Wednesday, August 30, 2006

16 years is a damn long time!

First week of school for me.

Oh! My aching feet, voice, eyes, back.

Clearly I am not in shape for the rigors of the classroom.

Neither was the school actually ready for me -- no working computer, no log-in id's, no keys to any room, my room actually assigned to another person and in use, no desk, no supplies, no keys to the filing cabinets maintaining all the records I must keep, nobody to explain the excentricities of the new school system.

Still . . . my first day was spent just getting acclimated and not having to deal. My second day just as the bell rang to dismiss the students, a 10th grader grabbed in a huge bear-hug and thanked me for helping her. Normal 16 year olds do NOT hug. Today the computer ID showed up with the computer tech guy who also made sure parts of the computer work (no printing yet). The vice-principal finally broke down and got the locksmith to make a key for the filing system -- and he gave me the covetted elevator key so I don't have to climb to the 3rd floor carrying loads of books and papers.

Also I started graduate school this week.

Bear with me; I'll be back. The news won't be all good -- but I think it's going to be doable.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

This and that

Life is busy here in our little portion of the Heartland. We are having some fun but mostly our days are spent chasing our tails, trying to get ready for “the year.” A teacher’s life runs not from January to December but from August (used to be September) to July. Interestingly, the former has never seemed natural to me; I suppose I just spent too many years either being educated or teaching. The natural flow of my life is much more attuned to gearing up for the fall and powering down in the summer.
  • Hubby is preparing to have his knees repaired. He opted, with his doctor’s consent, to start with steroid injections. I gather the doctor believes this is probably a futile step and is already talking about some sort of gel injections, but Hubby, with his intense dislike of medical treatment, is calling the shots. He has, however, already talked to his doctor about knee replacement, which at one point I was sure he would never consent to.
  • Hubby’s blood pressure medication is being upped to the highest dosage possible (for this particular pill) this week. Today he visits with his cardiologist to see what they recommend as possible alternatives if the new dosage doesn’t work.
  • We are still waiting on the results from the sleep apnea tests.
  • My doctor performed my TB test this morning. With the results from that in hand on Friday, I can finally start teaching next Monday. I never realized it took two days to read a TB test.
  • I attended the orientation night at the local agricultural graduate school, working towards my SPED (special education) certification and out-of-state teaching certificate. I had been e-mailed specific instructions as to where to go for their metro campus, but I ended up in a course for folks trying to get their administration certifications. Eventually, mostly because the ag school kept following up with me, we determined I had been given the wrong directions. Meanwhile, I had informed the new school district that it appeared I wouldn’t be enrolled in class this semester. Today, after chatting with the ag school again, I learned that they have an on-line course I can take. On-line. Wow! Just how sweet is that? When I remember the agony I went through getting my masters – and all the work it entailed, I’m blown away! Now-a-days they seem to have this down to a pretty (easy) science.
  • We picked up the back bedroom which we use as the office / computer room / closet so both Hubby and I could sit in there at once. Buried on the floor was a box of Christmas cards that didn’t get mailed out in 2005. How embarrassing is that? I thought about putting stamps on them and mailing then now or saving them to mail this Christmas, but I always include a letter in my cards and last year’s letter was about angel dogs, so . . . it doesn’t seem appropriate to send now. However, if you are one of the 17 folks that didn’t get a card from us (sister-in-law, best friends in California, church buddies) and want a 2005 X-mas card in late August 2006, let me know and I’ll mail it out to you. Be forewarned, the letter will make you cry.
  • Hubby and I went to see “Little Miss Sunshine” at the movies last weekend and we rated it the best movie of 2005 AND 2006. The movie is hilarious and sweet. Yes, it has an R rating because the Grandfather (Alan Arkin, a divine actor) uses every serious cuss word in the book (and takes cocaine) but he really makes you laugh uproariously. The movie has a couple of downer moments that aren’t dwelt on but made to seem just a part of real life – and the upshot for everyone, no matter how dysfunctional, is that love conquers all. See the movie if you get the chance.
  • The old man of the dog pack, Fritzy, got a bacterial skin infection, as well as ear infections. We had been treating him with over-the-counter spray but the groomer thought Fritz needed to see the vet. The vet thought he might have ring-worm, but today the tests all came back negative. We had already determined that when the antibiotics completely cleaned up his skin within a five day span. He certainly is more comfortable since his “cure.”

