Tuesday, August 11, 2015

You Really Can't Go Home

Not long ago it was brought to my attention that the house we lived in when I was born was up for sale. Curiosity set in almost instantly and my siblings and I started to discuss what it would be like to go see it. We decided to watch for an open house.

Tonight we had an opportunity to go and see the house by an appointment with a very kind and understanding real estate agent. He was very sweet.

I was about 6 or 7 years old when we moved out of that house, the same age that Angel is now.  We moved because of divorce. As the youngest, I have very few memories of any marital stresses between my parents. I have only a limited recollection of the details of the split. I am fortunate, I know.

The interesting thing about this tour of my childhood home is the differences in perceptions that each of us children possess. Different things were important to each of us, different details stood out for each of us. One feature wall in the basement was removed, which did have quite an effect on all of us. There was a mock bay window, with a top lit picture of an Irish castle. It was beautiful and it is gone.

My sister, the oldest, has more memories of the difficulties that led to the divorce and, thus, had a much more emotional experience than I had. My brother found his name written in sloppy childhood hand on an upper beam in the garage. That was something amazing.

I love that house. I love the layout and design. The big back yard that seems so much bigger than I remembered it, but seemed smaller in comparison to my brother's memory. The Trucker even liked that house. He got a glimpse into my childhood as well. But, I know that I love what I thought it was, more than what it actually is.

It is unfortunate the way that memory works. I have had a fairly clear image of the floor plan almost all my life. But as memories are continual reconstructions, I'm quite certain that details from today will begin to merge with details from my history. Perhaps a little magic of my youth will be lost. There are many features that are still the same as they were, some a bit surprising. But the differences exist and will alter my future perceptions, because the memories for me are small and broken already.

Perhaps it is a curse to know that this will happen. Darn Psyc Major!!

Within minutes of leaving, Macboy was calling me. Angel was being difficult and I had to shift back into mom brain and deal with the behavior. The evening went fast, with a lot of fight. Angel had to call my bluff, I had to send her to bed way earlier than she's been going lately. I wasn't too happy. We had stormy weather, an eerie greenish glow in the sky which thankfully passed without event. The trucker went to bed, my mother got home.

I needed to process my thoughts. I have feelings of nostalgia, sadness, joy, gratitude and regret. So many, many more emotions after this kind of experience. One is tempted to consider the "What If's" in a situation like this, but even with all of the difficulties I have faced since we moved out of that house, I would not want it any other way.

Unfortunately, I was wearing the big neon sign on my forehead this evening that says "please disturb my peace and talk to me about random things". The text alternates with "please come in and turn on the TV, then walk away" and also "I didn't quite catch that the first 8 times you said it, please repeat it for me?"

Lucky for you, my inability to think clearly led me to write instead. And this post, completely unedited for your enjoyment (it's awkward and emotional, I don't want to reread it at the moment), is my attempt to settle my thoughts and make some sense of my emotions.

The house that I visited today was not my home. I felt a little disappointed that I didn't feel that immediate sense of 'home' that I sort of always expected to have if I ever went back there. I will convince myself that it is because of the changes that have been made, but the truth is more likely that it simply isn't my home. It was once, but it is no longer. It is a part of me, but now it can be someone else's new beginning. Even if I moved back into that house tomorrow, it would not be the same house. I am not the same person I was then. None of us are, not even my parents.

We moved out in the mid-eighties. The walls have been touched with many other hands since then. The floorboards have absorbed the histories of many other lives. The house is changed eternally, as am I. I would never say that it couldn't be my home again, just that it would never be the same home to me. Perhaps it would hold similar magic for my own children, but then again, they are all near or past the ages we were when we moved and it just might not.

I'm glad to have had the experience of going back there, and even more pleased that I was able to do it with my siblings who lived there with me. I can only imagine how they feel now, I hope it is still a positive fondness and not regret for them. I guess now I will have to go find the old photo albums and ensure that this visit doesn't distort my memories too much. In a small way, I think it may have been an opportunity I should have skipped.

