Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going to Burning Man with my dad!

(image from matt.peterson.org  )

How many people get to say that?

My father is 62 years old and loves Burning Man. He's been going for several years, and to him, it is Mecca. He's wanted me to come with him for just as long, but there has always been too much on my plate: school, work, motherhood, lack of money, lack of time...  until now. I realized that when I get my Master's degree I might work for a school district, which means it will be impossible to get time off at the beginning of the school year. And, even if I work for an agency not dependent on a school calendar, it might be tricky spending some of my valuable vacation time on "the burn." Then my dad had a heart attack on New Year's Eve and I knew now was the time. I had to go to Burning Man with my father at least once or I would regret it for the rest of my life.

My husband Rick agreed. "You have to go. It doesn't matter how much a ticket costs, you're going."

Isn't my husband the greatest?

Since my ticket arrived in February, I've been planning and organizing and saving and preparing, physically and mentally. The "playa," which is the bed of an ancient extinct lake, is a challenging and even dangerous environment. The alkaline dust will suck the moisture right out of your skin. Dust storms and 30 mph winds are common. The temperature can exceed 115 F during the day and 45 at night. Dehydration and sun stroke are a serious threat.

But there are also artists from all over the world creating incredible art and giant sculptures of steel and glass. There are fascinating and talented people sharing their music and crafts.  There is a night sky so black you can see the crisp edges of every star. There is debauchery, yes, sex and raves. And there is beauty everywhere you turn. People come and create a brilliant city in an inhospitable place that only lasts two weeks. Then it's gone, like a far away echo of music in the wind.

My car is loaded and tomorrow I leave for northern Nevada to meet my father in Black Rock City. I hope to explore the art and meet interesting people, dance under the moon and take long siestas during the hot afternoons. Mostly though, I want to spend time with my father. His heart is strong now and he'll more than likely live another 20 years, but when he is gone, I want this memory to last forever.

So if you're wondering where I am for the next week, you'll find me at 7:45 and Hanoi in Black Rock City, Nevada.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I started my internship two weeks early. My master teacher contacted me and asked if I could observe an assessment of a new student that she thinks I may be working with once I start. "It would be good for you to see her from the beginning." Hell yeah! Not only was I eager to begin, but I'd just found out that due to the university not being able to use student TA's in their O and M classes anymore (thanks to some new accreditation regulations), I'd just lost 20 hours a month of intern hours and it will be a miracle if I finish my internship on time.

Rick rearranged his schedule to accommodate this change and I rushed off to Petaluma to meet my master teacher and my possible first student. I can't go into specifics, but I will say that despite my driving 150 miles in 108 degree temperature with a barely working AC, it was a great day. Finally seeing what I'd learned being used by a professional, experienced, O and M instructor was fascinating. It was so great, I volunteered to come back thursday, friday and the following monday.

But when thursday rolled around, reality set in. I am not prepared to start my internship at all. Rick was stressing, trying to support me by getting all his work done in time to meet Queen Teen's school bus, and I was trying to shove my giant to-do list into one day, something that proved impossible. I haven't even set up regular after school child care yet! What the hell was I thinking?

I observed my teacher again on thursday, then explained that I was wrong about starting so early. She understood completely and told me not to worry. When I explained how I'd lost so many intern hours and was worried about not graduating on time, she was shocked. But she agreed that I shouldn't put my family and myself through so much stress to try and make up hours before any of us are ready.

Is this a glimmer of sanity? Am I really learning to pace myself and make choices that support my mental health, rather than living my life like some kind of marathon with a finish line in sight?

I'm still worried about my internship hours and really angry about it. Losing 20 hours a month is going to be impossible to make up! Oh well...  just gotta keep breathing, stay sane, and keep moving forward.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Who decided school should start this early in the moring?

 (image from Real Simple)

It's 7:25 AM and I'm drinking my second cup of coffee, finally starting to wake up. Queen Teen caught the bus for school at 6:50 and is right now heading to her class after the first bell. To catch the bus on time, she has to get up at 5:15. 5:15! That means I have to get up at 5:10. 5:10 in the morning!!!!!!!!!!

Who the hell decided high school will start at 7:30?! Haven't they read the studies showing clear evidence that teens need more sleep and don't function well before 9 AM? Want to raise test scores? Stop trying to teach a teenager anything before 9 AM!

Maybe some kids can hop out of bed at 6:30 to make it to school on time, but we have to get up this early because it takes a long time to get Queen Teen ready for school. She wakes up slowly, eats breakfast while half asleep (who can eat at 5:30?), brushes her teeth and washes her face, then slowly gets dressed. Between her groggy movements and ataxia, achieving all of these tasks in an hour and a half can be challenging. Plus, I'm barely awake myself, so my organizational skills and patience are sluggish. By 6:45, Queen Teen is awake and dressed and standing by the front door watching for the bus. When it comes she announces excitedly, "Mom! The bus is here." I help her to the bus while the driver loads her wheelchair and then her walker. After buckling her in her seat, I give her a kiss goodbye on the cheek, then stand on the sidewalk to wave as the bus pulls away.

At 7:00 AM, Queen Teen is on her way to school, while I am fighting against the urge to go back to bed. My night owl body begs for more sleep, telling me I shouldn't be awake before 8, but I force her to stay away from bed and won't allow a nap on the couch. The day has started and I need to train my body to get used to getting up early in the morning, even though I know it's futile. I'll never get used to it, never feel alert before 8, but eventually I'll stop feeling like I'm hung-over and stupid.

Again, I ask, who decided school should start so early? Don't you know anything about teenagers? How do the teachers feel about getting up this early to teach grumpy, sleepy adolescents who barely pay attention when they're awake. Hasn't anything taught in the first two periods of school been negated by starting so early? And what about us poor parents who have to get these sleepy, grumpy, miserable teens out of bed and ready for school on time?

