April 2007 Archives

April 29, 2007


Relay for life was Friday and I've spent most of the weekend on the couch letting my muscles recover. At the end of an exhausting week, it was a nice way to wind down, if you can call 6 hours at an event as big as our Relay "winding down".

Relay for Life, in its 13th year in Pitt County, raises money for the American Cancer Society. Last year, the event raised $215,000 for cancer research and support. This year, participants generated $227,000 through donations and individual fundraising efforts, event organizers said. More than $40,000 was raised by St. James United Methodist Church.

Overall, the event, in its second year at this location, was very well organized. The good thing about having it there is that the field is totally enclosed by fences with closely watched gates so I felt safe letting my guard down, even with the crowd there. Yes, I let my kids stray a bit. To say I've had a problem with that in the past is an understatement.

Random quotes heard during the event:

My daughter (handing me an energy drink) : "Here Mommy, you can have this, it tastes gross!"

SB: "Did my ass dent that cooler? Please tell me it was like that before I sat on it?"

MC (a younger teacher talking about an older teacher) : "We had to teach D what S&M was last week."
BW (another older teacher) innocently :"What's S&M?"

RC (after it starts raining and everyone is scrambling under the shelter to stay dry, he stays sitting in the rain) : "I'm not worried, I won't melt. I may spread, but I won't melt."

Me (to SB, the one sitting on the cooler) : "Would you mind if I got a water out of there?"
SB (getting up) : "Oh, sure." (opens cooler and hands me a water)
Me : "Thanks!"
SB : "Anyone else want anything before I sit down again?"
(silence, SB sits and goes back to her conversation)
RC (after about 30 seconds) : "Hey, SB, could I have a water?"

Ok, so we're not hilarious but what do you expect, we are elementary school teachers!

This was my third year participating and each year is a different experience. The overall feeling I had this year was "acceptance", not only of the fact that I am a survivor, but of the fact that I'm moving into a new phase of parenthood. After complaining about not having any time at all to mySELF for the past 15 years, I am suddenly finding that I am left alone more than I am comfortable with.

After planning with my daughter all year for the walk, she calls me at 3:30 Friday to ask if she can go to Relay with her friend Emily. Now, it was fine with me if she went with her friend, as long as she is there for the Survivor Lap. Since she is the reason I am a survivor, I like her to walk with me so I can show her how important she is.

I can tell by the way she is talking that she totally has forgotten about it so I ask her when they are expecting to get there. She said Emily's mom was going to be there by 6 or so, so I tell her that maybe she shouldn't go with them because I really want her there with me for the Survivor Lap. She covers up that she forgot the time, mumbles aside to Emily and assures me she will be there in time. I reluctantly let her go home with Emily.

When I get home, I let my son know what is going on and he says "Don't worry, Mommy, if she doesn't show up, I'll be there with you." A very sweet thought for someone that was just calling me names the other day ...but that's a story for another day.

It turned into a lovely night, with far fewer uncomfortable moments and hardly any of the pain I've felt in the past. The boy hung out with me and the girl flitted in and out of the picture but that's ANOTHER long story that I'm just tired of telling. In the end,she spent the rest of the weekend with Emily and I'm still processing how I feel about that.

I did take time to reflect and relax though. I had nothing to prove, no chip on my shoulder ... I've come to a place where I really don't care much about what others think of me. I know who I am and what I am about ... anyone that doesn't accept me can sod off.

And I'll keep saying it until it's really true.

Addendum: In case you didn't notice, I have reached the end of my OCD induced alphabetized titling and will now title entries anything I damn well please. Umm, yeah, I know ... but I'm trying.

April 24, 2007

As if she won't find out eventually...

Ok, I have a secret to tell you. You may think I am a horrible person once I tell you and I am ready to accept that. Here goes.

I haven't told my mom that I am buying a house.

SEE?? I told you! HORRIBLE!!

I do have my reasons, though and, if you will humor me for a just a wee bit, I will try to explain them.

My mother is a very materialistic person. Maybe this came from being born during the Depression, I don't know, but she seems to have forgotten how broke she was before she married my father. She told me once that he told her when they were dating that he wanted to help her out and that she jumped at the chance ... I was convinced from then on that I was just insurance that her gravy train wouldn't end. She said that Grampy O'Neill used to call her a gold digger and, well, I'm thinking he was right.

