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.

 

 

2020 Books

Normally I share my book list once a month or so but as you all know, 2020 has been anything but normal. And really, if I had done that to start the year, this would have seemed far more impressive as I read something like 11 books in January alone, but I think 43 is still a pretty good place for mid-July-ish.

I’ll be honest, I hit a big reading slump after quarantine started. I just could not focus on books for many weeks in a row. But slowly that shifted and I got back into the swing of things; now I find that I am often reading one or two hard copy books at once AND listening to one on my daily walks thanks to the free library app, Hoopla. It’s a crazy book life!

What follows is the list in order of finish date, with highly recommended titles in bold and the 3-5 books I’m currently working on and my TBR list at the bottom.

As always, I’m happy to hear your suggestions for what else to add to my ever-growing stack of books I can’t wait to read. Thanks to some serious diving in to anti-racism work and the kind loans of a box+ worth of books from friends, I already have a lot waiting for my attention, but you know me – there can never be enough books!

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  1. Know My Name by Chanel Miller — this book is a must read for survivors and supporters/advocates, not to mention medical and police personal and basically anyone who is connected to someone who has experienced sexual assault (read: everyone). I very much appreciate the light that Miller shed on her experience and the questions that she raised about a very broken system. (finished 1.1.2020)
  2. No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert — this book takes on a LOT of tasks/topics, from race and parental and marital relationships, to friendship and education reform. That said, it was still easy enough to follow and keep straight among the many characters, and (many) important questions were raised about all of those subjects, so it was a worthwhile read.
  3. Only Child by Rhiannon Navin — this was another page turner for me (I was also taking full advantage of my final hours before my Winter Break ended). The narrator’s voice is both unique and compelling, and allows you to see so many sides of the story even though it is told from one perspective. (finished 1.5.2020)
  4. The Overstory by Richard Powers — Read. This. Book. You simply must. It changed the way I look at the world.
  5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchet — I liked this one very much, even though maybe not as much as I expected based on the recommendations from some of my favorite reader friends.
  6. Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman —  chose this as an audio listen for a road trip and was really into it for the first half but then the second part just jumped the shark way too much. I guess it was a decent fluff read, but not my favorite by any means.
  7. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (book club read) — I had to plow through half of this to get it done on time for book club which maybe didn’t quite do it justice, but it was an interesting read, even if it took many turns I didn’t expect and left me a bit confused at the end. (finished 1/26/20)
  8. UnFuck Yourself by Gary John Bishop — Listen to this book!!! Then, get a hard copy like I want to and highlight the sh!t out of it.
  9. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri — this is an excellent read on many levels, including how it is written but mostly for the content covered – families fleeing modern-day Syria. (finished 1/30/20)
  10. Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalauddin — LOVED this one. Such an enjoyable, quick read about relationships (and religion and family and life). Definitely recommend!
  11. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (book club read) — the dual narration was done in a different style here that made the second half of the book far more interesting to me even though I liked the first narrator more. Strange, eh?
  12. A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole — a friend loaned me a stack of romance novels and I have to say, it did make for lighter reading and wasn’t as over the top as I thought it might be based on genre.
  13. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (book club read) — normally I don’t reread books but this one was excellent the first time around and I did NOT want to be lacking memory for the book club discussion of this. Plus it was fun to reread with knowledge of what was to come; made me pay attention to some smaller but significant parts of the book the second time through it!
  14. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory — definitely a beach read which may seem like an odd choice in February, but given the heaviness of everything else in the world, not actually a bad way to go for before-bed reading. (finished 2/20/20)
  15. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell — I had high hopes for this family/siblings dynamic novel and it did resolve eventually by the end in a semi-satisfying way, but some of it was too disturbing to make it a read I’d recommend.  (finished 2.27.20)
