Tag Archives: family

The Zika Monster

Everywhere you turn, you hear a buzzing sound–that high-pitched synchronicity peeling through your eardrum deep into the dead of night.

That’s me.

Every night.

Even when there’s nothing really there.

I had planned to begin this blog post by focusing solely on education because I’m trying so hard to stick to the just to that topic of which I’ve dedicated my last 10 years of life to, but I just can’t do it.

See, I live in Florida, in particular Miami.

Miami is all over the news along with the earthquake in Italy and the campaign for the presidency.

In Miami, however, the Zika virus has dominated the attention of everyone.

Walking the campus on the first day of school, I saw students wearing long sleeves and smelling like Off. I just smiled and asked, “How are you today?”

Normally, I’d get an “OK” or a “Really tired” or even a “Super happy” every once in a while. But, this time, I just got “Hot.”

I felt their pain as a parent and a teacher. I knew somewhere my own children reeked of Off, so I just rolled my eyes at myself.

What is Zika?

The virus delivers flu-like symptoms, lots of achiness, and a rash. Pregnant women seem to be the worst victims because of the possible effects on the fetus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people don’t usually get sick enough to even go to the hospital.

But, everyone here has already begun to panic. I received several texts telling me to use the strongest repellent possible and every time I look on Facebook, someone’s posting something about Zika. They really love giant, digitally enhanced photos of the mosquitoes with rounded, red bellies.

zika1

Of course, though, it’s the news that always sends us into a frenzy—talking, stressing, watching, then spraying ourselves with dangerous chemicals, rarely leaving the house, but when we do we smell like mosquito spray and we’re sweating in our long-sleeve shirts and pants.

Then, as a parent, we start to worry about our children.

We contemplate insane questions such as Should I send them to school? Should I demand that they don’t participate in P.E.? Should I send them with a can of bug spray so they can re-apply it like sunscreen? Should I keep them from playing sports?

An even more pressing question for many parents especially in Miami might be Should I have my child switch schools to an area deemed “less contaminated”?

Propaganda?

We begin obsessing, only to find that we all could be infected with Zika because we all might not even show signs of the virus let alone be tested for it.

And, we all know that’s the truth down deep inside, behind our collective, paranoid mindset and the media’s ability to control that.

We should take control of our situation and dismiss the rest of the jolts of information once we know what we need to know. At least, that’s what I plan to do.

Out of all the news reports and speculation on the virus, I just read a post that reveals the insanity we are experiencing around the world and over here in Miami.

The post Propaganda Machine Takes Aim at Zika Virus compares the media coverage and viewer reaction to the bird flu and Ebola. It also breaks down the facts into digestible chunks so you understand what’s really going on as opposed to panicking.

I consider myself a fairly logical person, but I’m emotional when it comes to my children, just like most parents. That’s why it’s so important to remember that monsters live mostly in our heads.

Written by Lisa Chesser

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Portraits of Love

D&MAngryEvery day.

Four eyes hit me with judgment and love.

Dark lashes fan the flecks of green and yellow floating in a sea of amber.

Love.

Striking out of a pool of black.

Forgiveness.

But, as they grow I forget that they were always doing this.

Waves of black and brown frame her face instead of pigtails.

Wisps of brown float across his forehead, one eye squinting.

Glaring at me.

Darts.

Hit me with a pinch then a sting.

I know every crinkle in their skin, still plump, even now, at fourteen and ten.

They remind me that I’m just like them.

Not above, not below them.

We dance this dance together.

Flawed.

Crazy.

Fun.

Angry.

Little.

Fierce.

Human.

Love.

Written by Lisa Chesser
Portraits

To Warm the Soul

Connection
When I wrote about how my grandmother had suffered through Alzheimer’s disease and my struggle with losing her both mentally and physically, the response from fellow bloggers warmed my soul almost as if they were sitting right next to me allowing me to rest my head on their shoulders.

"I'll make ya laugh."
“I’ll make ya laugh.”

Passing Through Madness

Blogging, changed my life because the connections I made became even more meaningful than some long-time friendships and brought other people with similar depth and interests closer to me.

When I write, I connect to a place hidden from the me who I think I am or the me who I want to be or the me who everyone wants me to be. I may start with an idea or a purpose, but within a minute or so, I find the me who I really am and sometimes that secret me connects to another hidden being, someone I never knew existed.

I know other bloggers feel the same.

When I first started blogging, it was here at WordPress. I really knew nothing else. I just knew that I wanted to write and connect with other writers. I’d been busy teaching after being a full-time mom and my relationships with the working world and friendships in general felt stunted and, well, disconnected.

So when I read through all different kinds of blogs, I found myself laughing, nodding, and often-enough crying. So I thought about the idea of creating my own blog and just knew that I had to open up as well.

