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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why you can call me Mrs. Carver, yes you can.

Okay, it is time for me to come out.  Again.

I am going to try to tell this story with the most accuracy and the least details possible since it not only my story to tell.  And because I watched a lot of Downton Abbey while I was recovering from surgery, let me say that it shan't be easy.

Ella has never really liked school, has never been content or comfortable there, not even in kindergarten.  Despite having some really awesome teachers over the years, having some good moments or even a string of a few good weeks, school has always been rather the thorn of her childhood.  It is something she has kind of had to endure.  There are many reasons for this but suffice it to say that it is sort of the square peg, round hole kind of situation.  There are many aspects of the school environment that don't work for her (being an introvert in an ultra cooperative, communal learning environment, being a sensitive, thoughtful, slower moving kid in a competitive, fast-paced, test-driven district to name the two big ones) and this year the situation became intolerable.

I have found there exists a parenting tipping point.  Let's be honest, there are also just regular life tipping points as well.  But as a parent I notice it takes a slightly different form.  When a situation with your child is difficult and uncomfortable, you try to fix it by doing some of this or some of that, hoping to coax it back into a manageable state.  A change in a discipline strategy that you heard worked for someone else, a new routine at home to make things more smooth and have less conflict, a new incentive for siblings to get along.  Thankfully, these adjustments often work.

But sometimes they don't and things get worse until suddenly everything becomes very clear and you realize things are completely unmanageable and something needs to change NOW.  

That is what happened with the school thing this fall.  Suddenly our daughter's unhappiness and anxiety were too extensive to talk her out of, cheer her up from or effectively patch her together each day.  Simply put, standard school cost Ella too much of herself.  I watched it chip away at the core of her and we couldn't sit by and watch it any longer.  We were tired of trying to make her fit into a system that didn't fit her.  We were tired of asking her to "make it work" at the expense of herself.
The stakes were too high and the impact it was having on our entire family was staggering.  It was truly affecting us all.

I found myself at probably the largest parenting crossroads I've ever been at.  I considered our options and thought, this is our chance to try to really make a difference.  We need to listen to what she is saying to us and take this seriously.  

Because I clearly don't have enough to do, I have decided to become a teacher.  In my kitchen.  With only one student.  I am homeschooling Ella.  I am coming out as a home schooler.

Why you can call me Mrs. Carver, yes you can.

I am going to be careful not to get on the band wagon here.  While I do think that there is something alarmingly backwards and detrimental to teaching to the test and of making performance the primary marker with which to gauge success, I am also clear that the role of public school is to teach to the majority.  My child, it appears, is in the minority and may simply benefit from an alternative, more individualized approach to education.

We all loved Ella's teacher this year.   She is a peach and was absolutely looking out for Ella's heart.  I am sure she will always be a far better teacher than I will ever be (for, alas, I have never actually been a teacher).  But what I have come to understand is that Ella simply needs more time devoted to the care of her person, and less focused on how well she assesses in each subject, to be a happy individual.

My main goal in homeschool is to restore Ella to a place of happiness and peace.  I have told her that we will not have timed tests, that we will be going for quality over quantity and that I want her to feel secure in knowing that I will teach her something until she gets it, without a concern for how long that takes.  Naturally, I don't want her to fall behind.  But more than that I want her to be relaxed and content.  I want learning to be, if we are very lucky,  fun.

Because no one should be that stressed out in fourth grade. Ever.

So we are figuring this out together.  I have decided on a general approach which is the unit studies method of home school.  We choose a topic and then study it from every subject angle.  I want to give Ella a ton of say about what we do so it can be fulfilling and interesting for her.  She chose sea turtle as our first topic.  So we are studying the science of sea turtles, math as it relates to sea turtles (lots of numbers about miles traveled, probability of survival, etc.), writing stories about sea turtles, art, reading and, naturally, issues about ecology and conservation.

This is our second week of homeschool and I cannot even describe the difference in our daughter.  She is, in a word, happier.  As a result, the rest of us are as well.
Day one: library...

...and a new haircut.
 We've done our first science experiment!  It is the easiest and coolest project: make your own silly putty.  This is "Frozen" themed silly putty.  Check it out here.

