Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Really Odd Day

Yesterday was a strange day.

School was fine, everything was pretty low-key and normal there (versus Thursday, where there was drama galore).

I received a text from my father that my grandfather, my Papaw, had passed away in the afternoon. He'd gone into hospice on his birthday (Wednesday) after a battle with Alzheimer's. Which is a nasty, nasty disease. I knew this news was coming soon, but it was REALLY soon. It was a conflicted sort of feeling -- he was released from his pain and shell-like state as Alzheimer's had robbed him of so much of himself, but we lost him.

I beat myself up hard for not going to my grandmother's 80th birthday party in August, which we'd bowed out of because it was a) in Kentucky and b) we'd just gotten back from our California trip the weekend before, so to hop back on a plane or drive 10ish hours seemed daunting, and c) I really needed to get ready for the new school year which was just 2 1/2 weeks away. So I didn't go. But that would have been my last chance to see my grandfather, and everyone who traveled for it had that moment with him. A lot of my family on my dad's side lives pretty close -- within an hour, maybe three at the most -- so they could get together more often. I haven't been out that way since 2010, when we had a family reunion and Bryce and I could come.

I remember his voice on the phone the most, when he was still able to be conversant. He loved listening to baseball games on the radio and was a terrific cook. He had a great sense of humor and when I was little loved to terrify me and my cousins by popping out his partial dentures. I learned to scale a fish from him (I don't enjoy fishing, but there was something compulsive and satisfying about stripping the scales from a fresh-caught fish with the scaling knife and seeing them fly... not unlike peeling chickpeas, although less humane). He was funny and loved all the grandchildren (and many great-grandchildren) and I am so, so sorry that I missed a chance to see him before he left us.

                                                *           *            *

After finding my principal and giving him a heads up that I'll need to be out for a funeral sometime in the near future, I came home early (well, for me). I was pretty sad and I wanted to help Bryce with the new dining room table that arrived that day. It is gorgeous, and it is so neat to have a "grown up" table set. The one we had before was counter-height and from Target, bought when I thought I might live in an apartment by myself for a little while (but instead lived at my parents' house before they moved there full-time and then just moved in with Bryce since I was basically living there anyway). This one we bought at a local craft festival in August, and it was hand-crafted in Pennsylvania to order and then delivered yesterday. I wanted to share my table but it seemed somehow in poor taste, while everyone was writing poignant posts about the loss of my grandfather, to be like, "LOOK! We got a purty new table!" Here it is though, because it is quite purty:



It has four leaves -- two 6" and two 12" -- and so it extends out to a ridiculously long length. Which is nice in case we host a holiday again in the future. No more foldable buffet table (unless we use that for the food, ha).

We also had plans to go to this reenactment of a 19th century seance, at the very spoooooky community recreation center. Bryce wondered if that was best given the day, but I was like, "This is our anniversary month, and we pick out weird things to do, and I am not missing the seance." It was a little weird to leave school and tell a coworker that my grandfather had just passed, and that I was going to a seance, but those two things were unrelated. I really wonder if there's something wrong with me sometimes.

The seance was AWESOME, because it was done completely in the dark by only the glow of the (battery-operated) candles. When we first walked in it was sketchy -- there were room dividers covered in black plastic tablecloths and it looked a bit like a party room in a nursing home, but once they turned out the lights it was great. The people came in dressed in clothes of the mid-1800s and it showed how they would do the bells ringing and the table thumping and all kinds of wacky stuff. It was advertised as "Not appropriate for children 12 and under" so we were like, "YES! It's going to be something without little kids everywhere!" Not that we don't love little kids, but sometimes Halloween can be challenging what with all the babies photographed in pumpkins and little trick-or-treaters we'll never have of our own and all that. Well, the seance was definitely kid-free, but it was also people-free...we were the only ones at the 6:00 show (they did it every half hour). But outside the room? BABY AND PREGNANT PEOPLE CENTRAL. Apparently it was the same night as the Halloween Festival, with a costume contest, hayrides, indoor trick-or-treating, photobooths, and young families galore. So that held a certain sort of irony.

We went from the seance (and the sea of bellies and tiny butterflies, lego people, elephants, and pumpkins) to our favorite Mexican restaurant. We ran into a bunch of people we knew, and then sat down to eat our delicious food and margaritas, while having a very intense conversation about health proxies, wills, and living wills. Very, very cheery.

But, while talking to a friend we ran into about the seance, this table across from us of older ladies perked up and one said, "I hear you have an interest in the spiritual!"

