Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Hot Mess

Years ago, when I went back to college to get my teaching license, I knew the coursework would culminate in a semester of student teaching. This is otherwise known as an unpaid internship. Wait, no. It's worse than that. It's an internship that YOU pay for. Lucky for me, my company offered to let me continue to work part time as I pursue my passion and see if teaching is really what I want to do. Of course, that's because they - nor I - stopped to consider the insanity of that little plan. Dig if you will the picture (RIP Prince) of me teaching full time, working my regular job half time, attending mandatory seminars at school, grocery shopping, cooking, doing laundry, parenting AND prepping my house to be sold. It's not a pretty picture.

The school - While this school is only thirteen miles from my home, there's no fast way to get there. It's just a straight shot south, taking roughly an hour to get there, and an hour and a half to get home. This is a radical departure from my usual routine, which was to work from home in my pajamas. By the third day, the very thought of getting dressed and driving all the way there made me want to cry.

The classroom - The teacher who is kind enough to let me test out my teaching chops is roughly my age, but has spent her time in education rather than job hopping like me. She's warm and funny and exactly the kind of person you hope will help you out in your career. Someone who has seen everything and still gives enough of a shit to come in and do what she does every day. In short, I love her. Before you start wondering how I could possibly tell all of this in just one week, I should explain. Before student teaching, I had to complete 100 hours in a classroom, part observation and part teaching. That's how I met her. I was assigned to her class, then she requested to have me back to complete my student teaching with her. So I've known her for 4 months, not 4 weeks.

The kids - The kids are exactly what you expect high school kids to be. Funny, sweet, infuriating, and at times, downright amazing. Even though I spent time there last semester, it's not like being there full time, so I'm really just getting to know them now. There are some names I knew already, the kids who are either the teacher's favorites, or the ones who make the teachers pull out their hair. This week I spent my time watching and learning - which kids are paying attention, doing work, fighting with teachers, and sleeping. Next week I want to get a look at their work, so I can start to evaluate what levels they're currently at, and how to approach the lessons I'll begin writing. When I started there, and the kids asked about my tattoos, I told them they were prison tattoos and that I'm not afraid to go back. I explained I was part of a new program called "Convicts to Classrooms" because everyone deserves a second chance. I told them it also meant that their regular teacher couldn't follow through on her threats to beat them, because she'd lose her license. But since I don't have a license, they can't take anything away from me. On Friday I realized a few of them might actually believe this, so I suppose next week I should tell them I was joking. Maybe.

After that very rough first week - amazing just how fast one becomes accustomed to the whole work from home thing - I genuinely liked being there. Not getting there, of course, because that part is absolute shit.

One week down, fifteen to go.

Monday, January 2, 2017

And You Thought Your Family Was Weird

Voicemail, 9:12pm. Unknown caller. "Your mother changed her phone number, so this will have to come from you. Tell her that her father died."

If there was ever an example of a broken family, this one is it. Over the past year I've received dozens of voicemails from this woman, my mother's sister. I never answer, I never respond. Some messages are plaintive requests for family unity, others are vicious threats. Many are just her telling me all the ways I'm a terrible human being and that everyone hates me. 

So I'm left with this piece of information, that my grandfather has passed. There's no one left for me to tell except my mother. My beloved grandmother died in March 2014. Just after thanksgiving in 2015 I took mygrandfather to the hospital to address the excruciating pain in his hip. He had a hip replacement, then went to a rehab facility, where I continued to visit and do my best to care for him. My uncle was doing half of the care and planning, and had arranged for grandpa to stay with him when he left the rehab center. It seemed we were finding a way to put our fractured little family together. Then on Christmas Day, 2015, my uncle committed suicide. As my mother was incapacitated by grief, I had to go tell grandpa. That was one of the hardest days of my life.

I lied, of course. You see, in about 1981, my grandparents' eldest daughter committed suicide. That's one of my earliest memories, getting home with my grandmother and mother and finding the doors of the house locked. They were never locked. Searching the house, being unable to find her. But they looked where grown ups look. I was little, so I looked in little kid places. I found her under a bed, and to this day I don't understand why she'd gone under there. Like a wounded animal, hiding itself away at the end. Coupled with my own mother's penchant for threatening and attempting suicide in the 90s, there was no way I was telling grandpa that another one of his children had succeeded in taking their own lives. Grandpa did not attend the services, I don't blame him. Just a year before, I'd taken him to grandma's wake, and it was every bit as awful and heartbreaking as you could imagine. He didn't want to do it again. And honestly, how would I have explained the closed casket for his son who'd allegedly had a heart attack?

But I digress. This woman that I hate - and I do not use the word lightly - has just left me a voicemail, bluntly and coldly telling me to pass along the message that my grandfather has died. The day my grandmother died, I went to his house, and he slowly came out of his bedroom (a rarity) and told me he was sorry. For the next two years, I'd be there at that house twice a week to run errands, go grocery shopping, and do whatever needed to be done. During his recovery from the hip replacement, I fought with him to get him to go live anywhere but back at "the apartment" in the building owned by his daughter. I offered to get him set up on public aid, or into a VA facility, or even a small apartment. He pretended to entertain the idea, but in the end, he went back. He woudln't even tell me to my face that he was going back. Instead he called me ten minutes after I left, to say he needed to tell me the truth. I warned him that she would lock him away, like an old and bald Rapunzel, and that he's never be able to see any of us again. He said he knew, and he knew I didn't like his decision, but that I had to respect it. I told him that's bullshit. He said he loves me very much, and thanked me for all of the times I came to help him. 

That was the last day I saw him. That was in February. Twice he's called me, like a bad "proof of life" call in a kidnapping movie. She sits in the background and tells him what to say. "I'm being treated well, I'm being taken care of. Don't cause any problems," is what he says. 

