Wednesday 30 December 2020

Last of the 2020 musings (12/21 to 12/31)

I don't think I have any one thing to say to sum up 2020. But since I have some time to myself for the last two weeks, I'll use the metaphor of a tapestry and see what occurs to me between Solstice and New Year’s Eve.

Loose threads from the past that were woven into something:

The last of the anxiety about fertility (or lack of it, whatever) is essentially gone. Our family of four is exactly what it should be in my mind, and I am grateful things wrapped up as neatly as they have. One reason I'm pretty sure of this: My new co-teacher (we started working together in September) is currently trying to conceive! And she is now a patient of the same fertility clinic we went to!  Whatever issues she and her partner face (it's not very clear at the moment) they seem less serious than what Mr. Turtle and I dealt with. (Who really knows though.) How do I feel about this? Well I feel happy to be in a position where I can be supportive and understanding of her, to some degree. And that's about it. I'm neither anxious nor envious. Maybe that will shift a bit at some point, but I doubt it will significantly. I gave her my copy of Navigating the Land of IF, with a brief explanation of what in it I found helpful. I hope things work out for her. But I'm also enjoying the fact I'm in the mother/crone phase of life and don't have to worry about that stuff anymore.

Perhaps more disturbingly, our new classroom (we moved partway through the year to a big shared space instead of two classrooms) is right across from the washroom where I had my traumatic early pregnancy bleeding with AJ.  At first I avoided it. Then I admitted to my colleagues I had an unpleasant association with that washroom, listened to their sympathy, and started using it like it was any other washroom. I'm not particularly affected by going in there. But even if I do feel a bit weird about it, I'm going to keep using it until the weirdness goes away.  The reading and discussion I've undertaken in the past years has convinced me that avoidance is the wrong way to deal with fear and other negative feelings.

Overall, I feel about babies and pregnancy much the same way I feel about other (mostly happy) things in the past. There’s an ache of nostalgia for times passed away, but mostly I’m too involved and interested in current challenges and pleasures to get pulled deeply into it. And I can’t say I feel jealous of people for whom having babies is still an option. I mean....good for them, but also good for me for not having that particular complication.

Threads pulled loose, threatening tangles or holes:

Covid-19 and attempts to contain it obviously made this year very, very weird. My life was not an exception to that. At the same time I wouldn't say my foundations have been shaken too seriously. I mostly feel strong.  Again I believe that this year showed the fruit of all the work I have been doing over the last 5 years to learn who I am and become more adaptable, intuitive, and centred. It's not finished by any means, and there are days when I feel defeated and foolish. But I feel much less lost overall than I did in the last 5 years or even last year.  I'm relating to people at lot more confidently. So, not many holes or tangles or loose threads, really.

Something I did mean to do this year but never did in person was explore one or more church communities. Mostly that was due to Covid and resulting shutdowns, although even prior to that I truly had no idea how to fit another commitment into our busy lives. But I have had a conviction, from about a year ago, that it is something I should do. Mr Turtle and I talked about it and agreed, which was exciting, but then  things got muddled. Still, it’s very much on my mind and I’m engaging with those desires and ideas by reading and listening to podcasts and conversations.

Surprising pictures in the tapestry:

Professionally, I learned more this past year than I have in recent memory. A lot of what I learned was technical and related to online learning. But even before those shifts I gained a lot of confidence in thinking and adapting on the run.  I didn't always enjoy it and during the last school year in particular I wished so badly that I knew some short cuts and ways to make life easier! But I definitely did work some creative muscle and once I got my wits together and my anxiety even slightly tamed, I felt like a whole new person. 

Speaking of anxiety, of course it has been a theme of this blog for a while, and I tend to consider myself an anxious person.  But I learned something rather important about myself this year: Danger, challenge and risk taking do not activate my anxiety.  Of course I can feel fear, but not the horrible paralyzing terror that makes me doubt every decision, every bit of information, every step forward and slows time to an agonizing death crawl that nevertheless seems to move faster than I can think.  No, what seems more likely to make me anxious is trying to be normal. 

Trying to be normal is still worth it. I don't regret any of the ways I've pushed myself to have the life I have now, which is so much better than anything I dared picture in my youth. Still, I'm thinking I might actually be better suited to challenge and crisis than I am to "business as usual." It's an interesting thought. When the going gets weird, the weird get going.

The family tapestry:

AJ: Six years old, beautiful, creative, expressive. Still wants to be an artist (mostly), or maybe a "dance performer." I continue to point out to her (probably obnoxiously) that "you can always have another job too, you know." I was raised to be practical; it sticks. She has made strides in learning to read since starting Grade 1 (meaning she got motivated to try.) Also really likes math. She claims not to be competitive but she totally is.  AJ is very much into dragons, gems and crystals (How to Train Your Dragon movies, also some Hobbit which I read to her periodically.) She is learning tap dance and piano this year.

Dani: closer to three than two now, so I tend to think of her as three. Looking like a little girl, not so much a toddler or baby anymore. Still my baby though. Well they both are. She talks a lot recently, and loves to dance and sing and count. Cute things she currently does:

  • Dani and AJ both love The Croods and Dani learned to do the perfect imitation of Belt’s “Dun dun DUN!” which is too funny.
  • She has started saying “This is my HOME!” about our house, with great happiness, as if it only just occurred to her (maybe it did). It’s very sweet and it makes me want to give three cheers of agreement every time she says it.
  • Dani always talks about “my dance class” though unfortunately she has never been to one. I took AJ to mommy/toddler classes but such things are not available right now. I am not sure if Dani really wants a dance class or she thinks life is one big dance class.
AJ and Dani are close though they squabble a fair bit too as I imagine most siblings do.  Still little enough that family is the centre of their world, which is a wonderful privilege and opportunity for us. AJ also continues to do fabulously in school, and I’m so grateful for her teachers and community there.

