the fear

I’m up, itching. My alarm will go off in 2.5 hours, but I’ve already eaten my cereal for breakfast. Maybe I’ll sleep again before 4. Maybe if I keep focusing on the tediousness and discomfort of the itching, I won’t have to admit that I’m incredibly anxious. Lots of people have asked me if I’m “ready” for this baby to arrive. I don’t know how to answer that because he’s coming, no matter what. I’m not yet entirely confident the bassinet or new onesies will be used by a living child.

I cannot, will not shake the anxiety that plagues most of us who’ve lost a baby at any stage–that despite the odds being very, very much in my favor, something could still go terribly wrong. Until the baby emerges and cries, I will be afraid of complications. Even if he makes it through labor, I will be watching for signs of early or late onset group b strep. Samuel had to be hospitalized for jaundice–I’ll be watching fearfully for that. Samuel somehow got conjunctivitis at about 10 days old–I’ll be watching for that too. I’ve been trying to prepare Samuel for big brotherhood, for sharing his parents, his stuff, his space, and his self with his little brother. I cringe a little inside each time we mention it though. What will I say to him if this baby doesn’t arrive safely? What will happen to all of his “when I’m a big brother” dreams?

I wish I could say a safe a labor will bring the end to my worries, but really, once it’s done they’ll be just beginning. Deep breaths. Chances are, everything will be fine.


having a baby tomorrow

Well, here we are. Tuesday afternoon. Assuming we don’t move from early to active labor tonight, we’ll be going in at 6am tomorrow to start the induction or “help things along.” This feels so strange, knowing the baby will come tomorrow, for better or for worse. I wish I could’ve gone into labor on my own. I wish I could have had just one last chance at a labor experience without augmentation but oh well. I really could have done without the low platelets and obnoxious rash this time around. But life and health are my ultimate goal for both of us. I really hope I accomplish at least that tomorrow. I feel like I should be doing something today, but I just feel like scratching my itches and wishing for tomorrow to come faster.

Edited to add: I just passed the mucous plug and Josh got all excited that I may actually go on my own. He asked when it happened with Samuel and I decided to check the blog to see. Argh. Like 2.5 weeks before Samuel was born. That’s not encouraging! Nor was seeing that I was 75% effaced, 3-4 cm dilated 14 days before he was born….Lesson learned: stay away from the archives.

false alarm=lost day

Yesterday Samuel was at a play date and I had plans to do so much. Then I stood up from the couch around 10am and…wetness. Water broken or peed on myself? I debated with myself for about an hour. The fluid was pretty much odorless, and clear. I continued to produce dampness, but nothing major. I’ve been thinking, since I heard about this hospital’s rule that you must be hooked up to things and not walking around, that if I went into labor on my own, that I’d wait until I really felt things were progressing before going.

But then I tested positive for Group B Strep. I’ve read up on all the risks, and know that statistically speaking, I should have plenty of time. But since I am risk averse, I want those antibiotics ASAP. So I decided, I’ll just go in and we’ll check this and I’ll probably be home shortly.

I got to the hospital. It wasn’t amniotic fluid. But while I was waiting, I began contracting every 3 minutes. The contractions were moderate–I’d say about halfway to peak. Then, whoosh, lots of bloody show. That never actually happened with Samuel, although it did with Natan. So, the doctor on call thought he’d better keep me there for awhile to observe. He estimated I was 2cm dilated, an hour later 3 cm dilated. We debated sending me home, but he wanted me to get the antibiotics at 4cm or water breaking, so he decided to hold onto me for awhile as the contractions picked up strength a little. I told Josh to stay at home–I didn’t have much confidence in anything happening and figured there was no point in calling in the troops and disrupting Samuel’s schedule. Then at about 7pm, the contractions went back to 8-9 minutes apart, and very mild. By about 10, nothing–not even contractions. He checked me again, still 3cm.

