Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All I want for Christmas...

I have not made a list for Santa in countless years. When I was little, and things were bad at home, the thought of asking someone for anything my heart desired was comforting and thrilling. My sister and I would pore over the toy catalog and in our own minds, pick out every last thing our hearts desired. Our extremely edited lists for Santa were much more tame and less ostentatious.

As I grew older, the need for another person to get things for me seemed a little silly. I had a job, and if I saved, I could manage a little Christmas cheer for myself throughout the year. My lists consisted of what others might want for themselves. My job was to make their wishes come true. It was something I reveled in and still enjoy doing.

But this year, I have a list. It is not a big one. It is one that I think Santa would have trouble with. Not because of the objects I desire, because really, there are none. It is what I want that is so much more difficult to have right now.

All I want is for our normal to be back. A house full of people. A kitchen full of food. Minds free of worry.

This year, our reality is a little different from our "normal."

For the first time since John and I have been together, our family will not be able to be together for Christmas Eve.

In spite of having no adverse reactions to her chemo that is now nearly half complete, Grandma is back in the hospital, dealing with post operative recovery. On Friday, it will be a week since she was admitted. Her surgery yesterday was successful and I know that she will be just fine.

Grandma's reaction to the whole thing? "This Christmas is something we will look back on and be grateful for. That in spite of everything, we are fortunate."

That, friends, is grace under pressure. Of selflessness. Of making lemonade out of some pretty sour lemons.

But after knowing how wonderful it is to share Christmas with those you love, it is hard to give it up, even with good reason.

So, Santa, if my list contained several pricey items from Tiffany and Company, I am willing to bet that you would have no problem getting everything for me.

Santa, could you send some health our way? We have plenty of optimism, hope and love. We just need some extra helpings of health to enjoy the wonderful gifts we share every day.

But, in the end, it really doesn't matter what is under the tree. What matters most is who is there to share it with you.

Wishing each of you the joys of the season, and the warmth of your loved ones.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happiness is watching our boys grow...

 
 
Happiness equals thirty fingers and toes.

Wrinkly noses lightly dusted with freckles.

Bright, crinkly eyes, long curved lashes

That rest on smooth, innocent cheeks.

Gap toothed smiles, tooth fairy visits.

Mom snuggling boys on the couch,

Nestled warm, sharing a fuzzy blanket.

Lanky, growing legs wrapped in pajamas.

Loud laughter echoing throughout our home.

Every single day of the year.

But most especially, during magical Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And they lived happily ever after...

Fifteen years ago tonight, two kids got married. They were twenty two years old, in love, newly degreed, new homeowners and basically broke. They took the biggest leap of faith ever. Amid a meringue like wedding dress and even pouf-ier veil, with no safety net and no clue of what they were getting into, they said "I do" in front of a small gathering of family and friends, celebrated at a small reception and headed off into the sunset.

Fifteen years later, there are three extra bodies in the household. The new house became the old house. The Bachelor's degrees gave way to a Master's degree and a varied assortment of certifications and accolades. Carefree became responsible. And those two young kids are now thirty-something parents of three boys.

Fifteen years has seen a lot of changes. Jobs, cars, hairstyles, eating habits, spending budgets, saving budgets, vacation plans, travel modes, television programming and communication methods. We have lost so many loved ones, welcomed so many people into our family and hearts.

Here's to the next fifteen, love. In spite of the odds, in spite of our infinite differences, we recognized each other and have held on like hell. For the most part, it has been the most wonderful thing we have ever challenged ourselves to commit to, besides parenthood. At times, the ride has bumpy, arduous and challenging. But there is no one else on Earth I would rather go on this rollercoaster with.

Thanks for asking. Thanks for showing up. Thanks for being my biggest supporter. Thanks for still making my heart flutter when I hear your voice, when I see you walk in the door.

Thank you for entrusting your heart to me all those years ago.

In spite of the thick eyebrows and wild hair.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gifted in ways still unknown, undiscovered




When words have their way with me:

Floating through my dreamy mind,

Coursing out of my frantic fingers,

Pounded on keyboard, appearing magically onscreen;

I am in awe of such a gift.

And hope that words from me;

Written, spoken, whispered in quiet prayer

Are always truthful to my heart,

Kind to those who need it,

Healing to broken hearts and souls,

Thought-provoking for those needing challenge.

But mostly, that they cause a

Smile to dance on your face.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A life, as told in pictures

Monday night, my husband and I had my sister come over to watch the boys. The reason? One of our closest friend's grandmother had passed away.

Normally, I am this family's official representative at funerals. John, squeamish about the whole business of death and funerals, will stay with the kids.

But these are our closest friends. I have known D since I was thirteen years old.   We went to junior high together.  We went to high school together and managed to hang out during breaks from college.  D met M at college.  They moved down here and we become inseparable. They came to our wedding, we were part of their wedding party two years later. I found out I was pregnant with Matthew the day before M's first baby shower. I baptized M two and a half years later. Our kids consider themselves family. Because we are.

D has lost all four of his grandparents within the last four years. His mother, whose mother died, is an only child. She bore the responsibility of caring for her aging and sickly parents alone. She has now buried them.

So, Monday night, we drove in the bitter cold and went to sit with our friends. To hold their hands. To hug and whisper small words of comfort. To help lighten the burden of mourning. Again.

As the priest quietly said Mass, I held John's hand. I looked down and saw how much are hands have changed as they lay intertwined. How much they have stayed the same. I wondered what life has in store for us, how we will handle all the unknowns that lay before us.

After the funeral Mass, we made our way to see D's family, especially his mother, to offer our condolences. We noticed that they had made a display of pictures. Pictures that chronicled the life that had now passed from this one. A young woman. A bride next to her uniformed groom. A mother with her daughter. The first picture of the day they arrived to the United States to live out the American dream.

In viewing those pictures, I recognized some of the events, chuckled at how young we all looked, smiled at good times that are now memories. The life of this eighty four year old woman, reduced to photographs gleaned from a lifetime of memories. Of the happiest moments shared with her family, captured for all time.

I thought of all the other moments.  The ones we carry imprinted on our hearts.  The countless other moments that have no image other than the one deep within our souls. The ones we carry and browse through in the dark moments of sorrow.

It got me thinking.

How will our children display our lives when we pass? What conversations will come about as they glance at a picture of their father and I, captured in a moment of happiness? What will they remember of their own childhood? What stories will be told?

What kind of mother will they remember?

The week has been a blur. I have been short-tempered, tired, anxious. It has been too cold. The mornings have been hard. I haven't been able to run. I have been able to shake the creeping anxiousness.

Too many sad anniversaries are coming up. My aunt has been gone for a year. My grandfather has been gone for twenty two. Our dog has been gone for four years. My sister in law's mother passed on my sister in law's birthday, the very next day.

And yet, within that sadness, we will celebrate Susan's birthday. And our anniversary next week. And Christmas ten days later.

And there will be more pictures to chronicle this life together. As a family. As individuals.

To remember. To revisit. To comfort.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The daily routine of modern motherhood


Day in. Day out. Time scheduled.

Every minute of every day; accountable.

Wake. Run. Shower. Awaken sleepy children.

Pack. Kiss goodbyes. Commute. Coffee. Teach.

Plan lessons. Grade papers. Encourage. Dismiss.

Commute. Pick ups. Drop offs. Errands.

Homework. Dinner. Bills. Clean up. Endless.

Children bathed, tucked in bed; finished.

Momma's tired. Momma's bathed. Momma's asleep.

Repeat. Every single day. Cheerfully. Tirelessly.

Every minute of every day; blessed.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

A prayer for mercy...

Dear Lord,

Today, I ask you to be merciful. I know that I have some bad karma coming to me for years of giving homework to countless students, invoking the same misery I am experiencing right now to hundreds of parents over the last sixteen years. I know I have it coming. Times three.

Tonight, as I am sitting here writing in order to distract myself from my middle child, I pray for either strength or a quick death. Frankly, I cannot take anymore of the whining and complaining or inability to find anything in the book bag that is remotely related to homework. If it is death, please, make it happen NOW. It has been slow and painful enough.

