Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: blogging

Strange and Broken Things (Week 2 of Pandemic Coping)

It’s a strange thing, to be at home in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, walking through the backyard with my kids, flowers blossoming in the bright spring grass. To walk down the street and realize that, Oh, there are kids at that house, too. A dad is pushing his child on a swing, hanging from a tree branch. This dad and I are home in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, playing with our kids.

It’s strange to remind your kids that, Remember, we can’t get too close, okay? Saying, ‘hi’ is okay.

It’s strange to not be thinking about upcoming birthday parties. Or mentally preparing to present at a conference next week. Or coordinating the PTO hospitality lunches for my daughter’s school. Or taking my daughter to first communion classes. I deleted all these events from my Google calendar en masse. Also gone, the reminders: on Wednesdays, pack bathing suit for Felicity, in mid-April, order birthday cake by this day, in the first week of May, deliver Teacher Appreciation lunch.

It’s jarring to see the end of normalcy displayed so clearly in my Google calendar. It’s as if someone I loved had died and I just couldn’t even cope. It has echoes of Grief. But then, when my dad died, I went back to work the next week and the world spun on like nothing had happened. I wanted there to be nothing to do, but there was still everything to do. No one else behaved like there was any reason to change, and so I felt like the odd one.

I also had Choice. I could choose to allow myself to get swept into the rituals and rhythms of Life that no one else had given up and find some reprieve from the pain of my New Reality, however short-lived. It was a quiet suffering that I moved through in my own time. And I made incremental progress toward my acceptance. It was a personal journey and I was in control.

Not this time.

This time, there really is no escape, physical or mental, from this New Reality. I cannot binge-watch Netflix until May. I cannot even do much creative work, like video editing or writing. The kids are home. AND I still need to work. To sit here and write in quiet moments to myself, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and sacrifice a daily workout for the mental clarity that writing gives me.

At a time when I most need a reprieve, there is none to be had.

Being a parent is fun. This is all so fun.

You’d think that with the deletion of all those events and reminders would come a measure of peace and clarity.

Not so.

Instead, my mind is overflowing with news and charts and numbers and questions and predictions and announcements.

I’m constantly thinking about disinfection and washing hands (all. the. time.) and cleaning up the house over and over and over, and getting the kids outside, and Is Felicity reading enough? She should be writing more. Are we doing enough for Henry?, and Relax. You’re doing the best that you can.

My mind doesn’t have much space left to think about anything else other than this Giant Wave that is approaching all of us.

When will it hit Ohio hard? How many people will die? Will someone I love die? Will their body be stored in one of those refrigerated semi-trucks until we can bury them? Was that cold that I had really COVID-19? I had a low fever and a sore throat. Then I felt okay, like nothing happened. Then my lungs were irritated for a couple of days, and that was weird. But no doctor would order a test for me with the few symptoms that I had.

We are all trudging through physical isolation while also being solely responsible for regulating our consumption of the the deluge of news and social media posts that we consume each day about the surging pandemic.

Limit your social media consumption for your mental health, they say.

I don’t want to read about this all of the time, and yet I do. I don’t want to read about another instance of Trump’s feckless leadership and reckless disregard for the consequences of spreading misinformation during a pandemic.

And yet I do. It’s like my mind is begging for another example of,

See! There he goes again, being the biggest jackass the world has even seen! See everyone! He not only sucks at his job, but he’s actively making it worse! See! He doesn’t deserve to lead us one more day! Get rid of him! SOMEHOW!!!

And yet there are still millions of Americans who stand up for this buffoon. It’s not his fault. We can’t put the economy on hold forever. We have to go back to normal. Let’s get back to normal by Easter.

Fools.

And so my mind spins on and on.

A few days ago, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. and just couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried. For an hour, I tried. But once the thoughts started, they rode the steep curve of that red line, riding the most terrifying roller coaster ever, clink-clink-clink, rising exponentially in the coming weeks. Up, up, and up. Who in my life would become part of that line? Who will I lose?

For certainly, we are on a path to becoming a country in which everyone loses someone. We are starting to hear the rhetoric that it’s patriotic to sacrifice ourselves and those we love to a disease that we could have been better prepared to fight had our own destructive president not dismantled the systems that were in place to keep us ahead of the curve.

And to provide our human sacrifices all in the name of preserving the Great American Economy.

It’s too late for the outcome to be much different than that.

It haunts me. That undoubtedly, months from now, after thousands, if not millions of Americans have died, Trump will talk about how much worse it would have been had they not done whatever they had decided to do. Oh, right, sorry. The federal government isn’t responsible. It’s every State for themselves. Hope the States have enough funds to outbid foreign governments for their bulk purchase of medical masks and ventilators. Unless they use flattery to win Trump over. (Which I find even more maddening. Because if governors resort to falsely flattering Trump on the record in order to secure a federal response, now all the Crazy in America will have “evidence” that Trump is doing a good job.)

But in the event that Trump tries to take credit for whatever federal response the government may take, he can always say, More lives could have been lost, and be right. That’s the same argument that we’ve heard after years and years of increasingly horrific mass shootings. Hard to think that the argument will change much.

It haunts me. That Trump will undoubtedly, through tweets and press conferences, rewrite history over and over again so that it looks like he was never wrong. But, hey, at least he can’t use his rallies to rewrite history right now. I revel in the fact that he cannot hold these mass ego-feeding sessions that simply confirm his far-fetched delusions.

Trump will do everything in his power to be seen as the Winner.

But in 2020, it looks like there’s only going to be Losers. Trump included.

And in any case, we don’t need a Winner.

We need a Hero.

(Fauci for President?)

So after an hour of lying in bed, thinking and thinking, I decided to get up and do something for myself.

I did some yoga.

And then I cleaned the kitchen.

***

And then this happened.

After years of erosion along the bank of a creek behind our house, a tree fell over into our backyard. Now it lies against the edge of our backyard, at the end of its life, broken and unable to be properly disposed of as it is not considered an “essential service” at this time.

