Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Solo

I vowed I would never sleep in a parking lot in order to enroll my child in preschool. I always felt that was rather ridiculous. As a former teacher, I know what's truly important in those preschool years and there are a whole lot of places, including my family room, in which that type of learning can take place. I found perfect preschools for all three of them and never once stood in line to register.

I must confess, however, that this year will mark the first year in many that we will not sleep in a parking lot to register Exhibit A for Mrs. M's dance class. Mrs. M has been teaching ballet for thirty years. Her philosophy is that she builds little girls, and then she builds dancers. For the little ones, each of her classes starts with circle time. Eventually, this evolves into "girl talk". Don't tell the dancers, but it's really the same thing, they just feel more grown up about not sitting in an actual circle. She asks each little lady to share something special with her... something about her day, a success she's had at school or elsewhere, a special treasure she's brought with her to share with Mrs. M. As she converses with each of them individually, she makes them mindful of their manners, asks them to speak up and use good eye contact and models active listening. She teaches them early on to thank her for the class before they leave and to extend that courtesy to all of their teachers... and the world beyond. She thanks them, too, for their enthusiasm, a job well done, for loving to dance.

The day after my friend's daughter's first class with Mrs. M, she woke up and made her bed because Mrs. M told her class that it's good to help mommies. She was three at the time and now, at 6, has made her bed every single day since then.

When Exhibit A struggled with some body image issues I talked to her but could tell she thought I was just giving the required mom speech. I enlisted the help of a gal pal who Exhibit A adores and who, coincidentally, was a dancer, and I asked our pediatrician to mention it in passing at Exhibit A's check up. It wasn't a huge deal. It was a few tears shed over a comment someone made that was benign, but she misunderstood it. However, I don't ever want body image issues to rule her life and I felt very strongly that I wanted to nip it as soon as possible. I still felt, though, that Exhibit A wasn't really internalizing all the things we were saying, so the thought occurred to me: call Mrs. M.

"Mrs. M... I am struggling with something and I was wondering if you could help me. I know you've probably dealt with this many times with some of the older girls..." and I went on to explain.

Her response? "Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I'll handle it."

And she did. I don't know exactly how, though I have a general idea... I don't know when... but it became a non-issue.

Mrs. M is so popular that getting into one of her open school classes requires careful planning and a willingness to brave the elements. Registration is held at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. People start lining up Friday afternoon. The line winds around the building and then some. People bring movies, snacks, cards, grills, coolers and settle in for the night. The kids love it. The parents complain bitterly, but you bet your sweet bippy they wouldn't miss it. At 6 a.m., Mrs. M shows up with donuts, for she knows that the crowd is there for her and, in all her humble graciousness, she wants to thank them for their love and support.

This year marked Exhibit A's first year in company and, as such, we will forego open school registration. She'll simply audition her way back into whichever companies wish to have her. I can't say that I'll miss the parking lot experience, but it does feel somewhat like the end of an era.

As I mentioned in "The Smile", it was recently parent watch day at each one of the seven classes Exhibit A takes. While most teachers just show you what happens in their classes on a weekly basis, Mrs. M approaches things a little differently once the girls make it into company.

At the beginning of the year, she informs them that they are to select a 3 minute piece of music and choreograph a dance to it. They are to find their own costumes and practice their dance until their feet feel like they might just fall off... for she will be requiring that they do their first ever solo and they will have no direction from her. They are to take the knowledge they've gained from her and other teachers throughout the years and shine.

Exhibit A asked me to burn a CD for her. That's the only thing I ever heard or saw of this endeavor until last week.

At parent watch day, which for Mrs. M took place over two consecutive classes in order to have enough time, each dancer performed her solo that was 5 months in the making. Parents and special friends were invited, and the girls' company big sisters came out in force to support the girls. Each one performed her dance and then Mrs. M provided feedback of her own before asking the dancer's parents and big sister to comment, then other company members were invited to to chime in with their thoughts.

