Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sharing Kevin

If you have read my blog for any length of time or have known me for a while, you are well aware of what happened to my brother. Just in case someone is new to this blog or to me, Kevin passed away from a heroin overdose on January 4th, 2013. It was that day that our lives changed forever.

A person is not born with a needle in their arm, Kevin obviously did not start out an addict. He had a rough go at life from the beginning.  We are both adopted, from different families. It is my understanding that Kevin's birth parents were married and had other children. It is also my understanding that they may have kept some of the children and gave up others for adoption. Whatever the case, Kevin ended up right where he belonged in our family!

Kevin was born into this world with some hardships from an infant on.  He was born with a heart murmur which turned out to not be a big deal.  Also, his foot was turned in and he had to wear a corrective shoe. Not super big deals in my book, but this caused him to not be adopted as quickly as other babies. Which honestly worked out to my family's advantage.

Kevin was a loving boy who really enjoyed spending time with his family. He had big brown, gentle eyes that were warm and friendly.  He loved to go fishing with my dad and on random adventures, and he was a momma's boy through and through.  We used to play games of make-believe all the time. We played school and house and games in the backyard. We had a typical growing up experience with two loving parents. We went on vacations and spend a lot of time together as a family.

Things became more difficult for Kevin when he entered school.  Kevin, as we found out, did not play the game of school well.  He was not going to be the compliant kid that did everything he was told. He was the type of kid that would question or do what he needed to do because concentrating on the task at hand was difficult.  Kindergarten was ok from what I remember.  First grade started out with few problems, I remember his teacher being very understanding and supportive of Kevin.  But then there was an incident where the teacher accused him of trying to steal something from her purse.  From what I remember of Kevin's story, he was handing in a paper on her desk and her purse was open and he saw cigarettes and was shocked that a teacher smoked!  Knowing what I know now, and how teachers talk this may have started Kevin's reputation in elementary school.

Second grade proved to be even more challenging.  Every teacher has a different teaching style, and Kevin's second-grade teacher expected compliance and nothing else.  This was not going to be a good match.  My mom worked at the school we went to, and the teacher pulled her aside to tell her that Kevin would never amount to much.  How can a teacher tell a parent that?! He was eight years old! Eight! Practically a baby and someone's pride and joy! From what I remember, Kevin and my parents went in survival mode to just get through that year and teacher.

Summers were Kevin's time where he could be himself. We had a lake house in Southwest Michigan where we went swimming, fishing, boating, tubing, etc. Kevin had a good group of friends that loved and supported him. He did not have to be compliant. He was allowed to be Kevin.  Summer was a time where his star shone bright and he was the happiest.

Third grade went by with no major events from what I remember, but along came fourth grade for Kevin and a teacher who expected compliant students.  Fourth grade was a struggle for Kevin because of the personality conflict. I remember my parents getting constant phone calls from the teacher expecting them to fix him.  I remember them yelling and pleading and constant worry.  Which leads into fifth grade with a similar teacher.  It wasn't long after fifth grade that my parents came to the conclusion that a private school was not going to be able to meet the needs of my brother.  So they decided to transfer him to the local public school.  Which sounds great, but they put him with a teacher who expected nothing but compliant students.  Things got so bad in fifth grade that this teacher put a refrigerator box around my brother so that he would not distract other students.  This devastated Kevin.  He was so embarrassed, but would never say anything to the teacher or other students as he wanted to save face.

From our understanding, although we aren't 100% sure, Kevin started dabbling with drugs in middle school.  We don't know where he got them, although we do know that some of his friends had older siblings that may or may not have provided him with marijuana.  I know for some people marijuana is not a gateway drug, but for Kevin it most definitely was. Middle school was rough as he battled many inner demons of mental illness and again trying to function in a school system that was not built for students like Kevin.

