What you should know about… your child’s teacher

by Camile Biggs.

In honor of the school year rapidly coming to a close, let me tell you what you should know about your child’s elementary teacher.

Let me begin by saying I don’t know your child’s teacher. I don’t know how long he or she has been in it, and I don’t know whether you like him or her. What I do know is that your child’s teacher isn’t given nearly enough credit.

This is the teacher with way too many kids in class. Held to standards stating that math, writing, reading, social studies, and science all need to be taught in the 6 hours of school each day (5 after specialist classes and lunch) with about an hour and a half – in half hour increments – to prepare the day’s lessons. That art, health, computer skills, character education, and life skills should also be taught; yet they aren’t the main focus, so a teacher has to get creative about how to include them. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Surely an hour and a half every day should be ample time to prepare.” Sure. In text it even makes me question why I couldn’t ever do it. But what that list of to-do’s doesn’t show is student, parent, or teacher interactions–not to mention finding quality resources. Think of how easily you can clean your house without any or all of the following: children needing your love and attention, resolving a conflict between your children, the phone ringing with your mom on the other end asking “What are we going to do to help your brother?”, or your neighbor coming over to consult on a fence issue–all of course unannounced and not good enough excuses for why your house isn’t clean by tomorrow, therefore making you work later when distractions are fewer.

I’ll say it bluntly: your child’s teacher isn’t only working while your kid is at school.

I have heard many different people allude to how nice it would be to work from 8am-3pm. My reaction to that every time is that “YES, it would be nice.” Do you realize your child’s teacher spends hours outside of her contract hours preparing for school? That your child’s teacher recruits family members to help cut, record, grade, or otherwise donate time to your student so your child’s teacher has a little more time with her own family? A friend of mine said her husband referred to his help in her classroom as his second job.

In reality, a teacher never feels completely “caught up.” I don’t know a single teacher that leaves work at work. The emotional ties with students are constantly on a teacher’s mind, not to mention the desire to help each child despite circumstances outside of school. A teacher can’t even go to the grocery store without wondering what needs to be picked up for the next week’s lessons or activities. Then, of course there are all of those “teacher days” that I hear so many people complain about–you know, the ones where the students don’t have school but the teachers do. I wish I could say those made up the difference of time needed to prepare, but they never do. Your child’s teacher also goes to school on weekends, summer vacation, and even during Christmas break–and feels guilty if by chance it doesn’t happen as much as he or she would have liked.

Taking a sick day isn’t likely unless absolutely necessary because a teacher has to have all the work they would do lined out for a substitute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but just try writing down directions of exactly how to clean your house for a stranger – complete with the order of where to start, where to find supplies, how to operate appliances, how to keep the children behaved while trying to clean, how long each task should take, and so on. I’d say the two are pretty similar. It takes longer to write the instructions and put out the materials than it would take to just do it yourself.

I taught 3rd grade for four years. I have been away from it for two years only experiencing it vicariously through my husband, who teaches 6th grade. On some days I miss teaching terribly. Did you know that your child’s teacher may cry at the end of the school year at the thought of students moving on? Granted, this is the same teacher that questioned “Why am I a teacher?” so many days throughout the school year. It’s an interesting experience.

Your child’s teacher doesn’t teach to make a living, he or she does it to make a difference in your student’s life.

Your child’s teacher plays kickball at recess, does class cheers, washes student clothing at school, helps scrub dirt from arms, gives hugs when moms or dads are mad in the morning, listens to dreams and wishes, watches them grow and measures their growth, catches them cheating, helps them resolve fights with friends, hangs up their pictures on display, jokes just to make them smile, and eats lunch with them on occasion. Yet, does your child’s teacher know if you have liked him or her as a teacher for your child?

You might be surprised by how little feedback (that is, positive feedback) your child’s teacher gets from parents. So, here’s your assignment: Write a thank you note to your child’s teacher expressing at least one specific thing you liked about him or her this year. It would surprise you how much that kind of note would mean to your child’s teacher.

Class dismissed.

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Editor’s note: this is part of a series of posts aiming to draw on our collective knowledge and enrich our understanding of how things work. Camile lives near me and has become a great friend, patiently helping me grieve and heal. Your child would have been lucky to have her as a teacher!