Four years ago, I was Freshly Pressed with a post about my children’s “Refrigerator Art” Refrigerator Art Changed My Life and the connections I made have lasted to this day. Even the talented Cheri Lucas Rowland liked my post, and here I am writing inspired by one of her discover challenges.

The same people who “liked” and “commented” on that post also comforted me when I wrote about struggles with Scoliosis Exercising My Scoliosis Demons and the loss of my grandmother .

At various times over the years, life became so overwhelming at certain points that I considered and reconsidered leaving WordPress behind. Being a teacher and a mother challenges the best of us, let alone being married and attempting to continue writing and educating yourself. Then throw into the mix health concerns and the death of someone who meant the world to you.

But, it was and is the connections I’ve experienced here that have kept and do keep me blogging. They keep me brave, smart, bold, and loved.

 

Why the School Year Begins with Nightmares

He jumped back. He was so startled that I thought I had a bug on my face when I went into my son’s room at 11 a.m. to wake him.

Seeing is believing.

“Wait, what day is it? Is there school today?” he asked. I shook my head and laughed nervously because I had been thinking that I needed to start waking him up earlier to prepare him for the coming school hours.

“Uuugggh, I thought you were waking me to tell me it was time to go to school,” he said and breathed a sigh of relief then buried his head in his pillow. He proceeded to describe a horrific dream where his teacher gave the class an assignment and he got an F.

I felt terrible because I know how much he hates getting bad grades and how generous some teachers are about giving them. I’m especially fond of the teachers who hand the papers back with an imaginary pair of bifocals hanging on the end of their noses as if to remind students that they just aren’t good enough.

Do teachers really need to give kids F’s?

It might’ve already started for you: The nightmares, the rising tension, the fear that you’re missing something, the sting of an impending headache…. It started in our house about a week ago.

The mere mention of school shot the hairs up on the backs of our necks.

And, it ultimately seems to amount to judgment. How will you be judged by other kids, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and so forth? You just aren’t good enough seems to vibrate in our collective subconscious.

But, what kills me and my kids, are the F’s. I don’t understand that need to give F’s, especially with no second chance. Granted, some students seem to live for the F.

I’ve been there. As a teacher, you’re this short of moving the pencil for the student because you’re trying every technique in the book to get the kid to learn and the student refuses.

Most of the time, however, those students who get those F’s just need a second chance. They need to take the test again. They need to hear the lesson one more time. And, it’s not just about percentages such as 50 percent of the class failed; therefore, the teacher must reteach and retest. No, let’s say 5 percent failed. The rest aced it. Why wouldn’t a teacher try to offer that student a second chance? Most likely, it’s too much work and the teacher doesn’t feel like administering another test and definitely not re-teaching an entire lesson to one or two students.

Second Chances

But, what if it was easier than that? What if it was a matter of spending one or two lunch periods with them and chatting about what they didn’t understand? Ask them what went wrong. Even if they’re brutally honest and say they just don’t care or they didn’t bother to study, what if you said well, then, study here and I’ll give you a second chance.

What then?

Would the student succeed?

And, then, how would that affect that student’s future?

Would the student try harder next time, especially if they found success the second time around?

Yep, that’s right, I’ll tell you. That student will succeed because you’ll have connected with him or her in a deeper way than most teachers. Contrary to the way we judge the kid who gets the F, that child simply doesn’t want it even if he or she vehemently claims to want it, even to deserve it.

A highly intelligent and insightful gifted student once told me that he got F’s because he had gotten so many that he finally just got used to it and didn’t care anymore. He was one of the first students I ever taught and those kids taught me more about teaching than I’ve ever learned before. I asked them everything and he was one who I felt so sad about but even more so, I was infuriated with him. He was so freakin’ smart so when he got F’s, I felt like he just did it on purpose. And, judging from his observations, he kinda did do it on purpose.

However, there was one other very important insight. He said he hated seeing an “F” anyway. That’s why he just gave up and gave in to so many teachers’ labels like that he just didn’t care or that he refused to learn, that he was wasting his talents. That was exactly what I was thinking as I was talking to him.

But, it still didn’t register right away. I still didn’t get it. Give him a second chance? What?!

Then, I did, by accident almost. I experiment a lot when I’m teaching, which is why I hold myself at least partially accountable for every performance estimation that I inflict on my students. I give them second, third, and fourth chances so that I can average scores and teach and reteach. Does it make for a crazy exhausting school year? Yeah, but then, I couldn’t call myself a teacher at all if I didn’t do that.

I asked him if he wanted to take a test again. Different questions. Same subject matter.

He accepted. That acceptance in itself taught me a lot. He actually did want to try. So the label that “he didn’t care” made no sense.

