31 December 2010

Writing Contest Submission: "There Are No Tiaras in Camping"

To: Wanderlust and Lipstick
Travel Article Submission
From: Victoria S. Wynne
Category: “Off the Beaten Path”
There Are No Tiaras in Camping
Male strippers, late-night dancing at a club, coughing up hundreds for spa treatments...typical events of bachelorette parties, sure.  But these were not ideas that appealed to me when planning my own final celebration of the single life.  Considering my love of nature, I leaned toward a getaway both unique and free of sequins and heels.  The plan: to take my closest girlfriends on a camping trip on Georgia’s largest and most historic barrier island, Cumberland Island.
My fiance, Michael, offered his two cents on the idea: “What normal girl camps for their bachelorette party?”
“This is coming from the man who eats ravioli straight from the can with a plastic fork,” I shot back.
Cumberland Island is not just a destination, it’s an experience.  Known for its feral horses, crooked live oaks, and weeping Spanish moss, the island charters its visitors via river ferry.  My parents would take my brother and me on day trips to the island during holiday breaks from school.  When I entered college, I rallied a group of fellow dorm-dwellers to camp on the island during spring break.  Even after graduating and getting a “real job”, I continued to invite friends to the island for multiple-night stays.  I then found myself seeking literature on Cumberland and discovered its complete history in Charles Seabrook’s Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses.  My best friend and I acted like Mr. Seabrook’s groupies, reading the book cover to cover several times and getting him to sign our copies twice.  So the idea of camping on Cumberland for my bachelorette party was a better fit than Cinderella’s glass slipper.
When making the plans for this trip, we had to consider that two of the girls had never been camping before, and one was expecting her first baby.   In order not to overwhelm the pregnant and the inexperienced, we scheduled the trip at 2 nights and 3 days.  The first and last days would include the 5-hour-one-way drive to and from St. Marys, Georgia, the riverfront town where we would catch the ferry.  We would stay in a hotel on the first night, and then take the ferry to the island for the second night.  It would be a whirlwind weekend, but knowing my girls, they would the most of every moment.
There were six of us in all: me, the bride ready with her pick-up for carting camping gear; Christy, the maid of honor and walking First Aid kit; Janaki and Kajal, the non-campers and token vegetarians; Llewelyn, the mom-to-be and serious adventure-seeker; and Emily Lemmon (AKA EmLem), the go-with-the-flow sexy librarian type.  We split our motley crew into two carpools--one out of Atlanta and one out of Athens--and met up in the state’s southeast corner on the Saturday before “I do”.  Those of us who had camped before showed up with hiker’s backpacks, pocketknives, and Nalgene bottles.  Janaki packed her necessities in a duffel bag.  Kajal brought her rolling carry-on suitcase.  It ended up being the butt of a couple of jokes.
Our hotel, complete with a restaurant and always-busy saloon, was right on the St. Marys River and walking distance to every local attraction.  We visited the park and its street fair, hitting up the bratwurst stand and relieving our exhausted feet by dangling them in the fountain.  We snapped pictures of the black-eyed Susans on the river banks and of each other on the park swings.  Dinner followed our stroll at a quaint restaurant next door to our hotel as the evening haze settled upon us.  We conversed about the wedding and Llewelyn’s baby, whom she nicknamed “Egg Roll”, while we dined on gourmet salads and fresh seafood.
As part of every Cumberland trip tradition, we make a run to the local Wal-Mart for last minute supplies after dinner.  We were only going to be on the island one night, but we wanted our one dinner there to be really special.  Ingredients for steak and vegetable kebabs were wrangled up for the campfire.  Pop Tarts and dried fruit sufficed for breakfast and snack.  Peanut butter and bread covered on-the-trail lunches.  Everything was thrown into our cooler and smothered in bags of ice.
We returned to the hotel, ready for a pseudo night out at the saloon downstairs.  The girls dressed me in a battery-powered butterfly tiara and necklace tied up with condoms they purchased on the sly while we were shopping for our rations at Wal-Mart.  Our group was already going to stand out in the 40+ crowd that frequents the cramped saloon.  A blinking tiara was going to put a target on my head.  We had barely crossed the threshold when we were interrogated.
“Hey, baby chicks, where are ya IDs?” growled the bartender.  Her rotund figure was stuffed into her overall shorts, her freckled breasts swinging (sans brassiere) to her knees.  Greying blond hair whipped around her face.  I noticed she was only wearing one earring, a large hoop encrusted with rhinestones.  All six of us gaped, patting our pockets for our licenses.
“Can’t have ya risking my business if you chicks are underage,” she barked.  We proved our legal drinking statuses and found the only free table, smack dab in the middle of the room.
Llewelyn ordered herself a sex on the beach, alcohol free for the Egg Roll.  Kajal and Janaki, being the stand-up gals they are, wouldn’t let her drink virgin alone and ordered the same.  EmLem, Christy, and I shared a pitcher of amber beer.  Having camped on the island before, Llew, Christy, and I talked up Cumberland to the other three, describing everything from the ruins of Dungeness mansion to the rolling sand dunes behind the campsites.  As we killed the night and our drinks, folks in the saloon approached us, running through a list of possibilities as to why a group of women our age was there and why I donned a tiara.  They were shocked at our answer.
“We’re here to camp on Cumberland for my bachelorette party!” I explained.
“What normal girl goes on a camping trip for their bachelorette party?” they would ask.
We could only laugh.  “Who says we’re normal?”  Our bartender, liking our attitude and our answer, began to warm up to us.  She freshened our drinks and even posed for a picture with me, her one earring hanging on for dear life.  Reaching the middle of the night, we were tired and past our limit.  We retired to our rooms upstairs and slept off the day.
It was the morning to catch the ferry to Cumberland.  We sought out the free continental breakfast downstairs.  Cereal, bagels, and carafes of milk and juice lined the bar top in the saloon where we had caroused the night before.  We filled our bellies before checking in at the dock across the street.
The ferry ride to Cumberland Island takes about 45 minutes through the marshy St. Marys River and up the Cumberland Sound.  Seagulls follow the ferry looking for a handout from snacking tourists.  Dolphins occasionally swim in the boat’s wake.  If you get lucky, you might witness a submarine coasting through the waters of the sound as it leaves the naval base.  My favorite part, though, of the ride toward the island is watching the faces of first timers.  They try to take in the swirling sights of swamp meeting sand dunes, boardwalks running across mud flats, the chimneys of the Dungeness ruins peeking over the maritime forest, and wild horses grazing among the saw palmettos.  They realize they are arriving at a place that is a fantastic amalgamation of rich native history and preserved wilderness, and the view from the ferry was just a tease.
Our camping reservation was for Sea Camp, nestled under the canopy of aging oak trees and tucked neatly behind the dunes that rise to greet the Atlantic Ocean.  It was just a half mile walk due east from where we docked.  We used one of the carts at the dock’s ranger station to carry our bulky tent and cooler full of meat and veggies.  Everything else, we bore the weight.  Before lunchtime, our camp was set up and we were off to introduce the island to the three newbies.
Knowing we only had 24 hours on the island, we started our hike to the ruins of the Dungeness mansion and other buildings on the property.  The very first Dungeness building was constructed by James Oglethorpe back in 1736, but the crumbling structure that remains today was built by Thomas Carnegie in the 1880s.  It’s hard to believe that this island, whose first inhabitants (the Timucua) settled here 4,000 years ago and were wiped out by Old World diseases brought by Spanish missionaries in the 17th century, is the very same place where Big Steel built a summer home.
Walking around the ruins, we saw dozens of the island’s famous wild horses quietly grazing.  Graceful and coming in almost every shade, but always malnourished due to overpopulation.  Turkeys and armadillos wandered about the grounds, too, avoiding hikers, but not their cameras.  The marshy areas at the edge of Dungeness were alive with fiddler crabs and mosquitoes.  EmLem, Kajal, and Janaki were obviously smitten with our destination and the wildlife it had to offer.
With the day getting hot, we decided to trek back to the campsite to change into our swimsuits for a little beach time.  We took refuge in the shade of the woods as we hiked.  Aware of the need for a fire for cooking kebabs later, we collected firewood along the trail in the forest.  Kajal and Janaki were a little ambitious in their collection.  They found long, thick branches that couldn’t be cradled in their arms, so they dragged their finds behind them.  More critters popped out of the woods as we hiked, most of them being disgruntled armadillos in search of a fistful of grubs.
Losing daytime hours, the six of us packed in several more activities before dinner.  We walked out to the beach on the long boardwalk over the dunes.  It was too windy for the tubes of bubbles we packed, but there was plenty of sun for Llewelyn to deepen her tan.  We combed for shells and waded in the ocean shallows.  EmLem and I went back to the campsite for a short nap.  Christy spruced up our site, making sure our trash bag was tied up properly to avoid raccoon invasion.  We visited the car cemetery and gawked at private homes currently inhabited by Carnegie descendants.  All six of us wanted to see the sunset over the sound, so we regrouped and hiked a trail alongside the calm waters where we saw a replica Timucuan hut and, of course, more armadillos.  Kajal, feeling a little frisky, flashed one of the feral horses that fed just inside the woodline.  He kept right on nibbling at the grass, ignoring Kajal’s efforts.
We settled ourselves on a rock wall near Cumberland’s other public dock further south from where we had disembarked earlier in the day.  The sun began its show, painting the sky a vibrant red-orange.  Clouds streaked through the intensity, smearing the orange with white and grey.  The tide was out, so we walked out on the damp, sandy banks.  Barnacles struggled for breath.  Crabs feasted on tiny creatures.  We left the spectacle for our campsite, losing the light with each step.
Back at Sea Camp, we assembled our kebabs using flashlights to guide us.  Honoring the vegetarians of the group, we cooked the vegetable skewers first.  The roasted onion, pineapple, zucchini, and tomato tasted finer than any meal at a five-star restaurant.  Those of us who were proud carnivores tore into the strips of grilled steak from separate cooking rods.  Since darkness has fallen, we ate by citronella candlelight.  They deterred only a fraction of the mosquitoes.  We sprayed each other’s ankles in between bites.
There was still a little spunk left in us after our savory meal.  Keeping up with yet another tradition in camping on Cumberland, we trotted back out to the beach for an hour of stargazing.  We had to turn off all flashlights and headlamps once on the beach so as not to confuse nesting sea turtles.  The waning moon illuminated the beach enough to see each other’s outlines, yet not enough to recognize faces.  Telling each other apart was based on the sound of our voices.  While reflecting on our day, we noticed three figures coming out of the water toward us.
“Are you in our group?” they shouted, shaking off the salty water.
“We have our whole group,” Christy shouted back, counting our silhouettes.  “Who are you?”
“Oh, crap!” one of the voices exclaimed.  The three of them froze, flinging their hands in an effort to cover their shadowy bodies.  They had been skinny dipping and were looking for the other members of their troupe.  I assumed their missing friends were responsible for bringing the towels.  They had nothing to worry about: it was too dark to see anything important.  Obviously embarrassed, they scuttled back to their pile of clothes near the dunes.  We whooped and slapped our knees.  Who would be crazy enough to swim in the ocean in total darkness--naked?  There are man-of-war jellies in those waters.
We retired to our tent.  Sleep came easy, as it usually does when camping.  We heard raccoons scurrying through our site.  They hissed at one another when they couldn’t reach the strung-up trash bag.  An armadillo followed their trail, keeping to himself and hollowing out the ground searching for grubs.
Our final morning arrived, the sun sending its rays through the branches of the oaks, warming our tent.  It was with heavy hearts that we broke camp, especially with it being so soon after our arrival, but we all had jobs to get home to.
We left the site and headed for the dock, piling our gear near the ranger station.  We blew bubbles while waiting for the ferry.  It was during our wait that we experienced the most notable memory: a manatee and her baby swam up to the dock.  With the manatee having always been my favorite animal, I didn’t hesitate in leaning over the water and rubbing the mother on her snout.  Other campers had gathered on the dock around me.  The manatee spun.  Her baby floated nearby.  Children told their mommies they wanted to pet the manatee, too.  Janaki took pictures and a video, realizing just how meaningful the encounter was to me.
I focused on the perfection of the moment.  I was petting my favorite animal in one of my most beloved travel destinations with my closest girlfriends in my company.  It was beyond surreal.  A ranger shooed us away and made us wait at the station for the ferry.  She said something about petting manatees being wrong, but I wasn’t listening.  I pulled my butterfly tiara out of my backpack and crowned myself for the last time as a bachelorette.

