Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Beginnings

For the first time in over a decade I didn't spend August preparing for a new school year. I wasn't job hunting, interviewing, setting up my classroom, meeting with teammates, or planning lessons. For the first time since 2002, I didn't spend a hot August day in a humid classroom hanging up bulletin boards, sorting school supplies, or painstakingly writing out nametags. I didn't spend hours combing the aisles of Target, Ikea, Lakeshore or dollar stores for bargains on classroom decor. I didn't spend sleepless nights searching the internet for lesson ideas and inspiration. I did none of these things that have been integral parts of my August life for years.

September has always been my "New Year." The start of school triggers something in me that many others feel closer to the end of a calendar year. As a teacher, my year ran August-June, with July being a much needed respite from educational demands. September always signaled a fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. Without the impending start of school, my psyche has had some difficulty acclimating to the fact that summer is ending and I am not going back to school. For the first time in 9 years* I won't be returning to Room 19 at Long Meadow Elementary. The classroom that has been my home since August of 2004 is officially no longer mine.  (*While, I ended up on medical leave the entire 2010-11 school year, I still went in that August to meet with my long-term sub.)

It's hard to describe how I feel about all this. On one hand, (the hand that is constantly asking What If?) the loss I feel regarding leaving teaching is comparable to the loss of my vision. After all they're explicitly linked. You know what I mean, right? "What if I hadn't become legally blind, I'd be a working mom just as I always planned on. Emy would be in daycare and in a couple years she'd attend Long Meadow and life would be grand."  (I never claimed this hand was logical or rational.)
But on the other hand, the hand that accepts my vision loss and is desperately trying every day to roll with it, feels an overwhelming sense of relief in letting go. For the first time since Emy's birth, my August didn't include anxiety attacks (there have been many) about how I could possibly balance teaching, vision loss, and motherhood. This hand is looking towards the future and is finding peace in not knowing what lies in store. This hand is eagerly anticipating Emeline starting pre-school, and spending crisp, fall days exploring the world through a 3 year-olds eyes. This is the hand I am clinging to.

So here I am, September just days away. Cheers to new beginnings. .

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Birthday Weekend

May is hard for me. Every date is linked to 2010 and a countdown to the 27th. Dates that are littered with hopes, fears, anticipations, decisions, and naivety that accompanied the upcoming birth of our child. It's tremendously difficult; some days, damned near impossible, not to look back and ask the unanswerable question, "What if?" 
I try to avoid that path whenever possible, because there is no easy way back to the present. It's a long, twisty, winding road full of regret, pain, decisions made without the ironic clarity of hindsight. Whether or not something could have been done differently to alter the devastating events of the 27th is irrelevant. It happened. I got sick, lost my vision, and gave birth to Emeline Joy on the same day. The trauma and tragedy I endured will forever be inexplicably tied to the most joyous event of my life. 
Very soon we will be celebrating her 3rd birthday. The birthday that has been her favorite topic of conversation since last November when my nephew celebrated his 6th, and she declared that her Grammy would make pink cupcakes for her birthday. 6 months of birthday talk, leading to her memorization of the order every single loved ones birthday, so she knew that after we celebrated Aunt Maura's birthday, THEN came hers. Her delight in celebrating birthdays is contagious and is a much needed reminder for me. 
Tomorrow family and friends will gather in honor of Emeline. And while we celebrate Emy's & my dad's birthdays, I will be celebrating our journey and my indescribable gratitude that she is my daughter, and I am here to celebrate another year of being her mom. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day - Three Days later. . .

When I walked in to my therapist's office this afternoon I was a little unsure of why I had kept the appointment. It's always such a struggle to arrange transportation and unless I am feeling out of whack or on the verge of crisis, I don't always see the need for the added stress that struggle inevitably brings. Plus, lately I have been doing really well. I am adjusting to life outside of teaching and am quite content with my new role as a stay-at-home mom. However because I had to cancel the last 3 out of 4 appointments  due to unavoidable circumstantial I decided that I'd make this one work and go. As always, I am glad I took the time for myself and my mental well-being, because whoa boy, did I need it today.

