Sunday, August 20, 2017

Beach Therapy

My mother's family started their annual Beach Week tradition in the summer of '96.  A year after my grandfather's death my grandmother decided that she wanted more time with all of us, so she rented a beach house at Emerald Isle.  That first year it was a small group - my grandmother, my parents and sister (I was in the mountains of NC working as a camp counselor), two of my three aunts and their husbands and children.  The oldest grandchild in attendance was 14 and the youngest was 3.  I don't think Grandma could have foreseen that 21 years later we'd still be making our annual trek to the beach, now an older and larger group.   We've added spouses, another aunt and her branch of the family, another generation and their significant others... and 17 and a half years later we still miss my grandmother and remember our time with her fondly.  

I find myself thinking about death a lot lately.  I know that none of us knows when our time will come, but the prospect of John's death is never far from my mind.  Do we have days together?  Weeks?  Months?  Years?  How do we plan for the future?  This past week we made that annual journey to the beach with the family and I watched him closely, saw his belly filling with fluid (he gained 20 lbs in two weeks), saw the discomfort etched on his face, and wondered.  How much time do we have left?  

And yet I knew that the beach was where I needed to be.  

There's something so therapeutic about the beach - the salty breeze, the soft sand, the sound of waves crashing.  Be it sitting under an umbrella on the beach (yes, I'm a pale girl and I need my shade), swimming in the water (yes, Mom, I was safe and didn't go in higher than my waist - no sharks or riptides claimed me as their own), or sitting on the second-level covered deck of the beach house (again - pale girls need sun protection) I felt waves of God's peace and comfort rolling in to envelope me.  

John and I left Beach Week early so I could go to work (our first teacher workday was Thursday) but little did I know that instead of spending Friday readying my classroom I'd spend it crocheting in waiting rooms while John had a CT scan followed closely by a paracentesis.  I think we both knew that the oral treatment they were having him try over the summer wasn't as effective as we'd hoped and certainly wasn't very tolerable for him, but we certainly didn't expect to receive a phone call on Friday afternoon informing us that he's been scheduled to restart chemotherapy on Monday.  I wish I hadn't taken my Feeling Buddies back to school on Thursday - I need Anxious to sit with me this weekend.  

I think I need another round of beach therapy...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In sickness and in health...

Tonight John and I celebrated our 8th anniversary with take out food from Olive Garden (John managed to eat 3 spoonfuls of soup and 5 bites of spaghetti - he has a very small appetite and difficulty swallowing as a side effect of his current chemo cocktail), then moved to the bedroom (no funny business - sitting is quite uncomfortable when you have colorectal cancer so it's just easier to be in bed) and spent our evening talking and laughing together.  My favorite conversation of the evening went like this:
ME:  These past 8 years have been the best years of my life.  
JOHN:  Me, too.  Wait, even the last 17 months?  
ME:  Yes, even the last 17 months.  We've really put "in sickness and in health" to the test, haven't we?  I wouldn't mind more health for a while.
JOHN:  Yeah, I wouldn't mind more "for richer" instead of "for poorer", while we're wishing.
(we both burst out laughing)
But all joking aside, no, our life is not what I thought it'd be at this point.  I had no idea that John would be diagnosed with cancer, or that in the almost year and a half following that diagnosis he'd go through 10 rounds of chemo, radiation on 2 different fields, a fluid draw off his abdomen that made him 20 lbs lighter, all to be followed by another 12 rounds of chemo.  I had no idea that we'd be on a first name basis with everyone at the chemo clinic, or that we'd know the ins and outs of the local ER.  I didn't know that I'd miss work every other Tuesday for 5 months or that my students would handle it so wonderfully.  I didn't know that we'd come to realize just how amazing our friends and family are - from my parents driving up once a week to hang out with John and take him to appointments to my friend who has dubbed herself the "gift card fairy" and sends a new gift card every few weeks in the mail (this week she's inadvertently bought our groceries, bought me a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and bought our anniversary dinner tonight).  I couldn't have predicted that John would lose 160 lbs in 2 years, or that we'd need to buy him new pants in a smaller size every 2 months.  I didn't know that we wouldn't be parents, that my husband would ask if I'd ever thought about fostering, or that he'd then follow up with the question, "but would they even consider letting us foster given my health situation?"  

I didn't know we'd feel like we're always running a race against time.  Racing from treatment to treatment, his side effects starting to subside just in time for another round.  Him living for the weekend when I can be home with him and he won't be lonely, me living for the weekend when I can take a breather from work (school) and focus on work (home).  Racing toward the next holiday, the next spring break, the next summer vacation, hoping for time together and yet fearful that it will be the. last. one.  I didn't know we'd be anxiously waiting for my next pay check, for his next disability check (did you know that short term disability checks come more frequently while long term disability checks only come once a month?  we learned that this month) and yet dreading every bill, every time the receptionist at the doctor's office asks, "would you like to make a payment today?" not because we don't want to pay, but because we can't.  

