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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.

This shelf includes some books we already had that I pulled from other bookshelves in the house and some of the new books I bought on recommendations of friends and booksellers.

At bedtime these days I am reading a book with Zeke called The Last Kids on Earth. The one we’re reading is the first in a series of six (so far) which has also been made into a show on Netflix. Normally I don’t go in for books about hordes of disgusting zombies and gigantic, stinky, oozy monsters, but 1) the writing is quite good and pretty funny and 2) every single night when I read with him I think, “at least we don’t have zombies and monsters in real life (yet)!”

The Last Kids on Earth was recommended by several parents in my recent quest to find new chapter books for Zeke since the library has been closed for several months and he’s read most of the books we our house. I ended up buying a lot of books, which should surprise no one. My approach to solving all problems is by reading.

This explains why I have also been dividing my book buying among independent book stores where I already shop (One More Page, Politics and Prose, and Solid State Books) and two Black-owned bookstores (Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstores) and Thrift Books, a used book website. I have been trying to buy less of everything from Amazon because of Jeff Bezos’ terrible labor practices. I would like to stop supporting Amazon entirely, but I’m not there yet. It’s really convenient. But I’m trying.

More of Zeke’s books. Some of these he’s read already. I had to move the Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss books into the hallway to make room.

The books I’ve bought from all these stores (online of course) include chapter books for Zeke, YA books for Zoe (and me), and a small library of books (for all ages) by Black authors and activists including fiction, history, memoir, and guidance on how to be an anti-racist. And of course I bought t-shirts from all the bookstores too, to feed my t-shirt habit. Don’t judge.

Some of the books I bought were recommended by or written by some of our favorite authors–Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds–who spoke during an online Black Lives Matter rally last Thursday night sponsored by the Brown Bookshelf. I think at this point I have perused every recommended reading list circulating on the internet. Our family is nothing if not broadly read. We have always read books that provide both mirrors (characters like us) and windows (characters who are different than us) but now seems like a good time to open more windows.


I have been hesitant to write lately because I am struggling with the idea that my voice is not what needs to be heard right now. On the one hand, there are other voices that should be elevated. On social media, I am working to do just that. On the other hand, I don’t think am being asked to silence myself. Am I? I don’t claim to be an expert on racism or on Black people’s experiences. I can only speak from my own experience as a white person and an ally. And I think it can be useful for me to speak up as an ally. But how much is the right amount to speak? And where and when?

Throughout many recent conversations with friends–most of whom are moms–a recurring theme is what is the right thing to do? What do we ask of our kids this summer? What is safe? What is worth the risk? When do we protest? When do we hold space? What will we do in the fall? How do we balance the needs for learning, safety, community, and justice? None of us have figured out the answers yet.

Last night around 7pm Zoe was taking a walk around our neighborhood. When she realized she was being followed by an older man, she texted me to ask what to do. She said the man had shouted to her, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I told her to cross the street. She did and reported that he was still watching her from across the street and keeping pace with her. I offered to come pick her up and she said yes. When I picked her up she pointed out the man who was still directly across the street from where I found her. After we pulled back into traffic I asked Zoe to take a photo, just in case. We drive home with Zoe clutching my hand.

Once home, after many hugs and reassurances that she was safe, and after we ate dinner, I shared the story on Facebook. Several friends urged me to report the incident to the police. The thought had crossed my mind but I dismissed it, figuring that the man hadn’t committed any crime. He freaked out my teenager, but that’s not illegal. Eventually I decided to report it online, and Zoe described everything again in detail as I filled in the web form.

Afterward Zoe told me how glad she was that I had talked with her about how to handle situations like this. A few years ago when I gave her permission to walk to a shopping area with friends after school, I instructed her to always be on the lookout for people who made her feel uncomfortable and to listen to her gut. I told her if someone was bothering her she should go into a a store or restaurant and tell them what was happening and they would let her stay there and call me. I told her if she’s out somewhere and there’s no place to go inside that she should find a group of people to attach herself to until she can get somewhere she feels safe.

A friend (and mom of teenage girls ) on Facebook tagged a self-defense instructor in her response to my post, suggesting the need for online self-defense classes as so many kids are out walking now for exercise. I mentioned that Zoe is a black belt in martial arts. If she were standing on a mat with this man, she could certainly punch and kick and put him in holds. But she does that on the mat. With other martial artists. Not when she’s walking down a street feeling nervous. I took self-defense classes in my 20s and I struggled to get past the verbal part of the practice exchanges with potential assailants because I didn’t want to be rude. I feel like there’s a chasm between an impulse to escape to safety when you feel threatened and actually preparing to fight or defend yourself physically. I imagine the last thing Zoe was thinking of on the street yesterday was what techniques she would use if the man caught up to her and attacked her. But maybe I’m wrong.

