LOOKING FORWARD

I’ve been told my whole life not to look back: learn from the past, make a plan, and move forward. I do that by planning things to look forward to.

So what do I look forward to?

I look forward to weekends, snow days, and vacations. There is nothing I love more than being home. No alarm needs to be set. There are no plans. Most of the time, I just sit with my favorite man- doing schoolwork, balancing the checkbook, filling shopping carts that I never submit, and watching lengthy TV series with multiple episodes. Yet, it is where I am happiest.

This week I had a spontaneous snow day. My guy was having a rough morning. His mood often matches the weather, and it was overcast, snowing hard, cold, and blowing. We weren’t plowed out, and the 2-hour Delay wasn’t long enough to get us cleaned out, so I stayed home.

A bad day means lots of staring, word finding challenges, and slow reaction time. He gets cold, but instead of asking for a blanket, he just crosses his arms tightly across his chest. A loose grip around his coffee cup means that when it is removed, his hand stays in the gripped position. A return kiss on the lips is delayed no matter how many times it is attempted. He can’t answer basic questions, give eye contact, or tell me what he needs. He doesn’t even rock in his chair. He stares and doesn’t blink.

If I can make a bad day better just by sitting with him, then I am happy.

The good news is that most days are fine. As long as his world is predictable, quiet, and with little stimulation, he has good days. He is his best when he sleeps in, naps in the afternoon, snuggles with his favorite redhead, and has alone time after everyone goes to bed. He loves projects and misses the sun this time of year. He still reads political books, plays Words With Friends, watches the Justice Channel, and enjoys a good TV Series. He still cooks, cleans, and shovels snow. These things make him happy.

My happiness is directly proportional to his.

There was once a day when I looked forward to far more, but today I’d give anything to never leave his side.

 

Advertisements

Just be kind.

As Christmas approaches, the general pubic is trying desperately to determine what their loved ones need. We search and search for just the right thing and it brings us great joy when we feel like we have found what will bring a smile to the faces of those that we love so deeply.

My husband has been fretting. He wishes he could get me a “surprise”, not something that I picked out for myself. He feels badly that he can no longer do that for me. He doesn’t get it though. It’s not what is important to me.

What is important to me is the basics. What I want more than anything is genuine kindness, trust, and compassion. Our children are missing this in the public education setting because our focus is so grossly focused on standards and testing results. Many don’t possess the basic fundamental skills that don’t have anything to do with academia. It has to do with basic human characteristics that focus on basic human interactions: love, kindness, trust and faithfulness.

I want that. I want that for and from everyone I come in contact with. I just want to genuinely care for the people I come in contact with and for them to reciprocate my feelings.

So what do I want for Christmas? I just want people to be kind.

images-2

Spaghetti Struggles

“How do I understand him better? Why does he say what he says? Why does he do what he does? Isn’t it common sense? Doesn’t he just know what I need? Why do I have to tell him again? I feel like he doesn’t care.”

Partnerships are complicated. There are no exceptions. Relationships between any two human beings need work, and those that matter the most require a whole lot of hard work. (I dare say that 100% of the time: every day, and all day.) Our family has relied on the two books featured. If you haven’t read them, I highly suggest taking the plunge. They are a quick easy read jam-packed with great practical information.

So what happens when one can’t give 100% and your relationship leans to one side? For whatever reason, the relationship is lopsided. Now what?

These are my favorite verses to fall back on. When I am feeling defeated, alone, and fear is getting the best of me, this is the place where I land:

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:26,28

This week my husband was faced with a “plate of spaghetti” and I had an opportunity to see how he was able to tackle it in his dementia state of mind. Women think like spaghetti. They have a thousand things whizzing around and multiple plates to juggle at once. It is how we are hardwired. Men, generally do not multitask as well, and like to handle tasks one waffle square at a time. This is definitely true with the men in my life.

In the past- before dementia, my husband would handle a “plate of spaghetti”- multiple dilemma’s all interwoven, by peeling apart one or two parts of the dish at a time. In fact, I remember him coaching our teenage children through each crisis by giving them a list of 2-3 things to do, with a timeline. He would help them by placing the parts and pieces of the spaghetti dish into waffle squares to be tackled one at a time. He was good at it, and the kids would gravitate toward our calm problem solver.

