Ghosts in the water

CW: Sexual assault, trauma

I’ve been working on this a while. Poetry doesn’t come as easily to me at 47 as it did at 17. It requires down time and time to think, things I have almost none of these days.

I’m working on that, too.

.

The other morning, I told my 9-year-old I was raped.
I hadn’t meant to; it slipped out
as I was explaining why the dirty dishes upset me.
It’s not the messy counter, I said,
but that his trailer was alive with roaches.
They meandered along the walls and the ceiling
while he ripped away the last of my innocence.
I remember clearly watching one crawling directly above us,
hoping it didn’t drop as I was trapped beneath him,
because that small weight just might break me.

He refused to wash dishes, I told her.
Every flat surface was covered in used plates, cups,
forks and knives, sticky with ketchup smears
and soda residue. He would use the same cup for a week,
then rinse it out and use it for one more.
The dishwasher was broken,
so I would fill the sink with scalding, sudsy water
and gummy, crusty, reeking dishes,
in hopes that he would rinse them off later.

Days later, in defeat, I would pull on rubber gloves,
plunge my hands into the icy, slimy water,
fish out the dishes, and scrub them clean.
At the bottom of the sink
were handfuls of drowned roaches.
Decades have passed, I told her, but the smell of dirty dishes,
the feel of cold dishwater against my gloved hands,
brings feelings long since buried swirling to the surface,
like those soggy roach corpses in the sink.

A few days after our talk, a book appeared on my office chair.
Folded between its pages was a drawing:
“The man who raped my mom”
(I refused to speak his name)
bleeding profusely from the head,
while my fiercely loving baby girl
glared at him with red-rage eyes.

I haven’t mentioned it to her.
I don’t really know what to say.
I don’t need vengeance; not after all these years.
I don’t need you to hate him.
I don’t, not anymore.
Rage burns at both ends.

I just need you to do the dishes.

That whimpering you hear is from my checkbook

Hi. It’s been a while. I’m writing, still; it’s just that what I am writing is long, and I’m trying to make sure I get the words just right.

Also, life got in the way. It’s been expensive.

Kai shut his finger in the car door. It was bad; the door latched and locked, so I had to unlock the door and go around to open it for him. The tip of his poor little finger was hamburger by the time I got to him. He didn’t break any bones, but his finger was pretty gnarly for a week, and the nail is in the process of falling off. Ortho gave us the tiniest, cutest little splint I’ve ever seen, meaning no handwriting homework for a week; that took a considerable amount of sting out of the injury for him. A week later, he was cleared for normal activities. Kids are almost magically resilient.

Anya is in puberty. Full-on zits and mood swings puberty. A few weeks ago, she went through roughly a week of excruciating abdominal pain. She’s an early bloomer, so the doctor ordered an abdominal ultrasound to make sure she didn’t have a cyst. (She doesn’t.) Anya is…tense. As am I, but I usually internalize my stress and she blows it out in a flurry of punches and tears. So despite the fact that the doctor and I both assured her that ultrasounds in no way hurt, and my reminders that she watched me have one when I was pregnant with Kai, it was still a physical struggle to get her into the hospital and onto the exam table. Then she felt silly for her overreaction.

Did I mention that the ultrasound and Kai’s second ortho visit were on the same day? Basically I spent a full day soothing, reassuring, and bodily restraining each of my children in turn as they prepared to endure quick, painless exams, which I’m counting as the day’s cardio.

I got my first and second COVID shots. The first one just gave me a sore arm. The second had me bedbound for nearly three days. The lymph nodes on my neck and shoulder swelled to the size of ping-pong balls for over a week; I could feel the nodes across my shoulders throbbing that second night. I also went from extreme fatigue to insomnia. I slept long and hard on shot day, but barely slept the next two days. Three weeks later, I’m still dealing with dizziness, fatigue, and loss of appetite. I tend to have a laundry list of side effects to medications, so I’m not really surprised by my reaction — I’m just ready to get back to my baseline level of tired. (The loss of appetite has been a bonus, though; my digestive problems are much improved.)

