In a fit of an 8 year old's doubt, O decided to set a "Santa trap" (see pic at left) on Christmas eve. Unlike the kids who resist the people who tell them there is not a Santa Claus, the boy -- the product of a household that has never perpetuated the Santa myth -- was determined to prove that Santa didn't exist. He decided that he would rig the little fake tree in the living room so that it would rattle if someone tried to put presents under it. His assumption was that it would not rattle and therefore all the deluded believers (that would be the kids at school, I'm guessing) would be proved wrong and would stop talking about this Santa crap. But then his desire for presents kicked in. What if the Santa trap kept anyone from putting out more presents for him? Conflicted, the boy finally when to bed, announcing that what ever happened, happened and he would not be sleeping in the hallway trying to catch anyone. And he woke up happy to find treats in his stocking and a number of delightful and thoughtfully chosen presents for him from... me :)
Kids trying out new dress up duds from Value World (left) and Emma passing our presents at my brother and sister-in-law's house (right).
In a new nature preserve, there is evidence of the land's earlier use as a dumping spot.
The pond was frozen. Next time? Ice skates!
O makes ice balls for Boone to chase.
The early season snow has hung around and now that the kids are on break, I've been taking them out to explore. We found woods and a frozen pond on Christmas eve and then played on the icy banks of the Huron River in Frog Island and Riverside parks on Christmas afternoon. Both adventures were lessons in the awesomeness of winter, kids in nature, dogs with kids, and ice (and a very good counterpoint to overabundance of plastic stuff this time of year...):
Finished the grading for one class. Whew. Two more over the next few days and then I'll be done. While I spent large chunks of the weekend grading, I also managed a grown-up dinner out with people, a lazy morning, a party, and even the HoliGAYs Extravaganza at the Blind Pig. I didn't, however, see my kids other than for a brief moment on Friday. I can't seem to put all the parts together these days and having the kids at W's meant that I didn't have to for this brief moment.
My reserves of tact and patience seem to be spent. I realized this this afternoon while sitting in a faculty senate meeting, trying to explain to the provost how her "process" is less than transparent. I kept a lid on my rant (barely), but that was only because some good colleagues helped carry the issue forward (in a much more civil manner than I would have been able to muster) and my frustration was temporarily overriden by bouts of resignation or maybe it was apathy...
I'm not sure why I've ended up here. The term has been tough, but there wasn't anything particularly novel about it. My sense is that students needing special tending (extensions, alternate arrangements, hand holding) has risen, but I'm not sure if it is really worse or if it just seems that way because I am so worn out. I do know that as students flail and flounder in front of me about why their papers are late, etc., etc. I can barely force myself to actually listen. I just don't seem to care, because behind them is a line of students who also need something...
In my personal life, I seem to have only two settings: fury and apathy. I can't even seem to muster the energy to be actively disappointed in one moment -- or I'm having a flash of anger. Fortunately (perhaps) one seems to cancel out the other.
I feel like I've hardly been out in the world in the last few months, hardly seen anyone beyond the most immediate circle. I did spend last weekend in Buffalo with friends, but even there, it felt like my social skills had atrophied. Certainly my ability to be a cheerleader has evaporated. And now my ability to tolerate the regular old bullshit of academe has headed south. Tomorrow's meeting of the economic history search committee ought to be a blast. An overeager chair who apparently has nothing else to do is nipping at the heels of the rest of the committee and I'm about ready to... See? That's what I'm worried about. My tolerance is gone. And I'm really at a loss as to how to recover it.
I'm not sure what happened, but in the last few days I've been pleasantly surprised at the capabilities of the girl child. On Friday, she spent 1.5 hours folding household laundry. On Saturday, she got annoyed at me and just to spite me, she cleaned the whole kitchen. Then this morning (and without being angry at me), she did 90% of the shoveling -- moving crunchy, icy snow in bitter temps. In my current world, I don't feel terribly well supported and my reserves are running very low after a particularly stressful term. Kid help is most welcome. Kid help that is not coerced is priceless.
My classes this term are rather uninspiring. I have a handful of bright and interested students, but the dead wood they have for classmates pretty much ensures that a cloud of doom hangs over most of the class meetings.
My approach to this has been to complain on FaceBook and just forge ahead, making my own fun. I've let myself spin off into many "non-traditional" areas in all the classes - - liberally discussing contraceptives in the survey course and tackling homonormativity in the women's history class. Hey, it was what I was thinking about at the time and I thought maybe it would be good to model intellectual processing/curiosity for them. Oh yeah, and talking about sex and sexuality tends to bring the focus back to me.
