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My mother calls it being “shy”.  I more look at my inability to stand up for myself and ask for what I need as a way to avoid confrontation, disagreement, or simply being told, “No”.  That’s how I found myself with a pack of orange Bubblicious gum in my snow boot one December day, having smuggled it out of the drug store in said vessel.  Mom found me out when, unable to “act natural”, I guiltily pulled it from my boot while still in the car. 

“Where did you get that from?”

“I – had it.”

If kids aren’t pathetic liars to begin with, I am now, and have always been, pathologically awful at misrepresenting the truth.  I had wanted the gum, and didn’t want to ask my mom for it, fearing she might say no. So I took it. I was so embarrassed at having done the deed and by being caught, that I couldn’t bring myself to returning the gum to the drug store, and gratefully gave up the rest of my week of Hanukkah presents for being spared the more humiliating punishment. 

Was my mother the kind of person to deny her child a $.69 pack of gum?  I doubt it.  But was I the type of child to go to extremes to avoid the remote possibility of having my request turned down?  I was. 

Thankfully, the emotional toll that experience had on my younger person has spared me from a lifetime of shoplifting, sneaking around, and taking things that I might only have to ask for.  Unfortunately, the underlying inability/unwillingness to simply ask for what I need/want remains.

On more practical matters, this manifests as a difficulty asserting myself.  I clam up, go quiet, and disappear into myself when my views are challenged, or when my values are questioned. 

I was tutoring a 17-year-old boy in preparation for his pre-calculus final last week.  It was a one-time thing, not an ongoing tutor-tutee relationship like I have with most families whose children I support.  This kid was, like many 17 year olds, bent on distraction and avoidance of work.  So he prodded into my personal life – “Are you married?” “How did you meet your husband?”  As I related this story last night to my husband, I asked him, candidly, “What’s one word you would use to describe yourself at age 17?”  “Handsome,” he responded after a thought.  “No, “I demurred, “One word to describe your temperament.” Easily, he said, “Oh, ‘douche’.” With the decorum of 17-year-olds in mind, I pressed on with my story.  This particular boy is from an Orthodox Jewish family, where people typically marry fairly young, and women are pressed into service as breeders almost immediately.  The fact that I had been married 4 ½ years and denied having any offspring was cause for suspicion.  Therefore, he was within his cultural métier to ask what was taking so long, or if something was wrong.

It was not that I was so off-put by the suggestion, or that the bluntness of his inquiry shocked me into silence.  In fact, it’s a teachable moment for a kid who leads a somewhat sheltered life.  After all, any 17-year-old might have said it, and plenty of well meaning parents-of-newlyweds (WMPON) have.  In the moment, I brushed him aside and refocused our lesson on trigonometric identities and imaginary numbers.   Later, in my head, I concocted a half-dozen appropriate responses.

“People have any number of reasons for starting families later. “ (Later than age 26, in his world)

“We are choosing to start our family when our careers are established.” (A subtle hint at birth control)

“The time just wasn’t right for us.” (Ditto)

 “Not everyone is so easily blessed with children as soon as they get married.” (Infertility not being a topic I’d like to discuss at depth with a teenager)

“Well, I’m sure HaShem wanted to wait until we were ready.” (Religious mumbo-jumbo in language he would certainly understand)

But in the moment, I remained mute.  That’s not “shyness”; that’s deer-in-headlights aversion to defending myself.  I think.  But against what?  Am I really afraid I’ll get into right-to-life debates with a teenager I’m tutoring in math?  Am I fearful he’ll hurt my feelings and accuse me of going against the natural order, or of being a Bad Jew?  Am I anxious my own responses will call him out on his ignorance, and make him feel bad?  Any of these.  None of them.  I don’t know.

I do know that conversations I have even with long-time friends, where they say something I know to be untrue, or on a topic I would be able to have a healthy discussion, I remain mute in disagreement.  And those conversations remain regrets in my mind; they stick with me for years, no matter how trivial the topics. 

