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postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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postmodernfamilyblog.wordpress.com

I'm a mother of twin toddlers and two adult daughters. My dad says I ran the engine and the caboose on grandchildren, but I'm having a really hard time driving the potty train. (They always told me boys were harder!) I am passionate about family, football, politics, and good books, and I'm liable to blog about any one of them on any given week.

Trying to be a Good Steward This Gathering Season

It’s no secret, this is my favorite time of year. Everything about October through December fills me with joy. The autumn leaves, the pumpkin spices, the snack-size candies, my football-coaching husband climbing to the press box with clipboard and khakis.

I don’t know what I love most. (Well my husband, obviously.) But the softer, cooler weather is pretty sexy too. The fog settling like cashmere over tree limbs at sunrise. The sky sparkling like jewels in the heavens at sunset. The porches peppered in mums of russet, paprika, persimmon and plum. The woodsmoke perfuming the air.

And then, there’s all the seasonal fashions and accessories that emerge: chunky sweaters, glittering helmets, plastic jack-o-lantern totes. From stadium to city sidewalk, to hearth and home, earth and sky… all bursting to celebrate the gatherings of fall.

But this year things are so different. So full of cautions and fears.

Football stadiums are limiting fans. Trick or treat is banned in some places. Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are enough to give this mama of extended family traveling from multiple states a panic attack.

Y’all. I love trick-or-treat tykes. And turkey and pecan pie. And stockings hung by the fireside with care. And twinkle lights and Christmas ornaments. (God, how I love a decked-out evergreen.) But most of all, I love all the cheesy customs of a crowded living room full of family singing carols and sipping cocoa and making memories to last a lifetime.

But I worry so much about my mid-to-late seventies parents joining my thirty-something girls and our first-grade boys and and my high-school-teaching self and football-coaching husband. I worry about how much their risk of contracting a potentially-deadly virus could exponentially increase if we all get together. I worry about losing time with them if we spend time with them during the holidays.

But then, I know the value of those memories, the necessity of connection, the loneliness of isolation, need for family love. Their fear of missing out on valuable time with their grandkids vs my fear of my kids missing out on valuable years with their grandparents.

Which is more beneficial? Which is less? The weight of weighing this cost/benefit analysis is unbearable.

We all feel so burdened. All of us. We’ve spent seven full months carrying this pandemic weight. None of us has gone unscathed, although some of us have suffered far more than others.

Surely this final trimester will bring this baby full term. Surely we will leave Hell behind and find a bright, shiny, newborn New Year in its place come January. I know it’s not a rational thought — but it is a deeply-rooted one, full of hope and desire and fueled with prayer.

In the meanwhile, I desperately want to see those I love most in the world during this season I love most in the world. So we will be as responsible as humanly possible. We will be social — at a social distance. We will wear our masks, and sing our songs six feet apart, and sip our alcohol while we use our alcohol wipes.

Our lives are short enough as it is. And God told us to be good stewards of them. So as for me and mine, we will balance family and safety in this season the best way we know how. We will make carefully-measured memories with the carefully-measured time God has given us. We will be good stewards as we gather together.

Happy Gathering Season, y’all. Be cotton-headed, but not a Ninny Muggins. Wear a Mask.

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A Nasty Woman’s Testimony

While working on my novel, I’ve been doing research on the patriarchy — that time-honored tradition of passing power through the penis. You aren’t a member if you don’t have a member.

I uncovered some questionable (but fascinating and honestly believable) etymology on the word testify. In ancient times, vows (and deals) were made by laying hands on (or beside or below) the testicles –take note of that root (and yes, pun intended…) — and then swearing. Women had no testicles, so no testimony for them. They couldn’t take a sworn oath. As a result, they weren’t in the membership. Literally.

(On a sort-of-side-note… all my life, my father has told me not to swear. Curse words out of a woman’s mouth turn it ugly!!! Well, rest assured, if there’s a double-standard, I’m going to fight to liberate it.)

