Last night after eating too many churros, we decided to withdraw Zeke from second grade at our local public elementary school and homeschool him for the rest of the school year. Maybe it was the cinnamon talking, but it feels like the right thing to do.

I have entertained this idea since March, when it was clear that the distance learning provided by the school system on short notice was not enough to hold Zeke’s (or my) attention or provide any intellectual stimulation or challenge. So I made up school, confident that although I am not a licensed teacher and I don’t have the patience to stand in front of a classroom of 25 kids, I knew enough stuff to finish out first grade. Some days it worked, some days it didn’t. But I didn’t worry (too much) about it because I knew everyone in our community was in the same nebulous boat. Zeke read a lot of books and did a lot of math and that was good enough for me.

I do, however, have my own business and actual work to do, which I had decided would make it impossible for me to actually homeschool Zeke for a whole school year. I figured the school system had all summer to figure out how to make virtual learning work and that we would trust them to provide Zeke a good second-grade education. I even talked with the principal a couple times over the summer, who assured me Zeke would be in good hands even though there was so much up in the air.

So we picked up Zeke’s iPad and we participated in the virtual open house and we struggled to log in on the first day with everyone else in Arlington, and it got better on the second day. And every day after that it was slightly easier technologically, but every day Zeke asked why he had to go to school and said he would rather do homeschooling and had to be cajoled into getting dressed and logging on. Every day Zeke would come downstairs during sanctioned breaks and tell me his teacher told the class to tell their parents to remind them to go back at a certain time. He didn’t always remember exactly what time that was. And he’s still learning to actually tell time on a regular clock. Yesterday his teacher emailed me while I was in the middle of a meeting to tell me Zeke was not in class, and that he had been leaving class daily. I texted Randy to talk with Zeke about this. Zeke swore up and down that he was not leaving intentionally but was being kicked off by the app. Either or both of those things could have been true. I know he was bored by everything they were doing. He knows more about iPads and apps than I do and probably than the teacher does. I completely understand that other kids in the class need to learn all this, and it’s necessary for the teacher to spend time going over the use of the apps for the rest of the school year to proceed as planned, but I wondered how long it was going to be until something happened that engaged Zeke.

When I was in college I had a summer internship at a community newspaper in a nearby suburb. Journalism is my family’s trade and I had assumed since I was a kid that I would become a reporter, editing every school newspaper along the way. It turned out that I hated being a real reporter. What they asked me to do seemed far removed from the kind of writing I had envisioned doing. And some of what they asked me to do just felt wrong. When I discussed this with one of my editors, he said I had to pay my dues. My reaction was that I didn’t want to pay any dues, I wanted to write. So after college I launched a career writing for and about nonprofit organizations, which has proven much more satisfying. The reason I bring all this up is that I feel like Zeke slogging through virtual learning was the equivalent of him paying his dues. But to what end?

Then last night I attended virtual back to school night. The principal and assistant principal at Zeke’s school are lovely people. I had witnessed his teacher doing her damnedest to make all this work even though none of it was what she had signed up for. These people are responsible for educating hundreds of kids and working with an immensely diverse group of families. I get it. But watching the standard presentation about school and the standard presentation about second grade left me cold. There was nothing that got me excited for Zeke or optimistic about what lay ahead for him. If we were in non-Covid times and had been at back to school night in person, I think I would have overlooked the standardness of everything, banking on the fact that Zeke would make friends and develop a relationship with his teacher and experience new opportunities at school that I couldn’t provide for him at home. But in virtual school they have no chance to make friends, or even chat with their classmates. It is not part of the schedule. And it’s really hard to differentiate for a variety of skill levels when you’re all watching one screen. I know they are supposed to use Mondays to pull small groups for extra help, but that wouldn’t include Zeke. The tipping point may have been when the teacher told us that the kids needed to stop spinning in their chairs and doodling and playing with fidget toys. They are seven years old and they have to do school from home and not go anywhere or do anything fun. I think you can at least allow them a little spinning or fidgeting or doodling. It is entirely possible, and even helpful to many kids (and adults) to do something with their hands or bodies while they are listening to someone talk. I’m pretty positive the teacher isn’t going to be able to stop these kids from moving during class, and I imagine everyone is going to get frustrated if she tries.

