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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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education during COVID

Teaching inside Covid’s Inferno

While teaching Dante to my honors sophomores, I can’t help but reflect on the parallels between his epic journey and the year 2020.

We should’ve known when we lost Kobe that this year did not bode well. Then March happened. And schools took a “two week break” to flatten the curve, and there was no turning back.

The year should’ve borne a warning label: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

Two weeks trying to flatten the curve turned into two months, then two seasons, and now three. It seems there’s no flattening this curve. The bell swells bigger and bigger — but in reverse — as down we go, sagging lower and lower into this hell curve.

We’ve been plunged into Covid’s Inferno. A continuous downward spiral. Concentric circles of darkness and despair.

My students are suffering. My fellow teachers. My family. Me. We’re all suffering. Schedules and structure have been harrowed, relationships strained, connectivity disrupted, disjointed, destroyed. Time lost. Joy lost. Lives lost. Adolescent angst is at an all time high. Adult spirits are at an all-time low.

For a brief while — at the end of September — things finally seemed to be looking up. Turns out, we were just climbing one of the rocky walls that separate some of the more wretched ditches of the depths of hell.

Things began crumbling beneath us again. We rode a rockslide of new outbreaks, new quarantines, huge empty sections of classes as students became At-Home-Learners — a new, benign term for a much-maligned state in this 2020 school year. So… we went on hybrid again.

There are lots of hybrid creatures in Dante’s version of hell, half human, half beast. And now there are hybrid schedules in our version. Half our students here for half a week while the other half are at home, then switch.

The hybrid schedule is likewise half beast. Students really struggle with it. Still, at least kids are meeting with teachers in person. At least we can see their faces — half of them, anyway. Half-faced students, all foreheads and eyes, the rest hidden beneath masks.

Some say eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, these kids still feel hopeless, despite our best efforts. Lost in a hell swamp. Drowning in an abyss of strangeness, angst, and isolation. And we are too… we teachers are drowning too.

We’re all fighting so hard. To stay afloat. To stay positive. To do good work. But we’re exhausted. It‘s an exhaustion like we’ve never known before.

And now, watching the news and seeing the headlines, the pictures — the miles and miles of cars waiting for COVID tests outside Dodger stadium, the pop up morgues constructed in El Paso, the renewed lockdowns in New York City — I feel like we’re waiting for a tidal wave to hit us and we’re armed with nothing more than a mask for safe passage across the swirling torrents of infection. Masks and wishful thinking.

…and so often kids let the masks slide down their noses and mouths while talking to each other and to me, sending droplets circulating into 2nd circle whirlwinds waiting to sweep us all up in their contagion. Droplets poised like microscopic 7th circle centaurs, arrows pointed at our chests.

It’s hard to guard ourselves from infection. If we haven’t been impacted physically, we’ve been impacted emotionally. Our hearts are feeling defeated. Covid has threatened every piece of refuge we have — school, home, church, and now, in this season, holiday gatherings. It threatens our every peace, this snapping, vicious multi-headed beast.

We’re in the ninth month of this journey. Surely we’re nearly done. I want so desperately to believe it… that Satan’s about to show his ass one final time so we can crawl down the hairy hank and emerge from this Hell hole of a year and into the shining light again.

I don’t know when it will be over, but I know it will. One day, good Lord willing –and hopefully soon — we will emerge, better for the journey. Wiser. More compassionate and understanding and thankful.

Good Lord Willing.

God, I hope it’s soon.

.

Get us off this Bumper Car Demolition Derby Year

This year is out of control. And the hits just keep coming.

Teaching in a pandemic is no joke. Being a Democrat in the South in an election year is no joke. Staying optimistic in the midst of unfiltered negativity and knee-jerk reactionaries is no joke. Unmuffled jeeps waving Trump flags and wearing MAGA hats stealing our Biden sign on Halloween night is no joke. Sweet-faced, golden haired, eleven-year-old girls coming into my yard in broad daylight to steal our sign — proclaiming it illegal, but willing to do it anyways (until I stop them and tell them to move along) — is no joke.

What is this world coming to? What is wrong with people? With the universe? With me?

I feel like no matter what I do, nothing is in my control anymore. Like I’m living on a bumper car track — strapped in and tethered to some chaotic electric current of negativity and mayhem. Like an All-State commercial has taken over my life. My world.

Sometimes I feel slightly in control. I can feel the tug of the steering column on the rubber beneath me as I try valiantly to drive my life and stay healthy and in good humor. And it begrudgingly responds to my demands — until some flying obstacle slams into me and sets me spinning inside this cosmic carny ride.

Well, I’m tired of this wild ride.

I’m tired of the gleeful abandonment of humanity I see on a daily basis. I’m tired of being accosted by distorted, funhouse mirror versions of values.

I want kindness and order again — not “law and order” makeshift militias raiding my property on Halloween night while my boys and I are snuggled up in our pajamas watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” Robbing our boys of sweet memories and replacing them with nightmares of cult followings and cruelty. Robbing my husband and me of our faith in this country’s democracy and the processes it founded so long ago.

My heart and my country have been flung off course from all directions.

Nothing feels normal anymore. Nothing feels right. Everybody seems to have an accelerator, but no brakes. An uncanny ability to aim for one another with a gleam in our eye and maniacal laugh on our lips. I do my best to stay out of the way of barreling bullies intent on careening me off course, but it is getting harder and harder to do.

Because I’m leashed to this bumper car demolition derby of a year and I despise everything about it.

I’m tired. I am a strong, fierce female fighting the good fight, but boy, am I tired.

Somebody bring back compassion and calm. Somebody cut the negative energy encircling and snaring us all. How about a whole lot of somebodies… Let’s cut this negative energy at its source and bring back the compassion and calm of America again.

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. 

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