  • Sunscreen helps you tan
  • A “double” bed is a different size than a “full”
  • Still photographs are less artificial than people putting on an “act” for a video camera.
  • Jenny’s portrayal of someone with AIDS was unrealistic.
  • Hooks you have to cut off with a “special saw” are better than ones you can just peel off.
  • Running the air conditioner with the car windows down is a good idea.
  • A hereditary history of twins on the father’s side can increase the chance of twinning in his offspring.
  • A woman pregnant with a girl will get a fat ass and a fat face.
  • You mustn’t ever leave the house while the dishwasher or washing machine is running.
  • Soy sauce might just be intended for soy; it might not contain soy.
  • The plural of passerby is “passerbies”.
  • Babies too young to focus more than 12 inches from their faces enjoy watching football on a TV several feet away.
  • There is no cause for alarm if a child is not talking by age 21 months.
  • A shrimp allergy in a child’s paternal grandmother puts him at high-risk for the allergy himself.

The list goes on and on.  And the common theme is that I never speak up.  I never share my knowledge or my opinions, even jokingly, even with friends and family.  I just let the fallacies, falsehoods, and misinformed opinions wash right over me.  I end up thinking of well reasoned arguments after the fact, or consulting Google to make sure I was right.  I can’t even trust myself and my initial instincts about things I know I know.  I need back-up.  I need a citation.  I’m locked in a never-ending round of high-school debate team, and all I can do is dumbly verify facts for myself.

I attended an all-day seminar today on social communication.  There was a presentation on traumatic brain injury (TBI), and discussion about how important social communication skills are for people who have had TBI.  Since damage from TBI is often diffuse, complex, and can change over time, there is no easy way to predict what a person will need help with.  The presenter made a parallel to spinal cord injury.  Doctors and rehab personnel can make predictions on recovery, ability, and prognosis based on the level of the injury (C1, C3, C5, etc.).  The same is not true for TBI.  As a result, SLPs have developed checklists and ratings scales.  They assess areas of social communication such as taking turns in conversation, staying on topic, making appropriate eye contact, and staying within “polite” social parameters.  One of the ratings scales is given to both the patient and his/her spouse.  The presenter queried, what did we think a person without TBI would say if he/she assessed him/herself?  In other words, how would we, as healthy-brained humans with a certain competency in social skills, view our abilities?

Dismally, it turns out.  I would have enjoyed if he had actually demonstrated this fact by handing out the questionnaires and asking us to rate ourselves before he told us the results, but I believed him, if skeptically.

Later in the day, as I prepared to trade the goose bumps of the icy conference room for the sweltering humidity of the 88 degree day, I briefly touched in with a woman I used to work with.  She was my SLP supervisor for my clinical fellowship year (CFY), and we developed a wonderful relationship as I adjusted to the stresses, challenges, and rewards of that job.  I made a point to ask her how another supervisor of mine was doing.  I left my old job almost a year ago, and she was undergoing chemo and radiation for aggressive lymphoma.  My SLP supervisor began telling me about her, then backtracked and said, “Well, she had cancer, did you know that?”  and I replied, “Of course.  That’s why I’m asking.”   Why else would I ask?  I was in the office as she lost her hair.  I was there when the secretary sent her home because her stamina would not let her work through the day.  I was there when we played substitute supervisor roulette, with a different person to answer to each week.  Of course I knew. 

Now, three hours later, I replay the conversation in my mind, and I’m thinking not just of what I said, but of how I said it. The conference today reminded us of the importance of the tone of voice we use, and how we teach this skill to our clients.  I feel like I snapped back, like I spoke too soon, or too matter-of-factly.  I feel like I came off as a know-it-all.  I blurted it out.  And, just like the rating scale would indicate for a person with “normal” social skills, I find I am beating myself up mercilessly at my apparent inability to say the right thing. 

All of which seemingly makes me normal.  People with typical social communication skills are aware when they make solecisms, reflect when they commit faux-pas, and it appears that they also harangue themselves about it, to some degree.  I do speak too quickly.  I do blurt things out without thinking.  I do have trouble staying on topic.  I do have trouble making conversation in large groups.  I do feel making eye contact can be challenging. 

Don’t we all?