Life, at the moment, feels very good. I have a job, one that will challenge me and use my talents. The pay is much more than I ever expected. Hubby is still in recovery mode, taking much longer than he would like to “get back to normal” but every day he is able to putter around is a blessing. We may not have come full circle from my depression of a month ago but we are moving forward. We have each other and our boys. We are coping, just as I always knew we could do. Our family and friends have been so supportive through our trials, and that, of course, is one of the biggest blessings of all. These past months have shown me unconditionally that our well-being, even our survival, is interdependent on others. My heart, consequently, is full of love.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Running Around; Starting Over

Hubby spent today playing chauffeur and I’m exceeding grateful to him for his time and effort. The new job (teaching) is far enough away from home that I don’t know how to get there without serious instruction. I can get lost getting out of my own neighborhood, while Hubby can find his way around Robinhood’s Barn.

Yes, he gets lost and yes, he won’t ask for directions – but he claims that’s because if you’re lost in a new place the best way to learn about it is to muddle your way around until you get your bearings. The problem for me is I have no bearings. Directions mean nothing. I need to be told: “Go five blocks down and at the gray and white house with the tulip tree in the yard, turn left; stay in the left lane until you come to the big Kroger’s on the corner of the third street and take a left again.” Mileage, east, south – all meaningless instructions for me.

So we drove across the state line and into the next big city and found its school administration building. Hubby patiently waited with dogs in the car while I had my ID photo taken and filled out the paperwork that would get me inside a school building. This immediate paperwork consisted of forms that allowed them to do background searches on me to see if the local police or any federal agencies were hunting me down. I also came away with stacks of paperwork that weren't as immediate but were pretty critical none-the-less.

We stopped then and ate a lovely big breakfast as a treat. Just three blocks from our home a home-style restaurant has opened, serving wonderful scrambled eggs and potatoes O’brien. We thought we needed the sustenance before we tackled all the paperwork I was dragging around.

Back home, after reading through all the material, we set out again. First to the local college campus where students were enrolling and paying fees. It was a mad-house but because Hubby was behind the wheel, I was delivered right to the front door and as I wasn’t matriculating, I came away in about 10 minutes with a promise that my transcripts would be mailed out post-haste to the proper locations. I could have gotten them immediately if I had graduated after 1975 . . . the student assistants examined me closely when they found out I couldn’t make that cut. I guess they wondered what an old fart would really look like who still needed a copy of her college transcript from the dark ages.

Then we headed back downtown to the headquarters of my old school district. I hadn’t been inside their offices in over a dozen years but nothing had changed. It took about three minutes to fill out their forms verifing my past employment – and a promise that within two weeks or more they might find and mail my actual records. They did make me a copy of the paperwork I left with them so I could prove I was trying to move forward on everything the new district needs.

Once I have all the required paperwork completed and in-hand, and a doctor’s certificate claiming I don’t have TB and am fit enough to teach in a public school, I have to go to the police station and get myself fingerprinted. I understand the necessity of that but I truly am horrified that it’s needed. The police will then seal and mail the envelopment off to the state education offices.

Our weather was very humid and hot today so I pretty much wore Hubby out with all the running around but his help was invaluable. Being able to simply run into all those buildings without finding a place to park and having door-to-door service cut down on the time required to get all these tasks completed.

Meanwhile, my friends who had vouched for me with letters of recommendation were providing verbal confirmation for me over the phone. This is first time I’ve ever had to provide my references, much less have them checked, but if any employer is going to do it, it should be one who deals with our children.