Mr Turtle is very close to being a full registered psychologist, after years (beginning in 2013) of getting a masters and all the other steps including exams and supervision. We love our long conversations when we can fit them in, though the pandemic has somewhat limited our ability to get away together. 

My mom has struggled a lot with isolation the last few months in particular. We see her regularly and I’ve increasingly tried to accept and embrace my changing role in supporting her. I did initially struggle with being put into more of a caregiver role as it feels like losing a parent in a way.....the relationship if not the person, if that makes sense. There are emotions like frustration and resentment as well as love and worry and concern and empathy. I have my dad’s “let’s find a solution” mentality I think. It’s not easy for me to deal with people/situations where there is no solution. I’m not very good at the (feminine) thing where you “hold space.”

 But I’ve tried to embrace my strengths, admit to the frustrations and take responsibility for them, and do what needs to be done to take care of the future, meaning not avoiding or denying the challenges. My mom continues to live on her own but has been getting more professional help and my brothers and I have gotten more skilled at assisting her and at working together. Always I try to remember that no matter how difficult a situation is, there are ways to make it worse. So I try to always focus on what 1) won’t make things worse and 2) may make things better, in that order.  Actually, that’s been a pretty good approach for most everything that has happened this year.

That probably sums up most of the learning and challenges of 2020. It’s been a good year, or if it hasn’t been “good” by some subjective standard I at least feel good about how we handled what came at us. And that’s the most meaningful kind of “good” in my mind. Also, at this point in life I cannot pretend to myself that I am immortal. That illusion started to slip quite a few years ago and it’s pretty much gone now.  And so I do not want to wish away any remaining years of my life, nor even months, days, weeks or minutes. They are all too precious.  I would not trade the present for any imagined future. This is life, here, now. I can’t always choose my circumstances, but I can choose how I respond to them. And in that moment of decision, I have found my freedom and my courage.

Happy new year!

Monday 12 October 2020

Thankful 2020 (so far, so good)

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving and seems like an appropriate time to add something to the record. I have a lot to be thankful for, both obvious and less obvious.

Six weeks into the 2020-2021 school year, here are the obvious things to be thankful for:

AJ and Dani  have adjusted well to their school day routines. 

Dani (two years, eight months) is full time at the daycare and is happy to go and see her friends. I don’t see directly what their space looks like nor what they do as parents aren’t allowed past the door. But her attitude is enough proof for me that she is doing well.  Dani loves collecting rocks, riding  tricycles and having her own opinions on everything.

Ditto for AJ. She loves Grade 1 and her teacher. Whatever they are doing at school for Covid 19 precautions doesn’t appear to phase her at all. She wears her mask most of the day without comment. The only thing that she complains about is that there is some sort of schedule of cohorts for the playground which means she doesn’t go there often. I often get requests to go after school. She has a few good friends in her class.

AJ turns six in a couple of weeks. I planned her party a couple of weeks earlier so we could hopefully be outside for most of it. We are going to a kids’ farm with a few friends to hang out with the animals and possibly play in the park if weather permits. I have warned AJ it might not come off exactly as anticipated for all sorts of reasons but she is philosophical about the whole thing so far. 

So far our family has stayed healthy so life carries on mostly normal with the precautions that have become routine. Family gatherings are smaller than previously but we continue to see our family in Calgary regularly, which is very important especially for my mom who has struggled the most with the isolation. We live without guarantees, but we live.

My high school year: also so far, so good. Or even, dare I say it, great. As far as not having Covid cases at school, I have to say I believe it is mostly luck. The students are good about wearing masks. Social distancing, not so much. We try to stagger class changes informally (keeping kids till the bell is a thing of the past, and tacitly accepted.) Still, despite reasonable best efforts, I have no doubt that one infected person could easily cause an outbreak, and odds are it will happen at some point, though I hope for the best. My former high school and staff was featured in the school board’s instructional video for Covid precautions. Ironically they were the first school in the city to have an outbreak declared.

The not so obvious things to be thankful for:

My new co-teacher and I have confessed to each other, almost with embarrassment,  that this has been the most pleasant and low stress opening to the school year either of us can remember (we are similar aged). Why this seeming miracle? We have very small classes, even by special ed standards. A few students, mostly the older ones, opted for online education for at least a few months. We know most of the others well, as I either taught them grade 9 or she taught them in the previous years. We have a well bonded little group and not too many issues (so far). The two of us also work very well together. I am more the dreamer and she helps us stay real and not take on too many schemes that take hours of prep. 

Also, Google Classroom. Although we are back in person, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would use Google classroom as a learning tool and remote teaching back up. My co teacher was not as familiar with it and was dubious at first, but I assured her it really would make things easier. And by God, it does. I am more organized now than I have ever been in my career. We share plans and ideas with a couple of clicks of a mouse. We have even added on  colleagues outside our school and substitute teachers to share ideas and curriculum with them. We can work on projects in real time with the students while staying socially distanced.  The opportunity in all this pandemic-caused disruption is to learn new ways of doing things, to move beyond limitations that don’t need to be there. All this is benefitting our students who have the opportunities created by our shared energies and creativity.