I have a perfect brain.  My mind may be raging with pregnancy hormones, wrestling with self-esteem issues, and dealing with boundaries between my mother and me, but my brain is perfect.  There are not many who can say that and know it empirically, but I can and I do. 

 I was born with a malformed brain, with a vascular anomaly that was fixed 7 years ago today.  Seven years ago, I was in surgery for 9 hours, a surgery that left me with physical and psychological scars.  My head has a narrow band almost from ear to ear where hair does not grow.  My head has a funny ridge of stapled skull bone like two tectonic plates at a fault line.  My smile-on-command-of-photography will never been symmetrical again.  My left hand and leg are weaker than my right, if only barely.  But I’ve come a long way since 7 years ago, when I woke up confused and bloody, with my left arm paralyzed, and speaking in a Mickey Mouse voice. 

Facing surgery and recovering were two of the hardest things I ever had to do, yet I did not do them alone. Through the experience of my brain surgery, Mr. Apron and I faced a momentous trial in our fledgling relationship, a trial that could have scared any normal boyfriend away.  Yet mine, my boyfriend of 16 months (only 14 since we had met in person), was side-by-side with me in my hospital bed, snuggling up against all the medical odium that was this little girl he had met online.  My boyfriend was so committed that the resident who spotted us together in the Stryker bed remarked that having one’s husband next to her was the best therapy there was. 

As we were dating, Mr. Apron told me of his previous relationships, of the girls who came from broken homes, of the girls who had psychological and physical issues, of the one who was allergic to sugar, and ofthe one whose mother was addicted to painkillers.  He told me he unwittingly sought out these “broken” souls trying to fix them.  Realizing it was an impossible task, he vowed to reform, and date only girls who were a mite more stable. 

As we embarked on our own relationship, he thought he had finally snagged a girl who didn’t need to be repaired by doting or sugar-free cakes.  Instead, he found a girl with a deep, dark cranial secret.  In this case, however, it was a secret that could be fixed, that, to this date, has been fixed.  I have not had a seizure since November 2003.  I have not seen my neurosurgeon since 2006, when he told me my brain tissue had effectively “filled in” around the surgical area.  I have not seen an OT or a PT since August 2004, when my insurance company declared me “cured”. 

Today is my “brainniversary”, a day my family celebrates with understated exuberance.  We take a moment to remember the solemnity of the day, and to gratefully praise the successful outcome.  We all know what could have happened on the operating table, or soon afterward.  We all know how fortunate I am to have recovered as much as I have.  And we all know how fortunate I am to have had the support system that will carry me into the next adventure of momentous proportion – becoming a mother of twins.

With pregnancy sneaking up on my demographic, peer group, and blog roll, I am revisiting the term “Mommy Blogger” and trying to ascertain exactly what it is that repulses me so much about the Mommy Blogs. 

“Please don’t become a mommy blogger!!” is a sentiment I’ve seen expressed in the comment section on blogs I read regularly. 

I’ve also read lengthy discussions on these blogs about the etymology of the Mommy Blogger.  People wonder, is blogging about your kid a crime?  Is it so wrong to want to share cute pictures and developmental milestones in your child’s/children’s lives?  If I blog about my kid(s), am I automatically a Mommy Blogger?  I wondered if maybe it wasn’t just the jealousy of those not reproducing yet.

I’d seen it before, in college, when one of my friend group would start dating, and the rest of us would harbor resentment towards her and the boyfriend, individually, and collectively.  It wasn’t fair, to expect we’d all stay single, or all be simultaneously dating.  I understood we were afraid of “losing” her to the guy, that she’d be so sucked into “we” time, and forget to spend time with her friends.  Until she broke up with the guy and needed our support, of course. 

But no, I’ve decided, it’s not even that.  It’s not the jealousy of non-breeders, or not-yet breeders.  It’s not the fear you’ll never go party with her once she has kids and a house in the suburbs.  Or that she’ll never blog about anything besides her baby’s bowel movements again.  What I believe bothers me most about Mommy Bloggers is that they seem to lose who they are – who they were before they became mothers. 

