Category Archives: Brave New (School) World

Soundbites

Inauguration Day seems like an appropriate day to brush off the dust here and provide an update. I don’t usually pay much attention to such days, but this one felt different. One of my children watched the inauguration shirtless, wearing a light-up necklace of Christmas lights, and the other one sat next to me and asked every ten minutes or so whether they had checked everyone present to make sure no one had any guns, which both sums up my children in a nutshell and catches the mood in the house – joyous celebration, tempered with anxiety and unease.

I’m so glad Biden is president. I’m looking forward to no longer knowing more names of American elected officials (or counties) than Canadian ones. I’m excited for Twitter to continue to be as blessedly boring as it has been the last week or so. I’m hopeful that we can all sleep better at night knowing the adults are back in charge.

But man is there a lot of work to be done.

In our news, COVID in our province is completely out of control and our premier has continued to be astounded and horrified at the case numbers and the projections (which were NOT A SURPRISE for anyone who understands exponential growth). We’ve been in some sort of “lockdown” (or “mockdown”) for exactly two months now and the daily case numbers in my public health unit still clock in at close to 1,000 per day, so it’s been months of ineffectual action and dithering, rather than any coordinated proactive approach that might have achieved something. My Australian husband is beyond disgusted and regrets not fleeing down under back in the spring when it was still possible to get back into the country.

The kids have been home since early December and will not be returning to in-person school before mid-February at the earliest. There are many, many reasons why we didn’t choose virtual learning for our kids, and this enforced period of virtual learning at home has repeatedly confirmed that sending them to school was the right decision for them, for us, and for our family.

Managing their virtual schedules feels like a full-time job and includes:

  • Checking their schedules (which change daily since their school is required to maintain the same rotary schedule they would follow in person)
  • Making sure they get online when they’re supposed to (E. is quite independent with this)
  • Coordinating when we can get them outside (which requires P. to miss the final meeting of the morning every single day)
  • Finding devices (iPads and Bluetooth headphones)
  • Charging devices
  • Checking what’s been posted before breakfast every morning so I can print out worksheets (since the printer is in the study). Everything can be completed online but we try to get them offline and using pencil/paper as much as possible.
  • Keeping track of what they’re supposed to be completing and submitting (as far as I can tell, E. is spending his days playing video games or looking up video game facts on Google while “listening” since the only work he seems to get done during the day is the math, so the school day drags into the evenings and weekends as he catches up)
  • Managing the meltdowns when they stagger off the screens at the end of every day, completely burnt out. E.’s grade is required to have 225 minutes of synchronous instruction every day; P’s meant to be getting 180. I don’t run a Zoom meeting for my courses longer than 60 minutes, and I’ve had so much appreciative feedback from my students (and they are adults!). This entire plan was designed by people who are not educators and who did not consult with educators, and its sole purpose (as far as I can tell) is to keep the parents happy and complacent because their children are occupied.

The whole thing is completely ludicrous, and now that Q. and I have started our semester, we’re engaged in this elaborate dance where who’s in charge of the kids is largely determined by our own synchronous teaching commitments. It’s so complicated we had to make a spreadsheet and load everything into our calendars.

In some ways it’s better (and by better, I mean better for the adults’ ability to get work done rather than any educational, emotional, etc. benefits for the kids) than the spring since the kids are pacified more occupied with school. E., in particular, is largely self-sufficient and gets himself online when needed. He plays Among Us with the other kids in the class during the breaks (more screen time – augh!). I don’t know if he’s learning anything, but he’s getting a lot of French language exposure, which was the weak point in the spring since there was so little synchronous work, so he’s not going to fall behind in that regard, and he’s ahead of grade level in pretty much everything else that I think is important.

P. is happy enough to sit up for most of her meetings, although her interest in doing any of the work has waned significantly since she started online in early December. This week she flat out refused to do the work, wailing at me, “I DON’T WANT TO CUT OUT THE PLANETS!! I KNOW HOW TO COUNT BACKWARDS FROM TEN!!” She’s right – she does already know pretty much everything she’s meant to be “learning”. We’re concentrating on reading (she’s very highly motivated). She finds it hard to sit through a forty-five minute meeting with only one chance to share. She misses her friends and often pins them (rather than the teacher) so that they’re always visible in the meetings.

Both kids are sleeping better without the rush in the morning, but the pandemic is weighing on them. A week or so ago they were ranting about COVID and what they missed. E. said he couldn’t wait to be able to walk around without wearing masks. P. said she wanted to hug people, starting with her friends at school. Some of her friends are meeting up at playgrounds, but that’s not something we feel comfortable doing.

The winter has been a bit of a bust so far in terms of snow (other than right at Christmas), so keeping them happy and busy has been a challenge. We have been skating almost every weekend – you have to register in advance for a specific session (it’s like trying to book swimming lessons) and the numbers on the ice are capped at 25. We always wear masks on the ice (which is now mandatory but wasn’t earlier in the season). It’s nice to be able to do something “normal”. E. is a great skater despite only first getting on skate two years ago, and P. is making noticeable progress every time we go.

We knew the kids would end up back at home eventually, and, if I’m being honest, we’d expected it to happen much earlier. Every day between Thanksgiving and early December felt like a gift. But at the same time, everything was working in the fall. The kids were happy at school. Q. and I had the time and space we needed to work again. We got our book project off to the press (and thank all the gods the kids stayed in school long enough for that to happen). We were literally just at the point where we were talking about taking a couple of days off, and then the kids had to be pulled out of school. Realizing how well everything was working made it harder when it all fell apart again.

