Monday, February 27, 2012

There's just so much positive thinking a girl can do

It's all in your outlook. Think happy thoughts. Remember the positive. Count your blessings.

You know, there's only so much positive thinking and counting your blessings a girl can do before she just can't do no more!

To say I'm in a dark mood is an understatement: I've reached my limit on bullshit and stress. I cannot take one more ounce of worry or anger. Not one more. I'm serious, Universe, so knock it off! Let me say thank you to everyone who sends me positive energy and warm fuzzy thoughts, but unless you're showing up on my doorstep with a bottle of Sapphire Gin and a basket of limes, I don't want to hear it.

Yes, I know, it's all in the way you look at things and it really is important to stay focused on the good. There are many many many happy and wonderful things in my life and I am the master at redirecting the negative into something creative and life affirming. My every waking moment is a battle to keep "happy thoughts" at the front of my brain while watching my only child suffer. But I'm human, okay. I'm not a frickin Saint, although people seem to believe I am. "How do you do it, Terena?" they wonder while shaking their heads in amazement.

Anti-depressents, therapy and alcohol. How do you do it?

I hate feeling sorry for myself, in fact I go to great lengths avoiding that particular emotion. It's a waste of energy and time. Life's too short to be resentful and angry. Life is a gift, and we only get one (as far as we know for sure) so what's the point of worrying about what has happened or didn't happen? The problem with this theory is that we're also human, and humans are... human. We're frail and we break easily, especially our psyches.

Why so blue? I turned 45 on Feb. 4th and ever since that day life has taken a dramatic downward spiral. I've had to deal with my crazy mom (I'm speaking literally here), a shoulder injury (mine. try taking care of someone when it hurts to move), illness (again, my own. 2 weeks of feeling like hell while still taking care of everything), Queen Teen's new and sudden physical problems (gagging on her food, a throbbing knee and her right hand that's been tingly for weeks. this is the same one she injured two months ago.), and to top it all off, the almost collapse of her school program.

You want to know how strong I am? I can sit through a two hour meeting with teachers and therapists and discuss unforeseen problems with her educational program while keeping my growing anger in check and mediate for the others who are becoming frustrated, all with the goal of keeping the communication going, and even with the knowledge that I'm not able to fix a damn thing.  I did all of this with the flue! And I still need to keep my emotions in check if anything will change, especially because I'm walking that very thin line between "Mommy" and "Teacher." Lets see any so called Super Mom do the same.

So if I want to feel sorry for myself and hate the world now and then, I think I've earned it. Forgive my dark, sarcastic ass. I don't want to think happy thoughts!

I'm a leaf on the wind...   Splat!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Vote for Schats for America's best bakery.

Queen Teen loves chocolate muffins, and happily our local bakery makes the most scrumptious chocolate muffins of all time. The bakery is called Schats, and it is a contender in America's Best Bakery contest.

Here's a short video interviewing the owner, Zach Schats, in which he talks about managing his business. You can see how beautiful his baked goods are, especially the fresh bread. The delicious smell makes it  torturous for me sometimes when I go in there because he doesn't make Gluten Free goodies. He told me he doesn't because he can't guarantee there wouldn't be cross-contamination in his very busy kitchen. You have to respect a baker who really thought about how to bake gluten-free and then realized he couldn't,  rather than a baker who thinks baking a dish without wheat-flour automatically makes it gluten free.

Oh well, I can enjoy his baked goods by watching my daughter scarf her chocolate muffin, or fresh croissant, or a slice of cheese pizza.

So vote for this small, family owned (fifth generation, I believe) local business that makes Queen Teen so happy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dead Presidents

Queen Teen has been learning about presidents in school. This is what she told me.

"A long time ago, black kids and white kids couldn't go to the same school. They had to go to different schools. But George Washington made them go to the same school, and then they were friends."

She also told me she likes how there are faces of presidents on money.

Um, okay...

So here's the question: does she know what a president is? I think she gets the idea that a president is a leader, but does she understand that all those dead presidents she's been studying were actual living people who ruled our country a long time ago? Does she have a clue who our president is now, or where he lives, or what he does?

