So Many Firsts

Like much of 2020, I had no foresight that today would end up being what it was or meaning what it did. Monday, October 19 seems like an unassuming kind of day, yes? Nothing too big happening?

But for our family, today was not just big. It was huge.

Today marked 222 (yes, TWO hundred and TWENTY-TWO) days since my kids were at in-person school AND it was their first day back to school to start 2nd Quarter face-to-face.

For my Big 3, this meant the first day back to their newly renovated building, which Lincoln has actually never attended at all and RL did only as a Kindergartner. It also was the first day of getting to eat school breakfast (thanks to some funding that makes it free for all) and their first time to see so many of the friends and faces they’ve been missing for the last seven months.

Like me, they were all excited and a little nervous this morning as they got ready to head out the door. And their bags were so heavy with workbooks and school computers to return to their new desks in their new classrooms, but they had masks ready to go and were beyond ready to get there and start figuring out how all this works in the Age of COVID.

After we got the Bigs out the door we still had roughly 3 1/2 hours to wait until the bus picked up Trumy to take him to his first day of preschool at a brand new school. His speech IEP qualifies him for busing which is a huge help to me since he’s in a different building than the Bigs. Thankfully he got to meet his teacher and see his new classroom last week, so even though it felt like I was chopping off a limb to send him off, he at least had some idea of where he was headed. We were out playing in the chilly sun when the bus arrived, and my Brave Boy gave me a squeeze and a kiss and got on like such a little trooper.

Just like when we told them about this new adventure a couple weeks ago, I loved his continued honesty this morning. In addition to asking “Is it time yet?” 100x which showed his excitement, he also told me straight up that he was a little scared to go.

And I totally get it because my own heart has been ping-ponging between those two emotions all weekend, too.

Normally my husband is the one with the shakey leg, but last night I was wound up so tight, even after I crawled into bed I could not stop jiggling my feet because so many little nerves were buzzing through my body. Even with getting all of them safely out the door this morning, I’ve still felt odd and a little off today. After this many months together, just us without any more time apart than 6 hours (one time!), it felt so strange to have them gone for an entire day. And can you believe that much as I’ve been craving the quiet time in the afternoon that I now get four days a week, the loudness of them NOT being here was literally ringing in my ears as I sat trying to write this?

Without knowing until late-September that this would be the official date, we’ve been waiting for this day for forever, it seems. A return to routine, a re-entry to social settings (well, just school, but that counts!), a tiny ounce of normalcy. Now that we’ve landed on it, I really hope we get to keep doing it.

Our state is very much still struggling with COVID right now and I’m praying people can get it together and start moving our trends in the other direction. It feels like an uncertain time to make such a big move like heading back to school, but also so beyond the point of needing to do so for our family. If I could have known school would last longer than three weeks after it started, we would have been there on the actual first day. As it is, I’m now hoping that my kids and all the others in their buildings can stay safe and stay in school.

As for the kids’ pseudo-first day, all went well. They came home in a flurry of stories and backpacks and papers and were all talking all over each other and it felt just a tiny bit like life used to seven months ago; and even though I’m overwhelmed and pretty positive there will be tears in some form (theirs/mine/ours) yet tonight, I’m so grateful it went well.

All the Feels

We called a Family Meeting tonight to share some big news with the Bigs (no, we are not pregnant) and y’all, it did not go like I thought it would.

You see, B and I made the decision a few weeks ago to send the kids back to in-person school for 2nd quarter (I would have been happy to send them then, but we committed to a full first quarter, so on we carried and will do so through next week until Q1 ends) and tonight we finally told them the plan. (Side note: in the weeks since we made this call, our local COVID numbers and stats have not been good and I hate that, but so far it seems that masks are making a world of difference and as long as the schools keep wearing them, hopefully everyone can indeed stay in school. There will be zero outside activities for us; just school, that’s it.).

I thought there would be whooping and hollering. Jumping up and down, even? But that was not the case, at all, actually. Instead there were stunned faces and questioning eyebrows.

