Six weeks in

Feb. 2015 edit: I wrote this post last October, and for some reason it sat in the drafts folder and never got posted. I'm posting it now, because upon re-reading it I remember what an important milestone it was.

The beginning of fall is an odd time for me. At its first whispers, I fight against it. Try to run away from it. Not the cold! Not the clouds! Not months and months of socks and scarves and three pairs of mittens. Not yet!

And so, this fall, like most of the past five, I've been teetering. I'm on a ledge, a precipice, toes a bit too close to the edge for comfort, desperately trying to keep my balance so that I don't fall into the bleak pit that is winter's depression. Thus far, I've kept my balance; through the first frenzied four weeks of nursing school wherein I couldn't see anything further than the textbooks I was frantically trying to read to stay caught up; through the confusing first few clinicals at the hospital, trying to find my way and my place among seasoned nurses and sick patients; through the transition of four new very young toddlers into our classroom who cried and cried and cried for anyone but us at first. Through all the firsts.

The fifth week, though, it all started to come together. I had two good exams under my belt, reassurance that I was gaining my sea legs in the hospital, and four happy, well-transitioned young toddlers settled alongside our older ones.

And then this past Thursday night, mortality smacked me straight upside the head. It's been in my mind, these past myriad visits to the hospital, doing what little I've been taught thus far to help people who are ill…up close and personal to people who are very elderly and very frail. It can be scary, to know that that's what we're all (God willing) barreling toward with our desire to live a long life. It makes me stop and wonder if we really do know what we're getting into.

I couldn't ignore death his past Thursday night. It was right in front of me: once, literally — in the form of a woman who had passed two hours' prior to us getting there, whose post-mortem care I had the honor of watching — and once, almost, as the 90-year-old women I was caring for got very critical very quickly. I came home that night slightly shellshocked, the baby nursing student in me overwhelmed with emotion for all that I'd seen that I'd never seen before. And I came home to an email from my aunt and uncle, updating us all on the slow, merciless, end-of-life shifts in my paternal grandparents. And I thought of my sweet maternal grandfather, and how thinking of his manner of death still makes me cry.

And so that night I cried. And cried. And cried.

I've read so many essays written by people near death. "Seize the day," they say. "Don't take any minute for granted. Live while you still can." Those sentiments have always scared me, because how can I seize the day? How can I live to the fullest if I'm so busy all the time? Of course I take minutes for granted — entire hours pass before I blink, and those are hours I'll never, ever get back again. How can I be so sure I'm not wasting my precious life? I worry.

Yesterday, a quiet voice spoke somewhere deep inside my head. You are living, it said. You are living and you are doing. That is enough and it is okay. You are happy. You are alive.

And that was enough.

And so today I said: Hello, fall. And I smiled at the multi-colored trees.

And so today I said: I am living, today. And I whispered a thank you to the universe.

And so today I said: I am grateful for exactly where I am. And I am.


The next step

Ten days.

That's it. Just ten. In ten days, I'll load my computer and charger up into my giant Timbuk2 bag, slip my syllabus into a new three-ring notebook full of lined paper, and stuff pens, hilighters, pencils, and a small recorder into my new pencil bag. And I'll head off for my first day of nursing school.

It's wild to think that it's finally here. This culmination of two years of pre-reqs, applications, anticipation, acceptance, titer levels, bloodwork, physicals and orientation is effectively over, and the real stuff begins. It seems like I've been waiting for this my entire life, and really, I have.

I've got two brand spankin' new pairs of navy scrubs embroidered with my school's emblem. I've got a white nurse's jacket. White Dansko clogs that are sure to be scuffed up in no time. A stethoscope, pen lights, a name tag, nursing textbooks…check, check, check, check. All mine.

But, as the nursing program coordinator repeated three times over the course of our three-day orientation the other week, "We can teach anyone how to do nursing procedures. But what we can't teach you is how to be a great nurse. That's something you have to dig inside of yourself and become."

That's where I pause. Doubt myself. Can I? Can I remember it all, do it all, be it all? I sometimes become so consumed with what has to be done in work and life that I tuck my chin under and just do. My challenge, I know, will be to lift my chin back up and really see the people around me. The ones for whom I'll have the honor of caring, for however little or however long. While my ultimate goal isn't nursing but midwifery, I know that the skills I learn over the next two years — both physical and emotional — are the crux of what will become my life's work. And so I repeat to myself, even now, ten days before school even starts, "Open your eyes. Smile, reach out, touch. Send them love."

It's a new adventure. A new door, a new education, an entirely different learning experience. My strongest hope is that I can be a competent, careful, nurturing presence in the lives of anyone I come into contact with.

Ten days.


Working with toddlers

Last month marked eighteen months living here and working at the sweetest little nursery school. Oh, you guys, can I just tell you about the nine toddlers who fill my days with joy and frustration and sticky fingers and belly laughs and noise? They're amazing. Truly, wonderfully amazing. (And frustrating. But amazing.)