He sat down and said, “Well, I’m not sure. If I send you home, you’ll probably be back tonight or tomorrow.” I about leaped out of bed; I so wanted to get out of there. I very very much want my doctor to be there when I deliver. We have talked about how if the baby’s head is firmly applied, I can walk around and change positions as much as I want and I just trust her to listen to me more than any of the other docs with whom I’ve talked this pregnancy. Sue had a great suggestion a few posts ago–a doula. Unfortunately where we live it’s not really possible. He offered to break my water, but said he doesn’t like to do that before 39 weeks–I definitely liked that he wasn’t pushing me. I told him I wanted to wait and that was that. Meanwhile 11 hours had passed since I left my house, and nothing got done. As of now, I’m contract maybe a couple of times an hour. I had a BPP today and the baby looked great, and appears to be about 8 pounds 7 ounces.


confidence, in self and others

When I think about who I was before, and who I am now, one word always come to mind: confidence. I was so sure of myself in all things. In many areas, it was well-founded. In comparison to the kids I went to school with before college, I was exceptionally hard working and motivated. School came easily to me, and I loved to be challenged. College, my first post-college job, all went as I expected. I loved grad school, and did well. I’ve said all this before. I lost a lot of that in the past few years, through grief and more general disappointments.

But I think that because of who I used to be, I am particularly sensitive to overconfidence in others. I am just amazed by anyone who is so sure of themselves that they can, without hesitation, judge others, especially for their decisions. I, of course, do it too, but not all that profoundly and usually only in conversation with Josh. I am not at all sure that I am that wise.

Women from my undergraduate institution can be the worst culprits when it comes to thinking themselves wiser than others. I went to an elite all-women’s college on the East Coast. The winter issue of our alumnae magazine included an article about fashion. I didn’t read it. I thought about reading it before commenting about it here, but then I figured I should just stay with my original inclination–disinterest. When I saw it, I thought, “Huh, I bet this will spark some self-righteous letters.” I don’t actually read the articles in the magazine all that often, but the editors have made some interesting choices recently. An earlier issue, last year at the most distant, was about how alumnae who haven’t reached high stations in corporate America or the government, or whatever it is we value as a class of educated women, feel about their particular accomplishments, or lack thereof. It’s an old joke that the we are a motivated bunch, but kind of striving and unimaginative when it comes to career choices. I think of myself as very different from that stereotype (as I’m sure most of us do.) So, while you need look no further than my closet and really limited accessory collection to know that I wouldn’t read an article with fashion advice, even if it was written by a woman from my college, I thought, “Cool, I’m glad they’re giving an alum in that field a look.”

Sure enough, this month, the editor’s column addressed several letters criticizing the choice. I admit to deeming the letters obnoxious and petty. One woman called the pictures “a waste of space” and continued, “Our magazine provides a forum for many of the world’s most educated, intelligent, experienced and articulate women to express themselves on a variety of topics. Fashion is not one of them.” Another woman asked whether the alum shouldn’t be devoting “her intelligence, and our time, to something more important,” and concluded, “Please don’t waste trees on this useless dreck.” Seriously. It’s an alumnae magazine. The young alum is creative and apparently very successful. I think it’s cool she’s making a success in a field she loves, but it’s not my thing, and that’s about the level of profundity I think the article should have inspired for someone who’s not interested in it. I’m sure plenty of people enjoyed the article.

Is this part of the culture wars, the war on women, the mommy wars, and the whole lot of petty things we do and say to one another on a regular basis as part of our personal discourse around them?

The story of my confidence makes me think so. Longtime readers of my blog will remember that I have a very conflicted relationship with one of my graduate school mentors. Last summer, we had a confrontation at a conference that hurt me. I tried to talk to her about my future plans, but stopped short of telling her my plans to quit academia. I had only come to that decision a few weeks before we saw each other, and I was very nervous about coming out with it. I started by trying to tell her about my writing plans. She mocked them–saying they were “fun”plans I should do once my real work was established. I tried to talk to her about our plans to move to the city–she snidely derided them as a plan for me to become “simply a mom who drives Samuel around to Hebrew school.” The mom and the Jewish comment upset me. Not because she’s at all anti-Semitic–she would have said the same thing had I said we were concerned about any faith or sports or anything that put family ahead of career. But because in that second I realized, “She doesn’t know me at all.”

