Category Archives: 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

(Super) Fan

There’s probably a lot of things I should write about it on here – it’s been six weeks since I last posted. But since my brain has been nothing but a Sam Wilson & Bucky Barnes stan account ever since the finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier dropped on Friday, I thought I’d put up a post with my thoughts in the hope that I then might be able to think about something else.

Lots of spoilers, don’t read if you haven’t finished watching TFATWS (or if you don’t want to go down this rabbit hole with me)

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I have never cared about Bucky Barnes. Pre-2021 me was bored senseless by pretty much every scene he was in. Why did Steve Rogers (my least favourite Avenger) care so much? Blah blah, end of the line, blah blah, Hydra, blah.

Sam Wilson, I liked a lot. And the only times I found Bucky even moderately amusing were in his scenes with Sam (e.g., the car scene in TWS and the banter with Spiderman in Civil War).

So I wouldn’t have described myself as excited about TFATWS, in the same way I was excited about WandaVision, but I’d always been planning to watch it because, duh, new Marvel content.

Six weeks later, I’m a ride-or-die Bucky fan, so well played, Marvel and Disney+. Well played.

It didn’t hurt, at all, that Sebastian Stan looked really really good in this series, with the short hair, and the stubble, and the eyes, and the ‘Bucky goes to war’ outfit.

But really, what happened, was that, just like WandaVision, there was finally time for these secondary characters to shine.

And Bucky just lit up the world.

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I think WandaVision was a braver show, a more interesting show. Possibly a better show, although they’re so different and it’s tiresome reading social media posts comparing the two and criticizing one because of the other.

TFATWS needed eight episodes (at least). At times it felt way rushed. The Flag Smashers storyline was a mess (almost certainly because of the pandemic arc that they had to cut and reshoot because, COVID). There were too many villains who weren’t villains. Too many shades of grey. Walker gets rehabilitated in the final episode but Karli becomes irredeemable? I’m not opposed to Sharon Carter, Power Broker, but I feel like her history in the MCU meant we needed more backstory to believe her 180 degree turn. Zemo, I will broke no criticism of (except maybe having his guy blow up the Flag Smashers in that frantic rush to the finish). He was a (Turkish) delight.

The heart of the show, of course, was Sam and Bucky, and the writers rarely set a foot wrong with them. It’s so obvious from press tours in the before times (and virtual ones for this show) how much Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie like each other, and that came through in spades (please, please, release the thirty-minute therapy scene that Mackie has said is out there. If you can give us the #Zemocut, you can do this). Watching the growth, as Sam wrestled with and ultimately chose to embrace the complicated legacy that Steve had just foisted upon him in Endgame, as Bucky shed the Winter Soldier like an old skin, as their relationship shifted and deepened and shifted again, was marvellous. I think episode five is the best in the series (I would watch an entire show of Sam and Bucky fixing the boat and training with the shield and staring at each other and making smart ass remarks), and I am beyond excited that its writer (along with the show’s main writer) is tapped to pen the just-announced Captain America 4.

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Some random thoughts (mostly about the finale) to try to get them out of my head:

