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I have heard that the cracks are where the light comes in

And in the places we were broken we are stronger

That’s what the poets say

But someone has to sweep up the pieces, to find every last one, and set to work with toothpicks and superglue

Because we the people are shattered, scattered, smashed to bits

According to the sages

our scars make us who we are

But to have a scar we must stop the bleeding and heal the wound.

For now the blood still flows

the wounds are open

the battle continues

I am trying to come to terms with the possibility that my stomach will feel this way all the way until Election Day and probably after that since we likely won’t know the results for sure on election night and maybe all the way through to Inauguration Day in January.

I am trying to come to terms with the idea that the days when I don’t want to get out of bed because the world is too dangerous and scary and mean may keep coming. Just because I have bursts of energy and get stuff done and I continue to feed and clothe my children and engage with the world a way that “normal” people seem to do doesn’t mean the dark clouds have dissipated.

I am trying to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a better person than I am now. Not that I won’t continue to grow and change and discern for the rest of my life, but just that I am who I am. I have to be content with good enough.


I have been text banking for Biden, sending messages to strangers encouraging them to volunteer or vote and providing information. Of those who respond to me, most have been polite. Many have been enthusiastic Democratic voters. One Biden supporter said they would love to volunteer except they were busy right now taking care of their neighbor’s potbellied big who required a particular high-protein (or was it low-protein?) diet.

Some in the #TrumpTrain camp have been angry and rude, sometimes vulgar. Someone said I was a communist and another person said they were sorry I was a tool of the machine and hoped one day I would learn to think for myself. Even when they tell me in no uncertain (and sometimes profane) terms that they would never vote for Biden, I always end the conversation with thank you and stay safe or thank you and take care or something to that effect. A handful of folks who said they were staunchly republican wrote back and said “you too.” Two said something like, “I’m not going to vote for Biden but thank you for reaching out.” One person said that the response was the first kind one they had received from a Democratic texter.

The 1500 messages I sent today were to Texans, so I suppose the fact that more responded positively than not is a good thing, as Texas is pretty firmly in the red state column. A lot of folks said they had already voted for Biden–a couple had hand delivered their ballots–or were committed to voting early. One man said he was taking off work one day next week to make sure he had plenty of time to stand in line.

Things could certainly be a lot better, but they could also be worse. I’ve been told that worrying about that which is out of your control is pointless. That’s never stopped me. In the meantime, I will keep finding reasons to get out of bed. I know there are some good ones.

Tell me about despair, 
yours, and 
I will tell you 
mine

Meanwhile, we will 
laugh and cry and scream
and threaten to 
run away from home
and lose ourselves in 
games and stories 
and less wholesome vices
and make ourselves get out of bed 
again 
every morning
though sometimes 
we will wear pajamas 
all day

Meanwhile, we will 
check on each other
more than usual 
because we know 
what it feels like
to be teetering 
on the edge of sanity
(and to fall 
over the precipice, 
sometimes)

Does this get any easier?
I don’t believe so
Only more familiar

Meanwhile, we offer 
absolution to 
ourselves
as often as possible
because we tend to forget things 
(and people, 
sometimes)
because our brains 
and our hearts 
are overfull 
and our bodies 
are exhausted

We are making 
more messes
and letting them linger
but we are
doing the best
we can

even when it’s not 
enough

We are sitting with 
our feelings
or under our feelings
(when they become oppressive and heavy)
or eating
our feelings
or telling those damn feelings to
get the hell our of our house
when we have had
ENOUGH

We are listening
to each other
that’s got to be 
enough

© Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso (with gratitude to Mary Oliver)
October, 2020

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.

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

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.

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.

When I came back to the Crescent Inn
to pick up our order–chicken parm dinner, spaghetti and sausage, flounder and shrimp, and chicken tenders–the red-haired woman behind the counter was packing it up

She wore a leopard-print mask that fell slightly below her nose
On her left arm were tattoos of origami cranes
On her right arm a purple dahlia

She was telling me that she was just waiting on one more salad and the chicken parm when another customer walked in
A short, round woman with a brown ponytail, wearing a pink shirt
She was wearing a disposable mask
but asked the red-haired server–I’ll call her Dahlia–
if she could have a mask from the box on top of the counter
Dahlia said, “they’re a dollar,” and the customer–I’ll call her Karen–seemed
disgusted, as if Dahlia had said, “they’re pre-infected with COVID.”

Karen announced, “I’m here to pick up an order!”
and Dahlia said, “Yes, ma’am, I’m just packing up this lady’s order and I’ll be right with you.”

“I ordered an hour ago!” Karen proclaimed, although she had just walked into the restaurant.

“I’ll get your food as soon as I can,” Dahlia said, while checking and double checking that all of the items in my order were present, including the little containers of ranch dressing for the side salads, and the garlic bread that was actually just buttered toast, maybe with a hint of garlic powder, wrapped in brown wax paper. “I’m just one woman.”

Evidently this comment provoked Karen. Perhaps she thought Dahlia should be several women.

“Why you gotta treat me like shit?” Karen asked. I stood up straighter and shifted away from Karen as subtly as I could manage.

“I’m sorry?” asked Dahlia. “What did I do to upset you?”

“You’ve been treating me like shit from the moment I walked in here,” Karen explained, as if using logic. “Will you hurry up and get my f***ing order? I’ve never been in here before but I’m being treated like shit. Is Mike here? Mike knows my sister.”

“He is here,” Dahlia said. “Would you like to speak to him?”

“No, but he knows my sister!” Karen reiterated.

Dahlia looked at me and I looked at her, eyes wide. “You wanted ranch with that salad?” she asked, even though she knew. “Yes, please,” I answered, with all the politeness of a person who had definitely not been treated like shit and had not witnessed anyone else being treated like shit, other than the way Karen was treating Dahlia.

Dahlia used the opportunity to go into the kitchen to get the ranch dressing, murmuring an explanation of what was unfolding out front. I expected a manager or someone authoritative to come out to appease Karen. Instead, a man with a gray mustache came out, surreptitiously looked around, and dumped a bucket of clean silverware onto a dishtowel on the counter. He returned to the kitchen.

While Dahlia was in the kitchen, Karen muttered to herself about how she had been treated. I continued to inch away.

Finally Dahlia finished packing up my order and handed it to me. “Here you go, honey, you have a wonderful evening. Enjoy your dinner!” she said in a tone that said, “look how I am pleasant and definitely do not treat customers like shit!”

“Thank you so much,” I said, “You have a good night” in a tone that I hope conveyed, “I’m so sorry that this lady is being so inexplicably rude to you and I would have definitely said something to her if I had not been afraid she had a gun, which is not an unreasonable fear given the culture of impulsive gun violence in our country, including a recent episode in which a security guard at a dollar store was shot to death by a customer who did not like being asked to wear a mask.” Hopefully she understood.


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