Two years ago when I walked into this house, I knew it would work for my family. Actually, the most important thing was that I knew it would work for me – because I knew the kitchen was big enough to host the annual Cookie Day in December. A tradition dating back since I graduated from college, it had moved to Pittsburgh and I was determined to host Cookie Day.
But this year is the year of COVID. The year when traditions have been upended. The year when we can’t figure out what’s happening from one day to the next and find it almost impossible to plan anything.
This year it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and I walk around the house feeling sad and trying to come to grips with the fact that being responsible in the time of a viral case surge means making some hard changes. This includes coming to grips with the fact that my parents will have a quiet small Thanksgiving at their home, rather than my mom bustling around in my kitchen with pies in the oven and sweet potatoes on the stovetop. COVID means that the boys have switched to remote schooling and I’m struggling with how to be patient with their constant interruptions as I try to maintain enough stream of thought for my own work. It also means that it would not be a good year to host Cookie Day. Blah.
But it’s coming up on Christmas. A season of great joy. A season of gathering. A season of sharing love with others. As the emotions of Christmas season start to rise, it’s hard to think of being apart and not engaging in all usual gatherings. It’s hard to think about not having parties and meals together. To not have the extended family come visit. To possibly not sing out “Silent Night” with lit candles at the traditional Christmas Eve service at church.
Saturday morning, Mr. Ornery skipped into the kitchen and exclaimed, “I’m starting to get the vibe of Christmas.” Starting a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I said, “Okay….Alexa, play Christmas music.”
That’s all it took. Mr. Ornery began cleaning up the family room and before I knew it, we were dragging the tree from the garage and he was stringing lights everywhere. Tradition has it that we start decorating the day or weekend after Thanksgiving. Tradition has it that we don’t mix the holidays. Tradition has been there’s no tree before turkey.
But traditions have gone out the window this year of COVID. Easter was a live-streamed church service and spontaneously hiding eggs in other people’s yards. The Little Guy’s birthday was a drive-by parade of cars after the firetrucks squawked through the neighborhood. Independence Day was a small group of friends lighting fireworks in their cul-de-sac. And for the first time in so many years, Labor Day weekend was just another couple days at home rather than the sights and smells of the Great Geauga County Fair.
I opened the flue and Mr. Ornery carried up some logs for the season’s first fire. A strand of twinkling lights were hung in front of the orange pumpkins on the mantle. The younger boys put (obnoxious) blinking multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree and I just left it as they placed them rather than correcting the spacing or stringing my preferred white lights. This year, we let the Christmas “vibe” come early. We let “Silent Night” stream through the house. We let Super Tall Guy break into smile at the glow of lights around every window and doorway in the family room. And we invited my sister’s family (our extended COVID “household”) for a spontaneous mish-mash dinner of shrimp, crab legs and fondue (traditionally the New Year’s Eve feast).
Because why not?
This year, we find new traditions. We find new ways of being “together.” We find new ways of working and learning. We find new ways of self-care and coping. We find new ways of appreciating those working the frontlines of the stores and services and hospitals. We find new ways of connecting and growing and thriving. We find new ways to experience peace, comfort and love. (And, I might need to find a new way for the Cookie Day tradition – like Zoom!)
This year…..there’s a little spark of Christmas Hope and Joy mixed with the Gratitude of Thanksgiving.
A few days after the hamster’s untimely demise, as the usual group of neighbor boys milled around the front yard jumping BMX bikes over ramps and turning tricks on scooters, one boy commented to Mr. Ornery, “Sorry to hear about your hamster.” I was just returning from walking the dogs and as I neared Mr. Ornery sitting in the grass, he reached over to pet puppy Moka. “Thanks,” he replied. “The black dog did it because blacks kill more than white people.”
You might have heard my head explode depending on your location. The whole neighborhood heard me yell at my son and march him inside where he sat on the bottom step as I continued to rail loudly at him. Doors and windows wide open, the other kids began to sheepishly clean up the yard and head for home.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I said.”
And he’s right. He’s eleven and he’s learning. And the world around him is feeding him lies and teaching him to view white as the norm and other shades of color as deviations from the norm. But I have little tolerance anymore for what the world is feeding into my children. For most of my life, I thought I was pretty awesome and aware and sensitive about race and doing things generally right. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know until the unrest this summer helped me identify some of my ignorance and defensiveness. I started reading (White Fragility is hitting me in the soul) and realized it was on me to choose to learn more and do better.