And so, I hear this message, as I'd always known word of his death would come from her, since she's the only one with access to him. And I cry. I cry from grief, yes, but I cry for the shit he's gone through these past three years, being locked up, threatened and abused by his own daughter. He was miserable and scared, and told me as much. And I cried for my inability to help him, to get him away from her. And I'm angry. Angry that she's done this to him, angry that he refused to leave. Over and over I thought, "I tried to help him, I told him he deserved to live out his life in peace, I tried to help him!"

Then my mother tells me that her unhinged sister is lying. 

She'd left my mother a series of message starting with the news that he'd died. Then, when that didn't elicit a reaction, she called again and said "Well he's dead to you, because he wants nothing to do with you!" 

What. The. Actual. Fuck? 

Eventually she let him speak to my mother, briefly, a real "proof of life" phone call. I know what you're thinking. What kind of person would do that? What did she hope to gain? Is she just that cruel? These, and many more questions, will *not* be answered on next week's edition of So You Thought YOUR Family Was Weird.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Well Hello!

Oh how I wish I'd kept up with this blog. For one, my fragile memory just isn't what it used to be, and this is a great way to keep things straight.

Someday soon, when I'm done with school, I'm going to revisit this whole blog thing. In fact, maybe I'll resurrect it to document my semester of student teaching. Lucky for me I've been assigned to stay at the same school I've been working in for the past few months. Lucky for the kids, too, because I like them.

Yes, that's it. I'm going to document the life and times of student teaching within CPS over the next few months. So come with me for these next few months, laugh with me while I try to survive working in tech while teaching full time, seeing my kid leave to the military, selling my home, buying a new one and not killing anyone along the way.

Let's do this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Rare and Unexpected Gift

This morning as I was driving my kids to school, a memory came to me, so vivid that I could have crashed my car because it felt as if I was in the moment. Driving home from Navy Pier with my grandmother, after having seen Henry VIII at the Shakespeare theater, she was singing in the car. In my head this morning I swear I heard her voice. I don't even know what she was singing - and didn't that night - but I could hear the joy in her voice as she sang.

That memory brought me to tears this morning. It's been a year and a half since she passed, and every day I still think about calling her. At least half a dozen times I've almost bought things for her, only to be hit again with the fact that she's gone.

A few days ago I was telling Daimean a story about her, and he told me that he's jealous because he never really got to know her. When she was in the hospital he'd offered to write her memoirs, because he was absolutely fascinated by her stories. That thought still makes me smile.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sunset Over Selma

***Here's one from the archives of Sept 2013. Not only did I have a wonderful week with a new client in NC, but I made a friend with whom I'm still in contact today. Someone I never expected, who I found to be funny and inspirational. The lesson here is to always keep an open mind. Or whatever. Oh, and stay the hell away from Bojangles.

This week I'm in NC for work. Here's what I know about NC from my short time here:
1. It's very, very green.
2. The food scares me a little. What the hell is a Bojangles?? 
3. No one is in a hurry here. I'm from Chicago, I do not have the patience for this. 

I've only been here for a few hours. Already I want to go home. It's going to be a long week. 

Most of what's on tv is all about 9/11. Of course I watch it, I'm a masochist at heart. Why? Why would I watch the retelling of a horrible attack on my country? Because this year, the tone of the specials has changed. It's got a very positive feel. Crazy, I know. But last night I watched interviews with people who talked about how they made it through, how they banded together to help strangers, and how they're honoring those they lost that day. Now, I don't believe that people have forgotten the hurt or the pain. I do, however, think it's healthy for those directly affected to be able to put their lives back together, and be able to be happy, and not let that day define them. And as Forrest Gump so succinctly put it, that's all I have to say about that.

A Year

What can happen in a year? What can change in a year?

The answer is both "everything" and "nothing" even though that sounds patently impossible. The things that have changed are mostly intangible, at least right now they are. Not one to be negative or down for any long period of time, I'm often even more positive and hopeful these days. I find myself downright giddy lately when I see the potential in our lives. As if we're standing on the cusp of something new that I can't quite put my finger on.

I expect I'll be back soon with details.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Too Shall Pass

In January, my grandmother, my beloved partner in crime, fell and broke her hip. After three grueling months of surgeries, infections and physical therapy, she came home for 5 whole days before she'd dislocated it again. More surgery, throw in an infection, and finally, her body could take no more. On March 24th, she passed out of this life. She graduated, if you will.

She was there in December for my much anticipated college graduation, she cheered and cried as she watched me walk across that stage. For that, I am thankful. For a million other things, for advice and laughs and hugs, I am infinitely thankful.

Each time I leave her house, because in my mind it's still her house, I sit in my car and cry. It's so fresh that I still have books of hers that I'd borrowed, and continue to think, "Oh! I've got to get this back to her" When I get emails on the upcoming opera season, I cry. I fear the day will some when I can no longer close my eyes and hear her voice. I fear my children will forget her.

She wasn't perfect, and she'd have been the first to tell you that.

After my graduation, she told me that one of the best feelings for her was when she was with my family. And by that, she meant my husband and children - not those other incidental people, most of whom she'd given birth to. She said that when she was with us, she felt so much love, and that our love included her, and never made her feel left out. That sticks with me now, and I'm so glad we were able to give her that, especially since there was so much turmoil in her life during that last year.

I miss her so much, and so selfishly. I'd love to be able to say, as so many others do, "At least she's not in pain anymore" but I can't. Because selfishly I can't see through  my own pain at having lost her. Terrible, I know. Maybe some day. Maybe some day I'll be able to think of her and not cry. Today is not that day.