Monday, April 20, 2015

School Days

We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.

-Stephen King

Good morning.  You guys are awesome.  I know you're waiting with the mug of coffee in your hands, the steam warming your face as the aroma soothes your soul, to read about the ups & downs of this past week, & that is forthcoming, but first, you guys are awesome.

Over the last week, a handful of you have said the kindest things to me regarding this blog.  You didn't know this, but your words came at the perfect time.  No, I wasn't having blog anxiety or writer's block or anything like that (I don't think it'd be possible to have writer's block where this blog is concerned considering its lack of structure or any coherent theme), but I had some low moments last week - exhaustion, general self-doubt, eating a bag of trail mix for dinner, the usual - & your words were fortuitously timed.  I literally had my hand in the bag of trail mix, tunneling through the nuts to seize a prize M&M near the bottom of the bag, when I got a text from a friend telling me she enjoys my writing, & she was reading some of my old blogs to her dad.  You know what I did?  I did eat the M&M, but then I closed the bag of trail mix & put it back in the pantry & didn't give it a second thought.  Kind, affirming words are never wasted; sometimes they're the little nudge a person needs at the end of a long day, or a series of long days.

So now that I've thanked the audience, I'll smoothly segue into the details of the aforementioned long days.  Two events coincided last week that created a perfect, sleep-deprived, emotional storm in my typically ho-hum, predictable life.  On Tuesday & Thursday of last week, my students delivered their final speech of the semester.  They give several short speeches throughout the semester, but last week's assignment was for all the marbles.  Okay, not all of them, but a significant portion of the marbles were at stake.

I always learn a lot during speech week.  I learn a great deal about my students as students, & as people.  They're free to speak on any topic they choose, & often they opt to speak about a highly personal issue.  Early in the semester we cover an entire chapter on topic selection in which they're encouraged to hone in on topics about which they already possess knowledge & about which they genuinely care.  I do allow them to use notes while speaking, but I tell them to imagine what they might speak successfully about for five to six minutes using no notes.  For example, I could easily give a note-free speech on caring for a diabetic child.  I would not need one note to deliver a riveting speech on why Katniss's true love is Peeta & not Gale.  Zero notes would be needed were I to give a persuasive speech titled, "Luke & Lorelai: You know they're awesome!"

Anyway, for two days last week, instead of standing & talking for six hours, I sat & listened for six hours.  There are always underwhelming speeches, & speeches that set me searching for the nearest wall on which I can bang my head, but inevitably, every semester there are a handful of students who surprise me, students who genuinely entertain me, & students who humble me during the five minutes I hand over the classroom reins to them.  Last week's biggest surprise came from a quiet young woman who stood &, using few notes, spoke eloquently for five minutes about Tolkien, specifically his works & his relationship with & influence on C.S. Lewis.

Last week's most emotional speech was delivered by a young man who spends his days in a motorized wheelchair.  He talked about the accident he had while horsing around at the beach with friends, about the logistical challenges he faces day to day, & about how he maintains a positive attitude.  His was the last scheduled speech the day he spoke, & so it fell to me to stand up & walk to the front of the room & mutter a few parting words, hoping my glasses were doing a decent job of masking my teary eyes.  I wanted desperately to point at a handful of students whose speeches were lackluster, students who didn't have the outline I require the day they're scheduled to speak, students who miss class half the time despite the complete physical mobility they enjoy, & say something like, What?!  What, again, was your fabulous excuse for not having your work done on time?!?  I did not do that.

Sandwiched between listening to speeches Tuesday & Thursday, early Wednesday morning, Trey left for a three-night stay in Chicago that was sixty percent work-related.  Perhaps now you're piecing the puzzle of my emotionally frazzled week together.  Wednesday went fairly smoothly; let's be honest here & talk about the fact that the days are all me anyway.  The kids & I piddled around the house, I attempted (unsuccessfully) to put final grades on some of the speeches I'd heard Tuesday, & I, the daytime parenting star, got us all dressed & hauled us to Bible class Wednesday night.

My parenting star doesn't shine quite as brightly at night.  When Trey's not here, my parenting star is a dull glow after the sun sets, obscured by children watching TV on the couch way past any suitable bedtime while I huddle in a corner with my decaf, & possibly some trail mix.  Our family has a four person bedtime routine, & like Patsy Cline, it falls to pieces when there's only three of us at home.  My first solution was for all of us - that's me, two kids, & Sophie the dog - to sleep in mine & Trey's king size bed.  About eleven o'clock, I told Reagan she could either get in her bed, or watch TV on the couch until Henry fell asleep because it was obvious he was not going to fall asleep when he could kick his sister's leg & giggle & shriek about it, & then do it all over again.

