Author Archives: kimberlybbert


Whenever I have looked directly at this thing, I have been totally calm. Cancer. Surgery. Radioactive Iodine. ‘S all good.

But when concentrating on something else, sometimes I have been temporarily seized by an internal tornado of butterflies–or more often, the sensation of ice-water pouring through my veins. My subconscious isn’t listening, apparently, and when my conscious mind stops supervising, the natural man creeps out. I nearly  had a panic attack three times this week, just out of the blue, and had to examine why I was having this physical reaction to something I’d pushed aside, mentally.

Makes me think I should have gone into psychology. It’s a fascinating thing. I’ve had some crazy, crazy thoughts.

But at any rate, yesterday’s surgery went well, I’m told. Although, it was a bit disconcerting when I first checked in, and the second question the receptionist asked was whether or not I have a living will. Followed by “Here, we’re going to give you four shots of radioactive dye, and we’re going to use this Geiger counter during surgery to track where it goes, so we know what to take out.”

I went under shortly before 11am and woke up at 2:30, although I pretended to be out for a while longer: general anesthesia felt lovely. Although, I did keep seeing strange things, like one of my first period students walking around in scrubs, impersonating a doctor. So maybe I wasn’t pretending after all? Had similar hallucinations all the way home.

I was made to solemnly swear not to drive a motor vehicle or shower for 48 hours post-op, so I stayed home today, though I think I would have been fine. I can’t really talk, but I still have my teacher evil-eye down pretty solid. As it is, I just cranked out a lot of paperwork that’s been piling up around here, so it wasn’t a total waste.

I’ve got three sites I haven’t been brave enough to pull bandages off yet, but the publicly visible one–above my right wrist, has a bandage only about 4 inches long, so it’s significantly smaller than the first doc recommended. Within the next week or so, I should hear back if we got clean margins and clear lymph nodes, and if so, we’ll be done with it. Meanwhile I kind of wish I had Geiger counter of my own. There’s got to be something fun a person can do while radioactive. Yes?

Definitely Not Swapped at Birth

I debated, but finally wrote to my daughter in Mexico and explained my upcoming surgery. She, a girl after my own heart, replied with the following:

“Other options to explain your scar, Mom (feasible in Mexico City):

  • You were hanging on to the bus from outside and while passing through the forest got stabbed by a tree branch.
  • You forgot your house keys and had to climb over the guard wall but slipped because it was raining
  • Better option:You tripped and fell on one of the 409837410984751098475109847510984572039485723 pieces of naked rebar sticking out in all parts of Mexico City.
  • You were walking down the street and a drain cover gave way and you fell in….and got stabbed by rebar
  • Or what about this: You got bit by an angry pregnant Akita. Oh wait that´s what happened to me….. But that isn´t actually going to leave a scar because it didn’t really break the skin… that much… But I did get a nerve pinched and I couldn’t bend my fingers for a couple of days. That was a month ago.”

Ha! This is the child who can make jokes about the effects of being bitten by neuro-toxin-spewing scorpions in the night, and tending three deathly ill companions and still isn’t sure she wants to come home.

I knew I taught her well, when she ended the email with this:

“The worst part about you having cancer is that the elder who has been in my zone MY ENTIRE MISSION who always thought that the “my grandpa cut his finger off, my dad shot himself with a nailgun, my brother smashed his foot,” all that kind of stuff was super funny….. Went home last week. Which is unfortunate because every district meeting and zone conference we always swapped stories and then laughed at all of the dumb things that happen to people.”

Yeah… she’s going to be fine.

Bedazzled, Or Parkour

Courtesy of my students, I bring you the latest from the list of Alternative Explanations for the Hole in Mrs. Lybbert’s arm:

#38: She joined the Bloods to run the trap house.

#39: Parkour, gone bad

And yes, I had to beg a definition for trap house. (Oh, the things I didn’t know I didn’t know.)

They also think I should get some cool, elbow length gloves, and be fancy–or at least mysterious.

It is intruguing to me, on the other hand, the reaction adults have to this word “cancer”. It has such a powerful hold on the collective psyche of humans, that I feel a little bit guilty for contracting it–or at least for admitting to it.

If I were considerate, I would have kept the diagnosis to myself, until all danger had passed, wore long sleeves for the rest of my life–or at least until the scars appeared suitably old news, and then brushed off the incident as a mishap occurring long ago, in my youth.

There isn’t, really, a polite way to share this type of news.

Half your associations will believe they should have been told first. The other half (or maybe all of them, secretly) will think you shouldn’t have told anyone at all. Everyone will demand an explanation of how this could have occurred, and the specifics of how soon they might expect your death. Scientific names. Statistics. Timelines.

I, of course, neglected to organize such paperwork in a timely manner. All I have, thanks to a phone call from the clinic, is a vague idea that I have something with a name that sounds suspiciously like an Italian side dish, and that it’s got a mitotic rate fast enough to need immediate attention.

No, really. That’s it. That’s all I know.

