Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A week of feeding my mind and heart...

This week has been one of feeding the mind and feeding the heart. Over a week ago I left Portland to attend the SchoologyNEXT Conference with some work colleagues. Schoology is a learning platform that is being used in my school district this next year. It allows you to create courses for students and give them access to all classroom resources as well as post videos, create classroom discussions, etc. It's like Facebook, YouTube, and a website all rolled into one. I am both excited and overwhelmed to begin this new educational journey. Today I begin this path...

The second half of the week, I went to the 2015 MTM-CNM Family Conference, where I spent five wonderful days reuniting with my "family." I only put family in quotes because technically they aren't related to me, but they are the family of my heart. They understand our ups and downs...they celebrate our small improvements, mourn losses. These are the people I can bare my whole soul with, my fears, my joys. I can say words out loud that I am afraid to say to others...

Our journey with MTM has been one that is over eleven years long. It has been a journey of unexpected joy and sorrow. Children have gained their angel wings and others have struggled, yet been victorious. Researchers are working toward a cure and that will not come soon enough. Javad is thirteen...I am not unrealistic that a treatment may mean something different for him. His legs have severe contractures that would inhibit walking...although I am not sure he would want to walk...he has never even thought it to be a part of his life, yet the strength to do things he would like would be amazing. I can't even wrap my head around it! When I look at the babies..the ones I held and rocked at the conference, I dream of a very different future for them, a future where they may move, have strength, maybe even walk. The idea that Javad and these children could breathe with freedom is such an incredible idea...and researchers are moving in that can and will happen.

This journey for us has not ended but I am so happy to be on the journey with so many amazing people! #mtmcnmfamily #mtmcnmsiblings #mtmcnmlove #loveourresearchers

Friday, July 17, 2015

Endings and Beginnings...

Today was the end of Ninth Grade Counts, the program I have been teaching for the last four weeks. It was a celebration as well as time for me to think about what has been accomplished. Students have had opportunities to grow, as people and as students.  Most of them are ready to start school in the fall, ready to take on the next step of their academic and personal journey.

In some ways being with them this last four weeks is also preparing me for the next step of my journey as well.  I am teaching all freshman...a thought that made me shiver last spring. These students were quite different than last, more considerate. I am looking forward to helping them move forward toward academic success.

It's days like today that reminds me why I love my job...helping young people move forward with their academic and personal success! I am pretty flipping excited...I'm not going to lie!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Other Side of my Equation...

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was really a way for me to process.  People might find it confusing...I am a math teacher, yet I love to write and actually find it therapeutic. Sometimes my thoughts are too big inside my head and I don't know what to do or say, so I write. The daughter of an English teacher, reading and writing was a part of my life.

I was never one to write in a diary, although I was envious of those who did. I always admired that some could go back in the history of their thoughts and see where they were during different times of their life. Reliving their history one page at a time. This blog has become that diary, of sorts, with the ability to go back and see where I was and where I am.

I look back on these last few years, my journey, both the one with the Littlest and the ones without him.  So much has is almost overwhelming to read over it all, pulling the scabs off the wounds and re-experiencing the pain. Some of the moments over the last few years have been joyous...celebrations and accomplishments, while others have been heart wrenching...losses of children, family, and friends. Living in a world where there are too many small caskets, too many broken hearts, too much pain. Hearing friends cry and agonize over a loss so deep that there are no words to fill the hole. Tears that begin to heal the wounds, the cavernous mouth of pain or anger. The helplessness, the worry, the sorrow. Wounds that never truly heal, but rather the raw edges blur, the tears washing over the wounds, slowly dulling the pain. This part of our journey will never be over...friends will buy tiny caskets to bury those they love. The community will rally and love will surround all who have lost.

My life as a teacher has been one of hills and valleys. Changes over the last few years, both personally and professionally have driven me to be stronger, as a person, as a teacher. I have had to swallow my pride in areas where I've made mistakes and try to make amends to those I have wronged. I am trying to move into a direction that is positive and powerful...looking at the past and learning from it rather than being bound by it. I am fueled by a passion that almost is overwhelming. Maybe it is a desire to make up for the areas I can't control, those with the Littlest...maybe it is my attempt to control something in my life, something that I can look at and say, 'I did that." After all these years I almost feel compelled to move forward, as if I can't control the forces that push me forward. The plate is full, the glass overflowing, but my mind won't stop and the drive is so intense that it overwhelms my soul.

