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moving forward with confidence because how do you know what might be OK in the future based on data that’s already outdated when you get it?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.

Finders and Keepers

I received a message this week that caught me off guard, both in its kindness and in its wondering. I had someone write and ask me how I came to find my friend groups because she too wants to build what she sees me having.

Firstly, the kindness: it was very sweet of this woman to say, in essence, that she sees beauty in my friendships. I see that as a compliment because, secondly, the off guardness: I tend to tell myself a lot of stories when it comes to friendship, and believe me, some of them aren’t very, well, kind.

For much of my grown life, I’ve told myself that I am not good at keeping friends. This, of course, isn’t entirely true. Like any person who grows, moves, changes careers, gets a new hobby, etc., my friend groups have shifted over time. But I’ll be real honest and tell you that there is a little part of me that often wonders, even to this day, “Is it me; am I really not capable of keeping close friends? Are my friends going to leave me if I make a mistake?”

I was honest in my response to her message and said, in essence, both of these things: “thank you” and “it hasn’t always been this way.”

Firstly: the gratitude. She offered me a real gift in calling out the strength she sees in my friendships because it helps quiet that not-so-nice little voice that doubts and questions whether I am a good or worthy friend. While I’m working not to live by what other people think of or say about me, I’m also not above being grateful for a little verbal validation. Just think of what it would do if we spent more time telling others what see about them that is working, is beautiful, is good, especially when they aren’t expecting to hear it from us. Wouldn’t that be such a simple and wonderful way to spread more kindness?

Secondly: the truth that it has taken time and effort to get here. I had to put myself out on a limb more than once in the last several years to test the friend-filled waters. This meant initiating conversations, small groups, coffee dates, and so on until I found the right combination of trusted, safe places (by which I mean people) that I could call my dearest friends. It’s okay for friendships to come and go, just like its okay to set boundaries for yourself and also put yourself out there to make a new connection. Some will spark. Some will blaze and burn for a while. And others will stand by your side even when the fire gets doused with unforeseen pouring rain.

You are worth the trying. You too can put yourself out there. The worst that might happen is that someone says “no thanks” and if that’s the case, then they weren’t meant to be your people.

It can be so hard not to feel like a loner and weirdo, especially in these COVID times, but I am convinced that if we put ourselves out there with authentic asks and cultivate the circles in which we wish to spin, we can all find our place. We all have one. We all deserve one.

Like the rest of adulting, adult friendship forming is not easy. Sometimes it will suck. Sometimes it will hurt. Sometimes you will stick your foot in your mouth so hard you chip a tooth. Sometimes your friend will do the same. But we need to keep seeking and we need to keep connecting because our people are what make this insane roller coaster of life seem less horror show and more adventurous comedy (even when it is a shit show).

But let’s also be honest with each other and admit how hard these relationships can be to find, develop, and maintain, lest that others think we have something they can’t.

Like I said, your circle is out there, and trust me, they need you as much as you need them.

P.S.: Nothing about the last six months of life has felt normal, which also means that the only friend photos I have to share with you and this post are from last year (after a literal downpour), but I also wouldn’t have made it through the last six months without my circles, so there’s that. They’ve kept me going one text, meme, GIF and Marco Polo at a time. I’m grateful for their friendship and for all the connections that are out there, waiting to be, for each of us and each of you.

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.

 

 

