Best of La Crosse County 2018

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Hey, there! If you are here from the Explore La Crosse page, Hello!  I’m Christy and I’m a writer, and somehow I got on this list with Randy Erickson and Sue Hessel, who have been writers in this community for MUCH longer than I have, and who are excellent role-models and WAY more talented than I.  Top 3!  Craziness!

I am SO honored, and I’m sure it was with a little help from my friends. 🙂 Love you, guys!

Anyway, I’m a 4th grade teacher, a mama, and a published author. My book, Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies, will be released on March 29th. It’s a book about grief, and humor, and love, and all the other things that come along with loss.

I also have a Facebook page: where I try really hard to make you laugh and brighten up your day. You can keep up with everything I’m doing over there! I’d love it if you go and “like” my page.

Lastly, you can find me as a regular on the podcast Friending and a regular contributor to Still Standing Magazine.

I’m so glad you’re here. Stay a while!

XO,

Christy

 

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A Gun in My Classroom? As if.

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Photo by David Levêque on Unsplash

*Note: These examples are not from my actual, current, class, just examples that I have experienced often as a teacher. I don’t want my students’ families to think I’m sharing sensitive information. XO*

5:24 a.m. The alarm goes off. My alarm ringer is an Eminem song. The only 10 seconds where I get to listen to the music I actually like rather than the soundtrack from The Lego Movie.

5:40 a.m. Stumble downstairs to walk on the dreadmill treadmill. Listen to serial killer podcast. Be constantly on alert for someone to bust through the door and kidnap me.

6:20 a.m. Shower. Within 5 minutes, one child will be awake. They will either:

a)attempt to get in shower

b)tell me at length about the dream they had

c)crawl under the bedspread on the bed I just made and wrangle it all up.

I’ll spare you 6:40-7:40, and we’ll just call that “The part where I repeat directions a lot, talk about how I’ll lose my job if we’re any later, and find ‘the other sock’.”

7:40: Walk into work. Chat with the custodian. On the way to my classroom door, the guidance counselor sees me. We chat about a student who we are trying to help.

7:55: While working on getting my instructional materials ready for the day, putting my lunch in the fridge, shoving my purse in my desk drawer (since I don’t have a place to lock it anywhere), the phone rings. It is a parent who wants me to know her child is constipated. I need to let him use the bathroom at any time, no questions asked.

8:10: Pull up e-mail. Topics include:

*a fundraiser for a district family with cancer

*a staff member’s family member has just died

*an agenda for a meeting that is after school until 5:00

*money I owe for dues

*5 questions from my 4th-grade team about one math lesson we are trying to iron out.

*An e-mail from a parent telling me that their son forgot their homework last night and could I please not be mad at him or yell at him because he feels really bad

*An e-mail from a colleague that tells me one of my students has been written up 3 times in a month and I need to email the parent.

8:25: The kids come in. I am bombarded with stories. I get 4 excuses for why their homework is not done (I had dance last night, I forgot, did we have homework last night? and I had to watch my brother’s wrestling match). I get shown a Harry Potter shirt, a new container of slime, a pencil-topper that blinks, and that someone is now on page 69 already of their book.

8:40: as I begin to teach math, the phone rings. There is a lunch bag in the office for one of my kids. As I hang up, a student approaches, “Mrs. W, my lips are bleeding because they are so chapped.” I point to the vaseline I always have, with Q-tips, just for this reason. I pass out a bandaid. I send a kid to the nurse, who comes back up to go home since he has a fever.

Back to math.

I notice one girl does not look well. As soon as I can, I check in with her to find that her parents were fighting all night and she’s exhausted.

Back to math.

While assigning partners, a student explodes and runs out of the room in anger.

10 minutes later, that student is settled back in, and its back to math.

At the very end of math, as we line up to go to related arts, I see a teacher at my door. She wants to quick check-in on my reading lesson for the day, because she pushes into my classroom to help kids.

Related arts is my prep time. Except, we have a meeting.

During the meeting, we all meet and talk about data.

Reading, writing, math, what are we doing for this kid, does he have enough interventions? Should we move her from reading to math? Why do we think he’s not doing so well anymore? Her parents are gone and her brother is raising her while they work across the country. His mom is in jail. She is adopted. Do we think it’s social/emotional, or is there an academic need?

I stay in this meeting until the second past its time to go pick up my class from related arts. I realize I haven’t found the time to use the bathroom yet.

10:40 Time for reading. Search room because kids are starving and don’t have snack with them. Discover some old saltines in my drawer and offer them up, shrugging. I’ve spent a hundred bucks at least this year on animal crackers. While the kids eat something quickly, I start teaching the reading lesson.

