In which I have returned to work

I initially intended to go back to work Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday made it clear that there was simply too much still to be done, so I didn’t, and intended to go back to work yesterday. Yesterday I woke up, spent a few minutes staring at the ceiling, and went nope, and called in.

Today I woke up and it felt normal, more or less, so I went back. And, honestly, I had a really pleasant day, and it was the right decision. The kids, 70% of whom were perfectly aware of what had happened, were really sweet all day long, including a couple of them who are normally pains in my ass, and I got a weird rush of new students during the four days I was out and all of them seem like nice, smart kids.

So I’m glad I went back. Technically I could have taken one more day, and technically I suppose since my five bereavement days don’t have to be sequential I still could take one more day at some point I needed to, but I needed to be back at work today. If it had been a rough day things might have gone south quickly, and I made some … uh … emotionally questionable decisions during my lunch and prep period but there was no one around so it was okay.

(In general, if your mom was the type who left the exact same voicemail message every time she called– “Hi honey, it’s Mom, call me–” you should probably not spend fifteen minutes listening to every single saved voicemail you have hoping to find one where she said “I love you” at the end, because while you know your Mom loved you and she was the type to say it frequently, she was not the type to throw it into a four-second voicemail message, and you will end up emotional and disappointed at work, and that is a bad decision.)

Anyway. We will see how the weekend goes; I’m expecting posting around here to more or less return to normal in the near future as well, but I assume y’all will forgive me if I spend another few days quieter than normal. I got a good day today, though. That’s worth telling y’all about.

In which I have reawakened the beast

… not for roleplaying, mind you– for buying dice. I took my son to the Griffon yesterday and it somehow managed to end up costing me fifty bucks, coming home with a new set of dice for him and my wife (each) and several totally unnecessary new sets of dice for me, including that metal d20 right in the middle there. I have, since then, taken to perusing Amazon for full sets of metal dice, since the Griffon’s metal collection appears to be limited to individually purchased d20s and not entire sets.

I have enough dice. I already had enough dice before I bought more dice yesterday, and I do not need to buy more dice to complement the more dice I just bought and the many dice I already had, and the part of my brain that is going dude your mom just died you’re entitled to blow some money on bullshit that makes you happy needs to shut up and go away. If I’m not careful I’m gonna end up with a dice tower this week and I don’t need that even more than I don’t need more dice.

The boy, meanwhile, is getting more demanding on a daily basis that we actually start playing. We’re gonna have to start designing characters soon. I mean, hell, we’ve got the stuff, right?


On a more serious note, I want to take a moment and thank everyone who sent thoughts or prayers or well wishes or sympathy or naked pictures or really anything my way regarding the loss of my mom this week. I was originally planning on going back to work tomorrow but I don’t think I’m quite ready yet; I’ve been reasonably busy the last couple of days and I think I need a day to be alone and quietly stare at the wall, by which I mean “read and play video games,” before I go back. I am doing a thing right now where I feel like this process should be harder, because I have not at any point in the last few days cracked open like an eggshell or collapsed into a sobbing heap, and everyone around me has told me that there is no wrong way to mourn, so believe me, I have heard the message. There is still a lot to be done, but I need some normalcy, too, and a couple of days at work worrying about other people’s problems– which, I note, will be immediately followed by a three-day weekend, since Monday is MLK day– will actually do me some good, I think.

And, hey, if you really feel bad for me and want to do something, you could always buy me more dice.

(That was a joke. Do not buy me more dice.)

In memoriam

I saw a random factoid on Reddit once. There will come a day, it said, where your mother will pick you up, and put you back down, and then will never pick you up again. And you won’t realize it when it happens.

I have been trying to pay close attention to firsts and lasts lately. Especially, as it turns out, lasts. If you have been around here much lately, you will likely be familiar with the phrase ongoing medical crisis, which I have been using a fair amount lately, without a lot of explanation.

The Ongoing Medical Crisis is over, more or less. My mother passed away sometime between 8:30 and 9:30 PM Saturday night. She spent the last six days of her life in a nursing home; we were beginning to discuss whether to move her into hospice care. I have no reason to not believe that she passed peacefully and in her sleep; as the nurses tell it, she was alive and sleeping for one bed check, and for the next she was gone. She was 68.