I, on the other hand, am a practical problem solver and a BIG PICTURE girl. The kids didn’t need my help to see the forest just yet. They just needed to see one tree at a time, and he was their go-to person. In fact, I have often made things worse if I interfere too early.

We have been a team. We compliment each other very much. He has traditionally seen the trees and could get them out of the forest. Then he would tag out and I could help them to process and plan next steps.

So, back to the spaghetti. My brain goes a mile a minute. In fact, on this Saturday, I was awakened at an early hour with a headache, a sore jaw, and thoughts flying through my brain at warped speed.

My husband’s brain does not. This week he sat and stared at his figurative plate of spaghetti, and could not pull out just one part at a time and work through our multilayered challenges. He didn’t even know where to start. The only solution that he could think of wasn’t a possibility. He just sat and cried. He knew I needed him, but he couldn’t help.

So what happens when the relationship is lopsided, despite all the best intentions, and your better half can’t speak your love language?  In Matthew, Jesus says that church members should forgive each other “seventy times seven times” (18:22), a number that symbolizes boundlessness. I take this as a directive for healthy humans. But what if one isn’t? What if he just can’t reciprocate the way I need him to? Now what?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Matthew 22:37

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

I think the answer is to love and to take what he can give because something is better than nothing. So, to all of you who don’t have an equal partnership, and a plate of spaghetti is just too much to maneuver through, my advice is to take what you can get and accept what he can give. Put on your game face, be the best YOU you can be, and take the blessings, because life is hard and unpredictable. Don’t waste one precious moment thinking about what you don’t have or how your needs aren’t being 100% met. Instead, focus on what you do have. Count your blessings, name them one by one. I do believe that we will be rewarded in the end.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

43280680_10216000478678845_5066786525547593728_n

 

Beware of Wolves

I am harboring a broken heart.

I have a tendency to forget that there is evil in the world. I am a joy seeker. I get up every day ready to face the world and to display kindness, and love. I want to live my life as an example. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I assume that everyone else has the same motives as I do. It is that mindset that allowed me to be blindsided and has left me fragile and broken-hearted.

When people see my downcast eyes they assume it is a result of my personal life. It’s  definitely part of it. There has been some pretty significant decline over the past year. We tend to measure his progression by landmarks: how he was when school started, Christmas, April Vacation, and the last day of school. The changes are generally subtle and slow, but they are there. He has good days and bad; days that he is clear and days that he is foggy. You can see the regression in his handwriting over the past year.

He gets dizzy often and his spells last longer than before. He has difficulty with sleeping. Either he sleeps all the time or hardly at all. He recognizes very few people now. Although we may talk about friends, family, and neighbors, he rarely recognizes them. Sometimes it will come to him with time, but more often, it does not. He doesn’t like going into public. It’s too scary. People think of dementia as being just about memory, but a huge part of the disease is anxiety. Too much noise, light, and confusion is more than he can sort through. Multiple conversations and movement make him shiver, stare, or shake his hands in order to self-soothe. He no longer accompanies me to church and seldom comes to family functions. I am grateful for our daughter who keeps him company during the day while I teach. I can’t imagine how lonely we would be without she and her family living with us.

He is still able to bake, and BBQ on the grill. He mows the lawn and still gardens with a vengeance. He helps with the laundry, but no longer knows how to separate the clothing. He folds with precision. He still does the dishes, and keeps the house immaculate. It amazes me that his best qualities remain his best, and worst qualities continue to be his worst. He still wishes that he could work in order to help more with the finances. He doesn’t miss driving, which is WAY too scary, and needs us to carefully monitor his medications.

Mostly, it’s fine and absolutely NOTHING compared to the year that I have had at school.

