Change: IT’S COMING FOR YOU! (AKA puberty, husbands, and JavaScript)

I’m going to make a bold statement that you should just accept as fact: I handle massive change quite well.  Now, hear me out, I legitimately handle it really well.  For you naysayers, what I don’t handle well is the uncertainty of knowing whether or not massive change will happen.  (As a warning, the next few paragraphs go into moderate detail about my realization that puberty was a thing and a thing I would be experiencing eventually.  Please feel free to skip this if your stomach isn’t up for armpit hair.  I won’t judge you.  Actually, I won’t even know about it, which is even better!  Thank you anonymity of the internet which I’ve violated by using my real name on my blog and linking to it from my personal website.)

For example, when I was in 3rd grade and I had the misfortune of being exposed to my first sex ed video about your body changing in strange and mysterious ways thanks to being in a multi-age classroom where no one else in the building was exposed to it until 5th grade.  I was distraught.  Fat balls bouncing around on my chest until the end of time that would inflate and shrink based on weight, age, and baby-making status?  That sounded horrible.  And why more hair?  I kept seeing all these razor commercials, and so I was pretty sure growing more hair was really just a ploy to make them more money and there had to be a way to stop it.  My armpits were completely comfortable without anything stinky coming out of them, and no, I don’t want to rub something inside them every day to keep from offending other people’s nostrils, but thank you for the soap.

The kicker?  I was going to bleed for about a week once a month until sometime in my 50s or 60s?  Why?  No, seriously, why?  That seemed more like a ploy to slowly kill me than an inevitable fact, and I immediately complained to my teacher about these potential changes.  She told me it was something all young women go through, it was miraculous, so on and so forth, to which I was horrified.  I needed to know when.  If I knew when these horrendous things would happen to my body, warping it into a grotesque vessel for this torment supposedly known as “womanhood” topped off with this thing called cramps that until then I had only heard of as a reason to not go swimming after eating (false, by the way), then I knew I could prepare for it.

I took the only reasonable action.  I demanded my teacher tell me exactly when this horror would be unleashed upon my body, to which she responded, “Everyone has it happen eventually, it’s just whenever is the right time for you, dear!”  Dear?!  Ms. C, I was going to bleed most of my life and experience something that kills you when you go swimming with hair all over the place and strange, awful smells dripping off my body, and I was now “dear”?  Absolutely not.  Completely inaccurate!

I immediately set to waiting, uncertain when to prepare for the change, but knowing it would come.  I prematurely started doing things my older sisters were doing, knowing it would inevitably be my fate.  I shaved my nearly hairless legs and armpits.  I wore a sports bra.  I waited with the madness once encompassed by Waiting for Godot, and this was in the days before smart phones, so waiting didn’t involve reading the internet for entertainment either.  It was silent patience embodied by pre-adolescent madness.  I had encountered limbo.  Waiting for Armpit Hair.

That’s the kind of change I don’t handle the best – the kind that is maybe going to happen but hasn’t happened yet and you have no real way of knowing when so sort of make plans for it but also sort of don’t because you need to continue existing as you are now or else you’ll be a useless lump of lady meat.  So I’ve made an effort to address that, since after all the root source of my issues with the unknown is anxiety about when it will be unleashed upon me, which is simply silly.  After all, the most miraculous thing about life is that it happens while you’re making plans, and most iterations of those plans become wasted.  Fortunately, being the nerd that I am, I create multiple iterations of most plans, so while the vast majority are wasted, there’s always one lucky guy that gets to be executed, and he prances forth before all my wasted energy that’s discarded to the side as irrelevant, bragging and boasting about his momentary utilitarianism.

Now, for you naysayers, let me give you some examples of change I handled quite well.  I, a former commitment-phobic lady who hadn’t really dated anyone for more than 3 dates aside from one abnormal instance prior that was still within a month’s span, very easily accepted when I met my husband I would be an idiot not to spend the rest of my life with him, so married his handsome self.  Once I realized I was going to most likely marry him, the when of it all caused some stress, but thanks to constant exposure to that uncertainty (including my husband moving up the wedding date so we had 3 weeks to throw it together in the middle of the school year, which was amazing though very tiring), I got over it, which has been pretty helpful for rolling along with a fairly impulsive man.

I transitioned into an independent adult pretty well too.  Talking to a lot of my friends in undergrad and some recent graduates at the time, a number of people apparently had absolutely no money sense when they were first independent, and though credit cards were free money.  I, fortunately, never had that mindset, so I never built a substantial amount of debt I’d need to claw my way out of.  There’s definitely some weird stuff about being an independent adult, such as retirement and insurance, but researching it hasn’t been too rough, and I feel I’ve generally made fairly good decisions in those areas.  I’m pretty grateful to my mom for my money sense, since when I was a teenager I thought it was weird she talked to me about money, but I was later grateful she did.  There were some lessons that I’d rather hear from her than learn elsewhere, including the infamous, “Your father wants to buy a tractor and we live on a 3000 sqft lot”.

