To School or Not to School?

Even as COVID-19 cases in the United States are rising, in many states exorbitantly, the President and like-minded governors are putting pressure on, and in some cases ordering, schools to open for in-person learning in the fall. For some school districts, this means opening in just a few weeks, as many states begin their school year in early August.

In making the argument, the President cited countries like Germany, Denmark, and Norway as examples of schools being opened with no problems. Except there is a problem with this example, a huge one: COVID cases in Germany hover around 298, 10 in Denmark, and 11 in Norway. Currently, the U.S. has confirmed around 3.5 million cases overall, 133,666 deaths, and on July 11 alone more than 70,000 people tested positive – and these are just the cases that are confirmed.

There are valid arguments for re-opening schools for in-person learning, including that distance learning is not as effective, that many students’ mental and emotional well-being is negatively impacted by not being in school, and that parents who must work outside of the home either won’t be able to go back or have no choice and cannot leave their young children alone all day.

My son’s school sent out a survey last week that asked three questions: 1. What grade is your child going into? 2. What mode of instruction do you prefer, in-person or distance learning? 3. Do you have a need for after school care? I knew what I wanted to check for question number 2, but my son is 13 and I felt it important to give him an opportunity to weigh in on his own education. To my surprise, and relief, he chose distance learning. I was surprised because he has a lot of friends, and so naturally I thought he would choose in-person so he could see them every day again. Turns out the idea of having to wear a mask for six hours straight, social distance, and adhere to other strict guidelines outweighed the joy of seeing friends. Fortunately, his Catholic School successfully pivoted to online learning in record time (as I would expect for tuition of over $6,000 per year), and my son did well with it. I know this is not the case for millions of schools and children.

Those of us who are able to telecommute from home, and therefore continue to earn a salary and work safely, whose children’s schools did a good job of distance learning, whose kids had no issues with distance learning, whose children are older and self-sufficient learners, and who don’t have children with special needs cannot fully fathom how difficult this pandemic has been for so many families. I try to remember this, even as everything in me screams no to sending America’s children back to brick and mortar schools, that our politicians are sacrificing our children’s, their teachers’, and families’ health and very lives in an effort to get back to “normal.”

What will “normal” look like? There will be masks, desks spread out, possibly plexiglass partitions at each desk. Perhaps staggered schedules. Maybe a blend of online and in-person learning.

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

But what happens when one elementary school teacher or one student tests positive for COVID? All of the students in that class will need to quarantine for 14 days, as will everyone who came in contact with the teacher and students. What if one high school teacher or student tests positive? Then will 150 or so students, their families, and everyone else they came in contact with have to quarantine? What if the lunch staff or a maintenance person or the principal tests positive? What if there is a massive outbreak that effectively shuts the school down and teachers and students are too sick to pivot quickly again to distance learning?

There are too many “what ifs”, too many unknown variables, no way to prepare for every single possible scenario. This virus changes week-to-week, day-to-day, and we have zero way of knowing how the situation will continue to evolve.

The only way to ensure that learning continues uninterrupted as safely as possible is for schools to offer distance learning only. This means that some parents may not be able to go back to work, longer and extended unemployment benefits, additional stimulus packages, extended grace periods on student loans, rents, mortgages, and the economy will continue to lag. All of the things the President and like-minded governors do not want to see, hear about, or support.

I don’t know what is the best answer. I only know that we are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic with no end in sight, and there is no way my child will be a sacrificial lamb for a government that doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies.

The Horror!

“He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: “‘The horror! The horror!’” ~Kurtz’s last line in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

How was your week? Mine had some horrifying moments. Like when I realized I completely ruined my blog. When I found out my neighbors have a slaughterhouse in their basement. Neither of these moments was more horrifying, though, than turning myself into human jerky.

I’ll start with the blog. Last week, I decided to clean up my media library and delete some of the photos. Sounds positive, right? Cleaning up, letting go, all that good stuff. Until that horrifying moment when I remembered that when you delete photos from the library, they are deleted from your blog posts, too.

