Tag Archives: Jamesville-DeWitt High School

Interview with my Friend, Author, Kasey Mathews

Click here to buy Kasey’s book via Amazon!

It is impossible for me to close my blogoversary month without celebrating my dear old friend’s Kasey Mathews‘ brand new book Preemie: Lessons in Love, Life & Motherhood, which is being put out on the shelves today at a bookstore near you! I’ve known Kasey since 6th grade. We were in House 3 together. We even went to Senior Ball together with our most excellent dates. (Hi Lenny & JMo!)

Anyway, Kasey’s book has been born! The premise? I’m lifting it from the back cover of her book:

In her early thirties, Kasey Mathews had it all: a loving husband, a beautiful two-year old son, and a second baby on the way. But what seemed a perfect life was shattered when she went into labor four months early and delivered her one-pound, eleven ounce daughter, Andie.

One pound and eleven ounces, people!

A can of Progresso soup weighs one pound and three ounces.

Here is my interview with Kasey. Subscribe to her blog, follow her @kaseymathews or via Facebook.

• • •

rasj: Kase, you are brutally honest in your memoir, especially about how you did not want to touch Andie when she was so tiny. You call her a “half-done baby” and admit that – initially — you didn’t even want to see her. I imagine in anticipation of this book coming out, you discussed these feelings with her. How did you explain things so that she could understand?

Kasey: When I began writing this book, I had to put aside my worries of “what will people think,” and that meant Andie, too. I just never could have opened up as much as I did, and I think the story would have suffered.  Of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry once it was all written down. But I decided it worth the risk of judgment to give voice to the thoughts and feelings I believe so many mothers have (not just preemie moms) but are too afraid and ashamed to say out loud.

As far as Andie is concerned, she’s such an old soul and just seems to “get” things on a different level. I haven’t read her the book yet (although I’ve recently decided to) but conversations around her birth and my reaction have been ongoing.  I remember a time when we were curled up in bed together looking at the photo album of her first year. I had pointed to a photo of her just after her birth and told her how afraid I was of her.  She had replied in a teasing voice,  “Well, that’s really nice, Mom. What kind of parent would think that?” To which I replied, “Well, me, I guess,” and we had both laughed. But when we got serious, and I explained to her that my fear of losing her was so great and so overwhelming, and that I ultimately had to learn to choose love over fear, the look in her eyes told me that she understood.

rasj:  You mention that a dog attacked you when you were 5-years old, resulting in 49 stitches and scars. You said that your father offered you plastic surgery to “fix” the scars, but you refused. Looking back now, what do your scars mean to you? And do you think you gained something from that terrible accident that actually helped you on your journey with Andie? 

Kasey: Some of us have scars on the outside, but we all have them on the inside. I believe our scars tell our stories. They make us who we are. Andie’s birth was such a traumatic event, and I think I referred back to my dog bite as a frame of reference, because it was the only other traumatic episode I’d ever known.  What I gained was the perspective of looking through my parent’s eyes and for the first time truly understanding how they felt not knowing what was going to happen to their child.  Although the circumstances were different, that perspective gave me the strength to know that they’d walked the path before me, and that I could do it as well.

rasj: During the darkest times, you found strength in homeopathic medicines. Can you explain how non-Western therapies (like energy work, Reiki and yoga) have helped you and your family?

Kasey: Until Andie’s birth, I hadn’t known about Holistic medicine and discovered that it was truly an “alternative” way of looking at a medical situation. It differs from traditional western medicine in that it approaches the body as a whole interrelated system, such as the lungs, gut and skin are all tied together within the human body.  These alternative therapies made so much sense to me, but I want to stress that we used them in conjunction with traditional medicine, and I truly believe that pursuing these parallel paths account for Andie’s tremendous success.

rasj. Did you ever contact the pediatrician who predicted Andie would always be small and that she would have learning disabilities? If you could talk to him now, what would you want to say to him? 