Just like Finding Nemo

Do you remember the part in Finding Nemo where Marlin is trying to leave Dory behind? He attempts to explain tactfully why he doesn’t want her to come with him anymore.  “I can’t afford any more delays and you’re one of those fish that causes delays. Sometimes it’s a good thing. There’s a whole group of fish. They’re . . . delay fish.” And after Dory worries that he doesn’t like her, he says, “It’s because I like you I don’t want to be with you. It’s a . . . complicated emotion.”

I have complicated emotions lately.

Everyone is pregnant. Close friends and family, acquaintances, people I vaguely recognize from our neighborhood. And those who aren’t pregnant have just had babies. In the past few weeks I’ve had at least 4 people tell me they’re expecting.

And they’re so excited.

I want to be excited for them.

But a little bit, I’m just heartbroken?

This was all compounded by seeing my not-quite-5-month-old nephew this past weekend. I avoided him at first; then in a moment of “That baby realllllllllly needs help going to sleep” I offered to rock him to sleep to give my father-in-law a break. And holding this little baby, having him snuggle against me clutching his blanket . . . it was awful and wonderful. Extremely awful and extremely wonderful. I will never rock Christian to sleep. I’ll never be frustrated that he’s still awake despite my best efforts to put him down for a nap. I don’t get to see him happily clutch a favorite blanket.

I can’t even hold him. He’s gone.

It seems like it would be nice to have a new baby. One that I could grumble about and cuddle with and be miserably tired with. And I think if I had a baby, not to replace Christian but to help me heal, I might not have such complicated emotions about other people’s babies. Since that isn’t an option, I’m left with conflicting feelings of heartache, jealousy, excitement, guilt, and aloneness.

So if you’ve recently told me you’re expecting, or if you’ve recently had a baby, and I haven’t seemed particularly thrilled – I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be bothered (at least, not so much) by a stranger having a baby – it really is because I like you that I don’t want to be around you sometimes. It’s a complicated emotion.


Health insurance (or lack thereof)

Be warned: this story, although full of twists and turns, does not have a nice resolution at the end. It has no resolution (yet).

In early February, Jarom’s work had someone come in to help employees through the process of buying health insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace. Jarom selected a plan that is actually much better than what we had through his company. Yay! Better insurance starting March 1!

Except wait. There was an error in Jarom’s application, so he called the Marketplace folks immediately after finishing the application and asked what to do. He was told that they would delete the application, and he should start a new one online, which he did that same day (February 7).

Hey guess what? Instead of deleting the first, incorrect application, they sent it on to Arches, our selected insurance network. But they didn’t send the second application. The folks at Arches told Jarom it would probably just be a few days until the got the correct information. Unfortunately, they still hadn’t gotten it by March 1, which meant we didn’t have health insurance for the month.

Jarom called the Marketplace again on March 5 and was told that they would escalate our file to a caseworker, and it would take 30 days to complete an investigation into what went wrong and why. (At this point I had already stopped caring why things had been messed up – I just wanted coverage!)

Over the next month and a half Jarom checked in every week with our newly-assigned caseworker at Arches to see if she’d gotten the second application yet. Still no, still no. Whenever he called the Marketplace, he was told that it would be “2-3 days” until a caseworker could review our file and get back to us. Eventually I took pity on Jarom, who was having to use his breaks at work to make these frustrating calls, and I said I would take care of it. And I would get us insurance. I would do it!

Yeah . . . that didn’t work out. I called on April 21 when the kids were playing a neighbor’s house. After an hour on hold, I finally got a real person to whom I had to explain the drama we’d encountered. She tsked and agreed it was so frustrating, she’d get it taken care of right away. By the end of a half-hour conversation with her, she read me what was on her screen: “Congratulations. Your application has been completed. Your insurance is effective today, April 21, 2014.” I felt triumphant! I sure showed Jarom. It just took patience, right?

Of course, Jarom was right, I didn’t actually solve anything. I kept calling our caseworker at Arches, but she never received our information. I desperately needed a refill on my Zoloft; she told me to go ahead and see my doctor, and we could fill out paperwork later to reimburse what I paid out-of-pocket. By May 5, still nothing useful had been accomplished.

So I called the Marketplace yet again. This time I was transferred 3 times, having to explain my situation each time, until I wound up in the “fix it” department. The woman I spoke with freaked out about the April 21 effective date. She couldn’t get over it – “The start date should always, always, always be on the first of the month!” she kept saying. It turned out that the lady who had, I thought, fixed our application so that it would be effective had actually cancelled application #2 and started #3, which was the April 21 one. Freaking-out lady swore that this was the problem: whether a glitch in the system or an error by the previous employee, this mid-month start date was preventing things from working smoothly.

Her first suggestion was to escalate our file. Yeah, been there, done that. And despite the “30 day” timeline Jarom had been given, it had been 60 days since the original escalation, with no communication whatsoever from any caseworker. So instead freaking-out lady cancelled that and started application #4, which would be effective June 1. I expressed quite strongly that I did not want yet another application, there was obviously some other problem preventing our information from ever being sent over to Arches, and I didn’t want to spend another month without insurance. Solution: petition a caseworker to alter the June 1 start date to May 1, but that would take a few weeks . . . and by that point May would be over . . . and I wouldn’t have actually had any insurance during May. I told her again that I had no interest in dealing with petitions and escalations, I just wanted insurance. Soon.

“Our system is all automated, so there shouldn’t be any errors,” she told me. “I know it’s hard to believe something good could happen after what you’ve been through, but there’s no reason this application won’t work.” Ha! Your automated system has failed me, lady. But she was adamant. Come June 1, I’d have insurance.

Aaaaaand Arches still hasn’t gotten our information. Although the last time I spoke with our caseworker there, she said she saw 3 applications for us, but not the most recent one. WHAT? Suddenly applications 2 and 3 have made their way over – and unfortunately, they’ve both been cancelled by “helpful” Marketplace employees. I’m waiting to hear back from Arches about when those applications came through – because if application #3 got there before I talked to freaking-out lady, and the Arches caseworker just didn’t let me know, then maybe I have someone to blame. Rather than just an “automated system.”

There are about 10 days left until we supposedly have health insurance. What do you think the chances are we’ll actually get it?


What you should know about… going to the doctor

by Jim Lewis, MSN, FNP

Did you know that your health care provider actually is not trained to just look at you and correctly guess what your problem is? A good provider is very much a detective, and detectives need clues to solve cases. Want to make your visit more productive? Here’s how you can help—write down as many answers as you can to this mnemonic: POLDCARTS.

P is for prior or previous. Has this ever, ever happened before? If so, how many times, and when was the last time before this visit?

O is for onset. When did it start? Providers hate hearing “a little while ago” or “I dunno.” I’ll bet you actually DO know, if you would think about it. Being able to say “This started about two months ago” or “It hit me out of the blue one week ago” is way more helpful as a clue than “it’s been a while.”

L is for location. Seems simple enough, but “my stomach hurts here on the left side” is very helpful. “I feel lousy all over” is not. “My head is throbbing, my left hip aches, and I have a burning, stabbing pain in my right heel” is superb. You get 2 gold stars.

D is for duration. How long does it last? Is it constant all day long? Does it last an hour and go away on its own? Does it happen during an entire season of the year? “It seems like forever” is very different than “this seems to happen every morning before breakfast, and by 10 o’clock, it’s gone.

C is for characteristics. What does it feel like? It’s okay to use your own terms. For something like pain, is it sharp, dull, aching, burning, stabbing, throbbing? Or for a cough, is it dry, hoarse, croupy, barking, productive (produces lots of phlegm or mucus), constant?

A is for aggravating and alleviating factors. What makes the symptom(s) worse or better? Example: An empty stomach makes the pain worse, eating bread makes it better.

R is for radiating. Does the symptom occur in just one place, or does it start there and then spread? “I get a sharp pain above my belly button that moves up my chest to my right shoulder.” Or “Every time I jog, I get a dull ache in my right knee, but only in the knee.”

T is for temporal or time of day. Is the problem worse at any specific, or several specific times of day? “I get horrible stomach cramps within 10 minutes of eating breakfast, but not with any other meal.”

S is for severity. You know the old “how bad is it on a scale of 1 to 10” routine. That might or might not be useful, and means something a little different to everyone. Saying mild, moderate, or severe is also acceptable. “When I finish jogging and sit down, I get a severe pain in my left calf, and can’t even walk for a few minutes.” Or “When I am lifting heavy boxes at work, I get a mild pain in my left jaw and shoulder.” What is really being asked is your perception of how bad the symptom is.