Exhibit A is not the nervous type. She took the stage with the confidence that I've grown accustomed to over the years. She smiled and announced her name, age, school and provided the title and composer of her piece of music and then, she began to dance. I was awestruck. In my wildest dreams I never imagined it would have looked the way it did. I couldn't believe that she had choreographed and rehearsed this alone, in her room, in between dance classes, flute practice and maybe even doing some homework. I had, of course, known that she had come far as a dancer, but that was under the direction and choreography of her teachers, in their classes, on their stages... a far cry from "find music, create a dance, dance". It was beautiful and inspiring. Afterwards, Mrs. M told Exhibit A how proud she was of her. Exhibit A was the only dancer about whom there was no constructive criticism, just a long list of positives about the use of space, making her movements match the tempo, and owning the stage. Her big sister's comment was that even though the music was repetitive, Exhibit A chose different choreography for each refrain to keep it interesting. I was so proud I thought I might pop. My comments reflected that. Immediately afterwards, Exhibit A asked me to burn a song onto a CD for her. She's already starting to work on next year's dance.

The solo was an important moment in her development as a dancer. For me, though, it was an opportunity to see that my child not only has a passion, but also a gift.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Vault

Last summer I went to see HeWhoKnowsAllThingsAboutBikes (HWKA) for a fitting. I didn't like the way my new frame was feeling and asked him to take a look. As I wis sitting in the saddle, just pedaling away, he posed this question: "I don't know anything about (insert name of incurable illness here). Can you explain how it affects you?"

Dumbstruck, I smiled and, once I could utter something that sounded sort of like speech, I thanked him for being so direct. It's very rare that someone is. This doesn't mean I found it even a little bit appropriate, but I still appreciate the fact that he wanted to know the real deal instead of relying on he said/she said or filling in the blanks with intrawebz mumbo jumbo.

I went on to explain it to him in a matter of fact sort of way and, in the end, he talked to me about some related things and it was a good and meaningful discussion. No harm, no foul, but I'd be lying if I said my blood wasn't boiling at the thought that someone betrayed my trust and felt the need to share such private information of mine with him. I operate on a need to know basis. It doesn't affect him. It's not really any of his business. I don't train with him, so there's no chance I'm going to have to bail on him when my health is compromised, I don't have to rely on him for childcare or carpools... so in my book, he doesn't fall into the need to know category. Don't get me wrong. I *heart* HWKA and consider him my friend, but I have lots of friends whose friendships are such that it is simply a non-issue and, therefore, I treat it exactly that way.

My dearest friends understand that this is something I hold close because I never, ever want to be defined by a medical condition. It is an unwritten rule that if it is to be shared and discussed, I am the one making the disclosure and engaging in the dialog, for this is not something I want tossed around amongst the PTA moms in their hushed "how sad" tones, and I certainly don't want to hear rumors about myself amonsgst the people with whom I work. I am not naive, and I understand human nature, but I'm ever hopeful that the people in the outskirts of my world can respect me enough to rise above that, for I've seen firsthand that the ones who care most about me can.

I do not begrudge my disease. In fact, I am thankful for it. I know that sounds rather ridiculous and maybe even a little trite, but a long time ago I had to accept it as absolutely perfect. For in not doing so was to accept defeat and resign myself to a life of "what could have beens" instead of "what will bes". I had to learn to redefine "normal", and living with it has, in some respects, made me learn how to live. I am reminded on a daily basis that life is too short to be angry, petty or to harbor resentment. I'm reminded to love without limits, tell people how I feel, live without regrets, find my passion, and appreciate the little things in life. I do not get caught up in negativity, gossip or drama, for I have learned that when there is a limited amount of energy, wasting it on other people doesn't make any sense... not that it ever really does, but, sadly, many people don't understand that. Instead, I try to spend time every single day doing something for others, be it a planned act of volunteerism or a random act of kindness. I've learned never to take myself too seriously and that laughter is not only life's loveliest music, but also the greatest medicine there is.