When they divorced, she got the house and as much child support for me (in the 1970's) as I get for two kids now. She never understood why I didn't get anything in my divorce, why being away from him was more than enough for me. She also does not understand why I didn't fight for any of my father's money when he died. Oh, and did I mention that she gets Social Security payments from his benefits every month? Honestly, because money was not what I wanted from my father. But I digress ...

I am the youngest of my mom's kids, her 4th and last. My oldest brother, M, is a house flipper who specializes in restoring Craftsman bungalows in San Luis Obispo, CA. He's an emotionally distant wealthy workaholic, divorced twice, 3 kids. He buys my mother presents rather than call or visit. The next in line, J, is a builder in New Hampshire. He's a volatile wealthy workaholic well known for being able to make something out of absolutely nothing ... 'work hard, play hard' is his motto. Once divorced, he has 2 kids and a longtime girlfriend that he says he will never marry. He, too, would rather send money than visit and lately it seems he has to be drunk to call my mom, calls which always end up with him hanging up on her, then pretending like it never happened. My sister, closest to me in age at 8 years older than me, is a real estate agent in New Hampshire. Divorced once, 3 kids, and currently living in a different state than her husband, she battles both depression and anyone within reach.

All three of them own at least 2 houses. They have worked very hard to make as much money as they could, to the detriment of their relationships, their kids, their health. None are very well educated, all smoke and drink to excess, all are apathetic toward my mom.

I am the polar opposite of my siblings. Divorced once, I have 2 kids and I am an artist and a teacher. I own nothing. I have worked very hard to keep my family together, taking a low paying job so that I can be there with them while they grow up. I am well educated, I do not drink or smoke, I care about my mom. I do not make my mom proud. I am poor.

So why, when I have a chance to own something as big as a house, am I not running to my mom to show her how I can finally make something of myself?

Because it doesn't matter, it will never be good enough. I can not catch up to my siblings.

Because I am embarrassed that I can only look at spending $80K.

Because it will be mine and I want to do it myself, dammit.

Because I don't need her approval.

I will probably tell her when we are actually moving in. Not before, though. We didn't tell her about our new kitten for 6 months and only then because we had to ... she saw him in the window (which was pretty funny, actually). I just don't feel like sharing our good news only to have her rain on my parade. What I can afford will not be good enough for her but she doesn't have to live there.

Actually, she was hoping that I would do better so that I could buy a house with an in-law apartment for her. Is that my plan?? Aw hells naw.

So I'm waiting to hear about my pre-approval and avoiding my mom, for now. Oh, and not sleeping. Nope, not at all. *sigh*

April 23, 2007

Behold the power of cheese!

When you are forced to live your life a certain way, you are imprinted with certain patterns of behavior.

Live in chaos and you learn to live in fight or flight mode. Live there long enough and your panic button will become more sensitive, triggered at the least threat. This instinct is necessary for our survival and I would not trade it for the world. It has gotten me this far with very few permanent, visible scars.

Problems can arise when someone gets addicted to the chaos. Give them a smooth patch and they will create waves so that they are in familiar territory. Let them succeed and they will more than likely sabotage themselves. I've caught myself sabotaging myself but I'm not sure it's because I want to be back where I was ... I think it is because I am unsure if I deserve success.

But that's me and I'm not convinced that I am addicted to chaos. I do think, however, that I am hardwired with a fight or flight response that overwhelms me occasionally. I have children to protect and my stakes are high. I can't afford to shut down, not unless I know they are safe. This week was the perfect example of an imminent threat to my family taking its toll on me.

Between T leaving and the VT shooting, I'm feeling pretty melancholy this week. Add to that the additional stress of meeting two very important deadlines over the past week and facing rejection from the mortgage company and I was ready to crack. Naturally when I got the news Friday afternoon about my boss and the possible upheaval in our county, that panic button got pushed and I was almost blind with fear.

After dropping my daughter off for her youth group Friday night, I began driving. My chest hurt, my head was pounding, I was nauseous and I'm amazed I could drive with my arms feeling like lead. Somewhere in the middle of this, T called. He had just called to tell me that he was running out for candy and, since I could barely get a sentence out, he began to hang up. Honestly, I didn't blame him one bit, naturally thinking that I was the problem.