Compared with this time last year, I am shockingly confident, relaxed and optimistic. And I am actually profoundly grateful for all the non Covid-related  struggles I had last fall. I feel like I went to mental health boot camp, and when pandemic crazy happened I was able to go into the battle strong. I cannot overstate the difference it has made to switch my self image from....whatever it was seeing myself as someone who leads, or at least stands out in front.

The other thing which cannot be overstated, is what an advantage it feels like to be able to stay in my community. Again, whatever turns of fate got me to where I am now, no matter how unthrilled I might have been about specific situations in the past, I am so lucky now to be in the position I am. My home, daycare, AJ’s school and my school are minutes apart. I literally drop off Dani and cross the street.  I am not a fan of the identity group based, atavistic energies of our cultural moment. Bleah! So much NO.  But my tribal instinct, if any, is now centred squarely on my local community.  I have located myself in time and space and this is where I will aim to make a positive difference. For now.

I could go on and on; I could explore all the reasons I’ve come to this moment. I could also be writing another entry in a couple of days starting “wow everything has turned into a shit show.” But I have faith in the moment, and in myself. As the Samurai proverb says: “Take arrows in your forehead, never in your back.”

The pumpkin cake AJ made with her Grandna over FaceTime.

Monday 31 August 2020

Summer 2020 and what’s next

Obviously I haven’t been blogging regularly but I feel like I should add something to my work and life in the middle of pandemic entries.

  • We finished the 2019-2020 school year distance teaching / learning. While a great many things about the whole situation were not ideal, for reasons that don’t take much imagination, I believe we made the best of it. Most salutary for me was the experience of taking on a leadership role through the process and observing how that affects me mentally and emotionally.
  • Summer 2020 was really very good, overall. We reached our tenth wedding anniversary in July. The plan was to return to one of the locations of our honeymoon, Arizona with our kids and in laws. That didn’t happen obviously.
  • However, with about a week to go I thought of an alternate plan. We spent the day at the historical village where we held our wedding. I hired the photographers who took our maternity and family photos to get some pictures to mark the occasion. We spent an hour doing that then the rest of the day playing at the park. Not as many attractions were open due to Covid-19 but it was a beautiful day with enough to keep us entertained. We ended with dinner at a restaurant.
  • We managed some mini vacations in our province including the first time ever camping with the kids.
  • We remain healthy. Everyone in our family has gotten at least one Covid-19 test, including asymptomatic ones. All negative.  I am grateful that our province makes testing very easy so that the process is minimally disruptive though still unnerving.
  • School is back in person tomorrow. In the big picture of things, I feel fortunate. I am back at the high school I taught before AJ was born. My class is small and I know most of my students as I taught them in grade 9 last year. For the first time in my career, I walked into a classroom that was completely empty of other people’s stuff. Apart from making it very easy for me to meet the new space and no clutter rules, it has made a huge difference in my stress level.
  • Who knows what tomorrow brings though: everything changes so quickly. I try not to emotionally commit to any particular scenario too much.  What I think about is how to be as adaptable as possible and build strong trusting relationships. I do trust the people around me and this is enhanced by being back in my community. I work a five minute drive from home; Dani’s daycare is across the street; AJ’s school is about 3 minutes away. I even found a dance class for AJ a couple of minutes from her school. Mr Turtle is developing work from home plans at his office. All of these things give me confidence and safety.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Day in the life: coronapocalpyse week 7

Second of my posts about daily life during the peculiar time of shutdown during a pandemic. The day was Wednesday May 6th.

Turtle: age 40, special Ed teacher, jr high, now emergency online teacher
Mr Turtle: provisional psychologist, age 39
AJ: 5.5, kindergarten student
Dani: 2 years 3 months, toddler human

6:30 am alarm. Doze. Look at Facebook. Bryan is working from home today, so still in bed.

 Hear Dani briefly.  Shower.

For some reason I looked at my school email account before bed yesterday and read a parent email that irked me a bit. I start thinking about it again and considering different ways to interpret it and how I might respond, while another part of my mind analyzes my own reaction and what thatmeans. I am still half asleep. 

I also read a former colleague’s Facebook post that notes schools in another province are opening in a limited way mid May. There is an attached graphic which is purportedly the rules from one school where the original poster knows someone (whose identity and school is not being revealed.).  Who knows how true this is: it is so colossally awful I hope it isn’t true.

Not to brag but I’m pretty sure whatever we are doing for kids right now at home is better than *that*. I don’t think you need a degree in education to understand what a disaster the described situation would be. 

7:15: kid alarm. I now have alarms coordinated for every day.

I pick up Dani from her crib and change her diaper. She collects 3 stuffies and sits on the couch sucking thumb. Mr Turtle gets up and puts coffee on. AJ doesn’t want to get out of bed.

7:35 coffee. Mr Turtle heads downstairs to get set up for his remote staff meeting.

Dani asks for “pinkberry” yogurt for breakfast, as the blueberry is all gone. I sit her at the table on her booster, and take the top off the yoghurt container exactly as I’ve done a dozen times before. Today however, this is The. Exact. Wrong. Thing. To. Do.  Dani screams with fury and refuses to touch the yoghurt. After unsuccessfully trying to figure out what’s upsetting her, I go ask AJ (still in bed) if she can get up and come distract her sister.

Dani is still screaming, but the word “butterfly” is now intelligible. Does she want a blue butterfly ring on the table? NO!!! AJ brings her a plush butterfly. Also NO!!! But when I walk away with the plush she changes her mind and reaches for it. Dani hugs the butterfly stuffy and stops crying. 

