Friday, March 29, 2013


To follow up on the post about my soul-crushing tutor, I have the following: I had never run into the woman before my session. of course, I walked out of a session yesterday morning, and snack into her. AWKWARD! She is apparently now teaching in the same building where I take my classes, in the same room I am in, no less. I've now run into her three times. But on a brighter note, I went to a lecture by a Latin American attorney yesterday, in Spanish, about Latin American justice systems and Latin American politics, and understood everything. In fact, I even asked a few questions. Take that, evil soul crusher!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sometimes it Rains

I have been feeling pretty good about my Spanish. I have a decent size vocabulary, and can use reasonably complex sentence structure.   I was able to hold a conversation on genetic engineering yesterday, and also explain how gender selection is now actually possible.  Oh, and I was able to explain that the technology that technically could be used for gender selection is not the same as genetic engineering (which has to do with replacing genes).  That's pretty good, right? People understood me, and we had a lively conversation about the topic.

I can read the paper, short stories, a novel.  I'm watching a Spanish version of Gray's Anatomy, and I mostly get it.  I am still having a little trouble with television news, because of the velocity at which the words hurtle at me, but I get most of it.  I can eavesdrop in public places.  I can order in a restaurant.  I can make small talk.  I can talk about my family, my job, my childhood, my future, current events, politics, the weather.  In short, I am comfortable in Spanish.  I am not perfect, but I am comfortable.

Or, I was. I just finished a session with a new tutor.  Our only objective was to chat for an hour in Spanish, to practice my speaking skills.  This was meant to be a low level conversation, to increase my comfort level with my ability.  Easy, right?  I literally have these types of conversations every day.

Unfortunately, this particular tutor had a decidedly different approach to "helping" me learn.  Mostly, my tutors are encouraging.  They correct my mistakes, but they let me finish my thoughts.  They are kind, but still push me.  Generally, they place a lot of emphasis on using the language you have to make the point you want to make, and not worrying about being eloquent.  They remind me constantly that while I may have a graduate degree and capable of high level discussion in English, in Spanish I'm really just a kid.  Maybe a high school kid on a good day.  :)

But this woman today, she literally interrupted me every third word, without even letting me finish a sentence, to make some point or to challenge my word choice.  Some of the criticism was fair--hey, my Spanish isn't perfect.  But sometimes, it was simply that she didn't bother to let me make my point before she interrupted, and she was wrong about what I was going to say.  Sometimes, I was perfectly correct.  Or sometimes, she simply didn't like the structure of my sentence, even though she conceded that it made sense.  In her opinion, there were better vocabulary choices or better phrases to express what I was trying to say.

It was like every part of her approach was diametrically opposed to the teaching methodology that I've been studying under for the last six months.  She wasn't particularly nice about it, either, bluntly telling me that I was wrong, diagraming things on the chart behind her, etc.  When she spoke to me, she spoke to me in the tone and volume you might speak to a foreign toddler, speaking ever so slowly like it was my first week of Spanish lessons.  I have normal conversations with my other tutors and with friends.  Having her speak to me so slowly, like there was something wrong with me, having her interrupt every couple of words, literally in the middle of every sentence, utterly shattered my confidence.

I am not proud of what I did next.  After 45 minutes of this, I cried.

I am a 40 year old woman, and I burst into tears in a Spanish lesson.  Humiliating.

The final straw came when she started to lecture me about my Spanish.  I've had loads of tutors, and I have been getting corrected and taken feedback for six months.  It's never bothered me before.  But her tone, her palpable distaste for me and my Spanish, was more than I could bear.  I felt so disregarded and small.  My last tutor had been telling me that I was doing great and making progress and that my mistakes are very small.  This woman was clearly conveying that she thought I was a disaster.  When she started what was clearly going to be lengthy feedback about what she thought about my Spanish, it was more than I could bear.

Her reaction to my tears was hilarious.   I think she thought I was about to storm out (I was merely reaching for my jacket to grab a tissue), because she asked me to stay and collect myself, and to let her leave.  I then tried to be gracious, and asked her to finish her thoughts (which I conveyed in Spanish, of course).  She told me that I was more comfortable speaking than any other student she has tutored, and that I should be careful not to lose that, because the comfort level is important.

While I would like to take that as a compliment, I know she didn't mean it as one.  What she really meant is "for someone with such crappy Spanish, you have a lot of confidence, and that will carry you a little ways."  And all I can think is that her students don't exhibit a comfort level because she treats them this way all of the time.  I have never met an educator who so effectively cut me off at the knees in such a short amount of time.  If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said that it wasn't possible for someone to even get to me like that.