Pictures from this very trip are below!
Llewelyn, me, Christy, Janaki, EmLem, and Kajal.  How blessed I am to have such amazing friends who will camp with me for a bachelorette weekend.

Black-eyed Susans on the St. Marys River.

Christy, me, and Kajal after they attacked me with the Wal-Mart duds.

Our bartender who referred to us as "Baby Chicks".  She loved us by the end of the night.

Christy, EmLem, and me couldn't be serious for more than 3 seconds.

My RA shirt from GHP that I had personalized with my future last name.

Llewelyn taking pictures at the ruins in the garden area of Dungeness.

Janaki and Christy lugging firewood back to the campsite after a long hike.

Janaki and EmLem relaxing on the ranger's front porch, waiting for the sun to set.

The girls on the river side of the island.  Tide's out and the sun is going down.

Me, Janaki, Kajal, Christy, Llewelyn, and EmLem after we broke camp.  Time to catch the ferry.

Janaki and Kajal carried the one bag of trash we made during our stay.  Thankfully, raccoons didn't get into it.

Most incredible memory: petting a manatee in the river before the ferry arrived.

Maybe tiaras are a no-no in camping, but it was integral in making this particular weekend one we'll never forget.

27 December 2010

Fertility Drugs: Round Three

My new secret weapon in the war against crappy ovulation.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I had taken roughly 30-40 shots of our Christmas tree all lit up at night with my favorite camera and wanted to choose one for today's post to wish everyone a very happy Christmas.  Somehow, all of those pictures deleted from our computer after being loaded onto iPhoto (along with all the pictures I took at my 5th grade team Christmas party).  I'm nearly in tears!

I pulled the one picture I took with my iPhone to post here today.  It's a little grainy and not terribly colorful, but this Christmas tree is my favorite one out of all the Christmases I've celebrated.  Michael, Mojo, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and wish you the best in the new year to come!

23 December 2010

What is "Baby Dust", and Do I Even Want It?

