Friday, April 30, 2010

six weeks

Until the semester is finished.

When I was a CA (Community Advisor) in college, I remember my Hall Director telling me that you are remembered for how you finish a job. I think she was speaking that as a warning. Middle of the night lock-outs and roommate disputes and puke on the stairs gets old fast. And when a job gets old, it becomes difficult to be gracious.

Last year when I decided to stay home with Claire this year, part of my decision was based on my fear of burning out. Teaching is a sucky job sometimes. I was beginning to wonder if it was my profession or just my job. Was it okay if teaching was just a job? Could I be a good teacher if I didn't martyr myself with loads of nightly grading? In college I took an English methods class with a woman who equated teaching with becoming a nun: both require total devotion. I remember a couple of the other students nodding in agreement. I wondered what I'd gotten into.

The first couple of years teaching were terrible. Every day is trial and error. At my first district, I taught a student in my junior/senior class who was only two years younger than me; the freshmen were near intolerable and the only reason I didn't hang myself was because my eighth grade students were still kid enough to not be too snotty. I hated it. Not all the time, but a great deal of the time. Most veteran teachers say that the second year is better (it usually cannot get too much worse), so I spent the first month of my summer off talking myself into returning the next year. Then Justin's new district called me for an interview and I was hired there instead.

I learned a lot at that district. About teaching, about myself, about parents, about politics. I had good classes and bad classes. I had moments of inspiration and moments of frustration (oh, I'll just say it: I wanted to bang my head against the cinderblock wall). I figured a few things out. I wanted to figure out a lot more. The thing is, it can take a lot of time to gain confidence in the classroom. When we moved abroad, I felt like a first year teacher again, trying to figure out what to do with a classroom of students and not enough books. I taught some great classes and some muddling classes. I began to read more about how to teach, and to revisit advice given by past teaching colleagues. Last year, I think I was a better teacher. Not brilliant, but better.

And last year, I was also ready to be done for awhile. My friend Karla once told me about an English teacher friend of hers. This English teacher friend did not stay an English teacher for long. He began to hate English - the literature, the writing - because his students seemed to hate it. He was trying to share something he loved, and they weren't interested. So he quit. A lot of teachers quit.

They probably become engineers and business managers to replace the ones who idealistically leave their careers to give back to the community by starting charter schools. (That's meant jokingly, but could also be true).

So this year - the year that I was going to stay home, learn to plan a weekly meal menu and grocery budget; the year I was going to write my book (still have until July 31!) and think about what might come next for me teaching-wise - this year, I stepped back into the classroom for second semester and realized: I'm actually getting the hang of teaching. This is my seventh year in the classroom and it is finally clicking. I'm not as incompetent as I sometimes fear. I do have enthusiasm for what I teach (except straight up grammar instruction: gag). I continue to learn from my colleagues and my students. And I enjoy teaching.

What happened? I'm counting down to a relaxed summer schedule and looking forward to staying home next year, but I am not rabidly anxious to be out of the classroom yet. And that is a good feeling: to realize that this job I have isn't that bad. I rather like it.

Now I need to rather like it for six more weeks. Graciously.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

halfway (i hope)

Twenty weeks today. After school, I laid on the bed, palm on belly and felt Boy kick. I called Justin in and he felt the baby kick too. Claire was interested in my belly for two seconds; then she was interested in sitting on my belly.

I am feeling good. Mostly. Still running - managing between thirty and forty miles a week at a good pace, between eight and eight and a half minutes breathing easy. Very happy to be running with little discomfort: I am paying close attention to my posture and stride and I think that helps. If I am consistent about stretching, my legs are happy.

Right now I have an odd stitch in my side. When I breathe deeply, I can pinpoint a pinch in my upper right ribcage, just below my armpit. The pain isn't across my chest, just in this one tiny area the size of my thumbprint. For three days now, I've been waiting for it to disappear, reaching my arms up and stretching the length of my side.