I managed to hide in the bathroom and pull myself together after that, and was able to get away from work without seeing any of my colleagues.  I already had a massage scheduled for this afternoon, so I just headed over a little early.  Alas, my day didn't immediately brighten.  I hit up a food truck for lunch.  The smell of the chicken biryani lured me in. Indeed, it had great flavor.  It ALSO had a warm apricot pit in it, with just a tiny bit of flesh hanging to it (and no, biryani doesn't have apricots in it).  So gross.

The massage, thankfully, was great, so at least the afternoon ended well.  I am still feeling really fragile, though.  I have more studying to do, but I am feeling so demoralized at this point.  I don't feel like doing anything at all.

Friday, March 22, 2013

5 Year Blogoversary

This seems impossible, but I started blogging five years ago today.  FIVE YEARS.  When I started, I never would have imagined I would have lasted this long.  It's proven to be the most difficult and most amazing five years of my life, and I'm so glad that I have this record of the time, although it's by no means complete, since there is so much stuff that I don't blog about.  Nevertheless, I can't wait to see what the next five years brings.  Onward!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Unseen Illness

A few years ago, our friendship with another couple disintegrated.  The friends probably have their own version of events, but my version is that I had a front row seat to the wife's very public affair with a much younger man.  I was horrified, and angry that she would do that to her husband, who I liked and admired very much.  He wasn't perfect (no husband is), but he didn't deserve to be very publicly cuckolded.  The circumstances at the time were complicated, as I was in the middle of a very complex and high profile matter at work, as was the husband, as was the woman, as was the object of her affection.  It was rather ugly.

Under different circumstances, I might have confronted the wife about her bad behavior, or I might have gone to her husband, but given everything else that was going on, I felt like raising the issue at that juncture might do even more harm, if that was possible.  And, I was reluctant to get involved in someone else's private matter, regardless of our friendship.  It was awkward.  So instead, I told no one but my husband of the situation.

Unfortunately, the affair was flagrant enough (and the town small enough) that tongues were wagging all over town.  While the husband was caught up in his business matter in a different city, his wife was painting the town red with her new beau, and everyone noticed.  More than one friend raised the issue with me.  It was exceedingly tawdry.

T. and I debated--even argued--over whether we should tell the husband.  It was such a delicate situation.  Finally (and without my knowledge), he raised it with the husband's best friend.  He felt an obligation to ensure that the husband was at least aware of the situation.  This other friend confirmed that it had come to his attention, and we left it at that.

In the end, the husband supported his wife and stayed with her.  Our friendship noticeably cooled, and we thought it was probably because they knew that we knew of her affair, which made a friendship awkward.  We heard that the husband didn't wish to be divorced.  We also heard that she blamed the affair on her mental health problems.  We knew that she had some issues, but also thought that was a cop-out.  She had some problems, but she also made clear, poor choices.

During a much later conversation with the husband, T. discovered that the husband believed that everyone (ie, other friends; members of the community) had learned of the affair from T (because T had discussed the issue with the husband's best friend; he had concluded that T must also have been responsible for everyone else in town learning of the affair).  T. never told him the truth, nor did I.

As I told another friend at the time (who also knew of the affair, albeit not from me), I would rather he blame us based on bad information than know the full truth and be hurt by it.  I don't think he does know the full scope of her actions, and really, what does it matter.  He knows some of it, and he chose to work through it with her.  That's enough.

I've stayed casual acquaintances with the husband, who works in my field.  When he got a big promotion a while back, I emailed to let him know how excited i was for him.  Truly, I was thrilled for him.  He deserved it.  I haven't spoken to the wife in a few years.

I learned recently that she had published an account of her struggles with mental health, and I read it.  It documents her decades long struggle, including deep depression, medication, therapy, and several periods of hospitalization due to suicidal behavior.  One of the last episodes she mentioned happened shortly after the end of the affair, when she apparently spiraled downward.

Reading her story made my mind swirl.  I knew she had problems, but I never knew the depth.  I thought she flirted with depression and anxiety.  I never knew she was afraid of the world.  I knew she was a little off.  I never knew she composed suicide notes in her head.  I knew that her husband took good care of her.  I never knew he was the glue that held her together.  It was enlightening, and sad.

On the one hand, it puts so much of her behavior into context.  While it doesn't excuse her bad choices and bad behavior, after reading about how fleeting happiness has been for her in her life, I better understand those choices.  She wanted a shot at the brass ring of happiness, even if that meant making bad choices to get there.  She was hoping to find it in something shiny and young and bright.  And when that didn't work out, when it ended terribly, as it only could, she fell apart.  Not only did she not find happiness, she very nearly destroyed the one person, the one thing that had been holding her together:  her husband, her marriage.

And in the face of this, her husband showed uncommon grace:  he picked her up, and he dusted her off, and he got her the help she needed, when she had even given up hope herself.  I have to say, I think most other humans would have run in the opposite direction when faced with a cheating, mentally ill, suicidal spouse.  It's just a lot to take on.

