Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dear 2013


Dear 2013,

Soon the sun will set and we will bid you farewell. We will replace our wall calendars and try to remember not to pre-date anything by like a year. We will pour bubblies and watch something drop--could be something in Times Square or our own eyelids way before midnight. Even though today is really no different from tomorrow, you will become a thing of the past: a was, a has been.

But before you go, I'd like to thank you for a few things you have taught me.

I have learned that it is really okay to not fold clean laundry right away. Or just never. I say that because parenting is hard work. Dear Son is finally starting to grasp the futility of getting upset over making mistakes during violin practices. He is finally understanding that's why we practice. Instead of of the ugliness that usually ensues, he now asks, calmly and quietly, Mama, can you help me? or Can we try that again? To which my mama heart just melts into globs and globs of sugary goo. Even though it only took seventeen months for that to happen, it happened. He's trying. The growth I see in him makes me feel like I've done something right. And for a parent, that's huge. I would cup his baby-soft cheeks in my hands and tell him how proud I am of his progress. He would answer back with a smile matching the sheer delight behind mine.

But what does this have to do with folding laundry, you ask? Let's just say that at that Happy Moment, neither one of us cared whether our knickers were stored neatly inside our drawers or sitting wrinkled in the laundry basket. Whatevs.

Oh, and same goes for the dishes that are okay to sit in the sink overnight. I'm sure I can think of some other proud parenting moment to justify that crime.



I have learned that tweens must know everything. To whom am I texting. What book am I reading. Why am I chuckling at my phone. And what am I doing with walking towards you with that roll of duct tape in my hands??? During every one of my conversations with Dear Husband these days, I am sure to hear: Who? What did you say? What did I just miss? What are we talking about? To which I would reply: We, as in your daddy and I, are talking about someone you don't know doing something you don't need to know. DH is always much more loving and patient than I, giving Dear Daughter some explanation or details. I, on the other hand, lament the fact that I can no longer have a conversation with DH without interruption or one-hundred-one questions. But I know--the wisdom of foresight tells me to tolerate this while the tween still engages in conversations with us.

Cuz maybe 2016 will teach me something else.

Anyway, moving on.


I have learned the meaning of "lucky." It is still having the chest flutters at the sight of him across the room. It is I finishing his sentences and he spot-on with my thoughts. It is the privilege of knowing the stories behind our graying hairs and wrinkled smiles. It is in the glances that speak, the actions that tell, and the signature smirk that says, You're the one who wanted children.

Yep. I'm the lucky one with the children and their snarky father.


I have learned that besides being a mother, I am happiest as a teacher and a writer. I belong in the classroom, and my fingers belong on a keyboard. Being able to carry out both of these roles has been my accomplishment this year. I am grateful for the opportunity for teaching and learning with children, and I am thankful for this little space I have here as my playground for words and photos.


I have learned to never forget the practice of expressing Gratitude. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who continues to come here to read my Letters and relate to my stories. It is an incredible honor to send my words out into the interwebz have have readers receive them with their eyes, heart, and mind. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you for going on my ride.




So, Dear 2013, you have taught me well, and I will remember you the same (thank goodness for this blog). And to mark the end of an era, I have learned to finally accept the modern typography practice of using one space (instead of two) after a period (or the end of a sentence). Shocking, I know. But even a 40-year-old mule can still learn, and miracles do indeed happen.

Good day, 2013, and as you descend into history, we will all take a moment and reflect upon the events and milestones that brought us to where we are standing. Whether we see moments of joy or sorrow, events grand or trivial, memories vivid or fading, we have traversed your time and shall now move on. I hope that you feel as accomplished and remarkable about yourself as I do.

So long, and farewell.

Sincerely,
Me

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dear Holiday Newsletter 2013


Dear Holiday Newsletter 2013,

In keeping with our holiday tradition each year, we scrambled and sent out holiday cards along with you, again penned by my better half. And I didn't even have to beg very much this year, yay!

-----

HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER 2013

At press time, we are slowly recovering from the Orlando road trip.  We* drove over 2,000 miles round trip (including stretches of parking lot traffic on the highways in GA and FL and multi-car spin outs due to snow in the Midwest) to visit Harry Potter, Marvel superheroes, and Disney princesses (last category for our adorable nieces as Dear Daughter would be aghast at any false insinuation).  *The loose use of the word “we” in the preceding sentence referred to Dear Husband's liberal use of the accelerator pedal on the driver side and Dear Wife’s  incessant application of the invisible brake on the passenger side during the drive.  There is simply no better family bonding experience than spending 40 quality hours together in a cozy 150 cubic feet of space.  We heartily recommend everyone to try this as soon as humanly possible.

More than usual, the holidays have snuck up on us this year as we are tardy with the tree, decorations, and cards.  In keeping with the past few years, DW has happily volunteered DH to report to the mass plebeians on the state of our household.  The executive summary version is that the The Household Members are getting one-year older (duh!), becoming snarkier and growing shapelier (longitudinal stretch for kiddos and lateral rings for parents).  If you prefer the fine print, please kindly read ahead for more mundane happenings in our humble family.

  • Dear Son is gradually shedding his protective shell and letting his unique personality shine.  DS now shares personal tidbits with friends at school; belts out greatest hits in the shower; does an uncanny impression of infomercials (something about buy-one-get-one with free gift by calling 555-1234); has inappropriate conversations with his father in Mandarin (he seems to be only fluent with the bad stuff); and proclaims that we need more vacations in warm destinations such as Hawaii.  DS is not athletically inclined, but has “kiapped” his way with conviction to a green belt in Tae Kwon Do in no time.  Armed with his OCD heritage and near-photographic memory, DS is also the household inventory manager as he can readily tell you where any given asset is located in the house; this skill comes in handy since his parents suffer from occasional senior moments and DD is prone to constant daydreaming. 
  • Dear Daughter will be graduating from grade school come end of this school year (yikes!).  DD's bedroom walls can tell the story of growth with evolving posters from cute animals to Selena Gomez to Harry Potter (wonder what/who will grace her walls next?).  As a preview of life to come, DD is already busy juggling school and extra-curricular activities.  In addition to her long-standing violin lessons, DD is in her school band learning the clarinet (finally playing musical  tunes instead of making hair-raising goose mating-calls) as well as participating in the 5th grade girls’ basketball team now that running club season is over.  Additionally, DD continues to improve in badminton at the Chinese school on Sundays; she now boasts that she can put the beat down on her old man (will need to dispel that notion ASAP weather permitting).    
  • Dear Wife reached the big 4-0 milestone earlier this year.  She is now beginning to pick-up speed as the saying goes.  Exhibit A: try keeping up with her while walking.  DW is in popular demand as the go-to substitute teacher at our neighborhood grade school by day and the energetic toddler Chinese school teacher on Sundays.  Between teaching and schlepping the kiddos around for enrichment activities, DW bemoans the lack of spare time to devote to her letters-of-muse blog, FB, and Candy Crush.  However, she always manages to find diversion time for her own happy hour with her beloved margarita or Kahlua and smoked almonds.
  • Dear Husband is hard at work in trying to break his personal record of consecutive days of not working out in a single year.  Alas, this is not a leap year.  At the risk of jinxing the outcome, we are about to close on the sale of our townhouse for a song, but we are ready to cut our losses and to bid farewell to aging property and rental tenant issues.  DH is thrilled that our slumlord days are coming to an end and is fantasizing on ways to spend the spare change that we will get at closing (maybe we can now afford to feel financially stretched).

We sincerely wish you and your family a most joyful Holiday Season and a peaceful and healthy New Year (Year of the Horse)! 

---

So, Dear Holiday Newsletter 2013, at the risk of seeming overly self-indulgent, we sent you out to our friends and family for a good laugh and some holiday cheer. Now that you've been dispersed, I hope you delivered our holiday wishes to everyone! 

