Dr. Grandpa #SOL21 23/31

His first foray into the kitchen that is currently my classroom is around lunchtime. “Mom, can you bruise a bone?” He stands just out of the camera’s line of sight, poking at his ribcage. “Yes,” I nod and he heads back to the living room, ostensibly to do more school work.

He returns around 2. I’m still online – now in a meeting. “Can you mute yourself?” he mouths. I do. He pushes at his ribs. “What do bone bruises feel like?”

Oh! I briefly ask about his concern and learn that he has a sore bump near the bottom of his right ribs. If the light hits him just right, I can see the bump. I remind him that he spent much of the weekend practicing flips on a neighbour’s trampoline and then went to his parkour class where he hurled himself up and over things. Repeatedly. I suggest that the bump/bruise is probably from that. He nods and wanders off again.

He lasts about 5 minutes. When he comes back this time, he’s obviously in distress. Tears threaten to fall over his bottom lashes, and the bump is a little red, probably from being pushed repeatedly since he’s doing that right now. I leave my meeting.

“Does it hurt?”
“No,” he shakes his head. “Well, only when I really press on it.”
“Do you want a Tylenol?”
His head shakes again.

“I’m sure it will go away if you stop pressing on it, love,” I soothe. At that, the tears spill out and run down his cheeks. He’s not sobbing, just silently crying in front of me. Then I know. I scoop him up in my arms – thank goodness he’s still small enough! – and whisper in his ear, “Are you afraid it’s cancer?”

He nods and begins to cry into my shoulder. Oh, my sweet. Oh, my love. I hold him and rock him and wipe away his tears. He has every reason to be afraid, though we haven’t shared all the details of our friend’s diagnosis. Still, he’s been to the hospital; he’s seen what chemo does; he knows that the grown ups are sad and upset.

“Do you want me to call the doctor?” A quick shake of the head. “Are you afraid of what the doctor might say?” He nods tentatively. “What if we call Grandma Donna or Grandpa Dave?”

He’s unsure of what, exactly, his doctor grandparents can do from a distance, but I have an inkling. We make the call. Grandpa Dave listens very seriously and asks us to send pictures. We hang up, and I sneak onto the back porch to call again and explain what’s happening. I hang up again. Back inside, we wait for Grandpa to call back. This time, he speaks directly with Eric. I’m not exactly sure what he says, but I know it involves Tylenol and ice and follow-up phone calls from Grandpa at least once a day for a few days, maybe the whole week.

That seems to do the trick. By dinnertime, the bump – now largely left alone – is smaller and less red. At bedtime, I remember a technique that Grandpa used on me back when he was just my dad: I draw a circle around the bump with a ballpoint pen so we can see if it grows smaller overnight. Eric seems content, and he reminds me that Grandpa will call tomorrow, just to double check.

Oh, my love, how I wish more things could be fixed with a photograph, a ball point pen, and a few calls from Dr. Grandpa.

Tiny wins #SOL21 22/31

I probably should have called in last night, but I was honestly hoping I wouldn’t have to, even though both my partner and my eldest child were complaining of a sore throat or sniffles or the ever-dreaded “feeling off” as we went to bed last night. Public Health’s rules state that if you have a symptom, you stay home & get tested. Sometimes this feels pretty silly to me – we’ve been home several times for things that are clearly not Covid – but nine schools in our area have “open outbreaks” (meaning someone is still sick) and the variants are clearly here, so when the 12-year-old rolled over and sort of moaned at me this morning, I knew we’d all be staying at home.

Oh, that’s the other rule: if one person has symptoms, they have to get tested & the whole family stays home until the results come back negative. This Spring we’ve had a lot of in-the-house family time. Sigh.

Now, I haven’t used this blog to say a lot of good things about pandemic teaching this year. In fact, I’ve been pretty grumpy about the whole thing. I feel rushed & disconnected & over-connected & pulled in too many different directions to be effective. I could go on. But today I found myself grateful for some of the pandemic changes. Unexpected.

First, I convinced (coerced?) the 10-year-old to read with me in French. This is nothing short of miraculous. We made it through two chapters of Mon Hamster est un Détective before I had to be “in class.” Because I can see his Google classroom, I knew to have him work on math and an outline for his persuasive essay. (He’s pushing for three-day weekends – prescient.) Then, right before my own class started, I made a second pot of tea and then settled in at the kitchen island. Yes! I was able to teach a full class even though I wasn’t physically in the school. My students could see my unmasked face (finally!) and I got to see what it’s like to experience the classroom virtually. Even better, my “sick” child was “able” to do the math test he was missing while we were at home. (I’m not sure he counts this as a good thing.) The teacher simply sent it to him & I supervised.

I know there are downsides to all of this. I don’t think that anyone should teach or study when they are unwell, and I’m *really* going to miss snow days (well, around here that’s “bus cancellation days” because we almost never cancel for snow), but today felt like a series of tiny wins. Not bad for a Monday.