Now, Q. and I are so tired. Between us, we are teaching seven courses this semester (long story, combination of factors determined long before COVID), and keeping our heads above water is taking all the time we have. What I’ve lost ever since the kids came back home is the snatches of “free” time that I was starting to be able to carve out for myself in the fall after we got our book project off to the press. I watched the new season of The Crown. I started to build up some momentum with my reading again. I used our exercise bike consistently (we have subscribed to the Peloton app and use it with our old and outdated bike, which is great). With the kids at home, we’ve both lost three or four hours of work time a day. If we have to make it up, we have to work in the evenings or at the weekend. If we can keep our heads above water with the time that we still have (which I have mostly managed to do this week), then there isn’t any extra time left over to do something for us. Writing this blog post now means I’ll be working this evening.

So, in the grand scheme of things, we are still totally fine. We’re safe, we’re healthy, we have food on the table and a roof over our heads and exceptionally good wifi that has only once flaked out when I was teaching.

But we’re tired (all of us).

We’re struggling (all of us).

And it’s going to be a long winter.

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Filed under COVID-19, Grade Four, JK

Not Chaos (I’m as Surprised as You Are)

It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted on here.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

The news cycle from south of the border is just beyond madness. I think I need to forcibly block myself from Twitter for a while because there’s just always.something.happening.

I am genuinely looking forward to watching Harris absolutely destroy Pence in the debate tonight (although I also don’t think Harris should be debating Pence tonight since he should be quarantining).

In provincial news, our government appears to have decided to adopt the Trump-Pence handbook for “managing” COVID and is steadfastly refusing to shut anything down even as case numbers skyrocket (or they were skyrocketing before they made it harder for people to get tested, so I can only assume they’re continuing to skyrocket and now we just don’t know about it). They failed to predict that they would need to dramatically scale up testing capacity when the kids went back to school (and turned down the requests for funding from the health authorities who told them they would need to do this) so now we’re just digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a COVID hole and when they finally crack and lock us down, it will have to be for much longer than would have been necessary if only they had been proactive.

Things are remarkably normal chez Turia, however. The nadir came the Monday after I posted when, after both kids were finally back at school together (it took four days for E’s test to come back negative), the school called while we were eating lunch to say we had to come pick up P. because a child had thrown an ‘object’ (I later learned from P. it was a rock) and it had hit P. and cut her head. Said child hadn’t thrown the rock at P., but she had ended up in its path. So the kids’ record of time at school together stayed at four hours, and I picked up P. (who had the tiniest graze imaginable under her hair) and brought her home and set her up with painting while I tried to do my work and wondered why we were trying to do this in-person schooling thing at all.

And then…it got better.

The kids went back to school, and stayed at school (twelve days in a row as of today).

The COVID numbers in the province continue to rise, and the number of schools with at least one case of COVID also continues to rise, but (and this is the critical factor) there are almost no cases of proven transmission within a school. This is in line with what was happening in Australia, where even if there was one case that appeared in a school, there wasn’t then an outbreak. Despite the stupid class size numbers and the lack of physical distancing, the mask policy and the other measures they’ve taken appear to be working (at least for now).

P. is SO happy. She has a hard time occasionally at drop off because a few of the other kids are still weeping and wailing and hanging on to their parents, and she’s clearly really tired by the end of the day, but she’s happy as a clam when she’s there, and she loves unpacking her backpack after school to show all the “surprises” she’s worked on that day. She already knows everything they are learning, but because it’s all based in arts and crafts, she is thrilled. She will make letters out of pipe cleaners and use hole punchers with fun shapes to punch the right number of holes to match the number for the day, and put the right number of stickers to match the number until the cows come home. She has made a beaded bracelet with her name and a puzzle with her name and a flag with her name (and she did eventually decide to ask her teacher if she could start spelling her full name since her nickname (which is what we have called her since birth) really doesn’t present a challenge). She did also announce on a Tuesday evening, in tones of great weariness, “It’s seven tomorrow, so I guess that means we’ll do nine on Friday”, followed by a huge sigh, but so far she is happy and cooperative, if prone to meowing in the classroom (since she prefers to be addressed as “Little Kitten” at all times).

She has made friends (although most of them were away all last week waiting for their COVID test results to prove that the cold that was clearly circulating through the classroom was just a cold – at one point the class only had nine students in it! Q. and I joked she was basically in private school). She eats her lunch. She uses the bathroom at school. She remembers to put on her indoor shoes and she has just this week started swapping her masks after going outside. She’s thriving. We’re not surprised.

The big surprise has been E. He campaigned for weeks to do online learning and was sent to school under duress and willing only to commit to ‘trying it’. Last week he told me that he didn’t want to switch to online learning – he wanted to stay in person and switch to virtual only when the school was shut down. He said he felt settled at school. Coming from E., that’s huge.

His teacher (his wonderful, glorious teacher from last year who knows what he is capable of and knows how to work with him) has told me he’s had a great start to the year. He’s getting his work finished on time and doing it well. In Grade 4 they start to get formal English education in the classroom, and he’s loving that part of the day as he gets to write more stories. I had been quietly deeply worried about what was going to happen when he started English as his spelling was just unbelievably bad (shockingly bad for a kid who reads as much as he does) but writing his novel during the pandemic has made such a difference. So the work in English is a real confidence booster for him.

