Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tied Up in (Forget Me) Knots

Hi, Mom! How are you doing?

It's so good to see you!

It's good to see you, too. I know it seems like it's been a long time since I've been here at the nursing home, but it was just.... Well, never mind. I've been busy. But I've been thinking of you. I'm always thinking of you!

I stopped in a couple days ago, but you were sleeping. I tried to wake you, but you kept dozing off. I talked anyway. You probably don't remember, huh? I knew it wasn't an ideal time of day to visit, but it was the only time I could get away....

It's just so good to see you!

It's good to see you too. We've been pretty busy. Of course there's not really anything exciting or memorable to tell you. Just the ordinary, everyday stuff that eats up time before you know it.

It's not much of an excuse. It's just so hard to get away sometimes. Even for a little while.

It's so good to see you!

I know. You too. Anyway, today I just had to shuffle schedules and come see you. Even if I don't have much to talk about, we can just sit here and hold hands. And I'll talk. About everything and nothing. Anything but what's really on my mind.

It's just so good to see you.

Do you remember Sue? They used to live next door? She said to say hi. So... hi.

A lot of people ask about you. They say they see you when they're here visiting their own parents. I tell them the same thing. Somehow it seems to make us feel a little better. It's our way of recognizing that unspoken, shared guilt we have. The feeling that we can never visit often enough, or stay long enough.

They say you're looking good. They tell me they said hi, but they're not sure if you recognized them or not. And really, why should you? I mean, we don't look quite the same as we did back in school. But that's how they remember you, that's how they remember their folks. I'm the same. In our minds you're still the Little League coach, the club leader, the chaperone at the dance. Or you're taking us out for dinner at college. Or dancing at our wedding. Proudly holding our babies.

It's so good to see you!

Then they ask the tough question: “Do you think she recognizes you?” And I say yes. But I hesitate. And I wonder if they're thinking the same thing I am: Do I really believe this? Do you really recognize me? And what will I do when....

Because they aren't really asking me about you, they're asking themselves about their own parents. They're asking “Do you think my mom still recognizes me?” That's what I'm doing when I ask how their parents are doing. We can't ask it outright. We can't share our fears so openly. But we know. Without speaking, we know how afraid we are that you will forget us.

So. I don't visit as often as I'd like because I'm busy.

But I'm also afraid.

And I feel guilty about not visiting more often. And I feel guilty about taking time away from the kids, my husband, my job to come here and visit with you. And I feel guilty about feeling guilty. But you know that, don't you?

I remember how you struggled to find time to visit Gramma without shortchanging me. At the time I thought that I was grown up and you didn't need to worry about me. Now I realize I might not have needed you to worry about me, but you needed to worry about me. And you needed to worry about Gramma. It's the challenge of being caught between two generations.

It's just so good to see you!

Speaking of the kids, I've got to be getting home. But I promise I'll visit again soon.

I promise.

Look at our hands. I tell everyone I have your hands. But who's hands do you have? When did they get so thin, so fragile? Sometimes I worry I'm holding yours too tight, that I will hurt you. But I don't want to let go. I'm afraid you'll slip away. Because you're already slipping away. And I don't know how to ask you to stay, much less how to let you go.

I love you.

Don't forget that (you know me).

I won't forget that (I love you).

I promise.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Get Your Freak-Out On (In Five Steps)

Tomorrow is the first day of the new school year.

It is past 10 p.m. on the eve of the first day of the new school year, and I can finally say that without feeling like I'm going to throw up.

Believe me, it was touch and go there this afternoon. I wasn't sure if I wanted to burst into tears, throw up, or slink out of the high school and run away to New York City where I would beat the odds and become a best selling novelist with a house in the Hamptons and eventually meet, charm, and marry Billy Joel... or become a bag lady and live out the rest of my days in obscurity and filth with only my 50 cats to keep me company.

Not that I gave it much thought.