Anyway... there was a lighthearted moment the other day that I thought I would share. In my Tuesday afternoon survey (deadly time slot: 3-5:50pm), while I was prattling on about post-war suburbanization and urban renewal, a young, bright, but goofy student raised his hand:
"I'm sorry to interrupt you, but there is a really big spider right here and I was wondering if I could just take it outside."
Needless to say, there was a lot of head-shaking and laughter from the class.
I told him go ahead if that is what he needed to do. And he did. And then I got back to the Housing Act of 1949 and how it isn't really about housing...
I actually really like this student. He does read. He got very curious about Minor v. Happersett and looked up the court decision while I was discussing it and then read a couple of juicy bits from the decision for the class in order to illustrate my interpretation. He has written very non-traditional papers and essays, but they showed a level of engagement and thinking that earned him good (though not outstanding) grades. Okay, he interrupts a lecture to save a spider and the other students must think him nuts, but I like him. I'll take a creative spider-saver over a plays-it-safe regurgitator any day, given the choice.
1) Many of them -- the traditionally aged ones anyway -- don't know what "blue-collar" and "white-collar" mean.
2) Many of them are highly critical of the class system in the 1950s (they've been reading Vance Packard's The Status Seekers) and its emphasis on appearances, material possessions, family background, etc. in determining status. They believe that that has all somehow been magically fixed for them. They believe that they now live in a society where individual ability and individual worth are truly appreciated and rewarded.
The first one is just a kind "hunh" look how far we have come sort of observance. This is not a designation I have really had to "teach" before.
The second one, however, well, that one gives me more pause and I find myself staring at them with a combination of pity and concern... and maybe just a tiny bit of alarm.
That's it. I reached some sort of saturation point. I thought I was going to have to poke my eyes in order to relieve the pain of this afternoon's faculty senate meeting where 20 people were trapped at a conference table while the chair drifted off into minutiae over procedure. People, rule #1 of meetings containing more than 3 people is DON'T TRY TO WRITE POLICY OR PROCEDURES. Useless waste of my time (and the chair was 10 minutes late to start the meeting!).
Then, I fly home to release the hound and run him around before I summon up all my courage and attend the Parent Advisory Board meeting at O's elementary school. It was as bad as I expected. The cuts to the school budget and the addition of 80 kids to the school have left everyone frazzled and the discussion was raw. The PAB is trying to plug the holes of left by the budget readjustment plan and, frankly, we can't. We can't raise money to replace the swings, fund a bus for a field trip for every class, supplement the art teacher's whopping $75 supply budget, pay teachers to run after school programs, and fund the music program. It is bleak. Teachers fear for their jobs and don't feel like they can ask for help and all the PAB can think to do it to desperately try to raise them some funds.
There was much more to my day but it is too depressing to record. It has all just left me feeling rather hopeless about it all...about my students, my colleagues, my kids' schools, my ability to work on my book. Really, I don't feel like I can take the time to write, let alone think.
And then there is Detroit... Detroit Public Schools has asked UMD to partner with them on a Teaching American History Grant. I've been involved in two for other school districts and I'd be happy to be involved in this one, but there is no one on the UMD side able to lead it. So, I should do it. The school system needs it -- only something like 9% of social studies teachers in the district had any history classes as undergraduates, yet most teach history. But where is the energy for that supposed to come from? Where can I find the energy to deal with yet another fucked up bureaucracy?
The Take Back the Night rally/march/speakout happened on my campus tonight. The student group I direct wanted to take on this event, maybe even reinvent it. Several had been to it in years past and left feeling that they hadn't even known why they were there. Several had experienced sexual abuse or assault themselves and wanted to raise awareness on campus. So we moseyed on into the women's resource center that has been running it and offered to help. The staffer in charge seemed mighty happy to see us. This was a task that came as one of many on her to do list when she was hired. She did it, albeit without much help and without much enthusiasm. The students offered both.
Now that it is over, I have many complicated thoughts, too many to process tonight. I will say this, I don't think we changed much except that we got more people out and we raised the energy level. The program still represented the staffer's vision and I wish my students had been more vocal in running the show. But I think people knew why they were there this year. And any who stuck it out for the whole speakout probably found their brains in the same mushy spot where mine is tonight.
There is something amazing about hearing people you know stand up and say:
"I was abused by my dad for seven years." "My abuser was a cop, my stepdad." "I have never told anyone this, save one person, but I was raped when I was 13."
How could I have not known this about them? Then you have to ask, what else don't I know about these people? Who else around me has experience horrific shit and yet goes on with their lives so much that people like me don't know this about them?