  16. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (book club read) — I don’t read much fantasy because it tends to confuse me but this was enjoyable and mysterious without being cloying and also kept me up reading past bedtime a couple nights because I wanted to know what would happen next.
  17. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (book club read) — stories such as this one, that are based on real-life experiences, blow my mind. And, on a side note, this one reads really quickly, perhaps in part because it was first imagined as a screenplay. (finished 3.6.2020)
  18. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout — sometimes when we read a book that isn’t aligned with our season of life, it doesn’t hit right. And while I’d say that is the case with this book, I still really, really liked it because of the way it was written. The book is named for a main character but very little of the book is told from her perspective and some chapters barely even include mentions of her, but still the whole thing comes together and paints a portrait of her life. Pretty cool.
  19. Untamed by Glennon Doyle — I loved it. You should read it. Duh. (finished 3.22.20)
  20. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas — same author as The Hate You Give and while this one didn’t shake me as much as that one, I still really enjoyed reading it. (finished 4.5.20)
  21. Honestly, a side note is needed here. Since COVID-19 hit hard in the US, my desire, ability, willingness to read has tanked. I’d love the distraction but find it hard to focus on books. Instead, it’s a lot of time with the kids, time outside with the kids, and watching movies with the kids (and on our own). We’ve been watching Star Wars movies and B and I have been binge-watching all the seasons of Parks and Recreation and the mini-series Little Fires Everywhere and documentary Tiger King. We also did season one of The Watchmen (and whoa, just whoa).
  22. The Woman’s Hour: the great fight to win the vote by Elaine Weiss — I learned a ton from this book but really struggled to read it on my Kindle. It seemed to take forever. Also, it was incredibly frustrating to read about the Antis who were a group of women fighting against the women’s suffrage movement. That honestly makes my blood boil. I am grateful for all those that fought for this right that 100 years later, I use and will never take for granted.
  23. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson — the last library book I had at home from The Before. It’s a YA read which in a way makes it easier, but I still thought it was an intense family story, albeit beautifully written and with compelling characters. (finished 4.20.20)
  24. The Ethan I was Before by Ali Standish (book club pick) — this YA read followed an enjoyable unfolding format and I could see where it would be really well received by teen readers. It’s a really compelling story about friendship and forgiveness.
  25. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan — there were some elements of this audio book that I loved, but it also confused the heck out of me (I think in part because it was audio and not on the page for me to understand what was happening with the shifting narrators), and then it jumped the shark with some really bizarre developments annnnnd, yeah. Not terrible. Not great. (finished 5.4.2020)
  26. The Library Book by Susan Orlean — I did not expect this nonfiction book about the LA Library and its 1986 fire to be this fascinating or quick to read, but it was awesome. Such a great book for readers and library lovers. How how I miss the library these days!
  27. All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin –this was a quick but intense read. It would be a good one for book club in that it covers parenting, privilege, and how to advocate in situations of sexual assault.
  28. Dear Girls by Ali Wong — I have never watched an Ali Wong comedy special but I love audio books read by their actual authors and this memoir did not disappoint. I have started walking every day and am really liking audio books during those; this might just be what gets me over the hump of problematic pandemic reading.
  29. The Gift by Cecelia Ahern — Needed another audio book for walking and this one by a familiar author was available. I struggled to suspend my disbelief very well for this one, or at least as much as was needed, but I guess it was an okay Christmas-y time read (even though it is currently mid-May). (finished 5.19.20)
  30. The Round House by Louise Erdrich — I can’t believe I’m reading this right now because it is SO heavy, but I’m desperate for real books to read and this one has been on my shelf for years, so there you have it. Once I got past the serious subject matter, the story itself sucked me in enough to keep going. I was left with some questions (I think intentionally) and was really impressed with the story telling style Erdrich uses.
  31. Shrill by Lindy West — Oh, wow. I don’t know if I’ve read any West pieces before or not (but chances are I have) but I am instantly a fan after listening to her book (in less than 24 hours, mind you, thanks to a basement painting project and walk). Her stances on fat shaming, abortion, and rape culture in comedy were all so interesting and I loved listening to her tell her stories. (finished 5.21.20)
