Friday, March 27, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Calls in Sick

I don't know a single hard working woman in her twenties that hasn't uttered the phrase, 'I don't call in sick'. This is an American thing, I think. I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to going to work with chills, on the verge of vomiting, or choking on phlegm, but that has always been less about pride and more wanting to reserve my sick days for long weekends and/or the worst hangover of my life.

I felt it coming on Monday, but pushed. I went to school on Tuesday voiceless, but that's not saying much-- my lungs are always the first to cave to a compromised immune system. I figured I'd plow through the day, get to bed early on Tuesday night, and be well by Wednesday.

Wednesday morning started off fine, but by lunch I was aching all over. By evening I was so delirious with fever that I thought I was dreaming when the judges on American Idol finally told that hot chick with the tattoo sleeve that she actually sucks as a singer. I didn't feel all too guilty about calling in sick on Thursday-- I only had two classes, and they were testing anyway.

Last night, while propped up on the couch surrounded by clouds of Kleenex and a high-tech thermometer, I realized I had a serious choice on my hands. Do I take another day to get well? Friday I had some important lessons to get through; it wasn't just a day of quiet testing. My quandary was further complicated by memories of an email a student sent me the last time I had to call a sub to take part in a study at a local university. Here's an excerpt:

Anyways, I don't know if anyone turned in a rough draft but I know for fact me and my friends around me were working. Although we did not get them done. Anyways I was concerned that the entire class will be in trouble when really we were just as normal as we always are...I just thought you should know what happened, either before or after you read her report on today's class.

I made myself a deal that if my temperature got any higher than 99.9 degrees then I would call in. When it did, I told myself that once it got over 100, I'd definitely call in. When it reached 101, I honestly said to myself, '101 is not that high. I can do this.'

When L got off a work call and found me crouched on the bathroom floor to feel the coolness of the tiles on my skin, I knew enough was enough. I didn't care about what the sub would or wouldn't do with my classes today; I didn't care about the emails that will surely come from students absolving themselves for giving him/her a hard time. I'll deal with it Monday, when I'm well.

A woman in her thirties finally gets that, sick or not, this world has the craziest way of spinning along without her help.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is Suddenly Rich. And White.

I was having a conference today after school with a student I'll call G. G is a good kid, a really good kid actually, but his home life is not all that spectacular. Couple that with severe ADHD and processing issues, and his grades don't reflect anywhere near the potential he has in life.

He told me about an idea he had about going to a trade school to learn to be an electrician, and I couldn't have been happier about the prospect. That kind of work is perfect for someone like G-- he can focus on being the best at what he does, he can take jobs as he pleases, and the money is great. No essay writing involved.

'Yeah,' he said. 'I already have a plan. I'm going to learn to be an electrician and then I'm going to go to rich white neighborhoods and knock on doors and see if they need electrical work.'

I was ready to develop a business plan for him, but he interrupted me.

'No offense.'

I stalled, experiencing the same processing issues G must face on a daily basis. 'No offense?' Wait, by 'rich white neighborhoods' could he have been talking about me?

I don't think there was a day in my twenties that went by that I wasn't living paycheck to paycheck. Relief came in the form of an expat gig in Asia, when I sold all my possessions and got myself out of some seriously dire financial straits. My current pay grade could be called laughable when compared to the work I do.

Rich? Me?

As far as the 'white' comment goes, that was just rude. A line of waiting Hispanics at the bank I used to work at would tell you I am surely Mexican. In Asia, I was half Chinese three times and half Korean once. In Vietnam, talking to an Australian-Maltese woman, I had to be at least half Portuguese.

White? Me?

As I drove home to my downtown apartment thinking about the rigatoni I was going to make for dinner I realized that from what G sees everyday, he is right. I am both to him, and neither to me.

A woman in her thirties is amazed by the power of the image she portrays, no matter how false. Or how true.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Measures Success with Donuts

When I worked in the corporate world, I bore the weight of unhappiness in two ways. Physically, I bore the weight of five days a week worth of wet burritos. Not pretty. Emotionally, I bore the weight in my chest like a boulder that grew heavier and heavier with each passing day. The day I quit I lost fifteen pounds in my soul and, in the months later, fifteen pounds in my ass.