Even if you know a fair amount about sexual abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault from an academic perspective, hearing how people who don't know the studies tell their stories is eye-opening. The stories have such similar themes: shame, silence, denial...
Okay, here is the point that really hit home for me: invisibility. Speaker after speaker tonight talked about feeling like a shell of a person, feeling invisible... And it clicked for me. Of course they feel this way, some of them experienced not just a one-time trauma but year after year of it and the people around them, even (especially?) their families, didn't ever notice that something was wrong.
If I run the numbers, something on the order of 6 women in my average 40-person class has experienced rape or attempted rape. Holy shit.
Anyway, I'm both proud and moved by my students' work on this. Rather than just flier the campus, they did presentations in classes, chalked the sidewalks, did a black eye campaign, and took over the University Center at lunch time to get the message out. They got people talking and 100 folks showed up tonight, which for a commuter campus is pretty damn awesome.
Two students sporting (fake) black eyes. About 20 students made themselves up the day before TBTN and carried handbills for the event to pass out to folks who asked what was up.
At lunch time, the black eye campaign gathered in the student center, taking up space with a short silent vigil and their signs, cited stats on rape and domestic abuse, and then they passed handbills through the crowded space.
I've engaged in a couple of season changing rituals this weekend. Yesterday, there was some mountain biking in some lovely, crisp weather...it was definitely feeling fall like. Then today, I went to the Detroit International Jazz Fest, an end of summer activity that I've done for many years.
Over the years I've found less and less that I really wanted to hear at the fest, though it is usually fun to wander. There is often too much smooth jazz, standards, big band, etc. Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing Herbie Hancock, Joey DeFrancesco, Joshua Redman, and Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood there, but I've come to not expect anything outside the mainstream. Considering this, I was delighted to see Myra Melford on the bill this year. My friend Jules introduced me to her music years ago, but I've never seen her live (and she has never performed at this festival before). She played with Matt Wilson and Mark Dresser as the Trio M. They were delicious. And it was wonderful to see the crowd get into it. Certainly some were surprised, but the response from those who stuck it out was enthusiastic.
The kids and I hit the cottage for a week at the tail end of August. The UP was lovely and, after a HOT July/August, the big lakes were amazingly warm. Even Lake Superior. The week only had one cool day, otherwise it was perfect mid- to high-70s and plenty of sunshine.
I sometimes had to drag the kids away from the TV kicking and screaming, but they soon forgot that as soon as we got down the beach. I love those times where they zone out... we all would sink into our own headspace while playing with sand or water.
And the dog. He loved it and we all loved introducing him to it. We chucked the ball as far as we could down the beach and he fetched over and over again with amazing speed -- a full gallop that we hadn't really seen before. He also is quite springy and will jump like a deer over the dune grass.
He seems rather unfamiliar with the great outdoors (must've been a city dog in his previous life) so he was surprised by waves on the big lake, feathers on the beach, frogs on the deck...
I've been feeling distinctly under-served lately. This theme has been going on for several months and I'm struggling to think of any example lately where I've felt adequately tended. My biggest complaint is certainly with restaurants. I actually walked out of one on Tuesday when people who walked in after me were tended first -- despite my attempts to get the staff's attention.
That I live in a college town does mean that servers rotate quickly and probably are undertrained, but isn't something like eating out so ubiquitous at this point that most of us, even if we are only 20 and even if we aren't given much training, know what good service is? Of course, the ubiquity of eating out and purchasing services may have dulled our (societal) expectations. We just have our meal, maybe grumble a little that our water was never refilled or that the food took forever to come or that the bacon we asked for on a separate plate came in the pasta, and then move on, knowing that we'd be eating out again the next night or the night after that. Eating out is rarely the treat it was for my family when I was growing up, so I think we expect less.
Since my gig as a single parent has started, however, I'm finding that I crave a bit more out of my out-in-the-world experiences. My kids help with food planning, prep, and clean up only grudgingly. It is a chore to get them to do anything and, frankly, 95% of the work of a meal falls to me. I'm working to shift this dynamic a bit this summer, but for the time being, couldn't someone run and fetch for me? I'm happy to pay for the service. I'm just tired of feeling like I have to police the service.
And I could use a good long foot rub. But that is a whine for another day.
So, I finally got the report on the MRI that was done on my back at the end of July. "A persistent right hemilarminectomy defect is redemonstrated." In other words, "a focal cyst is again seen along the medial aspect of the right facet joint extending into the lateral recess and subarticular region abutting the right L5 nerve root."