A kid approaches me on the side, I don’t have anything to read at home, is it ok if I borrow one of your books? I go into my bag and grab the books I ordered from Scholastic for my own daughter, and give those to her. Keep these, I tell her.

During the reading lesson, one of my students has her head on the desk. What’s up, I ask. Well, she says, I got made fun of yesterday at recess and now I don’t want to go out.

Stay in here today, I tell her. You can eat lunch with me and we’ll figure out a plan.

Student leaves for a behavior break. I read with a 4th grader who has a reading comprehension level of a 1st grader.

Time for lunch.

I check my e-mail while I wait for my student to return. They include:

*Dress-up days for next week

*Overdue books

*Can I do a meeting over lunch on Friday? There’s no other time

*Guidance counselor wants one of my kids at this time once a week starting now

*Parent wants an update on a spelling intervention

*Don’t forget to bring your item for the potluck, order this t-shirt

*Another teacher is upset with me because I didn’t tell her that one of my students was moving to a different level of behavior (did I even know, I wonder?)

I check to make sure I’m ready to teach writing and science and intervention when the kids come back. Realize that we ran out of time when we were planning and I was supposed to pull books for everyone. I had gone to the library but gotten called down to the office when my student had stomped out of the cafeteria in anger. Run to library and pull books, drop them off for my co-workers, and then pull out my lunch.

The student is back and by the time she’s ready to go back to her friends, we both have cried. My heart hurts. It just feels like so much, sometimes, the hurt that our kids are experiencing

As she’s walking out the door, there is a fire alarm. We race outside. While out there, guidance chats to me about a situation where a parent is no longer allowed to pick up his son, who is in my class. I need to stay on alert and if I see him, call the principal immediately and don’t let him in.

I get inside and make a quick call to a parent, confirming that she will volunteer in my classroom the next day. While I have you on the phone, she says, my kid has been having some problems with friendships. Can you help?

At this point, it is NOT EVEN 12:00.

And you.

Want me.

To HAVE A GUN?

A gun.

As if I can do one.more.thing.

As if I signed up to be in the military. As if I enrolled to defend my country, and went through basic training, and got training and free college and socialized healthcare.

As if I took this job knowing my own children could lose their mom so I can fend off a shooter who shouldn’t have a gun in the first place.

As if.

 

The other night I was at Target, all by myself. I had just gotten a cavity filled, and it was Valentine’s Day, and although I personally think Valentine’s Day is ridiculous, I still sort of felt lame to have a mouth so numb that I couldn’t even close my lips, and to be wandering around Target alone trying to find swimming goggles.

I have long since learned my reactions to stress are as follows:

*Eat my emotions

*Cry

*Buy things I don’t need

*Obsessively clean and de-clutter all the things I bought that I didn’t need

I suppose this list could be worse (I mean, jail time is probably not preferable, etc.), and I’m guessing from my experience a lot of you out there might have a similar list (kudos to you if stress makes you exercise, yo, way to be!). What frustrates me is that although I can recognize it, and I know these are my habits, I’m not “strong” enough to defeat them.

I get told I’m strong a lot. Strong for surviving. Strong for writing a book about my tragedy. Strong.

But there are things I am not strong about (which, if you’ve read me for a while, you already know them, so…) and my ability to cope with stress is not one of them. I am honestly so lucky that my husband wants to stay married to me and that my friends still love me (You do…right?).

Recently I found out that I’m being forced (well, it’s “voluntary,” but if you don’t do it, you lose your healthcare benefit) to participate in a wellness exam thing. Essentially, I get my blood drawn, and if I am not healthy enough, I have to go to classes to learn about how to get healthy.

I won’t pass.

But those classes? I mean, you guys, I’m an educator. I have a master’s degree because I LOVE to learn. I know about nutrition. I absolutely know how to lose weight. Quite honestly, I am not strong enough. I usually don’t even try because I hate what failing feels like.

And these tests, these employee “wellness” exams? Research shows they don’t even work. But I’ll tell you what they do-they remind me that as much as I work on it, my worth is always going to be valued based on my weight.

So, anyway, I was a little down, and feeling extra fat, and grumpy, and I was walking through the book aisle in Target.

Suddenly, I heard, “OMG NO way. I am totally Sophia. You are Rose.”

Giggles.

“Um, there is no way you’re Sophia. You’re so Rose it’s not even funny.”

“Well, at least I’m not Dorothy, like her!”

