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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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When Our Hearts are in Deep… and At Risk

I’m a teacher. I pour my heart into my students. Every Day. From first bell to last, I show them love. I grant them access to my heart and mind and do my best to access theirs. It’s my calling and my job. And I love it.

There’s a movie I used to love called Freedom Writers. It’s the story of a teacher and her students — students society has shunned. Problem students. Rebellious students. Students most likely to be given up on. But this teacher doesn’t. She’s determined to help them see their potential, to find their voice, to show them the power of using it to better themselves and the world around them. What’s not to love, right? It’s what I try to do with my students. It is my number one goal.

So I was telling this fellow teacher how much I love this movie, and she floored me by saying she hated it. Really? She’s a literature and writing teacher too — and her personal story isn’t too far removed from the students’ in the film. She grew up rough, she spent her fair time in alternative schools. She didn’t trust herself, her abilities, or her voice. She was a rebel who found a cause in teaching. She dedicated her life to helping kids find themselves and their voice.

So I wondered, really wondered, why this teacher friend of mine hated this movie so much.

“Because that teacher gave too much of herself,” she said. “She destroyed her marriage, her mental health, her life outside of teaching. She gave TOO much.”

Dang.

My friend wasn’t lying. 

And that made me think about our current situation — teaching in a pandemic. Giving and giving and giving to fit our students’ needs. Because need us, they do. They need to be in school. They need the socialization and they need the quality of an in-person classroom. We saw – and are still seeing – the fallout from not having classes and classmates in person the last year and a half.

And we teachers need to be in school, too. Their faces, their physical presence keeps the fire lit inside us. Its a symbiotic relationship. Physical connections fuel educational connections.

But what does that mean for us as teachers? For the teachers who care passionately and want to give our students our very best so they may have the very best education?

It means we risk destroying ourselves in the process. These days, our hearts are at risk. Literally and figuratively. But more on that in a minute…

While we teachers work, our own children attend school. Many of them are too young to be vaccinated. Still, we send them to school because we believe in the power of in-person education, despite the risks. Right now, the benefits outweigh the risks, so I believe they are where they need to be. But they are not as safe as they could be. The risks could be reduced for them, even without the ability to be vaccinated yet. Masks can help reduce their risk.

But in most places, there are no school mask mandates. And without mask mandates — or at least the autonomony in our classrooms to require them — the virus will spread like wildfire. The Delta variant is hitting kids as fast as adults. It is as contagious as measles.

Wearing a mask does less to help the person wearing it than it does to those around them. So when my children wear masks and no one else does, their masks do little for them. And if I, a vaccinated teacher who poses little to no risk to others, wear one, it does very little to help my students. But if we all wear masks, it does innumerable good. And if we all wear masks, it does zero harm.

Because I’m not saying put a needle in your arm and subject yourself to “poison” or “policing,” or whatever notions you firmly believe in. That’s your right. But I am saying put on a mask to help protect MY CHILDREN. And my immunocompromised friends. And my medical provider friends and family who are exhausting themselves – giving WAY TOO MUCH OF THEMSELVES – for people who don’t believe the virus is a big deal.

And speaking of giving too much of yourself. Let me get back to how we are all — every last one of us — putting our hearts literally at risk. Let me tell you about my baby sister.

She’s 50 years old and she contracted a light case of covid last year. Sniffles, sore throat, fever, body aches, loss of taste and smell. She had zero comorbidities and was presumably fine afterward, but six months later she discovered the long-term effects. The virus had desiccated her heart. Her previously healthy, Peleton-bike-riding, yoga-loving heart. 

She thought she’d developed exercise-induced asthma. She began coughing with exertion. Having trouble breathing during exercise. Things went from bad to worse. She nearly collapsed climbing a flight of stairs.

An x-ray revealed major issues. A cardiologist was consulted. The diagnosis: myocarditis due to Covid. A heart function of 12%. She’s been on medication and a life vest for two months and showing little improvement. So in the next week, she’ll go into the OR for a defibrillator/pacemaker combo and then again later for a valve replacement. If these measures don’t work, she’ll be put on a heart transplant list. 