My pastor, a highly education and serious gentleman, e-mailed me that he had "stopped just short of nomiating you for canonization to sainthood without pushing the envelop." One can't ask for a better recommendation than that.

Monday night I attend an orientation for graduate school. One of the smaller "across the state-line" colleges is offering certification classes in my urban area for teachers. They have waived "out-0f-state" tuition for the metropolitian area so the hourly fees are not impossible to meet -- and the school district has said they will chip in.

This job is beginning to feel real.

After I left teaching 16 years ago I had a consulting job with one of the five biggest firms in this city. It took a while but eventually that job turned into the best one I'd ever had. I worked with and for really good people and I was paid a very nice wage. As always happens in big business, the way the company was operated changed radically and my contract was not renewed. During the time I was there, nine years actually, it was the best time of my life. I never thought I'd find a job that paid as well as that one or one I enjoyed as much. Interestly, this teaching job pays nearly as much, once I factor in the benefits I'm being provided. If the folks are half as nice, I will have come full circle -- back to where I started in my career. Hopefully I bring a lot more to the table.

When I started the school interviewing process just three weeks ago, I wondered where I was headed. When the first three interviews fell through, I wondered what I was gaining from the experience. I questioned why I was led to go through the process, especially since I had found it so defeating. It's just a trite adage, but things happen in their own time. You just have to trust that things will turn out and that is one of the hardest things in the world to do when you are mired down in disappointment.

I had a lot of help getting where I am right now and I owe a huge debt to a lot of people. I only hope I can make them proud now. What I have to remember is that I'm not alone in this. Everyone who helped me get to this place wants to see me succeed. I'm going to be leaning on them in the upcoming year.

The next chapter of my life is just beginning.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Resignation Congratulations

So I didn't pass on the school district interview (see previous post). The principal called me twice and asked me to come in and see the school. I figured what did I have to lose, so I went. Put on the black linen pants and the black tee and a strand of pearls and hauled my old, fat ass into the biggest high school I've ever been in. Huge. Not one but two towers. Wings on either side and buildings in the back. A huge wood paneled reception hall with dual fireplaces right inside the front door.

Engery surging all over the place. Staff seemed very positive and competent. And friendly. In the other schools everyone had been pretty stand-offish. Lots of "hellos" and "how are you's" floating at me. Nice principal. Knew hubby from 25 years ago and knew my history with the school district across the state line -- and still wanted to chat with me about working in his school. Except he didn't, chat with me, that is. Instead he handed me off to the staff I would be working with. And I loved them. Real people. People who had been in the trenches but still weren't completed burned out. Many of them almost as old as me. Folks who understood life.

I was honest about all my deficients. I barely touched on my assets. But we clicked. School had already started the beginning of the week so I got to be in the hallways between classes and see the lunchroom first period. I liked the tone set for the kids and how they responded.

I fell in love with school building, built as a public works project in 1935 and now wonderfully restored and maintained. I found I really wanted the job they had open -- and they, in turn, wanted me, too. So it was a match. Maybe not a perfect one but good enough if we all try to make it work.

Today the school district officially offered me the position -- at a salary $10,000 more than I thought they would offer. I couldn't accept fast enough.

I've got some hoops to jump through. My life-time certification in the "other" state won't pass muster because I've been out of the classroom so long. However, they cut a deal to have it "exchanged" for two years while I gain certification. I also need to get certification for the specific area I'm to teach, so we can kill two birds easily with a couple of night courses. They already have me lined up with a state university.

Tomorrow morning I go sign official documents. Today I submitted my resignation to the construction company, effective immediately. Sweet! Really sweet! I floated out that trailer door, and on locking it for the last time, I clicked my heels in the air and flung my hat skyward.