Until next year!

Sincerely,
Me and DH


Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Santa


Dear Santa,

I cannot remember the last time I made a wishlist for you, but I've been a good girl this year, so here goes my #TopTen list of Ultimate Gifts.  For me.

10. More hours in the day.  I need more!  I need to read, I want to write, I'd like to finish that knitting project from last year, I long to take more photos, and I must have coffee/lunch with my long-lost friends!  And I HAVE TO CLEAR ALL THE JELLY!  #MakeItHappenSanta

9. Found.  I cannot handle yet another lost reusable-container lid, sock mate, glove, or pen.  Or my own brain on some days.  #FirstWorldProblems

8. Vision.  "No, you don't have halitosis.  I just can't focus on your face when we're this close."  I'd love more time before having to get reading glasses.  Take pity upon the fact that all my life I've needed to be up close to see things (because I'm so nearsighted); now having to extend my arms to see clearly is just so wrong.  #JustAMatterOfTime

7. Books.  Because I actually met my goal of reading 12 books this year, I'd like to read more books that blow my mind.  I'd like to swim in words that spark those neurons in my brain into rapid fire.  I'd like to travel to another world, into someone else's mind, in another time, all from the works of brilliant writers who use the simple vehicle of words to make that happen.  #AndMakeItSeemSoEasy

6. Mental agility.  I always remember your name seconds after we part ways.  I always remember that vacation experience after about 15 reminders of events that happened.  I always remember the scenes of a movie only after having watched it at least a dozen times.  (So why is it that I cannot remember to feed the turtle but I can belt out lyrics of Chinese songs from decades ago?  The brain works in mysterious ways.)  This noticeable decline in brain function after gaining speed down The Hill is a little bit disconcerting, to say the least.  This aging business is not pretty, so I'd like to keep this forgetfulness at a minimal-embarrassing level, if you please.  #PrettyPlease

5. Inbox fairy.  Help wanted: in need of a responsible assistant to delete emails (and blog spam) because who has time?  I'm busy bringing INGREDIENTS DOWN TO THE BOTTOM!  #WhackAMole

4. Travel.  Now that we've gotten a few real road trips under our belts, I'd really love to see more parts of the world (even if they're nearby).  The kiddos are now big enough to remember and enjoy our family getaways.  Better get them in before they no longer think it's cool.  #CreatingMemories

3. Steady flow.  Of words.  That make sense.  For this blog.  In 2014.  #NotThisSputteringNonsense

2. Patience.  I need it when a first grader asks me to tie his shoelaces for the third time in one hour.  I need it when I'm battling withdrawal symptoms after the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead.  I need it for the sanity of my children and their father.  I need it when I'm stuck on Level 161 for the elevetieth week.  I need it to get through this week until winter break officially begins!  #TheMotherOfAllVirtures

1. Belief.  Dear Son, my logical-no-nonsense-proof-required child, has asked me on more than one occasion, "Is Santa Claus real?"  He's six, in first grade.  (In case you were wondering, the technique of distraction still works on a six-year-old.)  Dear Santa, please make your magic stay a little while longer.  Please extract any doubt in his mind that you embody the kindred spirit of the holiday season.  Please remain in the hearts of children and adults alike, not for the parents' sake, but to honor this time of giving, of family and love, and of childhood memories.  (For the record, Dear Daughter still holds you dearly in her heart, whether it's concretely or abstractly, because she has not and probably never will ask The Question.  And I love her for that.)  #HoHoHo


I clearly wasn't thinking when I thought for a moment to skip the tree this year because our Florida vacation threw off our holiday schedule a bit.  Good thing my senses came to me (pretty much when I saw the horrified looks on the kiddos' faces when I made such a criminal suggestion to Dear Husband).  The tree is up, and the kiddos had a grand time decorating it, as usual.

So, Dear Santa, thank you for taking the time to read my humble list and not laughing-out-loud while you're at it.  Thank you for all your miraculous work and making our holidays full of magic and joy.  Merry Christmas, and safe travels!

Sincerely,
Me


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dear Kid-at-Heart


Dear Kid-at-Heart,

I usually spot your kind in others--in dads who love electronic gadgets and gaming devices, in seniors whose eyes sparkle at the sight of candy, and grownups who take family games more seriously than the owners of said games.  It was quite ironic to see that spectacle turned at myself.

Here are two truths and a lie:
1. We went on vacation with my SIL's family last week.
2. Dear Husband drove three kiddos to Orlando.
3. I was not one of the kiddos.

Here are the #TopTen ways in which I reverted to a kid on vacation:

10. The drive.  Yes, we DH drove.  The drive was 17.5 hours each way, which we did in two days going there and coming back. But because of traffic and a snow storm, we drove 2 extra hours just before our destination both ways.  The kiddos were surprisingly well-behaved during the drive, providing minimal "how many more minutes" and "I need to pee".  They earned an A+ for the drive.  I, on the other hand, scored about a B-. But if you could hear the thoughts inside my head, you would have given me a C-.  This young grasshopper needs a new lesson on patience.  #AreWeThereYet

9. The Meals.  This part was a true vacation for the mama in me.  I didn't have to be responsible for any of our meals.  I was wide-eyed and excited about every upcoming meal--like a kid--because I DIDN'T HAVE TO MAKE IT.  DH even cooked breakfast every morning for us. Lucky me.  #ICanGetUsedToThis

8. The Rides: part 1.  Our last visit to Orlando was during the single worst week of the year.  The parks were so full they were CLOSED to new visitors at midday.  DH woke Dear Daughter up at 6:30 AM in order to get into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  So, this was the first time I got to experience the glory of Harry Potter world.  With NO LINES!  Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was my very first ride of the vacation, and it knocked me out of the ball park.  I'm not a roller coaster kind of gal, but this sort of stay-on-the-ground-but-feel-like-you're-coasting ride is perfect.  I get the thrill without the ill.  Subsequently, the Spider-Man and Transformer rides were similar but less "flighty" that even Dear Son enjoyed them very much.  We all agreed that the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride tops as one of our favorites.  Who was the kid of our family that reached out to grab the banana on the 3-D ride?  #Me

7. The Rides: part 2.  And then there were rides that have height requirements.  In which case my kid-at-heart status trumps my height.  #NoThankYou


Um, no.


6. The Concessions.  DH can attest to the fact that I get more excited about concession stand foods than my own kiddos.  He bought the refillable souvenir popcorn bucket.  For me.  And for the record, I was gracious enough to share some with my kiddos.  Oh, and the BUTTERBEER!  I had to go back for seconds.  The frozen variety rocks.  #Cheers




5. The Souvenirs.  I normally try to be an adult and skip the souvenirs since they are completely EXORBITANT, but this time I gave in to two.  (Even DH got a Muggle shirt!)  #GoForBrokeOnVacay




4. The Bath.  Ask me how many times a year my kiddos beg to take baths and I'll tell you how many times a year I pretend to forget those requests.  Our timeshare had something special in the bathroom: something about water from the ceiling.  Each of my unit mates had a chance to take a bath during vacation.  Now ask me how many baths I took.  #Ahhhhhh




3. The Memories.  "Remember that time when..."  "Sorta."  "Or that time when..."  "Um, kinda."  I'm the most forgetful person I know.  Which is why DH thinks it's great to take me on vacations: he says he can keep doing the same things each time because I don't remember anything.  #He'sRight

2. The Kids Talk.  Apparently, I talk like a kid, too.  After we went on the Nemo ride at EPCOT, we toured the aquarium gallery.  Being aware of the kiddos' hunger meter, I may have been quite insensitive:
Me (to DH): Do you still want to have your favorite fish and chips for lunch?
DH (looking shocked, to the fish): You didn't hear that! (To me): SHHH! They can hear you!
Me: ...
#>_<


1. The Rude Awakening.  After a week of warm weather, we came home to a snow storm.  The hubs and the kiddos braved the cold and went to work and school on Monday.  I, the biggest wimp, took the day off.  Even my own kiddos are more grownup than I am.  #BackToLifeBackToReality




So, Dear Kid-at-Heart, what better time to be you than on vacation?  I felt like a kid again and enjoyed the magic of vacation fun.  Unfortunately for DH, he had to tote around an extra kid and do all the driving because, like a kid, I'm completely useless when it comes to driving (long distances).  Thank goodness he doesn't mind my uselessness.

