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.

Gray Matters

When it comes to matters of Black and White, there is much gray in between. I am reminded of this every day on social media, television, at work. I was reminded of it when my brother texted me close to midnight recently and said he needed to talk. My brother has never texted me that late before.  I can talk now, I told him. Is everything okay? My mother’s family hurt me, he said, but let’s talk tomorrow. 

My brother is technically my half-brother. Put another way, he’s my brother from another mother, my father’s second (now ex) wife. He is the father of a beautiful, vivacious six year old daughter who has a Black mother. He is the White father of a Black daughter and for the first time since her birth he is beginning to understand what this means for him and for her.

The email chain his mother’s family, all of whom grew up down south, was passing around started with a long diatribe from an 80 year old aunt against NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem. Others chimed in and the chain became one big bashing session against spoiled, rich players who disrespect the American flag.

These are the people who, when I was 11 and went to Atlanta for Christmas with my father and stepmother, introduced me to Gone with the Wind and were proud to take me to Kennesaw Mountain and a Confederate Museum. They were proud because the Confederacy was part of their Southern heritage and it tickled them to educate me, a New England Yankee, about it.

I admit as an impressionable young girl, the romantic picture they portrayed fooled me for a while. From the time I was 11 until about 13, I read Gone with the Wind over and over until I lost count of how many times. Although I knew that owning slaves was wrong, being White allowed me to ignore that part of the story in favor of Scarlett O’Hara’s saga of survival and misguided love.

My brother was no different. Before my niece’s birth, before she came to him crying that she was afraid the police were going to take away her mommy, before he saw how excited she got when a group of peaceful protestors marched through their quiet, small town chanting Black Lives Matter, and she started to chant, too, and said Daddy, you say it, too, he would have ignored the email, by his own admission. He no longer has that option. Instead, he is grappling with how to educate himself, and his extended family, so that he can be the best, most supportive father to his little girl.

He spent days composing an email response that attempted to educate his family about the history and legacy of American slavery, systemic racism, segregation, etc. from a Black perspective (to the extent he was able) and why it might compel some players to take a knee. He sent each new draft to me for review. I wouldn’t share that video, I’d say, your Aunt (a devout Christian), will be offended by the profanity and not see past it. And, You don’t have to convince them of anything. Just say that you love our flag, too, but as the father of a Black daughter, you also see things from a different perspective. There was the not so helpful, Why don’t you point out to them that it’s ironic they’re so proud of the confederacy, traitors that seceded from the United States and declared war on and killed Americans, yet they have a problem with some guy kneeling to silently protest the treatment of Blacks? 

His efforts and my feedback were for naught. His mother insisted on reading his email response and begged him not to send it. She felt it would cause too much pain in the family. His attempt to speak his truth and stand up for his daughter was effectively shut down.

The American Flag on my house.

I admit that when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, sending the country in an uproar, I barely paid attention. I do not like football, never watch it, not even the Superbowl, and blew it off as sports-related drama. Someone, I cannot remember who, asked me once how I felt about it and I shrugged. It didn’t matter to me either way. Stand, take a knee, whatever. Just because I stand for the National Anthem, and place a hand over my heart, doesn’t mean everyone has to. My grandfather served in WWII, my father and a brother also served, so this is important to me. I am not personally offended by people who choose differently. I don’t know their story.

My brother’s text and subsequent emails forced me out of indifference. I asked myself, what would drive me to the point that I would protest the flag of my country?

The very fact that I shrugged and thought, whatever, is a privilege most Black Americans don’t have. I realized I have a responsibility to understand. I Googled, Why do NFL players take a knee? I learned that taking a knee has a long history in America’s Civil Rights history. That players used to be in the locker room during the Anthem, until the United States Department of Defense started giving the NFL lots of money to promote patriotism.

Each of us views life and its many facets through the lens of our own experience. It is human nature to do so. Some of us, however, are so fixed in our mindsets that we cannot or will not see another’s perspective. Being in black or white, right or wrong, is simpler, cleaner, affirming. Gray matters get messy and murky. They force us to examine things that are complicated and uncomfortable. Yet gray is the space where learning and growth, and new ways of seeing and being, take place, if we are willing to go there.

 

 

 

 

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?

Pet Peeves

You know how bad things tend to happen in threes? I have a theory about this: Better to get them over with at once instead of having them spread out ruining your life at regular intervals. That’s how I’m going to vent about my pet peeves here. I’ve picked my top three and I’m unleashing them at once.

Pet Peeve # 1: Passive Aggressive People
Just stop! Say what you mean, mean what you say, and stop with the convoluted behaviors. I have a co-worker who, every time he’s about to criticize someone, prefaces it with, I hate to be negative but… No, you don’t hate to be negative. You revel in putting others down. But instead of being direct about it, you try to soften it with a preface and a fake I’m-really-a-nice-guy grin. I see through you. Then there’s my husband who, no matter how many times since I’ve been working from home and asked him, politely, to please communicate with me before he takes my car to work takes it anyway, without a word, leaving me stranded since I won’t drive his boat of a truck and he knows it. Just. Stop.

Pet Peeve # 2: People Who Think They’re Always Right
You are not always right. Let me say that again. You are not always right! No one is always right all of the time, every day of their life. No one! People like this bug me because they are not teachable. They don’t want to learn.  They just want to be right. Being right is the most important thing to them. More important than learning and growing and trying to see others’ perspectives. More important than having friends even, since no one likes a know-it-all who thinks they’re never wrong. Go away!

Pet Peeve # 3: Everyday Martyrs
We all know them. Maybe on occasion we’ve been one. But true everyday martyrs have mastered their roles. They could win an oscar with their long-suffering performances. Mothers and mothers-in-law are often the worst, or maybe it’s the best, martyrs. Cleaning up all the Thanksgiving dishes while everyone else lays around in a turkey stupor, banging and clanking pots and plates for attention, yet nobody hears or cares. Pretending it’s okay that their husband forgot their birthday, but spending the day sighing loudly in a woe-is-me way. Making sure everyone knows how hard they work, how much they do, and how unappreciated they are. Get over it! Ask for help with the dishes. Go buy yourself a birthday gift. Stop doing for everyone if it’s making you miserable. There is nothing to gain by being a martyr except negative attention that people, after a while, will completely ignore. 

There, I got that off my chest. Three pet peeves at once, so I’m not venting too much at regular intervals. I’m dying to know: What is your biggest pet peeve?

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.