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This morning I woke up at 7 with a migraine that felt like it was threatening to kill me. I rarely wake up with migraines–they typically descend on me in the afternoon or evening. It’s one thing when you have momentum from the day that enables you to push through pain, but when you wake up with that kind of pain it seems impossible to get going. So after seeing Zoe off and giving Randy instructions about getting Zeke ready and delivered to school (typically my job) I took my meds and went back to bed. I let my good friends with whom I had a long-awaited breakfast date know that I couldn’t make it. I am always reluctant to take one of my pills because my insurance company has decided I am only allowed to have four migraines per month and they will not give me any more pills. In the past my neurologist has helped me work around that, but we’re in between visits. Anyway…

During my migraine nap I had three disturbing dreams. In the first one I found shards of plastic hair clips in my bed and hundreds of small, shiny rocks. Then we won a food truck at an auction but we had no idea how to operate it or even drive it out of the gym where we received it. Finally I was running away from my parents and ended up swimming fully clothed in a pond filled with rubber ducks. Somehow it seems insulting to have bad dreams when my head is already splitting open. I deserve a break, right?

Once I got up–headache free–I had to drive to a client’s office to pick up a laptop to use in my work with them. On the way, just a few blocks from my house, and fortunately just a few blocks from a gas station, I ran out of gas. I had been playing chicken with the little orange light for a couple days, always thinking I would get gas on my next trip, until I lost. Luckily Randy was working from home today so I called him to ask him to bring our gas can to me. We have a gas can only because of the last time I ran out of gas, a couple years ago. He came quickly and we noticed there was still some gas in the can, but we couldn’t remember how to open the can. I recalled that the last time this happened we struggled for ages until I opened it, but of course I couldn’t recall how. So I walked down to the gas station to ask for help.

When I went into the gas station lobby, the friendly woman behind the counter took the gas can and brought it into the garage for one of the mechanics to unfasten it because neither of us could. While she was in the garage, I watched the large TV hanging on the wall. The tv was showing images of old paintings of crucified Christ. There was no narration or context, just a lot of bleeding Jesuses. Pop music (maybe Bruno Mars?) was playing over the speakers. I’m pretty sure it was not coming from the TV. The gas station clerk returned and showed me that part of the nozzle pulled out of itself in order to pour the gas. She sold me $4.50 worth of gas and I went out and pumped it into the can. Next to me was a station wagon whose trunk was open, revealing a large pile of car parts. Like they had fallen off or out of the car and been stored in the trunk. Then I noticed on top of the car was strapped what seemed to be a bumper or a grill, although neither of those seemed missing from this car. Then in the front seat I saw a man who was working on the dashboard, although the dashboard wasn’t there. The whole inside front of the car had been stripped down. I could not imagine how this car had been partially disassembled but was still operational or why the guy was sitting there working on reassembly.

After I walked back to the car–which Randy was guarding–with the gas, I attempted to replicated the gas station clerk’s easy open of the nozzle and could not. We were sitting on the sidewalk and I was silently hoping someone would stop and offer to help. When someone did, I was surprised to see a short, stout, gray-haired woman. She suggested that we push down on the spout instead of trying to pull it up. Lo and behold, it worked! So I poured the two gallons into the gas tank while trying to stay out of the way of cars whizzing by. After we made sure the car started again, Randy went home and I drove to the gas station to fill up the rest of the way. As I was pulling out of the gas station, I saw the woman who had stopped to help us across the street, walking back toward the direction she had come from. She saw me too and smiled and waved and gave me a thumbs up. I laughed out loud. You never know who’s going to be of assistance and when.


I got home just in time to log into my 1pm meeting which had been pushed to 1:30 for my benefit, and kept my sound off while scarfing down the original chicken sandwich from Burger King I had picked up on the way home. I was relieved that both the colleagues with whom I was meeting also had their cameras off so I could work and eat and collect myself in privacy.

The moment the meeting was over I hustled to throw snacks in a box and collect some clothes for Zoe to change into for crew. Apparently I took a shirt from her pajama drawer, but it looked like a regular t-shirt to me. I managed to find her and one of her crew mates and hustled across two bridges to deliver them to the Anacostia Boathouse. Again it was fortunate that Randy was home because it quickly became clear I wouldn’t make it home in time to pick up Zeke from school, so Zoe texted Randy the QR code required to liberate Zeke. I forgot to tell Randy which door he should go to in order to pick up Zeke, but he was eventually directed to the right place, and they were back home by the time I got back home. Hopefully the father of Zoe’s crew mate is picking the girls up right now and delivering Zoe home, as I am at Zeke’s martial arts class. And Zeke’s back to school night is in 30 minutes.


