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,


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.


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.


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?


I turned 42 just over a week ago.

Having a birthday right now is weird. It was weird.

But it wasn’t bad. I expected to be lonely and sad. I never take my birthday off from work because I like being around people telling me happy birthday. I like being celebrated.

My mom and Cortney did a great job of making me feel very celebrated upon turning 42 years old this year despite all the social distancing.

My mom showed up in our front yard in the morning waving and smiling like the wonderful woman she is. She had a bag of “birthday snacks” for me and wanted to yell HAPPY BIRTHDAY from the yard. I love that she surprised me AND that she was a goof while she did it.

I got out of the house and drove to our local Bigby to get a birthday latte by way of drive thru.

It was sunny and lovely.

Cortney gave me the new bookshop Lego set I have been eyeing.

(I almost have it finished already!)

We ordered pizza.

Cortney had a cake for me, so there was singing and blowing out of candles.

There was happiness and joy and after the kids went to bed, Cortney and I played Animal Crossing on our Nintendo Switch (that our kids don’t even know we have because we haven’t told them because we need fun too!) and did Legos.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the day was so great. I underestimate my family sometimes.

Of course I would have liked to go on the date night Cortney had planned. I would have loved to spend the evening with friends and drinks and good food and lots of laughter.

But this was good too.

No. It was perfect.

The Walking Man

My paternal grandfather, Philo Clyde Riemersma, died last week. My dad asked me to write something to read at the funeral–which was graveside with a small number of people who stood far apart from each other. It was odd, but also Ok. My grandfather had told my dad after my grandmother passed away last year that he didn’t want a funeral. “Just put me in the ground next to Ortha and be done with it,” he said.

So that is what we did. But we made sure he had his military send off as well. Below is what I wrote and read at his funeral.

my grandpa and grandma as seniors in high school

My grandpa was famous. Sort of.

In high school a classmate was talking to someone about the “old guy with a stick” that walked all over town picking up cans and other things. I butted into her conversation to ask, “wait. Was this old guy about yay high? Glasses? Walked like this with a stick that was more for picking through stuff than for walking?” “YES!” she said, “have you seen him too?” Me, “every Sunday. That’s my grandpa!” “You’re grandpa is The Walking Man?”

Yup. My Grandpa is the Walking Man.

He walked all the time. He had routes he would take for the best “treasure hunting.”

 My cousin, Lesly, reminded me that he never came home from these walks empty-handed. When he would see you, he would point his finger at you and then disappear to the basement or garage and come back to hand you something he found on his walk that he thought you might have a use for. Everything else ended up in his basement or garage or the barn. We all joked a lot over the years about grandpa’s immense collection of “treasures,” but it was pretty handy to have someone who seemed to have at least one of everything. My brother Chris was always so impressed with grandpa’s vast amount of junk, that one year for Christmas, my grandpa filled up a box with junk, wrapped it in Christmas paper, and gave it to Chris. We all laughed, but Chris LOVED it. When Chris got older, he and his buddy always knew they could ride their bikes to grandpa and grandma’s house if they couldn’t find a part for a go kart or something.

But walking was not my grandpa’s only mode of transportation. In fact, he was a big fan of anything with an engine or motor. You see, my grandpa was a tinkerer. My grandparents had a one-stall garage, but no one ever parked in it because there was always something in there on cinder blocks. His barn was packed with cars and tractors all in varying stages of assembly. Don’t even ask my dad how many tires my grandpa had.

But he didn’t just collect parts (although it seemed that way sometimes). He did actually finish things too. My cousin Molly remembers grandpa’s big black Ford Galaxy and how he showed up to her parents’ house and took her and her family for a ride down South Shore Drive. 

Grandpa and Grandma’s wedding photo

He was always willing to give a ride, and it didn’t have to be in one of his fancy cars. He gave Lesly rides on the lawn mower around the yard, and my brothers and I all remember riding in his various trucks. Interestingly, when I asked them about those rides we all had the exact same memory: asking grandpa how to put the seat belt on since we couldn’t find it and him telling us, “ya can’t. Aren’t any.” While he could do a lot of things, a perfectionist he was not. He wanted something to work correctly. How it looked was absolutely not important.

