Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Remembering Miss Mitchell

This morning I woke up to the unexpected news that my kindergarten teacher, Miss Mitchell, had passed away.  It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Miss Mitchell, and I’ll admit that she hasn’t consciously been in my thoughts recently until today.  Have you ever experienced the realization that you didn’t understand how much a person meant to you until they were gone?  I’m going through that today, and the magnitude of her loss is clouding my every thought and action on this otherwise beautiful spring day.

Miss Mitchell was my first teacher, and my mind has been flooded with memories of the time I spent in her classroom.  Miss Mitchell let us have show and tell every Friday.  We could bring in cookies - as long as there was enough to share with everyone, of course - to have with our chocolate milk (except for Ann Weller who always chose white milk, a decision I still question to this very day).  I was puked on during one of those milk and cookie sessions; it’s a very vivid memory.  We stood on mini-risers while singing Christmas carols to our parents during our winter program.  A trip to Brookfield Zoo marked the end of the school year as we took our class field trip.  Miss Mitchell took a first day of school and last day of school picture to mark how much we had changed physically in the span of a school year.  I unintentionally wore the same dress in both pictures, the second picture showing significantly more leg and an altogether more disheveled appearance than the first.  One of the back corners of the room was filled with a play kitchen, the other corner occupied by bookshelves where we pretended to be Inspector Gadget or his niece Penny.  I was kissed by a boy for the first time behind those bookshelves, a memory almost as traumatic as the puke incident.  The front of the room was the station for the piano and toys on one side, Miss Mitchell’s desk facing the door to the classroom on the other side.  We completed our worksheets with fat Crayola crayons, and we let our wet paintings dry on the south wall counter next to the sink.  That classroom felt huge then and in my memory still seems larger than life.  

It’s been almost 31 years since I entered through the door to her classroom at Dwight Grade School for the first time, but it feels like yesterday.  I can remember her reassuring hand on my shoulder when I was uncomfortable or uncertain.  I can remember sitting at her feet, looking up at this woman that I trusted wholly and fully as she read to my classmates and me.  I can remember going on bear hunts.  I can remember the sound of her playing the piano, and I can remember the soothing sound of her voice.  I can remember her handwriting written in perfect teacher penmanship on the chalkboard.  I can remember the sound of her wonderful laugh.  And I can remember the feelings of safety, protection, and love that she transferred to me as she wrapped her arms around me in a hug.  

Being a student in Miss Mitchell’s class is something we carry with us like a badge of honor.  More than any other teacher, when a group of people that attended Dwight schools get talking about “the old days,” at some point the question is always asked:  “Who did you have for a kindergarten teacher?”.  Looking back now, I realize that being able to say that Miss Mitchell was my teacher is a privilege.  She personified everything that a kindergarten teacher should be.  She loved children, that much is obvious.  She was tough when she needed to be but always disciplined with love and compassion, turning every opportunity into a teachable moment.  Miss Mitchell was level headed, calm and fair, and she treated all of her students equally.  She had a passion for learning and she worked hard every day to pass that passion on to the children she was responsible for. She made learning fun - Mr. M has a munching mouth, anyone? - and knew how to keep a room of 20 squirrelly five and six year olds engaged.  Miss Mitchell knew that play was as important as academics and gave us the space to explore in our own environment.  Miss Mitchell’s love of music carried over into the classroom, and she was the first to show me that songs could be important vessels for not only entertainment but also for teaching lessons.  Miss Mitchell valued the importance of friendship and taught us all kindness.  Some of my most important and longest standing friendships formed their roots within her classroom.  The buy in from her students and personal growth they showed year after year was a direct result of her talent and skill as a teacher.

Miss Mitchell was the same age I am now when I was her student.  A year younger, actually.  This is mind boggling to me.  Miss Mitchell never aged.  She looked the same in 1983 as she did the last time that I saw her and all the times in between.  There’s a phenomenon that exists with teachers, especially those that teach at the early elementary levels.  One day we were driving down Mazon Avenue and my mom pointed to a home on the south side of the street and said, “That’s where Miss Mitchell lives”.  I was thoroughly mesmerized by the home and continue to glance at it even now as an adult when I’m driving past.  The thought that my teacher existed in a world anywhere besides school was something I couldn’t begin to imagine.  Why is that?  Why is it so hard for children to imagine their teachers having a life outside of school?  I think in the case of Miss Mitchell it was impossible to believe because she was such a presence in that classroom.  Her existence within the pale yellow cinderblock walls of that kindergarten classroom was larger than life, and to imagine that energy spilling out into the world was probably more than I could comprehend at five years old. She played such a huge role in my life as my teacher.  How could she have the time or energy to be anything else to anyone other than her students?

