Covid-19, Substitute Teaching, and Single Momming

I love my job. I really love my job. I am a professional substitute teacher. It gives me the ability to work around my physical/medical limitations and still teach, which is one of my passions. However, school is not meeting. When it is back in session, they’re going to online classes. What does that mean for the hundreds of substitute teachers in my area? We won’t have jobs. My profession is essentially dead for the foreseeable future.

I’ve been scared. Scared that I no longer have a job. Scared because there aren’t jobs available right now… Not jobs I am physically capable of doing. I mean, three brain surgeries left me with a couple of somewhat intense conditions. I’ve been obsessively pushing my books, but everyone is out of work right now so book sales are not great. I’ve been a homeschool mom as has my mom so I set up a consulting business to help new homeschool parents, but with everyone out of work, I’ve gotten few nibbles since people can’t afford to hire (even at way less than the normal rate).

This morning, I got an amazing letter from the State of Colorado. They renewed my benefits, both food stamps and medicaid. No need for re-certification. That is one thing that kept me up until 2am last night. I was worried because I knew re-certification was coming and that everyone in our state was hurting. Would they renew my benefits now that everyone needs them? What if I messed up the paperwork? It was a huge relief to get that letter.

But I’m still jobless. I’ve still lost my favourite job ever, for which I find myself grieving. But at least I know I’ll still be able to buy some food next month (even if the shelves are bare) and I can still see doctors… and so can my son. When this is over, I’ll find a new job. In the meantime, I’m looking for avenues to make money. I’ll keep offering consulting and tutoring services. I will still try to get people to buy my books (I’m told they’re actually pretty good lol). I will still seek reviews and pages read on Kindle Unlimited.

I find with the virus running rampant across the world, that focusing on the miracles is the only way to survive this mentally intact. I have always hated it when my mom told us to “look for the miracle”. It was annoying when we were struggling with something to be told to look for something positive in the middle of something that felt huge and awful. But in the midst of a global pandemic, we have to “look for the miracle” or risk sinking into the depression that could so easily consume us. By that thinking, I will glory in every page read on Kindle Unlimited. I’ll smile at each new review and find the joy in each and every book sale. I will continue to search job sites and keep my eye out for online teaching opportunities.

This apocalypse will not be the end of me. I won’t let it. I… we… will survive this. Life will never be the same as it was before the pandemic and I can only think that will be a good thing. This has opened so many eyes as to the failures in the current system. Now is the time to figure out how we can be better; as people, as a community, and as a country.

Panic Buying is NOT the answer

We are living in a dystopian novel. Is it overly dramatic. Yes. Is it accurate? Yes. I went to the grocery store this week. Several times because I kept having to change stores to find what I needed. I wasn’t there to panic buy. I was there to buy my week’s worth of groceries like I always do. There was no toilet paper, no water, no lactose free milk, no, no, no… I’m a professional substitute teacher. I don’t make a lot of money, but with my health concerns, it is a good job and I can feel like I’m doing something that contributes to society. However, it also means I’m not in a position to buy a ton of things. Not that I’d have the room to store a year’s worth of anything.

As a society, I think we need to start thinking about the people in positions similar to, or worse than, mine. The moms who are desperately waiting for their next round of food stamps, or the elderly that are waiting for a social security check before they can buy groceries. These are the people that need us to NOT panic buy. They need us to make sure that there will be food and toilet supplies on the shelves when they have the money to buy them. Someone on Twitter put out a plea about baby formula. Whether you believe breast is best or that formula is not the answer, the reality is a huge chunk of the baby population relies on formula for survival. It’s our responsibility as a society to make sure there is some.

I guess the point of this post is that I, too, am pleading with Americans to consider their neighbors. If there ever was a time to consider ourselves part of something bigger, that time is now. The death rate in the US is projected to sky rocket. Shouldn’t we be part of the solution in keeping people health and alive rather than the guilt ridden survivors that are faced with our part in killing off the population?

Wash your hands, avoid crowds, and for the love of all things Holy, please please leave what you don’t need on the shelves.

Brain Surgery and the Single Mom

In several interviews, I’ve mentioned having brain surgery. In reality, I’ve had three. It’s been an interesting experience and many questions have been asked. I hope this answers some of them. 