Lord, if in your infinite wisdom you enlighten modern science in the cloning of humans, can I please be first to have one? So I can send her to drop children at tennis at differing schedules? So that I can have another making a dinner that my children will inevitably hate? So that I can perhaps get a massage, or, at the very least, a decent haircut and color? Right now, I would settle for a decent night's sleep or a solo trip to the bathroom.

And while I have your attention, did the garage door really need to cease functioning today? I mean, it has been nearly 12 years since we got it, but did it have to go today? When the entire week is filled with mindless and meaningless things that MUST get done...and when I have trash that needs to go out and have no other way to get it out? Since it's already busted, can I, at the very least, get the earliest, most convenient appointment for repair, without paying an arm and a leg?

Please, dear God, I know that the events of the last few hours are minimal compared to the crosses some people have to bear. Please, let my love for my children overcome the frustration and the feeling of wanting to pull out my already thinning hair straight out of my head as I am carried away to the funny farm. Let me remember how much I love them and so wanted to be a mother. Let those thoughts carry me through the next 14 years of schooling that lay before us.

Thanks for your time. I know you are Almighty. I know that you have my back. Just send me a sign so that I know that I am already on the life raft on this turbulent sea of motherhood.

Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A day of thanks and family...


A moment for reflection and gratitude.

To give thanks for so much:

People, big, little; sharing our journey

Creatures great and small that uplift.

Things simple, grandiose that provide backdrop.

Joyful, sorrowful memories, fueled by love.

For these, our blessings in life,

That should be on our minds

All day, each day, all year.

Near or far, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random thoughts at 4:30 a.m.

Why did I decide to wear a skimpy yoga top and these really old biker shorts?

Please, right leg. Don't complain. Don't cramp. Just run.

Why did I decide to train for this half?

Don't those stars look bright this morning?

CAR!

The extra ten seconds of running seemed like a better idea when we weren't running.

I need to get Susan's birthday present today.

Need to get the ingredients for flan.

When am I going to have time to make flan today?

Full moon. No wonder the kids did terrible on their assignments yesterday.

I can't believe my leg isn't bothering me!

I wonder why the HOA decided that palm trees and snowflakes went together.

I need to finish putting away laundry.

I need to pick up for the cleaning ladies tomorrow.

I love my cleaning ladies.

The clouds look like cotton candy against black velvet.

I wonder what happened to my velvet overalls.

I wonder what possessed me to buy velvet overalls.

Boy, I am glad that I wore this top and shorts.

I wonder what I should wear to work.

I need to take out the trash.

I am so happy that Thanksgiving is this week.

I can't believe I am doing a 5K on Thanksgiving morning.

I need to go Christmas shopping. Ugh.

Oh my goodness! My inner thighs aren't rubbing together!

There is nothing better than this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Home is where my hearts are...



Home is wherever you are, love. 
Deep within, where your heart lies.
Where your smile greets me warmly,
Where your voice rumbles, quietly; lovingly,
As you hold me close, dear.
Home is loud, scattered, messy, full.
Full of boys, love and warmth.
Home chronicles where we have been.
Home holds everything dear to us.
Home is where we belong, together.

Always, forever. You. Me. Us. We.

Where is home?  What makes you feel at home?
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Hand in hand...

As my husband and three children piled into the pew at Sunday morning Mass, I recognized an older couple who had renewed their vows after fifty plus years when we renewed our vows after thirteen. We had a magical evening that night two years ago, thinking back to the night we said "I do" and relating the story of us to our three children.

This Sunday, this couple sat a pew in front and to the left of us. The husband, after helping with the collection, came back to sit next to his wife. He promptly took her hand into his own, laid it on his knee, and with a single stealth move, covered it with his own.

My heart stopped.

I looked down at my own busy hands, intermingled in those of my youngest sons. I saw my husband's hands, they held the hands of our older sons. My heart ached, just a tiny bit, in longing for days gone by.

Days when it was my hand that was nestled in his, fingers intertwined, palms inseparable.

Those days gave way to days of holding newborns. Soothing their frantic, hungry cries; rubbing their bottoms to ease away gas, wiping dirty behinds and running noses of restless toddlers.

Now, these hands fold laundry, check homework, write checks for tennis lessons, afterschool activities, school fundraisers. These hands make dinner; whether a thoughtfully put together menu, or a quick warming up of the potluck of leftovers in the refrigerator. These hands wash dishes, load the dishwasher; clean up after the bounty is consumed.

These hands have held the hands of the sick as they recovered. These hands have held the hands of loved ones as they passed from this Earth. They have wiped tears of those who needed comfort; large or small.

They have been involved in covert operations: wrapping secret Christmas presents for their beloved, surprise birthday presents for sons who may have thought that their hints had not registered. They have addressed envelopes for invitations to share in joy, in sending well wishes to those far away in distance, but close in spirit.

These hands have seen so much. They have changed from those of a pudgy child, to those of a thin, well manicured teen. They have proudly worn a plastic promise ring, and have been graced by a hard-earned, modest engagement ring. They are slightly more wrinkled these days; desperately in need of a good manicure and pampering.

They treasure the moments in which they can be useful to someone. They are happy to lend themselves to whatever task lays ahead of them, to better a little corner of their world. They work tirelessly at whatever is there to be done. Filing, grading papers, praying, typing, washing hands, cleaning fish tanks, making beds, paying bills, bringing in groceries. So much to do. Only two of them for so much to be taken care of.

The biggest reward are moments like the one in church early Sunday morning. In feeling my youngest son's small hand within my own. Of seeing the remarkable growth of my middle son's hand as compared to my own. Of witnessing the gentleness in which John's hands held our oldest son's, with such ease and familiarity, that it made my heart break just a little.

And yet, as my eyes moved forward, back to that older couple, I got a glimpse of what lays ahead for us. Back to the days when there was no one else but me for him and him for me. When there was no race to see who would hold whose hands and the inevitable fight over who did. Back to just the two of us.

I suppose that there will be other little hands to take the place of those that are so rapidly growing. More little people to soothe, but in a different capacity.

But, what I most wish for is my hand on his knee, his protective, loving hand covering mine.

As it once did. As it will again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Finding inspiration: everyday, all year long



Eager, bright minds

Behind smiling eyes.



 

What's your inspiration these days?

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The road to hell....

The saying goes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I should know. I think I have paved that road EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. OF. MY. LIFE.

And since becoming a mother, I would say that I have been working overtime.

In the last four days, I have seen the best intentions get feelings hurt, words misspoken, leaving people frustrated, angry, sad.

The intention was to be helpful. The intention was based on assumptions.

We all know what happens when we assume. You make an arse out of you and me.

So the question becomes, once you are witness to someone's frustration, and their subsequent feelings of defeat and receive an apology that you don't think you should have gotten (because we are ALL human), what do you do?

Do you email the person and attempt (with the best intentions) to cheer up the person?

Do you just let it be?

For once, I am going to keep my mouth shut. I will not call or email. I will not Facebook or text. I will give that person space. I will not, with even the best intentions, make the situation worse.

This is difficult. I am never short on words. I always have something to say. But, in this case; as I am guessing, is the case many a time; I will not say what will make me feel better, momentarily.

Because, inevitably, I will feel worse. Because the reaction will probably not be one that I anticipate.

Because most people need their space.

Furthermore, I think I have done my time paving that road.

I don't think I need to be told where to find it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chilly weather, a good cry and a bowl of chili

We had our first cold snap this weekend. For Floridians, the first sign of cold weather sends us into a frenzy. We blow out our arsenal of winter clothes at the first drop of the mercury. We are convinced that the colder weather will decidedly bring on pneumonia in our children, therefore, they walk around closely resembling Ralphie's little brother from A Christmas Story.

Seriously, folks. The low was 55°.

I was finally beginning to feel better after the crud, but I had not trained during the week because I had been feeling so lousy. Saturday, I feared, was a day of reckoning. And cold weather to boot.

