Monday, March 24, 2008


It's been an odd kind of weekend, everything seems slightly askew - a little bit out of control - but not in a scary way. Just in a slightly worrisome way.

The kids were home on Thurs and Fri, which was good since there was a teasing and retaliation episode at Hannah's school (Hannah was the retaliate-or, and unfortunately it involved swinging her heavy backpack - a registered weapon MN - at a kid who was probably just trying to be funny, but who has a history of teasing Hannah and Max so H tends to be ultra-sensitive) So, for the first time in Hannah's school career (let's hope the last) she was 'written up.' Dang.

She has my sympathy - she's still learning to control how her emotions and actions collide. But it's vital that she learn the lesson that when one person behaves like a 5-year old, it doesn't give the other person permission to behave like a 4-year old. So she spent a morning in the 'choices room' - sounds like study hall - and thought a lot.

BREAK - through?
She was feeling very keenly a huge disappointment, though, and this was probably playing in her mind and soul as she was being teased on Wed.

Earlier this Winter Hannah had been part of a group in her class who were told about the Breakthrough Collaborative here in St. Paul. It's a national organization, run individually, that offers extra support and tutoring to kids in middle school as they move toward college choice.

I'd heard about the program on the radio, but when Hannah came home from the presentation she was GLOWING. She was so excited to apply for it. We looked it up online, but the website was short on details (like application deadlines, or an application itself...)

To me it seemed an answer to a dilemma. The next few years will be rough, we're gearing up for it, preparing for the 'trip', but we don't really know HOW Gerry's illness will affect the kids when the s*it hits the fan.

Based on this year's experience we assume that the disease will follow the path that's been projected by the Mayo & Gerry's oncologist - and although we're hopeful, we're also realistic.

I lost my own dad when I was 16, and it affected my life much more subtly than I realized at the time. I eventually dropped out of high school (but went to college the next year, I'd been accepted and had decent SAT scores) But I felt adrift because my mom just didn't have the time and energy to see me through my college application process, or help me with my school work. She was just trying to keep body and soul together.

So when I read about this program I thought, "This could be the bridge that helps Hannah get through what could be an incredibly rough few years, and keep her on track with her education!" Not that I'm looking for a surrogate, but I'll be happy for any extra help to focus Hannah on the prize.

It's specifically designed for kids in high needs situations; single parent, low income, minority - so at first glance Hannah might not seem eligible. We spoke to a woman from the BC at the school choice fair in Feb and explained our situation (which was awkward and involved sending the kids off to look at some balloon folding exhibit or something) but there were things that had to be said, and NOT in front of M& H.

We learned that Hannah IS eligible based on a few different criteria, so we were really excited.

Hannah had assumed that when the applications were ready they'd be given to the kids who attended the information session. At least one other kid in her class thought the same thing.

Her teacher did have the applications, but was only handing them out to kids who approached her and asked for them. Hannah hadn't realized she was supposed to ask - and was shy about it. So we missed the deadline for application.

When Hannah came home last Tuesday and told us she was in tears. It was a very difficult situation, and I called the BC right away and - luckily - spoke to the same woman we'd met at the school choice fair. She remembered us, and said she was pretty shocked not to get an application from Hannah.

At school, when weeks had gone by with no application from her teacher, Hannah figured that the BC must have a late application date. This period coincided with me being away for 2 weeks in NJ and in VA for a week, and I have tremendous guilt for not being here to follow up on the whole thing.

At Hannah's parent conference, which ironically was to take place that same Tuesday, we brought up the application problem. Her teacher had assumed that 1) Hannah wasn't interested and 2) Hannah wasn't eligible.

We both had the feeling that the teacher had been holding the application back - perhaps thinking Hannah's lack of eligibility made it silly to offer her an application. The conversation that followed was surreal - me explaining, Gerry concurring, that our situation was changing constantly, deteriorating steadily.

Every time we have to talk about Gerry's disease out loud it just seems unreal. Feeling the need to justify Hannah's desire to apply for the BC to Hannah's teacher was awkward, too. It felt as if extra hurdles had been put up, with no warning or explanation of how to jump over them. We've already crashed one, but we're hoping it doesn't knock us out of the race.