There have been many blog posts about the Littlest, the worries and struggles. I try to maintain a positive attitude, not only for myself but others as well. It can be difficult...some feel pity, not in the "I feel so sad for you" way, but in a way that is stronger than sympathy. Our life, for those on the outside, is something that many don't understand. It is complicated, full of medical terms, sometimes crazy. It is the life we lead, the one we were given. It is a good so many ways a gift. I mourn the loss of what could have been. With the latest set-back, I am encouraged by the progress made, while always remembering where we were just a few short months ago. A simple task like driving his chair, now a monumental exercise that requires deep concentration. It is victory and defeat all rolled into one struggling move.

Next week I am attending the MTM-CNM Family Conference in Chicago, a gathering of families whose children are affected by this disease. These families are my village, the place where I find others who walk a similar path. Ironically, I am a leader in this community, one who's son is thirteen one is considered older, and with that age comes wisdom for other parents. I have the opportunity to talk to others, encouraging them to move forward, to see a full life with their child. Years ago, this encouragement was not available. The outlook seemed bleak. No treatment or cure was even near the horizon, yet now, there is hope...a potential for drug trials.

I know that my sweetest boy has far to go in this area, but the village has surrounded me in our time of need, just as they have with families before us. This is what community is, a place to turn when you can't lift yourself up one more time. This community is my life line...a place to go when my heart needs solace. That is what this entire journey is about...discovering the other side of my equation...what is there for me on the flip side. It is both a mathematical and emotional journey. One that is linear and random...a combination of order and chaos. That is what this life is...a juxtaposition of joy and sorrow, inner peace in the midst of the storm.

My equation is one that is in the making...a life or creation, a life worth living.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Heartbreaks to Reality Checks...

This has been one of those weird weeks...maybe it's the heat that has my brain flying all over the place. Every day I look at my sweet boy and fight the conflicting feelings of joy and sorrow.  Part of me feels selfish...I have nothing to complain son is alive, but I am in mourning over the boy he was, the boy he is now, what he has lost. Each day is a struggle. He can't swallow, can barely move his hands or turn his head. I try not to focus on what he can't do but rather what he can do or has learned to do since he came home... He can smile (he learned again), he can put his lips together for a kiss. He is happy...

The last thirteen years have been a roller coaster of emotions. It has been a series of times where I have mourned accomplishments he would never make, trying to keep in mind that his mere survival was a miracle in itself. People kept reminding me how lucky we were whether through direct comments or innuendos...reminders that I should be grateful, not make others feel bad.

In many areas of my life I am the positive one...the one that looks at the world from a place where all things will be okay. Even through all the ups and downs, I have always stood in a place where Javad will come through all of this okay on the other end but sometimes, even I struggle. This is a struggle that I usually carry alone, one that is hard to explain to others. I try not to speak of it because I will seem like a complainers or like I am trying to bring attention to myself, which is far from what I would ever do...the fact that I am writing this at all even makes me a bit nervous and we'll see if I actually post it. It is like the dark secret that I life is what it is...I am not sorry, I love the littlest beyond what I could even imagine possible, but there are days, like today, when my heart feels broken inside my chest. I don't want to talk about it to anyone, but if I don't purge these feelings from my brain they begin to take over and eat away at my ability to be positive.

I imagine that this is the way the life is...a cycle of mourning to celebration. It is strange in many ways, because it really isn't that different than parenting a healthy child...except the valleys are lower and longer, the peaks more rounded. The celebrations of the small things are bigger because you never know when your story might end. On March 16, our story came close to it's final chapter...I am well aware of the line that we narrowly missed. I think about the smallest of details that made the difference for us...simply being directly taken to the hospital of our choice saved us precious hours that, I believe, made the crucial difference.

Today is one of those days where I am struggling. My heart hurts, I want to climb to the highest peak and scream and cry until there are no more tears. I kissed my boy a lot and said a thankful prayer that I still have the ability to do so, but then felt angry that he can't do the things he could do such a short time ago. The feelings whirl around inside and I am unsure what to do with them. I try not to give them too much play time in my head...more time gives them power and I don't have the energy, frankly, to give them power.

So, for today, I let the feelings swirl...tomorrow, I try to lift my head and move forward. It's the only direction I can move, but first, I might have to pick myself up off the floor.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Equity, Equality, and Me...Where do I fit in it all?

The last few days have been ones where I have been doing some really deep thinking about who I am, where I fit, what I think. I have been taking some classes recently. One about diversity and another on language acquisition and it has been really making me reflect on my own thoughts and ideas about equity, equality and my view of the world.

My Facebook feed has been filled with rainbows and photos of many of my friends who are celebrating that all are able to marry. Friends that can now feel relieved that their marriage will be recognized regardless of where they may travel within the US. Yesterday photos of American flag superimposed over pictures began to appear. First it was from some that I thought may not be thrilled with the Supreme Court's ruling, but then there were others. What was this for? Hatred? Standing against? Or (as someone aptly said today)...the Fourth of July? (Shannon face palms!) Regardless of the background, it did make me pause...Where are we? Where are we going?