And (brace yourselves) I don’t actually want to worry about how that makes you feel. Because isn’t that a choice? If you choose to let a medical diagnosis–yours or someone else’s–frighten you, how is that my responsibility?

Callous of me, I know.

I mean, I could have kept this news to myself until after the surgery. After all, how frightening, really, is something that sounds like pasta?

That would have been the polite thing. I am  not, strictly speaking, dying. I have cancer in my right arm, and its removal is going to leave a noticeable scar. Instead, I chose to share that news myself in several public conversations I controlled the venue and timing of, as opposed to hundreds of individual ones I could not.

Because the truth is, I don’t know that one surgery will fix everything. And I don’t feel like sneaking around in order to protect anyone else’s sensibilities. I have to-do-lists to make and account passwords to compile for the remote Possibility That Something Happens.

Not because I’m frightened or misty-eyed or gloomy–but because that’s what a responsible adult does in these situations. You buckle up, make sure the tank is full, unfold the map, and set out on your journey.

And maybe I’m grotesquely cold-hearted, but that’s actually all I want to do right now.

I appreciate expressions of love, yes. Of course.

But sentimentality isn’t my style.

Elbow length gloves, maybe. We’ll see what my sophomore with the bedazzled crafting obsession comes up with 😉

Because I Fought Back in ‘Nam, or, Zombie Bookworms

She’s 18 years old and too nonchalant for gossip, but she has news and she is dying to verify it. I can see it in the furtive, sidelong jerks of her head, and the cast of her eyes as she whispers with her friends. I think, is she really talking about what I think she’s talking about? Or am I imagining things?

None of my business, right? Class doesn’t start for ten minutes; this is her time, not mine.

And then I get one of those text messages. You know the ones: “Hey, I heard…. Is it true?”

And, yes, actually, it is true. But as I sit there staring at the screen, thinking “How does she know?” I see every one of my students in my mind’s eye, just as nonchalant, but just as bursting with morbid curiosity as the next one.

I’ve taught close to 800 different students who still attend this school. That, Folks, is a substantial grapevine.

So at 7:01 on a Tuesday morning, I stand up in front of first period English, and I start a conversation. It’s the same conversation I begin six more times today–and it gets easier every time. It morphs into a stand-up routine, only… more macabre.

It goes something like this:

Soooo…. Um. I have cancer. Like. Not–cancer, like I’m going to die tomorrow cancer, but cancer like, I’m probably going to be missing some school, and when I come back, part of my arm will be missing, and you’ll either all want to know what happened, and I’ll have to tell you, or, I won’t tell you and there will be lots of rumors, so let’s just name the beast, okay?

Actually, you know what? The rumors will probably be more interesting, so let’s make up our own. What other explanations might you come up with for a gaping hole in Mrs. Lybbert’s arm?

Come on–they are high school kids; after the initial surprise, they think it’s funny. They will add  to the list on the board all week. Here are my favorite alternative explanations for my absence/pending arm deformity:

  • run-in with a unicorn
  • street-fight with a panda
  • zombie bookworm
  • encounter with a rabid student
  • she’s all about that life
  • she fought back in ‘Nam
  • she graded too many essays and lost part of her soul
  • light saber injury, she has; beat Darth Vader, she must

So there you have it: the rest of the story. Or the start of a new one.

Feel free to add  your own items to this list 🙂

The Breasts on my Classroom Window

There are breasts on my classroom window. A voluptuous, detailed set, but just one. I successfully removed the others, along with a multitude of other more… phallic sketches.

This artwork shows up regularly because the bus stop is located outside my windows and what else is a kid to do with more than an hour, plus a drawing utensil, on his hands? I mean, besides hop on a buddy’s shoulders and repeatedly ram his behind against the window, which has also occurred.

Heaven help the poor girl who is trying to teach in my room during that shift; it’s her first year, and she not only has to deal with the numskulls inside the classroom, but the ones outside, as well. I can’t blame her for closing the blinds and ignoring the artwork being crafted beyond them.

It’s just a little disconcerting, every morning, to unveil the windows.

In case you hadn’t heard, we’re running 11 periods a day at Moses Lake High School–starting at seven in the morning and ending at five at night. The theory is that at any given time, only 80% of our students are on campus. In reality, at any given time, only 80% of our students are in the classroom.  The other 20%, well… who knows what they are up to? I can only report what’s going on in my remote corner.

You’d think that someone would be supervising common gathering areas like the  bus stop, and I’m sure that happens, but no amount of adult supervision can cover 100% of the behavior of 2400 teens, 100% of the time.

I’d be willing to bet that the culprits are probably fairly rational people, given a different situation–say, a Sharpie plus their dream car. They’d be outraged if you suggested they draw obscenities all over the bodywork or slam their backpack or fanny into the paint job. They wouldn’t do it.

My question is, how do you awaken a sense of ownership in students for school? How do you awaken them to the incredible opportunity a free education really is? How do you convince teens to value something they have not chosen for themselves?