Kasey: For years I wanted to, but felt it wasn’t worth the stress it would cause me. Recently, however, after Andie’s 11-year-old check up where her growth was nearly off the charts, I used the device of writing a letter to release those pent-up feelings. The letter was never sent but the writing of it allowed me to tell him just how wrong he was about everything. And in that same letter, I also thanked him; because what I came to understand was that as difficult as he was to deal with, his doubt was ultimately a gift. He fueled our belief and conviction that Andie would prove him so wrong and show him, and so many others, that she would not be what they wanted her to be, but what she wanted to be.

rasj: I adore the way you show Tucker and Andie interacting with each other, how he becomes an unofficial part of her physical therapy. But it isn’t always perfect, right? They fight, too, right?

Kasey: Fight? Andie and Tucker?  No! Never! *laughs * Their bickering was so awful one day that I screamed at them to stop fighting and threw the apple I had in my hand straight across the kitchen. Fortunately, it missed both their heads, but… not the window! How’s that for perfect?

rasj: That’s awesome! Obviously, you have a great arm! Now tell us something wonderful that has happened to Andie since you finished writing the book.

Kasey: I think Andie would tell you the most wonderful event in her life as of late, was getting contact lenses.  She’d worn glasses since she was two and started asking about contacts when she was nine.  Her eye doctor (Dr. V. from the book) confirmed that she was a candidate for contacts, but needed to be at an age when she was responsible enough to care for them.  The contacts were her eleventh birthday gift.

rasj: Looking back, is there information you wish you had that you would want to share with parents of preemies?

Kasey: There are three vital pieces of information I want to share with parents of preemies. First, while in the NICU, cover your baby’s isolet with a dark, heavy blanket to keep him/her in as womb-like an environment as long as possible. Secondly, allow yourself to see a vision of your child in the future and hold on to that vision. And lastly — and this is for anyone who’s experienced any sort of event trauma  – remember you are not alone.  Know that most likely whatever you’re thinking and feeling, someone else already has thought those same thoughts and felt those same feelings and walked that same path.

There is Kasey now! Isn’t she cute?

• • •

Because Kasey is awesome-sauce, she is offering a copy of her book to one lucky winner.

For a chance to win:

Leave a comment about something regarding child-rearing that has been challenging for you.

Tweet us @rasjacobson & @kaseymathews

• • •

Other blogoversary giveaways you can enter to win:

The Write-Brain Book

Elena Aitken’s ebook Sugar Crash

A handwritten card from me

Tyler Tarver’s ebook Letters To Famous People

A hard copy of Tingo & Other Extraordinary Words

All blogoversary winners will be announced on June 2nd — at which point I will collapse in exhaustion.


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Not To Be Trashed: Guest Post by Mary Mollica

That's my girl!

Today’s guest blogger is my old friend, Mary Mollica whom I have known since 1975 when we found each other in 2nd grade.  Mary and I have been in and out of each others lives for over 3 decades, but we really reconnected when we learned that we had both been blogging.

Mary’s professional blog, The Decorative Paintbrush, is a journey where she shows readers how she finds trash and turns it into treasure. (I was recently with her when she found a piece of crap leaning against a building and she circled back to get it, declaring with absolute certainty that she was going to turn it into something gorgeous. I am sure she has. I have seen what she can do.)

Mary’s personal blog is called 2moms5kids and that is a whole different kind of adventure, equally amazing. You can follow Mary on Twitter @thedpb

Today, Mary recalls our most excellent high school art teacher, Carl Wenzel whose work can be found HERE. She’s not lying about his quirky-awesomeness. Note: While I took numerous art classes, I had nowhere near the artistic potential that Mary did.  Some of us are artists and some of us are writers. And some of us are financial guys. 

• • • • •

 Not To Be Trashed

I remember the first time I stepped into his classroom. There was music playing, and the lights were off. Quel ambiance, right? I remember thinking this guy is either a total nut job or very cool. Turns out he was a bit of both, and I say that with total admiration. He’d probably admit that himself. Mr. Wenzel was, and still is, an amazing artist and, as an artist now myself, I’d have to admit, in order to be a good one, you have to be a bit of both!

