Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Teacher

The videotaped micro-lesson is done. I hit it out of the park, as did most of my classmates. So nice to be part of a group that is not only passionate about the content we will be teaching, but about actually teaching students. It's that latter part--that strong classroom presence, that general interest in kids--that makes for a good experience for students. In the "warm and cool" feedback that we shared among our peers after each micro-lesson, the stand-out warm feedback for me was that "students are going to feel very safe and comforted" in my classes, according to one of my classmates. I hope so. If I can create that kind of environment, then maybe I will have an easier time reaching them and teaching them. And, bonus, maybe I'll have fewer classroom management issues to deal with as well.


So I'm done with class for three weeks. What a nice break, although I'm sure that halfway through our week of family togetherness I'll be wishing for 40 minutes alone in the car with some 90s east coast rhymes and a big mug of tea. But alas, that's what our escape to the City will be next week. We'll need to escape New Haven for a few hours. One day we will pile into the car--or train, not sure yet--and head into NY. I'm so overdue for that excursion. I cannot wait.

I'm really feelin' Christmas this year. It snuck up on me last weekend, as soon as class ended and I suddenly had the headspace to realize that the holiday was a week away. I have always loved Christmas, but this year there is something more to it, although I'm not sure what that actually is. Maybe it's a general sense of contentment? Anticipation? I'm excited about so many things: Seeing my cousin from out of town. Baking cookies with my BFF. Wrapping presents. Taking a week off. Seeing Sean and his BFF together as altar servers at Christmas Eve mass. Seeing Sean and Nolan put the baby Jesus in the cradle of Great Grandma's manger from the '20s. Christmas Eve appetizers with the in-laws. Christmas bandanas and bells on the dogs. A few more runs squeezed in between now and the holidays, to burn off those extra cookies. I have so many reasons to appreciate this season. And I will absolutely treasure the holiday with my family. I cannot wait for a quiet and lazy Christmas morning with Ian and the kids. And then later, my brother, sister, mom, two uncles and grandmother will join us for a nice fire and feast.

I will truly savor that family time this year. Grandma and Uncle John are getting old. Frail. And Grandma is back on chemo again for the umpteenth time in four years. It is miraculous that she has managed to live with cancer this long, going off chemo for months at a time because the tumor markers were so low. She still lives in the house where I grew up, where she's lived for more than 50 years. She still drives herself everywhere. But this round of chemo has not been kind to her. She's not feeling well. She's not hungry. And worse, she's becoming discouraged. This makes her angry, since it's not like her to be discouraged. So then she compounds it all by being hard on herself for being angry.

Hopefully she'll be feeling a bit better for Christmas. I know she will rise to the occasion, no matter what. She is excited to spend the holiday with close, immediate family. She will make the best of it , no matter how lousy she feels. She always has. She is a pillar of strength. But she's tired of being so strong for so long. I see that. My mother sees that. And sometimes, we want to look away.

I am lucky to still have my grandmother in my life, just as I was lucky to be 20 before her mother died at 98. I was close to Great Grandma, and I am exceptionally close to Grandma. A sixth-grade English teacher for 40 years and the daughter of a teacher, she is so supportive of my choice to enter the profession. She loves talking about my experiences in the certification program. Pedagogy. Time managment. Grading. Lesson planning. She is a font of experience and insight. I'm grateful that I can have these conversations with her. I am grateful that I can call her up on the phone and chat. I am grateful that I can swing by her house for a few minutes to check on her, rubbing her back to warm her up when the chemo gives her chills. I rub her back, water her plants, open Gatorade bottles and get the paper for her. I wrap the blankets snugly around her, hug her close, warm her up, and remind her that it will pass, praying that this time it really will. And then, something to read in hand, she sends me on my way, insisting that she will be fine. She will just rest. And read. And drink. And recover.

Merry Christmas. And if you don't celebrate Christmas, then a happy holiday season/winter solstice to you. And above all, may you and yours have a happy and healthy 2012.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Toot, Toot

I PASSED THE PRAXIS II!!!! I PASSED IT ON THE FIRST TRY! And I rocked it--a 192 out of 200 (passing is 172). Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I'm so glad I jumped in with both feet and took the test in November rather than wait for the next round in March. The relief I feel is immense. My run was lighter and faster last night. Then I fell asleep early and slept late this morning. It's a brand-new day all over again. NowI just need to finish up this teaching certification program in May and, hopefully, find some gainful employment educating young minds.

Cue the Welcome Back, Kotter theme--again.

This weekend is our last blast of classes before a two-week holiday hiatus. There is a midterm feel to this Saturday, when our English cohort has to present 12-minute microlessons, complete with lesson plans and graphic organizers. What's more, we are going to be videotaped. GAH! Then we get to copy our videotaped session onto our flash drives, and go home and have our families make fun of us for how many times we say "uh".     

