Day 24: A painful journey from the V.A to the Cleveland Clinic

I am not going to lie; there are times that I forget that my husband is broken. Maybe that’s not the best way to word it. Should I say permanently injured? I don’t know. Tyler joined the Army at eighteen in the best shape of his life, and now about six months from his 40th birthday, we are spending our fifth day in the hospital, hoping to get some relief for the pain in his back. Only this time, we’re at the Cleveland Clinic instead of the V. A. 

You’d think after almost eight years, I’d be used to his limitations. But I am not. I 110% blame him. Tyler is amazing and pushes through the pain more than he should. To give you an idea of how bad things are, he was medically retired from the Army for how destroyed his discs were in his lower back. Before thirty, he had one of the destroyed discs replaced, his back fused, and has two rods and four screws. However, if you looked at Tyler, you’d never know he lives in constant pain. 

Probably one of the worst things about his injuries; unless he takes his shirt off, there are no visible scars. I know they are there, but it’s easy to forget. Tyler still goes about his life, mind you, sometimes slower than others our age but still more active than most. 

He coaches our son’s 10U rec baseball team, and he isn’t just sitting on the side. I can not count how often I watched Tyler and wondered if his brain had fallen out because he was catching for Mark as he warmed up to pitch. I’m certain that I pray every time he squats down that he’ll be able to stand back up because I’m far too tiny to help. Luckily there are some big dads, and his assistant coaches can help if that is ever the case. 

In December, on his way home from work, Tyler hurt his back after changing the tire on the truck. When he got home, he was very stiff and was having trouble getting off the couch. I suggested that we go to the V. A., and he shot down the idea. He told me he just needed rest. So Saturday rolled around, and I did my best not to bug him, which felt impossible since he had promised to put up the Christmas lights. However, the rest did not help, and when he woke up Sunday, he told me, “we’ll go. Something is wrong.” 

The V. A. doesn’t give painkillers anymore; however, they did give him something to help manage the pain. The Er gave him two shots, one was a steroid, and the other was a muscle relaxer. A few days later, we were surprised to find out that the Er doctor could get him in for an MRI. It had nearly been two years from his last one, and no matter how many times he told his primary care doctor, they never sent him to get a new one. 

Tyler got the results of his MRI back through the patient portal with no call from a physician at the hospital. So we were left to try and decode what was going wrong with him. As he waited to hear back from pain management or anyone from the hospital, his back went out again. 

At the end of January, and the beginning of 2023 baseball season, Tyler was in pain. It was so bad that he called me and said we needed to go to the Er. I called my parents and asked if they could watch the kids as we went to the Er. Of course, they said yes. 

After checking in, a nurse came in with a wheelchair. Tyler tried to refuse it, but she was very convincing, and thankfully he took the ride because it would have been a very long and slow walk. 

We had been to the V. A. hospital nearly once a month for the last three months and it had been a pure shit show. Just trust me when I say you never want the government involved with your healthcare. It has been a nightmare of a fight trying to get Tyler taken care of. It took putting the V. A. on blast on social media, before we finally started to get somewhere regarding his health care. Only it was far too little too late. His health was declining, and the injections scheduled at the end of February were looking to be too long down the road. 

The Er doctor gave Tyler the steroid shot again to alleviate the pain. That way, we could make it to the February appointment. The nurse came out with a cane, and he outright refused it. But I took the cane and threatened to beat him with it if he didn’t use it. The nurse laughed and asked how long we were together. She also asked him to blink twice if he needed help. Tyler, of course, blinked rapidly. 

Since he likes to pretend nothing is wrong when he’s on the field, I’m a bit hypervigilant watching him during practice. And at the beginning of the season, one of the mom’s noticed that I looked stressed. Anita was Adelyn’s cheerleading coach in the fall, and that was probably why I unleashed everything when she asked if I was okay. I didn’t mean to word vomit everything we’ve been dealing with with the V. A., but I did. Anita sat and listened to all the crap we’ve dealt with the V. A., and her ex-husband listened too. I knew she was a nurse, and I assumed he was a doctor because he always wore scrubs. I didn’t know he was a neurosurgeon specializing in spines and degenerative disc diseases. 

After I explained all the shit we’ve been going through over the last seven years, Dr. Miller asked if we had a copy of Tyler’s mri, which, oddly enough, I had the write-up in my email. I showed it to him, and Dr. Miller said, “that was the worst thing he’s ever read.” I wasn’t surprised because the medical care, or lack thereof, we were used to getting at the V. A. had to trickle down and into the imaging department. So I told him we’d bring the cd to the next practice. 

So by the rec baseball season opening day, we had to visit the V. A. twice for how severe his back pain had gotten. Even though Tyler is in chronic pain and probably shouldn’t be coaching baseball, he has never allowed the pain to get in the way of doing what he loves. Because if he does let the pain stop him, then what does he have left?

I know I joked at the beginning of this blog about Tyler falling down and not getting back up, but it’s not really a joke. His bulging discs have been pressing on the nerves in his back, affecting his legs. Tyler’s right leg has lost feeling, and when he steps, he doesn’t entirely feel what his leg is doing. 

A few days after Tyler gave Dr. Miller the cd of his MRI, Tyler told me that the pain was terrible. He didn’t actually need to tell me. I could see it. He had trouble standing from a sitting position, and his legs had trouble supporting him. I suggested we go back to the V. A. He complained that there was no point since they wouldn’t give him anything for the pain, and he had an epidural scheduled for a few weeks. But I reminded him that the Er gave him a steroid shot, and it did help a little with the pain. Instead of going to the ER, as I suggested, he waited. But he did promise that if it got worse, he’d go. 

The following day was the opening day of baseball. Tyler coached, but this time he actually sat. His thigh started to pulsate, making it even more challenging to stand. I was worried and told him we should go to the hospital, but he said no because Mark had a travel game. He promised if he felt worse after the game, we’d go. I teased him a little about waiting, but I was glad to know he was toying with the idea. 