Luckily, I have a wonderful boyfriend. Patiently, he explained that he knew that I was upset and thought that I might need to be by myself for a bit, to just drive and sing and scream before I had to go home. He was right, of course, but I hadn't had a chance to even tell him what was happening and why I was in panic mode. I thought he didn't understand the magnitude of the problem so I told him the details that I had left out of our earlier IM.

Then T did something that I will always be grateful for. He switched into logic mode, reminding me of the bigger picture and helping me remember that I did have options. His gentle, understanding calmness was exactly what I needed right at that moment. How he knew it, I don't know, but I do know that I love him for it. Then he told me to do whatever I needed to do to feel better, that he would be waiting online when I got home.

The fact that he recognized what was happening to me was a relief. In my state, I was trying to solve problems that were out of my control so that I could stop the panic. He, however, helped me cope with the symptoms of my panic and gave me a new perspective to help me through it in case it came back again.

I'm not sure if he knows what he did or how much I appreciate it. I'm sure he will deny any sweetness or gentleness but I know the truth. Good thing no one reads this blog or the world would know just what a nice guy my sweetheart is.

*pardon me while I go brush my teeth, I think I just gave myself cavities.

April 21, 2007

Coming full circle...

Yeah, so I thought I would let you know what my cryptic little house hunting comments were about and why I am in such turmoil about all of this. You see, it's not just something I came up with on the spur of the moment. I've wanted to own my own house for over 20 years.

I grew up in the perfect house. A pretty 3 bdrm. Cape with an attached garage, breezeway and full basement on a corner lot, the last house on the right of a long, tree-lined street. We had a neighborhood, and neighbors, and lived a short walk from the park. We had climbing trees and gardens and a pool and pear trees and a dog run and everything a little kid could want to explore in their world.

I had no idea how wonderful it all was until we moved to an aging 2 family Federal with a postage stamp yard on the main drag of an ugly city. I was 15 at the time and I still remember the anger and resentment that welled up inside me the day my mother came home and told me we were moving.

To her, it was a purely financial decision. She saw trading up to an income producing property as a way to never have to pay her mortgage again. To me, it was just another instance of her being selfish and greedy. I hated the house before I even knew anything about it, hated it more once I saw it and moved out within 2 weeks of my high school graduation.

Thus began my long history of renting apartments. All through college, I shared my room with strangers that became friends and friends that became enemies. I paid my own way, though, and did my best to find a place that felt like a home.

When I met my (now) x, I had lived in 4 different apartments with 13 different people over the course of 3 years. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit disenfranchised. I wasn't sure I wanted to live with him (after all, we had only known each other for two months) but there were 5 of us in three rooms and I was ready to get out. I figured that, even if he left me, I would have an apartment by myself.

He didn't leave me. We ended up getting married just 6 months after we met and I began setting my sights on 'the future'. I don't remember ever taking the long view before this time. I'm not sure exactly what it was that made me start wanting it all (house, family, career) but I tried making that house as homey as I could. I learned to cook, planted a vegetable garden and began planning how I would set up the second bedroom as a nursery. I also began picking up real estate magazines every time I went to the grocery store, circling the houses that were cute and leaving them on the kitchen table.

By then, though, I was deep in denial of what my marriage of convenience was. I thought it was my fault that he was so angry and that I deserved to be demeaned. I was withdrawing from my friends and family so they wouldn't see what was happening. I thought having kids would make him nicer, kinder. I was very wrong.

When I got pregnant, we moved upstairs from my mom, back in the house that I hated. Our excuse was to save money so that we could eventually buy a house. We stayed there 4 years (during which we had 2 kids, my father died, and I began getting therapy for depression) before it all imploded. The x decided we would move far away and convinced me to go by digging up my dream of home ownership.

From the day we came here in 1995, I began collecting real estate magazines, again. I figured we would live in the house we were renting for a year until we found just the right place. Unfortunately, within 6 months, the x had lost his job and thus began the downward spiral that ended in our divorce. I rented that house for a total of 7 years and I've been in this house for more than three years.