So when #45 stood on the debate stage a few weeks ago and at the moment he asked to strongly condemn white supremacy, he instead asked a white extremist group to “Stand back and stand by,” I wept. Seeing in that moment the pain that this man continues to inflict upon people of color and weeping in that moment that he would dare spur on people who would have no qualms about attacking my three brown-skinned sons. I lay in bed for hours fearful for what is to come in this country. I knew the power of those words. A call to continued racism and discrimination, to violence and use of force, to asserting power and dominance.
Many years ago, a friend passed along some wisdom. Do not get caught up or frustrated or sad about the little things of life, but focus instead on what matters to God – “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Cry over what matters.
I cry because the Earth is crying.
I cry because the people are crying.
I cry because the oppressed are crying.
I ache for the plight of the poor as millions more Americans fall into poverty while the millionaires in Congress avoid economic relief packages. My patients that I see every week are struggling and stressed and running out of resources.
I cry over senseless killings of people of color and the injustice that follows. I honor those in law enforcement who balance a difficult job without the right resources and training and improvements can be made. But it is time to recognize that Black Lives Matter means that at this moment in our history, it’s time to work towards true acceptance and dignity and honor and equal resources and opportunities for all people of color. That is why people march. Because this is our moment. To be the change.
I weep as I see infants separated from their parents knowing the stress from that trauma writes itself into the rest of their lives. Adverse childhood experiences leave lasting consequences. Thus, I cry for the lack of compassion in matters of immigration that leads to pain and trauma rather than working on policy changes and solutions.
And I cry for the families of 217,000 people (and counting) who died by a virus knowing that more could have been done to save people. Grandparents, parents and so many more would still be alive had this country received clear leadership and strategy out of the White House rather than mockery, dismissal and pressuring experts to change their guidance. Our leaders have “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy” (NEJM, 2020) and too many people have died.
And I continue to cry as the current president continues to incite violence and domestic terrorism and unease about democracy. The division, the anger, the hate tears at my soul and I find myself in a perpetual state of stress as we press on toward the election.
In all this stress and all this pain that I witness, I mostly cry as I struggle to figure out how to relate to family and friends who do not “see” the ways that the president, in words and actions, jeopardizes the very life and future of my family and my precious sons. In 2020, it is not about politics or taking “sides,” it is about love and humanity and decency. It is about protecting the lives of my boys and so many other people.
Depending on which version of the Bible one is reading, Isaiah 1:17 calls on us to “defend the oppressed” or “rebuke the oppressor” (NIV vs. New King James). I am committed to spending my days doing both. This week I took the biggest step I could by casting my ballot to vote out the evil that plagues us and begin to shape a more unified and peaceful society. I sent letters and postcards to encourage others to take a stand against power and greed and white superiority.
I cry because it matters.
Take my tears, Lord, and guide my steps to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly.
We started with the usual remote learning chaos. “Mom, this program keeps kicking me off the live session with the teacher.” “Mom, this app doesn’t work that I’m supposed to do a quiz on.” “Mom, I can’t open this file.” “Mom…..mom…..mom…..
And that was the first hour, before the middle guy said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up” and rapidly barfed all over the couch before I could blink and run for a garbage can. In my very “supportive” (NOT) Mommy way, I suggested sternly that he could have run to a sink, bathroom, kitchen….anything!! “Oh, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” I apologized profusely several times as I google how to get vomit out of a couch (no, I don’t have club soda; yes, I’ve used up all the baking soda on the couch now so I won’t be baking for you for awhile!!)
Back upstairs to try to get a work project done amid multiple interruptions when I hear, “Mom, Moka got a rat.” It was not a rat. It will be a long time before the image of the escaped hamster (and stains on the carpet) leave my brain. After hugging a sobbing pet-owner and sending him off to the living room, I scooped up the poor animal and tossed it. A few minutes later, I had to secretly retrieve poor “Scarlett” and wrap her in pink tissue paper and put her in a “nice” box to bury in the hole that said puppy loves to dig in the front yard. We held a short funeral service where I cried as I prayed for the hamster in Heaven.