But my grandpa DID value hard work. He was not one to shy away from a tough job. He enjoyed working on cars and other things with a motor or engine, but he also puttered around doing every odd job imaginable. After college, my grandparents rented me the house they owned next door to theirs. It needed work before I could move in and my grandpa got right to work next to my dad and me. He redid some plumbing, put in a fridge and stove, and even made me a flower box to put in the front. He mowed my lawn, and fixed drippy faucets. And he did it all in too-short cut off jean shorts much to my grandmother’s chagrin.

When I got married and moved into my current house, Cortney and I decided to put a cement pad down in the back as a patio. My grandpa and dad showed up with a small cement mixer. My 80-something grandfather spent hours mixing cement while my dad took loads to the back of our house with his Kubota tractor. Another time, my brother Chris wanted to assemble a large swing set in the back of his house in Grand Rapids. My dad and grandpa showed up to help. There was my almost 90-year old grandfather again: sitting on the roof of the swingset putting pieces together like he was in his 20’s or something. All that hard work is probably why my brother Mike remembers his handshake as being so strong… ”like shaking hands with a vice,” he told me. And Lesly remembered that his hands always smelled like comet cleaner from all the scrubbing he would do to get the oil and gunk off them.

Grandpa didn’t talk much about his years in the marines, but he was proud to have served his country. He enjoyed participating in the annual Memorial Day parade in Zeeland. He drove his Galaxy, and before that a red Ford Mustang he redid, always with fellow soldiers riding along. After he sold those, he walked, of course. When he could no longer walk that far, his buddy Howie Bowens drove him up until Howie’s death just a couple years ago.

Grandpa was also an avid hunter. Every fall he would spend time with the Riemersma men at the cabin up north for deer hunting season. I am sure there are quite a few good hunting stories, but the one that came home with the guys years ago was when he decided to take Chris’s stuffed dog, Barry, and string him up so he was hanging from the top bunk. Chris was decidedly unhappy about it at the time, but it’s a good example of how my grandpa liked a good laugh…even if it meant poking a little fun at those he loved.

My cousin Molly also remembers how much he loved to joke and laugh before his hearing got bad. When we were little, he had nicknames for my brothers: Paco and Pedro. He knew it drove them nuts, so he, of course, made sure to only refer to them by those names. And when Molly told him they were going to name their younger son “Clyde” after his middle name, Grandpa laughed, told her he didn’t like it, but followed up with, “well, I guess it’s better than Philo!”

It’s those small things that make us smile: his love of black jelly beans and ginger snaps. The way his whiskers tickled your cheek when he hugged you. His disdain–that was really a life-time of love–for the Detroit Tigers. The way he called peanut butter “peen ter butter” and the toilet a “ter let”.

But it’s hard to imagine Grandpa without Grandma. They were quite the pair. He would complain about how she “oomphed” the knife when she cut dessert, and she would tell him to be quiet. He would want you to “toughen up,” but Grandma would commiserate and hand you a cookie.

When Grandma passed on, Grandpa’s life was over as far as he was concerned. He has been existing for the past 10 months, but he gave up living when Grandma was gone. Now he can live again because he’s back with her for eternity. Probably driving her crazy with his comments on how she does things, but also hearing everything she says back and walking hand in hand with her for the first time in a long time. 

And laughing. I imagine there is lots of laughing.

Rest well, Gramps. See you on the other side.

Crossing Over

In February, Eddie had a major milestone: He crossed over from cub scouts!

Eddie asked to join cub scouts just before 1st grade. I remember because we had an outdoor church service that Sunday. A member of our church who happened to be the cub scout cub master at the time, stood up and talked about scouting a little (our church is the charter organization for the cub scout pack and the boy scout troop that Eddie became a part of). He mentioned the Pinewood Derby and had sample cars along.

Eddie was in. He begged to join.

So that fall we signed him up as a Tiger scout.

I took him to his first meeting and I remember thinking, “oh boy. Those kids have so much energy,” and “no way will Eddie stick with this.”

But stick with it he did!

In 2nd grade he became a wolf.

In third grade he became a bear.