If someone had told me just a few years ago that my cell phone would play a part in the whole TTC equation, I would have laughed in their face.  I would have laughed even harder if that same someone had said my phone would be of the Apple family.  Yes.  I am a recovering all-things-Apple hater.  The road to recovery started when Michael bought an iPod over a year ago.  I couldn't be left in the dust, nor could I stand having to find conversion software for my piece of crap MP3 player.  I decided to jump on board.  Two iPods, an iMac, and an iPhone later, I'm not sipping on the Hater-ade anymore.  With the purchase of my iPhone, not only was I going to have access to my email account that is otherwise firewalled at my job, I was to be immersed in a whole new world of apps and other technological advances.

I soon discovered an amazing free app called "iPeriod" (for the doubters, check it out HERE) that has been a godsend in keeping all of our fertility and monthly cycle data organized.  I had tried for months to keep up with organizing the very same data on a somewhat chic pocket-sized calendar I purchased from Wal-Mart for less than $5.  It was easy coming up with general symbols for things like days on my period (those are days you want to forget, so they got a very angry slash mark) or abdominal pain (marked with a simple "AP").  Trying to come up with new and significant symbols for each sign and symptom because rather tedious, especially with my lack of creativity.  Were the smiley faces for days Michael and I had husband-wife time?  Or were they for the days I was in a good mood?  And what about days marked with an "S"?  Did it stand for "spotting" or "shitty attitude" or "spitting nails"?  On top of my inability to keep up with my own symbols, I began writing in notes on major gardening events: "fertilized yard" and "put epsom salt on tomatoes".  Not that I would confuse our fertility with the yard's.  I just needed something separate and user-friendly.

The software for the app calculates when I (apparently) ovulate, and it allows me to enter my own data, like when I have blood drawn or when we have a "love connection".  Its startup page tells you which day of your cycle you're on (so you know if you're late).  The app even assigns a unique symbol and varying colors for each event marked on your calendar, which makes it a perfect fit for my OCD personality.  My only complaint is that it plagues your iPhone screen with its glowing pink dot.  Yet, you do have the choice of renaming it "iP" should someone get their hands on your device and you would rather them not know that this app is for keeping track of your feminine phenomena.

Now that I've gone around my ass to get to my elbow, the point of this whole entry is drawing closer...

One of the latest updates on the app is a feature tabbed on its menu as "Forum".  It's a message board center with a multitude of categories where women using the same app can converse with each other.  Naturally, I was drawn to the "TTC" category where I could read and share messages with others trying to get pregnant.  Everyone seemed responsive and encouraging enough to warrant an actual post from me, so I took a shot.  In my message, I introduced myself, mentioned how we had been trying for over a year, and how we were experiencing new steps in the process--fertility meds, monthly blood tests, etc.  Almost immediately, an Australian woman with 3 children posted back a brief summary of how she went through the same thing with her first child.  Nothing profound, but what she signed off with had me tugging at my chin:

"Wishing you lots of baby dust!"

What the?  Huh?  Sure, my schema for all things positive clued me in that her comment was meant to be supportive and hopeful, even though I didn't know her from Adam.  Yet, I couldn't help but let my mind associate cockamamie images with her powdery positivity.

For example, remember when someone would ask you: "If olive oil is made from squeezed olives, and corn oil is made from squeezed corn, what's baby oil squeezed from?"  Even though you didn't want to, you couldn't help but imagine babies being squeezed until they oozed their therapeutic juices out of their fingertips or elbows.  Then it would be funneled into a clear Johnson & Johnson bottle.  The babies, of course, were never injured in your imaginary baby-squeezing factory.  They were given back to their mothers after their job was done, and they would sleep a little better knowing they were contributing to the healing of chaffed and irritated skin.

So upon seeing the "baby dust" statement, I was propelled into my own version Jack Handy's "Deep Thoughts".  Is baby dust available in stores?  Would it be found in the baby aisle at Publix?  Or is it sold on the street with other varieties of dust, like "angel" and "fairy"?  And most importantly, what is it made from?

If this stuff were actually bottled and sold, I would like to imagine it as being crushed up baby aspirin (to help with the pains of infertility) mixed in with some fine-smelling talcum and a little glitter.  The color glitter would be dependent upon what sex baby you hoped to have.  Application method?  Blown from the palm of a fertility fairy.  Duh.

The fertility fairy?  She would be a cross between this very cute cartoony fairy:

And this human one (but not as strung-out looking):

What outlandish or bizarre image popped up in your mind when you first read the words "baby dust"?  I can't possibly be the only one who put a picture to the idea.

I naturally wasn't satisfied with only my quirky thoughts on this topic.  I just had to Google "baby dust" to see what other crazy images and webpages I could discover.  Sure enough, I found this website, chock-full of free samples (of baby products, not the dust…), blog blinkies, and random pregnancy websites.  Like I want something like this flashing across my blog's main page:

But not all websites with "baby dust" in the title were all that obnoxious.  I found another woman's blog that focuses solely on her journey through infertility.  It's called "The Baby Dust Diaries".  She's smart, eloquent, and devoted to her readers.  Best of all, she's realistic and honest as is evident in her "About Me" page.

OK, now I've left my elbow to get back to my ass via the mole on my left shoulder, so let's close this one…

Since I bought the iPhone, it led me to download the iPeriod app, which led me to posting on the forum's message board, which elicited a response from a stranger wishing me "lots of baby dust", which gave me the topic to post on my blog.

Merry Christmas, friends!  Thanks for your continued support!

19 December 2010

18 Months TTC…and It Hasn't Killed Me...

The 20th of this month will mark a year and a half since Michael and I started trying to conceive.  In that amount of time, we have gone from "Let nature take its course" to "How many rounds of Clomid am I allowed to take?"  The latest news: my NP called Friday to let me know my progesterone level actually DROPPED this last month to a 6.4.  That's not supposed to happen when you're on Clomid.  But it did happen and now we have to face another "next step".  That step will be to start a more moderate dose of the fertility drug called Femara (yes, the one I recently blogged about that makes me a little apprehensive).  As for a silver lining, though, they are going to finally test my androgen levels to see if they are playing a villainous role.  They could very well be the culprit.  They could also be ruled out.  Either way, we'll have yet another much-desired answer.

I began using writing as an outlet for my frustration through this blog starting back in January as I timidly crossed the threshold of fertility testing.  Since then, my stress levels have greatly tapered and I continue to seek refuge through writing (plus an occasional yoga class).  That's not to say there aren't days where these 18 months haven't felt like an eternity, especially since I actually started to pay attention to the number of women who have since had a baby or are now pregnant.  It's at least 15 women whom I personally know, and three of those were added to the list in the last week.  I have to admit it's difficult to watch others grow babies in their bellies as my womb refuses to accept deliveries from my fallopian tubes.  Yet it doesn't diminish my hopes for our future parenthood.  I won't lie: news of a friend's pregnancy or new little bundle affects me the way a slap to the face would.  It's painful, but it's not experienced for long and the initial sting soon dissipates.  Then I put on my big girl panties and get over myself.  Just like my friends have been our cheerleaders during our struggle, I will be their cheerleader during their time of sheer exhilaration.

This road has been a winding, and often confusing, one, but there are a few things I have learned along the way.

