What do we do now?

How many of those out walking this afternoon are masked? (1/4)

Will people show any more self-restraint during spring break this year than last?

Did they show any self-restraint for Memorial Day? Fourth of July? The summer in general? Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas?

Can vaccines outpace human selfishness, or do we stubbornly persist in opening schools when everything blows up in our faces yet again?

What if my son is the only one in his 5th grade class who opted for fully virtual? (He says he will feel safe, not excluded.)

How is he really going to learn virtually during the part of the day when his teacher and classmates are at school and he is online?

How will he see or hear when the area the camera covers will be so much bigger than a teacher sitting down at home to talk to her class?

How will a child who is already reluctant to ask a question because it might signify that he has failed at something ever be able to get help on an assignment?

How will a child with ADHD focus when he is only a device in the corner of the classroom?

How will he do it without me?

How has the district decided that we will all go back nine weeks from the end of the school year, after previously announcing that middle and high schools would open for activities and specific classes, but not for general education?

How do they think that it is acceptable to tell us that they have hired random community child care groups to operate in each elementary school (provided the child care groups can find enough staff and meet the safety requirements) and that this is the solution for teachers with children of their own who will not be in school?

How is it that my 2/3 time job will have me away from home from 8:30-3:30?

How is my architect husband, who is in and out of his home office every day, on the phone nearly constantly and often on site for hours at a time, supposed to meet the needs of his millions of dollars of current contracts while simultaneously making sure that our 5th grader goes to class, pays attention, and does his work, rather than playing Minecraft?

How are we supposed to make more hours in the day to juggle?

How am I, asthmatic and unvaccinated because I lost my appointment due to the more pressing need to have my pneumonia diagnosed, going to survive in a classroom?

If I, a teacher working her way through a third temporary contract and hoping for a permanent one, try to take leave for my family or for my health, will I ever teach again?

Is “hell, no, over my dead body!” a viable career move?

After hanging on for this long, how do we make the right decisions?

What do we do now?

Overheard Students

Overheard from my 5th grader’s numeracy class today:
Student 1: I want a duck. Wait, are geese ducks?
Teacher: No, geese are different animals.
Student 2: Geese are CANNIBALS?
Teacher: No!
Student 2: I don’t want to get eaten by a goose!
Teacher: If geese were cannibals, technically they would eat other geese, so you’d be okay.
Student 2: Oh.

Student 2: What if I turn into a duck?

This is what I miss most about classroom teaching – the weird and random conversations with kids! My son’s small school has a lot of fluidity and all the kids know all the teachers and the other kids, so last September, no one sat down to a virtual class with unknown kids and unknown teachers. It allows a degree of camaraderie and sometimes even downright silliness that is completely lacking in classrooms where the students and teachers have never actually met. The community building with my eighth graders has been slow, but students are starting to have random conversations with me in private chat. It is not the same as hearing laughing, bubbly kids being exactly that – kids, even if it does disrupt class for a few minutes while everyone cracks up.

I guarantee that my son’s class will learn and remember coordinate planes. But they will also remember Student 2 and the cannibalistic geese. I wonder what my students will take away from this year?