R slipped while cutting an apple and gashed his hand. The knife set I gave him for Christmas is much nicer than the cheapo one we were using before, which I bought from Macy’s in 2000 for $20, and with good knives comes greater danger. The cut took six stitches, but he healed up quickly. The kids ask me for sliced apples now.

We found the kids a new pediatric dentist. One that did not require general anesthesia and $1500 to pull one of Anya’s teeth and put in a few fillings and sealants, thank you. It was a process, and more than a few tears were shed along the way, but the story at least had a happy ending. The new dentist had her laughing as he pulled the tooth (which I didn’t even notice him doing until he was done), and did the first batch of fillings and sealants without novocaine. She adores him, and is excited to go back for her next visit. Hell, I’d go if he’d let me. My dentist doesn’t have cotton candy-scented laughing gas and Netflix.

We’ve spent almost enough money to buy a new car. Since January. In addition to all the above, we got a new roof, had our ductwork cleaned, bought a new washer and dryer, and finally straightened out billing for Anya’s speech therapy. I also had a checkup with my nutritionist, complete with a new round of bloodwork. They’ve met their deductible, I’m halfway to mine, and our stimulus and tax return are gone, plus some extra. I’d planned on spending the stimulus paying off a credit card, but…oh, well. I have, however, pared down my expenses a bit and embarked on my Grand Debt Payoff. It’s going to take a while, and some discipline, but if everyone can just stay away from the doctor for a bit and nothing else breaks, I think I can pull it off.

Please let everyone and everything stay well/unhurt/unbroken. For a few months, at least. I’m so tired.

“I love myself too much!”

CW: suicide

I have been thinking a lot about suicide (not like that — don’t worry!) since reading about Olympian Kelly Catlin. In college, I wrote many papers on suicide, mostly because I was trying to answer the questions I’d been wrestling with since my attempt:

Why?

Why me?

Why anybody?

Why then?

What drives a person to go to such extremes?

Nowhere in my studies did I see my personality mirrored back to me as I did reading about Kelly Catlin. Not that I’m capable of Olympic-level greatness in…well, anything. But the rest of it — the methodical planning, the ruthless self-imposed structure, the frustration with each small failure, the awkwardness around peers. The self-loathing. While my attempt was impulsive, I too had a notebook of plans, plans I had not realized because I kept getting stuck on logistics. I am glad I didn’t have access to the internet back then; with a bit more knowledge than I had available to me at the time, I may not be here.

Now, decades separated from the hopelessness that can and does often befall adolescents who cannot picture a future past age 18, I feel safe from The Bull, as Robert Fulghum described the desire to escape emotional anguish through death. But I have been increasingly concerned about Anya’s mental health. Not only has she begun puberty quite early, but thanks to the pandemic she’s dealing with a double whammy of homeschooling with dyslexia taught by an overworked, stressed-to-the-max mother plus social isolation at a point in her development when socialization is crucial. Anya is also extremely extroverted; her main complaint about our current situation is how very lonely she is. I’m working to set up as many social Zooms as I can, but online chats are not the same as in-person friends.

Adolescent hormones, check. Extreme emotional trauma, check. Academic struggles, check. Social isolation, check. It’s textbook.

The articles I read, day in and day out, for my journalism job haunt me. Children dying by suicide because they can’t see the other side. They believe that the terrible now will always be. They cannot picture a future beyond tomorrow, next week, next month.

I remember.

As this pandemic drags on, I have, odd as it may sound, derived a small measure of comfort from realizing that Anya decidedly does not fit the pattern of some people who have contemplated suicide, such as Kelly Catlin and I. But not only obsessive, self-isolated overachievers give in to despair and end their lives.