  32. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins — Thank goodness for Hoopla! I had originally requested the hard copy of this upon release from the library but since the library is still closed, I was thrilled to see it pop up as an open-to-all, free audio book instead. And it was so good; revisiting the world of The Hunger Games with this prequel was so intriguing.
  33. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid — Now, technically I just read in the last 6-8 months, but dang, I loved it so and then a friend told me how well done the audio version was, so I had to give it a go. I think it would be a bit confusing to follow the book this way on the first-time through, but it was so well done and it is such a good story!
  34. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold — yeah, I don’t know why I didn’t expect strange and morbid in another book by the author of The Lovely Bones (which I remember really liking) but this one is definitely both of those things (without so much liking on my part).
  35. Beach Read by Emily Henry — This was a good audio for walk/listening to and while I shouldn’t be surprised by “too much romance” in a book called Beach Read, I still didn’t think the story needed to go quite so Harlequin in places. Beyond that, it was a pleasant enough read.
  36. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern — Holy Mother of Confusion, Batman. This book. What?! I was lost through literally the whole thing. I know COVID Life has messed with my reading ability, but what? This was so confusing, it made me feel bad. Do other people reading this understand it? I did not.
  37. To All the Boys I Ever Loved by Jenny Han — umm, I didn’t sleep well one night and ended up reading this teen romance drama in one sitting. It was such a needed brain break and also an enjoyable story to follow, based on the recommendation of a friend earlier this year. Looking forward to reading the other two in the series.
  38. Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson — been meaning to read this one for years and put it off. But finally got my hands on a copy and I flew through it. It reads so quickly and is so compelling and informative, not to mention both heartbreaking and hope-filled. A must read! (finished 6.20.20)
  39. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown — oh, this book. It is so fantastic. And it is the perfect complement to the Me and White Supremacy 28-Day Challenge that I’m currently working on as it gives poignant narrative examples to so much of what that book covers. This should be on all Christians’ To Read list.
  40. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout — wanting to read this is what had me read OK earlier this year and I have to say, even though that was just a few months ago, it still took me a while to recall and catch on to several characters who were clearly in both books. I can’t imagine if I had gone years between them! But I enjoyed the dive back in to Olive’s life and community, even if I’m not in a classic stage of life that relates to the protagonist.
  41. All Adults Here by Emma Straub — I was gifted a BotM subscription and this was my first read from that little collection. It was light enough to go quickly and breezed through a few too many characters too quickly, but I still enjoyed the family dynamics at play and liked the overall story line of it. I did notice a number of little nuggets that had me wanting to dog-ear the pages as I read – little mantras about life and parenting that seemed to ring capital T-truth. (finished 7.5.2020)
  42. The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai — this book will rip you wide open for its hardship and its sadness, but then, also, it has such lines of beauty and truth in it (not that hardship and sadness aren’t true). Several times I caught my breath while listening for the T-truth experienced by these characters in Vietnam. As a side note, this was one of the best audio books I’ve listened to of all time.
  43. Delicious by Sherry Thomas — a brain break in the form of a romance novel. There are worse things to do, I suppose.
  44. Gilead by Marilynn Robinson — this was a reread for me, but felt like a first read because even though I recognized the cover, I remembered very little of the story. I participated in a church-wide book club in which I got to be part of a panel of English teachers helping with three Zoom podcast discussions of the book throughout the reading which was very enjoyable and made me pay attention WAY more to details in the book than I normally do. (finished 7/20/20)
  45. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi — in progress
  46. Me and White Supremacy Layla F. Saad — in progress — so I am 3/4 of the way through this as I am reading/Journaling my way through the 28 days in a 56 day format, along side a virtual small group that meets online once a week to discuss each day of the book. This is required reading and work as far as I am concerned.
  47. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa Lee
  48. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When They Call you a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Careful What You Wish For

