Spring: Slice of Life 31/31 #SOL20

I have been dithering about writing this, the last post of the Slice of Life challenge, all morning. I read some other posts, commented, started a draft, deleted it, did all of that again. I helped the kids, attended an online meeting, cleaned a little, helped the kids again. Finally, my husband suggested I take a walk. I spent a good half hour doing other things before suddenly finding that I needed to rush out the door.

It’s been cold and rainy here, but as I walked I saw signs of Spring. No, wait, that’s not quite true. I went outside hoping for signs of Spring – I wanted to write a post about how Spring is here – but I only saw them because that is what I wanted to see. If I hadn’t been looking, I might have seen only the snow and muck.

Instead, my senses alert for hope, I saw the swelling buds at the tips of branches and noticed where the pale green points of irises poked through snow that had long since ceased being white. I wanted to write that there were snowdrops, but they aren’t out yet. Still, down one street a little girl wobbled along on a bright pink bicycle, nearly falling before finding her balance. In front of me on another street, a child just out of toddlerhood tumbled over the handlebars of her three-wheeled scooter. “Oopsy!” she said, as she stood up and started again. “I have to catch Eleanor.” And she zoomed after her sister, unphased by her stumble.

A lone skateboarder defied the signs posted on the gates of the city park, “Closed except for walkthroughs.” Deep in concentration, he skidded across the cement, back and forth, back and forth, doggedly working towards mastery of some trick I could not fathom. Around me, runners passed and people walked their dogs.

Today, the last day of March, is the first day the puddles in our backyard weren’t frozen when we woke. As of today, the temperatures will stay above freezing. Today I’m reminded that Spring is coming because I’m choosing to be reminded. Tomorrow I may need a prod, but soon enough, Spring will be here and I won’t have to look anymore; it will just be.

Today, and for the last 31 days, I observed my life and found a piece of it – just a slice – to share. I want to find a metaphor in this – the way I wanted to see Spring today. If I look hard enough, the metaphors are there; I can catch them and I could write about them,  but they aren’t quite true.

Mostly I want to say that I wrote, and I’m glad I did. I want to say that I loved reading and being read. I loved connecting and commenting. And when the renovations and the move and the kids and the exchange student and the coursework and the job and the virus and the distancing and the isolation and everything – when it all happened, because that’s how life is, I loved knowing that we were all here, together. I loved that.

And Spring is nearly here; I can see it if I look.

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I’m in charge of bribes: Slice of Life 30/31 #SOL20

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about Kurt Vonnegut. Specifically, I keep thinking about his short story “Harrison Bergeron”.  You might remember this dystopian gem from high school English class. It’s set in a world where “everybody was finally equal.” George, the main character’s father, is smarter than average, so to prevent him from thinking too deeply a “mental handicap radio” that sends out a loud noise every twenty seconds or so has been installed in his ear.

This is currently my life. Ok, ok, I’ll admit that I usually get more than twenty seconds; I’d guess that I get, on average, three to seven minutes between interruptions, and no government has had to provide an in-ear noise generator for me. Oh no, my thought-preventing mechanism is much simpler: I have children and we are stuck in our house.

After two weeks of complete chaos – the first week was officially March Break; the second was our own fault – we decided to institute a routine so that the kids don’t need to ask me for things every few minutes all day long. (The boys have pointed out that if I would let them do non-stop online gaming, they would barely ask for anything at all; I have chosen not to accept their gambit.) Last night, after dinner, we all sat down to co-create the schedule. This morning, before the kids woke up, I positioned three laptops at a kitchen work-space so that the boys and I could sit and work together. We were ready.

8:15 – I find the 11-year-old in his bed with a device. “My schedule doesn’t start until 8:30,” he assures me. I make him come down for breakfast.

9:00 – Everyone is working on something for school or work – hooray!

9:03 – Just kidding.

And so it goes.

9:42 – Despite the fact that we have devices for everyone in the household, approximately a million non-computer games, and a schedule that has the kids online at different times, a fight breaks out over the computer.

10:03 – Upon learning that I’ve organized a neighbourhood blog challenge for April’s classroom “Slice of Life” challenge, my children declare that they will have none of it – even though we haven’t started yet.

11:47 – *Someone* tries to convince me that bread with Nutella is a perfectly acceptable nutrition option for both breakfast and lunch.