Truman was the first to raise a question of concern, as he too gets to return to preschool, just not the PreK we’ve always attended. Instead he’ll be at a public PreK where they’ll be wearing masks, just like all the other classrooms in the district. He asked, with the precision clarity small kids wield so well, “What if I get scared?”

Thankfully I could tell him that I met with his new teacher yesterday and that she seems super nice and that he’ll also get to ride the bus to PreK each day AND eat lunch at school and basically I distracted him with the newness and shininess and bonus features and he seemed to be pretty cool with the plan pretty quickly.

The Middlest says he will miss his teacher and friends a lot, but is so far riding the announcement with the most even keel, which is great; the oldest two, however, have a lot of questions and a lot of feels about all of this which has led to me having a lot of feels tonight, too.

Like LT, they are sad to miss their eTeachers and classmates. But beyond that, they are questioning things like knowing what and how the day-to-day works with masks and spacing out and all that, and I think they are also feeling overwhelmed at the idea of finally getting to be with their people again after seven months without them.

I get that. I really do. The few social distanced times I’ve had with my friends in recent months have each left me with a hang out hang over because my brain is both so happy to see them and also sad as it processes how different life still is these days. But oh goodness, my heart feels for these babies of mine who are a little bit nervous about re-entry. I get that, too.

So we started making lists of questions and plans to FaceTime some friends to ask how things are working. We talked and hugged and cried, especially when they both said that they were going to miss me when they’re at school. I promised to make RL a bracelet she can wear to keep me close when she is away. Goodness, though, talk about tugging on a mama’s heartstrings!

This experience has been the hardest of my parenting life. And yet I’ve also been so grateful for this time with them, to talk to them about COVID and social justice and politics and a million other conversations that wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t home with me day in and day out. As much as I’m craving some peace and quiet around here, I’m going to miss them like crazy. I don’t know how I will think about anything but them in those first few days and weeks that they are back at it.

I am sure the questions will keep coming as will the tears and the excitement and everything in the middle for both them and for me. I’m so glad they had the opportunity to participate in eSchool and I’m also so happy for them to get back to an in-person classroom (and, let’s be real, I’m hoping and praying and crossing all my fingers and all my toes that it stays safe and able to remain open, especially after we’ve waited this long to get there).

So there ya have it, friends. Another day on the roller coaster otherwise known as parenting little Littles in 2020. It just never quite goes like we think it will, but we’re learning the entire time.

Mama Don’t Play

Y’all, it’s a Tuesday AND it is still (unfortunately) 2020, so am I surprised that today has been a bit of A Day? No, not really. But I don’t have enough eggs in the house to make Tuesday Bars, so writing instead it shall be!

We’re in week 85 of eLearning (I don’t really know how long it has been – 7 weeks, probably?) and even though the kids have adapted to it pretty well, I’m still so worn out by it all. The Zoom gremlins come at least once a day for someone in our house, and even though we’ve learned tricks to navigate tech problems (HD is quite the little tech support), it’s really frustrating to hear your name said as “MOOOOOMMMMMM!” 20x a day because someone needs something right this second and there’s a problem or a question or what about this and did the other person get into their Zoom OK and did the laundry get changed to the dryer and where are the snacks and did you drink any water yet today and are you still wearing PJs annnnnd, welcome to 3 minutes in my brain as an eLearning parent. Scattered to say the least!

So yeah. I get it. The Kids are tired of this. I’m tired of this. And, unfortunately, it seems folks in our state are tired of attempting to do the right thing because our numbers are in the top 7 or 8 in the country for rising cases (or at least 10 days ago they were because that’s how far behind most testing is in our area). It feels so hard to make decisions about moving forward with confidence because how do you know what might be OK in the future based on data that’s already outdated when you get it?

Needless to say, some things are strained around here such as patience and politeness, and even though we are just two days into this school week, I have had to tell my girlfriends in messages, “Mama Don’t Play That Way!” for major kid infractions twice this week as well. I won’t throw any particular children under the bus in this post but 1) don’t lie to me about having your schoolwork done and 2) don’t make 50 rude faces at me in response to being redirected and expect no consequences (and no, I’m not addressing the same child for each of those points).

