Random 3rd Grade Ramblings

So, this is Eleanor’s mother, who’s been pressed into service as Eleanor’s substitute Thurs.-night-March-31st blog writer while she’s flying the flag at Model UN.

I’m fresh off a day of student teaching my inclusive class of third graders, so I thought I’d throw some random third grade happenings out there — for lack of anything better to say.  (I woke up at 5:55 am this morning to rehearse for a formal lesson observation on measuring angles, so my brain isn’t up for anything more profound.)

  • After flag salute this morning, one of my teachers gently informed me that I was wearing my sweater inside out.  I guess that’s what comes of getting dressed in the dark.  I comforted myself that I was in good company, since Jason arrived at school last week with his jeans on backwards.  (If you’re wondering how he got them on in the first place, you’ve forgotten the magic of elasticized backs.)
  • Annemarie was having trouble locating the word “hopefully” in the dictionary — a difficulty I was able to set right once I discovered she was looking it up in the “w’s”.
  • I learned that Connor thinks Columbus sailed to Mexico on the Mayflower.  Other ship candidates included the Pinto and El Ninyo.
  • Ten minutes is a long time to squat in the dark in a closet with 22 kids for a lockdown drill when the boy across from you is claustrophobic.  At least I wasn’t sitting at the other end of the closet, where Garfield was keeping his friends entertained with a steady stream of farts.
  • This past week, I’ve been getting an intensive refresher course in knock-knock jokes and bus driver riddles, as well as the lowdown on the relative coolness of various Lego Skeleton and Ninja weaponry. Nunchucks are clearly superior to shurikens, swords, and giant golden dog bones.

That’s all from crazy third-grade land.  I’m off to bed.

Tomorrow, I Go Into Battle

I’ve been preparing for this Model Congress Conference for weeks, and it’s a strange feeling to know that it’s tomorrow. I’m anxious, and jittery, and convinced that I am going to both fail miserably and have great success. But I put myself through this because I love it. I choose this stress. I choose this anxiety. I choose these racing thoughts. They are mine, and I will overcome them.

I cried a lot at a Model UN competition this autumn, but I stuck it out. I would leave the committee room for five minutes and then turn around and march right back in. I stood up and debated even when it felt like the Atlantic Ocean was pushing its way out onto my palms. In the end, my partner and I won second place.

I won’t have the security of being with another person this time. I’ll be alone. But if I squint, it’ll just be like Congress every Wednesday. I stand up there and talk to a hundred people on a regular basis, and I do it well. Of course, I can speak to sixteen.

But now I pack.

 

My Mind is a French-Pop-Song-Singing Bullet Train

While I was sitting in French class, singing a horrible French pop song in preparation for our class’s  Foreign Language Night presentation, I started to think about other songs that I’ve had to sing in front of large groups of people. I did a lot of musical theatre when I was younger, so the list is quite long: Nathan Detroit in sixth grade, Ariel in fifth, Annie in fourth, etc. Being in shows made me feel happy and proud that I was able to really entertain people.

And the memory of that childish joy got me thinking about the last performance I was in. It was about a year ago, and the last time I sang in my church’s Treble Choir. I was Head Chorister, tasked with keeping the little kids on pitch and in line, and we sang “My Favorite Things” in our Spring Showcase. The little kids were adorable, and the rest of us were pretty good, too.

But because my brain moves so quickly that it’s like that infuriating car on the highway that’s going ninety miles and hour and dangerously cutting people off left and right, I immediately decided to make a list of my favorite things: I love the way that heels clack on hard surfaces, especially when you’re hurrying. The sharp noises make you seem important, business-like, and worthy of attention. I love the taste of toothpaste and the way that your teeth feel all smooth and shiny and the way that your tongue tingles once you finish rinsing. I love the smell of lemon and sandalwood perfume and how the scent is so clean and refreshing. I love the color of apricots and mangos and how that color makes me feel. And I love Pushkin’s soft, delicate, long, black fur.

As we went through the song for the fifth time, and I botched the same lyric that I’ve been messing up for weeks, I smiled. A huge, toothy, goofy smile. A smile that made me look like I thought that singing Mourir Demain was the pinnacle of awesome. I may hate the song and how pop-y and stupid the lyrics are, but man, did I love that train of thought. It was a reminder that my racing thoughts aren’t all bad. Sometimes, they lead me to really happy conclusions.