Back upstairs to work, just to be called down again for some school issue, but also the need to run to the local grocery store to buy flowers for the burial site. It was a bit for the 11-year-old to explain without many words the purpose of the flowers to the inquisitive cashier. But we stuck them in the ground (where they kept falling over and we decided they looked better that way anyway).
Back upstairs to keep working on that presentation while fielding multiple tech issues and issuing multiple reminders of what time it was and what “class” the boys should be logging in to next. Finally, went to the school to pick up my nephew and drop him and The Little Guy off at my sister’s so I could have a nice evening out with a friend. Mumblings at the school pick-up zone informed me of an email about a COVID case at the elementary school. Trying to show this email to my sister a little later as I dropped off the boys brought to my attention a general email from the middle school….followed by a direct email “To the Family of Mr. Ornery” – your student may have been exposed to a student with coronavirus and should quarantine and stay home from school for 14 days.
At this point, I’m now in a calm panic mode. This is the kid who vomited this morning (a minor COVID sign). This is the kid who had a headache and mild sore throat 3 days ago (minor symptoms). So, this is the kid who now was dragged into the local urgent care for COVID testing because his mom just had to have an answer (particularly because of possible exposures to other kids in the neighborhood).
The rapid test after miserable nasal swabs was negative. The PCR test after a really miserable nasopharyngeal swab “that tickles your brain” will come back tomorrow or the next day. The poor, brave young man survived all this. Two hours later, as he sucks on the straw of a cookie crumble frappuchino from Starbucks (nice Mommy), Mr. Ornery reflects, “This has been my worst ever kid day, hasn’t it?” Yes, buddy, it sure has.
But you’ve still had moments of smiles in between tears.
You’ve had moments of fun in between frustration.
You’ve had moments of joy in between discomfort.
You’re going to have some hard days and some days will be harder than today.
But you have a sweet, tender heart to sustain you.
You have amazing friends to encourage you.
And you have a mom who will cry right along with you (especially when you need a moment to lay beside the grave and say good bye to your little dwarf hamster friend before bed…and I watch you through the closed door weeping within).
My family made it through three months of hardly any academic progress when the quarantine for the COVID pandemic started. Teachers tried their best to rapidly convert to remote learning and parents tried their best to survive kids suddenly home, remote learning, continued work and the weight and stress of uncertainty. Then we walked through three months of summer which was spent mostly in trying to “feel” like life could be slightly “normal” again but still not engaging life quite fully. My repetitive phrase for any activities, trips or events the boys wanted this summer was, “Not this year, honey….because of COVID….”
Suddenly and all too soon for my brain and heart, the boys were to start school. Suddenly I was asked to make a choice between two options that weren’t sitting well with either my heart or my brain.
Every day for most of August, I shifted in my thinking process and in my gut decision. Do you send your most precious beings into a school building with other children in order to benefit them academically, and yet have that sickening feeling that you might be jeopardizing their health by being exposed to COVID-19? Or do you keep them home with a false sense of safety in having “less” exposure, but knowing that they will not receiving much academic instruction by doing cyber schooling while I’m working full-time?
Top this dichotomy off with the fact that I’m making the decision for three vastly different boys receiving special education services. While I’m pretty certain that I cannot work full-time at home while simultaneously coordinating the learning of three boys, I’m particularly certain that I can’t teach kids who have learning challenges. Usually I tell myself that I’m making the best decision I can with the information that I have at the time. In this scenario, it seems that there’s no “best” decision, there’s just a need to make a choice and see what happens.
As I seem to enjoy coping with stress through some humor, a fellow mother and I started a little “shut-down pool” which allows parents to throw in $5 and choose which day the school will announce that the building is closing. Half the money goes to the winner and half goes to a charity.
One of my other challenges for schooling was how to get the 8th grader to switch his backwards day/night schedule. We decided he would start in the Cyber platform as he has enough social anxiety and stress about mask-wearing that staying home seemed to fit his needs better. When I went for a run the second day of drop-off and my first true “space” of no kid responsibility for 6 months, I came home to find the teen sleeping through 2nd and 3rd periods!
My other challenge was how to get Mr. Ornery off his gaming addiction that I had spawned out of necessity of keeping him occupied in the Spring so I could work from home. He made the decision easy for me when his impulsivity got the best of him and he spent hundreds of dollars in contribution to Epic Games. The X-box now lives on my bedroom floor.