At T minus 13 days to Christmas, I have nothing resembling the holidays in my house.  I'm blaming it on this vacation.  Maybe if I remain a kid, Santa will do his magic and help me out this year?

Sincerely,
Me


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dear Tresses


Dear Tresses,

You are hair today, gone tomorrow.

-----

I just cut off 12+ inches of my hair.

Snip, snip.  All gone.

And now I ask myself, why didn't I do this earlier?


Why I didn't do this earlier:
  • I am cheap.  It pains me to have to spend money on my hair.  The reason I had long, flowing, healthy hair was not because I thought it was beautiful or womanly.  Not cutting it was saving money.  I was saving money by not having short hair, which requires frequent trimming.  (Says the person who incessantly buys hair clips and rubber bands to tie up said hair.)
  • I am lazy.  I don't like spending time on my hair.  Having long hair means one of two things: ponytail or bun.  Time it takes me to get ready in the morning: about 60 seconds.
  • I don't like putting hair products in my hair.  Short hair often requires some sort of styling product of the sticky or waxy sort, which challenges my tactile sensory hypersensitivity.  Ewwwww.

What finally made me chop it all off:
  • The amount of hair I pick up off the bathroom floor and shower drain daily should have been enough reason for me to do it last year.  Between Dear Daughter and myself, we could have made wigs from fallen hair alone.
  • The realization that the beautiful, shiny, long, black hair on my head is only beautiful, shiny, and long for the mere 3 minutes I am in front of the mirror in the morning.  After which, it is only in a hair-clipped bun, lest I want it to 1) always be caught under my shoulder bag strap, 2) perform anti-gravity electrostatic tricks, or 3) be in a ridiculous race with any foods ready to enter my mouth.  
  • I realized that I had the opportunity to donate my hair to help people who are less fortunate to have a head of healthy hair.  

The last reason was what sealed the deal for me.  I didn't want to go just a little shorter and waste a chance to donate some serious hair.  And I really was ready for a change.  

I found--through a friend--a salon that gives free haircuts for hair donations!  At the salon, I asked for a bob at the jawline with a little shaping in the back.  The hairstylist knew exactly what I wanted and went to work.  She first rubberbanded four sections of my hair and braided them.  




Then I started to cry.  

Out of one eye.  

No, I wasn't getting cold feet.  Something fell into my eye, and if you wear gas permeable contact lenses like I do, you'd know of that glass-shards-in-your-eye feel.  Anyway, after about forty snips, they were all gone.  (It was amazing how much work went into cutting off one braid!)




I wish I could give myself more credit for donating my hair, but the truth is, I got out of it a great haircut and a really needed change.  I love my new do.  I feel so much lighter.  And about the lazy part of me?  Well, now it takes about a quarter of the time to blow dry my hair, so a little styling time is no biggie.  I'm still working on the styling products issue, but we're very careful about taking baby steps.  




I don't know what will happen to my braids, but I hope that they will one day dangle over a pair of ears and brush her neck like her own hair would have.  Or tussle in a gentle breeze above his crown like his own hair could have.  I am lucky to have been able to so easily give something needed by others.  

Yes, I really am the lucky one.

-----

So, Dear Tresses, I forgot to mention one more reason why I didn't chop you off sooner: people with short hair wake up with bedhead.  

Ask me how I know.


Sincerely,
Me

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear College Buddies


Dear College Buddies,

An ode, to you.

~~~

If your old college buddies will be in town, they'll ask to have a get-together.  You will eagerly anticipate the visit because you haven't seen them for nearly two whole years.  You will meet some brand new family members, and some "old" ones.  You will be so excited to catch up.

First, you'll give and receive big hugs and kisses all around.  You'll talk about how no one looks any different from the good old college days.  No one will actually believe any of that, but you'll all smile and think: if only.

Next, you will be amazed at how big all the kiddos have gotten.  You will think about how crazy-accurate genetics are and how the Mini-Mes are fascinating reproductive products of their parents.  Upon seeing your friends' merged faces on youthful, little Mini-Mes, you will suddenly feel very old.

Once you've finally mentally accepted the kiddos' growth, height, and looks and locked those into your memory bank, you'll start having conversations with them.  You'll ask about their likes and hobbies, their clothing sizes, their health, and their eating/sleeping/pooping habits (some answers are understandably provided by parents).  You'll exchange presents (for the kiddos) and marvel at the "newest" trending craze of their ages.

Being surrounded by kids will inevitably make the parents announce a few Parenting Truths.  I have not had a private bowel movement in <insert number> years.  I no longer own any clean clothes.  And I cannot remember the last time I bought myself new clothes to replace my dirty clothes.  Speaking of memory loss, I cannot even remember life before kids.  Nor things that happened three months ago.  Or yesterday.  Everyone will chuckle.  Then everyone will sigh.

The conversations will eventually get to be all about the grownups.  Move over, Facebook: cue RealLife status updates.  Job highlights, low-lights, lack thereof, and potential new offers.  Professional discussions will invariably lead to talks about major possessions, including houses on the market (and the need for a miracle) and possible new car purchases (none for our family).

After getting the big things out of the way, you'll talk about the little things in life.  Those little things we cannot live without: cell phone upgrades and iDevice updates.  There will even be a couple of hands-on tutorials and forced pictures- and videos-sharing.

At about this time, a couple of kiddos will have to nap, eat a snack, or have a diaper change.  After all, it is all about the kiddos.  <Insert intermission break here.>

When the group reconvenes and the kiddos' batteries will have been recharged from sleep or calories, they will have acquired enough heat to break the ice and finally play together.  At which time you will not be able to shut them up so everyone will end up talking over everyone else.

Next on the agenda will be sharing important news from cousins, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and mutual friends.  You will hear about good news and bad.  The birth of a baby.  A promotion.  New marital statuses.  A schooling fail.  Unresolved mental health issues.  Family crises.  The death of a pet.  You'll feel overwhelmed to learn these news, and shocked at how life can so easily turn on a dime.

You will get melancholy over such heavy talks, and someone will suggest an early dinner.  The men folk will go fetch food while the maternal clan tend to the kiddos.  When the food comes, everyone will scarf down comfort food from a favorite restaurant, which will remind you about how this group used to eat in college: like  locusts.  You'll reminisce about the good old days when you could eat a restaurant out of business.  And then you'll realize that either you've gained a couple of waist sizes since then, or can only eat a fraction of that obnoxious amount now.  Or both.  Either way, it'll make you feel--yes, very old.

As your children announce that they are done eating, you will be amazed at how much they ate.  You'll think about how much food they will be eating in the next few years, and you'll start worrying about your pocketbook.  You'll put away the food and begin to wonder when you will all meet again.

You'll be overcome with that cozy feeling of having been friends with the same peeps for as long as half your life.  You'll remember that fuzzy feeling back in college that you knew these were going to be your life-long friends.  And after two decades and many little Mini-Mes, you know for sure you made the right friends when you were a couple of silly goofs in college.

Which will make you eagerly anticipate the next reunion.  You'll wonder if it'll be another two years, though you'll hope to be sooner.  As you do the goodbye hugs and kisses round up, you'll be reminded to take in the sights and sounds of this encounter, because that's what you'll have to ride on until the next time.

Someone will ask when the next get-together will be.  And chances are if someone asks about the next get-together, college buddies are going to be in town.