It turns out they were all here for a spiritual fair at the local Shriner's center, which is going on today and tomorrow, and they were palmists, people who can talk to your "spirit guides," and essential oils purveyors (that one confused me a bit). We must have looked skeptical because the palmist offered a short free reading for each of us, if we would tell our friends and stop by the fair. And so in one day my grandfather passed away, we received a new table, we went to a seance, and we got our palms read over dinner.

Some of it was accurate, and some was questionable, but that's how that goes, right? I'm always interested in that sort of thing but don't put a ton of stock in it. There was no gobbledegook about children though, which I appreciated. It was more about our personalities and what we do for a living, which was accurate as hell (but Bryce very cynically said she could have listened in on our conversations to get that information, too, in a general sense -- but why would someone go to dinner with their friends just to listen in on everyone else on the odd chance that they might read a palm or two?). I will say I'm intrigued. I've had my tarot cards read before, and had a psychic reading once that was eerily accurate on things far in the future. Maybe I'll stop in if I can find someone else willing to spend money on what could very well be hooey.

We went home after sharing a plate of fried plantains and crema (okay, I had most of them and Bryce had two), and watched a stupid movie from the 80s (High Spirits) and then fell asleep hard.

A strange day, no?

My Papaw, a long, long time ago.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Home Sweet Home

Every once in a while, we go looking at houses that catch our eye, because we can't quite decide what to do with ours. Most recently, last weekend (well, the weekend before this one) we went to see a house that seemed absolutely perfect from the listing -- it had ALL THE THINGS (a porch, a private looking backyard, a newer kitchen, a finished attic, a first floor laundry, three bedrooms, office space for both of us, and a kickass location where you could walk to a village and a library and shopping and a movie theater and also the canal path). It really looked amazing.

The key word is "looked." After we saw it in person, we could see all the things that were awful -- the backyard was private to the back but woefully open and viewable from the sides (and one neighbor was exceedingly creepy); the basement had two sump pumps and a water track; the kitchen was newer but in disrepair; the rooms were as small as our rooms; the closet space was nonexistent; the awesome giant garage addition was offset weird and the bonus room space was only accessible from the second floor bathroom window (!); the basement smelled as though it was saturated in cat piss; the porch was also in disrepair -- this was not a house that was loved.

We need a house that is loved. And, quite honestly, we love our house.

So why do we keep looking?

I always thought that if we ended our journey childfree, that I'd want to move. That I'd want a house that was free of counters that had seen injections, free of space that had seen mourning over losses, free of ever having had a nursery that we put together (and then tore down).

Except... we redid our kitchen, so the counters are new. We bought all new living furniture, so the couch that held me wailing is gone and replaced with more joyful upholstery. The nursery was transformed into my office, which is definitely one of my favorite places in the house -- not at all tainted by what it once was.

We made a big list after this last house coveting adventure, and decided that we can make a first floor laundry for this house, and we can try to get a 4-season sunroom/family room addition on the back. Our needs have changed since we last looked at an addition and we don't need to do a two-story jobbie. We love our neighborhood. We love our neighbors. We love our gardens and outdoor spaces. We love our kitchen, and living room, and offices, and bedroom... every time we look at another house we always end up feeling like our house is somehow better.

Because it is. And keeping it will give us greater financial flexibility -- buying a new house would be definitively more expensive than what we have now (and what we have now is 15 years down on a 30 year mortgage, and the possibility of paying the whole thing off sooner than later), and if we stay here we could have the flexibility to travel more (and do it up), to look into the possibility of a lake cottage or something down the line, and to have the glory of not overextended ourselves for a house that has more space than we ultimately need.

So is it because we want a change somehow? Are we putting our want for a new direction into the wrong place? It's possible. It's strange to have been in this place of striving for something that didn't come, and now to be like, "um, now what?"

It's nice though to realize that we don't have to move to find that fulfillment, that we can enjoy what we have and make it even better and then decide where we want to go from here, knowing that we have our home sweet home.

All decked out for the season, loving the fall light

Love our home! Heh heh heh
Want to read more #Microblog Mondays, maybe ones that are actually playing by the rules and are micro? Go here and enjoy!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

And Do You Have Kids?

All ready to be fancy for the night


Bryce and I went to a ball Friday night. It was in the gussied-up fieldhouse of the college where he went and is pursuing his doctorate, and it was the President's Alumni Ball -- we were invited through corporate relations, and we knew pretty much NO ONE at this event. But, I mean, how often do you get to go to a ball?