Horror turned to despair as I sifted through post after post and saw gray spots where once there were photos. To make matters worse, so many of my posts are directly related to the photos that without them, the words don’t make much sense. I was able to add some photos back – a long, grueling process that required scrolling through thousands of photos on my iPhone, emailing them to myself, downloading them to my Chromebook, uploading them to the library, and inserting them back into my posts. I’m sure there must be an easier way of doing this, but I have yet to figure it out. Some of the posts are so old that I may never be able to retrieve the photos because they’re on my near-dead, virus-infected laptop. The very idea of dealing with that, and this whole blog mess, horrifies me so much that I’m going to ignore it for a while. Which brings me to the next horrifying moment.

Wednesday night I learned that my neighbors have a slaughterhouse in their basement. The revelation came during a Zoom Zoning Board of Appeals Hearing my husband and I attended on Wednesday night. We were there to oppose the neighbor’s request for a variance to keep chickens on their double occupancy property, which is not allowed in our small city. This chicken ordeal has been going on for two years. The coop is two feet from our property line, along which runs our driveway, and next to our driveway is our patio. The neighbors do not properly clean the coop and at times the smell is unbearable. Often we have not been able to enjoy our patio and have had to move outdoor gatherings inside because of the horrible smell. Then there is the matter of the chicken waste they keep throwing in a pile against our fence, which is now collapsing in places. Since the chickens arrived, for the first time in over 20 years of living in this home, we see rodents, dead and alive, in our yard. The town sent a cease and desist order to them for the chickens two years ago, but they didn’t comply and our communications went ignored by the zoning enforcement officer, until finally I went over his head and emailed the Director of ALL Zoning.

These are the same neighbors I called animal control on several years ago when I discovered, to my horror, at least 25 rabbits in small cages sweltering under a tarp in their yard during a heat wave. I had gone behind our garage, which is detached and set way back from our house, and there they appeared, like something out of a Stephen King novel. They were forced to get rid of all the rabbits except a handful, per zoning laws.

Once when the chickens got loose and ended up in our yard. I really was rooting them on.

Given their track record, I shouldn’t have been shocked when, during the hearing,  our neighbor admitted, in response to a question, that she uses the chickens for eggs and meat. But I was. A board member asked the question that had to be on everyone’s mind, “Where do you, um, prepare them for meat?”

“The basement.”

The silence that filled the Zoom meeting was without doubt one of collective horror. All five board members denied the variance and the neighbors have 10 days to get rid of the chickens. I imagine they’ll be stacked in a freezer soon.

Moving on, to my abject horror I turned myself into human jerky through my own carelessness. I don’t know what I was thinking when I spent four hours at the beach last Saturday without putting on sunblock. Usually I do, and sit under an umbrella most of the day. But it was pretty windy, so it didn’t feel too hot, and the umbrella likely would have blow away. I have olive skin and don’t burn easily, so I thought I would be okay. Not. I have been in agony all week from this sunburn. I had to wear a strapless bra for two days because my shoulders could not withstand straps. I have been slathering aloe vera that I keep cold in the fridge all over me, and still areas of my skin are starting to peel. Peel! I haven’t peeled from sunburn since, well, I don’t think ever. I am so mad at myself. At my age, the last thing I should be doing is allowing my fragile, aging skin to shrivel up like dried out, dehydrated meat. I learned my lesson the hard way, but my poor, old skin may never recover.

Oh, the horror of it all!

So, how was your week?

