One year later…

Hope is a spur to action. Hope is not a lottery ticket that we cling to. It’s a hammer that we use in an emergency to break the glass, sound the alarm, and spring into action. Hope is not a state of mind, it’s a state of action. -Ady Barkan

I’ve struggled with the idea of writing a post focusing fact that this week marks one year since the start of the first lockdown.

There’s the dreariness brought on by the soul-crushing realization we’ve now been in this bizarre version of normal for over a year that makes me reluctant to sit down and write, much less hit publish on a post like this.

There’s also the doubt that there’s much I can add to the conversation that hasn’t been said already… As I’ve said before, I realize how lucky I’ve been in the past year.

My first inclination was to post a meme I made once I’d been at parenting through a pandemic for a while… and hopefully write something funny about the strange journey of this past year:

However- the above quote from Ady Barkan has been in the back of my mind pretty consistently since I heard him speak in an interview with Jimmy marking the release of Not Going Quietlya documentary about Barkan’s experience with ALS.

Listening to a man who’s health is deteriorating at an alarming rate speak about hope captivated me.

This is a a man who, due to a cruel twist of fate, may not live to see forty and won’t live to see his children grow up. It would be impossible to blame him or judge him if he treated hope like a lottery ticket.

What else are you supposed to do when your world has been flipped on it’s end and there’s nothing to do but work with the tilted normal you’re left with?

In Barkan’s view- there is plenty to do, if you’re willing to change your view. This skewed normal is a time for action.

Since listening to that interview I’ve realized how much hope there has been in the last year, as hard and awful as it has been.

I see the kind hope Ady Barkan speaks of in the quick development of a vaccine for COVID-19. I see it in the lines of people waiting to receive their shot, going to pharmacies at closing time in case there are extra doses. I see hope as information is shared on the best way to book a vaccine for loved ones.

I see it in the effort so many have put into following restrictions that have been cumbersome and frustrating to protect others.

I see some hope for the future of education – there’s been some serious realizations about flaws in our system. This has been an opportunity to assess our values and what we want for our children and those who teach them. As there’s been a broader view into what our teachers do, there’s also greater reason for action to

I see hope in relationships. The past year has given the slightest glimpse into the reality Barkan and too many others live with. Our time is precious, and we never know how much time and freedom to move we will have. It is a reordering of priorities- we know now how much we’ve miss seeing friends and loved ones. When we’re finally able to be together again, I think it will be valued more highly than before.

Personally, I have hope my children will look back on this as a year where they realized they can be flexible, resilient and do incredibly hard things, even when they don’t want to.

I hope they remember it was a time where it was also okay or everyone to be sad and frustrated by a circumstance beyond their control, even as we all worked to make the best of it.

I hope I will remember the value I place on relationships as the calendar turns closer and closer to marking two years since I’ve seen many family and friends- a circumstance I never planned for.

I hope I will continue to work towards goals I have for myself. If I was able to find time to do some hard work in this past year, I know I can do it.

Finding hope as I reflect on this last year doesn’t discount the breathtaking scope of loss that has been experienced.

It’s more a realization this past year wasn’t wasted. It’s not a year to write off and say we never want to experience again. We can take what we’ve learned to improve the world as we go forward.

If we can do that, I’m sincerely hopeful for better days ahead.

Here is the link to Ady Barkan’s interview:

The Weak Bridge

Said weak bridge

In the past eighteen months, I’ve moved to England and turned forty. Oh, and we have a pandemic going on and we’re currently white- knuckling through election week and starting lockdown 2.0.

At this point, standard 2020.

I’ve had this in my drafts folder for a long time and it seems appropriate for right now.

We’re living in a more rural part of England, both Gingers go to school in a nearby town. Fortunately, school is still happening so I continue to drive the route for school drop off that I have for over a year (not counting the seven month pause) now.

After everyone was dropped off, the way I drove out of town leads me over a bridge – somewhat ominously called a weak bridge. This is not a name you usually want assigned to a piece of infrastructure you use daily, particularly one that was built before the American Revolution.