There were some really awesome things -- a bhangra dance performance, an all-male a capella group that serenaded us hilariously as we walked in the orange carpet and then solemnly sang the alma mater song after the bhangra dances, free wine (that may or may not have been a good thing), entirely gluten free entrees (but not so much with the hors d'oeuvres or desserts), and after dinner and presentations you had a choice -- dance, or play at the ginormous arcade setup they had ringing the cocktail area. We played pinball machines, shot millipedes from tiny spaceships, shot dinosaurs in a Jurassic Park jeep thingie and I raced Bryce on a motorcycle in my fancy-ish dress, which wasn't very ladylike but whatever. It was fun.

At dinner, we sat with the corporate relations people and a few other corporate-y people who were alumni. Once we sat down and you could chat, it became clear that everyone there had something in common -- three or more kids. In high school, or college, or the military, but it IMMEDIATELY went to "as a mom" type statements and "treasure the days" and "poor guy, all we had was three girls" type ilk. I may have drained a glass in one sitting during that small talk, leaving my delicious short rib without accompaniment. Whoops.

And sure enough, one of the people turned to us and said, "And do you have little kids at home?" I guess I should feel a little better that we appeared clearly younger, and even though I knew, just KNEW that going to an event where you're going to be sitting with strangers this would come up, I felt a little stuttery.

"No, that didn't work out for us." (Not a bad answer, right?)
"Oh, I'm sorry."

And then I had this strange feeling that I needed to make the person feel better, because I inexplicably said, "Thanks, but you know, we love kids, and I'm a teacher."

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? I mean, it was good because it deflected the conversation and it turns out that he has kids at my middle school, but why did I feel like I had to soften things? And I HATE it when other people say "Well, you're a teacher, so it's like they're all your kids" because in what universe is a good consolation prize a ton of 13 year olds? And wouldn't it be kind of inappropriate if I Mom'd my students, like the worst kind of boundary-crossing? That's not my role. It's a nurturing role for sure, but it doesn't replace the fact that I won't have children of my own to raise. So why would I have basically made that connection FOR someone?

Desperation, probably.

Eventually the discussion wound its way back and the gentlemen who opened Pandora's Box let me know that he and his wife had a hard time, as well, and they weren't willing to consider adoption because the process just seemed so heartbreaking and difficult. So I shared that yeah, we tried with IVF for over 5 years and then spent 2 1/2 years in the adoption process, and it sure as shit is heartbreaking and difficult and the toll for us was too great. And then he said,

"But you never know what could happen -- we ended up pregnant unexpectedly and then were shocked when we got pregnant again -- anything can happen!"

And I let that go. I just said, "We decided that we are enough as a family of two and we'll put our energies into that life" and, despite the free-flowing cabernet sauvignon, I did not tell the tale of woeful biology and broken body parts and the complete impossibility of ever having a whoops pregnancy. I think sometimes people feel better if they think that they've given you hope, even though for us hope came finally in the letting go of that possibility so we could focus on the rest of our life.

In the end we had a great night out together and didn't feel like sad saps at all. We went home to our cats and didn't have to pay a babysitter and drive him or her home...we could just get into pajamas and have some tea and go to bed. It doesn't take away from our grief to enjoy the life we actually have, even when we're reminded that things didn't turn out quite the way we'd hoped during dreadful small talk with strangers.


Monday, October 9, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: "As A Mother," Fixed



I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing a woman who kept trying to help out in Las Vegas. She said that she tried to give blood, but they were set for the time being, she asked if she could bring snacks or water or anything to the first responders/hospital staff, and was told to try again later. It's a wonderful thing, seeing how such abject tragedy can be met with incredible human spirit and a desire to help and come together.

As they interviewed her, she said, "As a mother..."

and I groaned inwardly and rolled my eyes. Because of course, only a mother can feel the pain of tragedy, only a mother can be truly scared of the current state of the world for the sake of her children, only a mother REALLY has a stake in humanity or has something to live for when bad things happen.

But then...

"As a mother, wait. As a sister, a daughter, a niece, an aunt...you just want to make it better, you just want to help where you can do something [or something along those lines, forgot the exact wording]."

And just like that, a statement that instantly creates a divide between women who are (implicitly) more capable of nurturing and caring and feeling a responsibility for the state of humanity for the future and women who are childless and so perceived as somehow less invested, that statement was instantly much more inclusive; she was speaking as a WOMAN and not a MOTHER, because she recognized even in the midst of horrible tragedy that they aren't always the same thing but that we can all be equally concerned and helpful.

Thanks, lady on NPR.

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Rethinking My Tattoo

A while ago I was thinking on a tattoo that would represent my infertility journey.

I haven't gotten it yet, as I like to really think on tattoos before getting them since getting one I totally regret in my mid-twenties that is now covered with a nice, badass dragon.

