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By the time this is over, my hair is going to look like Kramer from Seinfeld and my eyebrows will be full-on caterpillars. At least I can clip my own nails so I won’t develop talons. I think sometimes about my absurdly first-world problems—I can’t get my monthly massages or manicures and pedicures. I think about the women who provide these services who likely have zero income right now. I wonder how they’re surviving. I wonder what they are thinking about what they’ll do when all this is over. Will they be able to go back to the jobs they had before? Will those jobs exist in the same way? Will these women have to start over. My massage therapist is also in nursing school. I wonder if she was asked to skip ahead to hands-on training. I wonder if she still wants to be a nurse.

I am reading more accounts from doctors and nurses on the front lines. These stories are horrifying. Yet I sense that a lot of people are not reading or hearing these stories based on their behavior in public and their public policy decisions. Every day I receive and read emails from the New York Times and National Public Radio providing a rundown of key national and international news items as well as links to in-depth reporting. I’ve gotten these emails for months or maybe years but usually skimmed them. Now I read every word. I acknowledge that these are only two of many reputable news sources available to Americans. But I get the feeling that a lot of people get their news from disreputable sources and that somehow these people are confident that the natural laws of science and math don’t apply to them.

I hope that a real outcome of the pandemic is a genuine discussion of how and why we learn and whether schools are emphasizing the right things. Zoe has been overloaded with online assignments from her teachers. The emails I’ve received from her principal and the school district superintendent indicate that none of this will be graded. Essentially, because she was in good academic standing when the third quarter ended, a week after schools closed, she will be promoted to eighth grade. Of course, you just don’t do your work for the grade, you do it to learn. Or at least you’re supposed to. But it’s ridiculously unrealistic to expect every kid to be able to do the same quality and quantity of work at home, surrounded by their entire families, in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, that they do at school. It’s not clear to me why teachers are assigning deadlines and telling students the work will be graded if that’s not the case. (I emailed Zoe’s principal tonight to ask for clarification).

It would be nice if we could focus more on what kids want and need to learn. With Zeke it’s a lot easier to take this approach right now because he has the basic skills required to enter second grade. I can teach him what I think is useful and interesting and let him play with legos for hours at a time. Next week we’ll work on actually telling time. And hopefully how to ride a bike. I realize I have enough knowledge about the public school system and my kids’ abilities to make these decisions, but many families in our community and our country don’t. And I suspect they’re receiving thousands of different messages from thousands of different teachers, principals, and superintendents. This has got to lead to some kind of reckoning in our educational system, right?

Oddly, one of the highlights of my day was a crying baby. I had a call with my point of contact for my new client. He alerted me as soon as the call started that his 16-month-old son had not gone down for his scheduled nap and was rather cranky as a result and that our call might be cut short. He had his son strapped on his chest in a carrier and was trying to give him a bottle and do the familiar parental sway and bounce dance to assuage him. He apologized a couple times and I repeatedly told him not to worry about it, that I have two kids who were once babies and I am intimately acquainted with that exact challenge. He briefed me on a few points and said he would email me details later today or tomorrow and we would talk Monday.

While I empathized for this dad and his baby, I also felt relieved. First that he was a man in this situation, which gave me hope for the state of gender equity in parenting in our culture. And second because starting out a professional relationship with this kind of vulnerability and realness can only be a good thing. Anytime we see each other’s struggles and can put compassion and kindness ahead of deadlines and deliverables is a good thing.

We played a fun game tonight—Not Parent Approved–which I ordered from Amazon a few days ago. It’s basically a family-friendly version of Cards Against Humanity. It was good to laugh and think about things other than coronavirus.

Otherwise today was kind of a wash. I think we were all still reeling from the announcement yesterday that school will be closed for the rest of the school year. We have plenty of things to do, but seem to be searching for motivation and focus. I had to work and we hadn’t gotten the kids’ days organized so not much happened. Then in the afternoon I got a migraine and I slept. By nighttime I had removed the screen time restrictions from Zoe’s phone.

In my attempt to wrap my head around “the new normal,” a phrase which fills me with sadness, I sat down with the kids and created a new plan. Instead of having a schedule where we do certain activities at particular times, or even in a specific order, we’re going to choose one item from each of five categories. Of course we can do more than these, and probably sometimes we won’t do all of them, but hopefully this will seem like a manageable daily routine. And hopefully if the kids are able to plan out their choices every morning I will be better able to carve out time for not only my work but also my mental health.

This week I’ve made the time to talk with a few friends, either by phone or in small groups using zoom. That has been hugely helpful, even though a lot of the conversation is all of us saying to each other, “yeah, me too” and “yeah, it’s really hard.”

Zoe came up with the idea to create care packages for her friends and their families and enlisted my help. I am super proud of her thoughtfulness.

We didn’t manage to take any walks or hikes yesterday or today, which I’m sure contributed to our collective funk. Yesterday it was raining and Arlington announced its parks were closed. I wasn’t sure if we would be rounded up by police if we went for a hike. Today the county clarified that trails are open if social distancing is maintained. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow but if there’s a break in the clouds I will try to hustle us out the door. I’m already vitamin D deficient.