Last year, once I’d managed the challenge of being on the wrong (to me) side of both car and road, I started to gain a mastery of roundabouts. Fun fact- if you were awful at double Dutch jump rope as a child, roundabouts are probably not going to be your favorite traffic device. With all of that reasonably under control, I found myself with time to think on my daily drive out of town. As I got to thinking I realized the weak bridge was a perfect metaphor for certain seasons of life..

Vehicles over a certain weight aren’t allowed on the weak bridge and there are bollards to ensure that more than what the bridge can handle does not get through.

This seemed like the perfect metaphor for turning forty at the time and feels even more applicable now.

Even before factoring in the upheaval caused by current events it had been an interesting year or so. At times it felt like the universe was trying to hammer home the gravity of the impending milestone birthday by lobbing life events at a rate that was almost darkly comedic at times. In my close circle of friends, most of us were turning forty within the same nine months or so. As a group, we experienced so much change, loss, health issues, and major life events in six months that if we’d submitted it to the writers of This is Us it would have been kicked back for being a bit much.

It was a natural point in my life to take stock, do some evaluating, make necessary changes, and stop allowing anything that is not good for my infrastructure through.

Then the pandemic happened.

Its been a situation without precedent in most of our lifetimes. Quarantine, worry, illness, stress, financial insecurity, have all left us in an emotionally weakened state. Our values have been tested as well as our resilience and many of us have had to inspect our views to make sure we are creating a world that provides equality, safety, and fairness for all. Now, we are anxiously watching election results and hoping that decency and kindness will win over the unrelenting chaos and calculated cruelty of the last four years.

It has been a time of trying to juggle so many responsibilities that cannot be dropped and constantly trying to figure out what would bounce and what would shatter if dropped. Quarantine meant that we were isolated from so many of those we would turn to for support. Many have endured illness and loss without being able to say goodbye or to grieve with and hug those left behind.

Yet, we STILL have so much that still has to happen on a day-to-day basis. That will not change as things start to slowly reopen and hopefully inch towards yet another new normal. Everyone will come out of this with varying degrees of structural damage.

We are all weak bridges right now.

We all need to take more care to insure we can get let through what must get through and we put up our bollards to stop what is trivial and what we cannot bear right now. Our tolerances will vary in what we can handle as we go forward.

Everyone has been shaken, but some were closer to the epicenter than others. Those of us that are in better condition may have to take on some “traffic” for others so they can remain standing.

As for me, I’ll keep thinking of the signs I saw every day for a while -Temporary Road Works. The weak bridge was not weak forever. The crew worked on it to shore up the worn out arches and reinforce the foundation. One day the bollards came out (much to the relief of my poor car, which has more than one scratch due to my misjudging where they are) and the bridge returned to doing it’s job as normal.

The bollards- they look wider in this picture than they actually were.

We won’t have to have our bollards up forever either. Things will improve, we will learn how to navigate around the permanent changes in our landscape. It will become clearer what responsibilities can be set down until restrictions are lifted to the point we can share them with others again. In the meantime, bollards will stay up, we will all still be able to do our most important jobs. We will get where we need to be, it just might take a little longer than before.

Sometimes you have to turn centuries old masonry for a good metaphor about the current state of the world. Who knew?

A Word for Teachers…

With.

For.

It’s amazing how seven letters in two different combinations can convey meanings that are worlds apart. These two words can have a massive impact in our mindset in the current situation, especially when it comes to education.

For example, fill in the blank in this sentence with each word and see how it changes:

My child’s teacher works ____________ me to educate and prepare him/her for the future.

Wow, right?

To me, the difference between these two little words is a not- insignificant factor in the current debates about the 2020-21 school year. When things started to go sideways back in March, I wrote about how teachers were doing their absolute best to make things work on the fly. The vast majority of educators are still doing their best to prepare to deliver meaningful, impactful lessons by whatever means are available.

