Nine

Dear Charlie,

It’s been three weeks since you turned nine. You have grown taller and your feet have gotten bigger in the past year, yes. But you have grown in ways that most people can’t perceive as well.

The past year has been full of challenges, yes. It’s best to acknowledge that right away. Between trying to do school in a pandemic both virtually and in-person and navigating your mental health with zero in-person options for therapy, it can feel like everything is just a big Debby Downer. But it’s not!

Sure there have been struggles, but I am not here to roll out a list of those. I want you to remember how joy-filled your life is too.

A definite favorite is to do just about anything with our friends, the Visels. Because they were our “bubble” friends during the worst of the pandemic, we spent a lot of pool party time! We also played at their house and ate lots of yummy food prepared by Ben. This year you told me that Trisha is like your Mom 2.0 and you listed Ben as a “safe person” on a form at school.

If we weren’t at the Visels, you were begging your brother and sister to play outside with you. All summer you were in and out of water-related outdoor play. It meant for lots of wet swimsuits and beach towels along with grass clippings all over the house.

Your brain is always moving a million miles a minute. You are always thinking of the next thing to do or to create. Often, you bring your ideas to Grandpa and somehow he can make those ideas into reality in his workshop. The two of you have created a bow (pictured), wooden hatchets, a shield, a sword, a trident, and probably more that I can’t remember.

Oh and you love selling things: art, lemonade, whatever. You haven’t gotten many buyers, but that doesn’t stop you. Related to this: you are terrible at saving money. So bad. As soon as you get money you want to spend it on stuff for Fortnite or take it to 5 Below or buy an app for the ipad or spend it at a garage sale. This past summer we had to hide your money because you were buying literal garbage from the neighborhood garage sales. That didn’t stop you, though. You started hitting up the sales asking what you could have for free. That is when I found you wheeling home a yellow rolling office chair with your bike in the chair: “They asked if my mom would mind. I said you wouldn’t!”

You were mistaken.

But we still have that dang chair.

You love to do things and you do not want to bother with silly things like being clean or picking up after yourself. It seems Dad and I are always trying to get to you to clean up something: your room, the table, yourself. But you just don’t want to be bothered with that. Tidying up is not fun. It is a distraction from what you would rather be doing–the next thing, whatever that may be.

This fall both you and Alice were able to play soccer. You taught her how to kick the ball correctly. She wasn’t as serious about the game as you, but she could at least do all the moves correctly. Recently Little League started up–your first year. You have had two practices so far and you are in love with the game. You are definitely our most athletic kid. Your love of games and competition coupled with your natural ability make it fun to watch you in whatever you play.

You want to do so many things, but it’s hard for you to stay focused to get really good at anything. You want to play the drums someday, so we had you in piano lessons. You loved the lessons, but you had no sit in you to practice or do your theory homework. You want to be able read well, but you don’t have the patience to sit and practice. You want to be a better writer, but practicing makes you insanely mad. Sports are different. You aren’t immediately good, but you will stick with it at practice. You won’t practice at home or with anyone else though if there are other things you could be doing. Recently you were diagnosed as ADHD. In retrospect, this seems like maybe it should have been obvious to us.

Fun fact: If you don’t have to have a shirt on, you don’t. In fact, you are most happy just hanging around in underwear, but since Dad and I insist on pants at the dinner table, you’re preferred clothing is undies and gym shorts…and that’s it. For awhile people wondered if you owned shirts since all my photos of us during the pandemic included you being shirtless.

There is no one quite like you, my Charlie Bird. Your emotions are all BIG. That can mean some explosions, but it also means that you love big too. Navigating those emotions can be really hard for you (and us), but your wit and power of observation make up for it. Your loud chortle when Eddie makes you laugh (like no one else can, by the way), brings a smile to everyone’s face.

I hope you know that you are so so important to us. That we fight every day for you to have a fair shot at school and sports and all the things other kids have. I hope someday you will look back and know that Dad and I did the very best we knew how.

And tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again.

I love you more than you will ever know.

Mom Mom

Upon Turning Six

Dear Miss Alice,

Two weeks ago you turned six! I keep waiting for the newness of having a daughter to wear off, but even after 6 years, I am still amazed that you are ours–that I made you. You bring our family such joy, my little caboose.

Where do I even begin to describe you at age six?

Despite the pandemic and starting elementary school with masks and distancing, you love kindergarten. You come home with stars in your eyes for your teacher, Mr. F. You learn quickly, and sing us the songs you learn for remembering to spell your sight words and for the seasons and the days of the week. You love to count. And, like your mother, you love books and reading, achieving 1st grader-level reading by mid-year.

Your daily specials are a favorite part of your day: art, Spanish, PE, and technology. And lately you have been writing about animals, coming home to tell us about king cobras and hedgehogs.

You like to play school and restaurant and really anything that lets you write things down in one of your little notebooks.

You love Barbie dolls, LOL dolls, animal stuffies, your “Big Nora” squishmellow, and your American Girl (really it’s an Our Generation) doll, Millie. You still love rainbows, unicorns, mermaids, and anything with glitter. You love to do crafts and play dough (and recently kinetic sand). You love to paint and draw.

Another one of your favorite things is to play beauty shop/salon/spa day. Not only do you love when I pamper you and do your nails, but you have amassed quite the collection of play beauty supplies and you love to do my hair and make up and nails too. Maybe someday you will become a stylist!

You also love to play, play, PLAY outside. You will ride your bike around the block over and over and then walk around it. You will play with the neighbor boy and run and jump. This past weekend you made hop scotch on the driveway and begged for a partner until daddy came out. Then you giggled and giggled as he hopped on your teeny tiny squares.