But I know that she was so much more than a teacher.  She was a friend to many and created lifelong bonds that were formed with her co-workers at DGS.  She was a daughter and sister.  She loved her family, and my heart aches at the void her family are experiencing with her passing.  She influenced not only the lives of her students but also of the parents of those children.  Miss Mitchell no doubt touched the lives of every person lucky enough to cross her path.  She leaves behind a beautiful and powerful legacy that will be remembered for years to come.

I found Miss Mitchell’s Facebook page late today, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting image for her to post as her final message to her friends and family.


My hope is that she realizes that she was exactly this person to hundreds of children.  She made a difference in the life of so many.  I wish that I had taken the opportunity to tell her all of this before she passed, and her loss has prompted me to make sure all of the teachers that played a pivotal role in my life know how much they meant to me.  I pray that Miss Mitchell ended each day knowing that what she did, the words she chose to share, how she treated others, and who she was as a genuine, loving, compassionate person made a difference far beyond anything she could probably ever imagine.  Anita Mitchell made the world a better place by teaching, molding, and loving children into being the best people they could be.  

It’s true what they say:  all you really need to know you learned in kindergarten.  Thank you, Miss Mitchell, for being the one to show me the way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

She’s Going To Need To Improve Significantly If She Plans On Getting Anything Past Me During Her High School Years

Over spring break the girls and I had a little day of pampering before we left for our weekend trip to St. Louis.  Nothing screams “vacation preparation” like a fresh pedicure.  Elaina has a long standing habit of biting her fingernails and picking at her toenails, a habit I will admit she in all likelihood inherited from me.  There’s no way at this point her in life I would spend money to get her a manicure (I might as well just flush that money right down the toilet), but with a little threatening I figured she’d get at least a couple of weeks out of freshly painted toenails.

A couple of days ago I was in the bathroom while the girls were getting ready for school, and I noticed that Elaina’s toenails were suddenly void of any polish.  I didn’t have to ask - I knew she had picked all of the polish off - but I thought I’d see what she had to say as an excuse anyway.

Me:  Hey, what happened to the nail polish on your toes?

Her:  (slight hesitation, mild look of panic) Oh, you know.  I kick really hard at night when I’m sleeping.

Me:  So you’re telling me you kicked off your nail polish?

Her:  Yeah.

Me:  Do you seriously think I’m going to believe that?  That you could kick so hard that all your nail polish would just magically disappear from your nails?

Her:  (silence)

Me:  Did you pick it off?

Her:  (red faced, clearly feeling guilty as all hell) Yeah.

Me:  Don’t ever lie to me about something that ridiculous ever again.

Her:  Okay.

The downside to this exchange is that she lied to me.  The upside?  She’s obviously terrible at deceit which is promising for those teen years I’ve been stressing about.  That’s one skill I don’t mind if she doesn’t fine tune between now and then.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

And People Say Newborns Are Difficult . . .

I don’t know how to raise teenagers, and this realization is scaring the hell out of me.

The day we brought McKenna home from the hospital, I remember laying down in bed that night and suddenly being almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of the monumental task before The General and me.  Being pregnant?  No problem.  I could handle that.  Childbirth?  Perhaps there’d be some discomfort, but between nine months of research, stories from those who’d gone through it before me, and the comfort level I had with the medical team surrounding me I wasn’t that worried.  Caring for an infant?  It couldn’t be that difficult - feed, change, love, repeat.  But in one small instant, I suddenly realized that this newborn was going to grow up, and it was our job to make sure she would become a productive, contributing member of society.  We were the ones responsible for making sure she entered the world as a good person with solid morals and ethics, a person who would make good decisions when faced with all the opportunity to do just the opposite.  

I can vividly remember the panic wash over me.  Turning away from the bassinet where McKenna peacefully slept on her first night at home, I looked at The General and said, “I am thinking about all of the things that we did growing up that we probably shouldn’t have.  We were good kids but we did some dumb things, and the thought of this baby doing any of those same things makes me want to throw up”.  He downplayed my anxiety and when I announced to him that I could take care of a baby, could teach a toddler right from wrong, could influence and encourage a child toward what is right, but I had no idea how to raise someone to be a good person he casually mentioned, “Well, we turned out to be good people so I think we’ll be alright”.  At that moment, coupled with the crippling exhaustion that accompanies becoming parents, he helped calm my fears enough to allow me to fall into a deep sleep.