This year I had significant behavioral challenges in my classroom. Typical behaviors included ripping assignments, throwing items that ricocheted off bookshelves and walls, climbing on bookshelves & desks, overturning chairs that were balanced on a student desk and trying to sit on the top. Classroom furniture was moved around and they refused to do academic tasks, by yelling, swearing, and kicking. They ran around the classroom, refusing to join classmates, interrupting during instruction, running in one door and out the other, slamming, hanging on, and kicking doors. In fact, the glass in my door, handle, and lock were broken. In the hallway, they kicked the heater, yelled in the entryway, flicked the lights, and ran up and down the halls. They tore and ripped items off the walls, and threw classmates’ personal items down the hallway.

Some strategies that I used were preferential seating, a class behavior program,  and ”treats” when caught doing what was expected. I provided extra snacks, break times, and a nonverbal cuing system that indicated that they needed a break. I tried stress balls, and sensory calming tools. I paired them with peers and verbally rehearsed responses and aided them with graphic organizers before doing their work. I stated directions in a variety of different ways and provided visual supports. I encouraged risk taking and pre-taught lessons giving children a chance to do assessments in a small group. I provided extra attention and verbal encouragement, placing them near a friend when they felt anxious or unsure of the academic expectations. I reduced work expectations. I allocated spots to “take space”, and worked tirelessly through Class Dojo to report to parents when children were accessing a safe place, staying in the classroom, and completing class work.

In the end, the best thing for everyone was to separate them. They fed off each other and once one started to spiral, it was too easy for the others to join. But the separation came at a cost and it affected my year-end evaluation, which has crushed my spirit and left me doubting my abilities- even though I know better.

It is the third significant administrative blow for me this year and I fear that it is a direct result of my attempt at the beginning of the school year to discuss improvement needed and offer suggestions. I fear that I created a target for myself.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the shows Madam Secretary and Blue Bloods and I can’t help but make a connection between Big Politics and what I have seen in education this year and that terrifies me. There is a problem, right here in River City and it starts at the top. Lesson learned: shut up and keep my head down.

Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

Time For A Change?

I am a 1984 graduate of our local High School. While there, I was involved in “all things musical” and I played field hockey. I was also a member of the Student Counsel all four years. As a loyal member of the school, I was the head of the spirit committee. I designed special days to encourage my classmates and to show class pride. These were the highlights of my (K-12) education. It wasn’t the long exhausting debates in Jr English, or the intricate math problems that we solved in calculus. The best times were interactive, creative, and exciting.

From High School, I followed the footsteps of my parents, and attended our state university. The first day was spent signing up for Marching Band. It was this team, this unit, that brought me the most joy: a community within a community, and they became my family away from home. Members attended our wedding, and sat in excitement in the waiting room of the hospital as our son was born. To this day, we keep in touch.

No matter where I have worked, it was the community, support staff, and fellow teammates that brought me the most joy and the most success. For twenty years. I have been filled to overflowing in the small town that I have worked in. They have been my extended family and I have been so grateful for all they have taught me about commitment, spirit, and pride.

I am a highly organized and efficient employee that is constantly looking to improve my teaching. My primary focus is to meet the needs of every child in whatever way possible. Working together with support staff, my goal is to create an atmosphere of learning, in an environment that is quiet and inviting. This year was particularly challenging, with four tricky children in my classroom. I didn’t hesitate to set up unique and individual plans in order to create success.

Movement breaks have been key to my classroom routine. Gonoodle, yoga, and activities to stimulate both sides of the brain have been extremely helpful to my students’ growth.

As a result, I traditionally have significant improvement from my students from Fall to Spring. This year my focus was to create differentiated spelling lists that follow strategic skills. I used progressive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (DSA) scores, weekly tests, spelling tasks on the iPad, and evidence from independent work to determine whether children needed a grade level, advanced, or a below level list. They also had an individual set of words taken from the Fry List. My goal was to have 100% of my class increase total stage scores by at least 10 points by May, 2018 as measured by the DSA. I am pleased to report that 90% of my students either met or exceeded their goal by as much as 24 points. The key was to involve them.

My Student Learning Objective focused on math this year. I noticed a weakness in the area of math in the fall, so I used the NWEA data to determine individual goals for my students. I utilized an on-line program called MobyMax to help differentiate for students and made it a goal to spend 20-minutes a day on the program, which would reteach and enrich. I involved children with goal setting, and as a result, they were more motivated with seeing the end result of their Spring assessment. 60% met or exceeded their goal, 10% missed it by 1 point, and 10% missed it by 2. The remaining 20% were identified students receiving extra services through Title 1.