Finally, the decision to program.  I won’t go into too much detail about what prompted the decision, but I have set solidly that this is what I want to do.  Programming and I have been 10 steps apart most of my life as I have previously mentioned, and now that I’ve accepted the fact that I love it, I feel like kicking myself for not jumping in head first sooner.  This isn’t to say I have any regrets about decisions I’ve made in the past as far as my education and career go, and I certainly think every experience I’ve had has helped shape who I am today.  I’ve learned so much patience, empathy, compassion, working with little resources, and how to positively influence someone’s life to help them make more proactive and productive decisions.  There are leadership skills you learn in teaching that if you can apply in other areas of your life lead to a great deal of positive change for those around you in general.  I know how to have tough conversations with people about anything from substance abuse, body odor, or the injury their decisions are causing their relationships with others and themselves.  I know how to tell someone they’re wrong, but do so in a way that they know I still care about them, and that their wrongness doesn’t impact their goodness.  Teaching has genuinely made me a better human being.

Coding takes a lot of aspects that I love about teaching but applies them in a very different way.  To name a few, you constantly learn new information to better implement practices (though for me currently this may be extremely more so since I’m such a novice).  You also get to solve problems and puzzles, which I absolutely love.  It’s great tackling a puzzle without clearly knowing the solution then reaching that, “Aha!” moment later.  Then there’s the collaboration.  Talking to someone else about code and reading their code helps solidify my understanding of concepts, just like watching someone else interact with a student with challenging behavior in the classroom to learn their approach.  I also love that once you learn something new that can make your code more elegant or efficient, being able to go back and revise it, test it immediately, and see the results.  Testing it and trying to break it is great, since it’s like finding holes in your logic constantly then attempting to improve it.

Alright, new goal, make less posts where I inevitably start talking about how much I like coding and learning.

I’m currently learning JavaScript, and after jumping through many sources of information trying to find what works well for me, I have set on Head First’s JavaScript book.  I’m really enjoying it.  I’m on day 3 using it, and already I’ve covered more and more in depth than through months of using other modules to learn.  Part of why it’s working for me is the fact you can quickly read sections you’ve got down, but also because of how many different ways it shows different vocabulary and concepts.  Retaining it all is so much easier than having someone pass over a term briefly but never revisit it.  I really wish they had a recent book on Python too.

My current project is a game of Battleship.  I’m not too far on at at the moment, mostly working on data structures, but I’m pretty excited to get it all working.  In fact, I better hit the books and keep learning so I can get it down.

On shoulder related news, I had a doctor’s visit today.  I’m on the same restrictions for 6 more weeks, but he gave me a steroid injection in my joint, and I have got to tell you, so much less pain afterward.  It was amazing.  The reason for it is so we can push it in PT a bit harder since currently he believes pain is inhibiting my progress.  More pushing is amazing news.  I feel like it has been forever at this point, likely because it has been, but I’m truly grateful for the progress I’ve made.  Each day I feel like I’m getting a bit more of my strength back, and each day the pain decreases a bit more.

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Change: IT’S COMING FOR YOU! (AKA puberty, husbands, and JavaScript)

Chinese New Year (Goat version) & JavaScript Slide Shows

This past Saturday was Valentine’s Day, and I have to tell you, mine was quite wonderful.  I went on multiple walks by the beach since it was sunny and dry in the greater Seattle area, wore purple PJ pants with polar bears (there’s that alliteration again!) while working on my website so the “Father’s Photos” section would actually lead somewhere, and played some League of Legends with the husband where we died repeatedly in the most epic fashion possible until his little brother joined us to end our losing streak.

All in all, a very productive day, topped off by trying to figure out what exactly I’m supposed to cook for our Chinese New Year party after deciding my dear husband and I needed to establish a new tradition.  So far I’m at jiaozi (potstickers or gyoza for my Japanese-culinary related friends) for prosperity, oranges because it sounds like the word gold and tangerines for the word luck, long noodles for longevity, pomelo because it sounds similar to the words prosperity and status, spring rolls for wealth, tea eggs for fertility since I know a couple just had a bun in the oven, and a whole fish for prosperity again I believe.  I briefly thought about making jai, but it’s such a complicated recipe with ingredients I’m not familiar with that I’m a bit hesitant to try making it for the first time with a bunch of people coming over since it’s not very kind to feed guests mush!  Even if it looks amazing and would appease my vegetarian friends.  We’ve also made jokes that since it’s the year of the goat we should play the screaming goats videos in the background the entire time to set the mood.

