The Body Changes

My dog, my sister, my mom, and me, 2007.
My dog, my sister, my mom, and me, 2007.

I was in the best shape of my life when I met my husband 7 years ago.  (So was he.)

Sean's birthday at the Durham Bulls baseball park.
Sean’s birthday at the Durham Bulls baseball park.

I was working like 60 hours a week, left at 6, stopped by the gym on the way home, also stopped by this Vietnamese place that sold me already-prepped-and-cooked tofu, put that on a salad, had one glass of wine while watching tv, and went to bed.  And started it all over again at 5:30am the next morning.

We had a long distance relationship for the first year and a half we were together: he was in NC while I was in Arlington, VA. It was a solitary life privilege.  My time was completely mine, and I am still proud of myself for using it like I did.

I definitely used pregnancy as an excuse to eat as much ice cream as I possibly could.  One of the nurses at the Birth Center (Women’s Birth and Wellness – they were awesome!) told me that if I kept it up, I’d have a big-headed-baby.  I was irked by this at the time, but she was right: Bell came into this world solid and tough at 9 lbs, 3 oz.

Pregnant belly = ice cream table
Pregnant belly = ice cream table

And it was cool when breastfeeding burned a million-billion calories per day, but then I kept up this “splurging” on bread and caramel habit well after the kid had moved on to PB&Js and apple slices. More than that though, I stopped my habit of making exercise a regular part of my day.

I am BRILLIANT at justifications.  And at credible, logical excuses. And at procrastination.

But my girl will be two next month and our routine is a pretty rockin’ dance these days – we know the steps by heart.  It’s time to admit that I don’t feel as good as I could.  As I should.

There are some hard things going on right now: stressful work; messy, un-renovated house; nasty, rude neighbors; figuring out what to eat for dinner (okay, now I’m being melodramatic, but when it’s 5pm and we’re trying to figure out what to eat, it feels pretty hard) and it is my full-body inclination to go straight for the wine glass and put my feet up – celebrate the relaxation of the end of the day.  I deserve to stop for a minute, right?

But tonight, I worked out.  I do this sporadically, but the struggle is consistency.  So I am putting it in print and in public: I feel better about myself after I work out.  I feel motivated.  About EVERYTHING.  I am happy.  I am excited.  I am optimistic. I am confident. I am in love.  I am thrilled.  I am beautiful. I am productive. I am proud.

I mean, wine does no wrong in my eyes, but it does not give me a high like that. (Why can’t I remember that the next day when it’s time to work out again?)

And you know the last time I wrote?  It was the last time I worked out (it’s been a while).  I can give a little credit to all the snow days – they equal more free time and less time outdoors. But really, after a workout, I take a shower, and my wheels turn and my fingers itch – I am ready to do all those things that make me a better me.

So, from here on, this physical story is changing.  And I hope it’s the domino that pushes some others as well.

Snowpocalypse

The South gets made fun of for being so darn incompetent when it comes to handling snow.  We cancel school at the mere hint of a flurry and we abandon cars on the side of the road when there are more than two inches of snow – we straight up shut the f down.

But this is what is so great about snow in the South.  We like it this way.  As a teacher, I can tell you that the faculty is checking weather.com more often than the students are.  We are not actually that mad that our unit plan schedule has been thrown off.  And sure, we’ll be bummed in May when we lose a teacher workday to make up a snow day, but that just does not dampen the child-like magical excitement that comes from an unplanned holiday.

And that is what it is – a holiday.  The South’s inability to function when water gets too cold is actually a great thing.  I do not want to try and make it to work or push on through when I could be staying home.  It’s a SURPRISE! day off.  And it’s one that pretty much everyone gets!

We do not get too many days where the three of us stay home as a family.  Weekends are a volley of who has Bell while the other takes care of errands, weekend work, or the grasped-at alone/social time (which we always do in trade – ever so rarely together.) The grandmas have the kid during the week, so we don’t hit them up for too many weekend hours so we can have a date night.

