An Open Letter to my Family and Friends

School starts tomorrow for our public school students in the county. I have missed them. I look forward to seeing them. I will be potentially exposed to Covid daily so I won’t be able to safely see any of you for quite some time. This is especially painful because my youngest granddaughter was born in August and I don’t know when I will be able to see her again safely.

We are still taking temperatures at school (yes, that’s one of my duties…) but social distancing is relegated to “when possible.” We still have a mask rule but by the time we remind students that it needs to be over their nose who knows how many people they have exposed? Several of my colleagues and students have had Covid despite being vaccinated. Buses are filling up again. Sports are a go. We are a nation exhausted by the restrictions of 2020 and encouraged by the brief time between unmasking and the Delta variant surge. Many do not see the value in going back to protective safety measures. Now, apparently, there is at least one additional variant of concern.

To be honest, I didn’t intend to post today. I don’t have time to post today. I still have to finish 7 hours of coursework online (which only became available on Wednesday) in order to qualify to complete the necessary testing of several of my students within a very narrow time frame. And this is what is supposed to be foremost on my “to-do” list. For sure, I will spend my evenings preparing and will get it done. At the expense of my down time, my family time, my personal needs. How many of our professions require this? I know for sure that teaching does, yet I am sure we are not the only ones. I see my children and in-loves working at all hours of the day to make sure something with their name on it is done to the best of their ability. This time is not paid, and in many cases does not contribute to their quality of life. Yet who am I to point this out to them, since I have spent so many years putting the needs of my students and the demands of my districts above the time I should have been spending with my family?

To be honest, I have no cheerful and inspirational takeaway from this post. I love my job, I love my students I love my family. I want balance. If you have found it, please weigh in.

You Had Me at Hello

Today I have three granddaughters. Yesterday I had two. How blessed am I? Are we?

This is not a surprise, of course, we knew Chloe’s arrival was imminent, but the pictures of this new and perfect creature full of a future we hope to be a part of…we are so blessed!

Is there anything like the birth of a grandchild to bring you right back to the births of your own children? We thought we’d invented parenthood, everything was so new, so perfect, so difficult!

Turns out, our parents had lived that story before we did and our children are living it also thinking that theirs is a unique experience. And do you know what? It is. Every birth, every child, every breath is a miracle!

Celebrate your miracles, whether or not they are relations. Love is love.

Nailed it! Maybe!

Gotta admit, I’m feeling pretty smug about my New Year’s resolution this year. My regular readers (shout out to both of you) might remember that this year I did not go with my more predictable ‘eat healthier food,’ ‘lose five pounds,’ ‘reach out to someone far away by phone at least once a week,’ ‘cut back on your wine consumption.’ All, in their way and for various reasons, doomed to fail by March. Not this year!

I resolved to begin my first book for the last time, and further resolved that I would complete the first five chapters in 2021. Well, friends, (again, shout out to both of you) I have written my first five chapters! Granted, they are only twelve double-spaced pages in total, but I did them. Further, I like them. Admittedly each time I read what I have so far I change something ever so slightly, but I feel like I have the beginning of a book I would want to read. In fact, I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next.

Being a somewhat balanced individual, though, (stop laughing, you two!) an alternate reality presents itself. What if it’s shit? What if no one wants to read it? What if it gets shredded in a critique by the writer for the local free coupon flyer? Who in the world would want to represent, let alone publish, a middle-aged plus school teacher with a laptop and a dream left over from her undergrad days? How much more good would this time have done if I’d spent it volunteering at the food bank or advocating for better mental health care options in the state? We’ll never know.

Y’all, I’m writing a book!

Welcome, 2021

We’ve been waiting for you. Who would have thought when the fall holidays began that by now COVID would be reaching new records, four thousand Americans would lose their lives to the disease daily, and our beloved Capitol would be the site of a failed coup attempt…in 2021! This is not a political piece, though. There are others far more qualified than I for those. This is our current situation, our daily lives.

The new year finds our humble abode much like last year, but there have been some changes. We remain at home more; working and teaching remotely. After a two week quarantine when my building closed we made the trip to see our also-quarantined oldest and his family. We got our first grandchild hugs since August. There will be no more until we are vaccinated, as I am scheduled to reenter face to face teaching next week. We have been masking up for groceries, but have made some pretty incredible meals while home-bound. We miss restaurants and support our locals but we will eat at home far more often than we used to on the other side of this. Our pets have never been happier. We’ve had time to explore new hobbies and practice old ones. We have watched movies and shows that we never before had time for. We’ve read…a lot.