So if you happen to see someone walking around in high heels on a hard surface, wearing loads of perfume, dressed in orange, with a toothbrush hanging out of their mouth, and petting a cat named after a Russian poet, you’ll know it’s me.

On an Eight-Year-Old’s Prophesy

I first learned about anorexia when I was eight. I was sitting in my first “proper” health class in the school library, and as always, I was fidgeting like crazy. Starving yourself to death? I thought, as the nurse explained the symptoms, How horrible. Who would ever do that? But despite that initial revulsion, a part of me kept whispering, It’s going to be you. It’s going to be you. It’s going to be you. I swung my legs back and forth and chewed my cuticles to bits as anxiety rushed over me. But even after my index finger had started to bleed, the voice wouldn’t shut up. You just know that it’s going to be you.

Eight-year-old me was right about a lot of unfortunate things, and sadly, this turned out to be one of them. By the time I was twelve, being “fat” had become an obsession. In gym class, we were told that if we could “pinch an inch” of skin on our hipbone, then we were overweight. I would grab my skin over and over, pulling on it, and holding a ruler up to it to check if it was over an inch. It always was. I know now that the test was completely bogus, but when a teacher tells you something, and the fifty kids in the room follow suit, it is hard to believe that it isn’t as certain as gravity or the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Starting in the winter of seventh grade, we had to make “fitness profiles” on an aging computer in the corner of the gym. As I balanced on an old scale, peering down to try to read the numbers, I thought, If I am over 90 pounds, there are going to be serious problems. Well, I was over 90 pounds, but I was also five-foot-two. But that didn’t matter to me. I just panicked. When we ran the mile, I pushed myself to go faster and faster. If I couldn’t do it in under eight minutes, then I would have to do extra sit-ups later and skip my dessert. It was minor, really, but the numbers were real and frightening.

Everyday, when I would walk down to lunch, trailing along in a line of excited students, I would feel the overwhelming urge to dump all of my food into the trash the moment that I sat down. It was scary, but deliciously so. It was like play with matches outdoors at camp: you’re on the precipice of creating something that you can’t control, flirting with it, but always stamping them out just in time.  Only I didn’t like fire, I just hated food. But I stuck it out and laughed with friends as I ate my yogurt and cereal. At home, I would eat a little bowl of ice cream every afternoon while lounging in the sun and reading, and I despised myself for it. The fear of getting fat was becoming all-consuming.

As my time wore on, my insecurities grew, and I started to stand in front of the mirror and judge my body. I’d hold my clothing taught around my torso and look at my stomach, sucking it in all the way and wishing that I could look like that all the time. My stomach was too big. I was too fat. I was too ugly.

I turned thirteen, and the anxiety got worse. Finally, I began to complain to my mother about it, pulling up my shirt to show her that I could “pinch an inch.” Ever logical and comforting, she would say, “No, you’re not fat. You’re just where you need to be.” But I couldn’t believe her.

On Saturdays, I’d shyly drag my mother into my therapy session to tell the psychologist how I felt. Saying it myself felt too scary, and I was petrified that she would think that I was shallow for being focused my body image. Talking about it in therapy never helped, though. We were too focused on my “bigger problems.”

Eighth grade passed, and it was more of the same. To a certain extent, being uncomfortable in your body is especially typical of a middle schooler, but my fears went beyond the norm. I started giving bits of my lunch away. Here, have my cookie. Here, have my drink. By the time graduation rolled around, I was convinced that I was a flat chest-ed butterball, when in actuality I was just around 95 pounds.

In high school, most of people start to shed their former insecurities. Girls emerged from sweatshirts, and boys began to wash their hair more frequently. My clothing choices improved, and I lost my boring haircut, but my weight concerns intensified. At lunch, I’d hand over my yogurt to a friend and only eat my carrots. I cried quietly in my room when I outgrew old clothing. I spent more time staring in the mirror.

