Monday, September 14, 2020

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

 Sigh. 

Our school system started classes on Wednesday, August 12. We had two options: in-person learning or remote learning. In theory, it's great. Families who wanted in-person learning got what they wanted, and families who wanted their kids at home got what they wanted. Except, it didn't really work that way for the remote learners. 

The remote learners were promised live-streamed classrooms and Zoom calls and lots of personal attention. Although I wanted to believe it would happen, I was skeptical. As it turns out, trying to deal with in-person students and remote students all at the same time has made our teachers stressed, tired, beaten down, and broken. 

VCS told the general public on July 31 that both in-person and remote learning would be offered. That gave the teachers twelve days before school started to get prepped to teach in a way they have never had to teach before. Just in case you missed it, read it again: TWELVE DAYS. That's not a lot of days, by the way. The teachers asked for more time to become familiar with how to use technology to better teach their students, and they were denied. They asked for teachers who could be remote-specific instructors, and they were denied. What we ended up with is giving all students in the district an elearning day on Wednesdays in order to give the teachers some time to catch up and breathe from dual-platform teaching. Now a petition written by an anonymous parent is going around saying that's a bad idea, too, so I guess we're just not allowed to have nice things. 

There was a school board meeting to discuss the change, and I was embarrassed and appalled at the attitudes of some of the parents. A lot of them are wondering why it's such a big deal because "live-streaming is easy"and why can't the teachers handle it. Um, not so much. Live-streaming may be easy when everyone has fantastic, up to date technology and WIFI for days. Live-streaming isn't so easy when teachers are using their laptops to live-stream and therefore cannot use their laptops for anything else, like teaching. Live-streaming isn't so easy when the Internet cuts out at least thrice during a class period. Live-streaming isn't easy when there are some students whose parents don't want their image being live-streamed into strangers' houses. Live-streaming isn't easy when a teacher has to sit in front of a laptop to teach in order to stay connected to the remote learners which means she can't walk around or connect with the in-person learners. And Zoom? It's okay, but if you have ever tried to get a group of kids on Zoom then you know how it's similar to herding a group of goslings mixed in with kittens. It's impossible to hear everyone, kids are using the chat area to write "poop" over and over, and most students end up holding up their household pets for the class to see. And before you get all anecdotal with me about how wonderful your children's experiences have been, just slow your roll. I taught university students remotely, and it wasn't all sunshine and roses. 

Other parents basically said that everyone is stressed, and teachers need to suck it up and get with the program. Oddly enough, many of those people are health-care workers, and I seem to remember the entire nation rallying around them when all this started in the spring. We threw money at the health care industry to help with the problem, and I don't see anyone offering to do that for education. As a matter of fact, I see people writing that they'll do anything to support teachers, but...If you really want to support teachers, there is no "but:" you just do it. Of course everyone is stressed. The pandemic is bizarro world, and it has flipped the universe upside down. But you know who I definitely don't want to be short-tempered, worn out, and frazzled? The dedicated people who choose to be with my children every day. I would prefer that the people who are teaching and influencing my kids on a daily basis are happy and calm and respected. I would also think that those of you who are squawking about wanting what is best for your kids would like to show them through your words and actions that you are behind their teachers one hundred percent. If we truly all want our kids to be in their best mindsets, we need to show them positivity from all sides, teachers and parents alike. 

Boycotting the Wednesday elearning days is detrimental to our students and to our teachers. Listen, we all want our kids in school full-time, able to socialize and laugh with their friends, participate in extra-curricular activities, and really enjoy themselves. I don't know anyone who doesn't want that. The fact is that we're not going to get what we want right now, and we need to deal with it. It's time to put up or shut up. 



Sunday, September 6, 2020

4.380 days


 My love,

As we continue the craziness that has been 2020, you are twelve years old. Having a middle school boy is a whole new thing for me. I remember middle school boys as smelly, confusing, and strange creatures, but so far, you have exceeded my memories and my expectations.



I know it has been a bummer of a calendar year. We cancelled vacations, you missed summer camps, and you missed the last hurrah of elementary school. I'm sure you have been disappointed, but throughout it all, you have kept a positive attitude. The funny thing is that I'm not sure if you really felt fine about everything or if you were just worried that I would be worried. You're not a fan of other people being disappointed. 