AJ and I go sit on the couch. Dani watches us. AJ laughs a loud silly laugh out of the blue. Dani looks at her uncertainly then laughs too. I settle them both down with yoghurt. 

Potty break for mom. In a few minutes, I hear the kids leave the kitchen and get up to something in AJ’s room. (Enjoying AJ’s secret stash of goldfish, it turns out.)

8:00 AJ and Dani invade the bathroom. AJ has to pee. Dani asks to sit on “ducky” (her duck shaped potty). Afterward Dani is not happy to be asked to wash her hands. She shouts at me: “Dani—  stegosaurus!” (her new favourite word.) “RAWR!”

8:16: continue breakfast with apples for the girls. I empty the dishwasher.

8:20: start checking emails on my computer. Think about how to respond to the parent email that I was considering earlier. I decide to connect with partner teacher to share ideas and to also ask the parent for more information. Email is a stinky poopy way to communicate so I always try to remember that and be patient when I see an email that rubs me the wrong way.

8:30, Mr Turtle is back upstairs. He takes on the job of washing the girls, who are now hanging off my arm while I’m trying to work.

9:00, emails done for now. Go to get dressed.

Not in the mood to dress up today, but hey, my shirt has a collar.

9:15, staff meeting. Dani is finished her bath and checking out what’s on my computer. My colleagues  are sharing their pets on google meet. There is no pet in our house so I share a cat stuffy. Dani is very interested in my colleagues’ real cats. Mr Turtle is wrestling AJ into the shower. She is in full on silly mode. 

9:38: staff meeting done. Mr Turtle takes a shower. Kids are playing. General mental multitasking fog as I try to get things done and come up with a plan for the day. Set AJ and Dani up to do painting beside me while I work on computer at the dining room table. This actually goes well and they are busy and happy till Mr Turtle is out of the shower.

10:00: My office hour starts. I open up a Google meet so that students can come talk to me. Two students show up, including, fortuitously,  the one whose parent had emailed. I spend some quality time with them. Plans take shape in my head.  Mr Turtle and the kids head downstairs. He takes the iPad to work on AJ’s online kindergarten assignments.

11:00: my office hour is over, and I  need to figure out lunch. I didn’t eat breakfast and I  am getting pretty hungry. What to eat....well we had pasta yesterday. And cheese sandwiches. So I don’t feel like either of those. There are lots of eggs. Scrambled eggs? AJ refuses to eat eggs. But she agrees to eat a tuna sandwich. Check the plan with Mr Turtle, who is still downstairs. Start cooking and clearing off the table. 

11:30ish, lunch ready. Divide up a tomato and a yellow pepper between the four of us for vegetables. Everybody eats and enjoys their lunch: that’s a good thing.  I am feeling rather tense and overwhelmed though, and am finding it a struggle to be reflective enough to find time to write this account, and guilty that it is adding more screen time to my day.

11:50: Mr Turtle is stacking the dishwasher. I vacuum and change the dining room tablecloth because I refuse to work at a dirty table and I hate a dirty floor. Truthfully looking at the dirty floor bothers me much more than fears of Coronavirus on a daily basis.

12:00. AJ is on my computer for her weekly kindergarten google meet. 

Today Aj’s class is sharing messages they wrote on google meet. She came up with this one on her own. Mr Turtle observes she has the soul of a poet.

Mr Turtle washes dishes and I read Dani The Pout Pout Fish while AJ’s call continues.

1:00: Mr Turtle goes downstairs for another meeting. I am also online again for my class’s google meet. My partner teacher and I confide in each other that we both feel a bit out of it today. This might be related to the fact that in the past two days we learned that I will be moving to another school. Basically we have a very large graduating grade 9 class, and not enough students coming into grade 7 to replace them. So I will be following our grade 9s, more or less, into senior high. I will be back teaching at the school where I taught before AJ was born. It’s not a bad thing, in the big picture, but change can be exhausting and we’ve had so much of that already.

 The google meet goes well. We talk about a planting experiment the students did where they soaked seeds in different liquids to see which would germinate  first. I also did the experiment with AJ. She loved it.

We discuss a new experiment where students will try to grow seeds from fruit. Toward the end AJ and Dani, who have been playing around me, start whining to go outside. I prevaricate and AJ melodramatically starts to cry. Finally I decide they can just go. They make a nefarious enough racket that Mr Turtle emerges from the basement to supervise.

1:40ish, meeting ends. I get ready to go for a walk. It’s windy and cool outside. AJ and Dani are already outside so that part is easy. 

AJ has written notes and drawn pictures for some of her friends, so we walk to a mailbox to send them.

We continue on to the green space in our neighbourhood where we usually go for our outside breaks. As usual there is much playing with sticks and rocks and getting acquainted with trees. Dani insists on picking up “pink rocks.” This appears to translate to “every rock I want” because most of them are not pink. Every pocket of every jacket she owns is full of rocks.  At least she doesn’t usually try to eat them anymore. She has more of a taste now for dirt and the neighbour’s tulips.

We are home by around 3. I rush to wash Dani’s hands before she sticks her thumb in her mouth. I succeed.... this time.

AJ hangs out in her room while I put Dani down for a nap on the couch and sing to her. I have been singing 
the extended version of Row Row Row Your Boat that I created for AJ nearly four years ago (!)

When Dani is asleep I get out my computer again. AJ asks for the iPad and goes on Starfall, her favourite website. I make a cup of instant coffee and put on my softest sweater. This is just the creature comfort I need to get myself going again.