In July 2015, I got an ear infection. It was not the first one, nor would it be the last. But this one was different. After years of being told my ear was fine when I was in pain and felt like crap, I waited. Yes, I’d changed states and insurance and doctors, but years of being told what I was experiencing was wrong made me gunshy. It was hard for me to decide to make an appointment, because I didn’t want the doctor to tell me I was fine when I felt so awful… yet again. This time was different. I went in to see the doctor. My regular doctor was unavailable, so I took the appointment with whoever I could get. Really, the ear hurt that bad. She looked in my ear and paused. “Something looks structurally wrong with this ear.” Uhm…. ok. So I was given antibiotics for the infection that had already perforated my eardrum and a referral to an ENT. The perforation was not the structural problem. There was something else going on. 

And so set in motion the next three years of my world. 

The ENT told me that I had a cholesteatoma. It’s a fancy word for a tumor in my ear. Mine was right behind the eardrum and was larger than they normally found. About the size of a pea. Of course, I hadn’t bothered to get the ear looked at. Why would I? I kept hearing there was nothing wrong with me. The ENT sent me for a consult with a surgeon. Up until that point, I’d managed to get through life with only one surgery, practically unheard of for someone with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I’d turned down a couple that were recommended, but hadn’t worked on my brother so I didn’t bother. This was different. This was my head. 

The surgeon told me that the tumor had already managed to eat the small hearing bones in my right ear. They could remove the mass of cells, but it would affect my hearing. However, phase two would be to insert an artificial hearing bone and I should only lose a tiny bit of the hearing overall. Yay. Sort of. I wouldn’t die, which was the alternative if I decided not to have the surgery. 

December 2015, I had surgery. Just before Christmas. Let’s talk about pain. OMG. So not my favourite thing. The surgery itself went well. The surgeon was hopeful that he had removed all the cells and the cholesteatoma would not have the opportunity to grow back. I was hopeful that I’d be able to move forward to phase two and get my hearing back. 

Four months later, that was not the case. The cholesteatoma began to grow back. My mastoid bone was involved again. More loss of bone. In June 2016, I had surgery number two. I did better. Different anesthesiologist and a different knock-me-out cocktail. Recovery was still pretty painful, but it was easier. This time, for sure, they’d gotten it all.

Unfortunately, that was, again, not the case. There were two types of surgery I could have had. Both times, I opted for the smaller one. I no longer had that option. Surgery number three was scheduled for January 2017. Instead of a ‘simple’ mastoidectomy, I now had to have the mastoidectomy with canal wall down. I’d avoided that because it meant routine appointments to get my ear cleaned out every six months for the rest of my life. That meant I could NEVER go without medical insurance. I could NEVER go without a doctor. I was scared. This economy is not one in which I could guarantee that I would always have medical insurance and it’s terrifying to have to rely on that.  

The third surgery worked, but I lost a great deal more hearing than they thought. See, with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, surgeries don’t work the way they ‘should’. We have complications related to the tricky nature of our connective tissue. One of my complications was Meniere’s Disease. It’s a vestibular condition characterized by vertigo attacks. I’m now even more sensitive to changes in the weather, as well as, wind. If wind flows passed my right ear, I get dizzy. I have to be careful of changes in light, noise, or low-light atmospheres. All of those things have the potential to make me sick. My hearing has gotten considerably worse as time has gone by. In fact, I had a moment the other day where I could ‘hear’ metallic scraping in my ear. It sounded like someone scrunching a metal Brillo pad deep inside my head. After that, the hearing is practically gone. But even the sound that makes it through my lack of hearing is wrong. The noise gets lost when my brain tries to make sense of the sound. 

In October 2018, I finally quit my full time job. It wasn’t an easy decision, I liked my job, but the hours, the stress, and the need to drive around the state so often were all contributing factors. I focused on my writing and my son. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to spend so much time with him. I felt a lot like I blinked and he went from little boy to almost-adult. But a fledgling retirement account only goes so far. I went back to substituting in October 2019. I truly love teaching and the ability to work days when I am not sick and not work days when I am sick makes it the perfect job. There is a teacher shortage in Colorado. On average, there are forty substitute positions that do not get filled per day in my district alone. I make enough to cover my expenses (mostly), but don’t have to work more than I am now capable of working. My previous position was working for the state. Because state employees do not pay into social security, I am not eligible for disability, so substituting is my best option. Besides, like I said, I really love teaching. 

Thankfully, I have amazing parents. My mom not only walked through the whole surgery thing with me, being there every step of the way, but she and my dad supported me financially when I could not. My mom has taken care of my son when I couldn’t. For a single mom, that is the most amazing gift there is. My dad has become my editor, reducing the flow of money that goes into creating a career in writing. I’m blessed to have them. 