  • When Bucky gets knocked over the edge in the battle with the Flag Smashers – he lands in the stereotypical ‘hero’ pose (one knee, one fist to the ground). Pair that with Karli’s “give him someone to rescue” and the stunned look on his face when he does do the rescuing and people thank him for saving their lives, and we see what the MCU might hold for him. There was a lot of nervous chatter on social media during the show about the possibility that Bucky might be killed off – that the character development was being shown because his arc was ending. I’m so glad it didn’t – I think it’s so much more interesting to show Bucky determined to find a way in this new world than to give up and suggest that he’s an empty shell with no meaning once he’s been deprogrammed. (On that note, one of my few complaints about Bucky was handled was how short his final scene with Yori was – we should have been allowed to see more of what Bucky said.)
  • I kinda wish Sam and Bucky had been allowed to be mad at Steve. I’m not a “I’ll hate Marvel forever because Endgame ruined Steve’s arc” fan, but even I (with my limited interest in Steve and Bucky) recognized that Steve’s decision in Endgame was really weird [don’t get me started on the time travel/ alternate timeline issues]. And I get that Steve had five years of dealing with shit that Sam and Bucky missed because they were both blipped and maybe he was tired of all of it, but it never sat right with me that he finally got his friends back and then he just handed the shield to Sam and left. (I did feel very smug when Bucky confirmed in episode five that Steve told him in advance what he was going to do, because I’d always believed that had happened after Bucky said “I’m going to miss you” in Endgame.) The bit in the therapy session when Bucky says “and if he was wrong about you, then maybe he was wrong about me” and his voice breaks, was fabulous, and I wish there had been more of that. At the same time, I’m really glad we didn’t see old man Steve (or young flashback Steve) in the show. He was an imposing presence and both characters needed room to discover who they were without him. I loved that Bucky left the book with his (terrible, let’s face it) therapist – showed he truly was letting go of the past.
  • What do we all think Bucky said when he looked up at Sam and saw him in the Captain America suit (that, let’s all remember, Bucky ASKED the Wakandans to make)? My best guess (after much time spent studying the many, many GIFs of that moment) is “Oh, man!” (like whistling through teeth admiration). Many people want him to be saying “Sam” but I think the lip movement is wrong.
  • Did anyone else have a literal “Awwwwww” moment when you realized that Bucky asked the Wakandans to make another Redwing with Sam’s new suit? Even though he always complained about Redwing?
  • I love that the composer for TWS and Civil War (Henry Jackman) scored TFATWS. I loved hearing the echoes of the previously established themes. I love that Zemo’s theme came back, and the Winter Soldier’s, and the Falcon’s (which, as Jackman himself has said, was able to be expanded out to a full theme). But I think my absolute favourite musical moment was when Sam first came through the window as Captain America and the music did the two big beats that normally lead into the Captain America theme, and then the Falcon (extended) theme played instead. I thought it was so clever. I’d been waiting to see if Jackman was going to pull out the Cap theme, and then he teased it, and then he didn’t use music that would have made Sam into Steve Rogers’ shadow, but reminded us all that he is his own person. So I guess mentally I need to start thinking about the original theme as the Steve Rogers (Captain America) theme and the new one as the Sam Wilson (Captain America).
    • The ‘not my Cap’ brigade (aka the ‘shoulda been Bucky’) on social media are just gross. So gross. The Captain America twitter account changed its image on Monday to be the new poster just released by Disney+ and I can only assume this has provoked howls of outrage. But I LOVE IT. I love Anthony Mackie and I am so excited for him. And Sam Wilson proved over and over again in this series why he should be Cap.
  • I will admit I thought Sam’s speech was a bit much, and it was pushing the willing suspension of disbelief to accept that the US, after covering up what they did to Isaiah Bradley, would just turn around and make a museum exhibit telling his story for all to see, but I also want to recognize that I have NEVER seen a Marvel movie even try to engage with the issues that TFATWS repeatedly raised (the profiling scene with the cops in episode two where the cops ask Bucky if Sam’s bothering him was so important). So yes, the work isn’t done and it could have been done better, but there was (I think) a sincere effort here, and Carl Lumbly was spectacular.

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We have to talk about the ending (or, as I like to call it, the scene that launched a thousand fanfics). I don’t care WHAT Marvel and Disney thought they were filming, the sight of #sambucky walking off into an ACTUAL SUNSET with Sam’s thumb brushing against Bucky’s neck as he pulls him in closer will live rent-free in my mind until the end of time.

  • #sambuckysupremacy
  • #isawwhatisaw
  • #lovewins

Not gonna lie, all I want now is for Captain America 4 to have a very early scene where Sam’s at home, on the phone to someone, lots of ‘yep’ and ‘uh-huh’, ending with ‘right, we’ll be there soon as we can’ and then Sam hangs up and yells ‘Buck? We gotta go!’ and Bucky comes in with his shirt off or toweling his hair. Like they don’t need to make it a THING. They laid all the groundwork they needed to. Just move forward.

  • I know, I know, they’re not going to do this. This is Disney and Marvel, after all. This is “we’ve made 23 movies so far but the only LGBTQ+ representation you get is Joe Russo’s nameless cameo”. This is promising representation, hinting at representation, but chickening out at the last minute, again and again and again. So I shouldn’t expect anything but disappointment.
    • I recognize that even if my interpretation is completely off, it’s still a good result to have two men onscreen as friends who are that comfortable with each other. We need more of this.
      • But we need LGBTQ+ representation more.
      • And I just love the idea of them SO MUCH.
      • Did you SEE how Bucky looked at Sam in that final scene? And when Sam was giving his big speech? And when Bucky saw Sam in the Captain America suit for the first time? And even back in episode 5, when they said goodbye after training with the shield and Bucky was BITING HIS LIP while giving Sam heart eyes?
        • Ok, maybe this is just how Sebastian Stan looks at everyone?
          • But let me tell you, if Bucky looked at me like that??!!
      • You could do worse than finding somebody who looks at you like Bucky looks at Sam, is all I’m saying.