The other big confidence booster is they’re allowed to be dismissed without a parent in Grade 4, so he’s been walking home from school with another kid in his grade who lives across the street. They’re not particularly good friends, but they are both very keen to keep this newfound independence and it sounds like they have a good chat as they walk (mostly about video games, to judge from what E. tells me). In the mornings he walks with me to P’s drop off area, and then marches off by himself to the other side of the school, to find his own class. I could not have imagined him doing this last year. He’s grown up so so so much.

The household is settling into a routine. I drop the kids at school, make lunch for Q. and me, and pick P. up at the end of the day. We hang out at home until E. arrives and then I set them up with screen time (and get back to work). Once screen time is over, Q. takes over with the kids and makes dinner. This way we’re both managing to work close to a full day. Originally Q. was picking P. up, but that was really cutting his day short unless he started work at 7:30 a.m., and I always ended up with a thirty minute hole in my afternoon anyway as both kids wanted to talk to me about their days.

You can get A LOT done in a house that is empty of children for six hours a day.

Our book project moves ever closer to being finished. We will be at the stage before too long that we can send the final version of both volumes to the other contributors to give them one last look at their sections before we send it to the press.

Teaching online has its challenges, but I am figuring things out. My synchronous teaching is clustered early in the week, which makes for some very tiring days, but at least then keeps the rest of the week clear for non-teaching related work. At least some of my students will turn their cameras on, so I can look at their faces rather than empty black boxes on Zoom.

I am just this week starting to gain a bit of space in my classes, rather than being only a day or so ahead of the students. I’m hopeful I can get a full module (or more) ahead in the next week, which would give me an important cushion when we lock down again.

We surely are going to have to lock down again.

We surely are going to spend most of the winter juggling work and kids and school, like we did from March until June.

This surely is not going to last.

But it is good for all of us while it lasts.

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, COVID-19, E.- the tenth year, Grade Four, JK, P.- the fifth year

(Still) No Good Options

Where do I start?

I have been intending to post on here for a couple of weeks now but I have struggled to find the time and energy to put words together.

At first I was going to post about how we decided, in the end, to send both kids back to school in person, with the intention of pulling them out if we didn’t like the direction the numbers were going. We made jokes about “if they make it to Thanksgiving”. I would have written about how E. campaigned strongly for remote learning, and about how I told him honestly that I couldn’t afford to fight with him for five hours a day about his schoolwork.

I could have written about all the meetings I (virtually) attended as the school board tried and tried to come up with a plan that would be approved by the government, how they started the parent survey and then had to start it all over again, how they passed a mask mandate for JK-3 (to match the mandate for the older grades already in place), how no one would engage with me on the contradiction of making the children wear masks in the classroom and then having them eat in that very same classroom with their masks off (still no one has engaged with me on this issue). Eventually the board got a plan approved and delayed the start of the school year by a week.

I would have written about how 66,000 students in the first instance picked remote learning, how our school’s in-person enrollment dropped by almost exactly the board average, how the school lost 3.5 teacher positions and had to redistribute and reshuffle the teachers. How I finally got the emails on the Friday before school started, emails which confirmed that E. was still with his teacher from last year, that she hadn’t switched to remote learning, that he hadn’t been removed from her class. The class was now a straight grade four, rather than a 3/4 split. P.’s classroom assignment hadn’t changed either. E’s class was listed as 24 students. P’s was 22 and a straight JK. Even with masks, that was a much better result than the 30 students and a JK/SK split that had caused E. so much distress five years earlier. I told E. that if he switched to virtual learning, he would no longer be in his school, but a new virtual school (the remote learning branch of my school board is apparently the fifth largest schoolboard in the province). I pointed out that if he stayed in the school, if the school was shut down again, he’d be with the same teacher. He agreed it made sense to try the in-person option.

That was the high point.

The kids were with my mum on a visit that was part ‘Grannie is taking the kids because the university semester wasn’t delayed and their parents really really need some concentrated work time’ and part ‘we can’t be in a social circle with anyone once the kids go back because the idea that their contacts at the school are limited to 50 is ludicrous, so this could be their last chance to visit with Grannie for months’.

E. was distraught when we brought them home. He has a really special bond with my mum. It was breaking his heart to know that he wouldn’t be able to properly visit her as long as he was in school.

Next I probably would have written about how the numbers in my city started to climb and climb and climb, how my board had to delay the start of the school year for virtual learning by another week because the number of students enrolled jumped by 8,000 in a week, how I sent many messages to my sisters and my scientist friends, asking for a metric, for guidance, something tangible I could point to as the sign that I should pull the kids out of school.

On Monday I would have written about how P. had a runny nose over the weekend and how I, after extensive consultation with the provincial health phone line and the local public health unit, determined that she wouldn’t be allowed to start school on Wednesday without a COVID test, how I packed her up into the car and went downtown, to a hospital where they took one look at P. and let us skip the (distressingly long queue). How I asked the frontline health workers managing the line if it was always like this and they said this was the ‘new normal’ for September. How we joked in a hollow way about what the lines would look like once all the kids had to start getting tested. How they asked if I wanted a test too and I said why not, since I was there. How I went first, “to show P. that it wasn’t a big deal” and had to forcibly stop myself from jerking my head back at how unpleasant the test was. How I then sat P. on her lap and pinned her arms and her legs in a terrible hug while one frontline health care worker held her head still and a second one took the swab. How P. cried and cried but was willing to pick a sticker for being brave. How we were in and out in thirty minutes and had our test results (negative, not surprised) less than twenty-four hours later.