Later in the office we asked if they had an extra application (the woman from the BC said she'd send one to us, but we figured if we had one to start on right away it couldn't hurt) And once again we were in the awkward situation of explaining to the principal that yes, Hannah IS eligible for the program because - see this guy standing next to me - notice how he's 6" shorter than he was this time last year, well, blah blah blah...

God, I get sick of explaining this.

We are a society that is in denial. When folks ask about Gerry and I explain the disease and the prognosis, the response is, "Don't believe the worst! Have Hope! Things can change!" Lovely sentiments, but I believe they're being said more for the benefit of the cheerleader than for our benefit.

I don't think we ARE believing the WORST. We're being realistic. Yes, things CAN change, and we both hope they do. Desperately.

But hope is expensive. The energy and concentration it takes for us to make each day as rich and full as possible - to get everything out of life that we can - just about saps our resources. There isn't a lot left over for hope (false, or otherwise) so we just live realistically and - yes - hopefully. But we don't base our lives on hope.

And this really bothers some folks. I'm not sure why, but folks want to hear, "Yes, we'll BEAT this thing, it won't get us!" as if we can just deny, deny, deny and then one day when we're 88 we'll go "poof!"

The fact is, disease happens. Sometimes it shortens life. It sucks, and it's unfair, but it doesn't have to ruin - or even diminish - a life. We don't spend every day shopping for caskets, but we also have a realistic outlook on where our family will be in 3, 5, 7 years. No one can tell the future, but we can prepare. I know what it's like to NOT prepare - I experienced that when I saw my mother work like a dog for 10 years to crawl out of the financial hole my dad's death had put us in.

So if I want to have my daughter apply for a program that's intended for kids in difficult situations (single parent, low income) I think - given our circumstances - Hannah has a right to.

We're going to try to apply anyway (with a note from the teacher explaining that she had not passed out the applications) and hope for the best. Right now Hannah seems adrift, I can only imagine how much more detached she could feel as circumstances evolve.

More Detached
When we went to see Jane Eyre on Saturday I sensed a sister-feeling to the young Jane who was chastised for pummeling her teasing, bigger cousin. Even without the enticement of twelve 11-year old actors on stage, Hannah would have been hooked.

It was an excellent production! I notice the costumes - it's where my heart is at - and these were quite wonderful. The subtle differences between styles presented so much information subconsciously. The set and costumes were the work of the same designer - Patrick Clark - and it all worked beautifully together. Excellent staging, a wonderful adaptation, and top rate acting - it was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I've spent at the theater. Just being at the Guthrie felt like a religious experience.

It's been years since I've seen a play - I hesitate to go because it dredges up so many deferred (denied?) dreams. I love costuming, and perhaps someday I'll return to it (when the kids are older) but for now I channel the need to dress folks up in period bodices into my hand knitting design.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Annie at


Blogger Melissa said...

I feel for Hannah and all of you...

However, I have a suggestion. You do realize that the Twin Cities are also a hotbed of community theater, right? I mean, in White Bear Lake are the Lakeshore Players, there's a group in Maplewood, a group in Blaine, etc.... I know they are always looking for people (mostly on a volunteer basis, but hey, its theater), and I'd bet you could do some costuming there!

You should also really take Max and Hannah to a show at the Children's theater - you all would LOVE them. (the costuming there is also first rate!)

March 24, 2008 8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just recently started reading your blog and I admire how open and honest you are about your situation. I'm sending you positive thoughts and hugs.

March 24, 2008 8:26 AM  
Anonymous janel said...

Hi Annie,

I hope everything works out for the best with Hannah and the program. I admire the way you are looking at the future realistically and trying to plan for those 'bridges' to help things along. I lost my mother very suddenly at the age of 20 and it really derailed me. Even more it derailed my 15 year old sister. It took both of us years to recover and figure out where it was we had been going and whether we could (or still wanted to) get there. Of course, we had no idea it would happen so we weren't able to plan for a 'bridge'. But if just one stabilizing influence had been there when it happened things would have been much better.