Today, I'm still a workerbee for Corporate America, however. To that end, I will dutifully attend my 9:30 biweekly check-in with my boss. Then, relishing my current job's flexibility (since I won't have that when I'm teaching--hey, it's a trade-off), I will skip out for a couple of hours to chaperone my older son's field trip with his TAG group. TAG. Talented and Gifted. I love my boys. I am so proud of my oldest for being recommended for TAG and then swiftly and easily testing into the program. But I would love it even more if he was gifted enough to remember his backpack when leaving for school in the morning, or if he was talented enough to notice when his shirt is on backwards--which happens about 50% of the time. For real.

Later this week, I'll be practicing my microlesson with a willing victim/coworker acting as my "student". I'm hoping not to overshoot the 12 minutes by too much time. Worse, though, would be to finish the lesson too quickly. And timers are a no-no. We've been cautioned that they're a psych-out. They will cause us to focus on the time rather than our teaching. So I'll need to set my phone timer and leave it where I can't see it. When time's up, it's up. And hopefully I'm in the middle of the lesson's closure when that happens.

I am so grateful that I've come this far. A year ago, I had only the hope of being where I am right now. And next year, I hope that I will be teaching and able to look back and say, again, "A year ago, I had only the hope of being where I am right now." But before I can get there, I have to successfully complete my student teaching this March and April. Unfortunately, I'll have to put in several "regular job" hours while student teaching, which will be a huge challenge. I forsee many nights being up late correcting papers, tweaking lesson plans, all the while checking my work email and handling tasks for Corporate America. I'm confident I can handle it, though. I've handled a lot more than that so far in this beautiful, wacky life, and I've always been okay. Knock on wood.

Special props to the friends and family who have cheered me on thus far (you know who you are!). It means more than you could ever know.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Promises, Promises

So...I did not run this morning as planned. I totally bailed on it. Instead, when the garbage trucks woke me up sometime around 5:30, I snuggled down under the covers in my big empty bed, listening to the water run for Ian's shower and wondering why it has to be so unbearably dark in the morning this time of year.

Quickly, while my thoughts rolled out from under my eyelids and tried to collect themselves for the day ahead, 5:30 became 6:00--and then 6:15. Finally, swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I promised the dog we'd go running before class tonight. Afterward, I'll have just enough time to take a quick shower and wolf down some dinner before heading up to Hartford. It was an easy promise to make to myself: at 3:30pm there will be sunshine. At 6:00am there is no sunshine. The end.

While others are counting down the days until Christmas, I'm busy counting down the days (13) until they start getting longer again. For all of the long, dreary February days I've endured, the darkness of November and December is still the hardest for me to take. Thank God for the flicker and glow of candles and holiday lights. They are a promise.

Those lights have helped make my evening runs more cheerful the past couple of weeks, too. I love seeing  the displays my neighbors have created. Some are busy and colorful; others (like my own) are more serene and white. Either way, they all amuse me and make me smile. Sometimes they even scare the dog, who started barking at some lawn reindeer the other day at dusk. The twilight played tricks on my old girl: Were they deer? Were they dogs? And why were they just standing there staring at her like that?

The darkness can be sweet, though, if you know where to look. Although I didn't have time to run last night, I did manage to get out for a 20 minute walk with the dog. The moon was bright, the sky was clear, the stars were all twinkly. It was so, so quiet. There is such peace in moments like that, even if it is kind of cold out there.

There is a reason that this season's holidays are festivals of light. We all need the promise of light in the darkness, right?

Maybe it's the one promise we can count on. Light. Our own truth. Our own efforts to be true to ourselves. For me, that also means being clear with others. I have been reminded more than once in this great life how important it is to let people know you love and value them. In some cases, we don't get a second chance to ever say it while they're alive. In other cases, it creates that second chance with them and that relationship--be it romantic, familiar, or whatever. Love is love. Love is light. At the end of the day, I've said what I've needed to say. I've said it without expectation, too. And thank God for that. Otherwise, I might have been sorely disappointed.

Anyway, this season is about giving, not receiving. In fact, every day of every season should really be about giving. This is just the time of year we celebrate that concept. So skip the trip to Walmart. Put down the pepper spray. And call--or email, if it's easier--someone just to say hi and let them know you care.

This concludes today's PSA.

In other news, I have a high school play and a few parties this weekend, in addition to class tonight and all day tomorrow. Sean's best buddy is having a baseball party on Sunday afternoon. His mom, Cindy, and I were talking about how ridiculously excited the grown-ups are for this party. Indoor baseball on a December night? Hell's yeah! Must remember wear my Cons and not my new Danskos to that party, so I can play. I've been living in these black patent Danksos for a week now. They were an early Christmas present from my mom, who knows I need them for my student-teaching gig this March. I have never owned more comfortable shoes in my life. Thanks, Mom!