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The New York Times published an article last week that really spoke to me (and to many of my friends when I posted it). We’re all languishing.

These Disney+ shows have been one of the brightest spots in my week. They’ve been one of the few things I’ve been genuinely excited about. I haven’t had as much fun as I did going down the #sambucky rabbit hole this past weekend (because let me tell you A LOT of people read that last scene the same way I did) in months.

So yes, they’re silly shows about superheroes, but in a very real sense they’re saving me.

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Filed under Choose Happiness, COVID-19, Daily Life

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

The Pandemic You’re Having

When the pandemic started, there was a brief point when it felt like we were all in it together. We weren’t, of course – even from the beginning privilege (or lack thereof) was shaping our experiences. But all those shots of empty city streets made it feel like we were presenting a unified front against the virus.

Very quickly it became obvious that we were living through different pandemics, our experiences shaped by our geographical location, employment responsibilities, and, perhaps most of all, the composition of our households and the stage of life in which we found ourselves. I was reminded of that this week when I briefly popped into a virtual research seminar for my department (while also cleaning up after lunch and supervising P’s online school – camera off and bluetooth headphones ftw!). One of the more senior professors was presenting and it was clear that they’d spent much of the pandemic sitting and thinking and reading and writing – all the things that academics are meant to be doing when we’re not teaching. They’d had all the time in the world to do this, while most days I barely feel like I have time to string two thoughts together. It was hard to sit there and listen to them debate the finer points of one of their ideas (and then I couldn’t even listen any longer as P’s class ended and she needed me).

I know everyone’s pandemic is different, and that all the things I most long for – empty space, hours of quiet, no one who needs me – are exactly the things that other people have far too much of. In the fall, back when such things were allowed, we had my mum over to visit in our yard. She was struggling with the monotony of her days, their emptiness, their lack of purpose. We both keep the same five-year journal and she said that often she didn’t even bother to fill it in because every day was the same and nothing happened. “I’ll write in it today!” she said. “You’ll make the journal!” She looked like she might cry, and I couldn’t hug her.

I am SO VERY TIRED of people who don’t seem to be having a pandemic at all, or, at least, not one that requires any changes to their behaviour. loribeth* had a great post about this recently, about what we’re willing to do (or not) and how that compares with the actions of others. There is so little my family does. We go for walks. We pick up groceries that we’ve ordered online, so we don’t have to go into the grocery store. We go skating (reserving a time slot on a rink with restricted capacity, wearing masks). We pick up takeaway maybe once every two months. We go to our butcher’s to pick up the order we placed online once a month. We pick up holds from the library occasionally. Anything we do which requires us to step inside a building we organize online beforehand so that we only have to step inside for a minute or two each month.

We don’t go shopping in person.

We don’t go to coffee shops. When they were open, we didn’t go to restaurants.

We don’t go to playgrounds.

We don’t see friends.

We don’t see family.

We are doing everything we possibly can to stop the spread and we are following all the rules, as much as it hurts (since right now it probably would be safe to see my Mum and as soon as the kids are allowed back into school it won’t be).

And then, on our walks around the neighbourhood, we see the rink that isn’t controlled by the city, the one that community-minded neighbours worked together to build, overcrowded with games of shinny where no one’s wearing a mask.

Or we see kids we recognize from school playing touch football together in the park, wearing masks at least, but very much not in compliance with the rules of this lockdown because there’s far more than 10 of them.

Or we go skating and the kids on the rink are all wearing masks but their parents are having what looks to be a tailgate party in the parking lot, complete with shared snacks and hot chocolate and lots of laughing and not enough social distancing.

And it becomes SO HARD to remind myself that I don’t know what pandemic anyone else is having, that I don’t know their circumstances or their struggles, because all I see is selfish behaviour that means we’re further away from bringing our numbers down.

The Guardian had an article with the headline “Everyday Covid mistakes we are all still making” and I raced to read it, because I wanted to know what we could do better.

There was nothing.

Their examples were people who let their kids play with friends and then keep the kids away from the grandparents, but the parents go see the grandparents, or standing around chatting with someone outside, because you assume outside = safe.

It was an important article and I’m sure many people would have read it and made some changes, but all it showed me was that there’s nothing else my family can do.