You continue to grow and change in ways that constantly amaze me. You still like to observe things from the sidelines sometimes, but you're starting to jump into new experiences with both feet. You have really enjoyed things like camping and fishing, although I have no earthly idea where you get that because Dad and I are more indoorsy kind of people. I'm so proud of the way you have embraced Boy Scouts. Even though you're one of the youngest in your troop, that doesn't seem to bother you in the least. You can hold your own with the older kids, and you're willing to try different tasks to earn merit badges. One of your newest interests is cooking, and I love our grocery store "dates" to pick out different things for you to try.




 

One thing that hasn't changed is how ridiculously smart you are. Your favorite books are non-fiction about science, history, or trivia, and once you pick up a book, you rarely put it down until you're done. I honestly don't know where you learn half the stuff you know, but you know an awful lot. I feel like I spend a lot of time saying, "Really? How do you know that?" You usually just smile and shrug your shoulders, so I guess it will remain a mystery to me. I mean, obviously it's the books, but you still know a lot for a kid. 



You're also still quite the perfectionist about certain things. You always like to do well in academics, video games, or anything new you're trying. I can tell that you're maturing, though, because you don't get so mad anymore if you don't do something well on the first try. This is going to be a mindset that becomes more and more important as you get older, so I hope that you hold on to that feeling of knowing that practice will make things easier. I also hope you know that you don't have to be perfect or even good at everything you do: you're going to be great at so many things as it is, and you don't have to excel all the time. Keep growing your patience, and it will serve you well in all phases of your life. 



As you get older, your sense of humor gets even drier, and I wasn't sure that was possible. You're so quick-witted, and I guarantee that you don't know exactly how funny you are. Your humor really showcases who you are. You're not funny for attention or laughs: you're just usually observing life with your arid pleasantries. You have still maintained your compassion for other people, and I know you don't like to see anyone down or upset. You may not know exactly what to say or do to make someone feel better, but you always try to do something. 



I know that spending time as a family is getting less and less cool for both you and Lottie, but those are some of the best times in the world for me. I love our family movie nights and introducing you guys to some classics...and maybe there have been some clunkers in the bunch. You do your best to see the positive in what we do together, and I appreciate it more than you know. I hope that you never stop coming in to kiss me on the nose when it's time to say goodnight. 

You are a true gift to me in every sense of the word. I don't know how I go so lucky, and I don't take that for granted. Stay sweet, my lovely boy, my one and only young man. Twelve is going to be your best year yet.


All my love,

Mom






Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Return to Learn

The last time I blogged here, the pandemic was in its infancy heading toward toddlerhood. I think by now, everyone hoped we would be past the teen years and into the years of middle-aged complacency, but there seems to have been a bit of a regression. I don't blame the virus, honestly. We acted like we were going to give it some space, and then we got all up in its business.

School starts in some way, shape, or form in about a month in my neck of the woods and even sooner for some schools that have a year-round or balanced schedule. We recently saw the Return to Learn plan sent by our school system: it was short, not to the point, and apparently couldn't anticipate the many, MANY questions teachers, staff, and parents would have about the numerous "what-if" scenarios.

Some of the highlights!
Masks are recommended but not enforced in the classroom, but they should be worn in the hallways. I hear constantly taking masks off and on is a solid idea.
Social/physical distancing is recommended and desks will be spread as far apart "as possible." Students will sanitize their desks themselves. I have picked up approximately ninety-three wrappers from Capri Sun straws today alone, and I have good kids who generally listen to me. It doesn't make me feel so great about the quality of sanitizing that will be done. Also, who is providing the sanitizing materials?
As long as students all face the same way in a classroom, no mask is needed because the virus only spreads in a linear fashion.  You know...science. The teacher should wear a mask, though, because reasons.
Students are encouraged to get rides to and from school in private cars; however, as far as I can tell, the football players will ride a school bus to games. I can only assume that sportsingball players have some sort of sweet immunity to the 'Rona.
Families will do their own health screenings at home. Whew! That's lucky because I know that parents don't pump their kids full of Tylenol in order to send them to school, and definitely no one will do it during a pandemic for fear of losing a job.
Students will minimize sharing materials and supplies. I mean, the joke writes itself with that one.

