Spring “Break” 2021

Baby Millie’s in da house! She’s a year old now; active, smiling, eating and pooping up a storm. Lil’ Gboy B-man is at the homestead, along with his older cousin, Jack. Daughter’s upstairs remote teaching and I’m holding down the roost as bubbles and a mini margarita liven up the already lively Spring Break 2021. But one can’t help but reflect upon how different this year is from last! Birds are chirping, the traffic outside is sporadic, but destination-bound. The baby monitor is purring as Mill takes her afternoon siesta. The boys, at least for now, are occupying themselves with traps and trains. The dogs too, are quiet, sleeping in the springy Spring afternoon sun.

All is well in the world. We went camping over the weekend with the baby and my son and his crew. The Easter Bunny joined us as the glorious Sunday sun rose as the kids hunted for eggs. Life Really IZ Good! Glory be to God.

Change is edging forward.

In eight weeks I will be retired from teaching 8th graders.

In eight weeks, my son-in-law, who is studying for a big med exam, will have the test behind him.

In eight weeks, I will be 65.1 month years young.

In eight weeks, hopefully, everyone in our family will be vaccinated from Covid-19.

In eight weeks, I will have concluded 20 years in the teaching profession, plus 14 years as a journalist, for a total of 34 9 to 5+++++ years working for a paycheck.

Soon, it will be forever. I can go out for coffee with my friends during the week and not feel bogged down by grading and class responsibilities. Soon, I can work on writing projects, a podcast that’s been in development for 1.5 years. I can go camping in the Fall. I can camp during the week. I can go for walks. I can sleep in. I can stay up late. I can work around the garden whenever I want. I can play with art and go to the art museum in the middle of the week. I can be more flexible with child care assistance. And what I’m most looking forward to, discovering a me that’s been on hold for a very long time.

I sense a great deal of stress will melt away. I sense the life I wanted to live when I was a girl, I’m about to get a chance to live. Only better. Because along the way, I’ve become way hipper. Wiser, you could say. And humble. I know every day is precious.

But for now, duty calls. The kids are in da house and they need their g-ma!

Waiting for my real life to begin

Thanks Colin Hay for the song. It expresses what I’m experiencing better than anything I can write: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRO66I22qi0

Waiting for My Real Life by Colin Hay

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
I’ll stand on the bow
Feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin

When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened
But in my dreams, I slew the dragon
And down this beaten path, up this cobbled lane
I’m walking in my old footsteps, once again

And you say, just be here now
Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin
Just let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I’m waiting for my real life to begin

Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
And I’ll check my machine, there’s sure to be that call
It’s gonna happen soon, soon, oh so very soon
It’s just that times are lean

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart, let the light shine
Don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin

On a clear day I can see, see for a long way
On a clear day I can see, see for a long way.

Where have i been?

Good question. In the garbage disposal crunching up all the waste, all the debris, all the junk. Behind a screen teaching others. Not sleeping. Hunched over. Worried. Fixing. Building. Grandparenting. Working. Mostly working. Existing. Waiting. Worrying. Worrying. Worrying. Holding my breathe. Counting down the days. Not that I am, but 81 days until I bid eight hours+ of weekly grading behind me: Retirement. In quotes.

It’s like having three burners on my stove set low. Much to do. Much to wrap up. The retirement papers. Medicare. My classroom which currently has 18 years of books and materials strewn over the desks which will soon be occupied with students.

This week, I have to go into the class and box them up. No one wants them. No one wants the thousands of dollars of materials I’ve purchased over the years, the story of my teaching life; the projects, our many investigations into literary Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native, Women, Artistic Americans That Matter. I pulled hundreds of sources out of the cupboards, laid them on the desks, offered them to overworked, over-stressed colleagues, and when I open Room 18 this week they will, no doubt, still be there as an homage to exuberant teaching. My well-exercised credit card. My joy of teaching.

