Why optimism is bad – but also better than pessimism

In my mind, my pregnancy with Christian (and, really, my life as a whole) is cleanly divided into two parts – “Before the Ultrasound” and “After the Ultrasound.”

Everything before was normal. Hopeful. Innocent. And, from my perspective now, naïve. Even the morning of the ultrasound, I remember getting ready for the day, trying to deal with an Evan breakdown, going about life without any idea I was about to get such horrible news. My concern was really just whether we’d have a boy or a girl – Jarom and I couldn’t agree on a boy’s name. The ultrasound was a way of settling that question, not raising more heartbreaking ones.

About two weeks Before the Ultrasound, I was at a bridal shower. I had just transitioned to maternity shirts, but only because I had one I really loved. I was barely showing a tiny, tiny bit. Someone commented on it at the bridal shower – “You don’t look pregnant at all!” I cheerfully agreed. I hadn’t been sick at all, I had very few pregnancy-related complaints, it was nice to be pregnant without feeling like it.

For the past year and a half (it’s really been that long since Christian was born!), I’ve felt a mixture of disgust and pity when I think about the seemingly foolish optimism I had Before the Ultrasound. At the time, there wasn’t any reason not to be optimistic – yes, I knew women who’d had miscarriages, and a few women who had “lost the baby” during pregnancy, but those are friend-of-a-friend and I-read-this-really-sad-blog stories. Not things I thought of as real possibilities. Not things that could or would happen in my own life. But with the disturbing perspective of grief, every part of my life Before the Ultrasound took on a “Why were you so cheerful?” cast. In really dark moments After the Ultrasound, I hated my Before the Ultrasound self. She had no right to be happy.

A little over two weeks ago, I started having a weird pain in my side. Very early in the morning the next day (a Tuesday) I took a pregnancy test to ease my mind about the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy causing the pain. I knew the test would be negative, but it wasn’t – which fed my fear about an ectopic pregnancy. I went into the OB office that afternoon; no indication of implantation outside of the uterus. So I began to very cautiously hope that things would be ok. The nurse sent me in for a blood test to check my hcg level. For the next few hours, I thought I’d be able to enjoy pregnancy until I got closer to the 20-week ultrasound (at which point I would become overwhelmed with the fear of another fatal birth defect).

But when the nurse called with my hcg results, she said they were so low that I was either barely pregnant or I was going to miscarry. Come back in on Friday, she said, and we’ll be able to see if the levels have gone up significantly (yay, pregnancy!) or down (boo, miscarriage).

Wednesday I tried to distract myself. I watched for signs of an impending miscarriage. I tried distracting myself some more. And I assumed the worst. But Thursday, when nothing bad had happened yet, I very consciously allowed myself to feel excited. I figured out my due date. I thought about baby clothes. I let my heart be light.

Unfortunately, Friday came with bad news. My hcg level had gone up only a few points, when it should have more than doubled. I was told over the phone that “This is not what we’d see with a healthy, growing baby.”

And, of course, the world crashed down around me. Not to the extent it did with Christian’s diagnosis and death, but with an added note of “You should have known better than to hope. You DID know better.”

But since then…I’ve actually started to regret not having been more optimistic. Tuesday to Friday was not a long time, and I only let myself be happy for one day. I was suddenly jealous of Before the Ultrasound Mika, who had 20 weeks of optimism and innocence. Yes, I knew that there were (and still are, with any future pregnancies I may have) lot of things that can go wrong. Miscarriages happen. Fatal birth defects happen. Inexplicable stillbirths happen. Tragedies during childbirth happen. But optimism feels so much better than pessimism (or, perhaps, even realism). Letting my heart be light felt so good. So refreshing. I’ve been weighed down by fear for so long that hope was a blessing.

Instead of being disgusted with my Before the Ultrasound innocence, I’m uplifted. Instead of hating my brief Thursday excitement, I’m motivated to be optimistic about the future. I’d much rather do that and crash later than spend months or years in despair.

What are you optimistic about?


Story time

Last year I had this great plan for a Christmas present for Jarom. I had the kids make up stories, I wrote them down, and I was going to illustrate them (or adapt the kids’ drawings) and make a book. A really great book.

Guess which part actually happened? Just the stories. I did try to write them down word-for-word, though. And I found the papers the other day!

At the time of the storytelling, Evan was 4 (almost 5) and June had just turned 3. See if you can guess which story is by which kid.