There will always be gaps in supervision as long as students are not self-regulating–as long as they do not see community assets like schools, and opportunities like schooling, as privilege not punishment.

The district is running a bond right now, and as much as we desperately need the space, dare I suggest that we also need an answer to this question, before we erect yet another edifice for our children to kick against in their resentment of the status quo?

Of Balers, Teens, and Broken Things

There is something supremely satisfying about disemboweling a recalcitrant household appliance (you thought I was going to say “teen”, didn’t you? for shame), locating the source of the problem, and setting everything right again. Every time, I get an urge to pound my chest and roar. I should have been a repairman.

photo (12)

My broken motor coupling

Speaking of recalcitrant teens, on the other hand, I took my third to the podiatrist. He was given a new cast and instructions to get no more daring than sponge baths. On the way out to the van afterwards, he says, “If using a garbage bag and duct tape–which is a really good idea, by the way–is like playing Russian roulette, then if I use six bags, that’s like taking all the bullets out of the gun first, right?”  Which is, of course, precisely what he is doing.

Also, sewing zippers into the bottom half of his pant leg, with my sewing machine. He’s only broken one needle so far. When I offered to do it for him, he stayed in his seat. “Relax, Ma, it’s just like a baler.”

And so there he sits: my seventeen-year-old, baling his pants. I’m going to bed.

There is a Crack in Everything

About that molten rock.

I was listening to this speech by Tyler Jarvis, and yes, it starts out all “mathy” (his word, not mine) and technical, but then it set me back on my heels, hard, and made me look at my whole life.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t know how many times I’ve used the story of Jesus feeding a multitude with a couple of fish and some loaves of bread as metaphor for our own lives–how we have to give everything we have to Him, and trust that He will make up the difference. I’ve used it in talks, in Sunday School lessons, and in one-on-one quasi-counselling sessions. I’ve thought that I believed it, and lived it.

Jarvis doesn’t mention fish or bread or miracles even, but he does talk about the complexity of scientific and mathematical problems, and by extension, life, and how we have to come to grips with imperfection and failure and be willing to make our best approximations and act on them in faith, and fail repeatedly in an iterative process of progression that can feel agonizingly slow–or else risk the paralysis of fear. Because so often, we have to act on solutions that we know are incomplete, inadequate and wrong, simply to learn how to refine the next attempt.

I’m not very good on acting on solutions I know are incomplete. I want to map out the solution first, down to the smallest detail, before I begin. There is something to be said about making your very best approximation before moving forward, of course–of not handing Christ one head of a fish, or half a loaf, when you really have quite a bit more under the napkin.

But I realized that what I’ve actually been doing is more akin to looking in my basket, looking up at Christ, and saying, yes, of course I want to be of service to you and all these people; yes, I believe you can make my efforts enough; but seriously, what I’ve got here is pathetic. You and I both know I could do so much better. How about I zip home and make enough bread to feed all these people, and bring it back here before anyone gets cranky? With sufficient faith, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, so therefore I must be lacking in faith (or willpower) if they do get cranky–so please, help me be faster, better, stronger, because I really don’t want to let anyone down.

That’s what I’ve been asking for. And then I go through life exhausted and bewildered because I know God hears and answers prayers, and I’m trying my hardest, but there simply isn’t enough time in the day or enough flour in my pantry to accomplish the miracle. I  am still trying to feed the multitude myself, instead of handing over my inadequate lunch and stepping back into the obscurity of the crowd and letting Him take over. Because in the stress of the unprepared moment, when I have only five loaves and two small fish, not having anticipated the demands of the day, I recognize that I could  have done better.

What I don’t consciously consider is that five loaves or ten, nothing I have is going to be enough. Nothing. In terms of the molten rock, I haven’t looked around me, taken stock of my situation, and crafted an imperfect solution out of what resources I have, and then asked God to illuminate my efforts. I have essentially been asking God to somehow transform me so that I don’t need light.

Did you know, I sat down and drew up yet another plan, after twenty thousand other failed plans, and crammed in every little thing that I absolutely MUST do, and when I added up the required hours, most of the days of the week the total was somewhere around 20. And then, instead of saying, hmmm… that won’t work… I said, Okay, God, you are going to have to make me able to function on four hours of sleep a day. Except Wednesdays… I can only fit in two and a half, that day. You are a God of miracles; if you can make rocks glow and multiply loaves and fish, you can make me strong enough to do this. And I was serious. I’m obsessive like that.

But I’m also losing my mind.

Jarvis closes with the chorus from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”, which I’m not familiar with, but which spoke to me so well that I had it memorized upon hearing it once. It ran through my mind for hours afterward:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Jarvis continued: “Our bells are cracked. But let us ring those bells that still can ring. Stop worrying about your failure to achieve perfection—perfection is not possible in this life. Instead, embrace the light and healing power of Christ that come in through our cracks and imperfections.”
I have one more day before school starts up again. One more day to climb the mountain and hunt down some suitable stones before I embark across the great deep that will be this next semester.