I am Jewish before I am anything. Once I decided to become a parent, I accepted the obligation to make sure my son gets a good Jewish education, that he knows and grows up as part of a strong Jewish community. Not everyone feels that way, but it’s no secret about me. I came straight to grad school from Israel. I was still in the process of leaving orthodoxy when I entered grad school. I never pretended, or thought, or could have led anyone who knew me at all to believe I cared about being an academic historian more than being Jewish and having a Jewish family life.

A few weeks ago, I finally told this mentor my full future plans in an email. I hadn’t been evading it–this was an incredibly busy, difficult year and I just never had the time and brain power to do it.

She has not answered my email. She had previously responded passive aggressively when I told her I was pregnant again. I don’t know if it was because I waited until I was in the week 30s to tell her–again, that was stress. I just don’t send out, “Hey, I’m pregnant!” messages. It just comes out in the context of other things or when it becomes obvious.

Now she’s clearly ignoring me. So apparently I’m not the only one with a crisis of confidence in me. I don’t know yet how I feel about that. In my youth, I’d have been defiant. Screw her for thinking I can’t succeed at whatever I want. I feel a bit of that now. Definitely hurt, too. It’s not the first time we’ve clashed over our different plans for me–so that’s not new. But I was a little surprised by the email silence. And so it goes.

welcome June

I’m sitting on my couch on what will hopefully be my last day alone for quite a long time. Josh and Samuel have gone off to Memphis for the day to check on the repairs made to the house we have under contract. The baby will be here by Thursday, no matter what. We are moving into our new house, our first house, at the beginning of July. My friend Julia has pledged to post 6 out of every 7 days for the next month, after more than a year’s break from blogging. I might try, too, but I feel so short of things to write about.

I had the weirdest thought the other day. I’m still suffering from the itching I mentioned in my last post. I have a diagnosis for it–PUPP. It’s petty torture, purely. Nothing’s working to give me relief. But I am resigning myself to discomfort at this level or worse for the next 6 days at most and then hopefully, improvement after the baby’s born. Why 6 days? Because if I don’t go into labor by myself beforehand, I’ll be induced on Wednesday. I was really hoping to avoid that, but my platelets aren’t responding quite as well to the prednisone this time as they did last time. My numbers are at 100,000 this week, after being at 120,000 last week. Doctors are mixed on the safety of having an epidural if your platelets are below 100,000. Epidurals are absolutely banned if they’re below 69,000. Bleeding becomes a risk at below 50,000. I’m not committed to an epidural for pain relief–but I’d like to not have to be knocked out if a c-section becomes necessary. I’d prefer not to have a c-section for the usual reasons, plus it’s more dangerous than vaginal birth for me if my platelets are low. Anyway, that’s why I’ll be induced within the week.

But stepping back to my last paragraph’s topic sentence–my weird thought. As I was driving back from one of my multitudinous doctor’s appointments, this one to check on the cause of my rash, the itching on my breasts suddenly became so acute my arms started to shake. I thought, “Oh my god, This is why that prayer–thank God for not making me a woman–exists.” And then I laughed at my own absurdity. I have spent more than two years of my life pregnant. I had a miscarriage by myself while Josh was out of the country. It hurt a lot. My body killed Natan–my body spent the week in the hospital. My hip dislocated; my tailbone broke. I spent months on bed rest with Samuel, and months on partial bed rest with this new baby. There’s probably more I’m missing, but THIS, THIS–itchy breasts makes me rue being a woman. Why? Why only that, and then?

When I was in an orthodox women’s seminary in Israel, one of my teachers explained away the prayer. Men have more mitzvot obligations because of women’s obligations to their family–pregnancy obviously but also child rearing duties falling more heavily upon mothers leaving them less time for the mitzvot. Men express their thankfulness for their extra mitzvot responsibilities in the prayer. I know enough single fathers and women without children and families with two fathers or two mothers to see the limits of this argument. Those of course are radically uncommon or impossible situations in orthodoxy. But even back then I found it a ridiculous prayer that simply showed that the male author of the prayer had little understanding of femininity and womanhood.