You are still a little bit of a wimp when it comes to getting owies. Last weekend you fell running with Charlie and put a hole in your pants and skinned up your knee. We put a bandaid on it, but you refused to put it in the water in your bath and you hobbled around with a limp for two days. Later, you asked daddy if you should take the bandaid off since it was getting a little ratty looking. Then we heard you in the bathroom giving yourself a pep talk before pulling the bandaid off: “Who’s a strong girl? I’m a strong girl! Who’s a strong girl? I’m a strong girl! Who’s a strong…OUCH! girl? I AM A STRONG GIRL LOOK DADDY I PULLED IT OFF!!!!”

You are silly and cute, but oof…you are also strong-willed. You know what you want and what you don’t want and you are not an easy one to compromise. You have a very “my way or the highway” attitude. You will put yourself to bed in your clothes if you don’t want to brush your teeth and wash up like we ask you to (no brushing/washing = no bedtime books). It is tiresome now, but I hope your strong will stays with you, and you use it to stand up for what is right and just someday.

Just as strong-willed as you can be with us, you are kind and helpful with others. You make friends easily, and are kind regardless if someone wants to be your friend or not. You follow rules and encourage others to do so as well.

And you LOVE to talk. If you’re not talking to one of us, you are chatting with your stuffies and/or dolls. Or singing to yourself. If you’re quiet, you’re either concentrating on an ipad, a show, or you’re sleeping. Bedtime is when you get the most chatty with me. Once we have read books and sung songs and the lights are out, you start telling me all the things on your mind–who got new shoes, who said something about someone else, what teachers said hi to you in the hallway, and how Charlie was mean to you today. It reminds me a lot of what Eddie was like at age six. He doesn’t chat with me as much now that he is a big middle school kid, but he is still comfortable asking me questions and getting my view on things. I hope you will be too as you get older.

You are a hugger and a relationship girl. Each night you are personally offended if one of your brothers does not want both a hug and a kiss from you before bed. You love to snuggle your daddy, me, but mostly soft stuffies. Your favorites are Big Nora (Squishmellow) and pink blankie. Other stuffies you have that you also love include Mr. Sprinkles (a bunny who is a girl, but prefers the title Mister), White Tigey, Tigey, Brown Horsey, and Everest (from Paw Patrol). You still play with your Bitty Baby who you named Babycita as well. Your favorite movies are still the Frozen movies, but Grandma gave you Mulan for your birthday and we have watched that a few times now as well.

You drive us crazy and make us laugh. You bring magic and joy to our family as well as authentic hugs and snuggles. Just tonight, as a protest to brushing your teeth before bed, you announced to me, “fine. I don’t NEED you to put me to bed!” And you went to bed in your clothes and fell promptly asleep without your shade down or your humidifier turned on.

We love you fiercely, my Alice Beans. You will always been the exclamation point on the sentence of our family.

Love,
Momma

One of my biggest struggles during the past year has been keeping a healthy perspective. All the political and social unrest coupled with a global pandemic had (ok, still has) me teetering on the brink of feeling like it’s literally the end of the world. I feel small and helpless and very afraid.

Watching Alice play and make comments about needing masks for her Barbie dolls and baby dolls makes me wonder if bringing children into this world was a good idea. The logical part of my brain says, “stop it. you had no way to know that this was going to happen.” But the very illogical (and loud, I might add) part of my brain constantly beats myself up for having children in a world with no future.

Recently, I watched a video about World War II and a Holocaust survivor mentioned feeling like it was the true end of the world. This was just days after the insurrection at the US capitol–the coverage of which I could not pull myself away from.

I have found that once or twice a day I have to sit quietly and remind myself what humanity has been through without the world ending. The waring and the disease and the famine and the floods. Events that both the survivors and the victims must have truly felt was the end of time.

Truth has been on my mind a lot lately as well. What is truth? Cortney and I watched The Social Dilema on Netflix last night, and while none of the information was that revelatory to me, it did make me see how someone’s social media timeline algorithms coupled with isolation in a pandemic would push them to come to believe certain things as fact and even to get emotionally invested as to leave their homes and act on these beliefs.

I’ve cut a lot out of my social media in the past few months. Some have accused me of creating an echo chamber of liberal views. And perhaps there is truth to that, but I don’t use social media solely for politics or debating issues. And social media is a terrible place to debate those things anyway. So I’ve made two types of cuts: people who post things that are blatantly false and refuse to admit to any fact checked corrections (because I don’t need that toxicity), and people who may not post much, but leave comments that promote misinformation.

I have also cut folks who refuse to see that there are injustices and inequities in all–ALL–systems and institutions in the United States. To be blind to the history and present-day struggle that is going on tells me that you will not be able to love my family (or me) if we are in a group of people who face oppression because you don’t believe that the oppression exists, which means you do not fully see us or value us and our lived truths not to mention those of everyone else in the world. And while I struggle mightily over my faith and what I believe, I know this: Jesus never preached hate or intolerance.

All of this rambling to say that my mental health has not been at it’s best since March 2020. I spend most of my time just trying to stay level. I haven’t felt “normal” or even “good” in months. I’ve felt like I’m either surviving, on the verge of going under, or drowning. The hardest thing for our family (and we are clearly privileged with this being the hardest thing, I know that) is the lack of in-person mental health care. Both Charlie and I struggle, but he needs to be able to sit in a room and be forced to face some things. He needs to be re-evaluated in person.

We have been doing what we can to get by, but just “getting by” wears on you after awhile.

Last week, I was able to bring a glimmer of hope that maybe there will be an end to the isolation, the lack of physical contact, and the uncertainty about when “going virtual” won’t always be looming. Last Wednesday I was given the first dose of the COVID19 vaccine.

As I waited in the line, my mind wondered if this was the beginning of the end of the pandemic, or if we were at the beginning of a long, changed reality that will always involve masks and vaccines and virtual meetings.

