Saturday, January 13, 2018

rolling with it...

I thought life was crazy during my last update. wow.

If life has taught me anything over the last several months it is that you must find a way to adapt, improvise, and overcome no matter what gets thrown at you. Our little family has certainly become skilled at rolling with the punches.

This summer brought our first family vacation to Disney. A trip which will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life, but brought some confusing challenges we did not anticipate. We learned the hard way that our old habits with Disney don't work with our new family and we had to adjust. We also learned that amusement parks are overwhelming for our kiddos. Like, toddler style meltdowns in line kind of overwhelming.

I turned 30 in Animal Kingdom. It was a weird day. My son insisted on wearing his birthday button (despite his birthday being weeks after mine) that he received from the check-in host at our hotel after saying our trip was to celebrate his birthday (it wasn't). This meant that everyone we met that day wished him happy birthday. Maybe I'm selfish, but I feel like if someone was going to be told "Happy Birthday" on my 30th birthday, it should have been me.

In July Miguel had what we refer to as "the explosion" and spent a week in in-patient care at a mental health facility. It was a seriously scary time for our family. Scary and dark.

However, when we called him that first night to wish him goodnight he did tell me he loved me. It's still the only time he has ever said that to me.

Things did not get better right away. I spent months living with constant death threats and explosive anger episodes. We had to pull him out of football. We did finally get some medical intervention though and thorough testing which revealed some important information.

Miguel suffers from a few conditions which essentially made it so that none of the strategies he had learned for coping with his emotions could be applied. His brain simply wouldn't let him. I am the last person to support medicating a 10 year old, but since he started taking his medication I feel like I have my son back. The sweet smiling boy we first met 19 months ago who wanted nothing more than to play at the park. He seems much happier too.

In September I became a vegan. Hurricane Irma came through, trapping us all in our homes for the better part of a week, and I dove down the rabbit hole of Netflix documentaries. I also stumbled across one not on Netflix called Earthlings.

I ugly cried my way through the entire thing. From that moment on I decided I couldn't benefit from that kind of corruption and suffering any longer. Not on my plate, not in my clothing, not in my beauty products, or anywhere else.

You can see some of my food adventures on my new blog, Intentionally Vegan. Right now it's just starting out and only has two recipes posted, but I hope to post more in the future. I'm hoping for something new every Saturday.

This fall Yasmin turned 13 and began her cheerleading season. She loved it! She has been developing that lovely teen angst and attitude I've heard so much about, but I'm actually happy about that. It's so freaking normal. She deserves to have normalcy in her life. I'd love if the attitude wasn't directed at me, but beggars can't be choosers I guess.

I'm not sure how often I will post here anymore. Then again, I don't really post much lately anyway. I guess time will tell?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The end of the school year... a tale of survival

Since my last post life has just gotten more complicated. I am so thankful for a supportive husband, time with my therapist, and family that "gets it". Without them I am not sure I would have survived to the end of this school year. It was definitely a bloody crawl to the finish line.

Shortly after my last post my husband was informed that he was being considered for a transfer to a new position in the company. This position was out of state and the decision making process was long and drawn out. We spent about a month and a half not sure what state we would be calling home come summer time and whether or not we would need to put our house on the market and whether or not I needed to pursue teaching certification in another state.

Then state testing happened and I had two very nervous and stressed out children to comfort. Both kids were convinced they would fail the test and, as a result, fail their respective grades and be retained. The law in Georgia states that children not passing the Milestones assessment must pass a retake after summer school or be automatically be retained regardless of having an IEP or ESL accomodations... so their fears were warranted. Especially given our struggles with our daughter's IEP and being in the RTI process with our son. It was difficult to reassure them when they had valid fears, but I did my best.

Not to mention the change in schedule being hard on all of us. The kids having testing all day and my kindergarteners having to be quiet and in our classroom with a completely different schedule for two weeks. Not fun.

In late April Steve and I got the shock of our lives when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. After being told pregnancy is not a possibility for us without medical intervention, it was a happy but overwhelming surprise to conceive on our own.

Unfortunately, when we went to the doctor for an ultrasound to check on the baby after I had some abnormal spotting, we were told our baby was behind in development. We should have been able to see a heartbeat and there was nothing. The doctors thought maybe my dates were off since this was an unplanned pregnancy, so they had me come in for repeat beta draws. Those numbers quickly showed that the baby was no longer growing. Follow up ultrasounds showed that our baby stopped developing at 5 weeks and 5 days and I was officially diagnosed as having a missed miscarriage.