My circumstances have made me a better friend than I might otherwise have been. My circle is my rock. They have taught me what unconditional really means. We can laugh and cry and finish one another's sentences all, seemingly, at once. I have earned two nicknames amongst these women. One is "Peanut"... as in no comments from the peanut gallery. I guess my condition has allowed me to break down some walls and say exactly what's on my mind. I earned that one when my friends realized that I was gonna call 'em out when they were f*cking up whether they liked it or not. They also call me "The Vault". I am the friend that you can trust with anything. I'll never tell. This is not always easy for me because Peanut wants to yell out RED FLAG! RED FLAG! in public sometimes, but The Vault never will... instead I'll save it for private moments such as "Can I get you a red flag? Erm... I mean some red wine?". It's pretty simple, really. I believe if someone tells you something in confidence, you keep it to yourself. If you read closely above, you may recall I don't do gossip or drama. I am fiercely protective of my family and friends. I want... need... them to be protective of me so that I am not at the center of soccer mom chit chat, so I'm not caught off guard while simply trying to get a bike fit, or so I can continue on with the success I've found in a profession that I never knew I would actually enjoy so much.

My point is this... I wouldn't wish my condition on anyone... but the lessons I've learned from it have been invaluable. I don't define myself by this single aspect of my being and I wish others would learn to be The Vault and appreciate my desire to live as normal a life as possible. I don't want to be labeled "the sick chick" and, while I want to inspire others, I want it to be because I write something that touches them, or because I do something admirable, not because my body wants to rebel against the SOP and it makes for good coffee talk. I guess it comes down to the fact that I know the me that is at my core, the me that has nothing to do with doctors and medicine, the me that others sometimes miss because they are so focused on giving an illness a life of it's own, the me that's... well, just cranky, sassy, silly ol' me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sticky Situation

Dear Young Miata Lady,

I understand that the stick people stickers were trendy... little stick families and little stick pets all in a line, hanging out on rear windows. It's not my style, but to each her own.

However, for the record, if you wish to secure a date, I'd advise against the "family" status of one stick woman, presumably you, and 4 stick cats that you're rockin' on your teeny tiny rear window. I suspect it might suggest to would-be suitors that someday you might just be a crazy old lady with lots of cats.

No need for thanks, Sweet Pea. I'm a giver like that.

Your Pal,
The Cranky Princess

Career Advice

Dear Employee,

Please show up for work at the appointed time. When you don't, it is problematic since 50 people are counting on you to be there to lead them through an off the chain experience. In the future, I would suggest coming up with a better excuse than "I drank a lot of Red Bull and then couldn't get to sleep, so I took Atavan and Ambien and slept through work".

Your Pal,
The Cranky Princess

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pinky Swear?

I thought I'd have a lot to say after the inauguration but the truth is, I just don't. I struggled with whether or not to be there in person, as I have family in the D.C. suburbs and an open invitation. My heart said yes, but logistically, my head said no. Therefore, I was glued to the t.v. watching history in the making. It sounds rather silly, really, to have felt the need to watch it live on t.v. when I could easily have recorded it and seen the same thing, but there was a driving force that made me want to see it unfold in the moment... and even in the moments of nothing really happening, there was, indeed, so much happening.

I appreciated many points throughout the day but the one that left me inspired was when the Obamas opted against the limo... you know, the one with bullet proof windows... and instead walked the streets of their new home town. It's sad that this simple act seems so enormous and courageous, and I'm certain they were making a calculated statement, but it is what it is, we are who we are, and really, believe it or not, it was a great moment in history.

I like President Obama. I like what he stands for and I think he is an inspiration. If you read my post-election day words, you'll remember that I was rather undecided before that point, but by the end of the night even I, a cold and heartless evil princess, was drinking the Obama Kool-Aid and singing Obambaya. I think that if you strip away all the issues, regardless of on what side of the political fence you lie, you have to admit the fact that people cared about this election so deeply, and came out in incredible numbers, stood in line for hours to vote was an enormous step forward, and one I credit, at least in some part, to his candidacy. He is a gifted orator and I feel that he has more of a hand in crafting his speeches than many of his predecessors did. Listening to Bush reminded me of a ventriloquist and dummy routine... "here you go Georgie, just say these words I wrote for you, try not to stare too hard at the teleprompter, it might burn your retinas". Sorry, but I never once felt connected to him in his 8 years of... well... whatever it was. I'm not naive, I know they all have speech writers. Hell, I'd like to be one of their speechwriters. I just feel that some are more convincing in their delivery than others.