I am not a hypochonriac. (I was much relieved to read an article by a hypochondriac and realize that I was not nearly so wild as he with my self-diagnosis). Nevertheless, Google feeds my worry that this little pinch is just the beginning of some rare illness and that I'll spend the next seven months seeing specialists who shake their heads. I type in "upper rib cage pain" or "side rib cage pain" and learn that I could have osteoporosis, arthritis, pleurisy (which can be caused by pneumonia or tuberculosis), or gallstones. Great. I just spent all of March and early April coughing up my lungs and stashing kleenex in every pocket; I don't need May to be My Month of Imaginary Diseases.

I need May to be My Month of Holding It Together Until the End of School.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

pregnancy update: quickening

I went to my nineteen week appointment yesterday. For some reason, I got stuck in the loop of have regular four-week appointments the week previous to what I think of as the Pregnancy Milestone Weeks. That's okay because I like odd numbers better.

Anyway, I sat down and Dr. S asked how I was feeling. I almost cried on the cab ride to the hospital. During the past week I cried at more news articles than usual. So I said, "I'm feeling very emotional. Hormones."

He nodded.

Yes. I have decided to stay with Dr. S. I did ask around about another big hospital in the city and learned that their delivery room policy doesn't even allow for fathers to attend; I am not comfortable with some of the other facilities available here. So Boy will be born at the Royale Hayat, unless he arrives in the car. And if the hospital says no to an attending doula, Justin will be summer reading birth stories and doula blogs. Just like me.

(I still have mixed feelings about all of this. I would rather have a midwife, labor and deliver at home, and not see a pair of stirrups. But I have also talked with other patients of Dr. S and I think he really is respectful of my decision to have a second natural birth, even if he doesn't understand why I want that. That might need to be enough right now. I do not want to confuse visualizing a strong, healthy, and safe delivery with a fantasizing about the perfect birth story).

So back to being emotional. (If I ever entirely left that). I don't remember being weepy during my pregnancy with Claire. I was elated and terrified by the prospect of being a mama. This time I don't feel quite so worried about whether or not I'll mess up my children, but I worry about the world in which we are raising them. There is so much that is garbage about this world. So many terrible things that could happen. Today I found myself thinking that agoraphobia was just a teensy bit appealing, along with avoiding newspapers and unplugging the phone. I found myself listing places we could live and realizing: nowhere is safe. I already knew that - it made it easier to leave the States understanding that we could get schmucked on a county highway in Wisconsin as easily as our bus could slip on a mountain curve in Colombia. (Don't make me pick one).

I talked with Justin about this: realizing just how much I have no control over when it comes to my babies. And I've started to see something about me. I spend a lot of time reading articles and opinions and learning about what it going on in this world - good, bad, ugly - but I don't spend nearly as much time reading or absorbing what God says about living in this world. I do not believe He wants me to live in fear. So I need to learn how to daily walk secure in Him, being wise and careful, but not being consumed by fear.

On the ultrasound, Boy pushed his arms and legs, held one hand in a fist and the other open over his face. "Amazing," I said, and Dr. S nodded.

"You feel the baby now?"

"Yes. A little."

"That is called 'quickening.'" Dr. S wrote something on my chart and looked up, "You are textbook. Right on. Keep doing what you're doing."

I was still thinking about that word quickening. When a mother feels those first whisper kicks of the baby growing inside her. I feel the baby move and I pause, wait for more, want more, my hand placed over my belly.

I think I feel my spirit quickening too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

news story

This story is making me sad. "At Top University, a Fight for Pakistan's Future."

I teach students from Pakistan and reading this makes me very sad for their country. I've been reading bits about Pakistan in other news sources; until this year, it was a country I didn't pay much attention to because it was just a land of poverty and religious extremism. But knowing people from Pakistan, including a friend who will be returning there with her husband and child, the country is on my mind.