The logical part of my brain tells me to be postive.

The other, much LOUDER, anxiety-soaked part of my brain, struggles to stay in it’s place.

So I continue to be careful how much news I watch, who I allow in my social media, and how much quiet time I give my whole brain.

http://sluiternation.com/2021/01/13161/

What I Read: 2020

It’s been a long-standing habit of mine to post all the titles I read each year. And just because I have been a slacker with writing, does not mean I have been a slacker with reading!

My reading goal on Goodreads.com was 50 books. I read 64! Here is my list.

The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend the most. The ones wit (F) are fiction written for adults (not kids), (YA) are young adult lit, (MG) are middle grade books, (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry, (N) are nonfiction, (CB) are children’s books (aimed at an audience younger than middle school), and (C) are comics.

  1. The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students by Jessica Minahan (N)
  2. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (CB)
  3. Dogman: Fetch-22 by Dav Pilkey (C, CB)
  4. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (C)
  5. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (re-read) (YA, P)
  6. A Treasury of Mother Goose by Linda Yeatman (CB)
  7. Journalism by Joe Sacco (C)
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (re-read) (MG)
  9. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (C, N, YA)
  10. Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (YA)
  11. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (C, YA)
  12. Illegal by Eoin Colfer (C MG)
  13. The Scar by Andrea Ferraris (C)
  14. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany (YA)
  15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling (re-read) (MG)
  16. Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angelberger (CB)
  17. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (re-read) (YA)
  18. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (YA C)
  19. Speak the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA C)
  20. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (YA C)
  21. Alpha by Bessora (C)
  22. LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor (C)
  23. Stamped by Jason Reynolds (read twice) (YA N)
  24. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (C)
  25. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (N)
  26. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (YA)
  27. The Year We Fell From Space by AS King (MG)
  28. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (MG)
  29. New Kid by Jerry Craft (MG C)
  30. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi (N)
  31. The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio G. Iturbe (YA)
  32. Halsey Street by Naima Coster (F)
  33. Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (MG)
  34. Becoming by Michelle Obama (N)
  35. This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell (MG YA N)
  36. Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan (MG)
  37. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (YA)
  38. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijemona Oluo (N)
  39. I Crawl Through It by AS King (YA)
  40. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (YA)
  41. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (YA)
  42. Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (MG)
  43. Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (YA)
  44. We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (YA)
  45. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (re-read) (MG)
  46. The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham (N)
  47. We Want to do More Than Survive by Bettina L. Love (N)
  48. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (YA)
  49. I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina (YA C)
  50. Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (MG)
  51. Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows (CB)
  52. Engaging Students in Disciplinary Literacy:K-6 by Cynthia H. Brock (N)
  53. Internment by Samira Ahmed (YA)
  54. Ivy and Bean Take Care of the Babysitter by Annie Barrows (CB)
  55. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (YA)
  56. Best Practices in Writing Instruction by Steve Graham (N)
  57. Ivy and Bean Break the Fossil Record by Annie Barrows (CB)
  58. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (YA)
  59. Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance by Annie Barrows (CB)
  60. Ivy and Bean Bound to Be Bad by Annie Barrows (CB)
  61. Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity and Pedagogy by April Baker-Bell (N)
  62. Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that Had to Go! by Annie Barrows (CB)
  63. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (MG)
  64. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (re-read) (CB)

You can probably tell a few things by this list:

First, I took a grad class a year ago that focused on refugee and immigrant stories as told in comics/graphic novels.

Second, I took a Multicultural YA Lit grad course in the fall.

Third, my own children got hooked on different book series for our bedtime reading.

Looking back, I personally chose only 19 of these–fewer than half–to read on my own. The rest were either chosen for me, I had to teach, or my kids requested them as read alouds.

I set my 2021 reading goal for 65 books and I am already on my second book (if you don’t count the Ivy & Bean title that Alice and I finished), so I would say that’s a pretty good start for it being just the first week of the new year!

Happy reading!

First read of 2021–SO GOOD.
Current read by a fave author

2020 in Review

It’s been four months since I published anything here. In fact, I was halfway through a post about going to the cottage with my parents in August when I saved and closed and never came back.

This semester has been grueling to say the least. In fact, I learned what my limits are for committing to things…and then I ran right past those limits. Do not recommend.

The year didn’t start as a dumpster fire though.

Charlie started piano lessons this year. He was really enjoying it, and then the world stopped. He didn’t want to do them virtually, so we waited until it was safe to go back. Then Cortney decided since he wouldn’t be bowling league this year (pandemic, you know), he would learn to play the electric guitar. So he and Charlie had back to back piano then guitar lessons. Just this month, Charlie was experiencing quite a bit of stress and decided to take a “pause” from piano until life wasn’t quite so overwhelming.

Eddie finished cub scouts this year. In February he “crossed over” from cub scout to, well, not much because he decided he didn’t want to continue on to Boys Scouts at this time. Honestly, that worked out because, well, pandemic. But we are super proud of him! He started as a Tiger cub in first grade and saw it through all the way to Arrow of Light.

Cortney recently accused me of choosing a photo of us where I looked cute and he looked gumpy, so here is one where he looks super hot and I look like a troll. Ha! At the beginning of the year, Cortney planned and arranged a sitter for us to go out on a date once a month from January through May–until school got out. This was our February date where we shopped for new bikes for Alice and Charlie’s birthdays, had dinner, and then hit up Coppercraft Distillery for drinks. That was the last time we went out. Life pretty much got cancelled after this.

Just before the world shut down in March, this kid went and turned five! Being five is such a fun time, and I felt bad that preschool and kindergarten have been different due to COVID, but she doesn’t know any different. She has been a sparkle of glittery rainbow sunshine in our lives. When she is not screaming at her older brothers.