  • First: you're never alone.  I have encountered so many wonderful women and their loving husbands who are either in the boat with me or were once on it.  It has reunited me with old friends, brought about new ones, and deepened relationships with those whom I knew only somewhat.  You feel a lot less lonely when someone understands what it's like to pee your 30th negative sign or when you want to punch a wall when you see a pregnant 14-year-old.  Plus, I have a pretty awesome husband who has walked beside me since day one.
  • Second: you'll get advice (even though you won't always want it).  Those who have been there already are the experts, and they will offer a nugget whenever they see fit.  Some of it is useful, like when I needed to know what to expect when starting Clomid or what brand of pregnancy test works the best.  But then I've also been told to do things like drink cough syrup, to relax/not think about our situation (like that's easy), to have sex all the time, to prop up on pillows, to stand on my head.  *sigh*  I know folks are trying to help, but sometimes I would rather dig my eardrums out of my head with the broken end of a plastic spoon before getting pregnancy advice involving positions and sperm gravity.
  • Third: the longer you go without getting knocked up, the more your peers start to tiptoe around the subject.  They don't mean to treat you like a fledging with a broken wing, but it happens.  They wait longer to tell their pregnancy news or they give you those poor-little-infertile-girl pats on the back.  They might even tell you, "I just know it's going to happen for you.  You'll see."  Let's be realistic!  Life still marches on even if my eggs don't.  Only God knows if I'll ever be pregnant, and I have to accept the fact that it may not happen.  No one wants to walk on eggshells, and I most certainly don't want to be the reason someone else does.  Save the sympathy cards for those who are grieving or stuck in a bed in ICU.  There are worse things than infertility.  I'm a realist.  Join me!
  • Fourth: stress plays a HUGE role.  Remember when I didn't have a period for 130 days?  That was after I had been transferred to a new school, sentenced to a year of teaching in a trailer (where it rained every other day and the heat/AC only sometimes worked), and was forced to deal with matters involving custody battles and other miscellaneous Jerry Springer-esque drama.  It's a wonder my ovaries didn't throw up a white flag and shrivel up on the spot!  Now that I'm in the main school building with a great group of kids and parents, as well as a team of teachers that are my family when my actual family isn't around, I've had as close to a regular cycle than I've ever experienced off birth control.  And yoga helps, too!

So, despite the setbacks and moments wondering if Michael and I will ever conceive, I'm still alive…and kickin', for that matter.  I remember thinking at one time that the worst news I could ever receive would be that I was not able to get pregnant or carry a child.  As much as I would be traumatized by such a blow, I am confident to say that I no longer feel that way.  It would be much more painful to be told I was not allowed near children or not qualified to adopt a child should getting pregnant not be in the cards.  The ultimate goal is to become a parent. Ever since I my diagnosis of endometriosis at the age of 20, I foresaw a future of fertility issues.  Maybe our situation is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Maybe it's a test of our determination toward a very meaningful goal.  Maybe it's merely a test of our patience.  Until I have a baby that I'm allowed to take home as my own, I will keep dreaming about and praying for one.

Dreaming of storks and butterball babies.

30 November 2010

Stereotype Alert! My Indian Name Should be "Pees On Sticks"

If it wasn't harrowing enough to have to commit urine to a couple of pregnancy tests each month (for the last 18 or so) while crossing my fingers for a positive result, now I'm doing it on a daily basis with OPKs--ovulation predictor kits.  At first glance, they look just like your standard pregnancy tests with their slender white sheaths and pastel plastic caps.  Yet they are unique in that instead of measuring for HCG (human chorionic gonadrotopin) to indicate pregnancy, OPKs test for LH (Luteinizing Hormone), the hormone that indicates that your ovaries finally came to their senses and spat out a much-needed egg.

I started using an OPK after news came down the pipeline from my NP.  She disappointedly told me that I had not ovulated by the time they took my last blood sample, which led me to believe that I was incapable of ovulation.  This, of course, didn't make sense because I was being sentenced to the torture chamber that is also known as my period, and you can't go through that kind of hell unless you ovulate beforehand.  Scratching my head, I asked the NP to explain the test results in greater detail.  Her conclusion was not that I wasn't ovulating but rather that I was ovulating later in my cycle as compared to other women.  She suggested I try another month of Clomid at the same dosage,  but she would test for my progesterone levels later in my cycle than she did during the last two.  In the meantime, the goal of the OPKs would be to pinpoint ovulation before any such blood tests so I would know when to woo my husband to our bedchamber.  Like a man needs wooing…

It took trips to a couple of different stores to find an OPK that wasn't under the pharmacy's lock and key  alongside the condoms and nicotine patches.  I mean, come on--if I was in need of condoms, I wouldn't need the dang kit.  Kroger ended up being the winner.  No keys or special permission for their kits, though I did opt for the store-brand.  The pharmacist swiped my Kroger card and charged me $15.88 for the blue box with a picture of a smiling baby.  Maybe it's just me, but the picture just adds insult to injury.

So on Day 10 of my cycle, I began my very first ovulation kit.  Pee.  Cap the test.  Wait.  Stare.  Screw watched pots and all that mess.  I wanted to know if the variable (being my hormones…or lack thereof) would create a darker pink band than the control band.  A darker pink band would mean ovulatory success.  Watching the urine wick across the test window reminded me of the thin layer chromatography trials from my high school science fair project.  Even though I wasn't trying to measure the retention factor of colors components on a chromatography slide, I was waiting for those pink bands to give me an answer.  After 3 agonizing minutes and practically going cross-eyed, the variable showed up lighter than the control band.  The insert told me that means the test was negative.  No LH.  No ovulation.  I used a Sharpie to document the event on the sheath.  Day 10 -

And no LH for the next 5 days…

This morning, with only 2 tests left from my kit, I was starting to lose hope.  Was I going to fail my first ovulation kit?  Would I have to go out and plunk down $15.88 for another blue box with the baby mocking me?

Pee.  Cap the test.  Wait.  Stare.  Blink.  Holy crap, is that variable showing up darker than the control?  Wait again.  Look away.  Look back.  Affirmative.  The variable IS darker.

With my Sharpie, I documented my first plus sign: Day 15 +

My first ovulation kit, all lined up in a row.  Ovulation has been confirmed.

21 November 2010

What Teachers Really Want for Christmas (Aside from Motivated Students and Job Security)

Each year during my childhood, my mom's family would gather on or around Christmas at my grandparents' house.  My uncle (a music director in a private school) would bring a large box of gifts he had received from dozens of students.  He did this in hopes of pawning them off to my brother and me.  We thought we had hit the jackpot; a second Christmas, of sorts, since the gifts ranged from homemade muffins to Godiva chocolates to musical ornaments.  It never made sense why my uncle would voluntarily part with such treasures.  Looking back with keen teacher eyes, I finally see my uncle's annual holiday dilemma: keep and eat all gifts received whilst combatting indigestion and having a little less closet space than last year, or use what can be used and part with the unnecessary.

Maybe it seems a little cruel that a teacher would give up a gift from a student, but there is only so much room for "World's Best Teacher" coffee mugs in our kitchen cabinets.  Speaking from experience, they don't get used for coffee so much as pencil holders or a change jar.  Needless to say, I get excited when a parent asks me what I would want as a gift at Christmas.  It's an opportunity to reveal what teachers really desire.