The one thing I miss about working in a world of spreadsheets and 'planning to plan' meetings was the small amount of satisfaction I got when I knew I had succeeded in my job. Boring, mundane, and trivial as it was, if my customers in Malaysia got their ethernet controllers when they were supposed to, I could shut down my computer and call it a day.

Not so in teaching. Success is a relative term, and often depends on the amount of sleep and/or food the students have had before seeing you every day. Couple that with relationship problems, gang violence, part-time jobs, and parents who just don't understand, and I can have forty kids in my sophomore class on any given day who will take away forty different things (or nothing at all) from my lesson on poetry. Most days I wonder if anything I said made sense to my kids, and if they really hate me as much as the looks on their faces say they do.

Today, day one of my Romeo and Juliet performances, I stopped by Stan's for some treats for my freshmen. They've been working hard but I really had no idea what to expect. Did they understand what they were supposed to do? Did they really get something from memorizing the lines and performing them?

I was not disappointed. I knew when Friar Lawrence came out on a skateboard as R2D2 that the donuts were well deserved.

'That was fun,' C said to a friend when she was leaving my classroom today, and I felt a sudden surge in my chest, one I hadn't felt in a long time. It was the fulfillment that comes from knowing that I'd succeeded at my job. It's not something I can quote on a resume (or can I?), but in the teaching world, this is about as good as it gets.

And so, after five years in education and thirty years on the planet, I finally understand that success can't be measured with charts and graphs. Success, rather, is heard in the voices of people who don't know we're listening. And smells a lot like a glazed apple fritter.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is Afraid

Today on NPR I was listening to a list of fears created by a developmentally disabled man in New York. He published a list of almost 200 fears in a small magazine, some as simple as 'I'm afraid of getting lost in a large hospital', and some as profound as 'I'm afraid I didn't do all I could to give my mother a happy life.'

It got me thinking about my fears. Here are a few:

1. I fear incredibly large and incredibly small things, and this stems from an unfortunate display of horses at the California State Fair circa 2000. Giant horses scare me, as do miniature ponies. And people. (Sorry).

2. I fear airplanes, which is strange because I've done lots and lots of flying. It's scary every time. And gross. Do they EVER wipe down the arm rests? I'm just asking.

3. I fear people who truly, honestly, think that this is it; that there is nothing more. It scares me to think just how many people like that are out there, and it scares me more to think deep down I might be one of them.

4. I am afraid of the dark. It's true. Ask L.

5. I fear getting gray hair. So far I've been spared. I don't fear the getting older part, but I do fear having to start to dye my hair again. Hated that.

6. I fear things aren't as they seem to be, and they never were.

7. I fear the homeless guy who stands on the corner of U and W all day and never says a word.

8. I fear being a bad Mom, and that's not just because S planted the seed some years back.

9. I fear Ann Coulter. I honestly think I would pee my pants in her presence. She is a lunatic and will stop at nothing until she and her cat Azreal have taken over Smurf Village.

10. I fear that the developmentally disabled man who published his list of fears has accomplished a dream that I never will. I fear that my own self-consciousness will prevent me from taking risks in life.

A woman in her thirties conquers her fears from the bottom up.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Embraces the Teacher Within

I thought my longstanding feud with Banana Republic was over when, after receiving a 30% off coupon from M on Friday, I actually found three articles of clothing that both fit and weren't ridiculously expensive. (Thanks M, by the way!)

This morning I was feeling pretty good about myself when I left my apartment. My new digs don't exactly scream supermodel, but I was happy to have added another element to my drab weekly rotation of work clothes. Nothing hides year old Naturalizers like a new button down cardigan... right?

My freshmen are rehearsing scenes for Romeo and Juliet, and I was working with a group of three girls this morning who are setting the final scene of the play, the scene where Romeo and Juliet lay dead and everyone mourns the tragedy, in a modern day classroom. Friar Lawrence will be portrayed as a nerdy student. The Price will actually a Princess, sitting at the front of the room doing her makeup. And Lady Capulet, overcome with grief, will be portrayed as the school teacher in a scene I think Shakespeare would find both hilarious and confusing at the same time.

'You've got to wear a nice outfit,' the girl playing the Princess told K, the girl playing the school teacher. 'Because teachers are supposed to dress nice.'

K pointed at me and said, 'Well I don't wanna look like her!'

