One Long Year

Hello everybody, it’s bee a long year. I know it hasn’t been a year since I posted–but it’s been a year since I’ve posted regularly.

It’s also been over a year since I’ve self-harmed, which I consistently fist-bump myself for. It’s a great feeling. It’s the longest I’ve gone without a relapse since I started back in…I can’t remember when. Dudes, I haven’t even pinched myself or pulled my own hair out. I’m pretty proud of myself.

It’s been over a year since I got my job. I’ve successfully survived two summers at this place. Summers are insane. It’s the only time of year the school-age program is more full than the early childhood program. Since I run school-age, I am on my toes constantly. I planned an entire summer full of over 40 activities–field trips, STEAM workshops, dance lessons, theater and improv games, yoga, guest artists, trips to local businesses, and other stuff I can’t even pull up right now.

I was easily at work 10-12 hours a day at least twice a week running everything. For my first summer as a supervisor, not shadowing, it went pretty well. The kids had a blast and the teachers seemed to, almost as much.

Now summer’s winding down and I”m preparing to be a student again. I’m finally enrolled at UWM’s online Cultural Foundations of Community Engagement and Education program. In May I had to go through the process all over again to prove my residency. Last fall, they were going to charge me out-of-state tuition unless I filed an appeal or delayed my enrollment for a year. I didn’t have the time or energy for an appeal, so here I am. Classes start next week. It’s a Master’s program, but I’m part-time, so I’m not sure how intense it will be.

I’m hoping less intense than this summer. I tried to take an accelerated summer class, but ti didn’t work out. I was reading close to a thousand pages a week along with writing several discussion posts and reflection pieces. My final paper proposal was turned down a week and a half before the class ended. I dropped the class. It’s not because I didn’t think I could do what I needed to do–I knew I could. What I couldn’t stand was the idea of me turning in a sub-par paper, skimping on my readings, and half-assing reflection papers simply because I didn’t have time to put in more effort. I knew I could get so much more out of this course if I had more time. So I’m taking it this fall instead and planning to get the most out of it.

Oh, and I’m having nightmares about the upcoming school year as it affects the kids at work. Fun stuff!

I’m taking photos for a wedding in a couple weekends. It’ll be my first legit gig, and I’m pumped. I want to get some more practice in if I can. I also kind of want to start my own photography business. Some friends are encouraging me too. I take really good pictures and my camera is awesome. I think I’ll give it a try.

Stay tuned. I have a lot to say, just haven’t had much time to write it.

Peace out.

Three Rides

Three Rides

My family has no knowledge of the three rides I’ve taken in police cars.

In the span of less than one year, I was a passenger in three different police cars, all for the same reason: I was in crisis.

The first time, I was pacing around campus, overwhelmed over a variety of things. My thoughts were overwhelming me and becoming dark. Most of my friends were gone for the summer, including my roommate; I couldn’t find a job, my relationship with my parents was on the fritz, my financial aid for the next year was not confirmed. There was not much to keep me occupied or make me feel useful, and a lot to make me upset.

As I was wandering around looking distressed, I bumped into a friend, who said I didn’t look well. I admitted how I was feeling, and he suggested I go see a counselor.

Campus had free counseling services. I’d been seeing one for going on two years at that point. She happened to be on maternity leave at the time. (By some twist of fate, it happened that my supervisor, my counselor, and my psychiatrist all had overlapping maternity leaves that year.)

It was summer, so it was easy for me to get an appointment within the hour. I described my situation and my feelings—my damaged relationships, my feelings of uselessness, depression, self-loathing. As soon as I hinted at suicidal ideation, the counselor insisted I take a police car ride to the Crisis Center.

I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

The Public Safety officer that picked me up was nice enough. But niceness doesn’t cover the awkwardness of getting patted down and asked if I was carrying any weapons and confirming that the scars all over me were from self-harm.

It didn’t help that as I was lead into the car, one of my former co-workers was smoking in the parking lot and saw the whole thing.

The cop chatted pleasantly. I didn’t have much to say. The seat in the back was plastic, making it impossible to get comfortable or brace myself for stops and turns, and there was a grate between me and the driver. It was the first time, but not the last, that I felt like my mental illnesses made me a criminal.