For the most part, the run was good. It was short by weekend training standards. Only eight miles compared to the 10 of a few weeks ago. It was cumbersome to run with a light jacket wrapped around my waist, but I was okay.

Until the last 2 miles. My right hip started acting up. I don't know if it was the cold, the lack or runs during the week or if I hadn't stretched enough. We had a slight wind going on the way back on our route, so it felt as though I was working harder to move. I was miserable. I ran, but at shortened time intervals. I finished, happy to be back to doing something I never thought I would enjoy and stretched out, thinking about all the stuff that was waiting for me when I returned home.

On Saturday mornings, after the group reassembles upon returning from our run, our team captain holds a clinic about upcoming topics related to training. We go over our fundraising efforts in our fight to cure Lymphoma and Leukemia. We also have a Mission Moment, where a survivor comes to speak to us about their story in fighting blood cancer.

The Mission Moment did me in this week. This man had fought Lymphoma for four years. When he was diagnosed, he was at Stage 4, and given less than two years to live. As he related his journey, and his medically impossible recovery, the tears were flowing.

The whole weekend, I was in a heightened weepy state. I don't really know why, but this man's story, his subsequent recovery and renewed sense of his life's purpose was the catalyst for many a tear shed this weekend.

Today, even bigger news. Our friend's daughter, who has been battling an incredibly rare brain tumor reached another incredible milestone. Her MRI came back clean. This precious three year old has endured brain surgery to successfully remove the tumor, months of chemotherapy, weeks of relentless radiation and her miraculous recovery continues.

What do these two stories have in common? Incredible human warrior spirits and immeasurable faith, in the face of insurmountable circumstances.

It was a welcome change to go back to work today, after the amount of exercise my tear ducts got this weekend. Somehow, working with my students, hearing their chatter, helping them through their obstacles is a really good way to get through whatever ails you. After a long day, I headed home to the cacophony of tennis lessons, cooking dinner, trading children in said tennis lessons, homework, antibiotics, baths and bedtime.

On the menu for dinner tonight? Turkey chili.

Because, sometimes, "chilly" weather, a good, long cry and a bowl of chili makes everything okay.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Embracing the constant change parenthood brings



Growing children;

Mellowing parents.

Cherished changes.



What do you do to handle changes these days?
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

How getting sick can bring you Intentional Happiness...

As many of you know, I have been out of whack this week. Apparently, the crud that I had been fighting off finally kicked my ass this past weekend and made me take a serious timeout. However, I am a firm believer in a silver lining in every cloud, regardless of how congested and feverish it may be.

Here is a brief synopsis of how getting sick can bring on Intentional Happiness:

1. Finally admitting you are sick is very liberating, and limiting. It immediately invokes a "stay away from Mom" mode amongst your older children, who have had vast experience with sick doctor's visits. Translation: Your kids stay away...Mom gets some quiet.  Maybe.

2. While you are sick, you should not engage in strenuous physical activity.
Translation: Don't run, don't clean, don't fold laundry, don't go grocery shopping. Assisted handstands in Yoga are optional, however.

3. Hubby automatically goes into Emergency Drive. Meaning he makes all kinds of efforts to help or take over tasks so your downtime is minimal.
Translation: Hubby is scared crapless. He will sell his soul to not have to take over all Mom operations for an extended period of time.

4. You must rest, because if you don't, you get worse. This, however, does not mean you actually take off from work, because, really, what teacher takes off on a Teacher Planning Day?
Translation: If you have to take off from work, do it on a day on which you have no special areas.

5. Sometimes, you need medication to help alleviate the symptoms of a particularly nasty cold.
Translation: Nyquil is a wonder drug. Comatose sleep for the weary body and mind. Drug induced sleep + tired, sick mom= fuzzy headed but rested mom tomorrow.

6. Soup cures all that ails you.
Translation: Soup=yummy goodness and a full tummy.

7. Your friends and coworkers are sympathetic to your cold and offer messages of getting well soon. Translation: Your friends and coworkers want no part of your crud. They want you to get better so that you don't spread the yuck around anymore.

As you can see, the crud has helped me realize that while you may be down, you are not necessarily out.

A little behind on the Intentional Happiness? Check out Momalom and Bad Mommy Moments for the scoop on all the happiness you can behold!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A handstand, in spite of the crud....

It's official. I can now say with certainty that I am sick. I have been in denial for weeks, making excuses for the scratchy throat, the itchy nose, the watery eyes. But yesterday, I could no longer ignore the aches and pains. I had an earache.

On Halloween night.

Right before trick or treating.

I would have been perfectly content with staying home, curled up in bed, watching some sappy movie (I watched My Sister's Keeper yesterday afternoon; a sure sign of impending sickness...). But, alas, I have children. Boys who love to dress up on Halloween, and beg for candy that they don't eat, but will inevitably make my ass larger than it needs to be.

I downed two aspirin and went trick or treating with Buzz Lightyear, and two Harry Potters.

The only treat I wanted was my bed and Nyquil. Not necessarily in that order.

I survived. I came home. My husband took one look at my pathetic carcass and commanded me to get a shower and go to bed.

Since he rarely commands me to do anything, I did just that and collapsed until this morning.

Flash forward to this morning. Body still aching, but not quite as bad, I decided to go to work. It was a Teacher's Planning Day. John suggested I stay home.

My husband doesn't understand the finer points of teaching. You NEVER take a day off on a Teacher Planning Day.

I went to work. I went to yoga. I did my first ever, assisted, hand stand.

Me. The girl who could not roll on a mat in elementary school because I would get dizzy.

Me. The girl that can run nine miles in under two hours.

And I can't wait to do it again.

By the way, I feel so crappy that I actually went to one of those clinics within the Pharmacy. And while they swabbed and tested, I do not have anything that antibiotics can cure.

Just plenty of fluids, a decongestant, aspirin every six to eight hours and rest.

The yoga class and an assisted handstand count, right?

Friday, October 29, 2010

New, unexpected, but equally delightful treats



Days of watching growing boys laugh,

Witnessing their kindness, their infinite uniqueness.

Quietly slipping my hand into John's.

Wishing these days would never end.



What do you consider a treat these days?
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'd never known love like this before...

Ten years ago, I gave birth to my oldest son. Even though I knew that my life would be turned around, I never could have imagined in how many ways my life would be changed for the better. Those four words, "You have a son" made me a mother, and the last ten years have seen an incredible amount of growth and a love that knows no boundaries or limits.

My son. Words that I longed to hear for so long. Words that made me a mother for the first time. The last ten years have brought many first's. The last ten years have seen an infant come into the world, hold up his head, turn over, smile real smiles, sit up, crawl, eat real food, say words that meant something, say I love you, walk, run, and do all kinds of amazing things.

The most amazing? His ability to be compassionate. His love for his brothers and his family. How when he spoke to his Grandma (who just had her second round of chemo yesterday) this afternoon, the first words out of his mouth were "How are you REALLY feeling, Grandma?" The way he carefully read the incredible card his seven year old brother made for him and the way he didn't tell his brother the presents were all his.

Even today, ten years after he came into my world, scrunched up face, crying his newborn mewling cry, I stand in awe. I am in awe that I am a mother. I am in awe that regardless of the crappiest day I may have encountered, or how tired I am, or how much they suck the last dregs of energy within me, there is no other place I would rather be, or anybody I would rather be with.

I am in awe of how much I have changed as I brought home that beautiful newborn baby boy. I am stronger than I ever thought I was, weaker than I would like to admit, and know that there is so much that is out of my hands. Motherhood has made me challenge myself in ways I never thought possible, change aspects of myself I thought were engrained genetically, and constantly makes me want to be the person my kids already believe I am.

On the early morning my son was born, as I gazed into the eyes of this tiny creature whose survival depended solely on me, I knew I was in trouble. I knew that I was about to experience a love I had always heard about, but could only imagine. I knew. I knew that there would never be an enemy too great, a fear too insurmountable. I knew that I would do whatever I needed to do to make sure that this child (and the others that would soon join him) would never know fear, hunger, anxiety. In those brief moments, as the doctor showed my husband and I one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed on us from the other side of the surgical sheet, I knew I was a mother.