I’ve gone out of my way to work social-emotional learning into our daily schoolwork. We meditate. We do yoga. I check in with both kids throughout the day, asking about their emotions, accepting their feelings as valid (one of the most damaging things you can do to someone is tell them they are not entitled to feel however they feel) and offering suggestions to help get through rough moments. I speak openly about my own struggles, and acknowledge the cause when I am upset so they don’t think it’s them. If I am upset with one of them, which is pretty rare, I try to spell out why I am upset so we can perhaps resolve the issue together. I prioritize time each day just to cuddle them and tell them how loved they are. For Anya, coping with the maelstrom that is early puberty on top of all this, I set aside time for daily mother-daughter chats, private time away from the boys so I can give her my full attention. We talk about what she’s going through. I share my experiences as a tween, a teen, even a young adult — whatever she wants to know. But I have always stopped short of discussing depression and suicide. Out of fear.

It’s stupid, this fear. Superstitious thinking. If I don’t say it, they won’t know it exists. That never works — not with death, not with sex, not with drugs, or anything else parents try to shelter children from. Kids know. Often half-truths, because the adults in their lives tiptoe around the subject. I have always been a firm believer that honesty is best, always, and the younger the better. Dispel those rumors and half-truths before they can take hold. I have spoken openly to her about a host of topics, both in the abstract and my own specific experiences with them. Sex, drugs, depression, toxic relationships, loss, death.

But not suicide. That’s one of the few doors I have always hesitated to open. Not yet, I’d think. She’s so little. Maybe next year.

Finally, it came up. We were driving to the botanic garden. Kai was asleep; the car always knocks him out. Anya and I were discussing how kids are not simply short adults, how their brains are still developing, which is part of the reason why they act differently than adults would in the same situation. (Child psych, my first major, was not the field for me, but I find it endlessly fascinating — and it’s really informed my parenting.) The opening presented itself, and for once I dove in.

“Some kids have felt really hopeless during this pandemic,” I told her. “And when you’re a kid, it feels like whatever you’re feeling is how you will always feel. So it’s been even harder on them than it has been on us adults. Some kids have even killed themselves.”

“Oh, how awful!” she replied. “I would never! I love myself too much!”

It was all I could do not to collapse in a sobbing heap over the steering wheel. To say I was relieved does not begin to cover it. Though it had nothing to do with me, hearing her say those words will remain one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Once more, I stopped short of telling her about my own experiences. Not that I think she’s too young; I just can’t bring myself to relive those feelings right now. But I will, eventually. I have to. Just in case she ever does begin to lose hope. One thing that further isolates people in these feelings is the realization that others don’t feel that desperately alone. For some, death begins to look like the answer. I have walked that road so many times, I can navigate it with my eyes closed. I’m proof that there is indeed life on the other side. That’s not something I can keep to myself.

For now, it’s enough that the subject is out in the open. To have the comfort of her response. On more than one occasion, she has shocked me with her beautifully simple strength. How she asks for help when she needs it. How confident she in every situation. How she has never once doubted her place in this world. It all goes back to those five beautiful words: I love myself too much!

I don’t feel like I can take credit for her loving herself; that’s just how she is. But I feel that it is my duty to ensure that she continues to love herself through the rocky years to come.

In the meantime, I’m going to try like hell to figure out how to become more like her.

Reading lessons

Remember how I swore up and down that I didn’t want to teach? Turns out I was wrong.

Your first assignment, without which this post will still be understandable (and hopefully enjoyable) but won’t be as clear:

  1. Watch The Willoughbys on Netflix.
  2. Read The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.

We love the movie. It’s a bit dark, but it’s colorfully animated, quirky, and features an adorable baby, Maya Rudolph (I love that woman), and Ricky Gervais as a snarky blue cat. When I learned that it started life as a chapter book by the author of some of my favorite childhood books, I had to pick up a copy. The kids are really getting into chapter books as of late, and I’d rather read children’s books than no books. (Books, I miss you. I’m coming back, I swear.)

The book is almost entirely different from the movie. The basic premise is still there — bad parents, mistreated kids, orphaned baby, eccentric candy-making millionaire, lovable nanny, cat. But it’s very much like what they’ve been doing with Stephen King adaptations as of late: Putting plot elements on scraps of paper, dumping the paper into a wind machine, and stringing together a plot based on the order in which the scraps fly out. Okay, I know that’s not what they’re doing. (Maybe a raffle tumbler, though.) And the Willoughby movie isn’t as drastically different from the source material as, say, The Stand reboot (about which I Have Opinions); it’s more streamlined and simplified, with the major plot deviations serving mostly to reinforce the black-and-white depiction of several moral issues. The book is just a huge gray moral gradient, and the kids had loads of questions along the way about differences between the two. Much as I have questions about the way TS2020 treated Mother Abigail and Nick Andros.