In between reaching for the tissues and the Tums and wondering how I would feed all those cats, I kept chipping away at the mountain of work I faced trying to figure out what in the heck I was going to do to keep my students occupied for one day – let alone an entire semester– and how I was ever going to make plans to cover all the topics included in the course descriptions for the classes I will be teaching – starting tomorrow.

And make plans to take courses myself to obtain my teaching certification in Family and Consumer Science.

Because as it turns out? English and Communications are not that much like Family and Consumer Science.

Did Not see that coming.

After sitting in the small, windowless teachers' lounge (which is actually quite nice as far as teachers' lounges go, and cozy) for an hour and printing off enough internet-shared lesson plans to deforest a small equatorial country, a strange sense of calm started to settle in. At last I was able to return to my cavernous classroom (actually quite nice as far as FCS rooms go, but wide open and arctic-cold) to finish up my plans for tomorrow (the first day of the new school year) with a hint of how I could touch on the topics included in the course descriptions for the classes I will be teaching this semester.

It was at this point that I realized I had reached the Fifth Stage of Freaking Out: Acceptance.

With all due respect to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, grief is not the only emotion which drags you through five stages. Here, then, are the Five Stages of Freaking Out, according to the Sandwich Mom (and Teacher):

Stage One: Awareness. It began with the realization that I had roughly a month's worth of work to do, and only a day's worth of time to do it in. You may be tempted to ask yourself what I have been doing all summer. Please don't. I have no idea where the time went. There may have been space aliens and probing involved.

This stage is characterized by low-level feelings of impending doom, dread, foreboding, and a general “funk.” Personally, I wanted nothing more than to listen to Billy Joel's “A Minor Variation” on endless repeat (“Some days I have to give right in to the blues/Despite how I try to keep fightin'/ It's a sure shot I'm going to lose”). And to eat. Anything. That didn't move. Fast. After I covered it in chocolate. And salt. And dipped it in cheese.

Stage Two: Pinging. Some people wrongly categorize Pinging as a full Freak Out. It is not. It is pre-freak out. The reputable on-line source “Urban Dictionary” defines pinging as “a state of increased anxious activity, typically induced by an amphetamine.” But a Freak Out-Ping totally trumps an amphetamine-ping. Any day.

This stage is characterized by rapid, shallow breathing, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, pit sweat, and clammy hands. Unfortunately the Freak Out-Ping lacks the feelings of euphoria and well-being that may be associated with an amphetamine ping. At this point Billy Joel's “Pressure” was pounding in my head, over and over. And not in a good way.

Stage Three: Hyperventilation. Imagine the “pings” coming so close together they flat line – at the top of the chart instead of at the bottom.

This stage is characterized by feelings of... hyperventilation. Duh. Also a desire to throw up, burst into tears, or run away. I felt like I was listening to “Running on Ice” by Billy Joel, and dancing. Poorly. Which is unusual for me. I usually think I am a great dancer. Go figure.

The good news is that if you make a graphic representation of Freaking Out, Hyperventilation is at the apex of the Freak Out. It's all down hill from here.

Stage Four: Air Head. It may be all down hill from Hyperventilation, but that doesn't mean it's smooth sailing. At this point you recognize your inability to avoid impending doom. This is tantamount to the first step in a 12 step program: to solve a problem you have to admit that there is a problem.

Unfortunately, Stage Four is characterized by a total lack of focus. You recognize the problem, admit the problem, even start making plans to make plans to solve the problem, yet you lack the ability to focus on making the planned plans.

Personally, I had figured out the general scope for my classes and I was ready to start looking for lesson plans that fit that scope, but first I had the overwhelming need to make a pretty chart! I was going to look for a Billy Joel song to illustrate this stage, but I was too busy finding clip art for my chart. (Honestly. I could post the pdf.)

Stage Five: Acceptance. Like the final step in Kubler-Ross' model, the final step in a Total Freak Out is Acceptance. You come to terms with the inevitable future and decide to let the chips fall where they may.