How to Find Out You Have Pneumonia during a Pandemic

  1. Cough very hard for two days.
  2. Consider, and reject, the idea that you could have caught, well, anything, by virtue of not leaving the house in three weeks except, ironically, to rush a child to the emergency room for a seizure. (Not from having pneumonia!)
  3. Start feeling ill.
  4. A few hours later, start feeling really ill.
  5. Go to bed in the middle of the day and hope your family is fending for themselves. They’ll probably remember to eat.
  6. Realize that you have a very high fever. Shake with chills intermittently. Eventually move enough to pick up thermometer from the bedside table and discover that you have a fever of 102.7 degrees. Marinate for three days.
  7. Mid-marination, pause to notice that your lungs … slosh? … when you roll from one side to the other in a fevered haze.
  8. Long after midnight for three sleepless nights, listen to the strange crinkling sound made by your lungs when you exhale. Like the gloop of sticky mud that tried to suck off your boot, glooping back into its hole. If mud were made of cellophane.
  9. Drag yourself out of bed and drive to the pharmacy for a drive-through, zero contact COVID test. Get lost on the one mile drive. The test is the PCR test, and results will be available in 3-5 days. Get lost again on the way home.
  10. Need to add new test. Child cannot have follow-up visit (remember the seizure?) until parent can be proven not to have COVID. You are not actually going to the appointment, but germs carry. Can their medical group test you? No. You are not a patient.
  11. Can your doctor test you? No. They don’t test. It might involve sick people visiting the doctor’s office.
  12. It is surprisingly difficult to find someone to test you to determine if you have a potentially deadly disease during a pandemic of that disease – if you are ungracious enough to actually show symptoms of the disease! (You note, however, that if you want to go to Hawaii, visit relatives, or be tested to play high school sports, no problem.)
  13. Find testing center at urgent care. Try to make appointment. YOU ARE SYMPTOMATIC! DO NOT PASS GO! DO NOT COLLECT $200!!!!
  14. Try to make a telehealth appointment at urgent care so that you can tell them that you need a COVID test because you have COVID symptoms and before you actually die might be a pretty damn good idea! Also, that your son cannot see his doctor and get an EEG scheduled until they know you are not spreading flippin’ pandemic germs all over the house! You must fill out and send forms.
  15. Do not take a nap. You might miss your appointment!
  16. They lose your paperwork and cancel your appointment. You text angrily that your husband SENT the paperwork. The physician assistant shows up on the telehealth window that you forgot to close while you attempt to remember how to open your calendar to reschedule. He agrees that you look terrible and orders a test. You can drive to the parking lot and call in and say that you have a parking lot test ordered because you are sick. It just takes a few minutes – no problem.
  17. Fever rising. Weird cellophane gloop noise increasing.
  18. Drive two miles to urgent care. Manage not to get lost. Call inside. They seem surprised, but will send someone out immediately.
  19. Immediately passes. Ten minutes pass after that. They text you and say someone will be out shortly. Later, you discover that “shortly” is urgent care speak for “in 30 more minutes.” Try not to shake in your car.
  20. Space out and scream when a masked lady waving long sticks shows up at your car window.
  21. Endure more swabbing for a rapid COVID test and a rapid influenza test. These are the second and third sets of nose swabs today. Noses object to that much swabbing. While you feel like someone is trying to find your brain to remove it and turn you into a mummy, sneeze inside your mask.
  22. “Don’t worry; test takes 20 minutes. If it’s positive, we’ll call immediately, if not, we’ll put it in your chart. Either way, you’ll know within the hour – no problem.”
  23. Go home. Manage not to get lost again.
  24. Fever rising some more. No naps! Might miss phone call!
  25. Within the hour comes and goes. So does within two hours. The phone rings and you don’t jump, because you don’t have the energy. Your test is negative!
  26. Wait…why were you doing this?
  27. Husband remembers why you were doing this and calls pediatrician. Appointment rescheduled for next morning.
  28. Now you know that you don’t have COVID or influenza. Nifty. Still feel dreadful. Your husband calls YOUR doctor. He is on hold for 20 minutes, then cannot be heard. He calls again. He is on hold for another 20 minutes, then gets through. Receptionist objects to a rapid test about which they know nothing. Who ordered this test? Will leave a message for the triage nurse to call you, but you cannot talk to them now, because practice keeps reception in one office that is closed, even though your doctor’s office is still open.
  29. Listen to cellophane gloop all night. Do not sleep.
  30. Doctor’s office calls in the morning. Hallelujah! You will not die! Triage nurse agrees that it sounds very bad, but, wow, nice that you don’t have COVID. Someone needs to examine you in person. Definitely. But you cannot come into the office with COVID symptoms. Yes, you have a negative test, but you cannot come in. The triage nurse would need permission from your doctor to let you come in. You cannot get permission from your doctor until the doctor sees you. Urgent care is the best bet.
  31. Oh, good, you am going to die in a Kafka novel.
  32. Start coughing up blood.
  33. Possibly you will die of consumption in that Kafka novel.
  34. You research urgent care to find one that might be reputable. Your doctor has told you never to go to urgent care unless they are closed and your body is spurting blood in all directions or you can see bone. Come to the office. Oh, wait, that doctor retired. You are doomed.
  35. Find urgent care associated with the actual hospital. Try to make appointment. They do not take appointments, but will “save your spot!” which is six hours from now. Spend them filling out more forms, not napping, and once, regrettably, walking a few yards to see if your son is actually doing his schoolwork. He is not. You are dizzy. Cough up more blood. Lie down and think about pallid 19th century heroines. And Keats.
  36. Remember that your COVID vaccine is tonight! You’re a teacher! You have an appointment! You cannot go! No more vaccines are set aside for teachers now, so you will just have to enter the random pool with everyone! We decided the appointment system hoops do not work, so we will just draw names! And call you if you win the jackpot that week! Then you can have an appointment! Never mind that your district just reversed course about opening grades 6-12 and is now rushing to open the schools! Haven’t you heard? Teachers don’t need to be vaccinated! Anyway, all the teachers in your state are; just ask the governor.
  37. At last, another entire day has passed and you it is time to leave for your early evening urgent care visit.
  38. In the driveway, you get a news flash that there has just been a fatal shooting. In a park. Right outside the hospital and urgent care complex.
  39. Of course, the roads are closed off when you get there.
  40. Though caution and complete lack of navigation skills are thrown to the wind, somehow manage to arrive. Miraculously, they do not turn you away for having symptoms. You show them your test results anyway, just in case.
  41. After much poking and testing and no resting, the doctor agrees that you have pneumonia and orders you antibiotics and cough syrup too.
  42. When you arrive at the pharmacy, the doctor has forgotten the cough syrup.
  43. Return home. Now perhaps you can go back to bed.

