Leaving My Pandemic World

I spent the first three days of this week in my classroom, doing training and preparing for hybrid students in a few weeks. It was quite a bizarre experience.

I think I have to say a little bit about my pandemic world here. I have asthma, and I am also the person in my family who will catch any little germ that passes by (after all, I managed to get pneumonia with no contact with the outside world). We agreed early on that my husband, who needs to go out to meet clients, would be the one to do all the shopping to keep the bulk of the risk to one person. (Actually, he just announced that I should not leave the house, but he had a good point, so I agreed.)

I haven’t been in a grocery store since March 2020.

We have not traveled.

We have not taken day trips.

We have not gone shopping in any stores other than the grocery store.

We have stayed very strict about the quarantine measures and have stayed home.

I have waved to neighbors from a safe distance.

Walking even around my neighborhood has been difficult with a mask on, so I have not done that nearly as often as I should.

For much of the year, I have not left my house or yard for weeks at a time, sometimes with more than a month passing between experiences with actual reality.

You get the idea. There was a great deal of weirdness in actually going back to work. Here are my reflections.

  1. I am an introvert. I like meetings where a staff meeting requires spreading out across the entire cafeteria and the adjacent gym and no one is near me. Woohoo! No small talk!
  2. I miss my cats. I caught myself reaching down to pet empty air more than once today.
  3. Even without students in the building, schools can be pretty noisy, but I actually felt pretty lonely without being surrounded by my son and husband in our small house.
  4. Commuting alone is actually very nice. Audiobook time! Only, there is this thing called “rush hour” that I had forgotten about.
  5. Okay, I’ll admit it. I totally miss prep time with my feet up and a cat or two on my lap. Sitting on a wobbly school chair at a teacher desk is nowhere near as comfortable!
  6. I cannot drink tea through my mask! I’ll perish from lack of caffeine!
  7. I should accessorize, but one of my earring holes is mostly closed up. Ouch.
  8. I have to wear nice clothes BELOW the waist too???
  9. Shoes? Every day? What? My feet are in shock.

Hybrid school starts in three weeks! I had better learn to keep track of my shoes and see what parts of my work wardrobe still fit.

Hybrid Training

Today was the second day of in school training for transferring from all online learning to hybrid + online learning combination. I thought about writing a six word sentence yesterday to commemorate this first day of this experience, but since most of my six words were swear words, I skipped it.

Oh my.

Where do I even begin? This is, of course, a big philosophical question, raising issues of equity and pedagogy and curriculum design for different types of learning and different learning delivery systems simultaneously and trying to talk to those in the room and on Zoom at the same time, and many other important teacher questions.

But, really, I just mean, my goodness, where do I even begin?

Teachers clumped together on day 1, no more than a couple of feet apart, and so many people taking their masks off to drink coffee.

An assistant principal who told us, in all seriousness, to let kids eat and drink in our classes, as it was only fair, since the kids who were still at home could continue to have a snack or drink whenever they liked. “Just, you know, as long as they don’t have their masks off for long. Not more than thirty minutes of snacking.”

Or how about the same assistant principal telling us that middle schoolers cannot sit still all day, so we need to let them get up and move around. But, in their space. Obviously.

😳😬😳

We also were informed by the other assistant principal that she did not see it as her job, or ours, to police how close kids got to each other in the classroom.

Um, what?

Yeah, we’re totally safe. Eating and drinking and sitting side by side. Right.

My favorite were the written instructions from the district, informing us that we need to continue doing what we have been doing, and put all information into our online platforms and deliver instruction via Zoom. To the kids who are home and the kids who will be sitting right in front of us.

Let me repeat that for you.

Go to school and teach via Zoom. To the kids who are in the same room with me, in person.

#Isn’tThatWhatI’mDoingNowSafelyAtHome?

Our union agreement states that we can do work that CAN be done remotely, remotely. But when I asked about working from home during our prep times (after the meetings are over) this week, because I have a child at home who is not yet returning to school, I was told that I had to be in the building because the district said so. When I mentioned that this was causing child care issues, the administrators told me, “Yeah, we all have child care issues.”

#IFeelSoSupported

Today was our big test. We ran practice simulations, putting groups of teachers into one room to be “roomers” and another group in another room to be “zoomers” and then our brave and stoic tech people ran simulations of how to teach so we could see and hear how it would work.

News flash: Nothing worked.

I mean, really nothing.