Her intervener at school has been struggling this whole school year with concepts around presidents, and I know she's as frustrated as I. Every time Queen Teen brings me her homework I groan.

Write one fact about President Harrison. 

Who? (okay, I admit I'm a little rusty on presidential history.)

I believe it's important for students to learn about our presidents and the decisions they made through history which impacted our country. History is important, and I wish Queen Teen could grasp that concept. But history to Queen Teen is what happened when she was little, or what happened when I was little. The past is amorphous and the long ago past meaningless. If that's the case, why spend so much time teaching her the name of a dead president?

Queen Teen can be as mysterious as history; you think you "get it", then you'll discover another gap in understanding. She'll rattle off random info about birds, or show you San Francisco on a map, but be unable to tell you anything about recycling, even though she's part of the recycling program at school. She won't remember what she did last week, but tell you in detail what happened the day she got the doll she named "Sara" ten years ago (when she was 6). Queen Teen is very smart, but getting information through the maze of deafness and blindness and mobility problems can make her seem dense. You can try pounding a subject into her brain for months, trying different techniques to help her understand, until you're both frustrated and finally give up. Then two months later, she'll spontaneously tell you all about what you were trying to teach her but swore she couldn't understand.

What should you teach her? And how?

What is the ultimate goal?

Everyone,  her teachers, therapists, aids and myself, struggle with those questions. And those questions have to be addressed within the framework of an educational program in high school with State standards that must be met. It can feel like an impossible task.

But as frustrated as we all get, it's only a third of how Queen Teen must feel. People keep shoving information at her and she's supposed to learn it, whether she "gets it" or not.

She hands me another sheet about another mysterious dead president. "I just don't get the point!" she yells.

"I know, Honey. Me either. But let's figure it out together."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

And then she got sick, which wasn't so bad

Zooming from one task to another and another... So many things to remember all at once. I've taken multi-tasking to an art-form.

Remember the job, the kid, the house, the dog... Remember the groceries, bills, laundry, SSI forms and IHSS forms. Remember it's spring and it hasn't rained and the yard needs a drink and the worms have outgrown their bin and the weeds are choking the berries. Remember the kid on the coast has an IEP and the one up north needs a new walker and the one in town has an important meeting and the other one wants to do an art project and the littlest one likes to pull your hair. Remember Queen Teen has homework and she learned new signs and you need to learn them too. Remember she'll have more blood work soon so remember to plan how that will happen. Remember to eat.


Oh right, eat...

Remember to take vitamins and get rest. Remember all of this, or else.

Or else?

And then I got sick. Big surprise.

Last week I woke up nauseous and chilled with a low grade fever and body aches. I'm finally feeling better, but the fatigue won't go away. I drag myself through each day like I'm dragging a 2 ton stone by chains wrapped around my shoulders. I spent the majority of our four-day holiday weekend on the couch watching old movies.

Queen Teen was wonderful. Being out of school on a weekend is bad enough, but being out of school for four whole days with nothing to do and a sick mom is intolerable. The boredom was epic. But she mustered her strength and tried hard to entertain herself, and also take care of me a little. She asked if I was warm enough and then straightened out my blanket. When I asked if she'd like to watch a movie she said she'd watch whatever I wanted; we settled on a Tinker Bell marathon. She even tried cleaning the kitchen counters for me. The whining about boredom only started monday late morning, which is a new world record for her. It shows how much she's growing up; she's starting to think about other people and what she can do for them, instead of always focusing on her own needs. I'm proud of her.

We did manage to get out every day, driving to Starbucks for hot chocolate, going to the Farmer's Market,  and buying new clothes for a friend's baby. We also bought 2 new blueberry bushes for the birds (they'll probably eat them before we get a chance). Overall, not a bad weekend, just not exactly what either of us had planned.

Now here I sit, thinking about the last few weeks because I realize I haven't been posting very much. I'm amazed at how fast the time roars past before I have a moment to catch my breath, let alone stop and write. Teaching is stressful I've discovered. Added to my already stressful world it's a bit overwhelming. I've only been a teacher for 6 months, so I think in time I'll get the hang of it. Or not. There are teachers I work with who've been there 20 years and still feel overwhelmed by the needs of their students sometimes. Maybe this constant race of deadlines and lesson plans and assessments is just part of the game. Perhaps the key is to run it like a marathon, pacing yourself and taking care of your body and not worrying so much about how many miles you still have to go.