On Tuesday I would have written about how I took E. to school for his first day of grade four, how he tried to hold it together, but cried at drop off and held my fingers through the chain link fence that I wasn’t allowed to cross. How he, the child who couldn’t tolerate a mask for thirty minutes in April, wore it all day without complaint. How he came home cheerful, but couldn’t report a single positive aspect of the day. How he again asked to do virtual learning, how I again asked him to take it one day at a time.

Wednesday would have been a post on how it was P’s first day (ever) of school, and how Q. and I both walked them because their entry points were on opposite sides of the school and there was no way E. would be ready to go on his own, and how P.’s backpack was so stuffed with her lunch and her indoor shoes and her spare clothes that she looked ready to topple backwards at any moment. How she got into the line and cried when she turned around to wave at me, but still went into the school. How I went home and Q. and I worked in glorious silence and then ate lunch and then were just waiting for the delivery truck with our new appliances (we finally bought a new dryer and dishwasher) when the school called and said that E. had a sore throat and they had him in a wellness room and we needed to come and pick him up. How the principal had double checked the health policy and told me that even though P. and I had just been tested on Monday and E. clearly had the same cold, he couldn’t return to school without a negative test result (or after 14 days of self-isolation), because the health policy is that any child that shows even a single symptom (from a list which includes every symptom that befalls children, especially when they are in an indoor environment with lots of other children) has to be sent home immediately. How, after a grand total of four hours of having both my children at school, I brought the big one home with me, and we packed up a bag in a rush (forgot the hand sanitizer) and drove to a different testing site, where we could wait in the car, because I thought maybe then I could still get some work done. How we hit traffic (why is there always traffic?) on the way there, even in the early afternoon, and how I noticed that they’d stopped accepting new cars maybe twenty minutes after we arrived. How we sat and waited and sat and waited and gradually worked out how the system was operating (which meant E. understood just how many more cars were in front of us). How we grew increasingly worried that the testing site would close before it was our turn, and how I repeatedly told E. we were not going to give up and leave and try again first thing tomorrow. How I tried to prep some slides for the lectures for the courses I am teaching online for the first time (one course for the first time ever). How E. tried to read, and spotted some planes, and we openly judged the people in other cars who left the site and came back wielding boxes of donuts and pizza, having taken themselves into shops while they were waiting for COVID tests. How I had to use the disgusting portapotty, even though I didn’t take a sip out of my water bottle the entire time we were there, because I’d just finished a big mug of tea when the school called, and I was going to pee my pants if I didn’t. How forgetting the hand sanitizer nearly brought me to tears. How it took over four hours for E. to get tested and when we finally made it, he freaked out and tried to pull out the swab and both the health care worker and I had to grab frantically at his hands. How we drove home, E. telling me that he’d never fake a COVID symptom now that he knew what the test was like, with me silently calculating how to game the system if this was to become our new normal (conclusion: always test both children the minute one needs to be tested, because they inevitably pass the germs on, and go to the location where the small one gets to skip the line).

But it is Thursday now, and that means I want to tell you that I barely slept last night because the cold that I didn’t have when I was tested with P. on Monday, that was a sore throat which I attributed to my four synchronous Zoom classes in twenty-four hours on Tuesday, that is definitively not COVID, is now a force to be reckoned with. I’ll tell you that I took P. to school, and she cried again at drop off, but again had a wonderful day (and thank all the gods she did because I do not think I have the strength to manage two school refusers). I’ll tell you that E. stayed home, and I made him read in French for thirty minutes, and then look up five words in his French dictionary (to practice using it), and then I made him write in French and fill two pages in his journal (he wrote about the COVID test experience and, as is his wont, showed no awareness of how to distinguish between the passé composé and the infinitive), and then he read the library books that we picked up on Monday morning that we’d been quarantining ever since, and then after lunch we let him play math games on the iPad for most of the rest of the afternoon.

It was not difficult for me to get a full day of work in. The danger is that this limbo is nothing like virtual or in-person school, that it is largely a continuation of the holidays, and that E. will be ever more resistant to going back if he can’t get into a solid routine before being sent home. I read articles when my sleep-deprived brain rebelled that described the horror waits at testing centres all over the province, and empathized with labmonkey when it took her hours to get a test for Spud. It seems (once again) that this government is only able to react, that somehow it escaped them that if you require every student to be tested for COVID if they have even one symptom, that this might lead to a huge increase in demand for tests as soon as the schools started.

And now it is Thursday night, and his test results are not back, so he is likely to be home again tomorrow, and I haven’t heard from his teacher, and I’m realizing (slowly) that this is a huge issue that the school hasn’t thought about yet – how to support parents when their children are at home awaiting COVID results, because the school will surely be just one big revolving door and kids will fall even further behind if parents aren’t given some guidance on what to do. I’m hoping once all the classrooms have their online presence established (which they are required to do), this will become easier.

Our numbers are skyrocketing.

Our provincial “leaders” are either in denial or are relying on wilful ignorance, their drive to reopen the economy and get everything back to normal apparently superceding anything else, including sensible public health decisions.

I still think the kids will be lucky to make it to Thanksgiving before the schools have to close.

But now I’m wondering just how much time they’ll even spend in the classroom before that happens.