I quit Facebook a few weeks ago because it has turned into an utter trash heap. (I know, I know. I linked to this blog via FB. Don't @ me.) I hopped back on a few nights ago to find someone's name, and I saw a post about Valpo's back to school plan. On it, our mayor's wife told people that if they didn't like the Return to Learn plan, they should opt out and do e-learning instead. First of all, that's a super bad look politically. Constituents and all that political jazz. Second, being the mayor's wife doesn't give her the platform to attempt to school people, even if she tries to be PC about it.  Third, just...ew. That's an insanely Mean Girls look at the public education system, trying to pick and choose who can sit at the lunch table. Trying to convince someone that their opinion stinks about anything is difficult, but when that person has deep feelings about a subject important to him/herself, trying to have a logical conversation is akin to spitting into the wind. I typed quite a few responses to her, and then I realized that there was no point: it also reminded me of why I quit Facebook in the first place. <shudder>

I don't particularly care if her opinion, or anyone's for that matter, is different from mine. (It is for those of you keeping score at home.) My issue is in shaming the people who have honest fears about sending their children into the petri dishes of hell in thirty days. People like her are saying that public schools don't have to keep kids safe because that is the parents' job. To a certain extent, that's true. But these are the same people who are saying that kids need to get back to school so they can have meals and physical safety from possible abuse at home. You can't have it both ways and say that parents have to keep kids safe but that kids need school because they're not safe at home. Pick a lane. Getting kids back to "normalcy" is her idea, but it's deliberately obtuse to think that the fall semester will be anything like the normal we used to have. Nothing about this is normal.

Public schools do have an obligation to keep our children safe. That's part of why we do background checks for all volunteers and staff, tornado and fire drills, active shooter drills, anti-bullying programs, etc. Our schools are supposed to be equalizers, where all kids get what they need to be successful. Telling people to kick rocks if they don't like the school's return policy is like preying on someone who is already out of options: unhelpful and downright cruel. There are people in our community who don't have a real choice about what their students do come August 12, and I'm not here for the shaming that is cloaked in sickly-sweet concern.

If you want to send your kid back to in-person school because you truly feel it is the best option, go for it. If you're going to send your kid to school because you don't have a choice, I'm sorry, and I support you. If you are going to send your kid to school because you don't think we'll make it past mid-September with in-person learning, huzzah. If you want to keep your kid at home, I've got your back. If you want to withdraw your kid completely and homeschool, I have nothing to say to you. (I joke! I joke!) There are no right answers here; we have no real historical precedent for what is happening. If you feel like you know all the answers and have all the right things to say, Imma tell you that you don't, but I implore you to at least attempt to be kind and think about what other people are feeling. You might learn something, and we could all use the education.




Monday, April 6, 2020

Lockdown advice

I wouldn't say that I am normally an anxious person. Compared to Trevor, I am, but I think most people are compared to Mr. Laid Back. Overall, though, to steal from one of my favorite authors, Joan Didion, I'm pretty content to play it as it lays. 

The corona-cation has tested my ability to stay chill, though, as it has for so many others. And it's not even that I'm necessarily stressing because of how I really feel: I think I'm stressing because of all the information coming at me 24/7. I'm not just talking about the news, though. I know how to ignore the insanity of the 24-hour news cycle; I was born before one existed, and I'm good at blocking it out when need be.

The information that I am talking about is all the unsolicited advice from well-meaning people: the memes, the articles, the blogs (YES, I recognize the irony.)

Ignore all schedules! Hug your kids, make brownies, stay in pajamas all day, do crafts.
Stick to a schedule! Humans need schedules to feel centered. You'll feel better if you accomplish things during the lockdown. This is the time to learn something new, do something new, be someone new. 
Don't do the online work sent home by your kids' teachers! Teach your kids to cook, sew, change the oil in the car, garden, do the laundry, pay a bill. 
Make sure your kids get all of their schoolwork done! Grades still count. 
Be kind to yourself! Read fiction, write poetry, drink tea, nap, daydream, get fresh air. 
Stay informed! Read the CDC website, make masks, don't set foot outside your house. 
Make plans for the future! It's great to have something to look forward to. Think summer camps, vacations, the beach.
Don't make any plans! No one knows how long this is all going to last. 
If you're upset, show that emotion to your kids! They need to know that it's okay to share feelings during this time of uncertainty. 
Don't lose it in front of your kids! They need strength and reassurance now, not anything that will make them more anxious. 