Yeah, yeah, you know all this, Hank came back, but listen to this:
"The size of this cyst now measures 5x3mm compared to 7x6mm on the prior exam [of 3/31/10]."
So there ya go, Hank, Jr. has gotten smaller. And I found myself saying to the doctor, "as long as I can still have the ibuprofen to turn to when the pain level creeps up, I can live with this." No second surgery for me, thank you very much.
Boone has settled in rather well. In fact, it is kind of like he's always been here and I have to remind myself that some of this is new to him. Tonight I took the kids, a kid friend, and the dog downtown for the Crossroads music festival. While the kids played with the EMU footballs being handed out, Boone and I checked out the crowd. He did try for a few quick licks of passersby, but then settled in and discovered that by sitting politely, cocking his head and wagging his tail, he could lure in people to give him pets. There was one woman who was so taken with him, she plopped down next to me on the curb and encouraged him to cuddle up. She had some physical issues and I couldn't really understand what she was saying, but she obviously found some peace in stroking his head and he was very patient to let her even though there was a lot of action going on around us. When it was time for her to go, I helped her up but she still had a hard time tearing herself away and kept letting him give her kisses on her forehead. He is really a sweet dog.
While I was sitting alone with him and he was taking in the sights, I pondered his face. I now realize that there is something very familiar about it. I've never had a black or black and tan dog and neither of my previous dogs had ears like his, so I'm thinking there is something about his eyes. I wonder if this is why I was drawn to him in the first place. He has quickly become my shadow. He sleeps behind my desk chair when I'm working, follows me to the garden, and, at least so far, sticks close when I wander across parks. I'm excited to take him places and let him play with other dogs. I can't wait to watch him run at the cottage. I have to keep reminding myself that he is still new and I don't know what he will do -- does he like water? will he chase deer? will he try to be dominant with the other dogs at the park? will he come when called even when there are distractions? -- as he has slid into his place here so easily (so far).
Well, the new dog didn't fit well in the old car. Okay, it wasn't really the dog so much... we were all feeling cramped in the sedan. We've managed three camping trips and one cottage trip in the Saturn, but now there is a pooch riding along and it was already awfully tight. So, because summer is when I have time to research such things and the next cottage trip is looming, I bought a new car.
AB and I, who share an extreme distaste for TVs in public, came across this little gizmo at the Makers Faire at The Henry Ford. While I was underwhelmed by the festival in general, I couldn't resist this gadget. Seeing as it was Saturday night, we changed into respectable clothes and headed out to a couple of the places where TVs seem wrong, wrong, wrong -- like fancy wine bars, nice brew pubs and trendy restaurants -- to perform some guerrilla anti-TV action. We did also hit a sports bar/restaurant-type place, not because TVs are wrong there so much, but because there were so many targets. This place even had a TV in the bathrooms. I loved killing that one!
It is not a perfect device, we did not get all the TVs we saw and we had no luck turning off TVs from the sidewalk, but we did have some success. In the wine bar, the two we turned off, the two that were very much in our space as we drank and ate, stayed off the whole time we were there. In two other places, bartenders and staff rushed to restore the ones over the bar, but left off the ones away from it. We remained stealth in all this. I'm not quite ready to boldly point my gadget and declare my hate for TV. I am, however, very much looking forward to my next visit to doctors' offices, however, where I just might whip it out for all to see as I kill The View or whatever drivel is on to placate those who wait. Be prepared. Bring a book.
Most of the magic circle seemed to be heading for the Friday night run of the 13th annual Summer Beer Festival. Never one to be left out, I snatched up Stacey's extra ticket and then procured a couple more for my dad and brother.
I usually can come up with a little something to write about the beers I taste, but I'm working from a deficit this year. In case you weren't in the area to experience it up close and personal, it stormed like mad for a good part of the evening. Things started out well enough. We had a table under a tree. Everyone assembled and we commenced to taste -- and I took notes. Then the clouds started churning and we headed for cover under the nearest beer tent where we stayed while the clouds spilled and lit up with lightening. While there was some shelter, beer, and good company, there was not enough dryness to take notes. So I just drank. Then I wobbled home. Then I wondered how I'd managed to get so drunk...
Anyway, here's all I have to report on this year:
The sour trend seems to be under control (finally). There were plenty, if that is your thing, but they were no longer hogging the show. Similarly, the fruit beer thing also seemed reasonable.