And speaking of fighting, I’ll fight when somebody tells me I should keep quiet — especially when it comes to my opinions.

I’m not sorry for having opinions. I never tell anyone not to say what matters most to them. And neither should you. I have seen — in an up-close-and-personal way — how absence of dialogue, absence of voiced opinions, breeds dangerous dogma.

When only one perspective is heard, that’s when things can go horribly awry. That’s when cults emerge. That’s when fascism reigns supreme. When there’s only one voice shouting from the rooftops over the top of all the others — that’s the only time I believe it’s okay to say, “Will you shut up, man?”

This country was built on freedom — of all sorts. And should’ve been built on freedoms for all kinds of people. But we’re just now getting to that. We’ve made tremendous progress. We’re closer than ever.

And that’s why some sorts of people keep telling other sorts of people (people like me) to be quiet.

You know what kind of people want people like me to be quiet? Two kinds. The kind of people who have nothing to lose if the status quo is maintained… and the kind of people who hide behind the kind of people who have nothing to lose. Those who support them and hold them aloft and give them praise and feed their egos because they’ve been conditioned and brainwashed for a very long time to believe that the status quo is the only way to go. That if we rattle the cage, we’ll cause it all to fall down.

Well, let it. I’m tired of being caged. And hushed. I’m ready to rage against the machine, against the patriarchal juggernaut.

You know who I admire most? The ones who have escaped the smothering muzzle of the patriarchy and have come to speak out against it. And the people who still struggle under the massive gears, yet rail against it nonetheless. And the people running as fast as they can away from it, screaming warnings about it to the rest of us as loudly as they can. And the people running behind it, casting stones at it as hard as they can. I’m one who has escaped it, and still struggles under it, and runs away from it, and goes after it. I am all of those. And until it falls, so many of us are.

You know who I do not admire? The folks who ride atop its motorcade, waving flags of past injustices and touting its greatness. I do not admire the ones who ride its coattails like it’s their divine right to be pulled along because they wear the color of their forefathers and support the prejudices it fosters.

The patriarchy is really good at denigrating people who don’t align with their likenesses. They love to label so many. But today, I speak for me. For women. They judge us by our physical appearance — label us dogs, liars, bimbos, pigs who are ugly, fat, and horse-faced (to name a few). Or deem us weak because we bleed and have nothing dangling between our legs. Or call our voices harsh and our motives nasty. If we wield power, they call us monster.

They separate us from them… the members from the member-less. They love to make us the reviled Other.

Well, I will embrace the Other. I will wear my Nasty Woman shirt to Kroger proudly, despite the looks I get — from men and women alike. Like I should keep my opinions to myself.

I’m tired of being tried under the patriarchy’s rules and shamed for being a woman with a voice. Tired of being told to shut up.

You know who tells me to be quiet? No one. I will wear shirts, post signs, write blogs, and sing out for all the world to hear. My voice, my body, my opinions, my choices.

They are my rights — and should’ve been from the beginning of this great nation. We’ve been slowly gaining ground. And we cannot lose it now.

So watch out, patriarchy, the monsters and nasty women are coming — not for your member, just membership.

The Painful Privilege of Teaching your Husband’s Football Players

Teaching is a tough calling. And so is football. Both are hard and agonizing and leave you feeling bruised and battered. There are many days — sometimes almost all the days — that you’re left wondering why you willingly press your heart and soul onto such a grindstone, only to be continuously worn down.

Hit after hit. Tackle after tackle. Fumble after fumble. Punt after punt. The lecture goes wrong. The lesson plan fizzles. The handoff is bobbled. The class gets defensive. The kid you thought you’d finally wrangled into catching the ball, drops it at the last second. Some never make it into the end zone.

So many hard drives seem to end without points scored. Is all the work really worth the reward? Is there a reward?

I say yes. Even beneath the gritty pressure, I can spot the moments of brilliance, the shimmer amidst the dust. The glimmer of hope, the sparkle of fire waiting somewhere at the buzzer. For me. For them. For all of us. The grindstone polishes us all. But the going is always rough.