My dearest Matthew, you have taught me to believe in what I know exists but cannot prove. You have taught me that there is NOTHING that isn't possible when you seek it with a pure heart and pursue it with love. You have shown me that I am capable of being the person you know is there, the person I always knew I could be.

My darling boy, you have been a joy from the moment we knew of your existence. You have been an endless source of pride and joy, a source of happiness and amazement for your father and I. We are blessed to have you as our son, our firstborn. Rest tonight, knowing in your heart that your father and I love you as much as any person can love another; hopelessly, fully, truly, deeply. We love you to the moon and back. Happy tenth birthday, my love.

Monday, October 25, 2010

10 miles of me, my thoughts...and my legs running

As many of you who follow this blog know, I am training for a half marathon in late January.

For many of you who know me personally, you must know that Armageddon must be coming upon us rather quickly.

Because I am not an athletic person.

And because up until August of this year, only bodily fluids exploding out of my children's beings (or blood curdling screams), got my ass up and running in record speed.

But my neighbor, who is always full of ideas, decided that this would be a great challenge for us to undertake.

Fortunately, we are not training without serious help. We are raising money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their affiliate Team In Training, which take a slug like me and makes them marathon ready.

How ready, you ask?

Ten miles in a little over two hours this past Saturday ready.

Yes. Ten miles. 135 minutes. This Saturday. And I am still upright.

At first, I thought my biggest challenge would be raising the $1700 for Leukemia and Lymphoma research. But, as of last month, not only had I reached my goal, I surpassed it.

Then came the REALLY early in the morning runs. We're talking 4:30 am people. And yet, I found that not only can I get up at that time, but I can actually run, if given the appropriate soundtrack, AND feel good for the rest of the day.

And even more surprising? When I don't get up at un-Godly hours to run a ridiculous distance, I feel TERRIBLE. I feel guilty for sleeping until the "late" 6:45 a.m. time.

But what I am enjoying the most on the mornings I run (O.K., besides bragging rights to my thoroughly impressed third graders) is the time to think, by myself, for a good hour.

Because even though a huge range of musical genres are blaring through my wireless headphones, my mind is still. I don't have a thousand jumbled messages getting crossed in transmission. Thoughts are not getting pushed aside by the day's impeding agenda.

It is impossible not to clear your mind when you run. Granted, I didn't run straight through for ten miles on Saturday. I did intervals of two minute, fast paced walks and one and a half minute runs. But when you are exerting that kind of force, you must focus on breathing, on moving one leg in front of the other, rapidly.

And with each breath, each foot in front of the other, I pushed myself to do something I never thought I could do. As I neared the final intersection before reaching our ending point, the smile on my face was huge. I knew I could do anything.

In January, I will run the ING Miami Half Marathon. I will have raised the most money I have ever raised; by myself. I will run for two and a half hours; I will cross that finish line. I will have time to think about the magnitude of what I am doing, and who I am doing it for. I will have done something solely for the good of others.

In February, I will run the Disney Princess Half Marathon. This will be just for me. I will run for two and a half hours; I will cross that finish line. I will have time to think about the magnitude of what I am doing, and who I am doing it for.

I will know that I am strong in body, not just spirit.

And I will have done something solely good for me.

This will be JUST for ME.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bed Hopping

After a weekend of physical challenges and a myriad of tasks to be completed, my body was aching for rest this afternoon. After the merry-go-round of the day's afternoon activities and fueling of children, my older boys completed homework and showered and while they did their thing, I ran to get a shower myself, relieving my aching body of the day's stresses and junk.

I put on my oldest most favorite pair of way-too-big, but oh-so-comfy pajamas. I have had these pj's for over 10 years. I bought them on clearance and wore them through each of my three pregnancies. I dug them out Saturday night, after running 9 miles that morning, running all kinds of errands with the three boys, attending Mass, and braving the Saturday night dinner crowd.

I was beat.

I needed an old friend.

This evening, it seemed as though the day had gotten the better of me. I was drained after a long day at work. I had practice for our school's Hispanic Heritage Show, in which the teachers will be performing a semi-traditional Flamenco dance routine. I ran to get Joshua, get milk, get the older boys to their tennis pizza party and awards ceremony.

The comfort of the scalding shower and comfy pj's beckoned me to do something I had not done in a long time. I laid in Joshua's twin bed with him. My littlest boy wrapped his arms around me, his still small hand on the back of my neck, as if to soothe me, his fingers tangled in my long, dark hair. He stroked my hair and I felt his breathing relax, his eyes starting to get heavy with sleep.

My heart ached to know that he is my youngest. That there will be no more sons borne of this woman. No more babes to feed with my body, to nestle and soothe when they are fitful. No new babies to run with arms outstretched, smile as welcoming as those arms, to make me forget about the troubles of my day, to fill my heart with joy. As I rubbed his wavy haired head, I shut my eyes, trying to engrave this moment in my heart and mind, so that I may bring it back when this boy no longer fits in this bed, when he no longer depends on me as much as he does now.

I glanced over to Andrew, laying in his bed, feeling left out, as I imagined he might be. I quietly crept from Joshua's bed and awkwardly folded myself into my middle son's bed. As I held him in my arms, he lay quietly, his big brown eyes searching mine. My boy, who sleeps haphazardly, who fails to catch slumber for an entire night, who has inherited the bitter enemy of insomnia that haunts his mother. I looked at my son, trying to memorize his face.  To recall what his face looked like four years ago, seven years ago, when he was a tiny, hungry babe at my breast; same large brown eyes searching mine, understanding me, knowing me. As I stroked his smooth cheek, I admired that beautiful olive skin. A face unobstructed from creases and lines: evidence of worry and sorrow. I wondered, as sleep overtook him, if he will remember this night, when his tired mother crawled into bed with him, invited sleep into bed with us, and let him have his fill of rest. I wondered what he will remember most of these busy days, often filled with mundane chores and uneventful tasks.

And now, I wait for my oldest. As he showers and prepares for bed, he is the one slipping away from childhood so quickly.

Next week, he will be ten.

Last night, I found a picture of him, when he was six months old. My eyes filled with tears, remembering that chubby miracle. His round face, his bright cheeks and smile. The dimple on his cheek that always reminds me of bright sunny days. As I hold him in his bed, his arms and legs are too large, too lanky for me to envelope like his youngest brother. It reminds me of how quickly time is passing through our lives now, how little time I have to hold on to him in this way. My heart is full to know that he still smiles and enjoys these moments, but, I wonder, for how much longer.

It is hard to be a mother. We give birth to our own hearts, tend to their care and growth as we would a precious garden. We weed, we nurture, we water, we hope. And then, we must harvest. We must part. We pray that all we have done will be good enough.

I am not ready yet. I know that they are growing. I know that it is difficult. There are days when I could walk out and not look back. There are many more days when the ache of this mother's heart is too much. When I know that the work being done is good, regardless of the weeds that threaten.

I want to hold on to these moments forever. Freeze them into photographs in my heart. Keep them, just as they are now.

Faces smooth from worry and sadness.

Under my roof.

Warm and safe in their beds.

A hop away from my own bed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

S.O.B. and Ho*e: Intentional Happiness for the week of October 15, 2010

Saturday was our city's Making Strides for Breast Cancer 5K Walk. We had a huge group from work, along with family and friends join us in support for this incredible cause. Our team leader, who happens to be Matthew's former Kindergarten teacher, designed logos for shirts and sent them out to everyone on the team.

The logo?

S.O.B.: Save Our Boobs.

Great for women, not so much for preadolescent boys.

So, on the weekend that Grandma came down to visit, before we went wig shopping, we went to the local crafts store to buy plain white t-shirts for the boys and Daddy, iron transfers and a pink t-shirt for me. I decided against wearing the S.O.B. logo and wanted to stand out among my guys. I found a really cute iron on transfer for my shirt. I would really stand out among my Team Grandma group.

