Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Backseat Parenting

This morning I came to shul early for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

As I left our apartment with ND (U. was just a few minutes behind me, but I needed to go) I ran into several men and their childen also on their way to shul. I ended up walking just ahead of them with the daughter of one of them. The men had basically not welcomed me into the conversation. They were in the middle of it and I don't know any of them that well, but I have no qualms talking to kids whether or not I know them.

At one point during the conversation she started telling me about a doll she has. She began to run through its features:

It's orange, it's a girl, it's...

I phased out for a minute, knowing I wouldn't miss to much as she marketed this little product, and listened to the men. They were talking about iPhones.

It's new, it has special batteries, it totally is changing technology...

Ahhh... kids and big kids, talking about toys. Why do I understand and am sympathetic when the little ones do it but not the big ones?

In any case, the reason I was coming early was that U. and I had duty watching a group of the kids at shul. I didn't (and still don't) entirely understand the situation. Basically, there are childcare people there, but most of the parents aren't crazy about them and they try to have parents present. Part of why I didn't get the situation clearly was that we're not K-1 parents yet obviously. We were assigned to this because there was a need and because we hadn't been assigned to kiddush cleanup. Nothing was really expected of us other than to have a shul member present to make sure everything was cool with the caregivers there.

But I came prepared to tell the story of Balaam and the donkey from this week's parsha. And as U. and the babysitter looked on, I think I did a pretty good job keeping the kids occupied. And frankly, I enjoyed it.

A year ago I was asked to take a job with the shul doing some form of that with the childcare. I never learned the exact details because I said no as I was pregnant at the time and anticipating working full-time and never seeing my new daughter.

After today, now that I'm on break, I'm a little tempted to revisit the issue as there is still a need. I'm wondering if I would still enjoy working with those kids after I go back to work, especially if I traded it off with someone else. I wouldn't want to miss shul every week. But I wouldn't mind sometimes. And as for being paid, I could definitely use a few extra dollars. I'm not exactly sure how that works. You're not supposed to work for money on Shabbat. But as an example, a person who reads the Torah aloud at shul is sometimes paid to practice the reading during the week in order to make the Shabbat reading happen. I think the same goes for teaching or else the rabbi would have a difficult time doing his job.

Probably my biggest concern is that I don't know if I want to be caring for the children of too many people who are my own community. Several times today I was tempted into some backseat parenting. For example, the child I walked with this morning (see the beginning of this entry) was told repeatedly to hold her father's hand. It was partly because she kept refusing that I asked her to walk with me. I asked if she knew why she should hold hs hand and she claimed she didn't. We discussed it and, at least with me, she was very careful about it for the rest of the walk. The dad says she listens to everyone but her parents. That may be so, but I tend to be skeptical. (Uortunately) my fellow shul congregants don't need me second-guessing their parenting moves all the time. :)

But I think back to the comments people made when I said I was watching K-1. Usually it was, "How did you get suckered into that?" Well, as usual, I was more comfortable doing that than socializing with my peers. Is it fair, then, for me to make a leap to the idea that I might just be better at being with kids than many of the people who have been parenting for so many years?

U. commented to me recenly that he has been impressed by something. I've always been the type to say that I would do something different than another parent. He said that he wondered if once I became a parent myself I would do that more, or would give people a greater benefit of the doubt. He said he's impressed of me that I've generally given the benefit of a doubt. I'm proud of that too.

But I still have that side of me that is both good and bad that really doesn't like what I see a LOT of parents doing. I don't just mean the little choices of do you have the kid sleep in your bedroom or not... that kind of thing people get worked up about but really just reflects different philosophies. I mean yelling at kids for things that are YOUR fault. Or ignoring them.

I see these things. They are incredibly common. And I want to get nosy ad "helpful." And you know how much I love it when people do that to me.

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Summer Lifestyle

I've been reflecting on what summer time means for me as a teacher. It's a complete lifestyle change. Life slows down.

The hardest thing when I'm not working (and some summers I do work) is becoming used to unstructured time. Time changes completely, moves forward without the adrenaline that usually pushes me through a day from one task to the next. It feels lonely and silent sometimes. I often beat myself up for not being productive.

But now that I'm looking back at this first week of break, I really accomplished quite a lot, even with ND here all the time.