Earlier in the summer I had reached out to various communities I’m part of to convene parents to talk about what on earth they were planning to do with their kids if school was all virtual this fall. This was before we knew school would be all virtual this fall. Some parents were trying to form learning pods or social pods, some were already committing to homeschool, and many were entirely unsure of what path to take. So this week I’ve been reading all my notes from these discussions and the emails folks have exchanged about homeschool resources. I started researching curricula and found one–based on literature and secular–that I really liked. I made a list of pros and cons and discussed them with Randy. Then Randy and I explained to Zeke what pros and cons are (Zeke’s initial guess was that pros are people who are really good at something, which is also true). Zeke added his own ideas to the lists, and enthusiastically agreed that he didn’t want to sit in front of the iPad for five hours a day. Together we watched a video about the curriculum and Zeke promised that he would do the work and I promised to be patient. Today I filed the notice of intent to homeschool paperwork with the school district and emailed the principal, assistant principal, and teacher to let them know our plans. We’re ordering the curriculum and plan to start Monday.

Today Zeke begged not to go to virtual school, and since we had already made this decision it seemed silly to force him, so I made an ad hoc lesson plan. We did some logic and word puzzles from his puzzle magazine. He read his book of female Marvel superheroes, and wrote a story about Rogue. He usually complains vociferously about writing by hand, so I let him write in Google Docs on my iPad. He wrote a whole paragraph. He knew how to press a key and say a word that he wanted to spell and the iPad supplied it. I don’t even know how you do that. When we needed to leave the house, I asked him to stop writing. He said, “once you start writing, it’s hard to stop.” He has never, ever, ever said anything like this and almost always whined and moaned when asked to write anything. And he did a few pages of multiplication tables in a workbook I bought back in the spring but never got around to using. I am not under the illusion that it will always go this smoothly, but I felt like it was a good omen. I think homeschooling will provide opportunities for Zeke that I haven’t even imagined yet.

I’m going to have to be more organized and disciplined to get my work done and homeschool Zeke at the same time. But I’ll figure it out, because I think it’s the best thing for him. I hope and pray that this pandemic will end sooner rather than later and he will be back in the classroom next year, and running around at recess, and telling jokes to his friends in the cafeteria. In the meantime, wish us luck.

It’s the kind of morning where you drop your second-grader off at a three-hour outdoor, socially distanced theater camp where a staff member comes up to your car wearing a mask and a face shield and asks–literally–how everyone in our family is feeling and takes your kid’s temperature twice.

You think about how ironic it is that all these years when you’ve dropped off kids at camps you wished you could just let them jump out of the car and walk themselves in, but usually you have to park the car and go in with them and sign them in and show ID and whisper the secret password. Now because of Covid, the counselors come to the car and don’t want you to get out.

After you and your kid kiss goodbye through your masks, and you’re pulling out of the church parking lot, your eighth-grader says she’s glad she doesn’t go to day camps anymore where you get there and you don’t know anyone but it seems like everyone else knows each other. You hope that you weren’t just imagining another kid saying hello to yours so he might have a built-in friend there.

Then your stomach drops as you flash back to the many, many mornings that each of your kids screamed and cried when you dropped them off at preschool or at a day camp that just moments or hours or days before they were really excited about and not indicating that they were going to have a full-on meltdown at the door of the classroom. Even though those days are long past, that brick in your stomach feeling doesn’t go away. Just like when you attend a wedding and you think of your own, or when you go to a funeral and get sad for everyone else you’ve ever lost, that sensation feels fresh and intense even though it’s been dredged up from a memory.

