Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This High School Teacher Broke My Heart... And Enabled Me To Put It Back Together Again

My favorite class in college was an Adult Psychology course for which the main premise was that we cannot become healthy adults if we maintain unresolved issues from our childhood.  A colossal assignment for the semester was to identify the issue from our youth that remained most unsettling, and then confront it head on.  The idea was to write an explanatory letter to the person with whom the issue remains and then follow up with a face-to-face meeting aimed toward resolution.

My problem, if you could call it that, was that I didn’t have a living person in my life that I had any real issue with.  So unless going up to the Heavens to confront my deceased father on the one fat joke he ever made (to my face) was an option, I was in a pickle.  Requiring a more tangible option, my professor allowed me to turn toward my adolescence, in which there were plenty of untapped issues.  One inscription from my high school yearbook read:

“KLP, I am not going to say anything important in a yearbook.  You know how I feel about how you’ve managed through the years, especially this year.
See you when I see you.  I’ll be in my office. – SMacM”

In the CliffNotes version of this story, I’m KLP, the jovial yet sensitive high school graduate known for her (now maiden) initials, and for having learned in her freshman year that her father had terminal brain cancer.

SMacM was my advisor, which in my tiny private day school meant that he was like a homeroom teacher for me and about 8 other students for four years straight.  He was the “cool” one.  He wore aviator sunglasses, coached lacrosse and dated one of the other teachers.  But this all meant little to me after I got to know him, and it means very little to me now.

As my advisor, SMacM was responsible for making sure I didn’t fall through the cracks.  Yet to use any of this brief description as a way of defining my relationship with him only trivializes all that he meant to me- and all that he made me mean to myself.  Our relationship was atypical, as were all of my years with him.

I identify with my high school as much as anyone.  It’s the place where I shared my first real kiss, developed a passion for writing, and a hatred for algebra.  And it’s where the acronym I’d used all my life developed much more meaning than just it’s similarity to the theme song from that show about a radio station in Cincinnati.

SMacM, or Sandy, knew it all- even the stuff I tried to hide from him.  He knew when my free periods were, who I was dating, how many cigarettes I smoked a day and how fast I drove in the parking lot.  Once in a great while, you find someone who knows you better than you know yourself.  For me, he was that person.  And he knew it.

Sandy went above and beyond his call of duty.  I was required to meet with him way more often than the average student was.  In the beginning, I resented this.  Like all teenagers, I believed I could handle anything, and felt no need to pour my heart out to him merely because he had been assigned to me.  Until, that is, he proved that I was more than just an assignment.

My father’s life began to wind down just as my senior year did and though my graduation was a milestone, it does not bring back the happiest of memories.  Commencement meant a new group of advisees for Sandy, and that unfortunately, under the circumstances, my father had found the most perfect time to find his peace.  Already in a Hospice, my Dad was unable to attend my graduation, though he did see me in my cap and gown.  Sandy did what he could to lessen the blow, stepping in as a “father figure”, with a gripping hug as I held my diploma in hand.

Less than one month after that ceremony, my father had a ceremony of his own.  Next summer will mark 20 years since his passing, and I have little more clarity about it now than I did then.  The outpouring of love and support from family, friends and strangers was unprecedented.  But one face was missing.

I never heard from Sandy after my father died.  No visit, no phone call, no card and no fulfillment of the promise he had made to see me through the challenge whenever it came.  Despite the yearbook inscription that his office door would remain open, it closed on the day I received my diploma.  I was made to feel that because I was no longer a student, I was no longer part of his job description, his assignment.

So to fulfill my assignment, I wrote Sandy a letter, addressing the wound that clearly had not healed.  As you may have guessed, there was no reply.

Still, I consider myself a healthy adult.  Though unable to discuss the issue with him in person, as outlined in the assignment, I was able to face it on my own.

I can honestly say that I have forgiven Sandy, but more importantly, I have forgiven myself.  I have forgiven myself for the judgment I placed upon him in his absence and for the disappointment I let myself experience.

Many (many) years later, I can confidently disagree with my Adult Psychology professor.  Our health as adults is not based solely upon our ability to resolve, but our ability to forgive.  The challenge then becomes doing so before time runs out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Two Terms I Never Expected To Use Together? DIY & Toilet Paper

It's impossible to regurgitate all that I learned (and saw be regurgitated) at preschool last year.  But one important lesson made such an impact on my family (and my wallet) that I felt it was worth sharing.

Everybody poops.  Therefore, (almost) everything you need to have an incredible yet inexpensive afternoon with your children is already right there in your home.

My daughter's school prioritizes teaching the importance of conserving our resources and protecting our environment, as every classroom should.  So, how better to teach a young child about recycling than through art... and toilet paper?

After months of saving toilet paper and paper towel rolls, I was desperate to come up with a creative idea to get them the hell out of my storage closet.  Here's what we came up with:

Don't laugh... I've said many times before that I have a crafty side, and it took a lot of guts to go "public" with this.  Plus, I know many of you are wondering how I did it.  So, here goes.

  1. The above wreath used 16 toilet paper rolls, 3 paper towel rolls, one 8.5 inch paper plate, green Crayola paint, one foam paint brush and a hot glue gun. (You are on your own for the decorations...)

  2. First, paint the rolls, using two coats.  You'll notice that the adhesive left on the rolls will cause the green to appear darker or lighter in spots.  Just roll with it.

