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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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covid19

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.

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.

To Ball or not to Ball: a coach’s wife’s heartfelt ranking on risk and reward

I am a huge football fan, and we are a huge football family. From my high school ball-coaching husband and pee wee player sons, to my grown daughters (one a Georgia Bulldog, the other a Tennessee Volunteer), we live for Friday nights under the lights and Saturdays out in the sun. But I have to tell you, all this talk of opening up summer practice has me torn.

Right now, my husband’s after-school profession and my family’s biggest passion and beloved pastime is under some serious scrutiny as the Powers-that-Be determine what, when, how (and even whether) to get the preseason conditioning and practices under way.

My heart is so torn. I know the risks and I know the rewards.

The risks can be great. My daughter is a doctor out in Dallas. The most-serious cases in all of North Texas are treated in a COVID-unit in her hospital. She tells me how the virus ravages patients, both with preexisting conditions and without. She knows how impossible it is to predict whose body can handle a coronavirus attack and whose can’t.

But I also know the risk for high school football players is minimal. Only 2% of confirmed COVID-19 cases are children, and of those, only 6% or so are hospitalized. Even with the growing awareness of the dangerous Pediatric Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome that’s been in the news lately, the risk to our players is incredibly small.

So odds are, our boys can huddle up, knock helmets, throw passes, and swap sweat and oxygen without adverse consequences. So what happens on the practice field isn’t what worries me.

No, I am far more worried about what happens in the weight room.

These boys lift A LOT of weight. They huff and puff and pump themselves up before pressing ginormous poundage. They use spotters. And those spotters stand directly behind and/or above the weightlifters’ faces. They exhale and inhale each other’s air. Six-foot social distancing is impossible. Ingestion of respiration droplets is inescapable.

And while the boys themselves are probably going to be just fine, they ARE potential carriers who can share the virus at home with parents and grandparents — some with compromised immune systems, some without. (And again, that doesn’t necessarily predict relative safety or risk.)

Also, a recent study out of South Korea reveals over 1000 COVID cases there were linked to fitness classes, at an attack rate of 26.3%. The exhaled breath of athletes under physical exertion causes more dense transmission of isolated droplets. That, paired with unpredictable air flow, increases the contagion factor dramatically. And facemasks during heavy exercise can cause dizziness and fainting. So… not ideal.

The air in the field house weight room will be steamy and full of exhaled air, recirculating through a multitude of lungs, coaches’ included. And that is what worries me on a selfish and personal level. Coaches fall within age ranges far more susceptible to the virus. And those coaches can likewise inadvertently carry the virus home to wives and family members who may be susceptible.

Yes, there are definite variables and risks involved in starting football back up for the summer. But then, I also understand there are rewards.

The rewards for these coaches and their players are tremendous. Because football is so much more than just a game. It is a commitment and it is a calling, but most importantly, it is a family. And that family has a legacy — a legacy left by hometown heroes to current family members, who will carry and leave that legacy for future generations to come.

The tradition of football is strong: the heart, the commitment, the discipline, the family, the legacy.. these are the rewards. And to miss a season would be a tragedy. But then, so would unnecessary deaths or debilitating lifelong conditions for players, coaches, families, and fans.

I guess there are risks and rewards to be considered with every decision that comes with life. And for this wife of a football coach, teacher of football players, and mother of a physician daughter, the risks and rewards are weighing heavy on my heart. I love my family. I love my football. I love my football family.

For the time being, I’ll wait on the Powers-that-Be. And depending on what they decide, my family and football families around the nation will need to make weighty decisions of our own. May God grant us wisdom as we move into this new season of a pandemic preseason.

(And may He also guide medical science to wipe this virus from the face of the earth so that the only face-masks we have to worry about are of the 15-yard penalty variety.)

this virus is a monster and the monster is a zombie

My students’ final assignment for the year was to write a monster/hero essay. They were to personify coronavirus, identify its monstrous traits and then identify the heroes fighting against it. It was a persuasive, creative essay and they did a wonderful job. Now, after witnessing some monstrous behavior last night, I’ve decided to add my own take on this monster/hero assignment.

