Big Spending

Being teachers with one and a quarter incomes between us, not to mention five young kids, pretty much means everything in life feels expensive while actual expensive purchases “just for us” are totally out of the question. While I sometimes daydream of what it would be like to be not skating by month to month, I’m equally grateful for the life and home we have and the fact that I’ve been able to stay home with our babies all these years. This is Wilson’s last year before starting Kindergarten and while I don’t know what life with five kids in full-time school holds for me and my work, I do wonder if some shifts are on the horizon for me that might ease some of that financial strain. 

All that said, we’ve still dropped some pretty pennies in this lifetime, one chunk on an experience via overseas travel and another chunk on an investment in our home via the form of a good old-fashioned, gray-hair-inducing, renovation project.

2008 was our first big spender moment when we decided to postpone a house project in our first home (redoing the front porch and steps which we eventually did before selling it a few years later) to spend three weeks traveling with fellow Doane alumni in Africa instead. I was lucky enough to get an entire semester doing that in college and the experience profoundly shaped my life. Being able to then share two of those same locations, Kenya and Tanzania, with Ben, and experience a new one, Rwanda, together profoundly shaped our marriage and was an excellent adventure to take prior to starting our family in 2009. 

While we did multiple safari drives and nature walks throughout our 2008 trip, the most costly ($500.00 per person) but also the most amazing was hiking up into Volcanoes National Park to seek (and, lucky us, find!) mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. The awe of observing and following them for a brief bit of time stays with me. It takes no effort to recall the gorgeous male silverback we saw snacking away on rainforest foliage or the mama with a baby clinging to her (foreshadowing much?!) as she ambled about the trees and sloped terrain. I remain forever grateful that we took that trip and spent our money on the travel and activities that helped open our eyes to new places and people while also learning more about each other and how to travel/work together as a team early on in our marriage. 

We needed that team mindset 10 years later when we embarked on a home remodel in 2018 after discovering that we couldn’t find any houses locally that were big/nice/affordable enough for our large family; this left us in the “stay-and-make-it-work-for-us” position of hiring contractors, busting down walls, and riding the roller coaster of all that comes with renovating an old house over the next 18+ months (COVID life did not help our wrapping up of the whole process but instead slowed us down even more as we tried to navigate pandemic life + having people in our house to finish projects). 

Turns out, a stay-at-home adventure can be much, much more expensive than one that takes you over an ocean, as we found out when extra “To do”s popped up along the way, like needing to tear out an extra shower/replace subflooring and then, oh yeah, ripping out and replacing our entire Hastings-classic (i.e. extra long) driveway and pouring all new concrete to protect our newly remodeled basement from water seepage. Concrete, it just so happens, is not cheap. Nor is putting in a bunch of new wiring and all new plumbing which we also did, but once you start, you can’t just stop unless you want to keep living out of your living room with no kitchen for the rest of your life instead just 9 awful weeks (with five little Littles) like we did. 

But now our house is gorgeous and functional and our driveway is so smooth, the kids can all ride bikes and scooters on it all the live-long day (which they do; Mama, too!). And even though we’ll be paying for it for many days (years) to come, this investment also feels worth it because our big family can really use darn near every square inch of our house now for living and being a family together which is of course the best adventure of all. 

*Post 18/52.

Jenjamin

When Ben and I started dating in 2005, shipped names for couples were definitely a thing but definitely not called that yet. Still, Brangelina, TomKat, and Bennifer were all over celebrity news at that time, so it didn’t take long for people to merge Ben and I’s names together, too. Except, we didn’t want to copycat and become another Bennifer so we flipped the script and made ours Jenjamin instead. Hilarity ensued when one of my friends actually wrote us a check for a wedding gift made out to Jenjmain Welsch!