The morning after it happened, I occupied the kids by having them pick up sticks and put them in a bucket. It was cold that morning and my coffee cup warmed my fingers as I watched my kids poke through the safest parts of the fallen tree.

Looking at its dark branches against the pink of the dawning sky, I remembered a dream that I had about a tree falling over in the backyard, at a time in my life when everything seemed to be turning upside down.

Maybe it’s a coincidence.

I don’t think everything like this has to be a sign.

But I’m not closed to the idea either.

But it’s strange.

And then this happened.

While I was in a conference call, I was twisting my rings on my hands and I noticed that they didn’t feel right.

The setting was just gone.

I didn’t hit it on anything.

It was strange.

(Jewelry repair is also not an “essential service” at this time.)

These things don’t need to mean anything. I can be okay with believing that sometimes stuff like this happens all at the same time.

But it’s strange.

***

The rhythms of our lives are radically different, but we are making it work. I am working from home from the morning to the afternoon and my husband works from afternoon to midnight. There is no one else to help with care-taking. All the social support of friends and church, daycare and after-school care. It’s all gone. The best babysitter now is the TV and a Chrome book, which we use prudently through the week and throw caution to the wind on the weekend.

We are finding the good in being with our kids more. Time that we previously spent simply commuting to work and picking up kids and going to the occasional weeknight event is all now spent at home. We eat dinner together like usual, but our kids now eat with one of us at lunch time. Sometimes, I finish my shift online and find culinary gems like this waiting for me:

(I know. I’m lucky. I married well. I don’t share stuff like this all the time because he’s too good, and no, you can’t have him. I got him first.)

Although it is hard in the immediate moments of taking care of our kids to remember this, it is ultimately good for us to hold our kids close during this time. (Even though 25% of the care-taking still requires the constant vigilance and reminders of No, Hold on, Wait, Put that down!, Where’s your jacket? Away from the road!, No water guns right now, Zip up your jacket, My God! Stay out of the mud!, Too close to the creek!, Stop! No, that’s my coffee, Careful!)

It is good to take them outside to pick up sticks and discover newly blossomed flowers and put on their rainboots to splash in the puddles and watch an earthworm stretch its way across the paving stones for ten minutes and wish him well. Bye-bye worm!

It’s good to give in and read a Five-Minute Paw Patrol story (few girl characters, and they never solve the problems) when I’d totally prefer to read something like the Little Engine that Could (good moral) or even One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (good rhyming schemes).

In all this time with the kids, moments emerge.

There’s the moment when I hear my daughter reading to my son, as the daylight fades from their rooms. They are having a moment together, apart from me. And it doesn’t tear me apart. It makes my heart soar.

There’s the moment as I’m sleeping that I feel my husband’s hand slip into mine and I wake long enough to squeeze it but not long enough for my mind to start spinning again.

There’s the moment when I hear, for the first time, my son say to my daughter, “I love you, Cici.”

Although my places are restricted, time marches on, leaving behind moments in its wake.

Gather ye moments while ye may.

Online Learning for Those Who Just Can't Anymore

So I’m in the unique position of being able to look at the pandemic through the lens of the exhausted higher education faculty member as well as the eLearning professional.

In the past year, I’ve started working as an eLearning professional at a community college. Before that, I taught for 15 years as an ESL instructor with almost all of that teaching done in the face-to-face modality. I have also taught online and used a flipped learning approach frequently over the past few years.

My Lens as a Teacher

Just last week, a new group on Facebook emerged: Pandemic Pedagogy.

In the first few days, as instructors swarmed to the site, it became clear that there were a few currents of sentiment that went like this:

Just… like… how the hell am I supposed to teach online?

I’m utterly exhausted from teaching already, and now I have to do even more work?

I’m an adjunct instructor and I don’t get paid for this extra work. LET’S REVOLT.

Be kind to your students! Their lives are completely disrupted, just like ours, and they may not have reliable internet access! Figure out how to maintain educational equity!

I’m falling apart because the kids are home and I’m creating all this new content and I’m not keeping up with grading and I keep getting desperate emails from students and I’m worried about my health and the federal government is a mess and I can’t find toilet paper anywhere and my spouse says my job is so easy because it can be done online and I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE.

My empathy for teachers everywhere right now is real. This flat-out sucks. Teaching online isn’t “easier.” Having done it, I can say that it is definitely more time-consuming, as you are constantly communicating with students, generating or posting content, and trying to keep up with grading.

Then, multiply all those efforts times THREE, FOUR, or FIVE and you start to understand why some teachers are seriously ready to bail out in the middle of semester and work at Kroger or Amazon (They’re hiring!).

What I want to say is that you have every right to be frustrated and stressed about the situation. I hope you take your moment to blow this whole thing off for a period of time. But when that moment passes, and for most of you I think it will, please know that no one (at least reasonable people) is expecting you to perform miracles.

So when the anxiety keeps you up late at night, you are definitely not alone.

My Lens as an eLearning Professional

As an eLearning professional, I’ve been reviewing hundreds of courses over the past week to check whether the course is ready to go live on March 23rd.

At this point, we are not looking for stellar courses. Quality Matters alignment is out the window. We are simply looking at whether students can access an updated schedule and can find the content that they need for the first week or so of class.

So let this be my first reassurance: If you’ve got an easy to find document/post where students can tell what they should do on which date, you are already ahead of the curve.

As for the rest of it, here are some snippets of advice:

On Getting Oriented

Consider prominently posting an introduction to the second half of the course on your LMS course page. Video is best because it establishes visual instructor presence, but even a nicely worded document can do. Reassure your students that you will get through this course together. Practice kindness with your students and ask them to be kind to you. Go over any FAQs that you want to make sure that all students know before you embark on this journey. Make what works for you. Providing this kind of introduction provides reassurance and stability to your students that they desperately crave right now.

On Teaching Synchronously

Please, please don’t feel that you have to generate all new content for every lesson. Don’t feel that you have to record all of the lectures that you would have given face-to-face. And if you’ve been given different advice from administrators, I implore you to do what is best for your students anyway. This is not the time to listen to bad advice.