We can’t beat Covid on our own.

We’re dependent on everyone else doing the right thing.

But too many of them aren’t.

*loribeth – if you read this, I have tried to comment on at least four of your posts in the last couple of weeks, but they never go through, and I’m at a loss to explain why.

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What’s Saving My Life Right Now (Winter 2021, COVID Edition)

Every year, on the 1st of February (midway through winter), Modern Mrs Darcy posts about what is saving her life right now. Big, small, doesn’t matter. It’s an opportunity in a difficult season to take a moment to recognize the good things in your life, the things that make getting through each day easier. In a year like this one, these positive things (big or little) are more important than ever.

My list follows (posted, of course, on the 2nd because that’s how I roll right now), but I wouldn’t want to publish it without first acknowledging that what is REALLY saving my life right now is my privilege – my two-income household; my job that I can do entirely from home; my stable, high-speed internet and multiple devices that allow Q. and I to both teach over Zoom while the children are building with LEGO and playing video games whenever they think we’re not looking learning in online school; my car that lets us pick up the groceries we ordered online so we can avoid the stores; and, of course, my husband who divides up each and every work day evenly with me so that we both get a concentrated block of uninterrupted time in the study without kids (ok, for me it’s mostly uninterrupted time since both kids burst in at least once per session, but it’s a far cry from trying to work at the kitchen table while supervising the four year old’s school day). In this day and age I feel like that last one should be a given, and not a rare feat, but I’ve lost count of how many of my female friends are married to enlightened, modern men, who are wonderful, involved fathers, and more than capable of completing any household task, but who, ever since they started working from home, have disappeared into a room at the start of every work day, shutting the door behind them, and reappearing only for meals, leaving my friends to juggle the school needs of multiple kids, the household chores, and their own jobs, because those jobs are “less important” or “more flexible” or “part-time” or “less financially lucrative” or whatever other bullshit society has offered up to let these men think they get a pass. It’s infuriating.

Anyway, on to the good! In no particular order, here are five, six, seven things that are truly saving my life right now:

SKATING

There’s so much screen time in our house these days. SO.MUCH.SCREEN TIME. We get the kids out of the house at least twice a day (usually once to play in the yard and once for a walk), but their lives (and their parents’, let’s be honest) revolve around screens. Skating on the weekends has become a much needed break – a chance to get some fresh air and exercise that isn’t just walking, a chance to do something that feels like “winter” (since we’ve had very little snow and we’ve twice now had to abandon plans to go sliding because the hill felt too crowded), and a rare opportunity to do something all together.

Skating feels safe – masks are mandatory on and off the ice (even when they were just mandatory off the ice earlier in the winter we wore them on the ice too) and the capacity on the rink is capped. You have to book online for a specific 45 minute time slot at a specific location. The system is a bit crazy and reminds me of trying to register the kids for swimming lessons in the before times, since the daily time slots open at 8 a.m. a week before. I’ve now set alarms on my phone for 7:45 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday to make sure I’m logged in and ready to book for the following weekend, since our preferred rink fills almost instantly (and I’ve yet to succeed at booking the skating trails, despite my best efforts).

But once we’re there, the hassle of booking and the chaos of trying to get everyone out the door at precisely the time I think we need to leave to eliminate any possibility that we might be late and lose our spots all melts away, replaced with blue skies, crisp air, and the comforting rhythmic scrape of blades on ice. I think a lot about my Dad when I skate, as he loved to skate and never will again. I try to pay attention to the small miracles of my body as I move and turn and breathe under the sun. I try for those minutes not to take it all for granted, as I usually do.

E. does endless laps of the rink, lost in his own imagination. Q. doggedly works on improving (having learned to skate only after the mad Canadian he married brought him to the frozen north). And I skate with P., who really “got it” this year. She visibly improves week after week and now skates so quickly and with so much confidence that when Q. circles round to trade off, I no longer feel like I need the break to actually get in some skating of my own.

P’s going to be a real hoon before long.

RICK RIORDAN’S The Trials of Apollo

At the end of last year, I was in a reading slump and was struggling to a) finish books and b) enjoy them. I was overwhelmed with work, the aftermath of the US election, the decision to pull the kids from school, and the terrible pandemic numbers in our province. I had this giant pile of library books next to my bed (the quarantine procedures mean my library isn’t charging late fines at the moment, so I can horde them without penalty), but I didn’t want to read any of them. Reading is one of the most important ways that I manage my anxiety, so I knew I couldn’t stay in this funk for long without repercussions echoing through the rest of my life.