And Zeke is testing for a stripe now. He’s been waiting to test for a while. I’m surprised they let him tonight since I just saw him staring at the classmate sitting next to him like he was trying to cast a spell instead of looking at what was happening in the center of the mat. But maybe the instructors were busy looking at what was happening instead of watching Zeke being weird. We’ll see what happens.

When you’re a writer who earns a living telling other people’s stories, it can be challenging to find time to write your own. And when there is a lot happening that you are compelled to write, and you don’t sit down to do it, a dangerous bottleneck of thoughts builds up in your brain, which becomes so crowded that it’s hard for any single idea to push through the crowd. Then when one persistent little guy makes it out (like that lucky sperm in those books about sex ed you read as a kid!), you start to write that paragraph and approximately 30 seconds later you wonder if it’s the most important one to write because all those others are trying to muscle their way through as well. And you question what important even means, and who you are writing for, and what everything means, and then you get distracted by Facebook and text messages and checking your credit score and organizing your art supplies and thinking about ordering more art supplies even though you’re running out of room to store the ones you already have. And so on.


Adulting is freaking exhausting. And adulting combined with parenting–especially when parenting during, say, the first week back to school after an 18-month pandemic-induced hiatus–is just too much. This week involved calling several doctors and driving to myself and the kids to five health and medical appointments (everything’s fine, just taking care of things that had been pushed off during the summer) and picking up prescriptions. And making lunches for school which I haven’t had to do since 2019. And filling out a million forms. You get the idea. And none of these things is too much by itself, but on top of the actual work I do for my job, and trying to communicate with my friends and family–all of whom are having their own intense adulting weeks–is a lot. I was talking with someone today who said that the past 18 months was like running a marathon, but instead of having time now to recover, we have another whole marathon ahead of us. News flash! The pandemic isn’t over yet! The world is still on fire! She said that we should just walk this marathon. Since sitting it out is not an option.

In the end, his love of animals won out over his distaste for getting dirty. Zeke’s sixth camp of the summer was Native Animal Explorers, run by an organization called Fish and Explore. He spent every day wading knee-deep into creeks and streams and marshes, climbing over rocks, and making himself at home in the woods. He found hellgrammites and velvet mites (both of which I had to look up) and crayfish and tiny toads. He said he spent a whole day with another camper who had sharp eyes—she would spot the toads and he would catch them. He said he has quick hands. He held (non-venomous) snakes that the counselors found. He let little caterpillars crawl around on his hands. One caterpillar reportedly pooped on Zeke three times. He and his fellow campers named some of the crayfish—Big Daddy, Big Boy, Tiny Tim, Tiny Guy—you sense a theme? Zeke reported that getting pinched by a crayfish did not really hurt. The day they explored the Billy Goat Trail he came home with scrapes all over his legs. He did not complain. And this is a boy who is sensitive to pain and most minor injuries. 

He did complain, however, that the days were tiring—and they were long and included a lot of driving to the various parks. And that changing clothes in the camp van was annoying, which I’m sure it was. But he didn’t seem to mind getting wet and dirty and he definitely loved finding and observing and holding the creatures. He smuggled a hellgrammite home in his water bottle on the last day of camp. We observed it in a Tupperware container filled with water and then we convinced Zeke to let the little guy be free. 

This weekend we are in West Virginia, hiking to waterfalls and mountain lookouts, and exploring little towns. Zeke is reminding us that if we see any animals, he can identify them for us and probably catch them for closer observation. He wants to go off trail, which we’ve reminded him is not safe when you’re 3,000 feet up. He is ready to wade in the water, although so far we haven’t had a chance. He did go outside and dance in the rain on the porch of our Airbnb, though, which is pretty close. 

I insisted we register him for three active camps if he was going to do a week of Minecraft camp. He readily agreed—and so he did fencing and archery, a theater camp that involved much more choreography than he was prepared for, and Native Animal Explorers. He did like fencing and archery, and when we watched the Olympics, he taught us quite a bit about the kinds of bows and arrows and fencing weapons that the athletes were using. And he came home with a multitude of bruises on his legs from fencing but didn’t complain then either. The theater camp was a little iffier. He said he didn’t like the theme—Broadway Disney—because too many of the girls in the camp were obsessed with Disney princesses. Although Zeke likes to sing and dance at home—or truthfully dance anywhere—he didn’t care for the choreography or the choice of songs, even though he likes Disney movies as much as the next kid. 