Throughout everything we’ve gone through in our hopes to become parents to living children, I have never regretted that my body is the vessel for pregnancy and childbirth. I’m sorry it’s kind of a crappy body, but otherwise I’m still glad to be a woman. Josh and I both lost a child, that’s inescapable. I feel lucky that I at least got to feel Natan, to sense his heart beat and tiny self inside me. I felt so connected to him as soon as I could feel him moving. Josh is a wonderful father, so good to and with Samuel. I am sorry Josh did not get to experience what I did with Natan.

On the long list of things I’ve gone through in my pursuit of motherhood, and with labor still ahead of me, the itching seems so minor. Yet I’m so pissed off about it. The other problems are big challenges, tests of my strength, something I can look back upon as feats of determination.

This itching feels like such an insult. Just an indignity heaped upon me because I’m a woman. And for some reason, that, of all things, really irks me.

the unfettered ability to lie

So a colleague who’s not my favorite of the bunch asked me at a lunch today how I’d been feeling. I said, “Fine.” He said, “Really? Was your other pregnancy easy too?” Noting in my head that I’d said I felt fine, not that anything was easy, I continued, “Oh you know, it was a pregnancy, it was fine.” He said, “Well, you know not all women have easy pregnancies. For some it’s hard.” I said, “Yeah, I know,” and picked up my water glass and said something to someone else. Should I have revealed more? Should I have identified myself with these other nameless “not all women.” He has a wife and two adult children, perhaps she’s one of them. But I didn’t feel like it.

Something I’ve learned over the past five years–I don’t have to out myself among everyone everywhere. I can keep my shell on when and where and with whom I want to and that’s okay. Sometimes I tell a random stranger we have a dead child. Sometimes I tell them I’ve spent a year and a half of my life essentially alone looking at ceilings and/or computer screens. Sometimes I don’t. If he brings it up again, I’m going to look him in the eyes and tell him, “If at the end of the pregnancy, both the baby and I are alive, I call that a good one.”

Someone else might tell him I’ve been on partial bed rest all semester. It might come up. And then I suppose he’ll wonder why I didn’t tell him. And I don’t care at all.

the endgame: birth “choices”

So I suppose I am 36 weeks today. I am not cheerful. I’m hot and anxious and my belly has been itching something terrible. Really terribly. I’ve tried every solution, and they help temporarily but the second I get a little warm, the itching starts again. Argh. Stupid sensitive dry skin.

I remember from last time that these weeks were tough. Although I am ostensibly a normal pregnant woman now that we’re approaching term, I know too much about what can happen to really relax. That’s the minus part of the pluses and minuses to having blogged extensively during my pregnancy with Samuel. Back then, I knew bloggers who’d experienced every variety of infant death and pregnancy loss, and sometimes had multiple seemingly unrelated heartbreaks. And since I’ve been gifted again with an anterior placenta, kick counting is not a fulfilling endeavor.

Assuming we make it to the birth day without tragedy and mishap, I’ve been thinking about delivery. Last time with Samuel was so healing in so many ways. With no complications other than it taking FOREVER, and the need for a short burst of pitocin (which was my choice after contractions stalled and I began to have some intense anxiety), I had what I look back on as a pretty simple, easy and joyful experience. We worked with a supportive hospital and nursing staff and a doctor I trusted in Michigan. None of them rushed me or really displayed any of the traits I hear about from critics of hospital birth.

I’ve chosen the best doctor I can in town, but the hospital policies and culture make me nervous. I’ve heard, for example, multiple times that the hospital does not want women to walk around after their water breaks. I also know the hospital has a high c-section rate. I intend to talk to my doctor about this this week–I know I should have done it earlier. But frankly, I cannot talk normal labor before such a thing seems possible.  Cannot do it. I am very efficient and confident in discussing options for preventing pre-term labor at any point, but have to hold onto this one until the end. Now, a living baby is our priority, clearly. Yet I would seriously like to avoid a c-section. I also want to avoid an epidural, because I am at risk for complications with it because of my platelet issues–not a large risk but one nonetheless. I certainly feel it wasn’t random that I had a spinal headache after my cerclage (which involved a spinal block). I am also afraid that whereas using pitocin last time didn’t turn into a slippery slope of interventions, that it won’t work the same this time, in this place.