I am grateful that there was a peaceful feeling inside the house. It was not a place of pain or tension for me. I have only good memories from that house.

Home really is found within each of us. Walls can contain it temporarily, but they do not possess it. Home moves with us, and there is nowhere to return to because we are already there.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Testing My Time Management Skills With Online Classes

I have now completed year two of university. This year I pushed harder and took four classes per semester, as well as two additional 6 week long online classes in the spring semester. I discovered that I do not want to ever take online classes again, if I can avoid it at all. They were quite difficult in ways I didn't expect. I hadn't realized how much influence the physical presence of a professor can have. It is also more difficult to gauge their marking style or understand what exactly they are looking for in an assignment. As much as I may be introverted, I need people too. I learn best on my own sometimes, but there is so much that a professor brings to a class that you just can't get online.
The pace of the online classes was intense. I had deadlines every 3 or 4 days, even on weekends. Doing a single class might have been a lot more manageable, but I'm not that smart and I dive in head first. In order to balance the deadlines for two separate classes, I needed a good system. First I printed a blank calendar and wrote out due dates. Then I added family commitments or school functions. I didn't have a lot in May, June was crazy though. I looked at this calendar every single day.

Now, seeing when the Module items are due is only helpful if I have a way to keep track of what each module is. For instance, Module 1 did not have a chapter to read. Fortunately, none of the modules required more than one chapter. But keeping track of what has to be done for module 4, which might have been about chapter 7 doesn't help a lot. And you need to know the module numbers, because the assignment upload links or online quizzes are noted as the module number, not chapters or names. So, I made myself a chart for each class like this.
Angel always offers encouragement. 
I used this, as you can see, as a quick glance place to track marks. Especially helpful when I was trying to calculate my grades before the final. I did have to add the due dates to this form later in the term, because it was getting confusing.
Additionally confusing, and further testing my organizational skills, was the naming structure for assignments. All documents that we submit were in this format MyName_M##. For both classes. So I had a Wendy_M04 for both classes. And yes, I did accidentally submit a Psyc assignment to my Soci prof. What a nightmare! I believe that was the point where my professor decided I was an idiot and marked my work much more critically after that. Even when I had a better mark, his comments were quite condescending after that point. To prevent a repeat of that horrible mistake, I made a habit of changing the file name as soon as I had finished submitting it. I had separate folders for each class, and just happened to click the wrong folder. When you only get one chance to submit, this is not a good thing. So, each time I finished an assignment and uploaded it, I went into the folder and changed it from Wendy_M04 to Wendy_psyc_M04. No more mistakes.
Online quizzes are quite a bit easier, and they are open book also. But you do have a time limit and some test bank questions can relate to really small details, so you really do have to do the reading if you want to do well. It is a much better plan to flip back through the book to double check something, than it is to try to find the answers for each question. I like online tests because feedback is instant, but the questions can be a lot more difficult than if the professor wrote them, or chose them.
My psyc final was written online at the exam facility. It was great to know my mark before I left, but I didn't do as well as I hoped and I definitely felt instantly defeated. Conversely, my soci exam was on paper and he was 5 days past the cutoff for grades when he finally posted them. And I also don't know what my mark on the exam was, just the final class grade. You win some, you lose some. Right?
The most important thing that got me through all of this for the last two months, without losing my mind, was continuous work. I didn't have any chances to hand things in early, but I only had one quiz that I had to scramble to complete on time through the whole semester. Every day, I checked my calendars, did a little work every chance I could.
I read text books while sitting and waiting at kids schools. I did assignments while everyone was out during the day, or after everyone went to bed. I made sure I told the family when I had something big coming up or if I was falling behind. Having my mother here was a great help, because she could do up dishes if I didn't get to them or, most often, switch my laundry for me because I was notorious for leaving things in the washer during these classes. I'm not sure why.
For cleaning and school work, consistently doing at least a little bit, every single day, was key to completing these courses. I finished with an A- and a B+. Still attending field trips and volunteered every morning for half an hour to switch the home reading books in Angel's class. I cooked dinner almost every night and we still ate at the table, all together, almost every single night. I did my best to protect my weekends. Sometimes it meant staying up late Friday to finish enough that I would be on track for Monday, just so that I had Saturday and Sunday open. But most often, Sunday ends up being a day for laundry and homework. It has been that way since I started university.
I would have to say that I think taking two short semester online classes was much more difficult than taking four regular semester classes.  These were regular classes, crammed into only 6 weeks of classtime. Very intense and highly stressful.
Yes, it is hard. This adventure may very well be the hardest thing I have ever done, in so many ways. But really, it's not so hard that I would ever quit. I make smaller goals. Make the most of my time off. And I just DO what I have to DO. I'm not superwoman, I am just me. I am meeting the expectations I have placed upon myself. Isn't that what everyone does?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Staying Committed to School Through Tough times.