I live on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon...I work on the outskirts of Portland as well, although where I live and where I work are radically different. I am a white woman who was born and raised in this area. I tell you this because, I believe, that these things have helped to form who I am to a degree. I was raised quite poor, although I was not aware of the depth of our poverty until I was much older, but still I recognize that now, especially as it relates to my students.

I have been teaching in my current school district for 15 years and in that time it has changed dramatically. When I was first hired it was largely white, although many were low income. There are a lot of apartments in our district, although there are also pockets of houses where affluent families live. This has created a juxtaposition of wealth...high and low together and culture. In recent years, there has been much gentrification of the north part of Portland, which has pushed primarily African American families toward the outer limits of Portland. There has also been an influx of families from Africa, Burma, and other war-torn countries where families are fleeing, sometimes for their safety. Our little melting pot in East County is becoming more and more diverse with almost half of our 2015 graduation class being minority. Ironically, all of this is happening in the "whitest city in America."

We all come from different experiences, but I feel, if we are going to truly move forward, we need to recognize where we are, where we have come from, and where we are moving. We also need to be aware of those around us. It is not enough to say, "I understand," because, as a white woman, I don't. I don't know what it is like to teach my sons to have their hands in sight at all times if pulled over by police, I don't know what it is like to have family killed in front of me, I don't know what it is like to be a woman who was not allowed an education simply because I am a woman. I don't have these experiences. What I do know is that I have had opportunities in my life because of the people I have come across, I know that my father exposed me to people from around the world and that has made me a more tolerant and knowledgeable person, I know that, even though my family didn't have much money, I was given every opportunity to be involved in music, theater, and attend college. I know that I have the opportunity to open doors for others because of my role as an educator and be a voice for my students. 

I also know that I have the responsibility to be aware of my position in the universe and how it impacts those around me...I have the responsibility to be aware...really, I think we all have that responsibility...we need to see how our actions, our words, who we project into the world, impacts others. 

It is only when we are aware of ourselves that we can really see others.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The end of a year and now, the next beginning

This has been a crazy year...A year that has been both awesome and insane.

When I started this year I was excited for the new challenge...I was essentially starting multiple "news." I had moved to the High School, was starting at the Community College, going back to some of my "old" students. I was excited for the new beginning. It didn't start on the greatest of notes...I irritated my BFF with my selfish insensitivities, I riled against change, while also cherishing the newness of my new job. It was a beautiful disaster.

This year will forever be known as the Year of the Car Accident, the Year of Javad's "Episode," the year my world was simultaneously turned upside down and come full circle. I have become a better teacher, better person, better mentor. I am more self-aware, more driven, more focused.

I am ready for a new and better year. It starts with the restructuring of my curriculum, the focus being writing in math. My teaching schedule is different this year...Algebra 1, Access (9th grade bootcamp), and Accelerated Geometry. It will be all freshman, all the time. I am ready to take on this task...moving things forward for our freshman, being part of a team that is building success for all students.

This is a year of building, getting stronger, being better...I am ready. Let the challenge start now!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The joy of two...

Today my niece turned two. I had the privilege of being present at her birth, handing her to her mother moments after she was born. It was an amazing moment, considering both of my natural born children were both born by c-section. I did not actually witness their birth, having been numbed before and then given large doses of pain killers afterward. I am not saying that a c-section is an easier route, with weeks of muscle weakness following the birth, but having never actually witnessed birth, watching my niece was indeed an amazing experience for me.

I feel grateful to have an opportunity to be a part of her daily life since she and her parents live with us. Being greeted each morning by her smiley voice brings joy to my heart. Watching her grow and explore is a bit of revitalization since I never got to witness these natural milestones in the littlest due to his medical issues. Knowing how precious these moments really are, it makes me cherish them even more with her.

In life, we are often given precious few opportunities to directly impact the lives of others and, as a teacher, I feel that I have been given this opportunity in many ways, but it is extra special having the opportunity to see and witness the growth of a child from the actual beginning. I am lucky to have this opportunity and be entrusted with her sweet heart...lucky indeed.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Seniors last day...another step in their journey...

Today was the Reynolds High School Class of 2015's last day of school. This group of students is a special one to me. When these students were in the 7th grade, Reynolds had a massive layoff which left our middle school short almost one-fourth of our staff. As a result, many teachers taught multiple preps (the number of different subject/classes they teach) and teams of teachers that shared common students was lost. The following year I had the opportunity to loop up with this group, meaning that I had quite a few of them for a second consecutive year. It was also the year that I took very capable AVID students into Algebra 1.