We have a lot of snow right now by Chapel Hill standards.  I do not have the right clothes for this.  I wore my hiking boots out today, but I clearly needed either rain boots, waterproof pants, or both.  The snow was higher than my high tops – that’s way more than we are accustomed to.

Our yard
Our yard

Sean and I took turns sleeping in: he got up with Bell from 7-830am, at which point I got up and he went back to bed until 1030.  Are you seeing the value of this snow day yet? 🙂

We had coffee, read books, played with the doll house, made oatmeal, tried to let the dogs out (but since these dogs have lived their whole lives in NC, they peed on the deck and scrambled back inside.)

We all had fried eggs, toast and blueberries when Dada got up.  It then took us 30 minutes or so to bundle up to go outside.  Bell was dancing by the door in between every layer of clothes I put on her.  She was so impatient to go out.  First tights, then waffle thermal jammies, then socks, then a long sleeve shirt, then a sweater.  Then, her penguin Halloween costume (see – we really don’t have real winter clothes!) then boots, scarf, hat, gloves, jacket. She continued to jump up and down and attempt the door knob while I went through the same routine with my own clothes – tights, two pairs of socks, jeans, boots…

My little penguin
My little penguin

Meanwhile, Sean was getting out all of his old snowboarding gear and layering that on.  We have been together for 7 years.  I have never seen him snowboard, but he does wax nostalgic about it occasionally. He was determined to go down the tiny hill on our street.

Bell made it one step into the snow, which went up past her boots, and she was DONE. She wanted to be carried.  She is heavy in all those layers!

We tried to fashion a sled out of the storage container that held the snowboarding gear and put her in that, but as illustrated below, she was not having it.

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(I had involuntary nagging Mommy pings going off in my head about how Bell’s baby was so underdressed for the weather)

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Sean attempted the hill – but it was not steep enough and he kind of just scooted himself down.

Then, he was kind enough to pull Bell and me on the snowboard, which she tolerated. My bum eventually got too wet hanging off either side of the board, but it was pretty cool while it lasted.

Sled selfie?
Sled selfie?

All in all, we were only outside for 15 -20 minutes – a fraction of the time it took us to get dressed and undressed for it. But it was worth it.

By 4pm, we were all a little stir crazy.  And though we didn’t stay outside as long as Penn and Kim Holderness’ family did, I still think their Snow Day video pretty much sums up how we were by late afternoon. True fact: I remembered to get wine at the grocery store the day before, but we had to stop on our TWO HOUR (12 mile) trek home in the snow yesterday to get milk and eggs.

So no, we can’t drive in the snow (except for my husband who mentioned a number of times during yesterday’s commute that he was born in Colorado), but I like it that way. Unlike the Holderness video, I was thrilled to get that phone call that school was cancelled again today. But does anyone have any suggestions for toddler games other than “Help Mommy Fold Laundry – no, no, no, wait – don’t throw that on the floor; I just folded it!”

Catching snowflakes
Catching snowflakes

I Liked It!

Lesson Five: Find something good, share it.

I am kind of sorry to start this post out admitting that I (occasionally) watch the show Shark Tank.  But I guess everyone knows that with a toddler, it’s not like my Friday nights see much action anymore. But I have learned that the show actually has some darn good products on it – and the ones I like usually don’t get sponsored by the Sharks.

I have now bought 4 products from the show – all of which I have been extremely happy with. I have gotten the Scrub Daddy, the Freaker, the Better Life cleaning products, and the one I am going to shout from the rooftops: The Bibbitec Bib.

This bib covers the whole babe: neck, shoulders and knees and is made of material that can be wiped off with a napkin.  It is made by a mom, Susie Taylor, because she saw a need in her own kids and wanted to share her good idea. The Sharks were total downers, telling her that it wasn’t worth the money, that her profit margin was lame and that no one would pay $25 for a bib.

Well, she made the point that the “affordable” bibs just didn’t do the job – they left too much open space, so clothes were always getting spotty.  True that. She made good points and made a product that I had some real use for.  But I also felt her passion – she did not set out to come up with the next pet rock and get rich quick, she believed in her product. I immediately bought one for Bell.

