Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: Memories Written on the Heart

Hypervigilance or Paranoia Is the New Normal

Hypervigilance or Paranoia Is the New Normal

After being ill for so long, first with undetected cancer and then from chemotherapy treatments, I no longer really know what normal should be. As my first post-chemo CT approaches, I find myself a little less optimistic and more often considering the negative side of “what ifs.” While I feel well, I am very tired. However, I keep a very full, hectic schedule. Teaching kindergarten, while rewarding, is emotionally and physically exhausting. Although I have no reason to believe I am anything but tired yet healthy, still the smallest twinge can raise alarm, however short-lived.

Friends and acquaintances have shared that after their bouts of cancer they also experienced “scanxiety” and a hyper-vigilance bordering on paranoia when it comes to matters of health. Before being diagnosed with cancer, we had a sense of overall well-being that allowed us to dismiss minor aches and pains or physical complaints. We experienced an expectation of continued health that was disabled when we received our cancer diagnoses.

The good news is that this was parent teacher conference week at school. I  had so little time I barely ate or slept. One day, I spent about 13 hours at work, which was more hours than I spent at home. This weekend, my sister is coming to visit and we are going shoe shopping, so that should help me keep from dwelling on Monday’s CT and how it will turn out.

Veteran’s Day weekend I will be trying to keep myself busy so that I don’t spend excessive time fretting about the results of the CT and waiting to get either an all clear or something else.

On the one hand I expect things to be fine. On the other hand, I didn’t realize anything was wrong with me when I had the deadly disease growing inside me. I have come to realize, to my chagrin, that hypervigilance or paranoia is the new normal.

Small Acts Like Pebbles in the Pond

Small Acts Like Pebbles in the Pond

I hope that small acts like pebbles in the pond have greater impact than apparent at first glance.

At the beginning of the year, one of my small students brought pictures he had made for me. In loco parentis, I gratefully received his artwork and wondered what to do with it since I don’t have a refrigerator in my room. After several weeks of holding onto my treasures, I finally pinned them to the wall near my desk, where they would be easily seen by only me. When we had our run,  hide, and defend drill a few weeks ago, he didn’t notice his artwork hanging on the wall. But, last week as he peeked around the fourth grade tall bookcase, he noticed his pictures on the wall and said, “You still have my picture.” I simply replied, “Of course.” And, we went on with our day.

I have heard it said that psychologists believe the only thing my young students will remember about me is how I made them feel. I hope that when he, and all of my students, think back on kindergarten that they will remember it was a place where they felt good and they knew their teacher cared about them.

 

The Day Home Became My Own Address

The Day Home Became My Own Address

I thought of the day home became my own address as I was picking up some blackberries in the supermarket this week. The surprising price of this rare treat triggered a stroll down memory lane. When I was growing up, blackberries grew wild all around where we lived. We could go berry picking and eat our fill of blackberries for free.

Most often berry picking involved lots of thorn piercings before heading home with blackberry stained fingers and tongues, and at least a few berries in a bucket. The berries were inevitably plump and sweet. If they didn’t taste juicy and sweet enough in one picking spot, there were an abundance of other places to try. And, sampling was never a problem unless there was a much traveled dirt road near the patch we had decided to pick and the berries were dust-powdered.

Berry picking was usually a family outing and always meant something tasty when we were finished. Most often it was a The Day Home Became My Own Addressberry pie or cobbler, but there was usually the promise of some delicious jam at some point in the future, also. Although not always the most fun to be stabbed while standing in the blackberry briers, the rewards afterward were always sweet, much like the memories of my childhood home.

But, nearly seven years ago, the family home where I grew up in the country became a mere memory when my parents soldThe Day Home Became My Own Address it and moved “into town.” It was one of the hardest transitions I had ever faced. You see, that address had been my True North, my home address, for about 31 years. Although I had changed teaching positions and lived in Ecuador for years at a time, that address was where my stateside correspondence could always come to rest. When I came home from Ecuador or for a weekend visit from teaching, that address was the one place I could relax and be completely myself. The cares of the world fell away as I breathed the fresh country air while taking rambling walks in the woods, noted interesting fungi and other woodland treasures as I traversed the pine needle carpeted hills, examined scat to decide what creature had passed that way before me, or watched water skippers dance the glassy surface of the rippling creek as I explored its muddy banks.The Day Home Became My Own Address

In January of 2010, that address could no longer be home. Its loss was almost as painful to me as any person I had ever known. Those acres were the backdrop of a lifetime of precious memories, and the canvas into which my life tapestry had been stitched. And suddenly, it was no more. The fabric of my life seemed to stress and fray. Even though the new owners invited me back to visit, I never went because it would never again be my home. For me, there was no more home, just the new house where Dad and Mom lived. I always felt welcomed and loved there, as I still do, but the dear place where my memories were woven from childhood through adolescence and well into adulthood became nothing more than a memory, a Shangri La to be mourned and never again matched.

As with all things, the smarting pain has diminished over time, yet I fear I will always feel the loss of my beloved childhood home. But, home has found a new address. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but as I picked up the blackberries in the store, I realized that the day home became my own address had somehow come and gone without me taking note. Now, where I feel most myself is at my own address and not someone else’s. I do not have to drive a long distance or walk out through the trees into the quiet forest to hear myself think or reflect on life. Perhaps it is one of the rites of passage and I am simply a late bloomer. And maybe I will never really understand how it happened, but I am grateful to be well beyond the day home became my own address.

 

Falling in Love After Cancer

Falling in Love after cancer, or how I have fallen in love with life again. One of the rekindled loves in my life is teaching kindergarten. The past couple of weeks have brought an enormous learning curve. Who would have thought teaching five year olds could be such a challenge and joy? or so comical?

