Once again, we come to the end of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. It has been a tumultuous March for all of us, and I am sure downright terrifying for those in certain areas of the country and world. I really sincerely thank Two Writing Teachers for this writing opportunity, where we could express our good days and our bad, share our ups and downs and questions and confusion and anxieties, about the situation, our families, our health, and, always, always our students and what is to become of them. I have been reassured by those who shared struggles similar to my own, cheered by those who had up days when mine were down, and helped by so many of you who shared tips and ideas and problems and solutions from districts and schools and lives that are ahead of my district, state, and life’s position on the pandemic curve. I have infinite admiration for those who diligently sliced every day, no matter how they felt or how hard it was to find a topic when confined to one’s home for the fifth or twelfth or thirtieth day in a row.
I wish you all health for yourselves and your families, and hope that we will all gather again next year, in much better circumstances!
"Mom, we should make a list of what qualities go in a newspaper."
"Ok. What do you think goes in a paper?"
"Comics! And also stuff you want to write about."
"Traditionally, that is called 'news.'"
We are flipping through the pages of The New York Times to get ideas of what sorts of things appear in the newspaper (since “things you want to write about” is a fairly broad category). He has been distracted by The New York Times for Kids section (all about cats!) and an article in the magazine about tourists to Chernobyl. (Odd. I had to explain Chernobyl, and I have no answer to the possibly metaphorical question, “What color is a meltdown?”) But I have plenty of ideas. Here is what I would put in my quarantine home newspaper, spring break edition.
News: The state of the pantry, stocks of necessary supplies, the mental state of our leadership (Mom and Dad), the man on the street’s (Miles’) view of how leadership is functioning in this crisis.
Sports: Follow the scores and games of balloon bounce, the indoor paper airplane obstacle course league, the bike desk open, and the Fitbit challenge. In sports opinion: is chasing the cat a sport, and was Mom right to have shut down the league?
Arts: Reviews of the emerging arts scene in the sun room: works in paper, paint, mixed media, and LEGO. Special section devoted to engineering challenges thanks to Tinker Crate. Movies/Television: what’s up next in the Netflix/Prime Video/Hulu/Acorn/etc. queue? The nuances of physical humor in Shaun the Sheep. Opinion: Should grown-ups be allowed to watch any of their grown-up shows? Board games rated by amount of time needed, level of challenge, amount of fun vs. potential for arguing and/or tears.
Books: Reviews of the classics and buzzy new reads? What are you reading now? Opinion: are some types of books better than others for times of pandemic?
Style: What is the well-dressed quarantiner wearing these days? Preview the upcoming spring styles of yoga pants and pajamas. Is wearing pajamas past noon in or out? Knitting for calm. Emerging designer, Miles, explains his coat design and models the work in progress.
Business: Profile of the community’s leading entrepreneur, Erich. In depth survey of the state of architecture from the front lines. Tips for getting input from clients in a no contact way. The joys and perils of telecommuting. Suggestions for social distancing on a construction site.
Travel: Best walks through the neighborhood (Flat routes and hilly routes for all levels of walkers.) Quiet byways for fresh air and no contact. Spring flower highlights on the block that you just cannot miss.
Comics: New adventures of Reporter Cats, and Austin the cat fights dogs in D v. C.
Calypso, a cat of mature years and frail health, but curious and loving temperament, although woefully low in brain cells.
Ariella, a cat – perennially playful, bane of birds, explorer extraordinaire.
Scene: A pleasant domestic scene in early spring. The cats are having a pleasant day at home, since the servants, for a change, are present and on time.
Ariella: The sun is shining! Open the door open the door openopenopenthe door!
Ariella: Out! Out! Out! Out! Wait, why isn’t it warm? The sun is out, therefore it is warm. Why isn’t it warm? I find this alarming. I will sprint back inside and glare at the not warm sun with suspicion.
Calypso: This spot on the heating grate is warm. I don’t know that I need to move.
Ariella: The door is open. We should go out. The sun is shining. Maybe it will be warm this time.
Calypso: Ok, let’s go look then. You don’t have to keep making such a fuss about it.
Ariella: Outoutout! Mrrroowwwww! I hear birds!
Calypso: Sigh. You are making a fuss again.
Ariella: It still is not warm, but – birds! I will stay out. Servants, close the door. And turn up the sun.
Calypso: Hush. It is nice in this sunny spot on the wooden deck.
Calypso: Ahhhh, birds. Have I told you that I almost caught one once?
Ariella swish, swish, swishes her tail.
Both cats freeze.
Calypso: What is it? I hear something. What is coming?