To become a mother is to define yourself in terms of someone else.  The Baby.  Becoming a wife or a girlfriend is also an identity in terms of someone else,  but to women, babies are all-consuming, in time and energy.  Obsessed with exuding idealized versions of motherhood, we erase what made us special before we got knocked up.  We lose our “me-ness”. 

Or we are in danger of losing our “me-ness” if we let ourselves become the equivalent of Mommy Bloggers.  It’s not that blogging about your kid(s) is inherently offensive.  Or bad.  Or wrong.  Or isolating to your readership.  I’m as drawn to baby pictures as my hormones will allow (I cry easily at Johnson & Johnson commercials at this point in my pregnancy).  I won’t be able to ignore my burgeoning belly as I continue to blog, nor the beings that exit my womb in December (yes, December is when the parasites are due).  But I hope won’t lose track of who I am. 

I am a daughter who is working out issues with her mother.  I am a coworker who loves to bring in baked goods to sabotage people’s diets.  I am a crafter/seamstress who makes her own clothing and sometimes shares her crafts at craft fairs.  I am a speech-language pathologist who cannot resist a small child with a speech delay.  I am a dog person who thinks Cesar Milan is a puffed-up Oprah minion.  I am a short woman who has difficulty finding a bra.  I am a person who had brain surgery in 2004 and is still afraid to have a single alcoholic drink for fear it will lower my seizure threshold.  I am a lover of antiques and vintage clothing.  I am a collector of shoes and Anthropologie skirts.  I am a reader.  I am a painter of fingernails in bright colors.  I am a consumer of vast quantities of chocolate.  I am all of these people now, and I will continue to be all of these people after I add “mother of twins” to my resume.  But I will never be only a mother, and I will try my hardest to remember who I am as a being separate from my dogs, husband, and children. 

Some time ago, on, I began to become irked by some of the profile signatures I’d see which read something like: “SAHM to 4, army wife”. 

And I wanted to say, “Yeah, but who are you?”

Well, you might as well hear it from me today.  You’ll be hearing it from Mr. Apron as of 7:18am anyhow.  I’m the one more affected right now, and for next 6 months.  Well, 28 weeks, if we’re talking full gestational time. 

And pregnancy. 

We did it.  We really did it this time.  We held our tongues, we waited until 12 weeks, we were cautiously optimistic from the first ultrasound until this past week.  We’re finally ready to tell. 

After our miscarriage in the fall of 2009, we’ve been trying on and off to get pregnant.  We’ve been waylaid by a variety of issues, some of which may have had to do with fertility, some of which were “life events” (changing jobs, health issues).  Finally, I got up the nerve to talk to my OB/GYN, who referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist, in other words, an infertility doctor.  I have blogged about the infertility testing, about the waiting and the nervousness.  I have even blogged about finding out April 7, 2011, from the R.E. that there was technically “nothing” wrong with our fertility. 

What I didn’t blog about was the positive pee-on-a-stick a mere week later, on April 14, and the celebratory hair cut the next day.  I didn’t blog about any of it.  I’ve kept rather quiet lately.  What’s been on my mind has not been on my blog, because I committed myself to wait until 12 weeks. 

Which is today, folks.  As I cannot recreate my feelings from April 14, or from my first ultrasound April 28th, I will post a piece I wrote the week after the ultrasound, when everything became very, very real.  I must warn you, it’s long.  But there’s a nice surprise in it.  I hope you decide to read the whole thing. 

A few years ago, while I was preparing for and recovering from my brain surgery, I experienced a phenomenon akin to a 24-hour news cycle in my head.  It was one of those news stories that the media refuse to let go of, and cover every single possible angle, until I cannot bear to listen even to NPR, and my measly daily 20 minutes of “The Today Show” becomes torturous.  It’s the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, it’s Hurricane Katrina, it’s the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers, it’s the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.  Except this broadcast is solely in my head.  There was a stock ticker constantly parading the following messages, with its many dimensions and subtle variations, all day and all night long:

Brain surgery…brain surgery…brain surgery…recovery…brain surgery…hospital…brain surgery…brain…

I could not shut it off, I could not change the channel, I could not turn down the volume.  It was exactly like the night my (then) boyfriend and mother spent in the surgical waiting room at the hospital where I was to have my craniotomy.  Bridget Jones’ Diary was playing on loop on the television. 

