Diapers and Dragons

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Deep and Bitter Well

I don't know how to let go of the anger.

I thought it was gone, or at least faded. I haven't seen my grandmother in over year, and that was at my paternal grandfather's funeral, where my interaction was somewhat minimal, and I was able to smile and make nice on a day that precluded personal comments or criticisms. She smiled and said very little and mostly seemed old, vague, frail.

I haven't visited her in years, not since the summer of 2009 when my brother went with me and the boys. He performed beautifully in the Buffer role that my mother usually takes. I was distant and sad, keeping mainly to myself or spending time with the boys on the beach, mulling over the disintegration of my first marriage. I think Grandma didn't quite know what to say to me, and thankfully she kept her opinions on my marital quasi-status to herself.

I frankly admit this: I have avoided her. When I can get away with not seeing her at all, I do. I use my family and schedule as a convenient, albeit legitimate, excuse. On the rare occasions that I attend family functions in my area, I say little other than greetings, farewells, and a touch of polite chitchat in between. I rarely think about her, and when I do, mostly feel indifferent. Distance and rarity of interaction have swathed memory and emotion in protective padding.

Yesterday when I retrieved the mail, I found a card from her. My first thought upon seeing the envelope was I wonder if she's writing me to say she's proud of me? To apologize? Would I even care if she did?

I opened the card last, and realized as I picked it up that my hands were shaking. Not so distant from the emotions after all.  Anger. Hope. Sorrow. Resentment.

She invited me to Thanksgiving. More accurately, she wrote to invite you and your husband and your little boy.

Boy? Did she have the right granddaughter in mind? Was she thinking of my sister? My cousin C? My cousin D? They each have one small son.

The rest of the card made it clear that indeed she intended it for me. So what did she mean by this phrase? Was she neglecting to use MTL's name on purpose? Could she not remember to whom I am married? Was she intending a subtle recognition that he is, in fact, my husband (despite divorce and remarriage)? Did she intend to leave my stepchildren out of the invitation? She could have written you and your family, you know.

Or am I overthinking a few words written by an elderly woman whose mind is increasingly vague and "off"? Am I allowing old, old bitterness to cloud my reaction?

We won't be able to go way up to her house for Thanksgiving, but we already plan to go, with almost the entire Horde and my parents, for a few days following Christmas. I had thought I would be able to handle proximity fairly easily. My mother will be there, and most likely my brother as well, and I can always escape to the snowy outdoors with my husband to throw snowballs at our children or take walks through the woods.

Now I'm uncertain.

The anger is still there. It has sunken with time, become still rather than tumultuous. But the well is deep and bitter, and I fear I may never be able to drain it of the dregs.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Classrooms and Conferences

Parent Teacher Conferences were on Wednesday--well, the one in which I was the teacher, not the parent. That's a whole different kettle of impossible-to-schedule fish, when one has five children in the local schools. Thankfully, The Dark One's grandmother takes care of hers for us, because the idea of driving an hour to attend them is not one I relish.

At any rate, it was a Very Long Day. By trick of the Scheduling Gods, it was the one day of the week when I do not have a prep hour, and conferences start eleven minutes after the end of the school day. That's just long enough to grab my materials, wheel my comfy chair down to the elevator and then to the Gym, and make a run to the nearest restroom. Fun times.

I ended up getting a flood of parents after our dinner break, to the point where I was stumbling over words and staring at faces blearily through a growing headache. I finished speaking with the last parent nearly ten minutes after the end of conferences, closing out the place with one other English teacher. I got home fifteen hours after I'd left in the morning, long after MTL had left for work (he has a third shift position now--more on that in another post) and just after the four littles had gotten to bed.

Even more than the physical drain, parent teacher conferences these days--and especially this year--are emotionally and mentally draining. Fall of 2012 has been full of angst, and not just for me. I cannot recall a year in which I have looked out at my classes and seen so many students sitting there quietly bleeding inside.