On a nerdier note, following dedicating 4 days to completing my application to ADA (and accepting the fact that I was just getting progressively worse at talking to a webcam rather than improving so deciding to submit it), I had been struggling more than I anticipated at resuming learning JavaScript on Treehouse as part of their front-end web development track.  I think my biggest issue was that it’s enough repeat from what I’ve learned of Python that I felt like I could probably figure it out with some internet time instead of video time, but enough new material that I worried the end result would be slower.  Instead of avoiding it any further, I decided to see whether or not I was correct.  I had 2 sections on my website I hadn’t added yet – Father’s Photos which was intended to be a gallery of the pictures my dad has taken since he’s gotten his new camera for Christmas, and then another section which was either going to be a wedding photo gallery or notes from friends and family that fill me with warm fuzzy feels.  Currently it just has a place holder image while I decide what I want to do.  My issue with the track on Treehouse was that it wasn’t directly tied to what I wanted to do, and it didn’t look like I’d be learning the skills necessary to do it any time soon, and in the mean time it was a lot of repeat of basic programming knowledge I’d already gained elsewhere, so motivating myself was significantly harder.

So I plunked down, googled how to make a slide show or gallery, and came up with a bunch of options that were way over my head or were just downloading a script that used jquery rather than doing it myself.  Where’s the fun in that?  Finally, I found something that was a good starting point at Webmonkey.com.  This possessed a few issues, though.  One, while I understood the code while I went through it, I really didn’t want to type this line 32 times:

imageArray[imageNum++] = new imageItem(imageDir + "01.jpg")

Also, I knew about loops.  Beautiful, simplistic, time-saving loops.  I didn’t know how to do them in JavaScript, so I guessed at first and found out it worked without needing to look up syntax.  So while I mostly used the code described there, I made a few changes.  1) I used a while loop to make my image location array.  2) Instead of putting the script inside the HTML, I changed it slightly so it would locate the folder for the image files through the root directory and I could put my little JavaScript in a JS folder.  3) I wanted responsive image sizes instead of a set width and height, so I kept it set to 100% of its containing element.  After I finished, I stylized the CSS a bit so the options below the image for pause, play, previous and next where were I wanted them, rounded the corners on the photos, and called it good.  It didn’t take too terribly long, and I could definitely improve it with some buttons for the pause/play/previous/next buttons, but I sort of like how simplistic the text looks since it doesn’t distract from the photos.  I enjoyed this project since I learned a lot about how the script interacts with the HTML, and that was something that until doing this I didn’t quite understand – how to integrate purposeful scripts across html/css/js.

By the way, does anyone know if when you use Google as a verb if it’s supposed to be lowercase?  I feel like the answer is yes, but if you make a verb out of a proper noun, it feels like it may be appropriate to capitalize it.  Oh, linguistics and colloquialisms, I love you so.

Now, off to figure out what I want the last section of my website to be so I have another goal to independently study as I continue to improve the gallery section.  After finishing, I found the motivation to continue with Treehouse since I don’t feel like I’m avoiding working on something productive while I go through it.

Chinese New Year (Goat version) & JavaScript Slide Shows

Problem solving is an addictive activity

Did you see that alliteration in the title of this post?  My high school English teachers would have all taken some deep meaning correlated with that alliteration and tied it to problem solving, but in case anyone was wondering the author’s purpose, it’s just that I enjoy alliteration.  It feels right on my brain while I narrate what I type in my head.

Ahem, onto business.  So, life is pretty great for the Lady Liu currently.  Whenever I am looking at a new job, school program, etc…I always decide to google myself to see what’s out there.  My husband and I discovered that I am very likely the only white Stephanie Liu on the planet after spending an hour of trying to google myself on the internet and coming across an adorable Chinese Stephanie Liu who did informal modeling and was all over the first half of our search, a varied assortment of Asian ladies with the name Stephanie Liu, and finally a few white ladies named Stephanie who were photographed by a man with the last name Liu.  So, I went from having the most specific name in the history of mankind where I was the one and only to having a very generic name that only belongs to one of my race.

Now, my dear husband also had a multitude of theories about why this was probably true.  A few months ago we had gone to the jeweler where he bought my engagement and wedding ring, and while we were waiting for it to be cleaned and inspected, a young Asian American man came up to us to tell us how amazing it was to see another “Asian Male White Female” couple since he was convinced he and his fiance were the only ones.  He was absolutely adorable and ecstatic, and my dear husband and I were a bit thrown off, then immediately curious.  Our only regret was not chatting him up more about this.  So, my husband is also convinced that the reason for the uniqueness of my name with my race is due to the same observation the guy at the store made.

It’s possible, but more likely it was just hard to find due to the quantity of people on the planet named Stephanie Liu, and we didn’t try hard enough.  I couldn’t help but feel, though, that somewhere out there there was a computer program to help me resolve this issue and find another of my kind.

Why did I decide to google myself, you ask?  What job or school program was I looking at?  Well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve read this blog more than just today, I’m trying to learn how to code, and then I gradually realized I love it because problem solving is addictive.  For example, I spent a few hours making myself a lovely abacus program in Python that would take any number through the billions and print out an abacus replication of that number.  It was likely incredibly inefficient, but after getting it down to 8 lines of code, I felt pretty good.  Trying to think of a simple solution to a problem that you can explain to a child then make a program based on that solution that’s equally simple to code is a fun activity – especially since I’ve noticed prior to this my brain had a tendency to make things far more complicated than necessary by taking in too many variables all at once.  Thinking through a single variable and its impact at a time before additionally complicating things is oddly fun for me.