I begin going through my list of students for the day. The best way I have found to organize my work week is to assign myself six students a day to check in with. I go through all their work and mark it if it hasn’t been marked already, and leave comments and make edits for them. If they haven’t been active in the classrooms I might send an email to them or their parents. I try to stay disciplined and focus just on those six. 

Of course the exception is if I get a personal email, a parent contacts me or a student comes to office hour: then they get my attention whether or not they are on my daily list and I just make a note on the day I have assigned them. My colleagues have also struggled with how to organize their days and so I have been trying to teach them my system, and our principal had been helping by designing us individual tracking sheets. I have never worked with a principal who is so eager to help and I will miss that. 

Six students might not sound like much but it is quite a challenge to get through all of them thoroughly. At around four AJ asks me to teach her loom knitting. I had bought a bunch of looms and was teaching some of my students to knit. They had been sitting in my classroom at school but a colleague’s wife dropped them off at my house today. AJ of course found them.

Guiltily I tell her I need to work but I can teach her how to knit at five I clock. I show her the time on her iPad and explain what 5 o’clock looks like. She agrees to that. By 5 I have finished my student check ins and marking mostly  to my satisfaction, and am happy especially to see that a student who had not been doing much is completing more work, and good work too. That feels like a victory, even though her review of a horror movie about a serial killer is a tad disturbing. I still feel antsy because I haven’t done any task design or new assignments for the classes. But a promise is a promise....and AJ had noted that her iPad is showing 5 o clock. Dani is also stirring and Mr Turtle has ended his work day. He comes upstairs and starts dinner.

I wind the fuzzy yarn AJ chose around the loom and show her the basics. I don’t have high hopes but she actually proves to be very good at it and only needs my help to wrap the yarn.  She makes the mistake of proudly showing off her work to Dani who promptly grabs her yarn. Luckily I have a smaller ball of the same yarn that I can give to Dani.

With kids occupied, I pull out my computer again and challenge myself to make a spelling worksheet. A couple of weeks ago another teacher showed me a way to turn a PDF worksheet into a Google slide where students can type their answers. (here’s how)

After half an hour of fiddling I have created a couple of worksheets that are appropriate for our more advanced students. Dinner is ready. For her part AJ has knitted several inches of scarf.

I put the computer away, still feeling like I’m not done. Dinner is delicious though: chicken cooked in sauce with zucchini and mushrooms on the side. We eat at the table together. There are also noodles which Mr Turtle has hidden until Dani eats her meat and vegetables. Otherwise she will refuse to eat anything but “noo-noos.” Mr Turtle and I catch up.

6:20ish: I can’t help myself: after dinner I pull out the computer again and create some easier level worksheets. It doesn’t take long. AJ practises her piano. At around 6:40 I put the computer away, feeling finally accomplished. Then I realize I’ve almost forgotten I have my stepdance class on zoom. Luckily it doesn’t start till 7. I change into dance clothes. I always put on different clothes for dance class, and try to be pretty, even though our cameras are all off.

7:00ish: Mr Turtle takes the girls downstairs to watch a movie. I set up Zoom. I have a few flustered moments where I can’t find my mouse. But all is good. I am still very distracted, at least until I get the idea to record myself dancing. For some reason this idea appeals to me and I have fun attaching my phone with duct tape and recording my feet. In the end I actually do quite well and do some of the trickier steps better than I have before.

Some things I learned this past month:

Dani comes up at the end of my class and wants to dance with me. I put some fiddle music on YouTube and dance with her. I feel in the zone....

8:30ish....bedtime routine begins. It’s always a bit of a gong show but at some point we all end up on AJ’s bed listening to Mr Turtle read The Magician’s Nephew (the first of several classic fantasy books I’ve ordered for AJ: including The Hobbit and the first three illustrated Harry Potter books).

When Dani loses interest I take her to her room and cuddle with her, including a little bit of boobs (but it is getting more abbreviated....) and then to bed with whatever stuffy she is inseparable from at the moment....luckily she is not asking for Pink Rocks.

I start on the process of completing and editing this entry. It’s worth it to be reflective, I think, even though it takes time out of days where time is a hot commodity, flexible scheduling or no.

I get into bed with a glass of wine and continue till almost midnight.

Happy May 2020. I’m glad  to be alive and grateful for all the gifts of this day: the gift to be useful, to connect with others, to hug and laugh and dance and talk and feel the wind. All of it matters.  I love my life story and I wish nothing less for everyone else too.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Day in the life - Coronapocalypse week 3

First of all, I don’t actually believe it is the apocalypse, but the term has kinda stuck in my head so I’m going with it.

I thought I should document our lives during this very peculiar and challenging point in time. This is the first week I feel like we have sort of a regular routine, so I decided to do a day in the life. Later I will try to do another one or two to compare.

Stay strong and safe everyone.

April 9 2020
Mr Turtle- counsellor and provisional psychologist, age 39
Turtle- jr high teacher, now an emergency online teacher. Age 40
AJ, 5 years old, kindergarten student, now being homeschooled
Dani, 2 years old. 

6:00am- Mr Turtle wakes up, showers. He is looking at working from home a few days next week, but so far he has still been going into work every day. They are doing all counselling over the phone. The gong show at home is therefore all mine during working hours. For now.

6:45: my alarm goes off. I am bleary and sleepy: I was up a few times last night, because lately I have been getting hot flashes again (early menopause/late stage periomenopause, woohoo). And then of course I have to pee. AJ was talking in her sleep but didn’t wake.  I kiss Mr Turtle goodbye from bed. Read Facebook to wake up. Make a comment or two.