I also admire your ability to look at the intolerable situation with Gerry, I would just want to scream (I'm sure you do too sometimes) at the unfairness of it all. You are so open and honest, you show us all how to breathe and remain conscious in a cruelly painful situation, and how to see the best and cherish the now. It's a lesson we all can use, no matter what our situations are. Thank you.

March 24, 2008 8:37 AM  
Blogger Nita said...

In the few serious health issues I've been involved with, two of the biggest frustrations have been (1) having to tell the story over and over and over until you could scream at yet one more person who *needs* to hear it in order to help you, and (2) dealing with those who deny that the worst could easily happen. Some of us need to keep remembering that in order to make sure we do what's best for everyone.

Thank you for continuing to be so honest, it's teaching many!!

March 24, 2008 9:08 AM  
Anonymous Judy in MN said...

Hi, Annie--
I really feel for poor Hannah. I got teased a fair amount when I was younger (around 4th grade) and wasn't strong enough to fight back. I know fighting isn't the PC thing to do, but I do admire that she has some spunk and isn't putting up with a raft of crap.

I'm sorry you have to deal with so many folks who just don't understand your situation. It's unfortunate that you constantly have to explain such a painful, personal thing.

I admire your family commitment to HOPE with a healthy dose of realism.

Judy in MN

March 24, 2008 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Don't believe the worst!) . . . I think this is the "Oprah effect!" Smile, be happy, wish for the best and it will come to you!"
Blatently unrealistic and foolish.
Your attitude will serve your family in good stead.
You are so right when you say disease doesn't have to diminish or ruin a life. Your kids are learning very important lessons and will one day realize this and thank you.
You are a trooper. It's gotta be incredibly hard for all of your family but you always find something positive, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I really admire you for this.

March 24, 2008 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...

If only teachers & administrators would learn not to make assumptions. When my younger daughter was a junior in HS, we found out (after the deadline) that the administration had chosen which students to give Pullman scholarship (one of the most generous ones around - full tuition, full room & board & a stipend for books) applications. They chose the children of teachers & librarians. We knew one of the boys & he was a nice bright boy with lower test scores & grades than my daughter (National Merit finalist & top 5% of her class with all AP & honors classes) but one of his parents was a librarian & the other a teacher. As a single mother my income (even including child support) was far lower than their combined income & probably about the same as ONE of them. If they don't have enough applications for all the children, then they should make an announcement or send a note home to the parents rather than just choose who has the opportunity! If there is anything I can do to help Hannah, please let me know. I have been through the whole college thing with 2 DD's - one a gifted high achiever & the other a brighter than she realized underachiever who caught fire in her freshman year at our local junior college.

March 24, 2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I've used up all my "oh my G*d"s for the day reading about Hannah and the program snafu. I can't believe that teacher didn't tell the kids she had the applications and waited for them to approach her.
I think it's best to be realistic about Gerry's health but I also know draining it is for all of you.
I admire your strength.

March 24, 2008 9:54 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

To say I'm disgusted with the teacher would be mild. To have to explain to her and the school administration WHY you wanted the application is totally outrageous! It is You want an application, it is a piece of paper and you should bet it no questions asked, just as the teacher should have openly announced to her class that she had the applications without making "sorting decisions" on her own.

With regard to Gerry's situation? Oh Annie, I could hug you. You're so pragmatic and sensible and right! When I was reading this I was thinking "Laurie Perry must have had some deep discussions with Annie. She learned some of this stuff from Annie."

My thoughts and prayers are with you, Gerry and the kids.

March 24, 2008 10:34 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

You should "get" the application - not bet it. Typo is my middle name today :)

March 24, 2008 10:35 AM  
Blogger Milly said...

Oh my heart goes out to Hannah!
I hope that the application is accepted!
Hugs to all of you!

March 24, 2008 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I honor and commend your ability to face the difficult future with honesty.

I quite honestly think that the comments of people you meet that seem so naive, are in reality just because people don't know what to say.