I didn’t join him for the second set of games. I went home with our five-year-old and three-month-old and started making dinner. As I cooked, I had a strange feeling that something terrible had happened. For the last hour, I had not received a text or phone call, and usually, he would text me randomly throughout the games, like stupid memes or updates on how Mark was playing. However, it had been radio silence. 

Then the game ended, and shortly after Tyler would usually call to tell me about the game, I received a call. 

“I’m only telling you this because I know how pissed off you’d be if you heard it from someone else.” 

I don’t know what ran through my mind other than it couldn’t be that bad because he was driving. 

“My leg gave out,” he said before I could ask. 

I tried not to laugh, but I did. “Excuse me, what?” 

“A foul ball came over the fence, and I stepped to catch it, and my leg gave out.” he was laughing while explaining what happened. 

“Did you at least catch the ball?” I asked. 

“No! That’s the worst part.” 

I waited until he got home to hear the whole story. Again I called my parents and asked them if they could watch the kids as we went to the hospital. I think it was becoming routine at this point. I finished cooking, inhaled my food, and packed up things for the littles in case they had to stay the night. 

I heard the door open and nearly pounced on him. I asked him if he was okay, and he said not really. His thigh was still pulsating. It looked extremely uncomfortable and weird. He grabbed a bowl of dinner and ate, explaining what had happened. 

A ball went over the fence, and he barely stepped back. I asked if he was on the sidewalk or stairs, and he said no, it was level ground. One minute he was fine, and the next, he was on the ground laughing. A few other dads laughed with him, but I think they did it because they were equally uncomfortable with what happened. 

One dad, Larry, a physician assistant who used to work for a nero, walked over and asked if Tyler was okay. He said yes. Then Larry asked if Tyler was going to just lay there or wanted help. Tyler chose to lie on the ground for a while. 

A few moms checked on him, and one yelled at the other laughing dads and then yelled at Tyler for not using his cane. That just made Tyler laugh more. His motto is if you can’t laugh at it, then what’s the point? 

He said that after getting off the ground, Dr. Miller called to discuss his MRI, and Tyler told him about his leg going out. Dr. Miller said his nurse would call in a steroid pack for him and try to get a hold of him on Monday. She would be starting the process with the V. A. To get his case transferred to Dr. Miller because what the V. A. had planned wouldn’t help fix what had made Tyler’s leg go out. 

As he told me about the incident, Tyler rubbed his leg. It had been pulsing for eight hours, and it was fatigued. The muscle hurt, and Tyler couldn’t fully support himself. We dropped the kids off and headed to the V. A. 

They gave him steroid injections and sent us on our way. 

About a week or so after that Er visit, we were at the V. A. again, only this time for a scheduled visit. Tyler’s pain management doctor had him set up to get his nerves burned, and the procedure that he was supposed to go through was to see if he was a candidate or not. Everything seemed to go reasonably smoothly. He went in relatively close to his appointment time and was out in the approximate amount of time.  I was ready for him to tell me something had gone wrong. Nothing ever goes smoothly with the V. A. 

So when I asked him how everything went, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he said they changed everything once he went back with the doctor. 

“Well, what did they do to you?” I asked as we were walking to schedule his next appointment. 

“I got an epidural,” he told me. “the doctor said he looked at my MRI and said what the pain management doctor wanted to do wouldn’t help without doing the epidural first. And since I was already there, they just had to get a different pack.” 

I guess that’s the only bonus of being at the V. A. If they change their mind about what they want to do, everything is at their disposal. It seemed the epidural helped some with the pain. He could walk without a cane if he used a knee brace to give him enough support. The epidural worked well enough to avoid returning to the Er as we waited for Dr. Miller’s office to be approved by the V. A. 

About two weeks later, we got a call from Dr. Miller’s office. They were ready to schedule Tyler’s procedure. The nurse apologized to Tyler for it taking so long. She said there was a miscommunication between the offices. Without her even saying what the issue was, Tyler asked, “did you receive information for an R. Jenkins?” and the nurses said, “yes! I couldn’t figure out why they kept sending me the wrong person’s information, and finally, I saw that Tyler was the middle name.” 

I don’t know how many times this has happened. Tyler always forgets to tell people that he goes by his middle name. And I don’t think he thought about mentioning anything to Dr. Miller’s office since he’s so used to doing everything at the V. A. with his last name and social. 

Tyler received the call Monday, and by the end of the week, I was waiting in the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic to take him home. 

After the procedure, Dr. Miller came out to talk to me. He explained that Tyler would be a little sore and that in the next 48 hours, things may hurt slightly, but it should be better by the end of the week. He reminded me that Tyler should take it easy and not overdo anything, and I said that would not be a problem. Usually, I’m the problem asking him to do things for me because I’m too tiny. Dr. Miller also recommended lots of fluids. 

“Does beer count?” I asked. 

He laughed. “No.”

 “Well, you might want to tell Tyler.” 

When Dr. Miller left, two women sitting in the lobby looked at me like I had grown two heads. 

“Was that Dr. Miller?” one asked. 

I nodded. 

“He must really like your husband. He never does that.” 

On the way home, Tyler and I talked about his procedure. The nurses kept asking if he had wanted to be satiated, and he said no. He was used to receiving the injections with localized anesthetic when he went to the V.A., but with how many times they asked, he was wondering if he should be sedated. When Dr. Miller started the procedure, Tyler and he were joking around. The first injection didn’t hurt, but the second one did. Miller said the second injection was on the nerve causing the most pain. The third injection hurt the worst. Dr. Miller had poked him once, but Tyler’s mental rod was in the way, and he had to dig around a bit. Dr. Miller apologized for the pain, and Tyler said, “don’t worry, I’ll just make your son run, so he hurts as much as me.” 

I don’t think the nurses were ready for the banter between the two men. 