In high school, Kevin continued his downward spiral and eventually dropped out of school. He was able to complete his GED and enrolled at Purdue Calumet where he was accepted. He majored in social work, and really wanted to help people. College was not a cure for Kevin, he had some rough times, and had to drop classes periodically due to mental illness. However, his goal was to prove many of his teachers wrong.  He wanted to prove to them and others who did not believe in him, that he could earn a college degree and he could make a difference in this world.

Kevin can no longer make that dream come true himself. He left this earth on a cold January day. It was his time. His poor body could not handle much more.  For a long time, I had a lot of anger directed at Kevin. I felt that he chose drugs over his family.  But through a lot of research, sharing Kevin's story, and listening to people with similar stories I realize that Kevin did not choose drugs over his family or over his education. Addiction made that choice for him.  Addicts are not born with needles in their arms. Addiction is a terrible disease and with it mental illness that we as a society need to learn how to treat and prevent.

Although Kevin cannot make his dream a reality, I can. My goal is to work with Purdue Calumet to award him a posthumous degree. I tried once, and they said no because he was not 75% done with all coursework and 85% done with major coursework. I'm hoping that they can possibly make an exception. At the very least, I want Kevin's story to be shared so that his legacy lives on.  I want Kevin to be remembered for his kindness and compassion, his sweet smile, and love for his family and friends. 

Also, in January as a way to share Kevin's story and honor his life, I am creating postcards that share a mini version of Kevin's story and provide a link to this blog post. I am asking anyone who is willing to do a random act of kindness and leave the card for someone. If you are interested, please comment on this blog post and I will mail them. I would like to see this begin in January! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why I Write

I have been reading quite a few blogs on writing and writing instruction.  I read Margaret Simon's blog about discovering the writer's life, Pernille Ripp's blog about helping students find their writing identity, and multiple blogs from Two Writing Teachers.  This really got me thinking about why we want our students to write, how I do not write nearly enough, and why I need to write more.

In Pernille's blog, she writes about how she was asked to be recorded speaking about her writing process for Wisconsin Writes.  There's a great video where she talks about this process.  I watched the video and started reflecting that I don't really have a process.  I suppose I do in the fact that I get everything out of my head when I write a blog post and hit the publish button.  I've never been much of a drafter or one who does multiple revisions.  After reading these blogs it really made me reflect that I really need a more defined writing process to help me grow as a writer.  My trigger finger tends to be really quick when it comes to clicking the publish button.  So this was reflection number one.

Pernille blog really inspired me to keep writing (hence this post!). She talks about how every writer is a writer! And every writer needs time and choice.  All great points to remember when working with young writers.

Another reason why I write and blog is to work my feelings out, sometimes my writing may not always be clear. For example, I watched a very powerful 20/20 episode about the Heroin epidemic in America and more specifically in New Hampshire. I wrote a blog post about it. What stood out to me was the person reporting mentioned that imprisoning addicts does not solve the problem. They shared two heartbreaking stories of families. I shared my thoughts and it helped me heal a little more.  I never think I'll be fully healed, I believe the grief will always be there and I just continually learn to accept a new normal.  I will never get over the premature loss of my brother.

I write for myself, and if I can help someone along the way with Kevin's story or a book review, or a new teaching tip then I am achieving what I set out to achieve.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

#SOL16 Heroin in America: A Personal Story

"Mary, you're brother is dead. He overdosed."

Those were words I had been waiting to hear but was hoping I would never hear. Kevin, my younger brother, passed away Friday, January 4th, 2013. It's a day I will always remember.

I'm watching Friday's 20/20 episode about Heroin in America and it is heartbreaking. I find it interesting that according to 20/20 129 people die every day from drug overdoses and more specifically prescription pills and heroin.

It is hard to watch but these stories need to be told.  I listened to a father relay the story of when he received the news that his son had overdosed again, but did not make it.  It was reliving that awful day.

My first reaction when my dad called to tell me was to not believe him. I wanted to know what hospital Kevin was at so I could go visit him.  Even when I saw him on the gurney at the funeral home, in the back of my mind I kept thinking he would just sit up.  It never seemed real.

