Friday, March 19, 2021

One year...

We have crossed the one year mark when the coronavirus shut down my piece of the world. Last week, Connor returned to in-person school for two days a week and Helen returned yesterday for two days each week. And here's where life is funny. Connor and Helen have different last names. One has a name from the front half of the alphabet and one has a name from the back half of the alphabet. Guess how days of in-person school are decided? Yes. By last name.

But...but...you say, surely there are many families like yours (well, where there are children in families with different last names, not necessarily where two children share two married parents and have different last names) doesn't the school district think of this? Yes, they do. But Connor and Helen are also in two different school districts. And I didn't want to ask any questions or make any demands because I am walking on egg shells at the notion that they are back in a school building, so rather than send a query to see if their days could be aligned, I just accept that they attend school on different days.

At the start of the pandemic, I was fielding calls from several reporters about one set of issues I work on and I am in the midst of fielding calls on another set of issues - and twice now, a reporter has said "you must be so glad your children are back in school" and then I tell them the details and as I explain it, they laugh and we all agree - so 2020-2021. Of course I have a problem that is entirely of my own making and related to me stubbornly not wanting my children to both have their dad's last name. Life comes at you, friends, in ways you can never anticipate.

So...what is it like? Well, truthfully, I look at Helen's desk and more often than not, even on her at-home days, she has abandoned our shared workspace. She notionally comes in, but then she claims to have lots of group work and while I'm not quite sure it's true, I figure we're almost at the end of this nightmare and maybe what she needs now is to have a few wins, and maybe being in her room a little more than I like is that win. Also, I've been trying to take her on walks and to get treats and such more often lately so I'm doing more checking in at other times. Please don't let this backfire.

Connor is a machine. He knows himself and he sits across the room from me for most classes, gleefully telling me how he just crushed some concept that I, more often than not, do not fully understand. But I am good at asking questions and I am interested in what he's doing - because it clearly interests him, so he gets the satisfaction of explaining and I enjoy hearing how he sees different assignments.

The dog was a bit confused by Connor's absence the first couple of days, but she's settled in a bit. But when he comes home from school, she jumps up on him and it is really the best thing in life. She misses Helen as well, but as Helen says, even though she loves Trixie, Trixie barely tolerates her. That's an exaggeration, but Trixie most definitely loves Connor the most. 

Ed thinks his office will finally reopen in October. I'm guessing he'll be back before then. He's gotten dose one of the vaccine with dose two coming up next week. I have no clue when my office will reopen, but I suspect it'll be around the same time.

After canceling our trip to Vietnam this year, I decided to plan a trip that felt more like a slam dunk in the times of COVID. We are traveling to a couple of National Parks and then we will raft down part of the Grand Canyon. After that, my parents are driving out to meet us and we'll hang out at a final resort before heading back home. I'm trying to not get my hopes up too much, in case things go sideways, but planning the trip has been a huge boost for everyone in my house. Turns out, living mostly boxed in for a year is hard. I don't recommend.

Elaine

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Whoa! Where Have I Been?

My house.

I've been in my house. We are now in month seven of working and schooling from home. Crazy, right? I almost don't believe it. And unfortunately, we are nowhere close to opening our schools for my children. Maybe we'll get some other folks back in the building, but I'm skeptical of even that.

In any case, my mom reminded me today - when I sent a fairly crass text - that I should update this space.

I spent the last week of summer alone in the house while Ed took the children to Chincoteague. I joined them for the long weekend, along with a few other friends. During that week, it hit me - in order to avoid having teens in their bedrooms all day long unsupervised, we needed a joint space. And for a variety of reasons, I really do not think teens should be hanging out in their rooms alone all day.

I cleaned out the craft room - which was not an insignificant task, purchased new desk chairs, adjusted the desks that had been purchased so many years ago and quickly had become cluttered piles of child junk to the proper heights, moved a desk in for me - and voila! The TJ-HB-UI satellite office space was born.

Ed goes upstairs to his safe room, closes the door, and basically goes about his business. I sit with Connor and Helen all day long as they work, though they leave for band, orchestra, home room, and group talking time. I leave for conference calls that I need to speak a lot on. For the most part, it works. Helen commented that it wasn't as lonely as being in her room - and Connor has been crushing school. I'll take it.

Today, I got a note that made my heart sing. Last March, school abruptly ended for Helen. No new content was to be delivered, and then the school system announced everyone in pre-Algebra in 6th grade would just take pre-Algebra in 7th grade. No, no they will not, was my basic thought. So...a few clarifying emails later, the math department said everyone would start in pre-Algebra but that they would test the students at the end of September and see if they should be moved to Algebra.

Test results came back today and Helen is moving into Algebra. Her first love is not math, but everything else in middle school is so easy for her, that I think it's good for her to have at least a small challenge. She was so proud, as was I. 

We have almost finished week 7 of school at home and everyone is still looking forward to heading back whenever it's deemed safe enough to do so.

Elaine

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Vietnam

My family was supposed to head to Vietnam in a couple of weeks. School would end, the kids would head to my parents' home for a week, and then off we'd go. We were going to stop in Cambodia and then meet up with friends living in Vietnam. It was perfect timing because they have just finished their first year and will be leaving after three years. This summer was the sweet spot of our friends having lots of good recommendations of things to do, some new stuff they still wanted to do, but we wouldn't be visiting them as they were trying to prepare for another move.