This time at our sweet school has been so valuable. I remember coming home after I first began working there, completely intimidated by such patient and loving teachers and the smart, careful language they used while guiding little ones through each day. I'd been nannying and babysitting kids since I practically was one myself, and I came into the job with tricks up my sleeve and a fairly good grasp on early childhood development. But all that paled in comparison to what I've learned here.

I forget things if I don't write them down, so here, for posterity, are a few things I've internalized:

1) Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. Give the children the time and space to do something themselves, working through frustration to succeed. It's an incredibly valuable lesson.

2) Narrate. Our toddlers are all between the ages of one and two. They're at varying stages of language development. The best thing we can do to foster language growth is to, quite literally, talk them through their days. "You're stacking a blue block on top of your red one!" "We're going to change your diaper now. I'm going to put my gloves on!" "You're patting the baby's back so gently!"

3) Give words (and tones) to emotions. The best way to curb our toddlers' meltdowns is to get down on their level and validate what they're feeling. "You're feeling so frustrated! You really wanted that toy!" "It's getting close to lunchtime. You seem like you're feeling hungry!" "Look! You buckled your chair all by yourself!"

4) Rotate toys and books. We choose specific natural objects to put out each week, starting minimally at the beginning of the week (a bucket full of crunchy leaves with a few small cups to scoop with) and adding a few things as the week progresses (crunchy leaves, scoops, and barn animals). This week we have all sorts of circular objects in one area (small tree stumps, napkin rings, etc); next week we'll put out small shiny metal objects. These all change on at least a weekly basis, which keeps everyone engaged.

5) Having several sensory-based opportunities helps keep everyone calmer. We have carpet square samples with various textures from Home Depot, as well as things like sandpaper, fabric samples from Joann's, and plenty of messy play (shaving cream is a favorite!). When the kids need a calming/centering activity, we pull out extra sensory materials. A recent no-mess favorite is paint or hair gel inside ziploc bags (taped shut) — it's fun to manipulate and squeeze.

6) It's the process, not the product, when it comes to art. This week, the toddlers painted on white cardstock and then shook salt from salt shakers on top (they loved that!). The salt made the paint look shiny and textured, and it was really fun fine motor work.

7) Sometimes when the kids are losing it and my patience is zapped, bubbles are the magical answer to all problems.

I want to add onto this as I go along.


Having faith

I grew up in a church. I mean that almost literally — my parents were the pianist/organist/choir directors/all things musical for a small United Methodist church in Texas when I was young, and the church building was our second home. We spent hours and hours there each week, and while my parents worked, my sister and I were free to roam. I remember running up and down the upstairs hallways, hiding behind the large banners that alternated being hung in the sanctuary, and playing downstairs in the nursery.

We challenged each other to "slide under all the pews and see who can get to the back of the sanctuary first" games, and climbed in and out of the cabinets in the narthex. We were completely and absolutely at home there. And the church community was our family, too. We had more surrogate aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents than I can count. They were our people. Lord knows we spent more time with them than we did our extended family in Georgia and Michigan.

And then there was Kathleen. The most amazing minister of love and joy. While my family never considered itself particularly religious, she instilled in me a strong knowledge of a loving God that I've carried with me through the years. I miss her.

Through an unfortunate situation, my family left the church of my childhood when I was around 13. I've not had a church family since then, but the longing for one has always been quietly resting in me. I attended a church for a few months in college, but never felt at home there. That brings us to now: I'm in a place in my life where I want that family, want that community, want that place of love and joy. A month ago, Cait and I started visiting churches in the area.

On our second Sunday, we found a beautiful United Church of Christ a few blocks from our house. It's led by a strong female minister, which was something I really wanted. The congregation is very, very small, but so welcoming and open. I find myself looking forward to Sundays now, excited to be in a place of glory and worship. Whether or not I consider myself devoutly religious, I'm so happy to have the comfort of a church family back in my life. It's made such a difference.

I don't quite know where I'm going with this blog entry, but I wanted to write it. I'm grateful for the ability to find a new family, and grateful for the simple joy of being in congregation with likeminded people as I begin each new week. I'm grateful for faith.


sNOw more, thanks.

I'm back in New England, cuddled up in my cozy bed in our cozy house in Connecticut. Apparently we're about to be dumped with snow — most everything is canceled for tomorrow, and there's already been a Snow Emergency declared (I added the capital letters for emphasis because SNOW! EMERGENCY!). (Which means you can only park on the even side of the street, which means I didn't get to go to the grocery store after work because I wanted to rush home to find a place to park, which means I'll be weathering this storm with clementines, almond butter, hummus, and spinach in the fridge, OH BOY.)

I tell you: six winters in New England and I'm finally getting used to things. And actually kind of liking it. Though for the love of god don't remind me I said that tomorrow morning when I'm shoveling my car out and hating the world.

Tucker's super excited at the possibility that we'll be snowed in together. I can see the love in his eyes.