Of course, fast forward several weeks and the bag with all the t-shirt supplies was STILL sitting on my dining room table, untouched. Until the night before. And then I wonder from whom my son inherited procrastination from? Just sayin'...

Well, let's just say that after two, rather full, glasses of wine, creating an iron on transfer becomes a little challenging. Especially when you can't figure out how to flip the words so that they appear correctly when transferred with said iron.

After an hour and a slew of profanities, I had four iron on transfers for the guys shirts.

Onward to the iron, soldiers.

Three boys shirts with Team Grandma? Check.

One men's shirt with Team Grandma? Check.

On to Mommy's super cute standout t-shirt.

Attention getting?

You bet.

Feast your eyes on this beauty!



Apparently, even if you follow the ironing directions CAREFULLY, when you have partaken of libations on the eve of the occasion and have procrastinated until you can't any longer, you lose the P and become a ho*e.

Needless to say, there was no fixing it with Elmer's Glue. Or a pink ribbon. Because it would still read ho*e, with a pink ribbon in the middle.

So, I decided that S.O.B. was a better alternative than ho*e. And I decided this rather quickly the morning of the walk.


Regardless, it was a lovely day. The weather was perfect. My sister and nieces were there for support.

And my boys and I walked for a very important lady in our lives.


SOB and Hope.

I may have lost the P in ironing.

But I doubt that I will ever lose the P for perspective.

And you ALWAYS need that in order to have HOPE.

What makes you !!! ? Need to catch up? Visit Momalom and Bad Mommy Moments to get your fill on a little thing we like to call Intentional Happiness!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gleeful squeals, bright eyes- Intentional Happiness for the week of October 8, 2010

It has been a busy week, but one of surprises of the very best kind. At work and at home, !!! has been hard at work, trying to catch my attention.

My students, in spite of a extremely difficult math textbook, no longer act like they are being tortured to death. One student, who has had an exceptionally hard time, actually participated during class today, and was able to explain the steps in regrouping for subtraction. YIPEE!

This week, aided by technology provided by two greats, I RAN!! Four miles, 60 minutes, 2.5 minute walks, 1.5 minute runs! I DID IT!!

Found one heck of a deal in traditional Cuban guayaberas. Made from linen, these shirts and dresses are considered formalwear. What a deal!!!


I went to an informational meeting regarding renewing my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. I was relieved to know that it was not going to be as involved as the initial certification was, but I will still be pretty busy.

The weather this week has been delightful. Lower humidity, lower temperatures and glorious breezes have made my week of parent car line dismissal a joy.

When I stopped by my sister's house earlier this evening, my nieces' reactions to my presence was exactly what I needed. Their high pitched squeals of delight and bright eyes as they jabbered like monkeys made my heart swell with love for these two precious babies.

My mother in law continues to be on the mend. After a week or so of recovery due to the setback, she is scheduled to begin chemo on Monday. I am so grateful she will be able to take the first major step to kicking cancer's ass.

This Saturday, all my guys and I will join countless others in The American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Annual Walk. My boys will be sporting Team Grandma shirts, and my sister and nieces will be there as well, lending their love and support.

With all that !!!, it is impossible not to feel renewed in hope and gratitude for all the beauty that surrounds me every day.


What makes you !!! ? Need to catch up? Visit Momalom and Bad Mommy Moments to get your fill on a little thing we like to call Intentional Happiness!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcoming Fall with open arms...

Over the last couple of mornings, there has been a slight chill to the air as I hustle with my sons to get to work on time, or when my neighbor and I meet to go for our four mile runs at 4 am. Please don't misunderstand. Fall in South Florida does not really qualify as Fall anywhere else. For Floridians, any drop in humidity automatically signals Fall.

Last year, my husband took me to Boston in September. I had never been to Boston, and immediately fell in love with the city and the scenery. The leaves, the hustle and bustle, the buildings, the history. I could have stayed there forever.

This morning, as I walked out to the car, the sky was the crispest blue I had seen in a while. The lines of the trees stood in contrast; so sharp against that perfect sky. It reminded me of ten years ago, as I waited for the birth of my first born. As those beautifully sky-ed days became more frequent, they never lost their magic. Every fall, I think back to those days of endless anticipation and beautiful skies, and my heart is full.

Fall has forever been one of my most favorite seasons. Although we don't get much of a change in seasons down here, that lack of humidity and ensuing "chill" signal a time of harvest. A time of thanksgiving. Of gathering close to the ones you love, creating new memories; reliving old ones.

On the mornings that I run, I love looking out at the twilight sky as we get home. The beautiful colors of fall on the giant canvas of the sky. Everything is right in the world when you look at that beauty first thing in the morning, lungs full of fresh air, heart pumping new life within you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lettuce wraps and entitlement

Over the weekend, my husband and I took the kids out for dinner after Mass. It had been an incredibly busy day, and frankly, I am getting kind of bored with making dinner every night. Seriously bored.

We choose a semi-fast Asian fusion restaurant, where we can order our children's Honey Garlic chicken without the honey or garlic. Any guesses as to what's left when you remove those two key ingredients? Chicken nuggets. With steamed white rice. I know.

We placed our order, and went to find a place to sit with our family horde. And there, we were met with the self serving, entitled older folks. Giving us the evil eye.

And I swear that my children were being good. No one was fighting, no one was whining about the chopstick clips, no one was upset about being hungry.

So I gave the evil eye back. They kept glancing our way, with tight frowns on wrinkled, sour faces. They got their bowl of wonton soup before us, even though we got our order in first.

Eventually, we got our soup. And our fabulous lettuce wraps. And that's when one of the entitled retirees snapped at the waiter, and me, as I sat gap-mouthed, astounded by her rudeness.

"You didn't order lettuce wraps, did you?" she asked accusingly.

"We most certainly did. Sorry." I answered smiling sweetly as I seethed.

THE NERVE! TO ACCUSE ME OF TAKING HER LETTUCE WRAPS!!! WHEN I ORDERED THEM!

She must have taken the hint. She mumbled something, half-apologetically, about us having ordered first. My husband and I exchanged puzzled looks.

How do people think that being that rude entitles them to any kind of special treatment? Why do these people feel that anything and everything that they want, they are entitled to?

Our mean neighbor and her entourage got their order messed up. The restaurant was so busy that the waiters failed to catch they incessant bickering over the order being wrong.

And us?

We enjoyed the rare instance in which we dined out and our children actually enjoyed their meal and each other's company. Hubby and I had a deep philosophical conversation about the Bill of Rights and separation of Church and State.

And you know what? I felt sorry for that group of people who sat a mere four feet away from our table. Because everyone is entitled to some happiness. And it was clear that these four people were not happy. Not because their food was wrong or because they were sitting next to young children.

Because they were failing to see that happiness is something that they could grasp for themselves. It was not the lettuce wraps that they ordered and did not come as quickly as they wanted.

It is in our grasp to live in the moment.

To relish and savor the tender morsels of everyday joy, instead of cultivating anger and anxiety.

On the way home, I thought of what these people must have endured in their lives. But, we all experience disappointments, sadness, anger, rejection, sickness... What makes people hold on to that yuck? So much so that it taints everything around them? How do we avoid becoming that person?

We experience it, but we don't have to hold on to it. We learn from it. We release it. We move on.

And when all else fails, we dig into those lettuce wraps, and perhaps, gloat just a wee bit...

Hey, I never said I was perfect!

P.S. A very special HAPPY BIRTHDAY goes out to the best dad in law anywhere, Granddaddy! So sorry the kids were sick this week and we missed out on celebrating with you! We love you and will see you soon!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Running towards base: Intentional Happiness for the week of October 1, 2010

As children, when playing freeze tag or hide and seek, there was always a free zone or home base. Once you reached and touched it, no harm could come to you. Unfortunately, as adults, we don't always have a tangible base to get to when things get tough.