The very next week, Charlie Bird turned eight. Eight is great! In fact, his birthday was his and his siblings’ last day of school due to COVID. My district cancelled school starting that day. So I had time to bake those Batman cupcakes!

Eddie also won the Pinewood Derby (cub scouts) for one last time. He took a trophy home every single year!

My paternal grandfather also died in March just as the pandemic was beginning to shut things down. It was one of the first funerals that couldn’t be held inside, which was Ok because my grandpa wanted a graveside funeral anyway. No one was wearing masks outside of buildings, but we were all social distancing. It was weird to not hug my family–especially my dad.

I turned forty-two at the end of March, which was only just the beginning of quarantine.

And so began the age of Zoom. We all learned how to use Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, BlueJeans, Teams, and whatever other platform for video conferencing. With no answers as to an end to the isolation, many times we logged out of these conferences in tears wishing to connect in-person.

Cortney and I decide that the best way for us to survive quarantine is to get a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing: New Horizons…but not tell the kids about it. So we would play on the TV after they went to bed, or lock ourselves in our room while they were awake. This secret lasted until Labor Day when two things happened. 1) Alice saw it on the charger and when it was on TV informed her brothers that “we have one of those behind the upstairs TV,” and 2) Eddie had been saving for a Switch Lite since his birthday in June, but they had always been sold out. I saw one on Target’s website and ordered it for me (he paid us in advance) and it arrived the same day the kids asked whether or not we had a secret Switch. We were like, “What? Yes, but LOOK!”

As soon as the weather hinted at being warm enough, we tried to get outside as much as possible. Alice and Charlie had new bikes and, well, we were incredibly sick of being on top of each other in the house. The fresh air and exercise was exactly what we needed each day!

The spring was really hard on my mental health (and that of my family, but I can only speak for myself here). I got incredibly depressed and felt very lost and purposeless once my grad class wrapped up in April. We had switched to a sort of virtual holding pattern for school where each week teachers posted work for students to do, but if they didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to hurt their grade. This ended up feeling like a struggle to keep my own kids doing something academic each day, but it was torture as a teacher. We didn’t have required meetings, so I wasn’t even seeing my students via video conferencing. I started to lament the fact that the libraries had all closed and my students had nothing to read. I didn’t understand how others could suddenly read all the things or write all the things or create all the things when I couldn’t hardly get out of bed. There felt like there was no reason.

Then YOU all showed up. When I stated on social media that the only way my students could all have books was they were gifted, you gifted them. You paid for postage and bought books. I wrapped each book carefully, wrote a personal note for each one, and mailed them out.

Working from home all together had some benefits, I suppose.

I started a little hobby during all this isolation: crafting cocktails. I started by looking up recipes, but ended up making them my own way. It’s been pretty fun!

Alice finished preschool! She loved being in the Fish Room with Mrs. Y. It was so sad that it had to finish virtually, but we were super blessed to have our last kid have such a fun year.

Charlie finished 2nd grade and Eddie completed 5th grade. They were able to pick up their things from their desks/lockers at the end of May.

Eddie officially “graduated” from elementary school in June. We celebrated with…dinner at home, of course. But we also bought him a watch since being a middle schooler comes with new responsibilities.

We are rule followers. The only person to leave our house from March-June was Cortney. And even that wasn’t super often since he mainly worked from home and we ordered our groceries via Shipt. We had one other family we decided to “bubble” with. We spent a few nights chatting with them–both of us disclosing every place any of us had been, and we decided to connect our bubbles. BEST. DECISCION. EVER. Thanks to them, we were able to have fun with friends during the summer. Lots of pool party fun.

Black Lives Matter.

Cortney and I had planned to spend our 15th anniversary in Las Vegas since I was confirmed to present at the Summit on Young Adult Literature at UNLV. That did not happen, because COVID. I still presented, but from our bedroom.

June means PRIDE!

This is the photo Cortney says I look cute in and he does not. I blame the pandemic hair and fully shaved face he is rocking. But he is still cute. And this was our 15th anniversary date–a boat ride on his brother’s boat complete with dinner and drinks put together by our sister-in-law. We had not been on a date since February. And we have not been on a date since this evening.

My first baby turned eleven this summer. The change from elementary to middle school kid floors me. He is so much more grown up even now from this summer. There are definitely hints of surly tween that surfaces, but overall, I am really enjoying who this kid is becoming. He makes me happy.

Again, so thankful to be blessed with friends who could be in our bubble with us. Our summer was full of fun and laughter because of them!

We got rid of the Saturn and upgraded my ride to a Traverse named Trevor.

Again, thankful for friends who quarantine and then invite us to socially distance outside so the kids can swim and explore the lake they happen to live on. This was July and also the last time I saw this friend due to COVID.

Oh, and we cannot forget about all of Charlie’s business endeavors this summer. This child did everything from the classic lemonade stand to trying to sell art he and his sister create and bracelets they made. He created an imaginary Bird Blog where he would pretend to take photos of birds around the subdivision and write about them on an imaginarily blog. He created a real newspaper called The Good News that he would draw and write and then run copies of on our printer. He then delivered it to all the neighbors. They loved it!

Oh and we did go up north to Pentwater with my parents. As you can probably tell from this photo, the cottage is very socially distanced from all the things. We interacted with no one except each other for the three days we were away.

The end of summer brought new, different beginnings. Alice started Kindergarten in the Zebra Room at the elementary school where Charlie goes to school, and where Eddie used to go to school. She LOVES being a school kid!

Charlie started the 3rd grade. There are many, many things I could write about in regards to Charlie and school and mental health, but they are all his stories, not mine, to tell.