Conferences only exposed more--or explained some situations that I had not already been able to draw out of my students. More than once my eyes were flooded with barely-contained tears, and at least once I found myself grasping the hand of a parent sitting across from me, trying to convey some measure of comfort through a momentary touch.

I have a choice every day in my job. Shall I focus solely on the academics? Shall I look past the pain in these children's eyes and remind myself that I wasn't hired to be their therapist? Shall I stay firmly ten feet away from the boundary of Personal Life?

Or shall I reach out, take the personal risk of rejection and exposure to pain, and treat the student as a whole person rather than an academic entity?

I think you can tell which side I choose.

I can't look past the pain in their eyes--the students' or the parents'. I can't sweep it under the rug and say "it's not my job." Technically, it's not. And I do have to be careful about the boundaries, because the mix between Personal and Professional can be precarious. But it's worth it, in the end, to have a student give that bit more effort in class because he feels like his teacher cares about him as a person rather than just another one of many in a classroom. It's worth it to receive an email from a student who says that being able to cry and spill out her story to me in the hallway made her feel like she had a bit of hope. It's worth it to have a mother who's juggling two babies and aching for her older son who is drifting away in the pain of poverty and rejection from his father leave my table with a slight lift of her head, a sense that the burden is being shared rather than on her shoulders alone. It's worth it to have another mother thank me, with tears trickling down her face, for just listening.

I do not teach numbers or replicated clones who all appear in my classroom with the same skills and interests and, above all, histories. It's the great challenge: every year I teach around 150 students and somehow have to try to reach them each as individuals. I cannot reach them all--some of them won't even let me.

But I refuse to stop trying. I refuse to say that it's not my job to care. I refuse to worry about test scores at the expense of personhood. I refuse to say that they should all just be shunted away to be dealt with by someone else or somewhere else or stuck behind an electronic screen so we can all save a little bit of money out of our taxes.

I refuse to say it's someone else's problem. It's not. As Thomas Merton once said, The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.

They are part of me, and as I extend compassion and hope for healing to them, so do I receive in return hope for my own.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Return of the Prodigal Poster

I know. I went away. Some of you noticed and sent distressed emails and made me feel loved for a bit. The rest of you were silent--I'm assuming because you had not, for whatever reason, saved my email address at the top of your Favorites list and, since my domain disappeared and then was taken over by one of those blasted advertising sites, no longer had the helpful "Email Me" button to click.

I'm back.

I left--or rather, faded away and then simply allowed the custom domain to expire when I received the increasingly distressed emails inquiring whether I'd like to renew and it really doesn't cost much, please just click on this link--because I felt completely bottled up with my writing. Having a blended family of this complexity and, well, challenge made it very difficult to write anything. Can't vent about that person--she might read it...Can't vent about that child--this or that former spouse may read it, or someone he/she knows may read it and then send it, or even show it to the child...Can't write about how I really feel about various complicated situations because of sensitive legalities and various whatnot.

Privacy issues. That's what it boiled down to.

And it still does, really, which means I won't be posting as much about my crazy complicated family as I might otherwise.

However, I need to write. I've been feeling an ache for several months, needing this blog, needing the outlet, needing the audience. I am fragile and raw these days as I work through decades-old pain and current crises. I'm stuck in an old bog, really. I looked back through my posts from yesteryears and realized that what I'm trying to do now is what I was supposed to do almost two years ago and didn't. I didn't push myself through the barrier and the pain, and frankly neither did that therapist. In fact, I stopped seeing her a few months later. Our sessions just weren't going anywhere, and our schedules no longer meshed.

So. New year, new therapist, and I have to do the work this time or I might not make it through intact.

I need to write, and I need an audience in order for it to be real, and my lame attempts to start other anonymous blogs died in the birthing.

This blog has served as catharsis before. Perhaps, if I can pour my pain and record my joys on these electronic pages, I can face the dragons again.

Maybe, just maybe, this time I can win the fight.
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