I looked over to see myself, 16ish years ago, with my college BFFs, Danny, Julia, and Sarah. I swear, it was like a movie moment where it flashed in front of me and I couldn’t help but smile.

There were one boy and three girls, the boy talking rapidly and almost running through the aisles, while two girls were scanning the books and one girl was yelling from a few feet back, having stopped to look at something no one else was interested in. The boy was wearing shorts and a muscle shirt and talked a LOT with his hands.

Eery, I remember thinking, how similar this is to my “past” life.

I watched them for a while, listening to their playful banter and I longed to have those days back. When we would enter the grocery store, and Danny J would yell, “Mrs. Paul’s Fish sticks, lightly battered, and…GO!” and Sarah, and Jul and I would race through the store trying to be the first to find them, screaming “SUPER MARKET SWEEP!” when we found the right box.

I miss actually getting kicked out of the Walmart parking lot because Danny insisted I push Julia around in a cart and he knocked both of us over. Getting a ticket for dancing in a fountain.

I miss staying up until 4 a.m., pretending to do our homework, at Perkins, knowing the next day I could just take a nap. Impromptu road trips. “Spring Break 2000!” when we called and set up like 8 real estate appointments on the lake to pretend like we were buying a lake house. Ice cream, and laughter. SO. MUCH. LAUGHTER.

I’m not carefree enough now. And I try, you guys. Everyday. I try to find the joy. Maybe it’s the weight of motherhood. Maybe it’s the stress of this book and everything it represents. Maybe it’s what working in a school has become. I guess it’s most likely a combination of those things.

Maybe it’s the work of trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not or the pressure of living up to everyone’s expectations.

What I know is that I need this back in my life. Maybe not tickets and getting kicked out of parking lots, but laughter. So, yeah, I’m going to fail my “wellness” test because I am overweight. I’m going to go sit in a class while they tell me to eat more protein and more vegetables and that there are “good” fats and “bad” fats.

I probably will still go buy fancy pens I don’t need at Target, and let things make me cry, and send my husband out for french fries at night when I’m feeling down.

But I am going to make it a goal to do it laughing.

You with me?

 

My daughter, she humbles me (let’s call this a poem because I didn’t feel like using normal sentences or punctuation and I’m feeling SUPER poetic tonight)

My daughter, she humbles me.

She is everything that I am, and also everything that I am not.

I couldn’t have imagined

how lovely she would be

how brave

how kind

how

resilient when I least expect it. Grateful and caring and full of LOVE

This morning, a glimpse of her walking hand-in-hand with her friend-

she has no idea he has Autism

she only knows she loves him

and she’ll tell me, “he’s just still learning, mom”

But, of course he is. You all are. After all, you are only 7.

Seven.

How much can we expect from someone who has been on this earth for 7 short years?

How much can we expect from kids who are LEARNING?

Learning to be a good friend, learning to know what to do when you’re not, learning how to be assertive, yet kind, but also slowly learning what you actually want in a friendship (and what you don’t)

Today, I had to break my daughter’s heart

I had to tell her no to something she really wanted to do. She deserved to do it. It was not about her.

Not the first time, and won’t be the last, of course

yet hearing her sobs almost broke me

It wasn’t her fault. She can’t understand. She is, after all, only 7

All this time I’ve worried about being her mother. Can I be good enough when I am so broken? Can I give her what she needs when I can’t give myself what I need?

We got home after an emotional afternoon full of tears and she hugged me.

“Thanks for being the best mom and for keeping me safe, mom. And you should know, I was not mad at YOU. I’m never mad at YOU. I was just sad. But it’s ok now. It really isn’t that big of a deal. And like you said, I’ll understand someday.”

A million pieces became my heart.

She is 10,000 times as great as I will ever be.

even with our ridiculous expectations

and sometimes downright unfairness,

she is resilient.

With her chin up and her shoulders back, she carries on.

My daughter, she humbles me.

Control (that I don’t have)

I have pretty much been sick since Thanksgiving. On and off, of course, but really I’ve just been trudging through. I haven’t had a winter like this in…well, ever. I’m feeling my age, I’m feeling my stress, and I’m feeling the loss of CONTROL.

Ah, yes. Control. My nemesis.

To me, there are clearcut things I can control:

*My house being clean

*My desk at work being clean

*My to-do list getting neatly checked off one box at a time

And there are things I cannot control:

*My weight

*My kids’ weight

*My kids’ behavior

*My students’ behavior

*The weather

*Getting sick

*Being stressed

*The fact that people still buy LulaRoe

and that list could go on…and on…and on.