Summer work is not foreign to teachers; if you want to see someone laugh hysterically until tears stream down their face, tell a teacher it must be so nice to lay around and not do any work all summer. This year, most educators would most likely tell you they’ve worked harder and spent more time on school preparations than they have in any other summer of their professional lives.

If you’re going to use a four letter word when thinking about the start of the school year, let it be with.

Teachers are still lacking in all of the information and resources needed as the start of school in the US looms closer every day. School districts are getting conflicting guidance and being constantly threatened with penalties when they can’t achieve the impossible (there are only so many ways to arrange a classroom, and no one can magically poof thousands of extra square feet into existence). They just want every student in their charge to be successful and to do their jobs well.

They want everyone to be safe.

Teachers need to stay healthy, they need to feel safe to do their jobs effectively, and they need to feel like their families are as safe as possible in this bizarre and scary time.

Just like all of us.

A lot of the debates I see raging on Facebook parenting boards are a symptom of how our society has been viewing children and education for quite some time. I have a lot of thoughts about how the horrendous cost of childcare, and insanely insufficient parental leave results in some parents viewing school as a service that is bought and paid for. I also have very definite opinions on the fact that our society has become one where parents are dependent on school (especially elementary) to account for a significant portion, if not all, of their childcare due to lack of support. I’m not going to shout from that soapbox now, as I feel there’s so much to be said that can/has/will be said by others with much more expertise on the topic.

All parents are going to have to make really difficult choices in the coming weeks. Information will be considered, lists will be made, options will be weighed again- often in the middle of a sleepless night. We continue to find ourselves in the land of trying to settle on the best worst choice.

It is easier if we’re all in it together.

Will all of our decisions look the same?

Nope.

But. If we can just keep that one little word- with– in front of us as we go into the coming weeks, it might make the impossible a bit easier. Approaching this as partners, rather than expecting someone to do something for us will get us further.

Our schools and teachers are ready to work with us to figure out how we’re going to make this all happen. Even when governments aren’t working with them on basics such as funding to put new regulations in place. Seriously, think for a second about what happens when you tell your kid to take one pump of hand sanitizer. Now multiply it 20, then multiply that by 5 times a day. Even the economy size bottles aren’t going to last long, and it’s not cheap. That’s before factoring in bigger ticket items like plexiglass, extra personnel, transportation concerns,… the list just keeps going.

Let’s prepare to work with all school personnel to make whatever variation of school is going to start in the coming weeks work. It is going to be more stress in a time where stress has felt unrelenting.

Will it always be pretty? No. Are there going to be glitches and days where everyone wants to just wave the white flag? Almost certainly. Is the school year going to look like anyone’s first choice for the ideal way to educate children? Bahahahaha- of course not! It’s 2020, first choice hasn’t been part of our vocabulary for months now, silly rabbit.

If we work with our teachers, we will still get maintain our first priority- educating our children and preparing them for the future. We can minimize the impact of this insane time in their school career by approaching it as a partnership. By working with our schools and not expecting them to work for us, we stand a better chance of making this work the best way we can.

With. Just focus on with- four letters make all the difference in the mindset we approach this with.

If you need to scream some other four letter words in the closet, into your pillow, alone in the car while dealing with this, that’s okay. I’ll be there with you, a lot of educators will too- In fact, they could probably teach us some amazing new ones.

And please, wear a mask.

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It’s Chaos…

“We’d have these huge philosophical arguments where I was like- I don’t believe in an intelligent creator, per se, but I think there might be a latticework of logic and meaning to the universe that maybe we’re too small to see. And she was like, Sweetie, it’s all random, it’s all chaos. It’s chaos. Be kind. It’s chaos. Be kind.” -Patton Oswalt, Annihilation

I was invited by the wonderful Smelly Socks and Garden Peas to write a post about what we will do the first weekend after the end of quarantine/ lockdown.  It has been a challenge, with all the togetherness of late it’s a miracle when I can construct a complete thought without interruption, let alone an entire blog post.