So, so many questions.

Anyway. We finished the book last night, and today I asked Anya what she thought about it. I explained some of the connections and differences to her and we talked about why they made those choices. It hit me, as we were talking, that this is a wonderful way for her to dip her toes into the lit crit waters without struggling with words on a page: Listen to an audiobook (either on Audible or AudiMama), watch the movie, and compare. Ideas for assignments flooded in, and I had to zip it lest I overwhelm her at 7:30 in the morning. It hit me then: I am a teacher. I may not have the credentials, or the classroom, or the paycheck, or even a shred of respect as an educator in the eyes of the profession, but I am a teacher. I love to teach. Maybe not as a job — dealing with a room full of people who for the most part could care less about what I’m saying, navigating the pitfalls of academia. But teaching this child, finding ways to bring learning to her, is endlessly fascinating to me.

I don’t know about horses and water, but I will find a way to bring the wonders of language to my baby girl. No matter what it takes.

Finite resources

My daughter, as I’ve mentioned, has been in speech therapy off and on since the age of 3. She is not in speech therapy now because her school insists homeschoolers attend in person. In a group. If I’m not sending her to in-person class, why in the world would I send her to in-person group speech therapy? And because her dyslexia diagnosis came in too late to be included in her IEP, no services for that this year. Sorry.

I’m not mad about the dyslexia services. She has a wonderful language therapist, and as a homeschool teacher, I can modify exercises as needed around her challenge areas. Her language therapist suggested that I press the school for speech therapy, though. So did her doctor.

Google gave me page upon page of links to even longer documents telling me how to advocate for myself, for my child. Documents I don’t have time to read, detailing steps I don’t have time to take. One of the links I found is to an organization that safeguards the rights of people like my daughter. I messaged back and forth with them for a few days. They told me they don’t have the resources to help me. Instead, they sent me those same PDF documents I found on Google.

Any other year, I would double down and learn the ins and outs of disability law and pester the heck out of anyone and everyone until my daughter got what she needs. But this…this is not that year.

From another angle, it looks like this: My child is handling her education almost entirely on her own. Yes, I am here to answer questions. Her father helps her on his days off. I scour the internet for books and videos and printables to supplement her online curriculum when she needs a little extra help. I modify the exercises and limit her workload, but she is still essentially attending a full school day every day. Plus two 45-minute language therapy sessions a week. Two hour-long social Zooms each week. Also, while I haven’t settled on a source yet, she desperately needs math tutoring. Speech therapy would add at least another hour to her week, if not two or three. She’s 9. Her calendar should not look like mine.

So I asked her what she thought we should do. She said she didn’t feel that she needs speech therapy right now. She’s tired. Burning out. So I’m letting it go at that. Personally, I think her time would be better spent meditating, or drawing, or playing. Something that refills her soul.

I’m flowing back to a state of calm since the beginning of last month. Paring down what I can pare down. Setting my sights on things that will recharge my batteries instead of things that will check off my to-do list. I’m drying my hair instead of wearing it curly so I don’t have to wash and style it every day. I bought 5 of my new favorite hoodie to make deciding what to wear easier. I’m meal prepping and going to bed earlier and reducing the amount of time I spend on social media. We’re eating meals together at the table — no electronics allowed. I have scheduled, and am honoring, a monthly at-home spa day with the kids; next I’m going to work on scheduling and enforcing a family game night and family movie night. On weekends, I’m focusing on the things that actually will make my weeks easier, rather than the things I feel I need to do. Yes, this means that my floors are gross and my office is covered in dusty piles of paper. But after the loads we carry all week, I feel like the kids and I need a little time to just…be.

We have finite resources, too.