I’m not going to talk about this “crazy year.” Everyone else is doing a great job at that. It’s been taxing. My neck and back are cast into the shape of a fisherman’s hook. My butt is pancakesque. My eyes from squinting at the computer all day talking to first and last names are officially worse: I just had to get a stronger eye glass prescription. Thanks COVID-19.

You see, I am not a sitter. I’m a dancer. A move-about-the-roomer. I don’t have a desk in my classroom or at home. I prefer to shimmy.

Soon enough, I’ll be back in the classroom and my dance floor will be restored. Wait, I forgot, I think I have to stay in one place, next to the monitor where I’ll teach to the camera and teach to masked middle school ones–in my double mask! Fun times.

It will be good. It won’t be normal, but it will be good to be six-feet-apart from humans. Am I scared? Yeh, I am. I know not everyone is as careful as I am. I know someone’s gonna get sick. I just hope, selfishly, it’s not me. I’ve got 2.5 months until GRADING IS PAST TENSE.

Friday I get my second shot. My doctor doesn’t want me mingling for two weeks, that’ll be post Spring Break. “Be patient,” she said, “and safe.” I wish the powers-that-be would have given all teachers that same mandate. I wish we were pushed to the head of the line sooner. So we could get on with it. I wish the public understood how hard it is to be in a room with no circulation, with kids who aren’t so diligent and sanitary, and sit in a stew of virus–without the benefit of proper gear and the vaccination. No other profession has the same demands as being in a class with active, vibrant kids. But somehow, returning to school and anti-teacher union sentiment has clouded our unique situation, our reality.

I’m grateful that I will finally be fully vaccinated before returning to campus. It was, by the way, a fluke. I happened to be at the doctor’s at the end of the day being treated for an eye infection (Thanks COVID-eyes) and a nurse walked around asking, “Does anyone need a COVID shot?” Right place, right time.

Like this morning: Sitting in the gazebo, the rising sun bleaching my face, a zippy hummingbird helicoptered above the Sunday newspaper. We were both in awe; a flying glittery jewel staring down at a frumpy, dressing-gowned, soon-to-be, former teacher.

It darted to another destination as a shadow flew into the newly trimmed Chinese elm tree. A hawk. A hawk in my backyard! A regal king surveying my city-forest backyard.

And just as suddenly–gone!

Like my teaching career. Like raising children and grandchildren. Like stomach aches and COVID worry and overspending on the new Affordable Dwelling Unit–Moonstone Cottage–and stressing over finishing the To-Do The List before Sunday night.

Just like that.

A purple, magenta and apple cider ale sunset.

Which sounds just about right this cool Spring Eve of Everything.

in one week

I’m gonna be vague. I might be specific. I’m eating steel cut oatmeal on a rainy Saturday morning with my grandson, two pups and ex-husband. The veggie sausages are sizzling and my coffee needs re-freshing. None of this matters and yet everything matters. It’s all in the details, in the paying attention to what makes life actually good. It’s been toasty. It’s been freezing (SoCal version). It’s writing. It’s reading. It’s the ability to make a wonderful dinner. It’s going for a walk along the beach. It’s having a cozy bed and actual books with paper and a hardback cover to read. It’s having a family who loves you, and sometimes disagrees with you and your political point of view. It’s having friends, real friends, who have your back even when you don’t see them in person for months–or decades!

All of it matters. None of it matters. Because next week’s gonna happen, and the next. We have a new president, then we’ll have another. Now it’s winter. Soon it will be spring, then summer, then my new life as a retired person begins.

Topsy Turvey. Upside down. Hear the circus revelry? See the helium balloons? The caramel popcorn and corn dogs? Babies. Toddlers. Elementary school—leap into college. In a nanosecond, whew, it’s gone.