Eddie started middle school this year! This has been a much bigger change than any of us anticipated. It’s not just a change of school buildings; it’s taking 6 classes with 6 teachers instead of one teacher and a different special each day. It’s homework. It’s real grades. It’s band and learning the trombone. It’s making new friends. It’s learning time management. Eddie has had some missteps, but overall he is really doing a great job with this transition from “big kid” to “tween kid”.

As I mentioned, Cortney started guitar lessons this summer. At first he borrowed a guitar and amp from my younger brother to start and make sure it was something he really wanted to do. He loves learning guitar, so this fall he bought his own Les Paul and amp. It’s so fun to hear him practice familiar songs!

Setting up my classroom was a bit different this school year. My district started with two weeks of remote learning before going in-person. Normally my classroom is a place of collaboration and group work. Not so, this year. I had to spread out the desks in rows, we masked up, and we made do. It’s not ideal, but we all agree that being in-person is much better for learning than being remote–which is what we are currently doing.

This fall we had two soccer players in the house. Even with the mask rules, Charlie and Alice were able to have their seasons. It was SO good for both of them. It was Alice’s first season and while she may not be super competitive, she had a lot of fun learning the game. Charlie loved getting better and playing to win! He is a soccer player like his dad and uncle and Papa!

Charlie also took an interest in the kitchen this year. He has always been my little baking helper, but this school year he started taking home cookbooks from the school library. This is when he made meatballs for our spaghetti dinner. He also made different pizzas. Over break he brought home a “mayonnaise” cookbook. I admit I haven’t even cracked that one open because…ew.

Halloween was different this year, of course. For one it was a beautiful day/evening and it was a Saturday. But we couldn’t gather together at Cortney’s mom’s house like we usually do. The kids still did a little trick or treating with masks on and to houses that had “take your own” style candy bags set up. Eddie was Link from The Legend of Zelda, Charlie was Robin Hood, and Alice was Elsa…again. This could be the last year all three dress up. I know we are on borrowed time now with Eddie.

This semester I overcommitted myself in a HUGE way. Of course teaching middle school during a pandemic is its own set of crazy, but on top of that I took two grad courses (instead of the one I usually take per semester) and taught an undergrad course (all online). So I had around 100 8th graders and 21 undergrads. Plus I had my own coursework for two classes. While I am grateful that having the assistantship Fall semester allowed me to knock three requirements off of my PhD program rather than just one, I will NOT do that again. I wasn’t able to give my best self to anything, and more often than not I felt like a giant failure to myself and those around me. I did get A’s in both of my grad courses (although I do feel that both my professors were being generous), and all of my undergrads passed my course. My 8th graders struggled when we switched to remote learning before Thanksgiving, and their struggles caused me a lot of distress as a teacher wanted to give them the best chances and opportunities for success. Luckily, my friends had my back. My BFF sent me the mug in the photo above because she is the best, duh. And I survived the semester!

Every November, just before Thanksgiving, I hop a plane (or sometimes drive) to wherever the annual NCTE and ALAN conferences are being held. I’ve been to Atlanta (2016), St. Louis (2017), Houston (2018), and Baltimore (2019). This year it was supposed to be in Denver, so Cortney and I had arranged for us to both go since his best friend lives in Denver and we had never been there before. We were going to be gone for almost a week! It was going to be so fun! He could hang out with Mat, I would present and do my conference things, and we would also have time to double-date and see the sights with Mat and Shawna. Then COVID cancelled that too. While I didn’t do NCTE this year (it was virtual, but I chose not to spend the money or time for that), I still attended the ALAN conference virtually. My kids were home doing remote learning, and we had the genius idea to have the upstairs floors ripped out and replaced. So Cortney took Alice to his office and set her up away from anyone else to do kindergarten there. Eddie set up shop in the boys’ room. Charlie and I shared the toy/family room. It was…interesting.

Speaking of those new floors…they turned out GREAT! The entire upstairs (except for the bathroom) is this darkish wood vinyl. The only drawback we have found is how LOUD things are when you drop them now and how many crumbs we see everywhere. We also ordered new living room furniture, but with the pandemic, it won’t be here until February or March.

Just like everything this year, Thanksgiving was different too. In a normal year, we would have gone to Cortney’s mom and step-dad’s house with his siblings and their spouses and kids. Then in the evening we would have stopped at my parents’ house where my brothers and their wives and kids would be and play Bingo. None of that happened this year. Instead, I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, and we had way too much food, but it was nice. We missed family, and would rather have been together, but this didn’t suck.

My sweetie turned forty-two in December. This is the first year I neglected to blog his birthday. I neglected a lot of stuff this past semester. Even though I couldn’t take him out, I made him brownies from scratch and we sang and he got gifts and I think he had a good day. I hope so because he deserves it!

The advent season was, you guessed it, different too. Usually Alice and I join the other aunts and girl cousins on Cort’s side to have a baking day with Cortney’s mom. And there is typically a Saturday or Sunday in December where my side of the family gets together at my parents’ house to celebrate Cortney and our nephew Jack’s birthdays and decorate Christmas cookies. None of those things could happen as usual. Instead, Cortney’s mom had each family over individually to bake some treats, and I sucked it up and made cut-out Christmas cookies at home with just my kids (I hate making these cookies). My mom came over to sample them on her own. I also baked two treats each day the week of Christmas leading up to Christmas Eve to make up for the lack of treats they kids would have at Christmas parties with their grandparents that would not take place.

And of course, celebrating Christmas was much quieter and different this year. I cried three times on Christmas Eve watching my nephews and nieces opening their gifts from us via Marco Polo. We watched Elf as a family–the first time for all of us. We were able to spend some time with my parents without my brothers and their families (my mom hosted all three families individually with the option to mask if we wanted).

And last night we said goodbye to 2020.