And since then, I have bought one for every baby birthday party I’ve been to.

At one point, I ordered two of the same color for two babies whose birthdays were coming up, and they accidentally only sent me one.  I was worried, and so often customer service is skeptical of the customer (perhaps not believing that my order actually was wrong), but I e-mailed Bibbitec and explained what happened.

Within the day, I got a personal e-mail apologizing and assuring me that another one was on its way.  It was so clear that I was not corresponding with generic customer service – I was reaching the Bibbitec inner circle. I can’t praise them too much for being a small, intimate company, because I actually want them to blow up and be a huge success with a lot of employees, but if they can keep that intimate tone in their customer relations, then they will continue to win moms and dads over.

When my bib arrived, it came with a HANDWRITTEN NOTE from Susie and a coupon for a future order.  They didn’t need to make that gesture; I was already a dedicated customer, but I do so appreciate it.

I think I may have actually said to my husband – “I wish I had a reason to give more money to this company.”

Every time I go to a baby shower, I give the book Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (hilarious recounting of her first year as a mom) and now, I will also bring a Bibbitec bib.  And since Bibbitec makes bibs for babies and smocks for kids, I will continue to get one for every baby/kid birthday party Bell and I attend.

From the Bibbitec website:

“The Ultimate Bib Original, Baby or Junior is perfect as a soft, non-toxic burp cloth – changing pad – breast-feeding shield – full body bib – placemat – breathable stroller blanket – art smock – “lapkin” and apron. The Ultimate Bib will be there for as long as your child wears a bib.  Once that time comes, the Ultimate Smock will be there to continue to protect your inspired little artist and creative little chef.” 

Bib as Placemat
Bib as Placemat

I was not compensated or cajoled in any way for this post.  I have just been really impressed with this mom and her product and I want to tell as many people as I can that I’m a fan.

Chronicling, continued…


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Bell said a new word today!

“Boy”

It sounds a little like “bye”, but she points at boys in her books and says it – at first tentatively, looking up at me from under her lashes, chin down, and then more jubilantly, high-fiving me and yelling “boo-ya!” in celebration (one of her early words).

So proud of her.  (And of me for writing it down on the DAY IT HAPPENED!)

Get those words, Bell!

Chronicling

Lesson four: Take note!

I have been keeping a journal since I was 9 years old.  In fact, we were recently cleaning out our office/guest room/workout room/storage room in an attempt to make it only a yoga room (ha!) and we found a big long tortilla box full of my old journals.

My toddler wanders into the chaos and finds the book that appeals to her the most – a white puffy plastic number with musical notes and polka dots, locked to keep out prying eyes of parents and siblings.

Hottest style of the late 80's
Hottest style of the late 80’s

When she lifts it, all the pages (pink, blue, and yellow) slide right out the bottom.  So much for that crummy lock! I do my best to re-gather the pastel pages before she puts a permanent hurting on any of them and I am sent on a whirlwind trip down memory lane.  There, scrawled in pencil and big ol’ loopy kid writing are my most important thoughts, feelings, and happenings of 1988.  Gems like, “I LOVE Corey Feldman!” and on January 7, 1989:”Dear Di, Just like yesterday. P.S. Sorry there is nothing to talk about.  Love, Rae”

Today we had a wild day. First we went to since (science?) then we had math then 10:35 recess then came daily oral language and then we played "password" then came lunch. and I have this real big crush on this boy named Joey. We all ran after Joey today to try to kiss him then at 2:00 recess we spyed on Joey.
Oct. 27, 1988 Today we had a wild day. First we went to since (science?) then we had math then 10:35 recess then came daily oral language and then we played “password” then came lunch. and I have this real big crush on this boy named Joey. We all ran after Joey today to try to kiss him then at 2:00 recess we spyed on Joey.

What is “daily oral language?” and did I have another class called “daily written language?” Clearly I could have used a lesson in run-on sentences.

My point with this anecdote is to prove that I have been chronicling my thoughts, feelings and not-so-major happenings in my life for 25 years.  So I thought that of  course  I would be all over writing about Baby Bell’s adventures in growing every day.  I mean, just take 5 minutes, right?