Here’s the truth: Students do not want to watch you teach synchronously during the same hours that you had been spending together face-to-face. Their lives have been completely disrupted. Their kids are out of school. Maybe they lost their job or are working a new one. Maybe they have limited connectivity at home.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t teach your content. It means that you find accessible ways to do so. If you used to teach for 50 minutes on a topic, extract the key points and boil it down to 10-15 minutes, followed by a series of exercises, problems, or case studies, whatever works for your field. Make sure your students have access to the answers so they can assess themselves and track their understanding. Remember that your students can re-watch the videos. There is an incredible amount of repetition, re-clarification, and reiteration that happens in in-person teaching that is simply not necessary in online teaching. Say what needs to be said and move on. They can re-watch the videos and ask question in the forums that you provide. (And don’t be afraid to embed instructional videos that others have made. If the videos are on YouTube and allows for you to embed it on your course page, the content creator benefits from the additional views.)

My advice is: Offer an optional synchronous office hours time, maybe just 1 hour per week, where students can drop in and ask questions.

Be prepared: It’s likely that the ones who come won’t even want to talk about the class in the first session. They may just need someone to process the disruptions in their lives. This is how you build rapport, community, and more importantly TRUST. If your students trust you, they are more likely to stay engaged over the long haul and struggle through the challenges of learning in an era of disruption. You don’t have to be specially trained to do this. Just BE KIND and listen. Acknowledge what they are going through. If you feel like it, share how this crisis has affected your life.

I also encourage you, with the permission of your students, to record your office hours and share the recording with the class, to build that sense of community for your students who are not able to attend synchronously. Even simply watching an asynchronous recording of you talking with other students can go a long way toward helping all students feel connected to you in this time of uncertainty when everyone is so isolated.

On Organizing for Student-Centeredness

Give students a course schedule, an updated syllabus, or even a basic pinned announcement or post that is your students’ cornerstone for the course. Tell them what to do on a weekly basis so they can keep track. I recommend labeling modules by weeks or dates and organize content inside of those weeks. Students don’t want to go to 8 different modules to pull together all of their content for one week’s work. (Spoken by a teacher who has organized her class like this! Learn from my mistakes!)

Rest assured: No one is expecting you to do a stellar performance this term.

On Online Quizzes

If you’re going to administer a quiz online, please preview the quiz as a student and consider any tweaks that can make it less stressful for students. Do what works for your situation and remember that some of your students are likely to have spotty connectivity, which can make it stressful for them to do an online quiz between a certain time period, especially when it’s timed.

Final Thoughts

So if you just seriously can’t anymore, you are definitely not alone.

Keep your class simple and clear.

Do what you can.

Be kind.

We are all just trying to get through this.

We Are Not Used to This

Both kids are now home.

Both of us are trying to work remotely, tagging each other in as the day allows.

We are creating a New Normal.

We are trying “home schooling” and mandated House Clean-Up times and schedules and nipping bad attitudes in the bud.

We are also just trying to not lose our minds.

I consider it an astounding feat that we have managed to limit TV time to less than 3 hours per day. Winning.

Here’s a real conversation that happened this Tuesday, 3/17.

  • Henry: “Is it Sunday?”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “Oh, it’s Saturday.”
  • Me: “Nope.”
  • Felicity: “No, Henry, it’s Monday.”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “No, it’s Saint Patri’s Day!”

Aren’t you jealous?

3/17/2020

***

On Thursday, 3/12, the first wave of anxiety hit me with the announcement of the closure of all K-12 schools in Ohio.

On Sunday, 3/15, we learned that all restaurants would be closing to dine-in customers. The second wave of anxiety hit me. Not because we eat out a lot. Not at all. We actually eat a lot at home.

But it felt like the first sign that soon, very soon, public places were not going to be an option for occupying the kid’s time.

Read: No kid’s museum, no indoor parks, no library, no movies, no all-the-typical-places-where-we-might-take-them-to-stay-sane.

I’m not prone to anxiety. I worry, sure, but anxiety? No, not really.

But the thought of losing my go-to methods of occupying the kids, actually, not even really having a break from home life for 2, 3, or 4 months…

Oh, Sweet, Sweet Jesus.

This is fine meme.
Art credit: KC Green

So after driving to at least four stores to find toilet paper (still haven’t found any. Thanks to friend, Cate, for sharing some rolls), my husband decided that we should order take-out from a local Mexican restaurant, while we still can.

But by the time we got home with the food, he had decided to drop us off with the take-out bags and continue his search for needed supplies, as the thought loomed in our heads: When we will be officially told to shelter-in-place? And are we ready for that?

The kids ate the tacos and beans like champs, happily and hungrily. I stared at my food, cold waves of anxiety rising and washing over me again and again. Feelings that I haven’t had since I had my first baby and my mother returned to her home in Minnesota. That feeling of floating alone in the ocean, holding on to a life preserver, not knowing when the circumstances were going to change. Not knowing if a wave was approaching that I couldn’t see. Not knowing if I had the fortitude to hold on. And then all of the guilt because, let’s face it, I am likely to be just fine. A healthy, 30-something in the suburbs.

Before I knew it, the kids were done with their food, and I was still sitting there, thinking of what I needed to do to get ready for a week with my daughter at home.

They abandoned their plates, leaving the mess behind and disappeared somewhere else in the house.

When I realized they didn’t wash their hands before they had gone upstairs, I yelled at them to do so, but remained there, paralyzed, looking at the take-out bags.

But they washed their hands before dinner. Pretty sure they did. Yeah, they did. Or was it just Henry’s hands?

And then the thoughts started.

You can be asymptomatic for up to 24 days. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Wash your hands to Happy Birthday. You might not even know you have it. Stay home. Don’t go out. Wash your hands. My hands, but also the kids. All the time. Wash three sets of hands, that’s six hands. Every time you enter and exit a room. The virus can live on surfaces for up to two days. It floats in the air. Someone doesn’t need to cough on you–You can just breathe it in. There aren’t enough ventilators and there may not be enough hospital beds. What about my friend who is pregnant? Is she okay? What about Mom? What if she gets it? Can’t think about that. Can’t let the kids see her until this whole thing is over. What happens when the daycares close?