The point of this post is not to say “oh woe is me” but, instead, to share my story. Yes, this is challenging, but it’s so much better than leaving my son without a mother. It’s so much better than losing my life over a pea size mass of cells that had already started eating away the bone between my ear and my brain. The infection would have moved from my ear to my brain and my life would have been gone. I wrote this post in relation to several questions my readers had asked recently, but I’m glad I did, because I’ve learned how grateful I am for every day I wake up and get to breathe more air; for every day I get to see my son and every kiss on the forehead he gives me.

Politics and the Single Mom: The Minefield that is 2019

Politics in 2019 is like walking in a minefield. My parents are political junkies. They prefer to consider themselves well informed. As a result, my brother and I grew up well informed. We grew up knowing how to debate respectfully and how to assimilate and seriously assess different points of view.  I’m 35 now and I feel like this is a dying art. This is a skill we’re working to develop in my 14 year old son, because in four short years, he’ll be responsible for voting.

Let me preface this next bit with an explanation of my own history. For several years, I taught fifth and sixth grade at an intermediate school. I was a substitute, specializing in helping classrooms going through traumatic transitions. This included assignments where the teacher had been dismissed based on her inappropriate discipline of problem students and one where a teacher had been admitted for inpatient psychiatric care.  These classrooms we’re often disorderly and chaotic and it was my job to assess where the kids were academically as well as working with the school counselor on their mental health. 

I’ve spent quite a lot of time watching the impeachment hearings this week. I’ve seen grown adults treating each other worse than my most broken twelve year olds. I’ve seen people bravely stand up to criticism, as well they should when answering a subpoena from Congress. I’ve seen people telling the truth and others making up amazing stories to confuse the proceedings. I’m not naming parties here because the problem isn’t the parties. That’s just another diversion. The problem is that these adults are name calling, lying, and outright attempting to ruin their peers. These supposed role models are behaving like spoiled toddlers who were given the green cup instead of the purple one. My two year old nephew behaves better (and follows the rules better) than the adults who are supposed to be representing their constituents while running the country. 

Twitter has become a platform for politics. When social media was contrived, it was an attempt to connect people; a series of platforms on which we could increase communication with connections in a world where it is often too difficult to connect in person. I don’t know about you, but I have neither the time nor the money to grab a coffee with friends. I also have neither the time nor money to visit relatives on the other side of the country. I can, however, connect with them online. Twitter is not a platform on which the impeachment hearing should be held by those intimately involved. Our governing officials should not be tweeting their opinions of the hearing as it is held. 

Politics in 2019 is like walking a minefield. It’s difficult to tell the truth from the lies. It’s become even more important to educate ourselves on both sides of every issue. There is no other way to form an intelligent, well rounded opinion. I read Fox news. I read CNN and MSNBC. They grapple different parts of the same issues. They offer different opinions and different perspectives, not all of which I agree with, but all of which I need to hear to create a well-rounded basis for my own opinion and my own direction in voting. 

It is only when we hear our opposition, that we can defend our own perspectives. In 2019, with a looming presidential election, it is our responsibility as Americans to be well informed. It’s time for adults to… well… adult. Stop name calling, stop tearing each other down based on party, and remember how to debate respectfully. It’s time to bring back the ability to have a discussion without acting like toddlers bemoaning our hated green cup.

The Night My Son Went Missing

I wrote this post several weeks ago. Over a month. But… I hit ‘Save as Draft’. I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t share it with anyone, because my anxiety was huge just thinking about it. But, I feel this is a story I need to share…


Original Post:

I lost my son last night. That’s not a euphemism for death thank God. I literally lost him. We were running the Foam Glow. It’s a 5k held at night with black lights. The combination of the black lights and the extreme darkness of the area in which the Run was held made it very difficult to see the people around you much less people in the middle of a crowd. My son is 14. most of the time when we do 5Ks he runs ahead and waits for me at the finish line. Some days I’m slower than others. On those runs he often walks back and meets me and then does the rest of the run with me. Last night, that’s exactly what he did. Unfortunately, due to the darkness and the flashing lights under a group of runners tutus, he passed right by me without being able to see me.

I got to the finish line, excited that I’d made it even though I have a dislocated rib. I looked around excited to tell my son that I had managed to finish. But I couldn’t find him. I yelled his name. I’ll just name again. I walked through the group of people at the finish line practically screaming at this point. I was with a friend and her granddaughter, all three of us calling for him. I checked the tent where you pick up your metal, I checked the area where people were sitting along the corridor on the other side of the finish line, I checked the people milling around at the actual finish line. He wasn’t anywhere. My heart started to race. My hands went numb. See, my son is 14, but he has Asperger’s syndrome. For those of you that don’t know Asperger’s syndrome is high functioning autism. Crowds are hard for my baby. 5 k’s are one of the places that he pushes himself. He explores his freedom. But it makes him nervous.