What made the whole situation worse was that my body seemed to not know what to do and was unable to miscarry on it's own. I waited almost two full weeks after our official diagnosis before my doctor confirmed the diagnosis once again and brought up the need for a D&C. So, the last friday of the school year (what would have been 8 weeks 4 days) I was at the surgical center having the procedure. Apparently waiting any longer put me at risk for complications.

The Thursday before my procedure I got the call that yet another dear relative had passed away suddenly. He went to the doctor because something didn't feel right, was diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia on Wednesday and did not live to see Thursday night.

When I arrived back at school on Monday my Assistant Principal called me into her office to tell me that both of my children failed the Reading portion of the state assessment and are required to attend summer school and retake the test. My daughter failed all sections of the test, my son failed just the reading portion. If they do not pass the retake they will be automatically retained. We also received my son's Access scores (language proficiency test) and he scored very very low in all areas. For comparison's sake, I have students in my class who moved here in December from another non-English speaking country who scored better on the language proficiency test than my son. My son who speaks no other language than English.

We are having him evaluated for a speech-language or processing disorder over the summer.

I haven't told the kids about summer school yet.

Our family vacation to Disney World is next week and, maybe I'm being selfish, but I refuse to tell them this news until we get back from Disney. I don't want our trip spoiled by this dark cloud hanging over us. Steve and I can shoulder that for now. Unfortunately, Summer school starts the week we get back.

The one piece of good news we received in the last few months is that Steve's job is not moving out of state. He is staying put. We do not have to sell our house. I do not have to get out of state certification and job hunt. We do not have to move. Thank God and Hallelujah!

We were also fortunate enough to attend the wedding of a very dear friend and mother to our godson in Tampa on Friday. It was a beautiful small and intimate ceremony on the beach at sunset with an equally intimate reception afterward. My son got to meet my godson and they were instant friends. The bride and I both got emotional seeing our boys playing together as it has been a dream of ours since our wine and Heroes nights back in 2006.

Proof that life goes on and there is always something to be grateful for if you keep looking.

One thought has helped me a lot these last few months...
"God is doing something amazing in you or the Devil wouldn't be fighting you so hard."

Living a life of love is hard. Meeting people (students, too) where they are and loving them unconditionally is hard. Accepting your broken and ugly pieces and loving yourself unconditionally is hard. Trusting that your trials and suffering have some sort of purpose is hard.

But in the end I find those hard things much more easy to bear than the alternative.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Love isn't easy

So far 2017 has been rather intense for our family. We had the most amazing Christmas, but then the new year hit and it has just been one hit after another.

A very dear relative passed away suddenly just after the year began and Steve's grandfather discovered that he is no longer in remission. In fact, his stage 4 throat cancer is now stage 4 metastatic throat cancer with growths in his lungs and liver. He is currently going through chemotherapy to fight this awful disease for the fourth time.

As if those things weren't hard enough on their own, we have had some struggles with our daughter's IEP. I have been fighting to get some form of assistive technology for her to help with reading since she has working memory problems as well as a significant reading deficiency. To me this seems logical that, unless she is being assessed on her reading ability, she should receive help with the content so she can truly show what she knows. The county agrees with me to an extent, but assistive technology is not cheap so it's been a long and hard fought battle with mixed results. The hardest part is knowing Yasmin is aware of everything going on despite our efforts to shield her from a lot of it and knowing that she is so nervous about passing this year so she can go to middle school.

My teaching job brought me a lot of stress in late January/early February as well. I got some difficult to accept performance reviews in addition to some frustrating data and, with the other stresses in my life, took them much more personally than I should have. For about a month I was convinced that I needed to leave teaching.

Add in Steve traveling for work a few weeks in there with me left to hold down the fort and the kids refusing to sleep and I was miserable.

Thankfully there is this amazing thing called "individual talk therapy" covered by my health insurance. I started meeting with a therapist once a week (now down to every other week) and she has helped me recognize that "toughing it out" for the sake of my pride is not doing anyone any favors. Self-care is your friend. All things I would have readily said to a friend in my same situation were apparently things I wouldn't say to myself.

I've spent more time with God as well. I've made it a priority to be at Mass every Sunday and observe holy days of obligation. Not only does it make me feel at peace, it gives me that spiritual nourishment I need to be able to extend kindness to those around me.

I'm happy to say that I'm feeling more like myself. The initial spark that ignited my passion for teaching is burning brightly again and I am better at recognizing when I need some time to recharge.