I’d never been to Crisis before. The questions the intake survey asked were invasive. I knew it was all there to help me, but I felt extremely exposed and uncomfortable. The front desk staff hid behind mirrored panels that I realized much later were probably two-way. No one looked anyone in the face and there was a stifling, terrified silence. It took maybe half an hour for me to be seen to.

I cried like I had at my first counseling appointment, but this counsellor was nowhere near as good as the one I had on campus. She seemed idealistic and bent on fixing me. My exasperation at her unhelpful, amateur methods chipped away at my panic and distress, and I realized I was probably better off back on campus. I let her help me make a safety plan, which involved me calling campus housing and talking to my least-favorite supervisor (I used to work for housing, so a lot of the people I called that night were old supervisors). She apparently had no idea what a safety plan was.

I called the friend who’d seen me earlier, and he agreed to let me stay the night at his place.

The counsellor drove me back to campus in her personal car. We talked about tattoos. It was awkward in its own right; the counselor had suddenly become an acquaintance letting me borrow a seat in her car.

I had my documented emotional support animal living with me at the time. I couldn’t leave her alone over night per campus policy. But I also wasn’t allowed to move her to another person’s apartment. Given I was in a crisis situation and we were making plans in an attempt to preserve my life, I figured we could make an exception. No one I called could confirm it, and it basically ended with my favorite supervisor saying he would neither approve nor disapprove of my bringing the cat with me. The next day I got a tart email from the head of housing saying I should have had someone come over to my place instead of illegally transporting my cat.

Obviously she’d never been in a panic-induced haze.

My cat and I spent the night at my friend’s place. Crisis called him to check in, and he reported I was fine. Being surrounded by him and his roommates, all of whom were my friends, was comforting. I calmed enough to sleep. My cat slept with me. They fed me breakfast, and when the 24 hours were over, they ensured I made it safely back to my place.

I lay on the couch texting my roommate, who was out of town at the time. That was why I couldn’t stay at my place. There would have been no one there, and the group I stayed with didn’t want to uproot and move when it was just easier for us to have me come over, cat or no cat.

My roommate and friends continued to check in on me, but as it got darker, I started panicking again. I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I asked my older brother to stay over that night.

He begrudgingly agreed, spending most of the evening texting other people, and leaving that morning without much of a goodbye.

**

My second ride was the worst. I was making serious plans to kill myself, and it was terrifying. My friends knew something was up. I was not myself for days. Each night my plan was to either go to the Crisis Center or die. For several in a row, I was too exhausted from my own distress to do either one. But any time someone asked, I couldn’t answer. I told them I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want them to freak out. I didn’t want them to care.

When, several days into this, I bumped into a friend and an advisor, I must have looked especially upset, because they both immediately stopped talking and asked me what was wrong.

My roommate immediately offered, even joining me for part of the counselling conversation. I was seriously in danger that time and they had me committed to the treatment center.

Of course, I had to ride a police car to get there.

And this time, I didn’t just feel like a criminal, I was treated like one.

I was a danger to myself. They put me in handcuffs and the officer held my arm as he led me to the car. I will never forget the feeling. The weight of the cuffs on my hands. The pinch of the clasp. The ways I tried to maneuver my body to avoid the pain of the plastic seat pushing the cuffs against my wrists and back.

I never want to feel that again.

**

The next ride was almost comical. It occurred the following spring, a month before graduation, when several things cumulated into a nervous breakdown and a fierce desire to self-harm.

Before things got too dark, I felt myself in danger again and took the bus to Crisis. I had the presence of mind to pack an overnight bag. I took the wrong bus, got off at the wrong center, and used Google Maps to walk to the right one. I read my homework assignment as I waited for the counsellor to come get me. I calmly explained my fears and my desire to go somewhere where others could keep me safe and I would be separated from the responsibilities and anxieties that were eating me alive.

I got into the voluntary wing of the treatment center, which was a lot less scary than the involuntary side. My counsellor and I agreed that this was a smart thing to do. He was impressed that I’d brought everything I needed for an overnight stay.

Everything—except, of course, my anxiety/depression medication.

Well damn. “They won’t let you in without your meds.”