New beginnings always bring a positive outlook. I know there are many hard knocks ahead. I've got a steep learning curve to overcome next week when I re-enter the classroom. When I left 16 years ago teachers didn't have own computers and were still using mimeo machines, students are more violent than ever (I've been warned several times about that), and I'm working in an area outside my expertise. Everyone, including me, is going to have to be patient while I climb the learning curve.

My environment will be lovely, though. My co-workers seem positive and friendly. My direct supervisor in the new teaching area is a close friend from church who has championed me through this whole process. My hubby thinks this is very good move on my part and is being extremely supportive. Many positives are stacked in my favor.

So the match, which isn't perfect, has the potential to be a really good one. I'm excited about this next phase of my life. And the satisfaction I got from walking out on the construction company will last for at least another month.

Monday, August 14, 2006

And the testing continues . . .

Hubby went to nuclear medicine today to have his knees examined. Somehow we jumped the gun and thought his knees were also going to be repaired at the same time, but it took five hours just to get a couple of pictures.

Because of the coil in his head, Hubby couldn't have the MRI that was originally scheduled in June. We waited this long to get into nuclear medicine at the local hospital to have "special" x-rays taken which also involved radioactive knee injections. Ouch! The several hours Hubby was required to lie flat on the exam table left him exhausted and miserable with pain. Still, we are more than grateful for all the modern machines and techniques that keep us moving forward toward a more healthful future.

Luckily this was not one of the days I was scheduled to work so I trailed along for injections and long hours in uncomfortable waiting room chairs, but still I wasn't as miserable as hubby, flat out on an unforgiving table.

On arriving home a medical company in the suburbs called to have me come for a job interview. Truth be told I wasn't all that thrilled. I really like working only two days a week. I know it won't support us in the long run, but currently having five days off inbetween two days of work is , well, sweet. Really sweet. Also the school district called and thought I might like to try for rejection number four with them. I told them I'd think about it but the reality is I think I'm passing. Three strikes and you're out, right?

Plus, interview clothing in 100 degree plus heat simply suck the big one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Clearly, this time in my life isn’t meant to be easy. Hubby’s illness, dog’s death, loss of job, seems like that should be enough. However, just when you think life has shot her last load at you, it appears she has another live round in the chamber. My mother called in the middle of the night, 3 a.m. to be exact. We didn’t answer the phone but she left a message on our answering machine to call her.

For me my mother is highly problematic. Just when I think I’ve mastered myself enough to handle her, she inevitably proves me wrong. I’m an only child of an only child. In fact, she and I are the last of two family trees. Her line ends with me and so does my father’s. Sometimes that makes me very sad.

Mother drinks. I don’t honestly know if, at 81, she is still a falling down, mean drunk. But during my childhood and teenage years the drinking escalated, causing a rift between us that we can no longer mend. She loves me, as best as she can love, but she has no idea how to love really. What she considers love, I see as control.

The bad thing – and the good thing, too – is that she is very wealthy. She inherited an incredible fortune from her family which supports her very nicely now that she is old. She has no one to take care of her other than the hired help, but she can afford to live in an expensive resort community in Colorado with folks coming in daily to see to her needs and chauffeur her around to her various appointments.

Mother has never held a job in her life except for three months right out of high school when she clerked in an upscale store downtown. She was fired because she didn’t show up regularly. At 19 she got pregnant so a month after her 20th birthday she married my dad, a very unworldly 42 year old who still lived with his mother. You can already see this wasn’t a match made in heaven. They remained together in a highly volatile marriage until my dad finally managed to die at age 73 from a disease that shouldn’t have killed him. It was clear to everyone but my mother that he just wanted some peace and this was the only way to get it. Meanwhile, he didn’t die nicely which caused her no ends of trouble. Payback can be a bitch.

When I took up with Hubby (we lived together five years before we married) she was irate. We used to live in the same city but Hubby was such a horror to her that she had to move 600 miles and two states away to escape him. She has never been back to visit me in the 34 years she since she moved. To this day Mother still refers to Hubby as “That Man” – refusing to dignify him by calling him by his name.

