Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I haven’t written about anything very personal in a while. Mostly, because in the past few months, Steve and I have been preoccupied, dealing with our eldest kiddo having some sort of bizarre anxiety. It’s sort of like how I imagine potty training a rabid, ferocious bear might be. I don’t want to talk too much about the details, but it has to do with food. We think she might have some sort of post-traumatic stress brought on by a stomach bug she got right around Christmas. Seriously, she’s not been herself since then, and it’s the best explanation we’ve come up with so far. Our pediatrician has chalked it up to a “phase” and this week (after two months of this “phase”) he was subsequently fired. A “phase” doesn’t last months and drive parents to cry and to drink excessively.
I don’t know a lot about anxiety, but I’m learning. I know when I was a little girl I would worry myself until I barfed. A lot. Over the past few weeks, I’ve looked back on that time and wondered what in the world my parents did to get through it. Now, as an adult, I worry a lot about things I can’t control. A lot. I hoped beyond hope for years that I wouldn’t pass that stupid trait along to my kids. And, guess what? Looks like I’ve done just that. The hard thing, aside from feeling like we’re all on a roller coaster without any brakes, is that I wonder what in the world my sweet girl will be like at age 10. Or 15. Or even in her mid-30s. How can I give her the tools to work through this, when, now, she really doesn’t even know how to express what is going on in her head? It’s painful. And I know if it’s painful for us, it has to be excruciating for her.
As a parent, all you ever want is for your child to be happy and healthy. In the past few months, my child has been about half of both those things. She’s not totally happy OR healthy and it’s quite frankly fucking terrible. I have no better words to describe it. It’s awful to try to find words to give her, but not to put words into her mouth. To try to explain to her what she’s dealing with, without over-explaining and confusing her. To try to make sense out of something that is completely senseless to me. It’s kept me up at night and has challenged me to my core. I told my sister the other day that I felt like a black cloud was following me. And here’s the thing: I know in my heart and in my head that people are going through WAY worse stuff than this. Way. I know this. But I also believe it’s one thing when your child is sick with something that can be pinpointed and treated, and something much different to wonder and question what is actually going on with a child who has up until recently been happy and healthy and is now struggling just to put a smile on her face.
I don’t know why I decided finally to write about this. Maybe because I just want people to know that kids really do have issues like this. Kids who are not yet able to explain what is going on in their heads. Kids who are not going through a “phase”. Also, because I’ve felt very alone while dealing with this, and I want others to know they aren’t alone, because this sucks. I don’t know what the solution is – we’ve enlisted the help of a few highly recommended professionals and hope that will help, but, really, all we can do is believe we are on the right path and believe that one day we’ll have a happy, healthy kid again. I’ll just say that I don’t know if I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

save the NWP

On March 2, all direct funding to the National Writing Project (NWP) was eliminated as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP.  As a result, Congress has eliminated a program proven to strengthen both teaching and student writing.  According to Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the NWP, “This decision puts in grave jeopardy a nationwide network of 70,000 teachers who, through 200 university-based Writing Project sites, provide local leadership for innovation and deliver localized, high-quality professional development to other educators across the country in all states, across subjects and grades. In the last year alone, these leaders provided services to over 3,000 school districts to raise student achievement in writing.”
I could give more examples, but I would be remiss if I didn’t just tell you personally how much I think this stinks.  I was part of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s Summer Institute in 2010, and it was hands down the BEST professional development experience I’ve ever had. No, let me rephrase that: it was also just one of the best all around experiences I’ve had in general.  Period.  I’m a preschool teacher with an English degree.  I had been taking education classes so that after my own young children went to school, I could teach English at the high school level.  I love my job as a preschool teacher, but often felt like I wasn’t using my English degree to its full potential, and as a result, was feeling lost as to where I was heading professionally.  Before I attended the 2010 SI, I was dreading going back to my education classes – I was torn because I love working with young children but thought I should be doing more with my expensive undergraduate degree! I entered the 2010 SI thinking I would use whatever I gained from the experience later on as a high school teacher.  I could not have been more wrong.
What I gained during the 2010 SI can’t easily be summed up on paper.  I walked in on the first day of the SI not knowing if I even wanted to teach anymore and specifically not knowing what, if anything, I could contribute to the group of talented, smart and funny teachers from all over the city.  I walked out of there four weeks later knowing I’m doing the right thing, knowing that it’s good and normal to question my motives and my practice, knowing that my very best wondering comes from my wandering. 
In the SI, I was allowed to think, to listen, and to reflect.  I often wonder what schools in this country would look like if ALL teachers got this kind of opportunity.  How often, in the hustle and bustle of day to day teaching, do teachers get opportunities for reflecting on their teaching practice?  Part of the beauty of the NWP is that local sites are connected on so many levels.  Thanks to the NWP, I have had opportunities to meet teachers from across my state and from across the country.  I have gained ideas and had the chance to collaborate with people I would never have met before last summer.  I have absolutely become a better teacher, and yes, a better preschool teacher, because of the NWP. 
We wouldn’t expect a runner to go into a marathon having never trained properly, just as we can’t expect to win any educational “race” if we are not giving teachers opportunities for the best training skills.  How can we expect teachers to do their best work in and out of the classroom if the opportunity to participate in programs like the NWP is eliminated?  We must support ongoing teacher training and therefore better student achievement.  We must continue to support the National Writing Project.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