1:00 – It’s cold and rainy – again – so the kids decide that “exercise” should be balloon soccer in the hallway. Wait, let me be more precise: balloon soccer in the hallway where we currently have all the framed artwork that we haven’t yet put up.

1:04 – I’m just about to start yelling when they get into a fight and stop playing together. The schedule says that exercise is supposed to be half an hour. I wonder if 4 minutes is close enough?

Last week, my husband resorted to bribing the kids to do math. I am typically anti-bribe, sometimes going so far as to refer to the research of Alfie Kohn and regularly touting the benefits of intrinsic motivation. Andre is more practical: if it kept them busy and focused, it would be worth it; he suggested that this was not unlike being remunerated for work. Then he offered an exorbitant sum if the kids could finish a particular math app which teaches linear algebra using pictures. (DragonBox – I highly recommend it.) Properly motivated, both kids finished in under 24 hours – so much for keeping them busy.

The 9-year-old laughed, “Dad is terrible at bribes. He pays way too much. From now on, Mom, you should be in charge of bribing us.” I pointed out that I’m not a huge briber. “Ok,” he shrugged, “but I would have worked a lot harder for that much money.”

So here I sit, thinking about how to create a schedule that they can manage a little bit more on their own. There are things that need doing, and too many “natural” consequences involve a lot of MY attention, which makes it hard for me to get work done. And the internet swears that 9-year-olds really only have an attention span of 18-27 minutes or so. Harumph.

If it comes down to a choice between bribes and installing a little radio in their ears so that they will stop taking “unfair advantage” of their brains, apparently I’m in charge of bribes. Wish me luck.

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Cat nap: Slice of Life 29/31 #SOL20

I am sitting in my bedroom trying to take advantage of some quiet focused time to write. Our internet connection is flickering in and out, and I’m not getting much done. Frustrated, I look up and catch sight of a minor miracle: our two cats are sleeping together. img_2984

Tippy and Hera are each, individually, wonderful cats, and I like to tell myself that they are secretly fond of each other, but I’m not 100% sure that they agree. I’m not even 50% sure they agree. They are sisters only because we chose them at the same time at the Humane Society. They are both calicos. Their resemblance more or less ends there. But now – will miracles never cease? – they are *grooming* each other.

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This will almost assuredly end in a fight. It pretty much always does. I’ve been parenting so much for the last two weeks that I am highly attuned to “things which usually end in fights.” I wait. They settle. I am stunned.

And then, just like that, Hera is done. She gets up and leaves. Look at Tippy’s shock.img_2989-1

I imagine she’s thinking, “But I was being NICE. WHY ARE YOU LEAVING?” To be fair, pretty little Tippy is not usually nice. Hera was probably smart to leave when she did.

And Tippy doesn’t seem too bothered by it all. She settles back in for a nap, moving to the center of the chair seat, her rightful spot reclaimed.img_2990-1

 

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Pre-mourning: Slice of Life 28/31 #SOL20

The night before I turned 29, I sobbed. I forget what comment from what well-meaning relative released the river of tears, but there it was, there I was, crying uncontrollably about a life I couldn’t control.

At 28+ 364 days, I was unmarried with no children. I loved my job, knew that teaching was who I was, but I felt stuck in a life I hadn’t expected. My birthday, near the end of November, often coincides with Thanksgiving, so I was surrounded by family and usually felt buoyed by love. That evening, I was bereft. Where was the life I had dreamed of? What would become of me? What came next?

My poor father was perplexed by my outburst. He rubbed my back and repeated, “Honey, you’re turning 29, not 30.” And, to be fair to him, I didn’t cry even once the next year when I turned 30 – still unmarried, still childless, still in the same job. Then, I celebrated: a visit to wine country with my sisters and mother; a series of dinners and parties with friends; and, on the day I turned 30, a decadently expensive bottle of wine shared with a dear friend over our favourite takeout Peruvian chicken. No tears at all.

I often mourn before I am meant to. I anticipate the yearning, the loss, the melancholy; sensing an open door, these emotions respond by visiting before I have actually prepared for them. I should know better by now, but I am almost always caught by surprise. Tears come when I least expect them.