Reset the Mind

Before he took the second test though, I talked to him during lunch and asked why he chose some of the wrong answers. I saw where he went wrong and then helped him adjust his logic. It felt like magic when I scored his second exam. He went from an F to a high B. Plus, the questions on the second exam were much more difficult and somewhat more confusing.

When I gave it to him, he held it as if it was a rare piece of parchment paper. Then he smiled and laughed a little. He blamed his success on the questions being too easy, but I insisted that the questions were harder. I had thrown them out because they were too confusing.

After that success, he never got anything lower than a B. Most of the time, he got A’s.

So, what of it? I think the story speaks clearly.

F’s are like viruses. They spread quickly and they’re hard to get rid of. But, you can wipe them out with a little love. And, that just takes a lunch or two.

Don’t get me wrong. My students who don’t like me will tell you I’m the detention teacher. And, I would have to agree. But, guess when I give detentions? Yep, during lunch. Some students, especially in middle school, don’t think it’s so cool to have lunch with a teacher, hence the detentions (and second chances), but that’s another story.

Passing Through Madness

She was so much more than this.

Sometimes we have those momentary revelations that we write down and act upon or we just forget them, passing them off as frivolous or a lapse into madness, a simply unacceptable thought or notion. This happened to me more than once in the last year. I never bothered to write any of it down until now.

I’ve been away from WordPress and all of you because everything seemed nothing and then nothing seemed everything.

Now, here, I write what lingers, the remnants of love, peace, and an overall sense of wonder at how fragile and temporary everything we know and understand really is. My grandmother spent the last few months spiraling into madness. She began shutting her eyes and turning off the world around her. She tore off her clothes and screamed for her mommy and daddy. She tapped into a static frequency, her voice sounding like a message from another universe when she said, “Why do we waste so much time? Why don’t we visit each other more?”

My desperate screams of “I love you” breaking into her madness. I found that those were the only words that she understood until her last breath. My tears met the words, “Don’t cry. Come on over and I’ll make ya laugh.”

I spent the next two months visiting her in the hospital and helping her son look for an assisted living facility. Somehow the universe helped us find someone crazy enough to take her and she spent her last few weeks of life surrounded by cats and dogs who were rescued, just like her.

When I’d visit, she’d bounce from one thought to another, then suddenly she’d cup her hands around her mouth and make a sound like she was hollering but it was almost a whisper, “Mom, we’re coming.”

She’d gaze into a far off place and say, “Oh, mom’s got that look. I don’t like it when she just sits and stares like that.” Then, she’d shake her head.

I stopped calling her grandma and called her Bobbye Jean or little girl because that’s who she was. I began to realize that she became grandma for me then the rest of us. That wasn’t who she really was. She was none of those names the world, her family, had given her, the names she accepted and even embraced, creating them to give herself a place here.

She had begun her journey into madness, which I know now was her path to peace. Her revelation had come.

Two weeks before she passed, I sat in front of her while she sat in an old, black wheel chair, which the nurse had put her in because it was sturdy and she wouldn’t fall over.

She had opened her eyes again, and she looked straight at me. I thought for sure she recognized me. Bending her boney, spotted arm, she propped her fist onto her hip then lifted her chin and looked down on me. “Am I pretty?” she said.

I was startled for a second still wanting her to recognize me, to give to me, to be grandma again. Then I realized it was all over. She was dying, and I needed to help her.

I sort of spit a stifled, salty a smile and laughed a laugh of realization and, well, love. “You are so pretty, just about the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long time.” She then babbled and repeated, hand on hip, “Am I pretty?”

I said, “You’re not just pretty, you’re beautiful.” She acted like a princess and said, “I know I am.”

I kissed and hugged her. I fed her. I watched her as she fell asleep in the wheelchair. I visited again.

When asked her name, she sang, “No-oel, No-oel,…” word for word, perfectly, and in tune. I spent the holidays listening to the song, asking my daughter to play it on the piano.

On December 7, 2014, I drove to her down the winding pathways to the house she was passing through. She sat with her head bowed in that old wheelchair, a blind dog, who had had a stroke also, was resting at her feet.

I cut and cleaned her nails, her body slumped over, her hands limp. I lifted her head to find eyes with barely a pupil. There was no black, just a sea of clear blue.

I kissed the back of her neck and spoke to her, “Don’t be afraid. You need to go now. Mommy and daddy are waiting for you. Your angels are waiting for you.”

Her breathing increased as if she were on the last laps of a race. I left her knowing it was over and later that day she was pronounced dead from cardiac arrest.

I miss her.

I look for her everywhere. I imagine she’s in the wind, the trees, my dreams, but she’s gone.

She’s finally found her peace, the quiet in between.

She was just passing through, like all of us.