I am a teacher, and I am a football coach’s wife. And I am lucky enough to see my two worlds collide every year when I teach some of the players my husband coaches (and I cheer for) on Friday nights.

It is a privilege, but a painful one. The hardness and heartache of teaching players can be amplified beyond belief. But thankfully, so can the blessings.

Because of the duality of my relationship with these guys, I know so much more about them than what I usually know about my students’ lives.

I know who their parents are, where they come from, and where they hope to go. I know their strengths, and their weaknesses too. I know who struggles with neglect, who is spoiled rotten, who wants a D-1 scholarship, who just wants a family and fishing pond. I know who lost their mother to drugs, who reads on a 4th grade level, who travels from apartment to apartment to outrun bill collectors. I know who loves Hot Cheetos, or Hair Bands, or X-Box Live.

Over the years, I’ve had players with every privilege in the world and players with nearly every misfortune imaginable.

I’ve taught players whose moms were booster club presidents and players whose moms were boozing it up behind the press box. Players whose dads worked the sideline chain gang on Friday nights, and players whose dads worked the prison chain gang on the roadside on Wednesday mornings.

I know these things because these kids become my kids — the way all my students become my kids. But then, they’re also my football family — and football families have incredibly strong bonds. So they tell me things they wouldn’t necessarily tell somebody else.

Sometimes I learn their deepest truths in class discussions, sometimes in private ones, sometimes in journals and essays and notes. Sometimes by the way they dress, or interact, or suddenly withdraw.

I challenge these boys, I hold them to high standards, and demand they meet them. And sometimes they don’t. More times than I can count, they stumble and fall from the burdens they carry.

And when push comes to shove — and it always does (football is a contact sport after all) — I am here for them to vent, to fail, to get back up, to keep pushing forward. Because I know their lives. I know their stories. I know their pain and/or their privilege. And I know their potential.

And heaven help me, when they refuse to meet that potential, to seize the bar and raise it — to bench press it farther than they ever thought possible — it hurts me.

But I have to remind myself that if their fighting spirit — so evident out on the football field — doesn’t manifest itself in my classroom, I shouldn’t take it personally. Some of them are fighting demons far darker than the one found inside the book I’m asking them to read or the essay I’m demanding they write.

It frustrates me when I know they’re just being lazy… but it wrecks me when I know it’s because of their demons.

I know so much more about these players than simply their stats and their numbers listed in the program. And I wouldn’t trade my job or them as students for anything.

They inspire me and bless me and teach me more than they will ever know — more than I can ever teach them — about perseverance through pain, and about finding and keeping humanity inside so much hardship.

They teach me that, though struggles might run deep in your life, courage can too. Football has helped them see that. And teaching football players has helped me see that too.

Yes, the grind of teaching — and particularly teaching students with lives that shatter innocence (theirs and yours) — wears your heart and soul down. You give more (and sometimes lose more), than you ever thought possible.

But the wearing down also polishes your heart and soul. You often gain more than you ever thought possible too. So yes, the rewards are always worth the work. Are always worth the grind.

The Absence of Smiles

Do you ever feel like the celery in a hot wings basket? Or an ad on YouTube? Or the tootsie roll in the bottom of the Halloween pumpkin? Judged and found lacking? Or ignored altogether? Unable to connect?

I’ve been feeling that a lot lately. And I think it’s the isolation behind the mask. I find myself trying to connect by overcompensating — chattering aimlessly, using lots of hand gestures, smiling till my eyeballs vanish — trying to appear welcoming, to sound happy, to be happy. But I probably just seem crazy.

Teaching through a mask to 190-plus students also wearing masks is lonely business. And no matter how hard I try, they mostly stare silently back at me. Judging me. Or worse — not caring. Or even worse still — feeling as isolated as me.

Because I definitely feel lonely. And dejected. And detached. (And I fear that they do too.)

There’s a human connection we miss when we can’t see whole faces. Two-thirds of our features are currently hidden. And what’s hurting me most is the lack of smiles. I’m missing them something fierce.