I finally think I might be able to maybe buy something like a house, possibly. I have almost started dreaming again. I have a pile of magazines with circles around all the houses I can afford (very few) and even more that I can't. The mortgage broker (Craig) gave me hope and the Real Estate agent (Ann) wants to go shopping. If only she knew how much I hate shopping. She seems excited, though, so I'll humor her.

So, we might be moving. Lots of decision to make coming up. I'm determined to keep control of this situation and only buy the right house on my terms. Rather than put my fate in someone else's hands and wait for my future, I'm gonna start building it myself. It starts with me putting down roots. I'm stuck here for a couple of years anyway, might as well be investing my rent money instead of wasting it.

To put a big fat expensive exclamation point at the end of my decision, I figured out that, to date, I have spent $147,900 in rent. Obscene doesn't begin to cover it. All that money and I am right back where I started, with nothing but a dream.

April 20, 2007

Depressing state of affairs...

Crap. CRAP!

Everything I have worked for in my career may be going down the toilet. I think I may be looking for a new job.

*dusting off resume*

It has nothing to do with me or my quality of work. It's all about power trips, politics and egos, something the 'good 'ole boy' society that runs this county (country?) is lousy with.

I have one person to thank for where I am today and that person is the victim of a witch hunt. If she goes, I may not want to stay. I love my school and my kids but she is the one I am loyal to.

I am torn up. I can't reach out to my friend. I can only sit and watch everything she has worked for over the last umpteen years come crumbling down. She is the strongest woman I know, a down-to-earth woman of style and substance that knows how to move mountains, one who has made her some very bitter enemies over the years (mostly of the misogynist prick variety).

This is not the first time she has been the target of something like this but this is, by far, the worst. This time, they took out most of her support staff. Those that are left will not stay for long.

Its going to get a lot uglier if this keeps up, too. To make matters worse, the name being bandied about as a possible replacement is another good-'ole-boy and best friend of the vindictive witch-hunter and knows f*ck-all about how to run a district, nevermind how to handle a staff of 40 or so public school librarians.

Seriously, dude ... we'll eat him alive. No one messes with our kids, and they are the ones that are going to be hurt the most over all of this.

On the positive side, if we do all eventual execute a mass exodus, can you imagine the damage we could do on the way out? No? Well, apparently they could ... several employees were escorted out of the county yesterday. *ahem* Yeah, this is that bloody serious.

Ok, some big decisions to make. Figures all this comes down when I'm planning on buying a house, too. Nothing like adding a little stress topping on a drama sundae.

April 18, 2007

Expression of support...


Found in my email tonight. Memorials have popped up on all across ECU's campus, from the candlelight vigil last night to the VT logo shining on the face of our clock tower to the ECU Pirates baseball team wearing the VT logo on their helmets.

Our county is also mourning the loss of a young police officer who was killed this weekend in an accident. As I left work this afternoon, I had to pull to the side of the road for the procession. The line of police and sheriff cars from all over eastern NC stretched on and on and took almost 20 minutes to go by.

Sitting in my car and watching gave me a chance to reflect and pay my respects, gave me a chance to count my own blessings. I though of my two aggravating teenagers, Sullen and Moody, and realized I wanted nothing more than to just be with them. I thought of my mom and realized I should treasure what time we do have together and be more gracious. I thought of T and how lucky I am to have him in my life, whether he is here or not.

Sometimes we get carried away wishing we had more and forget to be grateful for what we already have. I spent about 20 minutes today just being grateful and appreciating. Have you taken time today?

April 17, 2007

Feeling it deeply...

I got the first snippet yesterday when the Coach came into the library to check his email after school.

"Did you hear what happened in Virginia?"

Having just seen T off a few hours before, my heart sunk. "No, what?"

He came into my office and leaned over my desk, where I had been hunched for the past hour finishing up an application and trying to ignore everyone. He spoke low, looking over his shoulder, to make sure no one else heard him.

"Well, I just heard there was a shooting at Virginia Tech. At least 20 dead."

"Holy crap, no! I hadn't heard. I'll have to look it up when I finish this." and for a moment, I was secretly relieved that it was so far away from where T was. I went back to my work, under deadline and sweating it, putting the news in the back of my mind for just a little while. I left in a rush without taking the time to look anything up.