My third challenge is The Little Guy. He has all the confidence in the world but is likely soon going to be hit with the reality of how far behind he is academically compared to his peers. His teachers had been keeping an eye on him and providing some supports, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shock as he settles back into school.
So on the eve of the First Day of School, I realized that we were all not quite ready. We managed to get haircuts, but not much attention paid to back-to-school clothing. I managed to buy a few school supplies, but didn’t even bother with the “recommended lists” since the boys will be both in and out of school. We had the iPads in the chargers, but not really ideal work stations for the days at home. And then there was the mad dash around 11:30 pm to make up a little treat bag (from whatever I could find in the closets) and write a nice “have a great year” note, and find the “My First Day of School” signs (but couldn’t find the erasable liquid markers so Sharpies would have to suffice), and head to bed.
Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy absolutely loved their first two days in school. There were no complaints or discussion about having to be in a mask. No comments at all about how different the school environment was. Only enthusiasm about which kids they recognized. How great the 4th grade teacher is and all the fun things he has planned for the year. How “amazing” the food is in the middle school cafeteria (even though it’s in “to-go” packaging this year). And on their first day of staying home for remote learning, both boys begged to go back to school.
I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will hold. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling about this decision months from now. But for this one week, the joy and excitement about school from two little boys who generally dislike school was worth it. So, bless all the teachers who worked hard to start us all off well. Thank you.
Did you know that the “clock” app on the iPhone has a red second hand that ticks slowly along its course? I watched it the other morning, making its way through time. That’s what I’m doing right now, making my way through time. Time. Time for a neighbor friend’s COVID test result to come back….
There are moments in time when we do really stupid things that we later regret. When we slip up and can’t figure out where our brain was at that moment. Moments like when you bake cookies and decide to deliver them to a neighbor with aging parents just to “check on them.” But you forget that you should not “check on them” inside their house when it is COVID time and you didn’t bring a mask.
For when you “check on them” and spend too much time inside, you meet the definition of “significant exposure.” And if you have significant exposure you find yourself in a “triage protocol” trying to figure out the chances of getting an infection and the guidelines for what to do to prevent the spread of infection. The problem is that you don’t actually fit into the protocol until you know if your neighbor is actually positive for COVID. And to find that out….you have to wait….you have to pass the time.
Passing time waiting for test results is passing time in self-quarantine. What a delightful word. This is different than the “stay at home” that you just finished for two months. This is “stay in your house and don’t even go to the grocery store” type of situation. This is the don’t take your child to the neighborhood pool, don’t take him to his golf lessons, don’t run to get a cup of coffee, don’t move the car from the driveway and just stay home.
This is the beat-yourself-for-being-so-stupid kind of situation. The “you’re a physician, for goodness sakes, you idiot!” kind of situation. The “how could you possibly jeopardize the health of others?!?” kind of situation. The wake up at 3:00 am and beat yourself some more type of situation (It’s not healthy or helpful….but it is what it is….). The apologize profusely to dear friends with whom you came into contact in the first two days type of situation (where you feel embarrassed and awful….and awful and embarrassed).
As much as The Little Guy rarely has a meltdown, he had a meltdown on Day 1. He was sad. He was oh so mad at me. “Why did you do that?” he asked over and over. “I don’t know, buddy,” was all I could say. “I’m so so sorry.” I wanted to hug him, but I also didn’t want to hug him as my brain kept yelling to stay away from the boys (an impossible scenario). But we made the most of the first day. Because I didn’t drive my car to work that day to see patients, I had more of a sense of being available. I actually said “yes” when he wanted to do an experiment in the kitchen by combining ingredients and spices and anything else he could find (and tasted it and spit it out). And, I said “yes” when he wanted to start power-washing the back deck (though he soon got tired and articulated that it was me who was actually “obsessed with power-washing”). By the end of the day, he remarked that he had had a good day after all.
Day 2, however, was a day when it was possible that the test result could come in and The Little Guy asked me every hour or so whether I had heard anything. It was getting hard to wait and make our way through time….but that’s what we do. I worked, he watched TV, Mr. Ornery and Super Tall Guy continued their video game addiction, and we all waited…. But somehow we were all getting along better and interacting more and enjoying our time. And my heart was heavy for my neighbor who was feeling unwell, stressed about her parents, and waiting ….alone….in her house….waiting….