As I thought about what I might want to write about I turned over several ideas, perhaps returning to simple pleasures like parks and pubs, maybe those historical sites I have been dying to get to (once a Tudor history nerd, always a Tudor history nerd) or maybe something about the overnight trips we want to plan?

But.

The above quote from Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation special on Netflix keeps running through my head and blocking out all of those other thoughts of a post-lockdown existence.  Father of Gingers and I have been big fans of Patton Oswalt’s stand up for years.  His slightly curmudgeon-y and misanthropic, sharp, nerdy, occasionally quirky take on the world speaks to us and our sense of humor.

However, Annihilation was hard for both of us to get through.  It was the first special after the death of Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara.  A not-insignificant portion of the set is him talking about losing his wife, and worse, telling their elementary school- age daughter that her mother is gone and how they both dealt with it and are dealing with it.  It is the only comedy set I’ve ever watched where I had to repeatedly try to swallow around a huge lump in my throat and needed several breaks to wipe my eyes.  Through it all, he comes back to McNamara’s philosophy on life, “It’s chaos, be kind.”   She was speaking in a more metaphysical sense, but it has very practical applications right now.

The current situation in the world is best described as Chaos with chaos sauce, chaos sprinkles, and an angst cherry on top.

There’s not much left for us to do, but be kind.

There is so much information bombarding us from every corner.  Everyone has a slightly different priority order, the vast majority of which carry absolutely no malicious intent towards others.  The majority of people are making decisions using the best information they can to make best decisions they can in a time of best worst choices.

It’s chaos

Some of us are going to have to make decisions based on medical information. They may be too much at risk and they have to stay inside until this storm is further past.

It’s chaos

Some feel the lockdown has gone on too long, some feel it’s ending too early.

It’s chaos

Finances may be the driving factor in some family’s decisions on how they’re going to proceed. Mental health is a not-insignificant factor in the balance as well.

It’s chaos

Everyone is on on edge- these are life and death choices, not just for the threat of COVID-19, but also in terms of mental health and financial stability. There isn’t a one size fits all answer.

Be Kind.

The bottom line is there is no way around this chaos, the only option is to just get through it. It doesn’t have to be pretty- but how much better will it be if we are kind?

This is a very long winded way to say I don’t know yet what my first choice is for when our first weekend out of lockdown comes. We will be taking a slow approach for several reasons that make it the best fit for our family. I do know I’ll try my hardest to be kind.

There’s a very real chance I totally misunderstood the assignment… but at least this is off my chest.

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Run (Ins) with Cows…

Sure, they look peaceful…

If I’m being truthful it’s more of a runs from cows situation…

Yesterday, after we got through a semi- productive day of home learning, Father of Gingers came home from work, and offered me a chance to run for the hills get out for a walk to get some exercise, fresh air, and the chance to complete a thought without interruption.  It was, as they say, an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I got into my workout clothes, grabbed my earphones and phone and made my bid for freedom headed out the door.  Living in the English countryside means options when it comes to our allotted outdoors time right now, something I am very grateful for.  I decided to walk up to the next village, cut down behind the church, go down through the field where the cows are, take the footbridge over the river, walk by the sheep field towards the next town, then turn around and come back.  We’ve done this walk as a family several times, and I usually wind up wearing Little Ginger in the toddler backpack for at least part of the trip, so I thought it would be nice to do on my own, and maybe even throw some running into the mix…

I headed off, listened to a Marco Polo from a friend, and then attempted to record my reply while walking.  There are people who are coordinated enough to exercise and send messages at the same time.

Unsurprisingly, I am not one of them.

I managed to send off a message in which I only forgot to answer 80% of the questions I had been asked and not fall in a hedge, so that was a win, and I continued down the road.  I did a bit of jogging and was feeling pretty good by the time I reached the church and the field behind the church.  I had big plans to run through the field to the foot bridge.  I stopped to take another video for the Marco Polo message of the scenery.  Said scenery is so quintessentially  British countryside that one expects to see Mr. Darcy (played by Colin Firth, preferably) striding over a hill at any moment to offer a mildly withering comment. To be honest, if you factor in my workout outfit, we’re probably looking at a level ten withering comment.