Calling Alzheimer’s

Expecting to dial your grandmother and for her to pick up the phone leaves you hanging on to nothing. Loving someone with Alzheimer’s disease is like dropping a container of tacks on the ground and trying to pick them up quickly. It just doesn’t work like that.

Reflections
Reflections

You move slowly and it hurts. The tips of your fingers spit blood.

My grandmother has been losing her ability to function normally for about 8 to 10 years. I knew it when she started wetting the bed. I denied it when she called me by my mom’s name. I ticked it off as a common, just tired, momentary memory lapse. I mean, don’t we all forget things?

But, here I am calling her, wanting her to pick up at the recovery center, knowing that even when I’m lucky enough to get her, she’ll call me her sister or her daughter.

I saw her today and she recognized me after I said, “It’s Lisa.” I didn’t want her to call me another name. I just wanted to be me. I wanted her to know me.

She did. We talked. We laughed. I fed her and she giggled making fun of herself being fed like a baby and wearing diapers. I could’ve stayed all day. But, I had to go home to my own family. And, I knew it would get difficult later. I really didn’t want to see it.

I had been at the hospital when she hallucinated and thought I was “teasing” her, trying to hurt her. She screamed at me. I couldn’t do anything. I could only leave and pray.

No. Not prayer.

I Know. Just know. It’s life. It’s just life.

Then, I could only remember. I could only cry and remember her holding my hand through life.

I could remember holding her now spotted, wrinkled hand, swollen with arthritis and thinking that it was the most beautiful hand I’d ever held.

As her memories slip and slide, crashing into each other, disappearing, mine kindle into a fire so hot that I feel burnt. Not crisp though. Those memories burn, light my way into a deep understanding and a perception that having not seen her this way, I may have just clopped through life with the rest of us.

But now I know, I’m very sure, that there’s a light that will never go out. All thanks to a woman who many say has lost her mind. In the midst of confusion…she doesn’t remember someone or forgets who she’s talking to, she’ll smile and throw up her hands, “Oh well, doesn’t matter.”

I throw up my hands too now. “Oh well,” I think, “You’re getting closer to your light.”

Then I pick up another tack.

 

 

Keep Your Head in the Clouds

Oh, look at that!
It’s a panda. You see it? There’s a ship. Look look look.
Where?
Right there, follow my finger. You see it?
No. Well sort of.
Ooowa! That one’s weird. I think it’s an old man. He’s smiling. See?
Yeah! I see it…

See anything?
See anything?

I lied.
I saw nothing. Really. Just nothing. It was humiliating.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t even see shapes in the clouds. I’m broken.
My son sat for another thirty minutes on the car ride to the Keys pointing out dragons eating ice cream and flying mermaids while I gave up and checked my email on my phone.

Where did my creativity go? What happened to my imagination? I kept asking myself that as I sporadically searched the sky for the latest cloud news flash.

Look, wait, yeah, it’s a turtle! Right there. There’s the head, the shell, it’s moving.

Anything?
Anything?

I saw nothing.

Later, when I walked out on the jetty, to sit and listen to the water pat the rocks below. I watched the fish spring out, the birds zoom overhead, and the clouds float by. I squinted at the sky. I drew images with my eyes.

Anything yet?
Anything yet?

I saw nothing.
I tried again the next day and the next, but found nothing.

And this is what I’ve decided. All literature, the books that have guided me though rough times, the prayers that have steadied me, could never have shown me exactly why I’m so lost sometimes.
But, that boy and those clouds did.
When you look up into the sky…
See something.

Anything.

Religion is in the details.

At the end of the first week back to school in Florida, I stood in a line with moms beaten, worried, and tired. We were from everywhere in Miami. We wore business clothes, jeans, and sweatpants.

The “perfect” mom with the straight, red hair, black V-neck sweater, and pencil skirt raised her eyebrows as the Latina mom in sweatpants rolled her eyes and said, “I finally understand my mom. I used to be so embarrassed when she’d hand out coupons at the counter and now I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna pay for all this.”

She raised her eyes to the sky as if to say, “Save me! Help me.”

I pulled the plug from my ear, the earphone muffling the depressing music on the speakers at CVS.  “I know. I feel the same,” I said, desperately reaching out to her.

The redhead rolled her eyes again. “It’s crazy. They kill us.”

I looked into their eyes and the week of troubles emptied from my soul. The week of upset, anger, resentment, and fighting left me because I wasn’t alone. I was with women unlike me and just like me.

We knew pain. The kind of pain religious leaders just won’t ever understand.

The kind of pain kids frown at.

The kind of pain only mothers know.

And, my heart emptied.

In those few moments, no one could’ve predicted that my heart would empty. No religious mantra could fix me. But, right there, with women I didn’t even know, my heart emptied.

And, I was free.

Find those moments that free you and recognize them as religious.

They belong to you.