Normally, I go into these sessions with an idea of what I want to talk about - struggles with motherhood, communication issues with my husband, day to day anxiety and inadequacy I feel about my vision loss, struggles with identity, stress, yada-yada-yada - I traditionally have an array of topics at my disposal to discuss. Today none of these pressures running rampant in my brain ready to get out. What was there was something else entirely. Something I was unaware of the impact it was having on me until she asked me how my mother's day had been.

That's right. Mother's Day.

For women who have struggled with infertility Mother's Day is the most heart-wrenching of holidays.  It's right up there with baby showers and first birthday parties. Events that those who long to have children, deeply dread and attempt to avoid at all costs.  While cases can be made for Halloween and Christmas, in my experience Mother's Day is the hardest of them all.  An entire day devoted to honoring the one thing that despite every imaginable effort, you cannot become - hello alienation and self-pity! It's a day that in years past, made me want to close the blinds, draw the covers over my head, and allow myself to release the gut-wrenching sobs that represent every "baby that almost was."

5 years ago - Mother's Day of 2008 was spent in a clinic where a team of highly trained fertility specialists transferred two embryos from a laboratory to my uterus. The hope and promise of this procedure taking place on such a sacred day was not lost on anyone present. I remember holding hands with the nurse and her saying that this was a good sign, an omen, and that she felt very strongly that today would be the day, I'd finally conceive. I too thought that perhaps this was the moment that would erase the pain and longing I was consumed with the past few Mother's Days (not to mention every day in between). Two weeks and two negative pregnancy tests later, we both realized we were wrong.

I just celebrated my third Mother's Day as a mother to an almost 3 year old, Emeline Joy. It was wonderful. She woke me up by tickling my neck and saying in her delightful sing-song voice, "Mommy, it's sunshiny out today!" Josh made me coffee and eggs; my mother in-law took everybody out of the house to Lowe's so I could enjoy a bath and a mid-morning nap. Then we spent the afternoon celebrating with my family at my parent's house. To top off a wonderful day, my husband became a magician and got Emy to fall asleep before 9 PM so he and I could enjoy watching TV uninterrupted. It was a day full of peace, love, and family. And not a single tear from my kid all day long. Perfect.

But when my therapist asked about my Mother's Day, after relaying the anecdote of how Emy woke me up, my face darkened, and my sadness became evident. Pressing me to elaborate, I talked about a nagging anxiety I'd been feeling since Sunday. A nagging anxiety that has woken me up in the middle of night in tears and prevented me from falling asleep. Through our session I brought up these recently read blog posts: Strong Families Blog: To the mothers who never were and The Bloggess - Happy Whatever Through our conversation I acknowledged how deeply they spoke to me and how affected I was by them.

The grief I still feel about my inability to conceive quickly and traditionally surprise me. Perhaps, it shouldn't. After all, I have been a mother for less time then I actively spent trying to become one and the memories of loss and longing still radiate. However, I fully expected what I longed for that Mother's Day 5 years ago - once I became a mother I would forget all the pain associated with the failed attempts. Recognizing that this is not the case is important growth for me. Acknowledging that these seemingly conflicting emotions can coexist within, is a huge personal step. I can be Emeline's mother; deeply thankful I have a healthy, vibrant, miraculous daughter, and I can mourn and long for the "pregnancies, babies, and births that almost were." These realities exist and I need to honor them. 

To all the mothers out there - whether your children are living, breathing whirlwinds of activity, whether they are dreams yet to be realized, or whether they're memories that line your heart and soul, I honor you and your conflicting emotions. I honor mine.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Musings and Such