Even if you haven’t prepared the answers to these questions, a good healthcare provider/detective will know how to guide you through them. They will make it easier for you to give them the necessary clues so they can arrive at a working diagnosis. This part of your visit is actually the most important, and may provide enough clues that what is wrong is pretty obvious. Sometimes, your provider may even ask you what you think the problem is. This isn’t because they don’t have a clue. It is because you’re likely to be more tuned in to your symptoms than they are, and you may actually provide some clues that none of the previous questions uncovered. It is also frequently gives an opportunity for educating you so you can be more involved in your health care. And never be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something.

But a good detective doesn’t stop when the questions are all answered. He will want to confirm his theory by doing some checking. That pretty much always means some hands-on examination of you, the patient. You can be very helpful by following instructions carefully as you are asked to breathe deeply, stand, bend, sit, cough, and so on. Some parts of an examination may be uncomfortable, or even painful. They may also be embarrassing to you. You can make the experience better for yourself if you share that with your provider. He may be so used to doing a particular exam that it is easy to forget that the person being prodded and probed might not feel as casual about it. A good provider will do his best to ease your discomfort, or help you guard your modesty, so that the exam can provide the information he needs in order to treat you.

These recommendations are aimed primarily at adults who are able to think about and give reasonable answers to the POLDCARTS questions. But what about children? Oh, my! If they are really young, or shy, or afraid, they aren’t going to be much help at all, so as a parent you are going to have to be able to describe what you have observed that made you think a visit to “the doctor” was needed. It isn’t that hard, if you use the mnemonic.

For children who are old enough to understand, it is really helpful if you explain to them beforehand how important it is for them to help out. Will there be a blood draw for lab work? Children, like adults, naturally don’t like pain, but if you tell them what will happen, and why it is important, many children are able to endure the pain of a blood draw because they know they are helping provide clues to help them get better. And please, PLEASE avoid using the terms “being good” or “being bad” when you are talking about getting them to cooperate. They need to be praised for being helpful, if indeed they are able to, but they never need to be scolded or criticized or made to feel that they are bad because they couldn’t bring themselves to be stuck with a needle voluntarily.

So there are some suggestions for making a visit to your health care provider more productive for everyone involved. Hopefully, you won’t need to use them often, but when you do, you will get more answers and better care because you are able to provide accurate information about your symptoms.

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Editor’s note: this is part of a series of posts aiming to draw on our collective knowledge and enrich our understanding of how things work. Jim is my amazing dad, and in addition to providing excellent healthcare he goes on hiking, kayaking, and photographing adventures with my mom.


The smell of happiness

Sunscreen. It’s sunscreen.

Even though I sunburn very easily, I don’t remember wearing sunscreen much as a kid. Not for everyday playing, at least. What I do remember is putting it on for adventures. For going to my cousin’s grandma’s pool in the summer. For a class trip to the zoo. For a family outing to a Northern California historical attraction. For a trip with friends to a theme park.

So I love that Evan and June frequently wear sunscreen. The splash pad right by our house opened again on Saturday, and we’ve got plans to go almost every day this week. I read an entire book today thanks to the splash pad.

The best part? Our whole day smells like happiness.


Dreams and great fiction

Only once in my life have I had the slightest impression, during a dream, that I was dreaming. Jarom, on the other hand, always – or nearly always – knows he’s dreaming (known as lucid dreams). One of my friends even has a “pause” feature in her dreams when something doesn’t line up with reality, so she can explain to herself that it’s ok in a dream.

I, on the other hand, have incredibly vivid dreams in which I am completely immersed. For me they are reality while I’m dreaming. Sometimes this is not so great; as a kid and even for the first few years after I got married, I’d dream that there were spiders or bugs in my bed and wake up (partly – enough to scream and thoroughly freak out) to get away. Other times my day is colored by the feeling of my dream.

Until recently I felt guilty for being so strongly impacted by dreams. When I’m awake I know they aren’t real, and realize that many of the elements just didn’t make sense, and yet I was getting wistful and a little disappointed that the dream didn’t continue. I wanted to experience the rest of the story.

Then it occurred to me that the way I feel during a dream is similar to the way I feel when reading a really great book for the first time. Good examples for me are The Name of the Wind and Inkheart, both of which I read without stopping on fantastically enjoyable late nights. Even though I love rereading these books, there’s nothing quite like the first read – getting to know the characters and watch the story unfold. Although in an especially good book, it seems more like participating in the story than watching it.