Ariella: Let’s look through the railings.
Both cats turn to the railings and then freeze again.
Ariella: OH NO! IT’S THE MAN!!!!!
Calypso: I thought the servants said three weeks. That was months ago. Why is the man here again? The man is always here. He makes the fence bark.
Ariella: IN! IN! IN! Servants, let me in! RIGHT NOW!
Calypso: We just got comfortable. (Sighs) Fine. We’ll go in. But, really, the man is not even wearing terrifying work boots. Kittens today are too highly strung.
The servants obligingly open the door and the cats return inside. Five minutes elapse.
Calypso: I miss the sun. Why am I inside? It is sunny. The sunny spot is outside. Oh, look. There is sun on the window. Now, how do I get up high again? (Stares at the window with some bemusement.)
A servant takes pity on her and lifts her to the deep windowsill.
Calypso (surprised): Oh, look, I am up here. The sun is nice. Why is the fence barking? I hate the barking fence. Oh! The man is back!
Ariella (breathing quickly): Meaow! I’m inside! Where is the air? I must check the air to make sure it is still there! I checked from the sleeping place window! But there might not be air on this side of the house! I need to check! Oh, the special air window on this side is open! I can leap up and – mrrrrooowwwww! Oof!
(Ariella bounces off of Calypso, who is unexpectedly in the special air window.)
Ariella: My spot! What are you doing in my spot? I am in charge of air checking. Not you! You don’t even worry that the air might be missing!
Calypso: Brrrrrrrow? I’m in the sun. What are you fussing about?
A servant opens a second window and gently places Ariella in it.
Ariella (confused): Where did this window come from? (exhaling in relief) Ahhhhhhh! The air is still there. Everything is ok. Outside is fine and the air is still present. No. Wait. Something is wrong! It…it’s THE MAN!
Calypso: What? Where?
Ariella: (lashing her tail angrily as the hair on the back of her neck rises) THE MAN MAKES THE NOISE! THE SCARY GROWLING NOISE! AND HE MAKES THE FENCE BARK! We have to watch him carefully, Calypso. We can’t let the man ruin the air and hurt the outside!
Both cats glare out the window and track the movements of the man relentlessly until…the construction equipment starts.
Calypso: Oh! That man! The one with the noise! He’s ruined the sun and I have to leave now! (Calypso decamps for the back of the linen closet.)
Ariella: NO! THE SCARY GROWLING NOISE! Servants, you are on your own! Keep your eyes on the air levels outside! (Ariella launches herself from the window and bounces once, halfway across the kitchen, before darting into the bedroom to hide in the back of the closet.)
Five minutes later, from the back of the closet, a tiny voice emerges.
Ariella: Mew? It’s dark in here. Where am I? I am all alone. In the dark. Where did everyone go? Mew?
Servant: (from six inches away) Ariella? Here we are, Ariella. It’s okay. We’re right here.
Ariella peeks warily out of the closet and heaves a sigh of relief to see her main servant. She crawls out and demands a lap, where she sleeps in comfort until she suddenly realizes it is sunny out…and, repeat.
Fresh spring air
For a family walk.
Cherry blossoms –
Not perfect, but enduring.
Spring goes on
With signs of normality.
I take it all in
through the phone.
I have asthma and
Am not allowed out.
Like many people, I have spent more time than I should have on social media in the last few days. It is somehow soothing to see that everyone else I know is also going a little bit bonkers and is not quite sure how to balance the diametrically opposed goals of keeping themselves and their kids occupied and having fun. (Moms and dads, is it just me, or does it seem like these are two different quarantines? The one where I am doing anything and everything to keep the kids sane, and the one full of things I would do if I got to be quarantined by myself, and never the twain shall meet.)
I am also, however, enjoying the look back at all my photos and memories on my phone and computer and in my Facebook account, so I decided that today I would give a little review of my regular, non-quarantined, life. During a stressful spring one year, a friend announced to our English department that when all looked bad, one needed a box of kittens. The next day, I, the intrepid department head, put a small pink box filled with cutout kitten pictures in our department office. For the rest of the year, we looked at kittens at lunch every day, and, you know what? It helped. So in the spirit of both remembrance and stress relief, I give you…
Today, I attempted to teach my nine year old son to write an email.
Wait, I need to backtrack. My son attends a small private school that is arts and science integrated. The program is exceptional and project centered, blending art, science, and engineering into all subjects. They also teach the children to do everything by hand. They write and edit and rewrite and make final copies of all writing assignments – from kindergarten on – by hand. The school is not technophobic. The teachers have Macs and iPads, and they use tablets for projects like podcasting and research, and for soothing background noise for easily distracted children like my son. They introduced iPads for research and some judicious use of apps for the middle school kids this year. But the ethos is centered on the handmade, whether it be a written report or a handmade art project.