I am finishing up my second year of study and this has been a big year for me. I increased my work load from 3 classes per term to 4 classes. I'm studying the second level French, which is difficult at times and requires a lot of consistent practice. And to top it off, I decided that I want to change my major from English to Psychology.

I fell into a confused and stressful state for a few months. I spent a lot of time researching my options, and also had to discuss the change with the Trucker. I will require more years of school with a psychology degree. I would be subjecting my family to this limited financial situation that we are in for a longer time. I would be spending more years with homework and classes that interfere with their lives.  I faced a lot of fear, and a lot of guilt.

One of my best friends lost her child in December. It is a devastating loss for all of us, though I could never pretend to imagine her pain, or her husband's. I carry a lot of guilt for not being able to be as supportive as I would like. I focused so much on how I can't help them. I became filled with my own fears about my children. My mind became filled with "What-if's" and I was distracted.  I also had to come to terms with lapses in our friendship. Times I should have spent with the little guy but didn't. All the ways our friendship could have been different. I was also filled with grief, and yet I didn't feel that I had a right to feel the pain from this loss. He wasn't my child. He wasn't around us a whole lot in his 9 years. He wasn't mine, it isn't my loss. I should not grieve this much.

But I was wrong.

I was there. Maybe not enough, but I WAS there. I got to spend part of last summer with him. I was there in the hospital when he was born, I was in that short list of people who got to hold him first. His mother is my unbiological sister. We have been friends since we were 11. He is a part of me. I do have a right to grieve. I have a right to love him. I have a right to hurt.

His parents have never placed judgement or blame on me, never acted as though I wasn't part of the family. Why do I do it to myself?

So I gave in.

I cried horribly when I found out. I was in their house as soon as I found out. I've done my best to be there for them. I held my friend through the funeral services. The worst funeral I have ever attended. I thought that I had processed this loss. At least to some degree.

But I hadn't.

A little more than 3 months passed before I realized how much this little man affected me. I finally stopped my judgments, claimed him as part of me, and truly cried for his loss. I will never be the same person that I was before he was born. And I will never be the same person now that he is gone. I recognize the powerful ways that he inspires me to be a better person. I recognize that some days just seeing his smile will bring me peace. I recognize that my grief doesn't interfere with the pain of his parents. In many ways, it may help them to know that their boy will never be forgotten. That he touched so many people. Even if that does bring pain for them occasionally, it is a blessing.

I gave in.

I cried the hardest for this little boy about 2 weeks ago.

I was stressed beyond my limits. I was falling behind on schoolwork. My grades were coming in lower than I know I am capable of. I couldn't keep up to home. I forgot things for my kids. We were late every day. I was cranky, sarcastic and snippy. Very moody. Very emotional. Very unstable.

We had a few of the kid's friends over. The house was loud. Everything was too bright. My clothes felt too tight. My socks were bothering my feet. The TV was on. Youtube was playing somewhere. I reached my sensory maximum. Half way through dinner, with the TV off and no electronics on, the giggles and conversation reached a peak in my mind. Then the doorbell rang, then the phone, and I completely shut down.

I left the table, locked myself in the bathroom with the lights off. Shut out all sensory input.