Thursday morning I was feeling good.  I was tired, but the first night sans Trey was behind us.  I got up early to shower & had time to put on my clothes & drink a cup of coffee while the children slept.  Things were clicking along.  I greeted my daytime stand-ins, the mom & mom-in-law, & headed to work to listen to another round of speeches.  Click, click.  Additional pep was added to my step thanks to the cute top I was wearing that I'd forgotten I own but discovered in the back of my closet.  Click, click, click.

My affable mood & all the metaphorical click, clicking ended when I got a text from my mom letting me know Reagan was running fever.  I'll give you the short version & tell you that this story climaxes at the pediatrician's office Thursday afternoon with a swab of Reagan's throat testing positive for strep.

Here's Reagan posing with the mermaid painted on the doctor's wall:

I have omitted a brief tidbit you may find pertinent to the story that involves me standing in the children's pain relief medicine aisle at Target on the verge of a showdown with our pediatrician's receptionist, whom I called when it became clear Reagan's fever was not budging despite Tylenol & Advil.

I left school Thursday & headed to Target to load up on chewable children's Tylenol & Advil because the chewable tablets are better options for Reagan than the sugary liquid stuff.  Being a multi-tasker, I was on the phone with the receptionist & scanning the shelves for what I needed, & yes, I might've been eating some trail mix I'd just snagged off the shelf.  At one point, the receptionist put me on hold, & as the phone call unfolded, I realized the receptionist didn't sound as eager to schedule Reagan an appointment as I thought she should, & so I stepped away from the shelves, put down the trail mix, & devoted my full attention to explaining to the receptionist that Reagan is a diabetic, & her health is tenuous enough as it is when she doesn't have strep, which I suspected she had.  I made this statement around 2:05 Thursday afternoon, & at 2:30, I was meeting my mom & Reagan at the doctor's office.

No one enjoys their child having strep, I get that, & I understand that doctors are busy, but when I know it's only a matter of time before her increasing need for insulin due to illness causes her sugar to skyrocket dangerously, if I have to pitch a fit in Target to ensure we get the strep dealt with ASAP, then I will pitch a fit in Target.  Really, it wasn't even a fit, more like an emphatic statement followed by the sharing of a few facts about the affects of illness on a diabetic.

So, instead of relaxing with a cup of coffee & attempting to grade a few speeches Thursday afternoon, I did the whole pediatrician/pharmacy/buy popsicles with low carbs thing.  My mom took the ailing Reagan back home while I waited for the prescriptions & began to fret a good bit about the night ahead of me.  Yes, you read that right, prescriptions in the plural, as the doc wrote Henry a script for the same antibiotics he prescribed Reagan.  I am not typically a fan of preventative antibiotics, however, given that Henry had, just that morning, partaken of milk from one of Reagan's cups, I figured it was probably a matter of when, not if, he also had the strep.  Later, when the strep hysteria was over, my mom told me that Thursday morning they caught Henry playing in the toilet, &  then of course the antibiotics seemed like an even better idea.

I was a little bit terrified about what might unfold Thursday night.  Reagan's fever was in the 100-101 range all day Thursday, & while I am not a nurse, I suspected the already high fever might rise with the moon.  I know it sounds odd coming from someone who routinely deals with an insulin pump & who knows how to safely flush ketones should they build in the bloodstream, but strep & high fever make me nervous.  Neither of my kids had had strep before Thursday, ever, & certainly Reagan had never had strep coupled with her diabetes, & so my relief was palpable when my mom asked me if I wanted her to stay with us Thursday night.

Reagan's fever rose to around 103 before breaking in the wee hours of Friday morning.  I finally got some sleep between four & nine in the morning; I don't know that my mom slept much at all.  I was on pins & needles waiting for a huge swing in Reagan's sugar numbers, but it never came that night.  Despite the fever, she was fairly steady.  It was good that my mom offered to stay the night, because it would have been inconvenient for her to drive to the house at two in the morning, which is about the time I would've called her.
Friday, my mom had lunch plans so the three of us had to fend for ourselves for a few hours.  Reagan was still running a low grade fever, but seemed to feel a good deal better.  I knew though.  I knew eventually the illness, or the stress of the illness, would manifest itself on her sugar meter, & it finally did Friday morning.  Before she ate her breakfast, her number was 111, which is a great number, especially after a night of 103 degree fever.  Three hours after breakfast, she hit 430.  That is a very, very high sugar reading.  I gave her a heap-o-insulin & checked her for ketones & sure enough, there were trace amounts in her urine.  So, I made her sit & drink, drink, drink & checked her number probably more often than was necessary, & a few hours later had a clean ketone stick in my hand.