Fast forward almost eleven years and now I find myself on the doorstep of the part of parenting that I have been dreading since that warm July night.  I think we’ve done okay raising our girls so far whether that be because of our parenting skills or in spite of them.  They use good manners (usually), are kind to others (with the exception of an occasional sibling spat), are helpful (sometimes independently but mostly when demanded), and understand right versus wrong (except for the arguments they sometimes try to engage in when they are so clearly wrong especially when it comes to spelling).  I know they are good kids.  People tell me that often, but I can see it for myself every single day and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

But, life is about to get a lot more complicated.  Girl drama, hormones, peer pressure . . . it’s all kicking up already and just like when I went through it myself 25 year ago I don’t know how to deal.  My initial reaction immediately reminds me of my mom’s response when I told her I was pregnant.  I apologize if you’ve heard this story already, but it’s a classic and only now I am really starting to get where she was coming from that November night in our kitchen.  As I pictured making the announcement to my mom and dad that they were going to be grandparents for the first time, I pictured screams of joy, tears, maybe a little jumping up and down.  Big reaction is what I always envisioned.  Instead they both stood in stunned silence, eyes wide with mouths slightly agape.  I said it again, “I’m pregnant,” and I think maybe my dad finally spoke a quiet “Oh”.  My mom, severely disappointing me with her lack of hysterics, broke her silence by clasping her hands to her chest and stating, “I think I feel urpy”.  Urpy.  Like, as in “I think I might throw up”.  This was nothing like what I had pictured.  They were obviously very excited once the shock wore off, and once she regained the power of speech my mom tried to explain her initial response.  She said that of course she was excited to be a grandma but her brain immediately went to all those moments of motherhood that are less than glamourous, all the moments when you feel beaten and alone and frustrated and hurt and protective to the point of insanity at your child’s pain.  She said that reliving those moments as a mom with me and then imagining her child living through those tough moments made her feel a little sick.  I didn’t understand it then, but I think I’m starting to get it now.

I’m feeling a little urpy myself at the thought of what is soon to come.  In the last few weeks I will glance up and see McKenna turn the corner and I find myself sort of shocked at how grown up she looks.  Emotional and physical changes are happening fast, and it’s moved me to tears more than once in the last week.  We had a long talk just a few days ago about something that happened between her and two friends that left her feeling hurt and confused, and her raw emotions over the incident was enough to break my heart.  There have been other conversations that have taken place between the two of us that had me crawling in my skin and stifling nervous giggles over the content, conversations I have been rehearsing for months (maybe even years) but still felt SUPER awkward actually delivering.  Talking with parents of kids around the same age, I am literally ill at some of what I’ve heard her peers discussing and participating in.  I think The General and I have sort of unofficially without actually discussing this have started to open up the floodgates a little bit and have become a bit more “free” with our topics of conversation (e.g., we took a quiz as a family about poop and pee that led to the discussion of some very technical terms and processes); after years of carefully monitoring what we say around them, open up the topics to a wider variety feels very odd.  The General even said it’s time to start breaking out the R rated movies on family movie night.  I’m not sure I’m ready for the conversations THAT may spark.

Fully realizing how irrational this is, I started making claims that homeschooling and putting them in a bubble or locking them in the crawlspace for the next 18 years were options we should seriously look into.  It’s really the only methods I know for shielding them from the world they are about to be exposed to.  The General wisely talked me down off this ledge explaining to me that we can’t let our kids remain naive forever, that doing so will only hurt them more in the long run.  He even went so far as to use country music against me explaining that the only way the girls will ever grow up to like that kind of music is if we allow them the space and freedom to go down some back country roads on a summer night to get drunk with a bunch of their friends.  It’s how they’ll relate to the music that I’m trying to force them to love.  I mean, seriously!  How do I argue with that kind of logic when I have lived it myself? I admit he’s right (sort of) and that part of raising kids is to let them make their own mistakes so that they can learn from them.  But still, the thought of my sweet, innocent, trusting McKenna being faced with issues like boyfriend/girlfriend swapping at the roller rink on Friday nights and other more, shall we say, “experimental” behaviors in more private settings?  Ugh, it makes me feel physically sick to my stomach.  Fifth grade appears to be the age when everyone starts “dating,” and the rumors of what goes down in sixth grade is APPALLING.  Even though right now she shows absolutely NO interest in boys outside of innocent friendships (which is, of course, a totally different story with her sister, by the way), I know it’s coming sooner rather than later and as the kids say I just can’t even.  This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of things that are causing me daily stress and anxiety.  Drugs, drinking, driving, peer relationships, letting them out in their surroundings on their own without parental supervision . . . it’s all about to move into a realm that feels like I’m losing control.  Maybe that’s the root of the fear?