Just one example of the 50 faces coming at me today. I mean, I get it. I really do. But no. NO.

Knock on wood, we’re through the worst of today when it comes to attitudes and I even get to sneak out for a mid-afternoon run here in a bit thanks to my mom, so that’s a sanity saver in and of itself. And speaking of “Mama don’t play,” I’ve taken the movement challenge up a notch and set out to complete 87 miles in 31 days in honor of RBG, after a friend sent me a link for a virtual event over the weekend. I’ve already done 11 and hope to knock out couple few more today. I still get pretty sore and hobble-y after the runs but it feels good to push myself and it is a good way to focus my energy and anxiety, so I’m glad to have that as a side task between now and the election.

You know, there’s often at least a bit of a “so what?” to my posts but today is a Tuesday and also *A* Tuesday, so I’m just going to let it be what it is by documenting it and moving on because that’s what life these days calls for, right?

See it. Acknowledge it. Release it.

Or just keep trying/running/swimming/breathing until you can do so.

Just Running

Four years ago in September, I was softening my body, hoping and praying that we would be so fortunate as to get pregnant again.

Three years ago this time I was, thankfully, quite pregnant.

Two years ago in the fall I was busy chasing after five small children, with one still attached at the boob, nursing.

One year ago I was still chasing but not nursing and experiencing chronic, unexplained pain in my body.

Today I am still juggling all those kids PLUS life at six months into a pandemic and I just completed Day Three in a row of running after five months of daily walks that suddenly shifted due to rage earlier this week.

I kid you not – somebody’s insensitive post on FB in response to peaceful protests pissed me off so much that on Wednesday, a walk just wasn’t enough to burn off the crazy – I had to run.

I’ve been feeling the urge for a while.

You see, before I was a mom and blogger, I was a writer and a runner. Cross Country in middle school and high school, and a couple half marathons under my belt prior to having babies; but since then, running just hasn’t ever felt right (see above timeline for some explanation).

Also, I walk a lot of the same routes around town and I joked to my girlfriends that if I just started running one day, the people who see me on a regular basis might worry that something was wrong or that someone was after me.

Like I said, Wednesday + Facebook broke me of that hesitancy and I just started running and didn’t stop for over a mile, maybe a mile and a half. Yesterday I went a few more blocks, and today the same – tacked on a few more.

And you know what? I feel amazing. And, I also feel like an 85-year-old man (I don’t know why not an 85-year-old woman – this probably stems from the way I am currently walking down stairs two feet to each step, sideways and grimacing, much like remember my Grandpa Tim doing in his later years), but that’s because I am good hurt – sore muscles that haven’t been used to this capacity in well, roughly a dozen years.

Our journeys with our bodies are so intense. If you’ve been reading along here for any length of time, you know my own relationship with my body is a complicated one, on several levels. I’ve gone through significant back issues and five pregnancies all with a solid dose of body dysmorphia thrown in there, too.

But right now? In this moment, in this body, in this insane year that is 2020?

I feel like a badass. I feel ready to fight. There’s just no other way to say it.

My body is nothing like it was the last time I was a runner and I’m not really sure three days of running makes me a runner again, but I’m here to give it my best shot because I’ve never known anything else that works quite so well to expend anger, frustration, worry, and all the other emotions that are running high this year besides running. Pun, as always, intended.

So I give thanks in this moment for my body and this journey and that I am where I am on this path to keep exploring, keep testing, and keep finding ways to be at peace with what is.

Windows

As a teacher, I can’t imagine being live via the Internet, streaming into homes where not only students but also their family members could hear and see me. All the time.

The thought of that is exhausting.

Also taxing is being on the other side of that, in an at-home learning situation where your child is essentially opening a window to your house and life by being present in streaming classes.

And I have three who are doing this, so I don’t have just one portal into the private space of my home, but a whole trio of them that now makes the main floor of my house a very odd place to be during school Zoom times (which start and stop and overlap all throughout the morning and early afternoon).