"Oooh, Lysol wipes would be great!  Maybe some markers and crayons.  Really any classroom items would be awesome."
"But Mrs. Wynne, don't you want something more, well, special?  It's Christmas, after all."

Well, truth be told (and maybe we're dorks for it), teachers find the replenishment of school supplies pretty darn special.  When the economy tanked, so did our budgets for such supplies.  Whether a gift shows up somewhere during the holidays or as one of those "just because" donations, teachers are tickled pink over shiny new boxes of Crayolas or handed-down chapter books from the local Goodwill.

So if you're a parent, guardian, or mentor of a student and you find yourself wondering what kind of gift your child's teacher would want, here are some suggestions and general guidelines to help ease that gift-giving stress.

General parameters:
  • Never, EVER spend a ton of money on a gift!  There is no reason why the dollars spent on a teacher gift should come before paying the bills or buying groceries.  We would rather do without a gift if it would only cause a financial burden.
  • If gift-giving just isn't your thing, but you really want to show your child's teacher you appreciate their hard work, volunteer in the classroom or offer to participate in your school's mentor program.
  • If Christmas is a holiday your family doesn't celebrate, don't feel obligated to buy a gift simply because the teacher celebrates it.
  • Check to see if your school displays teachers' "wish lists" in a common area or via newsletter.  You can also check with the PTA/PTO.  They might offer a few ideas.
School-related gifts we LOVE!
  • sticky notes (in all colors, shapes, and sizes)
  • markers and highlighters
  • grading pens
  • paper (notebook, copy, or construction)
  • stamps and ink pads
  • disinfecting wipes
  • tissues
  • individually-wrapped candy
  • crayons
  • subscription to an educational magazine for students
  • used books for classroom library
  • craft sticks
  • paints
  • magnets
  • playground equipment (soccer ball, basketball, jump rope)
  • sidewalk chalk
If you insist on non-school items, here are a few:
  • stationery or blank notecards
  • coffee or tea
  • gift cards (which we will most likely spend on our classroom)
  • "niche" gifts (e.g.--if the teacher has an affinity for turtles, the gift could be a turtle ornament or turtle candies)
  • picture frames
Gifts to avoid…
  • the aforementioned coffee mugs
  • candles (we get more of these than coffee mugs…and they're always apple scented…)
  • homemade foods (not because we don't like them…there are just too many poisoning incidents you hear about with these)
  • stuffed animals
  • clothing
Hopefully, this will assist parents who are ready to attack the Black Friday sales in hopes of nabbing a quick teacher gift after all the family shopping is done.  Beyond the palpable gifts, though, one we love more than any other is a verbal "thank you" from student or parent.  We always appreciate any kind gesture made by the family of our pupils, and your acknowledgement of our dedication to our passion is one that makes it all worth while.

16 November 2010

Round One: Epic Fail

Day 32 of this dang cycle.  No plus signs.  No period.  Ugh.

My NP called last Friday with my latest progesterone level results.  Since it was the first prog test while on a round of fertility-boosting meds, the NP's obscure voicemail led me to assume she was saving the good news for conversation.  Would my levels be better than before?  Would they fall somewhere near the top of the hormone bell curve?

Sadly, I was a couple of standard deviations to the left...

Not only did the Clomid not do its job, my progesterone levels were EXACTLY the same as they were before.  7.8.  What does that mean?  It means I didn't ovulate with medical intervention.  They tried to jump-start my finite number of follicles, and they refused to crank.

Therefore: epic fail.

So back to the drawing board we went, the NP and I.  She was shocked the Clomid had no effect on my ovaries.  Her suggestion was to use a higher dosage of the same medication should my period start on time (as in 2 days ago) or try another type of medicinal intervention: Femara.  As a fertility treatment, it would decrease your natural estrogen levels, sending a message to your brain that the necessary hormones for ovulation are incognito.  The brain realizes this is a problem and goes into hyperdrive, trying to tap into all internal hormone reserves for the right ones.  They are then found and are jet-propelled to stimulate the ovaries for egg production.  Sounds like fun, right?

Well, I did a little research on Femara.  This drug was actually created for postmenopausal women who are battling breast cancer since estrogen can lead to the development or recurrence of breast cancer.  Novartis, the company who created the drug, released a statement back in 2005 stating that women shouldn't take this drug as a fertility treatment because it could lead to birth defects, the thinning of the uterine lining (which can inhibit pregnancy), or loss of pregnancy.  I'm confused…how is this a "good suggestion" for a woman who is walking the path toward motherhood?

Assessing, reassessing, praying, cursing, blogging…  We have now entered the "Poof! There Goes the Baby-Making Magic" phase where babies don't just come from special hugs their mommies and daddies share.  Babies now are going to come from orange pill bottles and calendars and "we have to do it tonight because I'm ovulating."  Double ugh.

Here's to hoping we can bump up the Clomid dosage for Round Two.  The whole idea of Femara has me feeling a little jittery.  I'll just have to suffer through a few days of an upset stomach and try to ignore the oppressiveness of calendar-checking if we do another round of Clomid.

Here is where I will leave it tonight, with an affirmation I will use on this journey:

I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door--or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.                     - Rabindranath Tagore

07 November 2010

Recipe: Hash Brown Quiche

I found this recipe in one of the Kroger coupon flyers that shows up in our mailbox every so often.  Problem is, I almost never follow a recipe exactly.  I might add a little extra of the ingredients we fancy or replace an objectionable ingredient with one we prefer.  As a result, the recipe' originality is only somewhat recognizable, but the quality of the dish is always to our liking.  So while I am sharing a recipe with you that I highly recommend you try, please be aware it's a loose adaptation on the original.

31 October 2010

Michael, the Serious Comic Husband

There are many reasons a wife loves her husband.  His handsome smile entices her from the instant they meet.  His charm woos individuals beyond just her.  His drive and ambition bring her a sense of security.  His ability to change a tire and squash bugs reminds her that he is there to rescue his damsel from terrible distress.  Even his annoying habits make her smile because they are the essence of his identity.

The reasons I adore Michael are abundant.  I wouldn't have walked down the aisle and promised him the days when I'm wrinkly and grey-headed if his qualities didn't mean something to me.  Out of all the things that impress me about him,  there is one quality I have always admired about my better half: knowing exactly what to say with complete honesty.

Now with that said, honesty doesn't always mean "without comedic value".  Michael is the clown of the two of us, using his humor simply to get a rise out of me in just about any situation.

When talking about proposals: "Wouldn't it be funny if I bought your engagement ring at the flea market?"
When discussing why he should always wear his seat belt: "But Baby, you know I'm worth more dead than alive!"
When telling him I wanted a vacuum for my birthday: "I love how you can't help being square."

The humor tends to catch me off guard, Michael knowing full well that his responses (although genuine) are not what "normal" people would say.  Blinking, stunned, and lacking quick wit to match, I am without ammunition to strike back.

On rare occasion, Michael knows when to use words of a more serious nature.  He offers reassurance when I'm tense or feeling broken.  He is completely supportive of my goals and even the tiniest of successes.  With our current situation in trying to conceive, he has peppered our conversations with jokes and innuendos.  Yet, I know he's right there with me, enduring the stresses of the we-didn't-know-getting-pregnant-could-be-so-hard process.