Oh, wait…you only wrote sub plans through today.

Parental Terror

Thursday night, I grabbed a stack of books that I keep trying to start all at the same time and sat down at my laptop with an idea about writing a silly slice about trying to settle on one thing to read. I started noodling with my blog while my son and husband watched the end of a car show they had been watching. A normal pandemic evening, with our boring, sometimes stressful, routine. Almost bedtime. And then.

And then.

My son got up and walked to his dad and said, “I have a question.” This, in itself, is not unusual. He prefaces every single one of his millions of questions with this statement. It was almost bath and bed time, so the question is usually, “I’m hungry. What can I have to eat?” He did not follow his statement up with a question or anything else. Also, not that unusual. The TV was on, after all, and my highly distractable boy is always easily sucked into moving pictures, no matter what he is in the middle of trying to say. I told him his two options for a snack. He mumbled “I need.” I told him he needed to make a decision quickly. He mumbled “I need” again, then looked like he was struggling for a word and counting something out on his fingers. I paused the TV and told him again that he needed to make a decision. More mumbling. He looked blank. He was not looking at us. The TV picture was frozen and he was not looking at us. I asked, “What’s the matter? Are you that sleepy?” as he swayed slightly and climbed onto his dad’s lap. Still not looking at us, he curled up in a ball, head tucked against his dad’s chest. Sharply, we alternated words in the well-honed parental sentence. “Okay, now, that’s it. If you’re that –”

“…tired than you need to get up and –”

“…go into the bathroom and get ready for –”

“…bed. Throw away that ice cream wrapper –”

“…and get your pajamas. Don’t forget to brush –”

“…your teeth.”

“…teeth.”

Blank. My husband and I shot nervous glances at each other, and he lifted our son off his lap and stood him on the floor. No talking now. Just empty stare. A flash of wild confusion. A half step, and a collapse backward.

My baby. Crashing to the floor for no reason.

I grabbed his arms and kept him from hitting his head on the floor. Wondering if he were being goofy, and knowing he was not, I asked, “Do we need to go to the hospital?” Vacant look. Slow blink.

Everything sped up. My husband struggled to put a coat on our boneless, noodle-armed boy, scooped up our 70 pound ten year old in his arms, and ran for the door. I ran for shoes and my purse and grabbed a handful of random masks on my way out the door. My husband yelled, “I don’t have my keys or my wallet!”

I yelled, “Get in the car!”

I drove, ignoring the low tire that was to be fixed in the morning. Ignoring the speed limit. My husband sat in the back seat as we fired questions at our barely responsive child. Did he know his name? With some effort. Did he know what city we were in? With tremendous effort, he scavenged a portion of our street address from his memory. Did he know the city where he lived? Did he know the city where we were? Silence. My husband gently shook him, begging him not to fall asleep.

Did he know who we were? Did he know who was driving the car?

No.

No.

No.

The drive to the ER of the big children’s hospital took fifteen minutes in real time, and years off of my life. I drove as fast as I dared, refusing to fall apart even though I could not touch my baby or see my baby and could hear, over and over, my husband say, “Stay with me, buddy, stay with me. Don’t go to sleep.” Listened to the faint and mumbled protestations that he did not feel well, he thought he would throw up, he was so tired. So tired. At the red light across from the hospital, I threw my insurance card at my husband, and then, no traffic in any direction, ran the light. I pulled right into the entryway in front of emergency, and my husband got out of the car. Our son struggled to undo his seatbelt and stand. He could do neither. They rushed inside while I parked. I got the car stopped, started to shake, and sprinted for the emergency room, holding my breath the entire way.

Inside, breathless and frantic, I endured the COVID screening before I was reunited with my family as they assessed a slightly more coherent child, but one who did not remember his grade or the name of his school.