In fourth grade it was a Webelos

This year he was an Arrow of Light working toward completing his time in cub scouts. The idea is that once you have completed your arrow of light, you can “cross over” to boy scouts.

Eddie has chosen not to move on to Boy Scouts for a few reasons, but the big one is that he admits that he is not super self-motivated and to achieve ranks and advancements in boy scouts, it’s pretty self-directed.

I am so proud of how he has stuck with scouts all through elementary school though. Most of the work he did outside of den and pack meetings was done with my dad.

He earned a bunch of outdoor things over the years with Grandpa including fishing and canoeing badges and some other environmental things.

He also created and raced every one of his pinewood derby cars with grandpa.

Together they took home a trophy all five years!

Cortney and I definitely had our doubts about whether Ed would stick with it. And I admit there are some things about BSA that clash with my own ideologies, but the pack that our church sponsors was welcoming and inclusive and ended up being an extremely positive place for Eddie.

We are all super proud of you, Eddie!!

Next year is 6th grade and new adventures.

A Little Late on Eight

Dear Charlie,

Two weeks ago you turned EIGHT!

It was a weird birthday because it was also the last day of school before the governor shut down Michigan’s schools until at least April 6. My district actually didn’t have school Friday, but I am so glad you did. It was just a half-day, but you were able to bring in your birthday treat that we baked together and see all your friends and teachers one last time before going into this shut down we are currently in.

You requested dad grill hamburgers and for me to make vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting and batman on them. We did not disappoint!

In total Charlie Fashion, you took your shirt of in order to blow out your candles that you insisted we put all in one cupcake. I don’t know what you wished for before you blew those suckers out, but I hope it comes true.

Dad and I got you a new bike for your birthday. You were getting a little too tall for your old one, so we decided it was time for an upgrade. You were very excited that you still have a red bike, but this on has handbrakes and, according to you, goes SUPER FAST.

This past year has been full of big things: In the spring of 2019, you qualified for special education services at school for your emotional impairment of anxiety. With your new IEP goals and accommodations, you have made some tremendous leaps forward in coping mechanisms and work completion at school. Dad and I continue to be so proud of you. We know things that seem easy or routine for some people just aren’t for you. And you still try. You still work through it. You are so tough!

That is not to say there haven’t been some challenges. You are definitely teaching me and Dad that not all kids can be parented the same. You are helping us learn to be equitable parents to you and your siblings. Because even when we identify what you need and how it might be different from what Alice needs or Eddie needs, there still has to be a level of equity. Daddy and I have had to learn to say, “I just don’t know.”

Let me tell you a little about yourself:

You love sleep and to be warm and cuddley, but you despise being hot and uncomfortable and would prefer to sit around in your underwear if we let you. We do not.

You are all the way on the left on the bench.

You love to play outside and be active. You were in soccer in the fall and loved it. Once that was over and the weather started to get yucky, that is when we saw and uptick of having a negative attitude toward school and yourself. Keeping you active is key!

You love stuffed animals more than almost anything else in this world. You have like a million of them living in your top bunk. At night you hunker in under them and sleep as if you are all one pack. You love that you are unique, but you are also self-conscious about it.

You started piano lessons in January. You love them. You love having a talent that your older brother does not have. You also love that it’s one more thing that you and I have in common. Since this whole quarantine thing started, Mr. Costello has offered to do your lessons via Zoom, but you are super uncomfortable with that. You can’t really describe why, but you get very anxious around video calls too. But it’s Ok. You can continue to practice what you know, and when this health scare lifts, you can go back to your weekly lessons with Mr. C.

You want to play the drums someday and hope Mr. C will continue to be your music teacher for that too. In fact, dad got out Guitar Hero for the old Wii and you have found a new musical thing to love.

You love to be silly and make people smile. You also love to try to think about things in ways other people might not. You try to see new uses for things that other people might not think of too. You strive to be innovative and creative all the time.

Charlie you have always been, and continue to be, my very favorite middle child. I can honestly say hanging out with you is fun and that we always have really interesting conversations.

We are different in a lot of ways, but the ways in which we are the same bond us in a way that we just can’t bond with anyone else.

I love being your mom and I am so proud of you.

Mom Mom