I’m proud to say that I get results, but it isn’t without a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people using a whole lot of strategies.

However, I’m not perfect. One of my weaknesses is that I come across very business-like. I don’t waste a single second of my day. As a child who grew up on a large dairy farm, we were programmed to be working on a project at all times and using our every moment wisely. Sometimes I buzz around at such a speed, that I forget to interact with the people who are around me. I have to remind myself to make eye contact and to speak to others. It isn’t that I am snobby, or that I don’t want to be part of the conversations, I am just focused on what needs to be done. Another, is that I absolutely HATE confrontation. I am sensitive and hold myself to a very high standard. As a result, I often find myself compromising what I want or need in order to keep peace. This is a work in progress, as I learn to take the time to listen, reflect, and respond with possible solutions without getting an ulcer.

Twenty years ago, I interviewed and was offered a third grade position in the community that I grew up in. At that time, I was also offered a fourth grade position in the neighboring district. My husband and I had a “pow wow” with the children and asked them what they thought. At that time, our oldest was in the Fifth Grade. His input was, “When you come to school, we just want you to be Mom.” That was all we needed to hear. In the end, we had three children go through the school district, with the full support of Mom- not Teacher/Mom. Just Mom.

I have lived in and been a part of the area for forty-two years. It’s a place that my husband and I returned to after college, and where we have chosen to raise our three children. At this time, we are helping to raise a third generation and are here to stay.

I am not unhappy at my present place of employment. I just wonder if now is the time to be more accessible to my family, but more importantly, for a new challenge and a fresh start. My desire is to stay energetic and to keep the fire burning in my belly. Teaching is my passion. There is nothing like the feeling of a well executed lesson, with fantastic end results that we can all cheer about. I absolutely adore the community that I work in, the people I work with, and the administration that I work for. I simply wonder if it is time for a change and a new challenge.

My greatest accomplishments have been seeing the success of my students as they progress through the grades. Nothing brings me more joy than when past students visit. My heart sings when I see the accomplishments of older students, and to know that I played a role in their journey. I know that my role is foundational, and many children won’t remember me or my contributions. Instead, they will remember that they enjoyed coming to school, and that they felt safe, and loved. They will remember that they felt like they were treated fair and that no matter what, every day was a new day.

The most difficult situations in the workplace are extreme behavioral challenges in the mainstream classroom. This year I had four in my classroom. Typical behaviors included ripping assignments, throwing items that ricocheted off bookshelves and walls, climbing on bookshelves & desks, overturning chairs that were balanced on a student desk and trying to sit on the top. Classroom furniture was moved around and they refused to do academic tasks, by yelling, swearing, and kicking. They ran around the classroom, refusing to join classmates, interrupting during instruction, running in one door and out the other, slamming, hanging on, and kicking doors. In fact, the glass in my door, handle, and lock were broken. In the hallway, they kicked the heater, yelled in the entryway, flicked the lights, and ran up and down the halls. They tore and ripped items off the walls, and threw classmates’ personal items down the hallway.

Some strategies that I used with these four were preferential seating, a class behavior program,  and ”treats” when caught doing what is expected. I provided extra snacks, break times, and a nonverbal cuing system that indicated that they needed a break. I tried stress balls, and sensory calming tools. I paired them with peers and verbally rehearsed responses and graphic organizers before doing their work. I stated directions a variety of different ways and provided visual supports. I encouraged risk taking and pre-taught lessons giving children a chance to do assessments in a small group. I provided extra attention and verbal encouragement, placing them near a friend when they felt anxious or unsure of the academic expectations. I reduced work expectations. I allocated spots to take space, and worked tirelessly through Class Dojo to report to parents when children were accessing a safe place, staying in the classroom, and completing class work.

In the end, the best thing for these four were to separate them. They fed off each other and once one started to spiral, it was too easy for the others to join. It makes me wonder about what other districts are doing? My largest fear is that the remaining children do not get what they need.