Ella REALLY wanted to do a study date at Starbucks (YAY!) but then remembered she didn't like the  grown-up flavor of their hot chocolate and so she requested Dunkin' Donuts (BOOO!).  But it was the best $.99 ever spent on a Boston Kreme donut.  We learned so much about sea turtles working together!  (They are fascinating.  Seriously, worth learning about.)
There are times in life when the solution is acceptance and other times when the solution is change.  It can be hard to know when to sit and breathe and when to take action.  I certainly don't want to teach our children that the world will shift around them to make them happy.  But I definitely, absolutely want to teach them that if they are fundamentally unhappy in life that they have the power to change what is happening to them.  Even if they are "only" children.

In many ways, I am as proud that we are teaching Ella this lesson as anything I could ever teach her about subjects and predicates.

In a completely uncharacteristic way, I am not overthinking this or over planning it.  I am just going with what it seems is needed day by day, moment by moment.  (This is a good chance, after all, to put all my hard work of the last two years to practical use.)  I am working to incorporate some essentials (mastery of the multiplication table for instance, dissecting sentences, teaching how to use the dictionary) along with more soul-filling work (like watercolor painting and taking Ella to her first yoga class!).  The thought of teaching fractions and long division with remainders has me shaking in my shoes but hey, I'm game to try and fail and try again.

Yes, I am nervous and overwhelmed.  No, I have no idea how to sort out my life now that it has been turned completely on its head. Yes, Maya struggled some with this idea in the beginning but has come to really like it now that things are so much more peaceful at home and there isn't an every night tear fest over a mountain of homework anymore.

I still have all my regular responsibilities and work and trying to make space for everything is a challenge.  I am doing a lot of "real life" teaching.  For instance keeping a running ballpark estimate on a pad when we are at the store and trying to get within a certain dollar amount of the total.  And anyway, isn't applicable, relatable learning more conducive to actually learning and retention?

Maybe this adventure will work for us.  Maybe it won't.  But I can sleep at night knowing that I did what I could to help our daughter.  Looking back in 10 years time I will know that we listened when she told us what was happening for her.  And for now we get to see her smile about 80% more each day than before we started and that is all the salary I need.

If anyone out there has any words of wisdom or advice, I will gladly accept them.   I am a very novice teacher whose only real asset is that my heart is in the right place and I feel in every fiber of myself that I am doing the right thing for our girl.  And it makes it all worth it when she says things to me like, "Momma, thank you so much for home schooling me.  I know it is a lot for you to do it and I really appreciate it." Cue the squeezy hug and it makes it all worth it.

Monday, October 27, 2014


 Well, I'm thyroid-less.

I have to tell you that as far as being ready for surgery goes, I was ready.  The house was tidy, the laundry all folded and put away.  Our bed had clean sheets with which to welcome me for the multi-day rest I had planned.  The freezer was stocked with Popsicles, the fridge with yogurt and smoothie ingredients, and there was a platter of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies for the staff ready to go out the door.

I was ready to have my neck cut open.

The girls made me this AWESOME medal for me to wear.  It read: Very Important Momma.  I was not going to take any chances and I was planning to wear, and flash, this bad boy every step of the way.

It even matched my johnny.

 I tell you this thing WORKED.  Either that or it was the fact that Sandi knew everyone and had hand picked me the most kick ass team of health care professionals a girl could want.  Each person who cared for me did so with such warmth and a generosity of spirit that made me feel like I was among my people.  There was a parade of friendly faces that kept peeking in our door to check on us and wish us well.  Sandi's colleagues had such an understanding of how difficult this position was for her and were incredibly kind and thoughtful.

My dear friend Vanessa who was to be my O.R. nurse gave me the most gorgeous scarf as a gift.  A thyroidectomy scarf for a girl who adores scarves.  So thoughtful.

I was so relaxed while I was waiting that I was able to smile and make jokes.  Emilie and Skyler (with her broken arm in a new neon yellow cast) came in to visit and I got to be the first to sign Skyler's cast!  I'd never had the honor of being the first signature on a cast.  

It was such a comforting feeling to be wheedled into the O.R. by a friend.  When I got in there I was joking around with the staff and one of the nurses said, "I love how funny people are when they have had drugs" and I said, "Oh I haven't had anything yet!"

I was anxious about the possibility of waking up while in surgery. I realize that this is not a common occurrence but the thought of having any awareness at all while my neck was open seriously freaked me out.  Sandi's colleagues put me completely at ease.  I knew Sandi was in the waiting room with Ange keeping her company.  So I breathed into the mask and felt my body get very heavy and then I didn't know anything else.