He’s been saying he wants to do more archery and fencing, so I consider that a success. And of course he loved the Minecraft camp. Apparently, he actually learned some coding, so that’s a bonus. The most disappointing camps were the ones that did not at all match what was advertised. One was Safari Robotics, run by SciGenius. The campers were supposed to learn about safari animals and observe how they moved, and then create robots to imitate the animals’ movement. Instead, what they did was dig through bins of Legos to find parts to create Lego robotics projects they followed the instructions for. Zeke has nothing against Legos or Lego robotics, but he’s done those camps before, and that was not at all what he signed up for. Surprisingly, the best thing about that camp was that during breaks, they played soccer. As a result, Zeke said he wanted to join a soccer team this fall. I have been (gently) asked him since kindergarten if he wanted to play soccer on a team and he has always politely declined. But now he has a jersey hanging on the back of his door and we are eagerly awaiting an email from his coach letting us know when and where to practice. 

The other disappointment was Steve & Kate’s Camp, which had been fabulous years ago when Zoe attended. The whole thing with Steve & Kate’s is that kids get to choose what they want to do—among a wide variety of interesting activities including bread baking, sewing, karaoke, board games, and more. We understood that because of COVID they were forced to change the model somewhat, putting the kids into cohorts instead of letting them roam free. But they also seemed to limit what the kids could do. Zeke spent so much of the day playing on an iPad that he got bored, which I did not think was possible when Zeke has a screen in front of him. One other option was playing in the gym—with a ball—by yourself. They weren’t allowed to throw the balls to anyone else. And Zeke is tall but not quite tall enough to be able to shoot baskets at standard height net. So what are kids supposed to do with a ball in a gym by themselves for hours? The only unusual diversion was inflatable axe throwing at an inflatable target. Bread making, sewing, maker space, and other promised activities were never offered. Zeke was signed up for five days at Steve & Kate’s, but since you pay by the day and they give you refunds at the end of summer for days you didn’t use, we pulled him out for the last two days. 

I have already started a summer 2022 spreadsheet because that’s who I am, and I don’t want to forget what we learned after this summer. And I would like to think that by next summer COVID won’t actually be a terrifying and constantly looming threat, but I am not confident about that. But meanwhile, I am thankful that Zeke had the opportunity to be out in the world this summer, trying some new things, making new friends, and learning new skills. If we’re lucky, all that will continue when school starts in a couple weeks. Fingers crossed. 

My brain is doing that thing again. Thoughts, ideas, worries, questions careening around and crashing into each other, leaving shattered fragments that no one is coming to sweep up. Neurons are firing and everything is aflame.

Here are some of the things I’m thinking about.