I cannot imagine myself doing anything but teach. As challenging as the occupation is, I don’t see myself moving into any other field. At 52 years of age, I have at least 10 more years before I can even entertain the thought of retiring. Even then, I come from a long line of women who lived to be a ripe old age. I’ve still got a lot of life in me and a whole lot to offer.

As we continue to venture forward with the Common Core and standards-based reporting, my desire is to continue to provide opportunities for inquiry and allow for choice in how students demonstrate mastery of their learning. As the educational pendulum continues to swing, my goal is to remember that children need varied strategies and methods to attain the same common goal while maintaining rigor, recognizing that a whole lot needs to be accomplished in a very short amount of time.

So, the question is: Is it time for a change? If I’m truly to live a “palms up” life, I need to be willing to go where I need to go, and do what I need to do, trusting that it will be the best thing for me and my family. Maybe my Maker needs to see whether I would move and I would change if He asked me to? Maybe I needed to hear some really kind words from my supervisors and coworkers because it’s been a very challenging year, but I’ll never know until I put my pole in the water. I guess we will wait and see.

“It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I (hope you) have had the time of (your) my life (Green Day)”

 

 

BRACING MYSELF

It seems that I am always bracing myself for something: the next storm, school year, evaluation, birthday, or trip. When you are a planner, and you can’t organize the next big event, it feels terrible. It feels like quicksand under your feet. Most of the time, I can get my footing. Most of the time I can find the inner strength that I need to face the next hurdle. Not Thursday.

Something is not right, and I know it.

I took my data to the doctor before the office opened and waited. Nobody would listen. I wasn’t heard. I just needed someone to say, “You are right, something is wrong.” I needed to be heard. Instead, I was treated like a student in crisis. I was placed in seclusion, I was double teamed, spoken to in gentle tones, and given next steps I didn’t want to take. I left in tears. We spent the day in the Emergency Room, I missed another day of work, and we still don’t know what’s wrong.  Tests, tests, and more tests…

Three days later, I am still tired. You know that tired feeling you get after a hysterical cry? That kind. I wish I could brace myself, but I don’t know what I am bracing myself for. Something is wrong. I know he is a complicated medical patient. He is full of arthritis, has a beat up rotator cuff, and he still wears a leg brace from the stroke last April. We have to monitor his blood pressure three times a day, has compromised kidneys, as well as multiple adrenal tumors, and now gall stones, on top of having dementia. But why isn’t he urinating? I am not a doctor, but I know that what goes in, must come out and why is it so dark? Where on earth is it going? The ER docs say that maybe he has a virus that is absorbing it. Huh? He doesn’t feel sick. He isn’t bloated.

I am bracing myself for something, but I don’t know what, and I am terrified.

He eats very little. He says he feels full all the time. He drinks all day long. He sleeps a whole lot. However, he is still quite active. He keeps the laundry done, he loves to cook, and the house is immaculate. He has started plants in the basement, and has refinished some of our furniture, as well as a couple of beat up pillars in the entryway. He plays solitaire on his iPad, follows news stories on the internet, and enjoys watching TV series with me in the evening while I correct papers. He seems to have become more sensitive to milk, so dairy can be disastrous. However, it doesn’t stop him from ordering a strawberry sundae when we go for a drive to the coast, or insisting on a tall glass of milk with supper. He is mostly happy, and looks forward to me being with him, so I get home to him just as soon as I can.

I wish I could protect him. Although I pray for a miracle, I accept his diagnosis. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. I just want him to be comfortable, and for him to pass with dignity when the time comes. I want to do what is humanly possible to have him go from one life to the next, pain-free, peacefully surrounded by those that love him most.

Tell me, how do I brace myself for the day I lose my best friend, my soul mate, father of my children, and the keeper of my heart?

14292280_10209661762094892_1365746293153660642_n

 

 

 

 

Happy Dementiaversary My Love

We are coming up to our 4th Dementiaversary. Four years ago, mid April, the world as we knew it flipped upside down. It’s like we have been playing a 4 year card game of 52 Pick-Up, and we are still hunting for the cards. It’s like Alice in Wonderland on steroids, and we are still in the early stages. For the record, I HATE games, and I can’t stand Alice in Wonderland.

