Posted in about me, ebb & flow, education

Reflections on a week of pandemic teaching

The district where I work had students in the grades I teach start back to school this week on Monday. It’s been … interesting. I can’t speak to whether this can be generalized to anyone else’s experience—this write up is just what my week has been like.

First, like many other things the last six months, it’s weird. Some parts are better than online teaching was; some parts are worse.

My district, like many others, has much more emphasis on sanitizing surfaces and students not sharing materials and less emphasis on aerosols. In their homerooms, students can have a pencil box or something with all of their tools in it—pencils, pens, markers, crayons, etc. I don’t want to acquire or store pencil boxes for all of my students but I have had to rethink how I do some things so they don’t need pencils yet.

We are all (or mostly all) wearing masks. I have encountered a handful of employees not wearing them or not wearing them much; it’s frustrating.

It’s hard to stay hydrated when wearing a mask all day. I’m frequently thirsty.

“Pull your mask up over your nose” or some variation of that is the current winner for statement most often used. Most of the students don’t pull them down—the masks just don’t fit well and fall down.

One student yesterday had a mask with tight elastic; it was hurting his ears and pulling them forward. I was able to rig up a strap across the back of his head using two paperclips and a rubber band. It looked a little silly, but he felt much better and wore it happily.

I’m a traveling teacher, and in the car between schools, I take off my mask, drink a lot of water, and sing all the way school to school. I don’t know if it’s the different breathing that singing requires or what, but it feels really good to put on some tunes and sing along for my car trip.

Some students are happy to be back. Others have said they’d rather do school online than school with a mask on and distanced from their friends.

Actually keeping kids six feet apart is an exercise in futility.

When I have enough space, I can seat them that way. Only a few have refused to leave their chair where I put it.

Getting them to and from my room is another matter. At six feet apart, a class could stretch out 30 or 40 yards. (My biggest class has 22 students.)

With students seated spaced apart and masked, the talkers just talk louder. It’s more difficult to know who’s talking. I’m mostly deaf in my right ear and rely heavily on visual cues. Some are still present—kids still look at each other when they’re talking to each other—and many are absent. It’s challenging.

I’ve seen each student three or four times, depending on which small group they’re in and whether they’ve been present in school. I don’t know most names yet. Both of my schools are uniform schools (students wear khaki pants or shorts and specific-colored polo shirts) which makes learning students’ names more challenging. Add masks, and it’s been a struggle. I’ll get there, but it’s going to take a little longer than usual, I think.

All that said, it wasn’t a bad week at all. Just challenging and tiring and different.

And long. I’m grateful to have the weekend to regroup.

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, exercise, mental health, mindset, motivation, physical health

Depression prepared me for shelter-in-place

First: this is my experience. It might not match yours.

I’ve struggled with depression for about as long as I can remember. In relatively recent years, I’ve learned how to manage it.

Mine seems to be connection-related. When I feel well-connected to important people, my brain chemicals stay happy. When I feel disconnected from people, my brain tries to kill me. Occasionally literally.

There is a limit to how much control I have over being connected to people. Everyone is busy. There is no village. (This is a highly destructive side effect of our “rugged individualism” and so many of us struggle with it.)

What can I do that doesn’t involve other people?

I can run. High-intensity exercise in general is helpful, but running seems to deliver the most immediate and most reliable hit. People in my circle know that if I’m struggling, an entirely appropriate suggestion is to go for a run. It doesn’t magically make everything better, but it does improve my mood and tidy my mind.

The thing is—I don’t love running. It vacillates between pretty good and tedious, depending on the day. I don’t run long distances. (Two half marathons taught me that 13 miles is too many miles.)

On the other hand, I love how I feel after I’ve run.

Between the couch (or the bed) and the post-run goodness, I have to get changed (ugh), I have to wear socks (ugh), I have to run (ugh), I need to wait until I’ve cooled off before I can shower or change or I will get out of the shower still sweating* (ugh), I need to get dressed again (ugh).

