Saturday, August 17, 2013

Anxiety... and EXCITEMENT: Back to School!

Monday morning, the students return.  We teachers have been back for a (little under) a week.  Starting my second year in this particular school, I am definitely in better shape.  However, I'm feeling the strong pull of the "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" paradox because I feel less prepared knowing how much I have to do.  I have been overwhelmed all week.

A few things have me particularly anxious:

  1. I got a pretty decent rep at my school last year as being alright at what I do.  This will help, but it also means I have hype to live up to now and the expectations are higher.  I'm not a "noob." What I did last year won't be good enough.
  2. I'm teaching all new preps, save one (the AP class), and have three different preps in fall.  No, I don't know what we might be reading on Wednesday yet...
  3.  I have a student teacher.  I'm so excited for that--I think changing jobs so often has kept me "in touch" with new to service teachers more than other people with my experience, and I so respect and empathize with how awesome/challenging/impossible/wonderful/horrible that first year of teaching is.  He's cool so far.  However, I feel like I should feel a lot more like a "master teacher" than I actually do (see #2 and my lack of plans for Wednesday).  I know I've been doing this for nine years on two different continents, but still... Doubts eternal.
  4. My spring students' AP scores were... not good.  I hesitate to post about this because it is somewhat questionably private student information that they need not have broadcast on the internet and because I really shouldn't (even in this political climate) put so much stock in scores.  As much as I truly believe that standardized tests tell you little more with accuracy than the income range of the test taker's parents, I cannot avoid the reality that (1--and more importantly) the AP test has the potential to help my students avoid taking an extra class in college and therefore is great if they pass it and (2) we teachers not only are judged by others on our students' scores, we really feel overwhelmingly personally responsible for their failures.  Like, I see a student in my class get a high score on a test, and I'm like "WOW... John did so GREAT!!!"  I see a student get a bad score, and I'm like "Oh MY GOD!!!  What did I do wrong?  I'm the worst teacher in the entire world!"  I realize this is ridiculous, but it is my first reaction to credit students entirely with success and blame myself entirely with failure.  Reading too much political educational rhetoric?  Perhaps.  It's one of my few remaining holdovers of growing up with sub-par self-esteem.  All this is to say, that I'm feeling the test score pressure.  AP Language and Composition is basically my favorite class to teach (only American Culture came close; though perhaps Creative Writing and Drama would be up there, should anyone ever give me the chance to teach those).  I don't want it to be taken away from me next year because of scores.
  5. My schedule blows.  I won't go into details, but I got screwed*.  These are the things about teaching in public schools I don't love.  At all.
  6. New principal/bosslady = extra pressure + extra uncertainty.  However, over the last few days, I have a very strong positive first impression.  Cautiously optimistic?  Yes, I am.  Aw... I'll just admit the truth now.  I'm giddy with glee basking in her positive glow.  I love this woman already so much, I know she's bound to disappoint me sometime because she would not be human if she could live up to the amazing feeling of AWESOME I'm getting from her at this point.  I will have to temper my giddiness.  Fortunately, I have my anxieties... see above.

Typing out my anxieties has made me come back around to my blinding optimism that always seems to win out around this time of year.  The students I've met so far have been really awesome.  At Back to School night, some of my kids from last year stopped by to tell me about their summers and said really kind things to me (and apparently about me to other teachers).  I have a new classroom that is way bigger and more flexible than my previous one.  I'm in much better shape with preparation for the whole semester than I was at this time last year, even if my day-to-day is not fleshed out...  Overall, most of what I'm feeling is excitement.

I have a feeling I will not be sleeping much this weekend.  I plan to spend my last day of summer with my lovely menfolk at the pool.

*honestly, I believe no one did this to me intentionally, so I hold no particular grudge about it.  And I have the most supportive colleagues in the world who made me not only NOT run for the hills, but find some positive ways to approach some classes I'm less than enthusiastic about teaching.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


craigslist n. an internet site posting classified ads in local areas v. (1) to engage in commerce through the website; (2) to buy or sell used items through the internet; (3) to be awesome.