How do I teach her independence?  How do I teach her to respect herself enough to not let someone take advantage of her?  How do I teach her that saying “no” when everyone else is saying “yes” makes you stronger?  How do I teach her about being safe?  How do I teach her that it’s okay to remove yourself from a situation when everything in her body is screaming “RUN”?  How do I teach her to let people in while simultaneously guarding her heart from being hurt?  How do I teach her self-worth so that she doesn’t try to find it from someone else?  How do I get her to understand and appreciate her body for what it is and what it can do without getting caught up in society’s ideals and expectations?  How do I teach her that sometimes people aren’t always what they seem?  How do I teach her to trust herself more than anyone else?  How do I teach her that no matter how uncool I seem, I’ve lived a lot of what she’s about to experience first hand and might just have some decent insight on how to make it out alive and relatively unscathed?  How do I get her to understand that no matter what choices she makes I will always have her back and be there for her to either celebrate the victories or help her pick up the pieces after the losses?   

How do I learn to let go so that she can figure all of this out on her own?

It can be a big, bad world out there, and for as hard as we’ve worked to expose her to (mostly) only the good in life it feels like a giant leap to let her explore everything that’s waiting for her.  I know she can’t stay isolated and protected forever, but man is it hard to think about as the time to shift control from us to her draws closer and closer.  I guess for now I’ll just stick to what I know and what has worked so far and make adjustments along the way.  What I do know for sure is that I’ll try my hardest to keep the lines of communication open and never, EVER let her walk to or from Fedderson’s with a group of friends after a school dance because nothing good ever comes from that.  I guess I’ll just follow my parents’ lead.

Because after all . . . I think I turned out okay.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Happy 9th Birthday, Elaina!

April 19th, 2015

Dear Elaina,

Today you turn nine years old, and just like it happens at each birthday I’m left wondering again how this is even possible.  How can it be that my baby is nine?  I was looking through old pictures the other day, and I found myself repeatedly shaking my head thinking, “There is no way Elaina is going to be nine.  She was just a newborn!  We were just bringing her home from the hospital!  It is impossible that she’s almost a fourth grader!”.  I keep telling myself these things, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are growing up right before my very eyes.  

You, unlike me, don’t seem to possess any kind of trepidation or hesitation with the fact that you are getting older.  I’m pretty sure you embrace it.  I can safely say that you are nine going on nineteen at this point in your life.  You are changing and evolving in many ways, but there are parts of you that continue to run as a recurring theme.  First of all, you continue to love fashion and have declared for over a year now that your future profession will likely be that of a fashion designer.  You have started a portfolio of design ideas and you enjoy creating pieces that range from eclectic casual to gaudy elegance.  I’ve caught you on more than one occasion trying to apply makeup before school and you have escaped the house en route to shopping excursions with a full face applied numerous times.  Your love of shoes, especially those with a heel, continues to burn with passionate fury and the day we had to throw out your Anna boots (the heel was literally falling off posing a serious safety hazard) was a dark, dark day. You love jewelry, pink, glitter, and anything that sparkles and gravitate toward it like a moth to a flame.  There is very little about you that is understated which remains yet another constant in your life.  


You have always moved your body in a way that directly mirrors your mood.  When you are happy you have a bounce in your step that is impossible to ignore.  When you are sad your body moves like it’s trudging through quicksand - head down, limbs hanging, slowly and methodically moving forward or quietly sinking in a stationary position.  When you are angry or frustrated there is stomping and flailing with matching verbal explosions that makes it clear that you are probably in need of some intervention before you or someone or thing around you ends up injured.  When you are nervous I can safely bet any dollar amount that you are biting your nails, sitting very still other than a slight side-to-side swaying motion with your eyes darting back and forth assessing the situation.  And when you are excited your enthusiasm is difficult to contain.  The volume and pitch of your voice increases noticeably, your face lights up like the sun, and your body is more certainly dancing, twirling, high kicking, or bouncing.  

I watch you in all of these moments and wonder if there is a soundtrack playing in your head throughout the day that only you can hear and that varies given the situation and your emotional reaction at that time. I can imagine you hear a deep, heavy, dark classical piece playing in your moments of sadness.  When you are happy it’s probably something mainstream and current like “Updown Funk,” your jam of the moment.  A screaming heavy metal number comes to mind with your anger, and maybe the frantic “Flight of the Bumblebees” best matches your mood when you are excited.  You have music in your sole and a song in your heart at all times, and it pours out of you anytime a tune starts to play.