And then, I started eating. One taco. Two tacos. Three tacos. Chips. Beans. More chips. Salsa. More chips. Beans. The second bag of chips. More salsa. Oreos? What the hell. Sugar felt good. Where’s all the chocolate around here? Maybe some ice cream. Oh, there are cones, too. Hm.

Oh my God, I realized. I’m stress eating.

I haven’t stress-eaten in probably 15 years or more.

When my husband got home, we let the kids play alone upstairs while we processed what was happening around us.

“Sweets, people are getting f***ing crazy out there,” he said, eyes wide. “I saw a guy, two older guys actually, at Sam’s with–I swear to God–nothing but Swiss Miss packets in their cart. Just boxes and boxes of Swiss Miss.”

“Shut up,” I said, relieved at having something to laugh about.

“I’m serious. I’m serious,” he assured me.

It felt good to laugh. (Is there anything more attractive, at this moment, than a partner that can genuinely make you laugh? I think not.) And he was more than happy to oblige, with story after story of Ridiculous Carts in Sam’s Club.

“It’s really hitting me,” he said, “just how many people there are that have literally no idea how to cook. They’re like holding these cans of food and saying things like, ‘Could we make this or this?’ ‘What about this?’ There are people walking the aisles of stores with actual faces of fear and panic. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

And welcome to Life in the Time of COVID-19.

A time when we will choose to either battle our internal demons of the fear of scarcity or succumb to them and war with each other. Over toilet paper and Swiss Miss.

Those end-of-the-world disaster and pandemic movies that massaged our basest instincts to flee or fight, it feels like our brains are feeding on them to fuel our daily behaviors.

We didn’t think we would be here.

Disasters on this scale don’t happen to the U.S., right?

They happen in “third world countries.” They happen in places with less technology and fewer resources. They happen in countries without the same number fighter planes, tanks, and missiles.

Turns out, they happen here, too. We are not so special that we get a pass on this one. Perhaps we shouldn’t have disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic team in 2018 in the name of reducing big government because “we can get them back if we need them.”

But for some global perspective, let’s remember that Syrians continue to run for their lives as Russian planes swoop in and bomb the living hell out of Idlib. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a very, very, very mild version of the panic and fear that these refugees face every day of their lives.

But we are not used to this.

More specifically, affluent White America is not used to this.

We are not used to restrictions and limitations and “unavailable” and “2 per person” and postponing elective surgeries and schools closing for months and church services moved on-line for safety reasons and March Madness being cancelled. (Okay, honestly, that last one doesn’t bother me at all.)

This is Land of Freedom and Choice and Individualism, baby.

Right?

Not today.

Actually, not for the next 2-4 months.

Now, we’ve got to learn how to be Collectivist, to behave in a way that benefits the common good, to postpone or abandon plans, to cooperate and be kind, to put competition aside so that we can protect lives and ensure that we don’t end up holding the hands of our 60-, 70-, and 80- year old loved ones as they die without proper treatment because of health care rationing.

Think about that.

Toilet paper is the least of our worries.

I’m concerned that there is not enough emphasis on looking out for each other and supporting each other through this difficult time.

That’s what led to my meltdown on Monday night this week, as our son came home from his last day of daycare.

No more daycare. No more support, was how it felt to me.

Now, it’s just the four of us.

No help from grandparents.

Now, we will have to alternate work with care-taking. Now, we will have even fewer quiet moments together without the kids.

Our village of friends, daycare, school, after-school programs, libraries, and church just collapsed into the space of our home.

I wasn’t prepared for this. None of us were.

So that’s where I’m at with coping. How about you?

If you’ve got a story about Ridiculous Pandemic Carts, I could really use a laugh.

Pandemic, Here We Go: Stream of Consciousness # 2

Where to even begin.

For me, it really started on Tuesday, March 10th. There was an emergency meeting of the eLearning division entitled “Pandemic Planning,” which had been set the previous Friday. We were told to expect that very soon all in-person classes would be suspended. As an eLearning division, we would abandon all projects and previous plans and meetings. We would come together as a group to help the university faculty–especially those that have never taught online–be prepared to teach everything online.

Thursday afternoon, 3/12
Deserted hallway at Sinclair.

Yes, it was a bit of a shock. But honestly, I was already on high alert because just a few hours before this meeting, the chair of a department wandered into our media production studio, holding a printed email in her hand, asking me if I would come to a department meeting to help her faculty members understand how to teach online.

I remember the way she looked as she hesitantly held the box of an unopened webcam that we loaned out to her. It was that moment between reluctance and resignation and all the body movements that come with it. She was going to have to be the one to rally her troops.

But none of us were expecting that the end to in-person classes would literally be just hours from that moment.

And then the spotlight swung to the eLearning Division.

***

Ah, eLearning professionals. The unsung heroes of this whole mess.

Here’s how to do a web conference. Here’s how to record it. Here’s how to upload slides into your web conference. Hey, look! You can draw on the slides. Here’s how to do picture-in-picture. Now, you’ll need to publish it, share the link with students, create a document with the list of links. Captions? Here’s how you do that. Should you make all your lectures right now? Why don’t you work on just one week’s worth of content? And keep your videos short. Seriously. Think about what is necessary to say. Remember, they can re-watch the video. IT is working on purchasing more webcams. In meantime, do you have a laptop with a camera?

It’s been fun.

But seriously, it feels good to be able to help others who need help. It is my life’s true calling and I’m happy to do it.

***

In the meantime, we will be fine.

We may run out of toilet paper.

But by God, there will be sausage. And eggs.

***

Kidding aside, yes I’m concerned.

It’s hard not to be in the midst of so much social disruption.

But I know that if I get it or my kids get it, we will likely be okay. It sounds like having it is going to be awful, but hey, our mortality is low.