So because of the above described love of problem solving which was still present prior to learning basic coding, I was drawn to it.  I think this is something I would really enjoy as a profession, especially after having a few experiences of working on my code with a couple other people.  It simulates a lot of my favorite aspects of teaching or even better it accentuates those aspects I love and makes them the focus.  Consequently, I’m currently applying to ADA, a year-long program for ladies with 7 months classroom instruction and 5 months of internship at a local Seattle company.

I’m enjoying the application so far.  Making my resume in markdown on Github was fun, and I finally put something on my Github account I had sitting there for quite a while and hadn’t spent the time to learn how to use.  The hardest part was likely that I had no idea what kind of information to include on my resume.  For example, on a traditional teaching resume, you are expected to include all your work history since you were 18 on some part of your application or resume due to background checks to make sure you aren’t a creeper.  Furthermore, for teachers with less than 5 years of experience including all your practicum and internships is typical.  Given I’m applying for a program I don’t technically have any related experience for, which is sort of the point, figuring out what to include was rather challenging.  Discussing this problem with a variety of people, I decided to go with my most recent experience, teaching, and technologically related experience, tech support from undergrad and a bit after.

The part of the application I’m currently working on involves using a CSV data file to get different pieces of information then explain how you did it.  The one I’m having some slight difficulty with, likely because I’m over thinking it, is a portion about whether the market is on public or private land.  Now, after consulting with the internet, apparently no one agrees what is considered public or private land, aside that it’s generally accepted that roads are public and some parks are.  Given this was a problem, I decided to contact a couple lawyer friends of mine.  Turns out, they also had no idea and after one checked in with a buddy who did land law, he came back saying the response he got was that whoever could BS better would win in court, which told me they were likely uncertain themselves.  So…yeah.  More research, I suppose?  If more research doesn’t solve that problem, I will do what many teachers do when asked to answer a question they suspect could use slightly better definition – define it myself!

Another bonus – the application motivated me to get the basic, basic website I’ve had on my hard drive finally uploaded to the internet.  Head over to stephanieleighliu.com if you’d like to see a very, very simple sample of what I’ve been dinking around with between Treehouse, Udacity and the rest of the internet.  It’s pretty simple for now, but I’ve definitely learned a bit about different features by making it.

Also, robots are amazing.  Mine is currently vacuuming my floor, and it feels right watching it work while I sit and type rambling blog posts.

Problem solving is an addictive activity

Football: Catch the Fever but Not the Rash!

A couple days until Superbowl time, and given that I’m from Seattle, obviously this is very important to me.  First, I’d like to thank Richard Sherman for deflecting attention off of his teammates who are far more shy and for really rocking the crazy eyes this year.  Next, I’d like to thank Russel Wilson.  You seem genuinely like a good guy, and also you’re very easy on the eyes, which is odd given that you’re a football player.  And finally, Patriots, thank you for chronically cheating so that it’s super easy to hate you – even easier than hating the 49ers, whom I secretly like in very specific situations but will never admit verbally.  That’s right, Patriots, I always want you to lose.  Always.  Even if it would be advantageous for my team if you won, I hope for nothing more than your complete and utter defeat at the hands of men who are marginally more ethical than you.

Alright, nerd rage aside, let’s get to the point.  As per usual I’m going to go into some awkwardly revealing detail about my youth and then make some overarching connection to the impact it has had on my adulthood, since apparently that’s my M.O.  Let’s do this.

So every time I watched a beer commercial as a kid, either it was frogs croaking “Budweiser”, half-naked women and happy ugly white dudes, or a bunch of dudes watching football and cheering while drinking.  Fortunately, in my youth I was incredibly aware that frogs croaking a brand name was fun to mimic, and that women didn’t get undressed anywhere but in the minds of happy ugly white drunk dudes when alcohol was involved on their end.  The last motif just baffled me.  Men watched football?

Let me clarify.  I knew some men watched football.  My grandfather, for example, liked to lay in his bed and watch it every Sunday, and when I visited I would sit on his bedroom floor for a few hours to watch one game with him, shouting and cheering for everything because I didn’t really have any other outlet to get out all my noisy yelling child urges.  My grandmother never joined to watch football, and my sister didn’t, so I suppose this may have been a good indicator about why that gender stereotype existed, but that wasn’t my home.

At home, on Sundays, my oldest sister – 8 years older – would watch football avidly with my mom.  I found the games slow paced, so if I was eating I wouldn’t get distracted, so my mom often had a bag of chips and this amazing four-layer dip I dedicated all my attention to anytime a play wasn’t happening.  Nowadays, I have my cellphone, which is probably exceptionally better for my diet, but every time I watch football I still crave a little bean, sour cream, salsa, and cheese dip to go with my chips.