Today we had access to my mother's SUV because we purchased a twin mattress for J (in hopes that he will one day sleep in it rather than just jump up and down on it, declaring his undying love for the airplanes on the sheets) and needed to haul it home.  I decided to make use of this to the fullest and spent some time digging around on Craigslist for things we need/want.  We ended up with two bikes and a dishwasher at very reasonable prices from very helpful gentlemen who spent some time explaining to me how to properly maintain/use the items.

I love Craigslist (and similar things, like  When you're trying to keep costs down, it opens up a lot of options that the local thrift shop might not offer.  You can also sell used junk items there if you like, though you'll hardly get rich doing that (unless you are a super thrift shop/yard sale maverick with exceptional marketing skills--I know of at least one person who made a decent living that way when he was unemployed).

Craigslist is great; it is also a time-consuming rabbit hole of internet nonsense.  Craigslist is full of scams (one of these is responsible for about 90% of my junk e-mail now from back when I was job-hunting in 2010).  The personal ads are endless source of entertainment and depressing examples of the failures of humanity.  But those aren't even the things I'm talking about.  I'm talking about the way it makes you covet used crap delightful items of joy.

Sometimes nothing at all is listed there you actually need or want, but while perusing it for, say, size 2T boy clothes, you see all these things you don't actually need for your toddler, but find yourself thinking: "Wow... look at that spiffy scooter!  It's only $12--I should get it.  J will love it when he's 4!"

So you e-mail the person who put up the ad.  And then you obsessively check your e-mail every three minutes for a reply.

The next day, you get a response back--a flippant one liner:  "Well, someone's coming to check it out tonight."  And you get sucked in, because even though you didn't even want the darn thing two days ago--the thought of it had never even crossed your mind--you've become so invested in it that you try to figure out how to rearrange your whole afternoon to beat the other potential buyer out there so that you can buy the scooter.  That no one in your house will use for at least three more years.  You have to have it.  So you offer more money if she'll hold it for you, and not for the other person.

Seriously, that's how it works.

Ok, not really, but sometimes those surges of MUST. HAVE. NOW. hit you the way they would in a regular retail store, but even more so because you get so invested in the e-mail exchanging and the plans to meet and the potential rival customers that it becomes more than just a transaction; it's life drama!

I try to keep it all in perspective, while maintaining good internet manners (instead of just never responding after expressing interest, which can seem rude), but it's not easy to do all the time.

That noted, I'm very happy with my purchases today.  Not looking forward to witnessing my brother, father, and husband attempt to install the dishwasher on Saturday (because they are such odd personalities), but am definitely looking forward to some sweet rides on my new (to me) bike.

And now... about that Gourmet Chef Cheese Shaker for $6...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Coming Home... as a Homeowner.

Coming home to your own house after vacation is a new experience for me.

I was shocked by how reassuring and comfortable it felt to return to our place, our shelter.  I never really thought I'd be the homeowning type--too much responsibility--but Min Gi and I got a really great deal on this three floor, end-unit townhouse in a beautiful neighborhood just under five miles from my job.  It was appraised at $223,000, and the bank accepted our offer of $197,000 plus they covered 3% (or about $6,000) of closing costs.  We moved in at the beginning of March and have been updating it slowly since then (it was a foreclosure and was... missing some things... like door knobs and light fixtures and a refrigerator).  To give you a sense of just what an awesome deal this is, two similar units in our community sold in May for over $250,000 each.

But late at night, after traveling for more than 24 hours, crashing in our bed, seeing our kitties greet us, with our comfortable, familiar surroundings was just different than coming home has ever been for me.

I need to write more about the (unplanned) process of homeownership--which involved even MORE paperwork than the immigration stuff for Min Gi--but I am still a touch jetlagged and have cleaning and paperwork to catch up on.  Just wanted to share that things are good.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Old, Unpublished Post: Six Months Old: 5 More Things about Motherhood

I wrote the majority of this post June 2, 2012.  I found it buried, unpublished, in my list of blog posts.  Thought I'd share, since it was very interesting.  I should probably do another one of these, since I've learned even more since then:

J is six months old today.  My goal for my first year of motherhood was for all of us to make it out alive.  We're halfway there (and the three of us are not only alive, but thriving)!  In celebration, I will share another few things I've learned about motherhood (you can read my original post here).  I blatantly stole this idea from another blogger (now defunct), no lie, but I really enjoyed doing it last time and reading hers, so I'm going to forgive myself my originality fail.