Sophomore year, it got a little better. School was going well. I was involved in a million clubs. I had straight A’s. I had a monstrous crush on a guy. I spent hours doing fun things with friends. It felt like people really liked me, and I started to forget about being fat. By the end of the year, I was five-foot-four and 113 pounds. And that’s when things really started to go downhill.

Stepping back from the scale and hearing the school nurse announce my weight to anyone in the general vicinity was a slap across the face, a reminder of all of the worries that had been plaguing me for years, and it stung. It stung with the force of a hundred angry, angry bees. That summer I started to play what I called “my little game.” Everyday, I would see how long I could go without eating. Liquid was allowed. Making it to three o’clock was an okay day. Five was optimal. When I finally couldn’t wait any longer, I’d go outside and eat a yogurt, savoring it and making it last for half an hour. Sometimes, I’d eat an Italian ice, but only if I had done some exercise.

I felt so powerful, skipping meals. Once you restricted for a few days, the pangs of hunger entirely disappear, and it became easy. If I could rebel against my body’s need for food, I could do anything. August became September, and school started. I took three AP classes, stayed up to all hours to balance homework and extra circulars, and used the privacy of school to hide food from my parents. Once tight pants were now baggy, shirts hung on me weirdly, and my bras became too big, and I had to resort to wearing ones from middle school. I took pictures of myself each week, as my ribs began to stick out, and my collarbone made sharp angles on my chest. At night, I’d flip through the photographs, intoxicated with my “progress.” It was wonderful. But it didn’t last long. These things never do.

I left school and went to a treatment center for other emotional problems, and spent all of my time sleeping or freaking out. I hardly ate. In desperation, my parents tried feeding me three pieces of bacon and a bagel for breakfast everyday. Mostly, I balled it up in tissues and put in the trash. I don’t know how much I weighed then, and I really don’t want to know. It was probably in the nineties.

But my restriction wasn’t as secretive as I thought, and soon enough I was sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing the words, “anorexia nervosa.” In my head, I heard echoes of eight-year-old me whispering, it’s going to be you, and it was me, and I knew it. It reverberated all through my body, and if I had been alone, I would have laughed. I quickly got evaluated for an eating disorder treatment program, but other problems overshadowed the anorexia, and I stayed in another rehab facility. In February, I went the hospital. I was exactly a hundred pounds, a marked improvement.

But things got better. The world is never entirely cruel. My friends and family rallied behind me, pushing me down the path to recovery even when I was kicking and screaming. I began to work with a nutritionist. My goal was 2400 calories a day, and I had to will myself to eat, because eating was good, no matter what I thought. I started to see a new psychologist to begin Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which supposedly is the best type of therapy for someone trying to recover from an eating disorder. And supposedly became really, and I gained weight. I wrote a pamphlet about anorexia for health class, and smiled as I did it, because I felt like I was coming out on the other side. By the summer, I was 110 pounds. Amazing.

The end of the summer was hard, and I dropped seven pounds. But just like before, I pulled it back up in a few months. I had my head above the water, and though I was swimming for dear life, I wasn’t drowning anymore. I’ve been mostly stable since then. Of course, the obsession with being thin hasn’t disappeared, but it’s waned. I know now that skeletal is just as unattractive as obese.

Living with an eating disorder is difficult. Incredibly difficult. I can tell you the amount of protein and the number of calories in a disturbingly large number of foods. I can explain to you in detail how many infections I got as the result of malnutrition. I can show you pictures from when my feet and hands were perpetually red and purple. But I can also tell you this story. The story of my descent into the valley and how I’m climbing back up again. It’s a good story. One full of promise and hope and a somewhat happy ending.

Dumb Ideas: Part One

Today, I discovered a picture from the time I made a dress out of three trash bags. I was thirteen, and it was not a good look.

The bizarre and ugly fringe bottom was cut so that I would be able to walk.

The plastic didn’t allow my skin to breathe, so as it grew hotter, I became sweatier, and the plastic stuck to every inch of my body. To top it all off, that evening I discovered that it was impossible to take off by pulling it over my head or trying to rip the plastic. I ended up standing on my trunk in the middle of the cabin while my counselor carefully cut me out of it. Needless to say, I was equal parts mortified and scared that the scissors would cut me.