Until ninth grade, I had taken art classes along with the rest of my peers. Pinch pots, papier maché, and abstract self-portraits cluttered my mother’s refrigerator. Like most young children I liked art – it was fun – but the first day I walked into Mr. Wenzel’s classroom, I knew things were going to be different. He ignited a passion for art inside of me like no other teacher had before.

Mr. Wenzel introduced me to techniques that enhanced my own creativity instead of trying to manipulate my work into a carbon copy of his own.  He gave praise as well as constructive criticism, which, at first, I’ll admit was not easy to take. But along with the criticism, he always gave a solution that helped fix the problem.

I remember once we were getting ready for the annual art show. We all had to do a piece in hopes that it might be submitted. At the time, Mr. Wenzel was trying to teach us about atmospheric perspective (reducing value contrasts, and neutralizing colors in objects as they recede) and, for whatever reason, I was struggling with this concept.

My frustration started to build.

I wanted to be in the art show so badly, to show people what I could do, to prove I was a good artist, but my piece was not cooperating with me. At all.  

I was irritated as I watched Mr. Wenzel walk around the room casually, giving kudos and words of praise to the other students. I wanted those accolades and looking at the junk in front of me, I knew I wasn’t going to get it. He finally stopped at my desk.

“So, what’s going on here?” He made a circle with his forefinger over my work.

“I don’t know…”(Yes, I was whining.) “I just can’t seem to get the hang of this.” I threw down my pencil in disgust. “I should just start over again.”

“Well you could start over…” he said sympathetically, “or you could try something else.” In one swift motion he grabbed a sheet of rice paper from a shallow drawer behind him, flipped the chair next to me around and snatched a big old jar of Elmer’s Glue.

He plopped down and started humming as he ripped the paper into large random pieces.

I watched him.

“Some of your biggest artistic mistakes will turn out to be some of your best creative work,” he said gluing down random slips of paper to the front of my project.

I had been trying to recreate a landscape from a picture I had cut from a magazine and although the background was wonderful, the fence in front was flat and unattractive. He slapped down the paper over the large fence posts, layering and molding them as he went, until finally they resembled old pieces of wood.

“A paper collé!” He exclaimed.

“A what?”

“A paper collé. A visual and tactile technique you can use to embellish certain areas.” He smiled and his mustache wiggled. “If you add color to these, they will stand out and make the background seem distant, like it should. Sort of 3D.”

I worked feverishly on that piece, falling in love with it more every day. My piece actually took first place in the art show that year and sold for a nice chunk of change. And to think — I had wanted to throw it in the trash.

Mr. Wenzel inspired me for many years after high school and helped me transform my hobby into a lifelong quest. His ability to arouse the imagination and motivate students was astounding. He taught us how to transform the mundane into the magnificent with very little effort. So, now when I screw up on a piece of art (or in life), I remain calm and remember Mr. Wenzel’s words.

This is the kind of stuff that Mary does now!

What are some school art projects that you remember loving? Or hating?

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

 

Back in 1985

Me & my BFF's circa 1985. I'm the one in blue with the green lei.

In my last post, I wrote about my nephew Alec’s recent high school graduation.

As I sat waiting inside the local college field house, miles away from the actual school my nephew attended, I couldn’t help but think about my own graduation in 1985.

First, I have to admit that I have absolutely no recollection of who spoke at my high school graduation. (My sincere apologies, Mr. or Ms. Graduation Speaker. I am sure you were very good.)

I do remember sitting in my white cap and gown. (The boys wore red.)

I remember looking at my fabulous white high-heeled pumps and thinking about my tan. My tan was very important to me, as tans were to many of us back in the mid-1980s. We were not a very serious bunch. I mean, we were serious but in an 1980s kind of way. Which was not very serious. Yeah, we were going to college – but we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. At all. Maybe that was just me. But seriously, I don’t think so.