7:10ish: I shower. Read an article on phone.

7:30: officially up, in bathrobe, chilling out. I don’t like putting on clothes right after I get up, for some reason.

7:45: kids waking up. They are very happy. Dani wants lots of hugs. We cuddle on the couch. I make instant coffee. Breakfast for kids: yogurt and half an orange each. Bathroom break, more reading. Share today’s calendar page on Facebook. I have a Keep Calm and Carry On calendar that is one quote a day, and sometimes I share the quotes on Facebook. People like them, especially lately.


I also am getting a collection of quotes on the fridge that I particularly relate to:

The kids are playing together, and not fighting yet.

8:30: AJ and Dani into bubble bath. I decide to write this entry and get dressed. I do that while they play in the bath. At a few minutes to nine I finish washing Dani. AJ can wash her hair mostly independently now. I turn the shower on and off for her, help her get soap in her hair, and remind her not to stay in the shower for half an hour.

In the beginning of the stay at home weeks, I wore pyjamas and sweats most of the time. But I got bored with that quickly. I decided to follow AJ and Dani’s example: they change clothes several times a day and dress as princesses and ballerinas and dinosaurs whenever they please. Why not? So I pulled out all my most eccentric wardrobe items and had fun. Well I don’t dress up every day. But I try to have some style every day and feel good about my outfit. 

9:15 Daily staff meeting via Google meet (I teach junior high special Ed).

AJ is brushing her teeth.

It is the end of our first real teaching week with students since schools closed mid March. (Spring break happened just a few days after classes were cancelled, and then the week after that was a scramble to figure out how to deal with the situation). This week teachers, including myself and my co teacher, have gotten our online classes functioning.  Our principal celebrates the work that has gotten us mostly through this week. I like her a lot. She is very level headed and caring.

She also shows a video about five different Easter celebrations from around the world. AJ and Dani watch with me, very interested. I think I should share it with the students, but I forget to.

Dani gets involved in colouring. There are the usual tech issues during the staff meeting, and my attention wanders. I tell AJ to comb her hair; she ignores me.  There are some wellness graphics shared for students.  Dani starts raspberry-spitting and I tell her to stop. I used to spit like that as a kid. My brothers called me Blunderbuss.

Now one of the teachers is sharing fitness and health links he put together. This I like. I intended to put together something like that for students and now I don’t have to do it all myself. I actually remember to share the link to my Google classroom this time.

Fun fact: last week Jess at  My Path to Mommyhood gave me and my colleague a crash course on Google classroom. It was a great help in getting us started. I’m sure we all already know how awesome Jess is, but this is further proof.

The girls have settled into colouring peacefully. I am multitasking, posting announcements on google classroom, sending a mindless email or two, and listening to the staff meeting. Shit actually seems under control.

9:40 staff meeting done

Dani is now running around with doll stroller yelling “Bye bye, see you!” AJ never did comb her hair. I make her cry by combing it. Cuddle and say sorry. 

9:46 tidy up break. One thing I have found essential to keeping myself sane is not letting the mess accumulate. I have a strict rule that we clean up from every activity before moving on to the next. I don’t let dishes, grime or clutter accumulate. Obviously we are not perfect but so far I have not let things slide, and it means that when I do have a few minutes to relax, I have a clean (ish) room to look at not the aftermath of a tornado. It makes a big difference to me.

I notice Dani is eating crumbs under the table. I grab the vacuum cleaner and tear around for a while. AJ is colouring hearts to give to her classmates “when this disease is over.”

Potty break before office hours. D follows me into bathroom, tries to get into everything while I’m pooping.

Speaking of pooping, we have not been short of toilet paper yet. But when we were having difficulty finding it I figured out an alternate system, and I’ve gotten into the habit of using it. Do you remember those cleansing squirt bottles they give you in labour and delivery? Well, for reasons I don’t fully understand I kept both of mine. They function like a portable bidet. I keep a box of old washcloths handy to dry off, and a wet bag from the cloth diapering days for the used washcloths, and voila. 


So far I’m the only one in the family using my system, but it still conserves a lot of tp, because let’s be honest, I pee the most.

10:03 I’m back at my computer for office hours with my students.

Dani starts fussing because she wants to change her clothes. I help her put on a tutu dress.

AJ somehow lost  her cutout hearts. She says she put them on her bed and then they disappeared. The mystery is never solved. But surprisingly she doesn’t get too upset.

Office hour starts off quiet, with no students joining me in google meet for the first few minutes. But one is leaving messages for me on the site.

I note that I need to figure out how quizzes work. I can’t find the students’ responses to the one I posted. Probably everyone will get 100% on this quiz by default.

Now there is one student in google meet. She’s a bit of a character and one that I have to connect with on a personal level, so I’m glad she’s there.  She has completed one of two assignments in math. I spend most of the hour walking her through how to do the second one.  It seems successful. Toward the end of the hour, another student pops in with a question. Overall, a productive office hour.

Dani comes and sits on my lap occasionally during the hour, but otherwise I don’t really know what my kids are up to. There are no loud bumps or screams so I assume they are ok.

11:00ish, sign out of google meet. Computer plugged in to charge.

I tell AJ she needs to do some kindergarten work. We didn’t get to it yesterday, which was a very hectic day for me.  AJ is a bit resistant but agrees. We decide to have a snack first to get some strength.

I chop up pieces of garlic sausage and apple for the girls. I’m removing the sausage skins for Dani and eating them when I realize I never actually ate breakfast. I chop up some sausage and apple for myself. We sit at the table and eat and everybody is  happy.