Stage Five is characterized by the feeling that what happens is going to happen, and nothing you can do (no amount of planning that you haven't done) can totally prepare you for every eventuality. My profound realization every time I reach this stage is that I am heading to hell in a handbasket, and the best I can do is relax, enjoy the ride and brace myself for impact.

Unfortunately the five stages of Freak Out are not a one-way street. At any moment you may -- and I do -- revert back to Pinging and Hyperventilation, even after I thought I had Accepted my fate.

In other words there is a good chance that I won't get any sleep again tonight.

So buckle up those seat belts. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Good, The Bad, The New and The Coffee

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong and did go wrong this morning as I started my first day as a new teacher at West Branch High School.

“But wait a minute,” you say. “Weren't you a new teacher at WBHS last year?”

Technically, no.

Last year I was a long-term substitute teacher for Family Consumer Science classes at WBHS. This year I am an official, lanyard-wearing, photo-id bearing, contract-toting, part-time Family Consumer Science teacher at WBHS. And as such, I attended New Teacher Orientation today.

That means last night I went through the usual pre-first-day jitters routine: I planned my outfit, charged my computer, found a semi-blank notebook, and tossed and turned instead of sleeping. But I still woke up bright and early, with plenty of time to spare before my exciting, (semi-) new adventure started at 8 a.m.

Except that a quick review of the schedule showed the continental breakfast didn't start until 8:30 a.m. Woo Hoo! An extra 30 minutes to prepare. (Note to WBCSD administrators: The only time I'm early for an event is when Billy Joel is involved. See July 19 blog post.)

While I could have used an extra 30 minutes of sleep (doubling the night's total), I chose to see this miscalculation as a positive thing – I'm sure to be on time! Oh, silly, optimistic me. That was just the tip of the craptastic iceberg of miscues that started my day.

Presented here in time-lapse write-ography are the highlights of my morning:

1. The coffee maker wasn't sure it wanted to work. A few cuss words, some persuasive taps and I had my coffee and was back on schedule.

2. The hair dryer unplugged itself. When I set the dryer on the floor to pick up the clunky, surge-protector plug I knocked the curling iron off the dresser. Picking up the curling iron unplugged the dryer... you get the picture. More swearing.

3. Clothing crisis. The outfit I had picked out just didn't seem right. I decided to switch to my new skirt. But I couldn't find it! Anywhere! My new dress was out of the question because it's sleeveless and the red, white and blue State of Iowa temporary tattoo I got (on my bicep, naturally) at the Iowa State Fair isn't as temporary as I thought. I was really wishing I could just wear the t-shirt and shorts I had on until I realized the t-shirt said “We bust ours to kick yours.” Probably not a good first impression. Back to outfit number one. But the pants didn't fit! Until I took the shorts off.

4. On to makeup. Nearly ran out of concealer trying to cover the bags under my eyes, and coverup trying to hide the blemishes brought on by nerves. Behind schedule and in a panic, I applied eye liner somewhere in the vicinity of my eyes. I decided not to risk putting on mascara.

5. My selected outfit featured a scarf... which I don't know how to tie.

6. I'm wearing a white t-shirt, orange silk scarf and khaki pants, drinking coffee and walking. What could possibly go wrong? Surprisingly, nothing!

7. One last glance at the clock on my way to the garage. It's 8:30 a.m. I'm supposed to be at the school at 8:30 a.m.! Where did my extra 30 minutes go?

8. The garage door. Will. Not. Open.

9. Hysterical swearing works wonders on electronics. Again. Garage door opens.

10. Parking lot construction means I have to hoof it from the softball field. Could this extra 200 yards be blamed for my tardiness?

11. Stopped in my room to drop off water and purse. Custodian Extraordinaire and general Amazing Problem Solver Jean was finishing up trim painting. My room is bright and shiny and doesn't smell like Junior High students!

12. There's coffee at the meeting. The Superintendent and I seem to be the only ones drinking it. I drink lots of it. Coffee is good.

New is good.

Life is good.

Did I mention the coffee?

