hernia

So I have a hernia.

Well, I guess I don’t anymore. Friday I had it repaired. I don’t recommend having a hernia.

I first noticed mine when I was pregnant with Alice. It was a hard bump right above my belly button that was really tender. I figured that it was an elbow or knee or heel or something since I was carrying her super high.

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After she was born, it was still pretty tender. When I put the boys to bed, I sit in Eddie’s bed and Charlie sits in my lap and likes to lean his head back against me. There were times when I thought I was going to jump through the bunk bed with pain.

One night, I walked upstairs pushing around on the tender spot. I noticed a lump in there and made Cortney push it too. He said, “you’re going to get that checked out, right?”

INSERT GIANT SIGH.

I hate getting stuff “checked out,” but I messaged my doc. Um, so I have this lump type thing above my belly button and it hurts a ton and Cortney said I had to ask you about it.

His response was something like, Could be a hernia? I’d have to see it. You should come in.

So after a few more weeks of putting it off, I finally call and of course can’t get in to see my doctor for like six months or something because his schedule is so packed. I reluctantly agree to see another provider. This was in April or May. So you know, I put up with this hurting lump for over a year at this point. Also at this point, I am coming home from work feeling horrible. Carrying anything against my torso feels like death and it’s all bloated and hurting.

My appointment with this provider lasts less than 10 minutes. She has me lie back, pokes around my owie lump thing and says, “yup. an umbilical hernia. We’ll get you a surgery consult.”

I’m like, “wait. I need surgery?”

And she’s all, “Well, you need it fixed or it’s going to get worse and then bad things happen.”

That was it.

So naturally I put the surgery consult off until school was out. When I finally went in, my hernia wasn’t bugging me much anymore, but the surgeon took a poke at it and said, “yup. Let’s fix that.” He also told me that hernias poke out of weak areas, and that it was probably a birth defect that I just hadn’t noticed until my third pregnancy finally put enough pressure on it that a little bit of my intestines started to bulge through.

I asked if it was an emergency situation. He said, no, but that I would want to get it taken care of.

That was in June. Again, I put the actual surgery off until, well, this past Friday.

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I walked in feeling fine. My hernia hadn’t bothered me even a little all summer. I felt dumb for going in and I knew that this would inconvenience a lot of people, but mostly Cortney. I was told firmly to stop saying it was dumb and to just get it taken care of.

So I did.

Well, the team of docs and nurses did. I just laid there unconscious.

I was in quite a bit of pain the first 24 hours, but now that I am past 48 hours, I am doing better. I am at that point where I want to do more than my body will let me. I’m sick of being in bed, but it’s where I feel best and where no children (um, Alice) are crawling all over me putting knees and elbows into my very tender torso.

I ate dinner at the table tonight rather than in bed, and I’m not icing my incision area anymore. I’m also trying not to take the prescription drugs and just do the OTC stuff.

It’s definitely an easier process than after a C-section, but it’s still abdominal surgery and I’m trying to remember that I need to give my body time to rest and heal. I’m just not a very patient person when I feel like I should feel better and I want to do more than just lie around.

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The kids are being troopers, Cortney is being amazing, and I’ve had lots of great texts from friends and family showing their love.

I’ll be back at it sooner than later, until then I will try to relax and let my body heal without pushing it to do too much.

Mirror

So often

I see reflected in my children

that of which I am ashamed

in myself.

yelling

anxiety

unkind words.

I am SO over you right now!

I can’t deal with you!

Get out of my face!

JUST. LEAVE. ME. ALONE!

these reflections are so clear

but occasionally

those effigies shine

kindness

grace

forgiveness.

I love you.

These are for my brother.

I forgive you.

In those moments

I am

assured that

it’s going to be ok;

They

will be more

than Ok.

mirror

Testimony

In 2009, without much pomp or circumstance, I made profession of faith. I’m not sure anybody even noticed because I did it in conjunction with Eddie being baptized. It was a requirement for baptism that both Cortney and I were members of our church. Because I had not yet made profession of faith in any church, I needed to do so to be an official member. So we just added that in to all the other “will you…” stuff that is asked before the water is officially sprinkled on the baby. I was thirty-one years old.