(*In the summer here, it takes at least 20 minutes after coming back in the house to stop sweating, but since we put in a pool, I just jump in after a run and refresh that way and that’s definitely not at all ugh.)

There are a lot of places for this to get derailed.

As a result, I’m quite used to forcing myself to exercise when I don’t really feel like it.

Speaking of “when I don’t really feel like it”…

High-functioning depression requires so much powering through. Getting tasks done when I don’t feel like it is a way of life.

Enter shelter-in-place.

I will not be in a good head space if I stay in my house all day.

I get up and get dressed every week day. This still affords me “lazy Saturdays” if I want them.

The weather was gorgeous when this all broke in March. It was easy to go for an afternoon walk and a run some other time and a bike ride with the family in the evening.

And then it was summer.

Afternoon walks stopped.

I learned to get up and go for a run first thing in the morning. And to do something outside in the evening when the sun was low or set. Whether I felt like it or not, because my mental health depends on it.

This is what I’ve been doing all along. The what and then when look marginally different. When I go back to working at work, running in the morning will stop, because I have a limit on how early I’m willing to get up. I don’t need to worry about that now, though. All I need to know is that this morning, I dragged myself out of bed and went for a run.

 

 

 

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, mindset, motivation, parenting

Keeping The Kid engaged

I have a trait. (Whether it’s a blessing or a curse is up for grabs.) I’m interested in a lot of things. There are many skills I would like to attempt to acquire.

As a result, there is way more to do than time (or sometimes energy) to do it.

The down side? I often feel time-deprived. And I sometimes (not always) have trouble sticking with a task when it’s at a hard part (learning new skills always has hard parts) because there’s something else I could work on instead.

The up side? I’m never bored.

The Kid has some of this same quality about him. There are things he can talk about longer than you can listen (space and space travel, Minecraft, LEGO) and many many other things that he shows passing interest in.

Because we didn’t go to camps this summer, I decided to try to give him some “slow and steady” perseverance in skill acquisition. The badge system worked well for certain things for a while, but it wasn’t going to work for this.

So I made a chart. We all participated.

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It’s in a frame so we can use dry erase on it. Each day as we do one of the things, we cross it off. Doesn’t have to be a ton of time. A little bit of attention each day.

Each day that the entire list gets marked off, one of the pictures at the bottom gets crossed off. (I had just discovered those pictures when I was making the chart, and that system was born entirely inadvertently as I picked out ones I thought The Kid would love and/or laugh at.)

We did seven days on then a day off (so these were weeks but not Sunday-to-Saturday weeks), and while he needed to be reminded sometimes (often), he did it.

So did I. It was great for giving me a kick in the butt on days when I didn’t feel like doing stuff.

(The Climbing Daddy did it the week he took off and many weekend days, but not on work days, which is to be expected.)

Yesterday was Trophy Day. The Kid was so excited coming up on Trophy Day. (He’s the one who made it more like a holiday and less like that’s just the picture you cross off that day.)

I didn’t know what I was going to do when the board was complete, if anything, so I just took all the symbols and made a certificate. He was thrilled!

In making the certificate, I named the “event” the New Skills Challenge. It hadn’t had a name before. He was extra-excited to complete a “challenge.”

Results?

He did the typing test in his typing “game;” improved accuracy 7% and WPM by 1 since taking the same test near the end of the school year.

He can play a little bit more on his trumpet; mostly, he sounds better on the same songs. (The Climbing Daddy had to start over on a new instrument, as we no longer had a sax to use, so The Kid started over with him.)

He crochets single stitches quickly and feels ready to try a granny square. (He is learning this from a friend and from YouTube—I don’t know how to crochet.) He is excited to have a jellyfish kit waiting for him when he has a bit more skill.

He is learning to write in cursive. Needs to trace words still and is doing much better with forming the letters than when he started. (Kids should learn cursive for a bunch of reasons that I’m not going to tangent into right now. It’s not a useless skill.)

Between typing and cursive, his spacing issues in printing have decreased. (The typing error he made most often was not using the space bar. When I told him that it’s the SPACE bar and it should be his favorite, he rolled his eyes.)

