Monday, October 28, 2013

Bad tooth, redux (and resolved)

I headed to the dentist this morning, to have That Tooth extracted. You know the one: the last time they tried to get it out, they broke my jaw, instead.

I got a letter from my insurance company last week saying it won't pay for the previous "extraction", because the dental school hasn't sent them any documentation. Hmmmm. I think one of three things happened: 1) the dental office didn't send documentation because the tooth is still in my mouth, 2) the insurance company has cut back on file clerks, since they'd just assured me last week that they'd reviewed my dental records and there'd been no malpractice, or 3) someone's out to make me crazy.

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The resident came in and was puttering around. My dental student -- who was going to be observing -- got things ready. The two chatted a bit. The dental student had already shot me full of numbness, and was beginning to put the nitrous oxide to my nose when I stopped her. "He's not going to touch me until he has the decency to introduce himself," I said firmly. Startled, he did.

This is one of the advantages of middle age: if someone younger than you is doing something that's just plain wrong, you have few qualms about saying so. A decade ago I wouldn't have spoken up.

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It took longer to extract than you'd expect. I thought a lot about how much worse it would have been a hundred years ago, or if I lived in the third world today, or if someone were doing this to me as part of an human experiment during WWII. I offered up whatever suffering I might need to endure, asking that it might be used to alleviate the suffering of others who are undergoing worse pain, including our friend Ken, who is undergoing a major procedure today.

It wasn't too bad -- except when the dentist was twisting a piece of the tooth and I could feel the pressure. Then I had to consciously relax my muscles again and again, and let the process be what it was: scary. It was during a moment like that that my jaw had snapped.

After it was over and I was stitched up, my student dentist asked gently, "How are you now?"
"Not as scared as I was!" I replied.
"Me either," she admitted, "I was praying the whole time!"
"Me too," I said.
"This is a bad memory that will stay with you a long time," she said ruefully.
"Naw," I said, surprising even myself, "The only thing we need to remember about hard things is that we got through them. Learn what you can, and be glad it's over. We'll both be okay."

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All that said, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. And sore.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Miscellaneous thoughts on miscellaneous feelings

Yesterday I took Dancer to a doctor's appointment. It was at a clinic that's only open in the mornings, so she had to miss school. The clinic, of course, was slow. We needed blood work done. Then I discovered I didn't have Dancer's insurance card, which was okay for the clinic but not okay for the lab. As my brain scrambled, I talked out loud, trying to figure out how to come back without having Dancer miss another morning of school. My daughter said, "Mom, calm down!"

I didn't think I was all that agitated, but then self-perception isn't everything. Sometimes what matters is how your kid perceives your level of worry.

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Long ago I gave my kids permission to tell me to stop if I start to rant. They do this. It helps. There are occasions when I get going and have a hard time stopping, but to have a kid comment, reasonably objectively, "Mom, you're ranting!" does tend to put a cork in it.

There are better ways to express frustration and anger than ranting. They're not easy to think of in the moment, but if someone points out what you're doing (and you don't want to be a ranter), you can usually hold it in until you think of a better way to handle your feelings.

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I hate nagging. To my way of thinking, to nag is the same as to take on the role of being someone else's frontal lobe. I don't want that job. I want others to have their own, functional frontal lobes. I am willing to prompt my kids. I am willing to remind them once, maybe twice. I am willing to work with them to help them figure out how to remind themselves. But I get annoyed if I have to nag.

I would buy supplemental frontal lobes if they sold them, like external hard drives. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Friday, October 11, 2013

The effect of fear

I recently read Cheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. I hadn't planned on reading it, because I'm kind of past that stage in my life, but I do have a college senior this year, and I thought it might be useful to her. It's extremely well done. Lots of wisdom, and very little rant.

One line at the end of the first chapter has been ringing in my head. It's taken from the commencement address Sandberg gave at Barnard in 2011. Her closing lines were, "So go home tonight and ask yourselves, "What would I do if I weren't afraid? And then go do it."

She's nailed something. She's nailed how fears, whether big ones or small, impact our lives. I love this. What would I do if I weren't afraid? Afraid that I'd fail, afraid that others would think less of me, afraid that I couldn't follow through, afraid that it's too much for me.

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Some years ago, while our family budget was undergoing yet another downsizing, I realized that I was far more anxious about finances than I'd ever been. I'd nipped and tucked at our expenditures until there was nothing more to nip.

I was feeding my family of seven on $125 a week (at New York prices), I was bartering writing services so my kids could do extracurricular activities, I was working part-time to make ends sort-of meet and I was homeschooling three kids, and Big Guy's vast array of support services made it impossible to move. I couldn't get a full-time job, because my kids were already on emotional tenterhooks due to Big Guy's volatility, and I didn't see how they could manage that big a structural change.

Basically, there seemed to be no way out. And that was before Andrew lost his job.