Wonder Drugs

With this new medication change, my head has been feeling incredibly fuzzy and cloudy. This, coupled with lots of anxiety, has led to numerous panic attacks and a complete distrust of medication.

Tonight, however, I took some Xanax midway through a forty-five minute panic attack, at the suggestion of my mother. Twenty minutes later, the fog cleared, and I did a complete about face.

I was reminded once again how much things are rolled together. The good comes with the bad, and security comes with fear. And I should never ever distrust medication completely.

While I am still too rattled to write anything of substance, I have many post ideas rolling around inside my head, and I promise to post something over 1000 words tomorrow. Scouts’ honor.

On Analyzing Old Photographs

This is Cecelia when she was 10 or something. She is wearing Kit’s (the American Girl Doll) pajamas. She has red-eye like she always does in pictures. There is a backscratcher on the wall. At this age, Cecelia liked to choreograph dances to Avril Lavigne songs in her room. We’re all relieved Cecelia isn’t 10 anymore!!!

Vampire Cats

Yesterday, like all Wednesdays, I watched the new Vlogbrothers video.

 

In this video, at 1:53, John Green mentions Vampire Cats. Vampire cats? I thought, I know a thing or two about Vampire Cats. In fact, I own a Vampire Cat!

So folks, with many regrets, I must say goodbye. I have loved having my blood in my body and not in the stomach of a Vampire Cat, but things are drawing to a close. As for my final wishes, please refer to the first line of John Keat’s last Will and Testament.

Kidnapping the Magical Math Elves

Today, I trudged up the street through the snow and drizzle to Tal’s house so that she could help me with math. As I walked, I wanted to throw my notebook into the air, watch it become soaked on the ground, and stomp on it. But I didn’t, because I am a Big Girl now. So I took several deep breaths, kept moving, and braced myself for the anxiety and panic associated with not understanding math.

I sat down at Tal’s family room table and proudly showed off the seven problems that I completed by myself. Then, we got to the hard stuff. The stuff I missed. The stuff that might as well be Ancient Greek. But Tal was my Rosetta Stone. Patiently, she explained each problem, writing explanations on the back of an email from the Guidance Department. And it all made sense. Of course, arcsin x was the same thing as sin-1 x! Who doesn’t know that arcsines and sines cancel each other out?

My heart rate didn’t elevate, my breathing wasn’t ragged, and I didn’t feel any waves of electric anxiety. Doing this math was easy. No more Magical Math Elves. And it’s all thanks to Tal. I don’t think she’ll ever know just how grateful I am.

I’ve got those magical math elves bound with zip ties and in a tarp filled with rocks. Anyone want to drive to river with me to dump them in?

On Sonnets and Hard Work

Last night, I had to write a sonnet. A sonnet, I thought, A sonnet won’t be hard at all. And at the time, it made a lot of sense. After all, I’ve written poetry before. I even won a contest for it in sixth grade. I write. I write A LOT. And writing isn’t exactly a challenge for me. This sonnet should take an hour tops.

So I curled up on my bed with my computer and started going through my mental catalogue of things that I had experienced that day. Writing about falling asleep in the shower was out. Not interesting. So was writing about the way I carefully observe my classmates and teachers. Too creepy. But writing about Eureka moments seemed like a great idea.

Everything was going swimmingly as I typed the first few words. I got up to feel some paper to determine exactly how I should describe it, and sat back down. I wrote about the way paper feels against your hand as you scribble on the page, capturing the way that it sticks to your palm and how your pencil can sometimes catch against a fiber. I had two lines. Then, I tried saying them out loud with em-pha-sis on every other syll-a-ble to see if it was in iambic pentameter. It wasn’t. I didn’t have ten syllables either.

I ran my hand violently through my hair and tried again and again and again. The process continued to repeat itself. Taking a few deep breaths, I pulled up some old poems that I wrote. Surely, I could just transform one of them.

A Childhood Summer

Summer meant golden sunshine and damp air

Running barefoot through lawns

As grass whipped in between our toes,

Parades of noises and color-

Flags, horns, and harmonicas

Up and down the street,

Cloud spotting,

Colorful orbs of water in balloons

Lobbed at each other,

Flips on the trampoline-

Front ones, somersaults, and back ones, too,

Hiding behind trashcans in

The first purple whispers of darkness

Playing flashlight tag-

But most of all it meant freedom.