Or the word for hospital.

My constantly moving, constantly talking, always asking questions since he was 15 months old, son had lost his words. He curled up on a bench with his head on his dad’s chest again. He did not move. He only said that he felt very bad.

We were ushered back and proceeded to be seen by nurses and doctors and technicians and more technicians. Our boy fought to stay awake and complained of the cold. They finally brought him a warm blanket, and he froze, now knowing that he was in the hospital and terrified that he would get COVID from a blanket. The blood pressure tests were conducted in all kinds of positions, so they could determine that he was not dehydrated. Not feverish. Eating normally. Good day at Zoom school. Had not been sick in the past few days. No COVID symptoms. His blood oxygen was fine. By the time they had pulled in the portable EKG machine to monitor his heart rate and beats, he was interested and asked a few questions. He helped the technician apply stickers all over his slim frame. He asked to see the EKG printout. By the time they did the neurological assessment, he was wide awake, bouncy, and asking tons of questions. Almost completely his normal self. A little off, but it was way past his bedtime. Eventually, the attending physician came in to tell us that they had eliminated many possible problems, but it did seem that he might have had a partial seizure. We were told it could be a one off, or it could be the first one. We were told that we did not have to keep him awake or check on him in the night, but he might have another “incident” during the night. We were told to contact his pediatrician for follow-up and to work out an appointment for an EEG. We were told that if he had another incident, we needed to come straight back to the ER. If it seemed like a worse incident, then we should call 911. The paramedics could give him medicine to stop the incident as they brought him in. We were told to prevent him from doing anything that could be harmful if he fell, and to monitor his bathing, so he did not silently slip under the water and drown.

Then we were sent out into the night.

He had a headache on the way home. I still drove too fast. We got him into pajamas and tucked into bed. I lay down with him as he listened to the purring cat sounds on his calming sounds app. I put my arms around him, and he fell immediately asleep, his normal sleep-fighting antics damped down at almost midnight. I held him tight and held my breath. It was a very long time before I could let him go.

This morning, my exhausted husband and I took turns telling each other not to check on him and let him sleep. We did not breathe deeply or unclench our hands or jaws until he did. He woke up bright and sunny, wandered into our room like it was any other day, and asked if we could watch YouTube, since he wasn’t going to school today.

He was fine. Totally fine. Absolutely 100% overly energetic, curious, talkative, ten year old boy. We see the pediatrician on Monday first thing in the morning.

Everything is fine.

Or everything is about to change.

The fastest poem in the West

Confusion

work and meetings

snatched from moments

squeezed around

talking down

a panicked child.

Urging him to tackle poetry

and not hide from

the area and perimeter

of his education.

Me – new unit

so complicated

nothing in digital format.

Wrestling and struggling,

momming and wifing,

no time for me-ing.

What do you mean

it’s 8:45 already?

The Flicker

We’ve become ardent windowsill birdwatchers at my house. Cooped up, but with an organic yard with many bird appealing plants, interesting (and apparently tasty) seedheads, and several bird feeders and birdbaths, it is a logical pastime. Long before COVID, when I was working from home voluntarily, I put my desk in the sunroom so that I would be flanked with windows. There is one immediately in front of my desk and an entire wall running down one side. As a bonus, being able to look up from my laptop while I am talking and focus on something half a block away did wonders for my eye strain and migraines. On the downside, now that I am zooming live all the time, I can be distracted by all the birds. Several times a week, one of the hummingbirds flies right up to my eye level, approximately an inch from the window glass. I am not sure if it is cross with me or just curious about what I am doing. I may have randomly mentioned this to my 8th graders in the middle of a sentence now and again. The day that a crow decided to dive off the roof and nearly crashed into the screen actually elicited a shriek and a leap backwards from me. (Watch out for leaping backwards in a wheeled chair on a hard floor while wearing plugged in headphones! The voice of experience speaks here.) In our recent extremely bad weather, with severe windstorms, snow blowing every which way and both alternating with punishing ice storms, we made sure that the thistle seed was topped up, the sunflower seeds were on top of the snow, and the hummingbird feeders rotated in and out of the house to thaw. The birds remained stubbornly present near the feeders and fluffed up under the leaves of the evergreen camellia bush next to my desk window. The problem with teaching in those days (other than the high distractability of an exhausted teacher and frustrated 8th graders who all wanted a break, massive power outages, and internet failures that made it sort of difficult to learn and teach from home) was that the birds were so darn distracting. In their stubborn treks from the bush to the feeder and back, the tiny goldfinches that are wintering here kept getting caught by the wind and tumbled about. It is really hard to keep a straight face and sound professional when tiny birds are tossing around like bits of flotsam and occasionally bouncing off the window by your ear or your ankle.