A Rumi Mood

As I attempt to process the pain and chaos reigning in my country – over 100,000 citizens dead from COVID-19, near-record unemployment, relentless racial injustice, and as many different opinions about these things as there are people – I find myself drawn to Rumi to make sense of it all.  Doing so has helped me realize some things:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I no longer feel responsible for saving people from their own willful ignorance, or for educating them about things they don’t want to learn.  I will save my energy for people who want to learn, grow, and change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am in no position to change the world if I overlook my own internal biases, prejudices, and conditioning. Self-work, self-examination, and self-awareness are great tools to start this process. So is exposing myself to conversations and situations that might be uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am done trying to make people understand, whether an alternate opinion or perspective, my feelings, decisions I or others make, etc. If after an exchange or two it’s apparent that they don’t, or won’t, understand, my next reply is silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain is where change begins. When we hurt, we want to heal. When we see others hurt, we want to help. Through the process of healing or helping, we awaken.

 

 

 

 

 

Life is short. Seize the day.

 

Coronavirus Calories

When it comes to diet and exercise, my motto is moderation. I don’t believe in extremes or in deprivation. Exceptions to this are fast food burgers, because God only knows where the meat comes from,  soda, never liked it, and anything labeled diet, sugar-free or low-calorie, all gimmicks in my view. Otherwise, I enjoy most foods and indulge in sweets a few times a week, because life is too short to go without chocolate.

My usual exercise routine includes power yoga, brisk walks, and twice weekly gym workouts. I never owned a scale until my mother bought me one two years ago. Though I think she really bought it for her. She’d just retired and moved to another state, and so started staying with us during holidays and visits. She’s always been scale-obsessed. I receive regular text updates whenever she gains or loses a pound, which means near-daily. I stopped telling her that it’s probably water weight.

Typically, I maintain a healthy weight for my 5’4″ frame, with one bout of weight gain several years ago when I was stressed from pursuing an advanced degree while working full-time. I worked hard to lose the 10 pounds by restricting calories for the first time in my life and ramping up exercise. It was torture, and I never wanted to do that again.

Enter COVID-19.

In the six weeks I’ve been working from home, I’ve gained six pounds. At a pound a week, I’m in big trouble if our state’s stay home, stay safe order lasts much longer, as it likely will. This on top of the four pounds I gained over winter.

Though I’ve been walking, doing moderate yoga, and even running up and down a steep hill a couple times a week, being glued to a screen all day and stuck home has made for a far more sedentary lifestyle. Being over 50 doesn’t help. My metabolism is slowing, I’m sleeping poorly, likely because of pre-menopause and increased work-related stress, and as a Gen Xer, I’m sandwiched between two generations that need me.

But the real story is, I’m eating way too much, and too much of the wrong kinds of food.

To begin with, the refrigerator is always there. One little rumbly in my tumbly and it’s off to the kitchen. Then there is the panic grocery shopping I did in the first weeks of the pandemic. I spent inordinate amounts of money on food, fearing a shelter-in-place order any moment. I started buying things I never usually do, like bread flour and yeast in case I had to bake bread (which I actually did a few times and it was so good). I definitely suffered deprivation mentality for a while.

Another challenge is having two sons hunkered down with us. Our 21 year old sleeps most of the day and, like a vampire, stays up all night, eating everything in sight, healthy or unhealthy. There’s my 13 year old who, God love him, has become a vegetarian and overall health nut. He eats everything healthy in the house like a vulture. Between these two, I wake up most mornings to an empty fridge and a full sink, forced to resort to high-fat, carb-packed meals like grilled cheese sandwiches and potato pancakes.

I’m also bored. Doing the same things day after day and never being able to go out gets tiresome. Daily sweet and salty snacks make life more exciting. So does wine. I’m drinking it nearly every evening now, even on work nights, which is usually a no-no for me.

Summer is coming. I don’t know if beaches will be open, but I am determined to get my body bathing suit ready, or as ready as a 51 year old woman can. I did it once, and I can do it again.

This means saying no to sweets, bread, pasta, and heavy cheeses on weekdays. Choosing hard-boiled eggs and bananas for breakfast, salads for lunch, and rice, vegetables, and lean proteins for dinner. The only snacks will be nuts and pineapple, because the latter is so sweet it takes away my chocolate cravings. When my belly rumbles, I will remind myself that I’m eating three meals a day plus snacks, and therefore I am absolutely not starving to death.