Last night, my night crawler, Joshua, was up to his old tricks. Prior to the nasty cough from two weeks ago that settled into his chest, Joshua was sleeping through the night in his own bed. However, when he is feeling under the weather or has a bad dream, base is right there between Mommy and Daddy.

But he is going to be 3 1/2. When he comes into bed with us, none of us get a decent night sleep. My husband and I closely resemble zombies of the scariest kind: parents with severe sleep deprivation. It also does not help that my head, face and kidneys are his personal target practice for kicking. I am sporting some fierce bruises, people.

So last night, when he came around and my husband attempted to put him in bed with us, I lost it. I sent Daddy back with Joshua, to his room and bed. It did not go well.

For close to 45 minutes, Joshua wailed and approached the bedroom door, but did not come in. It quite literally broke my heart. Finally, he was howling. I got up, and found him. His tear stained face mumbled something about having to go potty. As he went, I stood, waiting, sleeping with my eyes open.

I tucked him in bed. I went back to bed and lay awake, trying to go back to sleep. And the thought of how we each need a base when things go bad came to mind. And how I took that away from him.

And yet, this morning, he awoke with a smile on his face, eyes bright with rest. His little arms pulled me close to him, fierce in his love for me.

As I looked at each of my sons this morning, I thought of how regardless of what messes life throws at us, this is my base. This is where I long to be, with whom I want to be with, when I need everything to be right.

My mother in law got a taste of that this past week. She had what could have been a MAJOR setback. She underwent emergency surgery and when she awoke later on that morning, she was surrounded by the men she loves the most: her husband and sons. The original four. The original base. And that did wonders for her recovery as she begins anew, working towards healing, gearing up for the fight.

And where she has been our base for a LONG time, it is nice to be that for her and my father in law. Because that's what families do. We are the touchstone, the roots, the wind that carries those who cannot.

As my sons grow older and my role changes as their mother, I imagine that they will always be what I most cherish, what brings me comfort when I am sad. I suppose that the image of them I call to mind will differ as they get older. But for now, those lanky legs and arms, wide eyes and smiles are the most welcoming base that I have ever known.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wrong again

After many a sleepless night, courtesy of my youngest son and his unwillingness to stay in his own bed, last night I collapsed. Too much drama in Florida last night and today, y'all.

The news made it seem like there was going to be some great flood today. I mean, the Today show had a correspondent in Ft. Lauderdale this morning. Were they expecting Noah to make an appearance with the ark?

Parents, students and teachers alike waited with bated breath to see if school would be closed today.

No such luck.

No such weather.

It was just a rainy day. But nothing gets Floridians in a tizzy and glued to their TV's faster than the thought of a tropical depression or storm.

We had five hurricanes in a two month period FIVE years ago. The news people need to eat, yo.

It must have been a REALLY slow news day.

Regardless, the storm never materialized. The traffic was nightmarish, particularly because when it is raining in Florida, people can actually get out and PUSH their cars faster than they are actually accelerating.

Traffic around the school? More of the same. God forbid that a child get wet, especially since they are not wearing a rain coat!

All day, in spite of the fact that I actually slept a full night's sleep, I just wanted to be home. In my bed. Watching movies that were not geared for children.

I missed not going out for my run/walks with my neighbor, as we train for a half marathon in late January. My legs, amazingly, ached for lack of exercise.

I have been a little bitchy. Little things have irritated my beyond belief, and I have found myself marveling that such stupidity abounds on Earth. For example, people who seem to forget the function of the right pedal in their car when it is raining outside.

But much like the Little Engine That Could, I did. I survived the craziness of this morning, watching my son struggle with what must surely be the strangest way a person has ever put on a raincoat. Survived running back out to the van to get Joshua's lunch with my broken crap-o-la umbrella and coming back to find Andrew still struggling. I survived crazy mothers driving their children to school, parent phone calls and emails. I even survived Math today (none of you will truly appreciate what a feat that was today) and rainy day dismissal, even finding four students that decided to do their own thing.

I even managed to get the kids to CCD (Catholic studies) on time, only to find it cancelled. And I was NOT even upset. And for you foodies that have been following my struggle to manage to recreate the Red Thai Curry from our favorite Thai place, I came pretty darn close tonight.

After all, tomorrow is another day. And just because I was pretty much wrong in my assumptions for what today would hold, I will not let that stand in the way of progress.

Tomorrow, I WILL run/walk my 4 miles at 4:30 am; I will get back in my groove, regardless of what the weatherman says.

'Cause really? What other job could you have and be wrong about 90% of the time and STILL be employed and listened to?

Oh, I forgot.

Motherhood qualifies for that category, no?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gratitude

I have had a heavy heart and silent blog for the past few weeks. My family received some news about four weeks ago that has reshaped our lives and how we choose to live it, but by anyone's standards, is not the most exciting positive news ever.

As many of you have surmised over the content of my blog, my relationship with my mother in law is pretty spectacular. For many years, she has been an infinite source of comfort and support and for all practical purposes, I see her as a mother figure in my life.

About six weeks ago, she awoke with a pain in her breast and decided to get it checked out. She had a mammogram, that came back abnormal and required a biopsy. Four weeks ago, her biopsy confirmed she has breast cancer.

In spite of incredible circumstances, my mother in law has had EXCEPTIONAL luck. In the doctors that are guiding her treatment and care. In the speed in which accompanying tests have been scheduled and executed. In the way the world has responded to this circumstance our family now faces.

My mother in law has cancer. The cancer does not have her.

Frankly, when news like this hits you, it usually feels like a gut punch. Your knees get weak. You cannot keep a cognitive thought in your head if your life depended on it. But, the stronger part of you starts drumming up a list of things that need to be done.

Upon consultation with my MIL, I decided not to write about this for a while. And it has been hard to keep this within me, when it has colored so many parts of my life. But it is not defining us.

Because, in spite of the ugliness of the word cancer, the gratitude within my heart cannot be explained in any rational way. I am grateful that this cancer has a worthy opponent. My MIL is no shrinking violet. She fights like a girl: proud, courageous, with a fierceness that can overcome anything. Her heart and mind are determined to beat this, and, if the last 20 years prove anything, my money is on her, 2:1.

I am grateful to those whose prayers and good wishes have so often lifted me throughout these last few weeks. Your kindness, compassion and willingness to do for our family is worth so much more to us than just the mere words that have left your mouths. They have sustained us, given us strength, given us comfort.

I am grateful for those people who have been involved so far in her care. She is so positive because the people around her are filled with hope. She has doctors that have involved her in every decision and are positive that she will be around for a long time.

I am grateful to this cancer for giving my family the opportunity to fuel ourselves with the wonder of each day, the wonder of our family.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scrambled eggs for brains...

Why is it that today, I found a bill that should have been paid two weeks ago? Or that I went to buy children's ibuprofen even though I had a forgotten, unopened bottle of it in the medicine cabinet? Or that I bought children's cough medicine in orange flavor, which my oldest son clearly detests?

Why is it that I went to work, regardless of the fact that I slept very little after my oldest complained of a splitting headache at 3 am? Or that I left the house without realizing I hadn't eaten breakfast or had not brought a protein bar with me to munch on during the drive to work?

Why is it that I scheduled a ENT follow-up on a day that I have an informational meeting for a recertification that I must begin this fall? Or that I can barely find the time to make, let alone keep, a hair dresser's appointment so that I no longer look like a graying version of Cousin It?

Why is it that regardless of whatever stupidity I find myself in, my loving husband can get a gleam in his eye, shake his head knowingly and smile as he says everything will be okay?

Why is it that the area formerly known as my brain now closely resembles and functions much like scrambled eggs?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Intentional Happiness for the week of September 23, 2010

It has been an exceptionally rough week. There are many reasons for this, many reasons I cannot go into it on this blog, because of the nature of the circumstances, because of promises I have made. But in spite of the bad news and setbacks this week has ushered in, I am filled with gratitude for many things.

