Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Reluctantly I End

Today marks the end of the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, the sixth one for me. When it began thirty days ago, I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge this year. I signed up at the last minute, and my first blog post was titled, "Reluctantly I Begin." In it, I wrote, 

So I begin again, not sure that I will be able to make it through the month, not sure that the right words will materialize when I need them to. Such is life, I suppose. We never know what lies ahead or if we'll have the strength to meet the challenges that inevitably arise along the way. 
But onward we go.

I didn't know at the time the magnitude of the challenges that were going to face all of us over the course of the month. Coronavirus still seemed like something "out there." The news was tragic, but it wasn't here. 

Until it was. 

Suddenly, it was everywhere and we were all dealing with the reality of people getting sick, some even dying, and all of us being called to do our part to stop the spread. This meant cancelled vacations, staying home, and closing schools. It meant for us educators that we needed to learn a whole new way to teach, and quick. 

Looking back at this tumultuous month, it seems fortuitous that the Slice of Life Story Challenge was occurring while the world exploded around us. Here, we found a community not just of fellow writers but fellow comrades grappling with the profound changes thrust upon us all. We were able to share our stories and share our fears and share our inspiration. 

As the days wore on, many of us found ourselves shrinking away from writing about anything having to do with the pandemic. There had to be something else to write about. We would try for something a little more lighthearted, a little more normal. Yet, we were drawn back to it time and time again. How could we not write about it? Every aspect of our lives has been impacted by this historic event, right down to the most mundane tasks such as grocery shopping. 

We should be writing about it. We are recording history in the making. The stories of our lives, thanks to the coronavirus, have become the story of a people battling an unseen enemy. There is no doubt that this a moment for the history books. Our children will tell their children about the days of forced isolation and toilet paper shortages the way many of our parents told us stories of life during World War II. By then, they will know how the story ends. Right now, we are still living in days of uncertainty. We have no way of knowing how this will all play out or what further challenges await us.

But we have hope. We have faith. We have each other.

So, onward we go.

Monday, March 30, 2020

I Worry

"Are you sure you can't stay home?" I asked jokingly, as my husband put on his shoes.

"I can't. I'm a hero now. I must keep our nation fed!" my husband declared with gusto.

I laughed. This "essential worker" thing just might be going to his head, I thought.

The lighthearted banter, however, masks a serious situation. Work from home is not an option when you manage a grocery store. So, off he goes each morning to make sure his customers have what they need. He works long hours writing orders, stocking shelves, managing employees, and waiting on customers, all without the benefit of even a shred of personal protective equipment. He does it because he has to. He does it because he wants to.

And I worry.

Worry that one of those customers, one of those employees will be sick without knowing and pass on Covid-19 to my husband. We don't have the luxury of youth to afford us the ability to shrug off the thought. We can't say, "I'm young. I'll be fine." I remind him each day to stay away from people as much as possible and to wash his hands every five minutes. He nods and agrees, but I know him well enough to know he's just humoring me. Sometimes, I want to remind him, it's good to be paranoid.

Each day, I sit in the comfort of my home and spend my time learning a whole new way of teaching. Through the walls I listen to the sounds of my sons' voices as they pass the time away, connecting to friends the only way they can, over internet lines. Here, I want to believe, we are safe. Then, I think about my husband still out there, still vulnerable.

And I worry.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

One Thing Always Leads to Another

"Did you find the paint?" I asked.  The fact that my husband was in the backyard hauling the green waste container toward our field of weeds, AirPods in his ears, made me suspect that not only had he not found the paint but he had forgotten he was supposed to be looking for it.

"I found it," he said, "but it's behind the patio furniture."

Of course it was. A month or so ago, I had excitedly ordered new furniture for our patio, just in time for the rain to begin. January and February had been dry. I should have known that as soon as I ordered the furniture it would start to rain, rendering my lovely new furniture useless. And so it had sat, still wrapped up in its boxes in the overflowing garage, waiting for fair weather to return.

"Do you want to put it together?" my husband asked.

I did, but I looked dubiously at the sky populated with dark gray clouds.

"Why don't you check the weather report again," he suggested.

I ran inside to grab my phone.

"Cloudy. Ten percent chance of rain. Do we risk it?" I asked.