A new trend, and one that I enjoyed, was the dark IPA. Most lacked the depth of a traditional American-hopped IPA that I love -- the stink, the beginning, the shift in the middle, and then the left turn at the end -- but the maltiness they brought to hops was not unpleasant. I liked Arcadia's B. Craft Double Dark IPA the best, as it was the only one that had an IPA smell.
Ginger beers made a good show. I'd liked Original Gravity's in the past but it was weak this year. The winner in this category came from the Hideout Brewery in Grand Rapids: Ginger Lee Ginger Pilsner -- very fresh ginger juice taste to it.
The competition for silly, clever, and saucy names was fierce again this year. Right Brain always does well in this category (Distill My Heart Bourbon Stout). Arbor Brewing had Uskratch Mai Bock. You get the idea.
My best beer conversation came with the Short's folks (that's two years running!). I'd had much beer by the time I closed out the festival with them, but the Hangin' Frank was good -- lovely, stinky IPA -- and the people who pour that beer know how it is made and are enthusiastic about it! I need to get up that way for a visit at some point.
And now, what you have all been waiting for, the worst beer of the evening? That would be Bell's Brewery's The Wild One. I went for a Rye Stout (they were out) and the guy tried to sell me on this. I resisted and had the Batch 9000 but they did talk my dad into it. It was evil sour -- not beer sour, but "something is wrong with this" sour. It was so bad that I begged a pretzel off a pretzel-necklace-wearin' dude in a desperate attempt to get rid of the taste. If you think it isn't fair for me to pick a beer as the worst of the night when it is a style I don't like, then I'll have to go with the 9000 -- I poured it out and had a laugh when the random guy next to me did the same. Whichever beer "wins" this category, Bell's was the loser on Friday!
Sure, beaches are grand, but I love to peer into the pools made by craggy lava rocks to see what's living there. On our first full day, O and I scrambled up some rocks at the end of Mauna Kea beach to explore and we found the first of many sea turtles. I never saw any turtles when we lived there in the '90s. My dad saw one while snorkeling when he came to visit and I was so jealous. I saw only one on our last visit -- swimming along at Hapuna and I followed it - with O in my arms -- along most of beach. This time, however, I saw turtles everywhere. I lost count after a while, but definitely encountered more than two dozen -- some on the beach and some while snorkeling. Amazing creatures...
So...I went to Hawaii. Upon return, people politely ask, "How was Hawaii?" and I stumble over an answer. After some contemplation, I've decided that this is for two (related) reasons:
1. Hawaii is a spectacularly beautiful place, but it is a place with which I am quite familiar. I lived there for a short while in '92-'93 and I've been back to visit a few times. I can't recapture the wonder of seeing how blue the ocean is, how black and huge the lava fields, how lush and green the valley's of wet side are. I know they are fantastic sights, but they are too familiar to move me to any aggressive use of adjectives...
2. This visit meant that I spent two weeks visiting my former life. I lived in Hawaii 18 years ago. Hard to believe 18 years has passed, but I don't regret that time. Being in that place again and sharing space with the person I shared space with then... well, it put me just a touch off balance, but not much. I'm not particularly sentimental and this trip reminded me of that. I could ponder where the time went, but it didn't send me into waves of nostalgia. It just seemed (again) very familiar.
My goodness, the neglect around here! Piles of dust everywhere! Yeesh, one might conclude that I have done nothing, have no opinions about what anyone else has done, and have no plans for the future. But that is not the case...
Apparently it has. I've started reading a book on how to get organized. It promises that I will both get more accomplished and truly savor life. The problem is that by the time I settle in to read it, I'm falling asleep. I'm all of 10 pages in after having it out from the library for 3 weeks. Yikes!
I guess I'm thinking the first step to getting something done might be to get enough sleep...
After the Ypsi Pride cleanup, there was a lovely picnic in a park for the volunteers. I took the boys who had helped me (O and L) and we ate well (they ran out of food last year, but the organizers were so on top of it this year and everyone got plenty, even those who worked long and got there late!). While we were lounging on our blanket in the breezy sunshine, we noticed this sight -- A mayor (Ypsi), a city council member (Ypsi), and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, John Dingell.
Dingell represents our district so it is not a surprise that he showed for this community-wide event (he also provided the cookies, which were quite yummy). I chatted with the boys about who he was, as well as who the others on the bench were -- it made for a nice little lesson in civics when we discussed who of the three we thought it most more important to talk to (O voted for the mayor, but L said "nah, I see him everywhere").
A short time later, when we were leaving, I crossed paths with Dingell in the parking lot and we exchanged pleasantries. As he headed off to his car and a woman called to him saying, "Governor..." He didn't look back (Michigan has a female governor at the moment...).