At some point I discovered that Rick Riordan had published a third series set in the world of Percy Jackson. I’d read his first two series and enjoyed them both; I’d particularly liked how receptive he’d been to criticism about the lack of diversity in the first series and about the (likely unintentional) connections he’d made between classical mythology and white supremacy (certainly not the first to do so). I put The Trials of Apollo on hold and absolutely devoured the books when they became available.

They are a HOOT. I know a lot about classical mythology but (no spoilers) the context for this series is even more in my field of expertise. I’m sure these are great books without a background in the field but when you can pick up on and appreciate every single nuance, they’re truly fabulous. Q. would regularly find me snickering away on the couch or shrieking with outright glee as something I’d predicted many chapters before finally came to fruition.

They were a fantastic romp and once I’d burned through all five books I found myself eagerly reaching for books that had been languishing in my bedside pile for months. Reading mojo restored, I read ten books in January, still below what I would consider to be my “normal” reading rate in the before times, but more than I’d managed in any month since July 2020. The number of books I’ve had out from the library for an embarrassingly long time is dwindling (labmonkey’s story about having to pay for a library book that was three months overdue because the library had assumed it was lost might have also helped in this regard).

SOMERSBY’S BLACKBERRY CIDER

Not gonna lie, Q.’s and my alcohol consumption has skyrocketed this past year. Had I put together the equivalent post for this past spring/summer, alcohol would have featured heavily on that list as well (especially fancy drinks made by Q. with herbs from our garden that we then sipped while sitting on our patio). We’re not drinking as much as we were during that first lockdown since the kids are more pacified occupied with online school and we feel not quite as strung out (although I suppose we’re only at the equivalent of May, so there’s still time). But we’re certainly drinking more than we usually would in the before times.

While in the grand scheme of things, we are totally fine, as we have been this entire pandemic (there’s that privilege again), Q. and I are SO VERY TIRED. The kids were back in school for long enough for us to get our massive two-book project off to the press, which is wonderful, obviously, but we’d just started to talk about taking a couple of days off to decompress and spend some time together when the in-person learning came to an abrupt end and we were thrown back into the chaos and juggling act of lockdown, only this time with exponentially more synchronous meetings for the kids and a much heavier teaching load for Q. and I.

This semester, this winter, is a grind. So a drink on a Friday night, while the kids are eating dinner and Q. is squeezing in a bit more work time before he cooks our traditional ‘date night dinner’, is always appreciated. I like many ciders, but Somersby’s Blackberry Cider just makes me happy every time I drink it. At one point in the spring it wasn’t in stock anywhere when we did an alcohol order, and I started drinking other flavoured ciders to see if I could find an acceptable substitute because I felt guilty about its massive carbon footprint (drinking cider imported from Denmark when my province has dozens of small-batch options was hard to rationalize). I found a decent peach one, but nothing was quite as good. And then, this fall, when we were making another online order, I discovered that a) it was back in stock and b) now IT WAS MADE IN CANADA.

I ordered every can the store had.

I’ve been savoring one (or two) every week. Q. and I always share a bottle of wine over the weekend, but I don’t share blackberry cider with anyone.

Perfection in a can (and an open bottle of wine in the background because, lockdown + online school).

MY BOSE 700 NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES

Let me say from the outset that this is another example of my privilege speaking, because I was able to use my professional expenses fund to get my employer to pay for these ludicrously expensive headphones. Would I have bought them myself if I had to spend my own money? Probably not. Am I unbelievably happy that these were considered eligible expenses in these unprecedented times? YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

They’re not perfect – the app that you’re meant to use to control them is incompatible with my computer; they’re a bit fussy to charge using the laptop’s usb port; they’re heavier than I was expecting – but when I have them on, with the noise cancelling cranked up, I don’t hear ANYTHING, even if E. is shouting with enthusiasm at his class on the other side of the wall. They’ve got great sound quality, my students say I come through clearly on their end, they’ve got a solid battery life, and they look good (I went for the triple midnight).

The ability to work without hearing P. having a meltdown when I’m not the one on with the kids?

PRICELESS.

SLEEP

We have an elderly and much beloved cat, who, as she has aged, has developed a habit of roaming around the house in the wee hours of the morning, yowling at the top of her lungs. Is she lost? Is she lonely? Is she bored? Is she deaf? We have no idea, but when she’s asleep on the bed, gets up, wanders down the hall and then starts yowling, only to sound SURPRISED when she finally comes back to the bedroom and discovers that WE’RE STILL IN THE BED WHERE SHE LEFT US, we feel like we’re losing our minds.

