Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Things That Are Lost

Maybe it's just me, but I always had the thought that your parents are somehow supposed to be the repository for our memories, and our life. The HOME is somehow supposed to serve as a time capsule for your childhood- the knick knacks will always sit on the shelf, the photo albums will always be there to flip through, the combined history of your life is safely held in the sphere of your parents' home. That somehow all of these things combined serve as the foundation for your life.

So, it was with great surprise that I arrived home in NC to hear Dad say that with selling the house, and him moving e that he did not want any of Mom's stuff. Suddenly just tidying up the house to put on the market became a lot more. It became frantically going through everything in the house that was Mom's, and packing, again frantically trying to safeguard all of Mom's things- the books I wanted, the knick knacks, the keepsakes, the papers.

It was not how I thought I'd be spending my vacation.

And now, with my departure back to Albuquerque counted in hours, not days, I'm not sure how to feel. I know I'm haunted that I've missed something. That I've left behind something whose loss I will only feel once I realize it's truly and absolutely gone. We lost so much when Mom died- years of stories, a touchstone to our pasts, our heart. I worry that now we will lose so much more.
We will lose the connection to our past. The items passed down through generations. The history of our family. The stories of those who came before.
These linens were my grandmother's, part of her wedding trousseau. The care, the detail of the embroidery. They are gorgeous. We saved what we could. But we've lost the stories behind them.
It's not just the items we've lost, or don't have room for (my sister has a tiny apartment in NYC, and my living situation is fluid with my PhD), it's the memories and stories that go with these items.

Part of me too worries about what life after this house will mean.
Part of me can't help but think that if Dad doesn't want anything of Mom's, does that include us? We're hers after all, he has begun to introduce us as his "step-daughters" when he never did before. If he doesn't want any of the pictures, or her stuff, and was emphatic that we clear out albums and keepsakes that are "yours, not mine" then is this a step away from him not wanting us? Is it inevitable that after Mom's death life just becomes a running list of things we've lost?

I don't know.

It's been almost three years since Mom died. And rarely a day goes by when I am not struck dumb by the loss. This Christmas, I struck me again that we had lost the magic of Christmas. We had lost the keeper of traditions. We have lost the person who thinks hanging onto that ugly clay thing made in 3rd grade is worth it and special. We've lost items from Mom's childhood.
I think mostly we've lost our shared history. It's as though Mom's death fractured us. Dad soon after didn't want to talk about it, wished people would stop bringing it up. So we lost the ability to talk about her. In losing that, we began to lose the stories, because we could not share them. Now the physical reminders are separated and shipped off to different parts of the country. The items we've left behind or didn't see will be thrown out. When I have a permanent home again I will treasure the items I've saved and revel in being surrounded by the memories and history. But it seems like a mirror has been broken, and the images will forever seem surreal.
This is not as it should be. Mom should still be here to breathe magic into the holidays. Always ecstatic to have us home for the holidays. She should be here to continue to collect the cards, the letters, the mementos of our lives, even as we continue to grow. To tell us the stories, to keep us together.

I am terrified that as I drive my truck, packed to the gills with memories, across country that I will mentally compile the list of items we should have saved, that I should have somehow found room for. That in the coming years, I will only realize the things that are lost forever when I go to look for them and cannot find them.
How precarious is your future if the past, the foundation, has eroded beneath you?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Goodnight Home

Part of my To Do list while I was home in NC this holiday season was to prep the house to put on the market. It's not what I want to do. It's not even in the top ten, but Plan A- rent downstairs to nice, stable, employed people blew up in my face. They paid October rent two weeks late. Never paid November's rent, and moved out 11 December, leaving items behind, having not paid any of December's (or November's) rent, painted the entire downstairs without permission, and have been dodging my calls, preferring to deal with Dad because he's "nice". I started vacation going to court to formally evict them. They didn't show, so while I got my property back, I don't get any money. And let me tell you, I'm all for people having protection so they can't be evicted without cause, but I find it ridiculous that someone who is employed full time cannot be punished, or made to pay back rent.
But walking downstairs to inspect what they'd done/left, it struck me that this was officially no longer my house.
I did not recognize it. It struck me how easily our mark upon the world can be erased.