Last year a significant portion of my letter to you was all about staying true to yourself, and I think my wish for you has taken root over the last 365 days.  I was talking to one of your teachers a couple of weeks ago, a teacher who knows both you and McKenna well, and she shared some pretty wonderful words about you in our conversation.  In addition to complimenting what a fun, entertaining, and sweet kid you are, she also mentioned that she really has seen your personality evolve into something pretty remarkable since the start of 2nd grade.  What she has observed is that you seem more comfortable in your own skin and that you are moving out of your sister’s shadow and into your own light.  I had to pause to think about that for a minute because I’ve never really considered you to be a person who shied away from the spotlight, but as we continued to talk I started to understand what she was saying.  There’s a natural phenomenon that happens when you are the younger sibling. Even with the best intentions to avoid it you will inevitably be compared to McKenna, especially by people who knew her first.  I think it happens to all sibling pairs at some time or another.  What I loved about what Ms. B said to me is that even though you might be compared to your sister, you in no way feel compelled to be like her and you are carving your own path in this life of yours.  I love that so much.  I love that you are finding your own voice and presenting yourself authentically, and even more so that others around you recognize that.  I have always loved that you know what you want and are persistent in doing whatever you can to get it.  You are maturing in so many ways, and I think following your own wishes and desires in spite of what others might say or expect as part of a preconceived idea is a big part of that maturity.

That being said, in group situations it never fails that at some point you can be found sulking quietly because the others don’t want to do what you are proposing. We've had many talks about this and you've made a lot of progress dealing with this particular situation, but man does it make you mad when everyone else picks the idea of someone else over yours. I've tried to teach you that in that situation you have two choices: join your friends doing what THEY want to do or do what YOU want to do by yourself with the hope that maybe others will join you eventually. Do you like those two options? Oh no, you do not. The biggest hurdle for you with this scenario is the fact that I also remind you that you have to be okay with whichever choice you make. Making the choice isn't all that difficult, but being happy with it is a whole other story. What I'm trying to gently teach you in those moments is this: life is full of choices, but rarely are those options both desirable. In fact a majority of the time both choices probably kind of stink. However, even in those moments where we are faced with deciding between the lesser of two evils, it's important to know that we have the power to do what we think is best for us. We act on it, and we find quiet confidence in the choices we made.

You have always been one though to separate from the crowd when things get a little too overwhelming for you.  I don't even know if you realize that you do it.  You claim to hate being alone.  Anytime McKenna is at a friend's house you follow me around like you're lost and proclaim, "I just don't like feeling lonely".  It's funny though because you seem most content when you are quietly working in your own space doing your own thing.  Art projects, puzzles, lego sets, reading...these are all activities that you use to retreat into a place of calm. Of course you love action and the company of others immensely, but even though you fight it when it's not your idea, you need that time to yourself.  It centers you.  I don't think you've consciously realized that yet, but you'll soon figure it out and knowing this about yourself will be a powerful tool.

I don't remember when it started, but apparently in the last year or so you were having some pretty vivid dreams nearly every night, and your report of these dreams were not lovely images.  Huge attacking spiders, people trying to climb in through your window in the middle of the night, your skin melting off your body...frankly the dreams (nightmares?) you described were pretty gruesome and a bit worrisome too.  You have a confidence and swagger about you in most situations, but you also harbor some anxiety that isn't always at the forefront and is harder to see unless the person knows you really well.  You can be pretty hard on yourself and you get easily frustrated when things don't come easily and automatically.  I wondered if these bad dreams were a manifestation of the things that you quietly worry about.  You aren't quick to share what's troubling you and honestly I'm not sure you can even pin point those things that are causing you stress.  You know when you feel uncomfortable or frustrated, but it's still hard for you to definitively say what is prompting these emotions.  Dad and I both talked to you about these dreams and shared some techniques that might work for easing your mind at bedtime so that you could have a peaceful slumber. 

Somewhere along the way you learned about dream catchers and expressed how you wish you had one to help you with your bad dreams.  As if your wish caught flight on the wind, a few days later we received in the mail a package from a Native American tribe drumming up donations.  That package included complimentary items like stationary, address labels, stickers, a book of Native American poems, and a dream catcher.  You could hardly believe it when I showed you what have arrived in the mail that day.  Immediately claiming it as your own, you placed it on the shelf just over your head and the next day woke up beaming and reported that the dream catcher had worked.  From that night on, I'm not sure you've ever had anything but sweet dreams.  That dream catcher has become a vital part of your sleep routine - it travels with you if you sleep outside of your own bed, and you believe in its powers to block the bad completely.

It's a pretty amazing phenomenon, really.  Your dad and I were just talking about it the other night as we were putting the final touches on your new "diva room".  Dad mentioned that he'd like to find a permanent, prominent place for your dream catcher in your new surroundings, and then we talked about the difference this piece has had in your life.  Does this dream catcher have magical powers?  I don't know about that.  What it has proven to me though is that your subconscious is a powerful weapon.  You believe in the dream catcher's capabilities to bring the good into your life while filtering the evil.  You believe that this object sent randomly to our home from a charity that I have never heard of before or since mere days after mention of your desire for something to help you sleep better has done exactly that.  And because you believe it, it is so.  I think it's a pretty powerful indicator for what you can accomplish in this life of yours so long as you believe.  If you believe good will come, it will happen.  If you believe that you are capable, the task you are attempting will be completed with great success.  If you believe that you can accomplish great things, the world is yours to take.  If you only believe in yourself as much as you believe in your dream catcher, all your most wonderful dreams will come true.  You will soar.