And after years of threatening and starting, I believe I have started my first book for the last time. It is in its infancy right now but is taking shape in pages of characters, connections, and notes. Research is being done, ideas are forming, and very soon there will be a chapter written. The process will be slow because I do work eight-plus hours per day, but mornings and weekends will add up. Working on this dream after so many years is energizing (not like I have enough energy to take down the Christmas tree or scrub the bathroom, but you know…excitement). Why did I wait? Why did it take almost a year of being close to home to start something I want to do, and have wanted to do since before I can remember?

I know I am not alone in this. We all jumped right into our kitchens and organized closets (not me, but you get the idea). We stocked up on reading material and spent more time watching the news. We changed the way we worked and spent, we eliminated travel, we reconnected with good friends and appreciated our families. Artists found new and creative ways to bring us theatre, movies, and music, perhaps changing those industries forever. But do you have a long-held “someday” dream? Have you used any of this time to build a foundation for it? To nurture or encourage it? No judgement here, but since I have been asking myself why I haven’t, I encourage you to take a socially-distanced step toward the thing or things you really want someday. If you have achieved all you have ever wanted, I applaud you (and kinda envy you). If you have extra time, though, your expertise would be an incredible gift for someone else looking toward similar goals. Take a step if you have the time. The energy will come. To those like me, just getting started or thinking of starting, let’s encourage each other. Every journey begins somewhere. Why not here?

Short Post

We were supposed to be in Alaska today. Supposed to be seeing our daughter, her husband, and our oldest granddaughter (she’s 3). Needless to say, we are not there. The state of the virus and my potential exposures at work made that too risky. Like others around the world, we will make do. Unlike many, we are blessed to have food, shelter, and money for gifts. Knowing that most are suffering and many are in need, we enter this season with open minds and hearts. May we do what we can, and with fidelity and love.

Quarantine Fatigue or Just Stupidity?

The CDC recommendation is out. The state recommendations have been made public. Do not travel this Thanksgiving! Do not gather with those not in your daily circles. I get this. We will be having Thanksgiving with the four of us who live here and my mom who lives next door.

Here’s my dirty little secret, though…I plan to go to Alaska for Christmas. I have not seen my daughter or oldest granddaughter since I spent a brief weekend with them in February. If it is not prohibited, I am going.

As it stands now, my husband and I will have to pay $250 each for a Covid test upon arrival. We will then be quarantined for 14 days, which is longer than either of us can stay. It doesn’t matter. We will be with our daughter and granddaughter.

I may have to quarantine, at my own expense, once we return home. Ok. My students know I will still be working for them online. They don’t know that I am not paid for those hours. If have to spend sick time or time without pay in order to be Grandma…all good. Have a joyous Thanksgiving and remember what is important!

Walking a Fine Line

Full disclosure: I was anti-Trump before he ever entered politics. As a high school teenager in New Jersey, he came across my radar as someone looking for attention because he was a millionaire. My emotional reaction, with or without merit, was viscerally negative. Therefore, I cannot present myself as unbiased. Had I ever met or spoke to him, my feelings might have been different. This does not matter here.

In my late 50s, I have seen nothing to change my mind. My schtick is not political, nor do I want to spend extended time defending my views or repudiating anyone else’s.

Since the election results were made public today, I have seen grace and acceptance everywhere. My Republican friends post asking when and where to riot, suggesting their favorite stores (all tongue-in-cheek, these people would never break the law). My Democrat friends post about their relief and hope for all of us. Important to remember: we all want what’s best for the country, even though we may not agree on what that is. This is our starting point. This is where hope takes over. Here is where we begin to come together and heal the divides of the past.

Democrat or Republican, you matter. Your voice matters. Your situation matters. Your family matters. Resentment can be let go, as long as there is a clear way to correction. Biases can be overcome, as long as there is understanding, acceptance, and willingness to change. I am so very hopeful.

Safe and Responsible…Well, Some.

My memories of lining all of my children up in the kitchen or front yard (Lord, Mom, Not at the Bus Stop!) for that obligatory first day of school picture are pure, misty nostalgia. These often made the Christmas card cut as well. I miss those days and the innocence we all shared. Last week, I saw the annual “first day of school” pictures for my friends’ children and one of my granddaughters on Facebook. Two or three weeks ago, I saw many of my college-aged friends posting their own back-to-school pictures. At my age, no one wants to see my own first day photo in the fall, but my colleagues and I have been back in school for four weeks now. Our students have been back for two weeks on a hybrid schedule or a virtual one. What follows are a few of my own observations; some from my teacher experience, some from watching the experiences of students, parents, and community members.