Of course, I have been disinherited a number of times. At first, there would be drunken calls asking me if I loved my family and if I did how I could have taken up with “That Man.” The carrot, of course, would be hung in front of my nose: give up “That Man” and you can be back in the will.

The thing Mother never understood was that I didn’t want to be back in the will. All my life I had been told by my mother that my sole purpose in life was to take care of the family. It sounds like one of those gothic novels, but Mother made it plain that I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough to attract a husband. My career choice was a given. Women couldn’t really enter the workplace in any career other than school teacher, nurse, or secretary. I was to be a school teacher.

It speaks to what a good manipulator my mother was that I never questioned that choice until I was a senior in college and faced with actually having to teach. However, my parents had paid for my education, never asking me to work, so I clearly understood that my duty was to take a teaching job and begin paying my family back for my education. I got the teaching position, lived at home, paid rent, and followed the rules my mother set down. My clothes were monitored. My friends had to be approved before they could enter the house. I didn’t have a private telephone so my mother answered all my calls before I got them.

As Mother drank more and more, I grew restless and less submissive. Mother and Dad had a vacation home where they spent six months of the year and during that time I began to live a life my mother wouldn’t have approved of. When my parents came home it was harder and harder to fit back into the old ways.

Then I met Hubby and I knew I had to leave home. My parents moved to their vacation home and within two months I moved out of their house into my own apartment. Hubby had his own home; I’m not saying he didn’t spend most his time with me (and every night) but officially we did not move in together.

Mother threw a fit. She came back home and tried to have the police arrest me for stealing. Two policemen actually came to the school where I was teaching to question me. I had to hire a lawyer who eventually settled with her attorney that we would not contact each other.

Meanwhile the drunken, abusive midnight phone calls continued. We went on like this more or less for 25 years. When my father got sick, I spent the summer before he died with my parents at his request. Hubby came and spent a week with us. Dad and I were fine; Mother and I barely tolerated each other. Dad liked Hubby and told me, in front of Mother, that if Hubby made me happy, then Hubby was okay. Dad took Hubby to church to show him off; Mother threatened to boycott the church for eternity.

After Dad died, Mother asked me never to visit her again. However, she continued to call on a regular basis, claiming I didn’t love her and didn’t care about my family.

In 1993 I drove by myself to spend a week with her. In my heart I knew this was my last effort to make some kind of peace. She told me my life was a dirty mess. To prove her point she didn’t touch me the whole time I was there; even when I was leaving, she didn’t offer a hug or a kiss. If I reached out to her she would flinch.

So, I isolated myself from her. I really worked to cut off the feelings Mother could generate. The master of manipulation, she could make me absolutely furious within five minutes of talking with her. I needed to figure out how to turn that all off. I succeeded pretty darned well. I would write to her, rather than phone her. That angered her, of course. I was a bad daughter because I didn’t come on her birthday, and I didn’t even call her. If she was drunk I would refuse to talk with her on the phone. When she became abusive during her calls to me, I hung up.

Two of her friends on her 75th birthday gave her a trip to see me. They made reservations at the Ritz Carlton, bought her first class plane tickets, and arranged limo service for a weekend. She wouldn’t come. They called me and begged me to come see her. I told them without Hubby I wasn’t coming. Hubby, of course, was not invited. I promised them, though, that on Mother’s 80th birthday I would come celebrate.

For her 80th birthday, I arranged to throw Mother a party. I put together a memory book, rented a car so Hubby, dogs and I could drive to her home, took time off from work, and sent invitations. Mother went hysterical. First she had her friends call to tell me not to come. Finally she had the lawyer call and say she wouldn’t see me. At that point, I caved. This was costing a fortune and if no one, especially Mother, was going to enjoy it, so what the heck was I doing?

I now send flowers for birthday and special occasions. I have cakes delivered to her door. I send weather reports and church bulletins as letters. I do not share any portion of my actual life with her.