That was it.  My sister, my mom, and sometimes me depending on how focused my 8-year-old brain was.  My dad never watched football at the time, so clearly every time my brain saw the commercials for booze involving dudes and football, I figured they were trying to attract more men to the sport.  I made it my duty to help their cause, since it might be cool if my dad watched football with us.  And so, I set out to discuss football with men everywhere, telling them how great it was and why they should consider trying it out to enjoy it.

Every time we came across an adult male friend of my parents, I asked them if they liked football.  My uncle was my first recruit.

“Yes, of course,” he replied.

“What about the Seahawks?” I asked, staring at him with the eagerness of an Evangelist.

“Obviously.”

“Will you watch this Sunday?”

“I will be watching every Sunday so long as it’s on!”

SUCCESS!  Now, had I been maybe a year older, I would have realized this conversation clearly indicated he had been watching football all along, but instead I took this to mean that I was amazing and the perfect advocate of the cause.  I continued this same pattern of conversation with male teachers at my elementary school, boys on the playground, and after I had grown enough confidence, I figured it was time to try this talk on the most challenging of targets: my father.

“Do you like football?” I asked, staring at him like a tiger (which I had formerly believed to have eaten my father) about to pounce on its prey.

“Yeah, I love being at the games.”

Lies!  Complete and utter lies!  He had never been to a game that I was aware of, and I had lived with this man for 8 years!  Why would he lie?!  No, I knew this going in, he would be the hardest sell.  I had to continue attracting men to watching football so those beer commercials would go back to showing the reality of football – women with bean dip shouting and hollering, and maybe after all my hard work a couple men as well.

“What about watching games?” I asked, this time raising an eyebrow as I stared at his face, gauging whether or not he’d be willing to be persuaded to join the cause.

“Well, yeah, that’s what I do when I’m at games.”

“Great!  So you’ll watch it this weekend with us?  Perfect!”

Rather than waiting for him to clarify that the answer was actually no, I happily meandered off to go play on the tree in the backyard.  I’m assuming my dad later had a conversation with my mom about whether or not he actually had to watch football now, and the agreement was that due to how adorable I was in my youth and how happy I seemed about it, he clearly had to go along with it.  Fortunately for everyone, that cuteness wore off as I got older, so my blind enthusiasm was slightly less contagious.

That Sunday, there I was, successful in my mission, sitting with my oldest sister, mom and dad, watching football.

Glowing in my success, it was short lived as soon as I heard my dad shout, “I don’t understand why they aren’t kicking a field goal.  Kick the ball!”  I looked at the screen.  It was first down.  Fifty-yard line on the dot.  I looked back at my father.  Oh.  Maybe this is why he didn’t watch football.  He knew nothing about it, and for the next few years my mom spent most of the games explaining why it’s probably not a great idea to kick a field goal at the fifty-yard-line on a first down, and my dad kept joining us, and the frequency I decided game time was play outside time increased.

Learning is fun.

Football: Catch the Fever but Not the Rash!

Pain: It Builds Character! (Or: Why I’m a Horrible Patient)

I would like to start this off with an apology.  Mom, if you ever happen to read this, I’m sorry.  I truly am.

First, I’m sorry that I doubted you would figure out how to find that I wrote a blog.  Another further apology for suspecting that even if you knew I wrote a blog, you surely would never actually find it.  I’m pretty sure you use the internet to play variations on solitaire and the occasional update to the space simulator I downloaded on your iPad (shout out to FTL!  My mom and I  both love you, so make an android version so I can play mobile too, please!) and nothing else.  So if it turns out I was wrong, and at some point you were doing a search about poodles and somehow you landed on my Ninja Poodle post and then you suddenly realized, “Wait, I know that little bastard who lies on clean laundry piles with his filthy, smelly, old dog poodle body…” you decided to start clicking around on my page and found this post, I’m sorry I ever doubted you.  I know you’re capable of many things, Mom, and at long last your web browser is one of them.

Second, I know if you read this you would take it as me insulting your statement, “It builds character!” every time I experienced pain and implying it was detrimental to my development.  I want to make it clear that I don’t feel that way at all.  I have just noticed that while it certainly did cut down on the amount of moaning and groaning I do in comparison to everyone I have met in my life, it has lead to some consequences whenever I do happen to need to visit a doctor multiple times and a physical therapist over a duration as part of my healing process following an injury – like say, for example, a student rammed me into a wall injuring my shoulder and kept swinging.  Not that that’s ever happened.  That sure would be weird.