I have a hell of a time, however, communicating with people here before I’ve had many interactions with them, and there’s no guarantee I’ll have my OB with me at delivery. Part of me thinks, I’m a rather good advocate for myself and no one’s going to TIE me to a bed if I don’t want to lay down. But then another part of me thinks, I had to YELL at the nurses and hand the phone to my husband to get attention for my headache. So when my “Yankee” self shows up in the hospital, I really hope we get a genuinely nice and not fake-nice paternalistic group of nurses and doctors who will listen to me.

With this in mind, I bought a book recently. It’s called Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds, by Cynthia Gabriel. I was excited that it was written by a doula from Ann Arbor, because of the connection. The book has some good strategies, but as so often happens when I read and talk about birth, I felt marginalized. She describes the many reasons a woman hoping for an unmedicated child birth can end up having a c-section. As part of this discussion, she includes “previous trauma” as a contributing factor (and all the obvious medical and physical complications). I entirely believe that. I massively panicked during my labor with Samuel. Although my reason steps in here and says–I more than massively panicked with Natan and that didn’t stop a thing. Of course, in that situation no doctors were eager to get things moving.

Anyway with Samuel, we got it under control pretty quickly, but I worry that my reduced faith in the nurses and hospital here are going to be a factor. What bothered me in this book though, were the types of trauma she listed: disappointment in earlier labors, miscarriage, sexual abuse, and other types of pain and loss. Not included ANYWHERE in the book that I could find: labor/birth trauma that resulted in a baby’s death.

Fighting for days upon days to stop my labor with Natan was hideous–excruciatingly difficult and painful. He was premature, but he didn’t die just because of that, he died because his cord prolapsed. My body made things progress too quickly to remedy it.

I keep my mouth shut when women describe labor pains as rewarding or something your body is “meant” to do. In real life, I sympathize with and let them have their victories. But I get pissed off at being excluded from the birth experience by books like this one, which still is in many ways so much better than The Business of Being Born.

Books and movies that treat labor as something your body “knows” how to do are only telling a partial truth. It’s utterly natural for babies and women to die, too. Science and medicine, not women’s knowledge and synchronicity with their bodies, make  it possible for the authors and producers of birth materials to brush over our experiences by calling them so rare. I’ve said this before. It sucks to be invisible. It sucks to feel like my bad experience has to be hidden so that others can more fully enjoy their good ones. I’m still looking for strategies for avoiding panic during this next labor, but every time I search out some method–breathing, massage, hypnosis–something in the literature or philosophy runs up against reason and my experience.

thoughts at almost 34 weeks

There are reasons I don’t like to go out in public while pregnant. The last post explained one of them–stupid things other people say. Another reason I don’t like to go out much — normal, polite conversation. A family we casually know just had their second baby. I’m pregnant, so of course any conversation we might have right now would touch on pregnancy, labor, and infants. I don’t spend enough time around this family for them to know my history. I don’t think we’d ever even had a discussion of how many children we have or about labor before a birthday party last week and this major public town festival yesterday. Since we always see them in family settings–at the park, kid birthday parties, it’s visually apparent that we have just one child. They having had only one child before now, they never commented about family size as seems to always happen around people with more.

Anyway, my point. Last week, at a birthday party, all the parents were talking about the lack of maternity and parental leave here. I mentioned something about how I’d looked into FMLA and major medical leave when Dr. H put me on partial bed rest, just to figure out what would happen if I had to stop working completely or actually did deliver early. Someone asked something, and I mentioned how despite the stresses of mandated rest periods during the day, I’m just really glad I didn’t have to be on full time bed rest like I was with Samuel. Yesterday, I ran into the family at this festival in town. They had their teeny newborn with them. Someone remarked, “You’ll be carrying around one of those soon!” to me. The father said, “Hopefully he won’t be one this big.” Now, Samuel was 9 pounds, 9 ounces. Their baby looks healthy by all means, but TEENY to me. I’ve joked before that when the doctor held up Samuel to me, despite his slimy newborn self, my very first thought was, “He’s a television baby!” meaning he didn’t look newborn to me at all. So I answered, “Oh, I’d be happy with his size–Samuel was almost 10 pounds.” So the father said, “But I thought you were at risk for pre-term labor? When was he born?” “His due date.” If you had a baby that big, how much risk were you really at for preterm labor?”