I am grateful for the kindness of the people that surround me on a daily basis. Their gentle words have slowly brought my soul back to life, helped me pick up my family from our worry, has helped my find the right words to bring comfort and hope to those I love the most.

I am grateful for the prayers so many have been saying for all of us. Those prayers are powerful weapons against anxiety and worry. That kind of faith can move mountains.

I am especially grateful to my students, my own sons, for making me think of someone other than myself. Their wit, perspective and humor fuels me on a daily basis.

I am grateful that, in spite of the events of the last 24 hours, we have been given yet another opportunity to embrace a new day with renewed faith that things can, indeed, get better. And they will.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meet the parents...

A few nights ago was my school's Open House. For parents, it is the opportunity to meet your child's teacher, get informed about the year's goals and objectives, and get a peek at what your child does throughout the day.

For teachers, the day and night of Open House is an exercise in endurance and patience. And for me, Monday was an answered prayer for air conditioning. So once again, for the second day in a row, we headed over to our Media Center and hung out there, waiting for cooler days ahead.

That being said, we had about two hours to reconstruct the classroom and prepare for the meeting of the parents. And write letters, clean desks and take care of the fish tank that was orange, full of fish food the Boys Scouts had dumped into it a few days before.

Plus, I looked like a bum. I knew that I had a lot of cleaning up to do, so I wore crummy jeans and a polo shirt. My filthy hair, pulled back into a pony tail, I was a force to be reckoned with. And, I was about to make a first impression.

I met yet another Language Arts/Reading teacher who will be covering for my beloved co-teacher as she enjoys these last few weeks with her brand new, crawling baby girl.

Yes. On Open House Day.

At least I had the air conditioning going for me.

At the sound of the three o'clock bell, I ran out of school like a maniac, drove to pick up Joshua at school, came home, saw that my aunt had made it to my house okay, ordered pizza, left money for said pizza to feed the kids, jumped in the shower and managed to wash my tresses and shave my legs, put on one outfit, discarded it, put on a winner with coordinating accessories, did my hair, put on my face, kissed my kids goodbye as I barked orders and threats relating to homework and behavior. I made it on time for Andrew's Open House session, the one I stayed at for a total of 15 minutes before I had to head out to my room to prepare the laptop and projector. Thank goodness, John played the concerned, involved parent.

One of the things that I love about Open House is to find the faces of my students in those of their parents. It's almost like a game to me, to pick out the parents and match them to the kids. It is so interesting to see how much some kids look like one parent, or how certain features closely resemble their child's.

More importantly, it's a chance for parents to hear that no matter what, their kids are going to have a great year. That they are doing the best they can, and it is good. That they are not in this alone.

As a child, the thought of my teacher meeting my parents was terrifying. I was a good kid, a great student, but somehow, the thought of my two worlds meeting filled me with anxiety. As a teacher, it is a wondrous thing to be able to tell a parent that their child is doing well, that they are a joy to have in the classroom, that you are proud to be their teacher.

And so, for the sixteenth time in my career, I stood in front of anxious parents, made them laugh, made them think, made them smile.

After all that went on Monday, it was by far, the best part of my day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself...

Being a math teacher is hard. Being a math teacher in third grade is like growing teeth and THEN pulling them out. Being a math teacher in third grade with a new math series sucks rocks. SERIOUSLY.

Most kids begin third grade with an abnormal terror of all things mathematical. Apparently, the stigma of having to memorize your times table is a ghost that lingers past my own childhood and continues to haunt GENERATIONS of children. The fact that we have a state mandated test that determines your promotion into fourth grade does not help.

Our old math series was traditionally heavy handed with lots of computation skills, a fair amount of reinforcement exercises and plenty of opportunities to provide homework after good amount of practice. Basically, it did the job, had adequate opportunities to practice, and had a good amount of resources for remediation and challenges.

The new math series is a consumable workbook, which means you can write in it. And that pretty much sums up all that makes it great.

I REALLY hate the new series.

Don't misinterpret me. I did not love the old math series. But I knew it. I knew how to circumvent the obvious deficits of academic types who have never actually taught third graders. I knew when to strap on my boots when the skills to be taught were going to drive me to drink. I knew what concepts my kids would literally sail through.

With this series, I got nothing.

Except that the kids can write in it and instead of 3 GIGANTIC teacher's editions, I have six small, lightweight teacher's editions.

Not much of a selling point folks.

For you naysayers, there is a huge amount of deep psychological reprogramming that has to occur in third grade to not turn off kids to math. I remember constantly feeling stupid at the beginning, middle and end of every math lesson from Kindergarten through 12 grade. Every single one. I NEVER left my classroom feeling like it owned whatever we had covered. I hovered between treading water or drowning. And I cannot say it was my teachers' fault. They were good teachers, but every year I struggled so much that they focused on keeping me with everyone else, rather than finding out WHY I was so frustrated.

And for the first 13 years of my 16 years of teaching, I NEVER felt qualified to teach anything above first grade math. Because even as an adult, I was still afraid of math.

Then, I decided to teach third grade. And my administrators agreed it was time for a change. And for the first time in my life, I knew I had to be okay with math so that I could make sure no student ever walked out of my class feeling like I had for so many years.

I took that damn math book home over the summer and I taught myself all the sh*t I could not understand when I was in third grade. I started to see that there were patterns. That is really wasn't all that hard, if you were paying attention. That numbers, dare I say it, were actually pretty cool.

After discovering, albeit too late to do anything for myself, this new respect for math, I knew that I had the power to help my math haters reform themselves while they still could enjoy it. I vowed to make those kids who so closely resembled my former kid-self learn from my mistakes.

Was I not, after all, one of them?

The first year in third grade was rough. I had an intern the first quarter of the year. There were so many days I left school with bite marks inside my mouth from trying to keep myself from interjecting in her lessons. When she finally left, my real work began.

My students were timid, afraid of making a mistake, unwilling to let go of this fear. I vowed to do my best and promised them that if they paid attention and asked questions, success was theirs for the taking. I told them that if they didn't get it after holding up their end of the bargain, I would have to do a better job of explaining it.

It worked. Two years in a row. Glowing scores. More importantly, children who LOVED math.

Once they knew, they had nothing to fear anymore. They knew that they were more than capable.

Flash-forward to this year. A whole new crop of eager brains. A new math book.

A monkey wrench.

Our first math lesson was a disaster. I actually had one little boy start crying and tell me he was stupid. As I looked around the room, it seemed like there were many eyes teetering on tears as well. And then I wanted to cry. But more than that, I was pissed off. That this stupid book, written by people who had never met these kids were making this poor kid think he was stupid. Just like I thought I was.

And so we had a little talk. About people who write books that are designed to trip up kids. About how we are in this together. About how we were going to GPS anyone who was lost and help them find their way back.

We kept on it. In the midst of these past weeks, they tried to hide in their seats, behind their neighbor's head so that they could deflect my eagle eyes, searching for those who didn't want to be found. The last few weeks have been more than a little rough.

But we have persevered. We have hung on.

And today, my students actually felt ready to complete math problems on their own, without me holding their hands. I had students eagerly waving their hands, waiting to be called, instead of students with sullen, shifty eyes that beg not to be called upon.

Today, I had success. My kids got it.

But I will make a confession. Even though there was some deep psychological drama going on in that classroom for the last three weeks, my students owned it today. They proved to themselves that they are capable. And that is going to fuel the fire in their belly to continue to succeed.

And if I were the math problems in that sh**ty, new math textbook, I would be afraid.

I would be VERY afraid.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The words get in the way...

As far as days go, today was a tossup. While I heard of news that definitely leads me to believe that prayers are answered, in other ways, my day was a rough one.

The common denominator of the good and bad: words.

Words that can help smooth over rough spots, create uncomfortable silences, give great joy, announce devastating news.

Today, three simple words lifted a great burden of worry this morning. Other words brought information regarding the Turkish bath otherwise known as my classroom.

Words spoken and exchanged...Phrases, commands, statements, exclamations, questions...Swirling, finding meaning in some, being lost on others.