A couple friends on Facebook also suggested I share the story on our community Facebook page to alert others, which I did. What I discovered then was that this man seems to be well known in the neighborhood. Several people who I do not know in real life commented that they have encountered the man many times and some know his name and his story. A few commenters said the man seems to show signs of “cognitive decline” and that “he drinks a lot” and acts “disoriented,” but that he’s “sweet” and “harmless.” A few people said they had been wary of him getting too close to them or their kids. A few said the man reminded them of relatives or people they knew with Alzheimer’s.

I noticed that most of the people in the “he’s harmless” camp were men, and more people in the concerned camp were women, but neither perspective was entirely along gender lines. Two women asked if Zoe was ok and praised her for being aware of a situation that made her uncomfortable and knowing to ask for help.

The gist of the discussion, which, keep in mind, was among people (with one exception) who do not know my daughter or me, was that this man likely meant no harm to Zoe. So that is somewhat reassuring. Except for the fact that he is evidently experiencing significant enough cognitive decline or disorientation or intoxication that he doesn’t know or remember it’s not appropriate to follow and stare at and shout at 13-year-old girls walking down the street.

So here’s where it gets tricky. One man on the community Facebook page said he talks to the guy frequently and that we should “treat him with the kindness and respect we’d want for our own parents.” While I am all for treating people with kindness and respect, I also hope and expect that I—and members of my family—will be treated with kindness and respect. And it did not feel kind or respectful to Zoe when this man was following her, watching her, and shouting at her.

I understand that this man has the right to walk around his neighborhood. I understand that he is friendly and talkative and seems to want to engage with people. I also understand that my daughter has the right to walk around her neighborhood without feeling harassed or threatened or unsafe. These things are both true at the same time.

Of course I want my parents to be treated with kindness and respect when they are out walking in their neighborhood. But if my dad was following girls around and staring at them and make them feel uneasy, I would be concerned about his health. I would want to make sure his freedom to enjoy safely walking down the street wasn’t keeping other people from enjoying that same freedom.

I try not to engage in weighty conversation with strangers on the internet because I know where that goes and it’s usually nowhere good. I’ve been trolled and vilified by strangers in the comments. I am so conflict averse that sometimes if I post something that ends up sparking debate or argument among my friends I will delete the whole thing. I keep considering taking down my post to the neighborhood group, but I haven’t. What about the kindness and respect we would want for our own children?

So I went a little berserk this week signing my kids up for classes on Outschool and evangelizing for Outschool and checking our Outschool account every five minutes. I worked hard to convince the parents of my kids’ friends to enroll their kids in Outschool classes with my kids.

I’m not sure why I became so obsessed with this platform all of a sudden, except that perhaps it seemed like salvation. We haven’t had real school in our house in a while now and word on the street is kids won’t be going back to school in pre-pandemic fashion anytime soon. It’s likely that all of the day camps I carefully researched and scheduled and paid for for Zeke will be canceled. Zoe now has no summer plans at all. Especially with everything else in the universe feeling so tenuous and uncertain, this company that offers short, interactive bursts of creative and intellectual stimulation and challenge was irresistible.

Part of me just enjoys scrolling through the course offerings. I get that same rush that I experience when I walk into an art supply store or even a hardware store–even though I’m not handy and I don’t build things–that there is unlimited possibility all around me. I could (or someone could) create anything. Browsing the Outschool classes I feel the same way, even though I personally cannot enroll in any of the classes. But theoretically there is so much out there to learn! Mandarin! Astronomy! Ventriloquism! Animation! Hip-hop dance! Criminal law! Knitting! Medieval castles! Raising chickens! Don’t you feel like if you just learned about all of those things, everything in life would just be better? Or maybe that’s just me.

Zeke’s second class–on how to design a superhero costume–is tomorrow afternoon. He is super excited about this because his career ambition is costume designer for Marvel. There is a vast amount of space between spending one hour chatting online with a costume designer and making a sketch to working for Marvel, but perhaps it’s a start. Or even if it isn’t, if Zeke does something fun and creative for an hour, that’s good enough for me.

I am sitting in my car, which is parked in front of our house, hiding from my kids.

I just spent a long time talking to a friend commiserating about mom stuff. Even though I know it intellectually it is always reassuring to hear how other people’s kids aren’t perfect and are, in fact, making their mothers crazy the same way yours are.

Of course you know I love my kids with all of my being, but this 24/7 togetherness is wearing on me. I’m sure it’s wearing on them too. And they have even less opportunity to escape since they can’t drive. I guess theoretically they could go hide in the car too. But they haven’t tried. Yet.