In 2021 I hope to make better, healthier choices for both my mental and physical well-being.

I hope to go on a date or three with my husband.

I hope we all get the vaccine.

I hope to finish my PhD coursework and move on to preparing for my comprehensive exams.

I hope to have a meal with all my siblings and their families.

I hope to hug my brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews and parents and parents-in-law.

I hope to find a better way for Charlie.

I hope to see my best friend in person.

I hope to hug Cortney’s Gram.

I hope to leave Michigan safely.

I hope YOU have more good than poop in 2021.

Life in the Time of Corona

We have been in this quarantine stage now for almost four months. Today is Day 114 of being in “lock down.”

It’s weird that I haven’t written about it over here at all. I mean, it’s a pretty historical event, I suppose–a world-wide pandemic. I’ve written about it in my journal, but most of that is frustration-venting that I don’t care to put here.

I don’t know why Day 114 is the day I thought, “I should probably write some thoughts on the old blog,” but here we are.

The pandemic is real.

It seems that there are people out there who are bored or so against certain politicians that they think it’s all made up. I’m not sure how to even talk to those people. People are DYING of this virus that does not have a cure. When we were doing distance learning, my students’ parents had COVID19. I have friends who have written accounts of what it was like to have the virus. There have been famous people who have had it and recovered, and those who have died.

It’s super real. It’s super contagious. And our family has spent 114 days following the restriction and safety guidelines that the CDC and disease specialists have recommended.

Cortney was working from home from March until the end of May. He is the only person who goes out in public in our house. Even at work, he takes his temperature (along with everyone else there) every day, stays in his office with the door closed, has tape on his office floor if someone needs to come in, and washes his hands and uses hand sanitizer every time he leaves his office.

He wears his mask when we send him to Sam’s Club or the post office or bank. Really the only places he goes other than work.

The only “public” place I have been to is the greenhouse to buy my flowers (where I masked up and stayed away from people and was outside).

I took Alice to the dentist, doctor, and salon all where we were given masks (even though we had our own), our temperature was taken, we were asked a bunch of questions, and all staff had masks and socially distanced where possible.

I also got my own hair cut–this was the only questionable experience I had due to lack of masks, but everyone was pretty socially distanced.

The kids and I just don’t leave the property during the week unless we go see Grandma and Grandpa, who are in our “bubble.” We have one other family in our “bubble” as well who have been quarantine rock stars as well. This has allowed the kids to have playmates–and for us to have other adults to interact with.

It’s hard. I have never kept it a secret that I am not good at being a stay-at-home mom and I’ve been doing it (crappily) for 114 days. The kids have not had play dates or camps or rec sports. There have been no trips to the library, donut shop, beach, splash pad, or park. I have not had any days alone–which is a form of self-care for my anxiety.

We have a routine, of course, that works…well…we survive each day. The boys get up and handle their own breakfast. Alice and I usually get up around 9am and I get her breakfast and my coffee.

At 10am, computer and tablet screens are allowed, so the boys disappear for about 90 minutes. It’s generally the quietest, most peaceful time of the day if I am honest.

Lunch happens.

From 1pm-3pm we allow zero screens. This is the worst part of the day. Unless it’s raining or dangerously hot out–then I allow a movie and then it’s usually pretty quiet.

At 3pm kids have a snack and can get back on screens, but usually there is some sort of argument over something non-screen-related.

Cortney gets home from work around 5pm.

I have a To Do list for myself each day that may or may not get done depending on how many disputes I have to breakup.

I do try to find time to read a book each day. And the most awesome part of quarantine is that back in March, before they were out of stock everywhere, Cortney and I splurged on a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing: New Horizons and have kept it a secret from the kids. We play after they go to bed at night or take turns locking ourselves in our bedroom on the weekends to play.

The kids have absolutely no idea.

Since I haven’t had a lengthy commute to work or grad school since March, we have saved a ton on gas. I think I have put gas in my car 4 times in 4 months?

The kids have played more games and become more inventive in their play. I don’t think they argue any less than before quarantine. In fact, maybe they argue more, but that’s just because they are rarely away from each other.

Some people have binge-watched movie and shows, but not me. I can’t do that with the kids around and we play the Switch after bedtime.

Some people have taken up new hobbies. I started making fun cocktails. I also can’t stop eating this pub mix that Sam’s Club sells. So my newfound hobbies are maybe not the healthiest.

Some people have cleaned out and organized their closets and cupboards. I keep making lists of things to clean out and organize, but every time I start to take stuff out, a kid wants to claim it and then it ends up in their room and not out of my house. Just yesterday I cleaned everything out of my car and Alice claimed the sunglasses (I need prescription now), and Charlie called dibs on a broken thing that used to hold my registration and proof of insurance.

I try not to think more than a week ahead because honestly, going back to school is terrifying to me on many levels.

We have done so well keeping our family in a bubble and the idea of putting me in a middle school, Eddie in a middle school, and Alice and Charlie in an elementary school…AND all three kids on school buses…is too much for my brain. I just don’t see it being safe.

Keeping my kids home to do distance learning won’t be an option if I am required to be at school teaching.

All four of us doing distance learning is absolutely not possible either. I can’t guide three kids–two of whom are starting brand new schools–through new content while also teaching 8th grade English full time.

Every possibility gives me anxiety.

And there is an increase in positive cases every day. Michigan is in Phase 4 currently. We were on track to be in Phase 5 by the 4th of July, but people haven’t been following mask or social distance recommendations, so we are still in Phase 4. If we fall to Phase 3, we won’t be in person at school.

This is our life right now: trying to make the best of this summer without thinking too hard about what will come in the next month as far as school.

Double Aces

Dear Eddie,

You are eleven!