As I walked around the house with the broker to add to my To Do list, it's hard not to feel sad. I bought this house for Mom, thinking it would be a permanent home. Everything I did with it was a set of tiny steps in the grand plan for how I wanted to make it. As I let Nehi out into the yard this morning, all I could see was all the work I had poured into it.
To me, the garden, or the yard is the heart of a home. It becomes the visible proof of what you create in a home. My yard was a sandpit when I first bought the house. The fence went up when Nehi came. The rain garden came after I realized the yard flooded on that side. The eucalyptus tree I planted in memory of Mom. The cherry tree, peach tree, and flowering pear were planted because I love the spring blossoms. The lantana is everywhere. I built the herb wall garden. Each plant is a memory of time digging in the dirt, with Nehi lazing in the sun.

As I look around the house, I also see Mom. All her knick knacks, pictures, stuff. Dad doesn't want most of it anymore, so I'll be packing all these things and driving them back to Albuquerque with me. Once we sell the house, Dad will move into a smaller place, one where the mortgage is more manageable. And once the house is sold, my last tangible connection to my Mom will be gone.  This was the last place she was. It's where she died. And once Dad moved into his new place, that place will not be home so much as his place.

I will also visit Dad as much as my schedule allows. But my home now is wherever my academics or work takes me. Perhaps the future will allow me the luxury of once again owning a home, and making it my own. And I'm fine with that. Part of my marketability is that I'm willing to pick up everything and move for a job. But I know as I drive away, I will be saying goodbye to many things.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Quiet Life (as a PhD student)

I completed (survived) my first week.
There were a couple of things that struck me this week, and as I think about it today, they all revolve around my quiet life.

In one of my classes, the professor discussed the job market, and how (though unfair) hiring committees looked at whether or not you were single/married, pregnant/had kids as pluses or minuses in hiring you. That even though they're not supposed to ask, visual cues often make it so they don't have to, and that fair or not, these things influence their decision on whether or not to hire you.
All I could think about was my profile description for this blog- "I don't have a husband or children, I have Nehi and students".
Furthermore, this week, I overheard a lot of conversations from other graduate students about having to work in their office, as there was no way to work at home, or people talking about working in diners, or coffee shops, or other places, because again, they couldn't work from home. I am lucky. I have an office AT home. It's perfectly conducive to working, has all my books, a nice, bright space, and has the added bonus that no one can bitch if I smoke.

Another comment made this week was the problem with juggling classes, work, class prep, and still have time for family. The tone was somewhere along the lines of "If you don't take time for family, and only work, there's something soulless about you". It instantly pissed me off. I am not somehow lesser because I've chosen to have THIS life, and not THAT one. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in the long run, it makes me a better candidate for the job market.
You see, I have a quiet life. I don't go out, I don't spend money on lots of things, I don't have multiple things crying for my attention. I have work, and I have Nehi. Nehi is perfectly happy so long as she gets her two walks a day, hanging out in the yard while I read, and I remember to feed her. And funny enough, I'm satisfied with the same. We don't need much.
But something else started to hit me this week- the divide between being a grad student at 22, and being one at 37. You see, I've had a "real" job. I've had people yell at me, and be rude, and make every day of going to work a living hell. In addition to that job, I've worked two others. I average that for the last several years, I've worked upwards of seventy hours a week. In addition to that I've still managed to present papers at conferences, write a book chapter, outline my thesis, and write for numerous online entities, including 8 Days a Geek as a reviewer, Infinite Earths for Billy Proctor, while also writing book reviews for academic journals, and this blog, in addition to the scholarly blog I write that chronicles my research. I still spent time with Nehi (and my Dad), still read lots of popular fiction, still went to movies. In other words, I still had a life. It just wasn't YOUR life. These were all things I cared about, so I made sure I did them. It helps that I'm disgustingly organized, but it's not a superpower- I have as many hours in the day to do things as anyone else, I just choose to focus my time on different things.
And the last couple of years, juggling all of these things, has prepped me for returning to grad school. In fact, THIS is all I've been working towards for the last three years. And in some ways, I think it gives me a leg up. Because I'm not being thrown into the deep end, I've been swimming there for a long time.
I admit, that there are several advantages that come with my background.
  • I'm not worried about teaching, I could do it in my sleep after 12 years. Because I know material and concepts, lesson planning if fairly effortless, as is making materials. And I'm certainly not worried about how to reach my students, or how to break down concepts.
  • So far, I'm not hampered by my TA fellowship and pay because I am continuing to teach online, and I cashed out my retirement, so there's a nest egg. I don't have to worry about paying bills, or buying books I want. I'm not going on a spending spree anytime soon (because I'm as anal about money as I am about everything else) but financial worries aren't keeping me up at night.
  • I've done more, with less, for years. When you live two hours from the nearest city, and have no access to academic libraries or research, your life as an academic is hard. Yet I still managed to do the things I did. All of a sudden, I have access to a library, and online journals. Easier can't help but be better.
So, people can keep their judgements to themselves about how not having a family somehow makes me lesser than others.
I for one, will enjoy my quiet life. And maybe, just maybe, my quiet life will prove to be a better, faster track to the tenure track job I want. If not, it's still the life that makes me happy. And in the end, that's what you want.