On the way home you go through the drive-thru at Dunkin’ (they dropped the Donuts name but still sell the donuts) so your teenager can buy a coffee drink that is cryptically named “The Charli” after a famous TikTokker. When we pull up to the menu you point out that “The Charli” is not listed anywhere. She says you have to ask for it. You are skeptical, but you say to the invisible person on the other side of the intercom, “Do you have a drink called The Charli?” And she says yes, though you detect a hint of derision in her tone. So you order the drink and drive up to the window and collect it and your teenager takes photos and maybe even videos of herself trying the drink. She says she doesn’t know what’s in it, but since the TikTokker likes it, she is sure she will as well. Fortunately, she does! Otherwise you would be really irritated at having spent $4.02 on an off-menu coffee drink named for a minor celebrity, instead of just mildly bewildered at yourself and your child for both your life choices.

The second day was so much better. Thank God.

I would still give anything to have the kids back in regular in-person school right now, in a Covid-free world, but I no longer think the school year will be a complete disaster. (I may have been a little dramatic yesterday. It was a little rough.)

Today both kids were able to log into their classes with no problem, and I think only Zeke got kicked out a couple times but easily logged back in. They came downstairs on their lunch breaks and ate healthy food. Meanwhile, I was in a three-hour meeting, which luckily I didn’t have to leave to intervene. Also fortunately Randy was working from home again since he assembled his fancy new desk yesterday so he was on hand to clean up some spills.

Both kids were exhausted after their school days ended. We made a quick smoothie run as a reward. They had martial arts tonight for the first time after school instead of during the day when it was all summer. Zeke was acting so out of it that his instructor called me after class to see if he was ok. After a summer of relatively little exertion, he needs to figure out a new routine. Inertia is strong with that one. Zoe, as a black belt, remains motivated and really loves the community her class provides, even when it’s virtual. When this thing is finally over, I’m going to be so excited to go back to EvolveAll and to church.

So yesterday morning started off pretty rocky, but by the evening I was proud of us for surviving the day, and especially proud of myself for successfully advocating for Zoe. In addition to all the technical glitches, Zoe had been placed in an elective class she did not want. The teacher of one of the classes she did want said she was welcome to transfer into his class, but her counselor said that wasn’t allowed because of…reasons. But I persisted and the counselor said she asked the counseling gods to make an exception and they agreed! I am usually disinclined to make waves but I felt strongly that in the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty I wanted Zoe to have something to look forward to at school and not dread. Happily, she has reported that she really likes her other teachers and the classes seem promising, so I’m glad about all that.


My mood is lighter today than it has been in a while. There have been other days when I’ve felt like this, like when we went to the alpaca farm with friends. How can you feel sad around a bunch of adorable alpacas? But then something happens and it seems like one step forward two steps back, or 10 steps back. Because, you know, the world is still a freaking disaster right now. But I’ll take what I can get. And a good day is something to be thankful for.

There are no new outfits laid out for tomorrow. No backpacks filled with fresh school supplies, no lunches prepared in the fridge. We haven’t met any of Zoe’s teachers. We sort of met Zeke’s teacher online for a few minutes but she was preoccupied providing tech support to everyone. Usually the night before the first day of school is exciting, if also nerve-wracking. But this year—-the year of Covid—we are mostly filled with dread.

Ok maybe I’m just speaking for me. But I do know my kids are not looking forward to tomorrow. Based on the track record with school technology, we have extremely low expectations for how smoothly anything will go. And what are we supposed to say to motivate them? How can you make new friends in second grade when you can’t see any of your classmates or talk to them at lunch or play with them at recess? And friends are the only thing that makes middle school bearable but once again, how can you find them when the only activity you have in common is sitting in your room watching your teacher on a screen?

To be clear, I don’t blame teachers for this. I love teachers. I know teachers work their butts off and I know they hate this situation as much as we do. They didn’t sign up for this. And I assume that the principals and administrators are all doing the best they can. Certainly I wouldn’t want to be working for a school district and trying to figure this mess out. I guess I could blame Trump for his ineptitude at handling the country’s response to the virus. But that doesn’t really help us tonight.