Beyond the funny name combination, though, we’ve always had a great deal in common that’s lead us to this point of 16 years married:
1) Planning. My goodness, do we both love to plan. I wouldn’t call it daydreaming because we’re both a little too serious and intense for the stereotypical approach to that act, but we can future cast like no one else it seems. We can also plan and pull off quite a bit in our actual daily lives, too (even though raising five Littles also makes it feel like we never actually accomplish much more than just getting through the day’s schedule). Of course, sometimes our plans go up in smoke but that’s just life I guess. Somehow we keep each other balanced and grounded enough to keep trying and keep our chins up when things don’t work out and celebrating when they do. 
2) Running. This is something we both did as teenagers in high school and young adults in college, except Ben’s was for actual college athletics and mine was for occasional exercise by then. It was also one of our favorite activities to share pre-kids when we trained for and completed two half marathons in 2007/2008. Then we started having babies and even though I’ve dabbled here and there with running since, it’s not been a couple thing for us again until this year (2022). We certainly don’t run far or fast, or even that consistently yet, but it’s good to be back at it together, even if our older, wiser bodies are wondering what we’re doing to them each time we hit the pavement. 
3) Music Appreciation. For those who wonder why our kids play so many instruments (we have four piano players, two cello players, one saxophone, and one flutist so far), it’s because B and I have always had music in our lives, too. I played three different instruments as a kid (violin, just one year; trumpet, for five years, and piano, for who knows – several years at least) and Ben was active with choirs/singing at school and church. The funny part of our musical history stems from being in a Doane College choir together for an entire year and still never actually meeting each other, which is one of the biggest misconceptions about our relationship. Despite that shared class/concerts and three years roaming the small campus at the same time, we didn’t meet until a year after I had graduated and left Doane. But sure enough, once we started dating, his mom found an old concert program with a choir group photo on it and there we both were – several rows apart but not all that far from each other, even. I’m the one who brings the music into our daily lives with now my playlists and pushing us to see live music, but Ben’s always been down for a good lyric and/or the rare turn at karaoke. 
4) Childhood. Even though our school and growing up on a farm experiences were different both in state location and methodology (conventional vs. organic), we understand a lot about each other due to our remarkably similar experiences growing up in the Midwest of the 80s and 90s. We’re just under a year apart in age from one another and our family dynamics were the same in that we each had one sibling of the opposite gender. We even attended the same church denomination (Methodist) for our primary education years before my family joined the U.C.C. instead. We’re also both the first born, and in three out of four cases, the oldest grandchild as well, so we get a lot of what that role was like and how it shaped us into the people we are today. 
5) Homebodies. Once upon a lifetime ago, we traveled halfway around the world together but now our favorite place to be is at home. Maybe it’s the long distance runner/farm kids in us, but we both tend to crave quiet and room to think which folks often associate with their homes. The irony is that during this particular stage and season of life and parenting, it’s rarely ever quiet in our house but neither one of us is big on going out or being away which still makes our less-than-peaceful abode our primary destination of choice. 


We’re opposites in many ways and complement each other in so many of them (his math to my English, for example), but clearly we are two peas in a married pod as well. Here’s to Sweet 16 (and many more runs)!

*Post 17/52.

Both/And, Not Either/Or

To share this means to put myself out there for all to see and judge. Not to share this means to hide behind passing privilege and if I’ve learned one thing in the last year, it is that my capacity for inauthenticity is extremely low, especially if that inauthentic way comes from myself.

The gist is this: after semi-, quietly, internally questioning myself over the last 20 years, I’ve opened up my heart, my mind, and my life to the queerness that is part of me. Queer how? I don’t find just one gender attractive. Call that bi or pan or whatever you like because I don’t mean to use labels to discriminate against others; I think that love is love and the person matters far more than the gender attached to them, assuming, that is, that they ascribe to a gender in the first place.

So what does this change, you wonder? Nothing. And everything. But let me start with the nothing. I know the first question for most will be – what about your marriage? My marriage is good. My marriage is sound. Will it last forever? Well, I can’t promise that any more than any other one person in a couple can in this life, but the short of it is that Ben was the first person beyond myself that I shared this with and it didn’t change a single thing for him or how he sees me, so I don’t see why it should change a single thing for us or how I see him. He’s been my person since we met at that party at a pond 17 years ago and as long as we continue to love and support each other, he’ll be my person through all the rest of it, too.

What I also hope is nothing is how the majority of other people will see/hear/respond to this and by “this” I mean me. I’m not a different person than the one you knew previously to reading this. I’m just sharing with you the more real and honest, the more open version of me. I’m giving more language to my understanding and acceptance of myself – that’s really it.

The reason I say “everything” changes is because of my motivation for sharing this in the first place – my kids. We have always been a Love is Love house and have talked about how females can love and marry other females and the same with males who love males. But we’ve never talked about the fact that some people can see themselves with both/and, not just either/or. And because I want my kids to be their most authentic selves and love whoever the flipdiddle they want to as they grow, I need to be transparent about myself as an example of that very principle. And I can’t tell them unless I’m also willing to tell the world at large, so no more passing privilege for me in which I stay quiet simply because I am a woman married to a man and therefore not questioned or judged by our heteronormative society for that marriage/attraction.

So the second gist is this: I am a woman who does not identify as straight but who is married to a man and together we are raising humans to love humans, in whatever form that takes (which means giving voice and pride to my own self along the way, too).