And it’s breaking me.

Smiling’s my favorite. They’re so contagious — way more than COVID-19. And while the virus droplets aren’t getting shared and spread, neither are the smiles.

And I’m not just missing the smiles. I’m missing myself. It’s like my personality has been purloined by my PPE.

I never thought not seeing smiles could impact me so much.

But even without the masks, smiles are so few and far between right now. Everything and everyone is so angry and divided. Between the plague and the politics, I feel a social distance not solely attributable to the pandemic.

We’ve been losing our humanity for a long time now. And it’s what I need more of. More connections and grace. Not more exclusion and judgement.

Not more I’m better than you because I think like this. Or I’m better than you because I have accomplished this. Or I’ve been rewarded with this. Or I wear this. Or drive this. Or live here. Or work there. Or have this skin color. Or vote this color.

I want to belong, not to exclude. I want to be a part of something. Not to feel like the last one picked. But also not to be part of a click. And I definitely don’t want to be a dick. I just want to be included and to include others. To be a part of, not apart from.

Can’t we do better? Can’t we love better? and live better? and be better? Even behind masks? Because I am a believer in the safety and science of masks. But I’m also a big believer in smiles.

I miss sharing and spreading and basking in smiles.

The Most Critical of Workers are Reporting for Duty: Students in the Pandemic

As school starts back, we have a whole new essential workforce hitting the frontline in the pandemic. Teachers were labeled critical workers by the POTUS. And that is as it should be. We are willing and able to meet the challenges ahead — especially with a dedicated and conscientious school system supporting us. 

But I’m here to call attention to another group of critical workers out there — a group vital to the core function of society and the entire future of our great nation. A group of young, unsung heroes willing to do whatever it takes to succeed under strange and difficult demands. 

I’m talking about our students.

The changes these kids are facing — and embracing — are enough to rattle the steadiest of veterans. Our school has opened on a hybrid schedule, leaving us at half capacity inside our walls, with kids reporting both in person and virtually at different times throughout the week. The hallways and stairwells have one-way signs, there are hand sanitizer stations every fifty feet, lunches are eaten inside classrooms, masks are worn when social distancing isn’t possible, and desks face one direction and sit six feet apart.

But these kids of ours — these superhero Gen-Z go-getters — they are taking all these hurdles in stride just to be here and be educated in far-from-ideal and so-far-from- normal conditions.

And they’re doing it with smiles on their faces. Not that I can see their mouths, thanks to the masks they wear so willingly — but I can see those smiles in their eyes. And they can see mine. Or I truly hope so. Because I love being with them again, interacting, forging relationships, watching light bulbs click on, discussions unfold, learning ignite. 

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s far from easy peasy Lysol squeezy. Despite our school system creating one of the best re-opening plans I’ve seen out there, I’m not gonna lie, things feel weird. Because being socially distanced to keep us all together is messing with the normally exaggerated and wide-open personalities of my teen students.

I’m sure some of it has to do with the trauma of the past four months — the PTSD of losing classrooms and classmates and social lives literally overnight. And I’m sure a large part also has to do with the smaller class sizes and the masks we wear.

But y’all… I’m used to kids who like to talk. Who, if anything, talk too much most of the time. They’re teenagers. On the cusp of adulthood. It’s a confusing stage under normal circumstances. So they talk through their confusion in class A LOT… way more than they do at home. They feel freer to vocalize thoughts, feelings, dreams, and fears. And through their persistent chatter, formal class discussions, and best-friend heart-to-hearts, they learn who they are, what they know, what they believe, and where they stand in life. And I love that about teenagers. 

Like, really. I’m not lying. Some teachers love it when their students are silent. But me, I love it when they’re not. When they feel comfortable and safe enough to give voice to their rapidly-evolving thoughts and feelings. 

But this year, they are quiet. Eerily so — as if the masks are acting as mufflers. 

And not just for them. Me too. 