The enemy of fast, whew, is hitting the remote, the pause button. Which I rarely do. I’m busy with grandkids, schoolwork, TV-watching, CNN-scanning. But this week, this week of impending rain, I had to stop. Take stock. Cry. Toss and turn. Listen to the distracting lull of podcasts. Feel useless. Cry some more. Pray. And pray and pray and ask, “Why?”

And, of course, there is no answer, no reason why a dear friend of mine is in pain, is suffering, from what she didn’t know she had a week ago, less than a week ago-–cancer. Her husband, her dear, dear husband, says with chemo, if it works, she might might live nine months. Oh, my God. It. Can’t. Be.True. I can hardly type it. It isn’t fair. It isn’t FAIR. She has so much to live for: her beloved husband, her children and grandchildren, all the places she wanted to visit, all things she wanted to do.

But today, she just needs the pain meds to work. So she can sleep, which she hasn’t done for two weeks when the ugly tumors knifed her stomach and back until she had no choice but to go to the COVID-laced hospital. Today, she wants to be well enough to go home and sleep in her own bed and blanket herself with her world of blues and yellows and hot cocoa stations and remaining Christmas decorations. Because I know her, Christmas all year long.

I am profoundly broken-hearted. As are her loved ones—her vast network of friends, family, neighbors, fellow parishioners and beyond. She has done so much good in the world. She isn’t done!

I ask for your prayers, right now, in this moment. I ask that you pray for my beautiful, passionate friend, because if it was you or me, she’ be on her knees asking for God’s grace to help navigate these thunderous days.

Time. No one knows how long or when. No one knows why one person suffers and that son-of-a-gun down the street has the privilege of traveling the world well into his 90s?

It’s a cliche, don’t take anything or anyone for granted. Because you don’t know. We don’t know. What’s gonna happen today, or tomorrow, except IT’S going to happen at some point. It’s going to rain. It’s going to be sunny. COVID will be history. A new virus will take its place. But today, with any luck, we get to breathe. And see. And hear. And dance. And sing and share our love with everyone we love.

My friend wants nothing more than to do that. She can’t do it today as the chemo does its job. But maybe she can do it tomorrow and for as many tomorrow’s God grants her.

For her, I hope you will press the pause button. Take heed to all the beauty and wonder that surrounds you.

Love.

retraction, expansion

I don’t know if it is the hot, Southern California January weather or exhaustion from the last four years of constant havoc, or anticipation of a new, hopeful president and Vice President, or the fact that I submitted my retirement paperwork a few days ago, but now seems like a pretty awesome time to re-focus: To minimize.

Do I need that? No. Does it bring me joy? No. Does it make my world crowded? Yes. Is it taking up space that I could otherwise use to place, say a dog bed? Yes. Do I need to eat that? No. Could I have just a little bite? Yes. Do I really need Apple Music? Yes, until I stop teaching full-time. The newspaper? Aww, giving it up would be painful. Do I really need to buy that new sofa that is 70% off on Wayfair? Absolutely not.

I don’t need to panic. I don’t need to keep watching TV news. I don’t need to scan Facebook or shop for sales or eat unhealthy food or stress over all the things my Distant Learning students aren’t doing because class is remote. I don’t need to shop as a hobby. I don’t need more stuff.

Period. End of story.

I am going to retire. Made the decision when our school district announced an early retirement incentive. It’s time to take a new road, discover new things. Yes, I will miss teaching. Terribly. But I have a feeling teaching will take on a new shape. I’ll get to go back and re-visit some of the things I always wanted to do, like write more out of love rather than economic need, like cooking and crafting and visiting and creating.

Life IZ short. We gotta drink more Boisset wine, go barefoot, and dance and sing just for the heck of it.

Big changes this year.

A few hours ago I did something I should have done ten years ago: Budget. I need to figure out how I can be happy and frugal. I definitely don’t want to give up things like wine and going on adventures. So I have figured out a way to go on an economic and food diet. Budget. Instead of not looking at the receipt, like I have embarrassingly done, and pressing “buy” rather than reflect, “Do I need it versus want it?” like I used to do when I was younger, I now have to ask the question: “How will this purchase best help me reach my goal?” If it won’t, DENIED!