We did. The next few hours were spent slicing open cardboard, studying directions, and lining up holes to insert bolts. Fatigue began to set in, but each new completed piece renewed our determination to finish the task. Finally, the last bolt was tightened and the last cushion slipped into place. We stood back and admired out work.

"So, about that paint. . . ."

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Spring Break Begins

The calendar says
Spring Break has arrived
but the sky is gray
and the world is bleak
So much on my mind
leaves little to be said

I don't want to write about
symptoms and mortality rates
About distance learning and lonely kids
About toilet paper shortages and sheltering in place

I want to write instead about
birds chirping in newly-leafed trees
About water trickling down streams and tumbling merrily over rocks
About blue skies accented by white puffy clouds that mean no harm
About rose buds waiting to burst in an explosion of color

I want to write about
children laughing and playing,
fast-moving limbs exposed to dazzling sunlight
About summer vacations
and backyard barbecues
About mountain trails and friendly greetings
as strangers pass by

I want to write about picnics
and romantic sunset strolls
About cool ocean waves rolling
onto hot, sandy beaches
About dreaming big and making plans

I want to write about
the way things should be
and the way they someday will be again

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Little Time Together

She didn't say much, but then, that wasn't unusual. Generally, she was pretty quiet in class. Over the last few two weeks of distance learning, I would see a comment from her every now and then, but not the rapid-fire back-and-forth presented by a handful of my more outgoing students. Just like in the real world, she worked silently behind the scenes as she completed her tasks.

I was happy to see her face pop up on my screen during our first Zoom meeting this morning. 

"Good morning!" I greeted her.

"Good morning," she replied shyly.

Bouncing bodies encapsulated in boxes quickly filled my view and a jumble of voices, relieved to be all together once again, boomed out into my living room. She sat still and quiet and waited patiently for her turn to speak, and then kept it short and to the point.

Others filled the void with stories of things they had done and of vacations they were missing. They were thankful for time spent with family and pets. They were less thankful for online learning. One sentiment resounded over and over: they missed each other. 

After an hour of muting and unmuting mics and offering a final assurance that there would be more Zoom meetings after we returned from Spring Break in two weeks, we said goodbye, and one by one the little boxes full of bouncy energy disappeared and quiet filled my living room once again.

I exited Zoom and clicked on the tab with my Google Classroom. A new comment had been left: "I was happy to see my friends."

Maybe she doesn't say much, but she manages to say it all.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Settling In

Tomorrow marks the end of our first two weeks of distance learning. Last week was full of awkward attempts, bumbles, and mishaps met with a flurry of questions. This week has been quieter, more subdued. There have been more comments of "done" than reports of a link not working or questions about class codes and signing in. Already, we seem to have settled in to this odd, new routine.

Not everyone is completing all the work I assign. Some students do it all while others seem to pick and choose what they want to complete. I don't hear enough from a good number of my students. I can only hope that they are so busy at home with their own kind of learning and have such great support that they are not in need of mine. There are a few that I outright worry about. I wonder what they're doing and how they will be impacted by the absence of stability that school provides.

The last two weeks have been exhausting and emotionally draining. To make matters worse, I was beginning to think that all my attempts to keep this group of kids connected was for naught. I sent out a questionnaire yesterday to see who was interested in meeting via Zoom, and I was disappointed that several chose "maybe" as their response. I had thought they would be eager to see and interact with their classmates once again. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was the only one affected by these strange circumstances and forced isolation.

But, of course, the show must go on, regardless of how the teacher feels. This morning I posted my daily read-aloud and greeting as I do every day. Because it was "Thoughtful Thursday," I asked students to fill the bucket of a classmate in the comments, something we normally do with paper "bucket fillers" in our classroom. I suggested as an alternative they could fill everyone's bucket at once by commenting on something they love or miss about our classroom. Slowly, the messages began to roll in.

"i miss you guys"
"I miss school a lot."
"I miss all of you guys. All of you guys are my friends!" 
 "Yeah, I miss our classroom and everything we used to do before this."
"i can't wate two see you all tomorrow" 
We may have settled into this strange, new world, but apparently we still miss the old one. Tomorrow morning we will fill our screens with the faces and personalities that used to fill our classroom. It won't be the same and it won't be nearly as good. But it will be good enough for now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Writer's Block (A Nonet Poem)

I sit in front of the computer
staring at the bright emptiness
trying to compose a thought
but nothing comes to mind.
So I sit and stare
and wish for a
muse to please