Waiting, though, is tremendously hard on an action-oriented person who likes to have answers. Waiting is hard when you know that some tests come back in 15 minutes, some in 24 hours, some in 8 days (and that it doesn’t have to be this way if we had a coordinated testing system). Waiting is hard when it’s wrapped in the frustration of an inadequate national response to a deadly virus that marches its way through communities causing stress and angst and illness. Waiting is hard…..
Day 3,…..we wait….
Edited to add: At exactly the moment I pushed the “publish” button on WordPress was the moment my phone buzzed…. ” Negative” — Talk about “Time”!
There were moments on the Jersey Shore a couple weeks ago with such intense fog that we couldn’t see the water from our seats on the sand. We couldn’t see the buildings where our rented house was tucked. We couldn’t see the lifeguard stand holding up trained rescuers. We couldn’t see danger, shelter or safety, but we could see each other.
And each other is who we have seen for the past three solid months during the COVID pandemic. Yes, we have gone for walks in the neighborhood with other people. Yes, we have passed people in the stores. Yes, the boys have played outside with other kids, trying to keep distant and not “sharing” despite years of reprimand to share their toys. But most of our entire human interaction has been within my nuclear family and that of my sister’s.
It was exciting to get away. Everyone was ready. But the weather was awful and uncooperative and full of fog and rain and wind at a steady 15 miles/hour and gusting into the 20s. The beach wasn’t welcoming and the playgrounds and basketball courts were closed. We spent most of our time inside and unlike other vacations, the boys were given plenty of electronic time because the adults were tired and solely focused on resting at the jigsaw puzzle table.
The fog on the shoreline seemed to match the fog of our brains during the shut-down. Time stood still or sped up but we couldn’t figure out what day it was. Work was either too stressful or we couldn’t get to it and that was stressful as well. My kids were suddenly home from school for the entire last quarter of the year, missing their friends and their teachers and completely missing out of academics.
We rallied and did what we had to do to “flatten the curve,” to not overwhelm the capacity of the medical system to care for those who had contracted coronavirus. But after three months, people were tired. Summer had arrived and we were ready to live to again. Escape to the shore offered a chance to change the scenery and start seeing the world in a different light.
One day I noticed that my three guys were standing looking out into the ocean. I’m sure they were just trying to judge the approach of the next wave and were unlikely to be as reflective as I am. I, on the other hand, snapped a quick photo of “my hearts” standing at the crest of the earth, pondering the vastness of the world that seems to go on forever in its steady form and yet is a constantly shifting landscape up close. I doubt they were contemplating the ill-preparedness of our country for the deadly onslaught of COVID-19. They likely were not wrestling with how to dismantle the racist systems that impact their very existence. They probably were wondering what seafood to have for dinner.
The beach week offered a chance to reflect on and talk to the boys about resiliency – the weather is awful, but we can choose to be happy and enjoy the moments we have. Mr. Ornery had started to refer to “bad” things that happened with the phrase, “We’re cursed.” I began to reframe it for him, “Actually, dear, we’re blessed.” We laughed at the ease of pedaling a surrey with the direction of the wind versus the return trip of pushing against it. We found new activities like burying a yoga ball into the sand to bounce off it like a trampoline. And since the water was unfriendly, the boys finally had time to dedicate to learning to skimboard.
And while the older teens refused to engage in their previous almost daily excursions to Wawa, the local convenience store, because of the mask-wearing requirement, it gave us a chance to talk about responsibility. In a time of spreading virus, we cover our face to protect the health of the community because that is our responsibility as human beings. We could find fun masks to wear. We could laugh about how many times we turned around to run back inside to grab the masks. We could make it work.
And, the week gave us a chance to relax and reflect on the importance of rest. The Lord calls us to rest because He knows it’s important for the human body. We need sleep every day and we need times of rest every week. Rest renews us and heals us. After three months of a country in crisis and shut down, we needed to rest and help ourselves become prepared for the peaks and surges of the virus, for the next challenges we would face, for the next battles we would start to fight on behalf of ourselves and our communities.