The first few weeks of kinder are grueling because almost all school behaviors are utterly unknown to these five year old people. Their well-developed sense of justice consumes an enormous amount of time with just listening to complaints about who said or did what unkind thing. However, now that we have a few weeks of experience with one another, I have begun to know them as individuals and that has made all the difference in the world in how we relate to one another. I know, amazingly, they sound just like big people!

I still marvel that a small piece of lint or tiny insect could utterly derail a lesson by capturing the attention of a third of the class in a matter of seconds, but I am also learning to use that short attention span to my advantage. It is amazing how an upset and inconsolable child can be readily redirected to examine a new project or something fun that might be more important than the current tragedy, (known to most of the rest of the world as a tempest in a teapot.)

Their joy in the simple everyday things never grows old. The excitement over a new pair of shoes or joy in learning to hold a pencil by pinching the pencil and resting it on the third finger. Today, the excitement of a student’s success with “pinch and rest” was only momentarily eclipsed by the sight of the pencil tip pointing away from the writing surface. A quick intervention and reteach righted the pencil and the student moved on to the task of learning to write his name. Since the first day of school, this student has told me he doesn’t know how to write his name. So, a couple of days ago, we began learning a letter that appeared in his name twice and he had already learned a third letter. That meant only two letters were unknown.

With great pride and enthusiasm, this student quickly learned the remaining two letters, wrote his name on a practice sheet, and proudly told me when he was done. Recognizing his excitement in the nice job he had done, I dashed off a note to the parents at the top of his name page explaining him learning the “pinch and rest” and then writing his name. Needless to say, it was an exciting moment. Heady stuff for the person teaching him to do it!

There are some little things about kindergarten that are equally satisfying. Even though most of my students are emerging literates, they love to draw a picture and write, (or wribble – scribble write) to communicate information or a story. Happily, not one of the students thinks she is unable to write. They are using the letter and sounds I have taught them to write unknown “words.” One student showed a string of letters on a page. As I reviewed the student’s writing with a fellow teacher, I noticed that all but one of the letters were letters I had taught in class. Again, I was ecstatic to see that my actions had direct, positive impact on my young student’s life. This could become addicting!

Whether teaching someone to hold a pencil and write a first name or watching the excitement on the face of someone who just learned the sounds we say can be represented by written symbols and communicated to others, it is gratifying to be part of such a miraculous process!

Falling in love after cancer is kind of like being a kindergartner all over again: it’s the seemingly small things that grab me!

 

 

 

 

Writing on the Heart

Writing on the Heart

During the past few months, I have written about the many ways my family and friends have shown their love and care for me, which I have come to think of as writing on the heart. By how we respond to others, we leave little notes written on their heart. These etchings can be bitter or sweet memories. It all depends upon us and how we make them feel. In recent findings by psychologists John and Julie Gottman, relationships that succeed over time have two things in common: kindness and generosity. The partners in these relationships respond positively to bids, or requests, to pay attention to things they are interested in and that is like writing on the heart with positive words of affirmation and love.

Recently, I was in a situation and I needed to reach out for help. Although I used to think of myself as quite the independent person and tried to do things on my own, I have found that I need people a lot more than I thought. In this situation, my help came from a source I hadn’t thought to reach out to at first. I hated to impose, but I really needed someone’s help. It was a relief when the person said sure and stayed with me until the problem was resolved. It was reassuring to know I wasn’t alone and that someone with more knowledge about something was there to advise and support in that moment of need. That person was writing on the heart, my heart, and saying you matter. I care. I am your friend.

Last year I faced another situation I could not resolve on my own. One of the hazards of teaching primary grades is that sometimes they pass on runny noses, upset stomachs, or little critters from their head to yours. In all my years of teaching, I had never had the latter happen until last year. As I sat on the couch one evening as it neared bedtime, I felt the eerie sensation of something crawling on my head. I reached up and pulled a live louse out of my hair. Since I live alone, there is no way I could have given myself lice, but I also knew there was no way I could rid myself of them. So, just when I should have been settling down to sleep, I was calling Julie, a teacher friend of mine, and asking if she would help me. Without hesitation, Julie went to the all night pharmacy, got the necessary shampoo and comb, and came over to remove the remaining lice and nits out of my hair until about 1 o’clock in the morning. It was gruesome and wholly unpleasant, but Julie did it because she is my friend. She was writing on the heart, my heart, and saying you matter. I care. I am your friend.

This week, I lost a fellow on the cancer journey: Geraldine Sims. Although she was fighting an arduous battle herself, she took time to reach out to me with encouragement and kindness. She prayed for my recovery, even when faced with the reality of her own failing health. She challenged me to have greater faith, even when things looked bleak, and to love and encourage others in spite of my own suffering. Her example of loving support was writing on the heart, my heart, and saying you matter. I care. I am your friend and sister in Christ.

I could tell you story after story about how people over the past few months have been writing on my heart with words of encouragement or acts of kindness. How I wish I could share about each person who sent a card or package that arrived at just the exact moment to encourage me when it was most needed. Or, the hug coming just at a moment I felt weak and hopeless, and the warmth of love stuck me back together and renewed my strength to go on. Each person was writing on my heart, making it stronger, making it more loving, making me a little different person through their love and affirmation.

So, I have been thinking about myself and what I might be writing on the heart of each friend or family member. I want to be purposeful and not reactive. I want each message to be positive, not negative. I don’t want to write I am too busy. I don’t have time. You are unimportant. Something or someone else is more compelling than you right now.

Instead, I want to be writing something positive like the friends I mentioned here: You matter. I care. I am your friend and I am here for you–anytime, always, no matter what.

How about you? Has someone been writing words of love and affirmation on your heart lately? I hope so!

Please know you matter. I care. I am your friend.

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