My prayers go to my mother in her 60s, who is also immunosuppressed right now.

To my stepfather.

To my niece, who lives with Type 1 diabetes.

To 75% of my church congregation, older than 60 years, with whom I typically worship every Sunday.

To all of the grandparents who, now that Ohio K-12 schools are closed and parents need to work, may be watching their grandchildren, some of whom are currently carrying this virus and don’t know it.

To all of the small businesses (and the families that rely on them) that are going to be hurting because everyone is staying home.

Despite the negligence of our current President in treating this public health crisis with the attention and seriousness that it deserves, I’m encouraged, nay comforted, by the leadership of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. (A REPUBLICAN! Look! It’s possible to do the right thing even when it contradicts what the President says!! LOOK!)

My hope is that leadership at the federal level can also get some legislative pieces in place to protect and aid the most vulnerable. This isn’t time for your lesson in Bootstrapping of whatever other American Resiliency morals you’re trying to teach via withholding vital healthcare services.

And it’s sure as hell not helping to keep on driving the Anti-Immigration narrative by calling COVID-19 a “foreign virus” and adding more countries to the travel bans.

The neat thing about viruses is that they have no nationalities (Did you know?), they don’t need to apply for visas, and they can’t be turned away at the border. And bonus points for them: They’re likely bringing ALL of their family.

And there was no wall that could have been built that would have stopped this from happening.

Birthday Parties: Stream of Consciousness # 1

One thing that I miss about the time before Child # 2 was having a bit of time to write out real-time reflections on parenthood. With one child, I was able to do quite a bit of that because naps existed and there was just one child to take care of.

With two kids, it’s pretty impossible to do much blogging as I once did. At least the kind of blogging that I prefer. The kind where I revise, revise, and revise until it’s just right.

But it’s a new year and it’s time to get realistic about how I use my time. I love to write. I love to share my writing with others. I work. And I also take on far too many creative projects, which I am not willing to give up because they all bring me joy.

So my goal is to change my methods and standards for writing this year.

For this year, I’m going to blog in a more stream-of-consciousness style. Not because I don’t like to revise and make everything just-so.

It’s more out of necessity.

So excuse the typos and love me for my Flaws (of which, I’m sure there are many).

***

So Henry will forever celebrate his birthday on Groundhog Day. Which I think is payment for putting me through 11 additional days of pregnancy past his due date, which, at the time, made me feel like I was living my own personal Groundhog Day again and again.

Three years later, I mostly remember his birthday as being a test of sheer willpower to confront pain and refuse to give up.

And there was lots of screaming.

And too much blood.

And this.

Isn’t it disturbing/befuddling/miraculous that time helps us summarize the most momentous of days in such few words?

***

In any case, we celebrated Henry’s birthday yesterday, and we came out on the other side of it unscathed and only somewhat frazzled.

One of the dads that came asked me while I was getting ready to serve cake and eleven kids were chomping at the bit for sugar how I could “be so calm.”

That was pretty much the best compliment I’d gotten from a stranger in a while. If “calm” is what I’m projecting, seriously, I deserve a medal.

I said, “It’s because I’m not expressing everything in my head.”

Which is so true.

I think that’s what the second/third/nth child does to you–they elevate your threshold of what your expectations are for what you deal with during the day.

What do you do if you go from zero kids to twins? Or triplets?

Yeah, those parents deserve more than medals.

In any case…

Kudos to my husband for cooking the food for the party: a gluten-free, dairy-free pasta bake and broccoli. Sounds gross. It’s really not. But this is what you have to do when your kids have allergies.

And hey, did you know that basically every birthday party has pretty much the same menu that neither of my kids can eat?

Pizza, cake, and ice cream.

Gluten-free, dairy-free cupcake (courtesy of me)

It makes for a lot of texting back and forth with parents who are hosting birthday parties.

The good news is that just about every parent I’ve communicated with is more than happy to secure an alternative.

#inclusiveeating

For whatever reason, we’ve been to about five birthday parties in the last four weeks. ‘Tis the season? I thought kids had birthdays throughout the year, not just in the winter. But okay.

I guess this has been about birthday parties.

Title found.

See you next time.

A birthday cake with Grover and Cookie Monster. It says "Henry" and "3."
Not dairy-free or gluten-free (courtesy of my amazing Mom)

PoP #19: Potty Training

I am not used to having a child that triumphantly declares, “And I make Mama so happy!”

I am used to my older daughter, going her own way, not really responding deeply to the words, “That doesn’t make me happy.” I am used a preschooler who sat in her chair at the dinner table for three HOURS (not exaggerating), staring at a piece of pizza that she refused to eat.

Imagine my surprise that my soon-to-be three-year-old derives deep satisfaction by making his mom happy. Who rejoices in his mom’s approval.

Say what?

Some kids care about making Mom happy?

Yassss!!!!

So potty training.

The End is nigh, friends. It is so nigh.

I can be totally content doing overnight Pull-Ups until this kid is four.

But I’m beyond done with the constant vigil of diapering a child. For the past seven years, since 2013, since the beginning of Obama’s second term, since the premier of the first Frozen, we have been changing diapers and Pull-Ups and a significant number of those were cloth, which means thousands of loads of laundry.

And for an added bonus, Child # 2 went through about 8 months of on-again-off-again Toddler Diarrhea (for no apparent reason, which resolved seemingly overnight when he was almost 2). I cannot tell you how many times we woke up in the morning (and sometimes in the middle of the night) to a toddler absolutely covered in poop juice. From the back of his head to his toes. Covered.

Child # 2 is the reason we have a Steam Cleaner. And the ability to initiate hazmat protocol at 2:00 a.m. with a toddler screaming less than a foot from our faces. And the reason we probably spent $150 on tubes of diaper cream. (Pro tip for new parents: Resinol. Google it. Buy a lot.)

What I’m saying is… We’ve worked hard for this reprieve.

And I am ready for it.