Friday, August 16, 2013

TA Orientation and (almost) the First Day of School

I had an epic fail today. I'd spent all week in TA orientation, so had decided to skip this morning's Graduate School Introductions in order to get settled in my office. It was a crap day from the start-
  • my key doesn't work
  • the lock shop, which could fix/replace my key is closed on Fridays
  • turns out that my office has three desks, and four people share it
  • The stuff I wanted to put up, I left at home, in my TA folder that I took out this morning, trying to lighten my load
 So, I was in my office for a grand total of one hour before heading home in defeat.
 So, today was not so great.

The week was, well, a week of orientation. No one likes meetings. No one especially likes meetings that aren't divided by skill level. However, I was excited to see an old professor, who is teaching a class on folklore and horror that I'm going to try and sit in on since that's the type of course I hope to teach myself, and I want to see how he does it. It was also nice to meet most of my professors, and the Rhet/Comp guys are all nice, and very helpful.
I got one snarky comment about how I shouldn't have let people know I was a tech geek, to which I calmly responded that I didn't mind helping people. One person was short with me and hurt my feelings, and one person was nasty about me having my work done. I say law of averages, that in a week of meeting 100+ new people, three negative experiences still put me on the plus side.
I didn't get to meet my Old Norse professor, because she's emeritus, or the professor I'm already eyeing for chair of my thesis committee (she wasn't there this week).

Faculty stalking will come later in the week I guess.

My biggest thing is that I want to get going. I want to get started with teaching, and my classes, and figure it all out from there. Because even though my first six weeks are planned out (ENG 101 runs on a pre-scripted first unit) and even though my first week's lessons are finished, and my Blackboard shell is up and running, those are all treading water things. Valuable for keeping you afloat, but not really exciting.

I do have to say that part of my anxiety about this is that I don't do well without my routines, and right now, I don't know what my daily and weekly routines are, so that makes me anxious. Perfect example- it took everything in my power today not to have a meltdown about that stupid door sign. And then, when I came home to work, I realized that switching to a planner different than the one I've used for over a decade was making me nuts. The one I always use is Jim Burke's Teacher Day Planner, which has everything- planning space and a yearly calendar (which runs August to July, so handy). I originally went with a separate ward planner, and At-A-Glance calendar  because I thought the Burke planner would label me as too high school (already got the vibe that I should shut up about my teaching experience).
But as I sat at my desk at home this afternoon, trying to label with Post-Its, and color code, shuffling between different things, I realized that I just couldn't make it work. So I gave in and ordered the Burke. And paid extra money to get it here as soon as possible.
I know that seems like a silly, trivial thing, but it is the collection of all of those silly things that help me create a protective shell. I am nigh on bullet proof if I have my organizer, and color coded Post-Its. But without? I can't process new information, I forget things, I feel tense, and anxious.

I'm looking forward to my first day of class, and definitely looking forward to being able to plan my own lessons, although I certainly understand why they require new TAs to teach the same thing for six weeks.
So far, I'm excited about the accessibility of the staff, and the office staff has all been great. I've learned my way about campus, and things are starting to look familiar.
I guess too, after so many years of workings TOWARDS this, I just want to go ahead and get started. Because once I start, it's just a long check list of things to do to earn my PhD and get out and get a job. And I want to start feeling like I'm making progress.

So, I'm going to take a deep breath, embrace the routines I have (trying not to clutch them to my chest like Duckie), and figure it out.

To my anxiety I say:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Impressions, Starting Over, and Obsessing over Details

Today is Wednesday.
On Monday, I report for my first day of my PhD program. We have a week of TA training. There are 30 people in my cohort (Masters and PhD students), and so it's a week of firsts:
  • first time meeting the faculty
  • first time meeting the cohort
  • first time meeting other grad students
  • first time learning way around campus
 I don't do well with new things until I get my routine down. It makes me extremely anxious that I don't know the rules, what is expected, what the norms are. I hate first days. I'm already having a hard time sleeping- tossing and turning at night worrying about every little detail. Will I be able to carry all my books in the leather briefcase I bought specifically to look grown up? In the New Mexico heat, will I arrive a hot, sweaty mess after trekking across campus?