No sound on the video. Lagging wifi with only 70 teachers in the building, instead of 600 kids all on Zoom at the same time. People forgetting to put in their headphones, so sound and feedback bounced around the rooms. Cannot hear the people who are “at school” when you are “home.” Can hear the teacher live and 2 seconds later in your headphones when you are “at school.” Strangely distorted views of teachers standing in front of their laptops to teach. Midriffs. Breasts. Half a face and half of what is projected on the screen. Up a nostril. Take your pick- it depends on your height. None of them are attractive. No one able to follow the chat and teachers routinely missing questions from those on Zoom.

And these were dedicated, hard-working, innovative teachers who have been doing amazing things for their students via Zoom and Canvas for a year. The system is simply ridiculously designed, and cannot possibly be what parents or students want in a return to school. A handful of students (as low as two people in person for some classes) in person, still staring into their computers all day, masked and distanced from everyone else. An education that has already been difficult, fractured by yet another seismic shift in what teachers are expected to do, reduced in time by the weeks needed to establish classroom protocols that normally are set up in September (and are usually a lot less complicated!), and sabotaged by dividing the teachers’ time and energy between instructing students in two diametrically opposed pedagogical systems simultaneously. All in the final nine weeks of school. And while case rates, hospitalizations, and positivity rates steadily increase locally and nationally and vaccinations remain difficult to get and not open to all.

I know that there are students who need to be in school with a teacher. I know that many of mine who are returning will get more help and struggle less if they are in the classroom. I know that many of those who most need to be in the classroom are staying home, so I will have even less ability to engage with and help them. And I know that this system is not what they are looking for when they express a desire to return.

But, hey, at least the schools will be open. And those “selfish, lazy teachers who have been sitting at home on their asses getting paid for nothing for the last year” won’t be getting a cushy ride any more.

Maybe the teachers will no longer get death threats on the school district’s social media pages.

It’s all back to normal, right?

Wandering, Middle School Version

While I know that many teachers have gone back to school days or weeks or months ago, where I live, the shift from fully online learning to hybrid learning is still in the future. On April 19, I will be back in the classroom with students in some sort of quasi-functional blend of students who are still fully online, students who are home but attending virtually because it is not their classroom day, and students who are in the actual classroom. Nothing could possibly go wrong with THAT model. In keeping with all of our information meetings (which seemed to primarily consist of administrators saying, “We don’t know yet,” over and over), we are going in to the actual building tomorrow through Wednesday for training in how this amazing system will work.

I will be in a room tomorrow with 70 other teachers and admin from my building.

I don’t think I have even seen 70 people since March of last year.

I didn’t even know gatherings that large were allowed yet. (Are they?)

Ok, I got distracted by looming agoraphobia there for a moment. The only thing that we do know for certain is that the students will be in one room all day, stuck at their desks, and the core teachers (Humanities, Science, and Math) will rotate through in order to minimize student contact with other cohorts. I truly cannot imagine students being able to simply sit at their desks all day without moving around. How is class supposed to function when we are all glued to our 6 square foot areas? I mean, I can put everything on the computer for them, but then…wouldn’t that be just like them working from home, except for uncomfortably stuck in one place for hours, minus snacks and not wearing their pajamas. So this got me thinking hard about all the reasons students leave their seats during one completely normal class period.

My tooth fell out. Do you have an envelope?

My tooth fell out and my mouth is full of blood and I am still bleeding.

I have a nosebleed.

I need a bandaid.

I need a whole lot of bandaids because blood is gushing down my leg and filling my sock because something sharp is sticking out of the edge of the table.

I need ice because I got smashed into the wall playing basketball at lunch and I think my fingers are broken.

My chair broke.

I need a pencil.

I need an eraser.

I need another pencil.

I need to sharpen my pencil.

I need to sharpen my pencil some more.

Oh, that pencil broke in half. I need another pencil.

My Chromebook is dead.

My Chromebook battery is low. Can I sit by my friend and use theirs?

My Chromebook battery is low. Can I sit by the power outlet and charge it?

I need some paper.

I need a new book to read.

I need a Sharpie.

I need colored pencils/colored paper/markers.

I cannot see from that spot.

He keeps poking me.

The student next to me keeps looking up bad words in Russian on the internet and repeating them to me.

I need a drink.

I need to use the bathroom.

I need a kleenex.

I need a pair of scissors.

My table is wobbling.