Amazon seduced me. I admit it: once again, I am embarrassed. I spend way too much on things I want, but don’t need. And now, from this point on, it has to stop.

In my family, I am the Amazon account owner. I pay the yearly fee and other members tap into the benefits of my “membership”. But this year, when my renewal comes due, I’m cancelling it. Frankly, it’s too tempting, too easy to press “but”. Like having chocolate in the cupboard. I know it’s there and I’m gonna consume it. Because I am a consumer. Not out of control. But sort of.

I’ll be reporting back how it’s going. But if I follow the budget I have established, I should be able to set up a pretty healthy saving mindset prior to my actual retirement. I have a few other factors that should help out: My Affordable Dwelling Unit, otherwise known as Moonstone Cottage, is almost ready to rent. I hope in two weeks to get it on the market, which is a whole other set of questions/concerns. But I am gonna trust this next step. I’m counting on the income to help me retire. So many things to consider: The renter his/herself, taxes, the responsibilities of being a landlord–especially now. For sure, I’ll be doing a lot of praying and investigating.

Meantime, I’m going to be figuring out new more affordable and healthy foods to eat. I happen to love veggies, beans, rice and tofu, so that should help with the budget. Again, I don’t want to feel deprived and poor. I’m thinking my new choices will help me feel rich and plentiful. At least that’s what I’m hoping. That’s what I’ve heard.

As my horizons expand, I sure hope this Covid-belly, double-double chin and on-my-butt-too-long ass retracts to a healthier version of me. Stay tuned.

MARITAL DISSOLUTION: NOT AN OPTION

What do I know? What can I possibly say that other people haven’t? Why do I need to say anything? I’m just a person with a blog, writing in a vacuum, next to a space heater, with the TV off, with the newspaper read, with a heavy, yet hopeful heart, with a, “Shit, we have to do something–now!” overwhelming need to respond to last week’s acts of terror.

Love. Once again. It comes down to love.

They love America. You love America. I love America.

When we got married, what, something like more than 200 years ago, we were in love. New country.New life. New possibilities. But the red flags were there. Be honest; we chose to ignore them. We believed what we wanted to believe. Hope–cross our fingers, wink, wink–that it would turn out OK, once we had kids, once we had the house, once we paid off college debt, had careers, credit cards, leased cars, shopped organic ...

We kept piling it on. Pushing the debris under the rug. Never addressing the real problem. The source of the tension. The tip of the iceberg. We distracted ourselves: Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, booze, bars, Flaming Cheetos, too much screen time, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, Yahoo News, Apple News, “reality” TV, “reality” POTUS. You know. It became, like, a hobby, a sick waste of time: What will happen next? we wondered. It’s like we were living in the middle of a Martin Scorsese Netflix movie.

Martial difficulties, when it’s someone else’s, is voyeuristically compelling.

But here’s the deal: We can’t divorce. We’re married for life.

Yes, you might be Republican and I might be a Democrat. You may love Trump and all he stands for and I may loathe him. And we are passionate, as we should be about things that matter to us. But hating doesn’t solve anything. Demonizing digs us further into the hole: Go to your corner–The Midwest and South: Go to your corner–The West Coast and big cities. Puff up your chests. Duke it out and pummel your opponent ’till there’s nothing left.

Yeh, that’s one way to end a marriage. Tough guy. Blind yourself with rage. Make everyone else the enemy. Take no responsibility, accountability. Just be right. You’re always right. You win. But everyone else–your spouse, your kids, your extended family and neighbors–lose. That’s OK. Because winning, taking back what’s “yours”, is what ultimately matters, right? Being tough. Not backing down.

That’s one way to go. Yelling. Screaming. Putting down. Feeling righteously vitriolic. But at what cost?

Love.