Except I heard the noise of people talking and moving around and I felt very concerned so I said, "I can hear you! I don't think I'm supposed to me awake right now!" and everyone told me that the surgery was over and I was in recovery.    Sandi held my hand, Ange came and gave me a kiss and Trish rubbed my head for the longest time and it felt so good as I drifted in and out.

Patti and Dwight had gotten the girls from school and taken them to their house overnight.  Sandi brought me back to a quiet house around 7:30 and we weren't long for bed.   We spent the entire next day resting and watching a movie, taking short walks up the street and relishing the restful quiet.  My family came to see us Sunday and brought food and flowers and fruit smoothies and get well cards.  

I want to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support and well wishes I received.  I got cards, email, messages, offers of help and food dropped at our house.  I am no good at being laid up but all the care and support made it so much easier.  A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to my amazing wife for taking such good care of me from beginning to end and for reminding me on day 3 that I wasn't meant to be up and going for run yet. 

The recovery itself has been slower than I thought, with days 3 and 4 being harder than others. I am still not at 100% and I tire easily but I am getting there.  It has been a very restful week (once I could let go of not doing stuff and not being able to get right back to work) and I have spent many afternoons in the recliner playing school with Maya. 

Playing school with Maya looks something like this.  You sit in the chair and she is the teacher and you the student.  She writes her morning message on the white board just like her teacher does, leaving some letters intentionally missing so that you, the student, can fill them in.  This is particularly hilarious when the words are misspelled.  Then she writes up the daily schedule and takes you through them one by one, speaking exactly as I imagine her (awesome, incredible) teacher to speak.  

"Now, friends, we are going to have inside recess today.  For inside recess you can choose to read quietly, draw a picture or...(dramatic pause) would any friends like to use my very special fairy finding book?  If you would like to, raise your hand.  (At this point she scans the living room for all hands that might be raised even though I am the only student.)  Now, when you are done with my special book do you just put it down here and forget about it?  (A mock display of the irresponsible discard of a book.) No.  You would carefully put it back where it belongs, that is right.  Good work, my friends.  Okay, now Momma will have the first turn and when she is done other friends can have a turn as well."  

"Morning meeting, reading workshop, math, music, reading workshop, art, lunch, recess, snack, closing circle."

Maya has been super concerned about me this past week and very attentive.  She has cried in the morning when we had to say goodbye and made me at least one get-well card every day at school.  

There have been lots of lap snuggles. 

I have felt so loved and cared for and grateful.  My sister has checked on me every single day.  Even last night, Emilie brought the most amazing dinner for us: squash soup, salad, homemade naan bread and apple crisp.  It makes surgical recovery seem, well, not so bad. 

I am feeling better, more like myself each day.  I am working to be patient as my body transitions to a synthetic thyroid hormone.  I have some residual discomfort, like a perpetual lump in my throat and   a squeezing feeling around my esophagus that I am hoping is just scar tissue and will resolve with some massage.  My parathyroid was able to be saved so I don't have any long-term worries about my calcium levels.  I feel relieved that this is behind me and I can spend my energy on something other than my thyroid.  

And, best of all, my biopsy results were negative.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

just go with it

Whenever I think I am really mastering the art of not sweating the small stuff, I get more stuff, big and small, to test my resolve.

You may or may not know my long journey with trying to cure myself of hyperthyroidism.   For the past year I have taken it upon myself to rework my system and free it of stress (more like a 50% reduction of) and inflammation.  The hope was to calm my immune system so it would stop attacking my thyroid and causing it to overproduce thyroid hormone.  If I could succeed in disarming this very tricky, cellular power play, I could come off the somewhat unsafe anti-thyroid medication I have been taking and achieve the rare but possible state of remission from hyperthyroidism.

Never one to shy away from a challenge I was all in.  I had several good months where it looked like my hard work was paying off.   I followed a strict elimination diet, took lots of supplements and naturopathic remedies.  I mediated and did yoga.  My lab values improved. I tolerated a dose reduction.   However, a second attempt to reduce the medication resulted in the unwanted increase of my thyroid hormones.  This was last attempt and it wasn't working.

Damn.  It seemed the game was over.

I had the very difficult conversation with my doctor wherein we discussed the inevitability of taking the dreaded radioactive iodine pill to kill my thyroid.  I was out of time to try to cure this on my own. There is nothing appealing about this treatment except that it is the non-surgical option.  You swallow a pill and the radioactivity goes only to your thyroid (because it contains iodine which your thyroid uptakes).  Oh, and you can't be around young children or women of child bearing age for 3 days.  You can't sleep next to anyone, you must use your own utensils and wipe the toilet seat after you pee because, well, you are radioactive.