Aha! That’s what my dreams are like. They are new stories I’m participating in for the first time. There are repeating elements, of course, but this only lends to the sensation that all of my dreams are simply chapters in a very large book, and they are related to a single overarching plot. By my estimate, until about 2010, 1 in every 5 of my dreams took place in the ballet studio I danced in growing up. Given how much time I spent there, it makes sense that so many of my dreams used it as a setting. Even in the past few months I’ve dreamed I was back at the studio – this time as an adult, awkwardly trying to resume dancing after so many years. High school is another frequent setting, although here again I am cast as an adult – married! – finishing a few high school classes after graduating college and having kids. My identity as a college graduate, wife, and mother always plays into these dreams, as does a theme of having forgotten about a class I was taking (usually calculus or AP physics). I also often dream I’m in a large grocery store, a combination of Costco and my local supermarket, and there is drama of varying sorts. Interestingly, Evan and June rarely show up in my dreams (so far), but Jarom has been a frequent character for the past . . . 14 years.

Last night I dreamt that one of my friends was setting up a practice as a dentist, that I had a puppy named Mel, and that I helped host a dinner party which somehow involved watercolors. These are just a few basic elements of the dream, of course; the plot isn’t there – only some facts that provide a sort of framework for the actual story.

Having realized why I enjoy dreaming so much, I don’t feel quite so guilty about being grouchy when someone wakes me up right in the middle of a fascinating dream.

What do you dream about?


What you should know about… working with a freelance graphic designer

by Alie Jones.

So, full disclosure here: I’m primarily a mother, not a freelance graphic designer. It turns out you can’t graduate with a degree in Motherhood from BYU just yet, but Graphic Design is an option. So I graduated with my fancy art degree, and became a mother shortly thereafter. And the balance isn’t exactly, well, balanced. It’s a work in progress.

But! I still take a freelance graphic design job occasionally, and my big project right now (alongside growing another human in my belly) is for my dad’s new restaurant, When Pigs Fly BBQ. I’ve helped him grow his little business from the ground up with everything from the logo, menu boards, letterheads, business cards, and catering menus. I’ve even designed napkin dispenser inserts, EZ-Up canopies, t-shirts and banners. (For other clients, I design ordinary things like logos, websites, and wedding invitations. Designing for a restaurant isn’t the norm.)

Sorry, I got off on a tangent. Let’s get to Mika’s real question: What should you know about working with a freelance graphic designer? This is all my personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. Or an entire Morton salt shaker, whatever suits your fancy. I’ll break it down a little bit:

1 // My number one tip is please don’t just find ANY graphic designer, take the extra time to find a designer whose work you admire and connect with. Make sure the style you want to end up with is similar to the work they’ve done in the past. It’s easier on both of us, I promise!

2 // Have some sort of idea of what you want for your design before you hire us. Shortly after our initial correspondence, I often have clients send me visuals or create a pinterest board with designs and elements they like. This helps me get an instant feel for the specific style they’re looking for.

3 // My professors always told us: as a designer you can be two of these three: fast, cheap, or great. But you can’t be all three. (See infographic here.) Enough said.

4 // I’ve been burned a couple times by flakey clients. I now set up a contract and require 25-50% down-payment before I even begin working. Some designers work hourly, but (depending on the project) I usually work for a flat-rate. I find with smaller projects like logos and wedding invitations, you guys like to know upfront what it’s going to cost.

5 // Trust your instincts, but please trust ours as well! We’re professionals and we’ve got the eyes to know what looks good where. There’s always a balance to be found between the two of us. (This really goes back to number one though – I feel strongly that if you’ve chosen the right designer, the magic will come easily.)

So that about sums it up. Questions? Comments? Want to work with me? Check out my blog (click on art + design on the left) or instagram for work I’ve done in the past.

Thanks for having me, Mika!

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Editor’s note: this is the first in a series of posts aiming to draw on our collective knowledge and enrich our understanding of how things work. I was put in touch with Alie through a mutual friend when I first found out that Christian wouldn’t live – Alie’s sweet baby girl Amelia was born with anencephaly in 2012. Alie gave me some great advice about preparing for Christian’s birth and death and coping with life after loss.