COVID-19 is indeed a monster. It leaves patients dead on gurneys in hospitals across the world, but it’s also leaving friendships dead on computer screens in houses around the world. There’s a plague’s worth of negativity out there, and the negative cases of coronavirus infection are having far greater death tolls than the confirmed positive ones.

COVID-19 is a monster. And the monster is a zombie, consuming rational people’s brains, turning them into growling, angry predators on attack.

I have been fortunate enough to not have a family member or close friend infected with the physical manifestation of COVID19. But this new strain — this tertiary infection, attacking not lungs or kidneys or circulatory systems, but people’s right minds — that’s another story. It’s even more contagious. Droplets of venom left hanging in cyberspace just waiting to infect new hosts. I’ve born witness to multiple clumsy, violent attacks in recent weeks.

Friendships left in decayed, rotten states.

Something’s gotta give. Don’t fight with a zombie. Don’t let this negative strain infect you too. Steer clear. Stay safe. Be a hero.

Pink Flamingo Lawn Party

In my almost twenty years of teaching, I’ve acquired a small posse of pink flamingos — although some might argue that’s an understatement. Either way, suffice it to say, I’ve got a few flocking flamingos.

My collection began serendipitously, like all truly great collections do. I was in my first year of teaching, and while driving to work, I would pause at a stop sign in the dip of a hill on a back country road. And there, on a corner lot of the four-way, sat a yellow clapboard house with white trim. Average enough. But what this house had like no other house I’d ever seen before was a passel of pink flamingos throwing a party.

Shit you not.

Now this was way before smart phones with cameras, but gosh, I wish I’d had one. Still, picture it if you will…

Ten or twelve pink plastic flamingos arranged in an artistic display of garden-party fun. Some wore hats, some wore beads. There was one in a Hawaiian shirt, another in a frothy green boa. There were umbrella drinks staked in front of them, and they were clustered in groups, mixing and flamingling. A couple were even making out in the back (which made for a whole lotta necking). It was a technicolor tableau of tacky plastic yard art.

The first time I saw them, I stopped the car, enthralled. I couldn’t wait to get to school and tell my kids about them.

Then, when the following Monday rolled around — Heavens to Birdsy, there was a new scene arranged! A fishing expedition this time, complete with rods and reels and a couple canoes. The flamingos wore miniature vests and fishermen hats. There was a cooler of beer on a bench and a trawl line with silver plastic fish hanging off the back.

I knew flamingos ate fish, but with such skill! such accoutrement!

Every Monday of that school year, a new tableau was unveiled, leaving me smiling ear to ear. There were barbecues, pool parties, trick or treat costumes, even a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer and a red-foam clown-nosed Rudolf in the lead. I don’t think Christmas as a kid ever got me as excited as those Monday mornings my first year teaching.

My students were as obsessed as I was and never failed to ask about the flamingos’ latest exploits. The last week of school, as my seventh-graders wrapped up their year, they also wrapped up flamingos in tissue paper and gave them to me as gifts. Book marks, magnets and tchotchkes and homemade art.

In nearly twenty years, my desk and bookshelf behind it have become littered with flamingo fare, which eventually spilled over into my home and my friends and family. I’ve been gifted with stuffed ones, resin ones, painted ones, glow-in-the-dark ones. I’ve got bags and hats and earrings and even a gaudaciously-sparkly Vegas-style bracelet my sister discovered for me. In Vegas.

My husband found me a phone cover, my girls gifted me an apron. My mother got me kitchen towels, friends give me coasters and cups, throw pillows and blankets. An artist friend painted some on canvas and wind chimes. Kids get them for me as ornaments every Christmas.

For my fiftieth birthday, Mike surprised me with a lawn-full of the yard birds wishing me the happiest of “Flocking Birthdays.” After that, I obtained a pair of classic ones perched on metal sticks in pots for my deck — the kind your great Aunt Pearline had grazing in her blue hydrangeas in front of her trailer in Euharlee in the 70s. Heck, she still has them to this day. And now, so do I. Plus a zombie skeleton one just for Halloween.

That distant flamingo house party at the four-way stop fizzled out long, long ago, but it started a trend. A collection. An obsession.