“It All Goes By So Fast”: 2010-2020

We were three years into this decade before the biggest memories were made. It’s strange to think about now, but what did we do from 2010-2013? I remember that we traveled to Finland and Maui. We spent a lot of time with friends, cooked a lot of breakfasts…

… and experimented with making prickly pear lemonade and brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

I wasted a lot of time worrying, wondering if I would ever be able to land a full-time job in my field.

And then one day, there was a newborn hand, wrapped around my finger

Maybe you remember something similar

Maybe if you thought hard right now, you remember

That bouncer where they slept, all swaddled, mitted, and capped

The beep of the microwave (tsk-tsk) as you warmed water for a bottle

The smell of Pampers and Similac and detergent

The creaking of the tea kettle as you boiled water at 3:00 a.m.

All the onesies, the bibs, the burp cloths, the swaddles

And all the Googling.

All of the Googling.

Normal baby poop.

Milk allergy in newborn signs

Breastfeeding milk production normal

How to stop breastfeeding

When does a baby start teething?

How old is a 20-pound baby?

Best car seats

What does croup sound like?

Croup vs. whooping cough

Can toddlers get whooping cough if they’re vaccinated?

My toddler won’t chew disorders

Toddler diarrhea

How often do toddlers get diarrhea?

Bleeding diaper rash remedies

And then, the Googling stops. Mostly.

One day, you just decide, To hell with it. It is what it is.

You decide the toddler is more like a preschooler and you let him carry scissors around the house, and play with teeny-tiny Legos, and walk around without a Pull-Up on.

You’re on the brink of Life without Diapers, but not there quite yet.

There is Light. A Sweet and Glorious Future beyond the constant wiping of butts.

And you wonder, How did I ever get used to wiping another person’s butt?

That whole area of another human being used to be totally private and off limits. And then, suddenly, you became completely responsible for the care of another human’s butt and genitals.

It was strange.

But so was the feeling of another person growing inside you, jostling your internal organs, barreling through your genitals, and causing your breasts to ache, throb, and leak.

It was all very strange.

How their tiny cries subsided when they smelled your skin, felt your heartbeat, and heard your voice.

You weren’t expecting to be so moved by this. You weren’t prepared for the swallowing of your heart, how the gentle breath of a newborn on your chest could eclipse all the pain, emanating from top to bottom, inside and out.

You weren’t expecting that you could be this utterly exhausted, and still be strong. And still practice patience. And not completely lose your shit while on the brink of sleep-deprived psychosis.

You expected them to be earthquakes in your life, each a great shifting in the plates of your being. You expected there to be changes, fractures, new landmarks, and new paths to chart in their wake.

But you didn’t expect that it would lead you to new beauty.

That it would create new oases, new islands.

And now here we are.

On brink of having a three-year-old and a six-year-old.

My babies are not babies anymore.

They have become tiny people with personalities that converge in some respects and diverge in others.

It goes by so fast, they all said.

Does it really?

There were moments that felt like hours. Times when I, hand-to-God, prayed that we could all survive the Present Moment. If we could just get through this day, everyone alive, it would be a win.

A huge win.

If I could just get to the end of today, when the kid or kids are asleep, I will be okay.

How many more hours until bedtime?

How many more hours until I can go to work and someone else can do all this?

Oh, Sweet Lord, if I have to tell you to eat your food one more time, I’m going to completely lose it.

And, there it is. I’ve lost it.

The truth is more like, The nights are long, but the years are short.

The last six years of care-taking is settling in on my face, in lines that are not going away and little patches of gray hair that will one day make a magnificent streak (though I’m not ready for that just yet).

At get-togethers and parties, I’m realizing that, Whoa, I’m no longer the youngest adult here anymore.

I’m most definitely approaching 40.

Time. Oh, Time.

I feel fickle for feeling this way.

I also feel like they were right.

It goes by so fast.

On Not Getting the Job (A.K.A. Why It was Clearly for the Best, Part 1)

A few months ago, I got into my car after having a great series of interviews with a potential future employer. It was for a position related to instructional design, a field which I don’t have a degree in, but whose skillset is similar to my current job. With all the additional professional development and coursework that I’ve taken in integrating technology into the classroom, I’m more than qualified for the position.

The words mentioned to describe the company culture were exactly what I was looking for: creative, collaborative, candid, future-focused, problem-solving. All in the service to creating educational materials that are learner-focused.

The benefits were good: health insurance, PTO, sick days, tuition assistance, flexible hours. Written into the job description was the expectation that I would continue to learn and attend conferences about trends in educational technology.

The interviews–all four of them–were fantastic. The questions they asked me felt like softballs coming in slow motion. I knew my way backward and forward through topics like adult learning theories, learner-centered instruction, educational digital technologies, and transformative education. I quoted books I read. I mentioned real life examples. I made connections between different disciplines. I talked about my successes, my shortcomings, my research, and my goals.

So I felt good about the whole thing.

Why would they go through so many interviews with me if they weren’t serious about me?

Before I left, the director gave me a business card with her contact info. I turned it over in my hand and ran my fingers over the large quote:

Confidence is success remembered.

I felt good about the whole thing.

And yet.

There was that voice in the back of my mind… (I think we all have one)

Someone else is better than you. You don’t have the credentials they want to see. You’re too risky. If they wanted you, they would have offered you a job today. They didn’t even want to talk about start dates. 

But I was going to be positive. For once, I was going to believe that I could get this job based just on my resume and good interviewing skills. Even if I didn’t know anyone at this company, I knew that I was competent. And qualified.

So I needed to be confident.

Confidence is success remembered.

You got this, I told myself.

Isn’t that what everyone tells you these days? No matter what your chances are, no matter how bleak the outlook, there’s always someone out there in the Facebook Universe who cheerfully memes at you: You Got This!

Until, you don’t.

empty chairs around a table

Thank you for meeting with the team. Unfortunately, at this time, we have decided to go with another candidate.

Really?

Seriously?

Master’s degree. 13 years teaching experience in higher education. Frequent professional presenter. Strong communication and collaboration skills. Self-starter. Lifelong learner.

You’re going to pass on me? 

Seriously?

And then, from the back of my mind, the voice speaks up.