The leg fell off of my table.

I want the blue chair.

There is gum on the bottom of my chair.

It’s my day for the yoga ball and he took it.

Student X is playing games on their Chromebook instead of working.

I have ADHD and am bouncing off the walls and need to MOVE (Of course, what this student actually says to me is usually “Huh?” after I ask where they are wandering off to. And once, memorably, “I thought maybe I left something in Band.”)

I need to see the homework list on the board.

I need to check today’s agenda for the next step.

I need to ask you for the next step.

I need another copy of the assignment.

I need help with this question.

I need to turn something in.

I need my notebook from my writing file.

I need to let you know that my assignment on the computer is marked late but I turned it in on time.

I need to know if I turned in last Wednesday’s assignment.

I need to make-up that test.

I need you to fill out this form.

I need to remind you that I will be gone for the next two weeks.

I have a question.

I have a question.

I have a question.

I have a question.

Let’s just sit with all of that for a moment, shall we?

My classroom always has a lot of movement in it – for the students and for me. I do not know how it will work. We cannot even put supplies for the students on the desks, because there will be two different cohorts alternating, and different students every other day. Can middle schoolers really rise to the occasion and remember all their supplies and their chargers? Can we be an equitable school if we do not provide materials, no questions asked, to those who forgot them or cannot afford them in the first place? Is it really going to be better for students and for their education to put us all back into schools like this?

What do I do with the kid who is bleeding? Send a bandaid via paper airplane?

What about the kid in tears?

What do I do with the kid having a panic attack?

Like the administrators, I just don’t know.

Today, I

Today, I wanted to read novels all day. It is the last day of Spring Break, and the second one where I have felt kind of normal, so I wanted to read. I did not. Instead…

Today I heard more than I ever wanted to hear about electric TNT in Minecraft and had to inspect so. many. craters.

Today I talked over the parenting/hybrid teaching conundrum with my sister, a 3rd grade teacher/mom.

Today I helped my mom with a knitting question and traded lots of information about all the brightly colored yarn we want to buy.

Today I hand fed the elderly cat in the linen closet where she likes to hide and sleep, and gently pet her greatly diminished frame.

Today I cooked waffles, just about the only breakfast food my 10 year old will currently eat. They were snubbed.

Today I dragged the complaining 10 year old outside, into the fresh air, to make a quick trip to the bookstore to pick up the new surprise book that I had ordered for him. I was not thanked.

Today I put up with a lot of tweenish crap and had some discussions about attitude and gratitude.

Today I dashed off in the middle of lunch because I had to get to a haircut appointment.

Today I had 20 minutes all to myself while the purple stripes in my hair turned purpler.

Today I talked to my hair stylist about her six month old colicky baby who still wakes up four times a night, and remembered that some things are harder than dealing with tweenishness.

Today I struggled to figure out why it is acceptable to tell American parents that they must report to work in the middle of a pandemic whether they have child care or not. I came to no better conclusions than on any other day in the last one year and thirteen days.

Today I learned more about my son’s online only schedule for spring.

Today I worried about my hybrid only schedule for spring.

Today I looked at the news. It was not particularly encouraging.

Today I put my feet up and watched the clouds blow away and the sun come out.

Today I pretended it was summer so we could eat dinner outside.

Today I watched my son bounce on the trampoline while playing catch with his dad.

Today I curled up under a blanket and wrote in my blog.

Today, at last, I get a chance to read.

No More Bad Things!

This evening, my husband stood up from the dining room table and decreed, “No more bad things are allowed this month!” I don’t know if the universe was paying attention, and our 10 year old worriedly said that he didn’t know, it seemed like some more bad things could happen (way to be an optimist, kiddo!), but I am going to take this as an official edict. I am ready to be done with bad things.

For those who have not read my slices from the tiny number of days that I have actually posted this month, it has been a whirlwind of awfulness. First, my son collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital with what appeared to be a seizure. Then, a day and a half later, I succumbed to pneumonia, complicating access to follow-up care for my son and nearly impossible to get diagnosed and treated during a pandemic. (Of all the horrible things that happened across the world this year, hearing “No, you cannot come to the doctor for treatment. You have symptoms,” was one of the weirder ones.) Then our ancient kitty suddenly started staggering and limping and began to refuse food and water, resulting in a rush off to the pet emergency hospital last night.