This means that I have to be cognizant of what is not only on each work space in terms of school supplies, but also aware of what can be seen in the frame behind my children’s heads, including my own person and how I show up or not in the shot as I rotate from kid to kid to make sure they are doing OK and that all the technology is working OK.

As previously mentioned, this means I can’t do any of my own work during this time. Our perfectly fine internet just can’t handle that. Hell, I can’t even check certain apps on my phone during their live lessons, so once I get to a spot where they are all up and running with their online classes, I have approximately 2.25 spots in which I can sit and not be seen on someone’s screen and about 2.25 options for stuff I can work on that isn’t distracting to them and that I can put down at a moment’s notice when one of the three has a question, a break, or a tech problem.

Have I mentioned the word exhausting yet?

At the end of last week I thought we had hit a bit of a groove but today, the first morning back after a long weekend, and a Tuesday mind you, is our first rainy day in MONTHS which is glorious, but it also meant no before-school two-mile walk, which meant half of my children were quite Zoomy before their actual Zooms started today. And trust me, we did two Cosmic Kids yoga videos on YouTube to try to combat this, but oof. I love me some fall but probably not in the context of not being to go outside as easily with my already cooped up forever kids. Stupid 2020, taking my favorite season and turning it on its head.

As an introvert, there is nothing that I love more than being in my house (preferably with some time TO myself, but clearly that has also gone out the window this year). Living with eLearning challenges that because my house and family feel on display in a way unlike any other school year. On a side note of pride, there has been no swearing in front of a teacher yet (I try SO hard not to swear in front of my kids) but there have been toddler meltdowns and interference for sure, and the littlest two are hardly even here during live lessons! But for real – if you’ve wondered what this looks like on a patentable end, it is this: me hiding in a lawn chair or on the kitchen rug, set up in a “dead zone” where hopefully no one can see me but I am instantly accessible to any of the three who might need me.

Don’t all eLearning parents hide on the kitchen floor at some point in the day?

Thank goodness the live lessons don’t last all day, otherwise I would be a pile of mush on the floor by the end of each one. As it is, I’ll be over in my can’t-be-seen corner typing blog posts in the Notes on my phone and wondering why I didn’t think to design a spot for comfy seating into our kitchen. I mean, honestly, what was I thinking?

Little Mama Engine

“Fake it ’til you make it” is not a new concept to me. I’ve been doing that in a lot of ways for a lot of years. But wow, does it feel applicable to life right now.

Life right now is a lot. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 11 years now and I’ve never gone in to a fall with this many kids in my house and this much on my plate, as I am and as I do with eLearning life that started yesterday. And that’s even with my mom here to help so kindly by taking the two littlest for me in the mornings so I can focus on what the Bigs are doing for their eClasses.

Also, let’s be clear. It’s Day. Two. I’ve gotten them through TWO of their roughly FORTY-FIVE days to which we are committed to this and everything is still introductory and I still feel this overwhelmed by all the technology and who does what when and who needs help with what when and did I mention that our district is doing a fantastic job of not actually piling a bunch on here at the start and it is STILL this hard?

But y’all, of course this is hard. No one knows how to do this, including my 5th, 3rd, and 1st grader (who still doesn’t know how to read), and we have a LOT to figure out in terms of time management and dual (nope: tri-) helping from me when the kids are Zooming, and then you know there’s meals and laundry and outside time that all still need to happen and don’t forget about Me Time because I still have to be a functioning sane person which isn’t going to happen if I totally abandon my own routines and needs. And did I mention that 2020 is a shit year in which to try to get under control one’s years-long sleep struggles? Holy. Shit. I am so tired. So, so tired.

But y’all, we are doing it, because what choice do we have? We made the decision to eLearn and so we are. And I am sure it will get better as we adjust, but there have been some big feels and big swings in emotion – for myself and for the children – in the last two days. There’s probably more of that to come tomorrow and every day after that.

Which brings me back to the Little Engine that Could.

Huh?

Stick with me for a minute.