We can’t get divorced. We aren’t the North and the South. It might feel like it right now, but we aren’t going to split. We can’t go to our corners. We are married. We are Americans. All of us. Amer-i-CAN.

We need some counseling. Serious marital counseling. Led by respected spiritual healers, teachers. So we can get to the source. And stop burying it. Once and for all, let’s pick up the rock, and see what’s underneath it.

This is a profound, real moment for all Americans to calmly share our thoughts and desires without hyperbole and put-downs. Make “I” statements. No pointing fingers, no blaming your partner. Remember, you love him or her. Or at least one time you did. Remember what you loved. And don’t bring other people, other sources, into the room. It’s just you, your counselor, and your partner, you know, that spouse you have been married to for more than two centuries, the one you fought alongside during the Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement. We’ve been married far too long. Think of the kids, my students. We gotta get it together! Divorce is not an option.

New year blessings

Turns out blogging is like my weak attempt at nurturing friendships. I basically suck. I get distracted with all the To-Dos of life, then neglect those and that which sustains and nurtures me. It’s like dieting. I try. I do. I will again. But I fall ALWAYS off the wagon. At some point, like with blogging (it may be months from now until I return to self-care) I’ll get back on track. Because writing. Because exercising. Because eating well. Because taking care of my physical and mental health—feels good. Prioritizing. I just have to find a way to once and for all prioritize myself. 2021 is the year! Promise.

First, let me backtrack a bit to catch you up on what I I’ve neglected to share with you over the last few months: School. Teaching. Remote learning. Re-thinking. Re-designing. Re-conjuring. Grading and grading and grading. The Election. Grandmothering. Remodeling. Trips to NYC to help with childcare. Covid. Camping the entire Thanksgiving Week. Christmas. The tragic death of a former student.: Heart-breaking. News of new life to come. Puppy terrorist. What to do about family gatherings during the holidays? Worry. Preparing. Over-thinking. Major dental $$$ work. Baby arrives for Christmas Week. Daughter too. Grandsons Nerfing and soldiering in the backyard. Say goodbye to daughter. (Who’s on the plane headed home as I type.) Son in eastern Sierras headed home post New Year’s. Daughter 1 Yucca, valleying.

My first quiet moment in, what, three months! Sigh!

Me, next to Monet the Cattle Dog to my right, and funky, furry Huck Finn stretched out behind me on the overly slouched couch. Nine-year-old Jack is in the front room sleeping a few feet away from snoring Gpa. The Christmas tree is lit, just for me, soon to be packed back into the box from which she came–all the way from China.

It’s going to be a beautiful, sunny day in Southern California. I miss my Katie and my Millie. But know they will be overjoyed to be back home with Jason, who took advantage of the week alone to study for an important medical exam. One day they will look back at this crazy time with a dog, a cat, a baby, one income and a tiny NYC apartment and remember how they lived with so little, but had so much.

And so will I. I don’t have much money, but boy if I did, I would buy a big house where we all–the entire, giant Barker and extended family tribe–could live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwBEqupVOdc This is my dream: To never say goodbye. To have a compound where the tribe could hang out with each other every single day. Have our own structures for privacy and ownership, but gather communally every day.

Because that’s what matters the most: Being together. Connecting. Extending love. Enjoying great meals together. Helping one another. Giving each other space, but being there when we need someone who truly loves us.

I wonder if we all want the same thing? Togetherness and space?

Dad died 12 years ago on New Years Eve. He was 92. He died in a hospital from complications caused by an infection resulting from a bed sore. One of his last words to my brother and sister-in-law, were, “What finally got me?” The old soldier, you see, cared for wounded warriors while serving in the British Army. Bed sores, he knew, could be deadly for the weak. Dad wasn’t afraid of death. He just didn’t want to die. He had too much to live for. Which is how I feel, sitting here listening to the pitter-patter of Jack’s socked feet as he climbs out of bed and shuffles into the quiet living room. American society may consider a 64-year-old woman expendable, but I bet to differ.