I heard on NPR that a quarter of Americans report having symptoms of depression during the pandemic. And that probably doesn’t count kids, whose feelings often manifest in a million different ways that can be hard to identify. I’ve witnessed a wide variety of these behaviors this summer. And what’s going to change now? The kids will have something they have to do during the day, but will they be engaged in it? Will any of it be fun? Will they be able to develop any real relationships? Is there anything to look forward to? I’m generally an optimistic person, but sustaining a positive outlook these days is hard. I can only manage it for a few minutes at a time.

I have thought a lot about homeschooling Zeke but ultimately I don’t feel like I could devote the attention to teaching him that he deserves and also do my job. And I want him to have friends. More recently I thought about taking Zoe out of her middle school and enrolling her in a virtual homeschool program that is more established and seems more well run than her school which is currently making everything up as they go along. But she wanted to stick with what she knows, even if it’s not exactly what she’s used to. I thought about arguing about it more but I honestly don’t know what the right thing to do is.

I want my kids to be good people, and be kind and curious and creative. I want them to want to learn new things and meet new people. I want them to learn how to get along in the world while still being true to themselves. I want them to have fun. Can they do all that in virtual school? Is it up to us to teach them these things and not rely on school for anything? Is the time they’re going to spend staring at their iPads going to be worthwhile or a waste? I do not know.

In any case, I’m setting my alarm for earlier than usual, so I can make sure everyone is awake and dressed and fed before school starts. The school district tech support number is written on a post it note on my desk.

If your kid is starting school tomorrow, good luck. May the force be with you. Here goes…

I have no idea why my hair grows out instead of down. I have left the realm of Bob Ross hair and have entered Malcolm Gladwell territory, and that’s not somewhere my hair wants to be.

But like every other seemingly small decision in our current circumstances, I have to evaluate the relative risk and safety of getting my hair cut. I’ve gone to see my stylist once since the pandemic started, and the salon was practically deserted and we were both masked. But every day is a new chance for some coronavirus bits to float in through the front door, right?

School starts a week from tomorrow and our house is in chaos. We are rearranging most of the rooms in order to give the kids their own rooms. This was a shift we had first discussed in the spring before the pandemic, which we planned to implement when summer started. Then we canceled that plan because my office, which was to become Zeke’s bedroom, was suddenly occupied by my husband, who was working from home. Because my work is more flexible and sporadic, my office became wherever in the house I was sitting.

Of course none of that has changed—we are still both working from home—but the realization that the pandemic is nowhere near over and the kids may be doing school from home from now through June has become undeniable. So we have been selling furniture and giving away furniture and buying new furniture and rearranging furniture to accommodate everyone in the hopes that we will each have a modicum of privacy and quiet. Randy will carve out a corner of our bedroom for his office and I will try to create an oasis for myself on one wall of the family room. In the meantime, our stuff is in bins and boxes and piled in the hall while we try to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.

Hopefully a positive side effect of this undertaking will be the purging of many toys and books and who knows what else that’s lurking in our closets. I have no idea what to do with all the upcycled art I’ve made. It feels like it would be counterproductive to throw it in the trash from whence it was once rescued. I am trying to calmly remind myself that this whole thing will take a while. Of course we want the kids’ rooms mostly in place by Tuesday, but getting all the details right and inevitably buying accessories and giving things away in order to maintain the proper balance of stuff takes time.

Zoe is the most excited of all of us about this transition. She has thoughtfully researched design concepts on Pinterest and noted cool lighting and decor she’s seen on TikTok. I asked her if she could help Zeke with his decorating, so she asked him what kind of vibe he was going for. I don’t think vibe means a lot to a seven-year-old, even one as sophisticated as Zeke. He has said he wants to put up some of his drawings on the walls. I suggested getting a white board so he could write down things he needs to do or when certain activities are happening. He said, “maybe YOU need to remember when things are happening, but I don’t.” Perhaps he’s right.