In fact, I should probably call my mom...just to say hi.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Honey, Honey

The dog and I ran in the pouring rain last night. We cut the loop short by one block after I landed in a puddle and soaked through my sneakers. Despite being sopping wet and therefore a little uncomfortable, I had a blast running in the rain. And who needs an iPod when you've got Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" or the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" stuck in your head with every step?

As I crossed the halfway point and headed toward home, Cee Cee tried to shake all of the water from her. I laughed out loud. "We are silly girls," I said to her. But I loved it. It just felt good. And I knew there was a nice reward in sight: Ian was home cooking up some fat burgers complete with pickles and munster cheese, with sweet potato fries on the side. Yes, please!

I'm spoiled.

It's easy to run this time of year. The colder it is, the greater my lung capacity--at least it seems that way, anyway. As winter turns to spring, and then spring to summer, hopefully my running will have improved enough that I won't be too impacted by humidity and higher temps. Right now, my fall allergies (I'm mostly allergic to mildew, which is covering the leaves all over the ground) are quickly abated by a nice sinus-clearing run.

However, that's not the case for Sean in the springtime. This past spring was so bad for him, and Monday Sean went to the allergist to discuss a strategy for spring 2012. Unlike Sean's food allergy testing, which involves taking about five vials of blood from him, Monday's test was a simple skin prick. He was tested in about 16 spots up and down his arms. Fortunately, he was negative for dog dander, as well as all the allergies that plague his dear mother--mold/mildew, dust mites, and cat dander. But his allergies to pollen are through the roof. Like peanuts. And hazelnuts. And crabs. And all other tree nuts and shellfish. Jerk foods!

The allergist, for whom I have a ton of respect and who has been seeing Sean since he was only a year old, recommended Sean be put on Singulair in mid-March and started on Allegra a few weeks after that. Ian was the one who took Sean to the appointment, so when he came home and told me the recommendation about the Singulair, I balked.

Last year, as in past years, we've chased Sean's allergies in the springtime. We'd started the Allegra too late--once the symptoms had started. And every year, except last spring when pollen counts were at historic highs, Sean has required only a few puffs from his regular inhaler--if any. Two years ago, he didn't even take his inhaler during the spring. In fact, like his brother, Sean only requires his inhaler if he has a bad respiratory infection or virus.What's more, prior to last spring, he hadn't used his inhaler in a couple of years. Nolan is the one who requires it more often (again, only if sick; Nolan doesn't have any allergies whatsoever--knock on wood).

Yes, last spring was bad. But does that mean Sean has to be put on heavy duty Singulair this spring? I'm not convinced. I have a ton of questions for his pediatrician at his 10-year check up this January. I'd rather start the antihistamine in mid-March, and then see where the cards fall with the asthma. Last year was an exception, not the rule. I don't want to load up Sean with prescription drugs if he doesn't truly need them--especially prescription drugs known to cause severe mood changes in patients. The prednisone last year was bad enough.

I've also started giving Sean a few teaspoons of various local honeys that I've picked up at the farmers market. Every day, after he has his breakfast and vitamins, he has two or three teaspoons of the sweet stuff. It might not be a magic cure, but I've read several articles that indicate that consumption of local honey can improve an allergic person's tolerance to local pollen. If it takes the edge off even a little, I'll be happy. And Sean will be VERY happy. In the meantime, he enjoys his little honey regimen. It's like giving him a few teaspoons of sugar--except better.

Not sure I will manage my run tonight, as I need to feed my kids and then head out for a tour of our sleepy neighborhood firehouse with Nolan and his fellow scouts. But Friday morning I might do exactly what I did last Friday--head out for a run in the AM. Unlike last Friday, I'll take my little pacer dog with me. And I will cherish each clear breath I take. Never take your breath for granted. Never. Ever.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Run. Skate. Repeat.

I've been running. Well--let's not get carried away. It's more of a jog than a run. But I've been doing it! At least four times a week I'm out there. Other days I usually stick to my walking/yoga routine.

All of my expectations about how it would feel, based on past experience, have proved incorrect. For one, I enjoy running at night--something I didn't like in the past. Secondly, I enjoy the actual running, not just the feeling afterward. This is completely new and unexpected.

I eased into it, hopping out for my first jaunt on Thanksgiving morning. I took my dog with me, since she's been my one loyal partner through everything the past seven years. She's my walking buddy. My wintertime beach buddy. My snuggle buddy. My baby. So off we went, walking half of the two-mile route that first day out. The next day we walked about a third of the way. The day after that, we walked only about a quarter of the way. And finally, on the fourth day, we just ran.

Or jogged. Really. I'm hardly running at full speed.