That year became one of the most amazing years of my teaching career...I believe it was the beginning of the teacher I am still becoming. The addition of AVID students meant that some students needed extra support in Algebra 1, thus the idea of College Bound Math Club was born. We stayed once a week after school until 7:00 pm doing math, eating dinner together, and building a community that become so amazing that it built lasting friendships that I see today.

Many of these special students, the Class of 2015, helped me see the power of belief. I was able to give students a perspective about themselves, as successful students, successful learners and their success reminded me of the power I have as a teacher, the power to encourage. This year I had the opportunity to have a few of these students again, some as math students, others as teacher assistants. The relationship built years ago maintained, a common appreciation.

Today, as my seniors prepared to walk out the door, I take pride, knowing that I was a step along their journey. I hope that, in these years, I have helped them see themselves as capable learners and amazing human beings. I had the privilege of attending AVID senior night and was thanked, by name, by three of those College Bound Math Club learners. My heart soared with their compliments, but more than that, my heart soared knowing that I was a stepping stone along their journey.

Today was the Class of 2015's last day of their high school career, but it is just one day along their academic career. These students are destined for greatness, each and every one. I am grateful that I have experienced the glory of being a part of their lives...they have taught me so much about teaching and about being a teacher. Someday they will look back on this day and not look at it as an ending, but rather a beginning of this next amazing step of their absolutely amazing lives!

Monday, June 1, 2015

The final countdown...

I am ending my first year at the high school and, although I have enjoyed it immensely, I will be glad that it is over. It has been a crazy car accident in the fall, Javad's "incident" this Spring. I felt like the year was a perpetual wait for the other shoe to drop.

There have been many moments where this year has been filled with joy. The after school program  that two co-workers and I began was amazing...each and every day an incredible experience of success and improvement. It was an opportunity to build something...something that I hope grows year after year.

The roller coaster of emotions that I have experienced this year have been deep. They have been difficult to manage at times but I have been grateful for those who have held me in their hearts. Sometimes it is hard to see what you have, when you are focusing on the things you have lost.

In eight school days the year will be done. I will celebrate with a special group of students that I carried for two years in middle school. I am looking forward to rest, as so many teachers in this part of the year are...

Then preparations begins again for the year to come. It becomes the cycle that repeats but for now I'll just do the final countdown...

Monday, May 25, 2015

Moments of Clarity...

This weekend has been an interesting one...interesting in good ways. First and foremost, my daughter, Stesha, was offered (and accepted) a job at Louisiana State University. That is the great news. The crazy news is that she is moving this coming weekend and starting her new job on June 3. It is awesome and crazy all at the same time.

Meanwhile, at home, Javad is doing well. When I post pictures of him it is deceiving...he looks much stronger than he is. He has fully regained the ability to give a cheesy grin (with accompanying drool coming from the side of his mouth) and can now stick his tongue out and close his mouth for a period of time. Similar to when he was a baby, David is working hard at having him do "monkey see, monkey do" tasks like stick his tongue out, give kisses, etc. On Friday, his teacher came and started to use a laser pointer with him so he say "Yes" and "No." Step-by-step he improves, although it is not fast, he is improving.  This was a moment of clarity for me...we are making progress...maybe not as fast as I want or as dramatic as I would like, but he is here, moving forward. I need to be celebrating that, focusing on what is, not what isn't.

This weekend we didn't have night nursing for two nights. Not having nursing really confirmed to me how lucky we have been over the years...Javad has required a minimal amount of care at night and we have been able to sleep. Now that his medical status has changed, he requires more monitoring. This was another moment of clarity for our world of medically fragile, Javad has moved into a place where he was stable, even at times, strong. I need to remember that he is a fighter, not be defeated by this set-back, rather encouraged by each move he makes. I need to focus on what is, not what isn't.

So many things are different, and yet, they are the same. I am lucky that I have close friends who understand this crazy life we lead, friends who understand that energy ebbs and flows, friends who see themselves as part of the solution. True that through this all, there has been mourning. Similar to when Javad was a baby, I remember the things he will never do, and now I am hoping that the things he used to do are on the table again. The last thirteen years have been ones that I tried to fill with hope and belief of what he will be and now, I need to continue on the path. This is where the real clarity comes...I am in charge of my own joy, my own hope, my own fears. I can choose how much power to give fear and I choose joy. I believe that Javad will improve...I know that he is inside, trying to figure out how to tell us what he wants and needs.

It is time to lift the fog and find the moments of clarity, time to see the future ahead, time for hope and joy to reign. It is time to choose and...I choose Javad.