 

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, COVID-19, E.- the tenth year, Grade Four, JK, P.- the fifth year

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

Pandemic Updates

A list of my current COVID thoughts:

  • We should have been on another continent by now, our plane only just landed after a journey that, from door-to-door, would take more than 24 hours. Instead, we are at home, where we shall remain for the duration of the summer, and my battles with our travel insurance company to extract a refund for our flights continue (a post on this to follow when I finally have some sort of resolution).
  • My city is able to move into Phase 2 as of today, which means that hair salons, shopping malls, and restaurant patios can all open. I doubt we’ll change anything that we’re currently doing. Our province’s case numbers (while lower) are still high enough that I doubt very much that this is over, even if by “this”, I mean just the first wave of infections. I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy on the weekend and I was taken aback by the number of people out and about on the main street of our neighbourhood who weren’t wearing masks.
  • We have absolutely NO IDEA what will happen with the schools in September. Our government released their “plan” on Friday. It told the school boards that they had to be ready for any of three scenarios:  1. Mostly business as usual with new cleaning regimes and some limitations on visitors to the school/activities, etc.; 2. A blended model with students in alternate streams, where one group of students attended one week and then did remote learning the following week (when the other cohort were in class); 3. A repeat of what we’ve been doing since March, entirely remote learning.
    • The government also promised parents that if they chose not to send their kids to school, the teachers would have to find a way to teach them remotely as well.
    • And they made promises about requirements for synchronous, face-to-face learning.
      • I wrote a really long letter to the government when they asked for parent feedback, and two of the points I emphasized the most were that the teachers could not be expected to both teach remotely and face-to-face at the same time, and that synchronous learning was not necessarily a good option for all ages/grade levels, even though parents might want it. Ever watched a group of third graders on Google Meet, where the teachers can’t keep them muted or shut down the sidebar chat that is full of emojis? I have.
      • I can see they read my letter carefully.
    • So basically the government has NO PLAN and is completely absolving themselves of responsibility. They made it clear it would be up to the individual school boards to work within their framework. It’s just like the child care centres, where they ignored all of the recommendations that the child care experts gave them, and then just told the centres they could reopen, with no clear guidelines.
    • Our premier is a buffoon and massively out of his depth. I’m frustrated and disappointed, but I’m not surprised.
    • I will say that E. would probably do really well with a “week on, week off” model with a small group of students in the classroom and consolidation work done at home.
    • And P. is very unlikely to have 30 kids in her junior kindergarten classroom like E. did, so that’s probably an improvement (assuming she gets to set foot in her classroom).
    • Q. and I are so screwed with work if the kids don’t go back to school in the fall.
  • Our libraries opened for curbside pickup!!!! We went last Wednesday (after three months and four days) and picked up 27 books. 17 were for E., 6 were for me, and 4 were for P. The staff were taking tons of precautions (gloves, masks, prebagged books, social distancing markers) and it was super easy. We booked the first pickup slot of the day, which I’m sure helped, and I’ll do that again going forward. They laughed when I told them we’d be back in a couple of weeks. They thought I was joking. (E. had read three of his books by the following afternoon. I wasn’t joking.)
  • Our total self-isolation ended after 85 days, when we were able to add my mum and my aunt to our social circle. They came into town for a socially-distanced visit, and at the very end of it we were able to work out that we could be in the same circle (Labmonkey’s household can’t be in a circle with either of our households since she’s in a circle with her nanny’s household already). So I got to hug my mum! P. wouldn’t hug her, which was so sad because P. adores her Grannie, but E. was ecstatic and talked for the entire rest of the day about how happy he was that we were in the same circle. Mum came back later that week for P.’s birthday dinner and she came into the house and hung out with the kids (and got hugs from P.) and helped me solve an icing crisis, and Q. and I made dinner while there was peace in the living room because Grannie was there and it almost, almost felt like normal.
  • This is E’s final week of school. He is already worried about what the fall will look like and has been advocating to continue with homeschooling. He struggles a lot with the classroom environment and the older he gets the more aware he becomes of his challenges (and that other kids aren’t struggling the same way). Homeschooling is still a hard no for us because: a) we’d have to pull him out of French Immersion and he gets so much out of it; b) it would severely curtail my ability to teach; and c) it would damage my relationship with my son if I had to fight all the battles with him all the time. I told E. that I didn’t think we’d exhausted all the possibilities to make things easier for him in the classroom and said that we’d continue to take it one year at a time. He has noticeably thrived over the past few months with one-on-one attention and fewer distractions.
    • We need a family meeting to talk about the summer and what we want it to look like. We all need a routine, we want E. to continue to do something school-related (right now he’s voted for educational app time (mostly Prodigy) and creative writing in English, and he’s also interested in learning cursive and starting Latin back up with Q.), and we need to set some firmer limits around screen time (for both of them, but especially P.). I want to prioritize being outside as much as possible. For Q. and I, the summer will look much like the past three months have, so we need to set expectations and build a routine that will allow us to continue to function, while still bringing in more fun stuff and giving E. the room he needs to decompress.
  • The cognitive load of COVID has increased as things start to reopen. We have to start making decisions again: what are we willing to do? What are we still not comfortable doing?
    • E’s best friend’s family has made a social circle with two other families with kids in E’s class so that the parents can effectively form their own summer camp and share the childcare responsibilities. It only works because two of the three households have one child, so the three families add up to the allowed 10. There are definitely days where I wish we could do something like that too (and other days where I think I can’t imagine anything worse than having to be responsible for more kids).
    • The dentist office which my dentist joined last year has reopened. My dentist isn’t coming back yet, but I booked appointments for myself and the kids. We’re all overdue (me massively so)  and I cannot risk things shutting down again without getting a new mouthguard as I’m in real discomfort now.
    • I would like a haircut but am not willing to consider that yet. It’s been 14 months, so it might as well look limp and straggly for longer. (I am bad at making haircuts. I FINALLY  realized this spring that it’s because I don’t like getting my hair cut during semester because my students always comment on it, so I had resolved to make sure I get my hair cut without fail in August, December, and April, and, then, COVID happened.)
    • Q. took our car in to get the snow tires taken off since the dealerships were open again. Our car had a mandatory recall on it (not something that prevented us from driving it), so they’d only switch the tires if we agreed to let them fix the recall, which made it a four hour operation. Q. dropped the car off yesterday morning and walked home (the walk took 1 hr 15 min). He then walked back to the dealership this morning to pick it up. We’re not willing to take public transit or get in a cab/Uber.
    • Our dishwasher died and then came back to life again and then died again and then came back to life again (all since mid-March). We need a new one and we’re at the point where we think we’re ready to take the risk to have someone come into our house to install it as our dishwasher-free points over the past three months haven’t been fun. Our dryer died too, but Q. solved that by building a clothesline with the parts that we’ve had stored in our basement for the past eleven years (to be fair, it’s only been three years since the back fence was finished in a such a way to support the line). But we’ll get a new dryer too. And I ordered a new vacuum today because that also died (only four years old, and we’d already replaced the carpet head once- not impressed). Our appliances hate us.
    • I feel bad that we’re not supporting our local restaurants more (but also Q. can’t eat at most of them because he’s celiac). The kids and I might start ordering takeout for lunch once every couple of weeks, on days when Q. can eat gluten-free goodies from the freezer.
  • The kids and I are currently raising four swallowtail caterpillars that we found on our dill. They’re set up in an old aquarium, with all the dill and parsley they can eat, and we’re enjoying watching the stages of their development. We hope we’ll be able to release them as butterflies back into our yard later this summer, that we’ll have helped them beat the odds. It’s a little thing, but it brings me great joy.