Yet in this new, and hopefully brief, era of social isolation and quarantine, the school has decided that they need to shift to online learning. The faculty are amazing and are enthusiastically embracing all sorts of new technology in order to facilitate learning for the students and assist in their creation of the same calibre of work that they guide in person. We are peppered daily with emails about setting up accounts, new processes, and verifying the level of technology and time available in each home and providing equipment and adjusting individual learning expectations as necessary. First up were email accounts for all students, so that they can access the G Suite for Education, and, once everything is up and running, Google Classroom.
So, as I said, today I decided that the writing part of Literacy class in Mom’s Quarantine School would be to write an email.
My son is not unfamiliar with technology. He can work the various devices to find programs he wants on the TV, and he can whiz through apps like nobody’s business. He has managed to download podcasts and games, and has sort of mastered FaceTime. He has even been exposed to talking to his grandparents on our old-fashioned landline, and sometimes stops holding the phone out in front of him and looking for their pictures while he is doing it. Sometimes when we are getting ready for school, he will swipe my phone when I am not looking and laboriously text his dad or my sister. But in order to participate fully in online learning, he will likely need to email his teachers and type messages in live classes, as well as doing a great deal of work offline. I figured that learning to send an email was a good start.
He decided that he would email his friend, Thomas, who also has a new email address through the school. I showed him how to enter the email address. Then, we got to the subject line.
"What is a Subject?"
"That's where you write what your email is talking about."
"Ok, I will write 'Thomas.'"
"No, you don't write who you are talking to. You write what the email is about."
"But my email is about talking to Thomas."
Eventually, we sorted out that he was going to tell Thomas about some pots he made out of salt clay over the weekend. Over the next twenty minutes, he orally explained his email to me several times, and, slowly and with massive difficulty and frequent requests for help with spelling, as well as some freak-outs about Google trying to helpfully finish his thoughts and objecting to his spelling and grammar in a distracting fashion (“Why are there wiggly lines everywhere? What does that meeeeeaaaaannnnn?”), he triumphantly finished his email. It was one sentence long, but hey, he used a semicolon correctly. (Never mind that he called it a “dot comma” when he asked if that was the right punctuation mark to use.)
I congratulated him and pointed out that he should sign his email. Ever so slowly, he did. He proofread it again and thought it was great, until I pointed out that he wrote “what” instead of “want.” He started to backspace through the entire email.
"No! You can–"
"Mom!" Arms thrown out in an excellent approximation of teenage annoyance. "Stop! I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!"
I bit my tongue and refrained from telling him that he just put a period in the middle of his name, and that “Miles” does not usually call for punctuation. I let him do it his way, and walked into the kitchen to make another cup of tea, which is my go-to coping mechanism for child induced frustration. (My mantra is “When you want to scream, make a cup of tea instead.”) (I drink a lot of tea.)
In the four minutes that I was gone, he had sent the email, navigated out of the gmail program, added a tile puzzle game to my desktop, found YouTube, and was randomly watching videos about what it feels like to walk in freezing weather while wearing medieval steel armor.
We had hoped to spend spring break visiting my dad. Last summer, we were not able to travel, and this year, my stepmother is planning for them to sell their house at the beginning of summer. Dad lives in the house where he grew up, in the house where my grandparents always lived, three blocks from the house where I grew up. We talked about visiting in the spring, since I haven’t seen my folks in more than a year, but then we never quite got anything planned before the world started to go haywire. Then, my in laws were planning to visit during spring break. My husband had to beg his father not to travel before California imposed their statewide stay home order. His dad is sequestered in a tiny town in rural Northern California, generally is as tough and healthy as an angry mule, and furthermore, does not believe that any disease could possibly touch him. But he is also over 70, has COPD due to workplace exposure to toxins many years ago, and my husband’s stepmother has a variety of odd medical conditions. Fortunately, California shut down and the argument was moot and my father-in-law was saved from himself.
So, no spring break trips were planned, and no grandparent visits are allowed either. But we still had plans other than sitting around the house all of the time. We were going to see the Elephant and Piggie musical. We were going to the coast to do whale watching and check out the tide pools. We were going to the art museum and the zoo. We were going to have parkour classes and visits with friends and and lots of fun. Instead, we are inside and I am trying not to stalk around furtively and glaring out the window on germ patrol.
It’s not all bad though.
Today, my husband was working from home, so his stress levels were down.
Today, my son slept in and woke up happy.