~~~

Until the next time,
Me


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dear Anchor


Dear Anchor,

You are the stability that we seek, the rock that grounds us, and the tether that keeps us from drifting away.  Some of us spend much of our lives trying to grab hold, while others might feel your weight tugging at their transient spirits.  For me, it seems that if my anchor has finally dropped and settled.

-----

Every now and then, I count the number of years we've lived in our house, usually because something breaks and I think it's only been this many years and it needs repair already?  It's always easy to do the math since we moved in when Dear Son was 5-months-old.  We've lived here as long as DS's years in age.  Six years.

I look around the house and sometimes catch sights of it showing its age: smears on the painted walls, stains on our light-colored carpet, dents and scratches on the wood floor, and the increasing number of repairs and replacements we've needed.

As I looked out my bedroom window the other day, assessing the progress of the house being built in our backyard, I naturally compared the age of my house and the new house I was looking at.  This time, when six years entered my mind, it suddenly occurred to me that in all my forty years of life, I've never lived in one same place for six consecutive years.  In fact, the longest stretch I've ever lived in a residence was four years, and one such four-year stretch was in our last townhome where Dear Daughter spent the first four years of her life.

All my life, I've moved and moved.  And moved.  I lived in at least five different homes in the first five years of my life.  I went to six different schools between Kindergarten and high school.  I lived in seven different homes (apartments) between ages five and seventeen.  Once I was on my own after high school, I moved six times between college and our first (owned) home.  I'm tired just doing the math!

These numbers may seem numerous for some, or a walk in the park for others.  Depending circumstances, everything is relative.  In the time that we've lived here in our little suburban town, I've met many residents that have lived here all their lives.  They were born here, raised here, maybe went off to college elsewhere (or right here), got married and settled, again, here.  I have come to know people who attended a grade school and later taught at the same school until they retired.  Our school's principal is going on her 27th year there.  When I meet such peeps, I try not to let my jaw drop out of proper etiquette and respect, but I can't help but think how vastly different their lives have been from mine!  No better or worse--just different.  Completely different set of life experiences.

It wasn't easy, moving around like that.  Perhaps it sharpened my ability to roll with the punches and adapt to new environments quickly, or perhaps it made me a person who despises change.  Maybe it allowed me to see more parts of a locale, or maybe it challenged my sense of belonging.  Perchance it made me into who I am today, or robbed me of who I might have been otherwise.  Each time I lowered my anchor, I did so half-heartedly, knowing that it wouldn't be long until I'd have to set sail again.

It turns out that birds of a feather do somehow flock together.  Dear Husband's number of moves in his life nearly matches mine.  After he thought about it, he also declared our current residence as his longest one, ever.  When we purchased this house, we both knew that we'd be here for a long stretch of time, for the kids' elementary and secondary schooling, at the least.  But now, six years later, I still almost feel a little surprised that we're still here.

DH and I finally don't feel like neighborhood/village newbies anymore.  We finally know the school system, the city commerce, the surrounding towns and attractions.  At last, we find our spirits beating to the rhythm of all the people around us.  I'm finally beginning to feel like I belong.

And in all the crevices of this house, memories continue to build.  Oh, there's that ding in the wall where I ran the vacuum into cuz I was so sleep-deprived I had no business handling a vacuum.  That's the spot where the Bjorn potty used to sit back when someone refused to use the toilet.  That's the space where a mattress used to be for when little feet would pitter-patter to our room in the middle of the night.  And those are the spots where paint chipped off because of an overzealous birthday decorating parent.  As the years pass, our bookshelves continue to grow books, and our walls keep sprouting new picture frames.  This home now houses more sentiments than any place I have ever lived.

You play the cards you're dealt with.  DH and I set permanent anchor later in our lives, but this will not be the experience our children will have.  They are dealt a different set of cards.  They will have the stability of a residence that we didn't have, but they will not get to experience the sort of adaptation and survival strategies that we learned.  They will have a sense of belonging in their community, school, and with their friends, but will not have the opportunity to experience several different ones.  Their anchors will feel less short-term and more secure than ours ever did.

In the spirit of giving thanks this November, I write this post because I am grateful for my home.  It may not have a finished basement or any furniture in the formal living room (aka playroom full of toys galore), and it may not have the upgrades or big backyards other homes in this subdivision have, but it is our home, our haven, our sanctuary.  I am thankful to be able to have the means and circumstances--at this point in my life--to stay anchored, for better or for worse.

-----

So, Dear Anchor, you must be as relieved as I am to have been grounded for six years (and hoping for many more).  I would be happy not to see any moving boxes or trucks for a long time.  Unless, of course, they belong to other people.  And as the house in my backyard nears completion, we will soon have new neighbors arriving with their boxes and moving truck.  As exciting as it is for a family to move into a brand new residence, all I can think is, better you than I.

Sincerely,
Me

P. S. On a related note, during this difficult time for the people of the Philippines, my heart goes out to those who have lost their anchors and loved ones after Mother Nature hit hard with Typhoon Haiyan.  I hope for the chance for those in need to recover, rebuild, and re-anchor, and that the rest of us do what we can to lend a hand to help during that long, hard process.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dear Subbing Perks


Dear Subbing Perks,

As challenging as being a substitute can be, you actually do exist.  Which is probably why we continue to do what we do--face classrooms full of children and actually get some learning accomplished in the short amount of time we have to learn the materials and execute the lesson plans.  And attach some names to new faces while we're at it.  Here is my list of #TopTen Subbing Perks:

10.  Little girls bring me flowers.  I get flowers when kids return from outdoor recess, just because.  These little dandelion flowers didn't even make it through the day, but their sentiments are definitely long-lasting.  #MadeMyDay

9.  Little boys give me big, wet kisses.  Okay, one boy.  One loving, affectionate boy who planted his face into my belly and smooched it, marking the spot like a lipstick kiss imprint.  Except instead of lipstick it was drool.  As in saliva.  As in ewww my shirt is wet.  #GottaLoveKids

8.  I work as much or as little as I want.  I can accept as many posted assignments as I like, and I can block as many hours or days as I need to, and I'm loving this flexibility.  Today, I was able to take the day off to attend the kiddos' classroom Halloween parties in the afternoon, after making some spooky Halloween treats (mummy dogs and cheesy broomsticks) for them in the morning.  #FlexibilityRocks




7.  The work day ends when the bell rings.  There are no lessons to plan or homework to grade.  Which means I can still schlep kiddos to after-school activities AND WRITE THIS BLOG.  #TrulySavedByTheBell

6.  I get a natural transition for getting back into teaching.  Years ago when I'd walk down the halls of the kiddos' school, I'd think to myself: how on earth am I ever going to get back to teaching?  It's been so long!  Setting up a classroom would take weeks let alone trying to teach anything!  But now I can actually see it happening, and it doesn't seem as impossible or faraway.  #LifeLongLearner

5.  I have a part-time job and I am a substitute teacher.  #I<3StrikeoutTypography

4.  I'm following my yellow brick road.  That hopefully leads me to a suitable teaching position in the future.  No better way to do it than subbing in different schools.  #NetworkingAvenue

3.  Excellent social media addiction therapy.  Being unplugged is no longer as traumatic for me as it was before <blush>.  So the day's stream will still be there at the end of the day.  And I'll get to reading blogs when I get to them.  The offline world is full of real, live peeps, without which social media have no foundation for survival.  Carpe diem.  Seize the day.  #CatchUpAtNight

2.  Easiest (though not healthiest) weight loss method, ever.  Teachers have very little time for breaks and lunch as it is.  Trying to read the lesson plans + making sure I go to the restroom during a tiny lunch break = not enough time to eat.  In the past weeks, I have fully experienced the sensation of low blood sugar and pangs of hunger so striking that I had to stop what I was doing and EAT.  My body had ran out of reserves, I guess.  I used to yell at Dear Husband for skipping lunch cuz he was too busy to eat.  Touche.  #DontTryThisAtHomeKids

1.  I finally hired a cleaning service.  Hallelujah!  Not that I ever loved to clean, but I just couldn't justify the cost when I wasn't working.  This has been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders since I haven't gotten around to cleaning for so long.  Goodbye, cobwebs; goodbye, dust bunnies!  Hello, time to actually fold laundry and de-clutter the house!  #MajorFistPump


Our district now refers to substitute teachers as "guest teachers."  I guess that sounds a little more official and a little less makeshift.  Some have called me a crazy lady for doing what I do.  But I am a teacher, guest or not, and I do it because I love it.