And yet, I didn't know that I could love this man infinitely more today than I did 8 years ago when I vowed to be his wife.  I didn't understand the full meaning of what it would be to cherish this man, but that's exactly what I do now - I cherish him, every day he wakes up, every moment we have together.  I live for his smile, his touch, his love.  I tend to him when he's nauseous, I remind him to take his meds when he forgets, I give him his shots after chemo.  I laugh at his jokes and hold him when he cries in pain.  

As I say to him almost daily, "I love you more today than yesterday..."

...and he answers, "but not as much as tomorrow."  

We'll take as many tomorrows as God will give us.

our wedding day

8 years later

Saturday, December 24, 2016

It Came Without Ribbons...

I feel like every year there's a mad rush right through advent and up to Christmas Day itself.  It's the nature of being a teacher - you've got to stay on top of your game and keep your routines and procedures as consistent as possible in the last days leading up to Winter Break (and did I mention we were teaching through this Wednesday?).  It's the nature of being an arts teacher - this is the 18th year that I've prepped kids for a concert held during that last week before Winter Break (in that time I've come back the day after my grandmother's funeral to lead my first concert - Christmas '99 - and left right after a concert to go be in my sister's wedding the next day - Christmas '10).  And now I know it's the nature of being a cancer wife (is that an actual thing or did I just create a new role?) since both last year and this year John's had chemo treatments book-ending Christmas and New Year's Day.  

But I have to say, the place where I feel that rush the most is gift buying, wrapping and giving.  I remember growling at my computer screen when a friend posted on Facebook that she already had all of her Christmas shopping finished... AND IT WAS OCTOBER!  Seriously?  I was trying to finish first quarter electives (and guess what that means?  yes, a performance) and hadn't even thought about Christmas.  Fast forward to the beginning of December... nope, no gifts purchased, much less planned, yet.  But hey, we'd picked our music for our tap dance (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) and started abstracting our movements for the piece Dance Ensemble was creating.  Mid-December I managed to have 2 gifts purchased and wrapped, but it was only because they were for the extended family name draw and those gifts were being exchanged on the 18th.  

So yes, if you're doing the math that means I've bought and wrapped almost all of my gifts THIS WEEK.  But I feel like I'm doing better than last year.  This year there are actual gifts.  Wrapped.  In boxes and paper.  Last year we were still trying to get our feet back up under us after John's week in the hospital and diagnosis, so last year was the year of the gift cards.  Everyone got gift cards from us - we sent them to his family in Louisiana and Mississippi, my sister and her husband in South Carolina, and took them to my parents in Fayetteville.  This year is a fifty-fifty split, because let's face it, gift cards are much easier to mail than packages.  

But just in case you're thinking I've completely got things under control I'm sharing the sights to be seen under our tree.  From afar it looks lovely - stacks of wrapped gifts, gift bags, etc.  It's when you look closely you see that John patched together scraps from 2 different types of wrapping paper on one of my gifts.  And that there isn't a bow or ribbon on a single gift.  So I'm reminded this year of the words of the late Dr. Seuss in How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

It came without ribbons. 

It came without tags. 

It came without packages, boxes or bags. 

And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. 

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tonight I helped my husband shave his head...

To say this wasn't how I expected to spend my evening is putting it mildly.  But then, I didn't expect that we'd still be in the midst of his battle against cancer a year following his diagnosis.  I didn't expect him to have to start chemo again so soon (the doctor said, "You know how I said it could be 6 months or it could be 36 months?  Well, 6 months it is").  I didn't expect my husband to lose over 100 lbs in a year.  And since he didn't lose his hair last time, I didn't expect him to lose it with this wave of chemo treatments.  But it's a different cocktail, and so Friday morning I walked into the bedroom to find him sitting on the edge of the bed with his pillow in his lap, showing me that it was covered in hair that had fallen out of as he slept the night before.  Switch the pillow case and repeat Saturday morning, then again this morning, and now it's Sunday evening and as I type this my husband is sitting in front of the mirror shaving his head.

We didn't think it'd be such a long, difficult process, this hair removal thing.  For starters, I didn't realize that in the last year he threw out his clippers.  Those would've made things much easier.  But we don't have them anymore, so I got out the scissors and cut his hair as close as I could, then he busted out the shaving cream and razor.  He gets worn out really easily, so 5 minutes into the shave he asked for a seat.  