“He likes me for me?”

They could not turn it off, change the channel, or turn it down.

Eventually, with time, some cathartic writing and a mixed media assemblage, the “voices” quieted.  But they’re back, on a different channel.  My 24-hour news cycle is stuck covering the top story of the moment.  No, not the Royal Wedding, not the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves, not even Charlie Sheen’s stand-up tour.  This time, my brain is covering all possible angles of my pregnancy. 

At first, I was in denial about the whole thing.  I’d be humming along in my daily routines, and every once in a while, a thought would surface, and I’d realize, “I’m pregnant?  Wow!”  I almost didn’t believe it.  After trying to conceive for nearly 18 months since our miscarriage, my disbelief was probably some sort of protective mechanism designed to keep me from being too hopeful.  I could be cautious, since the risk of miscarriage looms heavily in our minds.  Over the last 2 weeks, as my lab work has come back with promising levels of pregnancy hormones, I’m gradually coming around.  There’s nothing like a respected medical professional to help me believe the results I saw on my own home pregnancy test.  We were almost able to come to some sort of jubilant, yet cautious, optimism.  We were almost able to think our greatest challenge would be biting our tongues to avoid telling our friends and family too soon. 

Then there was a new challenge. 

“Are you okay…with what I just told you?”  the ultrasound technician asked, vaguely. 

As she maneuvered the ultrasound wand deep in my girl parts, I mumbled a faint, “Uh huh.”  I had seen exactly what she had on the screen, but I didn’t believe it.  She said it, and I didn’t believe it. 

There.  Were.  Two.  Sacs.  Two.  Babies. 

I texted my husband to come into the room.  I looked directly into his eyes, trying to sit him down on the rolly stool in the exam room. 

“Oh, God, “ he said, “It’s twins, isn’t it?”

So much for my attempts at breaking the news gently.  I showed him the images the tech printed for me.  We sat numbly on a bench in the hallway, waiting for my doctor to tell us what we had just found out from the tech.  I looked at him, numbly.  “What have we done?”  I said.

With any fertility treatment, with any “assisted” reproduction, the rules change.  Though I only did one cycle at the lowest dose of Clomid, though the risk of multiples is still minimal, we managed to do it.  We made jokes about Mr. Apron’s virility; we stared blankly at each other, our minds reeling. 


Our house suddenly seemed very small.  The pregnancy suddenly went from a silly normal thing to a diagnosis of massive proportion. Humans are not meant to be so endowed.  Wombs are meant to be single-passenger models.  We are not the most fertile of species to begin with.  We’re supposed to bear heirs, not litters.  I suddenly had an image of myself as a sow, collapsed on the barnyard floor, 8 piglets vying for my attention. 

“You were only on one dose of Clomid, right?” my doctor asked.  Mr. Apron thought she maybe was checking to see if I didn’t slip myself a few more for good measure.  I think, rather, she was checking with her own clinical judgment, as in, “I only prescribed you one, right?”  What had we done?

I never wanted twins.  I’ll say that up front.  I wanted to have one baby at a time, and to be able to give my undivided attention to my first.  I didn’t want the additional risk of prematurity, of developmental delay, of breathing and feeding problems.  I didn’t want the additional burden of going out of my way to make sure each of my children had separate identities.  I didn’t want to worry about giving them separate social experiences, encouraging each to excel in different areas, letting them have distinct friend groups.  I didn’t want to think about terrible twos times two, or potty training two at a time.  I didn’t want to think about twice as many diapers, or buying two of everything. 

Sure, there’s a chance one of them will “vanish”.  There’s actually quite a significant percentage of singleton babies who started out gestation as one of twins.  Most people, not having ultrasounds until they are 10-12 weeks along, would have no idea they had even been pregnant with twins.   This happened to friends of ours.  Due to their own infertility, they, too, had an early ultrasound that showed two yolk sacs, and a few weeks later, one had vanished.  I comforted myself with this possibility.