Of course they passed on you. You don’t have a degree in instructional design. Someone else did. And that one manager you talked to didn’t seem to really like what you said about resolving conflict. Didn’t you notice that? She made a face. You know she did. What did you say? What did you do wrong?

What did you do?

What did you say?

What is wrong with you?

If you were such a catch, they would have found a way to hire you.

It’s a huge company. They have tons of money. It’s not that you were qualified and they didn’t have the budget.

They. Just. Didn’t. Want. You.

You.

You were four years older than one of managers that interviewed you. Remember when she found out that you both graduated from Miami, but then apologized when she realized that it was four years after you did? You missed your window there. Everyone your age at that company is in management, and you don’t have management experience. That’s kind of what people mean when they say stuff like, “she wasn’t a good fit.” It’s a cover for reasons that shouldn’t be stated in a rationale for not hiring someone. Like she’s too young, too old, too educated, or not educated enough. (At least compared to who we currently have on staff.)

Shit. When was I supposed to become a manager? How? There were never any opportunities to become a manager at my current employer.

Shit. I should have left by now. When? When was I supposed to leave?

After I had the first baby? When I had a toddler? When I had the second baby? When I had two small kids?

I stayed because I needed something that I could handle while I was out of my mind being a parent to young kids.

I stayed because of the students. Even though I was underpaid by $30,000. Even as my autonomy shrank and shrank and shrank.

I stayed because I loved what I did. Because I believed that I was making a difference.

Shit.

Shit.

Shit.

This is what happens when you keep putting others before yourself.

Shit.

How can you feel so sad about losing something that, apparently, you never had?

Time passed.

I applied for and interviewed for other jobs.

In my search, I noticed just shortly after I was turned down from the job I wanted that they had re-posted almost the exact same position.

W. T. F.

What does that even mean? I wondered. Did the person quit already? Did they just not hire anyone and re-open the search?

So I did something I wouldn’t have done ten years ago. I emailed the same director that I had originally reached out to and told her I was going to re-apply. I truly thought, in my gut, that she had been impressed with me. But that maybe I was interviewing against some candidates that had degrees in instructional design.

She responded. She said that they did have another position open up, but they already had some “highly qualified candidates” for it. However, she would still like to “get to know me outside of an interview situation.”

That sounded promising. Maybe she did see my talent and creativity. Maybe she really was impressed with me. Maybe she had read some of my posts on LinkedIn that highlighted articles that I had just published. Maybe we could talk about how my particular area of expertise could help out her company. I came with some ideas. I didn’t over-plan. But I prepared some ideas.

After all… She wants to get to know me, I thought.

When I finally sat down with her weeks later, we started with some small talk and I mentioned that I was still interviewing for other jobs (which was true) and that I thought it was going well.

And then, her truth started coming out.

It turns out, she thought I didn’t interview well.

She thought that my training and education were lacking because I didn’t mention the word “objectives” when I answered her question about how I would design an online course.

Sitting here now, I recall that I talked about conducting a needs assessment and considering how learners would interact with content, with each other, and with their teacher, and how the course would progress from beginning to end, and how I would incorporate interactive and engaging content using learning apps to deepen knowledge connections.

But I didn’t mention the word “objectives.”

She wasn’t sure I knew what objectives were. She wasn’t sure that I actually knew how to design and implement a class.

What words can I use to describe how I felt in that moment?

Oh, yes.

Utterly shocked, comes to mind.

She thinks I’m not competent, I thought, my fingers digging into my coffee cup, my expression freezing on my face.

Wait, what?

SHE THINKS I’M NOT COMPETENT!?!?!

I clarified that yes, it’s possible I didn’t mention the word “objectives,” but that I thought that given the fact that I have a Master’s degree in teaching and that I’ve been teaching for 13 years, that I could assume she knew that I knew what objectives were. I told her that I chose to focus on the more interesting parts of the online class that would show where I really shine.

My mistake. Because, in her view, you cannot rely on a person who has been a teacher to know what objectives were.

Which is actually a pretty good representation of how American society sees teachers.

Thanks for that, America.

But fine. Point taken.

And then I understood the problem: I made assumptions. And she did not.

She interviewed for the lowest common denominator. And I thought I was having a conversation with a fellow professional in the field.

In her view, as a person who didn’t know me, I had to start from the basics.

My mistake.

I gripped my coffee cup and nodded continuously, being respectful. Because that is what you do when you are talking to someone in a powerful position who might be able to offer you a job someday. You don’t tell them that their measures of assessment are incredibly archaic, not to mention ineffective. And you don’t say, You know, I actually do know what objectives are! Because that seems incredibly inauthentic, and who would actually believe you now, after you had been told of your error?

She just wanted to share this information with me because as a woman, she has been feeling more empowered recently to help other women out who are in difficult positions. She was just like me, trying to break into another field, and she wished that someone would have told her what it was that kept her from getting a job.

So there it was: She was saving me.

This White, affluent, high-level corporate executive who had “made it” was sharing her wisdom with someone less fortunate. She drove 20 minutes from work to meet me at a coffee shop, during her busy Friday, to let me know that the reason I didn’t get the job wasn’t because I didn’t have a stellar resume.

It was because I didn’t say the words that she wanted to hear.

Completely, obliviously unaware that she was participating in the same esoteric practices that keep good potential employees from breaking into new career paths. The lack of self-awareness involved in the conversation was truly difficult to process.

Just wanted to let you know, she explained. Because I’d want someone to do the same for me.

Well, then.

To this day, that same job has been re-posted and re-posted several more times. What floors me about this whole process is how she doesn’t realize that I’m not the one who lost.

I have the skills, the knowledge, the creativity, the experience, and the drive that she should want in a candidate.

What kept me from getting the job was her strict adherence to the old-school interviewing techniques of not asking many follow-up questions. It was her reticence to engage with me as a colleague, and her assumptions that I couldn’t be trusted to know certain fundamental knowledge. It was her disregard for the meaning of what it means to have a Master’s degree.

In any case, I didn’t get the job.