For one, I accomplished spending a lot of quality time with her. During the schoolyear I'm particularly grateful that I am off in the mornings, because then I can focus on her before the day's work kicks in. By evening I'm usually thinking about schoolwork I need to do, even if I know I can't do it until she's asleep. I still think during the day about the work I have or want to do, but part of the very reason I chose not to take a job this summer is to be with her and to not have to pay someone else to watch her. I'm trying to use that well. Besides, I don't think I could have gotten over the hump of returning to work if I hadn't known an end was in sight.

I'm also doing a lot of other things that I value in the areas of writing and some environmental activism that I'll talk about in another entry.

But also, I'm CLEANING. Don't underestimate this. Our living room and dining area look really nice right now and I'm able to maintain it. I even sweep the area every few days right now. This is not an easy thing for me. It may sound simple, but we often just don't have time to do it. I'm wondering if I can teach myself to clean up after myself more efficiently. But first I have to finish organizing my office, bedroom, closets and storage... all jobs that I need a summer to tackle.

Finally, everything is so much quieter. I don't know how to explain why. I go for walks. I'm in the car less. I'm alone a lot (except of course for ND.) So I hear the world around me. It makes me think of when monks take vows of silence. I can see how it would pay off. It's not that I'm not speaking, it's that I'm hearing more than I usually do.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Two-hour Bedtime

That was needlessly painful.

I don't know if it's because she's sick, but ND had a terrible time going to bed tonight.

I've always enjoyed being THE MOST IMPORTANT person in her life, but tonight that backfired a bit. She wanted to nurse and nurse and nurse. I don't object to that at all, but when I pulled away, she would start crying. If I left the room, the cry became an all-out scream. We tried this again and again. She would get happy again just seeing me, but then couldn't fall asleep. We did this enough times that I guess eventually she was just exhausted. Even then, she still needed me to nurse with her just once more.

U. and I brainstormed throughout the entire process... let her cry, take her to the computer with me and work for a bit, lie down with her but don't nurse etc. It was helpful teamwork, but difficult nonetheless. I said during it that my only goal was to have her fall asleep without me having to go to bed then too. (A lot of times I do just go to bed with her if she's really needy.) I met that goal. Of course, ironically, I really wanted to go to sleep then. I stayed up an extra hour just because.

The good news is that we had a really lovely day today at Sunnyside. ND was very cooperative and U. and I enjoyed watching a history major get so into his job as he gave us the tour.

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Yes, another number post. Last night I turned 31 at 11:29 PM Pacific Time. Since I'm on the east coast, I actually turned 31 today so I'm claiming the entire weekend as my birthday.

My best physical present:

- A turquiose necklace from U.

My non-physical well-timed presents:

- The end of the school year. I have so many projects I can't wait to start (and hopefully finish).

- Yesterday ND was trying so hard to talk and sounded a LOT like she was repeatedly saying, "I love you." We experimented with her, giving her other words to try, but she wanted the multi-syllabled. And adding on, she just almost got out "dad" not "mom" but we're having fun with her. Plus, I learned a new way to get her to giggle. It employs the fine art of tickling.

- Hopefully the three of us are going today to Sunnyside although I'm a little nervous for ND. She has a nasty cold now. We were both up most of the night. She was in bed with me, but was always either nursing or screaming with little variation. (She's in a good mood now, thankfully.) I guess if she sleeps in the car we're ok.

- I have another article out today... number 4. Letting My Hair Grow Again. I can't help but reflect how excited I always get to see a new article in print, and then how scared and embarassed I feel. I know that with time it will pass. I am proud of this one because it's one of the fastest I've written. It often takes me months, even years, to finish a piece. I let my work lie fallow for long stretches and revise too often. This one I turned around in less than a month. My only actual regret is that the end makes it sound like my cancer history does not still haunt me. It does, just very differently. Maybe that's just inspiration for another article -- one of my many summer projects.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

More About 6

I wrote recently about our little six-month old baby. Today I'm writing about our six-year old marriage.

I don't blog about U. much on here. There are a number of reasons. One is that I try to protect his privacy. Another is that some of the things I write about, we do separately. But he's not at all absent in my heart and everyday life.