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If I am honest, I only did it because I wanted my baby to be baptized and because I was cool with being an official member of our church. I really didn’t have any of my questions answered that had been swirling around since I was in middle school. In fact, I am not sure why it was even important to me to have Eddie baptized other than it was tradition and I knew I didn’t want to deal with what our parents would say if we didn’t do it. Great reasons, I know.

I was brought up in the church. In fact, my childhood church is across the street from the church my family now attends. My town is small and there are somewhere around a million churches in it. The joke is that there is a church on every corner, and it’s based in a bit of reality. Growing up, if we made a new friend, the first question our parents asked was, “who are their parents?” followed by “what church do they go to?”

Church was not a bad experience for me though. I met my best friend through Sunday School when we were very small. She likes to joke that I scared her back then, but she scares me now. The truth is, some of my best memories are from church-related things; I had lots of fun experiences, but I wouldn’t say any of them were life-changing in the spiritual department.

My family was in church ever Sunday morning for the 8:30am service. We sat in the pew in the same order: me all the way to the middle, mom, Mike (my youngest brother), dad, and Chris (my younger brother) on the aisle. There were some years where my dad was a deacon and we sat in the “reserved” bench. We were always there.

We were also always in Sunday School. All of us. Our church offered classes for every single age, so we all went. Most weeks we even went back to church for the evening service.

Wednesday night was also for church. In elementary school, I did choir and catechism class. In middle and high school I had youth group. I participated in skits and other dramas when I was in high school, I went on retreats and mission trips. I did fun nights and scavenger hunts and ice cream socials.

The one thing I didn’t do was follow the rest of my peers and make profession of faith. Church was fun, but the actual religious part of it…the part where I was expected to feel moved by God…didn’t happen for me.

I credit those years for laying a foundation of good morals and the desire to put kindness into the world. I believe my religious upbringing definitely aided in my perception of my self-worth and self-respect.

However I don’t think I ever felt a strong, unflinching belief that I thought I should be feeling. I never felt the same blind faith that my parents seemed to feel. I had way WAY too many questions.

In college I took a history of Christianity class for a gen ed requirement. I came home with fascinating questions and wonderings and the minute I brought them up I thought my dad’s head was going to explode. He absolutely wouldn’t let me talk about it because to him, you didn’t question God or what we are taught in the Bible. You accept it. You believe it. And that is it.

That was a turning point for me. I just couldn’t accept it as the absolute, literal truth, so I assumed I didn’t believe. I thought it was all or nothing, so since I couldn’t give all, I supposed my faith was nothing.

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I spent the rest of college battling with whether or not I believed there was a God. As much as I tried to deny one, I just felt in my bones that there was something bigger than us. That we weren’t here just randomly.

One night circa 2002, I found myself having a discussion with a drunk, but lucid not-even-on-my-radar-as-a-possible-life-partner best friend named Cortney. One thing we talked at length about was our religious beliefs–something I hadn’t even really discussed with my then boyfriend of four years. It turned out that we had similar beliefs after being brought up in very similar ways. We both believed there is a God, but to what extent everything in the Bible is a literal truth threw up lots of doubts and questions. This was a big deal because I had never talked to anyone with my almost exact feelings about Christianity and organized religion before.

Three years after that conversation, Cortney and I said “I do” in his church just six months after his dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  While the cancer slowly overtook his body, my father-in-law kept a firm grasp on his faith. I felt like he knew something I didn’t. Something I just couldn’t hold onto. And even though I tried hard to see how in the world his faith in God could grow, mine seemed to shrink. Cortney’s seemed to disappear altogether.

Before we were even married two years, I suffered my first miscarriage. I suffered another the following year. When Eddie was three months old, Cortney lost his job. I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety.

People told us that everything–EVERYTHING–happened for a reason. Cancer, death, lost babies, depression, job loss, all of it…happened for a reason and we just needed to trust that good was coming.