We’re four days out from the nerve injections, and Tyler says he can tell that the feeling is finally coming back in his leg. Today as he was going down the stairs, he knew his leg was still a little weak, but it wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t need the knee brace anymore. 

I just hope we’ll be able to avoid hospitals for a while. 


Day 14: School Guidance Counselors

I think guidance counselors are one of the most underused tools at school. Wait, let me rephrase that I think guidance counselors are one of the tools incorrectly overused.  

When I look back at my school career, I can say I remember my elementary guidance counselor. She was tall with brown hair and a kind voice. No clue who the guidance counselors were at middle school. I’m almost sure that I didn’t know they even existed. And for high school, I would invade my guidance counselor’s office for nearly four years, asking her to help me find a college that had a degree in oceanography or something close to it. But not once do I remember my guidance counselors being as present as the fantastic staff at my school. 

If parents were to walk the campus of the middle school I work at, I promise you over half of them would be astonished by how present our guidance counselors and behavioral health specialists are. Students of all grade levels know their names, most of whom know where their offices are. The repore the students have with these professionals is impressive. For the most part, they feel comfortable talking about their issues with the staff and even will seek out help. And those students who kept their problems closer to the vest don’t usually fight the extra push in the right direction. I’ve heard from many of my students that after speaking with a guidance counselor, they don’t feel judged but actually heard for the first time. And I agree entirely with them. 

I don’t know how often I have found myself in one of the guidance counselors’ offices asking for advice. Sometimes it’s for assistance handling a student with a 504 or IEP. However, I’ve found myself in their offices more often than not with personal questions, sometimes self-care because my students have stressed me the fuck out, sometimes about my kids, and a few times about my postpartum mindset. I’m unsure if this is like that at all schools or if we are just blessed with an and staff. 

I think all companies should have guidance counselors. Not HR people because you can’t talk to the person in control of hiring and firing freely. No, a guidance counselor, psychologist, whatever you want to call the person, someone impartial to your career should be available to talk to. I think that could help avoid workplace burnout. 

As much as I sing the praises of our counselors, there is something that I disagree with that is done across the county when it comes to them. Guidance counselors are used in so many other areas that are well outside the realm of counselors that I wonder how they can do their actual job. 

The district requires them to present Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons to each grade level several times throughout the year. They also have to present to each grade level these mental health suite 360 lessons as well. The one coming up is about the Prevention of Suicide. And while yes, the topic is tough to present, they don’t have control over how to discuss the issue. 

I don’t think it’s fair that schools are given those extremely difficult and triggering topics, and all schools are expected to teach them the same way. I believe each school should be able to take the issue and tailor it to the school’s location. Because I seriously doubt that the discussions going on at the middle schools in Boca Raton are the same as Belle Glade and Pahokee. Also, our guidance counselors may know what emotional level to present these topics with better than one size fits all. If the guidance counselors weren’t busy being testing monitors or filling in for teacher duties, they could target groups of kids and have a more personal discussion with them. 

I know many of these duties that guidance counselors go through now are because of what happened in Parkland. We don’t want another student to slip through the cracks, but I’m not sure if we keep adding more tasks to their plates, they will be able to see the students. We will have all these fantastic PowerPoint and well-thought-out plans but no students left to save because those who are meant to help are bogged down with the extra work of the School Board bureaucracy. 

Lent, Writing

Day 9: Aphantasia, past life regression, and a movie script

About a year ago, I discovered I wasn’t normal. I mean, I’m a writer who has made a career in television. I’ve never been normal. However, I discovered I am a part of a small group of humans who do not see with their mind’s eye. I have Aphantasia.

“Aphantasia is the inability to visualize. Otherwise known as image-free thinking. People with aphantasia don’t create any pictures of familiar objects, people, or places in their mind’s eye. Not for thoughts, memories, or images of the future.”

 I never knew that I was different. I always thought that when people said they saw pictures in their heads, they were speaking figuratively. It wasn’t until I was working with a friend, editing a story, did I learn it wasn’t a figure of speech. He asked me to picture the scene and my head, and I told him I couldn’t. This sparked a long conversation about how when I close my eyes, I only see darkness, and if there are lights, I’ll see yellows or oranges where the lights are.  Being unable to see images in my head is probably why my writing is, so dialogue driven. It also probably has a lot to do with why I love to take pictures of everything that happens. I can look at pictures, know what was happening,  and it evokes emotions, but I can’t recall a memory and see it in my head. 

I haven’t always been this way. Or at least there are a few distinct moments I know I saw images in my head. 

The first moment was my first year of high school. My drama teacher was out, and we had a substitute. I can’t recall his appearance, but I still hear his voice. Thinking back at this moment as an adult and teacher, what he did was weird as shit, but as a high school freshman, it was pretty cool. The substitute asked us if we wanted to be part of a group activity where he guided us through a past life regression trip. I am unsure if we knew what that meant, but it sounded way more interesting than reading our anthologies and writing a response. 

The substitute had us line up in a row in front of desks. He asked us to close our eyes and focus on his voice. He told us to imagine a blank chalkboard, and on the chalkboard, we were supposed to draw a circle. We were guided to draw the number 5 (or ten; I can’t remember everything from twenty years ago), erase it, and continue until we reached zero. Once we reached zero, he told us to imagine a field with flowers and warm sun. We should feel safe there. 

And what is crazy is that I could picture all of this in my head. When I try to do this now, I only see darkness. It wasn’t until I was talking to my editor did this moment come back to me. I had, at one point, actually seen images in my head. 

After the substitute guided us to the field, he went down the line and asked each one of us a question. I don’t remember exactly what my classmates said, but I know one said she was a princess. I think another said she was in the holocaust, and one said she was on the Titanic. Each time he asked them if they felt safe, and oddly, every one of them said yes. 

