Category Archives: Anxiety Overload

The Postscript

Like I said in my last post, we sent the kids to school on Monday morning.

They both had a great day.

Late Monday afternoon we got the email that a parent had reported a positive case in P’s class to the school. (There had been no such emails in the previous two weeks when we’d been keeping them home while they built immunity from their second dose.)

We debated but ultimately decided to send her back and take her out if any more cases arose.

We pulled P. back out at lunch on Tuesday because we learned of a second case. I heard about it from parents at drop off and I would have turned around and taken her home with me right then except she was already in the classroom.

A third case was announced via email by Tuesday afternoon. The parents of that child haven’t self-identified on our group chat thread but I suspect it might be the kid who had a play date on the weekend with the second case (and whose mother was the one announcing the other kid was positive and that her child had had a play date with said child as she was sending her kid into the classroom where they, I only later learned from P., sit AT HER TABLE).

So E. is still going to school and P. is at home until at least Monday and Q. is grumpy because, for the first time in the entire pandemic, our assessments of the risks do not align.

Q. is of the view that we’ve done everything we can to make ourselves safe, that Omicron is so widespread and so transmissible that it is inevitable that we are going to get it, and that the disruption from having the kids home (especially P. – not her fault, she’s just younger) is unsustainable and has to end.

I am of the view that we should refuse to accept infection as inevitable and that we should continue to remove ourselves from high-risk situations, especially during times of peak infection when the health care system is overloaded and dangerously close to collapse. I get that my kids are extremely unlikely to end up in the hospital and the evidence is looking better on long COVID if you’re vaccinated, but if COVID turns out to cause problems after infection years or decades down the road, I don’t want to be part of the group that learns that the hard way. It’s becoming increasingly clear that ‘one and done’ doesn’t apply with COVID infections; the idea of ‘let’s get it and then we’ll have gotten it over with’ just isn’t true.

Q. is right that at some point we are going to have to reenter our lives.

He is also right that we are losing our minds after two years of teaching online while juggling the kids (who have been home far more than they have been in school).

But I can’t rationalize keeping her in a situation that would have shut down the classroom in December. The only thing that has changed is the public health guidance, which is based on our government’s decision to give up on the pandemic and just pretend everything is fine, especially in the schools full of un/undervaccinated children.

Our public health protocols are bad protocols.

So she stays home until the situation looks better, even if that means I get up at 5 am to do the marking I thought I could do during school hours. P.’s schooling right now is low stakes. She’s not even legally obligated to be there. She misses her friends and she’s concerned that the class is learning French letter sounds without her but a few more days, even a few more weeks over the course of this year will not have grave long-term consequences for her.

What keeps me up at night is that it might already be too late. The day and a half she was in school might have already given her COVID.

I keep saying to people if she does get it, we really are all screwed. She’s at peak immunity, wears a CA-N95 mask (and wears it properly, all the time), is in a classroom with a HEPA filter, and we pulled her out at lunch.

So maybe I’m fighting a futile battle, thinking I can avoid this. Personal responsibility can only take you so far if there’s no systemic government/societal support.

I guess we’ll know in a few days.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, COVID-19

I don’t wanna fight Cerberus

Getting out of bed right now is hard.

Doing the bare minimum of what is required to keep work/house/kids functioning is hard.

I am really struggling.

I ran into a school parent who’s also an academic (not quite a solid friend but better than an acquaintance) while picking up take-home PCR tests before the winter break. She told me she was on stress leave for depression.

I am not proud of this but my first, gut, reaction was jealousy.

I wished I could be depressed and go on leave too.

I have another good friend who’s a high-school teacher who is on leave for burnout. The mother of E’s best friend is trying to find a locum to cover her practice so she can take a few months off (she’s a palliative care doctor).

The number of people falling apart around me – strong, focused, driven people with good support networks and masses of privilege – is staggering.

We’re all hitting our breaking points.

I went so far as to look up my collective agreement and I could get six weeks of medical leave with the right documentation but it would be incredibly challenging to find someone to cover my four classes (and the responsibility for finding said replacement would land on Q’s shoulders and he is also hanging on by a thread) and I feel a sense of obligation to my students, so I think I am just going to try to push through until April and then sleep for all of May.

I last posted in late November, right before my kids got their first vaccine. I thought that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

That was pre-Omicron, of course.

E. had one week out of self-isolation before another case in his class sent him home again. P. followed very shortly afterwards as an outbreak at the school emerged (caused by, according to the parental grapevine, an ill-advised birthday party). Neither of them caught COVID.

They were home doing online learning (with varying degrees of success) until the winter break. Then they were home for two weeks because of the break. Then they were home for another two weeks of online learning (with even less success) because Omicron had exploded and our hospitals were overloaded. And then they were home for another two weeks even though the schools resumed because we didn’t want them to go back into the school until they were two weeks past their second vaccine. They’ve been home now for almost two full months.

The NACI has recommended an eight-week spacing for 5-11s for their vaccine based on research showing this interval produces a longer lasting immune response. But parents can opt for an earlier interval if they provide informed consent. We moved their second appointment four times trying to keep up with what the province was doing. In the end, we gambled that there was no way they would send the kids back into the schools two weeks ago since the hospitals were still overloaded and they’d done basically nothing to make the schools safer.

Instead, our provincial government sent the kids back at the same time as they:

  • removed schools and daycares from their list of high-risk settings
  • restricted access to PCR testing to high-risk settings (making all kids and educators and their families ineligible for PCR testing)
  • stopped tracking and reporting cases of COVID in the schools
  • stopped dismissing cohorts if a case was reported in a class

They made the schools LESS SAFE and said they were empowering parents. (Counting the days until the provincial election in June.)

E. called the premier’s office to explain to them that stopping testing was ‘just like if you told everyone not to call the fire department. It wouldn’t keep any houses from being on fire, it would just mean that no one would know which ones were burning’. The (long-suffering) woman who took our call said he had made a very good point and that he had a been a bright spot in her day. (Many people are very angry.)

The thing that E. couldn’t get over was that we all made fun of Trump when he said he wanted to cut back on testing and now here we were doing the exact same stupid thing. (Yes my kid is more qualified to be premier than our premier.)

In the end the kids got to seven weeks from their first dose, so almost the full recommended spacing. They are now a full two weeks past their second appointment. We are sending them back tomorrow because we can’t keep them home any longer and continue to do our jobs. They have CA-N95 masks (not an affiliate link, I just love them – they are always sold out but you can sign up for email notifications when they’re back in stock and then drop everything when you get the email and rush to the site to order them). We are taking them home for lunch for at least the entire month of February. We are keeping P. out of her aftercare program.

The logistics surrounding FOUR separate trips to the school per day are horrific but as I said to Q., it can’t be worse than having them at home (especially P. who desperately needs the socialization and the French exposure. E. would be fine to keep home for longer).

In the fall, I felt they were safe.

I don’t feel like they’re safe anymore.

Our board has decided to continue to inform parents if there is a confirmed case in the class, but this requires:

  • The parents to have access to RATs to know that their kid is positive (since no PCR eligibility)
  • The parents to notify the school (since they are not required to do so; even if they, by some miracle, get a PCR test public health will not automatically tell the school)
  • And even then the class won’t be dismissed so we’ll have to decide for ourselves whether we pull our kid for the rest of the week
  • Oh, and did I mention that we’ve decided positive cases only need to isolate for five days and then can merrily rejoin society without needing to use a RAT to confirm that they’re no longer contagious? Fun times.

The public health guidelines are a joke. The only way they make sense is if you take the view that the government’s plan is for everyone to get Omicron so the wave can be over by the spring and it can look like they beat the pandemic in time for the election. And while I 100% believe this is their plan (and I do think it’s a plan and not just extreme incompetence), I’m still not sure how it’s all meant to work out if we’re crashing the hospitals. Or if a whole bunch more kids end up in hospital (because our vaccination rates for 5-11s are ridiculously low and 0-4s have no vaccine coverage at all).

The cognitive load of trying to decide what to do with the kids, of trying to manage my work with the kids at home, of trying to rationalize sending them back knowing that the government has made them less safe, has been really hard. I know that they are now extremely unlikely to need to be hospitalized. I also know that recent studies are suggesting that they are now very unlikely to get long COVID. But I refuse to take the view that ‘we’re all going to get it’ and we should just accept the inevitable. I don’t want them to get COVID. We have no idea what the long-term effects of infection are going to be.

So they are going back and I hope I can sleep at night and I hope the next time I post on here it isn’t to tell you that my kids caught COVID at school.

(Post title from Surface Pressure which I like to watch on days when I feel I haven’t done enough crying already.)

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Soapbox

Fractured

A couple of months ago, E. broke a glass while emptying the dishwasher. He didn’t drop it – he was putting it into the cupboard and he went to stack it with another glass (like we always do) and it…just broke.

For months now, I have felt like that glass. Outwardly whole, but inwardly one wrong knock away from breaking into little pieces.

I had started to seriously consider whether my languishing had tipped over into becoming a true depression.

I was tired all the time.

I couldn’t concentrate when I needed to read challenging texts or do precise work.

The things I enjoyed in the early pandemic – taking photographs, tending my garden, raising butterflies – all now seemed like too much work.

Then Andrew Morris posted about burnout in one of his biweekly emails (he’s great, highly recommend), and a light bulb went off in my brain. And then the Atlantic produced an article on why the pandemic is still making us feel terrible and another light bulb went off. And then there was this article in Macleans, where someone put into words exactly how I was feeling and why I was struggling. It made me ugly cry, especially the line (emphasis mine):

Children have sacrificed so much with no say in how all of this would go down: two entire school years, a sense of careless normalcy, any semblance of routine or stability, countless birthday parties, hockey games, recitals and playdates, even the version of their parents that they would have gotten if all of this were not hanging over our heads, still.

I am burned out.

More burned out than I have ever been in my life before.

Despite all the privilege that Q. and I enjoy (and we enjoy a great deal), I am hanging on by a thread.

My burnout cannot be fixed with cheery exhortations from my institution on Wellness Wednesday to “go for a walk!” or “make time for self care!”.

How I feel cannot be fixed with a massage or a cup of tea.

I have taught for ten semesters in a row, every semester since Fall 2018, including every semester of the pandemic thus far. I have a four-course load this year, two of which are brand new preps outside my field of expertise.

The only reason I am keeping afloat is that the kids have had a blessedly disruption-free fall (although E. is currently in our basement, in the final days of a two-week self-isolation period caused by a positive case in his class). And there is finally, finally some light at the end of the tunnel for my household, as both of my kids have vaccine appointments this weekend. Our provincial vaccine portal was supposed to open yesterday at 8 am, but experience had taught me it’s always available earlier, so I logged in and booked both kids at 6.30 am, before anyone else in my house was awake. And then I put my head down on my kitchen table and cried. I cried because at some point in early February (assuming an eight-week spacing between shots like the NACI is recommending) my kids will be as safe as I can make them, and I can stop carrying the continuous weight of what-if worry that has been my constant companion since the pandemic started.

In early October, I asked my Chair not to run the course in SU2022 that I usually teach for them every summer. It’s an entirely online course that I’ve taught several times before. Under normal circumstances, I quite like teaching it. Under normal circumstances, it’s not that much extra work (other than the marking).

But I need the rest so much more than we need the income.

My Chair has school-age children who, like mine, have spent the majority of their past two academic years at home (from mid-March 2020, when the schools shut for the first time, my kids were in school from mid-September to the first week of December 2020, and then again from mid-February until the first week of April. Until September 2021, that was it. Five months out of eighteen.). “T.,” he said, “I’ve never been so tired in my entire life. I get it.”

He approved my scheduling request.

I’ve read so many stories of women leaving the work force because of the pandemic, unable to balance their job and their caregiving responsibilities.

I’m not leaving.

But I am taking a step back.

So I don’t shatter.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, COVID-19

Chasing Endorphins

I linked that NYT article on languishing on this blog already, but it was in my (spoiler-filled) post on TFATWS, so I’m linking it again here just in case you haven’t seen it.

When I posted it on my FB feed, saying that I was definitely languishing and asking who was right there with me, a friend commented that she had for sure been languishing but that getting vaccinated produced a huge rush of endorphins.

At the time, I thought that was a really interesting reaction, but didn’t think I would feel the same way. I wanted to get vaccinated, but I doubted it could have that big an impact on my mood.

Call me corrected.

Q. and I got the AstraZeneca vaccine the very next day, the day after my province opened it up to the 40-55 age group.* I had tears in my eyes as I drove to the pharmacy. I wanted to cheer when the pharmacist jabbed me. When my waiting period was up and I was allowed to leave, I bought a big bag of chips and drove home and then Q. and I drank cider and ate chips with the kids and we picked up takeaway for dinner and we turned it into a big celebration. We took a vaccine selfie and posted it on social media (they really do help counteract vaccine hesitancy) and it turned out that some of my best friends (some in other provinces) all got vaccinated that day too.

It finally, FINALLY felt like we were getting somewhere.

I felt AMAZING.

And I completely understood how my friend had felt.

The vaccine high lasted until about 9 p.m., when the vaccine side effects kicked in. I spent the night shaking and running a fever and hallucinating about rescuing people from Nazi prison camps and getting the shield back to Sam Wilson (I think they were related). I barely slept. Q. barely slept either, although he felt fine – it was just my tossing and turning.

The next day I still had a fever and shakes and just generally felt like I’d been hit by a truck (Q. had a sore arm). By the afternoon I could just about manage lying on the couch ‘supervising’ the kids. I slept fine that night though and by the following day I was mostly back to normal, both physically and mentally.

It made me realize how rarely in the past year I’ve felt that excited about something, how rare it’s been to have that flood of endorphins.

We’re languishing.

We’re in a holding pattern.

I was emailing with an academic out in Atlantic Canada about a book review and when she asked how things were going I told her it was like Groundhog Day, as we started corresponding about said review back in March/April 2020.

Really, though, that’s not correct. The situation’s much worse.

Our kids are back online (as predicted) and are likely to stay that way until September. Q. and I have finished the winter semester and are about to start the summer term, still teaching from our basement. We’re still staying at home, as much as we can, while the entire province implodes and the ‘government’ blames individuals while refusing to take responsibility for the situation they’ve created where the health care system is on the brink of collapse and they’re building field hospitals and training doctors how to tell families that their loved ones don’t qualify for life-saving care.

I was hesitant to get the AZ vaccine because in the (extremely unlikely) possibility I developed the blood clotting issue, I didn’t want to be going into the hospital system when it was so overloaded.**

So the endorphins have been few and far between.

And then last Sunday, my family did a virtual escape room to celebrate my Mum’s birthday and THAT WAS THE MOST FUN any of us had had in MONTHS. It was so much fun several of us had trouble getting to sleep afterwards! As a team we absolutely killed it. We got through the main storyline so quickly we got to do a bonus puzzle and then we blasted through the bonus puzzle in under ten minutes. It was so deeply satisfying (and labmonkey was for sure our MVP). We used Looking Glass Adventures which I am linking to here because it was so so so good and you can do a virtual escape room no matter where you are in the world and I am serious – get some friends or family together and chase the endorphins!

So that’s where my endorphins have come from recently: getting vaccinated, beating the escape room, and chasing fan theories about Disney+ Marvel shows down rabbit holes.

Where are your endorphins coming from these days? Have you been able to break out of the holding pattern, or are you still mostly languishing?

*Our story, like that of so many other people in this ridiculous Hunger-Games-inspired vaccine rollout, was about how privilege gives you all of the advantages. We got vaccinated because:

  • Q. and I had used our stable internet connection and web literacy to register online with one of the major pharmacy chains and had received confirmation codes via our mobile phones
  • I had read online that some locations of that same chain had been given permission to vaccinate 24/7.
  • I had the time to call one of those pharmacies to ask how the appointments would work (because we thought maybe we could go at 5 a.m.)
  • When the pharmacist said, “If you want a vaccine today, you should come right now because right now we have doses and no line ups but I think we’ll have run out by tomorrow”, Q. was able to drop everything and walk out the door, get into the car, and drive to the pharmacy.
  • When he got back home again, two hours later, I could drop everything and go up myself.
  • We had the time and flexibility to chase the vaccine, a co-parent to look after the kids, and jobs where no one would notice (or care) if we didn’t work at full capacity (or at all) the next day.
  • While Q. was waiting in line, a guy turned up who was obviously working on a construction site and had come over on his break. Even though there was almost no line, he had to leave to go back to work before he could get vaccinated. An elderly man with little English turned up too but was turned away because he hadn’t registered online to get a confirmation code (even though he said repeatedly he didn’t know how to do that). Q. was so mad – if he had had a smartphone he would have registered the man himself. The people who most need the vaccines have the most trouble getting them. It’s infuriating. It’s discriminatory. And it’s going to kill people.

**I underestimated how much my anxiety would affect how I felt about the AZ vaccine. I knew (and believed wholeheartedly) it made sense to get it, but I’ve been struggling a lot with irrational thoughts over the past two weeks. Now that I’ve made it to day 14, I feel a lot better, but I won’t be completely free from anxiety until it’s been four weeks, and I’m not going to complain if they start recommending mixing vaccines and I can get one of the mRNA ones for my second dose.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Choose Happiness, COVID-19, Family, Medical issues

The End of Normal

Thursday 12 March 2020 is what I think of as my last ‘normal’ day.

