Whirlwind

The week of October 15th was one of the most emotionally and physically difficult weeks of my life. On Monday, I hugged my students a little tighter before they left knowing that my union would most likely be on strike the following day. With negotiations leading nowhere and the school board’s constant misrepresentation of the facts, the outlook for the next morning was grim. Sure enough, at 5am my cell phone rang and the prerecorded voice of our superintendent told me that school would not be in session because the teacher’s union had moved to strike. My heart sank. In a few hours my students would be waking up in their own beds and they would be told that there was no school. Too young to understand, it would provide the thrill akin to that of an anxiously awaited snow day, but surely they would be told something about the teacher strike. What were their parents telling them? Which side were they on? What would they think of me or say to me when we finally returned?

Three hours later I reported to the sidewalk outside of my school, a building that has been my home away from home for the last seven years. With my jacket zipped and a hat pulled over my ears against the cold, I hoisted my sign and we began our walk, knowing that for once I had to set aside the selflessness that comes with teaching and stand up for the integrity of my profession and of the district from which I had always planned to retire.  There were honks of support but it was difficult to ignore the dirty looks, the head shakes, and rude gestures. News came during the day that despite the school board’s public stance on doing everything possible to reach an agreement, they had suspended our insurance. On and on we walked. Every major news channel had reporters on site, newspaper reporters, photographers… suddenly, us teachers, used to our relatively solitary professional lives, were in the spotlight. Co-workers and dear friends were being interviewed for the 5:00 news, all the while hoping that no one accidentally said something that could be misconstrued by the media. It was surreal. 9 1/2 hours and 15-17 miles later I climbed my aching body into my car and finally allowed myself to cry. Almost too exhausted to even do that I drove home with nothing but the feeling of dread that we were most likely going to be right back out there tomorrow. How was I even going to get out of bed?

The emotional and physical toll was far greater than I had ever anticipated and in the midst of this career turmoil, Mr. Something and I had an orientation at an adoption agency on our calendar for the very next day. My head could not have been further from our Tiny Human Project that week but I was committed to taking our idea beyond our diningroom table conversations and into the real world. I went to bed that Tuesday night not knowing if I would be waking up to walk the picket line again or to get back on track with my students. Such uncertainty lead to fitful sleep despite my exhaustion. At 5am I awoke in the darkness to the buzzing of my cell phone. Once again the prerecorded voice of my superintendent, but today he reported that the board and the teachers had reached a tentative agreement after 17 hours of negotiating, school would be in session.

I rolled over as my eyes adjusted to the early morning gloom and stared at the ceiling in utter shock. Knowing how little faith the board had in the idea of a quick settlement I was certain we would be striking again. As my mind slowly shifted gears and I began to plan an entirely different sort of outfit for my day, I remembered a district meeting that all second grade teachers were expected to attend that very day. Surely they would allow us to be with our students instead. There was no reason it couldn’t be rescheduled. I tried to check my school email on my phone but we were still locked out of it. I wanted to begin substitute plans just in case but my laptop had been collected and was locked in my principal’s office. Once again I found myself having no idea what my day was going to hold. When I arrived at school I learned that the meeting was still on but we were starting a little later than originally planned. Grateful that my students would get to see me before I left, I began frantically writing sub plans, a process, when I do it as well as I like, can take about two hours. I had 40 minutes.

When my student’s saw the substitute they asked if I was still on strike. When I told them, no, that I had a meeting to go to they asked if it was about the strike. “I saw you walking on the street yesterday!” Second graders are too young to understand, I needed to be there with them but I was heading to the district office. A building that had been ground zero just twenty-four hours ago. Yesterday they had told me to turn in my laptop, they deactivated my keycard, and they suspended my insurance. Today they were serving me bagels and sweets and telling me how happy they were to see me. The drastic flip of circumstances left my head spinning. My coworkers were beaming, jubilant to be back, but bitterness clung to me. I like to think that I may have slipped back into it a bit more easily if I could have been with my students but I was left feeling like a traitor sitting in the district office all day.