Yesterday

Yesterday, Joe Biden was sworn into office. I voted for him. I believe in him. I use him as an example when my daughter loses faith in herself, because I suspect they have similar learning issues and look at how far he’s come. But yesterday I was unable to share in the joy. I did not watch the inauguration. I did not participate in the celebration on social media. Mostly I cried all day.

Yes, there is hope. Yes, things will change. But my reality is still 16-hour days. My reality is still spending weekends/holidays/days off compiling homeschooling materials, reward systems, science experiments, and other learning activities, only to have my kids fight learning at every turn. Anya does try, but her dyslexia gets in the way and I don’t know how to help her. She gets frustrated and gives up, and I don’t know what to do about it. Kai just doesn’t care, and I can’t make him care. Yes — I suck so bad, I can’t teach kindergarten. The last fun year of school he has. He hates anything that he even suspects might be educational. I did this to him.

My morning job is K-12 education journalism. I’ve read alllll the articles. How I’m ruining my children’s lives by keeping them out of school. How some kids are contemplating or committing suicide from the strain. How my daughter will most likely be made to repeat the 3rd grade if I send her back (just one of the many reasons I despise our governor), and the large percentage of kids who are held back that end up dropping out of school. How these learning losses are going to affect them the rest of their lives.

I also read the articles about climbing infection rates from the coronavirus. I read about the long haulers, who have sustained possibly lifelong damage from a virus that the idiots around me are comparing to a cold. I read about loved ones having to say goodbye by phone. I think about my babies dying. Me dying. Not being able to kiss them goodbye.

This is an impossible fucking decision, okay?

I’m drowning. I’m working two jobs and teaching two grades and maintaining a house and a family, and I’m doing it all so very badly. Our outdoor Christmas decorations are still up. And our Halloween pumpkin. I haven’t dusted or vacuumed my office in 6 months, and the bathroom is disgusting. My kids are subsisting on snack food and juice pouches. You can’t see any carpet in either of their rooms, and the playroom’s worse. I have hundreds of emails, texts, and messages hanging over my head. Half-finished projects all over the house. My to-do list goes back to before the holidays, and includes stuff like trying to get paid for some freelance work I did over Thanksgiving. Most days I don’t set foot outside the house at all, not even to the mailbox. Yesterday, all I ate was almonds and marshmallows, and I went to bed at 6:30 p.m. I say I’ll catch up over the weekend, but by the time the weekend rolls around, I’m exhausted.

I told myself it’s just one year, but the longer this goes on, the more I think it’s not just going to be one year. And of course I will do a second year if I have to, but how? How can I do this for another year?

So yes. There is hope. It is a new day, a new year, and things are going to get better. But not for us, not right now, not fast enough. I’m tired of being told I’m amazing, that this is so hard, that it’s okay to stumble. I’m tired of being told to be grateful for what I have. I AM grateful. So, so grateful. Things could be so much worse, and are for so many people. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t suck. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need help. And it doesn’t mean I’m getting help anytime soon.

Start as you mean to go on

Recently, it’s come to my attention that I’m a workaholic.

Not in a jokey “oh, look at me, so busy and important” way, but in a quite serious, “I can’t stop” way.

It’s one thing for someone to tell you that you are addicted to something, and another to realize that you are. The distinction has made me re-examine everything I ever thought about addiction.

Here’s the thing: I don’t love my job(s). I like what I do. I am good at it. But if I had enough money to never work again, odds are slim that I’d still be doing what I’m doing. There are aspects of my work that I’d do for fun, sure. But there are parts I’d happily walk away from without a backward glance.

Therein lies the root of my confusion, and the reason why I had such a hard time realizing that there is even a problem with my behavior. I smoked for 20 years. I struggled for 10 with caffeine (and anyone who thinks caffeine is not a serious addiction has never awakened after 2 hours of sleep each night for months on end). My understanding of addiction was that you really like to do something harmful, or at the very least your body really likes to do it, and you have to struggle to stop doing that thing. It never dawned on me — and it should have, because addiction runs in my family — that you could be addicted to something for other reasons.