  1. Why do we think everything at Target will be cheap but we end up always spending so much money there?
  2. Why did we think COVID would be over by now and unsurprisingly it’s getting worse? I am depressed by the thought that this will be the third consecutive year that COVID impacts our kids’ school years (not to mention everything else, but I am particularly concerned about my kids. And everyone’s kids.
  3. Will we ever be able to stop dealing with COVID?
  4. Do other people have to reschedule everything as often as I do?
  5. I am pleased with myself that I convinced my teenager to do something she didn’t want to do–wear a baseball hat–while learning to row, to keep the sun out of her eyes.
  6. I am proud of her for spending 10 hours this week on the Anacostia learning to row. The sport is fascinating to me, and I love the idea that she knows how to carry a boat into the water, and row down a river, and it’s beautiful to watch. I am hoping she will join the high school crew team this year.
  7. Zoe and her friend are in our kitchen right now doing some activity that they have not revealed. They said it’s a science experiment. Maybe they’re making a cake?
  8. Part of me wonders if I’ve spent so much time away from church during the pandemic that I won’t go back.
  9. I have used various products and still cannot seem to get our towels to smell good. What’s the secret?
  10. I worry that as a straight, cis person, there are just too many things I will never understand.
  11. I am proud of myself that I haven’t had a Coke or Dr. Pepper in several years. I was addicted to caffeinated soda for most of my life. I wish I had quit sooner.
  12. There are only 38 days left till the first day of school! We need supply lists! We need schedules! We need orientation! Zoe’s never walked around in her new high school! Zeke needs an amazing teacher and some awesome friends! So many expectations and unknowns.
  13. I am amazed at all the things my children know.
  14. I am surprised by how much I enjoy reading Rick Riordan’s books with Zeke.
  15. Yesterday at the library I ran into a friend who was there with a large group of children who were looking for books. My friend’s colleague said she needed extra hands to help the kids find books they wanted. So Zeke and I helped them look up titles and authors on the computer, find them on the shelves, and browse through the shelves for books we thought they would like. Both Zeke and I really enjoyed it. I told the person who was wrangling the kids to let me know next time they were going to the library so we could meet them again.
  16. Zeke is going to play soccer this fall and I am so excited for him, and truthfully, looking forward to being a soccer mom again (in addition to being a mom who plays soccer). I really hope he has a fabulous coach and great teammates and makes friends.
  17. I loved the new Black Widow movie and I am thinking about getting some new piercings in my ear in the style of Natasha and Yelena. I’m probably never going to get a tattoo, so why not have a little more bling in my ears?
  18. Zoe is leaving on Sunday for sleep away camp for two weeks. It’s a long time away from us after a year and a half of always being with us, except for an occasional sleepover with family. She asked me to write her notes in advance for her to open every day while she’s there, in addition to the email and mail I will send her while she’s gone. People say it’s better for campers to immerse themselves in camp life instead of thinking too much about home, but Zoe seems to need the connection. This will be her sixth year, so I guess she knows what she needs.
  19. This could be a whole different post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what a particular experience it is to go clothes shopping with a teenager who 1) has a much different body type and confidence in her body than I did when I was a teenager and 2) has a much more sophisticated sense of style than I did when I was a teenager.
  20. I am so angry and tired of the racism and sexism and ableism that continue to dominate the narrative in sports, especially visible now as the Olympics are starting. Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts because men want to see them in bikinis, or they want to wear shorter shorts that are easier to run in but they are deemed too short for running. They can’t wear swim caps that protect natural Black hair. They can’t compete because they are trans or they smoked pot months ago in a place where it was legal. Or they are Paralympians who are deaf and blind and have to quit the team because they’re not allowed to bring a personal support person to Tokyo to help them navigate the city. I feel like there are just dark, smoky back rooms full of crotchety old, straight, cis, white men who are doing their damnedest to make life as hard as possible for women, women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, and women with disabilities.

There’s more that I’m thinking about, but I need to get dinner started. That’s another thing to think about.

What I’ve just finished doing at 3am: ordering more masks for my son. Fortunately, there are lots of masks on sale now. Perhaps some companies are slowing down their production or getting rid of their stock? I feel certain that Zeke will have to start third grade wearing a mask every day at school. I had been hoping and praying and wishing hard that he would be vaccinated by September, but from what I’ve been reading, that’s not going to happen.

This morning I learned that a friend of mine–not only vaccinated, but hyper aware of vaccination and COVID protocols as a volunteer for the county health departments vaccination clinics–got COVID anyway. Apparently from his son, who is not yet 12 and thus ineligible for the shot. And he thinks his son contracted the virus during an outdoor fishing camp. This news scares the crap out of me. I had heard about vaccinated people getting infected and I know that the vaccination makes it less likely that their case would be severe or fatal, but I don’t know who those other people were or how carefully or carelessly they behaved. But I do know my friend, who is a science teacher, takes the virus seriously. And I know we have all heard for a while now that it’s ok to be outside without a mask. Until, of course, it’s not.

We have a big basket of masks on the table beside our front door. And a bucket on the floor where we deposit the masks we’ve worn so they can be washed. But a lot has happened since the early days of the pandemic when masks were in short supply and we wore whatever we could get our hands on. So probably 75% of our masks are ones that we don’t wear. They don’t fit right, they’re made of uncomfortable material, they’re too hot, etc. Early in the mask wearing days we did what we had to do, but when you realize you’ll have to keep the mask on for hours at a time, you want one that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Beyond the immediate issue of making sure all of us have the masks we need to be safe, I am starting to wonder when we’ll be able to trust the CDC, the health departments, or whatever other medical authorities are telling us what to do. I believe in science and I absolutely know all these people know more than I do about COVID. But I also know there are politics involved and pressure from the public and doubtless mysterious forces unknown to me that influence these decisions. So how do we know the right thing to do? First we didn’t have to wear masks. And then we did. And now we don’t, sometimes, except when we do, but that seems to be highly variable right now. Meanwhile, cases are rising. Sure, they are worse in areas where fewer people are vaccinated. But now that there aren’t many mask rules, anyone can walk around breathing the air that everyone else breathes and there’s no telling whether they could be carrying COVID or not.

