We began a unit on stress, a topic on which I’ve become an expert these past six weeks. While I did offer a few personal tips I’ve gleaned, we stuck mainly to the game plan: they completed inventories to assess their own stress (which turned out to be interesting but not surprising to them); I outlined different theories about stress; students shared their own methods for dealing with stress, because as AP students, they are experts as well. My favorites: Get swole (as in swollen, as in exercise; I learn new things every day); wait for the drop (as in the drop of the bass in dub-step music; more education, as they played me a sample); breathe (not as obvious as you might think, as in breathe deeply). One student reported that she reenacted an experiment we discussed earlier in the year: smile, even if you don’t feel like it. The muscles used for smiling may trick the brain into making you feel a little brighter. I was jarred by the coincidence because I’ve been trying this very method in the car, unfazed by what my fellow motorists might think if they glanced in my direction. My fake smile probably looked real to them. And I swear, it does seem to work. 

One theory that especially rang true for them: Hans Selye’s general adaptation syndrome. Our bodies do a pretty good job of fighting stress, resisting the many ill effects, but if the stress is chronic, the body becomes exhausted, especially after the stress eases. And this is when we become sick. One can almost predict the illness and perhaps take preventative steps before any actual symptoms appear. 

On Thursday, during the last period of school, thick snowflakes began to flurry down with a delicacy that seemed dreamlike. I couldn’t compete, so I made a deal: let me finish this little lesson…and then this little worksheet…and then…we could step outside for a few seconds. Several students were beyond excited, and when we got out there, they were spinning with arms out and baring their faces to the sky. I guess glee might be a good word to describe those expressions. 

I've been wearing my father's coat these past few days, breathing in at the elbow its wheat-like aroma every now and then. It could use a good cleaning, but that's not going to happen, not until that sweetness fades. Wearing his coat reminds me of one of my favorite poems by my pal and creator of poetry slam, Marc Smith. The poem reflects a troubled relationship between father and son, quite different than anything I would write, but there's a haunting intimacy that gets me every time. Check it out:

My Father's Coat

Today I also carried my father's wallet in my back pocket, needing to copy a few items. This reminded me of poem by Raymond Carver that I also love. I walk around thinking I'm fine, and then some tiny pocket of grief rises up unexpectedly and slams me.

My Dad's Wallet
I feel as if I’ve been flattened by a bus. The past four weeks have been a blur of driving: to school, to the hospital, to the nursing home where my mother now resides, to my parents’ house to retrieve mail. Five months ago, they were both at home, well fed and warm and reasonably comfortable. 

On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, my father passed at 10:40 a.m. in his own home, in his own bed. My mother, who fell four weeks ago and who remained largely unconscious until quite recently, doesn’t know. She’s disoriented, and we’re still not sure about her prognosis. As my father repeated at the hospital before he was released, it’s complicated. And it becomes more so each day. 

When I gain a bit more distance, I want to write about the past four weeks and about my grief. 

For now, I want to at least mention school since this is a school update. I haven’t told my students about my parents. And apparently none of them read this blog, not that I’ve told them about it. (And they don’t see me as an introvert!) I’ll probably mention the blog near the end of the school year. I suppose I’m worried that they will become self-conscious if they know I’m reflecting and writing about what we’re doing each day. 

Until last week, I haven’t missed many of my morning classes, always receiving calls about 10:00 a.m. and then cutting out. I want to ask them if I seem any different to them, less focused perhaps. I could be wrong, but I think I’ve done a good job of pushing aside the personal for 50-minute little compartments and running my normal routines. The afternoon classes? I think I’m focused with them as well, though I’ve had to scramble to convey my plans to my very able and wonderful department chair who has saved me several times. So while the afternoon classes may have had disruptions, I think I’ve been diligent and organized. 

I take back (temporarily) all the moaning I’ve done about shortened days. This week we had two, and I felt fortunate because I didn’t miss as much as I could have. 

I find my desk littered with notes related to death: doctors’ phone numbers, medication schedules, hospice hotlines. Ordinarily, my scattered notes include ideas about lesson plans or story ideas, all life affirming. I look forward to getting back to that normal mess. I think that’s what my old man would have wanted. If I ever called him from work, he worried that the call was interfering with my job. Family and work were utmost to him. The last few days, this refrain keeps hitting me: whatever goodness there is in me came from him.

Another tough week. Dealing with many difficult decisions regarding my ailing parents. Somehow I’ve been able to maintain focus during classes, though I did receive a few ill-timed calls from doctors and social workers and nurses, all of which were returned after the bell rang. Ignoring the buzzing phone in my pocket was a challenge. Luckily, my sister arrived in town this week to handle things during the day. 

Most amusing moment in class, for me at least. I discussed the cover story in Time about shyness and asked if they viewed me as an introvert. They were nearly unanimous in their assessment of me as an extrovert, which is not even close to the truth. I suppose when a person is put into a particular role, that person must perform. I should be flattered? Another amusing moment. We began a unit on development, what it means to be “old.” I asked them to guess my age. Many guessed ten years younger, and I told those people that I loved them. But one student had no idea whatsoever. Sixty? When I shrugged he tried, Seventy? These past two weeks may have taken their toll on me, but please. I am 54, which in 2012 translates to about 38. I’m a little immature at times so I’d bring that number down further to about 33. And I’m an expert at denial, so let’s make it a flat 30.