But here I am, terrified to turn down work, to drop a job. Thanksgiving week I worked more hours than the weeks preceding or following, and that’s with taking two days off. Partly because I’m afraid of not having a backup job. Partly because I want to achieve a certain degree of financial freedom. But mostly because I don’t have a sense of self-worth outside of my job. My value in my own eyes is and has always been equivalent to what I can accomplish and produce, and the destructive behaviors that go along with this belief go back to my college days.

Recently, someone in an editing group I’m in posted this image:

I’ve gotten better about the first one because of my kids; modeling for them that it is more important to know where to find an answer than to know all the answers taught me the same. But the other four are constant battles. And it all comes down to me not having anything in myself that I value outside what I am able to accomplish.

So many of my current issues stem back to this one problem. My inability to take care of myself for the sake of taking care of myself is chief among them.

Tomorrow I return to work after two solid weeks off. I had big plans for how to spend this break — baking, watching movies with the kids, doing all the arts and crafts projects I was too busy to do with them while I worked, reorganizing the pantry and the playroom, meditating/exercising daily, crocheting covers for the couch pillows, helping the kids clean their rooms, creating a menu plan for January, putting together a list of celebrations and fun activities for the kids, reading books to them and to myself, cleaning up my office, setting up a homeschooling curriculum for the coming semester, planning this year’s garden, washing the walls.

See what I mean? I don’t even know how to take a vacation.

My body does, though. I utterly crashed. I did some of the things on that list, sure — I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. But I spent most of my vacation sitting on the couch, barely able to pry myself up to get a cup of tea. My sleep schedule went off the rails; I’ve been staying up later and rising later every day. I subsisted on cookies and party mix for the first week. Each day I arose with the intention of knocking things off my to-do list, and each night I went to bed exhausted though I accomplished little.

I don’t resent this crash. I did watch a lot of movies with the kids, and logged lots of snuggle time. I also did a lot of thinking. I see now the vicious cycle I’ve been putting myself in starts with me not taking care of myself. When I don’t take care of myself, I am more apt to fall into an anxiety spiral, and that anxiety is what lies at the heart of my work obsession.

So today, I’m starting as I mean to go on. I am up early, though I stayed up too late (again), in hopes of resetting my sleep schedule. I’m taking some time at the beginning of the day to blog, to meditate, to stretch. I’m not looking at email, social media, or games in this space; this is a time for me. It is my intention to start every day this year in peaceful, quiet reflection.

Instead of my usual lofty list of goals and resolutions, I’ve put together a list of intentions for the coming year, which all fall under the umbrella of taking better care of me. Not so I can do more work, or so I can be a better wife/mother/daughter/friend, but because I deserve it.

It feels incredibly weird to type that. Which is the point.

Hope

I saw recently that the Bishop of Paisley said imposing quarantine restrictions on Christmas would destroy people’s hope.

Mister, you wanna talk about hope?

When I gave birth to my daughter 9 years ago, my mother was strong and healthy, and looked the same as she had pretty much my whole life. (I mean that literally. The woman defied time.) She worked a job that would bring younger people (definitely me!) to their knees, yet still had enough energy to stay on the go in her down time.

The first time she was hospitalized, she thought she had a cold. Maybe a sinus infection. But she had an important out-of-town meeting to attend, and a lot of people were counting on her. So she went, despite feeling ill — and almost didn’t come home.

She doesn’t work anymore, of course. She retired shortly after that trip. But she’s sick now; she has rheumatoid arthritis, lung issues resulting from a MAC infection (a severe lung infection that people with immune issues are susceptible to), thyroid and blood pressure issues, heart disease, and COPD. She’s on oxygen most of the time, and takes more medications than I can count. She weighs less than I did when people accused me of being anorexic. Her once toast-colored skin is now comparable to my Irish pallor. I’ve lost count of the times she’s been close to death since that trip. She would not, her doctor has asserted, survive the coronavirus.

I have lived these past 5 years with the knowledge that every holiday, every birthday, every Saturday morning and Tuesday afternoon may be the last I get to spend with my mom. I was policing the kids with a thermometer and a symptom checklist long before any of us knew what a coronavirus was. And now I walk a tightrope between wanting to stay away so she can live and spending what time I can with her before she dies. So many opportunities have already passed us by for good, and I’m watching what may be the last of them slip through my fingers.