  1. I was wrong about having to shut down again almost immediately. My district seems to be doing a really good job of keeping the virus at bay. We are requiring masks when social distancing of six feet is not possible and we have closed gathering areas. They have also limited class sizes and we are required to disinfect the chairs and desks that were occupied at the end of each period. Our custodians are finally being recognized as the hard-working heroes they are. We stagger dismissals to and from classes to keep hallway traffic low. Bussing is available by registration. Those who didn’t register are on a waitlist. Temperatures are taken before getting on the bus or out of the car, and again several hours later. Is this enough? We’ll see, but I am encouraged.
  2. For students who enjoy school, the first day is exciting no matter what it looks like. Most local districts are beginning with a 100% virtual model. Most kids dressed for their pictures anyway. One or two proudly stood on their porch to commemorate their first day of virtual learning in pajamas and slippers. My parent friends on Facebook still polled their communities to see which teachers their kids’ friends had been assigned. Many posted positive reviews after the first day or week of virtual learning. True confession: I was thrilled to see many of my students come in for open house or for their first hybrid day after not seeing them since March 12. For nerds like me, the first day of school is exciting stuff.
  3. Everyone can wear a mask. When I saw some of the community’s most differently-abled citizens managing to wear masks despite extreme challenges to their comfort and security, I was moved. Then I got mad. We are still in pandemic mode because so many people don’t feel a responsibility to protect others from any cooties they may be carrying. I don’t enjoy a mask either, and I am aware it does not do a lot to protect me. It does, however, offer some protection to those around me should I unknowingly be infected. I won’t consider not wearing it around you and I appreciate the same in return.
  4. Many children and young (and some older) adults do not understand the potential consequences of ignoring health and safety recommendations. Notice I did not say ALL, because that wouldn’t be true. However, there are too many people who feel immortal or perhaps are simply naive about what is happening. It is not surprising that universities are having to shut down in-person learning when I see some of the pictures posted of the return to campus. We all have quarantine fatigue, but it wasn’t just a summer inconvenience.
  5. Masks are not a fashion accessory although no one appreciates a clever one more than yours truly. They are, however, supposed to remain over the nose and mouth of the wearer. Taking it off to eat means just that. Eat, then put it back on. You are no more inconvenienced than anyone else. This is where the compassion and guidance of us older folks becomes so important. We don’t let children make the family’s financial decisions, we don’t let them decide on their diets…this is for their protection. Therefore, as adults, we must kindly put our collective foot down about the responsibility we all have to keep each other as safe as possible. And remember, our children and students are watching what we DO way more than they are listening to what we SAY.

My wish for all of us is that we come out safely on the other side of this unique challenge and are better people for it. I know we can.

Ethical Gardening. What a Sh*t Show!

For the first time since our days in the Pacific Northwest, we decided to grow a vegetable garden this year. We are living in farm country, fertile land, favorable conditions. Let’s plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, I said. It will be great, I said.

My husband and son both got on board and dug me a plot. It was smaller than I’d envisioned, but when I saw how much work they did, I bought into the smaller plot.

Then we added purchased soil. Then planted said tomatoes, cukes, and zucchini. Staked the tomatoes. Began watering. Enclosed the whole garden in chicken wire. Planted marigolds around the perimeter to discourage bugs.

So. Little growth but no deaths. Local friend decides to also venture into gardening and purchases raised beds and plants tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers. They used a fertilizer enhanced soil. Her plants have exploded while mine have languished…weakly. I have canned three batches of pickles…with her cucumbers. I have harvested two small Roma tomatoes. I have thrown at least ten into the woods due to the insect and/or bird damage.

Really don’t know where I am going with this. Just that I am pissed. My harvest: 2 small Roma tomatoes. That’s it. I suck at gardening.

So Who Am I To Say?

Well, here we are. School should be opening in the next 5-6 weeks and we know…not much. My district plans a hybrid where there will be two days in school, two days virtual, and one teacher workday per week. Ok. I am assuming bussing will be taken care of, assuming kids will be eating lunch in the room with me (don’t we have to move our masks out of the way for that?). And when half of my students are in the classroom, the other half will be virtual. It looks like a continuation of online learning from spring of 2020 where there was no time teachers were not on call.

I understand this and I am not complaining. However, to make distance learning work this fall, we have to have internet access for all students (come on, we have created a vehicle that backs itself out of a parking spot and comes to pick you up).

Also, with internet access implied, I need to be able to record who is there for each day’s lesson. I also need to be able to grade their work, including it being turned on on time.

This will require more from the infrastructure than has previously been required, and for sure we will need to be flexible in multiple cases (nothing new there). But if we are to make online education work, we need student accountability and daily lessons. Here’s hoping it isn’t necessary.