This is another thing that I do not recommend during a pandemic. Due to many animal hospitals and veterinary practices cutting hours or closing due to COVID-19 restrictions, combined with people under financial pressure delaying treatment of their own – and their pets’ – needs, the primary 24/7 animal hospital is slammed. People must wait in their cars and call in to be triaged. When your pet’s needs are top of the list, they collect the animal from you, and you continue to wait in the parking lot. We thought she would not make it through the night, so all of us had come along, and we spent a few long hours, sitting in the car in the parking lot, eating take out food, and not really knowing what would happen next. Ultimately, we got permission to leave the parking lot briefly, to take the overtired 10 year old home to bed (a couple of hours past bedtime) as long as one of us came immediately back, because the cat was under observation and examination and they needed regular communication with us to make decisions.

This particular cat is my husband’s baby, and she thinks he is God. He could not handle the decision making and so, unusually for us, he stayed to comfort the distraught cat-loving child and I went back to the hospital and settled in. I would like to say that I had many profound thoughts and insights, but mainly I stared at the sky, drank tea, played endless amounts of addictive but utterly mindless LEGO Tower, listened to audiobooks and read, and decided not to sleep, because, well, creepy. People could see in the car windows.

Ultimately, after many tests and hours, the vets were able to determine that she had likely thrown a clot, but that her body was breaking it down and reabsorbing it. Some possible triggers were eliminated via testing, but the potential for heart issues had not been examined. The vet recommended that, given the hospital setting was stressing the cat out enormously and she was responding to palliative care, that we should adjust her medication and add pain medicine to keep her comfortable, and then I could take her home. So, after liberal dosing with methadone, oxygen, subcutaneous and intravenous hydration, and anti-nausea medicine, and bolstered with a fistful of doses of kitty morphine for later, a grumpy, but significantly more alert, cat was returned to me. Twelve hours after arriving at the hospital, I brought her home and let her out of the carrier. Making an assortment of strange grumbling noises that I would expect more from a 90 year old man, she marched directly to her water and food and ate and drank for the first time in more than a day. Relieved and exhausted, I tumbled into bed, 24 hours after I had gotten up in the morning.

After a refreshing two hours and forty-five minutes of sleep, I was awake again, and attempting to function. I had to go to the doctor for a follow-up on my pneumonia. Looking and feeling my absolute best, I staggered off to the doctor’s office and received a clean bill of health. No more pneumonia in my lungs, no fever, asthma, which had veered toward acute while I was sick, settling back down. More important, as far as the HR department of my school district is concerned, the official paperwork was completed. I am now NOT in trouble for taking two weeks off of work all at once, AND I am cleared to return to work after Spring Break. Check, and check.

While I was at the doctor, my husband finally heard the results from my son’s EEG, which had been conducted last Friday. Despite the best efforts of the technicians to trigger seizure behavior, his brain activity was 100% normal. While we still do not know what triggered his apparent seizure or if it will happen again, he has been 100% happy, healthy, and normal over the last two weeks and the tests do not show any problems. This, also, is good news.

So all the news today has turned out good. I am well, my son is well, and the cat, while they cannot cure her from being 17 and 1/2 years old, is being treated for pain and is able to eat, drink, move, investigate her surroundings and stake a claim for the best warm and/or sunny spots lest that young whippersnapper cat think they all belong to her. She even got a bath and climbed up on the bed to groom and snuggle and PURR, all activities which we have not seen in a while. Things are right with the world again. My husband has spoken. No more bad things in March.

Let’s just not think about the March 29-31 in person training days for transition to in person hybrid teaching, okay?

Mortality

Tonight, I sit in the emergency cat hospital’s parking lot. Our 17 1/2 year old cat is in serious pain and decline. We have been here for hours and have no update yet. In the midst of a pandemic, we cannot even hold her while she is examined and treated. Hoping for the best as today’s slicing deadline approaches.

Vaccine Time

Today, I got my first dose of the vaccine. At some point in the future, that may be a vague sentence, and people may not know which vaccine that means, or why I felt that it was important enough to blog about it. I mean, I don’t go around and cry from the rooftops when I get a tetnus booster. Today, though, we all know exactly what this means.

In many ways, this feels somewhere between anticlimactic and miraculous. I had to cancel two previous appointments, first because of a nagging sinus infection that left me ill and feverish, and the second because I was busy having pneumonia. Although I am still recovering from the pneumonia, my doctor cleared me to have the vaccination, and after a week or so, I was able to get an appointment at the local pharmacy. While the other teachers I know went to the big mass vaccination center with other teachers and felt a sense of camaraderie and hope, I went alone to the local pharmacy and had a poke in my arm, got a fairly immediate headache, and went home for a nap. I did not feel like anything life-changing had happened.