I wish I could have gone to Jane Eyre with you! Sounds fabulous! A costumer I am not, but if it counts---I've always wanted to be!

March 24, 2008 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing in my life that I am most bitter about is that I had no help from anyone with my college applications. Even though I was "middle class" none of my relatives had gone to college and my parents didn't really want me to go so they offered no help. Although I ended up at a good school I would have done things so much differently, especially regards to financing, if I had known how to work the system. Good luck getting Hannah into the program.

March 24, 2008 1:14 PM  
Blogger OfTroy said...

curiously, this week, i have been thinking about the scene in my fair lady about "the undeserving poor"--which is really about society deciding (rightly/wrongly--and it seem all to often wrongly!) just who is deserving.

The teacher took it upon her self, to decide--even thought she didn't have all the information needed to make that decision..

i know well just how that is done..

Oh the messages i received--the ones that told me over and over again--No, you don't deserve a chance to even try this.

I became almost militant toward my children.. its sad that you too, must become militant. But no matter what happens, you are teaching Hannah a valuable lesson.. She will always know, you are on her side, you will fight for her.

you might not win all the battles, but she will be a better person, knowing she is not alone. ever.

March 24, 2008 3:35 PM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Hannah is so fortunate to have you and Gerry as parents. This is such a crappy situation and people are really insensitive assholes much of the time and the kids (and your) healing will really come from the love you show and model. Kids are so resilient and vulnerable; Hannah and Max will get through this because of who you and Gerry are, and they will come to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff - a necessary but sad to have to learn it at such a young age lesson. You continually blow me away with your grace Annie.

March 24, 2008 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I crap. I would have been *so* tempted to swing a backpack at that teacher....

Not that it would help, but it sure would feel satisfying.

Have you taken the Max and Hannah to:

My dear friend is production manager there, and the work sounds wonderful -- for kids of all ages.

March 24, 2008 4:56 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

I couldn't agree with you more; I think so much of this stuff about 'fighting' illness, especially cancer, is just stuff to make other people feel better and not have to deal with it - I get so cross when I read that someone has 'lost' the battle, as if it was their fault. People used to say to me, 'It's so terrible your mother has to take steroids,' and I would say, 'No, it's terrible that she has lupus; the steroids actually make her life livable instead of it being a torment,' but nobody liked that very much.

I think you're doing a great job with the kids, and with Gerry and with yourself. I know there are people who make it harder, and I just hope that you encounter enough of the other sort to make it not so hard too. Hugs.

March 24, 2008 6:14 PM  
Blogger Cindy G said...

I'm stupified that the teacher would be allowed to decide which of the students recieved applications. They should have automatically gone home with every student in the room. The parents could decide whether or not their children "needed" to apply. No student should have been put in the position of having to ask.
God, if our schools were properly funded, every student would get the kind of individual attention this program promises, as a matter of course.
I hope things work out for Hannah.

March 24, 2008 9:10 PM  
Blogger PICAdrienne said...

We should all always hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. However, in your families case, the need is far more urgent, pronounced.

The costuming hankering, well there are a lot of faires in that neck of the wood. Have you ever thought about designing custom Ren Faire costumes?

March 24, 2008 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post today was so good on so many fronts. I applaud your approach to Gerry's illness and how you are helping your children. Children are the first to see through platitudes. I also feel for Hannah. I remember all too well being the new kid at a school in another country(in Asia) far away from New York where I was born, 4th grade and trying to assimilate to a whole new life and people and trouble at home. I saw the 7th grade classmate(boy) of my older sister reduce her to tears for the umpteenth time and beat him up. Not bad for a 4 foot 3 inch pixie. So, although you can't condone it(and I would say the same to my boys), you can certainly understand it. Hang in there-you are grace under pressure my dear.

March 24, 2008 10:12 PM  
Blogger Roobeedoo said...