1.  Current medical guidelines are not the only healthy way to raise a baby.  The medical guidelines you were raised with and your parents religiously adhered to in order to give you the best start are totally different than your current "best practices."  The truths about healthy baby raising in another country are different than your current truths.  The things that work with your baby now may not work with your next baby.  I'm not advocating being totally irresponsible, but don't freak out if you find out that your friend started her baby on solid foods before six months or or co-sleeps or whatever.

2.  Some babies cry inconsolably while sleeping.  J almost never cries when he is awake, but when he's asleep or just about to fall asleep, he will wail as if in terrible pain.  And we sit there at night trying to figure out whether it is better to wake him up (which stops the crying, but then he's awake for the next 30 minutes) or try to rock him or nurse him back to sleep through the cries (which takes almost 30 minutes anyhow).  It's weird.  I'm 90% sure it's teething pain that he doesn't really notice when he is fully conscious, but that when he's sleeping (supposedly peacefully), he feels it.  Apparently this is "normal."

3.  Sometimes the troubles with nursing come later.  The common wisdom is that once you've made it 6-8 weeks as an exclusive nursing mom, it's smooth sailing from there.  ALL of my serious (very serious) problems with breastfeeding happened after that.  I pushed through a once-a-day nusing strike for 2 weeks or so.  I had bilateral mastitis (breast infection in BOTH breasts) which did not respond to oral antibiotics or the first two rounds of IV antibiotics and so I had to take a major IV antibiotic not approved for breastfeeding and couldn't nurse for 2 days, during which time my husband burned through half of my freezer stash feeding the baby.  After that, my supply tanked and I had to use herbal supplements to bring it back up.  Then I had ANOTHER round of mastitis, but this time I developed an allergic reaction to the IV.  It is a wonder I didn't wean.  But here we are. (20 months note:  I am still breastfeeding.  I should write about that because breastfeeding past one year into toddlerhood is crazy)

4.  Babies are made to love their mommies.  And vice versa.  Knowing how and why bonding occurs and how powerful it can be does not prepare you for the sheer awesomeness of the feeling.  I've not yet encountered anything more challenging than parenting--or anything more rewarding.

5.  It's worth it to have one parent stay home full time.  For us, the parent who is full-time is Appa (that's Dad in Korean).  He is better suited to the task, both in temperament and economics.  (The only times I wish it could be me instead are when I'm dealing with anything pumping related--pumping is great, but also a big pain in the butt.)  Now, we do not make a lot of money, so we have "given up" many luxuries that most Americans take for granted, including baby luxuries like cribs and most toys in favor of co-sleeping and walks outside.  But really, the bond that my son and husband have is powerful and awesome.  And worth every bit we've "given up."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Korea: The Vacation

We have been back in Korea for almost six weeks now after nearly three years away.  We depart for home tomorrow evening, so this is really the last day we have here.  I am packing, but also reflecting.  It is very likely we will not be able to return for another two-three years.

Our Korean Family

Most of our time here was devoted to catching up with family and friends who live here. We also spent a disproportionate amount of time and money taking Jeongmin to places to play and have fun and interact with children.

That, and eating all of the deliciousness.  From spicy boiling hot tofu soup to fried green onion pancakes, clear broth noodle soups of various kinds to delicate raw fish, my tummy has had an amazing voyage in reuniting with this country.  Alas, I did not take pictures of it, since it was too delicious to wait to eat to pick up a camera first.  However, it has inspired me to put more Korean dishes back into our family's rotation of food.  So perhaps you will see more of it to come in my kitchen adventures.

It is strange to be a visitor in a place that was home for a long time.  What was most odd and surprising for me was the fact that it really was not at all odd and surprising.  My spatial memory of the downtown area was intact, even as some of the shops/landmarks had changed, and just the routines of daily life didn't feel foreign.  They felt comfortable.  My Korean language skills even came back much faster than I anticipated, considering I have made almost no effort to study since moving the U.S.