I teach because I love to make connections, to share literature and love and learning with young people so they know and understand their worth and potential. My goal is always to make a positive impact. 

But this year, my impact feels muffled, like my best efforts are falling on… not quite deaf ears, but more like mute mouths. Our kids, I think, feel vulnerable and isolated and self-conscious. 

But then, these kids are also brave. Brave and here. At school. In a brick and mortar building. Present and determined. They make me prouder than they’ll ever know. 

I wish I could put into words how much I love them. How far I am willing to go to help them succeed. How much they inspire me to be the best possible teacher — because they deserve only the very best. 

As our superintendent says, this school year should be seen not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow and become better at our craft. I want to be a better communicator and a better teacher — to bridge the social distancing distance and reach my students. And teach my students. And see them grow. 

I will rise to that opportunity, and I will seize it with both hands (well-sanitized, of course).

Because my students are willing to do the same. 

The Alchemy of Football: Spinning Straw into Gold

Football players know how to spin straw into gold. They know how to take the tough times and hard hits and turn them all into victory. Into pure gold.

Football has proven to me that alchemy exists. Remember alchemy? The science of legend and starry-eyed madness — that Middle Ages’ fever to turn base matter into precious metal?

It can be done. Football has discovered the secret. But there’s no short-cut, no cheating, no sleight-of-hand or fairy dust or smoke and mirrors. It takes months and months and years and years of dedication, sacrifice, discipline, and hard work.

The transformation is real, but not everybody makes it through to the other side. The process is hard. The grind is grueling. And if you survive it, you transcend it. And the result is pure gold.

But this year, the alchemy may be interrupted.

The hard work — the blood, sweat, tears put in during the off-season — may all get upended. Snatched away before the first opponent is faced. Snatched away by a virus that has completely transformed the world into something none of us recognize. A kind of reverse alchemy where conversation becomes altercation, faith reduced to condemnation, politics spun to propaganda — fueling shutdowns and shouting matches. A virus ending with so much death — of people, civility, relationships.

And in the aftermath of this virus, in an upside-down world, we may lose football for a season.

Robert Frost penned a famous poem about how quickly beauty and youth and life can pass us by — how “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” But I refuse to believe that. Beauty may be fleeting, and youth and life as well, but character is steady. Character remains.

That character is particularly evident in the new movement currently underway to give players input in decision making. One of the leaders of this newly-established #WeWantToPlay initiative is Trevor Lawrence, a player with well-established, 24 karat character.

Trevor is leading the charge to allow Power 5 conferences to play football. His points are valid and well-articulated. These schools have abilities that smaller colleges (and high schools) don’t have. They have the funds to take proper precautions and place programs in bubbles that will isolate and monitor players, their contacts, and their health. While there are still risks, these colleges’ situations are as ideal as it’s possible to be right now.

Still, there would be sacrifices. Beyond the risk of actual contraction are the documented after-effects of COVID-19, including potentially life-altering heart complications. These young adults are willing to make the sacrifice. They are adults, after all. They should have a say. Their voices should be heard.

High school football is another story entirely.

My family is involved with high school football. Our players are not adults. They do, however, know and understand sacrifice. Both the boys and their coaches have sacrificed a lot for the season already — and now they may end up sacrificing their season. It’s a sacrifice they never saw coming; one nobody signed up for.

Sacrifices are hard. In a normal year, football demands countless hours of sweat, blood, tears, bruises, sore muscles, brain power, and lost family and social time. This year, the sacrifices could be far more.

There are no easy answers. Some will have a voice in the choices of sacrifices. Others will not.

But if I’ve learned anything about football, it’s that sacrifice renders gold. If the Power 5 conferences have football, those players and their coaches will spin straw into gold.

And if high school and the smaller conferences don’t have a season, they, too, will spin straw into gold.

Even if the alchemy of football is interrupted… its magic will not be reversed. It will not be halted. It will persist and proclaim itself victorious. These young men and their coaches will come out on the other side stronger.