Where my nephew’s graduating class was focused, we were distinctly goofy. Of course some of us were more self-propelled than others, but as a class, we were more about fun. I may be making this up but I kind of remember someone pretending to trip and possibly even staging a fall as he walked to get his diploma. I wore a green lei around my neck during the graduation ceremony. On two separate occasions, the vice principal told me to remove it (and I did), but I slipped it back on before I walked across the stage for hand-shaking and hugs.

In 1985, I was more interested in the social interactions that high school had to offer than its academic challenges. I joined the “fun” clubs. I was a cheerleader. I danced and rode horses. I also got a lot of detentions; I even managed to earn myself a 3-day in-school suspension. Hell, I wore blue to graduation when we were clearly instructed to wear white or light colors. As a group, we did a lot of pushing the proverbial envelope.

In contrast, my nephew and his peers seemed pretty serious.

Maybe they have to be.

Given the current economic prognosis, they can’t afford to mess around the way we did in the decadent 80s.

I mean, it’s good to be thinking of more than just developing “a great base tan.”

The night of Alec’s graduation, as we celebrated his accomplishments with pizza and watermelon, I was surprised by how content Alec was to just hang out with his family. He played his ukulele, chatted with his grandparents, sat outside on a chunky patio chair with the men, their voices blending together in a low hum.

He seemed unfazed that he was leaving for camp the next day. He said he wasn’t too worried because he knew he would be able to keep in touch with his closest friends.

Immediately after my high school graduation, my clan of Best Friends Forever (The “BFF’s”) gathered in a parking lot to sip champagne from plastic glasses, and I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief and freedom.

Along with a side order of sadness.

Because I really didn’t think I was going to see any of my them ever again.

Let’s forget for a moment that the 1980s featured a lot of apocalyptic songs which suggested that we were all going to die in a nuclear war. (Think of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U” or Rush’s “Distant Early Warning”; Genesis’ “Domino” of  Modern English’s romantic ballad “I’ll Stop The World and Melt with You.” Oh and Nena, the chick who brought us “99 Red Balloons.”)

Seriously. I didn’t think we were going to make it to our 10 year reunion.

But on a less morbid level, there were no cellphones back in 1985. No Facebook or Twitter. No texting.

I remember smiling big but feeling internally frantic. I could feel change on my skin as sure as I had felt the sun baking my shoulders for all those weeks leading up to graduation. Just like my nephew, I packed my duffel bag and trunk and headed off to (same) summer camp where I planned to work for 8 weeks as a counselor. Unlike my nephew, I felt loss in my bones.

I imagined myself standing in line waiting to use a dormitory payphone. But I knew I would never have enough quarters to call my friends as much as I would like. I also knew that even if I called, the odds were, they would not be around.

I knew I would have to find new people, and that I would have to work to make new friends. But I also accepted this as the natural order of things: growing up meant breaking bonds to form new ones.

After speaking with several graduates of the class of 2011, I realized that they are less sad than we were. With the advent of social media, friends need never disconnect from one another. Unless a person wants to become invisible, it is absolutely possible to remain in touch with one’s friends from high school. On a daily basis.

It remains to be seen if all this connection will be a blessing or a curse. I wonder if today’s students will remain perpetual teenagers, clinging to their childhood friendships, finding it difficult to move on and forge fresh bonds with new people, or if they will plunge into adulthood, embracing new opportunities while maintaining constant contact with old friends from back in the day.

As I watched graduates from the class of 2011 pose for photographs, then stop to text someone, thumbs a-blazing, I thought about what graduation really meant for me.

I was able to go to college and start fresh.

I made a conscious choice to stop being “the flirty girl” and reinvent myself as “the studious girl.” Would such a transformation have been possible if I had people from high school constantly reminding me of my flakiness? About how dumb I was in math? About the time I spilled the bong water? Or the time I started cheering “Block That Kick” when our team had possession of the football?

Is it possible to move forward and evolve when people are urging you to look back and stay the same?

What do you remember about your high school graduation? How do you think social media will impact future generations?



Class Pictures: The Aftermath

That's what I'm talking about!

Yesterday for School Photo Day, I wrote about how I was voted “Class Flirt” my Senior year in high school.

