Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back to School

"The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called the truth" - Dan Rather

One of my recently graduated seniors - passing along motivation for me as I return to work :)

I started teaching again - hesitantly. I get these pain spikes that are almost seizure like and crippling. It's hard to predict them, and my walking was still very weak when I first returned to work.

Luckily, the physical aspects of teaching (including standing for 40 min at a time) have really helped to reverse some of the atrophy in my quads, and some days, my walking is as fluid and seamless as a flowing stream. Other days, I'm shaky and clumsy ... there really isn't any rhyme or reason to it.

The first week of school, I told my students about my general health status. I basically said, "I want to stop the rumor mill before it starts, and as my students I'm going to share something with you that I believe you have a right to know. I have an illness that causes me pain sometimes, and I may start shaking in class. You may see me walking down the halls, and I may look like I'm really hurting. Do not worry or be afraid, I am fine. I am not dying - I'm not leaving you. I assure you, the pain is not as bad as it looks and my Carcinoid cancer is under control. If you want to talk more about this privately, I'm happy to do so."

I teach the honors English courses for juniors and seniors, and my kids are amazing; they totally get it and have adjusted accordingly. For example, sometimes my writing is too shaky because of the palsy like tremors in my hands, and a kid will take over at the chalkboard.  If I need to sit (which I can only do for a few minutes at a time because of my animated teaching style), they become eerily quiet so that I don't need to raise my voice beyond a normal speaking tone.

I was having great days the first couple weeks of school, and even better lessons... until I got a pain wave last week after 1st period. When these waves hit, it feels like my entire body is in a trash compactor and my bones are being broken. I had to be driven home by a friend, and then Mike and Rob drove my car to my apartment later that night.

I was embarrassed, and almost didn't want to return to school... I started questioning whether or not it was fair to my students to continue teaching given my illness; I felt guilty that the pain prevents me from preforming at my absolute best, and I am uncomfortable with the fact that there will be days I have to miss because of the unpredictability of my symptoms.

I returned to school two days later to find a beautiful card from my 3rd period, and had every kid rushing up to me to ask me if I was alright.  Many of the teachers (including the librarian) said that my students were really worried, and kept asking them if they knew anything about my condition ... one teacher even remarked, "I can't believe how attached they are, and how much they love you after only a couple of weeks!"
Card from my Current Juniors 2012
My kids' reactions, along with the overwhelming, genuine concern and compassion of my colleagues, made me realize that I had the support system to continue, and my students are better off with me (even if I'm not 100%) than without me.

As long as I can stand, talk, and breath - you can find me in room 126, discussing Beowulf, Ramayana or life choices... challenging kids to think about their identity, and pushing them to understand that they must create their own opportunities in life. Below are just a few pictures from the end of the summer / start of school... I am grateful that I am able to live my passion every single day.

Pictures: After my students graduate, I allow them to "follow me" on Instagram, and give some of them my number in case they need anything.

(Instagram Photo) One of my students (at Rutgers) showing me that she is writing in the journal I gave her for graduation

(Instagram Photo) College Send Off Lunch 2012: love these boys and their constant shenanigans (never in my class of course)

(top left - email from one of my students from last year who won the Gates Scholarship... love the subject line; top right - taking two of my recent grads out to lunch... these two are super special because I taught them both Jr and Sr year - and they're awesome of course; bottom - email from parent following last week's Back to School night -- I taught her daughter (North Eastern) as a senior 2 yrs ago ... this year I have her son.

It's texts like these that make me smile....

When I returned to my classroom after being sick for two days, I found a zebra sitting on this photo of a grad whom I still mentor on a weekly basis. My current students must have put it there! (Zebras = symbol for Carcinoid cancer).. on the right is a recent trip to Annamaria's home so I could visit with "momma"

This comment (on a recent Instgram photo my sister took of me) is from one of my students whom I had for Jr and Sr year... he and his best friend Kalyn recently told me, "we miss you like a child misses his mother" - such wonderful kids

Saturday, September 1, 2012

IKEA Debacle

The Look of IKEA Defeat
It just so happened that my two best friends, Mike and Rob, moved in together this summer, around the same time that I moved into my own studio. IKEA sells cheap furniture, so between the three of us, we have made a dozen trips over the past few months to this "some assembly required" (aka "build it yourself") furniture mecca.

Despite July being eaten away by hospital visits and doctor appointments, my apartment has been steadily coming along. Recently, Mike and I decided it was time I get a couch and a kitchen island; so off to IKEA we went... a routine as familiar as putting on your shoes before walking out the door.

By now, we have visited IKEA so often that we could probably draw a detailed architectural blueprint of the store from memory. We were able to quickly locate the three items we wanted: sleeper couch, kitchen island, kitchen stools, and masterfully found the corresponding boxes in the warehouse... after which, we followed the usual steps:

STEP ONE: Load everything into the car

STEP TWO: Spend 2 hours trying to put together an item that should theoretically take 15 assemble

PROBLEM: Everything was going according to plan, but as Murphy's Law states: "If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something."

Once Mike fully assembled the couch, we realized it was factory defective. Mike had the exact same couch in college - so he recognized the issue right away... the factory had sewn the cushions on inside out. What are the odds that we picked probably the only defective box in the warehouse? Mike then spent the next 30 min on hold for customer service to report the problem.

STEP THREE: Listen to non-soothing elevator music while trying to reach customer service
After a recent trip to the shore, Mike and I somehow managed to reload the couch (fully assembled) back into his car, and he and Rob returned it. Of course, IKEA doesn't currently have the couch in stock - so we are non-anxiously awaiting a new shipment so that we can repeat this entire process again (minus the defect of course).

Any other friend would have given up on me and my unfathomable bad luck by now - thank goodness Mike isn't like any other friend.