After 10 minutes of yelling his name, searching crowds, looking at all the faces, I went to the metal distribution tent. “I can’t find my son. What do I do?” I have a degree in criminal justice. I’ve worked in the criminal justice field off and on over the past 10 years, both with a police department and with a federal enforcement program working specifically with minors. I’ve been trained in what to do with missing children. None of that training did me any good. I couldn’t think through the sheer terror of knowing that my kid was missing. the volunteer working the metal distribution tent directed me to security. I practically ran across the parking lot in the general direction of the security people. It was dark and it was an obvious so I stopped at the merchandise tent and asked how to get ahold of security because I couldn’t find my kid. There’s a security officer right there.

The security officer walked me over to another set of safety and security personnel. The man, whose name I can’t remember in the aftermath of the confusion, immediately ask for description and got it over the radio. Another man walked up and took the description as well as my son’s name to announce over the loudspeaker at the rave like party happening post-race. The head of safety and security, an amazingly efficient but kind woman, came over and got his description so she could take the golf cart and drive the race route. The man I originally spoke with was assigned to stay with me. At the time it didn’t occur to me how kind it was to assign someone to the mom. but this man stayed with me. This man had a radio. This man was in constant communication with the other people looking for my son. After a few minutes, he told me we didn’t have to just stand there if I wanted to walk. through my tears I told him I wanted to go back to the finish line because that’s where my son was supposed to wait for me. we were only about halfway across the parking lot when I saw the golf cart. The man signaled with his flashlight to show them where we were. As they drove up the woman asked if this was my son. My arms went numb with relief. I felt like my heart was going to burst. My kid got off the back of the golf cart. He wrapped his arms around me. All five foot nine of this child steam to try to climb onto my hip like he did when he was little. I think the security people, through tears of relief. I have never been that scared in my entire life.

My son, all five foot nine, 14 years old of him grabs my hand. He didn’t let go until we got to the truck. He held my hand like he did when he was four.part of me had known that that’s exactly what he done. That he got into the finish line. That he’d waited for me. That I hadn’t shown up when he thought I should. And that he gone back looking for me. Part of me knew that. Part of me ran every worst case scenario possible. part of me wondered if somebody had snatched My beautiful boy. Part of me wondered if I was ever going to see him again.

That moment I realized HOW destructive some people can be…

I recently read an article on being a narcissist’s catnip (found here). The author spoke to ways to avoid letting a narcissist control you. It spoke to me on a profound level. You see… I’m known for my bad relationships. I’ve dated some real… winners, but there are so many signs young women are not taught to see. In fact, we’re often taught some of these signs are good things and so, even when we’re overwhelmed, we rationalize.

That being said, this post is about the destructive traits I’ve found, both through experience and through my study.

1) Getting angry when things don’t go their way.

You’re probably saying “well duh”. But it’s bigger than that. My ex used to brag about beating the shit out of someone for touching his POS truck one night. The way he told the story, this homeless guy was hanging out around his truck and my ex told him not to touch the truck. The man reached out and touched it… You know how people do? And so my ex clocked him. Then bragged about how the cop who answered the call was his buddy so he got off.

At this point you’re probably wondering why this didn’t scream red flag for me, right? Well, I grew up in Western North Carolina. The guys my age we’re always bragging about the scraps they got into. But that’s my point. This story was an inflated bit of dribble that stroked his ego. It was to pull the attention on to him and make him seem manlier than he was. In retrospect, all stories like this should be a red flag!

2) Showing too much affection/attention.

This sounds like a good one, doesn’t it? Someone gives you attention, that means they care? Generally, yes. But it gets concerning when that attention and/or affection is meant to control.

When I lived in California, I dated a man who seemed wonderful from the outside. It wasn’t until we’d been together for a little while that I realized he was mostly affectionate when other people were around. He was the doting boyfriend. But when we were alone, he was uninterested. He spent evenings more interested in his books than he was in me or anything happening in our home. It made me try harder. And the harder I tried, the more depressed, the more self-conscious I became. I was lucky to have a mom that noticed how bad things were and fought so hard for me because I was literally losing myself to the need for this man’s approval.

3) Using ‘I love you’ for control. 

My son’s father, the same man who boasted about the truck, would randomly send me I love you texts throughout the day. It was sweet and it made me smile. But… after awhile, if I didn’t answer quickly enough (think immediately), the next text would say something like “don’t you love me back?”. We worked together. He knew when I was busy. He knew our cell phone policy, but he used those texts to shift my focus to him. He controlled me through them, which is something I never noticed. Yes, the follow up texts annoyed me, but he was loving me, right? I needed to make sure he knew I loved him back and I didn’t want to risk him thinking I was ignoring him.