The view for reference (without Mr. Darcy)

As I stopped to do this, I realized that the small herd of cows that occupy the field were not on the far side of the field but laying down right right on the side of the path I usually take down the hill to the bridge. This gave me pause, given my less than stellar track record with wild life. I decided to ignore the little voice in my head that was frantically reminding me that cows are freaking ginormous and that I always forget this fact until I’m up close and personal with a member of the bovine community.

I started to go down the footpath at a very cautious jog/ walk, keeping an eye on the potential killers cows. Then I realized there was at least one baby cow in the entourage. My first thought was, “oh how sweet” rather than, “hey, most animals are super protective of their babies.” This is why I wouldn’t last long in the wild.

Then two cows stood up very quickly. One, a rather sizey brown cow, turned to face me head on, and started to stare me down while standing right in my path. She was looking at me like she just knew my favorite bag is made of leather.

I don’t think she was waiting for me to ask her, “How now, brown cow?”

At this point my brain was causally shrieking asking me, “I can’t remember, is it a fact that cows kill more people than sharks, or is it lightening, or maybe plane crashes? Anywho, maybe, just maybe, it’s time for us to skedaddle, shall we?”

Taking the cows-as-harbingers-of-doom statistics into consideration- I started to rethink my plan. I then factored in the fact that Father of Gingers has repeatedly stated he is not prepared to be a single parent and I started to turn around. Yet another cow stood up to provide backup to her sisters in being surprisingly menacing for animals that feature prominently in such classics as “Old MacDonald” and are frequently portrayed as wise and gentle in a number of children’s movies.

At that point I decided that running back up the hill was the best choice as having she was trampled to death by cows in a pandemic written about me felt a little bit excessive and definitely not how I would want to be remembered.

On the upside- I knocked some serious time off my mile time average. I continued on to a cow-free route and finished up my outside time. Then I realized- I’m totally like Ernest Hemingway…

Kinda…

He ran with bulls, I ran with away from cows- practically the same thing, right?

Sorta…

I’ve never driven an ambulance in wartime, though.

Not really…

I’m honestly not a fan – this really wasn’t the best comparison…

I wonder if Jane Austen had any close cow calls?

The Grocery Shopping Cart…

Hello from social distancing day I don’t even know any more…

I was looking across the kitchen this morning, saw the toy shopping cart and started to laugh.

A result of cracking due to the lockdown? That would be an entirely reasonable assumption at this point. It has been a strange and challenging experience for all of us. In this case I was cracking because the grocery cart gave me the perfect metaphor for this scary and bizarre point in time if you throw an elderly Turkish street dog into the metaphor mix.

I really promise I haven’t lost it.

A bit of background…

When Big Ginger had just turned two and was really starting to fully come into his nickname, Ginger Fury, we moved from Germany back to Virginia. We were living temporarily with my parents while we waited for our household goods to arrive and to be able to get into our new house.

A wonderful friend with amazing foresight got Big Ginger the toy grocery cart for his birthday AND held onto it until we got to my parents house. It was wonderful to have a new toy to distract a two year old who was not thrilled about the drastic changes to his life. He loved his “grocery shoppin’ cart” with a fierce passion and would demonstrate that love by careening around the kitchen and family room madly. He looked like the worlds tiniest “Supermarket Sweep” contestant ever. This SNL clip of Melissa McCarthy is an eerily accurate representation of that time in our lives:

Now we get to the Turkish street dog. She had signed on with the organization when I was twenty and I affectionately referred to her as my fur sister. She had always been very sassy and rather set in her ways. In her opinion, her golden years should be spent being pampered, lounging on the dog bed, bossing all of us around, and the occasional constitutional in the yard when it suited her. The “grocery shoppin’ cart” (and the tiny human at the helm) in no way, shape, or form featured in her ideal (or even barely adequate) retirement plan. This created some real problems. She hated that grocery cart with the burning fury of a thousand suns and wasn’t shy about throwing shady looks to let us know it.