I offered to take the bus back to campus, grab my meds, and then bus myself to the treatment center. He told me they couldn’t let me do that. Despite the fact that I was asking to be committed, they couldn’t afford the liability of me going off by myself and changing my mind to take matters into my own hands.

It made sense, but I was beyond irritated at having to ride in a police car again.

They drove me back to campus to pick up my meds. The whole drive there, I worried that my roommate would be in the apartment when I walked in with a police officer. I’d hid under the bed earlier that day to avoid her when she got home and I was in the midst of my breakdown. We were going through a rough patch at the time. The last thing I wanted was for her to find out I was back at Crisis by seeing me with a police escort.

Another officer was hanging out outside my apartment. “What a coincidence,” I said, and they seemed a little embarrassed to admit he’d been called to help with me. For pete’s sake. As if one large armed man wasn’t enough to take on a tiny person like me.

My roommate was not there, but one of my neighbors did a double take when she saw me walk in flanked by the officers. I grabbed my meds and we went back into the car to drive to the treatment center.

I wasn’t treated like a criminal this time, going in voluntarily, but that didn’t cushion the harshness of the plastic seat I slouched in on the way over.

**

My hope is that I will not have to ride in a police car again. I don’t know what life will throw my way. I haven’t been suicidal in a while, and I haven’t self-harmed since I moved in to my new place. I use that as a marker, as a goalpost for this year. Soon I can say it’s been a year, and it’s that thought that keeps me from buying razors.

I’m still depressed. I’m still anxious. I still panic. I still have thoughts that I’d be better off dead. I still shudder when I feel my keloids, flinch when I see my scars, and I still panic and sometimes scream when someone cuts or gets cut onscreen.

These things are not going away and probably won’t for a while. Maybe ever. But if my goal for this year is to not take any more rides in a police car—I’m 83 days in so far, and counting.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day

Anywhere you go now, any grocery store, department store, dollar store—you’re greeted with pink, red, and white. Candy, streamers, balloons, cards. It’s always there weeks before the holiday, and once it’s over, we forget about it. That’s always the impression I got at my childhood home. The candy lasted another week or so, but the valentines found their way to a box under the bed the next day.

It used to be cute. We sent homemade cards to our grandparents and made little valentines for each other, which we stuck in a toy mail box and opened after a dinner of pizza and a chocolate cream cheese marshmallow fluff dessert.

But there was always the passive-aggressive competition between my parents as to who could be the most romantic; between my brothers as to whose cards were the funniest. I struggled to make mine in the least way suitable. In my tween years, my skin crawled when I opened cards from my older brothers, not meeting their gazes and avoiding the words that might have a sick double meaning.

Valentine’s Day has always been tricky. I made a valentine for my first crush, trying to design something neutral that wouldn’t scare her off. It either came off too strong or she was just a flighty person, because I never heard from her again. After I sent it I came out to my mom, who convinced me not to tell anyone. She didn’t give me dating advice or help me plan ways to see this girl.

Two Februaries later, my infatuation with a certain asshole cumulated into the two of us claiming some kind of relationship. It was scary, it was exhilarating, it was sweet. It started off happy and ended ugly. There’s enough on this blog about that story, and definitely more to come.

One year later, after that relationship exploded and some of the wreckage was finally blowing away, I’d met another girl. She was sweet, she was funny, she was fun to talk to, and, as it turned out, she was into me, too. We’d both made passing comments about February 14th, that we’d be spending the day single. A little over a week later, we admitted our feelings in a fluster and took the weekend to think about it. What followed was too months of sweet, innocent romance. It ended before things got messy or tense, and after a summer of space, we’ve maintained an amiable friendship that we both value.

And then there’s last year. I joked to my boss that I will never begin a relationship in February ever again.

I’m not going to say much about it. It’s over, and it didn’t end well. We haven’t spoken in months. I don’t know if we will. It still hurts. But I’ll say this: I’ve never felt that close to anyone in my life.

February is coming up again. I have no persistent crushes and no ardent desire to find a partner. I’m still bitter about the last one. And two years later, the first one still eats me inside.

I don’t know what I want in a partner, so I’m focusing on what I want in life. I see young people around me breaking their hearts over unhealthy relationships and pining for a partner at the expense of their friendships. I don’t want to be that person. I also don’t want to be the person that dwells over past relationships and lets it define them. So I’m laying it all on the table, hoping it’ll let out some of the steam. If I can make it past February without getting myself into another fit of love, I’m thinking I might be okay for a little while.