At the beginning of our relationship, I often got upset that we weren't like other couples we saw. Maybe we didn't look as affectionate as others, or didn't do as many things together or weren't in sync completely religiously or what-have-you. (It's interesting how many of those couples either are no longer couples or do things that I KNOW are not right for us.)

But I've learned over the years that just as I am no one but me, and he is no one but he, we are no one but we.

I wrote about how this past week a lot of difficult things happened. The one that was closest to home involved U. and I making an extremely difficult decision. It was the kind of decision that felt kind of yucky afterwards, even though it was the right thing to do. What was wonderful about it was that I couldn't help but be amazed and how unified we were when we made it. I feel so much pride in that.

To celebrate today's anniversary, we left ND with a babysitter. (Not easy for me at all, but something I need to learn to do.) And we went to see Spiderman 3. For better or for worse, I DON'T think we were unified in our opinion of it, but that's another piece of growth for us... it just doesn't bother me as much to be on different pages about movies anymore.

And ND survived the babysitter.

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Ahhh... that week is over now and this one has begun. Looking forward to our 6th anniversary in addition to U.'s first father's day today.

Had a lovely Shabbat while our friend JR visited. Sadly, we forgot to get any pictures of him with us or with ND, but he took some great ones of me with ND right before her bath. (There was carrot in her hair that really needed to come out.)

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Thursday, June 14, 2007


This week has been INSANE. Oddly enough, I can't elaborate much. A lot has happened for us and for people around us. With one situation for a friend, it's too sad for me to write about publicly. And for us, we had a difficult situation that is basically over now but that really stressed us out. The one thing I'll say about it is that I'm really proud of how well we operated through it as a team, just in time for our anniversary this Sunday. (Keep watching for posts about that.)

The only thing I feel comfortable actually mentioning is along a similar level of intensity as the other things, which was that my supervisor called me at 10 last night to say one of my colleagues who works in the morning was hit by a car and in the hospital. I agreed to substitute. The substituting isn't a big deal except that I didn't get as much sleep as I would have liked, especially as I'm still fighting this cold. But a crash like that shakes everyone up.

Yesterday in the teacher's lounge we all got into a big conversation about cancer. After all, my assistant (and also the assitant of the person who was hit by the car) was there, the one whose fiance has it, and their wedding day would have been this Sunday. (Yes, the same as our anniversary), but they've postponed for now. During this conversation I learned about a colleague that I barely know... learned he had Hogkins just over a year ago. (This was before he was with the school.) And I came out to a few people who didn't know my history. Every time that happens -- which seems frequent lately -- I'm bursting with the desire to talk about it. I'm hoping to find another chance to chat with this guy before the school year totally ends next week.

Last Shabbat I read Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person. I haven't read any books about cancer since I was sick and I'm fine with that. But I really liked this a lot. The back of the book describes it as "irreverent and humorous." I don't know why, but that really ticks me off. Again, it fires me up for some reason I can't quite identify. Whenever I read that on a book I think, "Oh, this will be a rip-roaring hilarious book, not like those sappy, 'Roses are beautiful, life is precious and G-d is just terrific' books about cancer. No, this one will be FUNNY."

It was funny in places. Just the kind of thing to make someone say, "Wow, isn't she brave... to be funny through ALL OF THAT." Of course it was funny. It was a real person talking about a real experience. And real experiences come in many shades of emotion... not just harp music dramatically watching someone say their last words and die.

I liked the the book because I connected with it. Again, a regular person talking about the real feelings that come up, and doing so with the same personality she would have had even before her life was turned upside down.

I don't know how relevant any of this is right now, but I just really wanted to write SOMETHING on here this morning after this long week, and I had wanted to write about the book anyway. Good news is that we are getting a visit tonight through Shabbat from JR who is passing through town and whose blog is not up-to-date and I think he's keeping another one but am not sure now. I've been too swamped to read other people's... just show off my own to the world later.

Whatever... I need to get ready for work.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Speaking Up

I've talked about this in entries Got My Voice Back and Voiceless and Grateful. I've had an interesting week with the theme of speaking, speaking up and silence.

There have been a number of things in my work world lately that have upset me both for my own sake and for the sake of my students, but because I often feel powerless, or I have to be respectful to other adults, I have said nothing. I began having violent nightmares in which a regular theme was about being unable to speak.