When I was a little girl, I developed anxiety. My father was a yeller and an “almost hitter.” So, he never actually hit me, but he would scream and cuss and throw things and then lift his hand like he was going to, but then he wouldn’t. Also, I got yelled at for things I couldn’t control (i.e. the dog escaping out the door, accidentally burning the garlic bread, crying because I was called a little crybaby).

I’ve been told by a physician that when you have that kind of stress in your life, your body gets stuck in that “fight or flight” mode, and then your body secretes the hormone that is meant to deal with stress (you know, like a mammoth storming toward your or something). So since I’m stuck there, I feel stressed all the time, even when there is nothing especially stressful happening.

When I first moved in with my husband, I lost control over the things I knew I could control. Suddenly, I couldn’t keep the kitchen counter cleaned off, and the cap on the toothpaste and the bottles turned toward the front in the refrigerator. This was an issue, but we made it through (with a lot of talking and a TON of compromise).

Last year I made the very difficult decision to start taking anxiety medication. It has helped in SO many ways. I feel so much better about my ability to handle stress and how I interact with people. But, it doesn’t change the over-arching problem which is that in my life right now, I have so little control.

I always have “that student.” The one who is one of my favorites, who is super smart and respectful and funny, but the minute he/she leaves my classroom, he/she gets into trouble. And when that happens, I have to “deal with it.” Meaning it’s my job to handle the behavior even though I wasn’t there. Sometimes I just want to scream, “SHE IS A CHILD AND THIS IS HOW SOME CHILDREN ACT AND I CANNOT CONTROL IT I CANNOT MAKE HER STOP LEAVE ME ALONE.”

I don’t, of course, and so I sit in meetings and develop plans and we try different things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but in the end what I am left with is: I am a failure. I can’t get this kid to act right.

Then, of course, I come home and I have my own children. They are not perfect, by any means. And you definitely can NOT control them. Same as above–I work out plans, we talk, we give consequences if needed, we model good behavior, we set expectations, but in the very end, they are CHILDREN. We can’t control them. And as adults, I think we step in WAY too soon and end up making the situation worse. But when I feel like someone is judging my kid or me, that losing control feeling starts to come over me.

This semester I’ve taken my very first student teacher. Turns out that is crazy hard, yo! To lose control of my classroom, but be sitting right there in it…that’s a new one for me. It’s good, though–it’s a good challenge, but definitely hard.

I bet you can see what I’m getting at. All day long I try to control things that I can’t. And the things I can control I can no longer control because I have a husband and kids and my house is messy and I could go around screaming “PICK UP YOUR SOCCCKKKKSSSSSS” or I can just accept it and move on. And 94% of my co-workers wear those leggings every day (BAHAHA!).

It’s not that easy for me, though. So I’m stressed. All the time. Sometimes, I feel like my head is going to explode. I feel so lucky in this life, but right now there are so many people with so many expectations of me and I’m scared because it all feels so ridiculously out of reach.

I walk into my house and see junk all over the kitchen table and I have an actual physical reaction to what I see. Those of you reading who don’t have anxiety, I know this may sound weird, but it’s true. And I cannot control it. It’s not the stuff that’s making me anxious, its everything else, but that counter is like the physical representation of it.

I have decisions to make all day long. And not just for me. Not just for me and my children. Not just for me and my children and my students. It is non-stop and overwhelming and some days I just want to hide under my covers and not THINK. Not worry about how much sugar my kids are eating or how I have tried anything but this boy is never gonna learn how to add mixed numbers and did I let them have too much screen time today and what is a healthy dinner I can make tonight because I need to take out the chicken and is that person angry with me because she just walked by without smiling and what do I still need to do to get ready for that meeting?

All of this is making me sick. I’m not sleeping, I’m stressed all the time, and my immune system is crap. I’m too tired to exercise, which is making it worse. I tried to take proactive steps here, and I quit the spelling bee and switched a committee I was on.  It didn’t help much. Because what it really is when you get down to it, is that there are just so many factors that I cannot control and I’ve “known” I was a failure since I was a little girl. And losing the twins certainly didn’t help anything about feeling like a failure.

I beg for reminders that I’m not failing. That I’m doing ok. I get into a place where I need attention and extra love and I want to feel special. It’s not a part of me that I am especially proud of. (Hint: I’m there now, LOL!)

My goal for this year is acceptance. Acceptance of myself, of who I am. Acceptance that I am not perfect and that I need help to get most things done in life. This is where my work is headed.

Also, sleep.  I need a lot more sleep. 🙂

 

It’s my truth, yo.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about memories. During the holidays I was with my sister, who is several years older than me, and we were reminiscing about some things that happened when she was in high school and college.