I’ve written about Dementia and how much it has stolen from my marriage and my family. I’ve talked about the changes that I see and choose not to see in my husband. I’ve shared the mid-life crisis, being mistreated for depression, the horrendous way that his employers chose to let him go, how he turned to alcohol and to his invisible friends of AA. I’ve shared his medical challenges, his loneliness, and pieces of his life trauma, which included 4 significant blows to the head, and the loss of both his parents.

However, through it all, I choose to focus on the positives. Four years ago, the love of my life received ANSWERS. They weren’t the answers that he was hoping for, but they were answers non the less. Over time, we have peeled away the layers like that of an onion, and now it all makes sense. In fact, we can easily go to back to 2009, when he began to spontaneously combust. In a strange kind of way, it is comforting to know that he had a reason for coming unraveled. As painful as that time was, it takes some of the sting off knowing that he couldn’t help it. His brain was malfunctioning and beginning the deterioration process.

In a strange kind of way, the dementia diagnosis has helped. It gave us a reason why he was acting the way he was, why he fell apart, and why our marriage almost didn’t make it. Although dementia doesn’t play by any rules, it gave us an explanation. It reassured me that it wasn’t because I was a failure as a wife. It has allowed me a chance to reconnect with my husband and show him how desperately I love him, and am committed to him until the end. For that, I am so very thankful.

I choose not to dwell on the negative impact this has made on my family, especially financially. We’ve had some wonderful friends and family who have helped to soften the blow. We have learned to TRUST God to provide right down to the last millisecond, and  have proved that man CAN  live on bread alone. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without our faith, family, and friends, especially during the very early years. Waiting 2 years for SSDI, hiring 4 lawyers, and trying to make payments when the budget is set up for 2 incomes, was nothing short of terrifying.

He is happy, most of the time. Our home was God’s gift to him: 7.5 acres of lawn to mow, with plenty of room to create as many gardens as he would like. We have a huge garage and a 3 story house that never lacks for projects. God knew. He knew in 2010, as we were losing his father, and as he struggled in the workplace, that he would be forced into an early retirement and would need lots and lots of projects. We have a great God who oversees it all and I am so very thankful.

Winters are long, and a stroke thrown in last April, created another hurdle. He isn’t a very healthy man. He has a beat up rotator cuff that needs to be rebuilt and has sore and tired knees and joints, while continuing to struggle with high blood pressure. A stroke slowed him down, forced him into the chair, gave him something different to focus on: 10 months to be exact. He has pushed hard, still wears a leg brace for stability, but will be able to WALK through his gardens this year. Another diversion from the dreaded D word?

We refer to his time home as a forced retirement. Some people enjoy retirement in their mid-60’s. My husband is enjoying it in his late 40’s and early 50’s. He is happy most of the time. Luckily, he likes to be by himself. When he does get out, 3 hours is about all he is comfortable with, and he is the happiest when he is with me. There was a day when I prayed that he would know what it was like to be left behind and uninvited, but never in my wildest dreams would I have wished this on him. Selfishly, I love feeling needed, wanted, and having him to myself so often. I look forward to quiet evenings that are drama free, and relaxed. I am thoroughly enjoying my one-on-one time with my favorite guy. It is a gift from God, and I am so appreciative.

Sometimes he is down. He gets lonely. He misses working: contributing financially and seeing people. He misses his customers, and the comradery of working with a team. He knows what he doesn’t know and that bums him out. Mostly though, he is content. He naps often, drinks slugs of coffee, enjoys Facetiming with children and grandchildren, and plays lots of games on his iPad. He follows Fox News, and watches reruns of the elections and the Superbowl win over and over again. It makes him happy, which makes me happy.

So overall, as we near the 4th Dementiaversary, we are doing alright. We are more financially stable having adjusted to our new income. He is walking and anxiously preparing for and planning the Spring gardens. We are planning a wedding for one of our daughters, and looking forward to celebrating our 3oth wedding anniversary in May. The children and grandchildren are healthy and happy. It’s funny how priorities change, how life resets what is truly important, and how we learn to just go with the flow.

learning-to-go-with-the-flow-photo-exploring-alternatives-670x300