Love this guy. Irritated that the stupid effing monkey is popping through a bit, but that's nothing a little more black ink can't fix... And maybe it's okay that you can see it swallowed by the dragon. Heh. 

I don't regret the dragon. I don't regret the snake I got when I was 24.

She's above my right ankle, on the inside. Love her. 

I really wanted to think on what I want to get next, since I plan on it being fairly large and intricate, covering my left shoulder/back.

My original thought was a dandelion with fluffies that represented all 35 of our embryos, 2 fluffies replaced with monarch butterflies to represent our pregnancy losses, and 8 fluffies headed in a westerly direction to represent the 8 embryos that went to the couple who adopted them through Snowflakes.

Except.

Do I want to map my back out with all my losses? I mean, I carry them with me everywhere I go anyway, so is that really necessary?

I decided, no. No it's not.

I'd rather focus on how I've emerged from this journey than be mired in the muck, beautifully symbolic as it could be with the dandelion and the butterflies. This was a decision that may also have been influenced by the first set of our embryos failing with the couple despite a new uterus. That's nothing but sadness and wishes that were left unfulfilled.

So here's the new idea: 

I want a phoenix, and instead of flames (or maybe in addition to flames), there are orange monarchs. Or maybe monarchs incorporated into the phoenix. I want the phoenix in black, and the flames/monarchs in color. And I want it across my left shoulder. I have a secret Pinterest board, and I have been pinning ideas like mad over the past couple days. I think I'm ready to take the plunge and have this go from conceptual to actual.

Because I'm a phoenix, rising from the ashes of a failed journey to parenthood to redefine my life. I'm forever marked by my experiences, but I can rise up and create beauty from the fire. It's got metamorphoses, transition, pain, and beauty all in one.

Here's some designs I liked a lot, lifted from Pinterest, and just replace the butterflies with monarchs and add some flames:

Like the incorporation of the butterflies into the phoenix, but the bird itself is a bit simple for my tastes. (image saved from "OnSugar" on Pinterest)
I like the design of this phoenix better, but flipped to the left (since left shoulder placement), and add in the butterfly(ies) somewhere and flames below.  (Image saved by "Loredana Pacello" on Pinterest, no other credit could I find)
And finally, this is the butterfly I found that I liked, color and everything. Don't mind the music either, but that's another tattoo for another day... (saved from "kooltattoideas.com" on Pinterest)

I think this might be my Christmas present to myself. Now to go book an appointment over a long weekend...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Strengthening the Ghosts

School has been very busy lately. Good busy--it's a great year so far with a really sweet group of kids -- but I feel like I am never quite all the way on top of things. I'm not behind per se, but I wish there were a sneaky extra hour of the day in the middle where I could get some more paperwork done, or call parents, or finally print things out in one of just a couple color printers left in the building.

The other day I had two students up for lunch, and they chatted with me as they finished their food and got ready to do some math (and I was frantically putting together the lesson for Work Lab 9th period, since that is a total reactionary gig based on whatever needs reteaching from what we saw that day). These two students are very sweet and come up virtually every day, but they are genuinely working on stuff and asking for extra help, so how could I ever say no to that? For the sake of simplicity, let's call them George and Betty.

Here's what went down:

George says, "Do you have kids, Mrs. ___?"

"Nope, no I don't. We wanted them very, very badly, but it just never worked out no matter what we did."

"GEORGE! She totally told us this in her Who I Am thing at the beginning of the year! Jeez!" Betty was mortified.

"It's okay," I said.

"Well, did you have names all picked out?" George continued on, possibly missing out on some vital social cues.

Ah. Why yes, yes we did.

"We did, George. We did."

"Can you tell me what they were?" (Before you get mad at George, remember that my students often don't always have a great sense of what's appropriate, and it was actually  touching to have him be so interested.)

I pause. Could I do this without turning into goo?

"I don't see why not, it's not like they're ever going to be used by us." And so the prickly, burning feeling starts behind my eyes.

Because we never really told anyone our names. And with the names out there, the loss is somehow more palpable. It's like an odd sort of haunting -- with a name you can imagine what might have been, and there's this diaphanous ghostchild attached to it, a specter of what might have been, something more tangible than "Mystery Baby" or "Future Baby."

I told them the names.

And I did not cry. For which I do believe I should receive some kind of massive pat on the back, because I really felt like crying. And I did cry, later in the evening, when recounting the story.

Bryce was a little horrified, because the names have always been sacred. We've kept them so close for so long. And now they are just whispers in the wind, forever unattached to any actual humans. But then he understood. In telling the names, it's an honoring of our loss. It's a step of letting go, or really moving forward, since I don't want to let go all the way.