When he got to me, I wasn’t prepared for what came out of my mouth. He asked me what I saw around me, and I said I felt sand, and he asked me if I was at the beach. I told him no. He then asked me to look around, and I told him I couldn’t because it was night and dark. He asked me if I was standing or sitting, and I told him I was kneeling. I told him my hands were bound, and I heard people rushing towards me. I told him that the hair I could see in front of my face was dark, and it was not mine. And then he asked me if I was safe. My heart raced, and I told him no. Next, all I remember was his voice getting louder and louder, telling me to wake up, and I remember feeling sweaty and having my classmates look at me, unsure of what was happening.

For the next seven years, I would have random dreams that would expand on what I had in my supposed past life regression. Do I think that this was a past life that I led? No. I’m unsure what I experienced, but it was very vivid. 

It wasn’t until I was halfway through college before I could get the story out of my head. I took a scrip writing class and asked my teacher if I could write a historical script. He said he didn’t approve of them because students did a horrible job writing them. I didn’t like that answer. I had to get this story out of my head. So I asked if that meant I couldn’t write a historical piece. He told me to go ahead, but the likelihood of me passing with a good grade was slim to none. 

I wanted to impress my teacher. He was a former writer for Golden Girls and Dallas, among other shows. 

I took what he said as a challenge. I knew I could write a fantastic script. So for the next few months, I wrote my 90-page script. He had the class break the project into 30-page chunks. When I turned in act one, I expected him to tell me to try again. But the only note I received was, ” please edit your work so I can give you a better grade.” I was excited by that and went on writing. By the end of the semester, I had finished the script and the story I started seven years ago. I never saw those images again. But what I had was a script called Blue Lotus, and the only A in that class.

After going back and reading the script, I couldn’t help but giggle. Some of the dialogue is totally cheesy, but I still love it.


Day 7: Finding time

It’s hard to find time to write. Between being a mom of three that lives at the baseball and softball fields and a full-time teacher finding time to do something that I’m passionate about nearly seems to be impossible. If I want to write, I must decide what doesn’t get my time and attention. And my children and my career are not an option when it comes to neglect. That means that my husband and I have to divide our time between doing something together or me taking some time for myself and sitting down at a computer to write. In the past six days, while we were watching TV, I picked up my cell phone, and instead of opening social media, I completed the different blog posts. But I don’t like taking away our quality time. Part of me misses the freedom I had before children, but there’s no reason to linger in the past because the kids aren’t going anywhere for the next 18 years.

I’ve gone to bed late, and the glow of the cell phone stares me in the face as I try to review what I have written throughout the day. Sometimes sleep has to be sacrificed for me to do what I love. I feel like this is a pattern that has followed me throughout my life. Adding too much shit to my plate and trying to make sure that I can do everything that I want in the very limited hours of the day. Sometimes I’ll write five pages and delete it all because I am unhappy with what I wrote. 

Today is one of those days. I’ve tried writing four different posts, and they all seem forced. It’s like my creativity has been drained from me. In all honesty, that’s how I’ve felt since I gave birth. It took me years after having my daughter to find time to be myself again, and I don’t want to spend another three to four years figuring out how to keep myself as happy as I make sure the children are. But sometimes, that doesn’t always work the way you want it to, especially when you’re battling postpartum depression.

I thought I would spend my maternity leave snuggling my brand-new baby and writing my second book. I did not expect myself to want to become one with my couch.


Lent 40 days of no social media and 40 nights of writing

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This year, I aim to remove social media from my life and to fill the wasted time with writing.

What I originally planned on writing today had to do with my faith and the journey I’ve been on, instead, I’m going to vent about a training that our district is being forced to take. It’s called Youth Mental Health First Aid: A Manual for Adults Assisting Young People by Betty Kitchener. I understand the point of ensuring people have mental health tools, but throwing everyone into the same training is not the best idea. 

They offer the training as an all-day event that people can take online or in person. I chose to take the training virtually. I thought this might be an easier way to digest it; however, I was wrong. There is no way to digest these topics, especially when living with these problems. The only thing that made it easier was vocalizing that this is fucking stupid instead of internalizing it. 

I am already dealing with postpartum depression. Only a few weeks ago, before I started my antidepressants, I was sitting on the edge of the pool watching my daughter swim and wondering how long it would take for anyone to notice that I was no longer there. How could I sink myself to the bottom of the pool, or if I could walk off the pier and into the lake and never breathe again? Thankfully, I didn’t do it. Not sure how I could have done it. I think my body would have gone into auto-drive and brought itself to the surface to breathe. I kept thinking about how I could stop saving myself, and while doing that, my daughter didn’t leave my side. 

It was by far the worst experience to go through. I felt as if I was trapped inside my head, screaming, banging on a glass wall, trying to break through and stop the person who had hijacked my brain. I didn’t understand why I would want to leave her alone to go through life without her mom to help her. She’s an emotional little creature who needs both her parents, and I wanted to wear cement shoes on the bottom of a lake. 

Until today, I thought I had things under control. Who knew that a six-hour training would throw me into a tailspin? The whole thing is supposed to make teachers and other school employees aware of mental health issues with our students, but not once did they think about asking us if we were okay with the topics they were covering? They rushed to throw everything out there. They broke us up into three groups and asked to read little fictional stories and ask how we would handle them. 

My story was about a student who was developing an eating disorder. The only thing is that this topic isn’t fictional for me. I just had to handle this with a student upon returning from maternity leave. Listening to other educators talk about how they would be uncomfortable handling the situation brought me back to high school when I was dealing with my budding eating disorder. No one was aware of what I was going through. It also made me truly grateful for my relationships with my students. 

As I listened to the people in my group present what we discussed, I word-vomited how I handled my situation. How that only in a week or so back from maternity leave, I noticed one of my girls kept putting her head down, how she had transformed from an energetic student to one dragging through the day. When she returned from lunch, she talked about how she didn’t eat again, and I snapped. I responded as if I was out to brunch with girlfriends and asked, “Are you anorexic? Is that why you’re skipping meals?”

She just stared at me. “What’s that?”  she asked.