Yesterday, in a message, one of my friends said something about “I think I can” and my brain latched on big time because what I need right now is a mantra to get me through this insanity. I actually wore my “Keep Fucking Going” bracelet yesterday, so again, it’s not like this is a new concept to me, but the image of a little train, chugging down the track whether she knows how to or not, whether she wants to or not, is SO fitting to me right now.

We have no choice to get off this ride any time soon (and I repeat: I’m not complaining about how it is being done – just clarifying that this gig is hard for everyone involved). So the only real option left is to start telling myself that “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” on a regular, daily basis and just keep fucking going because that’s the only way we’re going to get through this.

Plus, it’s totally got me itching for a new tattoo. Sorry, Mom! I guess in the meantime, Thomas the Train (that won’t be the tattoo, btw) lives on my kitchen window as a reminder.

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Glimmer Moments

I’ve mentioned Glimmer Moments before during this new world order of living, but again today I found myself thinking of the phrase often because, well, there were several of them and they are still just as much worth clinging to as they were early on in this COVID experience.

As I mentioned in the last post, things feel pretty rough these days. There’s a fair bit of feeling adrift happening for me right now and I think that’s pretty reasonable given everything we’ve got going on/not happening in our lives. The COVID Coaster continues, and while I’ve got these beautiful glimmers to share with you, I’ve also felt this palpable sadness this whole evening that not even my walk and shower could shake. I’m just sad, so I’m sitting with that and writing through it as one (I) does (do).

Speaking of walks, those are still happening on the daily for me. I’ve been at this for FOUR months now of never missing a day and I’ve upped both my fitness and my endurance because I now walk closer to 30-45 minutes a day and somewhere near 2 miles each of those days. It doesn’t burn off all the crazy yet but goodness, I look forward to it, especially now that B is gone all day at school and my walk is the only “me” time I get in a given day.

One of today’s glimmers also involved walking, but not just for me.

This summer Ben took the kids on gobs of walks and sometimes I would go, sometimes I would not. Let me clarify – even if I accompanied them, I would still do my own walk later because as those of you with little Littles may well know, walking with children is parenting, and parenting next to streets, so no, not “me” time in any way, shape, or form. But this is to say, Ben trained them well over the summer and now that Truman magically started riding his two-wheel bike (at age 4 years and 11 months) and Wilson suddenly figured out how to pedal her trike (that also has a handle for Mama or a sibling to give extra push/direction), walking with all five kids is actually sort of doable!

And doable or not, we’ve been doing it because the days of Daddy gone to school but no at-home school started for the Bigs yet have been L-O-N-G and we have needed some major energy busters.

Enter stage left: 2 mile walks with five kids on various modalities* of movement. (*Wilson always rides on something – a stroller or her trike; HD and RL take turns walking or scooting or sharing our biggest kid bike because RL’s has bad tires in need of fixing; LT and TJ zoom zoom zoom on their two-wheel bikes, which is great expect for the one time TJ’s chain fell off when we were still 2/3 of a mile away from home. Crap.)

The first one was a total fluke. I mean, I initiated the walk but had no idea that kids would take me up on my offer to go a full mile away from the house which would mean we’d have to go a full mile to get home, but they did and we did and I mean, it was cool. It felt like an accomplishment.

And then yesterday we did it again.

And then today it was THEIR idea to do it for a third time.

And tonight before bed they were already talking about taking Our Walk in the morning, and oh my gosh, I’m thrilled because it is such a good way to spend time and energy, and I’m proud of them for their determination and, quite frankly, a little proud of myself for getting out there on the bike path with them to make it happen.

So yes, Glimmer Moment.

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Another one came in the form of Wilson’s pre-nap routine today which has shifted a bit since I wrote about it last. We now must read two books exactly and sometimes she needs to (re)shut the door to her room and she must turn on the sound machine and I MUST say “Sweet Dreams and Sweet Pickles” just like Daddy does and her stuffie and blanket must get hugs and kisses from me just like she does. All this is true. But today we did an extra moment of snuggle between songs (three of them, after the two books and lights out) and I told her, “Wilson, I love you so much” which she followed up with a “I love you bigger!” that about left me reduced to a puddle in the rocking chair because if that isn’t the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is. She’s got some pretty big opinions in her not-so-tiny toddler body, and that’s not always easy to navigate, but she also is just the most polite and lovely little person you could ever wish to meet. And her hair is super long but you’d never know it because it’s always curled up in perfect ringlets that somehow always fall just to her shoulders (or spring out from underneath her bike helmet).