I can picture the possibilities that went with those names, even though they aren't going anywhere anymore.

And I think I can share them with you, now, to keep the ghosts alive, to strengthen the haunting in a good way.

If we'd had a girl, our top choice was Stella Rose. Stella for a bunch of reasons -- it means "star," it reminds me of Stellaluna, and it's also the name of a friend we hold dear. Rose for my grandmother, Rosemary.

Other girl choices were Audrey (in part because of Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks), Josephine (so we could have a Jo or a Josie, and it would remind me of Jo from Little Women and is a little off-the-beaten-path), I liked Charlotte so we could have a Charlie (and my dad's middle name is Charles), but then there was a little princess named Charlotte so that one fell to the bottom of the top choices list. A less-agreed upon name was Edith, one I loved (Hello! Edie is so cute...) but Bryce felt might be too old-fashioned. It was a good middle name choice though. That name has significance through my stepfather's family.

Another name that we'd considered was Emerson, to honor my grandfather (it was his middle name), and I loved it for a girl. But it didn't make the top of the list and then someone else in my family decided on that name, so it matters not.

Our top boy name was Dylan Gray. I've always loved the name Dylan -- it's got a lot of literary ooomph between Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan -- and no student has made me second think it. Gray is a family name on Bryce's side. But isn't that the most amazing name? No one is going to pick on Dylan Gray on the playground (at least we liked to think so). He'd be artsy and cool and not really care what other people thought. We had a whole backstory to Dylan Gray.

We didn't have as many alternative boy names, but William was a close second (Will, not Bill). Boy names were harder for some reason.

Family names are always hard because someone is always going to feel left out.

So I guess we can add that to our positives list for ending up childfree... we don't have to have any arguments about naming or hurt feelings that other family names just didn't resonate with us as much as the ones above.

Here's to Stella Rose and Dylan Gray, the babies we never had but who will always be a part of us. Here's to George for making me think on those names again and helping me to set them free.

Monday, September 25, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Old Photographs

Tomorrow is picture day -- another side effect of #teacherlife (as one of my new students loves to say) is that you NEVER escape picture day. I have to go in front of the school picture camera every year and try to convince them that while tipping my head down will eliminate glasses glare, it will also give me a couple new chins (I don't wear my glasses anymore for pictures), and this picture lives forever in the yearbook, for a few years on the Class Of __ plaques down in the main hall, and maybe for a little while on my Mom's fridge.

I usually show my kids my own 8th grade school picture as a cautionary tale -- I am wearing SWEATPANTS for one, for two, my henley shirt and my sweatpants are in matching pastels to the LASER background (oh 1989, you space age), I have a terrible short haircut (Dorothy Hamill I was not), and I'm smiling with my mouth closed to hide my braces.

I couldn't find it.

What I did find, however, was an envelope of old pictures of myself that my mom gave me while doing a purge at her house -- like REALLY old pictures, some of which I'd never seen before.

Going through them in detail was really neat, but it was also really sad.

No one is going to have those curls or gray-blue eyes passed down to them.

And who am I going to give these to when I clean out my house in my 60s? Who will care about my childhood photos, little snapshots of the late 1970s and early 1980s? It took something entertaining and gave it a decidedly morbid, morose tinge.

I'd like to share a few with you, so that they don't eventually end up disconnected to my own life, so that I can feel like they can have a little life of their own right now, since (hopefully much) later they may end up in a box that no one cares to have.

Me and my Popie, many moons ago. You might think I'm wearing legwarmers a little early for my time, but...
Those aren't legwarmers. I'm happy anyway, but do you see something odd about the stance of my legs? 
Yeah, that's a double cast, because the hurdles came early. I had congenital hip dislocation that wasn't detected until months later (the doctors scornfully told my young mom "all babies cry" as I kicked one leg and howled, but there was a reason!). I'm sure that was tons of fun for diaper changes. I'd never seen these photos until I was bequeathed the envelope. 
I love this photo -- look at that HAIR! This was two months before my sister was born. And the cast is gone! 
There's no notes or anything on these, but I'm thinking this is shortly after my sister was born, because of the crib. That truck thing is crazy. 
This is probably my favorite. Love the hair, love the pensive look, love the bellbottoms, love the ugly plaid couch that I totally remember. This one made me so happy and also so, so sad.
I actually used this one today for a question flood with my students. What is going on in this picture? Am I lost? Is there a polar bear to my right? I think I'm maybe 5 or 6 here, but again no notes so I'm not sure. Strange sort of Little Girl Lost shot, this one. 

Thanks for sharing in my old photographs and keeping them alive somehow; it makes me feel a little less sorry for myself.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!