She looked at me confused, so I said (helpfully), "It's Representative... Representative Dingell").
She said, "oh, I knew he was something." Pause. "Who is he?"
I answered, "he's in the House of Representatives."
She responds, "What is that?"
Wha???? A grown woman just asked me what the House of Representatives is....
Okay, deep breath.
"You know, he is part of the government in Washington, D. C. It is one of the two bodies of Congress..." Schoolhouse Rock, where are you when I need you?
The closing line belongs to the 10 year old: In the car, I told the kids about this exchange. O sympathetically said, "well I don't know that I really know what that is." L responded, "Yeah, that's okay, you're 7, not an ADULT!"
We finally had weekend worthy weather on a weekend, which was awesome with so much going on. E was sick and hung around the homestead. O, however, ably served as my assistant in the Ypsi Pride cleanup day. Once again, I was the site leader for Recreation Park. We had the EMU basketball team this year (last year it was football) and I was ready, having borrowed extra tools (college students never have tools). O got everyone signed in and took charge of the donuts. Once his friend L arrived, they also joined in on moving wood chips under the play equipment. We also got the gutters of the parking lot cleaned out, the pavilion swept, and the park de-trashed.
The basketball players were awfully nice to O -- calling him by name, listening intently to his stories, letting him help with any job he chose, and making sure the rest of the team did the same. It does make me wonder why. O is certainly a dynamic kid, but they responded to him immediately, even before he'd had a chance to charm them (or produce the donuts). O was dressed in his sporty duds -- last year's baseball team cap and athletic pants -- was it a boy sport connection? Or was he more accessible than me? The players were perfectly polite, but they didn't chat with me and I seriously doubt any of them remembered my name (but they all knew the name of my kid...). Anyway, O enjoyed it and I enjoyed watching him enjoy the attention. Young adults, beyond those we pay to teach them, are often not so attentive to little kids.
For next year, I'm thinking we need to enlist more kids. After the basketball team left, we got a third load of woodchips. I had O, L, and one other volunteer left at that point but we'd all been moving woodchips for a couple of hours. I gathered an armload of shovels and rakes and headed toward the pile, inviting the parents of kids playing on the equipment to lend a hand. None of them budged. Really? Who can watch volunteers work on something you use and not help for ten minutes??? Well, their kids showed them up. They got interested in what we were doing and I offered them the tools and they ALL helped (to the best of their abilities) while we chatted about how cool it was to help take care of "our" park.
Overall, this year seemed to go more smoothly than last and I think we did a good job of putting things in order for the summer. Bike Ypsi launches most rides from here, so we have a special affinity for Rec Park. Between Jeff, O, and myself, I think BY has done right by this park!
Friday was a strange day, the kind I usually have to fight to not see as a "waste" because none of "my" work could be done...
In the morning I drove to Dearborn to meet up with my Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) students and the girls they mentor at school in SW Detroit. I wasn't actually supposed to do anything other than be there when the girls came on this field trip to the university, but I enjoyed meeting the girls and had a lovely chat with them as I tagged along with to the Environmental Interpretative Center on the grounds of the old Henry Ford Estate. Only two of the nine girls who were supposed to come had made it -- sickness and a lack of permission slips kept the others away. This was a great disappointment to my students, but they powered through (the only option!). They had arranged a great day for the girls and obviously had put much effort into making the program work over the last term. I had a great time doing the pond study (cool critters living in there!) and I was mighty proud of my people!
Task number two was to hop in the car and drive to UM-Flint in time to see a student from my Urban and Regional Studies seminar this fall present the work her team had done with the Fair Housing Center of Metro Detroit. Even though this was just an undergraduate research conference, she was beyond nervous. I'd tried to talk her down via e-mail in the days leading up to it, but she called me an hour before the presentation in a full-on panic. For half an hour, I went through it with her again and reminded her that she knew her material, that she had the presentation, that she could do this. She was with another student of mine who is in WILL and was also in the seminar, so I knew she had some immediate moral support, but that support was coming from a woman who is, herself, terrified of public speaking (I learned this two weeks ago when she melted down at the Women and Gender Studies luncheon -- we'll be working on that next year...). Anyway, I got there, walked her around, helped her load her powerpoint, and tried to keep her calm. When it was her turn to talk, I was the nervous one. I really didn't know if she would be able to pull it off or if her nerves would get the better of her.