Loving people unconditionally, with your whole heart is hard. It's harder when you don't love yourself unconditionally as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


These last few months have been a whirlwind.

There have been school conferences, standardized testing weeks, family days picking pumpkins, football games, decorating for Christmas, shopping trips, and even a couple lazy days where we ordered pizza and snuggled on the couch with a movie.

One day in particular included quite a nice party celebrating our family. :)

There have also been arguments, tears, late nights talking through meltdowns, tantrums thrown over bedtimes, crazy visits with therapists, and complicated extended family discussions.

But it all has led us to today.

Today we woke up crazy early, drove practically to Tennessee, and waited quietly in a courtroom for our name to be called.

Today a judge signed a piece of paper making us a forever family.

Today my children share our last name for the first time.

Days like today remind me of why hope and faith are so important. Because two years ago this day was just a daydream... almost an impossibility.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

pieces are clicking into place

Monday we saw both caseworkers and the kids' CASA. Plus their therapist. It was a super busy day, but also a really positive day since we got some great news.

Our finalization has been moved up!

Instead of waiting until after Christmas like we initially thought, it looks like e will get to finalize shortly after Thanksgiving! No specific dates have been decided upon yet, but November 8th is when we petition and we have been told that there has been approximately a two week turn around lately.

The tentative date range is the week after Thanksgiving.

I am overjoyed and suddenly very aware of how little time that truly is. I have so much to do to get everyone (and our house) ready for such an awesome event! We need nice, cool weather appropriate, clothes for court. I need to figure out what decorations we will have in our home for the finalization party we will host. Not to mention begin creating a guest list and alert family members to the change so they can plan accordingly.

My principal has been amazing and has already promised to help me work out time off issues if the dates fall during school time (since I was planning on the event happening during a school break). The woman is so incredibly supportive. I love her for it.

Some may think it silly, but I booked a photographer for the actual finalization in court. I want pictures from that day. Good quality pictures with all of us in them. Some candid moments we didn't realize were happening. Moments you can't catch on an iPhone during court proceedings.

Through all of the excitement and rush to plan, I find myself reflecting on the timing of this incredible event. It will be during Advent. A time of the year when even the most cynical people take a step back and let the world believe in magic. A time when people believe in miracles. How fitting that the greatest miracle of my life would occur during a time like that.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Virecit vulnere virtus

My family heritage can be traced back to Clan Stewart, a group which originated in the Scottish Highlands and has an absolutely beautiful tartan.

The picture above is the clan crest. It depicts a pelican piercing her own breast to feed her young... an image from an old Scottish folktale... and the inspiration for the clan motto seen in Latin around the image. It translates to "Courage grows strong at a wound".

I have never identified with that mama pelican more than I have in the last few months.

I have never fully understood this motto more until we met our children a few months ago.

September 2016 has been a month of enormous personal growth for me. At the beginning of the month it felt like the hits would never stop coming. In the middle of the month I thought the confusion and pain would beat me and I would lose everything.  Now, at the end of the month, I am grateful for the fight because it strengthened me.

It showed me how tough I am. And it showed me that my strength comes from a deep reservoir of love and courage I never knew ran that deep. It comes from seeing myself in a dark place and recognizing how I have conquered that particular demon before.

It comes from trusting in the gifts God has given me.

This week in kindergarten was different. I stopped doing it the way my team recommended and started doing it the way that felt right to me. Far less paper and much more movement. More spontaneous songs. More teamwork. And you know what? The kids were different.

Nobody had to go see the principal. Nobody threw fits. Nobody went home crying... not even me.

I'm still figuring out the mom thing, but I know how to be a teacher. I know how to be a good one. And I suspect that the two are more closely related than I realize.

I have to follow my instincts. I have to trust myself.

And I have to have courage.

The pain I've been though has gifted me that and I refuse to squander it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Living on a prayer

The big move happened. I was told I would be displaced 10 days before the county actually gave me my official assignment. Last Monday I actually worked as a substitute teacher because my room was packed up and they needed an extra sub.

After all was said and done, I was sent to a much smaller school than the one I was at previously (1300 students to just barely 700) and I went from 1st grade to kindergarten. I also went from a 10-15 minute commute to a 40-45 minute commute.