After running the application packet across town, I was headed to pick up dinner when my phone rang. It was T, on his way to class, which reminded me of what Coach had said. I was relieved to hear his voice and, knowing I had been under a rock for the better part of a day (we are effectively sealed off from the outside world in our little school) he filled me in on what he knew about what had happened. The gravity began sinking in.

By the time I got home, it was all anyone could talk about. I went to sleep watching it on the late news. I woke up to it at 2 am and could not get back to sleep. The more I heard, the more questions I had and the more stressed out I got. The thought of going to school this morning was scary, the thought of sending my kids to school even scarier. These incidents always spawn copycats. Even kids joking about it can cause a panic. Violence in schools is just not something we that work in the schools have a sense of humor about.

I used to belong to a messageboard (now defunct) that had a thread about students getting suspended for having a fake gunfight in a crowded cafeteria. Two months ago, with school violence a distant memory, many members of the board made light of the situation. Sure, those assholes in the school systems freak out over the littlest things. Here was part of my response:

Guess I'm just one of the assholes chiming in but ... I work in an elementary school ... even if I'm in another part of the school when something happens (a fight, a suspicious person on campus, a threatening situation), all the kids talk about it, many of them genuinely scared. Then these kids go home, tell their parents and the parents freak out (because we are supposed to give their children a SAFE environment to learn in) and the school system and the local media is flooded with accusations, half-truths, complaints and lawsuits.

We have drills for what to do in case someone comes on campus with a weapon. In my 4 years at this school, we have had 2 full lockdowns (weapons on campus) as well as several partial lockdowns (disruptive persons in the building, robbery in the neighborhood with suspects on foot) ... and we aren't in a high crime neighborhood. Our motto is "Better safe than sorry".

Now, the commercial is hilarious. I get it. Kids probably love it. But we are trained as teachers and administrators in public schools to provide a safe environment for our students ... I just completed 6 hours of Non-Violent crisis intervention (basically, what to do if a student freaks out and tries to hurt themselves or anyone else). Sure, it seems like harmless fun but there have been too many real school shootings, to many kids killed, for people to joke about it, especially in a crowded cafeteria.

The article doesn't mention if these kids regularly got into trouble before this. The administrators didn't know if this *joke* could have been a prelude to something more serious. After all, Senior pranks have been known to get out of hand and 'tis the season.

Apparently the gunman yesterday had a history of irrational and destructive behavior, starting fires in dorm rooms, stalking women and writing incredibly violent stories for his creative writing classes. Yesterday he snapped. Will there be lingering questions about how and why and what if? Of course there will. We will never know the whole story, really, but I'm sure the theories will be bandied about for a long time to come.

But today, as hung over and depressed as I felt, I went to school and took care of my students. Many of them talked to me about the incident. Most of them asked why they didn't have lockdowns like we do at our school. All of them seemed scared. I told them I was too, but not while I was at school. I don't have a choice.

I thought about the student victims a lot today, and their families. I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to lose one of my children to such a sudden, senseless act of violence. I though a lot about the professors that were killed, too. They did nothing but go to work yesterday morning. Teaching is one of those jobs that is a lot of stress and responsibility for very little return. When something like this happens, it really makes me second guess my chosen profession.

My heart is breaking tonight. My thoughts and prayers are with the Hokies and their families.

April 9, 2007

Generating controversy...

I don't usually talk about newsworthy topics. I'm what's known as a 'personal' blogger, or at least I have been since shortly after 9/11, when the news overwhelmed me personally and I chose to step out. Also, I find it usually takes me so long to write a blog post that, by the time I'm done, half the blogosphere and their mothers have already written about it.

It is with this in mind that I just wanted to toss in my $.02 about something that has been clogging the tubes for the past few days.

You may not know (or respect) this about me, but I have always been a fan of Don Imus. As "shock jocks" go, I have always preferred his humor to that of Howard Stern. Not that I don't respect Stern, I just don't like the overall sexual denigrating tone of his show, the people he surrounds himself with, or what he and his crew will stoop to for ratings. That the man has impeccable instincts is undeniable, I just don't respect him for much more than that.

Don Imus, on the other hand, has earned my respect for many reasons. He has improved himself, as a human, immensely since his heavy drinking years, and is not ashamed to come out and say "Look, I was an idiot and I still struggle every day with it." when talking about his former habits.