  3. Once dry, hot glue four rolls onto the plate, positioning them like the cardinal directions on a compass.  Then, glue the next four equidistant between them, like the ordinal directions. (See, Mom!! I did pay attention in school!)

  4. Next, use one toilet paper roll and 2 pieces of a paper towel roll (cut slightly smaller than a TP roll) to create a "t" shape on the top layer of the wreath.  Fill in empty spaces by cutting the left over rolls into slices approximately one inch thick, and layer as needed.

  5. We glued buttons and rhinestones onto ours to decorate it, but anything colorful will do- like stickers, painted macaroni or broken pieces of crayons.  Use a hole punch to make a hole in the plate, add a ribbon and hang.  Then, thank me for being so crafty.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Breast Isn't Best

In honor of National Breast Feeding Month, here is a piece I wrote for LA Parent Magazine some time ago.  As it turns out, breast isn't always best...

I was a swimmer growing up.  When I wasn’t in a racing suit at the elementary school pool, I donned a cute one in my grandparent’s backyard, but covered it up with a thick, oversized cotton t-shirt.  Ironically, I was more self-conscious of my over-developed chest than the baby fat I held onto through high school graduation.  Foolishly, I thought the cover-up disguised my insecurity.  Luckily, with receipt of my diploma, came the realization that I might really benefit from a breast reduction.

Many years later, I stand by my decision, and remain thankful for my supportive and generous parents.  The only thing I regret is not having given more thought to the surgeon’s warning that as a result of the surgery I may lose my ability to breast feed.  I was 18.  Childrearing seemed decades away.  “They’ll be able to fix that by then”, I thought.  I was wrong, and quite possibly had made my first parenting mistake in the same year I became eligible to vote.

Once pregnant with my first daughter, the stress began to set in.  Would I be able to provide properly for her financial, emotional, and lactational needs?

Before I knew it, my husband was in the delivery room swaddling our tiny angel for the very first time.  Peaceful as she was then, her first desire to nurse was only moments away.  If it weren’t, a sorority of pro-breastfeeding nurses was reminding me to encourage her, like clockwork.

Although I’ll admit that breastfeeding felt quite unnatural to me, I did give it a solid effort, as did my daughter.  There was a learning curve, as there is with all firsts, but we were an incredible team.  Then out of nowhere, she cried, and cried, and cried.

I knew in that moment that the reserves she had been born with were used up, and she was experiencing hunger for the first time- a hunger I could not satisfy.  In my heart I knew that though a wonderful bonding exercise, she had not received nutrients from the breastfeeding. 

Upon expressing my concern to the nurses, I felt instantly like the maternity ward black sheep.  As adamant disagreement, suggestions of what to differently and never-ending visits from lactation specialists ensued, my frustration grew.  More importantly, my daughter grew more agitated.  Finally, I asked for a breast pump, with which I proved my point.  I was drier than the Sahara Desert.

Several ounces of formula later, baby was sleeping and I was under fire.  My hospital room had become a revolving door of doctors, nurses and staunch supporters of breastfeeding.  Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t mind the support.  What I was offended by, though, was the determination with which each delivered their advice.

Everyone had an opinion.  I needed to take hot showers.  I needed to massage.  I needed to change my diet.  I needed dietary supplements.  I needed to put her on the breast more and skip the pump.  I needed to pump more and skip the breast.  The list went on and on.

Apparently, what I really needed, was a good cry.  Once that happened, I realized that while I would consult my mother, my friends, my OB-GYN and my pediatrician throughout the years, the opinion that mattered most was my own.  This was the greatest realization I’ve had as a parent.

I decided (with my husband’s support) to bottle feed with formula, but continue pumping several times a day for 2 weeks, with the hope that my body would catch up.  Unfortunately, a decision I made well over a decade before my first child was born made the breast or bottle debate a non-issue.  Thankfully, I left the guilt attached to it in the maternity ward.  In it’s place, I brought home a commitment to make all of her baby food from scratch, a commitment to her health that I knew I could fulfill.

Five years later, my daughter towers over all of the girls her age.  She is healthy, intelligent, beautiful, and has never had an ear infection or allergy.  Most important, she is abundantly happy.  Her smile is contagious.

I am going to keep an eye out for either of my daughters covering up at the pool.  Should they ask for my opinion on my breast reduction, I will be honest.  It was one of the best things I ever did, right behind becoming their mother, and was instrumental in teaching me the greatest parenting lesson I’ve learned.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Just The Tip" Can Be More Dangerous Than You Think...

My first real job was at an ice cream parlor so when I spotted this at the local Ben & Jerry's, I was instantly reminded of how greatly things have changed since (waaaay) back then.

A second reminder came seconds later, when I pulled out my phone to snap a picture of it.  My husband, likely embarrassed by my behavior, excused my shock to the teen employees (who clearly had a strong threshold for embarrassment) by laughing it off with a quick "sorry... she's a blogger".

Well, that's what his words sounded like.  They felt much different.  They felt like an excuse for me to behave inappropriately, an excuse for me to lack manners, an excuse for me to make my negative opinion known.  And however unnecessary, that's exactly what they were.

Honestly, I believe the ice cream parlor employees are just as entitled to their freedom of expression as I am to mine (although I doubt the Ben & Jerry's Board of Director's would agree).  But with that freedom, especially in today's society, comes great responsibility.

And that's just the "tip" of the iceberg.