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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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teaching during covid

Time to Tuck in this School Year and Lay it to Rest

It’s time to put this school year to bed.

We’ve got three more weeks with kids and then one more for post-planning, and I’m ready. This year nearly convinced me I didn’t want to ever teach again. 

It’s just been so hard. To keep going. To make connections. To smile.

Nobody could see them anyway, hidden behind our masks. And for me, Miss Far-from-Dynamic-or-Charismatic-or-Entertaining… smiles are how I form connections with my kids. How I build relationships with them. One reassuring, genuine smile at a time. (But after the loss of two of the most important people in my life, the few smiles I had weren’t always even genuine.)

Some folks have a presence that commands, an energy that radiates off their entire being like they swallowed the sun and breathe its fire through their pores. 

That’s not me. 

I’m quiet and unassuming, and I easily blend into the background. But I am warm and I am safe. I’m steady and exacting. And so is my classroom. And smiles are how I convince students to take risks inside its walls, under my warm, watchful eye… and smile. 

I’m a firm believer in rigor. I challenge. I set a high bar and watch my students struggle to meet it, with smiles of encouragement and with applause and constructive criticism, and the warm assurance that they are in a safe place.

But not this year.

This year, the rigor was softened — the only soft spot in the entire year.

It had to be. This year, the rigor couldn’t come from the classroom because the rigor was coming at them hard from life. For them. And for me. These are some of the toughest tests we’ve ever endured.

So the smiles were lost. From them. From me.

And we all feel lost. We all feel like we lost.

And we did. We have.

We lost loved ones. I lost my dad. I lost my aunt.

We lost our edge and gained a few edges we’re not proud of — edges formed from resentment and anger. And we nearly lost our motivation. (Some of us, sadly, did.) And our lights were nearly snuffed out.

Remember that old Sunday School song about hiding your light under a bushel? Well, with our smiles hidden under a bushel, the Satan in the form of Covid almost stole our light.

Me, I’ve tried faking it till I make it. Since my smiles are invisible, I’ve tried slipping them inside my voice. Packing my vocal chords as tight with tinkling, prismatic light as I possibly can and then practically singing each student’s name as they come down the hall. But the muffler slung ear to ear on my face acts as a soft pedal, tamping down my smile and energy. They meet me with their own, soft, tamped down greetings behind their own, soft, tamped down smiles.

And the connections have been slow. Or not at all. With almost all of them. Except, thankfully, for my study hall kids. My study hall kids make for an ideal case study on the importance and value of smiles.

Those kids, they get to see me smile. And I get to see them smile. And for an hour each day during lunch, they eat in my room, and I eat in my room, and none of us wear masks. It’s a small group of eighteen. And they’re all spaced out – each to their own five foot desk.

So no masks, and lots of smiles. And the relationships I have with them are flourishing.

But with my six other classes? Well.

We are not well and good. We are far from it. And we are all so thankful this year is drawing to a close.

No, this year has not been my best. And it sounds silly to say because I know no teacher thinks this year was their best. Nobody at all thinks this year was their best.

But I guess sometimes saying it helps. Sometimes saying it helps us move on. And I need to move on. I’m ready.

I’m ready to put this school year to bed and wake up and unleash my smile.

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.

When Life Gives you the Bird x 3

We found a dead bird under my father’s mattress. It’s the second dead bird since he’s been gone.

The first was the week following his death. It lay in swirls of peach blush and red feathers, sprawled on the outdoor sectional’s cream cushions like a puffy Renaissance nude — an Audubon Society pinup — anticipating a quick nap. Only the nap was prolonged due to a picture window kamikaze mishap.

And then last weekend, the second one. Also red, no blush this time, all sleek and secret under my father’s upstairs master bed mattress. We unearthed it while diving for dumpster deposits in preparation for an estate sale. The mattresses had to go. No one wants to sleep on a dead man’s mattress. Especially a decades-old one. The mattress, that is, but so too, was the man.

And then a third bird — a robin this time — flew headlong into our screened door on Sunday and knocked itself senseless. It hung out for a while on our porch, ruffled and pouring shat like a cement mixer, before finding the wherewithal to fly away.

I’m a big believer in signs. And birds… they’re symbolic. And things in threes — they’re like the Holy Grail of signs and should never be ignored. But what do they mean?

Well, birds are symbolic of souls. Of souls ready to fly. They can be souls bound for glory or souls bound for freedom. Sometimes those things are one and the same. Sometimes they’re not. Here’s hoping they’re not — at least not in terms of that third bird.

Pretty sure the first two are representative of my father’s soul — a soul flown to glory. Especially considering when and where each was found. A bird in a house symbolizes a trapped soul. And when that bird doesn’t make it, it symbolizes death. So, too, does a bird hitting a window.

So here we are… three birds: two dead, one dazed and confused and shitting on my back porch. In a year already swollen and battered by anxiety, I can’t help but worry.

But that third bird… that robin (the species itself a harbinger of spring and new life)… I want to believe that bird symbolizes freedom. Freedom from this pandemic. Freedom from the ungodly stress and hit after hit this year has delivered to me and mine: my kids, husband, extended family, students, school.