Moving on, then.  When I was a kid, I had the most tangled, rebellious hair a blond kid could have when the hair otherwise appeared straight.  For the most part, this wasn’t a huge issue.  Why?  I personally didn’t feel hair brushing was all that essential as a kid, so it rarely was a problem.  My mom, however, felt differently.  Every time she did my hair, either because she happened to be around after a bath or was doing my hair for us to go somewhere fancy she figured my matted mess wouldn’t look so appropriate, she would brush it.  This sounds simple enough, but you have never had a tangle of interwoven, matted hair with a brush yanking down on your scalp if you think it’s silly to make any exclamation of pain.  I already was a pretty tough kid thanks to bigger sisters being less than gentle with me and getting into fights with the neighbor boys, so it was typically limited to a grunt, and on a particularly bad day, an “Ow, Mom, that hurts!”

To this, my mom always had one response.  “It builds character!” and then would continue on the current course.  (This may be why my response the first time a student for whatever reason decided not to follow a direction I gave was to wait for a moment then repeat the direction until it was followed.  This once lead to me saying, “Sit down,” in a monotone for 5 minutes while a kiddo with EBD ran around the room trying to find a way to get my attention.  Fortunately, he grew bored and eventually sat down, though that probably wouldn’t be how I’d handle the same behavior today now that I have a bit more experience and a lot more reading in on best practices in teaching students with EBD.)  My mom, every time I made any noise, would yet again repeat, “It builds character!” and keep going.  Bellyaching didn’t change the outcome, so I eventually just stopped bellyaching.

Overall, this was fine during my youth, except any time I was ill enough or long enough to warrant a doctor’s visit.  For some reason after you’d been vomiting for 2 weeks straight multiple times and then get to awkwardly tell a doctor you’re pretty sure you’re not pregnant because there’s a certain activity required to cause that to happen that you, as a minor generally traumatized by the “Miracle of Life” video’s birthing scene, had not been partaking in and had no intention of partaking in ever because that was not about to happen to your precious body, they aren’t really inclined to check into it further if your response to various motions that cause pain is to say, “It’s fine.”  Fortunately, the solution to my vomiting problem was to get about 5 years older, and then it worked itself out.

I take that back, there was one other time a more verbal response to pain would have been beneficial when I was a kid.  My neighbor boys and sisters sometimes liked to pull my hair.  Thanks to it building character to have my hair pulled by a brush, I assumed it also did when hands were involved in pulling.  I usually just sat there motionless, unresponsive to the tugs, impressed by my own toughness.  Except one time the neighbor boy was particularly mad at me in our game of LEGOs for taking the last steering wheel to make my mobile toilet car (I made many of these, don’t know why, but it was sort of my thing).  He wanted the last steering wheel, and when I refused to engage in that high-quality sharing I learned in kindergarten because sometimes get to have the last of something too and sharing also means the other person should share back occasionally instead of take-take-take, he yanked my hair.

Another example of the fact I'm not actually invincible.
Another example of the fact I’m not actually invincible.

Fine enough, my scalp was made of titanium for all I knew.  But when I didn’t make a peep, his eyebrows simply furrowed in rage as he glared down at me, holding the last steering wheel just out of reach.  He grasped, he hoped, he failed to get it out of my hand, and so he did what a little boy does to a little girl who isn’t sharing.  He pulled my hair harder, hoping pain would cause a reaction.  Nope.  Again, not a big deal, but he continued trying to pull harder and harder in hopes that I’d do something, and instead I just stared back at him blankly until finally he managed to tug a chunk of hair off my head.  When I still didn’t respond, he finally resorted to what little boys do when violence doesn’t work.  “MOM!  SHE’S NOT SHARING!”  Shortly after, I was yelled out of my neighbor’s house, LEGO-less.  The toilet car went incomplete, and I lost of chunk of my hair to show for it.  I imagine had I made some sort of reaction he likely would have stopped since he wasn’t typically malicious in nature, but it built character to be silent.

So, that leads me to my present issue.  Every time I go into the doctor, he tells me to “do as much as I can” while assessing the limitations of my injury.  Now, I have an injured right shoulder.  Typically, I use my left hand for writing, but nearly everything else is my right hand thanks to my elementary school not believing in left-handed scissors, left-handed baseball mitts, and yelling at me when I tried to move the mouse to my left hand.  So when I’m told to do as much as I can, my reaction is to much as hard as possible, even if I use compensatory muscle groups to do so and loose all sensation in my right arm due to nerves getting pinched.  When I lose sensation and can’t do the next activity, my doctor typically sighs and has to wait it out.

During physical therapy, I’m told to indicate when I lose feeling in my hand, but given that it’s a sign of having character not to vocalize any complaints, my poor physical therapist has to check in with me every few seconds to see if I’m going numb and stare at all my compensatory muscle groups to babysit my shoulder since I’m certainly not going to.  My poor PT has repeatedly asked me to speak up before it goes numb, and I really am trying to remember to, but after going years and years of not vocalizing a complaint about pain unless I’m asked about it, it’s fairly hard to do.