From the years of occasionally hearing very serious words from Michael, there is one that thing he said just yesterday that has me wanting to catch his words and lock them in a pretty little wooden box so that I might open it on one of those rainy days for a little pick-me-up:

"You know, I've always said I wanted kids because it would be nice to have someone to teach and share what you know with, yadda yadda.  But now, it's more than that.  I feel like something's missing.  Kids are what we're missing."

This branched off from our dinner-date conversation about politics, bills, and stupid people repopulating the planet.  Not wanting to ruin the moment with overly sentimental or typical female emotion that would force Michael to shroud his serious side in comedy, I verbally agreed and let him continue to lead the conversation.  His words, albeit silly with his "yadda yaddas", were perfect morsels that, if they were actually dark chocolate candies, I would have devoured every one.

Yes, wives have many reasons to love their husbands.  Mine just gave me another reason to love him.

24 October 2010

Fertility Drugs: Round One

After feeling like an ovulation failure, I had to make a decision: to start hormones, or give nature a little more time. I discussed it with my NP, thinking (or more so "hoping") she would encourage me to give nature a couple more months before making my internal reproductive organs dependent upon drugs.  After all, I had explained to her my desire to take teeny, tiny steps in this process, not wanting to feel like I jumped from nature to needle just to guarantee the chance at pregnancy.  At the end of our last phone conversation, she said she wanted to start Clomid (click here for drug info) on the 5th day of my next menstrual cycle.  I wouldn't have to come in for another test beforehand, but I would have to have more blood drawn later to test my progesterone levels again.


Since I started openly blogging and discussing our fertility situation, I have come across several women--friends, co-workers, even my yoga instructor--who have been through the same series of TTC events, but they tried for far longer than we have.  Some have been through far more traumatic TTC experiences, such as months of expensive hormone shots or multiple miscarriages.  While it's comforting to know we are far from alone in our situation, we haven't even had so much as a "pregnancy scare".  Michael and I committed to attempting parenthood roughly 16 months ago.  To compare it to the women who struggled with fertility for 3 or more years, I feel like we threw in the towel too early.  Maybe it's absurd--well, probably altogether senseless--to feel this way, but it's one I'm having difficulty shaking.

With all that said, I made the phone call.  They phoned in the prescription.  I picked it up from Kroger.  I waited until the 5th day to pop the first one.  Now I'm on my last pill for this cycle.  Sure, it has caused a couple of minor side effects (upset stomach, small mood swings),  but all the pep talks and pats on the back still leave me feeling like I should have waited just a little while longer.

Why does she torture herself with these thoughts? you might ask.  Isn't the whole point of all this to get pregnant?  Yes, of course it is.  But is it so wrong to wish that your body could do it on its own?  Shoot, Michael and I take medications so rarely, they end up expiring before we can empty their bottles.  Especially Michael…he has been sick ONCE since we met nearly 9 years ago.  I take cough syrup when I have a cold or pack Tylenol PM in my purse to help me sleep on a long flight, but we are rarely dependent on meds unless we feel they are absolutely necessary.  Even with my proneness to my "pulling a Vikki" accidents that end with a hole in my foot or a cut in my finger, I can't even finish a tube of Neosporin before it's out of date.  Antibiotics for a chest infection?  That's needed.  Hyomax for unbearable intestinal spasms?  Sure, if I want to keep my food down!  Have I reached the "point of needing medicinal intervention" in this fertility journey?  I just can't decide.

In the words of one of my friends from one of our back-and-forth Facebook messages: "Who knew getting pregnant could be so difficult?"
I certainly didn't know.  It seems so easy for many women I encounter on a daily basis: women with 6 kids under the age of 5, women who aren't in committed relationships, women who weren't trying, women who never wanted babies to begin with.

What I need to remember, though, is this: if there is the worry, the agonizing decision-making, the multiple doctor visits, the bonding with others in the same boat, the side effects of drugs you didn't want to take in the first place now…it will certainly be worth all the efforts when there is a healthy baby for Michael and me to call our own.

End of Round 1.  Ding.

11 October 2010

Finally! An Answer--In Its Own Way

This one will be short, but bittersweet…

I got a call from the lab tech at the doc's office today with the results of my progesterone test.  The message left said my progesterone level is 7.8, which is low.  A 12-20 is considered "normal", 9-10 is "borderline", and where I am, my levels are definitely "below level".  This means that I was not ovulating, nor had I ovulated, when they took my sample last Friday.  So while this is a bummer hormone-wise, it's an answer to the "why the heck can't my ovaries pop out a damn egg?" question.

The NP wasn't in the office to discuss next steps with me, but I assume they'll finally wise up and want to do a testosterone test.  The fact that they failed to ask questions regarding signs and symptoms of potentially higher-than-normal testosterone levels leaves me a bit unsettled.  What else aren't they asking me?  What other health information do I need to have ready for them to crack this fertility code?  My voice isn't going to drop an octave, nor do I foresee a situation where I have to warn my peers, "You don't want to make me angry!" moments before plowing gigantic hairy fists through the side of a house.  But heck, when fertility, pregnancy, and babies are your business, isn't there a check-off list for newbies like myself?

Anyway, back to teacher/wife/pet parent/yoga student reality.  Thanks to everyone out there who takes the time to keep up with these updates.  Rock on.

26 September 2010

Just Another Pin Prick

Thinking that everything would move swiftly in the right direction by switching to a new doctor--and one that specializes in fertility-relalted issues--was probably a little dumb on my part.  The last doc had the personality of a wet rag, so I figured that switching to a new hand-picked doc would be a step in the right direction.  As of Thursday afternoon, I'm left wondering if I made the right decision.

The second-guessing began when I showed up for my first appointment just a few weeks ago.  I took a half-day from work to allow for travel time to Athens.  I ended up being very early, but my teacher bag full of papers to grade kept me company.  Since I was a new patient, the receptionist had asked for my insurance card and ID.  Over the years, I have discovered that if you stand by the sliding glass doors while they complete this task, they usually ask you to have a seat.  Then the moment your butt hits a chair, you're being called back to retrieve your plastic.  I bee-lined for the waiting room's plush off-white sofa, but was slow to get too comfortable.  A minute passed.  Then another.  When the receptionist hadn't called me back to the window within the first 5 minutes of my rear making contact with the sofa, I whipped out a stack of papers and commenced checking student work.  I had marked scores across roughly 12 math quizzes before the receptionist finally walked my cards to me.  That's right--she walked them to me instead of calling me over to get them myself.  The corners of her mouth were turned down and her eyes averted my gaze.  Her chin was tucked low.  She rubbed her fingers across the back of my driver's license, searching for an appropriate delivery of obviously bad news.  It was as if she were preparing herself to reveal that my dog had died.  Her deliberate movements from the door to the spot beside me on the couch made my stomach do a flip.  What could she possibly have to tell me?

"Victoria, we know your medical records arrived from your former clinic," she began, "but we can't seem to get our hands on them.  I remember seeing them, and I know I've handled them recently, but we must have accidentally put them in someone else's file."

I tried to digest what she had just admitted.  Do I blow my stack because yet another item on the lengthy list of what-else-could-possibly-go-wrong?  Or do I take a deep breath and realize it's a minor issue as compared to 130-day stints between periods?

Hmmmm…I definitely should go with the latter.

"Look, it's just paperwork.  It's not the end of the world."