Again, an extra shiny Glimmer Moment.

I don’t know what our walks will look like once eLearning starts next week or how frantic the baby’s nap routine might become as we navigate Zooms and assignments and all the other normal parts of life we still have going on here at home, but I’m so grateful to have these moments today and to recognize them for the gifts that they are. Parenting can be such a slog sometimes and so much of the work is thankless, (and trust me, they are far (far) from being perfect (so am I)) but these little moments of pause and the ability to see the beauty in the chaos? I’ll take that any day.

Cocooning

Without even realizing what I was doing, I went full cocoon mode to start this week. In fact, I didn’t even know that term until last night when I was chatting with a friend and she used it, so really I can take zero credit for it but I am definitely going to keep using it because it is very much what my heart needs.

Cocooning, right now – for me, meant deleting my social media accounts from my phone. There’s just so much noise, on so many levels these days, and one in particular – back to school – has been breaking my heart on the daily. Instead of being tempted to “just check it real quick” and easily slip back into those patterns as I have throughout various attempts at this, I decided computer access only was the way to go. I’m sure this is temporary but for this particular week, it also felt necessary. Because while all the schools around us and even the one we’re supposed to be attending is getting back to it, we’re still waiting, as our kids won’t start e-learning until next week.

Here’s the thing – when you’re in a district that’s doing e-learning as an option and not the only delivery method, it’s hard to feel connected to anything or anyone because it means you’re in your own online bubble and not with the elementary school that your kids normally attend. That’s fine, but it also wasn’t something I was prepared for, so it caught me off guard and all of the typical first day pics and posts from the school and friends? All of that just feels like it’s not for you because you chose not to be part of that world. And friends, let me tell you, the self-gaslighting that’s been going on for me lately about all of this has been tough.

It has been incredibly hard not to feel left out or left behind, even though we chose our choice and still stand behind it with as much (un)certainty as the next family may feel right now. My brain, however, has been telling me when I look at other family’s pictures of first days and sports and whatnot that I’m the only one who is concerned about what school and the fall will bring, even though I know that’s not the case, even for people who are sending their kids in-person. It’s also incredibly hard not to think that I’m hurting my kids socially by keeping them home, that their friends and classmates will move on and won’t have a spot for them in their circles when we eventually do return. Again, I know deep down this isn’t true, but at 3AM when I’m wide awake and worrying, these are the lies that spin quickly through my brain.

So I decided to wrap myself in a protective bubble and put FB on major mute for a few days because I have so much energy that needs to go elsewhere like to the three Bigs who are awaiting more info on what e-learning will look like starting next week, and two little kids who are adjusting to daily life without Daddy home for the first time in five months, and speaking of their daddy, my heart is also adjusting to the fact that he’s now off to full days with full classes and all the stress of getting back to the swing of in-person teaching, much less in-person teaching in the Time of COVID.

It’s all a lot, and I know that’s the case for everyone these days; this particular withdrawing for me is really the only way I know to protect my energy. So to those of you doing the same, whether it is e-learning or self-gaslighting or sending and worrying, I see you, even though I’m over here in my own little bubble. I feel for your hearts and I hope you find an ounce of peace as we all move forward in our own way.

Moving forward for me looks like this: I’m going to remind myself that I’m not actually in this alone, and thanks to people reaching out with messages and texts, I know the truth of that, even when my brain tries to tell me otherwise. At the same time, these are unprecedented days and to feel a little (or a lot) crazy at times is probably the most normal thing any of us could do. I can own that when it happens, too.

Thank goodness for our cocoons, in whatever form they take. May they be there as needed as we move through all that is yet to come, and may none of us feel pressured to come out the other side as some sort of beautiful butterfly. That is definitely NOT the goal of this cocoon.

