Thursday, October 31, 2013

Redhead Costumes

When I was little, I hated my red hair. I didn’t know anyone else with red hair, and I didn’t recall seeing many actors with red hair, except orphan Annie, but let’s face it, her crazy bushy curls are a little less than cute.

I saw plenty of redhead cartoon characters like Ariel, Rogue, Mrs. Frizzle, etc. Although I liked these characters, each of them did not even resemble a real, normal person. Ariel is a mermaid, a mythological creature. Rogue is one of the X-Men, a group of “gifted” heroes ostracized for their differences from humans. Mrs. Frizzle, however cool and however much I respected her, is one of the most strangely dressed teachers ever. Not the strongest candidates for making a young redhead feel more normal in appearance.

Luckily, I eventually got over my aversion to my natural hair color and have grown to love it. I see it as something that makes me special and beautiful.

Although I still like generic costumes that anyone can do, I now also embrace those costumes that belong specifically to redheads, such as these:

Merida (Brave, which is my costume this year!! See below)
Giselle (Enchanted)
Black Widow (Avengers)
Princess Fiona (Shrek)
Poison Ivy (Batman)
Lucy (I Love Lucy)
Ariel (Little Mermaid)
Rogue (X-Men cartoon)
Jean Grey (newer X-Men movies)
Redhead sitcom characters (How I Met Your Mother, Madmen, True Blood, etc.)
Mrs. Frizzle (Magic School Bus)
Wilma (Flintstones)
Leprecaun or Irish lass
Ginger Spice (if you’ve got the rest of the Spice Girls)
MaryJane (Spiderman, but you’ll need Spiderman)
Jessica Rabbit (Roger Rabbit’s wife, for those who don’t mind showing skin)
Satine (Moulin Rouge, for those who want to be a smoldering temptress)
Strawberry or Orange (particularly for babies or toddlers)
Fox (or any reddish animal)
Pippy Longstocking
Raggedy Anne
Orphan Annie

This year, I am dressing up as Merida, although only from the waist up as you can see. Hehe.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween with My Party Pooper

I love my husband. But I can admit that he is a bit of a party pooper especially when it comes to Halloween. Right before we started dating, he dressed up for Halloween as a golfer, complete with khaki pants, polo, and a glove on one hand. That was his costume. Yep.

Ever since then, I have never seen him dress up as anything else. I have tried to get him to dress up with me as a couple, and I have even suggested low-stakes costumes for him. I suggested that we could be the geologist and the gem. He is a geologist already. He would only have to put on his field gear, and I would do the embarrassing thing and dress up as the gem or the fossil. Simple, not embarrassing. But he rejects all of my costume ideas.

Some friends have suggested that he may change his mind about costumes when we have kids. Proof of this came last night when we watched this commercial, and he completely shocked me when he said, “I could dress up as Jabba the Hut if I had a baby strapped to me like that.” Awww. That’s so sweet. . . . Wait, whaaaaa?! Just when I thought I couldn’t want children more . . . Holidays really are more fun with kids, even for the party poopers! Until kids come around, I’ll just have to accept mine going as himself every year.

He does get excited about candy, but the rules of Halloween trick-or-treating dictate that we give it away to neighborhood children, which disappoints him, despite our buying extra just for us. I guess he anxiously awaits our own children taking candy from others and bringing home their piles for us to filch. Perhaps then he will be more positive about Halloween candy.

Do I get upset with my party pooper? No. . . . Well, a little, but after six years, I have learned to cope. I exploit what he can “tolerate” for all it is worth. As long as he can flip between a football game and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or Corpse Bride, he won’t complain. As long as I do most of the work on carving a pumpkin, he will participate. Because he likes pumpkin food, I try to make pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, etc. to get some reaction from him.

Hoping  extra perk of having a future family and milking whatever I can get now, the work and patience required to pump up my party pooper will be well worth it!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Coming Out the Infertility Closet

My husband and I have been battling infertility for four years. Think of it: that’s about 48 months. That’s 48 times of hoping, 48 times of imagining my future child, 48 failures. Trust me, it extends four years to the length of a geologic time period. 