My Reggio Classroom

My Reggio Classroom

This May I started working at a child care center coordinating their community youth programs. Among other things, I have a classroom of 14 first and second graders I work with every day after school.

My center enrolls about 40 kids in its after-school program. They’re split into 3 classrooms, and I run one of them. It was a pretty proud moment for me when my supervisor told me I’d have my own classroom. Not only did this affirm that I’m lead teacher material, it gave me an opportunity I’d been waiting for since I decided to become an educator.

I got to decorate my own classroom.

The room I was given hadn’t been used for much in a while. One of the other teachers had spent time over the summer reorganizing it, but I got to take it over from there. I had shelves, a rug, a couch, some tables, pictures, whiteboards, and a fake tree to work with.

My childcare center follows a particular philosophy of learning—the Reggio Emilia approach. The Reggio Emilia philosophy follows the belief that children aren’t empty sponges waiting for us to fill them—a popular belief in many settings—but that they’re sponges already full of knowledge, curiosity, and potential, and it’s out job as educators to coax that out and guide it.

Rather than teaching them curriculums and integrating structured learning, we set up an environment that’s natural for exploration and self-lead learning. We give them invitations—setting out materials that they can work with if they want; and provocations—laying out a challenge or asking a question that they can attempt to meet or answer.

The approach was developed in the 1970s, as educators in post-World War II Italy looked for new ways to teach their students. It is geared towards younger kids, which is a large portion of what our center focuses on. But we serve a good number of school-age youth as well, and Reggio methods are adapted in age-appropriate ways for the after-school program.

Loose parts are a huge part of Reggio. Loose parts can be almost anything—acorns, beads, pine cones, sticks, leaves, beans, pebbles, string, corks, rings, pop tabs, rocks. These items are traditionally arranged in baskets and laid out on tables or shelves. That’s part of the invitation. They’re always there, and the students are welcome to use and explore them. But there’s no pressure to do so, or to do so with a specific goal in mind. That way, discoveries occur naturally, and it’s a lot more satisfying and exciting for the student. I watch my kids every day as they take out the baskets, sort pieces, mix and match, build, create, and observe. They get so much more out of it than if I’d handed them a bunch of rocks and said “Build a tower!” or beads and said “Make a pattern!”

Blocks are also very versatile. My class has traditional wooden blocks, “natural” looking blocks, wooden train tracks, cut-up sponges, and cups. LOTS of cups. I gave them cups on a whim, looking to fill one of the empty compartments on my block shelf, and they ran with it. Almost every day now, I have multiple students building cup towers, making cup walls, sorting the cups based on size and color, and all sorts of things.

It’s so much more exciting than pre-designed Lego sets or puzzles.

The best things happen when the areas overlap. I’ve seen many glorious palaces built with a mixture of loose parts and blocks.

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The classroom layout and environment is also very important. According to Reggio, education consists of three teachers. First, the child; they lead themselves through life and are constantly showing us new things. Second, the traditional educator role: the responsible, trained adult in the room who can ensure safety and guide learning. And third, the classroom itself. Everything about the learning area influences the experiences had inside it.

I spent a lot of time arranging my classroom until it satisfied my needs. I wanted lots of options for play, but not so many they were overwhelming. I filled the shelves with items that got swapped out occasionally with others in the closet. I wanted the classroom to be open, to invite collaborative play and to let the students decide what the spaces would consist of. Wide open floor spaces make for awesome buildings. Putting the art table next to the “creation station” with no barrier left plenty of room for crossing over materials.

I wanted the room to have a natural feel. The art table went by the window to let the outside world and natural lighting inspire their work. The book nook went in a quiet corner, which I equipped with the couch, the rug, the tree, soft pillows and bean bags, a fish tank, and of course bookshelves. The book nook was closed off on one side but not all, so there could be some separation if quiet was needed, but it was not totally isolated, allowing for some versatility there as well.

I wanted the room to be inviting. The first few weeks the students were there, I lay out the invitation for the kids to make art to hang on the walls. I wanted them to feel like the room belonged to them—it wasn’t someone else’s room that they borrowed for a few hours each afternoon.