Does it scare me to post this publicly? Absolutely. But my hope is that in doing this, in sharing this most vulnerable side of myself, I’ll be able to show others that it really is OK to be who are you, however that presents. And I’ll be able to share eventually with my own children as they grow and get to know themselves that we really do mean it when we say: Love who you love. Find attractive who and what you find attractive in this world. Drop the shame for doing so. Show the world your real self; this is how we heal and live whole, healthy lives.

If you’re here for that (and by “that” I mean me) with love and support, great; please stay! If you’re bringing shame, lectures, or disgust to the table, kindly move along. While these words are worth sharing, who I am simply isn’t up for discussion or opinion.

So here’s to more moments of honesty and vulnerability, to moving through the world with more grace for others but also ourselves. And here’s to creating a better, more loving and accepting society as we do so.

Firsts and the (Calendar) Flip Side

As my Facebook memories have been showing me the last few days, this is not my first end-of-July siren song post. In fact, that one I wrote five years ago had portions that I could easily cut and paste into today’s writing as our family prepares for all that is August and the not-so-slow shift out of summer mode. And now that I think about it, with our risk dial creeping up these last couple weeks thanks to the Delta variant of COVID-19, last year’s post could also unfortunately make a reappearance here today, but I am not ready to wrap my head around all things school + pandemic again, so I’m just not. I’m. Just. Not.

Instead, I’m standing in my general awe that we’ve landed on the last day of July. How did that happen? Where exactly did the last nine weeks go? Does anyone know?

I know that we were busy. I suppose anything would have felt busy after an entire summer (and spring and then some) at home last year, but even setting aside that, this summer had new obstacles, activities, and adventures for us.

For one, Ben taught summer school for the first time ever. I thought that sounded like a good idea until I realized how much it complicated the summer music program two kids were playing (three instruments) in, not to mention running various kids hither and thither for summer camps (yay for summer camps! they are great and this was also the first summer of all FIVE kids being old enough to participate in something somewhere!). We also had two boys back in city league baseball in June and my own online teaching and yeah, that month flew by.

I also continued to have approximately 237 appointments each week in June and most of July as I have continued to navigate my headaches which did not help lighten the calendar load. Fortunately the last few weeks have been a shift to more better days than bad days (hallelujah!!!) which is hopefully a trend that will continue and about which I’ll write an honest update for here soon.

Other firsts this summer included Colorado trips, both as a family of seven (first time there for the kids and first time in RMNP for all of us) AND as just a couple. Here’s the crazy part about that…we haven’t been away from the kids for more than one sleep in FOUR YEARS (NICU stay does not count. That was the farthest thing ever from a vacation)! Can you believe that? Um, I’m sure you can because it’s not hard to understand that it’s a big freaking ask to have other people watch this many kids so yeah, leaving them has been tough. But obviously that was way overdue and we took advantage of outdoor venues to see two beloved bands on our long weekend getaway, incidentally marking another first – our first live music post-pandemic (please; can we please be post-pandemic?).

During all that Ben had a ton of meetings for education association stuff and there were more hither/thither camps and we spent a week nursing sick kids through a nasty summer cold (and then damn near a week for me to recover from the same even though they were only down for two days each; I have learned that kids germs are a bit harder to kick when you’re breathing down the neck of 40).

So, yep. Just like that tomorrow is August. We celebrated by getting everyone’s school supplies this morning, which again – a first – includes all FIVE kids as Wilson finally gets to join the school schedule with her first year of preschool. About this she tells me that she will miss me when she’s gone and she’d like it to start tomorrow, please and thank you. You’ve gotta love the duality that is a 3yo!

But, actually, I get it because I’m feeling that flip side of all this, too. I’m excited for the new adventures and new schools (OK; maybe? One of those is middle school and I have not yet wrapped my brain around having a middle schooler either, but I am hoping for the best all the same). I’m looking forward to a return to routine and having, for the FIRST time ever since becoming a mom, a couple hours to myself each morning to work and be a person while they are all out of the house. But also there’s just a lot looming this fall and I like our summer bubble so I don’t really want to see it burst just yet.

I guess the good thing is, it doesn’t have to for a couple more weeks. Not officially, anyway, even though I know that first week of August is coming for us with a lot of To Dos. Hopefully it will just be good practice for what’s to come and can also give us a wee bit more time to just be before the real flip of the school year begins.