After about three years and with medical aid, I had two ectopic pregnancies that resulted from tissue damage when my appendix ruptured in June 2009, only six months before we started to try to conceive. I had both of my fallopian tubes removed as a result of those pregnancies this year. At this point, without the most intense and expensive fertility procedure (IVF), my husband and I will never be able to conceive. Period. Although I am grateful that the technology exists to enable me to have children, these past experiences have called my own womanhood and identity into question. Motherhood has always occupied one of the top spots in my priority list in life, and in my view I failed at being a complete woman and achieving this major life goal that comes so naturally to others. Needless to say, vulnerable and helpless are the gentlest terms I could use to describe how infertility has felt for me at times, particularly at first. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about it with anyone outside of my tight circle of immediate family and close friends, and even within it, I tried to avoid the topic of having kids.

My ectopic pregnancies and subsequent surgeries basically forced me to open up and tell friends on Facebook, at work, and at church about our infertility struggles. People would obviously notice and be curious that I had to have emergency surgery and miss church and work, so I decided to face the inevitable and let it out. My experiences have been deeply personal and painful, and opening up to more friends and the world in general opened myself up for public view. Vulnerable.

However, without those major events forcing me “out of the infertility closet,” I might still be silently fighting alone. Now that I have broken the silence, I am grateful for the things that provoked my “coming out.” Since then, I have received support and love from many people I haven’t seen in years as well as from those I see on a regular basis. It makes me wish I had revealed our fertility struggles sooner.

Although my husband and I have developed our own calm, united determination to keep fighting and keep hoping independently of others, validating encouragement from external sources has only increased our confidence to continue working toward our family goal, no matter the sacrifice. 

In the past I have been asked, “Why don’t you have kids?” or “When are you going to have kids?” Although these insensitive questions hurt at any stage of infertility and should not be asked of anyone . . . ever, I have found that once I “came out” and comfortably talked about my infertility struggles such questions disappeared. Instead, when appropriate, people ask, “What is your plan in the future?” or “What can we do to help you?” or “Do you want to talk about it?” People say, “I [or my sister, my son, etc.] struggled to conceive too. I know it is hard,” “I admire your strength,” “I will pray for you,” or “I hope the best for you.” In their questions and statements, I sense their genuine concern for my feelings and interest to help.

I can admit that accepting my circumstances and facing them with unwavering hope require courage regardless of who or how many people know, but sharing my story and hopes with more people has created a large support system that gives me courage on days when I feel my own faltering.

Although my infertility story is unique, as everyone’s is, the feelings that all infertile couples go through are very similar. We feel confusion, anger, hopelessness, hope, frustration and stress, and pain (physical, emotional, mental, and financial). When others know what we endure and when we know that others have experienced similar feelings or at least can empathize with us, we can build a community of support and understanding together.

In general, I can talk about my infertility without reserve now. I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed that I have these problems. I can answer people’s questions about IVF or infertility. I can speak about my future family with hope, knowing that those around me truly realize the significance of what I hope for. I can comfortably tell people that I won’t be coming to a baby shower because it makes me sad, and they support my decision with compassion. Some days I can even joke about my past experiences because I have learned and grown from them and can now share what I have learned with others.

My husband and I are still fighting to overcome infertility literally—we are not parents yet. However, I feel as if we have already conquered the worst parts of infertility in general. Although we’ve been knocked down, we are still fighting, still hopeful, and that makes us survivors of infertility.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Special Needs Teacher Gets a Special Award