This time has been, for the most part, restful and reflective for me.  Our little family spent a good deal of time together.  Min Gi and I have had some awesome conversations when Jeongmin was asleep or otherwise occupied.  I had the chance to spend some good recreational alone time, a luxury I have not experienced much since having Jeongmin.  I also had some special mother-son memories with just the two of us on little adventures here and there while Min Gi was able to catch up with friends.

It has served as a reminder to me that long term, the U.S. is not where I want to live.  I enjoy being American, but I just don't love living there.  I love my current job and our little city of Frederick and our beautiful new (to us) townhouse, but being back in Korea has allowed us to refocus on our five-year goals: 1) complete our family with a second child, and 2) get a job at a DODDS school and/or excellent international private school--right now we're thinking in Asia, but not Korea, for 2-5 years and then settle in Korea (preferably Jeju Island, but really other places will do).

Min Gi has also been inspired to think about his career after full-time parenting is no longer required (kids hit school age).  He has decided that he wants to do something to help disabled children/people.  He's in the process of figuring out how he can do that.

All in all, not the go-go-go adventure I had kind of expected it to be, but a much more laid-back and wonderful experience.

One thing that is hard about straddling two countries in an international marriage: You are always aching for something thousands of miles away.  One thing that is wonderful about it: You are always going home.  So home we will go.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Askew Values

Min Gi was doing some push-ups on the floor tonight (oh how I wish I were the type who gets bored and thinks "push-ups!").  J began imitating him with "push-ups" on the wall.  Somehow, this turned into a family dance party with the three of us spinning in circles, singing Psy's "Gentleman" until we all fell down on the floor in a giggling heap.  (Note to self:  Next time, plan to do this on empty stomachs so that there is less toddler "accidents" post spinning... Poor love.)

"We have fun as a family," Min Gi says to me, after J is finally tucked in, tummy settled.

"He just wants to do everything you do."

Children imitate what they see.  J growing up is shining a big-ol'-halogen spotlight on my life--especially my actions.  He will do exactly what I do, no matter what words are coming out of my mouth.  And you know what?  I'm not super happy with what I'm seeing.

I realized in that moment what's been floating around my head in the last few years living in the U.S. that has been bothering me--I don't think I live fully aligned with my values (which, I'm happy to see, haven't changed since that post three years ago; which means I done a good job the first time 'round).

That's hard to do.  How many people live completely in synch with their optimal values all the time?  I'm finding it harder to do in the U.S. for many reasons, but mostly because 1) American consumerist culture is beyond overwhelming--I see Min Gi succumbing to it more and more and know that I, too, fall into bad habits in my own country, (nothing like a trip back to Korea to help put that in perspective) and 2) most of my values come from, but are different than, my family of origin, who have never in my adult life been so much a part of my daily life than they are now.  Number one is more pervasive, but number two has the stronger emotional pull--and the increased challenges of intimacy.  This closeness with my mom, my dad, my sister and her new daughter, and even the beginnings of a repair to my relationship with Brian are wonderful.  But sometimes it is easy to forget the ways I've grown away from them (you're always a child to your parents, right?).

The stakes, though, have never been higher.  If I allow myself to stop caring about values that really matter to me, to my family, and instead allow the dominant culture, both country and extended family, to dominate, J will be more influenced by those values.  Because really, if I'm not doing anything differently, then I am, in fact, espousing those values.

So I need to stop.  I need to stop the "secret" AM trips to the McDonald's drive-thru (and PM trips to Burger King drive-thru--I'm really just a disgusting human being, no?).  I need to stop the Diet Coke addiction (which, thanks to Korea, I have gone cold turkey on and plan to keep that up upon my return to the U.S.).  I need to stop making excuses for why I can't exercise or why I can't cook and need to eat out/order food.  I need to stop spending money I don't have and avoiding dealing with paperwork because I'm not satisfied with my money situation.  I need to stop prioritizing work to the point that I don't really see my husband for days on end.  I need to stop reading things I don't really care about on the internet and start reading books again.  I just need to stop.  All of it.

And I need to fill my life back up with what I love and need.  Family.  Health.  Writing.  Work (Teaching AND Hotlining--I just have to face the reality that I love working on something that helps others).  Reading.

My example needs to count for my son.


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