We understand that she is failing fairly rapidly. Fifty years of alcohol abuse and sixty years of cigarettes are bound to eventually take their toll. She is still in her home but has attendants with her during the day. She has written in brief notes tucked into the odd card here and there that she is happy but her memory is slipping. My birthday card this year came three weeks late; either because she planned it that way or she actually forgot (I still don’t trust that she isn’t manipulating me in some way).

After she called us at 3 a.m. last week, Hubby kindly suggested I return her call. My response wasn’t sympathetic: if you want to find out why she called, call her yourself. So he did. They had a pleasant chat. Seems she told him she was having a change of heart about our relationship. Gee, after 33 years, you think? She actually called him by his name, instead of “That Man.” She thought she might like to see us both before she died. She wondered, since she was going to have to give up her home and move into assisted living, if we would like anything out of her home.

Damn. My life feels complicated enough without my mother entering the picture. I honestly don’t want to deal with her. I know that she’s my mother, and I am supposed to love her no matter what. I just don’t like her all that much. I’m barely keeping it all together without this added burden. I don’t want to be the bigger, better person right now and offer her a loving hand. I want to just walk away and act like she never called . . . or never existed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Rough Time

Working only two days a week sucks. So does the pay for working only 16 hours but such as it is, we need the money, so I interrupt my life in the middle of every week to maintain the construction job that is now less than part time (so they don't have to provide any benies).

Last week and for the first three days of this week I interviewed at a school district across the state line. I finally got my head / heart in such a low place that it felt okay to accept a teaching position after celebrating for 16 years that I could actually support a life outside the classroom. Except now no one would hire me. Every morning I'd work myself up to be all positive and happy and sell my ass off as a really good teacher -- and each and every time I'd get beaten out for the position by a younger person who had taught a lot more recently than I had. So. After reaching the true bottom of my emotional barrel I said, "Suck you teaching; I'm not going to subject myself to this kind of defeat one more time."

Interestingly, through all the effort I was expending at trying to get teaching jobs, I was finding my e-mail and my home voicemail full of calls from construction companies wanting me to contact them as they'd seen my resume on-line. Right before I decided I would like to teach again (actually have a stable job that also had insurance benefits) I had peppered the internet job sites with my resume. I just downloaded a very basic resume overview to anybody that had a job listing that sounded reasonable -- without a cover letter and without any recommendations. Interesting that more than a couple of nibbles came from that when I couldn't get anybody to care that I'm a slam-bang great teacher, a far better teacher than anything I do in the construction industry.

Because I'd wasted three days this week vainly interviewing with any principal that would see me, I had to spend Thursday and today in my construction trailer, trying not to look like a thunder cloud who would bite someone's head off just for coming through the door.

Next week I'm going back to see what construction jobs are still open. A good friend has networked me into his company, and though the job wouldn't be intellectually challenging, it would be a stable job with decent benefits (and a sad but livable salary). Also I would be working close to home.

Wednesday of this week I thought I couldn't sink any lower emotionally than when my final teaching opportunity bit the dust -- and then Thursday I had to come to the construction trailer where I figured I was going to be met by an HR rep and finally fired (because they wanted me to work Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- and I'd called in sick so I could go interview with the schools). However, I wasn't fired and actually no one bothered to even show up for work except right after lunch when the construction crew found my car had a flat and they changed my tire for me. And then I went right home so I could buy a new tire.

Somehow this morning I got up and wasn't feeling so glum and defeated and knocked about.

This morning I could actually count a few of my blessings, and I have a lot of them to count when I can get my head off the ground and look around me. Next week I'll start again, looking for a job. I do believe that the things you need are eventually provided to you. I don't know what I learned from the past two weeks while I put my hopes and dreams yet again on a teaching position; I only know I won't do that again. Something new and wonderful must be waiting for me right around the corner, I've just got to get off my ass and quit feeling sorry myself and go find it. Easier said, of course, than done.