Appealing huh?

There was no part of me that wanted this, yet even I knew that my best attempts had not resulted in success.   When I started the alternative medicine journey I told myself it was to try everything, to at least give myself the peace of mind that I had done everything I could.

Yet there was no peace to be found.  I was inexplicably devastated over the impending loss of my thyroid.  I felt like I had failed and western medicine had won.  I felt like I was giving up.  I felt like "they" were going to take my thyroid even though I still wanted to keep it and that I didn't get a say.  I would trade one dangerous condition for a life-long, daily-medication-required other condition.  Already having one chronic medical condition for life (Type I diabetes) I was not excited to have another one (hypothyroidism) to go alongside it.  I like that on medical forms I barely have to check anything for "health problems."  I consider myself very healthy- I just happen to have diabetes.

But here I was being faced with taking a pill to knowingly kill part of my body, this body I have worked so diligently to accept and even cherish, and insure a future dependent on pharmaceuticals.  

Here was this gland that I had never paid much (any) attention to before 3 years ago, just ignorantly accepting the benefits of its normal functioning, and now I was grieving the loss of it like someone was taking my arm.

Then Sandi mentioned that it might be worth doing an ultrasound of my thyroid since we never had.  She said sometimes a nodule will grow and cause the thyroid to overproduce.  My hope soared. Maybe it was a pesky nodule and it could be removed and I could keep my thyroid and not have to take medication forever!

I was sitting at my kitchen table a few days after the ultrasound drinking coffee, working on my computer and trying to make sense of a particularly stressful parenting crossroads when the phone rang. I knew by the number that it was my doctor.  I felt like I knew what she would say: "No nodules.  No more delays from you, Missy.  Let's schedule the radioactive iodine for crying out loud."

I was entirely overwhelmed as the words poured out of her mouth like water from a bucket.  Multiple nodules, some large in size.  Could be biopsied but then if I take radioactive iodine it will skew any future biopsy results making it difficult to track these growths. Surgery my best option.

I felt like a triage nurse, but instead of prioritizing severity of symptoms my brain was trying to determine what was the highest on the list to process.  I set my other big problem aside and attempted to focus on my new big problem.

Sandi and I went right to work utilizing our strengths.  She built me a surgical team, researched and problem-solved every possible surgical risk.  I went inside myself to try to deal with this sudden turn of events;  my big job was to stay calm and find a place of peace.

Let me tell you how deeply I have been loved and supported through this process.  The women closest to me have not regarded my grief as trite or silly.  They have reminded me of how long a journey this has been and acknowledged what a difficult letting go it is, have encouraged me to look at it not as a failure but rather a clearing out of something that isn't working, the way an infected appendix needs surgical removal to keep a body safe.

My sister drove the hour plus on a work day to sit by my side while I met with the surgeon.  Sandi's co-workers covered her busy work load for the same.  We sat together while he told us that the nodes didn't appear to be entirely benign in their look, nor did they carry the exact markers of malignancy.  The best option was to take it out and then biopsy the whole thing.

I quickly went from desperately wanting to keep my thyroid to wanting it out.  Here is this thing I have tried to protect and it could actually be harming me.  Now, I no longer see this as much as a loss and am now grateful that it isn't more serious. I am not losing a breast or a necrotic limb that will be forever missing from my body.  I do not have a systemic cancer and looking down a road that might result in the loss of my life.  While this is a big deal to me for sure, there are so many worse medical situations I could face.

Around every corner there is grace.  My dear friend Vanessa who will be my nurse and hold my hand while I fall asleep.  Sandi's wonderful anesthesia colleagues who will willingly stay late to care for me.  Ange who will bring Sandi coffee and sit with her as she waits during my surgery.  My mother-in-law who will take our girls and all the others who have offered.  Emilie and Trish and Kathryn who send me texts nearly every day checking in on how I am doing.  My mother to offered to do whatever we need of her.

And then at school drop off the other day, I mentioned to one of the moms I really like and admire that I had to have this surgery.  She pulled the neck of her shirt down and pointed to the thin scar across her neck I had never noticed.  She had had a thyroidectomy and was perfectly fine, happier in fact without the ups and downs and worries of hyperthyroidism and masses.  I have another friend with the same story.