I know, I know... getting up this early helps parents who have to be at work by 8 (when I start my internship in three weeks I'll probably be happy, if sleepy). And I know teachers probably like getting off work earlier than later. And I also know districts are short on buses so the buses have to come early to pick up all those kids on one route. And I'm lucky there's a bus at all. But none of those supposedly good reasons mean Queen Teen and I have to like it. Nor does it mean that starting school this early is good for the kids.

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Day of High School

This morning, Queen Teen started High School. She was a little nervous yesterday, and very sleepy this morning (why does school start so frickin early?!), but by the time she was dressed and in the car, she was smiling. Driving her to school, I remembered her first day of preschool when she was a tiny three year old. I helped her out of the car and then walked with her to the group of preschoolers standing together in front of the school building with their parents and the teacher. She held my hand tightly, but grinned when she saw the other kids. Once all the kids were gathered, the teacher took Queen Teen's hand to help her walk (this was back when QT could walk on her own without a walker, but on uneven ground she needed a hand to keep her balance) and all of the children followed in a line, holding each other's hands. Most of them were crying and a few had refused to let go of their moms, but Queen Teen looked back at me, smiled, waved with her free hand, and said, "Bye Mom." Then she happily went to class with her teacher.

I went back to my car and burst into tears.

And now here we are, 12 years and 24 inches later, on the first day of High School. Dressed in a Tinker Bell t-shirt and light-blue skirt, Queen Teen looked confident. When we got to school, she grabbed the arms of her walker and walked to the front door, grinning when she recognized her aid from the 8th grade who had followed QT to 9th grade. I helped Queen Teen find her desk and explained to the aid why QT wasn't wearing her hearing aids (eczema is still a major problem). At last, it was time to go. Kneeling beside Queen Teen, I said, "Bye sweety. Have a good day at school."

She smiled at me and said, "Bye Mom."

And then I went back to my car and cried.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The feel of hummingbirds zooming past my head

Queen Teen and Rick flew to Austin, Texas to visit family for 10 days and since I had my last internship meeting this past Saturday, I couldn't go. Okay, I admit it, there's a part of me that was happy not to go. I would love to see everyone and I miss my girl and hubby, but the peace and quiet has been amazing! After a few days, the constant ache in my jaw and shoulders dissipated, the knot in my stomach faded, and my thoughts stopped hopping around like a drunk frog on a hot plate. I could take a deep breath and feel calm for the first time in... how long? Years?

I went to the coast with my dear friend, Jody, and stayed at The Howard Creek Ranch B n B, an eclectic, beautiful property tucked between the ocean and a thick grove of redwoods. Built in 1879, the rooms are in the old farm house and the redwood coach house, both crammed with antiques and odd treasures. Hummingbirds battle for the garden, which overflows with flame-red, yellow, ice-blue, and white flowers, nasturtium, berry vines, and roses. Fat, friendly cats curl up in your lap when you sit to read in the sunshine. The inn is run by an older couple who serve you a hearty breakfast every morning. There's a narrow swinging bridge across a creek choked with blackberries, and at night you can hear the ocean crashing back and forth on the beach. It is my favorite place on the Mendocino Coast.

Jody and I spent three days there, lounging, going for hikes, talking, eating, and writing of course. I finished an essay that had been haunting me for months, and started working on my play again. By the time I got home after all that relaxing, I felt as if I'd been smoking dope on a hot beach. My head was fuzzy and the world seemed strangely distant. Walking into my house, the silence felt as loud as a rock concert. There was no Queen Teen shouting "Mom!" as I walked through the door, no husband cussing in the bedroom while he works on another computer, no dog bounding at me in greeting (she was at the kennel), no roar of a dishwasher or radio. Everything was still. I went to bed early with a book and breathed deeply the solitude.

Is it possible to have stress withdrawals? I'm so used to the pace of the last 2 years of grad school, of being mom and wife and keeping a roof over our head and food on the table and running a publishing company... feeling calm was bizarre. I soaked up relaxation like a starving person and now felt fat and lazy on it. But God I wanted more! Give me more calm and peaceful days, more silence. Let me get sick on it until I turn into a lump in the hammock with a book stuck on my nose. I've done constant stress, I'd like to try constant calm.

Saturday was my last internship meeting and during class our teacher explained the certification test and the master's exam. After listening for half an hour, the fog lumbering through my mind cleared and I felt the tension return to my jaw and shoulders. Ah, there it is... the churning knot in my gut. The fear lapping at my ankles. Then when she told us how much the fees for those exams are, I felt a rush of adrenaline flow through my body, chasing out the last bit of lazy still wrapped around my bones.

Back to normal once again.

But now that I know what calm feels like, I wonder if I can duplicate that feeling during my normal days? Can I learn to hold on to the feeling of sitting quietly in the garden at Howard Creek with a fat, black and white farm cat curled up in my lap and the hummingbirds dashing around, fighting for the best blossom just inches from my head. Even though I could feel them flying past me so close their momentum created a breeze on my cheek, I wasn't startled. I watched them and smiled. They are so like me, like all of us I suppose, zooming around and fighting for a crumb of pollen from the best blossom, not able to see the beauty of the flower they're fighting for.

Bourre the dog is back, worn out from playing with the dogs at the kennel for four days, and Queen Teen and Rick will be home on Tuesday.  I have several tasks to get done before then, and an awful lot of studying to do in preparation for my master's exam. But the bigger goal is to remember to stop and enjoy the flower I'm fighting for, rather than being a humming bird all the time.