Once upon a time there were dogs. They ate everything in the whole world because they liked every type of food. Suddenly, they accidentally ate someone’s house. It was a giant ant-eating dog-ant that ate every type of house so it can eat the dogs. This is a good giant ant-eating dog-ant because it ate a bad guy’s house. Then suddenly CRACK went the ant! KABOOM went its nose in a big explosion. There are dogs eating their food and other stuff. The end.

Once upon a time a cow said moo. The cow saved the other cow. Then he ate the other cow. Then Farmer Brown heard the cows say click-clack-moo. Then the cow said “I don’t want to say moo.” The end.

Once upon a time Santa Claus had ponies. They gallop. The reindeer is a type of pony. The pony eats Santa Claus. The end.

Once upon a time there were dinosaurs. They eat people. They’re big and scary with big teeth. T-Rexes have giant eggs. The egg-knappers steal the eggs. The T-Rex chases the egg-knappers and eats the egg-knappers in half. People come to steal and make a trap for ALL the dinosaurs to fit in. One of the dinosaurs bit a person but had no teeth so it was ok. Another dinosaur did have teeth and it bit a person with a bug in their hair. It was a bug-eating dinosaur. The end.

The unicorn takes the crown back in her hand and gallops with it. The end.

Once upon a time there were 3 little pretend dinosaurs that came alive. They pretend that they’re dead but actually they’re alive. They look like they’re statues. Two Os and an E. They turn into a toy again. Then they come alive again and they eat meat from the meat store. They go outside to eat their meat. They eat everybody’s food that was made out of meat! Everyone is sad so they sneak up to kill the dinosaurs but the dinosaurs are just toys. The people are sad because they lost all their meat. The live T-Rex that doesn’t turn into a toy comes to town and he EATS the people. That’s the most frightening part. Then the T-Rex ate everyone’s treats. All the alive-not-toys dinosaurs came from the whole planet. They were good ones and they didn’t eat the T-Rex but made him a good guy except he still ate everyone’s treats because the whole earth of people was in his stomach. The end.

Once upon a time, ponies had a toy Flufferfito. They fight when they gallop and the other ate the black Flufferfito. The end of the itsy-bitsy story.

A note about that last one: flufferfitoThis is a Flufferfito. He has fluffy feet.

 


I love baking.

In the past few months I’ve made 4 or 5 birthday cakes and probably a dozen batches of cookies. I absolutely love it (even though a few times, I put the cake off until the last minute…and got really stressed…and drove Jarom crazy).

Seriously, baked goods make people happy. A really good cookie or slice of cake exists in its own moment – even if I am miserably unhappy, orange chocolate chip cookies bring some actual measure of joy to my life. It’s small, and it doesn’t cancel out the anguish of, say, having one of my kids die, but still. Have you eaten one of those cookies?

I think delicious baked goods are also akin to reading a fantastically good book. The kind where you’re only a page in and already telling yourself, This book is going to be so. So. Good. (My best examples of such books are Mistborn – specifically the first of the trilogy – and The Name of the Wind. Oh, and Elantris. Read them all!) There’s a feeling of giddiness: I’m experiencing something incredible. It happened to me when I went to the Harry Potter theme park with Jarom last month, and it happens to me every single time I use a tried-and-true cake or cookie recipe.

And I can’t ignore the aspect of “I made that cake, and now someone else is having that wonderful giddy feeling. I did that for them!”

So if I offer to make a birthday cake (or anytime cake) for you, or bring you a fresh batch of cookies, I mean it. I love baking.


Kindergarten

I have really mixed feelings about today being Evan’s first day of kindergarten.

I’m partly overjoyed. Evan and I really need a break from each other; he’s recently decided that he LOVES reading (hallelujah!); he wants to be around kids his age; I’m not prepared to teach him everything his teacher is.

And I’m partly anxious. I got a handout with a list of “‘I Can’ Statements” for each term of the school year, and there’s a LOT to learn. I’m anxious on Evan’s behalf – what if he doesn’t like school? What if he doesn’t make friends? What if he’s a bully??

And, of course, I’m partly sad. While Evan is at school he’s in a world that doesn’t include or need me. (I realize this is a weird, probably untrue statement, but it describes how I feel.)

That being said, may I present a very excited kindergartener?

P1010369

We did the same questionnaire as last year.

Who is your favorite person in the whole world? Caitlyn (our 7-year-old neighbor who moved into Cooper’s house)

What is your favorite color? purple

What is your favorite tv show? The Aquabats

What is your favorite outfit? “My dragon cape from Grandpa Glenn.”