Tomorrow is the day.  I have people to care for me and help me transition.  Today, at long last, I am grateful and at peace.  I have had a pre-surgical Jin Shin Jyutsu (chinese energy work) appointment, baked a huge batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to take to the outpatient surgical staff and am planning to go to yoga in the morning before I report to the hospital.

I have to say I will breathe easier once the biopsy comes back of my thyroid but for now I am, surprisingly, relaxed about even that.  I am ready for this particular fight to be over.

And hey, what better time to have an incision across your neck than right before Halloween?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

our wedding pics...for real

I am so excited to share these pictures with you.  We were so incredibly blessed to have our infinitely talented friend Mark McCall photograph our wedding.  Out of the nearly 900 pictures he took, I have chosen my 100 or so (okay...150 or so) favorite.  And that was an absolute chore because there were so many good ones.

Our friend Emilie wrote a blog post (which you can read here) about our wedding that is so touching to me as well as fun to experience our wedding from a different perspective.  It is honor to be loved by her and her family and call her family.  (Emilie also got married this summer, just 5 weeks after we did!  Her wedding was gorgeous and perfect in the most quintessentially Maine spot on Mount Desert Island.  It was definitely the summer of love!)

There are so many things I still recall about the wedding that I had forgotten.  Like how Sandi and I did rock, paper, scissors to see who would walk down first.   Like how when the owners of the house made a second, very unwanted and very long visit inside the house and I said I was going to go give them a piece of my mind,  two of our family members said, "Oh no you are not!" and made me go sit down.  (Is that not love?)  Like sitting on the rocks with Sandi and having Reed come down with his guitar to serenade us.  (I think it was a jazzy version of "Twinkle Twinkle".)

Regarding the pictures, at first I was like wow, that is too many pictures to post and then I was like they are too incredible not to post.  So here is our wedding album.

We hired Mark to come for an extra few hours to make sure each family got to have a family portrait taken.  It isn't too often that people get all gussied up and we wanted to capture everyone for their own living room walls.  Are these not beautiful people?
Matt, Ange, Beckett, Anna and Brady

Emilie, Tim, Skyler and Reed

Brian, Kathryn, Braeden and Michaela

Kristi, Michael, Makenna and Brevan

Trish and Brock

I swear we didn't set out for a cry fest.  It just sort of happened.

Oh this kid...  And Ella yawning in the background...

Sure they are exchanging rings, but have you SMELLED THIS THING?!

Ella was cold so Dwight very lovingly gave her his vest.   I think he just wanted to tie some charcoal into our ivory/black theme. 

There you have it: our entire guest list. 

Thank god for sisters.  I cringe to think of where we would be without these three amazing women.

Maya gave Mark no small amount of material to work with.

Mark told us to change it up a little. I was posing and asking him if this is what he meant and Sandi was holding her hand out to him saying, "Now, careful what you ask her to do..."

We kind of have a thing for beautiful food.   I love that Mark seems to as well.  A thousand thank you's to our friends and family for making this food so stunning and delicious.
Caprese sticks

For the kiddos: crudités with spinach dip in bread cups.

Apple, beet, cheddar tarts

lobster salad

Just the right number of cooks in this kitchen. 

Reed really, really, REALLY wanted us to cut the cake.  He kept coming and asking, "Is it time to cut the cake?"
Yes, Reedo!  It finally is!!!

First Reed...

Then each other...

There is never a family gathering where a child doesn't get swung around.  Our wedding was no exception.

One of my personal highlights of the evening was singing "Wagon Wheel" with Matt.  I was especially psyched when Trish, Maya and Robbi came and joined us for some harmony.  I never hear that song now that my whole heart isn't filled with happiness. 

I was reflecting right before the wedding how wonderfully unusual (although perhaps not so much in this day and age) it was to have our children be such an integral part of our wedding.  Different than second marriages and blended families, this was their wedding too, with their parents marrying each other as opposed to a step parent.  Their presence and excitement, their ownership over this event and their own hard work and contribution to the campaign that allowed marriage to be a possibility added a depth that is hard to catalogue.  In the weeks, and now months, that have followed, they say things like: "That was the best day of my life" along with a soft, contented sigh. 

These are my two favorite pictures of Sandi.  I think she is simply stunning and captivating in every way. 

And there you have it.  We are blessed, this we know.

Thank you Mark.  Seriously... thank you.