While it took a good week to dig out from under the work that piled up in my absence, I felt grateful to have a glimpse of emerging from my COVID fog. I am grateful for the privilege of a job that has allowed me to work at home and provides me with times of rest. I am grateful for the friends and family who have walked beside me in the fog and continue in constant support. And I am grateful for the privilege of sharing my life with three growing boys and sharing the wonder of horseshoe crabs and sand-sharks and brown sharks and turtles and ice cream and parasailing.
May they take that sense of resiliency and responsibility and rest as they continue to look out in wonder and face their huge world.
The musical bamboo windchimes are whispering above my head. The sun on the front porch is warming up my toes as the house cooled over night and I was getting a bit chilly. The hum of a neighbor’s lawn mower simmers in the distance as the birds chatter and sing in the trees. Pandemic puppy stretches happily in the grass and keeps an eye on the bees.
Seems so peaceful. Seems like it should be so peaceful. But my heart is not at rest. My heart can’t rest while acknowledging the incredible privilege to live in this community with perfect little streets, well-cut grass and quiet that is enough to hear the wind rustle the trees.
Last night the air was filled with noise. The helicopters roared overhead. I knew where they were going. Downtown to watch over the rioting. Downtown where people marched in solidarity and peace to lift their voices and plead for equality as human beings. Downtown where agitators disrupted that peace and created havoc and destruction. Downtown filled with hurt and pain.
I struggle to read and understand. I gather up information as quickly as I can. I watch videos and read the news stories. I rapidly try to process what’s going on around me. Shortly after midnight, my 14-year-old bursts into my room. My lights are off, but he doesn’t care. “What’s going on downtown?” he asks. “Look at these videos of what’s happening right now in Pittsburgh. It’s chaos and violence. What’s going on with 2020?”
“Coronavirus was bad enough,” he says, “And now we have this.” I try to help him understand. Black lives matter. And all lives can’t matter until every human receives dignity and respect. But so many are scared and threatened by this possibility that another peaceful demonstration was taken over by white people with their own agenda. They are not allies. They do not care about equality and justice.
Super Tall Guy is wrestling this. He’s trying to find his way – posting comments on social media and grappling with the responses. He’s tossing out memes and slogans that he hears and learning from reactions. He’s sitting at his Xbox playing Fortnite while chattering with his friends. The conversation floats seamlessly between razzing one another for lack of skill in the game to commenting on the videos of rioting they are watching on their phones simultaneously. They struggle to work through this. They are trying to make sense of their world. But it is currently senseless.
And he is not there yet with his understanding of the magnitude of the issues. He sees the world from his whiteness because that’s what he knows. He is shielded from a lot of the injustices, yet experiences smaller aggression. I offer my words to him. I offer my life as a witness to him. I offer my opinions. But he is being shaped by a larger culture that I am swimming against and speak a small voice into.
After he ambled back to his room and continued engaging his cousins and buddies, I lay in bed thinking how much more simple parenting was when my kids were young. More simple before they had immediate access to the news, many times before I was even aware of the current events. More simple when it was just my brain trying to make sense of the world. Now I try to translate it for my boys. Translate injustice and oppression. Translate pain and violence. Translate the risk to them because of their skin color. I lay with the weight heavy upon my heart. I lay knowing that too many can’t breathe in this world today.
I can’t breathe, the world cries out.
I can’t breathe, the scariest of all feelings.
I can’t breathe, the cries of the oppressed and tortured.
I can’t breathe when greed and power shape actions
I can’t breathe when leaders incite violence
I can’t breathe when lives are lost
I can’t breathe if my brothers and sisters can’t breathe.
Want to do something? I do. So I read more, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed (“What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice”) and ordered “How to be an Antiracist.” I pray more. I talk more. I struggle more. I wonder more about how to shape the boys.
I can’t let the peace of my quiet and my community lull me into ignoring the struggle of the communities around me. Talk to me. Challenge me. Join me.
A week or so into the closing of schools for the COVID pandemic, the learning support coordinators for each of my three boys called to see how we were doing. Apparently they were required to see if any updates to the 504 or IEP plans needed to be made to handle the transition to remote learning. I couldn’t think of anything at the time.
Times have changed.