We’re planning a Zoomsgiving this year. Each of us eating in our homes, connected through video calls. I haven’t thought ahead to Christmas much yet. It’s too hard to make plans these days, I tell the children. But in reality, I am paralyzed by indecision. Should we pass on the in-person visit, to keep her safe? Or should we have a brief, masked get-together, in case it’s the last Christmas we ever spend together?

I have been assuring my children that the current circumstances aren’t forever. That one day, we’ll resume our normal lives. That we’ll shop in stores again, go to school, visit street fairs, participate in classes and camps, play with friends, have family dinners. I’m just hoping my mom lives to see that day.

What would give me hope is declining numbers. What would give me hope is if people would stay the hell home, and take the proper precautions when they must go out.

When I started this post, I was in a dark place. I usually stay out of the dim corners — keeping busy is a great way to keep your mind from what-ifing you to death. But every so often, usually when I’m tired and not feeling well, the corners find me. I’m feeling a lot better now, though, partly because those feelings pass, but mostly because of the election. This election restored my crumbling faith in my country and my fellow citizens.

Biden gives me hope.

There’s no magic wand that will banish the coronavirus, but I believe that Biden will lead us out of the pandemic as best he can: with facts, with science, with an emphasis on human life over financial gain. Biden knows loss. He knows what’s at stake — moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends. And he knows that the only way we’ll ever move past this virus is if we contain it.

If we contain it, maybe I’ll get to spend next Thanksgiving with my mom by my side.

I can hope.

I have hope.

It’s the Great Pumpkin (Week)

We finally did it — withdrew Anya from school and registered as an independent homeschool. It was a big decision, much bigger than pausing Kai’s kindergarten a year. I wanted to think about it over fall break, but Anya was growing more and more teary and bitter as the week after her test results came in and we had her IEP meeting. We were exhausted, and frustrated, and there didn’t appear to be an end in sight. Finally, I relented.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s any damage I could do homeschooling her that’s worse than her struggling for 12 hours per day, 5-6 days per week and still making mostly Ds and Fs. She has loved school up until this year, but she’d gotten to the point where the sight of her homework packet made her alternately surly and weepy — and who could blame her? If I can restore her joy of learning, even if she’s “behind” after the end of this school year, I’ll call it a win.

I signed her up for a mostly online curriculum that other moms of kids with dyslexia gave high marks, and I’m rounding out the lessons using a variety of resources. (I do mean variety. She’s studying Vikings this week for social studies, and I told her to watch How To Train Your Dragon afterwards and tell me what the movie got right.) I’m also working to catch Kai up on the things he’ll need to know for kindergarten, and also trying to get him excited about learning again. It sounds like a lot of work, but honestly this is a cake walk compared to what we were doing. And at least this way, I get to have a little fun with it.

That’s right: Theme weeks are back.

One of the things Anya asked when we were initially talking about homeschool was whether she could still do spirit week. Her school has themes for each day of the week of Halloween: Wear Red Day, Tacky Day, etc. Sure, we can do that, I told her. Why not? And then I realized that, with a little creativity, I could probably come up with other weekly themes that offer a bit more in the way of educational opportunities. Thus Pumpkin Week was born.

I culled activities from a few sites and board and compiled a Pumpkin Journal. Inside are prompts to help them ask critical questions about a pumpkin’s structure (Are there more creases on a big pumpkin or a small pumpkin? Are pumpkins mostly full or mostly empty? Can you tell which side of the pumpkin was resting on the ground?), practice math concepts (estimating versus counting the number of seeds in the pumpkin), and explore the pumpkin using all five senses (apparently the inside of the pumpkin looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds disgusting). Once they were finished examining the pumpkin, they carved them. We talked about the story behind jack o’lanterns. We’re planting some of the seeds to track the pumpkin life cycle. We made pumpkin spice play dough. Snack time brought us pumpkin cookies and roasted pumpkin seeds.