I have shared bits and pieces of Kevin's story before, and I keep coming back to it because I truly feel that it can help save someone or multiple someones.  Kevin had a promising future despite many obstacles he faced and was able to overcome, yet he gave in and succumbed to a drug addiction. He was a semester away from graduating with a degree in sociology and had the capacity to help so many people.

My main reason for sharing this is because addiction in this country needs to be seen and treated as a mental illness.  And mental illness needs to be treated just as much as a heart condition or any other disease.  We should not feel embarrassed because someone in our family is an addict or has a mental illness.  I will not be embarrassed and will keep telling Kevin's story in hopes that it can save someone's life. I couldn't save my brother's life, but I'm hoping this story can make a difference and save someone else's life.

I love you Kevin and miss you every day!

Friday, March 11, 2016

#SOL16 Currently

Here is what I've been up to:

I am absolutely loving The Lumineers' new song, "Ophelia"! I really liked (bit of an understatement!) their first album and their story. From what I understand the drummer was best friend's with the lead singer's brother. The lead singer's brother passed away from a heroin overdose and they helped their grief by writing and performing music. I truly believe music is healing.  When my brother passed away from similar circumstances I listened to the Grace Potter song, "Stars", over and over and over again. It really helped get me through.  An amazing, supportive network of family and friends helped too! 

I am loving this spring weather in the Chicago land area.  So exciting!  

My brain is on information overload. I started reading Elena Aguilar's book The Art of Coaching Teams with so many good ideas and things to think about!

I am wanting more time to read. With a 19 month old this has become a total luxury!  I also need a lot of sleep!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

#SOL16 Fear and Self Doubt

So on one hand I'm super proud of myself for committing to writing every day, but on the other hand, I'm kind of wondering what the heck I got myself into. March is turning out to be quite the month in our house with colds and just feeling out of sorts.  So that's been a battle.  A huge battle actually.  

Then I read other people's blogs, and they are so well written!  They are such great narratives, and I'm trying really, really hard to be kind to myself, and I'm just not there yet.  But I want to be there!  Right now, I just don't have time to revise and edit like I want to.  But with trying to focus on the positive, I'm writing practically every day. And that is huge for me!  This is the most I've written in quite a while.  So I do have that to be proud of.  I'm hoping we are on the mend so I can write more in-depth blogs.  I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface lately!  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

#SOL16 Kind of Excited

I am new to my position as a middle school instructional coach and have enjoyed the school, students, and culture of my new school.  It has been such a rewarding experience.  

I was talking to my assistant principal about an idea I had that wasn't of interest in my previous district. I wanted to start One Book, One District.  She was all on board!  

We hashed out our mission and vision and some action steps, she shared it with district level personnel, and it looks like we are going to get moving on this!  

We are a K-8 District so I'm thinking we may have to do two books, one for the middle school and one for the elementary kids.  I'm guessing we will want the same theme.  Some book titles that stand out to me, but I'm afraid a majority of kids have read are Out of My Mind and Wonder.  

So, I guess I'm looking for ideas on book titles and activities.  What have you guys done that has worked? Thank you for reading! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

#SOL16 Day 6: Life Happened

I'm a tad disappointed in myself. This weekend was intense with a tot who was feeling under the weather. Since the later part of last week, Grace wasn't sleeping through the night. She would wake up around 3 crying and we would bring her in our bed.  It's a habit I really don't want to start, but we were desperate!

I think this all goes back to the Great Toddler Hunger Strike we are experiencing. She's not eating enough at dinner and this is making her wake up in the middle of the night.  Luckily, we had success last night. I put her down at around 8, but she woke up an hour later. I gave her some whole milk and she went back to bed and slept till 6:30 this morning! (Luckily I am off today for Pulaski Day!)

I'm hoping we are seeing a trend of sleeping through the night.  I have been debating about looking into essential oils and possibly try some of those. She has a runny nose again and I'm not sure if it's a cold or allergies.  I'm just hoping we can get some normal sleep this week!  So that's why I was off the grid :o) I was dealing with a fussy toddler!