As Katie and Millie fly somewhere over Arizona, it’s time for Gma to prepare Gboy’s morning hot cocoa. I MISS–big time! I LOVE–massively! I am BLESSED beyond the parameter of words. Filled to the brim with gratitude this second day of January.

Fall, i will not

It’s happening. Whether or not we like it or not: The seasons are changing.

It’s Week 7 Distant Teaching. It’s the reason I haven’t had a life, a spare minute, to write, to think, to do anything beyond plan, check-in with students, email parents, grade and re-grade and re-grade. It took me four hours to grade the most recent assignment–and it wasn’t even challenging to grade. What with the comment-posting and the inputting and the emails, “I noticed you didn’t turn in…,” it took me almost the entire flight from LAX to JFK to finish. And there’s always more where that came from. Fun times.

Even more thrilling are the emails. My colleagues and I reckon we are getting on average about 40 emails a day which takes us about two hours to respond to. Every time the little computer bell rings, an angel definitely doesn’t get her wings–she erodes her precious minutes remaining on Planet Earth. What we figure is that the emails are students raising their hands. Minimum, easy, typically 40 times a day if they’re in class my 170 middle school students raise their hand. Now, instead of answering the questions within 10 seconds, “The essay is due Friday. Notice what it says on the whiteboard?” now it can take 10 minutes. Not that I’m complaining. I am grateful our district was wise enough to continue remote teaching until we can wrangle the crafty Covid and trap it in a petri dish somewhere in a desert security lab. Being real, distant teaching is getting heebee jeebee Hunchback of Notre Dame frenzifying. I crave Real Time interaction with students. It’s getting better, in that some students are metaphorically jumping out of the computer screen and letting me know who they are, you know, their personalities. But for the most part if feels so stiff and unnatural.

We have to track. And track and track the students who aren’t engaged then notify their parents. Other than that, we can’t drop by their houses and tell them, “Sit up straight. Get out of your pjs. Stop looking at your phone.” And thus, 2020 is the year everyone ended up with ADHD. Parents. Teachers. Kids. All of us looking for the quick fix, the instant savings, the other thing that counts more than the current.

Back to the seasons. We can’t stop them. Nor should we want to. Here in Queens where I flew out to help my daughter and son-in-law watch my six-month-young granddaughter, Millie, due to child care challenges, the leaves are turning crimson and ripe banana gold. I was here six months ago when I was quarantined, thanks to Covid. The trees were bare, then blossomed into Spring bursts of lime green. I witnessed the giddy gardens arc from pastures of dandelions to glistening patches of wild green onions and sprouting tomato seeds. Now, at the end of September, the tomatoes are wilted as the Earth once again prepares for change.

Then and now. Now and then. Reminders everywhere like my daughter’s gardener neighbor who is now tending the last of his crop of squash or the one-track-mind cattle dog owner who refuses to strike up a conversation. (“Stop Mom, we don’t do that here,” my daughter reminds.) Familiarities. Yet, everything is different. The people who walk past the four-story brick apartment as I spy from my daughter’s balcony have on their furrowed-brow game faces as they trudge to work in masks and earbuds. Triple the number of pedestrians since Spring. They don’t look up, even with the cutest cooing baby on the planet in my arms! They don’t notice. Everyone just doing their job without glory or fanfare.

Like Millie. She rolls over like a sizzling sausage and is almost an expert saliva bubble-maker. She’s fascinated by what she can do with her beautiful baby hands, how they spread into fans and parrot claws. She’s become quite the expert at scratching Gma’s rosy cheeks. But Gma doesn’t mind. What’s a few more scars if it delights this little one so?

She’s changing every day. And maybe I am too. A softening. A noticing that seems to happen when I step away and change courses, get away from the grind, take the day off work to pay attention to the things that really matter. Family.