For all involved in football programs, it’ll sting — and way more than a little bit. It’ll hurt — a lot. For us, football IS fall. But the loss (or unexpected win) of a season won’t cause any of these coaches and players to fall. They know sacrifice. They’ve overcome pain and hardship before.

Because the gold of football is not in the wins, in the trophies or championships, in the college careers or NFL draft picks.  No, the pure gold that is forged from football is strength of character. So while the spent blood, sweat, and tears of the off-season may come to nothing, it won’t really come to nothing. Not really.

These players and coaches — from high school to college– have gold pumping in their hearts, fueling their souls, and lighting their wisdom. They are strong, brave, principled, driven, and more flexible than a game plan at halftime.

With or without a season, these programs will be victorious.Their gold will stay.

And even better, their gold will help lead the way out of this dark age and back into light.

The Badass who gifted me with Kickass

She used to drink Tab and smoke cigarettes, and she’s the first woman I ever knew who did a “man’s job.” If she hadn’t been in my family, meeting somebody like her might have come much later in my life — if at all.

But lucky for me, my Aunt Ann has been my champion and hero from the get-go. And I’m convinced she buried some deep kernel of kick-ass deep inside my soul that helped me escape the suffocating patriarchy of my past.

Pretty sure she planted the seed when she ran me through the Apgar circuit as a newborn. She traced my skin, counted my breaths, palpated my belly, flashed a penlight in my eyes, and gifted me with the gumption to defy limits and break free.

She was a first-year med student, and I was her live little anatomy lab. She was also an artist, and I became her model at four months when she sketched me in charcoal. I still have the portrait — subtle shading, curled edges — a study in parchment perched on my living room shelf.

Years later, she molded dolls for a hobby after long, heartbreaking hours at the hospital. Those dolls were her escape. She pressed clay with deft and delicate hands — tiny for a formidable 5’10 female. (Story has it the nurses always tried to hand her Large gloves. She wore Small.) She created the entire cast of A Christmas Carol for my 7th grade Language Arts class because she knew we were reading the book.

She made the six hour trek from Tupelo so my students could see them and pass them around. A trip just for my students. Just for me.

Now, she’s grown pale and turned to parchment, her skin yellow and paper thin. Her chin has tumbled in crepe folds on her neck. Her shoulders are sharp and folded like origami. Her eyes are discs, lined pale and gray. The thoughts behind them are fragile. They crumble and tear when pushed.

This is a tragedy. Ann had a mind like none I’d ever known. Sharp. Eidetic. Sherlock Holmes and Spenser Reed in female physician form. But she wasn’t created by a British crime novelist or a Hollywood script writer. She was created by God to break barriers and save lives. When she graduated with her medical degree in 1969, she was one of only two women in her class. She has always defied limits.

Ann suffered a heart attack while I was pregnant with our boys. Mike and I were driving home from Texas when I got the news. We’d just crossed the Mississippi when Aunt Jan, her twin, called.

“Ann’s dying,” she said, and her words punched the air from my lungs.

When I could breathe again, I announced I was going to Ann. “I’m outside Vicksburg. I can get to her in no time.” No time turned out to be four hours. We pulled into the hospital — her hospital, where she’d run ER night shifts for decades. Her kingdom. But she wasn’t in her kingdom. She was in a bed in a backless gown behind a curtain with a ceiling track in the CCU.

Her eyes were not their normal gray blue like water flickering over river stone, processing everything so fast. They were black water ponds, dark dark as pitch. Maybe she’d been given something that dilated them. Or maybe they’d seen something of the unknown and hereafter. Either way, they were haunting.

She took my arm in her hands and clutched it tight and peered into me eyes for a long, long while. No words. No movement. Just a long steady gaze from the depths of black eyes. It felt like goodbye. I told Mike that as we left, I was certain she had just said goodbye.

Over six years later, and she’s still here. Still, it was no doubt a goodbye. Because when they cracked her chest, they also cracked something in her mind.