What sport or game do you like best? “All kinds of dragon games.”

What song do you love? “The song with all the monsters that we use when we clean up.” (The mini-boss music from Wind Waker – we really do put it on when we need to clean up quickly!)

What is your favorite cereal? bird cereal (Fruit Loops)

Who is your best friend? Caitlyn

What do you want to be when you grow up? a fireman

What is your favorite book? any book about sharks

What are you really good at? “Playing dragon games.”

Where do you wish you could go on vacation? the beach again (We spent a week in Monterey at a family vacation)

What is your best memory? going on rollercoasters at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

What would you buy if you had $1,000? “A super huge giant T-rex toy.”

What is your favorite food? ice cream

If you could have a wish, what would it be? “When I wanted to shrink I could do that and then grow back.”

What your favorite ice cream flavor? chocolate

Who is your biggest hero? “You [Mama]. Actually it’s mostly Pa.”

What do you like to do most with your friends? play dragons

What do you hope you’ll get to do in school this year? go on field trips


Checking in

You might have noticed (from the lack of posts) that we’ve had a BUSY summer. I don’t think we’ve ever traveled so much in so little time! The only thing that comes close is when Jarom did two back-to-back summer internships – a month in Korea (by himself), and then a month in North Carolina (Evan and I came; I was pregnant with June).

Since school got out, we have gone to…

  • Cupertino for a niece’s baptism – mid-June
  • Monterey for a week-long family reunion – late July
  • Orlando (sans kids!) for a work trip/mini vacation – early August

We drove out to California both times – although Jarom couldn’t get time off in June, so I did the Cupertino trip with just the kids. The family reunion was awesome. We stayed right by the beach, went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, hit the Mystery Spot and the beach boardwalk, and enjoyed lots of time with family. I started crocheting a baby blanket on the drive out, and managed to get everything except the final edging done while we were there.

This past weekend, Jarom was asked to go on a business trip to Orlando – and his boss offered to have me come, too, if I would help out with a few things. Sold! My in-laws agreed to take Evan, June, and the dog from Friday morning until Tuesday night so that we could have a fun mini-vacation after the work trip was done (THANK YOU!!).

After we got to the hotel Friday evening, we went to Downtown Disney with the rest of our group – Jarom’s boss, the boss’s wife, and another employee. The contrast between the arid heat of Utah and the humid heat of Florida… I think I prefer the drier option. Orlando was so muggy! Yuck. But we did get to eat at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant (most amazing carrot cake, and I’m really picky!) and see some incredible Lego displays. My favorite was Prince Philip on his horse fighting Maleficent in her dragon form.

Saturday was the business portion of our trip. Most of the day was spent in or near the conference room. After our responsibilities there were done, we (as a group) went to a very disappointing dinner. And then I was worn out! Time for tv in the hotel room, one of the things I love most about traveling.

On Sunday the rest of Jarom’s group was leaving, so we went to lunch on the way to the airport. It was an incredible lunch, and if you’re ever near the Orlando airport you should seriously stop at Tony Roma’s. I know the name is generic, but the food was contemporary Southern-inspired and it was so good that Jarom and I went back on Tuesday before our flight out.

Once we got the group dropped off at the airport, we decided to go to the outlet mall. Apparently it was a tax-free weekend? So it was crazy busy. And while we thought that the cars parked on every single grassy curb, divider, or strip was a bizarre response to the weekend traffic, a cashier told us that it’s completely normal behavior there. When Jarom asked hr what was up with everyone parking on the grass, she seemed surprised that things aren’t like that everywhere. “Why wouldn’t you park there?” she responded. I tried saying that it isn’t a real parking space…but I doubt it matters.

Guess what we got to do on Monday?? The Harry Potter parks at Universal! In spite of the crowds (which make me anxious) and the Zoloft I forgot to take that morning, I had a blast. The shops are so fun, and the Escape from Hogwarts ride was amazing. I’m really afraid of heights and I generally hate roller coasters or rides of that nature, but for me, the scariest part of the Hogwarts ride was the sudden appearance of Dementors.

It was, overall, a great day at the parks, but I was so tired by the time we were done. Thankfully we grabbed a few pick-me-up churros on our way back to the car.

And yesterday, we ate lunch, caught a plane, and came home! Now it’s time to start getting ready for Evan to start school in two weeks…


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.

—-

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.