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Off He Goes, Go He Must

Growing up with a farming dad, our family got pretty used to the ebb and flow of a schedule influenced by the season, the weather, the livestock, and whatever other chore or task needed to be done at a given time. I was never very involved on the farm but I have so many memories of growing up in that environment, watching my dad do his thing.

With his constant coming and going from the farm to the field to the shed, he had some routines (coffee breaks with his dad and uncle are seared into my brain) and expressions he stuck to, including telling us, “Off I go, go I must” when break time was over and he had to get back to it.

After five months of “break” for my husband from school, I can’t help but think of my dad’s catchphrase here today because like it or not, agree or disagree, teachers here and across the country are preparing to be (or are already back in) the classroom, but in circumstances like none of us have ever before seen. Without any real idea of how this will go, they must go and there are a few things I’d like to see folks remember as we move forward into this bizarre, uncertain time.

The first is this: be kind. There is so much stress surrounding this school year on personal and professional and familial levels. There are also as many opinions out there as there are people in this world and having to wade through all of that is exhausting. Please show some respect and grace to educators who are trying to do their best even in the face of confusion and downright angst from deniers and dissenters. None of them signed up for this role of front-line health protector of kids and their families (much less themselves and their own families), but yet here we are, with them stepping up to the plate to be just that. Yes, other essential workers have been out there, doing the work, and outside of the healthcare field, none of them signed up for such risk either, but the weight of the world that is being put on schools’ shoulders this fall makes my heart heavy.

The second is this: send a prayer or a good thought or a kind word to a teacher sometime soon. Think of their families who might be worried about or put at risk by their going to school. Thank them for doing yet another monumental task on top of the work that we readily agreed in the spring was super hard to do without them.

It will be so strange to have Ben gone all day after so many months of his being home with us, but off he goes, go he must because the next task is at hand. It’s a big one, and I’m accepting here and now that it’s possible that we’re going to be in a bit of a funk as we learn how to navigate all that it entails. Goodness knows we’ll do our best to show kindness and gratitude, though, as we move through it all. And coffee breaks, at least on the homefront and before B heads out the door every morning, are still going to be a very, very necessary part of the routine.

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The Great Unknown

Let’s be clear – in April and even in May, I still thought my kids would be able to get together this summer with their classmates and teachers and have some sort of closure and “goodbye” to last year’s classes which would maybe, somehow, make up ever so slightly for the insanity that was the COVID-19, unexpected end of 4th, 2nd, and Kindergarten for my school-age kids.

In June and early July I kissed that idea and all other group social settings goodbye for the summer and started trying to figure out how to get masks for my kids that could be washed, worn, and replaced/found as needed because clearly having just one was not enough for whatever was coming this fall. I mean, we still rarely go anywhere, and granted, no one has had to wear one for an entire day, but so far in small doses, my kids have done a good job with them which felt like a baby step in the right direction for the coming school year.

And then in mid-July, as numbers started to climb again, I realized that all my hopes of returning to some sort of normal this fall were once again uncertain and I started entertaining the thought of something I never thought I would consider: voluntary (at) home school via an e-learning option.

Before I continue, a disclaimer: this blog is about me, my children, and our life. I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m simply telling you about our lived experiences, as a way to share and document what’s happening in our lives.

And our life is as such: I am married to a public school teacher. My kids attend public school in the same district. I am the daughter and granddaughter of public school teachers/administrators. I even taught 7-12 English for a year in a tiny NE town. This stuff lives in my blood. But for the first time ever, I’m not sure I can handle sending my kids to any school that meets in person outside of this house. And trust me, I know what a privilege it is for me to even be considering that.

But here’s the deal. Even if the chances of my kids getting sick and staying that way are low, the number of intersections that my family would have with three kids in one elementary building and a husband/dad in a high school building is just way too much for my comfort and concern levels. And yes, we’ve already made the call NOT to send No.4 to preschool because that would be another heavily trafficked building, and YES, I broke down and bawled after making that phone call because the thought of him missing his five-day year breaks my heart. But the increase in potential exposure, when we’ve been as careful as can be, was just too much.