She pulled through, but her memories and words float free of context and command. Her tongue flutters like a fly strip hoping to catch them. Every now and then, she gets lucky — snags part of a sentence, sputters fragments. But in no time, she’s lost and lonely again.

I’ve seen her three times since that October. Each new meeting, she is frailer, smaller, this larger-than life legend. She’s curling in on herself, chin toward throat, fingers toward palms, shoulders toward that cracked-sternum scar. Folding and curling inward. But her strength to defy limits remains.

I got word this morning that she’s in the hospital. Her wife is home alone. I don’t know what the next few hours or days may bring. I do know that she and Pat are strong and fierce and have battled prejudice, the patriarchy, pit bulls (yes, literally — and in the last month!) and the ravages of disease. They are separated from each other. I am separated from them. I feel helpless. There’s not much I can do and my heart cracks with the ache.

But I can pray. And I can ask all of you to pray too. Pray for these beautiful women in my life. These women who have shaped me, who’ve taken me in and listened to me, who’ve taught me how unconditional, unconventional love is worth pursuing and worth living. And who reminded me to always dig deep into my soul to find that kickass my Aunt Ann planted there so many years ago. So no one takes advantage or control of me and my dreams ever again.

ILY, Aunt Ann and Aunt Pat. ILY super very — so very super — very much a lot.

back to school scenarios and the kamikaze butterflies in my gut

Y’all. I’m a nervous wreck about the start of school this year. So many crazy unknowns. Will we report back on a full, traditional schedule? Will we be on some form of a hybrid? Will we be all online, at least in the beginning?

Unfortunately, none of these makes me comfortable.

Ideally, we would all be back in the classrooms with our students, reading, writing, sharing stories in person and on paper, laughing, singing the occasional impromptu television theme song, and building relationships that last and impact us for the rest of our lives.

That’s what we’ve always done and it’s what I love most in the world about my job. Getting to know and love my kids and appreciate how much potential they have and how much of it they’re actually using. I then get to push them based upon what I know about their skills level, personality, and propensities.

But this year, if we are all in the same classroom, it’ll be with masks. On me, at least. We don’t yet know if our system will require them. If masks are not mandatory, I will ask my students to respect my desire for them to wear one. And pray they don’t push back. So many people are opposed to them for reasons beyond me, and I know if I stand alone in asking my students to wear them, there WILL be backlash. But they DO truly help prevent the spread of disease — from the mask wearer to others. So me wearing a mask without my students wearing a mask is futile and far from ideal.

Also not ideal is the fact that my voice will be muffled and my smile invisible. Smiling’s my favorite. I do it all the time. I’ve never been one of those “Never let ’em see you smile till Christmas” kind of teachers. Nope. I love my kiddos and they’ll know it from the get-go. So no, masks are not ideal.

Neither is a hybrid schedule. But on a traditional schedule like we run at our school, high schoolers travel all over the campus seven to eight times a day. Without hybrid accommodations, the contamination curve is increased exponentially. A hybrid would reduce the number of students in classrooms on any given day and will hopefully help prevent the spread of the virus. So hybrid helps immensely and is probably the best scenario possible in the less-than-ideal, “between a rock and a hard place” position we all find ourselves in this school year.

But for a mom of six-year-old twins, if the primary school also goes hybrid, I have no clue what I’ll do for childcare. They’ll be home part time; I’ll be at work full time. I’m at a loss. (And I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one, as so many parents will find themselves in this situation. I wish I could blink and make everything normal again…)

And then finally, there’s the third potential solution: digital learning days to start the school year (and for the foreseeable future). This is my least favorite possibility. In March, it wasn’t too bad because I already knew my students and they knew me. They understood my expectations, I understood what they were capable of. I could push them from inside the strict confines of a screen and they produced — often with flying colors.

But if we begin the year digitally with no in-person interactions, my opportunities to get to know my students and what makes them tick are seriously hampered, and my abilities to demand their best are deeply handicapped. And their motivation — as high schoolers — heck as all humans without personal interaction and contact, honestly– is deeply lessened. Relationships with those around me keeps me motivated and accountable. As it does for my students.