My mother and I were very, very close. I …

… I don’t know how to do any of this, as it turns out. I have her obituary open in a second window right now; I’ve got all of the easy bits done; grandchild here and aunts and uncles here and date of wedding and following a lengthy illness. Facts and figures; all bloodless. That part’s done. I don’t know what to write about her. And right now I feel like I have ten thousand things to do today and that I don’t have any idea what I’m supposed to be doing right now.


I have, I’m pretty certain, told this story in this space before, but I sort of suspect this won’t be the last time I tell it in the near future, so I may as well get some practice in: when I was in high school I started growing my hair out. That lasted through college, when my hair was down to the middle of my back and curly enough that I could tuck it in front of my ears and pass as an Orthodox Jew if I wanted to. And then I decided to spend a month in Israel after graduation on an archaeological dig. Long hair in the desert, I decided, would be a bit of a liability, so I went to the barber and got my hair cut short, instructing him to take my ponytail out in as close to one sweep as he possibly could. I then, as a joke, dropped my ponytail into an envelope, mailed it to my mother, who had been advocating for shorter hair for years, and promptly forgot about it.

This was in 1998, by the way, before anyone had cell phones, so if I was on campus for the day it was literally impossible to get ahold of me until I got home. And a couple of days later, my mother got an envelope in the mail containing about half a pound of hair with absolutely no context of any kind, and … well, concluded, perhaps not entirely reasonably, that I’d been kidnapped. And couldn’t get ahold of me for several hours, and … didn’t really see the humor in the whole thing, all that much, once I got ahold of her and explained what I’d done.

Fast forward, oh, right around two decades. My mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The lump has been removed successfully with surgery and she is nonetheless going through a round of radiation and chemotherapy to make sure they got everything. I live in the same town as her by now, and we both have cell phones, and I talk to her nearly every day, so when I discover a padded envelope in my mail with my mother’s handwriting on it I am more than a bit confused as to what it might contain, as she hasn’t mentioned mailing anything to me lately, and why would she bother in the first place?

The envelope is full of hair, the punchline to a joke nearly twenty years in the making, and my mother is the first– and, as of yet, only— person I have ever known to successfully make the side effects of chemotherapy funny.


The obituary is not any closer to being done than it was a few minutes ago. This is, I admits bit of a mystery to me; one fairly consistent aspect of my personality throughout my adult life is that I process my emotions by writing through them, and … well, I don’t know. Is it bad, to admit that I’ve been writing and rewriting this post in my head for something like six months now? We thought we were going to lose her in June; she’d already been sick, and had just been released from the rehabilitation place they’d put her in to try and get some of the strength in her legs back, when her duodenum abruptly ruptured and she had to be rushed into surgery in the middle of the night. I called my brother in Chicago and told him to get home immediately; the doctor who did the surgery came as close as I’ve ever seen a medical professional come to saying I am going to try my best to save her but it is not going to be good enough.

She survived. The wound from the surgery never healed, and I mean that literally; she had a hole in her abdomen that stubbornly refused to close for the rest of her life, and spent most of that time attached to a wound vacuum, and while I think the immediate cause of her death was probably congestive heart failure, ultimately the duodenal rupture is what killed her. It just took a lot longer than anyone expected, and I got six more months with my mom that I might not have gotten otherwise.


“This won’t be what gets ya,” the oncologist says, as we are discussing the cancer diagnosis. “It’ll be heart failure, same as everybody else.” I find myself simultaneously angry at him and entertained by his frankness. He reminds me, oddly, of Joss Whedon.


It is Saturday afternoon, and my father and I are at my mother’s bedside at the nursing home. Neither of us know this, of course, but she is in the final six or seven hours of her life. She is semiconscious at best, occasionally waking up enough to say a sentence or so, or to ask us to move a pillow or adjust a leg, but I can’t really call it talking. In the background, a television is on, and Indiana University’s basketball team is beating Ohio State. My mom and dad met at IU; my dad, my brother and I all graduated from there, and while my mom is a woman of few hobbies, IU basketball is one of the few genuinely enduring passions of her life.

She wakes up at one point long enough to look at the TV; of the two hours or so I will spend with her today, “Oh! IU basketball!” is probably among the most coherent sentences I hear her speak.

She says “I love you” when I leave. It is the last thing I ever hear her say.


This is the second relative where my final memory of her is sitting at her bedside and watching IU basketball, by the way, as the exact same thing happened with my paternal grandmother. I spent my last couple of hours with her watching basketball. I don’t remember who won that game, though.