The expectations on Predisdent Obama are ridiculously high and he's handling it with grace under pressure. I'm tired of listening to people say "He can't do all he's promised to do." Interesting. What, exactly, has he promised? I believe he's promised to work towards change and I believe he will keep that promise. The sentiments he's expressed about what needs fixing are spot on. I think he has some excellent ideas, I am aligned with his values and I feel he is heading in a positive direction... but I never heard him pinky swear that he'd fix the whole damn broken world. He can't help it if the world is looking to him to do just that.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Was That Teacher

I was that teacher.

The one you remember. The one who, when you think back to your favorite years in school, your time with me will always stick out in your head.

I was that teacher.

The one who made learning so fun you didn't know you were learning. The one that taught things far more important than what was mandated by the county.

I was that teacher.

The one who every single day told you you were, in fact, my favorite student and I gave you specific reasons why. It didn't matter that I told everybody else they were my favorites, too, because you knew each student brought unique gifts to my class and I acknowledged and appreciated them.

I was that teacher.

The one that believed in authentic tasks, integration, and embedded differentiation. The one who said "A day without you is like a day without sunshine" whenever you were absent. The one who created positive interdependence in the classroom so you knew your presence was important.

I was that teacher.

The one who sat with two of you in one year while your mothers died, the one who took you both to the school picnic and, for years after, came to your mother/child events as if you were my own.

I was that teacher.

The one that made you giggle about the silly things I said. U is always for underwear and P is for potato chips, I'll give you a magic dot, it's sad that you have no name, our class pet is a tape worm, so and then are no nos and I can not possibly speak to you while I'm wearing my tiara.

I was that teacher.

The one whose worst punishment was to have you stand in the "special spot" by the door jamb because you could still see the cool things that were going on in the classroom but couldn't participate until you were ready to rejoin us. The one that knew the office is the most fun place in the entire building to be and therefore the worst place to send you when you needed some time to collect yourself, and the one that knew that sometimes sending you on an errand that I made up on the spot would allow you the time and space to come back ready to learn.

I was that teacher.

The one who came to your house while you were undergoing chemotherapy so that you didn't have to have a stranger from the county as your tutor.

I was that teacher.

The one that was excited, understanding and inquisitive instead of being angry when you said you couldn't do your homework the night before because the barn cat was having her kittens and you couldn't bear to leave her.

I was that teacher.

The one whose end of the year gift to the parent volunteers was to have a happy hour in their honor complete with cocktails made with the strawberries we picked together. I bet you would get a good laugh out of that now if you knew what ended up happening to those strawberries.

I was that teacher.

The one who wasn't afriad to take you on an overnight field trip. The one who took some of you to your very first restaurant and/or hotel.

I was that teacher.

The one that taught you about drugs and bullies and sex. The one that never shied away from your questions, the one that had the girl talk with you. The one that then dropped a tampon in a full cup of water and the one that told you that if you decide to wear pads it will only feel like a mattress but not look like it and that the seams in panties lie, so plan accordingly.

I was that teacher.

The one who never took a break on Fridays in order to write a note to your parents about the week you had, something new you learned, a challenge you faced, or your overall fabulousness. Sometimes this meant as many as 32 notes. I also included a fill-in-the-blank question for your parents so I could get to know you and your family better every week.

I was that teacher.

The one who went to one too many funerals of students and former students, the one who still to this day can't understand why.

I was that teacher.

The one that had a nickname for each student. The one who informed you that nicknames simply had to come to me and I couldn't create them on the spot even though from the moment you walked through the doors you were highly anticipating the bestowing of that name.

I was that teacher.