I read a couple helpful articles today. One was about how parents need to cut themselves all kinds of slack in trying to attempt the home school thing. My sense of guilt has all but evaporated by now because of all the other thoughts and feelings competing for space in my brain. And I fully recognize how privileged our family is that we don’t have to worry about our kids falling seriously behind. Also I keep reading posts from educators reminding us that everyone is in the same boat.

The other helpful article was about grief. The author who is carrying on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ work writing about the stages of grief reminded us that we are grieving for everything we’ve lost already and the unknowns that we may lose in the future, including loved ones and livelihoods. This is no small thing. And it’s hard to make space for grieving when it seems so amorphous and we have so much new responsibility.

I was just too tired to chronicle day 9. I’ll wrap it into day 10.

Amazon recently delivered to our house a five-pound box of plaster-impregnated gauze. In another time, I may not have granted Zeke’s wish for this stuff, which he used several weeks ago in his afterschool art studio to make donut sculptures. But now, hey, we have plenty of time on our hands so why not figure out what to make with five pounds of plaster-impregnated gauze.

Tonight I ordered him a dozen chisel-tip black Sharpies and a package of colored chisel-tip Sharpies. Apparently all the black Sharpies in the house have now been used up because Zeke has done a LOT of drawing over the past week. He has been watching Mo Willems’ daily drawing tutorials since school closed last Monday, and recently we added Grace Lin‘s and Jarrett J Krosockza‘s to the mix. He also watches instructional videos on a couple other YouTube channels. He told me that all the professional artists and illustrators use the thick black Sharpies (which we discovered are called chisel tip) so we figured he should have some.

At bedtime I asked Zeke what he would miss and not miss about school, since we learned this afternoon that Virginia schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. He said his afterschool art studio, his art class, his first-grade teacher, and seeing his beloved kindergarten teacher in the halls. Truthfully, it’s been kind of a rough year for him. All his best buddies from kindergarten either moved away, were rezoned to other schools, or ended up in other classes. He made a couple friends in his first-grade class, but none were as special as those from last year. More significantly, however, he’s struggled to deal with the disruptive behavior of a few kids in his class. There’s enough there to write another whole post about, but what matters is that Zeke has felt a lot of stress at school, and I think he’s a little relieved he doesn’t have to go back. He asked me right before he fell asleep if after the homeschooling is over he’ll be a second grader. I said I imagined so. Hopefully his second grade class will be more peaceful.

As a soon-to-be teenager, however, Zoe will suffer more from having to stay home, I believe. Friends are often your salvation when you’re 13, and Zoe has tight ones. I had already scheduled a Zoom call for her to check in with her squad from school this afternoon. But when we heard the news from Gov. Northam, she asked if she could start the call earlier, then commandeered my computer for the next three hours so she could commiserate and laugh with her friends. She came down to the kitchen twice during the call to get snacks. In terms of schoolwork, Zoe already has years of experience using the school-issued iPads and nearly two years of receiving and completing assignments online. She has been conscientious about her schoolwork so far, although it’s only been a week. I have no idea what the long-term plan will be or how she will respond.

The same can be said of everyone else right now, I suppose. I am feeling surprisingly sanguine at this moment. Today I’ve been angry, frustrated, disappointed, impatient, indignant, exasperated, and just really sad.

Yesterday we enjoyed a nice outing to Shenandoah. We did, in fact, stop at the Apple House and pick up lunch and apple cider donuts. Then we sat in the back of our van, which I had cleaned out and laid blankets down on, to have a little picnic in the parking lot. Then we walked through the woods. After a while we realized we might be on the wrong trail, but by the time we got back to the parking lot to scope out the right trail, we were tired and decided to go home instead. On the way home we listened to Dvorak‘s New World Symphony, which was Randy’s request and seemed fitting as we drove down the mountain. On the way to the park, we listened to a family playlist that we created that morning. I don’t know why I’d never thought of this before because we always have arguments about music in the car, even though we have a tried and true system of taking turns. I guess everyone’s coronavirus creativity is on fire, so I suggested we all add songs to the playlist and put it on shuffle. And it worked! No arguing. And some really funny juxtapositions of songs.

Today Arlington County announced that all parks, dog parks, playgrounds, fields, and basketball and tennis courts are closed. Trails and community gardens are “closed to groups.” The announcement said “exercise or garden alone.” In the past week we’ve seen tons of clumps of teenagers hanging out and playing basketball when we’ve been hiking or walking. We’ve seen little kids on playgrounds. Clearly none of these people were social distancing. I’m going to exercise my judgment that our family group of four can go on a trail together because A) we have been quarantining together and B) our children cannot “exercise alone” on a trail. I know we can work out in our living room, if we move the furniture, but we’ve got to get out of the house sometimes. And I am not a rule breaker by nature.

