Saturday, October 27, 2007

Life Goes On

Rob is down at his father's until tomorrow morning. He would really like to spend an ordinary weekend at home, but it's not happening any time soon.

Report cards and parent/teacher conferences were Thursday. Both boys got straight A's, which is wonderful. Aaron had some worrisome benchmarks though, so we're discussing some changes to his IEP (Individualized Education Plan). In first grade, none of the tests on which his grades are based are timed, whereas the benchmark tests, which are used to rate the school, but not the students, are timed. The differences were striking. The worst was math, where he had a 96% score for his grade, and a 25% for the benchmark. All the benchmarks were noticeably lower than the class grades, though most by less dramatic amounts. The general opinion is that his writing is the problem. He's slow at it and tends to overgrip the pencil, leading to rapid fatigue, which is exacerbated by timed tests which add pressure while removing time to rest his hand. So his teacher is looking into the possibility of allowing him to take some tests orally, and possibly some with an AlphaSmart (a dedicated word-processor), so that his testing can reflect his knowledge rather than his fine motor coordination or lack thereof. He would continue to do homework and untimed tests by hand, since it's important that he at least be able to write, but nobody sees any benefit on testing him via his worst skill.

We've also started Aaron in our dojo's Little Dragons TKD class. I have mixed feelings about this. I've written about the TKD instruction here before, and I would really rather have him in Isshinryu. On the other hand, he was getting upset and frustrated at having to deal with a class full of bigger, stronger, better coordinated people all the time, even though he still liked the idea of karate class. When we put him in a trial Little Dragons class, he slid right in. They teach 4-7, so he's at the older end of the age range, where size, strength and better concentration can make up for coordination problems. I'm hoping that by the time he graduates Little Dragons (usually a year to 18 months), he will be ready to come into the Isshinryu class. Most of the basic things they're teaching the little kids are applicable to both styles (excepting the Korean, but that's alright). The only thing I've seen so far that we just don't do is an axe kick (well, and the rotated punch, but that's inevitable).

Robbie's taking a cartooning class this month. He's really enjoying it. My favorite of his drawing so far is a little (recognizable!) head of Einstein, eyelids drooping saying "E=mc2zzzzzzzz..."

We're headed out to Great Lakes Games next weekend - an annual board-gaming convention, much fun to be had by all. My schedule gets complicated because Heidi Gauntner's Lennox Legacy Tournament is also this coming weekend. It's the one tournament that Sensei really cares about us going to, and I always try to get there. This time it means getting up at 5am Sat. and driving from the convention to the tournament, competing and driving back, because I am not paying for two hotel rooms in two different states on the same night. It would be a little easier if I weren't taking the seminar before the competition, but Hanchi Duessel is teaching it, and he's always worth the effort. So I guess I'd better know Chinto well enough to do it in my sleep, because that's exactly how I might be doing it!

Other random karate news: Sensei started teaching me Kusanku Sai last night, which is really cool. Though it's a little weird to be learning the sai kata before the open hand kata. Also *product endorsement* I found the most wonderful athletic bras. Title Nine Sportswear makes several different bras that keep me from bouncing at all. I had pretty much resigned myself to kaboinging through karate and Turbokick, but I ordered three bras from this place, and the two I've tried so far really, keep me from bouncing. (For the curious, I ordered the Cuz-She-Said-So bra, the Frog Bra, and the Three Blessings Bra. I've tried the first two, the last is on back-order.) The Frog Bra presses my breasts in pretty close in to my chest and holds them that way, while the Cuz-She-Said-So bra holds them up, but they both work really well. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Well, the last few days have been a learning experience. We found out, for instance, that coronors want cash up-front (though they'll take a cashier's check or a money order). If my Mom and Dad hadn't felt that an autopsy was as necessary as we did, we wouldn't be getting one. On the downside, we now owe Dad $3000 - ouch!

Funeral homes, on the other hand, have payment plans - 1 year, same as cash! This is good, in that people actually get buried. On the other hand, the prices are stunning. Literally. Rob isn't stunned by too much, but he was practically speechless when he called me from the parking lot. $8900 for a pared-down service - some of the expense is because of the autopsy/delay/DadW. wants to view the body, but even without that, it would still be running very steep. All for a woman who stated baldly and repeatedly that if it were legal to toss her in a hole in the backyard, that's what she would want. Funerals are for the mourners, though, not for the dead, so the funeral is what it needs to be.

At some point we'll be having a memorial service up in Long Island, where Ma lived almost her entire life. Most of her friends still live up there, and most of them can't make the funeral. I was thinking to make it at Thanksgiving, which was Ma's favorite holiday, but DadW. is emphatic that he wants us down at the house with him instead, so that's what we're doing. It's going to be very strange doing Thanksgiving without Ma, and I expect that having it in the house, with all the memory-provoking things around every corner, is going to be hard on Rob.

He gets home late Monday and wants to go to work Tuesday. Somehow I think I'm skipping karate on Tuesday.

Friday, October 19, 2007

RIP Etta

My mother-in-law died this afternoon.

Rob has gone down to help out his father. His brother is flying in tomorrow. We still have no idea what was actually wrong with her, so there will be an autopsy. If it turns out to be something simple and/or curable that simply wasn't found because her doctors weren't willing to put in the time for someone on Medicare, I am going to be pissed.

She spent most of her "treatment time" waiting for one or another doctor's appointment. Her PCP referred her to an internist (1 week wait), who referred her to a gastroenterologist (2 week wait), who sent her for tests, which were cancelled because she was in too poor a shape to tolerate them (another week). He referred her to a hematologist/oncologist (2 week wait), who set up some more tests, which were again cancelled for the same reason. He then opined that whatever it was it wasn't cancer, and referred her to a neurologist.

That last visit with the hematologist/oncologist was Monday. Her neurologist's appointment was for next Thursday.

Waiting for an appointment is not treatment. A referral is not treatment. Ignoring the effects of the symptoms because you haven't found the cause is going to kill your patient. Learn it. Remember it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Because It Is Hard

Why do I take karate? For some reason it's a question I've been getting a lot lately. "Because it's hard" is my usual answer. Which gets a lot of blinks, but it really truly is the answer.

Before karate, challenges in my life mostly came in two flavors. There were the things that were easy, and the things that were impossible. Standard schoolwork was easy. There were a few classes in college that I floundered in, but for some reason (that I couldn't figure out at the time) they all ran to impossible, rather than merely difficult. As it turns out, the two classes I did flounder in were classes I was woefully unprepared for without knowing it - such that in order to actually understand what was going on, I would have needed to take an entire other class first - in one instance, two other classes. There was really no such thing as challenging, but still doable. When in physics I was top of the class by some improbable number, I envied the lady who was #2 - because I was where I was by fluke. She was where she was because she earned every point of her average. She went to both sections of class and both sections of lab. She studied her heart out. After the first test she asked me to tutor her, and we met for an hour twice a week from there on out. She hadn't been in school in twenty years and she had no aptitude for physics, but she worked and pushed and stretched her limits until she was top of the class - except for me. So I envied her - and I felt guilty, because she had earned that #1 slot, but she didn't get it.

Outside of schoolwork, life frequently ran to the impossible. Cope with the predatory teacher? Impossible. Dealing with depression. Impossible (funny how that pretty much disappeared when my metabolism got straightened out). Getting myself organized? Impossible (still haven't figured that one out).

But karate isn't any of that. Karate is hard. I have to show up to classes and bust my butt to learn it. My brain may pick up on the ideas quickly, but that doesn't translate to what my body does. Only hard, repetative work puts karate in my muscles and bones instead of just in my head. It's a challenge to concentrate on where every finger and toe is. It's a challenge to push my body and reflexes to be quicker than they want to be. It's a challenge to stop analyzing my fights in the middle and relax into mushin. Karate challenges me every day. It makes me work. It makes me stretch my limits. Where I am and what I become in karate isn't a fluke, not of genetics, nor of experience. What I am in the dojo, I earned.

And that's why I take karate.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Good class - mostly

Had an interesting karate class today. Both Robbie and Aaron say they want to start karate (Robbie again, Aaron for the first time). However, when we actually went to class, Robbie decided to sit it out and work on his comic strip - he's starting a cartooning class at the local college in a week - while Aaron put on the gi and started, but jammed a finger (doing toe-touching) about ten minutes into class and abandoned ship. I'm not quite sure what to do here. Both boys insist that they want to do karate - except when actually in class, when they seem to want to be anywhere but there. I signed Aaron up for a two-week stint, which may allow him to make up his mind (I suspect it's going to be a not yet), without having to shell out too much money. Robbie, on the other hand, is a yellow belt. He's not eligeable for introductory periods, but he's just as flaky as Aaron about taking class and paying attention.