On weekends, anything will go. Calorie restriction during the week, and then eating what you want on weekends (within reason), tricks the body, which would normally start storing fat if calorie-deprived, into restarting burning calories. I don’t have proof of this, other than it worked last time.

I admit that weight gain is a small price to pay compared to what some folks are going through during this pandemic. This isn’t just about my physical appearance, though. It’s about how I feel. Right now, I feel physically, mentally, and energetically heavy and drained. I want to feel light, nimble, and strong in every way. I have always believed that our physical bodies are reflections of our inner state, and vice-versa.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, this pandemic will end. In the meantime, I’ve warned the boys that beginning this week, I’m labeling a drawer in the fridge and a cabinet just for my food, and they are under strict hands-off orders.

Tangled in the Narcissist’s Web

240A5B26-8B4D-4A6B-A652-3AC5488E0521Let me begin by making it clear that I do not like Donald Trump. Never have, never will. He has been on the scene my entire adult life, 30 plus years, and I was never impressed by his billionaire playboy persona. When he ran for president, I blew him off an another unfulfilled rich guy searching for more.

Yet here he is.

This post is not about him, though. It is about me, and people like me who, despite our dislike, have managed to get tangled in his narcissistic web. This tangling goes beyond Trump Derangement Syndrome. It is about boundaries, manipulation, and abuse.

Donald Trump is an abusive person. One need only read his angry tweets, watch his hate-filled rallies, and hear the insults he hurls at foes to know this. Yet it wasn’t until reading psychologist John Gartner’s take on Trump, in an article published by Salon, that I realized how the president’s malignant narcissism has damaged our collective American psyche. Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is like an abusive, narcissistic husband and we, the American people, are the long-suffering wife.

The difference is one wife stays and enables the behavior, the other wife does what is necessary to survive while plotting her escape.

I understand not everyone will see it this way or agree. Some might lash out at me for saying so. I am opening up a can of worms here and I don’t care. Like a beaten, battered wife, I am saying enough. I am done allowing this man to manipulate and abuse me. I am setting boundaries.

My decision, in some ways my awakening, started with my oldest son. A Trump supporter, he challenged me to take one day off from posting negative articles and memes about the president on social media. I accepted his challenge and raised him a week. I am not so lacking in self-awareness that I don’t recognize my dislike of Trump is  unhealthy.

On the same day of my son’s challenge, I read the article mentioned above and something clicked. For over three years, I have accused Trump supporters of being manipulated by this president. I have felt angry over the way they  excuse and defend his poor behaviors. I have even felt sorry for them for not seeing how abusive he is, and speculated that something must be very wrong with them – perhaps racism, misogyny, internalized misogyny, low self-esteem, etc. –  to allow this.

That day I realized something was wrong with me. I, too, was equally tangled in the narcissist’s web.

For three years, I have lived in a near-constant state of outrage over this man. Every day I wake up, vow not to post anything about him, then start scrolling through the news online and become so riled up, it’s as if I have no control. Copy, paste, post or share. I work, spend time with family and friends, read, exercise, do yoga, go for walks and hikes, watch Netflix, drink wine, but in between these things Trump is too much on my mind.

What horrible, outrageous thing did he do or say today? What lie did he tell? What dumb thing did he proclaim, then later deny, much in the way a husband, caught with lipstick on his collar, might try and convince his wife it was her lipstick, even though she never wears the stuff? I have felt an almost civic duty to show people, especially people that I love who support him, that they are wrong. He is fooling them. He doesn’t care.

I have allowed myself to be driven crazy by this man, to be consumed by everything he says and does in a psychologically unhealthy way. This is exactly what the malignant narcissist wants.

No more, though I do expect some withdrawal symptoms as time goes by, even some relapses. Such is the nature of unhealthy relationships when you seek to end them.