So much empathy. Thank you so much for writing with such honesty. It is SO helpful for those of us who are kind of hiding from the future in the hope that it won't happen, i.e. me. My husband has MM. My kids are 11 and 15. We have been told we may have 6 months / 18 months / 4 years before the storm hits. Which actually isn't very long. Time to "do an Annie" and face up to the practicalities I think!

March 25, 2008 4:36 AM  
Anonymous Michele with one "L" said...

I don't blame Hannah, at all, for swinging the backpack at the teaser. I am 58 years old and I wanted to do it when I was reading your blog.

March 25, 2008 7:06 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Hi Annie,
Your post strikes a father passed away when I was eight and aside from my mom there was no one to share all those feelings with. We both struggled. I am so glad that there are groups out there to help kids in tough situations bridge the road.

I'm proud of all of you. A goodly number of PP's have talked about your grace throughout all of this and I wholeheartedly agree. Your family is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

(I would have taken a backpack swing too for what it's worth... yeah it's wrong...but... ;) )

March 25, 2008 9:10 AM  
Blogger evie said...

All I can say is that I admire how you have Hannah and Max's backs but you do so in a way that teaches them real life lessons that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

I really hope Hannah gets accepted into the Breakthrough Collaborative program. It sounds terrific!

March 25, 2008 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

I really hope Hannah gets her chance. She's had more than her share of bumps in the road.

March 25, 2008 9:27 AM  
Blogger Cindra said...

You do what you have to do to survive with grace. Trying to eke out quality of time amidst the struggle. My niece is going through this same sort of thing... watching her Daddy slowly get worse and worse... with the added weight of knowing she is at risk for the same disease. Life is not always kind or fair. It is a challenge we all have to meet in the best way we can. Good luck to you and your family and I wish for Hannah the kind of stamina and courage that will see her through this... and made stronger.

March 25, 2008 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an educator, and while I sympathize I hope you can cut the teacher a bit of slack. I know you know that it is a very, very hard job to be a teacher, and a few missteps along the way, given all they are expected to do these days, needs to be forgiven.

March 25, 2008 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer in Ottawa said...

Oh! Yes please. Period costumes to knit would be absolutely fantastic. Bodices and medieval square necked tops with flowing bell sleeves. Makes me want to pick up a pencil and draw something. Annie, you are an inspiration, in everything you do. I am always thankful for your sharing. Take care.

Jennifer in Ottawa

March 25, 2008 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spell much?

March 25, 2008 4:21 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I don't understand why the teacher felt it was her place to decide on who got applications. applications are just that. An application. The PROGRAM decides who gets in. Not the teacher!

As for the "HOPE and all shall follow" crap, I try to plan for the worst, hope for the best and keep putting 1 foot in front of the other. I had to deal with both parenst dying, sequentially, of various cancers AND holding my sister together. Not easy. But you do what you have to.

March 25, 2008 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Susan Reynolds said...

I don't think I've ever been as pleased to have someone stop by my blog as I was when you did.

Virtual strangers, it feels as if we fight the same struggle; to tell the truth of the cancer story as we try to live our lives, create and connect.

And then I found an image that made me even more sure there was something slightly kismet-ish about you finding me, and then me finding you back. Take a look at this photo from your blog
and see if it reminds you of something here

Oh, do we have things in common :)

March 25, 2008 8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WTF is wrong with the teacher? She expects young teens to be clairvoyant and GUESS how to jump through secret hoops? This twit is teaching in middle school? Sheesh!! Also admins at donna's daughter's school. WTF?? Oh, I already said that. Aren't public schools supposed to educate all kids, not just a selected few (and why does The Twit think she has the right to do any selecting?) Methinks Hannah smacked the wrong person. :-)

OK, I don't have kids and was done with formal school myself a long time ago, and your story still has me seething. I am so sorry Hannah is already learning that someone else's laziness/arrogance means Hannah gets cheated. I hope the late application is judged fairly. Kudos to you and Gerry for trying to deal with a crappy situation in the best way for your family.

March 27, 2008 3:02 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Alison's Scarf
Link to pdf file of cable/trellis lace scarf

Hannah's Poncho
Link to pdf file of multi-sized poncho


advanced web statistics