My latest obsession is a flashback to childhood- what to wear on the first day? What makes the best first impression? What shows that I'm a professional, there to work? I was thinking what I wore to teach high school/community college was a good start, but just to be sure, I reached out to my Twitter/academic friends.
They all suggested business casual.
Just one problem. This is what you get when you Google business casual:

Overload, Will Robinson. So let's narrow this down...let's randomly pick an image.
And here's the problem. I wouldn't wear this crap if you paid me money. For one thing- those bags can't carry crap. For another, shoes like that? On your feet for eight hours a day? Are you high? And why do women have those ridiculous accessories? Oy.

I would rather live the life of a hermit than either A) buy anything like this or B) actually have to leave the house looking like this.
I don't like dresses, and I wear skirts to church, and that's it (because they have a two hour limit as far as I'm concerned- as in, I can wear them for two hours before I want to toss it in the closet and not look at it for a week)

The issue comes down to the fact that my idea of dressing professionally is more like this:
In fact, most of my wardrobe is this- slacks, ties, my obsessive love of vests, and jackets. Dress shoes that are nowhere near a heel (and in many cases, are men's dress shoes). Comfortable. Practical. Easy to organize outfits in the morning and color coordinate. Don't get me wrong, I've got some classy stuff- tailored vests, silk ties, good stuff!

Men have it easy, and I've always wondered at the extreme disparity between men and women and professional wear. Why is it acceptable for men to don a tie, button down shirt, slacks, and a jacket, while women are expected to wear this crap? Or, if a women does take the more practical view, and adopt this as a form of dress (as I do) then there are suddenly all kinds of assumptions made about gender and sexuality?
Why will the assumption be that I'm making some sort of statement?
The pressure mounts.
Can't I just dress like this because I want to be professional, and comfortable at the same time?

So, back to worrying. But if I'm going to be anxious, and worried, until I can work out my new routine, at least I'm going to do it in comfort.

Although having just received next week's schedule, I'm now worrying about how to fit my bag lunch into my briefcase since lunch is "bring your own"...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Feminism: I'll skip this wave, and catch the next set

When I attended the Popular Culture conference in Washington, D.C at the end of March, quite a few of the panels discussed the three waves of feminism, and whether or not there was another wave occurring now.
This got me thinking.

I knew I had reached a certain age when my first conversations with strangers went like this:
Are you married
by: karra.shimabukuro

I always felt a screaming internal voice struggling to get out-
No, I'm not married. But I've driven cross-country several times.
And I have two master's degrees.
And I've had adventures.
I own my own house.
No, I don't have children.
But I cared for my ailing mother. And I have hundreds of students I've helped raise.

But these are not acceptable answers. Most of the women at work, when asked to introduce themselves start with "My name is ----- and I have three beautiful kids..." I cringe a little when I hear that. Not that there's anything wrong with having kids, or getting married, there's not. But the fact that these women define themselves only as mothers seems a little awful to me. Have they lost their own identity? Can't they be themselves, and still be mothers? If not, does the inverse hold true, that I can't have an identity because I'm NOT a mother?
I have some serious issues with that.

Then this week, this article popped up in my Twitter feed:
And the line that stuck with me was this- "I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure."
My mom died over two years ago. So I hate the holiday. I hate that my email inbox gets flooded with ProFlowers advertisements counting down the days until I can get mom that special bouquet. I hate that my mom isn't here any more. I hate that nothing I do from now on can be shared with her. There are no more phone conversations, cute cards, hugs, or anything else. I don't begrudge anyone their children, or their celebrations, or their mothers. I just don't want to see it. I don't want to be reminded of what I don't have any more.
For me, today is not about love, and brunches, and flowers. 
It's about loss.
Given that Mom died on Valentine's Day, I have similar feelings about that holiday.

Perhaps this year feels particularly harsh because I'm getting ready to move to Albuquerque. The place where Mom was born. The place she never saw as an adult. The place where she was always so jealous that I had been.
Moving also means leaving the house, and the last place where Mom was. It means leaving Dad. And being all on my own for the first time in over nine years.