We have shared some alone time in the last couple of days, and I was astounded by the moments we had together.  Caught up in the routine of day to day life, I find that I often miss the subtle changes that take place in your appearance and personality now that you're older and these changes aren't so in-your-face like they were when you were an infant, toddler, or even preschooler.  It's most often in those moments where we are one-on-one that I get lost in your mannerisms and your words.  When did this child start using expressions that are so grown up?  When did this little girl turn into a young lady?  I see it happening in small parts all the time I guess, but I've just been hit with it especially hard in the last few days and it's a bit jarring.  It's incredible to watch unfold, but it's frightening at the same time because I feel like I'm going to blink my eyes and you're going to be on your own.  Time is moving so fast.

Still, the passage of time in any increment will never change the fact that you are one of the most amazing people I have ever had the honor of having a part of my life.  You continue to fill my life with immeasurable joy and endless laughter.  You are an incredible human being with a beautiful spirit, and you bring happiness to so many.  You are smart and witty and imaginative.  You are considerate and grateful and loving.  You are helpful and kind and generous.  It is such a joy to watch you continue to grow into this multi-layered individual. I am so lucky to have you in my life to teach me and challenge me, to have you to love and to receive your love in return.  You are a huge part of my heart, and I would be lost without you.

Happy birthday, my sweet Elaina Rae.  I love you so very much.

All of my love,


Monday, April 13, 2015

Older But Still Unintentionally Funny

One of the things that I'm not used to yet now that the girls are older is that when we are at one of their doctor's visits and the doctor or nurse begins taking their medical history and current complaints, the medical professionals immediately turn to the girls for the report.  I'm still on standby to fill in specific details, but for the most part it's a conversation that I'm not a major part of.  It feels weird every time it happens, and I have to remind myself to let the girls take the lead and sit quietly until I'm asked any direct questions.

This afternoon, McKenna had a dermatologist appointment for a lingering cracked/peeling skin issue on her finger and foot.  I've always felt like eczema was the culprit and the pediatrician confirmed that diagnosis, but I thought an expert's opinion was probably for the best especially since it hasn't cleared up completely after months of treatment.  The nurse began taking McKenna's history, and I was determined to sit quietly as McKenna took control of her medical history.

Nurse:  So McKenna, what brings you in today?
McKenna:  (looking up at the ceiling with a look of mild uncertainty) Well . . . I think that I might have emphysema.
Nurse:  *laughing* Emphysema?  Oh, that's funny.
Me:  McKenna, if you have emphysema then we are at the wrong specialist.
McKenna:  Well, I thought that's what it was called!
Me:  It's called eczema.  Emphysema is a chronic lung condition caused by smoking.
McKenna:  (looking alarmed and very embarrassed) Oh, yeah.  I don't have that.

The story was repeated when the dermatologist came in, and she acted like that was the cutest thing she's ever heard in her office. 

So, in summary, here are a few things I learned from today's visit:
  1. McKenna does, in fact, have eczema and her skin care routine just got a lot more high maintenance and more expensive.
  2. The mole she was born with is one of the "good guys" and can stay.
  3. She's growing up, but she's not quite ready to independently take the reins of her medical care just yet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Through The Eyes Of My Girls

Deep in the misery of winter (also known as the middle of February), I decided to couldn't handle it anymore.  I was sick of the cold and gloom, and I needed an escape or at least the promise of an escape.  Weeklong tropical getaways were not in the cards, but I thought that a short weekend trip to a somewhat nearby destination would be enough to get me out of the funk of an Illinois winter.  So, with the support of The General, I began planning a trip to St. Louis for the last weekend of spring break.

Met with eager anticipation by one and moderate disinterest from another, I began researching places to visit on the girls' first trip to The Lou.  A ride to the top of the Arch was a must of course, and it quickly became obvious that a visit to the City Museum was also necessary.  Anyone who knows me well knows that the planning of a trip is almost as much fun for me as the actual trip itself.  I love to research local attractions, scour websites for restaurant reviews, and take time to carefully pour over all the hotel choices before deciding on the perfect place to lay our heads at the end of our fun filled days.  While this personality trait is something that makes me a desirable travel partner for many of my friends (I'm basically the mom of the group and have learned that a core group of my friends are basically unable to function without my many lists and spreadsheets), there's one significant downside to this planning and preparation:  it can often lead to major disappointment and frustration when things don't go exactly as I've planned them in my mind.