I moved slow for a few days. but during this time I started to figure out where my troubles were coming from. This is when I truly let myself grieve. I gave in to the need to face the loss. I found acceptance in myself. I gave in to the guilt of extending my schooling.

And I came out of it with a thankful heart. I am allowed to feel all of my feelings. I am not being completely selfish. I am trying to make a better life for myself and my whole family and I am trying to be a better person. I am trying to find the sunshine and laugh more, as my little friend would have (He laughed so fully and often).

I found that part of my reasons for wanting to change to psychology is to allow me to help others in ways I can't now. To be the person that I needed in my darkest days. To be the person my friends have needed before and certainly need now. I can help someone else to never have to hurt as I have.

It is all connected.

Once I embraced the truth of my own heart and mind, I was able to restore my efforts in school to the levels I had before. I can do this. I will do this. I have all the right reasons behind me. My exam marks immediately jumped back up to where they were because I corrected my study habits. I recovered my equilibrium.

I can feel my pain. I can cry my tears. I can carry that little boy with me everywhere I go. I can be happy. I can treasure my family. I can take all the mess and heartache and tears with me. I can let them out, and I can carry on. I can laugh. I can be thankful.

Life is short, and that is a terrifying concept.

Life is short, and never guaranteed.

Tomorrow is not promised.

So I will do my very best to reach for the stars every single day.

I am grateful for this chance to start over and change my life.

I am grateful for the people who support me, through all my fears and doubts and worries, through all the difficult financial situations we maneuver through.

I am grateful for the people who help me when my to-do lists get too long.

I am grateful that I get to hug my children every day.

I am grateful that I had such an amazing, inspiring boy in my life, though it certainly was not long enough.

I am grateful for today.

I am committed to the direction I have chosen and I will stay this way. I will keep working towards the goals. I can thrive through darkness. I can stay focused.

Stay strong, my friends. It is okay to be scared or have doubts in life. But you must keep moving forward. Always forward.

Every day counts.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dear Teachers,