My cat is also a bird-watcher. While she prefers to watch them being caught by her, she gets put on house arrest every time she brings us a snack and then cannot go outside for a while. Coupled with bad weather, to which she has very strong objections, she decided that watching the birds through the windows behind my desk was her best option. She is a vigorous bird-watcher, with a lot of leaping at windows and general weird cat-cussing sounds as she demands that these darn birds fly up into her mouth right now! Or at the very least, would I stop messing with my computer and open the door and let her out. By the way, I should also do something about that foul weather and raise the temperature up a bit. A week or so ago, I looked at my chat box and realized that one of my students had typed, “You know, the cat makes a good point.” With my noise cancelling headphones on, I had assumed that she was not making that much racket and that they could not hear her. No such luck. I explained that she was cussing out the birds, and we all laughed and went back to work.

So the birds are very much a part of my work from home routine. Early this morning, as I typed at my desk in an unusual amount of morning quiet, I suddenly heard a persistent Bzzzzzrrrratatatat Bzzzzzrrrratatatat Bzzzzzrrrratatatat. Then a pause, and a repeat! The flickers were back! That tell-tale pattern of three rapid fire jack-hammering spurts of pecking is a dead giveaway. The foot tall flickers migrate through my area every spring, and we really only ever see them for a few months out of the year. Bzzzzzrrrratatatat means that spring is near. In this year when it so often feels like time is standing still, it was a beautiful reminder that change is coming. Flick. Vaccines are arriving. Flick. Death tolls are dropping. Flick. Businesses are beginning to open more. Flick. People are thinking of beginning to venture out from a long and worrying anti-hibernation and – flick – soon, so soon, we may be able to once again spread our wings and fly.

The Return

Like my snowdrops returning for the spring, unfurling after patiently waiting under a foot of snow layered with the solid sheets of three ice storms, I have returned to my blog and the annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I’ll be honest. I nearly did not return for this year’s challenge. Last March was so overwhelming, as we all lived in increasing fear and uncertainty and had our lives upended by school closures and lockdowns, and it made it very difficult to write – for the first time. This year, I find myself still sitting in my home office, still teaching online, still uncertain about what comes next, still trying desperately to balance teaching my students and helping my son manage a virtual learning system and a degree of access to technology that is pretty overwhelming for a child. I don’t have a lot of moments where I am feeling super positive or that I have anything to share with others, especially since my world has shrunk so small.

And yet…

I thought of the sense of connection I always get when I read the Slice of Life stories.

I thought of the friends I have made who I really only know every March through these blogs.

I thought of the camaraderie to be found in a group of teachers who are facing the current world together, no matter whether we are virtual, hybrid, in person, vaccinated, not yet vaccinated, terrified, stressed out, longing for connection, or overwhelmed.

The only thing we are not, is alone.

So I have returned this year, to share what I can, and visit with old friends, and hope that through writing, I can regain some of the that sense that we are all in this together. Perhaps I can carve out a little time for me, and think some thoughts that are not about anyone’s education, or too many meetings, or ever changing health metrics and the relentless drum of sickness.

So here I am. Hoping for inspiration. Waiting for my leaves and buds to break free from the ice and snow and open up to the sun.

Monday: An Etheree

Pain.
Joint fail.
Knee twists and
I scream and fall.

Existentially,
this mirrors Monday's work.
New school pattern and new
Ways of thinking and being now.
"Do your best" with teaching, home, kids; yet –
Somehow, enough never feels good enough.

I am participating in National Poetry Writing Month, writing one poem for each day in April. 

(Thanks to Elisabeth Ellington for introducing me to the etheree form.)

Quarantine Questions

"Mom?"

Poke
poke
poke.

"Mom?
Can the
Easter
Bunny
still
come?

I mean,
with the virus...

can the
Easter 
Bunny 
still
come?

He'll be 

six

feet

away

from

us

because

we

will

be

asleep.




Right?"

Tiny voice, big eyes.
My little boy,
all swagger and 
"Dude, that's epic!"
one minute,
and worried about
the Easter Bunny the next.

So big, and so little,
and so lost in
our new world.
Looking for something 
to hang hope on.

"Yes, Sweetie.
Bunnies are not quarantined. The
Easter
Bunny
will
still
come."

"Mom?"

"Mom – maybe we should
wipe the basket handle off? 
Just in case?"

And my heart breaks.