One family member who was a minister told us that everything bad that happened was a result of our faith being too weak.  It was because of something we did or didn’t do.

I had just one question: Where in the world was God?

He’s there was all people could say.

I called bullshit on it.

People said God gives you hard stuff to make you stronger.

I called more bullshit. I still do. I simply cannot believe God purposefully sends death and depression and loss. I just don’t believe that Cortney’s dad was destined by God to get cancer and die at age 49.

I don’t believe that since my toddler years God knew that I would grow up to lose pregnancies and battle depression. That he was knew it and and was all like, “oh yes…”hard stuff”. All according to my plan.”

NO.

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I have so so so many questions. Still.

Three years ago we decided to go back to church because we wanted to raise our kids in the church–to give them the good memories and solid foundation we were brought up with. We also felt like something was missing from our lives., and we found that going to church made us feel better–part of a family.

At the time our church was going through changes in the pastoral staff. In the past few years, all three of the pastors in our church have become our good friends. In fact, I think of them first as my friends, then as the pastors of our church.

On the one hand, the past few years has taught me that my heart for social justice and my idea of putting love and kindness into the world are absolutely what Christianity is supposed to be about. On the other, I have more questions than ever. Our friends-our pastors-are academically intelligent people. Like I said, I think of them all as friends first. I would absolutely hang out with them even if their jobs were not to spread the word of God. We discuss social justice and ideas and books and beer and music and politics. I have a great respect and love for them.

But my heart has so many questions.

 

I think I have more questions than I have faith, if that makes sense.

Cortney was ordained and installed as a deacon in our church last week. We stood and recited the Apostles’ Creed, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “do I believe this?  Does Cort? Are we lying?”

I love baptisms because they are full of faith and love and promise. They are the promise of God’s love for all of us, and I know that if nothing else, I believe in that love.

The rest of the stuff I have no idea, but the love? That I know I believe in.

Twenty

Apparently this month marks twenty years since I graduated from high school. This fact didn’t affect me at all until someone created a Facebook group for the class of ’96.

Let me back up and say that my class hasn’t been too great at getting reunions together. The ones they did manage to throw together, I did not attend. It’s not because I don’t like my class or because I was too busy to go. I just didn’t want to. Five years seemed to close to graduation. I was just out of college and not at all ready to go back to high school. Ten years found me only a year into a marriage with no kids yet and nothing of note–other than my teaching gig–to report back with. I don’t think a fifteen year reunion even happened.

So here we are at twenty. As far as I know, there is no reunion being planned, but maybe. There is a Facebook group. And there are pictures that have been added (some by me). I am suddenly reminded that since our senior year there have been marriages and babies and divorces. There have been those who have moved away not to be heard from. There are many who are still living in our small town.

It’s hard not to think of my classmates the way I saw them when I was in high school. This makes me wonder how people saw me in high school. I never really thought about it while actually in high school, though. In fact, I saw myself as someone who could find a buddy anywhere. I was never concerned about whether or not I had friends in a class with me because I knew that whoever was in the class would be cool.

I had three close girlfriends in my grade, two of whom are still my best friends. Freshman year I started dating a junior, so I hung out mostly with older kids. Junior year he went off to an out-of-state college and I started hanging out more with a group of guys the year behind me since my best friend’s brother was in that group and we all pretty much hung out at their house. I was in marching band, but I dated varsity athletes. One of my best friends was a partier; I didn’t drink but I was usually hanging out willing to give her a ride. I was friendly with pretty much everyone, but I didn’t really belong in any one clique. Unless my friends were a clique and I just didn’t know it.

My grades were good–I was always on the honor roll–but I wasn’t top of my class or anything. Math and science tended to elude me and I had to study pretty hard for those B’s (sometimes C+’s). I liked to goof off in class and make people laugh, but I didn’t push the line of disrespect with teachers. I was chronically late to first hour once I had my own car, but I managed to avoid detention. Most teachers seemed to like me, but not because I was a brown-nose. I don’t think. I didn’t play any sports, but my friends did and I was always at their games.