I for-sure wouldn’t say my collection’s complete. I mean, sure…

I’ve got tumblers and coasters aplenty. I’ve got whirligigs, wind chimes galore. You want flamingo shirts? Not quite twenty. But who cares? No big deal, I want more…

I want to do what those people did. I want to make, want to make some parties, put all my birds out on display, kick up their bills…

Out where you walk, out where you run, out where you’ll drive by them just for fun,

… partying free, please let them be part of your world.

Corny, I know… but still. All those years ago, in perhaps my hardest teaching year of all, with seventh-grade students battling hormones and each other on the daily — flamingos brought me (and them) great joy.

And now, in the midst of all this coronavirus craziness, with all of us battling depression and each other, why not plant a little pink flamingo joy on a patch of lawn at our own pale yellow house?

So to my husband, if you’re reading this — I may have just ordered a 50-pack of powder pink flamingos on Amazon. We’re officially flocked.

And neighbors — please don’t call the cops or the HOA on me. As far as I’ve heard, there’s no social distancing restrictions on pink plastic yard art.

The 2020 Class of Grit and Grace

Yesterday was my senior students’ last day of high school, and unfortunately it was virtual. It breaks both my heart and theirs. I came to know many from this 2020 class as juniors last year, my first year at Cartersville — and those of you who teach know how those kids you teach your first year (whatever “first” it may be) live in a special little place in your heart.

But this crew didn’t just carve out a niche, they climbed in and set up camp. And when we were all yanked apart eight weeks ago, my heart was left numb and aching.

I miss them like nobody’s business. They are a smart, fun-loving group, full of moxie and mirth, despite life being more than a little unfair to them.

Several of them I’ve had the honor of teaching two years in a row — last year in American Lit and this one in journalism. There’s one particular group of girls who’ve written about the impact coronavirus has had on their lives — everything from emotional turmoil to lost milestones and missing friends.

But while they do address the negatives, what I find profound and powerful is the grit and grace they’ve uncovered in themselves, despite the unforgiving situation. I find myself humbled and inspired by these young adults.

One bubbly eighteen year old with eyes blue as May skies and an outlook equally clear, explains how she finds comfort in the pandemic: “I completely lose myself in words. [I have a] need for music and reading. It’s a haven for me, a place for me to say and think what I want … It feels like a sense of worth to have what YOU need set down in writing.”

Ultimately, the one thing she hopes happens after this pandemic pause is that “the world can come together and act as a whole instead of being separated.” In the meantime, she wants the earth to “catch its breath and just be.”  

Another student who never fails to maneuver through darkness in search of light inspires me more than she’ll ever know. This year was rocky for her, even before the shutdown, but she handled that upheaval with strength and resolve.

And now her year has been upended once again, but through it all, she’s remained optimistic. Sure, she has felt “down in the dumps,” but she also sees this as an opportunity to “hike, travel to beautiful gardens, walk, run, [and] work out.” She notes “how structured and unappreciative life used to seem, [when] most everyone took …everyday activities for granted.” Now, she’s determined to soak up the memories and moments until life resumes its normal pace.

A third senior with her own set of childhood ghosts has used her past to help her forge the future with confidence. She battled feelings of “not being enough” for a very long time, but along the way she’s gathered the wisdom to know better– and the foresight to know this pandemic will not beat her or her classmates.

“Seniors are strong and we will get through this. We might not finish this school year traditionally, but we are going to finish. You will not defeat our 2020 class. And we will be ready for wherever life takes us next.”

I don’t know about y’all, but I believe her.

And finally, a fourth senior, one with flawless hazelnut skin and an outlook far beyond her years blew me away with her words this week. She’s had a lot to juggle, caring for two young brothers at home and managing her own course load while her physician mother treats COVID19 patients. And though she admits to feeling proud of her mother, she has equal feelings of being robbed of her senior milestones.

“It makes me feel selfish, but people always say that the first step to recovery is admittance. So that means I’m not just dealing with the pain, I’m healing.”

I feel like what she says is just what this tenacious senior class is doing — dealing with the pain and healing. By seeking beauty and finding grace inside the struggle.

I would say I can’t wait to see where this world takes them, but then, the world’s not taking them anywhere. It’s definitely the other way around.

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