See where I'm going with this? The overwhelming theme is DO IT BUT ALSO DON'T DO IT. If that were a thesis statement, I would not give it a decent grade.

Listen, the one truth that is absolute is that none of us knows what is going to happen. We can make educated guesses based on statistics and numbers, but we don't really and truly know. That's maddening. By sharing tips, tricks, and heartfelt sentiments, we're all just trying to help each other.  I suppose if one person is helped by one meme or reminder that it's okay to feel however you feel, it's worth it. But I tend to think that all of the advice can make people feel guilty about what they are or are not doing. 

So, what's my point? I guess it's that you should do what's right for you and not listen to everyone else. (Continue to listen to me, of course.)  Bake or don't bake. Read or don't read. Exercise or don't exercise. Clean or don't clean. Whatever gives you comfort and strength is what should be your main focus right now. I mean, wash your hands and stay home, but while you're at home, you do you, boo, with no apologies. 



Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sick days

I'm pretty much a rule follower when it comes to all things education. I make my kids do their homework, I help them review for tests, and, of course, attendance is compulsory. I'm not a crazy never-miss-school-so-you-can-get-a-perfect-attendance-award kind of mom, though, mostly because, as a rule follower, I keep my kids home when they're sick.

I know that I'm lucky to be able to be at home with the kids when they're sick. I can look after them, snuggle them, make them soup, or put fresh sheets on the bed so they can rest as much as possible. Not every parent has that availability, and I'm grateful that I do. For example, I followed the rules last week when Lottie woke up nauseous on Monday morning. She didn't have a fever, but no one wants a kid at school who may possibly spew in the middle of class. We followed the BRAT diet, she slept, and we snuggled. She still wasn't feeling one hundred percent the next morning, so I kept her home again for fear of public upchucking. Thankfully, she was much better Wednesday morning, and off to school she went.

Now, here's the issue: make-up work. Sweet baby Jeebus, she has a ton of make-up work. So much so that as I sit typing this on Sunday afternoon, she is still working on math homework with her dad (not me because, well, I don't get it.) She hasn't done much this week after school other than come home and work on make-up work in addition to her regular homework each day. I get it; there is a lot of homework in middle school. And of course she has to make up what she missed while she was gone; I get that, too.

But the thing that all the "keep your kids home when they're sick" messages and memes don't understand is how much work it really ends up being for the sickie. Did you see the meme that made the rounds on social media recently about the mom who kept her kid home from school and all activities due to his fever? If not, here is the link. While I totally agree with Sam's mom, I would hazard to guess that Sam is in preschool or early elementary at the most. Sam's mom doesn't have to crack the whip to make sure the day's homework is getting done along with whatever make-up work needs to also be done. Sam's mom probably isn't helping Sam study for a test he missed while also going over new material he has to learn.

Even though normally Lottie might do just about anything to miss school, I guarantee that she won't want to miss days now, sick or not, because staying home to rest isn't worth it. Although the idea of self care that is being shoved in our faces by every website and magazine and TV ad sounds peachy keen, it's not practical. The problem isn't that the kids are missing school due to illness: the problem is that the stakes are too high for sick kids to miss even one day of school. Missing a day means missing a lot. Although that shows us exactly how much teaching goes into one school day, and it's A LOT, that doesn't mean it makes it any easier to come back into a classroom where everyone has moved on without you. Do I think classes should pause for sick kids? Um, no. Of course not. However, I do think that something needs to give when it comes to the amount of make-up work kids have. I don't know what it is; I have no solution. What I do know is that when everything is given the same weight of importance, then nothing is important. If something has to be important, I would rather it be the kids' all around health rather than the missing lessons. And, to be clear, in no way is this an indictment of Lottie's teachers or any teachers for that matter. It's a hope that as parents, teachers, and human beings, we can distinguish the little stuff from what is truly meaningful.