Summer

Remember the summers of old?

The tall glasses of lemonade

With water beads pouring down the sides?

Or maybe the summer dresses with the skirts

That spun out around us as we whirled

Around and around the backyard

‘til we collided or just toppled over from dizziness?

What about the corndogs that we ate at picnics:

How they stained our fingers and face shiny with grease?

What about the way we laughed,

Long before you had to restrain yours to a girly giggle?

Maybe the time we sprayed Mrs. Hirsh

With our neon plastic water soakers

And she screamed shrilly at us as we jumped her fence and ran?

Do you remember what it was like to be a child?

You didn’t have to care about how you looked or what you ate.

We were golden with innocence then.

And even if I couldn’t adapt them, summer was a great topic. Good things always happen to me during the summer. I could write about the beach or Puerto Rico or the time I ate the most delicious pizza in a strip mall in the middle of West Virginia.

It did not go well. By this point, I was done. Really, really, really done with the whole shebang. I started to cry and do my normal rolling about on the bed, but I was not going down without a fight. I have never let creative writing kick my butt before, and I wasn’t planning on starting then. Gritting my teeth and wiping my face on my sleeve, I sat up. And my mother helpfully suggested that I write about how much I hate sonnets. So I did and got a little further.

Sonnets Suck

Five iambs per line we are told to write,

But under ten syllables you should stay

You must avoid the topics banal and trite

Or the teacher’s eye will turn away

Avoid the red pen for its marks your grade does fear

But it wasn’t working, and my thoughts started racing. And once again, I began to cry. Like if-I-keep-sobbing-this-hard-I-am-going-to-throw-up crying. I cried over how I couldn’t write this sonnet no matter how hard I tried and how I was an awful writer who would never make anything of herself. I cried over how jealous I was of my friends. Jealous of the way that they are living the life that I have always wanted to live. The life that I imagined having and have been working towards since I was in sixth grade. And I cried over the way that I can feel the medication messing with my brain. The way that I can feel the chemicals and hormones markedly shift with every medication change. The way that I sleep through first and second period everyday no matter how hard I try to stay alert. The way that my eyelids only open halfway and keep drooping even if I sit upright in a chair.

My mother brought me ravioli, but the tears didn’t stop. Each sob made my whole body convulse, and I kept gagging. She came in again and yelled because she was so worried. I continued to bawl. As I went to click on my internet browser to look up some example sonnets, my finger slipped and opened up iChat instead. Normally, when I do this I just instantly quit the program, but Audrey was on. And her screen-name on my buddy list was a Godsend. I’ll just talk to her and everything will be alright, I thought. “Hi,” I typed as I sucked in big breaths, holding it for three before exhaling. Instantly, she responded. Thirty minutes later, the blubbering had stopped, and there was only the occasional tear. Talking to her helped so much.

Slowly, painstakingly, I wrote my poem. I muttered the iambs to myself and used my fingers to count out the syllables. I must have looked like a first grader anxiously trying to do math. And after every line I paused to talk to Audrey. And by midnight I was done.

Afternoon Fog

A Pearl gray adorns my window, dampening the day.

B Clear whispers of sunlight soon shall slip past

A So heavy thoughts of death won’t weigh.

B Silvery images of joy contrast

C The leaden darkness of our woe.

D A bird sings tunes of frivolity

C Quick! the tabby cat turns to his foe.

D His view is low in quality,

E But together we peer out wistfully

F And pray the charcoal haze will lift.

E He keeps his haunches raised, tail flicking eagerly,

F Paws tucked under, eyes looking for a shift

G Here she is! Her virgin rays do slice the morn.

G And from our dreary doldrums we are reborn.

It isn’t very good, and the lines have anywhere from seven to thirteen syllables, but it’s all mine. I wrote a sonnet despite the emotions, and you can’t take that away from me.

I’ve always believed that if you work hard enough, you’ll get what you want. Two years of babysitting bought me a whole new wardrobe in France. Hours of studying bought me perfect grades in school. And yesterday, it bought me a sonnet.

(P.S. Today in class, my AP English teacher said that I had some of the best descriptive language.)