My previously healthy, vibrant, mask-wearing baby sister, 50 years old.

And the same thing is now happening to 20-40 somethings at high, high rates. They are coding in ERs every night. They are filling up hospital floors and ICUs faster than they were last January. And the morgues are getting there. And the cardiologists, they’re busier than they’ve ever been.

Can we ALL please just wear our masks?

And I know while I’m writing this that I won’t change anybody’s minds. That those who hate masks and rage against vaccines won’t read what I write. Or if they do, it’ll be to lash out at me. Or troll me. Or laugh behind my back. I know that. I’m not writing it for them.

I’m writing to the people who will read my words because they believe, because their hearts are in this and they know we’re in deep. They believe if we don’t do something, the outcomes will be tragic. They believe in the power of prevention. They believe in protecting our loved ones, keeping our kids in school, and our economy afloat.

I’m begging friends like these to please pick up their masks and pick up their phones and to use their voices and help change the world.

Help us keep from sacrificing way too much: our children, our medical professionals, and our economy. Please.

(And if you have similar personal stories or concerns and want to reach out, please feel free to send me an email at hhester05@gmail.com.)

2021’s Promise-Filled Purple Hurricane Class

Last night, the Cartersville High School Class of 2021 graduated. And in true pandemic fashion, the year of never-ending challenges refused to let up.

Storms came. The sky raged and splintered. The clouds shuddered and roared. Sheets of rain raced across the stadium, pummeling the stage where the seniors were at that very moment supposed to be receiving their diplomas.

About forty people (school administrators, teachers, and techies) huddled beneath a tiny tent just right of center stage (to protect the sound equipment inside, not themselves).

The stands were empty, families and friends recently vacated to parked car interiors, teachers hunkered down in the field house. It would prove a stuffy, stormy, two-hour delay.

The seniors, robed and tasseled and anxious to get the show on the road, were huddled inside the school gym, appropriately named The Storm Center.

The graduates knew the rain was coming. School officials knew the rain was coming. They’d all been watching their weather apps the entire week. Watching as the chance of thunderstorms kept climbing, finally topping out at 100% .

But the seniors had taken a vote. They didn’t care if it was midnight, come hell or high water (and oh, how that high water came), graduation would be Friday. Too many had too many plans Saturday: family leaving, family vacations, graduation parties, Life.

And close to midnight, it was — 11:22 PM to be exact — when the caps were finally tossed.

But first, came the ceremony… and 2021 was’t done making mischief just yet.

The families and seniors had just taken their seats when class representative Alli Archer welcomed the crowd. As she commented on her class’s perseverance, the lights in the stadium flickered and failed.

But this was just one more hurdle the seniors sailed past. They cheered their defiance. Friends and family took up their cause and thousands of phones lit up the stands in solidarity.

The effervescent energy of this class is contagious and God took note.

Class secretary Robert Novak concluded his prayer with a hallowed Amen when God restored all the lights. Chill bumps and cheers erupted in the stadium.

2021 would not, could not, win.

Photo Credit: Trevor Shipman

Despite the hardships and hurdles flung their way, this senior class — this beautiful, resilient 2021 class — didn’t just weather the storm, they owned it. And how could they not? They are Cartersville Purple Hurricanes. It’s in their genes.

Carpe Diem and the Soggy Bits

I woke up this morning at 4:14. I didn’t want to. I wanted to sleep. I’m beyond exhausted. I feel like the soggy bits at the bottom of a garbage disposal… all churned up and left to be washed away. But I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay there tossing and turning, trying to quiet my mind. My mushy, damp, mushroom filled mind. 

It wallows in darkness all the time now. After all, this is the year of living with mortality. From the five hundred thousand and counting deaths due to Covid, to the traumatic cardiac event that cost my father his life, to the long-suffering, slow loss of  my aunt, it has been a tough year. 