One day, in exasperation at my rising sense of general panic over not being able to make ends meet, I asked myself, "Okay, so what is it you're really afraid of?" The answer came back, I'm afraid we'll lose our home.

So I asked myself the next question. "And what would you do it you lost the house?"

My reply to myself: I don't know, but obviously I'd do something.

The effect of this on my spirit was astonishing. For I realized that the miasma of fear that I'd been living in had at its core the assumption that there was a cliff involved, a cliff that I and my family would fall off of if some sort of miracle didn't occur. The fact that I didn't know what I would do didn't mean I would do nothing. Of course I would do something. It wouldn't be optimal. It wouldn't be easy. But I'd do it. And that made the whole scenario a whole lot less scary.

Once I stopped being afraid, I was better able to do what I could do.

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I once chatted with a neighborhood dad about his daughter. He confided, "She's got so much energy I'm always afraid she's going to make mistakes and get hurt."

I laughed as I replied, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that! Of course she's going to make mistakes. Of course she'd going to get hurt. She's a kid! The key thing is whether or not she has the skills to recover, and how quickly she can bounce back."

Fear can make us focus on the wrong questions, preventing us from finding the right answers.

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What would I do if I weren't afraid? I'd write a book called Wisdom: Growing into Being a Better Parent and Person.

When I ask myself exactly why I'm afraid, the answer comes back that I'm afraid I'd discover that some of what I believe is insight gained from working through hard things is wrong, or that people would think that I think I'm wise (which I don't).

I'm also afraid that if I get started, another crisis will occur. Because my life kind of goes like that, you know. Except I would guess that if there's another crisis in the wings, it will happen whether I write a book or not.

Am I asking the right questions?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Event

At the Event, with the wonderful head of the Parks  Department
for northern Manhattan

You may have noticed that I post relatively few pictures on this blog. That's not because I worry about privacy, but because I am photo challenged. My kids are probably the most un-photographed, un-videoed offspring in America. I tend to document life with words. 

The only mirrors in our house are on the medicine cabinets in the bathroom, so I also tend to be surprised when I see what I look like in pictures. I'm not certain if the picture above is a good resemblance or a bad one. But I do like the photo, mainly because I like Jennifer's smile, and I was happy when the shot was taken. As you can see, I'm several years older than when my headshot (in the upper left of the blog) was taken.

With the bigwigs at the Event. The senator has the mike.
Someone recently did a study analyzing Tweets throughout the city, and concluded that our park was the happiest place in Manhattan. The saddest place was one of the high-profile high schools. It's not surprising that being outdoors in beautiful surroundings makes people happy, or that toiling in a cement building with a couple thousand stressed teenagers leads to less cheery sentiments.

The park overlooks the Palisades; one of the Rockerfellers
bought the land so that the view could be preserved
and people could see what it looked like when Hudson arrived .
These photos are not, of course, my doing. I don't even know who took them. But I thought you might like to see them, anyway.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Odds and Ends of Homeschooling

The big medieval festival was here over the weekend. The boys collected all their old Schleich knight figurines, set up a blanket in a prime sidewalk location to sell them, and made a fortune. Afterward, Little Guy set out to scour the neighborhood sidewalk sales, and came home triumphant: he bought a microscope for $20. He had to go out to purchase batteries for it, and then spent hours (and hours) looking at various items. Then on Monday he was at it again.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the irony of saying, "Stop looking at the microscope and come do your school work!"

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Years ago we borrowed a CD from the library of presidential campaign songs. The kids loved it, particularly the songs like, "Get on a Raft with Taft" and "Let's Put Barry in the White House". 

Last year for Snuggler's birthday she received the Library of Congress book of presidential campaign posters. This is prime material for what might be called Coffee Table Homeschooling: you leave it out, and they pore over it.

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Officially, we're learning British history this year. Nonetheless, things like the Keith and Rusty McNeil CDs reappear out of nowhere, and are listened-to in free time. Little Guy recently rediscovered the Civil War set, and he lies on the floor with the songbook, singing along. What I love about this series is that it's easy to listen to, and a fascinating look at the music from both sides of the Civil War. 

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I picked up the scripts for the musical Honk, Jr tonight. Snuggler will be the voracious cat, who tries to eat Ugly, the duckling. Little Guy is Ugly. It's his first lead. 

The kids are in the other room, already running lines. I don't know what curriculum category that falls in (I will probably tuck it into music), because New York regulations don't include requirements for education in the performing arts. 

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Snuggler has a regular job as a mother's helper two afternoons a week. With her first fistful of cash she bought a subscription to Creativity Express, an online art appreciation program. I think this is the third time we've bought this; the kids enjoy it, and it's surprisingly content-rich without being heavy. (If you are a homeschooler, you can purchase it at a substantial discount through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.) 

The advantage of having this program is that it gives me another thing about which I can say, "Yes, you can do that... after your schoolwork is done."