This month, I have written and published something every day for 28 days. 28 days ago, I was staring down a month that was far too busy for this challenge. I guessed that I couldn’t blog daily, but I wanted to write anyway. On March 7, we moved back into our home after months of renovations. On March 8, friends gathered to help us move in. On March 12, Ontario announced that all schools would close for three weeks at the end of the next school day. On March 14, some friends and I had a craft day. By March 16, the seriousness of COVID-19 had set in and physical distancing was in full force. My expectations of March were nothing like reality I encountered; I was able to write daily. I forced myself to write daily, even when I didn’t want to write.

Today is day 28. For the past week, writing daily has been tough. I had to consciously allow myself to write about what is actually happening, to name this moment in time. I had to forgive myself when I couldn’t seek out unfamiliar blogs to read. I had to accept that I didn’t always have the emotional resilience to respond to the wonderful comments on my own blog. Some days I *really* didn’t want to write. Some days I actively looked forward to the end of March, to the relief of not writing daily.

Today, day 28, not day 31, the pre-mourning has arrived. What will I do without this daily ritual, without the knowledge that I need to look actively for moments to record and share? What will I do as this virtual community dissipates, convening only on Tuesdays? This blog, this writing, this group has sustained me through the transition into a reality I had never imagined. What will I do without it?

At age 28+364 days, I could not anticipate the fullness of my life today. I had no secret foreknowledge of the wonders that were on their way. My mourning was real but unmoored from reality because I didn’t know what was to come. I didn’t know that turning 30 would be easy. I couldn’t have guessed at my husband, my children, my life in a new country. I couldn’t fathom the adventures that awaited.

On day 28 of the March Slice of Life Challenge, I am pre-mourning the end, and I am trying to remember that there are, undoubtedly, wonders to come. There almost always are.

Still, if you are reading this, I miss you already.

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My achy breaky heart: Slice of Life 27/31 #SOL20

This morning, my 9-year-old had his first-ever online meet up with his class. The kids were so excited to see each other that some were literally bouncing out of their seats. Several brought pets which led to others leaving the room to go get their pets. Dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even a hamster all played brief outsized roles. I stayed until my son waved me out of the room, but I wasn’t focused on the guest appearances. Instead, I watched his teacher’s face, transfixed by the genuine delight and caring that crossed it as he saw each little person show up on the screen. For one moment his eyes glistened, then he took a deep breath before he continued. My heart ached for him.

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This afternoon our 18-year-old exchange student went home to the Netherlands. During his short stay with us, he met a young woman and, in the way of teenagers, they fell head over heels for one another. Because pandemics apparently hold no sway over passion, they struggled to stay apart. Ok, truth: they didn’t stay apart. So this week our family and her family decided to break social isolation and let the two of them be together for four final days. Yes, we took a risk, but seeing them together at our house for the past two days made my heart swell. I had nearly forgotten about that overwhelming, all-consuming love that makes the rest of the world fall away from you. They were almost glued together at our house and were completely devastated when we dropped him at the nearly empty airport. Their hearts are broken for now, and my heart aches with mirrored emotion, aware that I know more than they do and that the knowledge isn’t always sweet.

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Today is my husband’s birthday. He woke up and made *us* scones because that is who he is. Later, while he was dropping the teens at the airport, the kids and I tried to secretly bake him a cake. Because I had a call scheduled with some of my own students, my boys proceeded on their own. When I finished the call, I found the kitchen and the kids fairly covered in butter and flour. Unable to find a mixer and unwilling to interrupt my call, the children had tried to cream the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, then added the flour without adding any liquid ingredients. When I showed them how to read the whole recipe first, their faces fell: “Do you think it will still taste ok?”

“Oh yes,” I assured them, “if you have good ingredients, the results are almost always pretty good.”

Before I could stop them, they dumped all the buttermilk in at once, adding to the existing kitchen chaos. I started to laugh, my heart aching with happiness at their excitement.

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After the cake-baking, I insisted that we go for a walk. This was not a popular decision. Still, the kids have been inside for two days and it was finally sunny and veering towards warm. I was relentless. I forced them outside.

On our walk, my younger son complained and complained of a bellyache but offered little information and no solutions. Eventually, I lost my temper and yelled at him. Not long after that, he ran behind a metal bin and everything came out of him. I had to use my disinfecting wipes to clean him up. Afterward, he held my hand and snuggled close as we walked home, and he didn’t say anything about my inappropriate anger. My heart broke a little at his ungrudging forgiveness.