Actually, I suppose I have issues even when I am cued to indicate if I’m in pain directly,  but in the direction of underplaying it.  For example, my poor husband loves to hug all the time because our apartment goes from being a furnace to being a freezer in the period of 30 minutes on a regular basis, and hugs are a means of survival – not emotional connection.  However,  he is a very strong man, and I have a fairly impaired shoulder.  If he hugs me just a little too high or a little to tight it hurts until the next morning, and if he hugs me a lot too high and a lot too tight, it can hurt for the next week.

Now, common sense would say that if someone you love is accidentally hurting you, you should probably tell them immediately.  However, due to my slightly dysfunctional pain response system, my response is to continue on until they somehow manage to pick up on body language indicating I might be uncomfortable and then ask about it.  I then go into my next lesson from growing up: there’s no reason to make people feel bad about things that cannot be changed if they have already learned their lesson from them.  My husband already knows he’s hurt me, so it does no good to go on and on about it, so I usually respond with what I tell doctors, “I’m fine.”  Now, my poor husband then fixates on whether or not I’m actually fine, trying to gauge the impact.  He’ll subtly watch my behaviors the rest of the day, then ask me why I’m not doing something I normally do the way I normally do it.  That inevitably leads to me being in a conflicted situation where my value for honesty is pressed up against my value for not making people feel guilty for no reason.  The outcome is some long-winded, overly detailed response about exactly why in this particular moment I’m behaving differently with the hope that deciphering the long trail of words will distract him from guilt.

Hopefully I’ll just heal up soon so I don’t have to keep having awkward conversations with the people I love about how moderate physical contact causes pain!

Pain: It Builds Character! (Or: Why I’m a Horrible Patient)

The End of My Self Delusion: the Too-Big Bike Incident

I want to begin this story with a couple of truths that those closest to me and now strangers on the internet are well aware of.  When I say I was 8 years old when something happened, most likely it was within 3 years of that.  That’s right, the reality is I was somewhere between 5 and 11, and as the years have passed unimportant things such as my actual age at the time have faded away.  This statement has also protected me from some possible embarrassment when it comes to delayed developmental milestones or seeming arrogant for rapidly reached ones.

So, here’s another truth that those closest to me and now strangers on the internet are well aware of.  If it involves spelling, gross or fine motor skills, and anything remotely involving being coordinated, assume it occurred in the latter half of the age range.  If it involves anything I can do without having to move from a stationary position, assume it happened in the first half of the age range.  So if I told you I was in a special spelling group in class for horri-bad spellers when I was 8, how old was I really?  Ding-ding-ding, 10!  If I tell you I was doing my older sister’s math homework and she did my daily oral language homework when I was 8, how old was I really?  Ding-ding-ding, 7!  Wait, I wonder if those two statements have any correlation…

Ahem, onto the point.  When I was 8, I felt hesitantly invincible.  I occasionally got a scuffed knee and would bleed, but it’d go away within a few days and any evidence I was a mere mortal was no longer observable.  I, though far more timid than my middle sister, would still jump off decks after watching her do it a few times, crawl onto the rooftop with her, and climb until the tree branches wobbled too much.  Know this, the reason I hesitated wasn’t due to a fear of death or permanent damage, but more I didn’t enjoy certain sensations.  Once I got too high in a tree, the branches shook, and I’d get dizzy.  Jumping off a deck gave me slivers unless I went to specific spots she had already worn down, and I hated slivers.  I was pretty sure I could do anything without any real harm coming to me, and at a time where your growth finally paused so your brain could catch up for a few years before sprouting again, that was a pretty great experience.

That is, until I rode an adult’s bike for the first time.

My bike had training wheels.  It was a pretty large bike to still have training wheels, but my parents never really got around to teaching me how to ride without.  I assume with my mom it was because she was too busy working, and my dad likely couldn’t find the tool in his garage to take the training wheels off.  But my super creepy neighbor found the time, and boy oh boy was I going to take him up on the offer to teach me how to ride a bike without training wheels.  Everyone would be so impressed that I, the uncoordinated Lady, could finally ride a big girl bike instead of that infantile mess that couldn’t make it over the jumps made of plywood and logs that my neighbor boys made.

So, my neighbor took out his wife’s no-training-wheels bike, one sunny afternoon.  Now, growing up I was always unusually short (25 percentile or below) until I hit puberty and finally crawled to the other side the average range with my mildly superior height.  My mom blames my dad exposing me to coffee, my dad blames my mom’s height, my sisters blame my friends all being abnormally tall.  Whatever the case, I, an 8 year old, was definitely not tall enough to ride a grown woman’s bike, especially when I had been raised on training wheels.

AND ADORABLE TOO! :D
Clearly this was a great idea that would have no undesirable consequences.

You may be thinking, clearly she bled within seconds!  No, pessimist, I did not.  I think that was the greatest downfall of this experience.  I spent 15 minutes with my neighbor holding the bike steady, pushing me back and forth as I gradually figured out how to pedal while standing up and attempting to steer the bike.  I felt the wind in my hair uninhibited by the extra friction caused by training wheels.  I was a big girl bike rider.  I was a big girl bike peddler.  I was the queen of the big girls.