My feelings about all of this came to a head one day when someone at work did a few things that just really ticked me off and that I took quite personally. I vented to U. that night. I was so tense and angry! I told him that I used to always say what I thought, and that got me into trouble. Now I say nothing and that's not working either. I decided I wanted to start saying something, but the right thing.

Unfortunately, that night I blew it. For a number of reasons, this week has probably been the most stressful since I returned from maternity leave and I couldn't sleep. I laid awake at night, exhausted and still angry, and I wrote what I thought was a well-thought-out and reasonable email to the person who angered me.

I still think everything I said it there was true, but the long and short of it is, the person I wrote to didn't really understand it. She misunderstood several points and I was so anxious about what she thought about me writing to her at 3:45 AM that it really wasn't worth the agony I caused myself. If I was going to speak up, I should have done it in person and I should have stood up first for issues with my students, and later for myself. I should have prioritized to whom I was speaking and figured out how to do it.

So as an interesting afterword, I lost my voice this weekend. I'm not very ill, just a little. Enough to explain why I was so obsessive and anxious and angry that night. Illness and anxiety often go hand-in-hand for me. Either way, my voice is in shambles. A nice reminder to work on this speaking up trait.

(Interestingly too I read Among The Free this Shabbos, the conclusion to a guilty book series pleasure of mine. Guilty because they're not terribly well-written, but riveting nonetheless. Again, all about speaking up for what's right.)

So the conclusion, for now, of this story, came just a few moments ago. ND and I were walking home from the library. There was a car pulled over to the side of the road as a family picked up their teenage kid (I presume). As the car drove off from the curb, a teenager in the backseat stuck his hand out the window and dropped a snack wrapper on the ground.

In the past I would have been nervous to draw attention to myself, and would have felt angry and wounded afterwards about how inconsiderate people can be. But I just stopped, looked at him the way I would one of my students and squawked in my hoarse excuse for a voice, "Hey, that's garbage."

He didn't make fun of me or ignore me. He looked guilty, his parents pulled over again, and he picked it up. I watched as he pulled away and I said, "There's a garbage can right there."

"I'll throw it away later," he called out the window.

And that was it. I don't have feel angry or wounded. And that garbage isn't on the ground. Better yet, I think he's sufficiently embarassed to not do it again any time soon, but not to ruin his life or even his day. That's all I ask.

Now if I can just figure out how to do this for bigger things...

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


6 incredible things about our 6-month old daughter on the 6th day of the 6th month:

1. She smiles most of the time and sleeps well. The exceptions to her being happy are if she is hungry, tired or in pain. Those things are generally rare. She even puts herself to sleep now without too much of a fight (sometimes).

2. She is starting to get places. She will lie on the floor and REACH for her favorite toys, but when she crawls, she tends to move backwards.

3. On the other hand, if you leave her alone for a minute lying on the floor, you can come back to see she's rolled far far away from her starting point.

4. She likes to sit up and will do it for a long time. She tends to look BUSY BUSY BUSY when she's got her toys around her.

5. She eats three kinds of cereal and just finished trying carrots. Tonight I need to boil and puree up her first sweet potato.

6. Two of her most exciting events each day are (1) seeing the cat and (2) seeing her dad.

Happy half-birthday, ND!!

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

First Tooth

No, no not mine. Don't be silly...

That's right. Tonight ND was nursing at bedtime and suddenly lunged at my finger rather than my breast. As she chewed on the finger I suddenly felt it. Front, bottom, right. A little sharp thing. I can see it too.

I feel really happy about this. Proud, relieved for her that the pain of the first one is done. I sang mazel tov to her and she smiled at me.

So any of you nursing moms want to tell me how this is going to work from here on out?

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

More About Post-Cancer Recovery...Four Years Post, In Fact

Great thanks to alissa for sending me this article about surviving cancer emotionally in my last post.

In response to the article, I have to say that while I was in treatment I sought out every kind of help I could find: one-on-one counseling, art therapy, yoga for cancer patients, meditation, support groups etc. (I actually hated support groups. I met some interesting people, but so desparately wanted to talk but didn't want to steal the discussion that I preferred the less-socially-pressureful settings of one-on-one attention. Besides, cancer or no cancer, I see myself as an oddball. So I felt out of place.) I took very good care of myself.