Brain stopped. I was in a very, very public place, with lots of people milling by. I simply didn’t feel like getting into detail, so I answered, “Oh, major risk.” I don’t really need to explain myself, or turn idle chatting into a depressing reminder. Sometimes I prefer to maintain my equilibrium while sitting amongst carnival-food eating parents and children.

It didn’t upset me at all–that’s five years for you, in some ways. I don’t deny Natan, but I don’t always open the door for revelation either.

Just because I couldn’t remember the numbers myself, I looked it up today. How much at risk am I for a preterm delivery, based on my history? Somewhere from 17% to 37%. Here’s hoping I beat those odds two out of three. Dr. K’s anecdotal experience told her, if she could get me past 32, I’d go to term. She said if I didn’t go into labor right away after having my cerclage removed and quitting the progesterone, I’d go to my due date. I’ll be 34 weeks Tuesday, so let’s hope Dr. K is right again. Signs are pointing to yes.

sitting in the torture chamber–also known as the ob/gyn’s waiting room

The ob/gyn practice I frequent often overbooks. Since I have bi-weekly appointments with my doctor and get progesterone shots every week, I spend at least an hour, often two hours, a week sitting in the waiting room.

Usually, I do my best to avoid looking at or speaking to anyone, but this week, the woman across from me would not be ignored. My back and hips have been hurting a lot lately, and sitting for 90 minutes or so in the semi-soft waiting-room chairs does not help. Every week I walk in and wish they would spring for some more comfortable chairs. Hard or soft are fine, in between sucks. So I kept stretching my arms over my head and otherwise trying to release the tension in my back.

Seeing me do that, the woman across from me asked, “So you haven’t heard about putting your arms above your head?”

I answered, “What?” but immediately realized I knew exactly what she was going to say.

“If you put your arms above your head, your baby’s cord could get around his neck and strangle him.”

So I told her to shut up. I’m kidding, I wouldn’t do that. But I did say, “That’s anatomically impossible,” in a tone that definitely indicated I didn’t want to discuss it further. Ten minutes earlier, she told me she was really disappointed she was having a girl, because she wanted a boy. I wish I’d told her she should’ve used the “Chinese Gender Predictor,” or that next time, she needs to make sure she and her boyfriend orgasmed at the same time. I could’ve also just made something up, and told her wearing flip flops will give her baby flat feet or incessantly typing on her smart phone will make her baby ugly.

These are the times I should be grateful I spend most of my pregnant time holed up in the privacy of my own home.

a world run by the people I disliked in high school

I promise this post isn’t about my suffering in high school, because really, I didn’t very much.

I was kind of a weird high school kid. I got straight A’s with only a reasonable amount of effort, and most of my girl friends were all really good girls. Yet I spent far too much time with seriously messed up boys, whom I had a weird kind of rescue thing for, all of whom are either dead or, as far as I know, are now seriously messed up men, in and out of jail. I drank exactly twice, getting drunkish once at my best friend’s 18th birthday party. I never did anything truly bad, and I pretended as if I were a whole lot more sexually active than I actually was (leading to a dramatic confrontation with my parents based upon nothing at all that had really happened), but I witnessed friends engaging in actually self-destructive and dangerous behavior. I was very much an observer of life, while I actually was much more honestly and consistently interested in and engaged with my Latin, math, and English books. I thought these people were exciting, whereas most high school boys were just tedious. I also felt like, in observing them, I could figure out how to fix the world. I was really self-righteous, I admit, and naive and silly. Why I forgave these boys who dropped out of school, and eventually became real criminals, I don’t know. Perhaps because I knew even then that life would never give them a break. I saved my animus for your run-of-the-mill high school pain-in-the-ass boys.