It was the last day I taught in person.

The last day I took transit.

On the way home from (what would turn out to be) my last in-person class, I got a text from my sister with the news that the premier was shutting the schools after March Break ‘for two weeks’ (hahaha, sigh).

By noon on Friday my university had announced it was pivoting to online instruction, effective Monday. When P. and I went to go do the groceries that afternoon (as we usually did on Fridays), we couldn’t get into our usual grocery store because the panic buying was in full swing.

We knew it was coming, and yet, when it did, it seemed to happen all of a sudden.

On the 1st of March, Q. and I ran a big public forum connected to our research, with hundreds of people in attendance (in retrospect, we only JUST snuck that in). I remember chatting with other faculty members who were supposed to go to Italy in April for a lecture and research tour. At that point, they still thought they’d be able to go, although they were concerned that the libraries might be shut. No one at that point seemed concerned about Canada at all.

By the 6th of March, Q. went out to do our “what if we have to quarantine for two weeks” shop.

The WHO declared it officially a pandemic on the 11th.

And the 12th was the end.

It’s been a weird year.

A year without restaurants, without movie theatres or plays or musicals, without museums and zoos, without playdates (except virtual ones). A year without setting foot in someone else’s house (except for the brief point in the summer when we could bubble with my mum). A year without swimming lessons, without trips to the bakery for treats after school, without adventures on transit, without all the little things that add up to the rhythm of our days.

A year without friends.

A year of mask-wearing, of online grocery orders, of extreme hand washing, of waving hello at a neighbour and then taking a nervous step backwards when they approach.

A year of crossing the street when you see someone else coming.

A year of both too much family togetherness and too little.

It’s been a hard year.

The most difficult part was mid-March to early August, when the kids were at home with us 24/7 and we were trying to keep all the balls in the air (work! school! food! book project! mental health! more food! exercise! house! still more food!) without any room to breathe. My mum was able to take the kids for a few days in August, and again in early September, and that helped so so so much. Then the kids had two and a half months back in school, which was amazing (but then two more months at home). Currently we’re at almost a month back in school, long may it continue (probably not past mid-April).

I’ve been so focused on the kids and on how much of the past year has been spent with them at home with us that I only just realized the other day that it’s also been a year since Q. and I spent any significant time apart. We’ve had months of trading off responsibility for the kids while one of us hides works in the basement, and sometimes one of us goes out for a walk without the other, and there’s been the occasional medical appointment, but we haven’t had a single day that resembles what (in the before times) was our normal: only one of us at a time in the house between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. There’s probably only a handful of meals we’ve eaten over the past year that we haven’t eaten together.

I guess it’s a sign of the strength of our marriage that it took me that long to realize how little space from each other we’ve had over the past year (and how little it’s bothered me).

Throughout the pandemic, my little family has been fine. We’ve been safe. No one we know well has died from (or even contracted) COVID (and please may it stay that way).

But fine doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. Trying to use my brain is like swimming through treacle. It feels like when E. and P. were tiny and I was up multiple times per night, every night, for months…but I am sleeping fine. It feels like when I was depressed during graduate school…but I am not depressed.

I am functioning, but only just.

I am so burnt out.

I stare at a screen all day long for work and then at night I stare at a screen some more because the thought of reading makes my brain physically ache.

I don’t know where I would start the process of recovering.

I don’t know what I would need to feel like I can start the process of recovering.

Teaching online is like playing whack-a-mole: I get one thing organized, one module finished, and something else pops up. On my non-teaching days, there’s always marking to finish, or quiz questions to prep, or translations to post. I am counting the weeks until the end of the semester, hoping that in the summer, when I am teaching only one course, a course that I always teach online, a course that is fully prepped (because I need would like to revamp it but nope, not this year), things will get easier.

But I suspect I won’t feel like things are truly getting easier until we can say that it’s over. Because, the truth is, it’s not the teaching that’s taking up such an enormous cognitive load that my brain feels like an old computer being asked to run a program for which it doesn’t have enough RAM.

It’s the pandemic.

We’re safe, we’re fine, but we’re tired.

Get up, get through the day, go to sleep.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I know it will be over eventually.

But we’re not clear yet.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Family

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I’m addicted to US news.

It felt like a survival tactic for years: know what was going on south of the border so that if the orange fascist-in-chief started a war, you’d at least be aware it was happening.

It was an anxiety control mechanism: if I understood everything that was happening, everything that mattered, I could feel better about my total inability to change what was happening.

Gradually, over the past couple of months, I have begun to realize how these patterns of anxiety played out. I have begun to recognize (again) that the US is a separate country, and I do not need to know how the Senate confirmation hearings for President Biden’s cabinet picks are going. I feel like I need to know, in the same way that I once needed to know the names of (far too many) counties in Arizona or Georgia, but the truth is, I don’t.

Nor do I need to obsessively follow the people on Twitter who used to tell me how terrible everything was. They’re still there. They’re still tweeting. But the adults are back in charge, and things are finally, blessedly calm.

You can log on to Twitter at any given point in the day and the hashtags are just normal, boring hashtags.

You can no longer immediately tell what the president has recently said or done from what’s trending.

I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’m realizing how often I was in the habit of checking particular websites to see what was being said or done, how often my go-to ‘break’ was a quick troll through the international news, how much of my time and mental energy was sucked up every day by these habits, this need to know.

I am not for a minute suggesting that all the problems in the US have been magically solved with the arrival of the new administration, just that it is time I stopped paying as much attention to them.

I should know more about what is going on in my own country than I do about the state of the US.

That hasn’t been true for years.

I can easily name more governors than premiers. I can’t name a single Canadian supreme court justice, but I can rattle off the names of those who sit on SCOTUS.

I need to reset my priorities.

But addictions are hard to break.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Soapbox

Sleepless

I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. for the last few days.

It’s the time change. We had a big weather system come through on Sunday night which resulted in me getting a migraine and going to bed at 8 p.m., which definitely didn’t help reset my body clock.