At work, most people's response to me leaving to get my PhD has been "Oh well, do it now, while you're young. I mean, it's not like you have a husband or children."
It's like the "Are you married?" conversation all over again. As though I am only able to go and do this because I have failed to land a husband or have children. As though higher education were a back-up plan if you couldn't be a "real" woman.

The first wave of feminism wanted basic rights.
The second wave of feminism wanted to address the "de facto" inequalities.
The third wave of feminism wanted Girl Power.

So why am I still being judged for pursuing what I want? For not living up to other women's expectations? Why am I looked down on because I have not followed a set path?

Isn't feminism's end goal supposed to be that women can do anything they want? Pursue anything? Follow any path they choose?
I am not a failure because I've chosen not to get married.
I am not a failure because I've chosen not to have children.
I am not a failure because I've chosen instead to go to school, support myself, buy a house,  take care of my family and travel.
And let me be clear- THIS WAS A CHOICE. It's not a back-up plan, it's not a fall back position. It's not Plan B. It's the choice I made. I chose to work hard at my job and pursue higher education. I worked three jobs to be able to do this. I worked full time, and went to school. I paid my own way through school. I did all of this on my own. And yet more and more, I find people's reactions to be judgmental. I am somehow lesser because of this.

People deserve to be treated equally. People deserve to support each other's choices, and at the very least, not judge them for the choices they make that are different from yours.

I'm not interested in the 4th wave of feminism that appears to argue that women can only succeed if they rely on a global sisterhood to do it.
I'm not interested in reclaiming a womanhood, that I wasn't aware I had lost.
Instead of advancing towards the future where people are judged as people instead of by their sexual identity (whether it's the one they're born with, or the one they choose) we seem to be moving backward, more clearly defining the battle lines between men and women. And it's not just "men" or "women" but a certain kind of "man" and "woman".
Are there still issues to be addressed? Of course. Just as there are issues of racism and classism. I just wish that I could be judged based on my own actions, and not in comparison to the woman down the street.

So I'll skip this wave, and catch the next set.
Let me know when you stop making it an either/or proposition.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

12 years of teaching, and it turns out I did drink the Dead Poet's Society/Stand and Deliver/Mr. Holland's Opus/Lean on Me/Dangerous Minds Kool-Aid.

People who go into teaching often have some ridiculous, lofty idea of what they are going to accomplish. These people don't last long. I saw it in NYC- people who thought they were going to "save" the kids in their poor Brooklyn neighborhoods, "save" them from their lives. They were usually gone by Christmas.
I believe that TRUE teachers are able to let go of these dream ideas and concentrate on the impact they can have, on doing the best job they can, on trying to teach the students as much as they can- not just about their subjects, but also about life.

But there's a contradiction here.

Because every teacher, when they're having a bad day, when they've been screamed at by a parent, dumped on by administration, trashed on social media by students, when they feel like they've failed in every way possible, not reached that kid, not reached out, not been more accessible, not done that day to 100% tells them one thing to get through that day-

I make a difference.
I make a difference in the lives of my students.
They will remember me.
I have taught them things that not only help them pass the class/the state exam/the essay but will help them be better people, better mothers and fathers, better friends.
I made them think.
I opened them up to things they had never considered before. 

I'm sure most of us would like to imagine that all of our students, if given the opportunity, would do the following as a way to say goodbye.

This is my 12th year teaching. It is my 9th year at my current school. At roughly 100 students per year, that's over 1,200 students over my career. That's 900 at this school alone. That's not including students in clubs I've sponsored, helped at Saturday School, or extracurricular activities, or coached.

And yet...
I gave notice at my school over a month ago because I'm leaving to pursue my PhD in English Literature. And in that month, I keep coming back to that line-

I make a difference.

But what if it's not true? What if the line that every teacher tells themselves to get through the bad spots, is a lie? Something we've sold ourselves on in order to get up and through the next day?
Because over the last month, this is all that I can seem to think of. Because not a single person seems to care that I am leaving.
Maybe I'm as guilty as those quit-before-Christmas teachers with their idealistic notions. Maybe I did drink the Dead Poet's Society/Stand and Deliver/Mr. Holland's Opus/Lean on Me/Dangerous Minds Kool-Aid.
I want to believe that I was a good teacher. I want to believe that my students left my classroom with an abundance of riches they didn't have before. I'm not naive to think that every student left suddenly loving literature. But I like to think that most left with some little part they will always carry with them.