The one who read aloud to you at an age where many think you're too old to be read to. The one that knew the magic of storytelling and how to always stop at the most suspenseful parts, the one that gave you marshmallows right along with Lafcadio the Lion so you could experience them through his eyes.

I was that teacher.

The one you came back to visit year after year to receive hugs and give me updates on you and your classmates, the one who came to watch the big game or see your recital, your black belt test, your graduation. The one you still write to, the one you told you were being deployed, the one you invited to your wedding.

I was that teacher.

The one that helped your parents see that being differently abled just meant that you would be eligible for more scholarships than typical kids. The one that held their hands through endless meetings, the one that validated their deepest, darkest, often unmentioned concerns and the one that got you every last service you needed and deserved even when you were no longer in my class.

I was that teacher.

The one who was asked so many times to give up teaching forever to move on to "better" things in the system, but who knew there was, in fact, nothing better than to see those smiling faces each morning with that "what are we going to do today?" look on them. I was the one that knew that kids deserve good teachers and that too often those teachers are taken away from the classroom.

I was that teacher.

The one that taught you about W2 forms how to fill out a 1040 EZ because we had a token economy and April 15th is tax day, therefore we needed to "file".

I was that teacher.

The one who loved every moment of teaching and who felt the pull to return to the classroom each time I stepped out for various reasons.

I was that teacher.

The one who still knows that no matter what else she has become... specialist, principal, professor... deep down, she is still that teacher.

I am that teacher.

The one that wishes there were many more teachers like that teacher.

Ode To my Bike Trainer

I wrote this last year during a cold snap and stumbled upon it today. Since the temperatures have plummeted, it seemed rather appropriate:


Even though you are not pink
Fond thoughts of you I do think.
You are truly hassle free
And provide some sanity
On nights when training must be late
Or days when I'm not feeling great
In the winter I know for sure
I can ride in any temperature
My hands won't turn all blue and stiff
I can be ready to ride in a jiff
While on my trainer I can watch t.v.
Something that's pretty foreign to me.
No need for a helmet, wear a tiara instead
Since chances are good I won't crack open my head.
While I ride, my children fetch water and GU
I boss 'em around on walkie talkies (it's true).
Although I'd much rather be outside
I know it can't be for every ride
When the weather's good and time works in my favor
I'll hit the road and every moment I'll savor.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Smile

It's "watch day" time at the dance studio. It is the time of year when parents are invited to come into classes and watch their dancers in action. No fancy costumes, no impressive choreography, just "a day in the life of a dancer".

I still remember watching her when she was three. She would bound across the dance floor with endless energy and very little grace. What she lacked in that department, however, she certainly made up for in enthusiasm. Often, she would kick her legs so hard and so high that her ballet shoes would go flying through the air. We had better success with tap shoes, which can be securely tied, and the smile that spread across her face when she realized the amount of sound she could produce from her feet in them is etched in my memory forever. Learning to dance was about wiggling hips and imaginary trips, playing the freeze game and stretching, twirling, stomping, and tip-toeing enough to learn basic body awareness and controlled movements.

Through the years I've watched her grow as a dancer. I've seen her strengths emerge. I listen to her spout off names of moves in butchered French, a far cry from the "ice cream feet" or "butterfly time" with which we started so many years ago. I see how she walks into each one of her classes focused, ready to work and in perfect harmony with whatever type of dance she must perform. I see her use her space in ballet studios, stick landings in acro, pull the audience into the fun of a jazz piece and interpret music with a maturity far beyond her years in modern.