Friday, January 10, 2020

4,745 days

My dearest girl,

I don't know how I got so lucky to get you as my daughter. Every single day, you surprise and delight me in new ways.

When you were little, you were constantly on the go. I assumed that would change a bit as you grew up, but I was terribly wrong. You're still a constant blur of motion, words, movement, and thoughts. You have more energy than anyone else I know, and you are always on the move. We joke within the family that no party is big enough or long enough for you. I think you would do something different or go to a new place every day if you had the chance. Where many people are content for a quiet and relaxing weekend, you want the chance to do more, see more, be more.

You have taught me to take the worrying down a notch. I'm your mom, so I'll always worry about you, but I'm learning how to trust that you are going to do your best to make the right choices. I don't doubt that you will make your fair share of mistakes in life, but you learn from them, you truly do. I still worry that your compassion and kind soul will make you susceptible to heartache; those who feel  intensely get hurt intensely, too. It will be that goodness within you, though, that will make it easier for you to dust yourself off and move forward.

I know I underestimated how funny you would be. You make me laugh every single day, just like your dad does. While you're a lot like me, you're a lot like him, too. You're great at seeing the light instead of the darkness and laughing when it would be easier to cry. You have Dad's sense of humor, sarcastic and often highly inappropriate. There are times when I guarantee that you have no idea how funny you really are. One thing I really love is how you understand that we're laughing with you and not at you when you say something you mean to be serious but comes out as hilarious. You laugh right along with us.

The ability to laugh at yourself and be in on the joke has served you well this first year and a half of middle school. Even though there have been a few bumps in the road, you have taken it all in stride and made us so proud. Middle school is truly a time of anxiety, turmoil, and self-doubt: it's basically the tenth circle of hell that Dante didn't write about because he, too, wanted to forget that time in his life. You seem to have kept yourself out of the worst of the fire, though, by finding good friends and marching to your own beat. I hope you always stay true to who you are.

I love your ability to see the good in all people. You're not stingy with second chances, or third, fourth, and fifth, for that matter. There is no artifice to you: what you see is what you get. I think that's a rare quality in people your age. Thirteen is about fitting in and following the crowd, but you're determined to stand out. For that, you have my admiration and my awe.

I hope you know how proud Dad and I are. Watching you grow into the gorgeous human being you have become is far beyond the dreams we had when you were a baby. You are now and always will be more than we could have ever hoped for. You are deeply and unconditionally loved.



Happy 13th birthday, baby,
Mom

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Aunt Gerri, with a guest post from Lottie

Dear Aunt Gerri,

I have tried to write this so many times in the last few weeks, but every time I sit down, I freeze. There is so much to say, but it’s difficult to find the right words to say it.

So many of my best childhood memories involve you. We all spent so much time together at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. The kids would play in the huge yard, which isn’t so huge now that we’re older, while the grownups talked, cooked, laughed, and did grownup stuff. It was magical to spend time with all the cousins I love while exploring the house our mothers grew up in: laying in front of the gas fireplace, holidays, random Sundays with Noble Romans pizza, ping pong and pool in the basement. There were all of the brunches at Innsbrook with eleven of us trooping in to a big table dressed in our Sunday best. I don’t think you adults knew that I used to basically just eat caviar and lox. I remember our trips to Lake Lawn Lodge in Wisconsin in the summertime: all of us eating dinner together, dancing on the patio afterward, and spending lots of time in the game room. We rode horses, took boat rides, and even had fun in the car caravan on the way up to the resort. I wish I remembered the CB handle I used when we would talk between cars. All of our trips to Disney also stand out in my mind. I loved when Grandpa and Grandma did the Easter egg hunt in their resort room for us one year; I can’t believe they let us ransack their room that way! And of course there was the year we went over Christmas break and explored the Magic Kingdom until the early hours of the morning. . I know that you loved spending time with everyone, all together, no matter where we were. You and I had some adventures of our own, too. We took a road trip to Greenfield Village and learned all about Henry Ford, and we went to Venetian Night in Chicago a couple of times to see the boats and their beautiful lights sparkle on the water.

