Something nice #SOL21 26/31

“I want to write something nice,” I say. “I’ve written so many negative things lately.”

My husband nods. He suggests a haiku. I reject this. I declare it “not good enough.” He gives me a knowing look, “Not hard enough?”

I protest: “Good haikus *are* hard.”

“Not long enough?”

Harumph. He knows me too well. “Let’s just watch tv with the kids and I’ll write later.”

Now it’s later. I need to write. “Something nice,” I mutter again. My darling husband says, “Here, I’ll help” and he begins to dictate a poem.

“It’s an acrostic,” he tells me.

Hunk
Unbearable
Salacious
Bodacious
Astringent
Nefarious
Devious

I try to convince him to change some of the words. Astringent? I suggest admirable instead. He tells me that it doesn’t “fit with the tone.”

By now I am laughing and, for no discernible reason, he has begun to sing “Domo arigato Mr. Roboto…” I have no idea when I last heard this song. One child has come back downstairs and asks what domo means. Now they are discussing Japanese. And I’m writing and laughing and it’s Friday night and even though I’m tired this is better, this is good.

Tomorrow is his birthday. When I don’t know what to write, he gives me ideas. He has both an excellent vocabulary and a good sense of humour. And at the end of a long week, he makes me laugh. My son, who is sitting next to me, says I should add “he’s really good with the kids” – high praise. I don’t write about him enough because his stories are not my stories, but he’s the best partner I can imagine.

And here: I’ve written my Friday slice – and it’s something nice.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org/ who welcome writing whether or not it’s nice.

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.

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.

Bloody Sunday #SOL21 7/21

My son and I are sitting at the kitchen island, working together. His 7th grade teachers are very big on projects and presentations, so he spends a lot of time creating slideshows – exactly what he’s doing right now. As it turns out, hybrid teaching also requires quite a few slideshows, so I’m doing the same thing.

He loves it when we work together, laptops side by side. Mid-afternoon on Sunday, and he’s still shirtless, wrapped in a blanket. Right now he’s looking up information about Selma and the March to Montgomery for a presentation on John Legend and Common’s song “Glory”. He’s already confused and unhappy, and he has not yet gotten to the worst of it: he’s just about to learn about Bloody Sunday, 56 years ago today. And… here it is.

“Um, Mom, there’s something I don’t understand,” he begins.
Me neither, my love
“Didn’t the law say they could vote?”
“Yes. Yes, it did.”
“So why did people elect a racist governor? Didn’t they know he was bad?”

The pandemic means that I have had the privilege of watching my son’s racial awakening this year, and also the burden. Since my children were small, we’ve read books with protagonists who do not look like them – who are not white boys – and my son’s friends own many identities. Still. There’s knowing and then there’s knowing, and right now he’s starting to grapple with whiteness.

“Why were white people so mean? Why couldn’t they just understand that everyone is a person?”

I badly want to tell him that there were good white people. I want to reassure him, to make him feel better. I want him to learn about James Reeb in the same moments that he is learning about John Lewis, but that’s not the truth. “Not all white people” isn’t what he needs to know.

So we talk about the violent history of whiteness. Briefly, he says, “but not in Canada” and I explain that Canada, too, has systemic racism. This talk is not easy. He does not want this to be true. But it is true, and he needs to know. Eventually, he goes back to his presentation. “What is Ferguson?”

I explain. He feels like Ferguson is long in the past; after all, seven years is over half his lifetime. Isn’t it better now? I remind him of George Floyd’s murder. “Right,” he says, “right.”

This child, this white boy of mine, will need to be part of the solution as our society changes. He needs to know about history – and not just what shows up in his textbooks.

Later, he’s working on a different slideshow, this time about Canadian politician Lincoln Alexander. He asks me to check his work, and I see that he’s written that Alexander “had to work very hard to excel, even harder the I would have to work because of the color of my skin.”

Yes, my love. Exactly. The struggle is with the colour of our skin, not with his.