Despite the emotional turbulence of the day, Mr. Something and I had a meeting downtown at 6:00. He had taken the day off, originally planning to walk the picket line with me so we could head into the city together that evening. But since I was sitting in a meeting all day, he stayed home and took the train into the city where I would meet him. It was pouring by the time I left work, and being a creature of the suburbs, I have never been comfortable driving in the city. The rain didn’t help. I didn’t know where I was going. I missed streets and struggled to parallel park my Subaru Forrester (after driving a Mini Cooper for 6 years, it’s a bit different when it comes to parking now!) It took me twice as long to get into the city than I had expected and by the time I arrived I was practically in tears from frustration.

Mr. Something was waiting for me in a pub that he found called The Beetle. He had dinner waiting and had stashed a bag of chocolate chip cookies in his bag for me, knowing that despite the end of our strike, it was going to be a tough day for me. The pub was nothing spectacular. Vinyl covered chairs, and a battered floor covered in black paint, but as I sat there decompressing with Mr. Something over chicken quesadillas and a hummus platter I spotted an uncharacteristically ornate chandelier in the ceiling. A tribute to a past life of the building we were sitting in. Something about the contrast of the present establishment that we were sitting in and the beauty of this giant chandelier centered me. I snapped the photo knowing that through the drama of the week that single shining detail of this evening would stay with me. After our quick dinner we were on our way to the agency. The rain had stopped, I was on Mr. Something’s arm, and we were moving forward… together.

For now, it’s past my bedtime. Nineteen second graders are rather unforgiving if I come to work a bit groggy from not getting enough sleep the night before. 🙂  To be continued…

Opposites Attract

Black and White… Sweet and Sour… Yin and Yang… There’s an age old theory that opposites attract and it seems to be an ever growing theme in my life. You, my dear blog readers, are privy to a very personal part of my life, and I’m happy to report tonight that things are FINALLY moving in the right direction. However, my professional life, as an elementary school teacher, has turned tumultuous. My union is on the verge of striking. Putting all dollars and cents aside, the emotional toll it is taking on myself and my fellow teachers has been harder than I ever thought imaginable. I could start a whole different blog with my thoughts and feelings, facts and figures about the unrest clouding my district but this blog is my chance my focus on the positive. It is my chance to leave the war against us teachers until tomorrow and reflect upon our hopeful “someday” that is taking shape.

Even the story of our Tiny Human Project has a dark side and a light side this week. A few days ago, as I was heading up to bed I happened to glance out the sidelight windows next to the front door. A package caught my eye. My first thought was, “I didn’t order anything, I wonder if Mr. Something did.” But within a moment I recognized the pink flowered mailing envelope that I had lovingly packed and sent away over two months ago.  The package was intended for Mr. Something’s cousin, the daughter of his cousin whom we met on a trip to visit his family. A little peanut of a girl being reluctantly raised by her grandmother since her own parents had given up on her. She put a face to our mission and after meeting her I was desperate to do something… anything for her. I took an inappropriate amount of time picking out books to send to her. I found the perfect card covered in sparkles and butterflies. I read the message over a hundred times to make sure it was “just right” and I sent it all on it’s way two months ago.

We hadn’t heard anything from Mr. Something’s family, but that was usual so I was going on assumptions that the package had been delivered to his family’s P.O. box and had been picked up weeks ago. That was until I found it sitting dirty, battered, and worn on our welcome mat. “Unclaimed” was stamped across the address with an old timey finger pointing back to my return address. She never got it. There was never a smile and a squeal of delight as she was presented with the pretty pink package. There were no bedtime moments spent huddled around the books I picked out. Suddenly she felt like a ghost and every emotion I felt after meeting her dissipated into mist around me.

“Unclaimed” A one word clue that I am left to puzzle out. What happened? Didn’t they check their mail? Did they get a claim ticket and not know what it was for? With weeks unanswered phone calls to agencies and now an unclaimed gift on my porch I felt more than ever that my wheels were spinning and I was getting nowhere.

The sweet to my sour came the very next day. I was well on my way home from work when my cell phone rang. I recognized the city area code and knew in an instant that it was the call from the agency I had been waiting for. Hoping that I could handle the call while driving I pressed the answer button on my steering wheel and the cheerful voice of an agency intern filled my car. She was calling to share information about her agency’s orientation meetings that are held once a month. She confirmed that they could take us through the foster care licensing process and help with various types of adoptions. Exhilarated and frantic, I’m surprised that I didn’t drive off the road! I scrambled in my purse to find a pen and something to write on. Why is it that purses become bottomless pits the moment you need to find something in a hurry? Mary Poppins’s bag indeed! I pulled free a Target prescription bag and found my pen just as she was sharing the dates of the orientation. I wanted to capture every bit of information she had.  It was like sighting a fairy or a unicorn, you wouldn’t be sure that it was real so you’d do everything within your power to remember every detail of that moment and, for goodness sake, not do anything that might scare it away!