So, Dear Subbing Perks, I'm glad I have you to count on at this time.  Life is full of surprises: I had never considered being a substitute teacher.  But this opportunity just happened to land magically in my lap and right now, I couldn't be happier with what I've got going on.  I'm exhausted but fulfilled, busy but grateful, and teaching and learning.  

Sincerely,
Me


Friday, October 25, 2013

Dear Daughter Triumph


Dear Daughter Triumph,

There is nothing more rewarding for parents than to experience their children's accomplishments.  At some point in our lives, our achievement becomes that of our children's.  You, as it turns out, are one of those defining moments in my life that really show how proud I am of my little musicians.

-----

Music recitals are designed to showcase a student's work and celebrate one's musical progress.  Of course, they require a lot of discipline and practice.  They also come with a lot of nerves and jitters.  Preparing for a recital is hard work.  Playing solo on stage is daunting.  Watching it all happen on the sidelines as parents is incredibly humbling.

DD began working on her most recent recital piece--the second violin part of the Bach Double--at the end of the last school year.  She worked on it all through the summer and into the fall.  This Double Violin Concerto is one of Bach's most famous work.  It is a spectacular duet, played by two violins, intertwining music so brilliantly that listeners easily swoon to the upbeat rhythm and beautiful notes.

It is, of course, lovely music until my own daughter has to play it, solo, on the stage.

Then it is time to sweat bullets.

You may recall DD's last recital mishap.  She lived through it, learned from it, and moved on.  Her Mama tried to follow her lead, but stumbled on the fact that this is a piece of music that spans five long pages.  Just the thought of her memorizing the music is enough to turn all of my hair gray.  So I did what I could to help her, and tried my darnedest not to turn this experience into a pressurized cooker.  We worked it, instead, in a slow cooker.  Slow and steady.  Simmering and stewing.

Then, less than two weeks before the recital, her teacher announced that he would accompany her and play the first violin portion, along with the usual piano accompaniment.  That's coordinating three instruments for a piece that is almost five minutes long.  Um, OMG!  But we persisted and kept with it, listening to the music, counting the beats, matching the parts.

However, as Life likes to throw us curve balls, something just had to interrupt this well-crafted plan.  That slow cooker had to unexpectedly shut off!  DD's school had a grade-wide camping trip days before the recital, where I wouldn't see or talk to her for 2.5 days, and she wouldn't touch her violin for that same length of time.  Can simmering and stewing continue without electricity?

Whether I liked it or not, I had to let go of it all.  I wanted her to enjoy her trip, soak in the bonding experience with all her friends, and just not have to think about the recital for a few days.  Maybe this last minute retreat into the woods would be just the thing for her after all the hard work and practice.  Maybe.

We got in one rehearsal with both violin parts and the piano accompanist just before her camping trip.  One.  They ran through the piece twice.  That was it, and that was what I had to ride on for the next five days until the recital.  Um, yeah.  But her teacher decided that it would be okay for her to use the music during the recital, which came as a great relief for me.  There would be very little chance for DD to have an unexpected brain freeze.  Whew.

On the day DD came back from camp, I was ecstatic to see her.  I was subbing that day, but my class had PE outdoors just as the buses pulled up.  I went excitedly to see DD, who, upon seeing me, was more excited to tell me that a fire alarm went off as her roommate was in the shower.  When I saw her, I was totally taken aback because as I watched her talk, it seemed to me like she grew an entire month older in 2.5 days.  I kid you not.  Her facial features seemed more defined, there was a worldly sparkle in her eyes, and I swear she was an inch taller than when she left.

Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but there's no denying my little girl is growing up, fast.

She's growing up so fast that she can take the challenge of playing the Bach Double with her teacher on stage, stay composed, and remain seemingly relaxed as she shuffled from one end of the five pages on the double music stands to the other.  She's worked so hard to hold up her portion of the piece to the first violin as well as the piano.  She's developed a craft of her own to stay focused, finish the piece, and reveal a beautiful smile and respectfully acknowledge both her accompanists.  She's continuing to make us, her lucky parents, so very proud.

After the recital, I admitted to her that up until her performance, I had probably heard enough Bach Double for the rest of my life, since she's likely played it hundreds of times.  I'd say at least a thousand, she replied.  (You see, exaggeration runs in the family.)  But after that recital, I think I can listen to it infinitely--at least the version that DD played.  But I'll always miss the first few notes, as both Dear Husband and I missed recording the beginning by a split second, him on video and I on audio, cuz we were both holding our breaths while fumbling with technology.

I am my daughter's biggest fan.  I proudly admit that I sit glued to the computer watching her play this piece, over and over, again and again.  I see more than the stoic and concentrated look on her face: I see her determination, her perseverance, and her courage.  I see flashbacks of all the hours and minutes we spent on this piece.  I see that she was more ready for this performance than I ever gave her credit for.  I see that she will be a more accomplished musician than I could ever be.

And then I feel my heart swell.

I managed--after outsmarting many blogging/technology obstacles--to get the audio recording for my own indulgence your enjoyment.  DD begins with the second violin part to the piece, and you will hear the first violin part join in at a higher pitch.  DD's part generally plays the lower pitch, and is at times harder to hear because of it, but you'll hear it.  You'll hear how she shined; you'll hear how she triumphed.  Just press play on the youtube link below to hear her play Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV, 1043, 1st Mvt., Violin II, by J. S. Bach:





And while we're at it, may I also share DS's piece, The Hunter's Chorus, by C. M. v Weber?  Again, press play on the youtube link below:





Neither of my kiddos played perfectly, but they interpreted the music well.  They played it the way the pieces were intended to be played.  Couldn't you hear all that hunting going on in DS's piece?  Oh, yes, time to wrap this up before this Mama gets too carried away...

-----

So, Dear Daughter Triumph, you are proof that hard work pays off--specifically, on my part.  I cannot help but feel terrible for my insufficient support during DD's preparation for the last recital because I was helping DS with his easier piece.  Being a Suzuki parent is both difficult and rewarding; sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.  The kiddos have moved onto holiday music for the holiday group concert, and they couldn't be more excited, as they think playing familiar music is so.much.fun!  And this Suzuki Mama is learning those song as well, since DD will be playing harmony for the first time, which she interprets as having been "promoted."  Hey, so long as they enjoy playing the violin.

There must be something about that violin.  I think that love runs in the family, too. 

Sincerely,
Me

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dear Moving Onward


Dear Moving Onward,

Aren't you our goal in life?  We strive to better ourselves and move forward instead of halting and perpetuating in a funk.  But there are times when getting stuck is not only unavoidable, but also serves as an essential time for repose, reflection, and preparation to move forward again.  Peaks and valleys, ebb and flow.

-----

I was at a Junction for the past few weeks.  Many things clashed together and made my brain experience an uninvited stagnation.  It was like being forced to stop at a railroad crossing--where one loses a few minutes of precious travel time--because there is absolutely no alternative whatsoever.