The Full 360/365

As a writer, as a mother, and as an individual, it’s hard for me not to notice and mark milestones. Patterns, too. For example, last year at the end of February, our family had a stomach bug rip through our entire household and unfortunately this week brought us the return of a similar sick fest. This is also the time of year when third quarter ends for Ben and the kids at school and I see my own end of Winter Term/start of Spring Term resulting in an excess of grading (which is super fun in the midst of caring for super sick kids, btw). But the real milestone that’s looming and feeling both heavy but remarkably hopeful is what I consider the anniversary of the start of our COVID-Year.

A year ago today, actually, my kids began their four-day Spring Break weekend and one of my dear friends and I were frantically trying to decide if we should still travel to Denver to attend an author event or not due to COVID-19 news sling-shotting around the country (spoiler alert: we did not). How little we knew then in terms of just how many plans would be cancelled or how long school would be out in the months that followed. How little we knew about the controversies and struggles that would come, much less the number of people who would be diagnosed, get sick and how so many would be lost due to this disease. How time would lose all meaning and make for both the shortest and longest days, weeks, months, and now year of our life. How is it already mid-March again? But also, haven’t we lived 10 years in the last 12 months? If gray hairs and worry lines are any indication, then yes, we have done just that but in the blink of a (tired) eye.

And yet, here we still are. Still marking the days, still doing our best to do our part by not making many plans (and keeping the ones we do make as safe as possible), and still masking up wherever we go. For 365 days, or 360 degrees if you’re following our trip around the sun as one of my friends likes to say, we have been in this and at this. Thankfully, mercifully, and sometimes frustratingly, we are are still here this whole year later happy at least because we have each other even as we mark what the experience and struggles have been for us.

Today, though, our family has a glimmer of hope, a sign of changes to come, as Ben received his first vaccine dose. He’s not the first in our immediate family to get one but we are so thankful his turn arrived. I haven’t been super worried and stressed about him getting this as schools here have found a way to keep open safely with masks and some protocol changes but it is still such a relief that educators are in the initial-ish round of shots in our community.

My hopes for a vaccine are quite different. I don’t meet any of the criteria to get a shot now or anytime soon, so instead I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing as we hope and pray the president was right in saying that all Americans who want a shot should be able to get one by the end of May. The thought of being able to go and do more with more confidence this summer than we’ve had at all in the last year is a lovely one, even if that is still months away at this point.

After all, if the last year has established anything, it is that time is a loose concept and we are much stronger and capable of navigating chaos than we ever knew.

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.

 

 

One Blessed Day

I know I’ve said this before out loud, which means it has probably crept into a post before, too, but oh my word. How do parents do school breaks and keep a shred of sanity without having their co-parent home?!

In other words, I am very spoiled that for 95% of my kids’ time off from school, my spouse is also off from school. And thank goodness, because being outnumbered 5-2 is hard enough, much less 5-1 like I am today, on the last day of Christmas Break.

Confession: this morning I even had my mom here for a few hours to be my +1, so seriously, I have little room to bemoan this situation, except for the fact that this break wasn’t exactly the one of our dreams.

It started with a lot of social nights for me which was both awesome and draining because, much as I love my people, homebody introvert needs kicked in. And I guess you could say my need was answered because then we got majorly stuck at home, but not in the way I would have wanted.

We ended up with a kid-after-kid progression (in age order, no less) through GermVille, starting two days before Christmas that went from HD to TJ and it was awful. Fevers. Coughs. Interrupted sleep. Worry and stress. And totally botched family Christmas plans. We still got to sort of see my family that was in town but not in the fun, spend a lot of time together hanging out way.

Thankfully the baby avoided that round of yuck (but her runny nose the last couple days indicate that she’ll most likely be our first fallen ill in the new year) and we got to have a semi-normal second week of break but it was literally all spent here or at my in-laws. Meaning, we went into LockDown Mode big time and did NOTHING all the rest of break that put us around other people/exposed us to any of the crud flying around town (minus HD’s first-ever go at acolyting in church but just he and I went and left other, still-recovering kids home).

To say that cabin fever has set in big time is an understatement, even with all the fun new board games and Legos the kids were gifted for Christmas.

So to lose B to meetings today, on the same day that I have to re-enter my own online teaching presence, but still have all five kids home which happens to include a snot-faced toddler and a bunch of end-of-break crankiness?

WHOA.

I repeat: I don’t know how people do this on a regular, all-break, every break solo. One blessed day of it and I’m over here twitching a bit.

To all you parents getting through the last day of break/preparing yourselves for tomorrow’s blessed and challenging return to routines and being semi-dressed and functioning before 8:00A, Godspeed, good luck, and may your caffeine source be STRONG.

And may all of us avoid the sickies which you know is already making me nervous about re-entering the outside world.