Only not really.  I thought it a good idea after my neighbor had gone inside but left me unattended with his wife’s bike to try some more on my own.  I couldn’t get enough momentum by peddling on my own, so I mostly just tried to balance for a few seconds until I would inevitably land to the side and stop the fall with one of my feet.  It was ineffective.  The bike was too big, and I was too unskilled to move it on my own.  So I did what had to be done.  I pushed that bike to the top of the hill that was my childhood driveway, stood on it with the tips of my toes touching the pedals as I had done so far to balance a few seconds, and then, before I realized it, the wheels went whirling down the slope of the hill, hurdling me down fast.  I couldn’t figure out the hand breaks, having always stopped bikes beforehand by peddling backwards.  I couldn’t maintain balance.  I couldn’t handle speed.  I couldn’t steer.  In seconds, I had crashed into the mailboxes beside our fence and landed knuckles and face into the concrete road.

I sobbed; I bled, and I had snot running down my nose as I realized the most horrific truth of my 8th year: I was destructible.  Now I didn’t realize this in the way the elderly do where they greet death as an old friend who slowly all their friends go to live with in a crazy hippy resort that they neglect to visit until death, too, becomes their reality.  I realized this in the way my older sister finally realized she could truly change the shape of the world around her by knocking over her uncoordinated little sister’s domino house her beloved little sister spent hours creating, only for me this realization happened with my body and the change was bodily harm.  There were truly things out there that could hurt me, change me, make me bleed far more than just a little scraped knee.  I could have my face, hands, elbows, everything ache all at one time.  I could be scarred.  Seconds was all it took, and so much of my understanding of the world had changed, even as my mother held my hands under the sink to clean out my bleeding knuckles as i sobbed.

And I never had any other delusions since! :D Except this one.
And I never had any other delusions since! 😀 Except this one.

Nearly 20 years later, I still have the scars from falling off my bike that day.  They’re just little circles around my knuckles to remind me that sometimes we overestimate the progress we’ve made and can hurt ourselves as a result.  It’s important to grow gradually and push yourself as you reach those milestones, but jumping way ahead of what you’re ready for will just hurt you in the end.

Riding a bike down a hill when I was still using training wheels made me bloody, overwhelmed and confused.  Peeking at the end of my programming book when I’m in the beginning just makes me feel overwhelmed and confused.  Trying to teach a student about logarithms when they don’t understand exponents let alone multiplication makes them feel overwhelmed and confused.

Though I realized this years ago, recalling it again in the same context of bodily harm made me just feel sort of strange about myself.  Realizing you have limitations in areas you didn’t previously is humbling but also puts you in a position where you start questioning your other assumptions – assumptions essential to your day to day functioning.  I thought I was the Queen of the EBD Teachers.  For the first few years, I was calm, collected, talked kids out of assaultive incidents on a regular basis by coaching them with a few failures, had my students make more than a year’s growth in academic areas while still teaching them social/emotional/behavioral regulation skills and stress management.  I had students exit my behavior classroom multiple times a year to rejoin the general education population.  I thought I was invincible, sitting at the top of the hill all alone on a too-big bike.  Then a kid rammed me into a wall.  He kept swinging, and I realized just how destructible I was.

Today I had my doctor’s appointment for my shoulder, was diagnosed with more bad shoulder muscle and tendon labels to further explain more bad shoulder pain, mobility limitations, numbness, and symptoms.  I was told in about 8 weeks my restrictions would be reduced most likely depending on my continued progress in physical therapy.  Which is great news, but I still can’t help but feel a bit strange about the fact a few seconds had such a significant impact on 6 months on my life.  It’ll be interesting to see if I still have the big bump on my shoulder 20 years from now like I have the scars on my knuckles from falling over the handlebars on a too-big bike.

The End of My Self Delusion: the Too-Big Bike Incident

LEGO Christmas Tree

As a teacher, I must say Happy Holidays or Merry Winter Break.  After finding a “Merry Christmas” sign in our district office in the science and math department that everyone discussed the legality of for the remainder of the week, I certainly won’t be pushing any buttons there.

But this is a blog, so I have a bit more freedom.  Seeing that it’s December 25th, I would like to say Merry Christmas to you all!

In response to me being a bit down on our lack of a tree and my shoulder inhibiting my ability to help teamwork one up to the fifth floor where our apartment is, my husband and I built a LEGO tree last night.  He decided to make a “Ricer Train” with the leftover pieces to make it a bit more bad-A than the default design.  Looks lovely and far better than any tree I ever decorated in person where I vehemently support naked spots in the back where no one will ever know.  This is a high quality Christmas tree.  It has decorations on ALL sides of it.

I have accomplished something this day.  I have followed directions to recreate something that someone else designed.  It’s amazing.

On that brief note…Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

LEGO Christmas Tree