I explained to her and her other classmates that anorexia is when a person controls, limits, or stops eating because you don’t like the way you look or feel out of control in your life.

My student looked like I had just peeled a cover off her eyes. “Yes, it’s both.”

I told her I would notify the guidance counselor, and she asked why. I explained because I loved her and this was not the path she needed to go down. It only causes pain and more trouble. 

The trainer said I did what the purpose of the class was. Only she missed the part where I said I lived with this and didn’t have the mental bandwidth to handle my students’ issues. Not once did she ask how I felt returning from maternity leave and being inundated with students’ problems. But, you know, why would you want to check on the people asked to be aware of students in crisis? Obviously, we are all fully prepared and qualified to help students and guide them on where to go for help after a few rushed hours glancing over highlights of anxiety, depression, and psychotic disorders.

But we did get a solid hour or so being inundated with the worst guidance on suicide help and prevention. 

As the instructor spoke, I took a Xanax. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. I kept staring at the webcam, not covering my mouth as I talked to my co-worker, who was in the same session. We both could not believe what they were covering as suicide prevention. It was like listening to someone who had never experienced or knew someone close that suffered from suicidal thoughts or depression. I swear, if anyone had approached me and asked, “Are you going to kill yourself?” or “How do you plan on killing yourself?” things would not have gone over well. When I expressed this to the behavioral health specialist, he said it was proven to stop people from killing themselves. I don’t believe this. 

I watched the screens of the other people in the session, and you could see those visibly disturbed and uncomfortable, and not once did the instructors say hey, let’s take a break or check in with us. No, because today isn’t about finding out if the adults are qualified to handle their students in crisis. Today was about the district covering their ass because they lack the proper amount of mental health professionals to help every student. Now, they can claim that everyone on campus, including those who work indirectly with the students, has received training from experts to be aware of mental illness and health problems. 

Oh, the best part, after spending most of my day being triggered and slipping back into a dark space, I have to teach until the end of the workday. 

So thanks, Palm Beach County School District, for thinking this is the best way to handle things. 

Mommy Blogs

Finding my calm

This morning before my doctor’s appointment, instead of rushing from dropping off my daughter to sit in the parking lot and steal internet from the doctor’s office so that I could work on things for school, I decided to take a moment for myself and go to the beach. It’s incredible how much a little salt air can refresh the soul. 

It’s been a long time since I slowed down and appreciated the world around me.

I have been stressed out worrying about finding a sub for my students, ensuring their lesson plans are ready, and wondering if they’ll be all right. All while our house has been under construction for longer than I wanted.

I allowed that to stress me out instead of letting go and just rolling with it knowing my husband was working the fastest his body would allow. We are still entangled in the kids participating in sports nearly every day of the week. I truly was having unrealistic expectations of what we could complete and it nearly caused a mental breakdown several times.

This pregnancy has been much different than my first with my daughter. I cherished all the small moments and let myself relax and enjoy what was going on while this one has seemed to be a strain on my mental and physical health. But standing here watching the sunrise over the surf rolling in has reminded me of the amazing little creature living inside me.

I’m excited about my maternity leave this time. Unlike with my daughter, I will not be working at all through it.

I’m blessed that Bennett is arriving in the fall, so we can spend more time outside, not sweating to death.

After recovering from surgery, I plan on spending as much quality time focusing on myself, the new little baby, and my family. Work will always be there, but little moments like watching the sunrise with my kids or just enjoying coffee alone will not always be there.

Mommy Blogs

Pregnant at 35

I’m not sure what’s going on with my generation of millennial moms, or maybe it’s just my group of friends, but I’ve noticed a spike in parenthood for women in our mid-thirties. Perhaps we’ve just all gone crazy and decided that we no longer like sleep, money, or the freedom to leave the house without having to tote along a giant bag filled with everything your little one could possibly need in life. But whatever the reason, maybe a bunch of us are starting the baby journey again.

    My baby brain didn’t just pop out of nowhere. Since I had my daughter five years ago, I have randomly discussed having another child with my husband. However, we were always at a different point in our lives each time I brought it up. First, we had just bought our first home, we were getting settled in with our daughter and son, and things were a bit chaotic. Next, we started potty training. We figured if we decided to add to our family, we would possibly do it when we only had one diaper expense. 

More time passed, and suddenly my daughter was no longer in diapers. She was out of daycare, and we could go on vacation anywhere we wanted without packing a nursery for the trip. You’d think I’d be happy with two wonderful kids and finally feel financially stable to enjoy life.  And I was, for the most part, but a small piece of me would come up randomly, not monthly. It was more than ovulation. It was an emotional tugging that my children’s smallness was ending. I don’t think I was ready for their independence, but I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Our kids grow up and will always need us differently; however, I still wanted the tiny finger wrapped around my hand, cooing and not back-talking me about something ridiculous. 

Throughout the last five years, I had gone back and forth, asking my husband to either get a vasectomy or a baby. He never got the vasectomy, not because of anything to do with his balls but because of the tiny mental breakdowns, I would have throughout the years, especially when one of my friends would get pregnant. He said he’s gone to war but was more terrified of what I would do if he actually took the choice of having a baby. Although I would joke around with the idea of having another baby, I think I only actually said yes, let’s do it once.

We both agreed that if it happened, it would happen. I kind of left it up to God and the universe and said by the time I reached my mid-thirties, he would probably get a vasectomy since we didn’t want to be in our mid-40s with a surprise child. I felt that was a fair compromise, and we actually tried. I wasn’t sure if I was pregnant, but I was late. 

I got extremely hopeful and excited. For about a month, I was giddy, thinking there might be a little one living inside me. I’m not sure why I allowed myself to be so happy, thinking it would only take a try to convince. It was probably because it was that easy with my daughter, but I was younger, and things tended to work faster. Well, it turns out I wasn’t pregnant. I sucked up my emotions and stuffed them down deep. My husband asked if I wanted to keep trying, and I told him no. It seemed like it was a message that we were just supposed to have two kids, not three, and I went on with life. 