I am not a superstitious person either. But I keep thinking about how a few months ago I was thinking about what the advantages of homeschooling might be. I started contemplating it after talking with three different women in one week, coincidentally, who were homeschooling their kids. Unlike the stereotypical idea of homeschoolers, none of these families are super religious or conservative or anti-public school as a concept. All of them just realized that their kids’ needs were not being met by their schools, so they decided to do something different. And given the challenges Zeke has experienced in his classroom this year, I started thinking about how it would be nice if I could give him a less stressful environment to learn in. But at the same time, there’s a lot he learns at school that I cannot teach him, and there are things he enjoys, and there are kids there and, oh, professional educators. But now I’ll get my chance!

It’s too much effort to write it all out.

Just got home from the grocery store. Got everything we needed except eggs. Also got panicky and was just shy of hyperventilating by the time I checked out. I washed my hands in the bathroom at the store, then sanitized them twice in the car, and washed them again at home before and after unloading the groceries. I am worried that there is virus on the groceries but I don’t really have anything to wipe them down with. I guess we will all wash compulsively before, during, and after cooking and eating. Oh wait, we’re already doing that.

I bought an insane amount of groceries, realizing that all four of us are eating three meals a day plus snacks at home every day. That never happens. I guess we’re saving money and eating healthier.

I find myself overwhelmed by the deluge of online activities and zoom invitations. I feel like I’m supposed to participate in everything but I can’t and don’t really want to.

Zoe did her schoolwork today and Zeke read a book, did some math apps, and drew a lot. His teacher has posted a ton of first grade material but I don’t want to deal with it. Zeke is on some sort of writing strike. His teacher pointed out at his conference that he’s not writing as much as he should be at this point in the year. He knows how to write and he has an amazing vocabulary. He’s rather eloquent and witty in conversation, but somehow it pains him to write. I feel like I should take this opportunity to work on that, but I’m not sure how.

After sorting out the groceries I retreated to my bedroom to meditate with my Calm app. I am on day #13 of the 21-day meditation series I started in January. 😄 I have actually done more meditation than that, but I haven’t kept up with the series. Anyway it took about 15 minutes to slow my breathing and let the panic dissipate, but eventually it did.

It’s 75 degrees out now so I’m going to take the kids to a park for a hike. Deep breaths.

Today was not our best day. It’s only the third day of homeschooling and I kinda gave up. But we’ve rallied now and I made a plan for tomorrow with more buy-in from the kids so maybe it won’t all go south.

I mean, today wasn’t a disaster, but I didn’t teach anyone anything. Here’s what we did:

  • I cleaned out and organized a big section of our family room that was flooded with toys, art supplies, and various things that were not where they were supposed to be. As a result of this, I was able to repurpose one of our shelf areas for homeschooling supplies–markers, activity books, paper, pencils, etc. Then we could reclaim the dining room table.
  • Zeke did a lot of drawing, in part inspired by the second in the series of Mo Willems’ doodle videos. We started taping up his doodles on the wall in the kitchen. I’ll post a picture of the gallery soon.
  • Zoe went through her massive collection of slime that she’s made in recent years and threw away a lot of it. She donated some of her slime supplies to our general art supply stores and culled her slime stuff to a reasonable amount.
  • Zeke and Zoe happily agreed to give away some of the toys we unearthed that they have outgrown. I have no idea how long it will be until I can actually give them away safely.
  • I took a nap. It’s true that I have a sleep disorder, but it’s also true that if I have a lot to do that I’m engaged in all day, I can avoid taking a nap. Something to strive for tomorrow.
  • After dinner, even though it was dark, we took a walk because we hadn’t left the house all day. We walked on a bike trail near our house and back through the neighborhoods. About 20 minutes in, it started to drizzle, but we kept walking because what else were we going to do? At least we got some air and a little exercise.
  • When we got home Zoe did the EvolveAll 100-pushup challenge that Master Emerson issued on YouTube. That was impressive. Randy and I said we would do pushups with her every day, but not starting with 100 probably. 🙂

OK, after writing all this the day doesn’t seem like a total failure. It’s hard to know how much to push and how much to let it go. Especially when the news seems to change every hour and we have no idea how long this is going to go on.

So I forgot that I am terrible with self-imposed schedules. Homeschool kinda broke down today. On the second day. For better or for worse, after 14 years of working from home, I have fallen into a variety of habits that are not conducive to a structured homeschool day.

Both Zoe and I were up way too late last night–insomnia? Anxiety? Who knows. But as a result we were not up bright and early this morning. Zeke was. And I told him no xbox but he could watch something on PBS Kids. When I finally got my act together I did put Christian’s martial arts exercise video on for Zeke, who also practiced his kick combo a few times.

We didn’t do most of the rest of the lesson plan. Zoe worked on her school work and did a vigorous workout using an online app. Zeke and I did a couple worksheets and watched a video about Fiona the hippo from the Cincinnati Zoo. I folded and put away a lot of laundry. After lunch I got a headache and decided to take a nap. The kids went briefly feral for a while.

Eventually we rallied and went outside to the park to kick the soccer ball around. I was dismayed to see lots of people at the playground and playing basketball, neither of which maintains social distance. At least it was a nice day outside.

Then I made dinner (meatloaf, green beans, couscous, and sourdough bread) while Zeke did math games on the Dreambox app I downloaded at his request. Zoe did some reading and we’re about to play a board game as a family. I realize I was overly ambitious today and need to plan less for tomorrow.

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