And it was clearly for the best.

Why would I ever want to work for someone who saw me through those kind of eyes?

A Time to Say Good-Bye

When my dad died five years ago, I didn’t have the chance to say good-bye.

Since then, I’ve had a few dreams about him. But nothing that has given me much closure.

Until recently.

The dream went like this: My dad is alive. So is my mom and her new husband, Warren. And everyone is okay with this.

It’s a dream, right? You know how dreams are.

It’s also Thanksgiving and we’re back at our old house in Huber Heights. The table is set up in the living room, which is awkward. But that’s because my youngest sister’s bed is set up in the dining room, and we’re all coping with that.

Fine.

There are lots of chairs around the table, but no one is sitting down. I see that it’s because, apparently, everyone has already eaten except me. I feel hungry. And yet I’m frustrated because there is food all over the table and the floor. I start picking up, scraping bits of food into my hands: lemon wedges, wet and cold Spaghetti-os, cracker crumbs, and rice. Absolutely nothing that looks like anything we would actually eat at Thanksgiving dinner.

No one is helping me. Actually, I can sense that they are annoyed that I’m cleaning up. They’re all talking with each other, laughing, having a great time.

Apparently, my dad and Warren are old pals. I can hear my dad’s laugh above everything else. That cutting HA! that interrupts what someone else is saying, just before saying, “Well, that’s just like what they did down there in…” And he segues into a new story. They’re off to the races.

Ah, whatever, I think as I get up from scraping up food from the carpet. Maybe later.

By the time I get over to where I think my dad is, I see my mom sitting on the sofa, staring out the window, a book on her knees. She’s sad. And she won’t talk about it.

And she’s also pregnant. Like third-trimester pregnant. At sixty-some years old. Her hands rest protectively on her belly.

It’s a dream, right?

Suddenly, she’s gone. The book is still there, conveniently left open to the page that she was reading, marked with underlining. The heading reads “Brain Disorders.”

“It’s her decision,” my dad says. He’s there now, sitting on the couch.

“Why won’t she talk about it with me?” I ask.

“This isn’t about you. This is between her and God.”

“But…” I can’t think of the words. But what I feel is this immense emptiness opening in the fabric of my life. This is isn’t about you. This is between her and God.

Through the window, I see the tree in our backyard tipping over, its roots becoming exposed to the air.

“I don’t want her to make that decision,” I finally say.

“It’s not about you,” he repeats.

He is not somber. He’s actually quite jovial about it. His health has been restored to the last time that I remember him being physically and mentally well, probably around 2007. He tries to help me see the positive possibilities. What if the brain disorder actually benefits the baby? He tries to give me examples of babies with certain brain disorders who were born in the past and who are now astounding doctors. He places his fingers close together and far apart, saying something about the spaces between synapses.

“But we don’t know what type of condition the baby has,” I say.

“You can’t know everything that you want to know,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to trust God.” He is laughing.

Laughing!

The nerve.

“Dad?”

“What?” he says.

I reach over and grip his large hand in mine, pull it to my heart and lock it there so that we are connected from fingers to elbow. This is not something I ever remember doing when he was alive. Our family wasn’t big into hugs and we certainly didn’t hold each other’s hands.

But I don’t have the words anymore.

All I have is the grief of his loss.

The knowing that when this is over, he’ll be gone again. He will slip away for months or years, away into realities that I cannot sense or galaxies where I cannot travel. He’ll be gone again and I’ll still be here.

And I won’t know when I’ll see him again.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel that I’m sending out everything that I want to say but can’t find the words for. All the empty spaces in my life where he should be. All the moments that he should have seen with his grandkids. All the times that I regret I didn’t spend more time with him. All the jealousy that I have for my peers who still have their fathers with them. All the love that I still have for him that has nowhere to go, nowhere to land. And so it swirls inside of me and rises at unexpected moments. Crying in the store over 0.99 cent cinnamon rolls. (I would pay you $1 NOT to eat them!, I had joked.)

My roots are raw and exposed, my world is upside down.

I pull him all the way to me, into my very heartbeat.

And he starts weeping.

He doesn’t deny how I’m feeling. He doesn’t tell me it will all be okay. He stops mentioning God and the possibilities.

He just weeps with me.

We don’t talk anymore. I just hold his arm against me until all the emotions are gone and what remains is stillness. Peace.

Once all these emotions have been released, the truth that remains is that my father is Gone.

And I don’t have to be okay with that.

I’m not angry. Anger is just an emotion that covers a far deeper wound.

No, the anger is gone.

Now, all that’s left is love and pain. And it’s not wrong. It’s not a failure or a flaw. Sometimes, this is just the way that it is.

Sometimes, love just plain hurts. Sometimes life grinds cold Spahetti-os into the carpet, pulls out trees by their roots, and takes away the people that you love the most. And it gives zero shits about how you feel about any of it.

But there is also Peace to be felt in the middle of it.

But first, the pain has to find its way out. It cannot be numbed or ignored or medicated. It needs to be felt and acknowledged, directed and released.

The only way to Peace is through the Pain.

***

I woke up shortly after that, replaying the bits and pieces that I remember over and over. Dreams are often slippery suckers. But I think this one will stay with me for quite a well.

It felt like a chance to show my dad what I’m carrying with me through this life, now that he is gone. But also to assure him that I will be okay, as long as I have someone to hear my stories, as long as there is an outlet for the emotion to flow through me and settle elsewhere. It’s the bottling up that makes grief unbearable.

It felt like a space to catch my breath.

A moment to hold on with all I have.

A moment to decide to let it all go.

It felt like my chance to say good-bye.

When you are far away
I dream on the horizon
And words fail,
and, Yes, I know
that you are with me;
you, my moon, are here with me,
my sun, you are here with me,
with me, with me, with me.
 
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer.

with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you

“Con Te Partiro” Lucio Quarantotto, as sung by Andrea Bocelli

Summer Healing

Child care.

A silent house.

Wildflowers.

A long run.

A quiet mind.

And this.

Summertime.

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