I have tried to help my boys meet their educational expectations. I have nagged and cajoled. I have praised and punished. I have hidden the gaming devices and TV remotes. I have yelled and screamed. I have cried …. and I have cried.
But it’s still a mess. My boys are not iPad learners. They are get your hands dirty learners. They are drop the rock into water to measure volume learners. They are sit with other kids in a classroom to motivate me learners. Their ADHD and learning styles are not meshing with a learn-at-home environment.
I warned my 7th grader one day that he was in jeopardy of failing yet another class….in a long procession of emails I receive every few days. His response was spot on: “I would be fine if I was in school.” He’s right. He was an A/B student. He was fine. “I know you would,” I understood. “I just don’t do well with this iPad sh$t.” I know, buddy. I know.
Super Tall Guy is expected to learn about Greek Gods and Goddesses from a series of Powerpoint slides. Not surprisingly he doesn’t care. I thought about the fact that had he been sitting in the classroom, he might have heard a tiny bit about a goddess or two as the teacher talked. He might have snickered to a buddy across the room about a particular characteristic of one of the gods. He and his friends might have joked about the lesson as they walked through the hallway to the next class. Something might have seeped in. But not if he’s sitting at home required to swipe through slides in just one more endless exhausting list of “things to do.”
Even the third grader commented the other day on our daily walk, “Mom, the iPad just doesn’t trigger my brain to learn.”
On a phone call at Easter, my sister-in-law noted that she’s been homeschooling her children for years, so this shutdown hasn’t really changed them at all. “But,” she acknowledged, “I have the whole curriculum supplied to me. I know what we’re trying to accomplish.” She is a teacher, an educator. Me, on the other hand, looks at a list of what is due today or this week for multiple teachers, multiple subjects and multiple children. I don’t know “where” they are along the continuum of lessons. The difference between home “education” and crisis online learning is huge.
Mismatched to the very core of their brains’ ability to retain information, this remote learning expectation is also mismatched to the life of a working parent. Like school, my work also shifted to the home. My coffee house meetings are now draining Zoom calls. My simulation classes are now dry lectures that I’ve recorded onto Powerpoint. My comradery at the office is now gone. My brain is stressed about how to get work done because every 5 to 21 minutes, I’m interrupted to assume the role of teacher, short-order cook, Bingo number-caller, dog-walker, TV-fixer, argument-settler. My conscious bombards me with work that is not getting done. My email-response time is at least 3 days late. My to-do list is never-ending and just moves from one day to the next, from one week to the next. And one day a week, I work at our medical practice, so 20% of the week, I’m completely absent from my children. As I struggle to keep up with work, I just can’t even attempt to teach, especially as a single full-time working parent.
And I’m stressed by the sheer load of trying to understand life within the context of a rapidly transmissible, potentially deadly or life-changing virus. I’m worried about keeping my aging parents healthy. I’m worried about keeping my children healthy as we learn about unique inflammatory reactions in kids. I’m worried about the patients that I’m not seeing in the office although I go in for 10 hours one day a week to sit and make telemedicine calls. I’m worried about people around our community who are experiencing far more hardship and stress than I am. I’m worried about how much of this could have been prevented by a competent and coordinated government response at the beginning. This concept of allostatic load is certainly present in many people’s lives and for me leads to forgetting to do things, taking a long time to respond to emails or texts, and falling into complete exhaustion by the end of the day. I don’t want to clean the house or wash dishes, I just want to sit at the puzzle table or zone out on the couch.
I fully know that my children’s teachers are trying their best to convert from their plans for the final school quarter to an online platform. They are all truly amazing teachers and I grieve the fact that my boys no longer sit and listen to their wisdom. I also know that teachers are generally trained to be in front of a classroom of children and have little to no training in being an online teacher. It’s hard on them too and they need support.
I also struggle with trying to focus foremost on the boys’ emotional needs. I worry about how much to push them and how much to acknowledge that they are also stressed by this whole situation.
So many families I speak with have similar experiences. So many agree that they were holding together for the first few weeks and managing okay. But now it has all collapsed.
I guess now is the time to revisit that learning support plan for the boys (the 504s, the IEPs). Now is the time just give it a wash for this school year. Now is the time to think about what supports need to be in place and what changes need to occur in case schools have to be closed in the fall.