Yes, I’m a nervous wreck. I have no control over this virus or the decisions being made to circumvent it.

I will learn tomorrow what our system will do. And I know our superintendent and school board members and leadership teams have done all within their powers to turn a potential no-win situation into a productive and successful school year. So I will have faith.

And I will do my part to make it work. And so will everyone else at our school — teachers, students, administrators, support staff — no matter what our schedule looks like. We are strong and capable and we can do hard things.

We will make it work — and beyond that, we will succeed.

Still, that doesn’t calm the crazed, kamikaze butterflies dive-bombing my gut right now. I’m just so ready to KNOW, and I’m so ready to GO!

on being sidelined

After four months of being sidelined from life, the isolation is starting to get to me. I feel cut off from humanity, from reality. And I’m having nightmares where friends and buildings are crumbling and falling away; where huge chasms hang between me and everyone else; where I’m left standing alone on something barely larger than a pencil lead.

Pretty sure that pencil lead directly translates into anxiety about our school year. So many differing opinions and data, so much uncertainty.

I do what I can to cope and calm my nerves. I write, I walk, I run, I read, I love on my family. But still, I get ornery sometimes.

Today was one of those days. I was in the surliest of moods. Just ask my husband, who was definitely fielding some “worse” from our “better or worse” vows.

So I took my morning walk to see if Mother Nature could mend my meanness. Even so, I wore my bitterness on my shoulder like a challenge.

She began by trying to dazzle me with a set of ruby crepe myrtle trees keeping sentry halfway up the big hill. The blossoms are full-bodied and top-heavy, like upturned communion goblets spilling claret red wine. Pretty, I thought. But I’m angry and shall not be moved..

Not much farther, I spied a deep green part left in the dew-slicked sod by some foraging animal’s feet. The color contrast was sumptuous, but I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and I was staying there.

Off to my right, the back and forth patter of an oscillating sprinkler over moon white petunias caught my attention. Petals clumped like wet moth wings. I took joy in finding kindred, soggy spirits. I was full up with piss and vinegar.

And then I hit tipping point. A neighbor boy, fresh from his run, sitting on the humped back of the whale-shaped rock at the pool, waiting for the sun to unspool from the gray. He nodded and waved. I said hello in spite of myself. I may have even smiled.

I was coming around.

As I walked, I began looking for the heart-shaped holes scattered in the sidewalks around the neighborhood. There’s a multitude of them — symbols of the passing of time. Erosion, yes — but perseverance too. Proof of beauty in decay. Of love winning. Of hearts hatching, despite — or because of — the hardness of life.

It’s not all bad, I reasoned.

Then I came across a tiny turtle in the road, her patchwork shell glistening. She thought she’d been calculated in her crossing — not many cars out yet. But work trucks and vans were arriving for the new houses going up. She didn’t anticipate those. Nor did she anticipate me, a deus ex machina in black Adidas, come to pluck her off her path and plop her safely in the grass. She hissed (didn’t know they could do that..) and drew in her neck, all piss and vinegar.

I smiled. Maybe that’s what all this has been for me these last few months — a deus ex machina of pandemic proportions has plucked me off my path and sidelined me for a bit — out of some harm’s way I didn’t calculate, anticipate, or understand. And me, all piss and vinegar and far-from-thankful.

I began my descent toward home and the river as the splendor of sunrise unfurled: an apricot, rose petal, nectarine sky. A parfait of fresh fruit and flowers.

In my forty-minute walk, nature had poured her lessons and reminders into me. Of her goodness, her grace, her grind, her perseverance, her pain, and her glory. Especially the glory — the just desserts you will always receive if you believe in a higher cause and are willing to be open and receive.

And lucky for us… even when we’re not.

Even when we’re cranky and mean, with clumped-up, damp spirits from foraging around in the dark, someone or something will be there to lift us up so our hearts can hatch inside the struggle. So apricot, rose petal, nectarine beauty can bloom.

Even then.

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