A few months later, I got in a car accident. I ended up with a torn disk and a few herniated discs. To me, it was more of a message saying it was a good thing I wasn’t pregnant. Though it was a low-impact accident, I could have lost the baby if I had been pregnant. I know for certain I wouldn’t have been able to get the imaging I needed to find out how badly I got hurt. I spent months in PT trying to get back to normal. I went back and forth with the idea of expanding past the idea of physical therapy, getting more invasive, and receiving an epidural to help alleviate my pain.

Eventually, January rolled around, and five months after the accident, I was scheduled for the epidural. But what wasn’t showing up was my period. We had one small accident when I just so happened to be ovulating, and I was hopeful again but nervous. I didn’t take a pregnancy test, and I wasn’t going to waste the money when I knew that the facility I was going to would test me anyways. So for two weeks, I played the what-if game in my head. I knew there was a possibility that stress was causing my period to be late. But I didn’t want to be rational. Hope is a powerful drug. 

So the morning of my procedure finally came. For some reason, medical facilities were still under the covid rule of no visitors even if you were knocked out and needed someone to drive you home. My husband was told to wait in his truck, get breakfast, or do something at seven in the morning besides in the lobby and wait. We kissed goodbye, and I sat nervously in the lobby by myself. I hate medical anything, and waiting thirty-plus minutes by myself just let my brain think of everything that could go wrong. When I was finally asked back, the nurse asked if I might be pregnant, and I beamed, “Maybe.”  She was not thrilled because if I was, I could not go forward with my procedure. 

After being fully checked in, she handed me a cup. It now did or die. I was going to find out if I was pregnant or not. I peed in the cup, returned to the hospital bed, and waited. Not too long later, the nurse comes in with a big smile. “Guess what! You aren’t pregnant. We’ll send you off to dreamland in a few minutes, and you’ll be feeling better.” She shut the curtain and left. I texted my husband and said, “I’m not pregnant. You need to get snipped; I can’t handle this emotional roller coaster.”

When we got home, I was a wreck, shoving all my feelings and emotions down deep to where I didn’t have to deal with them. I didn’t realize how bad my hormones were and how bad I was PMSing. My husband made a comment that had been a running joke for the last five years about how the only reason he married me was because he was medicated, which was true. He was going through PTSD therapy, and the VA had him on a cocktail of drugs. Well, after years of joking and never bugging me, it did. I wrote him a note the next morning and left my wedding rings on his desk, saying he didn’t have to stay married to me because the only reason he married me was because he was overly medicated. It was our anniversary, and I was in the middle of a mental breakdown. Instead of talking about any of my feelings hiding, I was running away, partly because hormones do wonderful things to your psyche and partly because I wasn’t even sure why I was freaking out. 

I was teaching, and he was working from home. We spent the day texting, and I was also texting with a girlfriend about how I freaked out and was not even sure why I was freaking out. I was not stable, to say the least. I didn’t want to get a divorce. I was now sucking up tears, trying to sort my life out while dealing with the drama of nearly 100 middle school students while trying not to fall apart. Then finally, I sent my friend a text saying, “I felt so alone at the stupid outpatient place.  All my hopes and dreams were smashed, I couldn’t call anyone, and I was sitting there feeling like my world had fallen apart when he said he only married me because he was on drugs. I felt that alone again and wanted to leave everything.” She responded with, “Well, did you tell him that?” I answered, “No, I just figured everything out.”

I eventually told him. 

When we got home, we talked. Well, not right away because the kids had sports, we had to make dinner, and I didn’t want to fall apart in front of our kids. He asked me why I didn’t tell him I wanted a baby. Why did I keep pretending that I didn’t want one? He said he never got a vasectomy because he was terrified I’d kill him in his sleep or something.  After how I acted, I don’t entirely blame him for having that fear. So we decided to really try, not just a one-and-done type thing, leaving it up to fate but actually paying attention to my ovulation cycle. 

After the window closed, we ended up going to Orlando for vacation. We had friends from California visiting and thought it was a perfect time to see them. We joined them for a day at Universal, and the next day they were going to Disney, but before we even purchased our tickets for the park, I looked at my husband and said we should get year passes. He said, “We’re trying to have a baby.” I said, “Well, we don’t have that kind of luck to be pregnant right away.”  He shook his head as he handed the credit card off to the woman and told me. “I swear to God. You are going to be pregnant because you’ve finally convinced me to buy these stupid things.” So we spent the next day as a family riding roller coasters on a Monday with nearly no one in the park. I was super happy. 

The following weekend we ended up getting a kitten. Something my daughter and I have been wanting for years. As we brought the tiny fluff ball into the house, he just looked at me and said, “You’re going to be pregnant, and I’m going to have to clean this little box, aren’t I?” I told him no way. It didn’t take. I feel normal. I feel fine. He looked at me and said, “I don’t believe you.”

For the next month, I had no signs of PMS or pregnancy. At least, that’s what I thought. For the last week, I had left my classroom keys in my door. I was miss placing things and dropping things left and right. I felt like a space cadet and couldn’t figure out why I always felt drunk. Then I was helping my husband cook dinner, and I don’t know what I said or did, but he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “The last time you were this spacey, you were — have you gotten your period yet?” and I said no it’s supposed to show up tomorrow. 

We didn’t wait. I sent him to get a test, and thirty minutes later, we discovered baby brain hits a lot harder at 35 than it did at 30.

Mommy Blogs, Short Stories

Changes in Kindergarten

We sat in the long parent drop-off line, cars idling in the Florida heat. It was only 7:20 in the morning, but the sun was already making its presence known. 

“Do you want your sunnies?” I asked my daughter, who was standing up in the back seat.

“No, mommy, I’m good.” She smiled at me through the rearview mirror.