All I know is my body is screaming for a rest, so right now I can milk this illness for a few more hours on the couch with an old movie blaring Big Band music. Tomorrow I have to go back to work, but tonight, I can fall asleep on this big comfy couch to the flicker of a black and white "talky".

Sometimes being sick isn't so bad.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spirit of Uganda

Queen Teen's class went to see "The Spirit of Uganda," at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa last week, and I got to go with her. The Spirit of Uganda is a performance group made up of Ugandan children and young adults who have all lost parents to AIDS and war. They travel the globe representing the organization Empower Africa's Children. From their website:

Empower African Children is a non-profit organization inspired by success stories from more than 15 years of work with Africa's vulnerable children. Launched in 2006 by child advocate Alexis Hefley - whose work with Ugandan children has earned her international acclaim - Empower African Children's programs provide a fresh new approach that unlocks the potential of this generation through an innovative education. Its holistic approach to education provides tools for success in life, creating confident, skillful, visionary leaders.

Uganda has the highest number of orphans of any country in the world. The funds raised during the tour go to the orphanage and education program supported by Empower Africa's Children. The performance also shares the beauty and excitement of Ugandan music and dance, which I admit I knew almost nothing about.

The only things I knew about Uganda were Idi Amin,  AIDS, and the persecution of homosexuals. I didn't even know where exactly the country was located in Africa. Watching the performance made me curious, so I went on line and explored the history and culture of Uganda. With Lake Victoria as its southern border, Uganda is a part of the Nile river delta, rich with fish, game and plants. But it is a poor country, with more than 50% of the population under the age of 15 and the average lifespan for women age 52 (47 for men). These are the facts you'll get from reading Wikipedia, which could paint a mighty bleak image of Uganda, or any African country for that matter. What the Spirit of Uganda shows us is the heart and soul of the nation, not the hardship. The country is rich with resources and people. The humans who live there struggle, but also create beauty. Seeing the children dance while listening to the drums and songs helped me understand the strength of the people of Uganda, and made me want to visit there. Maybe I will someday.

As Queen Teen's Mobility teacher, it was my job to drive her and a friend to the theatre, and then arrange for them to go back stage to meet some of the performers. It's very hard for Queen Teen to see and understand what's happening on stage, even from the front row, so seeing a performer up close is really helpful.

We were guided back stage by the center's Education Program Director, who has been incredibly helpful every time Queen Teen has gone to see a show there. The performers, ages 11 through 20, were fabulous. Several dancers came out to meet Queen Teen and show her their costumes. They got really close so she could see what they were wearing, including the feathered belts around their waists and the bells on their ankles. And they talked directly to her, waited for her response, allowed her to touch their clothing and shake their hands. No one seemed nervous around a deaf-blind young woman in a wheel chair; they treated her like any other student wanting to meet performers before a show. The generosity of the young performers and the kindness they showed Queen Teen, without any hint of pity, impressed me greatly. (Here's a link from the Wells Fargo Center blog, and if you scroll to the bottom of that page, you'll see a picture of Queen Teen in her pink coat meeting the performers.)

And the show impressed everyone, including Queen Teen. She loved the drums and the dances, but got a little lost with the story telling (hard to understand when you can't hear the guy talking and both you and the person interpreting don't know enough ASL to help). Toward the end of the show, the storyteller invited us all to stand and dance with the performers. I jumped up and held out my hands to Queen Teen, who surprised me by standing, gripping my hands tightly, and dancing with the rest of the audience. She was grinning like a little kid and dancing as wild as her body would let her without falling. I kept a tight grip on her so she could lift her legs and flap her arms. When the dance was over, she said, "You thought I couldn't dance!" She was still grinning when the show ended, and she clapped as hard as her little hands could. 

If The Spirit of Uganda comes to your town, go see it.  You will be inspired and thoroughly entertained. Tell them Queen Teen sent you.