I took for granted that things would always be that way, and then as everyone got older, people began to make new places their home. We were together for holidays, but I missed the concentrated time we would spend together. When Trevor and I decided to move from Kentucky to Indiana, I was hoping to recapture some of that time together so I could share some of my childhood with my own kids. We had already lost Grandpa and Grandma, but I looked forward to spending time with the rest of you all.

Things changed when we lost Lynn way too early. I can’t imagine that you were ever the same after that. The only positive thing to come out of missing Lynn was realizing that none of us is promised much time in life, and we have to make the most of the time we do have. We started to get together more often, and it was amazing to watch my kids get to know and love you. Other than my parents and Trevor’s parents, you were the first to come to Kentucky to see them after they were born. You flew down and held them, admired them, and smiled your crinkly-eyed smile. Remember how we found the possum in my yard when you came to meet Dallas? You held him and watched toddler Lottie while I ran out and tried to move it out of the yard. I’ll never forget looking at the window from the yard and seeing you laugh at how scared I was.

Even though I’m an adult now with my own family, I just always assumed that you would be here, that our lives would go on with our Sunday get-togethers, articles from the WSJ in the mail from you, and holiday shenanigans. I’m still not sure that it has fully hit me that you’re gone; I think about you all the time. Selfishly, I wasn’t done. I wasn’t done spending time with you and learning things from you. I wasn’t done hearing stories from when you and my mom were kids, stories about Grandpa and Grandma when they were young, and stories about the six of us cousins when we were little. I wasn’t done taking walks with you and watching you have in-depth conversations with Lottie and Dallas about a variety of topics. I just…wasn’t done.

I feel a little unmoored, to be honest. Those of us left behind are searching for a new normal without you, and it’s hard. I hope that as lost as we feel, being with Grandpa, Grandma, and Lynnie makes you feel found. I promise that we will never stop sharing your stories, your memory, and your heart. We miss you, and we love you, Aunt Gerri.  

K. C. 



         I don’t know how my mom starts these, so I’m going to start it like this: Geraldine Mary Pigott died. I don’t know exactly how she did, but what I do know is that it was fast. Gerri wasn’t the type to be hooked up to machines or in a nursing home. She was an independent woman that could do amazing things. She would walk everyday (I think, she did it often, I know that.) She delivered Meals on Wheels to people younger than her. She gave birth to 4 wonderful kids in her lifetime: Sharin, Ted, Tim and Lynn. Lynn died at the age of 49 and I’m sure that devastated Gerri. One of the things that comforts us is knowing that they are in Heaven hugging and reuniting. 
          At the visitation and funeral, there were photos of her doing all the things that she loved in life. This includes reading, singing, hugging, talking, telling stories, recycling, and helping people. One specific photo caught my eye; it was a picture of her standing on a stage holding flowers. The caption in sparkly purple letters said “1st PROM QUEEN!” Turns out she was the 1stprom queen ever at her school. When I went to ask my grandmother about it, she said that she had cared so much about her education she told her dad about how her high school was unaccredited, and without a certification on her diploma, no college would accept her. Her dad and some other men fixed it, and she was able to go to college! She didn’t stop at one college though; she went to a lot of them. I remember Ted saying, “she would go to every college if she had the chance.” Gerri really loved school and learning, on the day of the prom, she didn’t go home early to get ready, even though she had the opportunity. 
        I’d like to share some of my most treasured memories with her. At my uncle’s house we went on a little hike. I was in the back walking with her when she said, “You know, Lottie, Tim just never liked peas.” She went on to tell the most random story ever told. I also remember her basement, it was like the cave of wonders. It had all this old stuff that my mom used to play with. It was so cool to see! 
        She loved so much in her life: Lynn, Sharin, Ted, and Tim as her children. Kathy as a sister. Carolyn, Tommy, and Theo as grandchildren. K.C and Matthew as her niece and nephew. And me and Dallas as great-niece and nephew. She also loved Shuting with all her heart. Sundance, Minny, Honey, and Judy all had special places in her heart. We love you, Aunt Gerri! 

Written by:
Lottie Wells