I hate wearing masks. Often my glasses get fogged up, no matter how I position or pinch the mask to avoid it. My face gets sweaty. When I try to take off my mask, it gets tangled in my glasses and I take them off by accident. I have been so relieved over the past several weeks to not worry about always wearing a mask, enjoying the freedom of my vaccinated status. But now I’m wearing them again to the store. So is my vaccinated teenager. I really don’t want to start wearing them outside again, but of course I will if I have to. But how will I know? Is there some ultimate COVID sage who I should listen to above all others? Do I rely on my own judgment, despite the fact that I have no expertise whatsoever in epidemiology?

Sure, life is better than it was a year ago. I am thankful that most of our family is vaccinated. But this thing is clearly not over, and I wonder if it ever really will be.

Over the past four weeks I have:

  • Sent my kid to robotics camp after he had been home or with family for 465 days. He did not like the camp, which was not at all what was advertised, but basically a reprise of various Lego camps he outgrew in previous years. They gave him an orange shirt to wear every day. Later, after the shirt had been laundered and returned to his drawer, he said we should “take it out and burn it.” The camp was held entirely outside. The second day it was canceled due to rain. On the fourth day, Zeke came home with a stuffy nose. I took him to get a rapid COVID test at an establishment called Same Day Testing that specializes in rapid COVID tests. That may actually be the only thing they do. Same Day Testing is adjacent to a shopping mall and looks like a day spa. The nurse? technician? person with the swab? had a lovely conversation with Zeke about their shared affinity for sloths. Thankfully, his test was negative.
  • Sent my kid to fencing and archery camp, which he and I both fervently hoped would be more fun than the aforementioned robotics camp. He enjoyed the archery and learned about different kinds of materials used in construction of bows and arrows. He hit an occasional target. In the afternoon, they went inside for fencing, where they used sabers. Apparently they wore helmets and jackets, but nothing protected their legs so by the end of the week his legs were covered in saber bruises. Fencing was hard and tiring, he reported. The highlight of this camp seemed to be the instructor’s personal collection of medieval weapons, which he brought in for show and tell. One of them was a pole covered in spikes. Another one was a hammer that Zeke said was, “designed to crush someone’s skull.” It’s all fun and games until someone gets their skull crushed, right?
  • Sent my kid to Broadway Disney camp. To my surprise, he agreed to this camp when I proposed it several months ago. He likes musicals, he likes Disney, he likes singing, and he likes dancing. However, when I picked him up after camp today, he said they “forced” the kids to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” from Mary Poppins, which he refused to do. I said, “I thought you liked to sing. You sing all the time at home.” He said, “I only like to sing to annoy people.” And they “forced” the kids to learn a dance to a song from The Lion King, which he did not care for because it involved complicated footwork and squatting. He said he likes to tap dance, and sometimes other kinds of dance, but apparently not that dance. He acknowledged that he enjoyed the games they played, and making up a story with one instructor, and the time he was allowed to draw, during which he drew “an angry potato” and alligator Loki.
  • Gone shoe shopping with my kid, who chose slip-on Vans with elevated glittery rainbow soles that are really cool but apparently too heavy to run in. Fortunately we also bought rainbow tie-dye Skechers with a velcro strap because he says he won’t learn to tie his shoes until he’s 10 because he has other, more important things to do. The Skechers came from the “girls” section of the store, because obviously shoes must have genders. The tags I tore off when we got home said “Skechers Girl!” in swirly pastel letters. Because obviously only girls like rainbow colors. Boys can only wear shoes that are blue, green, red, or gray. Zeke said he cannot wear green shoes because, “green is my mortal enemy.” But I guess that does not apply to light green, because the Crocs he chose were light green and lavender. Also they were from the women’s section because the kids section did not have his size. Again, why can’t they just organize the shoe store in size order. Here are very small shoes, which you can see are appropriate for toddlers. Here are slightly larger shoes for young children. And so on, until you get to gigantic shoes for people with generously sized feet. Then people can come in and decide what color and style shoes they want that are in their size, without having to wade through gender and other labels. If Zeke is an 8-year-old boy (which he is) and the shoes that fit him are in the women’s section, the store is really missing out on selling more shoes to more people who don’t think to look across gender and age for the right size.

Heard my kid say numerous times that he doesn’t have any friends. Which is painful to hear, and also true. Not because he isn’t likable or great at making friends, but because I homeschooled him for over a year because of this damn pandemic. His best kid friend his is cousin, with whom he has a close but often fraught relationship. Apparently some of the kids at some of the camps have been nice, but he hasn’t yet met anyone with whom he really clicked. And of course it’s hard to do that in a week when you’re constantly in structured activities. I am sending all of my good intentions and positive energy into the universe that his third grade class will include at least a handful of awesome kids who Zeke will enjoy and who will appreciate him in all his cleverness and creativity and absurdity.