And that's maybe what suprised me most about all of this: I have more endurance, but I'm a whole lot slower than in the past. Granted, I don't feel like I'm being chased by demons this time around, so that might have something to do with it. But my body feels different. I feel like I'm still easing into this routine. So I'm slower. I'm not timing myself, but I'm definitely pushing more of a 10 minute mile--at least. But the pace is good for me. I'm challenged, but I don't wear out. The one day I ran without the dog--last Friday morning--I paid for it. I started out way too fast and was winded halfway through my route. I guess my pup is really like my little pace car. A seven and half year old, mildly arthritic pace car.

The weather has certainly been conducive to this jogging business. Not too cold. Not too hot. Yesterday's rain put a damper on things, though. Due to the weather and my schedule, I haven't been able to run in two days,  Tonight, rain or not, I'm going out there. I need to. Me and the dog, trotting through the neighorhood, wagging our tails.

Word of advice, though: Wait at least six or eight hours between eating a big Indian meal and heading out for a jog. Three hours isn't enough, unless you enjoy coughing up rice and eggplant.

Running's not the only thing I've rekindled in recent weeks, however. Sunday, in an effort to spend a little more one-on-one time with each of my kids, Sean and I headed to the ice rink.

This gets a real O. M. G. I had forgotten how much I absolutely LOVE to skate!

What freedom! It had been two years since I was last out on the rink, having taken the kids a few times that year. The kids get their requisite sledding and snowboarding in every year--and last year's heavy snowfalls made sure of that. But skating is more my thing than their dad's or stepdad's. If I don't suggest it, the kids won't either. They don't actually love it. Or at least, they think they don't.

That might have changed for Sean this past Sunday. Out on the ice, Sean found a new kind of confidence and happiness just skating around by himself. Sometimes we skated together and chatted; other times, we both wanted to be left alone to enjoy the meditative aspects of gliding in circles on the ice to the beat of some seriously 80's slow-dance songs. I quickly fell into the rhythm of skating zen, which I recalled vividly from my days at the rink in New Haven's Edgewood Park. That rink was where I spent my winters as a kid, with my mom, her teenage siblings--and their friends, and my grandfather. Like with swimming, I don't actually recall ever being taught to skate. It just seems like I've always known how to do it.

The rink was packed with tons of kids, many who were quite young and practicing their hockey skating in full gear, minus the sticks. It was fun to see so many four and five year old girls out on the ice with their dads, laced up and charging full-speed across the rink past the teenage boys and their hockey hair, skating backwards while holding their girlfriends tight. So. Freaking. Adorable.

That definitely brought back some memories. How could it not? I dated some hockey players in high school. They were mostly from Fairfield Prep, but I definitely gave chase to a few on Branford's team. My friend Lisa and I used to love to skate near her house at Branford Supply Pond, where occasionally we'd luck out and meet up with the BHS team. If we were really lucky, we'd get a few nicely-taped sticks tossed our way to join the fun--usually offensively, since Lisa and I weren't the best backward skaters. I'm still not. But it's never too late to learn, I suppose.

But all of those preppy boys and their smelly, mildewy hockey gear quickly receded to their well-worn and comfortable corners of my mind on Sunday. I was at the rink with my Seany, enjoying some much needed mother-son time, sometimes holding hands and sometimes waving to each other from opposite ends of the rink. After 45 minutes, he was beat and ready to warm up. By contrast, I felt like I was just getting started out there on the ice. I honestly had no desire to stop skating. When we dropped off our skates at the rental office on our way out, I vowed to buy myself a new (more comfortable) pair of my very own. Skating is a dirt-cheap, fun time. With kids or without, I need to make it to the rink more.

And I need to spend more one-on-one time with the boys, which is something that requires a lot more effort while I'm back in school on the weekends. Still, it's not impossible. Tomorrow night it's Nolan's turn, when I accompany his cub scout den on a tour of our sleepy neighborhood firehouse. Even just a few minutes together, alone in the car, goes a long way to maintain the bonds I have with my boys. I love those precious moments and the funny talks we have. In some cases, the funny conversation can turn downright serious--or reflective. On our way to the rink Sunday, Sean asked me, "Mom, do you ever think about what your passion is in life?"

"All the time, honey. That's why I'm back in school to become a teacher."

"Right. And I want to be an Air Force mechanic."

"You can be whatever you want to be. And you can always change your mind about that, too. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out exactly what we want to do. But remember you're never too old to learn something new or to give something a second chance. And it's never too late to try something different. We have one life to live in this world. Make the most of it."

"Yep. And I'm gonna."

A few minutes later, and two years after not being on the ice, Sean laced up and hopped out there. I was right behind him, and I quickly grabbed his hand.

"You can let go of my hand, Mom."

Later, he came along and grabbed onto my hand for one trip around the rink. And then he let go again and took off on his own, while I folded my hands at the small of my back and glided along, one foot in front of the other.