The pumpkin fun continued with story time; the kids, particularly Anya, have always been partial to Halloween, so we have no shortage of pumpkin-themed books. I printed out pumpkin math worksheets and pumpkin letter matching worksheets and pumpkin coloring book pages and pumpkin-shaped sight word bingo cards. I created a pumpkin-centric booklet that teaches prepositions and location words.

I put all this together in a couple of hours. I used to spend that much time each day just sorting out what work they had to do when they were in school. Add in the sheer amount of work they were assigned, and we simply had no time for related arts, for recess, for lunch. So I am very hopeful about homeschooling.

I have a lot of luck with activities that mix multiple subjects: Science and math and reading comprehension and social studies disguised as cooking and crafts and science experiments. I gave my daughter a printed chart illustrating how to load the dishwasher and told her to take a stab at it. Doing dishes as homework. She loved it. She rocked it. And she learned, without realizing she was learning it, how to follow instructions when they are presented in pictures, much like an IKEA assembly manual. If I had told her that she was being tested on her ability to follow directions, she’d have choked. So instead I told her to load the dishwasher.

But this week brought the true Halloween miracle: Kai came in, sat down, and did his sight words all on his own. No prompting, begging, bribes. And he got them all right. Thanks, Great Pumpkin.

2020 good

My morning job recognizes Indigenous Peoples Day. So a few months ago, when I was putting in my time off requests for the rest of the year, I requested Monday off for my afternoon job. At the time, I did not know two things: 1) that my daughter’s school would revoke this first day of fall break and ask that students do distance learning instead, and 2) that I would give in and withdraw her for homeschooling the week before fall break. Since I control the school schedule now, I reinstated her day off. She needs a full week after what she’s been through since August. (We all do, tbh.)

I received my flu shot last month, and Anya got hers at her 9-year checkup. Since I was to be off Monday, one of R’s usual days off, I scheduled Kai’s flu shot for that day: Two adults are better than one in these situations. So of course R was called in on Monday, leaving me to handle my bucking, terrified 5-year-old on my own. He fought so hard that he had to have the shot in his leg while the nurse and I bodily restrained him. Anya and I cried right along with him. At bedtime, Kai informed me solemnly that if I ever made him go back to the doctor again, he would stop loving me forever. “No more love left in my heart for you, Mama.” I told him gently that being his mom means I have to take care of him and keep him healthy, and that if he had to stop loving me, so be it — that I would never, ever stop loving him. He gave me some remorseful hugs and kisses after that, and he fell asleep holding my arm. What stings isn’t the words he said but what I know it cost him to say them. I am his sun and moon, and I held him down while a stranger hurt him. In time he will understand that it was for his own good, but right now he is confused and hurt — and who wouldn’t be?

Monday evening, as I was preparing dinner, I noticed our koi, Espada, was acting strangely. Glassy eyed and slowly moving her mouth while resting diagonally at the bottom of the tank. Twenty minutes later, she was dead. R and Anya buried her in the backyard, and nobody was terribly interested in dinner after that. (That’s fish funeral number 4, for those of you counting at home. Daddy flushed Bubbles, Ben Connor, and the OG Princess Cupcake, but Mr. Pickles, Princess Cupcake II, and Angel were all interred.) Daddy picked up some tiny neon fish at the pet store later that evening, which took some of the sting out of the loss, but Monday was a day.

In between those moments, though, there was joy. It was a gorgeous autumn day. We played I Spy with the blazing fall leaves, marveling at the showers of them blowing across our windshield. I treated the kids to cake pops after the shot. After we returned home from the doctor, we all cuddled together on the couch and watched movies. The kids don’t often have me all day with no responsibilities before us; the lack of a to-do list and uninterrupted Mommy time was a welcome treat. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched a whole movie with them without doing something productive at the same time.

“How was your day off?”

“Good,” I reply. And it was good, mostly. Just as 2020 has brought joy and discovery and wonder alongside the pain and loss and hardship. It’s a bittersweet good. The kind of good that will look better in hindsight. The kind of mixed-bag good that you learn and grow from.

2020 good is a thing.