But it’s also the US election.

Q. reminds me every now and then, when he’s heard too much about Senate races in Kansas and Alaska and South Carolina (oh please, oh please, let Jaime Harrison win), or about the fate of the 127,000 votes cast by drive-through voting in Harris County, that “it is a different country”.

And yes, it is a different country. E. asked me worriedly the other day what would happen to us if Trump won again and I was able to reassure him truthfully that our day-to-day existence would not change.

But at the same time, this election in particular feels more consequential for those of us stuck watching from the outside.

If the wrong person wins, it will be that much harder for Canada to get COVID under control.

If the wrong person wins, and the US is the first to develop a vaccine, it’s already clear that Canadian health authorities won’t be sure whether they can trust it.

If the wrong person wins, the planet is basically fucked, because we don’t have four more years to get our act in order.

Plus there’s that whole “living next to a country sliding into authoritarianism” thing, which hasn’t worked out so well for other countries in the past.

My closest friends in the US are all mixed-citizenship couples. Without exception, they’ve said to me that if Trump wins again, they’re leaving. They say this with the guilty conscience of those who know that they have an escape route when millions of others don’t, but it doesn’t change their view that if he gets in again, the only viable option is to flee. One friend (who lives near Boston) told me via email that they’ve bought paper maps of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in case they have to make a run for Canada and the internet had gone down. She wasn’t joking.

There’s a lot of positive energy on Twitter, but also a lot of fear that it will be 2016 all over again. When I get stressed, I scroll through #turntexasblue and read the voices of the thousands of people who are working so very hard to flip that state and end the entire thing tonight. I’ve basically lived on that hashtag for the past week (@HarrisVotes is the best government social media account out there, as an aside).

Four years ago Q. and I went to bed worried but hopeful things might turn around. We woke up to something that felt unreal. We knew it would be bad, but we had no idea it could possibly be THIS bad.

I hope he loses bigly.

I hope his enablers in the Senate are dragged down with him.

I hope the result is so clear and so decisive that no one can question the result.

I hope there’s a peaceful transfer of power (I can’t believe I even feel I have to write that about the US, but there you go).

I hope that, come January, I can sleep again at night because I won’t have to worry about what the president of the United States, the once-was ‘leader’ of the free world, has been Tweeting.

I can’t vote. But it’s not true that I don’t have a stake in this election.

I hope everyone who can vote, does.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Soapbox

Cancelled Plans

My school board put forward a plan at the end of last week that would have reduced class sizes at the elementary level to 15 (JK-3) or 20 (4-8) at a cost of only $20M. They planned to reassign all specialist teachers to a single classroom, dramatically cutting the number of new teachers who would need to be hired, as well as limiting the cross-cohort contacts (since the specialist teachers would no longer be going into multiple classrooms to teach their subjects). To achieve this, they needed move the teachers’ prep periods to the end of the school day, which would mean that the students were dismissed 48 minutes earlier.

It was exactly the kind of creative, innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that we need to manage this pandemic. It would have made physical distancing possible in the classrooms. For many parents it would have made the decision about whether to send their children back to school so much easier.

The government said no.

We are three weeks out from the official start of the school year, and my board had to pause their registration process to determine how many students would be opting for remote learning (instead of face-to-face) because they still don’t have a plan approved by the provincial government.

I’m so angry.

It is an abdication of their job as the government to download the responsibility to come up with a functioning plan for the schools onto the school boards.

But to reject a plan that would have helped to keep safe everyone in the province’s largest (and likely most vulnerable to COVID outbreaks) school board, a plan that would have given the schools a fighting chance to stay open when the second wave comes (and, let’s remember, our provincial government reopened the bars only a few short weeks ago, so the second wave will come)?

That is unconscionable.

I have been calling and emailing and calling and emailing ever since I heard the news.

I feel like I’m screaming into the void.*

We are three weeks out from the start of the school year, and I have no idea if I will send my children into a classroom.

As I said to the premier and the minister for education in one of my emails, parents are utterly overwhelmed by the impossible balancing act that has been our lives since mid-March. We desperately need our children to go back to school, but we also need to believe that they will be safe there.

My school board threw us a lifeline.

My government left us to drown.

 

*I recognize that it is a sign of my own immense privilege that this is really one of the first times in my adult life that I can remember a government making a decision that is so openly detrimental to my family. I haven’t always been a fan of our governments (federal, provincial, or municipal) and they have certainly made decisions that I have strongly disagreed with (and protested), but this is the first one that feels viscerally personal.

 

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, COVID-19

No Good Options

Our province released its ‘plan’ for the reopening of schools last week.

I haven’t cried during this entire pandemic, but when I read their document, I put my head down on my desk and wept.

Their ‘plan’ is clearly based around the set of updated recommendations developed by Sick Kids (in collaboration with a number of other children’s hospitals in the province). Our premier has been using the words “Sick Kids” when he talks about the ‘plan’. (He’s also been quoted as saying that it’s not his plan, likely because the backlash has been swift and extensive. Spoiler alert, premier: you’re the PREMIER. It’s YOUR PLAN.)

Yet their ‘plan’ ignores key infection prevention and control measures recommended in the report, including smaller class sizes, physical distancing, and adequate ventilation. They are making masks mandatory for grades four and up (so they’re aware of the study from South Korea showing that children as young as ten spread the virus as efficiently as adults), but they want students to remain in a cohort (namely their class). It’s clear from the preliminary drafts from my school board that the plan is for each class to eat lunch in their classroom, which will largely eliminate any advantages to having the children wear masks in that same room for the entire rest of the school day. E.’s school has multiple interior classrooms with no windows, and most windows in the schools can only open a tiny fraction for safety reasons (making sure children can’t fall out).