Other than the Aaron incident, though, class went pretty well. We went over tournament tactics with me as the demonstration dummy - lots of kicks to the ribs, fun! And then Sensei looked over a couple of the kids who are getting ready for belt tests while Sensei Don had the rest of us matching up for kumite. Our newest adult has suddenly lit up in kumite recently. She's gone from being a typical adult woman beginner - overthinking and a bit timid - to a serious danger. She's got some really good kicks and a lot of snap, though she needs to work on not leading with her face (like I can talk).

We ended up the class with a two-on-one bout between me and two of the young-teen boys, which was a ton of fun. They kept me running the entire time, but I scored some hits I'm really proud of (one front kick/side kick combo really came off well), and by the general reaction, I think I held my own. I love two-on-one fighting, there's no time to overthink and no time to take a break, and this is the first time I've done it since my last dojo. I'm hoping we get to do it again sometime.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's going to be a lonely weekend. My MIL is going downhill again and we still don't know what's wrong, which sort of limits the doctors to treating symptoms. So Rob is going down tomorrow and spending the weekend helping out. She's got a new symptom now - her hemoglobin count keeps dropping. She's had five transfusions in the last week, but none of them help her count for long, so she just keeps getting more. There's been blood in her stool pretty steadily, but not near enough to account for this kind of low count. So either she's bleeding quite a lot somewhere they haven't spotted (I.e. internally), or her bone marrow is shutting down production. Neither of which is exactly encouraging.

She sees an oncologist today, though, and a hemotologist next week, so maybe one of them will have a brilliant idea. At least they should have some things to test that don't involve laxatives or exploratory surgery, neither of which is possible because she's not strong enough to tolerate them.

The rest of life progresses on. Aaron is liking his weekly PT, and has asked to start karate with me, so we're signing him up for a trial period on Thursday. Of course in his first class he managed to hit himself in the eye with his knee, so the coordination issue may be a problem.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reading, therapy and stuff.

Okay, Sensei asked my belt size tonight. If he's ordering belts, testing is in the offing.

It's been a busy week or so. I'm reading a ton of stuff on bilingual education, specific language impairment (SLI), and related stuff onto tape for A, who's a Ph.D. student. She has a minor reading disability. Her eye tracking is funky, so she has trouble following the words line to line, which makes her reading very slow, particularly when the text is small and/or complicated. It's never really bothered her before, since it doesn't affect her comprehension and she's fanatical about staying ahead of her assignments. But now that she's in the final push for her dissertation, she's supposed to be reading about 200 pages a day of really complicated stuff, and it just wasn't happening.

So now she mails her articles to me to read onto tape. It's working really well for her (and I may even get paid!), but boy howdy does reading that much material aloud each day suck up the time. Plus swim lessons just started, Aaron starts a couple of months of physical therapy this week, and Robbie is now taking guitar. So I've been running from place to place non-stop, except when I'm holed up with an article and the tape recorder.

The physical therapy should be interesting. Aaron's pediatrician was concerned that his balance and self-care skills are still behind the curve, even though his writing and the rest of the stuff the school is working on are improving drastically. So she sent us off for an evaluation. The verdict is that Aaron has a motor planning problem. I.e. when he's learning a new skill (or putting two older skills together), his body can't figure out which muscles to use - so it tends to use all of them, or at least lots.

For example - put him on a half-ball to test his balance and he's fine. Have him toss bean bags at a square and he's fine. Put him on the half-ball and have him throw the bean bags and suddenly they're going in completely random directions.

It explains his first class in karate beautifully. Sensei showed him a front kick, and he plainly understood the motion just fine. But when it came time to actually kick, both legs were thrusting, so he was jumping off the floor every time he kicked - and when Sensei told him to concentrate on stopping that, Aaron fell on his butt every time he actually managed to not jump. He just couldn't isolate the motion to the kicking leg.

I'm a little at a loss as to what exercises a therapist could do to help with this, but she seems confident that she can, and fairly quickly too (she says about 2 months). So I'm very curious.