"Not the response I was expecting," she exhaled, "but I'll take it!"  She went on to explain that I would have to answer a slew of questions for the nurse practitioner I was to see for this visit that would have been in my file.  My response reassured her that was fine with me.  And since getting their hands on my records required asking for them a second time from the old office, she promised to make the phone call and pay for the transfer fee.  That was acceptable to me.

I finally met with the nurse practitioner, who hurled all kinds of questions my way: family history, list of current meds and vitamins, stress levels, past surgeries, levels of physical activity.  Nothing was difficult to answer, but it was time-consuming.  It was all questions and no physical examination.  They didn't even check my BP or weight.

The NP then had me explain my concerns in getting pregnant.  I went over cycle lengths and negative pregnancy tests from the last 15 months.  Shocked at the extreme irregularity I have endured, she suggested a couple of possibilities.  First, she said it could be  a hormone imbalance, which would cause oligomenorrhea (having only 4-9 periods a year).  Yep, that sounds about right.  Second, she felt I may be experiencing difficulties with conception due to being underweight.  This was based on her visual head-to-toe assessment of my five-foot-four-inch frame.  A very real concern, yes, but I told her I eat 5-7 times a day and burn through every calorie I consume.  So we went back to the hormone idea.

She suggested I come in for a hormone test to be taken via blood sample on the 3rd day of my next period.  According to the NP, my last doc should not have tested my hormone levels in the midst of a menstrual desert, as he did back in December.  (Add that one to the list).  Estrogen and other hormones peak early in menstruation, so testing on the 3rd day would give a more accurate reading.  I told her I would call when I started my next period so I could schedule an appointment to have blood drawn, and she said she would call me once my medical records showed up--for the second time--at their office.

(Which just means I'm downstairs getting a snack, so go make a bag of popcorn!  There's a bit more to plow through…)

So I go back to the new doctor's office on the third day of my cycle.  The receptionist is also a registered nurse, so she happens to be the one who takes my blood sample.  She and I make small talk, mostly about the mysteriously disappearing medical file.  We share a laugh about it, and she openly admits she was afraid I would be "one of those" patients who would blow her stack over their lack of organization.

Sure am glad I didn't.  She was now the one sticking the needle in my arm.

I'm tremendously queasy around blood--even my own--so this isn't just another pin prick to me.  It's another internal battle of mind over matter, another moment of, "Holy crap, they are bottling my life juice into a see-through tube!"  With my eyes turned toward the lab room clock and focusing my physical sensations on the fist I have squeezed, I recited silent mantras: I must do this for a medical answer.  I must do this if Michael and I want a baby...

Strap removed and tube of plasma out of my sight, the promise is a phone call with the results a week later.  A phone call was a welcomed form of sharing test results.  No more plain copy paper that merely stated: THYROID NORMAL.  This had me thinking about chunking that list.

Then the phone call came while I was at work, so the NP left a voicemail:

"Victoria, everything looks normal.  Your estrogen levels are good, but give me a call when you get this so we can discuss a gameplan."

I ran to the classroom next door to talk about it with my teammate, Tamela.  Having grown close to her since I had been recruited to teach 5th grade, she had let me bend her ear about my uncertain fertility.  "They said everything was normal," I started.  "I should be happy, so why so I feel let down?"

"Well, you thought you would get an answer so that you might have the chance to fix it," she responded.  "It just ended up being anticlimactic."  She is like the voice inside my head that I never hear: it's to the point, but abounding with sagacity.

I called the NP back once I got home the same afternoon.  She repeated the same idea of how all hormonal levels were normal and that she wanted to do a progesterone level check at the end of my cycle.  Now, she said "all hormone levels".  I had assumed she checked my testosterone levels, but I asked her anyway.

"What about my testosterone?  Was that normal, too?"

"We don't test for that on the first run.  That's for patients when there is suspicion the PCOS might be the culprit.  You don't seem to have any of the signs anyway, like facial hair, acne, sweating…"

"Ummm, actually, I do."  Someone bring that damn list back!  "I have been getting laser hair removal for the last 2 years, I break out with every period, and I sweat like a sumo wrestler in a sauna.  That one didn't start until I went off birth control!"

"Oh, I guess I forget to ask about things like laser hair removal," the NP scrambled.  "I should know to ask since you can't always see those things.  Well, let's go ahead and order that progesterone level test and we can gauge from those test results if we should check your testosterone levels."

I calmly scheduled yet another test, thanked her for all of her help and hung up.  I was ticked, but I didn't want to have to go through switching doctors and starting new tests all over again.  My hope is that this will be where the oversights end.  So I will endure a few more pin pricks and other miscellaneous testing, and maybe soon we will be seeing a little blue plus sign.

Here's my laugh for the day!

28 August 2010

Parents Wear the Darndest Things

Every parent and teacher has to face it at least twice a year: conferences.  Cue the horror movie music.

During my first year as a certified 3rd grade teacher, I spent a lot of time worrying over how conducive my classroom  environment was to learning and how to present grades and portfolios to parents when it came time.  Yet, when the week of conferences finally did roll around, I found myself worrying about things like my breath being fresh enough and if the crease in my pants had been ironed.

We were given 3 half-days of school to squeeze in every parent, as we aimed for 100% participation.  Most of my conferences went by like the breeze.  Parents were showing up on time, all grades and student work was reviewed, questions were answered, parents walked away happy and powerful with new information.  It was seemingly successful.

Then a parent of a child with special needs showed up.  Now, I'm not talking the kind of special needs I had seen in the classroom where I spent the previous two years as a teaching assistant.  It was a classroom where you experienced students from all over the spectrum of needs: autism, SDD, EBD, ADHD, medicated, speech or hearing impaired, seizures.  Those were the children who when they learned to tie their shoe or cut a straight line, we as teachers came together to hug and cry tears of joy because our babies had been damned determined to work at such tasks until they succeeded.

The child whose mother was now entering my classroom was one who wouldn't know what a day at school was if it tapped him on the shoulder and screamed "booga, booga" in his face.  It's probably the closest I'll come to encountering one of those ferrel children you read about in psychology books.  His pinball-machine energy couldn't be matched by 10 teachers hyped up on espressos and Red Bull.  If you tried to correct his behavior, say, when he pushed a little girl down at recess, his eyes would widen with lunacy, his face inch toward yours, and he would run off laughing.  Then you would lose 10-15 minutes trying to chase him down or paging the office to send someone running after him.  It was enough to make any teacher an alcoholic or chain smoker.

First impressions say a thousand words about a parent upon meeting them, but I had met with this mother once before and my guess for her "appearance" could be that she had instantly grown comfortable with me.  Her hair was slicked straight up into a ponytail that exploded with uncombed curls beyond a worn rubber-band.  She was curvy where a woman should be, but little had been left to the imagination with the lack in length of her white denim shorts.  The most remarkable part of her ensemble was the light pink baby-tee that featured the words, "I'M THE ONE YOUR PARENTS WANRED YOU ABOUT" and a laughing monkey standing next to the "I'M."  I've met with parents who haven't had the chance to apply make-up or find a shirt that covered a tattoo, but this outfit was a statement.  What other shirts had she passed off as not good enough to wear to a meeting with her child's teacher before choosing this one?