To say we could not concentrate at work the day we got the news was an understatement.  To say we were preoccupied was like saying having twins is a little bit harder than having a singleton.  There have been a few days like this in my life, days where shocking news has hijacked my brain at work, and left me barely able to function at my job – when I started dating Mr. Apron, when we became engaged, the week before our wedding, when I got my AVM diagnosis and was preparing for surgery.  Somehow, we made it through the day.  Of course, the news channel was broadcasting a little differently:


I cheerily told myself and my husband that I was coping a bit better with the shock yesterday.  Last night, in a wave of nausea and fatigue, I decided to stay home while Mr. Apron and his sister went to the art museum.  After a nap, I began my googling. 

I had not been able to do it before – the level of shock was overwhelming.  It loomed large, indistinct, and stupefying, inarticulate.  But last night, I was able to formulate some real questions, and to go in search of some answers to calm, or at least inform, myself. 

“Do you really need two of everything when you have twins?”

No.  You can even get away with having one crib, with a crib divider, for several months, or longer.

“When are twins usually born?”

At 37 weeks gestation.

“Are twins usually born in a C-section?”

Not necessarily.  Twins can be born vaginally, depending on their position and size. 

“Is there a Mothers of Multiples chapter near me?”

Absolutely.  They have a twice-yearly clothing/toy exchange and offer support for women pregnant with multiples as well as moms of twins, triplets, etc.   

After I finished my bit of googling, Mr. Apron came home, and I felt better.  But as the night wore on, and I saw 1am, 2am, and 3am, I knew my mind was far from satisfied.  My brain was broadcasting the 24-hour twin channel, though it was varying its coverage a little more than before.  Whereas the shock of seeing two embryos had merely triggered TWINS…TWINS…TWINS…, I now had fully formed anxieties, articulated worries, manic concerns, and specific trepidation. 

I was rearranging furniture as I tossed and turned.  I emptied the office/craft room of our grown-up stuff, and set up bunk beds.  I renovated the bathroom and added maximum storage.  I set up two high chairs in the dining room.  I conceived of napping and changing stations in every part of our house.  I relegated our sharp-edged coffee table to the basement and imagined myself propping up babies on various pillows for feeding.  I thought about double-strollers, and trips to the grocery store.  I imagined myself pushing a cart with one infant in a car seat, the other strapped into a Snugli.  I saw two car seats in each of our cars. I saw the twins who lived down the street until last summer.  I imagined a half-dozen ways to break the news to our families, in two-steps of jaw-dropping.  In one version, I designed a pop-up card with two windows, a la “Spot the Dog”.  Window one opens, telling them of their impending grandparent-hood or of our pregnancy in general. Window two then opens, revealing the twin-surprise.  I imagined myself shuffling around work with my feet swollen, belly impossibly huge, fielding questions from my students.  I conceived of the trip I planned this summer with my sister, of being huge in August, a month full of weather I don’t handle so well when I’m not a vessel for two other lives.  In spite of my googling, I fear.  I know I’m petite.  I wonder if I can carry them to term.  I worry about having to go on bed-rest.  I wonder about giving birth.  I worry about the increased possibility of a C-section.  I worry I won’t be able to provide enough milk for them.  I worry I won’t be able to keep them safe and happy.  I worry we will fail them at every stage.

And in that way, I am already bonding with my babies.  I feel guilty for hoping one of them would vanish, for wishing the easier, “normal” route on my husband and me.  I already worry about my babies, even though they are scarcely the size of a sweet pea each.  They each have a heartbeat, at 105 bpm. Is what I’m eating enough for them?  Am I staying active enough, resting enough?  Will the dogs take to the babies?  Will I be able to keep them safe and healthy inside me, until I’m charged with keeping them safe and healthy for the rest of their lives? 

