Thursday, June 25, 2009

Penis Envy

I might be shot for this, or at least stripped of my lipstick and high heels, but many times I've said out loud and to an audience that I wished I'd been a boy. It's not that I really believe I'm that much of a tomboy. It's that sometimes living in a patriarchal world I feel that they've got more going for them. Sometimes I hate being the weaker sex, and since I'm weak (physically, hold the snickers) for my own sex I really hate being a girl. I'm sure Freud would call this penis envy.

I guess wanting to be a boy I could have searched out gender reassignment instead I pursued jobs working with males. More specifically supervising their toileting which involves plenty of time in the boys bathroom. Unpleasant in smell and failure to aim.

The past two days have made this ritual even more unpleasant. Yesterday was graduation day and many parents wandered the halls before and after the ceremony. Some of them wandered into the boys' bathroom. In the small rectangle room I'm usually but to shoulder with little kids frantically dodging their teachers. Not that day. I managed to be the only staff every time I entered.

But not the only adult. No, some random old man (old meaning someone's father) would saunter in, stand between me and urinal and generate a whizzing sound that could only mean one thing. My body generated something itself, a funky feeling in the pit of my stomach and a sudden heat that burned my cheeks.

It gets better. Today in a weekly work swim we were sent to the boys' locker room. And though we were behind the 'Employees Only' sign I felt slightly uncomfortable. I guess guys just have more confidence, are more at ease with their natural form because behind three locked doors I still scrambled to hurry, hoping that no one would walk in.

It's not envy. In fact it's not even a wish at this point. I'm wearing skirts and high-heels for the rest of the month.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


That's 301, which is how many words have managed to make me feel like a fool. Stupid actually. Years of reading, graduating with honors and a college degree left me with a vocabulary deficit. Strange. So why learn these words?

I decided to take the GRE to further prolong my pursuit of growing up. Or to enhance my talents and extend my career goals. Personally I think it's a bit of both. And will possibly come to a crashing halt in two weeks. I've tentatively told myself that I would take this blasted test before July.

But some days I think that my July 4th should be hopeful, not tarnished with the reality that I failed to learn 301 words in a week. And relearn 17 years worth of math. Ok, ok, it will be more like five years of math; the hard years between 8th and 12th grade. I'm hoping for plenty of stats questions, a subject I could never explain but aced like a Mathlete. We didn't have those at my school.

In preparation for the assault to my pride I decided to make flash cards of words to master complete with a pronunciation guide and a use-of-the-word sentence. Now I'm just hoping for a slight recognition, you know knowledge that the word is real and not the fabrication of some modern day aspiring Shakespeare. Seriously I double-checked each word on the list in the dictionary and a few of them were unrecognized derivatives.

Not only that but nowhere on the list was my favorite word, splanchnic, which I have been pronouncing incorrectly since the St. George Fourth of July. Boulder Dash is not the best way to improve your vocabulary.

The casualties of this test so far: two permanent markers, three hundred index cards, ten hours of my life and 1/16 of my belief in a happier world. Was it worth it? I'll let you know when I start school in August.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Star Water

My family reunited again. We tend to do so at least once a year with all the cousins, as well as special occasions like births, deaths, holidays, weddings, missions, Sunday dinners, Tuesday bingo nights and Saturday morning cartoons. We enjoy spending quality time together, without others. Or at least that’s what my sister-in-law Annie now thinks.

The first time Annie met the family was a couple of Christmases ago. I flew in from Ireland under strict orders to befriend Annie and ease her stay during the holiday. Translation: Bre could you shield her from the teasing. Maybe you could cause some scenes so all eyes are on you. Maybe you could redirect the twins, entertain the boys, dance around with underwear on your head, anything really, just mediate.

I did the best I could but with the jet-lag, a bulging disc in my back and a general state of delusion I was no match for the three day bonding we had due to a blizzard. Not even the makeshift John Deere plows could get her out for a few minutes peace.

We broke her down and somehow Phil convinced Annie to marry him. Had she known erratic weather was part of the deal she may have said no, then again she grew up in Seattle. This past weekend we dragged her to Star Valley for the Hyde reunion. I’m sure she enjoyed the huddling for warmth and the rain dictated cabin restriction (What is it about my family gathering that upsets the heavens?). Basically we sat around eating and mocking each other.

My only hope is that Annie felt a twinge of disappointment when she drank water today. As a child I remember a familiar phrase repeatedly falling from my mother’s lips upon our return from Star Valley. The water in the valley is sweeter tasting. Back then I noticed only one difference; the water in the valley chilled my teeth. I then decided that instead of believing my mother to be crazy she must be speaking in code. What she really meant is she missed her family.

I refilled my water bottle this morning. All day long the water I usually down in gulps has been sipped as I winced at the slightly bitter taste. I suppose it could be the bottle or strained taste buds, but the water in the valley tastes sweeter.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Four years ago I worked for a family shadowing their autistic son in a private kindergarten, otherwise known as EHP an integrative school at the Pingree Center for Autism where I now work. Thankfully all those kids have graduated and moved on to higher grades, but occasionally I peek into my old classroom and wish to catch a glimpse of Miss Amy or Phillip or Olivia or Ryann or even my year’s sentence—Josh.

This morning while working in the preschool class that is composed only of children with autism I caught a break in the form of music group. We guided the kids to the library and at once a young girl brightly greeted us announcing, “I’m safe.”

I gave a curious toss of my head before returning my attention to the wild group I was in charge of. The young girl continued to bubble over with how cute a mom was dressed. It was a very literal assessment of the outfit, blunt and terrific.

“You have the cutest dangling earrings. And I just love that sweater, and your striped shirt and your shoes. You’re just the cutest with the cutest outfit. The only thing I don’t think is cute is your jeans, they look a little old [the faded jeans had some strategic rips],” exclaimed the girl.

As the mom looked at me and laughed with embarrassment I had a flash of memory. I knew this girl. She was the little girl in my kindergarten class with Josh. She had autism and having successfully graduated from the Pingree Center program advanced to a typical classroom. I remembered her quiet and withdrawn, wanting space, cringing at physical touch, insistent on doing things her own way. Not quite the young girl randomly striking up a frivolous conversation punctuated with hugs.

If that weren’t surprise enough I saw her with her mom later that day while shopping. Her mother prompted the young girl to say hi asking her if she remembered me.

“I was in Miss Amy’s class,” I offer, “with Josh.”

She looked at me again. A glimmer of recognition flashed across her face and in a knowing voice she said, “Was Josh’s autism this?” and turned a thumbs down sign to me.

“Yes,” I replied.

Josh had instinctively decided to hate me. It was before he knew who I was, his shadow there to push and prompt and guide him in social, academic and behavioral situations. During the first week I’d been instructed to act as a teacher’s aide and help all the children, not Josh specifically. He walked in the door and looked at me with spite. To him I was the age and size of the various tutors forcing him to go against his impulsive behaviors.

And so as his arch-nemesis he threw everything he had my way. In a three hours time period I pulled him from class four or five times. We’d hole up in the principal’s room or an empty four walled prison as he kicked, screamed, pulled his hair, threw objects, rammed his head into the chair, the wall and eventually my chest as I held him in restraint.

As his behaviors escalated so did our program. The fa├žade dropped and I was clearly there to help Josh adjust. Some days it felt like a step in the right direction, and the next day we’d regress five. His mother would watch from a mirrored window. With tears running down her face she expressed her sorrow for putting me in such a position and her horror and his obvious regression.

One day it all became too much and Josh lashed out on me specifically. We’d built a violently vulnerable relationship where he knew I’d protect him no matter what, no matter how hard or far he pushed. And when the computer’s circuit fizzled and popped causing an outage so did Josh’s wiring. He swung hard and wild with complete accuracy, his small fist colliding with my jaw. My head snapped to the right. Just as quickly tears sprang to my eyes and flowed down my cheeks. As I grabbed his arm to take him to his “time-out” a mixture of fear, remorse and uncertainty clouded his face.

Sickened by his loss of understanding we sat in a window seat. We sat until my face no longer stung. We sat until he sobbed, then stopped, then sobbed again. We sat until I found the patience to explain what had happened to the computer and why he couldn’t hit people. We sat until we couldn’t sit anymore.

I knew that our time was limited after that. He no longer progressed as he should and I couldn’t help but feel that I was a significant part of the equation. He’d put me in the role of Mother, a caregiver who takes abuse. Within a month or two his own mother along with his consultant decided to pull him from school, releasing me of my duties.

“Yes, Alyssa,” I replied, “his autism was this.” I mimicked her gesture.

She smiled brightly and said, “My autism is this now.” Flipping her hand she gave me a thumbs up sign.

I smiled in agreement, content with the silent knowledge that Josh's autism is this now too.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Counting Down

The first day of June passed with me mentally computing the days, hours and minutes to the end of school. That's 19 days, 133 hours in class, 7,980 minutes as a teacher and seven more early morning bus rides. And that's when I started to think of ways to cut it down.

First it became clear that my family matters more than a job that ends in four weeks. Naturally, I will take an extra day for the family reunion in Star Valley, Wyoming. In my mind we will spend that day off riding horseback through the mountains or rafting the Snake River. In reality we will probably walk under the antler archway and visit with relatives...maybe a short hike to Intermittent Springs. That brings me to 18 days, 126 hours and still too many minutes.

Next I remembered a doctor’s appointment that will offer an early out one Wednesday. If I can somehow rationalize my parent’s being in town and needing time off for that I could evade the entire school day. That would bring me to 17 days, 119 hours and only six more bus rides.

And maybe I need a mental health day. Actually there’s no maybe about it. Sixteen days, 112 hours but I’ll keep my bus rides just so I don’t have to listen to complaints from the drivers about liability issues. There seems to be a lack of concern for my body flying through the windshield at freeway speeds as I walk up and down the bus aisle.

In a moment of desperation I counted our field trip. I’m probably smoking crack thinking of it as a day off, but perhaps a more manageable day will justify my little white lie.

Grand total: I have 15 days , 105 hours, 6,300 minutes and six more early morning bus rides to complete. The worst part is after working this week I will still have 15 days, 105 hours, 6,300 minutes and six more early morning bus rides.