shhhhhhhhh...baby growing

Dear Jackson,
Jax. Little Buddy. Nubbins. Sweet tiny little butter bean.  Someday when you are big and strong and you can wrestle with your cousins (they are waiting patiently) I will tell you the story of visiting you in your tiny incubated baby grower.  Of the time I walked in, not knowing either how tiny your sweet body would be – all 2 pounds and 10 ounces of it – or how much I would love you.  An underdog? Only by defining your situation, certainly not by your stellar performance in the NICU so far.  Ounce by ounce, you will grow stronger, even though turning your tiny head from one side to the other while lying on your belly this week was more than impressive already.
Seeing you hooked up to all those monitors and wires and watching you receive a blood transfusion the other night was nothing like I ever imagined. Not only was I blown away at what the human body, particularly your tiny body, is capable of doing, I was also amazed at the nurses watching over you.  A NICU nurse might as well be a saint in my book to maintain a cool disposition when your tiny body forgets to breathe, as you often do (your brain isn’t mature enough to give that signal to your lungs every time…not just yet). 
Your mom and dad are learning so much, and they need reminders to take care of themselves and of each other so that they can be strong for you.  I can only imagine what this time is like for your mommy, who is not only dealing with the emotional tornado of new motherhood, but also doing it while not even being able to hold you whenever she wants.  I believe, for most people anyway, once someone becomes a mother – however they become a mother – the instinct and the fierce need to protect your child never quite goes away.  Not at age five or at 15 or even at 40, but especially not at two weeks.  There is no honeymoon period for the parents of preemie babies – that time when all you can think about is how amazing your child is – that time before the excessive worry kicks in. The worry for you has been there from the moment you were born.  Your mom has always had a heart as big and as wide as they come, but now she knows what it’s like to make a deal with the heavens, to offer up her own health just to keep you safe.  Motherhood is both a blessing and a curse – once she knows that feeling, she can never go back to the Kelley she was before you came along.  Your daddy, while he keeps strong for your mommy, has been changed already by what it is to be a dad.  You, sir, have been born into a long line of wonderful, caring and funny Willaredt boys – your daddy will teach you well and I know one day we will comment on how wonderfully you fit into that line.
I hated leaving yesterday because I can’t stand being so far away from you or your parents.  I want you to meet your Uncle Steve and your cousins, sure, but more than that, I wish you were closer so we could be more of a support – not just by phone or text or email.  I want to hate San Francisco for taking you so far away from us, but the truth is that I loved the city where you were born and I know we’ll be making visits there as often as we can.  We’ll make it work, and soon you will know all of your crazy relatives, people who would literally lay down their lives for you.  I’ve never met a bunch like them and wouldn’t trade them for the world. You, my little Pea, are a very lucky boy.
Aunt Kate