And I think I still take pretty good care of myself.

But somehow, there was some kind of dramatic shift from being sick to healthy again... and it was jarring and painful. And I felt guilty for that (what else is new) and knew even less than usual about how to relate to people. I don't think I did it wrong or right in anyway, but I'm still wrestling with this journey of healing.

I suggested to U. how interesting it would be to make a documentary about young cancer survivors and what happens to them later. How many change their lives completely because of the cancer and become doctors, nurses and support group leaders because of it? How many act like it never happened? How many claim to have a newfound appreciation of the world?And how many of those become hypocrites and complain about stupid trivial things every day?

Finally, how many live with the same fear that I have?

I guess I've denied it for awhile, because I know my cancer is not supposed to come back, medically speaking. But I'm facing more and more and more the constant tension of waiting for a shoe to drop. It could be illness, an accident, anything. And it could happen to anyone I love. But I just keep waiting for it.

Today I was talking to the relative of a friend of mine in shul. I haven't seen this relative since I was pregnant, but she knows my history and walked over to me at kiddush to see ND. We talked about the fear. And I said for the first time, as though testing to see if I could actually be right, "I'm looking around now and noticing that most people don't seem to be facing crisis or tragedy. Most people seem to be living pretty healthy lives. Maybe we're really okay." Even as I write this, and even as I read the article I linked to above, I feel my eyes getting teary. Can I really ever live a life that isn't tinged by this worry? Do I want to? Does living that way mean I would take things for granted? Does it mean that I would miss actually being with and loving and experiencing the love for my baby?

There's another angle on all of this too. Forgive me for such a long post. But there's a change in my professional life too.

I started my career in 2000-2001 when I got a Master's in Education at Lewis and Clark College. I was extremely self-reflective, filling an entire journal and a half for education related thoughts. Everyone said I was self-reflective, my teachers, my mentor etc. I used to write through my ideas. I also wasn't very good at quite a few things in education, but I was starting to learn. I thought I would always be reflective, would always be invested in teaching and would enjoy creatively creating my classroom and curricula.

Keep in mind too that people say the first 3 years of teaching are the hardest. It's best to have them in the same school. After that teaching is supposed to make more sense.

Here's what happened instead:
2001-2002 First year teaching. First years are never easy. Neither was this.
2002-2003 Excited to start a year that wasn't a first, but had one of the most difficult classes anyone in the school had seen, including a child whose drug addict parents had a restraining order against them. Over a third of my class were already classified as having special needs, either emotional or academic. More were to be diagnosed that year.

But I didn't finish the year. Diagnosed with cancer in March and had to leave.

2003-2004 Returned, but only in January and only part-time. In retrospect I see I was angry and bitter at the world and, frankly, at my students. Not a good year.

2004-2005 Moved to Vancouver, B.C. Work visa problems prevented me from doing any teaching again until January and only then did I take over part-time as substitute in a room I never considered my own. Also still bitter about recent past. Another bad few months of teaching.

2005-2006 Moved to NJ, deeply jarred by such a drastic move and by culture shock. Difficulties with school administration and a personal loss made the year one of the hardest I've had professionally. Despite not having cancer, I was ill quite a lot as if my body was desparate for some time just to acclimate and as if screaming at me that I still needed to sort some things out.

2006-2007 Started the year off pregnant and cheerful, took a nice long maternity leave and now, suddenly, I'm starting to enjoy teaching again. Having my precious baby waiting for me at the end of each day makes up for some of the annoying administration issues, but my teaching itself is going well enough to give me confidence too.

That's right. For the first time, I'm just starting to really like teaching. I'm even considering starting a teaching blog and a website with some of the lessons I plan and design. If you count the years above, it looks like I've been teaching for 6 years. But really, I'm just starting. I've only had two full years of full-time teaching out of all of that. Next year will be my third year at my current job. That magic three.

Is it OK to blame cancer for all of this? Well, not all of it, but quite a lot. I didn't expect that.

So what's next? I have my hopes, goals and dreams, but your guess is as good as mine. I guess you'll just have to keep reading as the years - please G-d - go on.

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