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Blowout by Rachel Maddow

 

Morning Mama Time

Pre-COVID I had grand plans of establishing a new early morning wake up routine to try to help settle and calm my night sleeping routines. Like pretty much every other attempt at normalcy, all that went out the window in late March. Granted, I probably needed it more than ever then to get some “me” time but hells to the no, 5:00A was not on my list of priorities in early quarantine.

Now that we are eleventy billion days into this, I have had to (re)establish some patterns and habits because we.are.struggling.

For one, as previously written, I started walking. I haven’t missed a day of that which means I am somewhere near the three month (who actually knows; time is weird) mark of getting my rear in gear on the daily. And that feels good. In the last couple weeks, due to fireworks and full days, I’ve had to do multiple sessions on the elliptical instead and I’m pleased to see the progress I have made in strength and endurance. I can now crank out an extra 400 in the time it used to take me to do a mile and I’m not sucking air like I was back in February when I’d stagger off the machine.

The other “something’s gotta give” shift came in the form of a compromised get-up-early time. Instead of 5A, I started with 6:20 because, in theory, that gives me an hour-ish of time to myself before the kids are allowed to roam the house. And yes, I said allowed. I know people think we are weird for how early our kids go to bed but for the love of all things holy, they wake up so damn early, some balance must be made. And some boundaries must be set, which includes when they are allowed to turn on their lights to read/quiet play in the mornings and when they are allowed to leave their rooms for breakfast.

This early morning time has been great because it allows me to drink my coffee in peace, work on school stuff, and keep up with my 28 (56) days white supremacy book work. What it hasn’t allowed for, however, is actual kid-free time.

The oldest two would be just fine to read for their whole hour and the youngest is still in her crib (thank goodness) so it is the two middle boys who are the biggest loose cannons, with the middlest of all (who still can’t read and now sleeps on the main floor like me) being the worst and most interruptive cannon of all. Oh, Linky. I love you to pieces, and, you test my patience a lot when it comes to giving me my peace that I am seeking out by getting up early in the first place.

How is it so hard for children to understand that Mama does NOT want to parent before 7:30A?

Of course that doesn’t mean that I actually ignore them. I parent a lot on a lot of my early mornings. But as this quarantine life continues, this need for space also persists.

And as a side note: quarantine does continue for us, even when it seems like many of the people around us have moved on (even as cases and deaths continue to rise). We saw grandparents for the first time for the 4th of July weekend to celebrate Linky’s birthday and the Big 4 did get to participate in their first outside-the-home activities this past week (camp at our favorite local nature center and summer orchestra), but that’s it. And it probably will be for some time, because unless people start taking masks seriously (and not just for photo opps) this is going to drag on for the foreseeable future. End side note.

Depending on how things unfold, I may just keep pushing that get up time earlier and earlier because it really is the only way to get shit done with this small country of children that share my roof around all the time. Another side note: I am not actually complaining about that, nor do I want them to stop being around so much any time soon; I just want a little ounce of Morning Mama Time to keep me feeling OK in one of the most not-OK-est years that I have ever known.

Intense Mode

Look, I’ll be honest: I’m not sure if I should be writing about COVID life, challenges with my kids, protests over Black Lives Matter or anything at this point. Instead I’m going to muddle my way through all of it, because that feels more true to life these days as we are swirling through all of these big movements and moments all day, every day.

I’ll go in reverse order and start with the protests. And again I’ll say, look: I am no expert. I am a human being trying to do better. And what’s more, I’m a white person, who is listening and learning and reading and unlearning and looking really hard at all the ways my life has been made easier just based on the color of my skin and what I can do to make the world a more just, fair, and equal place to live for BIPOC.

A lot of that work starts in my own head and heart and under my own roof.

What I’m doing is reading and journaling through the Me and White Supremacy workbook. What I’m doing is ordering other books written by BIPOC authors, supporting them and learning from them as much as I can. What I’m doing is having incredibly img_8058frank conversations with my oldest kids about what is happening in our country right now and, importantly, why it is all happening. What I’m doing is trying to share resources and perspectives that help other people see where they can start in this work too. What I’m doing is leaving my house for the first time for a community event to attend a protest last week, not because I think COVID is over, but because this other img_8107disease is 400 years in the making and it must be faced. I share this not to get a pat on the back but to document that as for my family, we are listening. We are committing to the work. There will be mistakes made, but this will be a life-long effort all the same.

The challenges with my kids and COVID life go hand-in-hand, or rather, the challenges with my kids feel like a major, direct result of COVID life that has gone on now over NINETY days in our corner of the world. And it feels like a lot of folks have moved on, but img_8090again, in honesty, I’m struggling with that. It’s not gone, folks aren’t wearing masks consistently, and on a person note, the little members of my family are missing their people HARD CORE right now. All they want is their friends. And to see their extended family. And have the ability to go and do summer things like they normally would. And to get away from their siblings. And, and, and. And it all feels hard.

Emotions are running high. Lots of squabbles, lots of yells, lots of weepy moments. And mind you, that applies to the parents as much as the children because this just isn’t easy and there’s no clear way of knowing when life will feel and actually be “normal” again which makes it all seem that much harder in those intense moments.