This year, however, something has changed. During her first class this week, a ballet class, as she took her spot on the barre and began going through the required stretches, I was almost overcome with emotion. For suddenly, standing before me was no longer a little girl taking a stumbly trip to Cinderella's castle in dance class, but, rather, a young woman with grace, poise and determination. She moved with amazing fluidity, making it look almost effortless. At one point, as she balanced on the toes of one foot and opened up her arm, she gazed out beyond her hand and caught my eye. Her expression changed ever so slightly but she continued going about the business of her technique drills. What I saw in that moment was the same special smile I had seen a thousand times before, the one that first started with wiggles and giggles and flying ballet shoes, the smile that has turned twirls into pirouettes.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Routine Days

Timers on coffee pots are a beautiful thing. I like coffee, but even if I didn't, I think I'd like the smell of it, and waking up to that after a not so great night of sleep was the perfect start to my day. I couldn't fall asleep until 2 this morning, then the ridiculous rain woke me up at 4. I did get back to sleep until 7:15 when I had to get up because, apparently, there was some sort of mix-up and I received a bladder the size of a gnat. Seriously. Just ask anyone who has taken a long car trip with me. Anywho, once I'm up I'm up, so here I sit.

The Exhibits are still sleeping and the house is eerily quiet. I am trying to enjoy these last peaceful moments. School starts again tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to it. Unlike many parents, I really enjoy having my kids home from school for extended periods. While some folks crave that routine, I despise it. I love letting the kids sleep in and those expectant smiles when they do wake up that says, "I'm happy to be home, Mom. What are we gonna do today?". They find happiness in such little things like buidling a fort, which, sadly must come down today, and making up silly songs. One of them even thinks laundry is "fun". School days feel hectic and chaotic and I feel like a slave to the schedule.

In my teacher days, this time of year was the hardest for me. I'd have to reel the kids back in after the winter break. My classroom ran like a well-oiled machine with a heavy load of positive interdependence and policies and procedures in place for just about everything. It took a week or so to get back on track. I think this happens at home, too, and I think I'm just as guilty of it as the kids.

So, with that in mind, today will be about refocusing and preparing for the rigors of the academic and activity routines. It will also be about counting the days until spring break.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sound Advice

Dear Sir,

In the future, if you wish to secure a woman's phone number, I'd advise against the "Do you have a phone? I dropped my phone and can't find it. Could you call it so I can hear it ring?" tactic for capturing her digits, particularly when your phone is visible on your person.

Your Pal,
The Cranky Princess

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Maybe I posted this in my other blog. Maybe I decided I wanted it here, too.

Maybe I'm not a triathlete. Maybe I once was. Maybe I still am. Maybe I don't care. Maybe I do. Maybe I like to ride my bike a lot. Maybe I wish I could run more. Maybe I sometimes swim. Maybe it's not because I like it but because one day maybe it will be the only thing I can do, so I think maybe I should try to learn to love it. Maybe I'm too stubborn to love something out of desperation. Maybe I should move to a house with fewer stairs in it. Maybe my body doesn't cooperate with any rhyme or reason so I don't like to plan too far ahead. Maybe running on joints that stopped working reliably 8 years ago is so painful that it would send most people cryin' to their mamas. Maybe trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy with a head that pounds and a brain that seizes up and is foggy requires a lot of energy. Maybe even typing is sometimes painful. Maybe that sucks because writing is the thing I like to do the most. Maybe I'm passionate about my job because I can inspire people to do the things I'm not sure I can or want to do anymore, yet I know with certainty I help them change their lives for the better. Maybe the best part of my day on Wednesday was introducing two future triathletes to heart rate monitors, my tri-club, some tri-related websites and the local bike shop. Maybe this morning I'll smile while teaching my friend how to teach cycle. Maybe she will decide to ride outside, and maybe she will love it the way I do, and maybe one day we will ride together. Maybe I'll get my lift on with another friend today. Maybe strength training makes me feel in control of my body. Maybe I'm frustrated because invisible illnesses manifest themselves in ways people don't recognize like falling behind on everyday tasks that others take for granted. Maybe the one thing I want most in the world I can't have. Maybe I don't want anyone to tell me to feel better because maybe when you know you never will, that gets old. Maybe it sounds like I'm feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I am, but the reality is I don't think I ever really do. Maybe I should. Maybe I've spent a lot of time making the most of my situation. Maybe that's inspiring. Maybe I wish it wasn't. Maybe I'm tired of it. Maybe I'm just tired.