Today, we started our Mom School day with a virtual field trip to the zoo! (Sea otters!)
Today, I helped my son finish a sock doll he had been crafting for a project at school, and he only lost the needle down the side of the chair once.
Today, Miles practiced his multiplication and long division without any griping at all.
Today, I listened to an audiobook for half an hour with a cat sleeping on my lap.
Today, we had an early family dinner and Erich and Miles got to take an after dinner bike ride, which is one of my son’s major treats. Dad lets him ride on the road!
The house is trashed, the laundry is not finished, and I am not doing anything for me during the days, but I am keeping my son occupied and maintaining his basic skills, and I have a handle on how his school is rolling out online learning. I don’t really know how I will help him through that process in April while also rolling out online education for my own students, but I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
For now, we are okay, we are healthy, we are safe and warm and dry and fed. And maybe after bath and bedtime, I can have a piña colada.
Just when I think maybe we will all survive being kept inside together for weeks, I get six more emails from my son’s school about beginning online education after Spring Break, step on both cats simultaneously, fall over into a wall, and awaken the half-sleeping child with my crashing and yelling.
While being more or less stuck inside my house for the last eight days and the foreseeable future, I have been thinking a lot about technology and how much I like it at the moment. Here are my top 10 reasons for my appreciation of technology.
Video chatting. My son spent about 5 hours having a play date with his best friend today. Via FaceTime. They chattered happily to each other, ate lunch together, watched an episode of Shaun the Sheep together, and planned and executed projects together. At times, they were both sitting quietly on their respective ends of the conversation, designing buildings for their future company that they have been planning for the last year or so. When I wandered by and asked what they were doing, since it was so quiet, they both looked up at me in surprise, one in person and one on my phone, and said, “Just being together.” That was worth sacrificing my phone and iPad for half the day.
Buying local. I want to support my local businesses, which are struggling under the strain of social distancing and stay home recommendations. So many people have worked hard to get previously real world only operations of small, local, independent stores online, and it makes life easier in many ways. This week, I was able to buy yarn from my local store to complete a project, order all my meat at the butcher and deli items from our favorite lunch spot (which has been in operation for almost 90 years), and check online to see which store had rice before sending my husband (and his stronger immune system) out to pick up the ordered items and buy groceries at our locally owned market. Not to mention ordering books from Powell’s, the country’s largest bookstore, which is on the verge of collapsing under the economic fallout of business closures.
Debit cards. I can prepay for a variety of items on line and pick them up, minimizing time that anyone needs to spend mixing with others, and risking exposure to any sort of winter disease. Furthermore, when I or my husband have to go into a shop, most places allow you to pay with a debit card that does not have to be handed to a store employee, again cutting down on potential sources of infection.
Streaming services. I am grateful for my DVR, and my accounts with streaming services, and the ability to watch new and old movies for (mostly) free, and even pay to watch brand new movies that are now released online, since going to the movies is a bad – or forbidden, depending on your location – idea.
The internet. I have been able to check on questions of home delivery and store hours for seniors for my over-70 parents in another state, and help them make choices about when and where they can best do their essential shopping. (In other words, my sister and I are digitally nagging them, but helping them find the answers too!) Furthermore, I receive lots of emails updating me about the various measures local essential businesses are using to keep the workers and customers safe. I get to be involved in this lovely slicer community, do art with children’s book artists, read out of town newspapers, get craft instructions and find recipes.
Tele-commuting. My husband has sent his employee home with his work computer so he can work from home. He is working on closing down his office and bringing his own equipment home so he can work from here. Not easy in a small house, but important for everyone’s safety. Nearly everyone I know is now working from home, and that means I don’t have to worry about them, and it reduces the likelihood of contagion for all.
Email. I can keep in touch with my family and friends, I can communicate with my students, I can receive tons of support and resources for teachers, and I can share those with parent friends who are overwhelmed at trying to teach multiple children of different ages and grades with no resources, no teaching experience, and no time, as they are also trying to work from home themselves. The outpouring of support from education and technology companies, organizations, artists, authors, individuals, and fellow teachers has been pretty amazing.
Libraries. Although the buildings themselves are closed for the health safety of the staff and patrons, the online catalogs are full and useful. My son is checking out books to read on my iPad, and I have three library books checked out on audio. (Now if only I could listen for more than 1 minute without interruption…)
Google Doodle. Yesterday’s Doodle in honor of the doctor who pioneered medical sanitation (i.e. hand washing) taught my son more about hand washing that I have ever managed.
When all looks bleak, I can post cat pictures of my kitty helping me get my indoor exercise.