We’re working on Spanish together and he’s picked up a few words, but he’s pretty resistant to it.

He reads often anyway, so that was on the list as an easy win every day.

After receiving his trophy certificate, I told him we have two more weeks until school starts—do you want to do two more weeks?

Yes!

I think we’re going to set some small goals and see if he can work towards them, instead of practicing aimlessly. I don’t know if that will be helpful or initiate a bunch of negative emotions (anxiety, frustration, pressure). We’ll talk about it and see where it goes.

In the mean time, he’s proud of himself for the work he’s put in and the skills he’s started to hone.

And I haven’t heard “I’m bored” yet.

(Me? I’ve been playing piano, trombone, ukulele. You see a bit of my writing. Also writing the book and in a journal. Definitely not all three any day. Spanish through a website and books and talking to The Climbing Daddy. Photography you see the results of here—some days it’s taking pictures and some days it’s just working through my online course. Soon to add editing. Exercise has been running, strength training, sometimes pool-related. This list will be pared down next week when work starts again. How am I going to pare it down? I still want to do it all…)

Posted in about me, mindset, parenting, storytelling, thoughtfulness

What would your micro robot do?

Sitting down to dinner the other night.

The Kid: Can I start a conversation?

me: Sure

[Note: I think it’s weird that he asked that, as there’s definitely not a “seen but not heard” rule ’round here. Also, because of that, I should have known something was up.]

TK: If you had a micro robot, what would it do?

[conversation ensues about what constitutes a micro robot—the answer is basically smaller than a typical adult human which is bigger than I would consider micro, but it’s not my question]

TK: I have an idea, but you go first.

me: OK. I want mine to clean the house. Wait. Can it do more than one thing? Can it clean the house and cook?

Climbing Daddy: You have yours do one and I’ll have mine do the other.

TK: It can do both.

me: Oh! But better than that, it can pull the grass and the weeds in the yard. Can it do all three things?

TK: Sure!

CD: Hmmm, so I don’t need mine to do any of those things? Let me think.

TK: I’ll tell you mine! It’s going to be very small, the size of a human cell. And … [insert long explanation about how his micro robot is going to capture and kill viruses inside people, and how it would first be for people in the hospital and high risk people but it could be for everyone]

And that’s how long it took for me to be embarrassed that my micro robot would take care of household chores.

Also, this is one way he is dealing with the pandemic, and it was obvious he had spent some time thinking about it prior to opening the conversation.

Also, if his robot is going to take care of massive health issues, I might as well let mine take care of the house. And assuming both are going to be widely available…

Also, I’m still feeling a little defensive. Can you tell?

Posted in about me, cancer, ebb & flow, gratitude, physical health

The cancer bus ride started 13 years ago

Lucky number 13!

Thirteen years ago, I started my cancer journey (though the diagnosis didn’t come for another week or so).

It changed everything and it changed nothing.

It was not a blessing in disguise. It didn’t “happen for a reason” (except for whatever the biological root causes were … for which science has guesses but not answers).

It did have a lot of silver linings.

I was lucky—as lucky as one can be going through half a year of chemo, a month of radiation, and continuing on afterwards—in that my long-term side effects have been minimal. (Long-term side effects of the radiation, if I have them, aren’t expected to kick in for another few years. And they are terrifying, so here’s to hope that they pass me by.)

“Still alive” is a good baseline, but quality of life matters.

That’s true whether you’ve had cancer or not.

New Year and birthdays are often calendar points where we might be reflective and introspective.

This date and my cancer-free date (one week before Thanksgiving) give me two additional calendar points to pause and reflect for a minute.

Privileged to be able to forget most of the time that I ever went through it all in the first place. To be able to plug along.

Grateful to be here, to be healthy, to be writing, to be photographing, to have a son (infertility is a common side effect).

My wish for you is to assess or reassess without death threatening you. Or, if you currently feel threatened by death, use it as motivation to introspect. Use it as an excuse to be vulnerable with your people. (And make that a habit.)

Here’s to the next 13 and more! Cheers!