As always, I think it's more upsetting for me than him.  He keeps saying, "It's hair, it'll grow back eventually."  But I think for me watching this happen is a visualization of just how sick he is right now.  He looks like a cancer patient now.  I can't hide from it anymore.  And I can't hide from the fact that I'm scared.  

So I should be working on this week's lesson plans, or the slide show for our school family assembly that we're holding this week.  But instead I'm sitting here typing, trying to hide the fact that I'm crying, while I watch my husband shave his head.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It starts with one little seed...

8 years ago our school got it's first taste of Conscious Discipline.  At that point in time the fabulous Kim Hughes was doing her administrative internship with us and used that opportunity to introduce the concepts, skills and structures needed to set up a school family.  She planted a seed.

But I wasn't at our school then.  At that point in time I was at another school, plugging away doing what I thought was best for my students based on the skills I possessed.  We had a flip chart - yes, a flip chart in specials!  It only had 3 levels - green, yellow and red.  At the beginning of a lesson all students were on green, but throughout the class they might be instructed to go move their clips to yellow (a warning) and then red (time out).  At the time I thought it was brilliant (and so did my administrators).  All I had to do was say, "go move your clip," to a child and suddenly the rest of the class straightened up.  I couldn't see that such public forms of discipline (not only the chart itself, but the act of making a child flip their clip in front of the whole class) served to humiliate, not educate.  And so I did the best I could with the skills I had.

6 years ago I transferred to our school.  Remember that seed that Kim had planted?  There were a few trees flourishing.  One particular kindergarten teacher, Ashley, had latched onto the impact Conscious Discipline had on her students and continued to deepen her own knowledge as well as lead a monthly staff cohort for any interested teachers.  That first year she reached out and invited me to join them.  I bought the book.  (Sometimes I even read it.)  I attended the monthly meetings and listened to what was presented.  But my mind was filled with disbelief.  This is kiddie stuff.  It will never work in a dance class.  It's hogwash.  Who's got time for this?  I thought I was giving up on CD.  But despite my best attempts at discrediting its usefulness in my life, a seed was still planted.  

4 years ago I was asked to join 6 other staff members at a 3 day Conscious Discipline retreat.  The selling point was that it would be fully funded by our PTA and would take place at the beach.  A free trip to the beach?  I was there.  Once again, I listened as the basic concepts were presented, but this time I found myself much more open to the idea of CD implementation.  I don't know if it was because the school year had ended and I could fully focus, if it was because a was hearing the information for a second time, or if it was because it was a very interactive retreat, but I began to buy in.  I wasn't sold on everything (A Safe Place?  All my kids do is go there to avoid dancing and play with the toys) but I was starting to consider using a few of the structures in my class.  That year we started having meaningful jobs.  And yes, I eventually figured out how to empower my students to use the Safe Place appropriately.  The seed that Ashley had planted 2 years before was being fertilized.  

2 years ago a few of my fellow teachers urged the PTA to send me to the Summer Institute (CD1), a weeklong conference in Orlando.  I joined 180 other people in learning directly from Dr. Becky Bailey, quickly bonded with my table group, and discovered that someone I'd worked with for 4 years was suddenly one of my best friends (love you, Karen!).  I was suddenly committed to the concept of Conscious Discipline.  The seed flourished into a tree.

1 year ago I found myself (along with Karen) leading our staff cohort.  I felt like we were on the cusp of something big happening at our school, but we just weren't quite there.  Several other people were starting to buy in and we had a new principal who seemed interested in learning more about CD but was hesitant to jump in with both feet.  A few more seeds were being planted.

And that brings us to today.  Today is exciting.  Two months ago Ashley and I were serving as helpers at our local Summer Institute satellite.  Now our principal has brought Kim back to lead some professional developement sessions for our whole staff.  People who have been resistant to the idea of Conscious Discipline are suddenly starting to discuss implementing a structure here and there.  Others who had already implemented a piece here and there are looking to strengthen their use of CD.  Our 5 main specialists are all working to put Safe Places in their classrooms (this is HUGE!).  Our school climate is gradually changing to that of one big School Family.  

Remember that seed that Kim planted at the beginning?  It took 8 years.  In those 8 years there were days when it looked like Conscious Discipline would never take root.  But she nurtured the seed and another seed was planted.  More nurturing and years later we're on the verge of having a whole forest.  A forest!  And so I leave you on this note - no matter how bleak it may seem, there's still hope.  And you never know how far your touch may reach.  I'm so thankful for that one seed that started it all.  

Keep planting seeds, my friends!