We did our best to keep the grocery shoppin’ cart loving camp clear of the hating it camp and were moderately successful. I was the regular recipient of doggy snorts, eyerolls, and dramatic flopping into bed but I thought it was manageable. Then I came down one morning and saw her final word on the situation.

She had pooped.

On the floor.

In a perfect circle around the grocery shoppin cart.

To this day, it remains the most impressive and weirdly eloquent expression of displeasure I have ever seen. There was something slightly awe-inspiring in the attention to detail and commitment to a project.

This lockdown is becoming my “grocery shoppin’ cart.” However, I won’t be choosing that expression of displeasure for several reasons:

  1. I’m very grateful to be safe with my family and we have what we need
  2. I know this is the best choice to keep everyone safe
  3. There are still toilet paper and paper towel shortages

All in all, better not to chance it.

Epilogue:

The grocery cart was moved to a safe location until we were able to move into our house, it continues to be driven at breakneck speeds to this day. My fur sister went on to enjoy her golden years in the manner she expected- free of any annoyance from wheeled toys. She lived to be about eighteen years old and provided unsolicited editorials to the end.

Remember- Teachers are dealing with the alligator closest to the boat right now.

*This was originally slated to run on another site and I was just notified it was dropped from their schedule today. When I wrote it on Monday, very few teachers had been able to reach out to their students, and as we all know the week has been rapidly changing.

When my husband and I are working through a crisis, we usually remind each other to focus on the alligators closest to the boat. That is- worry about and address the most immediate/ threatening problem first before trying to move on to the next. It has served us well over the years and I keep coming back to this maxim when I think about the teachers trying to navigate this current crisis.

Full disclosure- I am a teacher who is currently a SAHM and working to realize some writing aspirations. That is why I have time to write this, if I were teaching right now, I would be focused on more pressing needs. If I’m being honest, seeing some of the comments about school closures and how work will be provided to students makes me hesitant to ever return to the classroom. I’ve been greatly disheartened by how many complaints I’ve seen from parents feeling like their children aren’t getting digital assignments fast enough, that teachers are probably just taking this time as a vacation, and so on.

To that- I say please realize teachers are trying to get two families through this crisis, the one in their home and the family they spend at minimum every Monday through Friday with. I say at minimum because do the countless out of contract hours they spend with this second family and preparing to teach. When I was in the classroom, there were always students who kept me up nights as I worried about circumstances in their lives that were completely outside of my control. That was in the course of a normal school year- and this school year is no longer normal.

Honestly, if you are able to complain about not having digital resources yet for your child, the good news is your child is nowhere near being the alligator closest to your teachers boat. Teachers everywhere are trying to figure out a completely different style of teaching on the fly (especially those who teach the younger grades). While they’re doing this they’re also worried about some of their children being safe at home, having enough to eat, and if those students are going to even have a home while this crisis lasts.

Rest assured your child(ren)’s teacher(s) care about them, they have invested a lot of time into every student in their care. They want to see “their kids” succeed and are likely crushed that they will not be spending time with their classes in the coming weeks. Events like class plays, field trips, proms, and graduations are all cancelled or potentially cancelled. There are children who were just having concepts click, finally making gains in essential skills and now they are in a holding pattern. All of these examples represent countless work hours by both teachers and their students. Please know teachers everywhere are losing sleep worrying about children in their class and trying to figure out how to make sure their students get the best possible education in a completely unprecedented situation. Please give them time to deal with these alligators. They are dealing with all of these worries in addition to the ones we all currently share. I promise they will get to you. These are trying times and while you are worried about your children, understandably, just remember that the teacher you’re frustrated with is worrying about dozens.