My son has been put to bed, and my wife and I have had a brief conversation about what needs to be done in this upcoming week. We are about to start a TV show.

My phone rings.

It is the nursing home, and my heart sinks, because there is only one reason why the nursing home might be calling me. I call my brother and go over to my mom and dad’s house; this is not information I can give him over the phone, and I have to let myself into the house and wake him up to tell him that his wife of 47 years is gone. For the first couple of minutes of the conversation, I’m not entirely sure he realizes he isn’t dreaming; I’m sure that he hopes he is. I realize something that surprises me: I want to see her. I have never been good at viewings and had you asked me just a few hours ago if I wanted to see her body I would have said no, and done so emphatically. We go over to the nursing home. She looks peaceful; the first time in many months that I have seen her where she is not in any trace of pain. An anecdote from Reddit floats through my head.

I do not remember the last time my mother picked me up, and I do not remember the last time she put me down. I will not allow myself to not know the last time I hugged her.

I love you, Mom.

It is Friday night and I am listening to Bowie

… the opening track to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, specifically. I’ve been on this kick lately where I’ve been listening to The Man who Sold the World on repeat and it’s broadening out.

I don’t have a ton to say tonight, really; it was a pretty damn good week at school, all told; the weird behavioral improvements in all but one of my classes don’t show any signs of degrading now that the first couple of days back are gone, and teaching this week has actually been pleasant, for the most part. I have more or less abandoned the idea of not returning to the classroom again next year, at least for now; I’ll keep my eyes open, of course, to see if anything presents itself, but I’m not going to kill myself looking, which was kind of the plan earlier in the year. If I’m back in the same classroom in the same building next year, that’ll be fine. Feels weird saying that, but it’s true.

I finished Jenna Glass’ The Women’s War yesterday or the night before, and I read it in three or four big gulps and was really happy with what I read. I haven’t reviewed it because since reading it I’ve read a bunch of other pieces on it and I’m reexamining what I thought of the book after taking what those folks had to say about it into consideration. I have read some gripes about the book that I think are mostly garbage (when it’s repeatedly harped on that one character has oddly pale skin and is the only blonde-haired person in the book, guys, it’s because everybody else is brown, and “brown” is the skin color that is the default) but a few have had some merit to them. I’m simultaneously trying to decide if it’s okay to let someone else drag down my own opinion of something I enjoyed, but hell, real issues are real issues. Some of this shit I should have caught on my own, y’know?

It’s going to be a busy weekend– I have a decent pile of grading to get to already, and I need to go talk to Money People about some shit, and a handful of family obligations. I’ll be around, of course, but I’m not going to be able to have my normal sluggardly Saturday, I think. Curses!

Some teachertalk

This has, with the exception of maybe twenty minutes at the end of one class yesterday, actually been a pretty good first week back at work. Two things have worked out in my favor: first, I rearranged all of the desks in my classroom on the teacher record day before leaving for Winter Break, and I like the new layout a lot more, and it’s also quite a bit more conducive to instruction than my previous layout was.

In addition, quite a few of my students were reshuffled, something I initially regarded with wary concern but which seems to have worked out quite a bit better than I had dared to hope. I have lost a number of knuckleheads, replaced them with a bunch of kids who seem at first look at least to be pretty nice, one kid who I was expecting to be a knucklehead seems more manageable than I had thought he would be, and a surprisingly large number of kids have, on their own, come up to me and commented about how they’re having an easier time paying attention and behaving in their new class than they were in their old one. It’s actually rather fascinating.

All except 7th hour. I’ve talked about them before, I’m sure, although I’m not going to go search for a post to link to– my 7th hour class is so much more poorly behaved than the rest of my classes that it almost feels like they’re from a different building than the rest of my groups. The weird thing was that I didn’t really have any specific kids I could blame it on– the group was toxic, not any individual students.

7th hour is 50% different kids from last semester, a number of the tougher kids are in new groups (and many are among the “I’m doing better!” crew) … and the vibe in the room is exactly the same, if not actually worse.

I cannot explain it. Now, I know that there are other teachers in the building who also think their 7th hour group is their toughest, so maybe there’s something about 3:00 in the afternoon that makes them all insane, but I am generally pretty good about group psychology sorts of things and this phenomenon has completely eluded me. It’s only day three, of course, so there’s plenty of time for things to change, for better or worse, but right now I’m stymied.