On the other hand, I do feel a sense of relief, as now I know that when I am unwillingly dumped back into in person teaching next month, I will have been vaccinated. My second dose is on the Sunday morning before the “first” day of school, which should be interesting. Also, I can go out and about in the world now with a bit less hesitation. As the asthmatic in my family, and the one who catches every single germ that floats by, I have spent an extensive chunk of the last year in my house and yard, with minimal forays into the actual world. This morning, entering the grocery store to walk to the pharmacy for my vaccination was at least as nerve-wracking as going to get the shot. I still do not feel like I have the slightest handle on how risky any sort of behavior is any more, and what I can or should do in order to keep myself, my family, and the greater community safe, but it seems more likely now that more than staying home will be on the virtual adventure table once again.

My parents and step-parents and in-laws have been vaccinated too, which took a huge weight off of my mind. They are all over 70 and most have a number of other conditions, and I have spent the last year watching the numbers rise stratospherically in California, where they all live, with a kind of paralyzing alarm.

The miraculous part is that a vaccine has come about at all. I know how medical science works, and that research and development of new drugs and new vaccines is a very time consuming process. A year ago, I did not think there could be a vaccine within about five years. Of course, a year ago, I was scared and I was confused, but, even so, I did not expect any of what has happened in the last year to come about: the massive waves of illness, the mystifying politicization of public health, the unwillingness of so many to take simple measures that could benefit society as a whole, the obscene amount of death. Miraculously, though, scientists put that aside and shared information and worked tirelessly and capitalized on existing and current research, and they did it. They made a vaccine. And another one. And another one. And another one. While distribution is complicated and frustrating and unevenly and inequitably skewed toward the developed world, that is still miraculous.

We may have spent the last twelve months swallowed up by a dark and terrifying tunnel, but now there is a light at the end. Spring has arrived, vaccine distribution is speeding up and widening to include more groups, and this year, perhaps, we will experience a truer sense of rebirth than we have had for a very long time.

If you are looking for me, I’ll be outside, wearing my mask, carrying my hand sanitizer, and blinking owlishly at the light as I ponder the world, and me, turning and returning to life once again.

Rain Orchestra and Helicopter

Today was my son’s end of trimester, and he is more than ready for his two week Spring Break. His school usually does a huge formal gathering where students show off their term’s accomplishments, and this creates a great deal of stress for him. He does not cope well with the concept of “deadline,” even when he is ahead of schedule and knows exactly what he needs to do and how to do it. While the school adapted their learning celebration format for the end of the winter term in December, they made this one a “family only” presentation and encouraged kids to show off their work on their own. This, of course, was immediately abandoned as soon as the school day ended in favor of iPad games and playing Minecraft with his best friend, three miles and an entire pandemic year away.

Minus the stress of school and upcoming deadlines, he played for a while but then was easily coaxed into some chores and playing outside. It’s spring, so it started raining again today, but hardy Pacific Northwest kids handle playing outside in the rain just fine. (Okay, they USED to handle it fine. Now they whine and want to stay inside and play Minecraft, but hardy Pacific Northwest moms make them go outside anyway.) Since our backyard is liberally strewn with all kinds of bizarre boy debris, he had a lot of material to work with, and randomly decided to set up a rainfall musical instrument show. He lined up all kinds of different surfaces, different materials, sizes, weights, and combinations of layering along the drip line from the edge of the garage, endlessly tinkering and plinking to get the exact sounds that he wanted from each upturned plastic bin, metal pan, squashed tin can, and so forth. When he had everything “tuned” to his satisfaction, he called me outside to hear the performance. Of course, it immediately stopped raining, but since it is supposed to rain for the next week (which is what spring break is for, right? Wet feet and dreary weather?), there will be ample opportunity for an encore performance.

My son, although easily frustrated in school, is never short of ideas when he has control of his agenda, so he was only stumped for a moment. The rain orchestra was left to its own rain free devices and he began to mess around with his trampoline and his super soaker squirt gun. This time, when he came inside to request my presence outside, he brought in the squirt gun, and with his inborn heritage of talking wildly with hands, he gesticulated with the squirt gun and demonstrated how he would move and shoot it. By squirting water across my living room. After THAT was dealt with, I sent him BACK OUTSIDE, and joined him a few minutes later. He was jumping quite enthusiastically on his trampoline, and I discovered that I got to be in charge of the squirt gun. Hehehehe.