I was going try to fight through the wakefulness this morning. Try to lie there, mind churning, stirring and slicing my thoughts, leaving me anxious and exasperated. But then I remembered the article I read this week… about how we need quiet time, Me Time. Time with no interruptions, no pressing obligations (well, they’re there… but nothing can really be done about them at 4 AM), and how those simple solitary hours can be some of the most important, and most difficult, to find. Especially for a 54 year- old grieving daughter and niece, who is also the mother of twin soon-to-be-seven year old sons, as well as adult daughters, who still pull at the strings of my heart and the thoughts in my mind, no matter how grown they get. Plus, I’m the wife of a coach getting geared up for spring ball, and the teacher of 160-plus students. In a pandemic year. All of this. In a pandemic year. 

Let me say, this year has shown me why teachers retire after 30 years. I get how if you start your career straight out of college, a dew-skinned, wide-eyed, tenderfoot, that by the time you hit 52, you’re spent. You’ve developed thick skin, side-eyes, and calloused heart. (Let it be known I work hard every single day not to let my heart grow hard. My conscience is a pumice stone, grinding away the calcium deposits and thick skin. But also let it be known that tenderness makes my job way harder. It leaves me wide open to wounds and weeping.) 

But alas for me, I was never a 22 year old teacher. I am a product of a nontraditional trajectory: back to school at 32, graduated at 34, 20 years a teacher, and way beyond spent. Emotionally and mentally. 

And I know it’s not all teaching that’s done it to me — because my nontraditional trajectory didn’t stop at my late-blooming career path. I also decided to have a second set of children, twin boys no less, at 48. Boys who didn’t sleep for sixteen months – which may be partly why (nearly seven years later) I still can’t seem to catch up… and why waking this morning at the ass crack of day’s beginnings was so incredibly insulting.

And I know it’s not all parenting primary-school twin boys that’s exhausted me.  Because the pandemic has saddled me with all sorts of extra weight too… the five-to-ten pounds worth of stress eating because, hell, carpe diem, for tomorrow we may… well, you know. I mean, after all, 500,000 have, plus my father and aunt. And then there’s the return of teenaged acne from the fabric masks I wear faithfully, and the lack of smiles from my students (maybe just because I can’t see them under their own faithfully-worn masks or maybe because they aren’t smiling either). And the continual waves of students leaving for quarantine and returning from quarantine. And my asynchronous classroom adaptations so hopefully they don’t feel as lost and forlorn as I do. But they do…

And I know it’s not all pandemic. Because I’m also executor to my father’s estate. Which means I haven’t had time to truly mourn because I’m dealing with the load and stress and anxiety of dealing with finances and legal matters that are completely alien to my being. It’s like handing a toddler a buzzing chainsaw and telling her to clean out the underbrush. It’s too heavy. There’s way too much room for error. There’ so much I could do wrong. Chop down the ancient oak or the beautiful dogwoods, get tangled up in poison ivy, raze my legs right out from under me.

I need supervision every step of the way. And thank heavens I’ve had it. I have a family of experts in various arenas and they’ve all lent a hand. Me, all I’m good at is the grunt work. The clearing of the debris. I guess that’s why I have the chainsaw, after all. But, have mercy!

So here I am, typing away my innermost thoughts on my computer (at now, 6 AM), the warm glow of a lamp next to me, warm coffee in my favorite mug,and nothing to keep me company but the quiet hum of the boys’ white noise machines and the keyboard recording my inner-most thoughts. 

And not gonna lie, it’s kinda nice. (Not saying nice enough to attempt on a daily basis because, by GOD, I’m running on dregs.) But still, kinda nice. Like the distinct pleasure of low tide. There are tiny, sparkling bits of peace unearthed or deposited there in the newborn damp.

I guess there are gems to be found in the soggy bits once the churning has paused after all. 

So, right now, I’m actively searching for them. I’m using these newborn, wet moments of my day to write my memoir, to chase my future. To birth yet another nontraditional career inside the trajectory of my nontraditional life. 

I’m believing in myself. For at least a hot minute — before the sun comes up and the boys wake up and the day’s demands start rising again… leaving me fighting for life. Not just my life, but all life. My boys’, husbands’, girls’, students’, society’s. 

It makes for an exhausted life. But a worthy one. So carpe diem it is.

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.

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