Onwards to summer!

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Filed under Books, COVID-19, E.- the tenth year, Family, Grade Three

Everything is Fine (So Why Am I So Pissed Off All the Time?)

Nothing like a global pandemic to make you want to restart your blog.

I’m not sure why I’m doing this. I don’t have any more spare time than I did prior to COVID-19 upending our lives. In real terms, I probably have even less than I did during this crazy past semester where I was teaching four courses (summary: completely insane) now that the kids are also at home and I’m meant to be somehow continuing to teach while also supervising E’s new virtual learning and keeping P. from interfering with E’s new virtual learning. (Case in point: I have been writing this post now for four days.)

I guess I’m looking for a space to document what’s happening, to take notice of the crazy new normal, to record our lives in more detail than I can fit into my five year journal.

I have thoughts.

And this has always been the space where I have put them.

So, to start.

This is a post about privilege and about how much I am struggling with managing the cognitive dissonance between the two voices in my head. The voice that says (truthfully) that in the grand scheme of things EVERYTHING IS FINE and the voice that says (also truthfully)  that THIS IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE IT.

First, the privilege.

I have not lost my job. My job is now online, but the course I was scheduled to teach in the summer semester was originally designed as an online course. I did have to convert (with extremely short notice and no down time) all of my courses into an online format to be able to finish the winter semester, but I have taught online before (see: summer course) and I knew how to do it. My learning curve was not steep. It took a great deal of time and I cut some corners but those courses are now finished (except for one which still has an exam running) and many of the grades are submitted.

Q. has not lost his job. He was on sabbatical this year so he didn’t need to convert any courses to an online format.

So there’s the biggest, most giant ball of privilege I can claim. We are both still employed and our jobs can be done from home.

We are able to look after our children. We are able to supervise E’s virtual learning and help him with his work.

It’s not possible to do this while also working a full-time job, of course, so we’ve split the day into two blocks. I have the kids until 12:30, at which point we all eat lunch, and then Q. has the kids in the afternoon until 6, when we all eat dinner. E. does math, French language and science with me, and creative writing (alternating French and English) and French watching/listening with Q. He also does French reading (usually right after lunch) and practices his recorder (usually right before dinner). After dinner, I do bedtime while Q. cleans up the kitchen and then disappears downstairs to try to cram another couple of hours of work into his day. Sometimes I work once both kids are in bed, but not always (or often). If I’m too strung out, I can’t parent well.

Yes, Q. is going to burn out eventually. He doesn’t listen to me. I’ve tried. We missed the original (December) deadline for our giant book project, which is meaningless in the land of academia because everyone misses their deadlines, especially people trying to wrangle eighteen other people into producing two very large edited volumes. But this eats at Q., because he doesn’t miss deadlines, and so he’s been stressed ever since, even though it was always going to happen since one of our colleagues still hasn’t produced a first (!!!!) draft of his chapter and our other three editors all had to be removed from the project since they’d done no work. Q. and I are now the sole editors of a project that will ultimately be close to 300,000 words long and was supposed to have the editorial work split five ways.

And then the pandemic happened.

So now Q. is trying to do the bulk of the work that is left without access to libraries and with a drastically shortened work day.  I’m chipping away at my bits but I’ve only just started to have the time to do this (see above: four courses).

It will all get done eventually, but it’s not going to be pretty.

From a work perspective, EVERYTHING IS FINE because we are both still employed and Q. has probably one of the most secure jobs in the country (as a tenured academic) and I have signed contracts for the fall and even if the university claws those back we can live on Q’s income alone.

And from a work perspective, THIS IS TERRIBLE, because we were both under tremendous work stress before the pandemic happened and the pandemic made things a lot worse. Also the book project is an albatross around our necks. Just say no to edited volumes. We’ll never make that mistake again.