The kiddos' music school recently had a group concert, followed by a solo recital two short weeks later.  If you are at all familiar with this sort of thing, you'd know that one performance actually means practice, practice, rehearsal, practice, practice, practice, rehearsal...  Which then meant schlepping, hurrying, altering dining plans, altering schedules, altering parental-sanity, and altering parental blood-pressure.  To add more variety to the mix, Dear Daughter also had a school grade-wide two-day camping trip days prior to the recital, which meant shopping for gear, packing, losing sleep for early morning departure, missing my DD and wondering what she's up to (the school's policy is pretty much "no news is good news").

But the main culprit had been my busy subbing schedule for the last few weeks.  And these weren't day jobs here and there.  They were consecutive days of subbing for teachers who were gone for several days at a time.  Which meant days' worth of lesson plans to execute at a time, lessons that had to be followed timely so that the next days' lessons would be completed, and generally "holding down the fort" for an extended period of time.  Which then meant that I had only a few hours' stretch at home each day, just enough to check off parenting essentials, adequately self-groom, and get some not enough sleep.

We all know how kids suck the life out of us.  Having a classroom full of kids for a day pretty much left me dead by the time I got home.  There were days when every single muscle in my body ached.  I was too tired to friggin' get up to go pee.  But as Life would have it, there was still homework to check, kids to feed, whips to crack.  So to anyone who thinks teachers have it easy: think about spending AN ENTIRE DAY with your own kid(s) and being responsible for their safety, academic learning, and emotional well-being.  Then multiply that wonderful feeling by twenty to thirty more kids and 180 days.  Then if you still tell me that teaching is a cushy job, I will smack you in the head.  (And don't ever let me hear you complain about school being out for yet another Teacher Institute Day because you have to care for your kids all day.)  I'm not even teaching full-time yet, but all the nuances of teaching (notably how freakin' tired I get) are all flooding back--like being downstream of a broken dam and I'm barely keeping my head above water.

So.

That you are still here reading this blog is amazing cuz only crickets have been residing here since over two weeks ago.  That I had to skip an entire week of posting was heartbreaking, as I had had the luxury to write--at the least, weekly--since this blog was born.  It was difficult but necessary to let go of the desire to write and post last week.  I usually compose my letters in my head as I go about my days, and then materialize them on the screen when I get a chance to write.  Well, it seems as though my brain broke during the last few weeks.  There was no composition going on in my head.  It was all a blank, like the movie projector at the end of its reel, flickering only static, blank images on screen.  I was even a stranger on Facebook, which could have actually given you reason to worry.  I was empty; I had nothing to say or write or show or tell.  I hadn't snapped a picture on my phone for entirely way too long.  I was just out of juice.

Then I worried.  I worried that I would miss all the essential posts on Facebook.  I feared that my Letters of Muse page was utterly neglected and growing cobwebs and seriously missing a "New Blog Post" update.  I fretted that I'm going to lose all my blogging friends since I haven't visited their blogs for weeks.  I worried that if this subbing gig is going to keep up this way, that my writing days would be over.  I dreaded that if I were to ever get back into full-time teaching, this blog would die a painful death.

If you "get" the exhilaration of the writing process--crafting thoughts into words, expressing a sentiment in very personal ways, and baring your edited soul without speaking--you'd have been scared for me, too.

But as each event concluded--camp girl returned tired and happy, kiddos performed at concerts with poise and confidence, and I survived each day and each assignment undefeated--I started to see that teeny tiny flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.  My painful Facebook/social media withdrawal has subsided in a healthy, rather relieving way.  I am actually writing and words are flowing--albeit slowly and spluttering-ly (notice I didn't say they all make sense).

I have a glorious day off teaching today.  What do you mean there are dishes in the sink and laundry to do?  And do I *really* have to go eat lunch?

<Snort>.

The kiddos' school has something called Rocket Math as a part of its Math Curriculum.  It is a series of math facts that kids have to recall with speed.  These timed tests go hand-in-hand with conceptual understanding to achieve academic success in mathematics.  Kids move on through addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions each time they pass a leveled test.  Each time they pass, they have learned and mastered the facts.  Each time they do not pass, they find what it is they need to practice, improve, and memorize.  So when they are not moving forward, they are stopping to evaluate, recharge, and prepare.  Sometimes a stop is essential.

Stop and go.  Ebb and flow.



Now is time to move onward again.  My one tomato plant has grown taller than I now, but it's time to move onward from growing season to barren gardens as freezing temperatures arrive next week.  Violin recitals are over for now, as we move onward to holiday music and the next recital.  Dear Son moves on from yellow to orange belt in TKD, and DD moves on from running the mile to two miles in Running Club.  My huge wave of subbing assignments is over for now, but I'm moving onward with the thought of returning to full-time teaching.  Even though that bridge is still far away, it is a comfort seeing it there, just like that flicker of light at the end of this tunnel.  As with this blog, for now, it's alive and well once again.  Whew!  

My lesson learned: we make do.

-----

So, Dear Moving Onward, you are a gentle push for us to keep going.  You are kind for waiting occasionally when we get stuck, but you are persistent in reminding us to not falter for too long.  You are the force that shoves me out of bed each morning and makes me a productive person.  Most importantly, thanks for lifting the railroad crossing gate so that traffic can resume.  I've got places to go and people to see now that I'm out of my funk!

Sincerely,
Me

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dear Spent


Dear Spent,

People ask me how subbing is going, and you are what comes to mind.  Subbing is going well.  So well, in fact, that I'm completely and utterly stretched, and barely keeping my head above water.  It is really nice to earn some extra (but not-very-much) income, be productive, and be asked by familiar teachers for repeated and consecutive days of subbing (to be scheduled in advance as not to have to receive those 5:30 AM calls), so I'm not really complaining.  But when there's only so many hours in day, somethings have to give, so I'm still adjusting and learning how to juggle all of it.  Here is my #TopTen list of ways to know that I'm Totally Spent.

10. When the book on my nightstand has not been opened in days? weeks?  I've completely lost my summer-reading momentum.  My eyes can barely focus and my brain can hardly process anything by the time my body makes it to bed these nights.  #WhenWillIReadYouAgain?

9. When the lunch date that I have been planning to have with BFF since the beginning of the school year still hasn't happened yet.  #RainCheckWreck

8. When said BFF tells me that she hears crickets on my Facebook timeline.  #AnomalyOfAnOverSharer

7. When writing has taken a backseat to the point where all I can muster are silly little #TopTen lists.  #DrumrollPlease #ShortAndSweet

6. When grocery runs are done on the weekends as we all shuffle from one event to another.  #GlorifiedFamilyAffair

5. When the last time I cooked a homemade meal was more days ago than the fingers on my own two hands.  #Sigh

4. When the cleanliness of this house is hanging on by the strands of cobwebs that are growing by the glob-fuls under cabinet doors in the kitchen, bathroom, and in places I probably don't know since I haven't had to time to look.  #AlsoGrowingDirtyDishesAndLaundry #AndRaisingDustBunnies

3. When Dear Daughter's school accordion file has not been emptied in days? weeks?  Remedy: I've passed on this responsibility to DD herself.  Dear Husband made a drop box so she can empty her papers herself and I'll look through them when I get to them.  #NoteToSelf #DontForgetToLookThroughThem

2. When Dear Son's reading book bag (that needs to go back to school everyday to switch out books) is sitting on the floor next to my bed while he's at school.  (And I imagine his teacher is wondering how with-it this parent can possibly be when such simple daily routines are broken, and, embarrassingly, more than once.)  Remedy: I've passed on this responsibility to DS himself.  #PostItNotesToTheRescue

1. When there is no time or energy left to crush candies (gasp!).  Or remember to play Wordfeud with DH and Friend, whose eyes are probably stuck at a rolling position cuz I've resigned one too many games in the last few weeks.