The school I ended up at is a lovely school in and of itself. The principal has been amazing thus far and my grade level team (all 3 of them) have been as welcoming and helpful as possible. They began the year with 30 kids each, so they are thrilled to have some relief. The school has a lot of community involvement and does so many of those nostalgic, quintessentially elementary school things so many of us miss like dressing up for Halloween, pajama day, assemblys for special days, and school spirit events involving water/slime/etc. Both of my kids have great teachers who also have kids attending the school. They seem to be adjusting well and both have already made several friends.

I was given a full 4 days in my room to prepare for the kids and the bookkeeper for the school gave me free reign on ordering supplies for my classroom, so that was awesome. I got data folders on my kids my very first day as well, which was helpful.

It's not a bad place to be.

That said, I feel like I'm drowning and I feel insanely guilty for having such a difficult time adjusting.

Kindergarten is NOTHING like first grade. It's nothing like I have ever seen or experienced before. I did my practicum in kindergarten for my degree during the end of the school year when they were practically 1st graders. These kids are sweet as can be, but they have no idea how to be in school. They are not independent in any capacity other than using the bathroom on their own. That's a huge difference from 1st graders who can at least focus on a task for a few minutes without direct teacher direction. I've drafted a letter to my Alma mater letting them know of this gap in teacher preparation. It's that much of a big deal.

The other teachers on my grade level are providing as much support as possible, and they truly have been a great resource, but they are also teaching and trying to rearrange their classrooms to accommodate the new status quo. Our paraprofessional is basically a saint, but she is also helping 4 different classrooms. It's like the first week of school again for all of kindergarten, but the school year itself is continuing to go on as planned.

I have parent teacher conferences this week. All of the data I am discussing for my 22 students is data collected by other people 8 weeks ago. I have been able to observe these kids in class for 1 week, so my ability to give feedback on their progress is limited at best. Yet I have to produce conference forms detailing their progress for each of the 5 subject areas. And I already have parents emailing me asking for pre-conference data. I didn't even know this was a thing. In my last school it was like pulling teeth to get parents to show up for conferences in the first place and all they wanted to know was if their kid was behaving.

On Wednesday I had a parent come in for a conference and request SST services. I've never done that process before without being the person who collected the RTI data as well. I don't even really know this child, but I need to give my professional opinion on her academic ability?

Because I am ESOL certified, I was given all of the ESOL served kids in kindergarten (all 6 of them) which is fine with me since I love ESOL instruction. However, I'm finding that ESOL instruction in an upper middle class suburban school is much different than in an urban, lower socioeconomic level school. Parents don't like walking into the room and seeing labels and pictures on everything. They don't want to see alternative work spaces and hands on, authentic experiences. They want "more rigor" than that. They want to see graded worksheets with 100 written at the top in red pen. *rolling my eyes* I thought kindergarten would appreciate that more....

Then, this week, I received a student new to the school. His family literally arrived in the US on Friday and he began school on Monday. He was put in my class because he speaks only Spanish and I speak enough to be able to communicate with him and understand most of his responses. However, this child is clearly very angry at the changes in his life and I am the one receiving the brunt of his anger. On Friday I actually broke down and sent him to the principal's office because I with his behavior. He threw pencils at me, hit me, kicked my Promethean board, was running around the room. And when I told him to stop (in Spanish) he looked at me, rolled his eyes, and continued acting out saying he didn't have to listen to me.

I've never had to send a child to the principal before. Not when a third grader was throwing chairs, not when a fifth grader lost control and was sobbing hysterically on the floor yelling curse words, not even when one of my first graders tried to start a fight club on the playground. I was able to diffuse all of those situations and come out the other side with all parties feeling able to move forward.

Not this week. And I feel like I failed that student.

Combine all of those school issues with the fact that I am coming home loaded down with work just to keep up, the kids are grumpy from being cooped up in the car so long, and the fact that Steve just this Wednesday returned to his normal 8-5 hours and you have a giant mess.

The kids are mad at me because I'm not able to do as much with them after school. I simply don't have the energy. I can barely make it through helping with homework. The home cooked dinners everyone has counted on for the last 2 months have also given way to ordering out more. I fell asleep boiling water for spaghetti one night and it freaked me out. The kids aren't happy that our routine is disrupted (even if they can't verbalize that's what it is) and they are directing all of that frustration towards me.

I'm pretty sure I'm only surviving on the prayers of my family and friends (hence the theme music for this post) and the grace of God at this point. Please, pray for me and my family. Pray that we make it through this season of change and uncertainty. Pray that we can see the positives and hold onto hope through seemingly impossible levels of stress.