So we’ve been spending a lot of furniture but it’s probably fine because we saved so much on school supplies this year. No need for new backpacks or lunchboxes or pencils or crayons or erasers or glue sticks. Or all those supplies that are communally used in elementary school—tissues, ziploc bags, wipes. We did go to Target and buy some notebooks and folders and post-it notes for each kid. Otherwise we have enough crayons, markers, pencils, and paper for a whole class of kids. We stopped by Zeke’s school today to pick up his new iPad, and we received instructions from Zoe’s school about how to reset hers for the new year.

The thrill of a new school year is tarnished by the fact that the kids aren’t actually going to school. I’ve seen so many first day photos on Facebook of kids at their desks, or in bed with a laptop. Zoe dyed some of her hair pink this afternoon for the occasion. We’ve gotta figure out something to get us excited.

Looking for a way
out
of the chaos

or a way
through the mess
but I can’t find either

My new progressive
lenses
won’t arrive
’til Tuesday

What I hoped
would be easy
turns out
impossible

What I needed
to be simple
ends up in
a tangle of thorns
mixed with the
sickening scent
of flowers on their journey
to decay

My patience
has shriveled to
a granular level
because I am trapped
inside
far from the coast
with no means
of replenishment

There is nowhere to go
to collect my
thoughts
or renew my
soul
because
everything
is
canceled
closed
cut off
thanks (no thanks)
to Covid

Don’t remind me
that my bad habits
have gotten worse
those seven
deadly sins
squared to 49
at least

How can I
solve your problems
when I can’t even
stay awake
long enough
to understand
my own

Even my
conversations
with myself
are getting
old

There is no substitute for you
no one else who knows what you know

Who says “Hello, my dear!” with such enthusiasm 
when I call, reporting that you are just hunky and dory.

There is no voice that sounds like yours
No one else who fusses quite the same way 
when someone tries to touch your hair
No one else with your signature scent of Charlie perfume

There is no one else who can host a hen party like you
No one else with that stockpile of snacks and treats
you’re always willing to share

There is no one else who drove me around 
High Point to see the Christmas lights
and invited me on last minute shopping adventures
always letting me in on important secrets

There is no one else who would bake a 
strawberry birthday cake 
for my imaginary friend

There is no one else who understands 
Nana’s mysterious recipes so well
and makes them as faithfully,  
always offering encouragement 
when I call from my kitchen with questions 

There is no one else who supplied me with 
such wonderful socks for so many years 
that I had to learn, as an adult, how to buy socks

There is no one else who would leave 
her teeth at home 
when we go out to lunch 
and then just order something
that doesn’t require too much chewing. 

There is no one else who loves 
a good recliner like you do
who devours as many novels at the beach,
who loves to watch the kids splash and swim, 
who skunked us all at cornhole.

There is no one else who loves 
banana ice cream like you do,
well, except your sister.

There is no one else who calls her “Faye Marie.”

No one else who rode eight hours on the Palmetto line
as soon as she heard about her sissy’s stroke
and sat with her for weeks on end
and laughed with her at all the nonsense
until she learned to speak again.

There is no one else who reads 
my Facebook posts
and calls my mother 
as quickly as you to discuss
unfolding events.

There is no one else who keeps as close an eye 
on the weather in Virginia 
and calls us with cautionary alerts.

There is no one else I can count on 
to play Words with Friends
in the middle of the night 
so I know when you’re awake
and you ask why I’m awake
and you play risqué words and tell me,
“I bet you didn’t know I knew that word!” 
and I can hear you laugh.

There is no one else I love 
to watch get off the train 
as much as you
when you come to visit.

There is no substitute for you.

For FG
May 23, 1941 – August 13, 2020

Seems we’re at a tipping point where more things are broken than not. This is metaphorical and real.