It is not my nature to find people to blame my troubles on. Nor do I usually fault myself for everything that goes wrong. But under sustained stress I begin casting about for the culprit. This afternoon while Zeke was finishing his lunch I started clearing the space in the family room where he does his online martial arts class. I sent him to put his uniform on. When he tried to open the door to his and his sister’s room, she quickly shut it because she was about to change. Zeke came back downstairs, still in his pajamas. So I ran upstairs and yelled at Zoe that Zeke’s class started in five minutes and he needed his uniform. She yelled that she didn’t know that and stormed out of the room to change in the bathroom. I brought the uniform downstairs and turned off the video on the Zoom call so Zeke could change. I tried to tie his belt, because Zoe usually does it but she was in the bathroom, and I did it wrong because I always do. Zeke’s supposed to know how to do it himself, and he learned it, but then forgot, because the instructors or Zoe always do it for him. Meanwhile, his instructor on the Zoom call is doing a belt tying lesson at that exact moment, and Zeke is playing with Legos. I tell him to look at the screen and follow along. He says he can’t see the screen (perhaps because he’s not looking). I attempt to drag him away from the Legos to in front of the tv so he can follow the demonstration. Apparently the dragging hurts him and he crumpled and starts to cry. So I feel terrible that I hurt him and furious that he wouldn’t listen and irritated that he can’t remember how to tie the freaking belt. I am mad at myself, at him, and at Zoe. Then I shift that anger to the coronavirus. And then to Trump. And white supremacists and our white supremacist culture. Maybe I’m also a little pissed off at whoever it was in Wuhan, China who ate a bat or a pangolin or whatever animal it was that transmitted the virus to humans, thereby launching a global pandemic. And what is a wet market anyway? It sounds messy and gross.

So I’m in my car. Not meditating. Not doing yoga. I didn’t do the yoga yesterday that I promised myself. Just stewing while looking through the windshield at the hot pink roses and watching the blue sky through the window.


Zeke has figured out how to get a laugh. He just shouts or says or sings outrageous words or phrases, sometimes using funny voices. When he was learning to ride his bike he kept yelling, “Peruvian chicken!” as if it were a battle cry. Another day he circled the family room saying, “Romania! Where are you? Romania!” At dinner he’s come out with so many weird remarks that Zoe started keeping a list. Then last night I was carrying him up the stairs to bed because he insisted he was too tired to move and because I’m a sucker. He looked over my shoulder at Randy, who was at the bottom of the stairs, and said, in a pretty good approximation of an old lady voice, “Matthew! Get some water for Granny!” And I started to laugh so hard that I had to put him down because my stomach hurt.

So I’ll probably go back in the house now, because my kids are usually funny and nice. And I’m hungry.

This will be short because I have a migraine, but it’s day 50 (other people’s day 50s have come and gone but I’ve never been good with numbers) and we got some tough news today so I feel compelled to write. Actually I’m a writer so I always feel compelled to write, but I have less stamina tonight.

We learned that Camp Friendship, the phenomenal sleepaway camp where Zoe has gone the past five summers, decided to cancel its summer season. Randy and Zoe were not surprised. I, as usual, was holding out hope for a miracle. It turns out I’m much more disappointed in camp being canceled than school.

Even though it’s not the same, Zoe can learn more or less all the important academic stuff from home. But we can’t give her the freedom she gets at camp—choosing all her own activities, interacting with kids and adults from all over the world, roaming around outside all day every day, swimming every day in the lake and doing archery and singing around a campfire and all the things. We can not recreate that experience. And especially when she’s in the house with us all day every day, she needs that outlet. I get why the camp made the decision and it’s probably the safest thing for everyone, but I am sad. Camp means so much to Zoe and to so many other kids and grownups. This is a big loss.

I miss eating at an Indian or Thai restaurant and ordering something that’s just a little spicier than I expected and having my water glass endlessly refilled by the server.

I miss taking my kids to the library. Does anyone else feel increasingly awkward about having all these books checked out way past their due date? I miss reading about a new book or discovering a new author or series with Zeke and going immediately to the library app to put something on hold.

I miss variety.

I miss hugging my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and nephews. I especially miss all the baby snuggles I am missing out on.

I miss planning fun excursions for my family and actually going on them.

I miss being able to think a complete thought in solitude.

I miss sitting across the table from friends and having breakfast or lunch or dinner and a conversation no one else is listening to. Or if other people are listening, they’re strangers so it doesn’t matter.

I miss the assurance that if something breaks or someone gets hurt I can get it fixed or get them checked out without endangering anyone.

I miss browsing.

I miss Zeke and his cousin playing together in person, even though it isn’t always peaceful. Zeke texted Susannah recently that Charlie is his best friend.

I miss managing Zoe’s complicated social life.

I miss being able to run to the store for a couple items and not have my family tell me to stay safe, like I need to be vigilant and ob the lookout for a dangerous virus that might jump out from behind a tower of cereal and attack me.

I miss privacy.

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