Nope.  For my baby shower, I requested and received a super cool book by artist, Nikki McClure, called “Baby’s First 1000 days” and I thought to myself, nose in the air, “Hmph! Only 1000 days? That’s nothing!”

I literally have filled out 3 days of that book.  And now the kid is 635 days old (give or take a whole bunch of days) and I feel like it would be weird to try and pick it up again at this point. Thank goodness for iPhone cameras – if a camera were not always in the pocket of my husband, my mother in law or me, then there would be no recorded history of this child.

I have already promised myself that I will totally write it all down with the next kid.

So that is one of my goals with this blog – to be better at recording these moments.  And though I still love the idea of my daughter as a grown woman, cleaning out my old dusty attic after I’m gone and happening upon her baby book where I lovingly recounted the first time she rolled over or cut a tooth or pooed on me, that’s just not the reality. We live in an online world, where our baby books are blogs, our photo albums are Instagram, and our pen pal letters are Facebook.

Truth be told, I am kind of afraid the Matrix will happen and all this digital, Cloud content will either just disappear, turning into the thin air from whence my wireless came, or it will take our weak, 140-character minds over and rule the world.

But hopefully, all of this will never go away (like that photo someone tagged you in when you were drunk at that party) and my girl can access these archives on the internet database in her brain that she controls by blinking and twitching her head back and forth.  Yes, in my vision of the future, the next incarnation of Google Glass is individuals walking around with serious body ticks to surf the web implanted in their brains.

But I digress…

So, the other day, Bell was eating rotini noodles with tomato sauce and I was sitting next to her at the table.  I noticed that she was just swallowing them straight down, whole. She seemed fine with it, but it made a sympathy lump in my own stomach.  So I tried to “teach” her how to chew (though she has no problem doing this instinctually with other foods.) I don’t know how much of a learning or growing moment this was for her, but her imitation of me was pretty darn funny.

So, to chronicle:

  • She has most of her teeth at 21.5 months, but not the middle ones between the front 4 and back molars.
  • She says “cheese!” when we brush her teeth at night.
  • She calls me “Baba” instead of “Mama” – she may be doing this just to spite me.  But I do think it’s pretty funny when she yells out, “Hey, Bob!” to get my attention.
  • She can identify some numbers and letters and short words (even Mama with ‘M’s), but is not saying as much as we “expect” her to – I know, I know, kids progress at different rates.
  • She signs “I love you” now and will do it of her own volition, not just when commanded to, and this warms my heart like the sun.
  • She makes a big ole smacking noise when she kisses my cheek.
  • If you ask her what a cow says, she says, “Mooo”, if you ask her what a snake says, she says “Tsssss”, if you ask her what a fox says, she sings the youtube song.  This is my fault.  I’m kind of sorry and kind of not.
  • She has only in the last week allowed ponytails in her hair – which is growing naturally into a mullet.

pony tail

What are we Really Testing?

Lesson three: I gotta stand up for the real learning

Very Pregnant Teacher Rae
Very Pregnant Teacher Rae 2012

A student I taught last year, Jose, came to me at lunch the other day flustered and confused.  He had gone to the library to get his school e-mail address (yes, I’m aware it seems a little odd to be giving these out in February, 5 months into the year).  They were distributed by grade level, so Jose went on the day the 11th graders were getting them.  He was told that he was not listed as a junior, but rather as a sophomore, and he should go and see his counselor.

His counselor was unaware that his status was as a second time sophomore and told him to check with me – apparently he had failed English and the system had automatically held him back in 10th grade.

I was shocked to hear this – while I didn’t remember his grades exactly, I definitely knew that he had not failed my class!

I cannot tell you exactly when Jose arrived in the U.S., how long he has been in North Carolina, or his legal status, but I can tell you that he is not yet completely fluent in English.  He can hold a conversation and make himself understood through writing, but while a student can become conversational in two or three years, it can take seven or more years for a student to test well if English is not his/her native language.

I dug out my gradebook from last year and found that Jose had ‘B’s and ‘C’s for his quarter grades.