I have great respect for teachers. They have many challenges to face day to day while instructing and caring for our children. They need to attempt to accommodate the needs of a several unique learners and provide a foundation of knowledge that these students will continue to use to some extent for the rest of their lives.
However, not all teachers are amazing and wonderful. Not all teachers care about the success or failure of their students. Not all teachers even comprehend the importance of a child's mental health with respect to learning.
I understand that you are not a group of psychologists, but in order to teach a child you should have some deep understanding of children. If you can't deal with small kids, don't teach in elementary schools. If you get tired of moody teenagers, don't teach them. You make the choice where you want to go, not the kids.
Frankly, if you have taught so long that you are jaded, quit. Allow teachers with a passion for sharing a love of learning to teach. If you don't really genuinely love children and everything that makes us who we become as adults, don't teach.
There is the saying that 'those who can't, teach' and I hate that saying. Some teachers project their own shortfalls into their lessons. Some recall such a rosy experience in primary and secondary school and don't actually understand the kids who have troubles during school years. As an adult, I have had very few conversations with people that actually enjoyed school entirely. Even those who did like school tend to have some period that they remember with sadness or regret.
I also understand that you have a curriculum to follow. You can not randomly choose what you teach our children, you must abide by laws. And those laws are becoming increasingly influenced by major corporations. I am frightened of the future of education. Legally required education that is formed by politics and businesses? Yikes. What kind of world are we creating?
So, you take your curriculum and you teach it in more than one way, that will appeal and make sense to a broader range of students. You must teach them to love learning, not to love your subject matter.
For example, my son has never enjoyed language arts (English). He carried a C average, doing just enough to scrape by from year to year. In grade seven, he encountered a teacher who actually found compelling ways to teach her literature. He has earned A's on many assignments with her. She is engaging, she is passionate and she is fun. She uses books and videos, and she encourages her students to find the parts that speak to them. She doesn't dictate subject matter for writing assignments. She gives a style and gives the class the chance to include their own interests. She is receptive to their input.
Another teacher follows the curriculum more closely, but has very clearly defined expectations. There are consequences for those who do not do their homework and her consequences NEVER change. There is no inequality in her classroom. It is easy to fit within these boundaries. Every child has the same rules and expectations, even in the cases where children have individual program plans in place.
Just today, I was confronted by statements or positions that disturb me greatly.
First is the teacher who says "he works below the level he is capable of and at this stage, he should not have to be reminded." At what age is it, exactly, that we suddenly become innately aware of what we are supposed to do? If my child meets the requirements, and is attaining A's in almost all of his classes, what is there to indicate that he should be doing more? Especially if you don't encourage more? How is a child, who gets A's on report cards, going to feel if you continually tell them they can do better? What is better? And then these same teachers wonder why they have some students struggling through perfectionist issues. Well, if an A isn't good enough, nothing will ever be.
Another, is a teacher who simply doesn't care if a student does any of his work or not. Today, I heard "well, he pushes me a bit on major assignments, but otherwise he never even notices what I'm doing." There are many problems in this classroom. We have a teacher who doesn't want to waste time on confrontation, or even risk a confrontation, so he doesn't push anyone. He only pushes on the assignments that affect the report card and it is increasingly becoming obvious to me that the report card grades are meaningless. They are only provided for the teacher to prove he can 'do his job.' And he is failing in my opinion. The students have no respect for the teacher, because the teacher doesn't have a backbone. He also doesn't follow up with parents. And if I contact him, he doesn't want to take the time to provide me with assignment details so that I can get my child to work on them at home.
In this day and age, we have so many technological ways to encourage and support our kids in their education. I get that some parents are not interested and do not take the time to communicate with teachers. But those of us who DO, should be taken seriously. And if the resources are there to stay in better communication with parents online, use them. As a university student, almost all of my class resources are easily available and even if I miss a class, I can get all the information I need. Many schools are striving to use online portals, but they are wasted efforts if teachers don't use them.
I am so frustrated and angry. Teaching should be a highly respectable profession. I agree that good teachers are not paid what they are worth, but I very much feel that many teachers are overpaid. I believe that education degrees are a little too simplified in an age of increasing inclusion. School boards are pushing all-inclusive access for students, but do not pay enough to compensate for the additional education that our teachers need in order to serve this wider range of children.
And of course, I hardly believe that the socialization we gain in school is anywhere near as important as society makes it out to be. We are perfectly capable of being "socialized" without being forced to endure hours and hours of institutionalized education. Without being subjected to peer pressures, abuse, bullies, drug addicts. And poor quality teachers.
With my three children, I can honestly say that there have been only 6 or 7 teachers who stand out or have made a difference for my kids. I have worked with (since I am a partner in my kid's educations) about 25  different teachers. I have also seen the difference in some teachers who have taught more than one of my children. Some kids are easier, built better for the public school environment. But one teacher can fail or succeed in many ways. One teacher can overlook or forget about the easy student, who then slips because no one cares. One teacher can misunderstand the special needs of another student. One teacher can see a label, where other teachers see a person.
Every single child matters. Every day.
So teachers, before you begin to hate me for judging you, remind yourself why you decided to teach. Be your best self, and care for all students in the best way you can. You wonderful teachers are cherished, but you are growing hard to find. Ignite your passion again, or consider changing your career. It is okay to change our minds. Stop before you become jaded. You are a huge part of our collective future.
Make a difference.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