Once up there, she fluffed for a moment, then looked at the audience, smiled genuinely, introduced herself... and then talked (not read!) a wonderful presentation. She paused in a couple of places as she processed where to go next, but always came back quickly and on target. It was wonderful. Her passion on the issue (that only really developed through her research) came through and she won over some key audience members... including the dean of our college. She did a great job with the questions too and I managed to hold my tongue other than to offer her one prompt (she seemed greatly relieved). I'm proud of her and, more importantly, she was proud of herself. See that smile on her face as she gets a certificate from the panel moderator?
Oh yes, it was a good day that made the stress of two particularly stressful parts of my job from the last year (teaching a community-based research seminar for the first time and directing the WILL program) very much worth it.
couple of people suggested something that hadn't even occurred to me: the weather might be impacting my pain levels.
As I recently posted, I've a had 3 or so weeks of feeling pretty damn good considering what had come before. Granted, I've been on the nerve calming medicine all along, but still, I was sleeping and functioning and not thinking about pain 90% of my waking hours.
But then, on Tuesday, that lovely trend came to a crashing halt. I woke up to pain and it got worse over the course of the day until I was a quivering mess by nighttime -- even with narcotics and heaping helpings of ibuprofen. Some of my melt down was undoubtedly triggered by the baggage the last 9 months of pain has left in me -- I wasn't just feeling the pain of the moment, I was feeling the energy- and spirit-zapping effects of months of pain. And hopeless, yes, I was feeling hopeless.
A cyst in my spine just doesn't seem like the kind of thing that would respond to changes in weather, but this latest turn did coincide with the rain rolling in... And it is pouring today, and I do feel rotten. So, I will track the weather along with the pain, because what else is there to do?
On the medical front, I have another appointment with a surgeon who is giving me a second opinion. It was quite a tortured path to get my medical records to him, but they are there and I'll see him next week. I also ran an all too familiar routine yesterday, calling the pharmacy, the doctor's office, the insurance company, and then the doctor's office again. I walked the office manager of my doctor's office through all the ways her staff had fucked this up. I think that prompted her to get involved and get the right form filled out. She tried to cover and blame the insurance company but I had names and dates to contradict the story she had been fed by employees covering their asses. We shall see.... I *might* be able to start new drugs tomorrow (4 1/2 weeks after they were prescribed!) but it will take 1-2 weeks to tell if they are going to make any difference. Whatever. There doesn't seem to be much I can do to change this ride.
I can't explain why, but since Saturday, my pain levels have dropped. In four days, I've only taken two doses of pain meds. I have no explanation for this. I have not changed my other medications. I have had no procedures. I have not changed anything about my usual routine -- other than to stop reaching for narcotics at bedtime and ibuprofen upon waking.
I'm certainly not complaining, but I'm at even more of a loss to figure out what to do next. I'd love to get off the mind-slowing nerve calming meds, but what if they keep me at this very-livable pain level? Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear back from the second surgeon who is reviewing my case. I'm also waiting for a new medication. Waiting, waiting, waiting...
I'm still waiting for my surgeon to call me back to discuss the MRI I had on Tuesday. In the meantime, through indirect channels, I acquired a copy of the report from the radiologists. Not surprisingly, it is written in doctor-ese and there is much there I don't understand but the "impression" noted at the end seems clear enough: there is a cystic mass at the site where I had a cystic mass removed in January and it is "probably minimally smaller" than what showed up on the MRIs I had in December. December -- as in BEFORE I had surgery to remove said mass. I'm particularly confused, because what is there now is about the same size as what was there 6 weeks ago (or 5 weeks post surgery).
Did the surgeon miss most of it? Did it grow back quickly to almost its previous size and stop? Is there something else entirely going on? I don't know. And while I am interested to hear what my surgeon has to say, I'm looking elsewhere for ideas and treatments.
It is time, I've decided to seek a second opinion from neurosurgeons outside the U of M system. I'm also going to get a referral to the pain clinic. The latter feels like a bit of defeat, since much of their treatment seems to be about finding ways for individuals to live with chronic pain apand I haven't not yet resigned myself to living with chronic pain. But, at least according to their definition, I'm already there:
What is Chronic Pain? Chronic pain is often defined as pain that persists for more than 3 months or that outlasts the usual healing process. Persistent pain can also result from chronic diseases such as arthritis, cancer, musculoskeletal or neurological disorders. Chronic pain affects all aspects of a person's life including daily activities, family life, work, leisure time, sleep patterns, and mood.
The doctor asked me five and a half weeks ago if I could live with the pain. I couldn't really wrap my brain around the question then. Part of that was denial. The pain was not supposed to be there. He was supposed to tell me that it was just inflammation from the surgery. He was absolutely not supposed to tell me the cyst I'd had removed from my spine five weeks earlier was growing back.