And if you're wondering if I've forgotten DH on my list, or if I've just abandoned him altogether, well, he is about as worn out as I am these days, as he has to contend with Morning Madness when I run off to schools in the morning.  So you're looking at two peeps of zombified mental capacity by the end of the day, barely to be resuscitated by another night's not-enough sleep.  How it is we survive from day to day has been a miracle in itself.

Disclaimer: it is not only subbing that has me nearly drowned.  It's also the kiddos' after school activities and some other school-related evening events that have taken up every.single.moment of our time in recent weeks.  Treading water is hard work, I tell ya!

So, Dear Spent, though I'd rather spend my time gazing up at a beautiful sky and deciding what the clouds look like, I'm stuck catching up from one event to the next, wondering when my home will be clean and clutter-free again.  If this is to be my new normal, then I seriously need to be in bed already.  Goodnight.

(How do you juggle it all?  Tips, advice, and suggestions welcome!)

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dear Worst


Dear Worst,

Life isn't always fun and games, cuz you are always lurking just behind the rainbow.  And because I'm overbooked with subbing assignments and evening meetings and concert rehearsals and birthday parties and lesson planning and TKD testing and mandatory dinner engagement in the next few weeks, I am full of rants and must vent with a short post.  Here are my #TopTen Worsts in each category:

10. Driving: Backing up.  #ThereAreReasonsWhyOurEyesAreInFrontOfOurHeads

9. Summers: Mosquitoes.  #MyImmuneSystemHatesMe

8. Days: Not enough hours in them.  #OverAchieverOrUnderSleeper

7. Facebook: News feed algorithm.  #ItKnowsUsBetterThanWeKnowOurselves

6. Twitter: The never-caught-up stream.  #IveTotallyGivenUp  #ListsSchmists

5. Candy Crush Saga: Level 125.  #LevelFromHell  #MyPoorEyes

4. Cleaning: Hurting myself while I'm at it.  #RubbingSaltOnTheWound

3. Cooking: Being under any sort of time limit.  #LikeOilAndWater  (#SeeWhatIDidThere)

2. Subbing: Not learning the kids' names fast enough.  #WhatsYourNameAGAIN?

1. Parenting: Standing your ground AND feeling bad for the kid.  #ParentingIsHEARTWork


So, Dear Worst, I know, I know, mine are first world problems.  But if anyone can relate to any of these, then I won't feel so alone.  They kinda bring people together, you know?

(And yes, as soon as I ranted about Level 125 to a friend--after having been stuck there for weeks--I passed it immediately after the conversation.  How's that for productive venting?)

(It's okay, I can't see you shake your head in pity on your side of the screen.)

(So, go ahead, shake away.)

Sincerely,
Me


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dear Miracles


Dear Miracles,

You do happen.  I actually have two to prove it--my two blessed kiddos, my Miracles who continue to complete me.  It's been a while now, but I always think back to when you happened as a reminder not to take Life for granted.

-----

I just had a feeling.  In my early 20s, I had a feeling that I had endometriosis, something that cannot be diagnosed without surgery nor dealt with until I was ready to have children, which was still years away.  Treatment for endometriosis includes a variety of ways to "shut down" one's reproductive system, since hormones are the culprit that inflames the symptoms.  For years, I dealt with the pain and fear of infertility.  And when Dear Husband and I were ready to have a family, no signs of pregnancy came for months, and then years.

There was no doubt in my mind since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a mother.  It was something I knew with all of my heart and with absolute certainty--like the way days follow nights, or the precision of mathematical calculations, or that kindness and compassion define humanity.  And when something you want so badly cannot be yours, your heart breaks a little, each day, each month, each year.

We went through the standard infertility treatment, a check list that brought us to the last resort: in-vitro fertilization (IVF) center.  During the initial workup, an ultrasound found chocolate cysts (endometrial adhesions) on my ovaries (the only form of endometriosis visible without surgery).  You can't really say that I was surprised.  That sent me directly to the OR for a laparoscopy to 1) officially diagnose and 2) remove endometrial adhesions and cysts, before attempting IVF (the presence of endometriosis bypasses intrauterine insemination, or IUI, the less invasive infertility treatment).

I had always known that had I been born in another time, I would have remained child-less and likely forever broken.  But I was fortunate enough to have had access to modern technology, good doctors, and a fantastic insurance plan (one great perk of being a teacher).  Even though my surgical notes indicated that I had moderate-to-severe endometriosis, I still had a glimmer of hope with this next step, IVF.

The first IVF consultation we had was overwhelming to say the least.  The amount of drugs that had to be ordered was staggering.  It has been over a decade, but I still remember much of the details: daily shots in the belly fat, blood draws every other day to monitor hormone levels, and ultrasounds to monitor follicle development prior to egg retrieval, to start.  Which, for the very-hopeful me, was all fine and dandy.  I followed the directions to a T, making sure everything was done exactly as directed, down to the exact minute and milliliter.

Then came the day I was told that our first IVF attempt failed because I hadn't produced enough follicles.  That they would readjust my meds to ensure better production next time.  DH still remembers how we drove home: him driving and me crying; him being helpless and me sobbing uncontrollably; him saying "we'll try again" and me thinking "in two more months."  Two more months.  Waiting is a cruel, cold-hearted beast.  I feared that I didn't have enough heart left for breaking during that length of time.

They upped my dosage while I feared hyperstimulation (which can be severe enough to land you in the hospital).  This art of "just right"--not too little but not too much--is where doctors demonstrate their expertise.  This second time, my doctor got it just right.  After successful egg retrieval and subsequent in-vitro fertilization, we had to "trick" my body into thinking that I was pregnant, meaning more shots.  But these were not the shots in the belly with the half inch needles.  These were the 2-inch 22-gauge ginormous needles that inject progesterone oil (think thick) into the muscles of the buttocks.  Everyday.  "Bruised" takes on new meaning when you have butt cheeks that are the color of green and purple.

The only reason I was able to go through with giant needles in my butt was the promise of a baby... but all the while fearing the promise would be yet another devastating disappointment.

But that promise did finally arrive, and DH will never let me live down how we found out.  The fertility center took my blood that morning, and when the lab results came back, a nurse was supposed to call my cell phone and leave a message.  I'd check the message, and then call DH.  But for whatever reason, the nurse called my home phone instead and left a message there.  After hearing a ton of number gibberish, I finally heard the word, "positive."  In my state of shock, joy, or momentous relief, I just assumed that DH got the message since he can access it.  That or I just forgot about him altogether and I ran downstairs to tell my teacher colleagues who had been following my IVF saga.

DH was not the first to find out.  (But I think he's almost forgiven me for that.)

To celebrate this great news, I was rewarded with another month of progesterone shots.  By the time that was all done, 1) the color of my rear end was not human, 2) DH was shooting me up with one eye closed--like a rock star, and 3) we saw the baby's heartbeat.

That beautiful, pulsating, black-and-white blip on the screen was the culmination of my surgery, IVF, and years of longing.  So we had to do this a little differently than most other people.  But we had ourselves a baby.  

And then I had nine more months to wait.

We went through the exact same thing with our second baby.  Except because I had stopped working, and DH's insurance was a joke, we had to take out a home equity loan for the second IVF.  And in a short few year's time, the injections changed from syringe and vials to syringe pens: just attach a needle, click the dial to the correct dosage, and shoot.  This pen in the pic is one helluva souvenir from IVF #2.

And I made sure that DH was the first to find out the good news this time around.  After all, he was my rock through these trying times.

In the end, our challenges of conceiving our babies still pale in comparison to the trials others go through, and we were the lucky ones that had happy endings.  It's been a long time, and I've always meant to write down--for memories' sake--our "makings of a family" story.  It's interesting to relive, however difficult it was at the time to live.  And here it is.