People often adopt sayings, which explain away unfortunate circumstances, or justify unforeseen events.  My mother-in-law is a firm believer in “Things happen for a reason”.  She’d probably try to foist that on us now, if she knew.  Right after she threw up her hands and began worrying about them.   Religious people are known to say, “HaShem/God will never give you anything you cannot handle.”  Even Erma Bombeck is guilty of explaining how children of special needs are given only to women who are strong enough.  None of these clichés appeals to me, as I can see how directly they come from a need to rationalize and justify hardship, suffering, disability, and disease.  I know that none of those mottos will be the one to shut down the constant broadcast of news through my conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious brain as I try to go about my daily life for the next 8 months.  I only hope that the two outlets I have will be able to succeed where google failed.  Through writing about my fears and worries, and through sharing them with my husband, I hope I’ll be able to change the channel.

Or at least turn down the volume.  Too much noise may damage the babies’ hearing.

I had a three-hour training this afternoon on being a mandated reporter.  By the time we were finished discussing the minutiae, I was more tangled up in bureaucratic loopholes than before.  And probably less likely to actually understand my responsibilities.  I texted my sister at the onset of the meeting.  She is a case worker for Children, Youth, and Families, so she’s, shall we say, intimately involved in the effects of mandated reporting.  She’s the mean lady who takes the kids away from their tearful mommies in all the Hallmark films.  She wrote back immediately: “3 hours?  Kid comes in with his arm hanging out of its socket, call us.  That’s it.”  At least someone could explain it to me.

I went to the grocery store in the heat wave tonight.  At least while I’m shopping, I’m not paying for the air-conditioning.  Well, not directly anyway.  My mother feels that “food shopping” (as we called it in college) is always an acceptable activity, regardless of the actual capacity of the refrigerator.  After all, with so many non-perishables, you can always stock up, and they never really go bad.  Her basement contains enough granola bars, boxes of pasta, chocolate chips, and cans of Spaghetti O’s to last a nuclear holocaust.  When The Rapture does happen, head for her house. 

I picked up a package of grape tomatoes for Mr. Apron’s salad.  I thought I’d been meticulous in turning the package over and scanning for bruised or rotten fruit, as I’d been with the strawberries.  Apparently, I had missed a moldy tomato, as I discovered at the check-out.  The woman bagging volunteered to go grab me another package, sans mold.  I handed over my rejected package, and the cashier in turn handed them to the bagger, to put back on the shelf.  Is this my cultural bias showing, or should a store employee not put rotten produce back on the shelf to be sold?  Are there people who enjoy the “probiotic cultures” from a wormy apple, a bruised peach, or a rotten strawberry?  It reminded me of a time when I was working with preschoolers.  They had made a vegetable soup, chopping all the veg themselves.  When it was clear the Crock-Pot was full, the teachers started offering the extra veg  to the kids to try.  I scanned the mixture, and quickly began removing the raw potatoes from the bowl before the kids could eat them.  The teacher questioned me, asking if there was a reason I was taking out the potatoes.  I blanked.  Surely she didn’t see raw potatoes as edible?  Suitable for kids?  Surely there was a reason I’ve never eaten one?  Are they even fit to eat?  It seemed then like a cultural bias I had brought to the table, but then again, maybe she was just crazy. 

As I pulled into my little street, I squealed with delight (silently, of course), as I saw that “my” parking spot – the one I had left an hour ago – was still open.  Our block holds 15 cars if everyone behaves, doesn’t take up unnecessary space, and no landscaping trucks take up temporary residence.  Our neighbors across the street, however, do not behave.  They’re an elderly couple who have a white German Shepherd named “Kody”.  He (the owner, not the dog) wears an atrocious toupee, and they boy drive Buicks, enormous Buicks, one of which is the Rendezvous, the ugliest Buick known to mankind.  Neither of them can park.  To watch the experience is like witnessing a Windex bird fly into the clean patio door in slow motion – it takes forever, the end result is inevitable, and it’s an exercise in anticipatory pain.  You’d think the car was actually a yacht with the visibility and turning radius of a tank.  They always leave a good 6-10 extra feet on either side of their cars, thus eating up, if they’ve schemed correctly with both their cars, 2 additional parking spaces.  I take great delight in rendering their horrid parking moot by parking as close to them as I can.  It’s like I’m passive-aggressively teaching them, “This is the proper distance between cars.  Got it?” Tonight, I was able to reclaim an entire parking space with my superior parking job, which hopefully Mr. Apron will be using any minute now.