11:40: I take the computer out again. All of us watch AJ’s video message from her kindergarten teacher. I upload the  photos of her previously completed work and talk about what we’ll do this afternoon. 

12:10ish: I put on a yoga video that the teacher posted. AJ does yoga, Dani watches m in fascination. I put canned soup on to heat and fry some ham. Empty the dishwasher.

12:40: lunch. Chicken noodle soup, toasted ham on cheese buns.

12:50, kids are finishing up; I wash dishes, stack the dishwasher, clean up other messes.

A typical mess

1:00: The girls are playing with a tiny container of hand lotion they found somewhere. I think, “meh, that’s harmless.”  A sizeable portion of my parenting style consists of deciding that the things the kids are doing are relatively harmless.

1:11: The  cleanup is done, and we get  ready for a walk. It’s been a cold spring, with snow every other day and below zero temperatures. Today finally is warm and sunny.

Sometime around 1:30, we actually get out the door.

The girls walk, skip and run down the street. We see few people, but those we do are friendly, from a distance. 

We recently watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and now Dani stops at every storm sewer and says “Hi Turtles! Bye Turtles!” 

As we are walking AJ makes a comment that “we can’t make day friends right now”: by which she means children she meets at the library or playground that she plays with for a day. AJ has not been openly upset about not seeing her friends and little of her extended family, but she will say things from time to time that show she is trying to understand what is going on. We talk about day friends for a while and how we will be able to make them again soon and how we might run into old ones again.

Dani doesn’t exactly have friends, but she probably misses her daycare buddies too. On our walk yesterday she became very fascinated by a ceramic statue of a baby in someone’s yard. “Baby, baby!” “White baby!” Then “Lucy!” Lucy is the one child from her daycare she refers to by name. I felt bad for her: does  she miss her friend so much she is talking to a statue? We can go back and visit “white baby” again I suppose; odd as that sounds. 

We walk to a green space with a few trees where the kids can run around, pick up pine cones and sticks and explore. Well, it isn’t actually green yet but you get the idea.

Around 3:00, we are home

Shortly after, Dani goes down for nap on the couch. AJ sings a lullaby to her.

AJ goes into the back yard to play for a while. I make a cup of tea and open up my google classroom and start going through student work. There are a lot of submissions and revisions and random questions to go through. My co-teacher did quite a bit as well so there is not as much as appears, but it’s still a huge volume of notifications. And we only have two out of four courses running at this point. Eek! 

At least many students have been quite successful at their projects and they seem excited about online learning. They are doing the work and revising it when we ask. So that’s good.

AJ comes in after about 15 minutes complaining about bugs. We do a few worksheets in her binder that  I printed off for her. She does well reading some simple sentences. 

AJ goes on Starfall on iPad. She loves that website, and I don’t particularly like teaching phonics so I hope it helps her to learn to read.  I keep marking and commenting on student assignments. No matter how straightforward I think I made the assignments,  students find ways to have peculiar technical difficulties.

5:15. Still working on school assignments. Will definitely not finish today. Dani is awake. AJ is sharing her iPad with her sister, which is playing a very annoying tune: “A NOUN IS THE NAME....OF A PERSON PLACE OR THING!!” over and over.

5:25ish. Mr Turtle is home. I put away the computer. I think maybe only one weekly assignment for classes next week. Or I get way more organized. 

Mr Turtle reports an exhausting day. He orders pizza. AJ is going a mile a minute telling him everything on her mind. I go put pyjamas on. 

6:05. Pizza here. Decide to watch The Sound of Music for the first time ever with the kids. Except then they decide to see The Aristocats for the 100th time instead.  Whatever. I dig into pizza, suddenly very hungry. I drink a glass of wine. Drinking one glass of wine a day has become a new habit. Just one and only in the evening. 

Around 7:30, movie is over. We go upstairs and I am suddenly very sleepy. Mr Turtle cleans up. I play the game called do what you want while mom lies on the couch. AJ and Dani brush my hair and cover me with a blanket. Then Mr Turtle cajoles AJ into practicing piano. Dani grabs my hand and I let her pull me off the couch over and over while she giggles hysterically. 

Around 8 we start bedtime routine. There are a lot of giggles and chasing involved. But the girls settle quite fast, all things considered. I am still breastfeeding Dani before bed. It’s funny, when AJ was a baby I swore I would stop bf’ing before she could ask for it because I thought that would be the cringiest thing ever to gave a kid ask. And I did. But now when Dani asks for boobs, I think it’s adorable and I haven’t had the heart to totally cut her off.

But really, is that not the definition of parenthood? All the things you thought were cringey and beyond bearable are now sweet and adorable.

So how are we doing? Well, it’s not an ideal situation, but we are among the lucky, for sure. Nothing threatens us immediately, only the same uncertainty that faces all.

But I am not spending my days in fear, anxiety, misery or depression. Quite the opposite. I am learning new things every day, at a quite ridiculous pace. I am in constant contact with others, in person and virtually.  I am a problem solver. My brain sometimes goes into a creative overdrive so intense that I have to stop myself to breathe. I am actually in a much better place mentally now than in October, which is kind of ironic. But I feel almost like I burned through all my anxiety and self doubt in the autumn, and now I’m ready to rock and roll.

Maybe because I work with youth who have disabilities, I get used to focusing on possibilities not limitations. I don’t know. But whatever tomorrow brings, I feel like I can be useful. I am among the fortunate (so far) so I have no need or desire to feel self pity: I can do my bit to help and make things better, and I will. As long as I can. 

