It is time to be honest about how I am really doing.
As I giggled through the movie Into the Spider-verse the other day with my boys, I began thinking about this shelter-in-place. It feels like we have been sucked through a blackhole and catapulted into an alternate reality. My house, my job, my town all appear the same, but the subtle voids due to social-distancing send an uncomfortable shiver up my spine. I think this stay-at-home, teach-my-kids, direct-distance-learning, gather-on-Zoom life has created an alternate version of me.
I shouldn’t complain. My friends are barely treading financial water as they await the life-preservers they’ve been promised. Those I know with compromised immune systems become socially isolated as they battle the desire to connect yet remain safe from this invisible enemy known as Corona. I am safe in my domain on the rural acreage between cities. Both my husband and I are essential workers. We have jobs. We have paychecks. We have strong immune systems and two healthy kids.
But still this distorted reality is crushing my spirit.
In other circumstances, I would enjoy working from home. Let’s be real: I thank the Lord for the freedom to use the bathroom when I need to or to grab a cup of coffee when I hit that middle-of-the-day fatigue. I couldn’t do either of those pre-shelter-in-place. As a middle school teacher, bathroom visits require calling four colleagues multiple times until someone hears the phone, picks it up, and agrees to supervise the 34 teens in my classroom so I can make a mad dash across the campus to one of two staff restrooms.
However, the change in surroundings and those particular freedoms don’t come without a price. Lesson plans take three times as long to create. Two months ago, I could walk into my classroom, lesson plans simply outlined, and teach. I now meet in Zoom with my team where we create a “master plan” of sorts. We include hyperlinks to videos and chart and graphic organizers. We add the daily objectives and useful tools. Then, we each finesse each plan so that it becomes a more comfortable garment we can wear all week long. Then, we share it with parents. We share it with students. We post each assignment from the plan, daily, online. Did I forget to mention that none of the student work is graded? But I will read the work and add comments because I know my students need connection.
Often, though, the comments open a Pandora’s box of emails. Where I used to be able to respond to one student’s raised hand and fill gaps in understanding for multiple students at once, I now receive five to ten messages from individuals that ask the same question – and this is a question that was most likely already addressed in the assignment directions. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? Like answering the same email the same way and expecting the students to apply the new understanding? Does that mean I’m going insane? I think there might be a chance.
Again, I am thankful for my new-found freedom to take the occasional break, but there is a caveat: I also have my two boys at home. They are engaged in distance-learning with their own school. So, that makes me their manager, aide, motivator, interpreter, tech support…
And I am supposed to do these two jobs AT. THE. SAME. TIME.
Most days, I wake up with a game plan. I psych myself up with Biblical words of encouragement. I make lists and post to-do items on whiteboards. I charge all of the devices. I am Super-Teacher-Mom and I will do it all.
I inevitably crash land. In the multi-tasking hours of mid-morning, I miss emails and lunch time. As night descends, I hunker down on my son’s floor, working away while staying close so he feels safe and loved. I try to give all of me to all of him – but my attention is divided over and over again. And my head pounds with the force of Thor’s hammer.
The day began with my boys arguing through their sugary cereal while I tried to compose a coherent email to a parent. After three interruptions to curb their bickering and spoon-sword fighting, I slammed my palms on the table and screamed at them. Those precious eyes of theirs grew round with stunned surprise. My hand throbbed for the next five minutes.
This is not me, I thought. Why am I so entrenched in getting this done? It is just an email.
The night before, those triple-posted lesson plans crumbled. What was documented and organized fell victim to digital error codes and broken web links. That meant a Thursday morning rush to redo it all before reposting for parents and students. After hitting send on the email, I took a deep breath, dabbed a bit of attitude cover-up in my weak spots and sent my boys to log on to their devices.
Within minutes, my brain was engrossed in developing a new weekly agenda for my students. Then my older son needed help. My youngest couldn’t remember a password. The internet timed out. My phone rang.
When I picked up the call and greeted my hubby, my hello eked out through clenched teeth. He asked how I was doing, and I replied, “Busy. I have a sh**load to do.”
“What did you say?” he asked, stunned at my use of language. “In the 13 years we have been married, I don’t think I have ever heard you cuss…”
“You haven’t. Because I don’t. But it is the truth.”
I have never been one to use offensive language. I just don’t like the way it sounds and the way it reflects on me, but it came out. The things left undone and the mounting pile of days ahead consumed me. I felt like a whoopie cushion that had been flattened by a tsunami of weight. It was as though the SH-word burst out of my gut along with the whoosh of air.
This is not me, I thought again. Where did the real me go?
The real me – the one who works daily to clothe herself in patience and dignity – transformed under the burden of unmet, self-imposed expectations.
With that single unfettered crack in my armor, that shocking utterance of profanity, I resolved to find a way back to me. After all, this shelter-in-place is a rare time in history, not because of a pandemic or a chance to see just how federal rights compete with states’ rights, but because I am home with my boys. For 11 years, I’ve woken my boys with a hug, a kiss, and a wish to be home with them. They are changing into young men with each breath they take. I see them maturing before my eyes, yet I am missing it.
Friday dawned almost summer-warm. With temperatures rising close to 90 degrees, the outdoors sang to me of possibility. I rolled out of bed, whispered a short prayer, and replied to early-morning emails. While my youngest finished a virtual class meeting, I gathered our swimsuits. As soon as my work schedule allowed, we lathered ourselves with sunblock, locked up the house, and drove across town for a swim in my brother’s backyard pool. I left the devices at home. I placed my phone face-down on the patio table and replied only to emails and necessary student comments. After all, I still had a job to do…but I resolved to soak in these moments with my boys.
Now, I choose to expect less of myself. If I can have grace for my boys and grace for my students, surely I can have grace for myself. That is me.