So often, teachers go beyond the requirements of their job description. Suzette Steward, or Mrs. Suzette as her kids call her, goes even farther every day. Laura Lanstill, Mrs. Suzette’s aide, says, “It’s not just a career for her. It’s her life.” In May 2013, Mrs. Suzette, a special needs teacher at Cinco Ranch Junior High School in the Kids with Autism program, earned the America’s Top Teacher Award from “Live with Kelly and Michael.”
Mrs. Suzette teaches her students basic life skills such as folding laundry, counting money at the grocery store, expanding food preferences, and obeying instructions to make them contributors in their homes and in society. She says, “I like to see the little successes. . . . Small things are huge milestones. Even getting our kids to eat things other than crackers or simply sweet and salty food can be a challenge. If I can get them to eat other things, that is a milestone in the long run.” For Mrs. Suzette, little victories mean everything.
Not only does Mrs. Suzette teach her students during school hours, she also runs independent camps after school and during weekends, school holiday breaks (such as Christmas and spring break), and summer for special needs kids. In her camps every day, Mrs. Suzette takes her kids out into the community where they can experience activities just like other kids. For example, they have visited Sea World in San Antonio, the beach, the Houston Rodeo, and the Bluebell Ice Cream factory. The camps are designed to keep the kids active, allowing them to have fun and get needed physical exertion simultaneously. They have gone swimming, go-carting, tubing on the lake, and riding on roller coasters. “We have a few roller coaster junkies,” Mrs. Suzette states with a laugh. Lisa Clements, Mrs. Suzette’s primary award nominator, adds, “For the older children they are given the opportunity to go on overnight campouts, boating, trips to Six Flags, and participate in zip lines, horseback riding, you name it.” Mrs. Suzette explains, “We give our kids the opportunity to interact, to play. Some of the kids express things differently than others, but I try to give them the same experience that other kids would get.” All of these diverse activities allow the kids to learn how to act in public, how to communicate and interact with each other and people in the community. And they just have fun!
Mrs. Suzette also offers her services individually. Clements says, “She will bring our kids into her home and entertain them while the parents take a much needed vacation of their own.” Understanding the stress and burden parents can feel, Mrs. Suzette gives parents time to rest, go on vacation, or simply go on a date without worrying about their child: “I take care of all kinds of kids with different problems. . . . I enjoy feeling like I help in a way that others feel that they can’t. I can fill that void for families.”
Upon request, Mrs. Suzette provides personal visits to her students’ homes to offer advice and instruction to parents on creating a learning environment for their child’s growth. Clements says, “She is great at ‘problem solving’ and coming to your home to help you figure out better ways of handling situations if need be.” Mrs. Suzette teaches parents how to use motivation strategies at home to strengthen their child’s life skills. “I know it’s stressful, but these kids aren’t going to be children forever. They will become adults one day, so they need to function,” she says. Although it may be easier for these parents to do everything for their special needs children or give them what they want immediately, Mrs. Suzette encourages parents to continue challenging their children to improve their skills in small ways every day.
According to Mrs. Suzette, the community can benefit just as much from her camp outings as the kids. In the nomination video, Elizabeth Kuylen, principal at Cinco Ranch Junior High states, “Hopefully, we are teaching our community at large to be more tolerant. . . . We want to spread the idea that this is good for everybody.” Mrs. Suzette hopes additional exposure to her kids will help people overcome misconceptions and fear that they may have about special needs children and adults. She says, “They are different and communicate differently, but they are just like everyone else in a lot of ways.” Many of her kids love Disney, playing with new technology, drawing, and playing games—just like every other kid out there. Although people with special needs have varying degrees of ability and understanding, Mrs. Suzette says members of the community should be patient, kind, and open to accommodating special needs: “We can accommodate their learning in their preferred way. . . . If a child loves to sing [or draw] . . . make accommodations and don’t judge.” In a way, she says, “They are here to teach us.”
As part of the award from “Live with Kelly and Michael,” Mrs. Suzette received a new 2014 Ford Escape, useful to continue her work in transporting kids for her camps. Her school also received $25,000 and five E-Instruction technology packages, which will come in handy with her technologically savvy kids. Mrs. Suzette and her husband also enjoyed a trip to Tahiti, to which she said before leaving, “I am excited, but I will miss my kids.”
Clements finished her nomination letter by saying, “She has more energy, passion, and love for kids than you will find in any other human being. The kids love her, connect with her and respond to her like no other. . . . The kids respect and listen to her as do her peers and parents.” Her love and devotion to her students, the time she dedicates to them, and the lesson of patience she brings to the community truly merits the title of a top teacher. 
To see Suzette's video and her interaction with her kids, go here and click on her link.