Murphy's Law may play havoc with my schedule again tomorrow morning, but today is good.

Today, I Carpe Coffee.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reunited (and We Look So Good)

The West Liberty High School class of 1984 just had a super-fantastic reunion at the Riverside Casino. A small, but fun group of us got together for good food, good times, good music, and cold beer.

The organizers only got one thing wrong: The reunion year.

According to them, this was our 30 year reunion. Assuming the average person is 17- or 18-years-old when they graduate from high school, that would mean that we are damn near 50.

That can't be right.

I've done the math and I'm pretty sure I'm only damn near 40. Ish. (But some mornings I do feel damn near 50 for those first two or twenty minutes right after I get out of bed.) Of course I did drop calculus after only two days my final semester of high school, and went on to become an English major in college, so I could be wrong.

There were a few minutes right after I arrived at the reunion that I thought maybe the organizers were right. Maybe we really were damn near 50. Or, more accurately, somehow my classmates were damn near 50. When I walked in to the casino, I was taken aback by how... well, to be blunt, how old everyone else looked!

My God! It looked like my classmates had really gone down hill fast. Grey hair, no hair, thick eyeglasses, walkers, motorized scooters (OK, I was jealous of those) ear trumpets... and all that polyester held up with suspenders! I didn't recognize a soul!

I tried to introduce myself and chat up a few of the better-preserved classmates I saw standing around the bar (a familiar sight). I wasn't real sure of their names, but I thought one of them started with a “B,” or maybe a “K.” On the other hand, they had absolutely no recollection of me at all! Not that I was Miss Popularity or anything, but there were only 80-some in our graduating class. Poor dears must need even thicker glasses, I thought. But they're already nearing Hubble telescope proportions.

I started to worry that maybe those old-age symptoms were contagious, because I was developing a loud bell-like ringing in my ears. That gave me an idea – they may not remember me, but they couldn't forget our high school mascots.

“Did you realize they've changed the girls' teams from the Belles to the Comets?” I asked, hoping this would spark some of that old school spirit. They looked at each other. Finally! I'm getting through, I thought. Then they started to edge away. I was about to tell the bartender to cut them off when I heard someone call my name.

“Joanne?” It was my friend Tammy and her husband. And they both looked young! “What are you doing out here in the casino? Why aren't you in the ballroom at the reunion?” she asked.

Ohhhh, I see. This is the... and the reunion is in the.... Well, that explained a lot.

They guided me across the casino floor, through the doors and out to the designated ballroom. As we stood in the hallway signing the reunion guest book I scanned the crowd. Ahh, this was a much younger-looking group of people.

Muh-huh-huch younger.

All in all, a good-looking, young-looking, fine group of people. Much too young-looking to be damn near 50. And much too young-acting to be damn near 50. We still like our music loud, our beer cold, and our laughter raucous. The memories flowed freely, although I suspect some of the details may have been embellished or diminished over time. I recall being much more hip, cool and physically coordinated than some of the stories indicated.

And quite frankly, some stories just seemed a little too tabloid to be true. As I point out frequently to my children, I never did anything wrong when I was in high school. I recall weekends spent helping shut-ins and the less fortunate, volunteering at soup kitchens and rolling bandages to support our boys in the trenches. That is, when I wasn't studying or reading scripture to the blind.

I've missed the last couple of reunions, so I did notice a few changes from, say, our first reunion. There was a lot more talk about kids (and some grandkids!) and memories of classmates and parents who were no longer with us.

Picture taking was a lot easier at this reunion, too! Everyone could whip out their cell phone to take a selfie or groupie, provided they could hold the phone far enough away to see the icons without their biofocals. Of course it would have been easier if our kids were there to show us how to turn the flash on.

Judging from how many of us stayed until damn near midnight (well past our bedtimes) I think we all had a wonderful time. The organizers did such a good job several of us suggested they could plan the next one as well.

Although I might volunteer to help a little.