They’ve been a bit more creative in how they’ve approached the high schools, with cohorts of 15 or less, a quadmester schedule, and alternating attendance, so their lack of imagination with the elementary schools makes even less sense. Half the kids at E’s school (JK-grade 8) will be age ten or older.  Yet their plan boils down to ‘business as usual with some kids wearing masks’.

They still think it will be acceptable for P. to be in a JK classroom of thirty kids and two adults.

They still think a class cap for E. of 25 kids is fine.

Yet they expect no child to have a total of more than 50 ‘direct or indirect’ contacts at school. My kids are over 50 just with their two classes. That’s not even considering the siblings of other students, and then the kids in those classes.

I’d call it a joke, except there’s nothing funny at all about this.

Q. and I feel like we’ve been hit by a truck. Q. is awake in the night for hours. I’ve returned to the deep-brain fog of the first few weeks of the pandemic, when it felt like I made every move through treacle.

We’re in crisis because we have no idea what we’re going to do (or what we should do, which is not the same thing) with our kids in September.

The first day of school is just barely over a month away. My school board is going to start phoning parents as of next Monday, asking us to indicate whether we will be sending our kids in-person or opting for remote delivery. The survey is going to run until the 17th, so we’ll stall as long as we can to see what the case numbers are doing in the province (because, oh yes, the government moved us all to Phase 3 and REOPENED THE BARS).

I’ve already drafted and sent a long letter to the premier and the minister for education and my MPP and my school board trustee. I’ve signed the petition. I’ve shared information widely on social media (including my letter, which I encouraged others to copy and tweak for their own personal situation).

So here are our options:

In-person school

  • Send them both to school (for a shortened, five hour day, presumably because they’re going to have to stagger arrival and departure times to allow for everyone to be screened)
  • Hope E. can tolerate wearing a mask for five hours a day (spoiler alert: he won’t be able to). Hope his anxiety can handle the many, many changes to the school environment he knows and has worked so hard to become comfortable in. Hope he can still have a positive learning experience even while wearing a mask, separated from all the kids in his grade except those in his class (including his best friend who is not in the same class), and maintaining distance from the kids in his class (at least there won’t be much group work. E. hates groupwork.)
  • E. is also meant to stay with the teacher who had him last year, which would be a huge advantage. But she’s older and close to retirement and did a truly kick-ass job at converting to online teaching in March. Is she coming back? Will she be teaching remotely? We’re going to have to make a decision without knowing her status.
  • P. is clearly lonely and would greatly benefit from being around her peers. Since no one expects that physical distancing would work in a kindergarten classroom, being in school might actually have some benefits for her (even if some aspects might be strange, like the teacher wearing a mask, and the screening station).
  • We’d have to cut all contact with family members, especially grandparents; revert to socially-distanced visits in backyards until the weather turns foul, and then only see my family over Zoom
  • Actual quote from one of my (many) fraught conversations with Q. over the past few days: “Is not doing a totally shit job on our teaching in the coming year a good enough reason to put our family at risk?”
  • That’s the only real advantage to this approach. Q. and I would get the breathing room to maybe, just maybe, be able to do our jobs properly. We’ve managed ok thus far because 1) COVID only  shut down the final four weeks of the winter semester; 2) Q. was on sabbatical and not teaching; 3) The course I’ve been teaching this summer was designed to be taught online from its inception and I’ve taught it before, so there was minimal prep.
  • This coming academic year has me teaching two courses and running a tutorial in a third (I may need to drop out of that course – Q. and I are still discussing it). One of the two courses I’ve taught for years, but never online. The second is a brand-new prep. Both are language courses which will require a shit-ton of work to be able to be run as online courses (mostly to avoid cheating). Q.’s sabbatical has ended, but he has an uneven teaching load: much lighter in the fall, but heavy in the winter. All of his courses will run online. None of them has been run online before.
  • We cannot prep and teach these courses without a significant amount of time and space. If the kids go to school, we’ll get both.

Remote learning

  • Our province is guaranteeing that parents can keep their kids home and opt for a remote-delivery option.
  • This will look NOTHING like the emergency online schooling E. did from mid-March until the end of June.
  • We have no firm details about what the daily schedule will look like, but there will be a schedule. The assumption is 300 minutes daily (identical to the in-person), with multiple synchronous sessions every day  (including whole group, small group, and one-on-one).
  • I counted, and if both P. and E. were signed up for this option, we’d be looking at facilitating over TEN synchronous sessions a day.
  • Basically it would be a full-time job for one of us to make sure that the kids were logging on when they were supposed to, that they had devices when they needed them, that they had been signed in when attendance was being taken, etc.
  • If we decided we couldn’t send the kids to school, we wouldn’t even bother with this for P. We’d just pull her out and home school. She can already count to 100 (and is working on counting backwards), she can do simple addition (more than just 1+something), she knows all her letters and is interested in reading. From an academic perspective, she’d be fine.
  • The remote option outline looks, to be honest, like a NIGHTMARE for E. He hated anything synchronous. What we’d need, for success, would be recorded videos outlining curriculum concepts, assignments and worksheets and activities to support that, guidelines for what to submit and when, and the chance for E. to have one-on-one conversations with someone to keep up his French. We can read the curriculum documents. We can figure out where E’s gaps are and make sure that they’re filled by the end of the year. We don’t need someone to teach him, we just need the curriculum (I recognize that this would not be the case for many parents).
  • E. is not an independent learner yet. For him to do well with remote instruction, he’d need fairly heavy support from us to make sure he did his work (unless it’s something he’s interested in, and then he’ll do it independently no problem).
  • BUT, we can’t easily support E. if we’re also managing P. That was really difficult before school finished, and Q. in particular is adamant that we can’t do it the same way again, especially if there are going to be more expectations around how the day is organized.
  • So if one of us is supporting E. when he needs it, and one of us is keeping P. happy and occupied, exactly when are we doing the work to teach our classes? This option would let us stay in our social circle, but we don’t have the kind of family support that could help facilitate this arrangement. Maybe my Mum could take the kids for one weekend a month and we could work non-stop to try to record lectures (as that’s really hard to do with them in the house)?
  • My mental health, and Q’s mental health, is also important.