Awake #SOL21 21/31

I am the first to wake in our quiet house. I sit alone in the kitchen and drink in the miracle that is this life of mine. Sunlight streams through the kitchen windows and plays with the plants until they are green and gold and silver all at once. The light stripes the counter, too, and my hands as I write. The cats have deemed themselves sufficiently scratched and gone off to explore the world. My tea is ready: chai today, milky and spicy and warm. Soon it will be cool enough to sip. I am surrounded by Saturday’s detritus; in an hour it will be mess that must be tidied, but before anyone else wakes it is memories – books, a board game, a crochet project, a coat tossed on the floor because the weather was too warm.

Eric wakes next, shuffling into the kitchen, cocooned in a soft brown blanket, his tousled blond hair poking out from the top. “Good morning, Mama,” he sighs as he leans his warm body into me. I inhale his scent, leftover from yesterday’s play: dirt and sweat and something youthful that will soon disappear. In the quiet, he allows me to kiss his neck and the top of his head, content for a moment to be mine. Then he shuffles off to his own quiet space.

Above me, I hear the creaks and steps that mean Andre is awake. I can guess at what he’s doing from the way he moves, now making the bed, now choosing his clothes. There is the sound of running water from the sink. In another minute, or maybe two, this morning quiet will end. The cats are already at the sliding glass door, wanting to come in. There is breakfast to make and groceries to buy, schoolwork to complete and bedrooms to clean. Quiet doesn’t linger long in this house.

I take my first sip of tea and savour the way the spices come together before I swallow it down.

Come, write with us. https://twowritingteachers.org/ is a wonderfully welcoming space, even when your mornings aren’t quiet.

Warm afternoon #SOL21 20/31

We sit together on the back porch, knitting, crocheting, sewing and talking. We let the sun warm us and comment on how fast the snow is melting. We drink a beer.

We talk about our children, our parents, our spouses, our pets, our work. We talk about hospital schedules and school schedules, nurses and teachers. We cannot know what will come, though we know it will not be easy. Soon there will be a puppy. Soon there will be a birthday. Soon she will start a new treatment and maybe it will work. If it’s in Toronto, maybe N can stay here & I will drive him to school or maybe he can stay there and they can walk him. But for now, we don’t know the new protocol and there is nothing we can do.

There is nothing any of us can do. So we knit, crochet, sew and talk, marveling at the unexpected warmth and hoping it lasts.

I let him stay home #SOL21 19/31

This morning he was grumpy and, frankly, rude.

He’s stayed up too late, reading, for several nights, even though we’ve turned off his light and told him to go to sleep (he reads by the nightlight if the book is “so good I can’t help it”), so this was entirely his fault.

And yet… something was different this morning. When we sat on the couch to talk, he burrowed into my lap and cried. Today the world was too much for him. Tears rolled down his cheeks until he drifted off to sleep; I held him for as long as I could.

I woke him gently. I had to go to work. We struck a deal: go outside; play the math game; call at least one grandma. Grandmas understand.

And I let him stay home. Because even though we are trying to make things feel normal, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and we are all tired. Some days it’s ok to crawl back into bed, stay home from school and call your grandma.

Even if you have stayed up late with a good book.

About what hurts #SOL21 18/31

Write hard and clear about what hurts.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“The chemo has stopped working.
We’re in the under 10% survival rate now.”

She is 7.

There are experimental treatments. New treatments get developed every few months. She just needs to stay alive and well enough for six months, then maybe there will be something new.

She’s not even mine and I can barely breathe.

Nothing I write can make this better and I can’t write about anything else. Fucking Hemingway. I always did hate him.

Shop talk #SOL21 17/31

“You know what I think they need to be teaching?”

I do not, in fact, know what he thinks, but I keep my head still and say nothing.

“They need to be teaching kids, you know, how to invest and how to balance your checkbook.”

These, I think, are wildly different skills, but ok. Sure. Good things to teach. I risk a slight nod of my head.

Thus encouraged, he continues, “And kids should have to take Phys Ed right through grade 12. When I was in high school it was only grade 9, but that’s not enough. They need to learn to be active.” I continue to listen attentively. “And then, if they taught, you know, how to cook and, like, nutrition. That would be perfect. I mean, think of how much that would save our society on health care.”

He has more ideas, but at this point I am distracted by two things. First, I’m imagining the absolute chaos that would come from trying to install kitchens in every school. Didn’t we just finish taking those out? How much would this cost? And I’m already down a rabbit hole thinking about allergies & religious food accommodations, not to mention the kids who are vegetarian, vegan or… the possibilities are endless. Maybe we could have a vegan class? Or a celiac class? How would that work? What could we teach them to cook? Who would teach these courses? And what of the the gym space for all that Phys Ed? We would need a lot of gym space… Second, I am distracted because he is scraping the plaque off my teeth with a very sharp tool – and he is still talking.

When he pauses both activities, I tell him that the Ministry of Education added financial literacy to the math curriculum this year. He is delighted. “In what grades?” he wants to know. Um… all? at least through grade 8? I don’t know – I’m an English teacher for Heaven’s sake. Will his grade 7 son learn financial literacy during this school year? I wait for a pause in the scraping and gently remind him that we are teaching in a pandemic. He has chosen to have his children completely virtual. The teachers didn’t even get the new curriculum until the end of June. In a pandemic. With no PD. Maybe he could go gentle on his expectations for this year? He agrees that this seems reasonable.