Yes, we have indoor plumbing and three bathrooms, but at any given time two of our toilets are out of order. Restrooms available for paying customers only.

Tripping over piles of dirty laundry and bags of recyclables and items waiting to be repaired or repacked or repurposed, looking for the space to create two classrooms and two offices for the four of us.

Mold is creeping in behind the sink and chunks of the kitchen tile are breaking off (since we had to tear up the floor on top because the kitchen sink leak was worse than we thought) while we procrastinate, waiting for the kitchen fairy godmother to appear and find affordable and aesthetically pleasing countertops and flooring and cabinetry for us that both matches and increases our resale value and she will wave her magic wand and make our kitchen beautiful.

Now every breakdown is weighted down with symbolism. Our country and our world are crumbling as we watch, why should I be any different, says our house in an Eeyore voice.

Of course I know how lucky we are. You need not remind me. But at this moment we are trapped by dark clouds that are not just threatening but delivering on their promised storms and that bright side is just out of reach.

Where do we seek our solace?

In a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? A box of Little Debby snack cakes? Sugar is always there for us.

In video games? I can’t release myself into a digital world but I know it’s irresistible to some. Assuming a character with powers we will never know.

In novels, though, I can disappear for hours (if given the time). There will never be enough books for me. I require options. Multiple escape routes. People whose problems may be different from mine—or the same—and who solve them—or not.

In puzzles that I can solve, rearranging letters over and over until all the words have relinquished themselves. Although I never do have command of all the words. Some of them are squirrelly.

In scrolling endlessly—a mind-numbing habit that does leave me numb. One heart cannot soak up so much sorrow and cruelty and anger and bitterness and spite. Those seem to be the rotten fruits of scrolling. I suppose I sift through looking for the one unbruised apple, or a peach that’s ripe but not yet decaying. They are so hard to find these days.

If I’m lucky I find sanctuary in the presence of the humans who I love. But I have to tread lightly and speak softly because they are hurting too and seeking their own relief. I never wished to be someone who asked too much of others.

Today we said goodbye to Ella, our 18-year-old Honda Civic, whose transmission conked out. We decided that the $4000 it would require to replace the transmission would be better spent on a down payment for a new (to us) hybrid car. Even though Randy has primarily been Ella’s driver since we bought our Honda Odyssey in 2013, I bought her on my own and she was our only car for a long while.

I bought Ella from Landmark Honda after my Saturn was–oddly–stolen. My Saturn was later recovered–unexpectedly spotted in an apartment building parking lot by a friend of mine six months after it had been stolen. But by then the insurance company already owned it and I had bought Ella.

Ella was the first new car I ever bought. I did my research and decided on a Honda Civic, then went to three different dealerships until I found one where the salesman wasn’t condescending. I brought my dad along because I was worried that the salespeople would take advantage of me somehow, or I wouldn’t ask the right questions. But it was going to be my car and I was going to be paying for it. At the first two dealerships, the salesmen addressed my dad instead of me. Finally, at Landmark Honda the salesman acknowledged that I was an intelligent adult, so I bought the car from him.

My favorite thing about her was the sunroof, which I chose specifically because I remembered how much I loved the feeling of the air coming through the roof at night (at which time it becomes a moonroof?) of the car my boyfriend in high school drove.

A Honda Civic is not a fancy car. And after 18 years, Ella had experienced ups and downs and was more than a little messy. She had worn through many bumper stickers and had collected a lot of crumbs that seemed to be just a permanent part of her.

At times when you’re a parent it’s hard to remember what it was like before you had kids. I know that I drove Ella for five years before Zoe was born, and then for six more years until Zeke was born and we felt compelled to get a minivan because we needed the space. So I know Randy and I must’ve been driving Ella on great dates and road trip adventures and who knows where else. But the pandemic has caused significant sections of my brain to fog over, so the details are murky. I know in my heart, though, that Ella was a good car and served our family well for a long time. And I always enjoyed feeling the breeze through the sun and moon roof.

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