And so goes our thinking with our other kids, too, even though Ben obviously does not have the choice on whether or not to be in the classroom. I already work from home, so if I can continue to do that while also working with them on school, which would keep their would-be in-person classes smaller while also keeping B’s exposure through them out of those classrooms (that’s confusing, but I promise it makes sense if you sit with it for a second), too. And to me that feels like a contribution to the health and safety of all the adults in our elementary school, not to mention other families that don’t have to interact with that many buildings/people.

Does it suck? Yes. A lot. There’s a ton to miss by sitting out and every time I go down that rabbit hole, my head and heart get heavy. It seems like I am, throughout each day, noticing things around my house that are school-related and I’m realizing that for the first quarter at least (that’s the minimum commitment to the online option in our district), my kids won’t be part of it. And that includes a newly renovated building they’ve been waiting two years to see. Again, my. heart. hurts.

Do I worry about socialization for my kids who are already months in to missing their friends and classmates? Yes. A lot. But I also don’t think socialization is going to be normal at school, even if they are there, soooooo……

Do I worry about my own ability to teach them from home without Ben’s help? Yes. A fair bit. As of right now we are planning to go with the school’s provided online instruction option, not an actual home school waiver, so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel just yet here, folks. And having a set schedule/routine will put us leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in the spring, so somehow, I will figure it out and it will be fine, even if it is far from pretty.

Do I worry about my own sanity to teach them from home without Ben’s help? Yes. More than a fair bit. But I also can’t imagine how I would feel if they got sick or passed something to someone else, even unknowingly. I have some legit PTSD from having a newborn baby in the NICU for three weeks and that was with me by her side 12 hours every day. To have a child, spouse, or parent be sick in the hospital without access to any outside visitors? My brain can’t go there. And no, that’s not me living in fear. It’s me living in my experiences thus far and what I’m willing to put forth at this point in time with risk factors.

Do I wonder what safety measures we should be putting in place for Ben’s coming and going from school every day? Yes, a ton. The lack of compassion I see on the internet for teachers right now (and by extension, their families) is appalling. Who else is crammed into contained spaces with that many people for that long of time, day after day (factory workers, perhaps, and we’ve seen how well that has gone in terms of testing and prevention)? And when you take into consideration secondary teachers who see multiple grades and classes throughout the day, the potential for problems is huge.

Thankfully our district is presenting to the school board that masks be required for the upcoming school year. Unfortunately that option won’t be decided on until Aug. 10 and in order to opt out to online instruction, we must respond by July 31. So not knowing more about what rules and procedures will look like makes it hard for me to just wait and see on this one. They did offer an online Town Hall Monday evening which I attended with earbuds in and pencil in hand for note-taking, but even after getting some questions answered, I still don’t think in-person is where my comfort is for my kids. I mean, I clearly know where I fall on the risk tolerance scale and even though I feel insanely isolated at this point in 2020, I can only make the decision that is best for me and my family given our situation, circumstances, and knowledge.

So, it’s blue light blockers for all (to protect their eyeballs and brains from school-via-screens), and to all a good night.

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Just kidding. I don’t see many “good nights” in our near future as we wait/ride this out and I am feeling far from flip over all this.

I think the levels of uncertainty and stress have the potential to grow quite a bit between now and the start of school as we navigate just what it looks like to have a husband/father on the front lines (don’t even come at me on this one; it’s long been true of educators and this year more than ever) and a house full of kids who are beyond sick of each other and this situation.

But also, when we discussed with the Bigs about the potential of them not going to school even when Daddy does, they got it. It’s not ideal, and they’re with me that it seems like there are more bads than goods about this, but they also see that by keeping them home, we’re still just trying to do our part to keep our neighbors and our community safe as well as our immediate family.

If only that protection* and these decisions came with an option as easy as some non-script glasses.

*Masks! Masks are protection! And we’re thrilled our district is planning/hoping to recommend them for as many people for as much of the time together as possible. I really do think that will help and maybe it means this school-at-home gig will only be for a short time instead of extended. I can only hope and pray that’s what happens here.