With gratitude to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge

Unfounded #SOL21 5/31

One way or another, I thought we should get out of the kitchen. 

Earlier that day, the construction crew had excavated in order to waterproof our kitchen foundation. But instead of a true foundation, all they’d found was a cinder block wall just casually supporting our kitchen, approximately 14 inches back from the edge of the walls. It was as if, at some point in the past, a couple of guys decided to dig out a basement, and while they were at it one of them looked around and said, “Hey, whaddya think about throwing a few cinder blocks up here? Just in case, ya know?” And the other guy said, “Think we should dig on over to the actual edge of the entire house above us?” And the first one said, “Nah, what’s a foot or two? It’ll still hold things up for now.” 

Which meant that now, in 2018, when the foundation crew stopped for the day, we were left with a trench and a flimsy wall rather than the soil that used to help support the kitchen. We also had a small mountain of dug-out dirt towering over the trench. Not ideal, but before they drove off, the guys assured me it was “solid enough” until we figured out what to do. 

The tornado threw us for a loop. We don’t have tornados here: this is a government town, and things like that are just a little too dramatic for our tastes – and Ottawa isn’t exactly Tornado Alley. In fact, we were so surprised when the radios and cell phones started blaring about a tornado watch that we kind of ignored it. It just didn’t make any sense. One of my friends hopped in the car with her child to come over to visit. Even if there was going to be a tornado, she said, which seemed ridiculous, it wasn’t due for another 30 minutes. As my friend walked in, she commented that the wind and rain had really picked up.

She was right about “really picked up” given that it had been a lovely day right up until the tornado came. We sat down in the kitchen, our usual gathering place, and poured a “nice to see you” drink. Andre walked in a few minutes later – he’d biked home from work – and he, too, commented on the wind and the rain. “It was so pretty earlier,” he mused as we handed him a drink.

Did I mention that our kitchen was no longer supported?

Mere moments later, through occasional wind-blown gaps in the rain that was now sluicing down our kitchen window, I could make out cascades of water gushing down the pile of mud and directly into the ditch next to our definitely-not-to-code kitchen foundation. “You’ve got to see this!” I gestured my guests over to the window. 

We looked out, gasping, and at that moment, as the wind howled around us, we realized that we were watching torrents of water flow into the trench below us next to the sort-of-supportive cinder block wall. Standing next to the window meant we were standing over the trench – which meant we were standing over thin air. The lights flickered. One way or another, I thought, we should get out of the kitchen. 

As we settled into the (well-supported) playroom, the lights went out. The kids were horrified and delighted. We rounded up the flashlights and the candles. Within minutes, the winds died down and the rain stopped. From what we could see, the trench had quite a bit of water in it, but there wasn’t much in the basement. Nevertheless, once the tornado had passed, we decided we were better off at a friend’s house for a while. In the end, we were lucky: our house held up, probably because the tornado – which turned out to be several tornadoes – didn’t directly hit our part of town. Our power was out for a while, and school was cancelled the next day, but the foundation crew had been right: that old cinder block wall was, indeed, solid enough. Somewhere in the early 1900s whoever dug out our basement must have known what they were doing after all – thank goodness.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge

Home again, home again #SOL21 4/31

I woke up with a tiny bit of a sore throat and a foggy sort of headache. I hadn’t slept particularly well (possibly because I literally dreamed up a really great assessment for next week – it’s going to be excellent!), so I was sure that everything would be better after a cup of tea and a shower.

Downstairs, I turned on the kettle and fed the cats. While I waited for the water to boil, I closed my eyes and put my head on the cool kitchen counter. I was tired. Once the water was hot, I tried to bustle around the kitchen, getting the morning set up, but my bustle was more of a shuffle. Time for that tea.