As I read her account of her last spiral into mental illness, I could only think of her husband, and what it must have been like for him to walk that road behind her.  I was seeing him almost every day at that point, and had no inkling that during a time when I was secretly reveling in a much-desired and as-yet unrevealed pregnancy, he was driving to a mental facility after work each night to visit his sick wife.   He must have felt so very alone, and so very unable to share what was going on.  I felt terrible that I wasn't there for him.  I remember thinking that he was acting odd, but chalking it up to him feeling weird around me because of the affair.  How little I knew.  I wish I had asked, rather than assume.  What a kind and decent man he is, to have quietly and quite willingly bore that burden.  How terrifying it must have been for him.

On the other hand, it also made me wonder how much leeway we should give people for their bad behavior.  Yes, she suffers from severe depression.  But does that excuse what she did?  Honestly, her behavior still troubles me, even knowing all that she has endured in her life.  She clearly knew her actions were wrong, and she still had the ability to choice between right and wrong, even if she was depressed.  It is an issue I am still muddling through in my head.

On the whole, though, I am so impressed by the fact she went public with her story.  I am blown away by the kindness of her husband.  And, I hope that her story will be one of many forthcoming stories which causes our society to look at mental illness anew, in order to affect positive change in our system.

It's got me thinking, too, about the other side of the coin that we so rarely see.  I know I am all too guilty of judging someone for what I perceive as their careless slights--someone who I perceived was rude to me in passing, etc.  I think our world has become quick to judge, as a whole, and less likely to reach out a helping hand.  We presume, in this fast-paced, tech-focused world that we know all that is going on.  But a number of times recently, I have discovered after the fact that what I perceived initially turned out to not be true at all.  Or, as here, there was so much more to the story.  It has been a good reminder to slow down, give the benefit of the doubt, and reach out a hand when I can.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Rant About Healthcare

You know what's wrong with healthcare in America today?  Yeah, I know you know exactly what the problem is.  Patient care is beside the point.  Consider my day:

Last week, I tried a new primary care doctor based on recommendations I got from some people I don't know well (my beloved previous doctor is now hundreds of miles away).  The new doctor is okay, but not great.  When I needed referrals, I got names and numbers handwritten on slips of paper, and not appointments arranged for me.  Remember when doctors used to set it all up for you?

When I checked the online reviews for one of the referrals, they were awful.  I mean, AWFUL.  The doctor had told me in a chipper voice that the office can usually see you within a week.  Um, there's a reason for that, when every other specialist in the area is booked two months out.

So, I did my own research and found a very good practice to try instead of the referral (my insurance doesn't need a referral, anyway), and called them at 11:30 this morning.  At which point, their answering service took my call.  Why, you ask, was the answering service handling their calls at 11:30 on a Monday morning?  "They're at lunch.  They won't be back taking their calls until 12:30 or 1."  Okay, so at 11:30 in the morning, they are at LUNCH, and then the hour that they will return is as yet undetermined?

When I finally got a real live human to answer the telephone after they had finally returned from their morning lunch, she informed me that if I wanted to see a nurse practictioner, they could see me right away, but if I wanted one of the doctors, it would be MAY before they could see me.  I mean, really?  My husband needs an appointment, too, and he's going to need some minor surgery on his face, so I sighed, booked him with a doctor in May, then went with the nurse practictioner for my own appointment.

Then I tried to book my daughter's 1 year well-child appointment/vaccinations.  Once again, I was offered MAY.  I was told that well child visits are being booked this far out for our (very good) pediatrician, who is starting to cut back on his hours (by my last count, he is over 70).  When I asked if I could at least arrange for her vaccinations, I was told that I would have to leave a message for the nurse, who would bring my daughter's file to the doctor to see if that was okay.  WTF?!   She then tried to patch me through so I could leave a message.  I stopped her, and made the well child visit before she hung up on me.  She then hung up on me before I could be transferred to leave the message about the vaccinations.  I had to then call back again.

Then, I tried to make a doctor's appointment for my husband (different specialist), only to find that while this doctor was indeed taking new patients, he was only taking new patients who had been referred to him.   Gah.

And after all of that, I had an eye exam, which ended up taking over 2.5 hours because there were problems.   The cherry on the whipped cream of this crap sundae is that the person at the optician's office also might have advised me on how to defraud my health insurance.  I had NO IDEA why our system is such a disaster.