People Are Strange and Other Musings

I'm going to start with a list today. There are some weird people in the world. Here's my top five for the week of strange things I've overheard.
1. "I don't like my child's daycare. They spend way too much time playing outside and my child's clothes get too dirty."
2. "Why are they wasting time repairing sidewalks? No one actually walks anymore except from their house to their car."
3. "I can't believe the prof only gave us three weeks for this assignment. Don't they know we have other classes too?"
4. "I'm so tired. I had a really stressful weekend. We drove to the mountains for a family vacation and got home late."
5. "I want to get up early on Saturday."
1. First, I strongly believe that kids are supposed to get dirty. It's in their natural job description. You shouldn't buy designer clothing for kids, that's really just insanity. Second, who on earth ever says that their kids spend too much time outdoors these days? 
2. Just because YOU don't walk, doesn't mean that all people choose not to walk. I've seen a lot of foot traffic in our city and some of our sidewalks are in terrible condition. Even if you don't walk, pretty soon you will have to shovel snow off that mess. Wouldn't it be better if it was even?
3. The prof actually gave us a bit more than 3 weeks. We are writing a 5 page paper, not even in essay format, and he has provided most of the background research for us. Why can't that be done in three weeks? Additionally, the basics of the assignment were provided right from the beginning of the term. You should have known this was coming at some point.
4. Why do you expect sympathy because you chose to spend a weekend in a hotel in the mountains? If you have that much to do when you get home, don't go away spontaneously. This also came from one of those people who often complains about a lack of money and also about never being able to find time to do homework. They have only two classes this term too. I've got 4 classes, plus 3 kids, and had to take a sudden 13 hour drive, each way, to attend a memorial service. You don't know what stress is, lady.
5.This was Macboy, and I understand his logic. In some ways, I wish that I could actually do this too. He plans to wake up early on Saturday because everyone else will sleep late and he can enjoy some quiet time at the beginning of his day. It sounds wonderful really, but it doesn't actually happen often. For someone as anti-mornings as I am, it sounds crazy.
Enough about that. I suppose I pay attention too much to the people around me. It is frustrating how negative some people can be. It often makes it hard for me to find my positives. But they are there. The last few weeks have been very busy. My mind is full of negativity and so many things I'd love to rant about but I'm not going to reduce myself to that level. Instead, I will highlight the positives of my personal situation and be proud of the good things that came out of this stressful period.
I'm up to date on homework and assignments. Some days it feels like all I do is homework, but I do what I need to do to succeed in a way that suits my own expectations. I want to do well and I will do whatever it takes.
My kids are doing well in school too. They are such strong readers. Even the oldest, who has his own set of difficulties is blossoming and succeeding this year. He is becoming a fascinating young man and really coming out of his shell. I am confident that he will not lack the self esteem or knowledge to succeed later in life after all that he has overcome.
We brought back Wednesday Without Electronics this week. It was the trucker who suggested it, too. Wednesday was a very fun day here. The kids adjusted without any complaints into a quiet and unplugged evening. The three of them played together almost the entire night. Thursday morning was a breeze because everyone was well rested.  Well, except that someone hid the TV remote so that the others couldn't use it and that led to at least an hour of ripping apart the living room trying to find it again. Oops.
I met a whole new bunch of in-laws last weekend. Our families are quite spread out and it is difficult to see everyone. Our trip to the coast was nice though. After being together nearly 20 years it seems strange that we haven't met each others families entirely. There are just too many people to see and not enough time to travel there and see them all. I'm pleased that I still feel like a full part of the Truckers family, even when I'm surrounded by people I've never met. It was like I had always known them.
I am getting strong enough now to recognize when I'm reaching my extroversion limits. I require certain amounts of time alone to recover/recharge after extended periods of being around people. Particularly these situations where I must be the extroverted self to visit with family members that I've never met. In addition, there was an exceptional amount of time spent in close proximity to the trucker, in the van for so many, many hours of driving. I love him dearly, and our time was very therapeutic, but it definitely left no room to be alone with my thoughts. Early this week, I was able to identify that I was struggling and stopped it before it progressed beyond control. I told the Trucker what I needed and he helped me find some time to myself. I was able to skate through this time, without a crash.
I feel strong and in control. I'm feeling quite accomplished also, even though the only accomplishment was catching back up to regular life. Not long ago, it would have likely taken months to get back to where I am right now after just a bit more than a week.
I am positive. I am strong. I am focused. I am determined. I am motivated. I am loved.
And I am saying those things as much for myself as I am for any who might read this. Take a moment and tell yourself these same things. It will pick you up a little so you can continue to do all those things you have to do. Repeat it as often as necessary. Change the words as you see fit to cover your own needs. Be your own sunshine. It's worth it.