Read and listened to a lot of Norse mythology with Zeke. It turns out we both really like Norse mythology. We highly recommend listening to Neil Gaiman read his own book, aptly titled, Norse Mythology. And last night we finished the first installment of the ridiculously prolific Rick Riordon’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Zeke has also sprinkled some Greek mythology into his reading, including Percy Jackson of course, but his heart is in the nine worlds.


Reading a lot of books and a wide variety of genres and authors was probably the best thing Zeke did during his homeschool tenure. Mostly, he would still rather play video games than read, but he did read and he still likes to read and we enjoy reading together. So that’s something. In addition to the basic requirements, we also focused a lot on animals, art and art history, and the kind of social studies most kids don’t get in school–heavy on the civil rights, Black Lives Matter, women’s history, LGBTQIA+ history, Howard Zinn, etc. Our biggest struggle was writing, but somehow Zeke managed to craft a story that ended up on the Story Pirates podcast, which was exciting for both of us. Homeschooling wasn’t always easy, but I am proud of what we did together, and I’m pretty sure Zeke learned some things.

There are three more weeks of camp after this one. Perhaps it is too much to ask for me to pick him up at the end of the day and hear him say, “that was amazing! I can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” and “I made a friend today!” But I’m still hoping. If nothing else, camp is forcing us both to slowly get back into the habit of a regular bedtime and packing lunch and getting dressed before noon. We will need those skills come fall.

When people talk about having “all the feels,” does that include feelings like grumpy, disappointed, jealous, and agitated? My sense is that “all the feels” usually means “bittersweet” or “proud, yet wistful,” or something else that ends up leaning more toward the side of heartwarming and nostalgic rather than annoyed and overwhelmed. Maybe that’s just me.

Today was Zoe’s graduation from middle school. Except “graduation” here means, they showed everyone’s name on the screen, along with their photo, or if their photo wasn’t available, the Yellowjacket school mascot. A couple kids read poems they had written and the principal shared some “words of wisdom.” (Clearly I’m really feeling the air quotes today). Zoe watched this “ceremony” on her laptop, in her bed (where she has done most of her classes this year) as shared by her 7th grade teacher. Randy and Zeke and I watched downstairs. We quietly cheered for the handful of kids who we recognized. When Zoe’s name came up we cheered louder and I went upstairs to give her a hug. She was nonplussed. She is now a rising high school freshman and she is still, as usual, in her pajamas in the middle of the afternoon. And I don’t blame her. She and her classmates missed out on the 8th grade dance, Kings Dominion trip, picnic, and of course a real life graduation ceremony. She never even met most of her teachers in person. She’s only been to school a handful of times to take standardized tests or to pick up supplies. Tomorrow she will go to pick up a t-shirt and a certificate. Anticlimactic is an understatement.

I keep trying to hype high school, and as Zoe will be fully vaccinated in less than a week, she will be able to enjoy as normal a summer as is possible in a country that is still unevenly recovering from a pandemic. She’s looking forward to the beach, and returning to sleepaway camp, and getting to see friends in person at school. But she still won’t get back what was lost this year. Yesterday we were at the pediatrician for her annual checkup. When the doctor asked about Zoe’s sleep habits and when she goes to bed, I just laughed. The doctor said she’s gotten that reaction from all the other parents of teenagers this year. Pretty much everything Zoe reported sounded pretty typical, the doctor said. Which I guess makes me a feel a little better, a reminder that I’m not the only parent who has struggled every day for the past 18 months trying to figure out how to keep their kids engaged while also cutting them an appropriate amount of slack. Of course I know I’m not the only one, because I have friends and they have all had similar if not identical struggles this year. But in the moment, it’s easy to think you’re the only one who doesn’t have a clue what to do, because at any moment the pressure is only on you to figure it out.