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Today my heart has ached all day long.

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Amplify their voices – Slice of Life 26/31 #SOL20

Sat, Feb 29 – EdCamp

A group of educators sits in a crowded, uneven circle in a university classroom, talking about equity and inclusion in education. The only teacher wearing hijab speaks up: “I get stuck because I’m NOT the white educator, and I don’t want people thinking I’m trying to push an agenda… I get emotional thinking about it… I don’t know how to navigate that.”

Wed, March 25 – Zoom meeting

A group of educators gathers online to talk about racial equity detours and how to avoid them. Near the end of the hour, the only black male teacher speaks up. He talks about “not being afraid of my blackness” and says, “I would never, ever, EVER think about doing a black history show at my school because if I do it, I know what it’s going to be and I feel uncomfortable making my white colleagues feel uneasy.”

Thu, March 26 – Google Hangout

A group of educators meets online to discuss the memoir From the Ashes.  The author, Jesse Thistle, joins us and says that, although he is terrified to speak in public, “I force myself to do it because people are listening, and I remember a time when no one was listening at all.”

I listen. I realize that I have been unaware of the ways in which we – I – have not listened to these voices. My stomach hurts as I acknowledge how much I have been part of silencing. I did not understand hijab as a choice. I saw full expression of black culture as threatening. I believed racist, colonialist lies about Indigenous people. The people who said these things are not older than I am; they do not live in other places. They are my peers, and I have been complicit in ignoring their voices. This is hard for me to think about; it is hard for me to write. I am writing it because I must own these truths. I must look at my attitudes for what they were; I must understand so that I can change. I have overlooked, ignored and even hurt the very people whose voices I thought I valued.

I am listening. People I respect and admire are saying that their voices are not being heard, that the skin they are in dilutes their ability to speak their truth to others.

I am using my privilege, my platform here, such as it is, to amplify their voices. People of colour in my community are not speaking their full truths because it makes us – it makes ME – uneasy.

Listen to them – please, listen. Let us all work to dismantle a system that forces people of colour to muffle their voices.

If you are a person of colour and you feel misrepresented by this post, please let me know. I am doing my best to listen.

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Up: Slice of Life 24/31 #SOL20

Thomas has been asking to watch Up for the better part of a week. For reasons he cannot explain – but which he assures us are not merely to torture his brother – Eric has been saying no. Because we are trying to establish some sort of family togetherness or, at a minimum, some basic negotiation skills, we’ve been choosing films that “everyone” wants to watch. Thomas says that means Eric usually “wins;” even I have to admit that Eric’s sheer stubbornness means we watch quite a few of his choices.

Last night, Eric relented. Surprised, Andre and I relented, too. It was a little too late to start, and no one believed that the boys would “go straight to bed” without at least a bit of a read aloud. Work from home has started in earnest and we really had too much to do: Andre needed to clean the kitchen; I needed to create a lesson. “Fine,” we conceded, “you can watch the first 45 minutes while we work. Then it’s straight to bed!” The boys agreed happily.

But then we only have Disney+ on the upstairs tv, and they wanted to watch in the living room. The Amazon dongle wasn’t working for reasons we couldn’t quite fathom. I’d been doing IT support for the boys all day long and was near the end of my tether. Andre offered his phone, assuring us that he could live without it for 45 minutes, but somehow I was on the hook for remembering another password and Andre chose the wrong HDMI port. Thomas kept trying to help; Andre kept saying no; Eric refused to take part. By the time we got everything set up, we were all four on the couch in the living room, but no one was particularly settled.

When the movie finally started I looked at Andre and said, “Stay for the first part. I know how much you love it.” The opening montage, ten minutes that shows Ellie and Carl’s whole life together, engulfs us, and by the end we are holding hands and Andre is crying – he always does. The boys snuggle closer, not quite understanding, but not quite not understanding, either. Our battered old brown leather couch, pushed too close to the television, surrounded by our life in semi-unpacked boxes, holds our family in its embrace, and no one gets up. We just watch. Together. We laugh and talk, colours animating our faces, love animating our faces: a whole life in one short montage.

 

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