I had such great hopes for this blog. On these virtual pages, I'd find my identity after tragedy; discover meaning buried deep, (DEEP???) within the experiences of childbirth and motherhood. I'd connect with people near and far in ways I desperately needed to. And yet here I am, two years later, struggling to put feelings into words. I spend countless hours debating whether or not my thoughts are blog-worthy. Whether or not, I wish to pull the curtain all the way back and expose myself completely. Whether or not exposing myself, raw & broken, as I am - is worthy of an audience. Would anyone feign interest?  Or, if I should just leave well enough alone; suffer in silence and seek comfort in the anomaly that is my life.  
I want to share my daily goings-on, but feel the burden of my history. A history, that is yet unwritten, but so significant, that I can't escape the definition of reality it has created. Am I able to distinguish the present from my past? Are my experiences (i.e.: failures...) as a mother more heart-wrenching due to my vision loss? Or am I completely off base, and the anguish I feel as a mother and as a partner have little to do with my vision-loss and am really just part of the human-experience of being a mother and wife?
If only I could separate them. Perhaps then, I'd have a chance of finding me. .

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is This Really Happening?

I can't process the enormity of my decision to take an indefinite leave from teaching. I have no words to explain the hours, days, weeks, months I've spent agonizing over this choice. But I've made the decision and somewhere deep, deep down I know this is right. I'm just very over-whelmed and consumed with sadness at the moment.  So while I don't have words to properly express my grief in leaving my profession, my colleagues, my students, and their families. I can share the letters that I composed informing them of my decision.

You can read the letter I sent to the staff at Long Meadow here.
You can read the letter I sent to the families of my students here.

Thank you for your kindness, love, and support.

Letter to Students' Families

February 8, 2013
Dear Fourth Grade Parents,
     It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. As you may know I suffered severe vision loss 2 ½ years ago during the birth of my daughter, Emeline. Through time, rehabilitation, and adaptations I was able to return to teaching part-time. I was overjoyed with the opportunity to continue the career that I love; hoping to impart a different perspective to the children at Long Meadow.  
Over the last year and a half I have attempted to meet the demands of teaching. However, the challenge my limited vision presents has forced me to realize that these demands are more than I can handle. Therefore, I will be taking an indefinite medical leave effective February 15, 2013.
My number one concern as a teacher has always been to provide children with a quality educational experience that ignites a love of learning and creates a passion for reading. Through all the challenges my limited vision created in regard to grading, assessing, and maintenance of day-to-day paperwork, this goal has never been compromised.
Making the decision to leave has been tremendously difficult for me and leaving mid-year is far from ideal. I love the relationship that I have built with your children and am truly saddened that I won’t be a part of their continued growth as a fourth-grader.  I am grateful for the time I have spent with your children. They are remarkable individuals. Despite all the challenges I have faced, they have made every day gratifying.
Katie Kilgore, Lucinda Salmon’s student teacher will be taking over my half of the job-share with Mrs. Reich.  Many of your children already have a relationship with Miss Kilgore, and I am confident in her abilities. Mrs. Reich will continue to be a consistent and supportive presence for your children and Miss Kilgore in this transition.
Thank you for your on-going support and understanding. Please know that I care very deeply about your children and am sincerely grateful to have been a part of their education.


Christy Landefeld

Letter to Staff

February 8, 2013
Dear Long Meadow Staff,
      It is with an extremely heavy heart that I write this letter. I have called Long Meadow my home and considered you all to be members of my family for over 9 years. You have supported me professionally and personally in ways that I could never begin to properly give thanks. I am so proud to be a part of a community of caring, dedicated educators. I am terribly saddened to announce that I will be taking an indefinite medical leave of absence due to my low-vision effective February 15, 2013.
Teaching has been, and always will be, my passion. I love learning and sharing my love of reading and writing with children. It is this passion that drove me back into the classroom 15 months after having Emeline. Unfortunately, as you all are very aware, teaching involves much more than that. Between assessments, record-keeping, planning, and day-to-day paperwork my eyes just can’t keep up.  I have tried numerous adaptations and accommodations but it is time for me to accept my disability and begin to put myself, my health, and my family ahead of my career.
Katie Kilgore will be taking over my half of the job-share position with Michelle Reich. I am confident that she will be welcomed into the Long Meadow family as warmly as I.
Thank you for your on-going well-wishes and support. I may be leaving Long Meadow but I am certainly not leaving the relationships we have built over the years.            
Much Love,  
Christy Landefeld