And therein lies the point of this post: we – as a nation, as individual states and communities, as families, and as individuals – are stuck in some highly intense shit right now. On some levels, some folks have already been there (forever). On others, it feels like most of us are moving through some major, prolonged uncertainty. And again – as a collective and as a family unit – it all feels like a lot (because it is) and like it will be as such for a long time to come.

As I said, I’m no expert, on anything. I have no answers. All I know is that in our house, we will keep doing the work of anti-racism. We will keep doing what we can to keep our health systems from being overrun with COVID. We will keep trying to find ways to keep our kids moving through all of these big shifts and hard moments. And we’ll keep trying to keep ourselves sane and moving, too, because we know the work we do here has the ability to spread but it is going to take time and care and compassion, and yes, a hell of a lot more intensity, too.

 

 

Walk This Way

A month ago a friend posed a question to a group of us asking about what kind of movement we were doing that felt good and wasn’t a slippery slope into competitiveness. Now granted, the rest of us all happened to also be yoga teachers, but I think each of us has realized over the years that an asana practice is not the only way, and part of why my friend’s question struck such a chord with me is that the physical yoga I have been doing, especially since the start of the pandemic, hasn’t quite been the right combination to “burn off the crazy” as I like to put it.

That conversation sparked a commitment in myself to start doing something that might in fact counter all that. And while I’ve tried in the past to commit to a regular habit of walking (maybe I’ll get back to running someday but now is not that time), this time it seems to have stuck.

For the last four weeks, I have walked at least one mile or 20-30 minutes each and every day. There were a couple days where I did 20 minutes on the elliptical instead, but thanks to it being spring and the weather mostly cooperating (I have walked in the rain a couple times), I’ve been finding all different times of day and places to walk without fail ever since my friends and I had that (virtual) chat.

A few observations about the establishment of this pattern:

  1. I had to quit walking where I normally would in pre-pandemic life, which is to say, the big park not too far from my house that is a lovely mile-long “track” shape. I still venture near it sometimes depending on day/time, but mostly it has too many people around it and too many people spikes my anxiety which is the opposite of what the walk is meant to accomplish.
  2. I try to avoid people altogether during my walks. I cross the street, wide step, and basically do whatever to keep to myself when walking because, you know, particles, and COVID, and just, no thanks. I want everyone to be out getting what exercise they need but I don’t want to be around it, please and thank you.
  3. Walking has rebooted my reading habit. Weird, right? But instead of music, I actually like listening to words when I walk, so if I’m not getting caught up on my favorite podcast (which is not actually a podcast, but rather, my friends talking on Marco Polo), I like to listen to audiobooks from the library via the Hoopla or OverDrive apps. It’s awesome to walk and listen and I feel like I’m accomplishing two great things at once. My reading took a big hit when quarantine started and it’s still not back to normal, but I feel like this is getting me there.
  4. I feel so much better in my body. I know that even after four weeks of consistent mileage, there hasn’t been some huge physical/visible shift in my body, but I FEEL so much stronger and put together, which is saying something, especially in these trying, stressful times. I haven’t been on a scale (or at least not seen the numbers on one) since Lincoln was six weeks old, because I’d much rather pay attention to how I’m feeling and this walking routine is perhaps the strongest I’ve felt in ages.

img_7941And while I know a million little things could change at any minute, I’m glad that I’ve made this change and have been able to stick with it for this long. I hope that as the summer unfolds, I can keep it up, which will make it easier to transition it into an inside task later in the year. Because right now it does indeed feel good and finding something that does that every day is a huge benefit and blessing.

Today was a Good Day

Just like any blog post right now, it feels a little strange to document something with that title, as if it were a totally rare occurrence, except that lately, it sort of feels like a full day of a good day really really has been few and far between for us. I actually can’t put my finger on what would have been the last one during or even before Quarantine Life started that could be given the same title. Instead we’ve been clinging to what my therapist calls “Glimmer Moments” – little bits and pieces of good that are always mixed in, even on the hardest and longest of days.

But today was indeed a Good Day.

The weather was perfect – warm sun, cool breeze, big puffy clouds floating across the sky.  (I mean, it IS April 25th, so….)

The agenda was different than normal but still turned out OK.

img_7572Ben spent the whole morning on a Zoom meeting for his statewide education association but was able to just listen to the content and didn’t have to be parked in a chair in front of the computer for the whole thing. During that time the kids and I hung out, working on Lego building and book reading to the littlest two

(we’ve been slacking on keeping track of their 1,000 books before Kindergarten lists, so we’re trying to start that up again), and I even managed to get the dishes done which is always nice when it happens before evening time.