I think I start each of your birthday letters this way, but it’s always amazing to me how much you have grown and how far you have come since my last letter. Eleven has proven to be a BIG deal.

This year you finished cub scouts, elementary school, swimming lessons (that you didn’t even have to actually go to because Coronavirus), and all things “little kid”.

You got a real watch for elementary graduation, had to suffer through the “sex” talk given by your awkward, but well-meaning mother, and committed to becoming a trombone player in middle school.

Middle school!

You are a mix of excited and nervous for middle school, and if I am honest, I am too. I am super excited for you to try new things like band and art classes that are not just once-a-week specials like in middle school. I think you will enjoy making new friends, having a variety of teachers and classes, and finding activities that you want to be a part of outside of the school day since you love being social and you love to learn. I also happen to know some of the staff at your middle school and know that you will have some great learning opportunities.

I have anxiety for you too. Middle school is a tough time of your life even when school goes smoothly. You are growing up and your body is pretty objective about what it has to do: grow hair and smell bad–among other things.

But your brain and heart are more subjective. You will lose childhood friends as you realize you aren’t actually interested in the same things. Those losses will hurt and confuse you. You have already started noticing girls, but it’s going to get a little out of hand in the next few years, as in you will find yourself thinking about about them, being confused by them, and being hurt by them.

Your brain will tell you to do one thing, your heart another, and your body will do whatever it wants. That will confuse and hurt you too.

You will hurt others with your words or lack of words.

You will probably make your mother cry more than once.

You and I are already noticing it. In the past few months you have told me, “I don’t know why I acted like that. I am sorry.” We talk it out, hug it out, and love each other through it.

You are almost as tall as I am, your feet are larger than mine, bu you are still the kindhearted, helpful, little bit naive kid you’ve always been. I know we have to nurture those traits in you and remind both of us of them when adolescence steals your sense and joy.

I told you as I tucked you in on your birthday that I like you even more now than I did that very first day, and it’s true. We struggled when you were a newborn to find our way together. But now we have great conversations, enjoy reading together, and both laugh at the word “nut”.

I’ve always been a bit of an 11-year old boy, and you’ve always had a bit of an old soul. We make a really good team.

We can also annoy the shit out of each other, but that’s part of loving someone with all your being, right?

I hope you always remember that you are my best Eddie, my rainbow baby, my Hufflepuff who wishes he was a Gryffindor, my partner is ridiculousness.

The next few years are going to have some rough times, but it is my goal to also make space to create fun, joyful memories together too.

I love you, Eddie. I am so very proud of the kid you are and the young adult you are growing up to be.

Love you forever and ever,

Mom

15 Rearranged

The plan was to celebrate in Las Vegas.

In our fifteen years of marriage, Cortney and I have only been on three trips together and they were all in our first three years of marriage: our honeymoon when we drove to Myrtle Beach and stayed in the shadiest motel ever (I really need to write that story), our first year anniversary trip to Seattle to see the Pacific Ocean and the birthplace of grunge, and a road trip after our second anniversary to Montana for a wedding.

We have also driven to the state of New York a couple times to see friends and go on wine tours.

These were all fun trips, but they were also all pre-children.

Eddie was born in 2009 and we haven’t gone away–other than a quick night in Chicago–since.

I was given the opportunity to present at UNLV just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Vegas strip right before our 15th wedding anniversary. We found family members willing to take our children for multiple days. It was perfect.

You know what happened next, Coronavirus. Life cancelled.

As the date of our anniversary got closer, I realized we had no plans. None. So I turned to the one person I knew was an expert in creative outings: my sister-in-law, Liz. She seriously thinks of everything when it comes to planning fun, so I knew she wouldn’t disappoint.

She texted me back less than 10 minutes after my help plea with a plan: they have a boat they would let Cortney drive and she would pack us a romantic picnic dinner.

There was a cooler with a cocktail for me and beer for Cortney and champagne for both of us. There were champagne flutes. There was a meat and cheese board. There were delicious sandwiches, chips, and pasta salad. She packed a bag with cozy blankets in case it was chilly and we wanted to snuggle.

It was perfect. I picked up dessert from the restaurant we have eaten at on our anniversary every single year (they are only doing take-out orders right now, so going there for dinner was out).

But best of all, Cortney got to take his lady out on the Big Lake.

It wasn’t Vegas, but it was Cortney’s happy place: Lake Michigan in a boat on the most perfect evening we have had yet this summer.

We are heading into this next year of marriage in a different place than we have been in before. I’m not sure how to explain it. I see it in how Cortney comes upstairs less stressed out each Sunday after paying the weekly bills and going over the budget. I can tell how he smiles at me from across the patio table at our friends’ pool. I notice it as we plan and execute each home improvement project.

Maybe it’s because we are not newlyweds or new parents anymore. We’ve settled in, but not in a depressing way. It’s comforting and secure. It’s warm and stable.

Sure 2020 has been a string of disappointing cancellations of trips and opportunities for all five of us, and yes, there has been bickering among all of us since three months is a long time to be together constantly, but it feels like things are also stronger and certain even in a time of uncertainty and what-ifs.

What I know is that we have gotten through worse together, and this time we have a secret Switch with Animal Crossing that the kids know nothing about.

Boo-ya.

I love you, Cortney.

Let’s get a boat.

An Odd Ending

The school year is officially over for all four of us who are academically involved in schooling.

It was…odd.

First, Alice finished pre-school with a drive-thru celebration and one final Zoom with her teachers and her Fish Room Friends.

Certificate that proves she did it!

Honestly, I think Cortney, all the grandparents, and I were more bummed about not getting the cute little pre-school “graduation” celebration than she was. She didn’t know what normally happens. She was all-caps THRILLED to drive-thru the back parking lot and see her teachers and get her art projects and certificate.

This kid is ready for Kindergarten!