The walls were soon bedecked with their art: their hand prints, color patterns, abstract shapes, items of interest. The invitation is ongoing, and I still have some of them coming up to me with art asking if it can be put on the walls.

I’ve worked in programs before where we followed a specific schedule and lead curriculums. Those experiences were very rewarding, and I could see the benefits they had on the children I worked with in those settings. It was a huge change for me to arrive at a place where the emphasis was not on what I would be teaching the kids every day, but on what we could all learn together as a community.

I love watching my kids explore the materials laid out for them. I love seeing the amazing things they come up with in exploration and pretend play. I love being able to interact with them on a new level as I explore with them, sometimes sitting back and watching as they guide themselves through the day.

I do have one big thing in my classroom that is not Reggio: the job wheel. Though we don’t follow a specific agenda, each day brings a series of steps we need to follow. We walk from school, eat our snack, and clean up. During the first days, the kids fought over who would walk in front, and it often ended in tears. Some of them didn’t care, but for those that did, it was a pretty big deal.

The one it really mattered to had ADHD. That might have been the cause of the frustration, or it might have just exacerbated it. He would push and yell at others when they tried to walk in front, but didn’t seem to think it was unfair for him to walk in the front every single day. (For ease of reading, I’ll call him A.)

I’d tell him, “You can’t walk in front today, let someone else do it,” and be met with an indignant “Why?”

“Because it’s not fair.”

Why?

So, among other things, Line Leader became a job that switched every day. The first day I introduced the job wheel, when A pushed his way to the front, I said, “A, you’re not in the front today.”

I was met with his pout. “Why?”

“Because Line Leader is a job now, and today, it’s B’s job.”

“Oh. Okay.” And A walked to the back of the line.

It felt like a miracle.

The job wheel helps me so I don’t have to hand out plates and wipe the tables every day. But it’s also very important to A now, as well as the others in my class who have ADHD and other needs. For that reason, I’m not getting rid of it, even if it’s not Reggio.

I love my classroom. It’s a place where I can witness creativity, teamwork, struggles, resolutions, tears, laughter, growth, and learning every day. During my interview, my future supervisor could see me bouncing with excitement when she described the Reggio Emilia approach. I’d been trying to explain to people for years that kids come into this world equipped with everything they need, and in most cases, adults don’t build them up, we squish it all back down by convincing them they don’t know anything. If we’re teaching them stuff they already know, how is that going to make them feel? Bad? Wrong? Inadequate?

There are things like the alphabet and how to hold scissors that have to be taught. But a sense of curiosity, wonder, excitement, a love of nature, the drive to learn, a feeling of community, caring for others—that’s part of the package they walk into our lives with. Reggio Emilia takes for granted that all of that is there. It’s not our job to invent our students. It’s our job to meet them where they already are, and give them the chance to invent themselves.

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Find out more about the Reggio Emilia apprach here: 

https://www.reggioalliance.org/

http://www.reggiochildren.it/identita/reggio-emilia-approach/?lang=en

 

Long Time

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything. My goal was a post every two weeks last year. Life happens. It wasn’t even that dramatic. Jut a lot of becoming an adult. I got my first apartment. I have a full-time job and recently earned 40 hours a week over my previous 36. I run three programs and travel between four different sites. I just took out a 72 month loan for an awesome car. I’m living my life; I just haven’t blogged about it.

I lost my insurance this month. I’m required to get a group plan through work, and it doesn’t cover any of my mental health needs. I had to cancel all my counseling appointments and I’m dreading the day this week I run out of my prescription. If I can’t pay for my psych visits, my script will run out, and I’ll be on a limb. In October my pharmacy fucked up on me and withheld my meds for two weeks. During those weeks, the people around me could see a change. I was erratic, distracted, moody. Getting back on was like flipping a light switch. It’s ironic that, after just over a year of taking these and doubting their effectiveness, the moment I realize how well they’re working is the moment I’m threatened with them being taken away.

I’m sitting here typing and eating gummy bears by the fistful as my cat tries to eat my granola. At any rate, I’m here. I’m sketching out a few ideas for posts about my job and recent events. Look forward to that. In the meantime, peace out, take care, and keep on rockin.