Living abroad has changed reading the news for me. I can't read the news in a vacuum anymore. While in Colombia, I paid attention to what was happening in South America; news stories from that continent still catch my eye on the screen. And now I'm unable to call the Middle East a place on the other side of the world. Even though I do not always understand the complexities of this region, I read about its people and governments. And I have faces that come to me when I read: people I know who are Iranian, Iraqi, Saudi Arabian. The news isn't so distant.

Friday, April 16, 2010


A couple of weeks ago my parents sent us a box with my maternity clothes and some of Claire's bigger sizes, shoes, a few books and treats. After digging through the top layer, I forgot the box in the corner of my room (didn't need the maternity clothes quite yet). The other day I dug through again to sort what needed washing and ironing and found a box of Peeps tucked along the side. Peeps! Well, let's see what Claire makes of fluffy marshmallow dipped in yellow sugar...
Very suspicious. I expected to get a shot of Claire's puffed cheeks. Here's what happened:

We took a break, offered snack crackers, and tried again. I was starting to think that maybe getting a kid to eat Peeps doesn't warrant the same effort that should be extended to fruits and vegetables. I don't even like Peeps myself. I like watching them poof in a microwave, but we don't even have a microwave.
Looks like all the Peeps now belong to Justin.
Don't even try a third time. Leave me be!
Well, that's over. Yawn. Moving on...

Friday, April 9, 2010

the name game

The other day, Justin and I asked for baby boy name suggestions on Facebook. Friends and family have weighed in with suggestions both serious and joking. I've been visiting nymbler and making pointless lists. The thing is, naming a child is important. With Claire, I had two rules:

1. Name cannot - absolutely cannot - appear anywhere on the Top 10. Or 25. Yes, cannot be in the Top 50. We'd like a name and I'd visit the Social Security site to check its rank.
2. The middle name should be Colombian. Latin American. We wanted the middle name to honor the culture into which the baby was born.

Claire's name was ultimately suggested by my mom. She said she'd always wished she had named a girl Claire. (She had five chances, and I do wonder if I'd be someone a little more polished, a little more resolved with a name like Claire). I liked Clara but Justin and I decided that Claire was nice. Our nanny, Francis, calls Claire Clara, and I like that.

I think Claire was ranked 65. Even that was a little iffy for me. I am a Sarah and graduated in a small class of 92 with seven or eight other Sara/hs. I did have a moment of doubt when a friend of mine told me of two baby girls born to friends of his, both named Claire.

Oh, and I think I had an understated third rule: No stupid nicknames. If I give my child a nice name, I'd like them to be called that nice name. This eliminates more names than you might think. Even so, when Justin spoke with his father after Claire was born, saying that her full name was Claire Juliana, I heard my father-in-law say, "Oh, CJ." And I thought: No! Hideous! No, no, no! Initials are not names. Claire is Claire.

So we're sticking to these rules for baby boy. And I've been thinking about the importance of the name we give him since reading this Motherlode post about baby-name regret. So when I run names through my mind, this is how it goes:

Jude. I really like this name. I like this book in the Bible, and I like this name. I also live in a very, very anti-Semitic region of the world and am not sure a little boy named Jude is the best idea. But then again, we'll probably leave before he begins school.

Timothy. Justin's middle name. I really, really want to be able to consider this. But when I think of Timothy, I think of McVeigh's last meal before execution: two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream. I still like mint chocolate chip, but Timothy is linked to that odd fact which in turn makes me think about what kind of person McVeigh might have been if or if and how sad it all is.

Ziad. For a middle name. I love this! In Arabic, Ziad means enlarging. Not sure what to do with that. Then I googled Ziad and learned that one of the September 11 masterminds shared that name. Well, probably every name is linked to something unsavory (illegal, wrong, frightening, criminal). Will keep looking.

Then there are names ruined by former students. Ask any expectant teacher about ruined names and they'll likely rattle five off without pausing for breath. And then there are names that went to pets first. I like the name Jeremiah with a possible nickname of Miah, but my in-laws have a cat named Maya. I also like the name Oliver, but we had a cat named Oliver. I wouldn't want my son to think I'd named him after an orange cat with a white belly.