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 — another excellent audio book production! I am so glad I picked this for a walking book this summer because it was beautifully narrated and was a compelling story that kept my attention as I trucked it around the streets of Hastings. Although I found some of the plot points predictable, I really enjoyed some of the character developments and enjoyed hearing about a place and time in which not many stories I’ve read are set.
  46. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid — this one had me guessing a bit, even until the very end. And while I didn’t love it over the top like I did Daisy Jones, it was an enjoyable read (and I like how she continues to write, essentially, about generations and writers and reporting; interesting connections between her two different books).
  47. Me and White Supremacy Layla F. Saad — I did the reading/Journaling through the 28 days in a 56 day format, along side a virtual small group that met online once a week to discuss each day of the book. This is required reading and work for all white people as far as I am concerned. I plan to revisit it often in the months and years to come.
  48. “We Should All be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — technically an essay, but in print book format and so worth the read and the place on the shelf for easy access and rereading many times to come in the future.
  49. P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han — Book #2 in this series, and again, a decent YA rom-com type read to clear the brain a bit.
  50. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston — tiny part politics (oh, how I love the storyline of a Democratic woman as president!), mostly part coming of age/orientation this was both a different romance to read  in terms of the lead characters and, at the same time, totally typical romance to read in regards to the explicit sex and predictable plot. That said, some of the resolutions at the end made me damn near cry, and all together, this was a pleasant listen on my walks!
  51. When They Call you a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele — this was a heartbreakingly beautiful and inspiring and educational and impactful read that I would highly recommend to learn more about the lived experience of Black (and queer and female and trans and male) Americans and the BLM movement. (finished 8.3.2020)
  52. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa Lee — so many heartbreaking components to this story but also so much knowledge and insight gained, too, about life in and traditions from Korea.
  53. The Gown by Jennifer Robson — this was a book club pick I missed last year but then found on audio this summer which made it perfect for my latest walking choice. I have to say, I liked parts of it but then was a little bit bored by some of the overabundance of detail about some the sewing and moments within the book that didn’t really seem to warrant that much attention (and then caught off guard by the traumatizing part of the story that did warrant attention and came kind of out of nowhere). (finished 8.16.2020)
  54. Harvest the Vote by Jane Kleeb — Bought this pre-pandemic and hoped to get it signed by the local author but the stars didn’t align for that and I’m just now getting to it in my reading stack. I grew up in a blue dot family in a red, rural state, so I get much of what JK talks about here, but I also learned some interesting tidbits from the reading and I don’t think she’s wrong that Dems can have a place helping voters in states like mine now and the one in which I was raised.
  55. More Myself by Alicia Keys — get this audiobook and listen to it as soon as you can! I had to wait a while for it to come through the library app I use, but it was totally worth it to hear Alicia Keys tell her story in her own voice (and song). I felt like I was listening to my (incredibly talented and woke) friend talk the whole time. So real and so inspiring.
  56. The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris — I learned a ton about Harris’ career from this book and more about her guiding principles, too. It was a sweet glimpse into her personal life as well, making it altogether a great read. How inspiring and hope-building to think of a woman like Kamala Harris in major leadership in this nation!
  57. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert — OK, this was entirely too predictable in terms of girl meets boy, girl hates boy, girl like boy, girl gets in fight with boy, girl loves boy happily ever after, but with a bunch of very explicit sex described throughout the process, and even though I sort of liked the characters, this was just too much. Too much. (finished 9.5.2020)
  58. Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker — this was more self-helpy than I anticipated or really wanted at the get-go, but by the end I found myself sneakily inspired and still very much a fan of Jen Hatmaker. Plus I got to listen to her on my walks, which was fun.
  59. Blowout by Rachel Maddow — I’m about a year behind release date on this one but it was still interesting to read Rachel’s take and coordination of so many moving parts and players in the saga that is the oil and gas industry, especially in regards to (American) politics. I love her monologues on TV and appreciated that so much of her voice (and wit and sarcasm) came across in the book.
  60. Anxious People by Fredrick Backman — oh, how my love for Backman’s work continues!! This book was such a joy to read, even though you wouldn’t necessarily guess that by the title. I have yet to read one of his that I didn’t like, so perhaps I’m have fan girl bias, but goodness – such a good storyteller and such relatable emotions in his work. (finished 9/30/2020)
  61. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center — I liked the straightforwardness of the narrator’s voice in this one and appreciated the empowering messages within the story line. Also, it made me think of shows like my beloved Grey’s and how those will always be enjoyable to me. I would like to read more books by this author.
  62. The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
  63. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi — in progress

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Careful What You Wish For

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen