Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Few Weeks of Relative Maximums and Relative Minimums

The title of this post is my math play on words for these last couple of months, as I have been away almost every weekend for some highs and lows.

Three weeks ago, I lost my childhood best friend to ALS. She asked me back in 2016 if I would write one of her eulogies. A few weeks before she died, I visited her and was able to read my eulogy with her. It was a gift I will never forget: to tell a person how much you love her and how much she impacted your life. We cried. Ugly cried. We hugged. Well, I hugged because she couldn't. She spelled out for me, with her laser pointer, "I am not worthy." If she only knew how worthy she was. Over 600 people were in attendance and four other very close people in her life wrote very different, yet equally if not more impactful eulogies. The funeral was beautiful, starting with Debbie picking out the song Thank You by Jennifer Nettles and having it played for all of us. I was numb. I was lost. I had no time to mourn.

I flew back to Florida a few hours later and immediately finished prepping for our first TEDxSaintAndrewsSchool event three days later. I went from possibly the lowest point in my life to probably the highest (professional) moment within a matter of days. The fifteen students and three guest speakers absolutely blew me away. They did better than I ever could have imagined, and more importantly, I watched as the students shined. Four months earlier, they started the TED-Ed class with little idea of what it was about and no idea that they would do a TED talk. And they all ended with an impactful idea worth spreading. Their and their parents' smiles said it all. Yet every moment when I wasn't busy, every moment I was alone, all I could think of was Debbie.

Around the same time, I helped one of my best friends with her ice cap through her chemotherapy. It's a cap she uses so she won't lose her hair. She's doing OK, but she feels sick for a week after and gets chemo every two weeks. That's not much time to feel like herself. All while she's still teaching. We watched part of the first episode of the Santa Clarita Diet as the poison seeped through her veins, and we had to turn it off as we both got nauseated - from the show, not the chemo! We sent tons of pictures of raw meat back and forth to each other with the throw-up emoji for days, just giggling about it as I'm thinking about it now. Highs and lows.

The next week, I took 30 kids to Mu Alpha Theta states. It was so much fun. I laughed with my incredible colleagues and students even as the kids competed constantly for almost two days straight. We started out at Universal Studios and went on a few rides and giggled when some of the adults turned a bit green. I heard a freshman exclaim, "Mrs. Winer! I won!" when his name was called for an award, and immediately watched him call his mother afterward. I constantly laughed while playing trivia with the students and cheered with them when we came in 3rd place out of over forty schools. I watched the kids sit in a huge circle outside of my hotel room late after awards because they weren't allowed to have boys in girls rooms and vice versa. They sat and played cards with the newest member of the math department, a male teacher who is equally as nerdy as me. I watched them grow to love him and learn more about him and realize they had a lot in common with him. I felt proud of him and of my students.

What no one knew is that when they were competing, I had some downtime. At Starbucks, waiting in line, I sobbed, quietly, into my MAO sweatshirt of all things. I read and answered texts from Debbie's friends and family while in line-- none of us sure we even believe that she is gone. How could I no longer see my sweet friend?? And then, a kid would appear in line, and just like that, I snapped out of my pain and into proud momma mode.

How can one go through a series of relative maxes and mins so fast? A sine curve? With a period of π/10000 for us math folk. Up down up down...

And the last maximum so far...I just got back from NCTM Annual. It was amazing. Sara VanDerWerf is my hero. She has superpowers for sure. I think she makes everyone she speaks to feel important. I am going to do math talks and make sure students can "see it before I show them" and that students will "say it before I tell them." I will try to teach with a "full stack" like Dan Meyer. I will try to do all of the things I learned. The biggest relative max of all was when I gave my first talk ever on Students Teaching Students. I ran out of handouts. That means I had over 200 people in attendance, and they were so engaged and interested. And I did it...I used to hate public speaking, but I was able to speak without having all my notes written down in front of me, and I didn't fail. It was actually amazing. I had an awesome time with my former colleague Mary. We laughed the whole time with my other colleague Ari. I bumped into my son's Kindergarten teacher from 15 years ago as well as a former student. I helped a group of pre-service teachers when the session we were at was at a lull, and it was so cute to watch them take copious notes on everything I said. It was so much fun.

But there was a low. A dear friend of mine whom I met for a drink there told me she has Parkinson's.  She was there for me when I had my medical issues in 2004, climbing Philmont with her son in my honor. And to hear this news - to hear that my avid runner friend, my brilliant author friend - is having to deal with such a huge's almost too much.

So now, I'm home's time to mourn. It's time to mourn all the things around me that are falling apart and at the same time to be thankful for everything I have. It's time to be grateful I can make it to yoga this afternoon and know that my body will do what my instructor tells me to do. Well, mostly. It's time to be there for my students and let them know I'm here for them in a month when I've been out of school much more than I care to admit. It's time to thank G-d for being alive and not worry about petty things.

Who knows how long my domain will last. It's my range of actions that I need to be most proud of in the big function f(x) = life.

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