This week has been particularly awful. We’ve had upheaval after upheaval. Our boys have croupy colds. My daughter’s boys have croupy colds. My other daughter endured a traumatic patient loss. And then there’s my husband’s and my work week (and it’s only Wednesday).

We have students sitting social distanced in hallways watching class from computer screens, and students sitting quarantined at home watching class from computer screens, and students sitting in class watching class from behind masks. And none are eager to participate. It’s all just too overwhelming.

And then there’s us. The teachers. We have teachers teaching their own students — in a myriad of ways — and teachers teaching other teachers’ students — for a myriad of reasons. We have teachers getting their temperatures taken twice daily because of exposure risk, and teachers taking anti-anxiety meds twice daily because of exposure risk, and teachers getting sick because of exposure risk, and teachers taking early retirement because of exposure risk. It’s all just too overwhelming.

And then there’s my father’s estate. I’m executor. And road blocks and delays are waiting at every turn. None of it’s been easy. Then multiply the “not easy” times a thousand because I am not a financially-inclined, legally-minded sort of individual. Not in the least. So it all keeps me forever off balance. And honest-to-God exhausted.

And any way you look at it, we are all, all of us, taking punches right and left, and the universe just keeps swinging.

It all feels so overwhelming and so honest-to-God impossible.

So here I sit, dazed and confused in a pile of shit not of my making, as the blows rain down upon me, and I pray there is another way. That there are indeed, better days coming.

That robin on my back porch regrouping while the wind whipped around it — I really need it to symbolize me. All of us. My family. My students. My school. My community. My country. All of us struggling under the whiplash of all the screen doors slamming us sideways right now — but still fighting our way toward freedom. Toward rebirth.

Bruised, battered, and split stem to stern, though we may be, I need to know we can rise above the monumental, excremental existence we’ve been living for far too long now and learn to soar. Again.

Amen.

2020 Won: now to find myself again

The holidays felt so very different this year. Not like the holidays at all.

Like so many, I lost a loved one in 2020. My father. And I nearly lost an aunt, an aunt who is still not out of the woods. And while neither were victims of Covid19, we’re still theoretically victims: my dad’s siblings couldn’t come to his funeral, my aunt’s wife and family are isolated from her, and I didn’t see my daughters at Christmas.

Nor did I see my husband on New Year’s Eve — or for the dawn of this rainy new year. He’s quarantined in the basement and has been for a week now. No kiss for me from him on New Year’s Eve — for the first time since the calendar turned from 07 to 08.

Christmas just didn’t feel like Christmas — even with the Christmas star. Even with the conjoined energy of shimmering planets sending out hope for the first time in 800 years. And boy, this year has felt like eight hundred. And we desperately need to see — and feel — more beacons of light in this darkness.

And we had one — one we were going to not just see on the horizon, but actually be a part of. Our high school football team — in this most-hazardous and unprecedented of years, achieved the near-impossible: they made it to the state championship.

My husband coaches on this team. The season was longer, more exhaustive (and exhausting), and anxiety-riddled than any other. And our team made it all the way to the pinnacle. The coaches, players and families dedicated more time and energy, and made more sacrifices this year than in any other. But while the team made it to the ship, we didn’t.

We were separated from that, too. By Covid19. So my husband and I watched on television, separated from each other and from the rest of our team.

And to add insult to injury, the other team won. Big time.

And now its New Year’s Day. 2021. And I saw a meme about how when you say it out loud, it’s “2020 won.”

And that’s pretty much how I feel.

Defeated and depressed and about as far from who I am as I’ve ever been.

Isolated. From my loved ones and myself.

Divided by walls. Walls I’ve put up to insulate my heart against more hurt. And walls I’m relying on to insulate my body from a virus. I feel like I’m living in a steel bunker and trying to ride out the storm. Alone.

Well, not quite alone. I have twin six-year-old boys with me. Two six-year-old, stir-crazy boys doing their best to stir their mama up. To push my buttons and release a raging inferno of wrath. And the one thing that’s saving them is I don’t have much spark left.

Rachel Platt may sing it only takes one match, but my match is nearly snuffed out. It’s barely flickering. It’s spitting and hissing under the weight of all the darkness. Darkness that descended in March, but got really, really oppressive on November 17th and hasn’t let up yet.

And in just three days time, I have to emerge from this bunker and back into the perils of my parallel universe… the one with more people surrounding me, but where I feel equally alone. And much more vulnerable.

Next week, I will go back into a classroom, where I will hunker down with over 160 rotating currents of students. Eight times a day, students will flow in and out of the halls and classrooms, bringing and leaving tide pools of contagion that teachers hopefully can contain and curtail with Clorox wipes and seating charts.

But the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks made it abundantly clear that those weapons were not nearly enough.

And right now, I don’t know that I am enough — that I have enough. Enough of what it takes to face more obstacles, difficulties, and darkness.

2020 won. I hope 2021 is a bit kinder and gentler, and I pray it will give me some time to get up, dust off, and find myself again.

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.

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