Do you know the game “Helicopter”? He learned this one in his activity classes when he was little, and continued it as an agility exercise during his Parkour classes at the beloved gym, now a casualty of the pandemic closures. He has not attempted any of those games and exercises for months, so I was a bit surprised when he informed me that we would play helicopter. If you are unfamiliar with this game, kids line up and a grownup with a pool noodle swings the noodle above their heads, at their knee level, or along the floor by their feet, and the kids need to dexterously jump, twirl, or duck continuously to avoid being tapped by the pool noodle. It’s hilarious, and hard work. My job was to spray the water across the trampoline so he could jump and duck and try not to get hit. I was instructed to only fill it up with warm water from inside or it would not be fair, and we got started. I sprayed water every which way, mainly getting him wet, because it is very hard to jump over a stream of water above a black trampoline on a gray and cloudy afternoon. It turns out that water is basically invisible! Who knew? He got soaked legs and a ton of jumping, and we both laughed until my husband came outside and called us both hyenas. I couldn’t keep it up as long as he would have liked, between the dual inconveniences of not being ten and having pneumonia, but it was a great way to draw a line under a few difficult weeks and face forward to some time off.

Rain orchestras and helicopter. Never underestimate the joyful release of playing outside.

Doom and Paperwork

If you have been reading my increasingly erratic blog this month, you probably know that I have pneumonia. That is making it especially difficult to write regularly, because some days my brain works, and some days it just wants a nap. If these were normal times, and I had spent the last two weeks in bed, sipping tea and juice and watching British mysteries for their cure-all properties, I would probably feel a lot better. However, these are not normal times, they are these times, so my nearly two weeks (and counting) sick leave has involved getting up every morning, getting my whirling son moving in the direction of getting dressed AND brushing his teeth AND taking his ADHD medicine AND getting all the way to his desk in time to start class. Then I sit nearby and remind him of his assignments, calm him down when he freaks out, help him troubleshoot and reminds him every three minutes when he has another class coming up so that he remembers to log in to that one too. I’ve made only a few terrifying screen appearances as “What-the-heck-happened-to-Miles’-mom?” in this process. But, hey, I am not teaching!

All of this is to say that when I re-read my after visit paperwork from the urgent care facility where I was finally diagnosed, I had to laugh when I saw that one of the symptoms that should send me directly to the ER, do not pass GO, do not collect $200, was “a feeling of doom.” By “laugh,” of course, I mean “chuckle meaningfully inside my head because laughing out loud will trigger a disastrous coughing attack and the doctor did not see fit to order a cough syrup prescription.”

A feeling of doom? I did not think that was an actually official medical thing. If so, most of us are in real trouble. I don’t know about you, but I have been suffering increasing feelings of doom since February of last year, well seasoned with feelings of temporary terror, existential ennui, and frustrated boredom. Strangely, what I have felt most with pneumonia is a sort of relief from the cessation of all of these emotions. I am extremely anxiety prone to begin with, but I have been much too sick to worry about anything. I should double check that paperwork and see if it says anything about “cessation of doom” as a signal of alarm.

As I am starting to recover, very slowly, some of the anxiety is returning. For example, missing two weeks of email from work means that I had, as of this morning, accumulated 297 emails. In addition, my district abruptly changed course and decided that we will return middle and high schoolers to the classroom on April 19, and immediately following next week’s spring break, we will report to the building to be trained in all the safety procedures. I’ve attended meetings with many questions and no answers, and have missed probably a dozen more while I have been out. The one thing that I know for sure is that I will have to report to work (and damn this pneumonia for not hitting AFTER I was vaccinated instead of BEFORE) and my son will still be doing online education. As far as planning goes, my husband and I have reached two conclusions. “This is impossible” and “we have no idea what to do, but we guess we’ll do it.” Well, that, and I don’t know all the details about what his school is doing because I napped through dinnertime and the beginning of the evening meeting about return to school tonight.