Second giant ball of privilege: E’s schooling.

We have enough devices in our house that E. can always log in to his online classroom when he needs to. We have a printer so we can print out the worksheets that he would rather do by hand (because sometimes typing everything is all too much, especially the math problems which require him to illustrate his answers with diagrams or charts or something). We have high speed internet so when his teacher organizes a virtual meeting he can attend and hear everything and not have terrible lag times or broken video.

Oh yes, also Q. and I both understand French, so we can help E. with his work.

And, let’s not forget that we DIDN’T LOSE OUR JOBS, so we have enough disposable income (especially since our outlays on public transit, restaurants, fuel, etc. are down to zero) that I felt no guilt whatsoever about purchasing a whole bunch of books online (English and French). My kid burns through the books. Our public library is shuttered (that’s another post). I threw money at the problem until it went away.

So again, EVERYTHING IS FINE. We have everything E. needs to be able to fully participate in his new virtual classroom. We are making the time to sit with him to make sure he gets the work done. We are able to support him and help him work through his frustration and his anxiety.

And yet, THIS IS TERRIBLE. E. gets deeply frustrated at how long it takes to type everything (even with the Dance Mat Typing we’ve been doing for the past year he still tends to hunt-and-peck). He shuts down when things appear difficult. His little sister runs riot at every opportunity. The workload is reasonable but the expectations for what we have to do and what is optional are unclear and change every week. Work often gets posted after the point in the day when we do most of his schoolwork, so I discover it the following morning and feel like we’re behind (this is my problem, not anyone else’s, as is the difficulty I have with not getting EVERYTHING submitted every week so the classwork stream doesn’t have anything left in it).

E. misses school. I honestly never thought I’d say that. He spent the entire year counting down to various holidays but he’s said repeatedly over the last month that he misses the routine and he misses his friends and he misses just being somewhere that isn’t our house. He is doing the best he can and he is doing remarkably well, but he is anxious and volatile and we can never quite be sure when his inner volcano will erupt.

P.’s feelings about the whole thing can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that she now has a whole slew of imaginary friends (mostly the cast of Paw Patrol) who are living with us. She holds imaginary contests with her friends from nursery school. She tries and tries and tries to get her brother’s attention, often in ways that push all of his buttons (often intentionally). She is very obviously missing the social contact (Q. and I might have inadvertently bred an extrovert).

As far as P. is concerned, EVERYTHING IS FINE. And yet, THIS IS TERRIBLE, because we are asking so much of her. She often needs to play alone, and she’ll set up her dolls, or the Playmobil, or the trains, or the LEGO, or the Bruder trucks and soon a complicated game is underway. She usually sits up at the table to “do her work” during the blocks of time when E. is doing school-related stuff. She colours and cuts and glues and stamps and beads, and thank goodness she loves doing art as much as she does because it would be a nightmare if we were having to more actively manage her while also being available to help E. But there are signs (especially this week) that she’s getting bored of the routine. She gets outside twice a day, and she has one-on-one time with Q. in the afternoons while E. plays Prodigy or other vaguely educational apps, and once a week my Mum talks to her over Skype and reads her stories, but it’s not the same as the outstanding nursery school environment she was in before the pandemic, and she misses it. She’s almost never our focus.

In the grand scheme of things, however you look at it, EVERYTHING IS FINE. We are all safe. We are all healthy. We have enough food to eat and we can (usually) buy (most of) the things that we need when we place an online grocery order (food is a whole post of its own).

If I see my neighbours when I’m outside with the kids, and they ask how we’re doing, I say that we’re fine.

Because we are. We’re FINE.

I would never complain about anything to anyone else. I’m very very aware that my family is loaded with privilege right now, and I would never dump my negative feelings on outsiders.

But my blog is a safe space, so here I will also say that THIS IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE IT.

I am an introvert and a highly sensitive person. (Elaine Aron’s books are great at explaining this concept if it’s new to you, but Modern Mrs. Darcy also writes about it quite frequently.)

To quote Modern Mrs. Darcy:

HSPs tend to avoid violent movies, are easily overwhelmed by bright lights and loud noises, get rattled when two people are talking to them at once, and need time and space to regroup during especially busy days.

I originally had an ’emphasis mine’ in brackets before the quote, but, really, I was going to end up highlighting the entire thing. This is ME.

I adore my children but they exhaust me every day. They did this before the pandemic and having them at home with me, all day, every day (because even when I’m working in the basement I can hear them and I tend to have unexpected visitors at least twice an afternoon) has made things SO MUCH WORSE.

It isn’t just that I’m too busy and we’re all cooped up together and our world has shrunk and the news is always terrible.

Our new normal is really, really bad for my mental health.

The kids are loud (of course they’re loud – they’re kids!). I used to silently chant to myself “Loud is not an emergency” before the pandemic. Now I have nowhere quiet to go and no way to recharge before bedtime (see above: why I don’t work in the evenings).

The kids fight (of course they fight – they’re siblings and they’re bored and cooped up and anxious!). The yelling and screaming and crying feels to me like physical pain.

I am overwhelmed on a sensory level multiple times, every.single.day.

I am realizing how much my anxiety management has always relied on walking, on time and space away from the house, on quiet, and how difficult it is to achieve these things now. I walk or run every day, but our neighbourhood still has a lot of people out and about. The green spaces are too crowded for me to feel safe there and even having to dodge someone every other block becomes stressful.