A few hours after my pictures went live, Monsieur Flirt contacted me.

Actually, that is not exactly true.

Earlier that morning, I put out a call on Facebook asking friends to help me track him down.

It didn’t take long.

He responded to my blog – at first a little defensively – and we ended up privately emailing back and forth all day.

Short little emails.

He’s still funny.

And charming.

And he told me I’m funny.

(No duh!)

Somehow he forgot to mention that I am hot.

I don’t know how that happened.

Anyway, during our correspondence, Monsieur Flirt requested that I post an updated picture of him today. I guess even PMo got a little trapped behind the burden of those Senior Superlatives. Like me, he has grown up. He’s a man. A responsible and doting father with a job: a mortgage, bills. He is the same but different.

And he would like to show the world how he has morphed.

So you saw him in 1985; here he is in a photo taken in 2010.

Twenty-five years later.

PMo in 2010

At the end of our day of emails, PMo tapped out a quick last note:

Always fun bonding with you…

And I thought.

Yup.

PMo and I will always have that high school bond, a shared history where he was the studly-stud in the leather bomber jacket and I was the boobless babe in the short, red cheerleader skirt.

Thanks for being such a good sport, PMo.

If Photo Dude were taking our picture today, I’m sure he’d get a better shot. We would unlikely turn our backs to each other, and we would definitely smile.

In fact, I’ll make sure to get that picture at our 30th reunion in 2015.

Anyone else have any “Morning After” School Photo Day stories? Or am I just the lucky one?

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

Sure, I’ll Write You A Recommendation…

Mr. Stephenson circa 1980s

In 11th grade, I needed three stellar recommendations that I could send off with my college applications. I felt confident that I would receive solid letters from two of my former English teachers, but then I was kinda stuck. There was no way I could ask any of my math teachers. I mean, I enjoyed Geometry, but I wasn’t necessarily good at it, and my Algebra teacher had retired.

Finally, I decided to ask my French teacher. I’d been in his class for two years. I was reasonably interested in the material (kinda); I liked him a lot (that should count for something, right?); I did my homework (sometimes); and I tried not to laugh too much. Yes, I decided, Monsieur Stephenson would be the perfect person to write me the outstanding recommendation that I was seeking.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he flat out said no.

“Think about your performance in my class,” he said. “Do you give 100% ? Do you take everything seriously? Do you show me that you want to be here? Do you do anything extra?” He pushed his hair back with the palm of his hand and sat up straight in his chair. “Think about the answers to those questions and then you’ll understand why I can’t write you a letter.”

He did not say he was sorry.

Fast forward 25 years, and here it is, recommendation letter writing season and my former students are returning to me, sometimes three semesters after I’ve had them as students. Like frantic homing pigeons who have been lost for an awful long time, they ask me to write them all kinds of letters –  to get into four year colleges, to enter the military, to give to potential employers – so I find myself thinking of Monsieur Stephenson a lot.

Mr. Stephenson in the 1980s

When Monsieur refused me that day, he gave me a big dose of reality. It is not enough to simply show up: A person must do more than make a good impression. Many of my former students think that because they liked me – that because I was kind to them and they passed my class – that they are entitled to strong letters of recommendation, but the best letters of recommendation are not just about “passing the course,” but about work ethic and character, growth and potential.

I am grateful to Monsieur Stephenson for refusing me, as I see his wisdom in holding up the mirror before me and having me take a good hard look at myself and my choices. I understand that his mediocre letter could have prevented me from getting into the college of my choice. Students need to think carefully and be direct in asking any potential letter writer if that person can produce a strong letter of recommendation on their behalf. If a student cannot find a professor or teacher, they may have to get creative and look to coaches, neighbors, religious leaders, perhaps someone who has witnessed their involvement in community service.

I learned more than just French from Monsieur Stevenson: I learned to be selective about whom I agree to write letters of recommendation. They are time consuming endeavors; labors of love.

Having said that, I am happy to write one for you – if you deserve it.

Anybody refuse to write you a letter of recommendation? How’d you take it?