The high fever bothered me more than the ridiculously high sugar reading, I suppose because I've stared down plenty of high sugars in the past & feel equipped to deal with them.  The fever turned me & Reagan into piles of useless, rambling, irritable goo.

Before Thursday's strep diagnosis, Reagan had been promised a sleepover at Nana & Papa's Friday night since it had been awhile since we slept over there.  I made good on my promise & packed us all up Friday afternoon & headed west.

We talked about taking the kids (& ourselves) to eat somewhere Friday night, but Reagan was not outside the parameters of the twenty-four hour non contagious window, & so we opted for secluded outdoor dining rather than a busy restaurant.

This is a really terrible picture, but it's the best I've got.  I was wiped Friday night, & I remain wiped as I type.

Saturday morning I was glad I'd kept my word to Reagan about the promised sleepover at Nana & Papa's despite the strep curve we were thrown.  I slept well Friday night & woke to the promise of my dad making pancakes, which were delicious with both cups of coffee I had.  I exercised before loading the car with the dog & kids & bags & hitting first Zaxby's for some chicken, & then Starbucks for a latte to chase the chicken before heading home to count down the hours until daddy's return.

We met some college friends for dinner Saturday night, & so the long awaited daddy/Reagan/Henry reunion took place in the McAlister's parking lot, as all picturesque reunions do.  I know what you're thinking, but I was totally upfront with our friends (who were accompanied by their two young children) about the strep & they said, "Bring it on!"  

The daddy's home frenzy continued when we got back to our house & daddy opened his suitcase to reveal Reagan & Henry's take away from the Chicago trip.

I present, Jake & Izzy:

Henry's toy, Buzz Lightyear (the role of Henry is being played by Reagan in this photo):

Trey was in Chicago for a deposition he took last Thursday.  Unrelated to the deposition were the museums he visited & the Cubs game & the showing of The Book of Mormon he attended.  He got the kids each a bat from the baseball game, along with some ridiculously expensive T-shirts that are not pictured.  The bats have already proven handy in the children's epic battles over the Buzz Lightyear toy. 

For all my trials during the days Trey was away, I was rewarded with this bookmark bearing the image & signature of Ernest Hemingway.  I kind of think I deserve, oh I don't know, maybe a signed first edition of A Farewell to Arms, but hey, you can never have too many bookmarks. 

And he brought me the playbill from The Book of Mormon, which may seem kind of lame to you, you know since the playbill is free & all, but . . . 

I've always saved playbills.  I saved them, & now many of them hang on the wall near my desk as a reminder of carefree, strep-free, times when I saw musicals & danced gaily in the street.

As you may've surmised based on the tension that is, at least in a few heated segments, rolling off this post in waves, there were more than a few moments last week when I wanted to fold, to lose it, it being my temper, my cool, my head, my tenuous grip on the adult-appropriate emotions & acceptable responses to less than ideal circumstances.  In most of these moments, I immediately flashed to last Tuesday morning, to my young speech student whose life was changed forever in a few moments on the beach one night.  I thought about his nearly perfect attendance record this semester, & his constant smile, & his eagerness to learn & to continue to better himself, & I felt small & ashamed that I so often allow the slightest shift in the wind to carry me away, willy nilly, as if my attitude depends on anything other than my own grit & determination.  

Kids, the moral of the story is that some days you're the teacher, & some days you're the student.  Some days you're a daytime parenting star, doing laundry & flushing ketones like a pro, & some days, the day turns to night & you're the exhausted daughter who needs her mom because you're scared to be alone with a sick, feverish kid.  There are so many, many things you can't & won't learn if you're always the one talking & directing & bossing.  Be proud of what you're good at it, at what you do well, & be willing to teach others, but sit down & humble yourself & listen & watch every now & then.  Listen to those older than you, & listen to those younger you.  Listen to those who hold degrees you can't fathom earning, & listen to those with no formal credentials.  Listen to those with whom you agree, & listen to those with whom you disagree.  Listen to those who appear weak, feeble, because often, they are mighty in ways you can't fathom.  There's really no way for me conclude other than with Hemingway's words, "When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen."


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