So we have names we toss around. I still call my belly Boy. I am comfortable with waiting to meet the little guy before giving him a name, but Justin is a planner and needs to arrive at the hospital armed with a first and middle name to bestow. Whenever we finally choose a name, we'll keep it quiet until the birth. I'll know its meaning, popularity, and whether it risks a dopey nickname. I'll picture it on report cards, resumes, and under yearbook photos and signed in Christmas cards (because someday we'll send those). I'll imagine whispering the name Good night, Mama loves you, and yelling the name Get down here for dinner! And when I finally meet my baby boy, I'll say, "Welcome to the world, ____."

Can't name a kid blank though.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

dubai & spring

Easter morning, celebrated after we returned from Dubai. Nothing quite like a chocolate fix before breakfast.
On our trip to Dubai, Claire loved (loved!) to help push the suitcases. She was a trooper, walking much of the time.
Claire and Papa in Kuwait, on a walk we've recently discovered. The taxi drops us off a ways from the grocery store, and we walk a path along the Gulf. Sometimes Claire is put off that we don't let her run wild in the sand and water.
Our high school NHS put together an Easter party for teachers' kids. This is the egg Claire found. She opened it and immediately stuffed the foil wrapped chocolates in her mouth. She lived. (Plastic Easter eggs are in short supply here - small wonder - so we recycled her lone purple egg for her basket from us).
Claire at the cookie decorating table at the Easter party. Frosting and mini M&Ms. Banner day. Sugar high, sugar crash.
Why we went to Dubai. I was feeling miserable this entire trip - head and chest cold - so I didn't care that we did little except spend Claire's naptime in a bookstore. I think we'll go back in January - there's a 10k/marathon and we'll make it a long weekend, actually enjoy more of the city.
This is a sign in the Mall of the Emirates. Translated, it asks people to dress modestly, keeping shoulders and knees covered. Funny because what Justin and I both noticed first when we walked into the mall were all the shoulders and knees! A bit of culture shock after Kuwait's more conservative public dress.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

coming up: dubai

We are headed to Dubai for a couple of days. Short short trip to renew my visitor's visa (I have spared you all the lastest paperwork rant. Only this: the Ministry passed a new law which requires me to obtain a document stamped, kissed, and blessed by the U.S. Federal government if I want residency here. Justin, for the record, did not have this hassle). Anyway.

So, expats living in the Middle East flock to Dubai for long or short weekends for a few simple reasons: alcohol, pork, and shopping. Probably in that order. Sometimes these quick trips are called "whiskey weekends." Our two days will be less whiskey, more pork.

The thing is, I haven't felt like traveling since arriving in Kuwait. Visiting Nate and Joie and their two at Christmas was great, but we'd had that trip planned for awhile. Right now I don't feel like choosing a destination and flipping through guidebooks for things to do and see; I don't feel like spending hours looking for flights and hotels. I just feel like staying home. Leaving home means: a lot of work.

On Thursday, students and teachers were ready for break. I saw a few teachers haul their backpacks (headed for Egypt or Malaysia or Turkey!) on campus. I felt a little jealous and a little relieved. This is just a quieter time for our family. We aren't trekking all over and that's okay. We have a toddler who cannot sit still on a plane, and that's okay too. Soon enough, we'll add a little baby to mix, and we'll nest. By Christmas, I'll be ready for a trip. And I'll happily plan next year's spring break. But right now, two days in Dubai is enough.

The real reason we picked Dubai is for their selection of uncensored books and magazines. Friends have been offering restaurant and sightseeing suggestions, and I've been saying, "Well, we're actually going for the bookstores." Maybe we'll head back to Dubai over Thanksgiving break and see the aquarium and the gold and spice souks. I'd like to visit the souks especially. This time though, I want a fat chair in a bookstore.

And a plate of bacon.