Friday 21 February 2020

Circle of Courage

February 17th is one of those dates that I habitually acknowledge every year. Sometimes I’ve done so on the blog: see here and here. I don’t necessarily intend to mark it, but I don’t think there’s a February 17th since 2014 that I haven’t at least mentally noted.

This year was unique in that the 17th fell on a Monday, like it did in 2014. And that Monday was the Family Day holiday, same again. And we had my in-laws over for dinner, just like we did 6 years ago. My parents were not here; that was different. Still, it’s a level of synchronicity above the normal.

When I noted the match up of dates and circumstances at dinner, Mr Turtle said incredulously: “You keep track of things like that?”

Well, no....not deliberately, not exactly. The knowledge is just......there.

I gave my biggest girl an extra cuddle before bed, remembering the secret that we shared 6 years ago. Her life, from its first spark, gave our lives a new luminous centre. For her part she solemnly assured me that I will always be part of her life, even when I’m really old and a grandmother. “My kids might call you Grandma, or Baba,” she mused.  “You’ll be old with wrinkles and white hair.” She was looking forward to a time that I might be like my mother, I suppose. The cool conviction in her voice was a bit unnerving. There have been times in my life that I believed I felt Future Me looking back at Current Me. Usually time feels linear (past, present, future) but there have been times where I feel like I step into a time eddy and the past, present and future bump up against each other. It's not the power of prediction; I have no control over when it happens and I cannot "see" anything concrete. But it feels too real to ignore. Can AJ feel the same thing sometimes?

I don’t acknowledge the days following February 17th in the same way, though the events of both dates are shackled forever in my memory. I have blog entries for February 21st and 22nd 2014, but I don’t go back and reread them much. I have rarely linked to them on the blog, and I don’t want to now either, but they are easy enough to find.

February 21 and 22nd were the days I believed I was losing my pregnancy.  Losing  “Ember,” who would be AJ, but of course we couldn’t even imagine an AJ at the time. She was simultaneously hyper-real and out of reach.

I learned in the following weeks that I had a sub-chorionic hemorrhage, and that it wasn’t a threat to the pregnancy. Since then I have read of many similar experiences on other blogs, and commiserated over the stress and nastiness of it. Most people with a subchorionic hemorrhage, unless it is very severe, continue with a healthy pregnancy.

And yet, in the years since, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that rather than a happy ending, my life split into two parallel universes in February 2014. In one of them there is no AJ, and in one of them there is. For some reason, most of my consciousness exists in the universe with AJ, and her sister, and everything as I know it. But a small piece of me is still there in the universe where she didn't make it.  And even though the other universe is fuzzy and distant, it feels too appallingly real to ignore or forget about. Or perhaps I have been trying to forget about it, and that is why it persists. Maybe I need to acknowledge the dragon in the room.

So, this year, I choose not to (try to) forget. I've been thinking about past and present, looking for ways to knit them together. I don't think I'll succeed today,  but I'm allowing myself to be in that contemplative space. I'm exploring the questions, the contradictions, the unknowns that pull at me.

February 21st 2020 is also another special milestone now. AJ's school uses the Circle of Courage model for character education. At the beginning of the year,each student is assigned a blank circle divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant stands for a pillar: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Throughout the year (or over a span of years) the concepts are taught and the teachers nominate students for each of the four pillars when they have evidence that they have made progress. When they are nominated, students receive a coloured quadrant explaining why they received it. The nominations are given out at a weekly assembly. AJ appears to have connected very well with these ideas in kindergarten. She would come home trying to explain them at the beginning of the year, even when her explanations were a bit muddled. Slowly she was able to give more concrete examples and as she was nominated for her pillars, she became increasingly motivated to get the next one. By last month she was at three out of four and starting to become concerned about her friends who only had one or two.

Last week I received an email from AJ's teacher letting me know she was about to receive her last quadrant, Mastery, today.  She would also receive a medal for getting all four. We were asked to keep this news a secret but invited to witness the assembly. Mr. Turtle and I both were able to go: I took the day off.  As a teacher I had missed AJ's first day of kindergarten, so it was very important to me to be there for something like this.

The assembly was simple and short but meaningful. The students sit in their classes around a circle and those that are nominated go to the centre of the circle to be acknowledged. AJ's teacher made a little speech about her and the other child who received their medals: every day they are a good friend to others, they help out, they do their best in class. AJ was so focused on the proceedings she did not even notice we were there: we did rather too good a job of keeping the secret. However I know from talking to her beforehand that she expected to receive her last pillar today, because she had been working very hard at it. I am so happy to hear this, more so than even that she was to receive a medal. To me this self-awareness is proof that her school is focused on the right things.

I never had many worries that AJ would do well in school: even as a toddler she showed many "good student" behaviours, and she's always been a quick learner. But I was slightly more worried recalling the anxiety and shyness I suffered from as a child. I was called smart and precocious too, but it arguably became too much a defining part of my identity. I developed brittleness in other areas.  My hope is that my children's education is holistic: I do not particularly care if AJ is an early reader as both myself and my husband were, although I want her to feel challenged intellectually. However, social skills, empathy and resilience are easily as important or more so, especially at her age.  Knowing what I know now as an adult, and assuming that she shares some of my genetics and personality, I hope to be able to make a positive difference.  As for AJ, she already is.

February 21, 2020....a day to think about courage, in all its forms. Circles in time, circles of people giving each other strength.   Days to circle back to with new perspectives. How our circles grow to encompass others.