I am proctoring a final exam in biology, 7th grade science. They’ve studied the circulatory and digestive systems this semester, and this is their final test. I am also a “reader”, accommodating students whose reading fluency would negatively impact their ability to decipher words such as “esophagus” and “salivary”, and would be a barrier in their ability to demonstrate their knowledge. I read every single question, and every single answer. I pause, waiting an eternity for them to match 5. with C., before moving on. I have said the word “anus” in a calm, articulated manner, no fewer than 8 times.

Sometimes, I feel like a fraud, like my entire first year teaching here has been a crash-course in learning disabilities. Sure, I had a course in written language disorders, and one of my professors in my school-age language disorders class talked with us about her daughter’s struggle with dyslexia. We learned about acquired dyslexia in adults who have strokes, and about the theoretical models of reading. But really, I hadn’t worked with a single kid with dyslexia until I began this job. I knew next to nothing, and much of my experience in working with children with speech and language disorders was useless.

Even worse, as someone to whom reading, spelling, and writing came effortlessly, I was ill-prepared with reading strategies, and low on empathy. One of the buzz words in education – which often seems like a euphemism – is learning differences, not learning disabilities. While it may definitely be that dyslexia is a learning disability, these kids can still learn to become fluent, proficient readers, but they will have to learn differently. I did not know what that meant. I internalized spelling rules (when to doubling consonants, when dropping an ‘e’ before adding a suffix) as I learned to spell, but I had never been taught them explicitly (except for the rhyming ones: “I before E except after C, or when sounded as A as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’. Exceptions: Neither foreigner has leisure to seize the weird heights.”). And now I was being asked to support kids who need to know those tools, who need those strategies repeated and reinforced daily.

Suddenly, instead of working on “go car” and picture exchange communication, I was faced with 5-paragraph essays, topic sentences, main ideas, and open and closed syllables. Morphology, something I hadn’t looked at since reviewing linguistics for my comprehensive speech-pathology exams, was now front and center. Apparently, 6th graders with dyslexia study Latin roots. My 9th graders are studying Buddhism, and my 10th graders are knee-deep in an analysis of Romeo & Juliet that goes leagues beyond the iambic pentameter I learned so many years ago.

Mr. Apron said yesterday that my post-secondary education provided the background knowledge, so that I can figure out the underlying mechanisms, so that I can figure out applicable strategies and levels of support. In a way, I can use some of what I learned working with preschoolers; it just looks different. Now, instead of holding up a paper square with a picture of a toilet when calling a child to the bathroom, my visual support looks like pulling up a Google image every time a student says “what’s that?” when we’re reading through a book about the 1930s. Simplifying and breaking down directions is not so different either. They’re just following different directions, and using more pencils and MacBooks than crayons and Legos.

There is a tremendous amount of common sense involved in working with kids with dyslexia. For the ones with memory issues, you have to spell things letter by letter, not letting out a whole string at a time. For the ones with comprehension issues, you pull out all the visual aids, and reread and reformulate information until you’re blue in the face. You don’t give answers to kids struggling to express themselves; you gradually lead out of them what you’re fairly certain they already know by using cues, prompts, hints, and carefully worded questions. If a kid has difficulty with word recall – already today I’ve seen a girl struggle to recall the words “streamers” and “pipe cleaners” – you give them multiple choice questions. You don’t teach vocabulary by memorizing a verbatim definition; you teach new words in the context of a text, with a million different associations, connections, and shades of meaning.

Still, sometimes I feel like I’m faking it until I have absorbed enough terminology from the reading teachers, methodology from the writing teachers, and ideas from the English teachers. I feel like I’m expected to be all three, yet I’ve never taken a single education course in my life. Each time I sign up for a teacher discount at a store, I feel like I’m doing so fraudulently. Not because I’m not technically a teacher, but because I don’t feel worthy of the patience, expertise, and knowledge I have come to associate with the educators at this school, and the title of teacher that these men and women bear.

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June 2011