It was nice to see her smiling after the rough morning we had. She did not want to go to school. After weeks of adjusting from VPK to Kindergarten, I thought we were over our morning meltdowns. But just after a three-day reprieve, the tears began again, and she begged to return to her old school. The cause of this frustration was a letter sent home by the school informing me that my daughter was selected to join the newly formed class, allowing for smaller classroom sizes. 

“Mommy?” asked two sparkling eyes, still staring at me from the mirror. She liked to pretend she was a spy when she talked to me through the mirror. “Since I’m getting a new teacher, can I just go back to my old school?”

My heart breaks as she turns to face the blue dinosaur playground. Tail lights come on as cars shift from park to drive. I curse to myself, having to think of something fast before we start to move, and a safety patrol is opening her door, leaving her wondering.

“No, baby,” I try to say in the most reassuring way possible. “You’re too old and too smart to go back to VPK.”

She sighs, not taking her eyes off the playground. “What if this teacher thinks I’m too smart and moves me again.”

“That’s not going to happen,” I promise.

My daughter, who can hold a conversation with air, is silent once more. The cars begin to roll forward. I drop the sun visor down. Even my polarized sunglasses are no match for the early morning sun. 

“Are you sure you don’t want your glasses?” I ask, holding up her purple, sparkly sunglasses. 

She shakes her head and sits down in her brother’s spot, slipping on her oversized backpack straps. “I was quiet yesterday, so I earned a house for my desk pet.” She proudly before sighing. “I was really, really good, do you think I can stay with my teacher now? I promise I’ll listen better and not interrupt her while talking.” 

I gripped the steering wheel. I’m beyond fucking pissed, not at her but by how purely this whole situation was handled. A letter on Wednesday announcing she will be moved that upcoming Monday. There wasn’t a phone call from the school, the same school that has left millions of other non-important calls that could have been handled with a shitty copied letter. Nope, this was handled with a cold, black-and-white letter uprooting my kid just as she was finally at peace with her new lot in life. 

We’ve reached the stop sign now. The brake lights of the six cars ahead of me torment me. Their tiny passengers disembarking, ready to start their day. I can only pray that they feel better than my daughter does. 

“Angel baby,” I try to laugh off her worry, “You aren’t being moved because you were bad or talked too much. Just a lot of people were moved because the classes were too big. I’m sure your new teacher will be just as fun as your old one.”

We roll forward. She doesn’t say anything, just simply stares out the window as we creep closer to the little boy donning a bright green crisscross safety patrol belt. He opens the door and wishes us good morning. For the first time in these four short weeks of kindergarten, my daughter freezes instead of rushing out of the car.

I turn to the back seat and give her tiny hand a squeeze. “I love you, baby.”

For the first time in months, she doesn’t correct me, telling me she’s a big girl now. “I love you too, mommy.” And with that, she steps out of the car.  

I watch her readjust her oversized pink backpack. As the safety patrol shuts my door,  wishing me a good day, I overhear my daughter talking to a teacher. 

“My stomach hurts,” she tells the woman. “I think I’m going to get in trouble again today.”

woman in red long sleeve writing on chalk board

Teaching during the strangest time ever

I entered teaching at probably the strangest time ever. On my first day, I wasn’t standing in front of a classroom full of kids that I had no idea who they were, and they had no idea who I was. Instead, I wore pajama bottoms and a professional-looking shirt and had a steaming cup of coffee next to me as I logged into my computer. 

Everyone said that this would be the hardest thing I have ever done. In reality, starting teaching virtually where I wasn’t genuinely face-to-face with these kids was really easy and probably the more comfortable way of transitioning into this career. 

Now it’s my second year of teaching, and kids are at school for the most part. We have kids that are constantly being quarantined and missing out, but I’m not logging on setting up a Google Meet.  If these kids are truly sick, I want them home recovering, not worrying about school. 

What I do miss from that first year of teaching virtually is if the kids who didn’t want to participate in class turned the cameras off. They weren’t disrupting class. They weren’t being rude or disrespectful or screaming in the hallways or kicking my door. They just didn’t answer when I called on them. And sometimes, I would like to go back to not having those disruptions in class, which allowed those who truly wanted to learn the chance to learn. But there’s a catch. When they’re at home avoiding class, not learning, playing video games, or zoning out binge-watching TV, something is being missed, and it’s not just an education. 

Some students genuinely need their teachers, and it has nothing to do with what’s in a book. Teachers see your student every single day. We may notice something is off with a child before a parent ever does. Schools give kids a chance to learn and grow socially, whereas when you’re at home and have a device stuck in your face, you’re never going to do that. People are braver behind a keyboard when they don’t think anybody can see what they do or experience the hurt they may cause someone with their words. So while I wish I could go back to last year and not have to deal with some of these students who drive me up a wall, I wouldn’t. 

I have seen how much help teachers can give students. I have seen how much guidance teachers can provide parents who are lost and don’t know how to help their child. I have been an advocate and have seen other teachers be advocates for students who need help with learning disabilities that their parents don’t realize that their child may have.

When I worked in news, I turned off my computer and went home. I didn’t think about anything else. The show was over, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. However, you turn off your computer at this job, and things stick with you because sometimes these kids only have their teachers to take care of them, even if they drive their teachers crazy most days.

I read an article the other day that said they expect 20% of the teachers to quit by the end of the school year. I get that. I see how much these people love their job and love their students, but the shit that teachers deal with day-to-day would have most people quit their jobs. Teachers don’t just come to work and teach. Aside from creating their lesson plans participating in parent teacher conferences, they must also complete a variety of continued education courses and district-wide compliance courses. Some of it makes sense, and some of it is complete bullshit. Most teachers walk on a fine line about what they can talk to their students about and what they can’t. I have seen videos of teachers losing their absolute minds and being downright disrespectful to their students to the point where if it happened to my child, I’d be taking the teacher to court. However, at the same time, many parents allow their children to be disrespectful to their teachers, scream at their teacher, argue, and fight, and when a parent hears about it, their very first reaction is to blame the teacher. 