I was next. My classes unceremoniously ended on May 29. We did a drive-thru exchange where kids could pick up locker stuff and their yearbook and/or drop off any school/teacher stuff. I volunteered to help at one of the two times we did this. It was fun to see some of my students, but it definitely did not make up for our regular last week of school fun.

The boys ended their school year on Friday, June 5, although to be fair we were pretty much done with school work on May 29. They did a little field day and had some final zoom moments, but they had been done.

On the 5th, however, they put a fork in it. Their elementary school had a drive through summer send off first for 5th grade advancement, and then for the whole school. Well, of course we had to drive through twice–once for each kid!

The 5th grade t-shirt. Also…remember when he was just born? Sigh.
and the back of the shirt
Cars driving through with staff cheering and holding signs. 5th graders got their certificate of advancement and a treat from the PTO
He ate the tassel before realizing his name was on it!
Best 5th grade teacher ever!

Of course we had to drive through a second time so Charlie could sit in the front and be celebrated. It’s only fair. But first I got a couple selfies–one with the newly minted 3rd grader, and one with the rising Kindergartner.

Ready for summer! Then 3rd grade! Look out Upper-El!
Along for the ride…and getting a sneak peek at the awesome staff at her future elementary school!

It wasn’t the 5th grade “graduation” that is normally held, but I asked family and friends to send Eddie a note in the mail and they did NOT disappoint! He got dozens of cards throughout the week, and said, “I am still sad that 5th grade didn’t go how it was supposed to, but this probably wouldn’t have happened if it did, so I am pretty happy.”

We also had a tiny celebration at home that evening.

He picked pizza for dinner and asked to make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate chips and homemade chocolate ice cream with me. So we did. And then topped it with chocolate syrup.

That is a LOT of chocolate!

We also gave him a watch as a “graduation” gift. I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be. We wanted it to be something that showed he was growing up and becoming more responsible.

He loved it.

And so, the 2019-2020 school year is over. Summer is here.

Hopelessness

The hopelessness is setting in.

For two months I’ve tried to be optimistic, but we face disappointment after disappointment.

The first month we held onto the hope that school would re-open and life would go back to “normal.” We hoped our government leaders would act quickly with plans to take care of people, prevent more deaths, and get a solution in the works.

As Stay-at-Home orders were extended, we tried to stay positive with Zoom meetings and creating silly videos to send to friends. We tried to find new ways to make happy moments.

As the third month of this has started, I’m losing all hope.

Last night Eddie wept–again, for the third time this week–about the loss of 5th grade. His brain trying to wrap around all that he is losing out on.

Charlie has gotten practically manic. He needs recess and gym class and sports and friends. His mood swings have gotten almost unbearable. He needs his therapist, but won’t do teletherapy because, like the rest of us, he is burnt out on screen chatting.

Alice misses other people and playing with kids–and girls–her own age. She misses teachers and daycare. She is acting out with her voice–so much yelling and screaming and crying. What is really happening is she is grasping to control her world.

And I am tying to teach. Ha.

This is not teaching. This is some weird data output/input job. Each Sunday night I put out a video–that I hope will engage students and humanize it all by seeing me–to explain the week’s assignment. All week I check in to grade work as it comes in and make comments hoping to keep kids coming back to the work.

Each week has less turned in.

One class of 30 students had only three assignments done as of today (Friday).

And the disappointments and uncertainty keep rolling in.

It would be one thing if we could say, “just get through this, and in the fall we will be back to school as usual.”

But everything is pointing to no, no it won’t. The Michigan Education Association sent out a survey about teaching opinions about what going back to school will look like: more distance learning, more sanitation, staggered schedules, social distancing, and smaller class sizes were all topics.

But guess what–Michigan’s education budget is funded almost entirely by sales tax. Back during the recession at the end of GW Bush’s presidency and the beginning of Obama’s–Michigan’s biggest cuts to the education budget was 7%. Due to COVID19 affecting the closing of our economy, we are currently looking at a possible 20-25% budget cut.

That does not equal more staff for smaller classes. Those numbers say loss of programs (fine arts, electives, specials), staff, and extracurriculars.

One question asked if the COVID19 situation made us consider leaving the profession. I answered “no,” but wrote in the comments that leaving the profession is not a viable option for me, but I am incredibly unhappy because this is not best practice. This is NOT teaching.

Right now, I am supposed to be working on a presentation that I will be giving via Zoom for a conference that was supposed to be held at UNLV in June. Everything I have to share is for in-person learning. I feel like withdrawing from the conference.

Who can use in-person professional development right now? No one.

I keep seeing so many posts about teachers and educators being heroes–how we have McGuyver-ed this distance learning thing while on a sinking ship and somehow got it to work. How we are inspiring.

I feel like NONE of those things. I feel like we created a really cute band-aid to try to keep a severed limb attached. Amputation is going to be necessary, but we are pretending the My Little Pony glitter band-aid we put on it is heroic and working.

Don’t get me wrong–teachers are working so hard. Probably harder now than when we are in school. I like the Apollo 13 comparison. We are trying to create a fix mid-flight so we can land this school year safely. But Apollo 13 could never fly again–and we can’t fly this same plan in the fall.

What do we do?

I keep promising Alice and Charlie that next year will be awesome. She will be in Kindergarten and he will be in 3rd grade! They will be in the same school, riding the bus together! Charlie will be an upper-el kid with a new playground!

But will they?

I tell Eddie that middle school will be so great! So many new opportunities and friends to be made! And band!

But will those things be available?

And what about me? What about my students?

What can we do but sit and watch leadership argue and put their political party before the people they are supposed to work for? Political and monetary gain before lives?

The “American Individualism” that people are so proud of is literally killing our country.

What can we even do?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...