To ease my pain, I went to one of those walk-in massage places that offers fully-clothed massages on the spot, and got 20 minutes of accupressure ($20!) from an ancient Asian man who had hands like vices.  I am now convinced that the pleasure in accupressure is how good you feel after, when they are no longer torturing you.  It makes whatever pain you were in before feel great in comparison.  I am hoping that my back feels better tomorrow, because at this point, I am less than thrilled with Western medicine.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Life right now, in snippets:

  • SB had her first birthday last week, which I have to blog about.  How did she get so old?  Where did the last year go?  She continues to be such a mellow, loving, happy child.  We adore her.  I never imagined a 1 year old could be relaxing, and yet she is.  I've never met a baby that gives better hugs.  She is such a calming influence on me.  Which is good, because life can be stressful!
  • I found a lump in my breast a few weeks ago.  It's near the chest wall, and tough to feel unless I am pumping/have just finished pumping.  The women's imaging center at the local hospital refused to do a mammogram, because I am still nursing.  (The woman said I would squirt milk all over their equipment.    Um, I've never been able to get a drop of milk out when I squeeze, since that's not how human lactation works, but whatever.)  They did an ultrasound, and couldn't find the lump.  The radiologist said this was a good sign, but I am not convinced.  I can still feel it, and I don't feel like it's milk-related.  She said I should come back for an ultrasound two months after I finish weaning.  I'm uncomfortable with the situation, but I think the mammogram is the next stop.  
  • We have started weaning.  SB is drinking some cow's milk and having some mixed with her cereal, and is drinking some breast milk.  I have started to cut back on pumping.  Honestly, I wouldn't be in a hurry if I didn't need the damn mammogram, and if we were not moving to Latin America in a few months.  If it takes us a month or so to wean, and then I wait two months, I will just have enough time to get the mammogram before we move.  And if it shows something?  That will be a nightmare on every level.  But back to weaning:  SB has been losing interest in breastfeeding during the day, anyway.  She doesn't want to sit still for the time it takes to nurse.  She'd rather drink from a bottle, because it's faster and easier.  She is still nursing at night a fair amount, but I think it's because she's suddenly started teething again, and not because she's hungry.  She's equally happy with her pacifier, so I've been trying to substitute it when I can.  I am really going to miss nursing her, and am sad about weaning.  But I won't miss that pump!
  • SB has only two teeth, on the bottom.  She got them in, and then basically stopped teething for months and months.  That has been nice.  Then, 4-5 days ago, she started teething again in earnest, and I am getting no sleep.  She's not fussy or anything--just restless and rolling around a lot, which wakes me up a lot.  Oh, and she's a little grumpy.  Tylenol helps, and yesterday and today have been better, but DH said she was really unhappy all day on Friday (her birthday, poor dear!)
  • Every day we inch a little closer to our departure date.  I suddenly realized that I have this long list of doctors I need to see before we leave the U.S..  Like, I need an eye exam (I'm wearing my last pair of contacts, and they are old and must be replaced), and need to see a dermatologist and a gastroenterologist, and have blood work, and then there's that lump I found, and my back is bothering me, etc., etc.  In essence, lots of smaller, annoying appointments, for mostly small, annoying complaints that I need to get to before I move to a developing country.  I made myself start booking them last week.  So far, I've taken care of the blood work and had some xrays done on my back (the doctor thinks it's a muscular issue, but wanted to get a closer look--I also have to get a massage to see if that helps).  Up next:  eye exam and dermatologist and massage.  Yuck.  I hate doing this stuff.  
  • I am coming to the end of my Spanish lessons.  I am a bit nervous about it.  I think that I've attained sufficient proficiency, but it's so hard to tell.  It's so subjective, and a lot of it depends on the topic of conversation and other variables.  As with anything in life, some things are better than others.  Still, I'm worried that they won't think that I'm sufficiently proficient.  Argh.  I better go study some more!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Better Half

I was sitting in a hospital waiting room last week, aimlessly watching CNN while I waited for my appointment for a sonogram of my right breast.  As I sat there, CNN ran a story that proclaimed that a baby girl born in the U.S. today can expect to live to age 81.  I immediately thought that right at that minute I could be halfway through my life.  I was, almost to a day, 40.5 years old.  

It seems weird to think that I'm halfway through my life.  It really is true--the days are long, but the years are so short.  I feel like I have tons of time left, but who of us really knows?  And even if I reach my 81 year mark, the first 40.5 have certainly flown by.  I feel like I will blink, and it will all be gone.  I will be an old version of myself before I know it.  Hopefully.  Or, perhaps I should say "Ojala."  

As I sat there in the waiting room of the women's imaging center, listening to the "soothing" indoor waterfall and hoping to get in soon for my appointment, it made me want to seize life by the balls and do something really grand with it, something meaningful and groundbreaking and special.  It made me think of legacies.  What will mine be?

And then I remembered that I am raising two feisty, intelligent, independent, kind, exuberant, talented, loving young women, and nothing in the world could be more important than that.  These next four decades, if I have them, will be amazing, simply because they--the girls--are.  There can be no more important legacy than that.