Home School

  • A third alternative would be to pull them both out of school and go our own way.
  • This would be fine for P. but the issue with E. is he’s in French Immersion. If we home schooled him for the entire academic year, he’d lose his place in the FI stream. We could pull him for less than six months with no repercussions. If we pulled him for more than six months but less than the full year, he’d have to do a placement test (assuming we could get him back into the classroom when we wanted).
  • So straight up homeschooling is out.

Learning Pods/Bubbles

  • We could try to form some sort of pod or bubble with other families. Since homeschooling is out, I guess we’d be trying to find a couple of people with kids in E’s grade where we could trade the kids around so one parent was facilitating the remote learning and the other households wouldn’t have to worry about their kid on that day
  • A ‘one room schoolhouse’ option is out, I think, because we can’t do straight home schooling. If E’s at home, he needs to be attached to the remote option from the school board to protect his place in French Immersion (FI is really really good for E. If he hated it and it wasn’t working, we’d have more choices).
  • We could probably bubble with parents who have kids older than E., as they could probably manage more work independently. I have a friend who lives down the block with one kid in grade 6 and one in grade 4 and she doesn’t want to send her kids back until at least the new year. She’s interested in some sort of bubble.
  • I also have a friend who is a qualified French teacher who is already planning to stay home with his kid (grade 2) and he’s said we could talk about merging, but I don’t know yet if he’s planning on following the remote curriculum or home schooling.
  • BUT we have P. What do we do with P.? We can’t ask parents of older kids to also look after P. on the days when they’re meant to be supervising all the remote learning. And if we ship E. out somewhere else, but we still have P., we haven’t gained all that much.
  • So do we try to get childcare help for P? Do we try to set up a kindy bubble? (At this point we’d again be having to cut all contact with our families.)
  • This is one of those times where the five year age gap is really showing. No one we know is in exactly the same boat. I have one friend with a kid in E’s grade and a kid going in to SK, but I don’t know what she’s doing yet. I’ve reached out to see. (French Immersion starts here in SK, so that’s another complication as kids a year older than P. ought to be starting this school year in French.)
  • I’m also SO FRUSTRATED that my university last year waited so.damn.long to sort out my teaching. If we’d known in May 2019 how much teaching I was going to have that fall/winter, we could have kept our incredible nanny. Then we would have had our nanny during COVID and this summer, and we could have now been in discussions with her about supporting the kids for remote learning. But instead we had to let her go, and she’s so wonderful she was instantly snapped up by other families.
  • Maybe we should be hiring another nanny? But then wouldn’t it just be easier and cheaper for me to quit and manage the kids myself? (We would never do this, but it is so clear to me how devastating this pandemic is for women in the workforce because I have these thoughts many times a day.)

The Calculated Yank

  • Send the kids to school in September, keep them there until Thanksgiving, then yank them and change to remote delivery
  • This might buy Q. and I the breathing room we need to get a massive head start with the prep on our courses
  • The government and the school boards originally said that it might be a challenge to switch between deliveries, and that students might be wait-listed, or have to change at the end of a grading period, but my board has back tracked on that already and is promising a great deal more flexibility (no idea how that would work with staffing models)
  • This would be very disorienting for the kids, but probably not all that more than if they  started in person and then the schools had to close

In the grand scheme of things, we are still so, so privileged. We have not lost our jobs. We can do our jobs from home (and, in fact, we have to teach remotely for the fall semester and the university  has made it clear that even if it is safe to return to the campus for the winter, no professor will be required to do so). We have options, even if I hate them all.

Right now, it is probably safe for the kids to go back to school. Our numbers are sitting around the 0.5 cases per 100,000 people mark.

But we are a big city. And there will be a second wave.

There will come a point, I am certain, when it will no longer be safe for the kids to be in school.

My worry is that if we send them, we won’t know when that point has come until it is too late.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, COVID-19

Notes from a Pandemic (July 2020)

Things of (some) note in the Turia household over the past couple of weeks:

  • I cut everyone’s hair (except for mine)  last weekend. Q. ordered a set of clippers with scissors online. He was so desperate he told me that he wouldn’t care if I ended up giving him a buzz cut on the longest guard. I’d only ever tried to cut one person’s hair previously (a friend in first year university) and he did end up needing to shave his head, so I went into the whole escapade with a fair amount of anxiety. I watched a YouTube video and muddled my way through. There was a LOT of hair on the floor when we finished.
    • The haircuts look surprisingly professional! I’m sure they’re uneven, but at the moment they look pretty decent.
    • Q. seems quite certain I can cut his hair going forward (which would save a considerable amount of money), but we’ll see how he feels once it grows out a bit.
    • E. felt it was less stressful to just get it done at home so I might end up cutting his in the future too.
    • I tried to give P. a very basic trim but her hair has a wave in it (although mostly only at the bottom?) and she wasn’t motivated to sit still, so hers looks pretty erratic.
    • I think I’ll have to cave and go and get mine cut sometime in August. I don’t want to, but it hasn’t been cut since April of 2019. If I can get my stylist to cut it into a basic bob that can grow out easily, I’ll be able to go another year between cuts (if necessary) without too much trouble.
    • Or maybe I won’t go and I’ll just let it get longer and longer and stragglier and stragglier. (This graph lists getting a haircut as a medium/high risk activity, which is not a level I’m comfortable with.)
  • The kids and I went to the dentist! It was really stressful being there but they were obviously taking a ton of precautions, so I felt it was a safe environment.
    • I was able to get a new nightguard, which is already making a difference.
    • The kids were about three months overdue, and it was really noticeable with E’s teeth. He clearly hasn’t been doing a good enough job over the past few months (although in the past he’s been fine).  Thankfully there hasn’t been any permanent damage done. We’re using a timer in the bathroom now to make sure he brushes for the full two minutes and we have become a household which prioritizes flossing.
    • I have to take E. back in the first week of August for remedial work to deal with the emerging problems. I’m honestly not certain he’ll be able to cope, in which case I’ll have to get the name of the ‘sleep dentist’ from my friend, which fills me with dread.
  • E. is at camp this week. This was a hugely stressful decision, but the camp he was supposed to attend in the last week of August ran a lottery for their pilot project in July, and he was offered a place. Our numbers are consistently hovering around the 1 case/ 100,000 people mark, and the camp is run entirely outdoors with a ratio of 1:5, with the kids ranging in age from 8 to 12. Social distancing is enforced and the kids wear masks if they go inside to use the bathroom or if they’re walking on narrow paths.
    • Q. and I talked it over, and then I asked labmonkey and my good friend who’s also a biologist. Once we’d all determined it would be about as safe an environment as you could get, we gave the decision to E. He thought about it for a while and then opted to go because, as he said, “It would be nice to spend some time outside that isn’t just biking up and down in our  laneway.”
    • When we told P. that E. was going to go to camp, she was DEVASTATED. We thought she was upset that she wasn’t old enough to go, but it turned out that she was brokenhearted that she was going to be separated from her brother. They haven’t been apart since mid-March. That’s a huge amount of time in her world. (She’s since been quite happy to have extra one-on-one time with Mummy and Daddy.)
    • So E. has spent this week romping around outside for six hours a day, identifying berries, brewing sumac tea, playing camouflage games, learning about local ecosystems, and whittling roasting sticks for their bonfire tomorrow. He comes home tired and dirty and happy. He’s having fun.
  • labmonkey had a virtual birthday party when Sprout turned one. Q. and I  drank wine and ate fancy cheese and the kids ate cupcakes they’d decorated earlier in the day (and then moved on to eating our cheese). It was fun to connect and nice to see the faces of some of Sprout’s relatives on Pea’s side we’ve never met before.
  • The first of our swallowtail caterpillars eclosed on the 11th. E. got really worried that it was stressed in the aquarium, so we released it in quite a hurry at lunchtime. It was spectacular watching it soar off above our redbud and head on up our street. Later that afternoon E. found an identical butterfly in our back yard that wasn’t able to properly fly. He immediately started worrying that it was our butterfly and something was wrong with it, but eventually agreed that it couldn’t be ours since butterflies didn’t stop being able to fly. We moved the butterfly onto a coneflower in our front garden in case it was hungry and after about thirty minutes of resting and occasionally flexing its wings, it took off into the air. In retrospect, it must have also been a new butterfly and we had a caterpillar in our yard that made it to the chrysalis stage without us noticing it.
    • We ordered a proper flight cage (with mesh on five sides) so the remaining chrysalides are in there now, and the aquarium is hosting two monarch caterpillars who are growing at a truly astonishing rate. We’ll move them into the flight cage when they’re ready to make their chrysalis because monarchs like to hang from the roof.
    • Our second chrysalis opened this morning…but it was a wasp that emerged, not a butterfly. That caterpillar must have been infected with an egg of the ichneumon wasp before we brought it inside. The egg hatches once the caterpillar makes its chrysalis and then the wasp eats what it finds in the chrysalis as it grows to adulthood. The caterpillar was doomed from the start. The kids were deeply insulted that one of ‘their’ caterpillars had been compromised. We know one of our remaining two should be safe, as we brought it inside as an egg. But the other one could also produce a nasty surprise. We’ll have to wait and see. We watched the wasp for a while and E. agreed it was a pretty cool specimen, but we still drowned it in the end so it couldn’t go out and infect more caterpillars.
  • No one still has any idea what is going to happen with school in September, and I’m feeling far less confident about sending the kids now that the study from South Korea has come out which indicates that kids as young as ten spread the virus at rates comparable to adults. Probably 50% of the kids at E’s school would be ten or older.
    • The government originally said that school boards had to be prepared for three scenarios, then they said that they expected schools would start with the hybrid model, and now they’re advocating for all kids starting back five days a week in smaller cohorts.
    • Our school board did the math of what five days a week with cohorts of 15 would look like and it would cost literally hundreds of millions of dollars more than the province has allocated for COVID for the entire province, not just our board. The board also originally said it wouldn’t be possible to run core French or French immersion under that model (and then immediately backtracked on French Immersion the following day, so either we didn’t understand what they said the first time or a whole lot of people got angry phone calls).
    • Now our premier has said he’s in favour of classes being held outside (which with our climate would be feasible through to the end of October), but, again, there’s no announcement of lots of money to help facilitate this.
    • Meanwhile the province is moving into Phase 3 of reopening, which will allow indoor dining in restaurants to resume and the bars (!!!) to reopen (although not for dancing, just for getting people inebriated so they can stand too close to each other in an enclosed space and talk too loudly). I think it’s pretty clear from multiple places that bars are a bad idea.
    • Our government is obsessed with getting the economy back to normal and I honestly don’t believe he thinks the schools are a priority. There’s no evidence of creative thinking or leadership. A friend is convinced the premier would think it a good result if all the mothers had to quit their jobs and stay home to supervise the kids and there are days where it feels like this might just be the plan. It’s frustrating and exhausting. Decision fatigue is a big thing for me right now. (I liked this take on it.)
  • There was an article a few days ago about the Americans who have been turned back at the border (which is remaining closed to non-essential travel until at least mid-August). More than 5,000 of them said they wanted to come to Canada for shopping, sightseeing, or simply recreation. Our tourism industry has been devastated by the pandemic, but, let’s face it, the US is a giant dumpster fire right now, and given we are still a separate country, we want no part of what’s happening south of our borders. It’s both surreal and frightening to read the news, and I hope all my American readers are safe and healthy.

How is your pandemic July going?

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, COVID-19, E.- the tenth year, Family