During our chaotic days filled with the kiddos' endless activities and wants and needs, taking a moment to think about how they actually came to be can be refreshing and provides some much needed perspective.  Of course it is always during those times of I-can't-take-this-anymore parenting moments, during the distress of having to tame wild heathens children--to the point where I actually question the reason behind having said monsters children--when DH looks at me with the most serious look and says, "And you wanted children?"  

And this is when I tell him he's not funny.  The man thinks he's Jimmy Fallon or something. 

(I continue to be treated for endometriosis--even though there will be no more babies--since it has a very high chance of recurrence.  I am now living mostly pain-free and completely spared from reproductive worries.  Do you hear the angels sing?

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So, Dear Miracles, indeed you are life-changing.  When I look back at my child-less self more than eleven years ago, I still feel a pang of sorrow, because I instantly remember that empty feeling.  Now on the other side, I know how much my life has been enriched by my own two Miracles.  Life works in mysterious ways.  Perhaps this serves to make me cherish what I once didn't have, and now have been blessed with absolute certainty.  I am most grateful for having the chance to be a mother.

Sincerely,
Me


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dear Teacher Prestige


Dear Teacher Prestige,

No doubt you vary among cultures having different perceptions of a teacher's social status.  It is interesting for me to see and feel the differences between cultures in the East and the West as a teacher myself.

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Chinese School started this past Sunday. My kiddos continue their studies there while I began the year with my new class of two- and three-year-olds.  It was wonderful meeting new families and seeing returning ones.  My day went really well, and I was pleased with the day's work.  Over the last year and a half there, I've realized that even in America, when a group of Chinese parents and teachers are together, many Chinese practices are still front and center.  A particularly noticeable one is the way in which teachers are regarded.

From my memory thirty-plus years ago in Taiwan, teachers have always experienced high occupational prestige.  The respect with which the society regards teachers is visible through words and action.  Teachers are not called Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jackson; they are called Teacher Smith or Teacher Jackson.  They are not regarded as just any other person, but as a person of profession, even by name.  When in the company of teachers, people oftentimes greet them with a slight bow of the upper body.  (In traditional culture, the measure of respect is in the degree of bend in the bow; saving the 90 degree bows for momentous and celebratory occasions nowadays, the greeting bow has been modified to a mini-bow, more like a tip of the head.)  Above all, parents take the words of teachers very seriously, always reteaching to their children what teachers preach in school during the day, in both academic and social-emotional parameters.

A lot of that is cultural affect.  You do what you have learned from the generation before you.  Education is highly regarded in many parts of Asia.  Even though I don't necessarily agree with all the teaching methods in Asia, it is invariably true that teachers are generally regarded with the utmost respect.

Having had this value embedded in me during my early years, I carried it over to my adult life here.  When I first started teaching as a newbie teacher, I would always call my colleagues by their last names: Mrs. Smith or Mr. Jackson.  Another newbie teacher of Asian descent did the same (for the same reason), but we were both reprimanded by our colleagues.  Call me by my first name, for goodness sake! they'd say.  I did, eventually, but it took some time.  Even today, I still refer to my kiddos' teachers by their last names--out of respect--unless they specifically tell me not to.

Old habits are hard to break.

I have always felt that people in general are more friendly than formal here in the States, and that has nothing to do with whether people respect teachers or not.  People show respect in different ways, and that is easily recognizable by interpersonal behavior and a lot of common sense.  But having been away from my birth country for so long, it had been a while since I've experienced Chinese formality, specifically in a school setting.

My kiddos started Chinese School back in Fall of 2011.  We found a nearby school whose tuition is very reasonable.  We thought it would be a good opportunity to get some "Chinese time" in the kiddos' lives.  (We don't speak exclusively in Chinese at home--or much at all, rather--but that's for another post altogether.)  DH and I didn't go to Chinese school growing up here in the States.  We just learned and practiced it at home, after having gone to school in Taiwan and already learned how to read and write Chinese at the 3rd/4th grade level.  We never had to go through the pressure and agony of having our precious weekends taken up by Chinese school.  But ironically, we were going to be those parents that send their kids to Chinese School.  Touche.  Dear Daughter started Chinese school at age 8, which is late by "Chinese standards," but we waited for Dear Son to be old enough to go, since they were more apt to go together.

When I found myself among my native language speakers at the school, all of those formality practices came back to me naturally.  I readily greeted the kiddo's teachers with a tip of the head out of respect.  You remember such things the way you don't forget how to ride a bicycle.

Old habits come back easily.  

New parents to the school met and became friendly with one another, chit-chatting in the hallways while waiting for their children's break time.  Many parents had younger children waiting with them.  Halfway through the year, the school's education directors approached me to see whether I'd be up for teaching a new preschool class, having heard of my previous teaching experience.  Seeing the toddlers and preschoolers out in hallway, I thought, sure, I can teach these cute little ones!  So I took the position.  And here we are.

When I first started teaching the preschool class, there was an interesting transition period.  One semester I was a mom and friend to other parents, and the next semester I became their children's teacher.  I felt extremely grateful that everyone was so supportive of my role change.  Having been in this [western] culture for so long, I felt a bit out of sorts when others regarded me they way I regarded my kiddos' teachers.  Oftentimes grandparents of my students bring me freshly harvested Chinese vegetables that they grew themselves.  Words cannot describe how incredibly grateful I feel.  Every single time.

I need to put the shoe on my other foot now.  Touche.

But the point of all this?  I have a little story to tell.  People come and go throughout our lives.  But you never know how each one will affect you, at least not right away.

I will never forget a grandpa of one of my students, a gentleman who had always greeted me in the hallways of Chinese school with a booming and resounding "Teacher!" and even stopped to send the slightest bow my way.  It caught me by surprise the first time because it is a no-brainer in our culture that younger people naturally pay respect to elder people.  For a grandpa to show this sort of courtesy to a mom-turned-teacher was incredibly flattering and difficult for me to accept naturally.  I always bowed right back immediately and greeted him warmly, though sheepishly and gratefully.  I was not only taken aback, but also felt tremendous affection and acknowledgement from this kind man during these weekly encounters.  He and his grandchildren left the school after that semester, and I missed his entire family: he and his lovely wife, his younger grandson who was my student, his elder grandson who was Dear Son's classmate, and his daughter whom I had become friends with in the hallway.

I found out recently that this gentleman passed away last month after a year-long struggle with cancer.  It surprised me how much I was affected by his passing: how sad I was, and how often I thought about him after hearing the news, even though I only knew him for a period of time during those brief moments in the hallways of Chinese school.  His legacy will undoubtedly be a loving husband, father, and grandfather to his family.  But to me, he embodies a spirit that values education and the work that teachers do.  He has touched me in ways that make me want to be a better teacher.  I will always remember his smile, his straightforward, no-nonsense enthusiasm, and his deep, mahogany voice.

The pain of reality are often softened by beautiful memories, and these will be the ones that I think of when I am faced with the many challenges of teaching.

And because I am way too Americanized don't think of myself as a traditional, Confucian Chinese teacher, I have no expectations of anyone paying any sort of formal respect to me.  I only have my students' best interest in mind, and we--my students and their parents--truly all just have a great time in class.  More traditional parents might still call me "Teacher," but if you're "new-age" like me, I'll high-five you down the hallways of Chinese school as a greeting if you'd like.

Old habits can evolve into new ones.  I can roll how you roll.  

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So, Dear Teacher Prestige, it has been quite humbling for me to experience such differences in you across continents and countries.  But I know that it's not how one shows respect to teachers, but that we acknowledge that their work benefits our children, and that we appreciate everything they do.  And I'm saying that as a parent.  As a teacher, well, I'll have to earn that, and I promise to put my best effort forward.

Sincerely,
Me