I went to a large high school, so I didn’t really suffer from the youthful politics of cliquishness. I was in honors classes and involved in student council (called student commission at my school). Being president of my class for a couple years, and vice-president or treasurer or something of the whole council for a couple, I had to help run dances and build Homecoming floats and other very Midwestern events. I actually did not care at all about dances and Homecoming floats, but I knew being a class officer was a good thing to have on a college application. Even as I navigated my way through some seriously risky and dead-end surroundings, I always had one goal: getting out of my town and going to the best college possible. That was my first step in fixing the world.

I should have spent my time figuring out a different group of people.

My freshman year in high school, a group of jackass boys from my class ruined the sophomore class float, and also tossed eggs and squirted ketchup all over the house and car of the parents hosting their float construction. I didn’t know who was responsible, but I had to spend an afternoon in the principal’s office and apologize to the parents on their behalf. The funds to repair the car came from our class coffers. The same damn students later played a senior “prank” that destroyed a bunch of school property. Same thing with the class coffers. I didn’t find out until I was an adult, although of course I always suspected, that the same kids had been behind both pranks. I was uncool enough to not think they were funny and to think it seemed like a tremendous waste of energy and the good will of the faculty, and I wasn’t surprised to find out that they were guys who were popular, but whom I’d always found incredibly tedious, annoying, and not at all intelligent. That I had to think about them at all irritated me beyond belief. I could never stand having to waste my time dealing with stupid pranks.

At some point in high school, I learned that some of that same group of guys were cheating a lot in a science class we took together. They also spent a lot of time mocking a science teacher I didn’t care for and a certain government teacher I adored. They were insufferable in any class I had to take with them. Not only were they shallow, in my eyes, but they were making it more difficult for the rest of us to learn. I hated that they couldn’t appreciate that our teachers were smart and had things to teach us, because they got in my way. I disliked them so much, but I couldn’t prove they were guilty of anything or do anything about them. I comforted myself that “cheaters never win” and mediocre students who take advantage of others would never accomplish much.

Facebook, of course, allows you to figure out what all these people you liked and didn’t like are doing with their adulthood. One of the boys from that group apparently went through some hard times in his early twenties, and seems like a good family man with whom I would get a long just fine. A few years ago, the guy I perceived as the leader of the obnoxious group also friended me. This happened right around the debate over healthcare reform, and I was shocked to learn he was an executive in a healthcare insurance company.

Inevitably, I soon became ensnared in arguments online with him, in which he consistently dismissed anything I, or other friends who’ve had way too much experience with dealing with insurance companies or hospitals, had to say. He never said anything useful or thoughtful, but would just be patronizing, telling us we couldn’t possibly understand what he, with all of his professional experience, understood. I am perfectly willing to listen to statements of proof which you happen to have gotten from professional experience. But when I get in to discussions about history, I don’t say things like, “The Civil War was about slavery, and you have to believe me because I have a PhD.” I lay out the different ways states’ rights arguments always hinged upon disagreements about whether slavery should be allowed to expand into the western territories of the United States. If I’m in the right surroundings, I cite newspaper articles and treatises from the time. My former classmate tried to rely on the same things he always had, that he’s a fairly charismatic guy who can get a lot by smiling and speaking as if he knows what he’s talking about. And just as it had been 20 years ago, I thought he was full of himself, tedious, and aggravating. Yet, whereas back then I could tell myself he wasn’t going to get anywhere with that kind of attitude plus his cheating ways, now I have to admit this guy is very influential and wealthy.

He’s gotten to be exactly where he’s always wanted to be by being an overbearing, pushy, egotistical man. And for all their differences, when John Boehner, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney talk, I hear that guy and all of his friends, only now, instead of manipulating teachers and pushing other students around, they’re doing it to the country. [Okay, to be fair, I was watching a news show that showed old footage of John Edwards, and looking back, I realize he’s this type too.]

When I began teaching, I didn’t expend much effort caring about the lying, cheating and manipulative students. I encountered so many students who thought they could get by in my class by charming me with their big smiles and good looks. It doesn’t work on me, and I told myself that they’d soon learn it wouldn’t work for them anywhere. Smart people don’t fall for that crap. A major source of my current angst, however, is the loss of my faith in that belief.  I’m starting to believe that the lying, cheating and manipulative students are going to be just fine, and that’s crazymaking because I don’t know what to do about it.