Meanwhile, this week I have also been trying to get my client work done. At the beginning of the school year, when we decided to homeschool Zeke for second grade, my husband asked if it would be too much for me to be Zeke’s teacher while also running my business. I said, “probably, but I feel like that’s what we have to do.” Now at the end of the school year I can confidently say, “absolutely, it was too much to do,” but I still feel like it was what we had to do. Hopefully Zeke learned something. None of my clients have fired me yet, so I guess I managed ok, although I know I could’ve stayed more on top of my work. When you’re homeschooling, you have to provide some sort of evidence at the end of the year that your kid learned something. This can be a portfolio evaluated by a qualified professional, or a standardized test. As much as I do not like standardized tests, I chose that option because it was a lot simpler. Since Zeke was in second grade, I gave him the second grade test in late April, when we had pretty much finished everything I planned to do and both of us were running out of steam. He did great. Then this week I learned that you’re supposed to give your kid the test for the grade they’re entering, not the one they finished. This is totally counterintuitive to me, but I wanted to do the right thing, so I ordered the 3rd grade test and gave it to him. The test is online. When I tried to access the scores, it kept telling me sections of the test were incomplete. Apparently Zeke raced through several sections (it’s a long test) so he could play Xbox sooner. So we sat down together and I watched him answer all the additional questions. This included the reading comprehension section. One of the reading passages was extremely confusing, even to me. So in the end his reading comprehension score was not great. In fact, it was much lower than his score in April. I emailed all the test results to the principal, who shared my confusion about why you would give the 3rd grade test to a second grader, but she assured me that she would put him in class with the right teacher who will presumably see that he reads well when they hear him read.

When I submitted Zeke’s test results to the school system, the person in charge of home instruction students wrote back and asked if Zeke would be continuing home instruction next year. I replied that no, I had already enrolled Zeke at his old elementary school for third grade. She responded, “how wonderful for your son!” I chose to interpret that as her pleasure that things would be back to normal for him, not her relief that he would not be forced to do homeschool with me for another year.

The rest of the time I’ve just been trying to balance Zeke’s screen time with other activities that he can do without me, reminding myself over and over that he starts camp next week and will be intellectually stimulated, have the chance to make friends, and run around outside. Since he hasn’t had to get up and get dressed at a particular time on a regular basis since last March, this also feels like the first week of school for him, even though it’s summer. To that end, I’ve been trying to buy him new sneakers. He has complained for a while that his are uncomfortable, so I assumed he had outgrown them. I’ve bought his last few pair of shoes without getting him measured because the only children’s shoe store I know about is 40 minutes away. We were all set to go there on Tuesday, when I discovered they are closed on Tuesday. We went to the mall, against my better judgement. Three different people in three different stores measured his feet and got three different sizes. We didn’t buy any shoes.

When Zoe and I set out for the pediatrician yesterday, we discovered our van had a flat tire. One $22 Lyft later, we made it to the doctor. I didn’t have time to deal with the tire until last night. At 9:30, the AAA driver arrived, and had me drive my van up the ramp of his tow truck. It felt like being on an amusement park ride but much scarier because you’re in your own car. He towed us up the street to the service station, and then had me back the van off the truck! A friend of mine lives in the apartment building behind the gas station, so I alerted her to come to her window and watch. Apparently she waved but I couldn’t see because I was trying not to drive my car off the side of a truck.

Thankfully, today the van is fixed. They changed the oil and replaced the wiper blades, and the total repair cost was less than I’ve ever paid for a car repair, so that’s something. I should have the words “silver linings” tattooed on my arm. But not in air quotes.

Someday they’re going to publish scientific studies showing that living through the COVID-19 pandemic actually destroyed our brain cells, ravaged our mental health, and smashed our attention spans to bits. For example, I literally could not finish writing the previous sentence without pausing to play a turn in a word game, responding to a text, and checking the weather forecast.

I know a lot of people who have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD, but I feel right now like almost everyone I know is extraordinarily distracted. Is it because we’ve had enough of sitting inside our houses and our brains are yearning for something else to focus on besides what’s in front of us? Maybe it’s because we spend all day on various devices for work and for socializing and for shopping and for entertainment and we are conditioned to attend to the pings and the pop-ups? Perhaps it’s because we are so desperate for a change–for good news and for a definite end to this pandemic that we welcome that little burst of dopamine that comes from a potentially exciting distraction. Maybe this next ping or ding or buzz will be the one that turns everything around.

When this research comes out, those of us who have lived through the pandemic will roll our eyes and make snarky comments, like we do now when we see headlines like, “Excessive consumption of alcohol shown to contribute to bad decision making.” Because someone needed to study that to prove it was true?

I keep wondering how long we’ll be able to use the pandemic as an excuse for everything that is wrong with us. Because 14+ months of intermittent isolation from friends combined with constant interaction with family and unending uncertainty about the future is a legit excuse. But it’s getting so old.