No adult wants to put up with this kind of mental abuse on a day-to-day basis. Many people wouldn’t last a week in this field. They would look at their paycheck and say, “Fuck this. I’m out.” And guess what? A lot are about to do just that. 

I used to joke and say, why do kids get so many days off school. Well, now I know they’re completely burnt out. A large part of the students’ education, crammed into their heads, seems to be solely for a test, not something practical. There are so many standardized tests that these children must pass and, half the time, it’s just reflecting on if the teacher was able to spit out what the district thinks the kids should know in that particular window. There is nothing that focuses on what the teacher has truly taught them or even if the kids are learning and retaining. Some kids are great test-takers while others aren’t, and those test-takers earn the school district a better grade. 

In these two short years, I’ve learned that those days off aren’t just for the kids, and they are there for the adults who have to watch your kids while you go to work and have free time away from children. So while these teachers and administrators love their jobs and want to take care of your kids to make sure that they become well-rounded adults, most don’t have the support from their community. They could be like Palm Beach County and have an entire school board filled with people who have never been inside a classroom making decisions for teachers. 

These are things that I would never have known sitting in a newsroom. These are things that I would never have known as a parent when my daughter enters kindergarten next year. 

Something has to change because the people who take care of your kids when you’re at work will be gone soon. And while I may still be here, six other teachers might be gone. Something has to change because we can’t keep saying that this is the strangest time ever to teach because eventually the strangest time becomes routine, and people don’t won’t put up with this kind of bullshit for long.

anonymous woman demonstrating burning paper sheet with title

Undone… My mental state, not the sweater song

For the last few months, I have felt as if I’ve come undone. 

I have always been the person who tries to see the good in what happens in life. That they are the reasons why I am the way I am today. But lately, it seems as if the strings of fate have been pulling me into a dark place. I have been lashing out at loved ones or just hiding away. It’s extremely hard to truly disappear, being a mom and teacher means you are always surrounded by people. But inside my head, I have felt alone. 

At first, I have wondered if it was a result of the pain I have been living with. It’s hard to get in a good headspace when everything hurts and no matter what you do the pain is still there. I hoped with my epidural I would start to feel better. I mean physically things have improved. I knew it wasn’t a magic wand to fix everything but I was hoping it would bring me to a better place. It’s still frustrating to know I am physically unable to do things I used to be able to. I watch my daughter, she is hyper-flexible like I am or was, perform an angel kiss with ease. My mom and I used to be able to do these kinds of things together when I was my daughter’s age. But unfortunately, I am unable to even push up into a small cobra stretch without pinching my back and leaving me in pain for a few days. I know it might not seem like much. I should be grateful that I am able to walk. But it’s truly ridiculous that I can’t even stand for a 50-minute class without my lower back spazzing out and my leg feeling like it’s been set on fire.

 I am only thirty-five. 

Thirty-five is not that old. 

So why do I feel like I am running out of time?

Why do I feel like every single day that I don’t spend writing I have wasted a day? But when I do sit down to write and not pay attention to my family, I feel like I have failed as a mother and wife.

Not a single person has told me I have failed as a mom or wife but that’s what my brain is telling me on a daily basis. It’s also telling me to give up writing. It is trying to convince me that nothing I write is worth it.

I can’t tell you how many days I did not open my personal laptop in fear I would delete everything. That the 10,759 words I wrote for book two would just disappear in a dark moment and I would later regret my actions.

When I was younger I would handle my depression with food, more like the lack of food. It was easier to control what didn’t go in my body instead of my emotions. But that doesn’t give me the satisfying feeling anymore. Now that I know what won’t poison me anymore, food is delicious, food brings me happiness. Why would I want to remove what makes me happy? Aside from food, I would also travel. 

I would literally leave wherever I was that was bringing me down and just escape for a little bit. It didn’t solve my issues but usually, it gave me a chance to breathe. 

I can’t do that right now. 

Fucking pandemic and parental responsibilities. 

So now, I am here every day. Working, pushing through the shit that fills my mind, and trying to cope to the best of my abilities. 

About a week ago I didn’t make it. I spent the day crying. I was at work and water was leaking from my eyes. That’s the best way to describe it because I wasn’t sobbing. Just the tears kept coming no matter how hard I tried. For the most part, my students didn’t really pay attention. A few caught it. Others noticed my mood was very different but for the most part, 

There have been outside things that haven’t helped my depression. Students don’t always understand or remember that teachers are human. How they talk to us matters. How they treat each other matters. It’s mentally exhausting to try and better 100 pre/young teens that most don’t want bettering themselves. I have spent many days trying to explain to my female students that they don’t need to rip each other apart, the world will do that to them soon enough. But they don’t listen, they just spit vile words at each other. 

It makes me sad. It makes pushing all my darkness aside to not give in to the feeling of giving up even harder. 

I don’t want this for my daughter. I hope by the time she is this age the mentality will have changed. 

That is probably one of the biggest reasons I won’t ever give into the darkness. Middle school is hard enough.  I don’t want my daughter to go through those years of her life alone, without having someone to relate to or talk to about all the shit she is dealing with.

I could blame a lot of my darkness on just that. Middle school toxicity. But even though I am sitting in a building surrounded by those who are going through their own mental shit, I can’t. I am an adult. They are children. Their problems are not my problems once they walk out of my classroom door. I know that I offer them as much help as possible. If they take it, that’s up to them. 

Now I must take care of myself. I have to be in the best mindset for my family, for my students but most of all for myself.

Compared to where I was a few weeks ago I feel better. I don’t feel like swallowing a bottle of pills to make myself permanently disappear. Now I just want to go to Key West for a few days to get my head straight. I can open my writing and not want to delete every word I read. My skin is no longer crawling every moment I walk into my classroom. So I call this all a win. I may not be fully better, but I’m getting there.