See, what happens when you are a teacher is you can’t help but put others first. Before yourself. Before your family. The job is consuming, especially now. But despite our inclinations, we can’t do everything for everyone all the time. Sometimes, we have to notice the autumn leaves as they fall like confetti onto the damp pavement, feel New York’s fairy kiss rain or sit under the gazebo back home in California and admire the nesting doves and the dancing monarchs as the sun gives way to tomorrow.

So much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend

I never wear no-sleeve dresses, but I have one on. I never drink Italian sparkling water (I save them for guests), but I’m sipping a green bottle of Whole Foods’ finest as I sit under the shady gazebo protected from the 90+ Sunday afternoon temps. It’s rarely quiet at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. But it is this Labor Day weekend. No breeze. No instigating of my wee g-boy lads or vocalizing of Baby Millie. I’m here by myself and my two lovely pups, Monet and Finn, without much of a plan other than to write, create art, perhaps take a nap and re-connect with God and myself, which has been lost and frenzied of late.

One of our union reps reminded her Facebook friends to be sure to take time for ourselves, that many individuals worked hard for this much-needed day to step back and re-coup. I admit, I was going to work, dream up more innovative lesson plans, think about how I’m going to teach remotely the last two weeks of September. But her good advice made me stop. Doctor, heal thyself. Passenger, remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. That’s this weekend for me. Time to breathe-in gratitude. And take a much-needed brain break. I don’t have to solve or fix anything. I just need to be OK, not turn on the news, and say thanks for life’s blessings, create a stay-at-home spa weekend, sans the pool and pink Cadillac umbrella drinks.

* * *

It wasn’t a quiet day in Lake Wobegon last week. It was weird. The pinhole-through-a-computer-screen classroom is weird. Not enjoyable. But doable. Easy. Hard. Puzzling. One step at a time. 172 days left of this unusual school year.

But here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I can Zoom. I am nearly an expert. Me, the person who was in tears because I was so incredibly nervous, is almost like an old pro. “Look at me! I can screen share and put students in Breakout Rooms!”
  2. Zoom Gloom is real. The technology is great for about 30 minutes a day, then it’s a brain-duller. Just a fact. Turns out, to keep students’ online attention you have to be some sort of Youtube sensation. To help liven things up, I just ordered a piglet puppet to help me jazz-up my on-screen personna. A teacher’s gotta do what a teacher’s gotta do.
  3. This week I learned that my students are terribly fearful: In a snazzy, Padlet exercise, 99% of 13-year-olds reported that they are afraid they will die. Think about that. My eighth-graders are worried that they–and/or their loved ones–will die.
  4. In that same activity, students wrote about what they are passionate about: Climate change, racial inequality, the economy, Covid-19, police brutality, the negative political energy–the same things that concern many adults.
  5. This week it became clear to me that no matter the venue or format–in person or remote–their teacher, me, is going to harness my students’ fear and keen interest in current events and channel those emotions into action. As such, I decided to postpone a groovy, hip Nearpod lesson on Story Elements/Plot and replace it with “Dear President Trump/VP Pence, presidential candidates Biden/Harris” letters. My students need to know that their voices count and Republican and Democratic leaders need to know how profoundly America’s youth is being impacted by their action and inaction.
  6. And finally I realized, now is The Best Time to be a public school teacher. Our kids need us.

My former principal, Sallie T., is smiling right now. She knew I’d find a way to do what I do. Be me. And in doing so, my very scared students will get a chance to share their truth, their reality–that they didn’t cause or ask for–and realize that in learning how to effectively participate in democracy, that they have The Power to positively change the world. I hope. I pray. That Biden, Harris, Pence AND Trump will take my students’ concerns as seriously as I do, and my fellow teachers, parents and grandparents. Adult decisions are breaking their hearts.

We CAN’T LET THIS HAPPEN!