I taught Jose in a collaborative English 2: World Literature/English as a Second Language class and he worked his butt off!  Rarely do we encounter kids who are so hard working, so eager, so determined, so respectful and so sweet.  Many students become frustrated – especially ones with extra challenges, but not Jose.  He attended after school tutoring three times a week, turned things in early so that he could re-draft before the final deadline, and would come at lunch for extra help. When not with a teacher, Jose was in the library or stairwells diligently working.

I checked with the counselor and an administrator – how could it be that a kid that worked so hard and earned achievement grades that reflected his efforts and progress was marked as a failure?

They couldn’t give me a definite answer.  The suggestion was made that perhaps he failed his EOC (End of Course State Test) and that kept him from being promoted to the 11th grade. Is that fair? I just can’t get behind that.

So yeah, Jose failed his EOC, but check out this sample from last year’s released prep materials:

Moonrise
by Jenette Purcell

City night sky
gives itself to me again
when I have so little left to receive it.
I am dark, crumbling
5 and you are rivers and trees away
searching your own night sky for a sign.
The strong gates of your heart
are wide open to me always, but,
if only.
10 So I wait, as seasons before, decades before,
fathers and mothers before me still inside
watch and listen.
Suddenly,
bamboo, bones, fiber, fences,
15 water, glistening koi,*

all the tiny rooms,
paths and places I hold your memories
relax
in audible, reverent wonder
20 at the fullness forming
on this horizon’s edge.

*koi: colorful fish that symbolize love and friendship

S1 Which line from the poem describes the speaker’s feelings about loving someone?
A “when I have so little left to receive it”
B “are wide open to me always, but”
C “paths and places I hold your memories”
D “at the fullness forming”

S2 Which word could replace reverent in line 19 of the poem?
A amazed
B respectful
C redundant
D significant

I tell you what: I could make a pretty good case for each of the options in sample question #1. And for me, teaching students how to make an assertion and support it seems so much more important than trying to get them to figure out the “best” answer out of these options.  What does this prove that they have learned?

My classroom work
My classroom work

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The qualities that Jose exhibits every day in the classroom and in his own learning journey is so inspiring and he deserves to be celebrated for his accomplishments.  His confidence and future should not hang on the balance of such convoluted questions.

I am not sure of my options, but I am going to look into overruling Jose’s grade from last year and changing it to something that better reflects the effort, process, growth and performance that he displayed in my classroom.  Fingers crossed that learning will trump testing in the end of this story!

If any of you want to take a stab at the answers to the EOC questions or are just curious, just leave me a comment and I will get back to you!

The Story Changes

Lesson two: The story is always changing


At the start of this school year, August 2013, my daughter was just over a year old.  The plan was to work this year and then take next year off to have another baby.  We planned the timing of Bell really well (kind of accidentally, but we made it look purposeful!) so that she was born at the end of April in 2012.  That means I was able to take my (measly!) 7 weeks of (unpaid!) maternity leave off at the end of the school year and roll right into summer. So, when I went back in August of 2012, she was 4 months old.

Maternity Leave Around the World
Maternity Leave Around the World

That was really tough.  She was still so little and I still couldn’t wear clothes properly and had to sit in the department closet to pump a few times a day. I was exhausted and my mind and body were spent. Luckily, my husband and mother-in-law were able to work together to take care of Baby Bell, so we didn’t have to try to find (and pay for) a day care on top of everything else we were juggling.

But now, my mother-in-law does nearly full time day care with toddler Bell – some days, up to 9 hours, as my husband and I still need to be a two-income household. (We are so very lucky to have her and that our families here with all their love and support!)  It just wouldn’t make sense to have another baby and expect Nanna to take on two kids full time, so we were working toward me staying home next year: I would get the quality time of hanging out with my young children before Bell starts pre-school for real and Nanna and Gigi (my mother-in-law and mother, respectively) could see the babes without considering it a full time job.

This year was to be my tenure year. It will be my 8th year in teaching, but because I like to move around a lot, I hadn’t stuck anywhere long enough to achieve tenure (4 years in one place).  Now, here in Chapel Hill, I have become part of the school, part of a team, part of a community.