As a test of my return to reality, I attempted work today. Wednesdays are asynchronous learning, and our training meetings were cancelled so people could come out to school and start setting up their classrooms to share since teachers will move and kid cohorts won’t. As I have pneumonia and also, as a temporary teacher (for the third year), I don’t actually have a classroom at the moment, I was allowed to skip that part and work from home, as usual. I tackled my email and read all the vague and conflicting announcements and memos about returning to school. I taught my Advisory class, which required me to sit up for half an hour and talk, which wiped me out, and also let the kids tell me how much they missed me and how glad they were to see me again. And I got to discover that HR has ordered me to fill out medical leave paperwork because I have missed more than five consecutive days of work, and that I cannot return until I am cleared by my doctor. Since I worked today, not cleared, I now have non-consecutive leave, and no one is quite sure what that means for the paperwork. What I do know is that if sitting with my feet up and answering email for several hours, teaching for half an hour, and making the occasional spectral appearance in my son’s Zoom class meant that I needed to nap all afternoon and straight through dinner time, then I probably am not fit to return to work, and need to get more subs to cover the last few days until spring break. I am worried about my students, confused by two weeks of work without me to help, about my ability to contact them and their parents about any missing work that they should tackle during spring break, and what on earth is going on with the return to school issues and what I am supposed to be doing and where I should be doing it come March 30. I also would like to know when I am going to start to really get well.

Feelings of doom? Check. Bring it on. I’ll roll up my sleeves and stick with the mantra that has kept me going for the last year and trust that it will carry me through. “This is impossible. I have no idea what to do, but I guess I’ll do it.”

If that does not work, I am sure that somewhere, there will be a form to fill out.

Pandemic Shopping

Like many people with some flexibility in income, I’ve done a LOT of online shopping during the pandemic. Aside from the obvious, like the Holy Grail of toilet paper, paper towels, and Clorox and Lysol wipes, and Easter, and Christmas, and my son’s friend-free, party-free 10th birthday, there have been a lot of other opportunities to shop.

For example, I buy books. If you had even seen my house, this would not come as a surprise. I have bookshelves EVERYWHERE. I have only started parting with some of the books I have read in the last few years because my husband put his foot down and said that I could not have any more bookcases, because the floors might fail. Despite the distraught culling of old favorites, I still have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books that I have not yet read, and hundreds more that I have. Still, I have made it my pandemic mission to single-handedly save our local independent bookstore, because, frankly, the thought of a world without Powell’s Books in it is too horrible to bear. After scanning all the book blogs and publisher’s Coming Soon lists, I make lists of every possible book that I might want – usually all of them – take every scrap of extra money that I can find and buy them. Sight more or less unseen. I have lost the ability to browse the spines, flip the pages, peruse the texts, ponder the purchases over multiple visits. What I have gained is the mystery of all kinds of neat books arriving in a box at my door on a random day and the simultaneous pleasures of buying more books at once than I could possibly carry through the store AND not having to see the expression on my husband’s face when I spend $400 on books in one go.

Of course, reading has been difficult sometimes during the last year, what with all the doomscrolling and newspaper staring that I have had to do in order to keep my state of horror and anxiety honed to the point that I could leap over the moon in terror if someone coughs discreetly behind me. So I have spent much too much time on my phone, as well, and have bought some pretty random apps. Some are games, some are for organizing, some are for tracking weird and random ideas or completing projects, like art, or knitting. Lots of apps are free, but some are free for five minutes and then you need to buy them to make them work. Some have caught on with my entire family (“Hue”, I am looking at you!) and some just make everyone scratch their heads. (Alas, “Dear Reader” from Apple Arcade, everyone thinks it is strange to solve word puzzles in classic literature except for me.) I even purchased a few that seemed like they would help my son organize his time and his work…if only I showed him, and we figured out a way to break through the ADHD to the extent that he suddenly gains a sense of time and the ability to not forget that he has an organizational system, that he should look at it, or where it might be at any given point in time…well, you can guess how that has worked.

There were other purchases, too, some big or small, some silly, some essential. I’ve purchased beautiful yarn from independent yarn dyers all over the world, for the knitting I will have tons of time to do…at some point. In the meantime, the colors and textures bring me joy, and I need that. We even bought fancy meal kits from a venerable restaurant in town which chose to package and sell kits for some of their “greatest hits” to be cooked at home in order to keep some of their staff employed and to keep the network of food producers and suppliers moving at time when restaurants everywhere closed.

Hands down, though, my best pandemic shopping purchase was the trampoline.

One whole year in, and that smile is still absolutely worth it.