I love you should never be used for control. If someone doesn’t answer immediately, it’s ok. But a narcissist isn’t using the phrase to convey emotion. They are using it (in this example) to control by manipulation. But at 20 years old, I didn’t know that.

These are only a few of the behaviors that narcissists use to control and manipulate those with whom they have relationships, but they’re important because these three examples are things young women don’t usually  see as red flags. We want to be loved, we want someone to pay attention to us, and many of us have grown up with ‘manly’ stories of protecting property and self. These aren’t behaviors that are discussed as disturbing.

Writing this has taken me several days. It’s hard to rehash these experiences because I feel like an idiot. That’s the point. I was manipulated. I was controlled. I was made to feel like an idiot to act as these two men wanted me to act. It is my hope that, by sharing these experiences, I can help some other young woman realize she is strong enough to say “NO MORE!” and walk away.

That moment I let words hurt more than violence…

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me….

Yes. Yes they can. Especially when flung at you by family. Yesterday was a really hard day for me. As many of you know, I: 1) homeschool my son and, 2) published my first book at the beginning of this month. These two topics are seemingly unrelated if you were not in my home yesterday.

I homeschool my son. Though we’ve been doing this for years, I quit my full time job in October and took over the homeschooling from my mom. Truth be told, I sucked at getting it all done everyday until recently. I let my semi-failing health and the confusion of life get the best of me and my son’s education suffered. Thankfully, we go year round, so the time off was counted as his break. However, I set myself up for a rough time schooling him now. He’s autistic and, while he is brilliant at overcoming some of those obstacles, change is crippling for him. For me to be so casual about his schooling and then crack down, means his world is wrong and he’s angry. He’s also 13. He hangs out online with a group that is angry and depressed because they’re teenagers in a world that is angry and depressed. Unfortunately, he’s picking up on those habits and it’s making his world harder. Yesterday, we came to verbal blows about the attitude I’m getting when I try to do his schooling. Especially when it comes to writing papers. He said some mean things in a mean tone. With everything going on in my world, I let it hurt me more than I should have. He’s a teenager. They say things they don’t really mean when they’re angry. I did….

The second part of the breaking of me involves publishing my book. I wrote the book. Two people edited the book. I made changes. They reviewed. I sent it to the publishing company with which I was working. They sent me back developmental edits.  I worked on those. I sent it to another paid editor. I fixed what she found. THEN I decided to self-publish after the publishing house with first rights of rejection rejected it stating they were taking the company in a different direction moving forward. Which, looking at the titles they’ve released this year, they have. Totally different direction than my book. So, I self published, because I’d already put a huge amount of time, energy, and money into the manuscript. On February 3rd, it was birthed. It’s beautiful. It’s mine. I was talking to my mom yesterday, in the midst of the struggle with my son’s paper, about how much editing it took. I mentioned finding a typo on page two and how that still bothers me. That’s when another relative spoke up stating that there were many more typos than just that one. AFTER ALL THAT EDITING!

And that’s when I broke. I started to cry. I felt ashamed of my book baby. I felt like I was a crap mother and a lousy teacher. What made me think I was smart enough to be a writer in the first place? How could I think I could teach my son when I’d produced a load of crap that PEOPLE WERE READING?! Y’all, the embarrassment was huge. It took several hours of feeling like a failure to get through the depression into which I spireled after those two things broke me.

BUT, I learned something important… What we say and how we say it has a profound effect on the people around us. My son loves me. I know that. Yesterday was a hard day for him and he was taking it out on me. My relative is often snarky and mean. They don’t look for the joy in the day, nor do they ever look for things to praise. That’s not on me. That’s on them.

Today, my son dove into his schoolwork. I argued once with him because his assigned reading book is boring him to pieces. That’s ok. He still has to read it. It’s required. I reminded him of that and he’s smiling and happy again. My relative sat down with their copy of my novel to go through and find the typos. I’ll revise the manuscript and release a second edition. It’s not the end of the world. Danielle Steel is wildly popular and her books are filled with many more errors than mine is.

From this moment forth, however, I will take a moment before criticizing anything, saying anything judgemental, because yesterday literally broke me and I had to put the pieces together. I am a puzzle fitted together with glue and patched with tape. I don’t want to be the one that breaks anyone else like that and I will continue to teach my son how to be someone who offers glue instead of using a hammer.