Tenure does not call to me because I am worried about job security – I feel confident in my professional position at the school and in the district, but what was calling my name was the fact that I would be able to take a year off without losing my job with the district.  Who knows, maybe if it worked out, I would want to take 2 or 3 or 5 years off, or maybe we move to California, or Costa Rica or heck, just the NC coast. But still, I wanted that comfort of knowing that I could take some time to be Mama and not worry about having to find a job if I needed to go back.

However, this year, NC has taken tenure away.  Now, I could go into the pros and cons of the tenure debate, but that is a post for another time.  This, for me, now, hurts in a personal way. I no longer have a protected year to foster the growth of my family. There are other reasons that we are having to postpone this decision, but we had planned our family planning around the benefits of my job – and that rug was just pulled out from under us.

We have decided to wait another year and see what happens then.  I am heartbroken that I have to put off having another baby (we just cannot afford to try to find day care for two pups, nor can we put that on the grandmas), so hopefully, in a year, things will shake out in a new way and we will find some new way for me to stay home.

So, the story changes.  Best laid plans, right? I am trying my damndest to look at this as different, not bad. As opportunity, not disappointment.  Who knows what glorious things may happen in the course of another year with my school? (Is my optimism convincing? 🙂 ) Who will I meet?  What will I learn? And who will baby #2 be when he/she does finally come into our family?

The annual Gatsby Speakeasy
The annual Gatsby Speakeasy

Let’s see where this new story goes.

Mother? Teacher? Writer?

Lesson one: The power of punctuation

I was going to list my “titles” in my header with the question marks above to indicate the confusion of which really identified me, but then I decided that step one was owning it: I am all three. While the first two take turns taking the lead in my life, and I may not exactly know how to look the part of  juggler of  all three, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t all there.  They are. Period.

Motherhood has transformed me (I know, all the girls say that!), but it’s so true.  All people have arrived on this planet in pretty much the same way, but dang! what a mind-blowing, magical, out-of-this world experience! Sure it’s hard work, but I have yet to complain that it’s hard.  It’s just so damn rewarding.  Love like no other.  Sure, sometimes I’m tired and fried and am counting the minutes until she goes to bed, bribing my husband to do bath time and bed time just so I can check out early, but I still look at her and think the whole purpose of the history of the world was to bring Bell into existence.

I work full time as an English teacher for 10th and 11th graders. This means that I get to work at 8am, teach 5 classes in 7 hours, and do my very best to leave as close to 430pm  as possible to relieve my mother-in-law of toddler duty (Bell is 21 months).  Before Bell was born, I stayed at work every single night until 7 or 8pm – I was never very good at working at home.  When I was pregnant, Sean implored me to learn how to work only while I was at work and to come home by 5 – he pointed out that I wouldn’t have a choice once the baby had arrived.  He was right.  What I learned then, is how to get the kid between 4 and 5pm, come home make dinner, do bath/bedtime and then work at home after she’s asleep.  And yes, I still work on the weekends.  Bottom line: teachers work as much in 9 months as most people do in 12, so no, summer off does not mean teachers work less.  (Sorry that sounded so bitter – teachers have fielded a lot of insults lately about not deserving our pay.)

I love teaching for all of the rewarding elements: the relationships with the students, the satisfaction of seeing young people grow and learn, the thrill of feeling successful and competent, my unparalleled camaraderie with my colleagues/friends, and yes, holidays and summers off.  But damn, it’s a hard job – it’s an emotional roller coaster, never-ending, hard on my family and frustrating beyond all belief. And no, it’s not the students that make it hard or make me want to quit.  Ever.

I know that to be a writer, one must write, but I’m sorry: I almost never write (fiction – I write professionally and journal almost every day), but I still know it’s in my bones. I am my best self when I do.

Here’s to being a mother.  Here’s to being a teacher.  And here’s to being a writer.  It feels scary to say those so definitively, to say each loudly and proudly, but that’s my aim – that’s the direction in which I’m moving.  Let’s go.

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