Things started to unravel the day before we were set to leave.  Some lingering congestion and a cough that seemed to be intensifying led to a prompt care visit for Elaina which then led to a nasal swab resulting in a positive result for Influenza B.  The doctor said as long as she remained fever free and didn't have any unpleasant digestive issues in the 24 hours before we left she was safe to go.  Flu Watch: Spring Break Edition went into full effect, and Elaina was checking her temperature on the hour.  When, at 7 pm, the reading presented a normal temp, Elaina ran into my bedroom brandishing the thermometer as proof and shouted, "Start packing!".  I told her we'd make a final decision sometime Friday afternoon just to be safe.

By Friday at noon she was puke, fever, and diarrhea free so I made the executive decision to forge ahead with our plans.  We left around 5 pm after The General returned home from work, suffered through a near blinding gradual sunset through four counties, waited and ate then waited some more at the world's slowest Steak & Shake in Lincoln, then finally hit the road again well after that menacing ball of flame and fury had disappeared for the night.  Just after 9:30 pm despite some sketchy Google Map directions we finally pulled up to the front of our hotel.

I had made reservations weeks ago and received confirmation that a standard room with two queen beds would be ready for us at check-in.  Such was not the case.  Apparently the Drury Plaza has a policy of overbooking rooms.  Better to have people without rooms than rooms without people is their business motto, I guess.  The front desk receptionist was lovely, apologetic, and very accommodating and got us booked into two comped rooms with one king sized bed each with the promise of a complimentary upgrade to a suite the following night.  Still, that didn't damper my annoyance.  Did I picture the four of us split between rooms, even if those rooms were next door to each other?  No, I did not, and this caused me great frustration.

The following morning we headed down for the complimentary breakfast.  It was packed; there were no tables accommodating four people, and so The General and I stood while eating lukewarm pancakes sans syrup with our hands while trying to stay out of the way of all the other patrons.  Fast forward a couple of hours and we were all packed up again ready to move our belongings to our new room.  The manager personally met us at our suite but breezed out of the room before we realized that the bedroom was equipped with only one bed.  By the time we got back to the lobby I was discouraged to the point of anger simmering just below the surface.  We were promised that by the time we got back from our day's activities all of our bags would be moved into proper accommodations with their sincerest apologies for the mistake.

None of this was how I had envisioned this trip, and it was making me very upset.  Then, with the innocence only a child possesses, I heard the girls talking about how this was the nicest hotel they had ever been in.  It's so fancy. The fountains are so cool.  The pool and hot tub were so fun.  I love it here.

Those tiny remarks were exactly the reality check I needed to break me out of my funk.

Food taking forever to arrive was a non-issue because in the end we all walked out with chocolate shakes.  They weren't going to let an almost impossible to navigate parking garage bring them down.  Not having the room that was originally planned just meant a little one-to-one snuggle time with one parent in a giant bed.  The faint smell of a baby's diaper in one room wasn't a big deal because we were leaving the room again to go for a late night walk to the Arch.  The scrambled eggs were barely cooked but that didn't matter because breakfast was free and some of their other favorite foods were available in bulk.  Repacking and carry our bags AGAIN wasn't a big deal because it meant we got an even bigger room with an extra TV AND we got to watch Elaina fall backwards out of an elevator which was pretty hysterical.  The lines to go to the top of the Arch were long and the crowd at the City Museum was initially a little overwhelming, but who can focus on that when there's all that giggling in the tram ride to the top and countless mazes and incredible architecture to explore?

One of my favorite bloggers took a spring break vacation with her daughters this year, and she mentioned a comment that one of her readers left on an Instagram picture that she posted from that trip:

"We see stuff when we are ready, and it's usually through the eyes of our kids."

It's like this person was speaking to me personally.  That sentiment exactly was what turned last weekend's trip around for me.  When I shifted my focus from everything that was going wrong according to my arbitrary plan and instead focused on what the girls were experiencing through their unclouded and nonjudgemental eyes it made everything so much better.  Clearer.  Less complicated and a lot more fun.

The icing on the cake?  As we were filling up the car at our last stop before finishing the last 90 minutes of the drive home, the girls turned to me and said, "Thanks for everything you did for us this weekend".  I didn't quite know how to explain to them that they have done more for me than I could have ever given them over those three days.