I had a teacher like that. He was my AP English teacher. He was a Marine sniper. A triathlon athelete. A surfer. And the toughest teacher at school. There was a mythos that surrounded him. He made students cry on a regular basis. I thought he was a god. I survived my first three years teaching in a poorly performing Brooklyn school by channeling him. He told our AP class that none of us would score 5s on the exams, but we still better put the work in.
I got a 5 on my exam. And I think he's also a big reason on my I became a teacher.
I was saddened when he retired the year before I returned home to teach at the high school I attended. I would have loved to have been on staff with him.
When I passed him on the street last year, and he said "Hello, Karra", I had a little fangirl meltdown that he would remember me. It'd been 18 years since I took his class.

So I know there are teachers out there that make that sort of difference.

What has made me sad this past month, is the realization that maybe I'm just not one of them.
I'm not the teacher everyone loves. I'm hard. I expect the best from my students. I expect hard work, and effort. I'm not their friend. I don't care who their parents are, or what their last names are. I care about them, and giving them what they need to succeed in life. I care that they learn to THINK. And question. This year in particular (gotta love social media) has been hard as it's been pointed out to me again and again just how much some students don't like me, my class, or my way of teaching.

But again, I got through this year by coming back to-

I make a difference.

Maybe in the end, it doesn't matter if no one will miss me once I'm gone. Maybe the point is not that I made a difference with them, but that they made a difference with me.

I've had students make my day, make my heart break and then swell with pride, make me a better teacher and person.

So maybe I'll end this year feeling as I do now- that no one will miss me in the great cogs of the machine that education is.

But I can tell you that I will miss every one of my students.
I will miss seeing that kid who never reads, asking me for a book to read, and then watching them read it.
I will miss seeing my students grow, from freshmen year when I teach them, through senior year.
I will miss getting to know the quiet kids.
I will miss seeing them walk across the stage at graduation, and knowing what an epic battle it was for some of them.

So to all 1200+ of my students, past and present, I want to say thank you.
Because you made a difference.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ennui (updated)

I am not a patient person. I seem genetically wired to not be able to wait. This may perhaps be why I keep myself so busy, if there's no downtime, if there's always something to fill the time, then time passes more quickly, and you don't feel like you're waiting for anything.
I teach full time at a high school.
I teach two full classes online.
I adjunct at the local community college.
I write reviews steadily for two different journals.
I am a staff writer for http://www.8daysageek.com/
I have written papers for, and presented at, two conferences in the past year, and am gearing up for a third, this time a national.
I wrote a book chapter last week.

And yet ennui is the best definition of what I'm feeling these days.

Perhaps it's because my jaw surgery recovery is nothing but a waiting game. Wait to be able to eat. Wait to have feeling back. Wait for the pain to subside. Wait, wait, wait. Let me tell you what life is like in between all the waiting:
  • I can eat at meal times only, because I have four rubber bands that are super tiny (read tight), that I have to have on at all times. No snacking. No, gosh I'm still hungry. Nothing. Lunch and Dinner. That's it. I balance how much I want to eat over how big a pain in the ass it will be.
  • It takes me over an hour to eat practically nothing. And I'm hungry all the time. I don't stop eating because I'm full, I stop because my mouth hurts too bad to keep going. This time frame is also proving problematic at work, as I get under 30 minutes to eat.
  • I can't feel my face still, so I look like a four year old when eating. Which is fine if you don't mind sitting in a room by yourself to eat every meal for three months.
  • Because I can't feel my face much, and because of the rubber bands, I also talk like an idiot. And I'm a teacher. All I do all day (and most nights) is talk. To people of an age that snicker and make fun of people who talk funny.
  • And I can't eat much. I dream of the day when I can eat anything I like, any time I like. That day can't come soon enough.
Perhaps it's because I was sick all this past week, and I got fussed at at work for not working as hard as I should have.
  • And here's the problem with that- when you work three jobs, and get sick, it is impossible to call in sick to all of them. I called in sick to one and was able to shift another to this week/online. Emailed the boss of another and then got dinged on my review for not working.
  • I desperately wish I could call in sick and just be sick. Not worry about answering email, or texts, or phone calls. Just lay in bed, unable to move and be sick.
Perhaps it's because deadlines are starting to loom, and March could either bring great things, or the need to stab myself in the eye.

I'm tired. I'm tired of working so hard, and having to squeeze time in for things I like. I'm tired of so much of my time being sucked away by dumb shit. I'm tired of there being too little that I enjoy. I'm actually just physically tired.
I'm just tired.