His show consistently has authors/newsmakers/politicians that I am interested in and they all speak their mind when they are with the I-man. If they spout bullshit, he calls them on it, but he gives them all an equal chance to make fools of themselves, rather than setting them up for juvenile pranks and ambush-style ridicule.

He also is a family man and a philanthropist, doing what he can to share his wealth and do some good with his ranch for kids with cancer. His intentions there are so noble and he is so involved with each and every kid ... I'm not sure I could set myself up for that kind of emotional pain.

Now, the people he has working for him are not always my favorites but, for the most part, they have failed to piss me off so much that I would not listen to the man anymore. Imus' comments came from nowhere but his own mouth, which he has totally admitted, but I would think that the comments of his producer, Bernard McGuirk, calling the Rutgers girls "ho's" in the first place, should be as loudly vilified as the addition of "nappy-headed". Is it just me? Is it ok to call young, athletic women ho's but not ok to call anyone nappy-headed? Am I missing something?

Where is the outcry by women's groups? Is it because women are continually portrayed as "bitches and hos" that we are numb to it but something as insignificant as the texture of hair is a reason to go ballistic?

Don't get me wrong , I think the entire exchange went way too far but I do know after watching/listening to Imus for almost 10 years, McGuirk is BY FAR more denigrating than Mr. Imus, ridiculing everyone in the Catholic church (from the pope to bishops to priests) to Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and anyone else that gets in his way. He usually does have Imus there to save his ass, though.

This time, it seems to me that McGuirk has gotten his boss into more hot water than normal and is willing to calmly toast marshmallows over the pyre as his gravytrain gets burned in effigy.

As an aside, I have a book in my library, "Happy to be nappy" by Bell Hooks that has caused a few raised eyebrows. It is a gorgeous, poetic book, as full of joy and acceptance of individuality as anything that I have ever read. This recent furor has made me wonder ... is it ok to have that book in my library? Will nappy become the new N word, one that white people are forbidden to utter?

Sad state of affairs when someone like Joseph Francis gets rich by exploiting hundreds of drunk young women while someone like Don Imus faces a firing squad for a (however crude) joke. Is it a race thing? No, really, I'm just wondering, because I don't get it.

April 1, 2007

Hoping this makes sense ... almost certain it won't ...

Thinking about why I'm unable to write has had a peculiar effect on my writing ... it has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Gone are the days when I thought of myself as a good writer, when I would revel in the absolute abandonment of conventions, pouring words out on the page like so much water without a thought of how I would wrap it all up in one cohesive piece. Was I a good writer then? Probably not, but I was prolific and I enjoyed it.

The day I learned about form, about how to write well, was the day I stopped just writing and began to feel the self-induced pressure to produce polished pieces. The day I felt overwhelmed by that pressure was the day I lost my freedom to just write. Knowing I have a limited emotional wellspring from which to draw has made me stingy with my words. While writing was my emancipation years ago, expecting myself to be good at it has slapped on a new type of fetter, one whose key I have not yet found.

This is where I blame my OCD tendencies coupled with an insistence on perfection, my all-purpose excuse ... but I do feel that I have transferred them to my writing, where each word must be the perfect choice for the moment. Each word must be precise, not be repetitive, mundane, or, God forbid, average. If I'm not careful, I'll begin counting my words, sorting them into neat little piles of nouns, verbs and dangling participles and storing them in jars in my closet.

Beyond this increasingly disturbing resemblance to Melvin Udall, I've also found that the harder I strive to make my thoughts clear, to try to explain my thought process to others that don't know me, the harder it has become for me to actually make a point. Because I am so afraid that I will face scrutiny and be found lacking, I am not able to write anything indisputable enough.

Are these just old insecurities rearing their ugly heads (my personal emotional Chimaera) or have I, accustomed to being argued with and constantly frustrated by my own inadequacies, grown an entirely new, all-purpose one? Am I over-analyzing again or is this a necessary (read normal) thought process? Is it just the mechanical efficiency expert in me wishing I could parse my thought process down to a concrete algorithm, one that could be applied to anything I am trying to say? If only I could use it as a litmus test before even trying so that I don't feel like I have to try so damn hard to explain myself to people that will never get it and don't really give a rat's ass?

As usual, I end with more questions than I began with. All I really was trying to do was to explain myself and I end up creating a little job security for my inner shrink.

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