So when he asked the question, "Can you live with this pain?" I couldn't stop flashing on how bad the pain had been before surgery to assess where the pain was in that particular moment. And I couldn't think about saying "no" -- because what would no mean? Would no mean that I would kill myself over the pain?
Weeks later, the pain has gotten worse. The last week has seen the return of the searing sensation in my lower leg. It has been waking me up. And the pattern is the same. I awaken and there is a peaceful moment -- when I'm aware of being awake, but I'm enjoying the pleasure of my bed, but as soon as I move, the pain builds and I have to get up -- usually whimpering while I do it. It's not that I can't live with a couple of shortened nights of sleep (I have two kids -- I've done it), but now I'm playing the doctor's question through the lens of my daily life.... Can I live with never sleeping more than 4 hours at a stretch? That is where I was for more than a month before my surgery. Can I live with not being able to sit through an entire meeting? Can I live with cutting my students short and shooing them out the door so I can stop trying to hide my hurt?
When the pain first appeared, I tried so hard to ignore it. The first time, during a meeting, that I had to stand to relieve the leg pain, I felt such defeat. I could see the downward slope ahead of me.
I'm no longer standing at the top of that slope. And it is worse because I know where this is going. I was here so recently. And I know that I can't parent, I can't grade or write, I can't concentrate when I have to hold my body so carefully and so intentionally all the time.
Right now, I am achingly tired, but I can't go to bed. It is too early. I'll be up at three, even with narcotics (but the narcotics will help me get to 3am quite nicely). In moments like these, I can almost see myself saying "no" to the doctor. No, I can't live with this. But that leaves me in a place that might be scarier than the pain.
To continue my recent trend of blogging about weighty things and frivolous things back-to-back, I give you this:
I'm over cupcakes. Oh, sure, they are cute and all, but after Saturday, I'm done. This revelation didn't stop me from downing a leftover cupcake from the festivities this morning for breakfast, but I couldn't really let it go to waste, now could I?
So here is the deal: a party for 100 people, a weighty cake (10 x 10 and four layers deep), and 70 cupcakes. I sliced the cake -- it was a bit messy (because it was a real carrot cake full of carrots, crystallized ginger, pineapple, raisins, and walnuts!!!) and therefore a bit more labor intensive than normal -- but let's face it, cutting a big cake always takes some effort and skill (in grad school I worked for caterers and cut many, many cakes). But it is worth it. Saturday's party-goers filed right past the pretty cupcakes (in four flavors) to wait in line and get a slice of cake from me. Only when the cake was all gone (and I stretched its servings to 48), did people reach for a cupcake. I had the dregs of the cake (the bits that fell off the real slices) and I had a cupcake (okay, there were lots left over... I've had several cupcakes). The cake wins (and not just because carrot cake is the best cake on the planet): the cake/frosting ratio is better, the distribution of frosting is better, and the cake has more moist surfaces.
I'm hereby committing myself to the cake camp. I'm a cake enthusiast.
Here is what I concluded after sitting through another school board meeting tonight:
1. No meeting should run until midnight -- at least no meeting where lives are not at risk.
2. People talk about transparency, yet most have no idea what it actually is.
3. Communication between individuals on basic information -- like the time and place of meetings or basic facts on data or timelines -- is a waste of time. That information, even if only one person asks for it, should be immediately and consistently be made public.
4. Acronyms should never be used in a public forum/meeting.
5. Ad Hoc committees should actually get to function as committees and not just as proof-readers for plans generated by an administration that has a stranglehold on the data needed for a real committee to generate viable plans (plans, not plan!).
6. School boards -- any board -- should not wait to be told what it will get but should ask for it wants.
I can barely describe how frustrating it was to watch an elected board try to lavish praise on students, teachers, and principals, debate procedure in an open forum, analyze school performance data, and sidestep the looming budget crisis in the district. Oh, how I want to push the board to get on the front end of the message, to look proactive, instead of reactive. There was a glimmer of hope in one resolution offered hours into the meeting but it was killed by the rest of the board's 'wait and see' approach and nauseatingly-high levels of civility.
And no one should say to me "we face tough choices..." It is time to tell me the choices and don't ask me to sit through 3 hours of minutiae to hear it.
I have an enormous amount of respect for the school board and the commitment its members have made, but we can do better.
Winter seems to have concentrated itself in late February. We've had lots of snow... plenty to shovel, build snow forts in, and send some of us off into the woods on skis.... There have many lovely discoveries, including O's skating abilities!