My anxiety flares as anger. I bottle and bottle and bottle because it’s almost never about the kids, it’s about me and my own lack of control and my own fears and my own feelings of being overwhelmed and how those make it harder for me to take my deep breaths and respond to them as I know I should.

I can tell I’m clenching my jaw again at night. I need a new mouth guard but my dentist appointment was one week too late into March and was cancelled.

I am doing the best I can every.single.day, but it is really hard.

In the grand scheme of things, EVERYTHING IS FINE.

But also, THIS IS TERRIBLE AND I HATE IT.

8 Comments

Filed under (Pre)School Days, Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Grade Three

Progress, Not Perfection

I have been having a difficult time getting back into a good rhythm with my research. Too much time off over the holidays has meant I’ve lost my momentum and my Inner Critic is back up to “shouting so loudly she’s hurting my ears” rather than the “nasty whispers under her breath” I’d beaten her down to by the end of last semester.

I learned last fall that the absolute, most critical key to successful academic writing (for me at least) was consistency. The more I worked on something, the easier it became to keep working on it. My weekly schedule makes this a challenge. Mondays I’m at home with P., and Tuesday nights I teach. This has meant that the work time available on Tuesdays (the morning and the early afternoon), more often than not, has been eaten up by class preparation and marking. I’m hoping this will improve this semester because I’m now into the section of the course that I’ve taught once before, so I already have PowerPoint slides and relevant assessment that can be reused.

The reality is that four days away from my research is too long. Every Wednesday I’d have the same inner battle with myself as I walked to the library:

Inner Critic: “I don’t know why you even bother. It’s never going to get published. No one wants to read your crap.”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’d be so much easier to do something else. So much more fun too. Why not just read your novel? Or go for a long walk? Or answer emails? Or write a blog post? Or we could go eat some cake. Ooh, I love cake. You love cake too! You’ll feel better about yourself then!”
Turia: “Shut up.”
Inner Critic: “It’s so pointless. You’re so pointless. You’re such a fraud. If you actually send this to a publisher everyone will know you’re such a fraud.”
Turia: “SHUT. UP. Just sit down at the desk, Turia.”
*Some time is wasted by going to the washroom, setting up the desk, filling up the water bottle, writing a few emails, checking the phone, etc.*
Inner Critic: “You’re never going to be able to do this, you know.”
Turia: “SHUT! UP! Open the computer, Turia. Open the file. Start writing. Write for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. You can do fifteen minutes.”
*Fifteen minutes pass.*
Turia:
“Ok. This is going well. These are interesting ideas. You can do it, T. Keep writing.”
Inner Critic: “I’ll be back, you know.”

And she is back, every morning. She’s easier to silence on Thursday and easier again on Friday because by then I’ve picked up some momentum and I can remember what I most wanted to start with when I’d finished the day before. But she never, ever, truly goes away, and by the following Wednesday she’s back out in force.

I described this entire process to my friends in my writing accountability group at our meeting in December and they were both horrified. “That sounds terrible!” one of them said.

It is terrible. I guess I’m just so used to it it doesn’t even seem strange to me anymore. I’ve never written anything research-related without also engaging in a fierce internal war.

My work goal for 2018 is to try to break this cycle. The fundamental problem is that I’m a perfectionist with a very fixed mindset. I associate editing with failure- I didn’t get it right the first time. I confuse my work with myself, and feel that a rejection of my work would pass judgment on myself as a person. This leaves me paralyzed with fear whenever I think about submitting my work somewhere.

It’s a really unhealthy way to live, and I don’t want to model it for my children.

E. and I talk all the time about how “practice makes progress” and how we have to be willing to try and make mistakes in order to improve. When he’s worried about his dictée words, and is wailing about how he will “never get anything right” and how he will “make a million mistakes on the dictée”, I point to how much he’s improved every time he practices.

I knew it was sinking in when I heard our nanny say to E. “practice makes perfect” one day and he, rather irritably, corrected her that it was actually “practice makes progress because most things aren’t perfect”.

It needs to sink in for me too.

Walking to the library this morning, with my Inner Critic shrieking in my head, I resolved to make “progress, not perfection” my mantra for my work this year. And by the time I’d reached my second-favourite desk (annoyingly someone had already claimed my favourite desk), I’d realized that it applied to far more than just my writing.

It applied when it came to my photographs.

It applied when it came to my efforts to control my lizard brain when I’m frustrated with my kids.

It applied to anywhere in my life where I felt unsatisfied and wanted to make a change.

When you practice, you see, you have to make the time for something. You have to engage in it. And maybe the progress you make is incremental. Maybe it’s tiny, almost unnoticeable at first. Maybe baby steps even seem like big steps at first. But eventually, if you give it enough time, you will be able to look back and see just how far you’ve come.

I wrote on here that I hadn’t been able to come up with a good word to represent my goals for 2018.

It turns out I needed three words, not one.

Progress, not perfection.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, Choose Happiness, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

On Track

E. brought home his first report card this week.

It was a progress report rather than an official report card, but it was still a serious assessment of how he is handling Grade One.

The short answer is he’s doing just fine.

Nothing was identified as being “unsatisfactory”.

There were no areas where he was currently “progressing with difficulty”.

And his “highest” score for the behavioural section of the progress report was in collaboration, an area that has been a huge struggle in the past.

There’s room for improvement, sure, and E. will probably find it easier to meet the expectations of the classroom as he gets older and is better able to self-regulate.

But this was a great start, and we told him he should feel very proud of himself.

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, E.- the seventh year, Grade One