(P.S. By Saturday night, when The General was finally in a mental space that allowed him to speak to the staff at our hotel without fear of saying something he'd regret, he went down to pick up our pizza and stopped to thank the front desk staff for the being so kind and accommodating through all our ups and downs.  Their immediate response was, "Oh, are you Mrs. P*****'s husband?  Yeah, you've had a lot of issues".  It's always a good sign when the staff of a hotel of almost 400 rooms knows you by name.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Driving between buildings this afternoon, I got stuck behind an older model Chevy S-10 pickup.  Feeling rushed to get to my next group of students, I suddenly found myself pushing down very impatient thoughts and actions toward what was clearly an older gentleman behind the wheel. Honestly, as I sat just behind him at a stop sign, I watched in a mixed of wonderment and bewilderment as I observed just how long this man took to make a right hand turn.  Seriously, it was at least a 90 second process before he had his vehicle’s tires facing straight ahead.  Trying not to seethe at this event in my rush-rush-rush mode, I suddenly was overcome in a flash of nostalgia of my Grandpa, and the memories haven’t stopped flooding my brain since.

My Grandpa was a notoriously slow driver.  If we were spending a Saturday night at their house, two things were certain.  One, I would lie awake at some point in the middle of the night struggling to fall back asleep thanks to the thunderous snoring of my grandparents.  Secondly, we would have a fried chicken dinner at the VFW with my great aunts and uncles and several of my grandparents’ close friends.  Coming home smelling like grease and stale cigarette smoke was worth it for a night at the VFW.  The only downside was that the not even 10 mile drive from Odell to Pontiac would take at least 30 minutes thanks to Grandpa’s leisurely pace.  I swear, that man was NEVER in a hurry.  I’m pretty sure he never even knew of the term “schedule”.  For my Grandpa, it seemed like he was only ever in the moment, very rarely planning ahead and always enjoying where he was at in that second and not considering what was going to happen next.  Life would play out as the opportunities presented themselves, not as the clock dictated.  

Thinking about my Grandpa’s slow driving naturally set off another immediate memory, this one of his trusty white Nova.  That car was something else.  Built like a tank with an interior incredibly spacious for what back then was considered a “compact car”, I sat in my vehicle today and could remember so vividly the smell of that car that it’s like I was surrounded by it.  I closed my eyes for just a second and could picture the oil change sticker in the top corner of the windshield (the kind with the small piece of paper that the mechanic would write in the next oil change in pen), the stick on calendar on the dashboard, and the push button radio presets.  But it was the memory of a scent that washed over me so vividly, so close it’s like I was five years old again.

The memory of that scent brought to mind another that makes me instantly think of my Grandpa.  Grandpa wore Old Spice always and forever, or at least as long as I was alive.  He often smelled like grease thanks to time spent in his unorganized labyrinth of a tractor shed, or the mixed combination of dirt, fresh air and sweat (a byproduct of being a lifelong farmer), but it’s the distinct smell Old Spice that I think of first when I remember Grandpa.  Fresh from a bath, Grandpa liked to give “whisker kisses” to his grandkids leaving the scent of his after shave all over our faces.  We pretended to hate it; I’d give anything for just one more round of whisker kisses from that ornery old man.

I wasn’t expecting a walk down memory lane today.  I certainly wasn’t expecting to become overwhelmed with my grandfather’s absence fourteen years since he passed away.  I miss all of my grandparents that have passed, each in very different ways.  I miss my Grandma Bolen’s quiet strength.  I miss watching her craft her latest project, and I miss being able to talk to her about gardening and flowers.  I miss watching her sit on her porch as she looks out on her own garden.  I miss my Grapa Pokarney, especially his laugh.  I miss his stories and talking to him about school, and I miss watching him roll his eyes at something ridiculous Grama or I would share.  I miss his hugs and I miss the way he used to take the girls downstairs to play.

But my Grandpa Bolen.  The thing I miss the most about him is something I never got to witness.  He died months before I was married, years before I became a mom.  So many times I have wished that he could have lived long enough to meet the girls.  He was a stubborn, strong willed, bull headed man, but oh how he loved little kids.  I can picture him laughing as he watched the girls and then sharing stories with whoever would listen about what funny things his great granddaughters had done or said, chuckling again as he relived it.  I can see McKenna giggling nervously at him, not quite sure if he might do something silly or scary (e.g., popping his false teeth out of his mouth as a joke).  I know Elaina would be equal parts in love with him as her captive audience and totally infuriated with his poor hearing and his teasing.  He would have loved having those girls in his life.

My grandpa was a simple man, and maybe that’s why such a simple, ordinary moment in the middle of an otherwise mundane activity brought back such intense memories. Maybe today was his way of reminding me to focus on what’s important in those moments when things aren’t going the way I’ve planned.  Thanks for the reminder, Grandpa.  And thanks for the memories.


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