Now all that being said, time does pass quickly when you're overscheduled and burning the candle at both ends. According to my calendar, we're on the downward slope of the school year (72 school days and counting). I'll blink and it will be Spring Break, and then I'll blink and it will be the end of the year.

I have much to be grateful for- this has been an amazing year. But when your life is full of so many hills and valleys, the darkness in the valleys makes it hard to keep climbing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The One Month Mark

Yesterday marked the one month mark for my jaw surgery.
 So, here's where I am:
  • Wearing rubber bands all the time, except when I eat
  • Doing stretching exercises to get the muscles in my mouth and face going again
  • The doctor cleared me last week to eat anything I could manage
  • Next week I go in to get my splint removed
  • Still swollen on left side
  • Still can't feel a lot of my face
I'm having a hard time this week, for a couple of reasons. The first three weeks, I saw improvement every day- swelling went down, bruising went away, I felt better, This week seems to not only be a plateau, but also frustrating. I can eat anything- if I can fit it in my mouth, which I can't open very wide. I can chew, but I still can't feel most of my face, so the inside of my cheek is taking a beating. Every time I close my mouth I feel like I have to shift my jaw so the teeth fit right. Straws still defeat me on a 50% basis, I still drool, and I am not fit for company when eating.

So, frustrating.

Food wise, I'm eating with a small teaspoon because 1) I don't worry about jabbing myself or my orthodontics with a fork tine, and 2) that seems to hold the amount (and height) of food I can open my mouth for. I'm also having to cut food up small, but did manage steak on my birthday last Sunday.  I do find that it still takes me longer to eat (which is problematic teaching high school where you get 20 minutes, and that has to include cleaning up afterwards), and my jaws get tired after not eating a lot. My jaw muscles were also really sore Week 3, the first week I went back to work but I think that's mainly because I'm a teacher, and I spend all day talking. I've managed with just taking ibuprofen, and that's been fine. It does seem that I'm grinding/gritting my teeth at night, which is causing some soreness at the gum of my lower teeth, but again, ibuprofen seems to handle that fine as well.
One positive is that during my liquid diet, I varied what I ate, so I haven't had any real problems transitioning to solid food again.

I need to remind myself that the doctor says I'm way ahead of the healing curve.
I need to remind myself that it will take time to adjust to my new bite. That I'm gaining feeling, albeit more slowly, and that the swelling can take up to three months to go away.
I need to focus on the long term fabulousness this will all lead to. And remember how cool it was to actually be able to bite into a piece of pizza the other day (which I've never been able to do straight on).

I'm hoping next week, when I get the splint removed, and then go to the orthodontist, I will have more to be positive about. No splint should mean that my speech returns to normal. I'm also hoping that my orthodontist can tell me what we're looking at time wise. Originally, he had said the plan was to get the teeth as close as he could, have the surgery, and then move the teeth the last bit. I'm hoping this means that I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for getting my braces off. Looking at my bite, it doesn't look like a lot left to do, but what the hell do I know?

So, here's to focusing on the positive, and waiting to see what news next week brings.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Double Jaw Surgery- The first 14 days

Day 1/9 January: Spent the night in the hospital. The pain was minimal, but Dad says I kept insisting that my nose is crooked. It is. Doctor gave me the option of staying the day and being checked out at 4p, or leaving as soon as Dad could come get me. I went with option #2- I want to go home and be on my couch with my puppy.
Day 3/11 January:  First post-op appointment. Doctor says I am a rockstar! Swelling is no where near as bad as most people have, and everything looks good. Look at the picture below- rockstar? I do not think that word means what you think it means. Dear God, terrifying.

On the plus side, I am obviously now the Bionic Woman. Holy cow that’s a lot of  metal!

Day 4/13 January:  I am sleeping a lot. I am using ice packs constantly, trying to get the swelling to go down. I’m mostly sleeping on the couch, as this keeps me in an upright position, which is also supposed to help with the swelling. I am forcing myself to walk Nehi, as getting up and moving around is recommended. So far, I’m not having any problems with this.

Day 5/14 January:  I have to eat with a mirror. Because I can’t feel my face. And this means you miss your mouth when trying to eat. So I eat with a mirror so I can direct my spoon. I’m still a complete mess though, making me think that I’ve regressed 36 years.