I don't know what was more classic-- the look of horror on K's face when she realized she had just insulted me, or the peels of laughter that came from the other members of the group.

'Oh my god!' K shouted over the noise. 'I didn't mean that. I mean you look fine. I mean I just don't want to look like a teacher all day. I mean... it's just...'

No one laughed longer and louder than I did, and I think that's a mark of twenty nine years of taking myself way too seriously. A woman in her thirties can think of a lot worse things to look like than herself.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Springs Forward

I heard on the radio this morning that the shift in the spring for daylight savings time causes today, the first work day on the new schedule, to be marked by moodiness, fatigue, and general suicidal tendencies. Not exactly the Monday morning wake up I was hoping for, especially given a slew of work-related drama that has kept me wondering why it is I got into the political and often thankless world of teaching.

This was in the back of my mind all day, and while I wanted to find a reason to use my morning fact on my students to remind them to be nice to me, I really couldn't. Today was a great day all on its own, made only greater by the fact that the sun shone a little longer this evening than it normally does.

I feel like this past winter I've been in hibernation. I been fixing and working and discovering, wondering and worrying and wishing, hoping and praying and all the things that go along with the chaotic life I've made for myself. Tonight I reflected back on last year at this time, when I thought by this point I would be all settled and I'd finally have a chance to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Curveball upon curveball, and I'm telling myself the same thing I was 365 days and 7000 miles ago. Next year I'll have it all figured out. Next year....

It's been thirty years of waiting for the next big thing, and I'm afraid I've listened a little too closely to radio DJs who mention in passing that my day might suck; allowed people who don't know me dictate how I lead my life . It's tempting to look back and critique all my choices; pile up the bricks of my life and see only how crooked things have turned out.

I've decided my springing forward this year will be a metaphorical one as well. No more looking back, no more living in a wistful Someday. Tonight I am taking in the events of the day and hoping that next year I remember this moment, the lightness that has come from feeling, for the first time in a long while, that I am exactly where I belong.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Assumes a New Identity

I always felt lucky to be a girl because when girls get married they have the option of taking a new name. New name, new identity. New story. It has never been a question for me whether or not I would take my husband's name when I got married. Taking the name, I thought, went along with taking the rock. I know that it's outdated; I know it's not for every woman. But for me it was an easy choice. New husband, new life, new start, new name. That's the way I always thought it would go.

So why was it so hard for me to drag myself to the social security office and change my name officially this afternoon? At first I thought it was the depressing, jail-like waiting room that was bringing me down. But as I sat there waiting for my number to be called I felt myself holding my old social security card, looking at the loopy fourth grade signature on the bottom and thinking, 'this is it. You're officially a part of your husband now'. It felt like I was readying my left arm to be cut off.

This rush of emotion at changing my name confused me. My name is long and complicated, often mispronounced and almost always misspelled. I used to hate my name as a kid, wishing for something short like Jem (after Jem and the Rockers, my favorite show). I married someone whose last name is short and to the point-- just what I'd been looking for. It wasn't the 'ethnicness' of the name either, because let's face it I've earned the right to say Wo she ban ge Zhong Guo ren, ni yo wen ti ma?

It was something else-- something more acute. It was a combination of holding on and letting go at the same time that tugged at my chest and made me think of all the ways we women in particular give up, change, and re-discover ourselves for the ones we love.

By the time I left the office I was on the phone joking with my friends about the experience. 'You'll get used to it', K said, and I know she's right. I've gotten used to every re-invention of myself over the last thirty years, and this will be no different.

I do, however, think there should be an addendum at the bottom of that form you have to sign when you hand over your marriage certificate and make the new name official. It should be legally binding and signed by our spouses. The wording should read something like this:

I, the undersigned, understand that the person I've married has just made a symbolic commitment to our family. She has given up her last name, something that identified her for a long time, in order to show her devotion to me and our future. I will not take this gesture lightly, and promise to make sure she knows how much I appreciate this though means such as jewelry, foreplay, and putting the toilet seat down.
In signing this document, I am stating for the record that I am the luckiest person on the planet that this amazing woman chose me for her spouse.


Of course if I thought L didn't know all these things already, I wouldn''t have married him. But that's not the point. A woman in her thirties knows that not all sacrifices belong unnoticed.