It was getting really bad. We’d have nights where she wandered in and out repeatedly, yowling, jumping on and off the bed, climbing on and off of us until Q. and I both felt like we’d barely slept. When she started waking up one or both kids most nights, we knew we’d hit our breaking point.

We felt awful, but we banished her to the basement. She has everything she needs down there – food, water, litter box, cozy blanket – but it didn’t assuage our guilt.

But – she doesn’t seem to have noticed the change. She’s happy to see us in the mornings and doesn’t appear to be stressed. She sleeps in all her usual places during the day (she’s on my lap as I type this). We’re worried that she’ll get cold and drop weight (she’s a slim cat who’s never put weight on easily), so we’ve ordered her a heated bed, which seems only fair, since the difference her banishment has made to our quality of life has been nothing short of astounding. The kids are both sleeping in until 8 or later, and Q. and I are so much more rested. Q., who has for years joked that the next cat will be called “Sleeps In The Basement” and who has been advocating for this move for a long time, has resisted looking smug.

THE PELOTON APP

I know this is a pandemic cliché, but it’s so worth it. In November Q. and I signed up for the one month free trial of the Peloton app. We already had an exercise bike sitting unloved in the basement (Q. occasionally used it, I hadn’t ridden it in years) and we were trying to find ways around our new sedentary lifestyles. In the before times I’d regularly walk 4-7 km in a day without even trying – all the school runs, walking to transit to go to work, errands in the neighbourhood, etc., really added up. When the first lockdown happened, that all abruptly ceased. I’d go for a walk with the kids every day, but that was it. I tried to start a C25K program partway through the spring but my weak ankle gave out after three weeks. I need physio if I’m ever going to run again, but I wasn’t willing to see a physio in the pandemic for something that didn’t feel like an emergency.

When the kids went back to school in September, Q. and I tried to restore some of what we’d lost. We went for walks after lunch a couple of days a week, but we knew it wasn’t enough. We also knew that it would be months, probably closer to a year, before we could return to ‘normal’. This lifestyle couldn’t be brushed off as a holding pattern. We had to figure something out.

For the month the kids were in school and we had the app, it was brilliant. We both had enough time and space to work that we didn’t feel guilty or stressed about setting aside time for the bike. I really dislike exercise bikes, but I’ve found a style of class (80s music all the way) and a few instructors who work for me, and I can see the improvements in my stamina and strength.

January was hard. Q. used the bike a handful of times at most. I got on three times each week, but every time I chose to ride I knew I was leaving work unfinished. I feel like I have to prioritize it, even though I’m overwhelmed trying to squeeze all of my work this semester into the kid-free hours I have each day – most of my time with the kids is in the morning, which is when their schedules don’t align to allow them to go outside at the same time. That means Q. is usually the one who takes them for a walk, and I often go days without leaving the yard. I went for a walk by myself a couple of weeks ago (which was glorious), but I could only rationalize it because I needed to get bloodwork done, so I walked to the lab. I spend most of every day sitting, staring at a screen. The Peloton classes help to counteract this. They’re not enough, not on their own, not for how often I log in, but they’re much better than nothing. I might even keep riding a few times per week when the pandemic is over and my regular walking patterns have been restored (which is high praise indeed!).

CLOTH NAPKINS

This one was so simple and has provided so much joy I wish I’d done it much sooner. Q. and I had been saying for months that we needed to get a proper stash of cloth napkins since our kids are past the “need a wet cloth near them at all times” phase but not yet out of the “will wipe dirty hands on chair if necessary” phase. What kept us from making a decision? Inertia? Mental overwhelm at the thought of yet another decision? Fretting over what felt like an unnecessary expenditure? Probably all of the above. One night in January I sat down, did some googling, ended up on Amazon (I know, I know – we are trying really hard to stop buying from there) and bought these and these (not affiliate links). They came, I washed them, and we’ve been using them ever since.

Happiness in a basket!

As I have precisely zero interest in ironing them, they wrinkle and crease at the edges and don’t lie perfectly flat when I fold them. But who cares! They are a lovely generous size, they feel nice, they have a great weight when you open them up, and they make me smile every time I put one on my lap.

Money.well.spent.

If you have made it all the way to the end, please tell me, dear readers, what’s saving your life right now?

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, COVID-19, Daily Life

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