Day 7/16 January: Second post-op appointment. Doctor says I'm still looking good. I have some abscesses on the inside of my mouth from the hooks on my braces/wires that were installed for the surgery. Seems that they are rubbing against the inside of my mouth. Doctor suggested wax for it, and Peroxyl mouthwash to help with the sores.
I also apparently set of anti-theft detectors. Dad and I stopped at CVS on the way home to refill prescriptions and I set off the anti-theft thing at the door. We stopped somewhere else before heading home, and I set off THEIR anti-theft thingie at the door. I’m starting to worry that I will now set off the metal detector at the airport.
I’m still on antibiotics, but I’ve stopped taking the pain medicine. I know sleeping is good for healing, but I don’t like taking pain meds, and I’m not in pain, just discomfort. So I’ve switched to children’s/liquid ibuprofen to help with the pain and swelling.
Day 8/17 January: Jello. Beef broth. Mashed potatoes. This is my diet. I still cannot drink without dribbling everywhere. Nehi is taking great delight in stealing the paper towels I use for clean up off the coffee table. Straws are out because I can’t feel my lips, or put them together, or create the suction needed, so I guess I’ll be dribbling for a while.
Also, turns out I suck at making smoothies. They all taste like poop. I’ve regressing to just drinking a lot of Ovaltine. Everything else comes out as a complete disaster. I don’t know who said making smoothies was the way to get through this surgery, but I’m pretty sure they lied to me.

Day 9/18 January:  Nehi has a new command- “Clean that up”. She seems to have no problem eating everything I’m dropping on the floor. I also think I somehow dropped Jello on her earlier in the week, because she has a sticky spot on her fur that smells suspiciously like cherry Jello.
However, I can now remove my rubber bands to eat, and brush my teeth. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but is. I can only open my mouth one finger width, so it’s not a complete deal- I can barely fit my lightsaber kid’s toothbrush in my mouth, but it’s nice to feel like I have a clean mouth. Between the lightsaber toothbursh, the cleaning syringe they gave me, and the peroxyl mouthwash, I seem to be doing okay.

Day 11/20 January: Most of what I've read, and what my doctor told me, was that most people lose 5-10% of their body weight due to the liquid diet. I want my 10%. A lot of blogs I’ve read of people who went through this surgery states that people lost 20lbs! It’s like that line from The Devil Wears Prada- “I’m just one stomach flu from my ideal weight”. I thought I was just one jaw surgery from my ideal weight. Guess that’s not going to happen. Seems mean. I can’t have my favorite thing- food and I get nothing out of it. Damnit.
On the plus side, I seem to have been able to master the skill of drinking out of a cup again without dribbling all over the place.
Day 12/21 January: I have, perhaps mistakenly, been watching episodes of 30 Rock on Roku to fill my time. I say mistakenly because it’s not actually a comedy show, it’s a show all about food. There’s food everywhere. And when you can’t eat, watching tv about food is just torture. I’ve created a list of all the things I want to eat as soon as possible.

On the good/bad side, I’m regaining feeling in my cheek- the left more than the right. Good, because that’s a healing thing. Bad because it hurts. Seems swollen, and keeps getting caught on my rubber bands, which I can feel now.

A friend called me today to see how I was. Ten minutes on the phone and I was exhausted. And the inside of my cheek hurt, which I can now feel. How am I going to handle a full day of teaching? Another friend said I should just take the rest of this week off, giving myself five more days of healing before returning to work on Monday. I always feel so guilty about taking time off though. I think I’ll wait to see what the doctor says tomorrow.
Worked on classes this morning, prepping for the new semester. By lunch I was exhausted. Becoming more and more nervous about returning to work. My friend said that the students would be nicer than I think, but I still worry they will make fun of me not being able to talk. Especially my new students this semester. My yearlong classes all knew about the surgery, so I’m not worried as much about them.
Was able to take a full length walk with Nehi today. We were both exhausted.
Day 13/22 January: Have my next post-op appointment today. I have a list of things I need to ask him:
  • The last few days I’ve had a constant dripping, bloody nose. What’s up with this?
  • What’s the solution to the abscesses caused my the braces hooks rubbing against the inside of my mouth?
  • Food? What’s the timeline for moving to mushy/soft things (i.e- off just liquid)
  • When does the retainer thing come out? Is it 14 February when I go to the orthodontist to get my wires replaced?
  • My nose is still crooked
  • I take dance class. When can I go back to that?
  • Seriously, is the metal in my mouth setting off the anti-theft stuff at stores?
Plus side for today- I seem to be gaining some ability to express emotion as I gain feeling over my face again. It seems to be a little thing, but it's amazing how  all these little things become so important when you lose them and regain them.