Zeke commented recently that he feels like he can hardly remember life before the pandemic. He just turned eight, so more than one-eighth of his life has been lived in this bonkers environment. When he goes back to school in the fall for third grade, will it all be weird or will he have forgotten what the old normal was like? We keep hearing about how there’s no going back to normal, there’s just creating a new normal. But right now it seems impossible to build anything more elaborate or lasting than dinner for my family, which is hard enough.

I had another night of so many dreams it felt like I had never slept. And in one of the dreams even, I had been wandering around my church, although it looked utterly unfamiliar and was as large and labyrinthine as an IKEA. I couldn’t find any friends. I was looking for a chair to sleep in and suddenly it was 9am and people came along to tell me it was time to go on the work trip we were there for. A long line of little girls with freshly washed hair, all wearing soccer uniforms, was in the hall beside me and I wondered what work trip they were going on. Or if I was supposed to be participating in a soccer game instead.

This dream was yet another in a series of church dreams in which things are not right. Most of them in recent months have featured our former minister having reinserted himself into the congregation and operating a shadow ministry–oblivious to or unmoved by the fact that we have a new minister now. In every dream I am furious that he is there but powerless to do anything about it, as he doesn’t seem to recognize me or acknowledge my existence. It’s like I’m a ghost. There’s no worse feeling for me.


Of course there are moments–and sometimes even days–of lightness and joy. But more often than not when I wake up in the morning I am reminded of everything we are not allowed to do anymore, or whatever it is I want to do that my children will refuse to do, or the things I know I should do but don’t have the energy to attempt. I am often crushed by the avalanche of things I do not know and cannot figure out.

Zeke is deep into Minecraft and building worlds teeming with ordinary and fantastical creatures. He’s creating universes where he can do whatever he wants, and exert control. Worlds where he doesn’t have to fight with me about doing his writing assignments. So far he’s winning. I downloaded a new curriculum yesterday which I will employ on Monday to try to turn things around.

Zoe’s imaginary worlds are slightly more realistic, but filled with exchanges with friends and strangers and altered by filters. She lives in the universes of TikTok and Snapchat and Instagram. Both of my kids have gained access to places where they are in charge, where they are creative, where they construct their own identities. Places where I could kind of follow, but I would get lost pretty quickly.

So I play Words with Friends and do New York Times crosswords on my phone. I can finish most of the puzzles on my own. I have the feeling that I hear some people feel about math, that it’s satisfying because there’s one right answer and if you follow the steps, you will find it. Of course for me that only happens with words. With Words with Friends, there are a million possible answers, but it’s pretty easy to find a decent one. Since the pandemic started I have lost many more games than I have won. I don’t care. I don’t spend ages trying to find the words with the highest point value. Maybe a few minutes at most. The action of playing is enough for me right now–the discovery of a word. Long ago I realized that my scores in Words with Friends are closely correlated with my mental health and mood. I know a lot of people only play to win–not just in silly apps, but in life. I don’t believe in that.

And I read. And read. And read. Last night I read a middle grade book–Roll with It–by Jamie Sumner. When I finished the book I thought it was thoughtful and charming and an interesting perspective on what it’s like to use a wheelchair and have cerebral palsy when you move to a small Oklahoma town. I opened the Goodreads app on my phone to mark that I’d read it and give it some stars, when I noticed some one-star reviews. I don’t usually read other people’s reviews, but I was surprised by the critique that popped up and I read many of them. Apparently a lot of readers who are people with disabilities found Roll with It ableist and deeply problematic, citing numerous examples of how the author depicted both people with CP and in wheelchairs, and people on the autism spectrum (represented by another character) using inappropriate language and stereotypes. While I was reading the book I kept thinking that the voice of the narrator was honest and realistic, but clearly I don’t know. The author of the book is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, and presumably based some of the story on those experiences. One of the criticisms of the book was how often the narrator noticed her mom’s tired eyes, which centers the mom’s experience more than the child’s. While I was reading the book, I appreciated those observations because I, too, am a tired mom. But I get it now that the story of the girl shouldn’t have to dwell on the effects of her disability on her mom. That is not her fault. So after reading the reviews I felt like a jerk for blithely enjoying the book and not thinking too hard about how it might seem to a person with a disability. I realized I was demonstrating able-bodied privilege all over the place. I understand that it’s not fair of me to escape into someone else’s trauma. I am holding my breath while I walk the line between wanting to learn about and from other people’s experiences and wallowing in my privilege. Even the forgiving net beneath me is a product of my privilege.

There is so much to learn. So much.

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.

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