In a few minutes I will be composing a letter to our political leaders on behalf my students, and myself as their teacher. I’m sending it via snailmail (USPS needs the $$$) and email. It will be the same letter, the same request. Apolitical. A plea. Stop the rhetoric. Stop the magician coin tricks. A whole generation of kids are counting on the nonsense to stop. Time out! Go to your dunce cap corner, take off the headphones, and listen for a change. Listen–for a change.

Can you imagine if we all set aside an hour this weekend and flooded all four candidates’ offices with respectful, yet direct, letters and phone calls? Seize control of the remote? Said, “Listen, cut the nonsense. We’re your boss, not the other way around”? Not like that. Much more polite. But you get the point.

Heck, so much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend. Shoulders shrug. It’s just what us teachers do.

When last we spoke …

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I would have quit/retired. I would have said, “Too much.” But I got through the first day of distant learning because you were there for me, relating honestly, not playing Mary Poppins.

You get it. We’re part of this thing we don’t want to be part of. Said it. Didn’t pretend. No sugar-coating. Then, you reached out and helped me step up to a higher platform where I could see my situation in a new way, from a new perspective. You gifted me your binoculars and told me to use the wide angle, then dial down to a close-up view.

And I did. And I survived what I thought, a week ago, I couldn’t.

I didn’t give up.

Because of you.

You reminded me of my worth. You reminded me of who I am and that nothing can take that away, not Covid-19, not technological gizmos, but especially, not fear.

One day at a time. I figured out Zoom and Screenshare. Friday we’ll do breakout rooms. Next week I’ll do Padlet. Maybe the week after, that I’ll do Nearpod. I’m not gonna rush it. I’ll master one technological communication tool at a time. Because what matters most is making human connections. What got me all stressed out and consumed with anxiety was the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates techno hoopla. I thought I had to exhibit mastery and would get slapped on my paycheck for not jumping in and embracing All That Jazz. I got intimidated and forgot who I was: I am a former journalist who teaches kids how to be the best writers, readers, speakers and thinkers that they can possibly be. I help kids become powerful and effective storytellers and compassionate, responsible citizens. I help students value hard work and going back and making it better. I help students learn how to evaluate sources and be objective. I help students step up and take action.

I can still do that even if I’m not in the classroom with them. I can still be inspiring. In many ways, I can be even more empowering. I can set up conferences via the breakout rooms. I can differentiate in ways so that no one stands out or knows that accommodations are being made. I can communicate–through my eyes, my voice, my gestures–that I care. Even through a screen, I can be human.

I didn’t know this when I was trapped in the hurricane, but the raspberry macaroons, the encouraging texts, and private messages, the purchase of a bottle of estate DeLoach Pinot Noir Boisset Wine https://my.boissetcollection.com/janet.barker/products/catalog/sale-1005 for a “friend” so that you could have a masked, eye-to-eye conversation about why Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year me HAS to stay in the classroom, “because those kids need you,” changed EVERYTHING. Everything. My fear, while real, was blocking out my purpose: To be of service. To be an Agent of Change. Like we all are.

Like we all are.

I’m not saying that there weren’t glitches today. There were. Plenty. All my fault. Operator error. I am not gonna be nominated for any teaching award any time soon, that’s for sure. I was a klutz. But somewhere around fourth period, I hit my stride. Those kids needed me because they were having problems too.

I’m no longer standing in front of the classroom packed with 35 13-year-olds. I’m at a desk, in a row-with them. Learning. Failing. Succeeding. Passing on a lesson you taught me 18 years into teaching: Phone a friend. Don’t give up.

And ‘cuz we’re adults, I learned another lesson: Don’t wait for the stars to line up: pop open a bottle of your best wine. ‘Cuz we survived Day 1.

FYI: The image posted in this blog relates to my Day 2 Lesson: Illustrate an image of you: Two Likes and a Wish. Two things you like about yourself and one thing you wish could be different. I recommend trying this activity. Turns out, beneath all the imperfections, there’s a bunch of good stuff too.