By the time the rest of the family was in the kitchen, I knew the truth: “I have a tiny sore throat and I’m a little tired.” Meaningful glances ricocheted around the table. The messages were clear if cacophonous You need to get a test – you’re not allowed go to work if you have even one symptom – she’s not going work – hey, that means we can’t go to school – oh no, we can’t go to school – oh no, now they are ALL going to be home while I try to work. Only my partner spoke, “You need to schedule a test.” Which means we would all need to stay home. This was not how I had envisioned my day. I groaned, but I knew he was right.

While I made an appointment – plenty were available – the ten year old slithered out of the kitchen and slyly installed himself in front of the computer, volume turned down. “I’m checking my Google classroom,” he said when I found him, “but there’s nothing for me to do.” A pathetic attempt to justify Minecraft at 9am; I found several unfinished assignments to keep him busy. The twelve year old, already dressed and ready to go, texted his walking buddy to say he was staying home, opened his laptop, and pulled up a project. “I’ll go ahead and finish that slide show I’ve been working on.” My partner checked on everyone then went to work in what was the guest bedroom but is now his office.

And me? Well, I got a covid test with no waiting – and realized that I haven’t been tested since early November, which means I haven’t felt sick at all since then, so I’m trying to feel lucky. If I can’t muster up “lucky” I can at least fall back on “fine.” I’m giving it a 99% chance that the test comes back negative, hopefully in time to send both kids to school tomorrow, but this is what it means to be part of keeping the community safe. (Update: negative & the kids are off to school.)

355 days. It’s been 355 days of watching for symptoms, of staying distant, of reminding each other of what it means to work together. I’m tired – and it’s not just from a poor night’s sleep. I really hope that my next visit will be for the vaccine. Until then, I’m hoping for lots of early bedtimes and lessons that plan themselves when I’m not trying to sleep.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge

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A little sweetness #SOL21 2/31

Just yesterday I was talking with a friend about the evils of sugar. Just yesterday I agreed with her that the only rational choice is to limit sugar or even to avoid it altogether. I talked about the month a few years ago when I went sugar-free; I remembered that I felt really good by the end, though it was hard in the middle. We commiserated about our children’s sugar habits. Really, we said, when it comes down to it, we should be setting a better example.

So it’s just as well that no one is in the kitchen right now as the gooey insides of a warm butter tart drip down my fingers and into my mouth. My eyes shift to the right: no kids. I scrape my teeth across the cupcake liner to get the last caramelized bits from the edges then quickly crumple the evidence and throw it in the compost. No one needs to know about this.

I’m home today, playing hooky with my older child. Well, I say we’re “playing hooky” but the truth is that I’m not calling it hooky, I’m calling it rest because we both needed a break. Pandemic school is tough, and we’re practicing being kind to ourselves when we need it, so when he asked if we could extend the weekend by a day, I said yes. This morning while he slept in and read in bed, I took a walk, went to the library, and sent a few emails. When my almost-teenager, still wrapped in a blanket, wandered into the kitchen around 11 and asked if we could bake something, I delighted in the opportunity to say yes.

We thumbed through a cookbook, and he chose butter tarts. Before I moved to Canada, I had never heard of these, but the idea is simple: they are tiny pecan pies, usually minus the pecans. Traditionally they are made with a flaky pastry crust, but we opted for a simpler pâte brisée. Easy peasy. Then the filling: a cup of brown sugar, 1/3 cup of melted butter and one egg. That’s it – I mean, you can make it more complicated and some people add raisins or pecans or (shudder) chocolate chips, but we went for the classic. We whisked the ingredients together and spooned them into our crust-lined mini-muffin tins. Mere minutes later, we had butter tarts.

They’re a little pale, but they taste just fine.

They needed some time to cool and set, so my 12-year-old co-chef went upstairs to play video games while he waited. And I can hardly be blamed if some of the filling had oozed out of its shell, onto my fingers and into my mouth. I sigh, and realize that I won’t be giving up sugar until the sweet days of baking with my boy have passed.

Thanks to https://twowritingteachers.org for hosting this annual challenge