After lunch the baby went down for a nap and Ben took the Bigs for a (socially distanced, don’t worry) excursion while I stayed to work on some projects I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t gotten to yet. One was simply putting the handwritten lyrics to a favorite song in a frame, but the other was a COVID-specific project that we can use as a keepsake for this crazy and uncertain time (because even though we don’t know when, we’re still hanging on to hope that life will return to normal, which will make this a reminder of The During once we finally get to be in The After). It felt so good to sit and work on these things and I was reminded of how meditative creating can be.

From there we headed out to Prairie Loft for our second Exploration Reservation (local and local-ish friends, you should really check it out – such a fantastic way to spend up to two hours out in nature) of the month and once again, we loved it and it nourished our souls.

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This time we went straight for the downed trees so the kids could climb, but then we quickly moved on to walking a ton of ground that we didn’t set foot on last time. We img_2953found a bunch more trees to investigate (including some insanely thorned ones that just blew my mind, so much so that I forgot to get a picture of them), and the kids had a blast getting up, in, and on every one they could. Even Mama got in on the in-tree fun!

As we walked through the grass, keeping an eye out for little trees, pokey weeds, holes, and snakes, we got a chance to talk and question and just be. Again, I think we’ve realized that it is so soul-filling to be able to be together by ourselves but away from our house, and we are so lucky to have this so close to home.

Along the way, we took a ton of pictures and I took some quick notes of memorable quotes because even before the kids said it, I was already thinking, this is SUCH a great day. And what a gift it is to have one of those as we continue to chug along in this great unknown.

“We can find a way – we’re Welsches!”

“We an outdoor exploring family!”

“I like walking with you.”

“I’m having one of those emotional moments like you see on reality television!” (LOL! That one was maybe the best!)

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We ended our time playing in their “yard” area and hunting for four-leaf clovers, which HD managed to find lickety-split. RL and LT found a four and five, too, so seriously – we were on a roll!

From here it will be tacos for supper, bath and bedtime for the kids, some Hard Booch for the parentals, and then a continuation of our Parks and Recreation marathon because just like creating and getting away, Leslie Knope is one of the best things for my heart and soul these days.

Sending you all lots of love and wishes for glimmer moments, and hopefully even a Good Day, while you’re at it.

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In the Mess

Another week, another post. That’s about all I’ve got in me these days, it seems, but it still feels worth doing because this life is different than anything else we’ve done before, and I really need to document it for my own memory and understanding.

Understanding feels in short supply these days. In our country, in our state, in our community, and yes, even in our home. There’s not much I can do about those first three levels of that even though it breaks my heart and my spirit to see the lack of both compassion and logic in the way some people are approaching this virus and this crisis. Because trust, we are all in crisis to some extent and there are many out there who are in extreme and dangerous levels of insecurity (basic needs met) and who are being put at risk right now. And it is really starting to feel like we are going to be at this for a very, very long time if people don’t start working together (while staying separate).

The lack of understanding within my own four walls? Well, I’ll be honest and admit that I’m at a bit of loss there, too. I’ve never been able to find a magic, this-works-every-time parenting book before quarantine life, so I get it that we are all flying by the seat of our pants right now, but that doesn’t make the day-after-day of this any easier.

There’s a LOT of BIG emotions flying around our family. At one point this morning at least three, if not more, children were in full meltdown mode at the same time and while that’s not just limited to quarantine life, if feels like it’s happening more and more as this drags on and on and we just aren’t doing a good enough job to get the needs of our little people met in such a way that keeps the ship a little more steady and on course. And that’s true for ourselves as parents, too. Everything feels just a little extra shaky at all times and I wish I knew what the answer was for each of my people to make this better or easier (and that I could deliver on providing it).