“Remember how mom and dad wouldn’t buy you a car, so you used your Ice Cream Shoppe paycheck and went and bought a Camaro?  A 16-year-old buying a Camaro!  So crazy!”

She looked at me with her eyebrows raised. “Um, Christy, it did not at ALL happen like that. I didn’t get that car until I was in college and working almost full time. My first car was a $500 neon blue Pontiac Sunfire.”

This hit a nerve. How could I remember something so differently than what was true? Granted, there was nothing particularly special about my sister’s car, so it’s not something I would have necessarily filed in my brain.

There are stories running through my head 24 hours a day. I wake up in the middle of the night and write things down, but 99% of those ideas don’t turn into anything. My days are so full and there are 800 bajillion things I have to do, and so sometimes I look back at my notes and I have no idea what I meant. I found one the other day said, “Jockstrap/teenage acne”.  Uh…I have literally NO recollection of writing that or what in the world I was thinking about.

I have all these memories from my childhood, ready to come out. I have come so far in pretty much just writing all my inner demons down that I feel like this would be the next step. I know there are people out there who think I am embarrassing myself and my family by being SO honest. I truly, truly don’t care, however, because I can see my reach and how much just talking about this has helped others.

The thing is, they are going to make some of my family members look bad. And so I hesitate. I’ve never, ever wanted to hurt anyone in my family. I swear, I only want to help people. My experiences as a child are SUCH a big part of who I am today that I want to share them. But what if it was just my perception as a child and I’m remembering it completely incorrectly (Camaro vs. Pontiac Sunfire)?

On the other hand, I want everyone to own their truth and this is MY truth. And, like Ann Lamott said, I guess if you didn’t want someone to write about it on the Internet someday, you should’ve acted better, yo.

 

Goin’ Off the Grid

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This weekend I went on my first ever writing retreat. I recently joined a group of women writer’s in my area, and we have meetings twice a month. They invited me along to this retreat right away, having only met me one time, which I thought was brave. What if I was a mouth breather? Or a one-upper? I mean, that’s not even thinking about possibilities like serial killer.

Anyway, I was thrilled to be invited, but nervous. What if one of THEM was a one-upper? Could I handle a weekend in a cabin in the woods with someone who was rude or obnoxious?

I packed my bag, cautiously, like you do when you’re going somewhere with new people. Will they judge me for drinking Diet Pepsi at 8:00 a.m.? Will they think it’s weird that my favorite pillow has Christmas trees on the pillow case?

I had signed up to bring cheese, sausage, and crackers. Suddenly, I panicked. Was boring old Colby cheese good enough? I searched until I found a pack of pre-sliced “European Cheese.” I also got the “fancy” box of crackers, i.e. anything that wasn’t Ritz.

I was joking with my friends all week that I was scared because we had rented a cabin in the middle of nowhere and it’s negative 50 bajillion degrees right now, and what if I had to walk somewhere outside of the cabin to find the bathroom? How many blankets should I bring? Should I go buy toe and hand warmers?

As it turned out, I had the BEST time, and it reminded me of a few things.

  1. Life can be better without wi-fi. I had no internet access. Not even my 3G worked. So, I could text my husband to check in on him and the kids, but otherwise, my time spent writing was actually spent…writing. Typically when I write, I write a paragraph, check Facebook. Write a paragraph, send a tweet. Write a paragraph, read an article on Yahoo about the secret vegetable that will make me skinny. It’s a terrible thing. It felt SO good to be off the grid.
  2. Sometimes, taking a risk pays off. The ladies I was with for the weekend were all phenomenal women. I wish they were also my real-life friends (in addition to all of you out there, not instead of!). We share a love for writing, but mostly it was amazing to spend quality time with a group of women who are caring, wicked smart, motivated, and hard-working. I LOVE hearing about other people’s lives, and this is twice as exciting when I meet new people. Wait a minute, you ELOPED? That is so rad! Tell me about it!
  3. I am, officially, a writer. There, I said it. I’ve been calling myself a “wanna-be” writer for a long time now. No longer. I declare, “Christy is a writer!” There were 3 copies of my book in this cabin. I kept myself busy for hours and hours with writing projects that I’m working on. I daydreamed about what it would be like to be a full-time writer. It’s for real, you guys.
  4. When you’re in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin in the winter, don’t talk about true crime podcasts before bed. Enough said.

 

I’m not recommending that you need to go out in the woods in the middle of nowhere with almost strangers, Y’all, but I do want to urge you to take some risks in 2018. Even small ones. You just never know what’ll turn up!