The first time I was ever aware that my name came up in groups when I wasn’t around was when I was a sophomore. A group of girls was gossiping about who had gone how far with their boyfriends. Everyone looked at me. My boyfriend was a senior and in that moment I found out that “everyone” assumed he and I were…well…doing something we mostly certainly were not. I remember laughing my head off at these girls who were so sure they knew my personal life. They laughed too once I told them the truth, although I never was sure if they believed me. It struck me as incredibly odd that anyone would talk about me while I wasn’t there. That people had opinions of me separate from being around me or talking to me.

So I look back on that and think about my assumptions about other people that may or may not have been true.

I think about the cliques people were in; I notice that a lot of them still hang out with those people (thanks, Facebook).

I think about those who I didn’t really get to know very well back then other than possibly sitting by them in math or doing a government project with them. Are they essentially still the same? Have they changed?

And what about me? Am I the same?

In some ways, I know I am not. I know I am about twice the size I was back then–something that is very sensitive for me. Something I want to immediately bring up and explain. “Hi! So yeah, I am like TWO of the Katie’s you used to know, right? I had five pregnancies, two miscarriages, and a pile of mental illness, so you know, my body hasn’t been my first priority. No, I don’t want your shakes or work out plans. Not right now. I’m just letting you know I am aware that I look different.”

My worldview is also much different. I went to a pretty insular high school and depended on my parents to let me know what my views were. They didn’t actually say much, but I knew they leaned to the right, so I copied that. Since those days I have straightened up and pretty much fell over to the left. I have become an loud voice for social justice and human rights, rather than just being loud.

I used to tell myself I didn’t go to reunions because I hadn’t done enough yet. I wanted to come back accomplished. But I am not sure what I mean by that anymore. Since graduating, I have earned two degrees, been published in print books, academic journals, and large online publications like the Washington Post. I have spoken at conferences. I have fought mental illness and become an advocate. I have raised thousands of dollars in books for my classroom library to promote literacy in my at-risk school. I’ve created this blog and shared my story. I have a wonderful marriage to one of my best friends and we have three pretty awesome kids. We own our own home. Cortney is a part-owner of a business. I’m planning on getting my PhD.

How much more accomplished can I get?

So maybe I don’t go because I am scared. I am scared that I don’t matter. I’m scared that people still see me as someone nice, but not in any group. I’m afraid of being excluded.

And really, I feel that as an adult, I shouldn’t have to feel nervous and inadequate and self-conscious anymore, so I hide and tell myself lies.

 

Listen…

LTYM

It’s tomorrow, you guys.

Tomorrow night I will stand on the stage with those other 12 beautiful people up there and tell my story.

I never cry when I read it, but I am hoping the adrenaline and extra emotion of standing on stage don’t mess with my tear ducts. I know I will cry during the other stories though. So I am packing tissue in my handbag. You should too, if you’ll be there.

And I hope you will.

It’s hard to explain Listen To Your Mother to anyone who has not experienced it. It’s stories of motherhood. Live readings. But it’s so much more.

If you’re reading this, you might start to get it…at least how important story-telling is to me and why this is such a big deal. I publish pretty vulnerable stuff here because I want to be heard…to matter…to have been here someday when I am not here anymore. Story-telling is how we preserve our history and our culture. Speaking my truth out loud in front of live eyes and ears is another level of witnessing that I am not used to.

I am good at writing my thoughts, hitting publish, and leaving it up to you to read or not.

Standing in front of hundreds of people and reading my story is different. I know you hear it then. I know you see me…and my words. Being there for the reaction is so different than hitting publish and hiding from my computer.

Yet…I want you there.

This is my “thing”.

I was never an athlete and have never asked anyone to come cheer me on for sporting events. I was in the occasional play at church and I was in band, but I didn’t expect people to come watch those. So this is my thing. This is what I want you to see. Because this–this storytelling with my words and my voice–this is my talent.

And for those of you too far away, I know you’ll be there in spirit.

So tomorrow.

(tickets are on sale here for $16.95 or at the door for $20)

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