Look, I get that it is temporary and that many others feel the same, but it feels necessary to reiterate that This. Is. Hard. For us, it is doing this stay-at-home life with five children under the age of 11 who fight and bicker all the time and the utter lack of time and space in which to just chill and be (for basically all of us) that is wearing us down right now. As the weather improves that will get better but it’s not like I can just send the kids out to play and expect them to all be fine without supervision and refereeing. Literally every moment of the waking hours (and too many of the night-time, too) is devoted to keeping the peace, providing guidance, and parenting (and working and still being a person going through collective trauma), so it’s no wonder that I feel like I’m treading water and just don’t understand life right now.  (Side note: this post is being written during nap/screen time while Ben mows and I’m just praying that the kids are doing what they need to be doing while I take these minutes to unload my brain a bit).

What I do understand, after five weeks of this crap, is that I need my people. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but goodness graciousness, I need MY people and I cannot wait for this to end so we can be together in peace and comfort again. Thankfully I’m still able to see their faces and hear their voices through video messaging and some driveway deliveries of goodies and care packages, but what I crave right now is time to pull up a seat together where we can share the same air, laugh and cry, and just be together. I miss that very much.

I also need MY space. That’s not really a new revelation either, but I think I will take for granted very little when we can finally return to normal routines, time together, and time alone that isn’t mandated/necessary/critical.

It’s hard to know how to end this post, just like it’s hard to know when and how we will come out of this. Right now we are in the struggle, the fear, and the mess of it all. I know there will be another side of it all, but the when and the how of what it will all become? I’m very curious and anxious to see what that shall be. In the meantime, I’ll leave you this: a facial expression I’m sure he learned from me but that won’t catch up to him on the forehead wrinkle front for a couple decades. 😉 img_7524

An Unusual Easter

Pretty sure it is safe to say that all life is unusual these days, but for the sake of remembering, it still feels worth writing about as we continue to move through this COVID-19 quarantine existence.

HD counted on the calendar this morning and from what we can tell, we’re on day 34 of Life Since We Realized This Was Serious which is a ridiculous title for something, but mid-March is when our switch flipped and here we are, over a month later, still chugging along and doing what we can to stay home and stay away and stay safe.

Part of what we’re learning to do is celebrate without actually being around others. We got good practice of that on my birthday and have been able to reciprocate for a few others on their special (but weird) corona-birthdays. This last weekend, though, brought us Easter and that. was. weird.

img_7423Easter is not normally a time we go all out or crazy, but like a lot of folks, we like us a good Easter Egg Hunt, getting a little extra fancy for Sunday service, and seeing friends and family for meals, play time, and togetherness. Thanks to the virus this year plus the ickiest weather possible, literally none of that happened. The kids did get Easter baskets (which the EB decided to stuff with all the extra stay-at-home materials she acquired in the early days of all this), though, so at least that felt normal-ish, albeit a bit overboard.

But honestly, Sunday in south-central NE was a mess. We had ice, we had a dusting of snow, and we had WIND that effed with our power on and off (again, literally) throughout the day. I felt terrible for the folks responsible for going out into that sh!t weather to restore our lights and heat, but it also felt like a whole new level of suck to be stuck in our house without any power for an extended time Sunday morning (I know; my privilege is clear).

Even though power technically came back on in time to get dinner in the oven, I wasn’t sure the wind would be so kind as to leave it on, so we did a more typical for us Sunday dinner (seriously; when we go to Sunday School and service, there is very little time for cooking afterwards before we move on to the rest of our day) of cheese, crackers, and fruit. We also listened to the live stream of church while doing a puzzle and the kids hung out nearby, but for whatever reason, my heart felt a lot bit off over the course of the day. I totally agree with the message that Easter itself is not at all about the plastic eggs or new dresses and really is still possible when away from our people, but still – Sunday was an up and down day, as many seem to be during this indefinite experience.

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Even though the house rattled all day long, power stayed on long enough to make a nice meal for supper. Thank goodness we eat early like 85 yr-olds, though, because right around 6p, the occasionally blinking lights turned into on again, off again, (and again and and again and AGAIN) lights, just as we were trying to start normal wind-down bedtime routines, sending all of us into a bit of a tizzy (including my dishwasher and dryer that I had to keep resetting and restarting each time).

Eventually we got everyone and their white noise/clocks settled and eventually the power stayed on for good, and B and I got to have a bit of post-holiday downtime. We’ve taken to watching (for the first time ever) Parks and Recreation on Netflix because my head and heart basically can’t handle anything heavy or serious right now (because every day and real life feel too heavy and serious these days to have that also be our “entertainment”). And just like my writing here has dropped, so too has my reading. As in, I am struggling to read at all, much less finish things and if you know me at all, you know that’s a huge indicator that all is not right in our world for that to be true. The desire for escapism is there but actually attaining it? Not happening beyond the few smiles and laughs Leslie Knope provides me after the kids go to bed each night.