He’s using the floss now and talking about the housing market. Safer topic for me, and I let my mind wander again as I consider just how much people expect of teachers. This hygienist is, I suspect, a really good father. He loves his children and wants the best for them. But… wow… school has become so much more than reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Clearly, he believes that we should be educating the whole child; so do I, though I think we mean it in different ways.

I think about all the students I have taught this year, children I have never seen without a mask on; children I have never sat with, shoulder-to-shoulder, to talk about their writing or discuss a book. I imagine the fun of taking them outside, of cooking with them… I’d let someone else teach the financial literacy part… we could go camping…

But then I’m back in the dentist’s chair and I’m an English teacher and it’s still a pandemic. At least my teeth are clean.

While you’re waiting on someone to clean your teeth, you could write a slice in your head & then publish it with the generous community at www.twowritingteachers.org

Grumpy #SOL21 16/31

I had a grumpy day. First of all, this is supposed to be March Break & it is not. I reserve the right to be fussy about this all week. Both boys woke up grumpy and whiny. I woke up grumpy, too, so I couldn’t even say anything. We ran out of eggs for breakfast. It was colder than I expected outside. I nearly missed an important meeting. It was just one of those days.

I planned to write before I went to school, but I ended up helping with a last-minute assignment for *someone’s* grade 7 class. I planned to write when I got to work, but I had a meeting that I nearly forgot. Then I got sidetracked. Then… well, I stayed grumpy, so I didn’t write.

I took my daily walk, but my heel hurt for the beginning of it. Still, the walk was the right choice: I started to ungrump.

When I got home, I called some friends and used words that would have made my grandmother blush. That actually helped a little. I went to EduKnit Night via zoom – always a good choice – and crocheted a little. I snuggled with my kids. That helped, too. Hera came to love me up – or at least to love up my laptop – while I wrote. And, finally, I realized that I wasn’t grumpy anymore, just tired. So I posted this and went to bed. Tomorrow will be better.

You can write with twowritingteachers.org even when you’re grumpy.

The voice #SOL21 15/31

Naturally, today of all days I needed to be at work a bit early – the day after the time change, the day that the temperature dipped significantly, the day that *should* have been the beginning of March Break but isn’t. And a Monday to boot. No wonder I ran out of the house with books spilling out of my bags, a half-steeped cup of tea & my jacket only partly zipped. I managed to get my fingertips around the door handle to open the car and, mercifully, got everything into the car without dropping anything. I’ll take any Monday miracles I can get, I thought as I slid into the driver’s seat – so cold! – and turned on the car. Please warm up fast, please warm up fast.

My husband drove last, so I started punching buttons to get things back to my settings: heat on, rear defrost on, radio… Whoa! Just as I was about to choose aux instead of fm – because I’m a podcast person in the mornings and Andre’s a radio person almost all the time – a voice came through the speakers.

What was this? A deep voice, quick, confident… what station were we on? It didn’t quite sound like CBC, but it didn’t not sound like CBC. I shook my head, glanced again at the console, and realized I was streaming a podcast from my phone. But what podcast? I didn’t quite recognize the voice. When I realized that somehow my phone had decided to play one of my student’s podcasts, I actually laughed out loud. He sounded so good! Here he was talking about Zen Buddhism and Japanese society and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being – and he sounded for all the world like the real deal.

What a delight, to realize just how good the podcast was – so good, in fact, that I listened to student podcasts almost all the way to work. I’ve even downloaded a few to listen to on the way home. These kids… even in the middle of a pandemic, even when I ask them to go out of their comfort zone and try new forms, think in new ways… even then, they amaze me.

A student podcast – who would have thought? There’s a morning miracle that I can’t wait to repeat.

Join us!
https://twowritingteachers.org – it’s the place to be!

In the playroom #SOL21 14/31

This month’s poetry prompts on EthicalELA have blown open my writing brain. I think it’s the combination of the book that Dr. Kimberly Johnson chose for mentor texts – Nicole Stellon O’Donnell’s You are no longer in trouble and Kim’s gentle guidance on form (which I find comforting when I’m writing poetry). This, of course, makes me think about what I can take into the classroom: perhaps some of my students will also appreciate some structure, a gentle form to help them corral their wilder thoughts right now. I am inspired to offer that during our writing time this week. Until then, here’s a slice of memory as a pantoum.

In the playroom
for my sister

You no longer need to hide
with me behind the old blue armchair
where we hold each other so tight our memories mix
as the storm blows through.

With me behind the old blue armchair,
our words create worlds where little girls reign
until the storm blows through,
until we can come out and play again.

Our words create worlds where little girls reign,
your emotions are mine, mine yours
until we can come out and play again
I hold your fear.

Your emotions are mine, mine yours.
We hold each other so tight our memories mix.
I hold your fear.
You no longer need to hide.