Now is the time to be honest….that for my family ….remote learning is a traumatic check-list of failure and a complete lack of “learning.”
My hope is that the boys will catch up and not shutdown any love of learning. That they will indeed rebound. That they will have a most beautiful future learning to do the things they love.
And, thankfully there’s always the joy of the puppy…..
Like so many people sitting at home to work over the past six or so weeks of “shelter-in-place,” it seemed like the perfect timing to get that puppy I had been contemplating for months.
Since the boys were clearly stressed by the sudden change in their lives and unable to say things like, “Gosh, Mom, I’m feeling really stressed and unsettled by this rapid change and don’t have great coping mechanisms,” they expressed this by fighting over who would get to sleep with our little cavadoodle. They cuddled up with Mitzy any time they were overwhelmed with big feelings. They found an outlet in loving a fuzzy little animal. So when a friend posted about Animal Lifeline on Facebook, we got our application in and waited for the next transport of puppies rescued from puppy mills or kill shelters in other states.
Scanning through a dozen or so photos of available puppies the following week, Mr. Ornery zeroed in on a tiny pure black puppy. “Look at those eyes, Mom,” he said, “that puppy needs us” (or the other way around). A few hours later, the boys were cuddling a black lab mix and I was signing paperwork.
All the way home, the boys argued over a name before
Amazon reminds me I purchased this in 2009
settling on Malachi. I tirelessly argued that was a boy’s name. The moment my friend texted a series of suggested M-names and I read her daughter’s suggestion of Mocha, I knew that was it. The next day, Little Guy came running into the room singing, “Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha. Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha, where’s my puppy Moka?” using my favorite coffee drink to remember a new name. I laughed and I switched the spelling to match a book we’ve enjoyed.
Sure it sounds like a great idea to get a quarantine puppy. Why not pile on a lot more work? With the current crisis level of stress, I had started to sleep 8-9 hours a night. Now I sleep 6-7 and beg the puppy to go back to sleep in the early mornings as I lay there restlessly unable to doze off. With the constant disruption of children as I try to pay attention to Zoom meetings or put thought to paper for work, now every 20-30 minutes I have to figure out what the puppy is chewing on and take her out to pee.
But I can handle this, because having a new puppy is just like having boys:
Little Moka can’t come into the house without tracking in dirt or carrying in bits of nature. Mostly because she loves to dig the black dirt all over the sidewalk right in front of the door – so that everyone now drags in dirt! It’s especially awesome when it rains.
She contributes to the constant “I can’t find my shoe” issue. It’s been three days and I still can’t find the left flip-flop and my right running shoe. And I don’t know whether to blame boys or a puppy who picks it up and carries it around the house.
She leaves wet blotches in the carpet much like the boys do when they spill their drink and “forget” to clean it up or mention it until I find it with my socked feet.
An innocent appearing behavior, such as licking the front porch railing quickly becomes destructive and I think about all the repairs I’ll some day have to do because of the constant flurry of activity of all these little creatures in the house.
There are some lessons learned, as well. For example, when leaving the puppy home all day with the older boys while I’m at work, I might have needed to specify to remove the “solid waste” BEFORE using the spray and wet paper towel to rub the carpet! (Even magic Folex hasn’t been able to touch this stain.)
Also would have helped to be a little more specific in my note to the 11-year-old that read, “Please take puppy out every hour and feed at 12 noon.” When I unknowingly gave the puppy dinner and she groaned as she still tried to eat with a belly double its normal size, I learned that Mr. Ornery read that as “feed puppy every hour” as well as take her out.
Despite all this (and the continuing destruction that I’m sure we’ll have), I don’t regret the decision. The other night, on The Little Guy’s ninth birthday, the puppy jumped off the couch and landed on her front leg wrong. She howled in pain. The boys ran to find me and I held the puppy tight. Wrestling with whether she needed to get to the emergency vet, with time she started walking on it again. As she tucked in to sleep that evening and the younger boys cuddled into my arms on the couch watching a movie, they wept with worry about the puppy. Reassuring them, I thought, you know what, you boys are going to be okay. You have tremendous love for another creature. You have deep empathy for someone in pain. You find joy in the physical connection (even if it is a puppy licking your face). And you are learning more responsibility.
Welcome to the family, Moka. We’re all glad you’re here.