In my mind, I tried to give the woman the benefit of the doubt.  Could it be that she had awoken just moments before she had to be at the school and this was the closest thing to her bed?  Maybe it was her equivalent of granny panties on wash day?  But neither would explain why she was wearing 8 different gum ball machine rings on her fingers.  Of course, she could have fallen asleep wearing them.  I began to wonder what I would find if I looked in her purse.  Probably 8 gum ball machine eggs, a tube of watermelon Lip Smackers, and a scratch-off ticket worth $5 she'd won but not redeemed (which would have more than paid for the rings).  To my dismay, she wasn't carrying a purse.

The conference went on like any other, even though this one required a resource teacher who saw the child for a portion of the school day.  We had data to share with the mother about her child's wild behavior and suffering grades, to which she responded with something about how he does the same thing at home and that he's been to the doctor about it.  She even mentioned how he was prescribed medication for hyperactivity.  Medication was something we hadn't been made aware of, and we asked why he hadn't been taking it.  Her explanation fit better than her T-shirt: "I just don't think to give it to him."

Not being able to afford it, I could understand.  Having a work schedule that flip flops between day and night shift that would interfere with dispensing consistency, that would be plausible.  But here I was imagining an evening at home where mom thinks to herself, "My child has been spinning like a whirling dervish for the last six and a half hours..." and then chooses to ignore it.

"We have a clinic here that could help with that," the resource teacher explained to her.  "You could bring in the medication and the nurse could give him his meds at the same time every day."

"That's OK.  I'll try to be better about it," came her answer.  Slap…my…forehead...

No line of logic or explanation of our nurse's credentials was going to make this parent want to bring in a bottle of pills because it wouldn't be a one-time run.  She would have to do it monthly, and it would mean that she would have to relinquish the responsibility.  As much as we want the child to behave at school, it's unreasonable to expect any mother to turn everything over to us.  Even the ones who own vanity tees that answer so many questions about their very own child's conduct.

Soon the conference was over, the vanity tee was out of my eyesight, and I was on to the next parent.  I realize I will always have a challenging parent here or there to face at conference time--the unpunctuals, the no-shows, the cell-phone answerers, the screamers, the wearers of too much perfume, the untrustworthies.  But this job is one that produces memories that are truly good, bad, and dreadfully grotesque, and I have 23 years ahead of me to make more of them.

26 August 2010

Those Who Cannot Bend

I finally did it.  I took a yoga class.

It took me several months of doing Internet research and then talking myself into the idea that yoga was even worth trying…in front of other people.  As much as I want to be fit, I have little confidence engaging in physical activities in the presence of my fellow man.  I wasn't blessed with coordination, balance, or endurance, so visualizing myself in a yoga class conjured up images of me plowing face first into the mat while trying to angle my body into a downward dog.  Not only that, but the idea of trying to stifle body sounds while stretching in a room where the only noise is that of your breathing left me unnerved.  Heck, what if my stomach rumbles or, even worse, I accidentally belch?  My friends can handle the cacophony of my intestinal tract, but would perfect strangers?

Macy, a close friend of mine who is as bendy as a silly straw, used to be my roommate some years back.  She would occasionally pass me one of her yoga DVDs so that I could attempt a pose or two.  Her disclaimer warned that the kind of yoga she was used to would be difficult for a beginner like me, so I should be careful not push myself too far.  I would wait for her to leave for class, run up to my room, close and lock the door, throw on my workout clothes, and pop the DVD into my laptop.  I couldn't risk watching the disc on our TV downstairs for fear a neighbor might drop in for a cup of sugar and find me with my legs tied in a pretzel.  It was an awkward task, trying to learn how to inhale and exhale all over again while attempting to find my ankles and introduce my chest to my thighs.  Macy had been right.  A session of virtual yoga left me feeling like the straight straw of our apartment.

Yet lately I have been under tremendous stress with trying to start a family and deal with a demanding schedule.  Even though the transition from teaching 3rd grade to 5th grade has been a smooth one, I am going home almost every night with lower back pain.  It's probably the result of being on my feet all day in cute shoes.  But hey, I spent all of last year darting through the rain between school building and classroom trailer in my polka-dotted rain boots.  I sacrificed my wardrobe long enough.  My platform wedges and kitten heels were beginning to feel lonely.  Not wanting to pop an Advil or fork out the dough for a masseuse with every twinge of pain, I decided I would try a 6-session run with a yoga studio not far from our home.  They even offered me a teacher discount.  Score.

I figured I would have to fill out paperwork in order to participate in class, so I arrived at the studio a little early.  I was expecting to walk in on a group of tunic-wearing hippies eyeballing the newcomer, obviously interrupting their discussions on existentialism and attempts to read each other's auras.  Instead, a warm wave of sandalwood incense greeted me, as well as a bubbly instructor named Heather.   Her husband, Michael, was the only other person there.  He sat barefoot on their reclaimed church pew against the wall closest to the entrance.

Heather took me on a tour of the studio, which was not much larger than my classroom.  She explained what class would be like and that I was welcome to use their equipment (hooray for use of free materials).  I cut a check and signed on the dotted line promising not to stretch beyond the snapping point.  Then I followed other students to the floor as they began to file in:  an older couple who helped themselves to the mats who found their spot near the mirrors and began breathing; a woman wearing a yellow paisley handkerchief and toting her own mat went straight for a lying-down pose; another woman with cropped grey hair and capris started her stretching in the back of the room.

No one was really that quiet.  Heather checked in with everyone, catching up on old news and asking about their days.  They chatted about church, tennis, and chiropractor visits.  I remained quiet, figuring it would be rude to jump in on strangers' conversations.

The class began with breathing exercises.  We were to breathe in and out, long and focused, with our eyes shut.  I didn't think one could spend 5 full minutes thinking only of your breath, but it was a powerful experience realizing I could shut out my stressors and concentrate on a basic function.

Heather would start us in positions that I didn't understand the names of, but I decided just to follow her lead.  Each instruction sounded something to the effect of, "OK, let's get our bodies into uttuwattayamma, like we usually do before we do a shashasawakka."  The student side of me wanted her to stop and write the spelling of every new word I was learning in grease pencil on the mirror so I could know what I was doing.  It was all Sanskrit to me.

We moved into poses and stretches that worked our intercostals (a part of me I have rarely stretched).  I was new at the whole controlled breathing thing, so I found it difficult to inhale while in certain positions. In fact, a couple of times, I ended up holding my breath while in a pose, which only made holding such positions painful.  I held my own, though, and attempted everything asked of me and was able to hold every pose until Heather said to return to standing.  Flexibility may not be my strength, but I sure as hell was more bendy than the older couple to my right.  Their hips were popping audibly, and they were trying to mask the pain with laughter.

At the end of the class, we all laid down on our mats with all muscles relaxed, closed our eyes, and went back to breathing.  My body had never been so relaxed, and my back pain had mysteriously melted away.  For several moments, I just…was.  Stress, schedules, and time did not exist.  It was simply me and my borrowed yoga mat.

Heather recited several affirmations for us to accept while inhaling the incensed air.  Then came three pings of her bell, which, as unwound as I was, seemed to shake the room and send pulsing sound waves from my arches straight to the crown of my head.

I wiped down my mat with organic cleaner and drove home.  The ride felt freer somehow, even though I knew ungraded papers awaiting my return.  Worrying over yoga had been for naught.  There had been no toppling or face-planting, and my downward dog looked great.



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