I want to make sure they get the year right next time.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Disc-go Golf

Hot on the heels of our successful family canoe/paddle board outing (I left with two kids, returned with the same two kids) we headed out on another family favorite summer fun activity: disc golfing.

Disc golf, for the un-initiated, is an ancient Greek term that means “exercise in futility.” It is also a modern Collegiate-Greek term that means “drink beer in the woods.”

Disc golf is similar to traditional golf in that you start at one point (“tee off”) and count your strokes/throws as you make your way to a goal (cup/basket). The difference is that instead of chasing a little white ball hundreds of yards towards a hole in the ground with a skinny metal club, you try to throw a flying disc (similar to a “Frisbee” but not trademarked and twice as expensive) hundreds of yards towards a metal basket without beating yourself senseless with a wooden club (also known as a tree).

Between the “tee” and the “hole” the challenge is to keep your throws on the “fareway,” or cleared, semi-maintained and designated area. It is in your best interest to avoid natural hazards such as trees, oceans of deep grass, creeks, deer, giant rabid squirrels, drunk college students, ticks, chiggers, mosquitos, gnats, poison ivy, and stinging nettles, all of which produce force fields that suck your disc into the “rough,” also known on Eastern Iowa area disc golf courses as “ravines” or “gorges.”

The biggest advantage to disc golf is that is is less formal than traditional golf. Which is not to say that disc golf players don't take their game seriously. They do. Serious disc golfers warm-up by stretching and practice their “putts.” They carry a multitude of different discs, each specially weighted and shaped for long distance, middle distance, approach and/or putting. And they use them. Each of them. At the correct time.

We don't. Do any of that. At the correct time. And we yell a lot.

We do usually start our games with some traditional golf etiquette. We take turns on the first tee, complimenting each other on our first shot – even if it rebounds off a tree, landing behind the tee box. This has happened. More than once.

First shot out of the way, we fan out to help find the discs (on the off chance one of them has gone farther than 20 yards), because it's hard to see where your disc went when you're laughing so hard you're doubled over. And we stand behind the other players as they make their next throw.

This is a key rule of safety, etiquette and support. No one likes to have to ask the other players to move so you don't hit them with your disc. Especially when they know, and you know they know you know that there is no way you could possibly throw it that far.

Our first time out this year was particularly ugly. I'd like to say our skills were a little rusty after a long winter and wet spring, but the truth is we didn't have any skills to begin with. In a true show of group effort, the three of us combined for a record high seven tree hits. On one par three hole. That does not include “leaf-burners” (throws that ripped through the canopy) or discs that rolled up to hit a tree. Let's see Tiger Woods top that!

Like traditional golf, a disc golf course typically has either nine or 18 holes. Unfortunately our limit is 12 holes. It take those three extra holes to prove to us we aren't getting any better and that the longer we play the longer it takes to find our lost discs. This also get us as far away from the parking lot as humanly possible.

The last time we played at Turkey Creek I exercised Mom Authority and we packed up after the front nine. It was slightly after noon, the college boys had woken up and it was getting crowded (they were all playing faster than we were: play a hole, let they boys play through, repeat). At first it was OK. The boys were polite and helpful, offering to help look for our lost discs while they played through. Then I realized they were really only trying to help The Cute Teenage Princess (in shorts and a tank top) look for her disc. The Prince and I were just two more natural hazards to avoid.

This reminds me of most outings with the Princess lately. I've noticed a distinct increase in customer service from young men (plentiful in a college town) when accompanied by an attractive young girl. I've started to think about renting her out when speedy customer service is required, but I think there's another term for that.

I could tell the kids were loosing interest in the match when they cheerfully announced we were adopting Street Rules: a  literally no holds barred phase of the game. There was anarchy before, but now it was perfectly legal to distract the thrower by any means – yelling,jumping, hitting them with your disc and full-body tackling. It was also acceptable to deflect any throw and to defend the basket at any cost.

Forget loosing a disc, someone was in danger of loosing a tooth or and eye.

In other words, another typical day at our house.