October 17th. When she told me the date I almost giggled out loud. The orientation was scheduled exactly seven months to the day that Mr. Something and I sat over Sangria and frozen margaritas and tried on our Tiny Human Project for the very first time. Once upon a time that former version of myself was convinced that we should wait six months before pursing the idea. It looks like we were true to that timeline whether we intended to be or not.

This orientation meeting marks a giant step for us. For one, we have been waiting until we were actually doing something before telling our families. We wanted to have something concrete to show for this choice of ours, not just a flighty idea that we’ve been reading about on the internet. After this meeting the light is green to bring the family on board. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. This meeting is also our first actual step toward the Tiny Human Project becoming a reality. Our excitement grows by the day and this shining light did much to diminish the darkness that seems to be following me lately. With light and dark there is balance and with balance one can find peace. Tonight I’m sailing on smooth waters, letting the stressors of my work environment slip beneath the surface as I focus on the beautiful horizon stretching before me.

Running Shoes

“Slow and steady wins the race.” How long have I known about the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? So long that I can’t even remember the first time I heard it. It has become such a part of my schema that it’s no longer a moment in my life but something that I have always known. To say that jumping into the world of foster care adoption has been a “slow and steady” race is almost correct. Slow… yes. Steady? Not so much. If  you’ve been following the blog you are familiar with my recent frustrations with getting in touch with someone… anyone… about the process. Well, I finally made contact and was told that I’d be getting something in the mail the following week. Two weeks of sprinting to the mailbox every evening when I got home from work and this finally arrived…

Now, it wasn’t quite what I was waiting for but it was something I could hold in my hands. Instead of hearing from the agency that we are hoping to work with, this came from the woman that DCFS had put me in contact with. It was an overview of our preferences, the name of the agency we are being recommended to, and the name and number of our contact person at the agency. It also said that our contact person would be calling us within three days. We are at day eight and my phone hasn’t rung yet but I’m beginning to realize that I need to multiply any timeline I’m given by three… maybe four…

Slow and steady… It’s a great moral to a charming story but sometimes you want to sprint! You are pumped full of adrenaline, toeing the line, with nothing but the finish line in your sight. You fly off the starting block and somewhere in the middle of it all you reach a runner’s high where you feel strong and powerful like you could run forever. Are your feet even touching the ground?

It’s like in Roald Dahl’s BFG when Sophie has been snatched out of her bed and is being carried off by the Big Friendly Giant. He’s taking her to giant country, which exists somewhere off the last page of the atlas…

“The giant ran on and on. But now a curious change took place in his way of running. He seemed suddenly to go into a higher gear. Faster and faster he went and soon he was travelling at such a speed that the landscape became blurred. The wind stung Sophie’s cheeks. It made her eyes water. It whipped her head back and whistled in her ears. She could no longer feel the giant’s feet touching the ground. She had a weird sensation they were flying. It was impossible to tell whether they were over land or sea. This giant had some sort of magic in his legs. The wind rushing against Sophie’s face became so strong that she had to duck down again into the blanket to prevent her head from being blown away.”

Okay, so that may be a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t exactly want to fly across the map. We aren’t that ready but my excitement matches the exhilaration found in that passage and it would be nice to have the chance to move a bit faster than tortoise pace.

We have teetered on the edge of telling more people about our Tiny Human Project but for some reason I am firmly planted in the idea that we need to be officially doing something before we starting advertising our choices to the world. It doesn’t even have to be the classes yet, even just an orientation meeting. I’d like something to happen to make it real, more real than a few phone calls and a form letter in the mail. I was told to wait until the woman at the agency contacts us but I’ve decided to leave the tortoise in the dust and reach out. For now it’s just more frustration knowing that this is just the beginning. The two months that I’ve been trying to reach out to get started are quite possibly two more months that my someday child had to live without safety and stability. Itching to go…