And that’s where we are: sort of finding a rhythm and routine but also knowing that the unknown is lingering hardcore right now and probably will be for a long, long time to come. Is this our last holiday stuck at home? Goodness I hope so, but I guess none of us can say when words like “normal” “typical” or “usual” will return to our mouths and our schedules, much less our brains and our bodies.

 

Struggle Bus to Nowhere

Chalk it up to a Monday or end of March doldrums or COVID-19-induced chaos, but today was far from shiny. And no, that’s not just a comment on the weather (we had least had some sun today, which was, as always, very welcome).

This is the start of our second week of “home school” (there has to be a better term for it because what we are doing is so far removed from my friends who choose to home school) and our third week of being home. To say that we have yet to find a rhythm and routine is a bit of an understatement.

Yes, we did get school packets last week, but honestly of the five days of “school” last week, we really only had two mornings worth of getting after it thanks to crane viewing and birthday shenanigans. That’s just honesty, friends, and so is the fact that today’s attempt at starting fresh was, well, a disaster.

img_7264I won’t go into detail about each kid specifically, but as you probably know, we have three school age kids in our family currently and that means three different curricula we are suddenly trying to implement from our dining room table. That still leaves two, quite small, quite needy children who also need attention during those “school” time hours, and even with two (non-primary, mind you) educators in the house, We. Are. Struggling.

In addition to all this, Ben still has to compile work for his own students, too; while he’s in touch via email, he’s not currently doing much grading, which is a huge help. I, on the other hand, am continuing with my business (teaching) as usual which means I do have active grading and work to do each day/week, and like so many other parents trying to do it all while going nowhere, we are feeling the crunch and stress of these times. It is hard not to feel like we are failing on multiple fronts throughout the various days.

This morning saw two out of three children loose it, followed by two out of two parents doing the same. I was in tears multiple times because this is an incredibly hard balance to strike and thank goodness I had some willing and able listening ears to let me vent and talk it out a bit away from the children. I don’t know that Welsch Academy has come to any final conclusions on how to proceed, but I do know that what matters most to me right now is the relationship with each of my roof-sharers, not the amount of school work that any of us accomplishes right now.

After our multi-meltdown morning, we moved right into lunch and then a telehealth speech session for LT which is still new for him (and for me) and that too came with a bit of a rough start, but then he warmed up a bit and was willing to do the activity his provider sent, even though it involved coloring (that’s part of the untold backstory of the morning). It maybe helped that I let him use Sharpies which is rare, but the main thing I want to share with you here is this, his insane, slightly demonic, but incredibly symbolic and awesome bunny, that I think might just be the best representation of COVID-19 that I’ve yet seen (and I promise, that’s so not what his speech path was going for; it’s just a made-me-laugh happy side product of a rough day):

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In no way do I mean to complain about the work or services that are being provided for our kiddos right now. We are grateful that so many caring folks are trying to keep their brains and hands busy. But I will be honest when I say that we, personally, are handling a dang lot right now and pretty much every minute of every day feels tinged with hard. Adding schooling to that is extra challenging. And again – that’s just an honest take on things from a tired, overwhelmed Mama.

If I had a magic wand, I’d one, take away all the illness and put our world right again. But if I could have a wish in place of that one, it would be that all expectation be lowered/taken away right now, especially for our kids, because what we as parents are facing right now is a busload of work and worry. Every age and stage comes with a struggle and I know each and every one of you is dealing with some heavy and hard right now. I really wish we could all just step back from the trying to do it all even as we go nowhere because just like living in isolation, that is not how we were made to function.

I promise we won’t give up the good fight and we probably won’t give up on the packets either (because Mama and Daddy are big rule followers), but we are going to keep trying to find a way that works for us and maybe that will look different from how it works for others. That has to be OK. Because, as I tell myself 10x a day, none of us knows how to do this life right now and it is hard. I’d much rather some beautiful moments of connection come out of it than a power struggle over school.

Much love to all of you out there navigating these waters. May they be just a little less crazy with each day to come.