Words changing depending on the audience, their purpose refocused as determined by the occasion. Words made to fit into small silences, time constraints.

And at times, we are at a loss. For all the words that exist at our disposal, none seem to fit the bill. Sometimes, our hearts, our eyes, speak volumes when our mouths cannot form sounds that resemble the form of communication that so often fails us. Because our hearts and souls cannot be held by such limitations that words, by their very nature, are bound by.

Sometimes, our words find their mark. Their meaning is interpreted as they were said, as they were meant. Other times, we are not as fortunate. Our words miss their mark. The meaning twisted, misunderstood. The message; lost.

This occurs quite often in teaching. However well you think you explained something, the blanks faces of your students quite plainly tell you that it has flown over their heads, no information received.

Other times, our words hurt others, however their well meaning prose was constructed. And while medical science has made many miracles, one does not exist for peering into the hearts of others.

Perhaps, tomorrow, I will have the marksmanship of William Tell. My words will be as true and sure as his steadfast arrow. They will find the way to be the right words, the words I intend them to be.

And hopefully, they will not get in the way of their message. My heart will find the words my brain cannot know yet.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

!!!- Intentional Happiness for the week of September 10, 2010

Seeing the couple in their eighties holding hands at Mass on Saturday afternoon.

My husband reaching for my hand as we walked back to the car after Mass on Saturday afternoon.

Menacing possum from last week's run becoming road kill. That's what you get when you mess with people that early in the morning...Karma is a bitch, yo.

Combined barbeque dinner with our neighbors. At my neighbors house. Delicious, with half the work and no clean up in my kitchen!

My nieces saying I love you. Melts my heart every time.

Having my sister and family over for dinner.

Unexpected hugs from my sweet boys.

Joshua' devilish look when he smiles and he's up to no good.

Finally discovering no chip manicures...slightly expensive but having no trailer park trash chipped nail polish is worth it.

Completing Sunday's spinning class as it was meant to be finished!

Teacher's report on Joshua's mad academic skills that make up for his sh**ty a** wiping skills. Skid marks don't lie.

Yoga at work this morning and being able to get my exercise in today when I didn't think I would be able to.

Being able to do Yoga for the first time and really enjoy it (and do it right!)

Being 65% to my fundraising goal for the half marathon in January.

The amazing response of former students and their parents upon finding out I am running a half marathon.

4 miles in 4 60 minutes...and that's just walking!

Seeing the AC repair guy from the school district in my classroom today...

Thinking I actually felt cool air in my classroom for the first time in 4 weeks!

That the end of the week is finally here and I get to enjoy it with the ones who mean so much.


What made your list of !!! this week? A little behind on what the !!! is all about? Check out Bad Mommy Moments and Momalom for the scoop on the !!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A long day and weary body...

Not enough sleep, 4:30 am wake up time to walk close to 4 miles for training, fight horrendous traffic, students who don't want to work or are too afraid of making mistakes, parents who demand home work assignments but don't bother to make sure their "gifted" children actually complete it, a hubby who will be off on work related travels, tennis, offspring's' home work assignments and ensuing battles related to its completion.

Muscles ached, eyelids drooping, heavy with sleep and exhaustion.

Only one answer, really. Too tired to cry, although that would feel good. Too tired to write, even though words cannot replace the lost rest I can never seem to find. Longing for sleep.

And yet, I long for more days when the events don't always go as planned, but hold a certain kind of magic. In that you can overcome those things that should otherwise impede progress. That in spite of a long talking to, your students can still recognize a feeble attempt at a joke, and inevitable, surprise you with new knowledge, even if it's at the eleventh hour. For colleagues and their knowing smiles, for parents who do appreciate what you do, for your own children that confess their fears as you mention your own, their growing hand safely nestled in your own.

Looking forward to an extremely early bed time; a night's slumber that will restore and empower.

Wishing the same for you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Women: The Cockroaches of Emotional Nuclear Holocaust?

I know, catchy title. But when you think of it, aren't we, as women, just about the hardest creatures on Earth to crack? Are we not the human equivalent of cockroaches when it comes to getting back up when there should be no possible way that we could or should?

From the get go, there is drama. I see the difference between my boys and my nieces. With girls, everything is about the drama. I think it is a warm up exercise to what we go through as adults. And while this might sound cynical, I am truly not mocking. I think that women, particularly mothers, put themselves aside for the well being of others. And often, it is more than any heart should have to bear.

Broken hearts. Everyone has a couple of these lurking around. Whether it is puppy love or a bitter divorce, women converge to help the afflicted along. Armed with Ben and Jerry, Grey Goose or both, your girlfriends, sisters, etc. will be there to hold you up, tell you are justified, to you to just F*** Him. Just what we need, in the right dosage.

Friendships betrayed. This drama usually finds its peak in middle school and high school. Intrigue and soap opera antics never fail to deliver the bemoaning and the fledging alliances. But sometimes, these new friendships will pass the test of time, and more often than not, they will be the ones that support you through some of the hardest stuff you will encounter in life.

Infertility. One of the hardest things I ever dealt with. And I consider myself extremely lucky. My problems were resolved with minimally invasive procedures. I ended up Fertile Myrtle by my mid-thirties. I often think that if I survived that, I could survive anything.

Messed up families. How do you reconcile relatives that often make you wonder how on God's green Earth you could possibly be related to them? You love them, but can't expose yourself or your kids to their ways, bringing sadness, denial, unwillingness to accept. But the ability to look at a situation truthfully, and be able to walk away without regrets takes some serious gumption.

Work related drama. Both yours and your spouse's. If it is heart-wrenching to experience it first hand, it is even harder to hear about it happening to your spouse. The conniving evil that some people spout off is just unbelievable. I often wonder why some people choose to make so much trouble, cause so much harm. What's wrong with them?

Becoming the parent to your parent. It is so hard to be able to gauge how your parents are doing. After all, parents can be the master of disguise. They will appear to be fine, yet small things set off alarms in your head. Making decisions about their care, particularly if there is a degenerative disease, is never an easy one. It is usually wracked with guilt and uncertainty. And yet, as time passes, and they adjust, you see that even though it was incredibly difficult, it was the right choice.

Parents getting really sick. Having gone through my father's battle with prostate cancer is nothing I would wish on anyone. There is something debilitating in watching someone battle so hard and courageously for so long. My father's outlook, however, was not a positive one. It was hard to play cheerleader to someone who was willing to fold, and yet, I cannot judge. I cannot pretend to know what helplessness he felt at diagnosis, over the countless chemotherapy drugs and radiation he endured. He battled, we cheered. When an illness like cancer comes into play, we get pissed off and we get marching orders. We rally, we cry, we go on. Because we know others depend on us, particularly those who are afflicted. And when all else fails, we walk for the cure...

Motherhood. Nothing piles up the emotional arsenal like motherhood. The hormones, the sleep deprivation, the worry. Am I doing it right? Are they okay? Will I mess them up too much? Motherhood breaks your heart like nothing else. After all, these children are a piece of you. Your body grew them and sheltered them for nine months. The first two years of these children's lives are spent assuring their survival, marveling at their growth and newfound skills. Their elementary years are filled with making sure they know right from wrong; their adolescent years spent making sure that they practice it. Then, they leave. As they must. And with them, they take a piece of you. If you've done your job right, you get to enjoy them in a different capacity.

I think that the common thread here is that women have hope. They have hope when the odds are stacked against them. They have hope when everyone else in the world is ready to call the game and head home.

That hope is born from love. Love of our families, love of our friends and love for making sure that wrongs are righted, that justice prevails, that the happy ending happens. In spite of the odds, is spite of the difficulties.

Rest assured, when an emotional holocaust is omnipresent, there will be a group of women who lead the way, to help support those who need some wind in their sails, to hold the hand and comfort those who need it, to tell a raunchy joke and alleviate the tension. In spite of a broken heart. Finding the strength where there might be none. Because it is in our nature to be indestructible like no other creature.

We are there.

The cockroaches, and us.