I cannot even express how bitter I am that there is NO community spread in Vietnam while m y own country is a mess. Vietnam had a serious lockdown toward the end of January, performed aggressive contact tracing, and essentially eliminated the virus. They share a border with China where the virus started - yet they are no longer in a mess!

But we can't visit because there's no good way to know we won't become superspreaders. I get why travel is restsircted, and it's the right move, but I am so upset that my own government failed at containment so badly.

There is something really special about seeing places through new eyes, and this was a trip that was full of things that no one in my family has ever seen. We would all be experiencing Asia for the first time. I think it would've been like Hawaii was last summer - except multiplied because it would be so different from anything we've experienced.

As of now, our flights to Cambodia - which were funded with frequent flier miles - have all been canceled and the miles redeposited. The flight from Vietnam to Hong Kong has been outright canceled and the flights beyond that have been moved around so much as to be nearly unrecognizable to what we booked. There is a two week quarantine in place so there is no way we will be taking this trip. But at this point, rather than refunding my money, the airline is offering travel vouchers. Thankfully, it's Air Canada and I believe it's treated like a government airline so the government will at least keep it flying. But I really do not need $4,000 worth of vouchers to maybe use in the future. Good news - they never expire! Bad news - I don't live in Canada (and I mean that in more ways than one).

The days bring waves of disappointment and we are trying our best to move forward. We've booked a house in Maine for a week at the end of July and I am really looking forward to the kayaking (we're staying right on a lake), the hiking, and whatever else is open to us. In a couple of weeks, we're heading to some tiny houses with other friends staying nearby.

It's all so overwhelming, but I do know I'm incredibly lucky to be cooped up with people I love.

Elaine


Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Day the Plates Stopped Spinning

I feel like I've been rolling with the punches of this virus. Work not safe - pack up and head home. School for one closed - welcome to my dining room office. School for the second closed - no problem, I'll just take some time in the middle of each day and try to make sure you're OK. At first, Ed would eat breakfast and lunch with the kids, and I would try and be available more throughout the day if anyone needed anything.

Those first couple of weeks, we were all in limbo. Nobody knew how long the stay home order would last. And really? Really were our schools going to be closed for the rest of the year? It was almost unfathomable, so I just let myself believe that things would somehow get under control and we'd reopen.

But, staring at the last week of school in front of me, it's obvious that was misplaced hope.

Connor burned through an entire course learning material in the hopes of getting placed in a higher level course next fall. I was so relieved. He was busy, he seemed relatively happy, and he was progressing amidst all the chaos.

But then all those plates that I was barely managing, just started to wobble.

Everything at work takes longer than it should. Everyone needs something urgent so my brain is switching gears constantly. And I'm still trying to make this not totally stink for the kids. Milkshakes one day - a friend over for frappuccino another day. I was desperate for an activity so even signed them up for an online debate tournament - which Connor commented passed the time and he seemed to be enjoying. Helen was less into it, but she and Connor would strategize a bit together so it at least provided something to talk about.

Diligently, I would ask each child about each class. And they would report things were fine, assignments were being turned in, nothing to worry about.

So, as I felt like so many other plates I was trying to keep spinning were crashing to the floor - at least this one thing was OK. Not what anyone wanted, but OK.

Only it wasn't. And today that became perfectly obvious as I looked in ParentVue and noticed that one of my children hadn't completed a single assignment in a class. Instead, the child had "attended" each class, by which I mean, the child signed into the online classroom, turned the camera off, and promptly played phone games or perused random news. You see, I knew it was totally a mistake to let the child have a private bedroom setup for work, but I let it happen. And now I'm  just kicking myself because it facilitated this mess.

When all this was discovered, amidst a different school crisis that had the child sobbing which I was trying to figure out how to solve, I just totally lost it. I actually went into my bedroom and screamed an obscenity so loud it woke a sleeping child on the floor above. 

Ed came home from his run, I briefed him on why I was so furious and disappointed. He yelled, we talked about how the ship could be righted. We informed the child that summer would involve making up these assignments, trying to stress that the learning still needs to happen and that it would've been better just to do as was expected the first time.

I'm totally crushed that even this last plate has come crashing to the ground. There is no relief in sight. There are too many stessful things. Every day we miss something else that someone in the house was looking forward to. And there's just no way out.

Elaine

Monday, June 1, 2020

George Floyd

Did anyone sleep last night? Not sure. I didn't. I went to sleep with images of my beloved DC burning and kept thinking about how we've had so many years to end racism in this country - and we don't. We just keep trucking along and acting as if it will heal itself.

We don't consume a lot of news in our home via radio or TV, particularly when Helen and Connor are awake. But they have phones and computers and friends. Still, it took me a little off guard when I mentioned something to Ed and as I reached for the name, Helen filled in "Floyd". Although I knew Connor was an avid consumer of news, I didn't realize Helen was as well.

The juxtaposition of the two of them sleeping in the backyard last night with the dog where it's pretty quiet and safe with DC being torn apart a few miles away was unsettling. And while I do seek to make my children feel safe, particularly in this time when there is not enough known about coronavirus / COVID-19,  maybe they feel a little too comfortable?

I WOULD SWING
by Kelly Corrigan
If you took my husband away from me
Just because, say, he had blue eyes
Or a hairline you found objectionable
Or maybe because you didn’t like the cyst
that waxes and wanes
On his back
I would not make a poster
Or write an op ed
I would buy a sledge hammer
I would swing it into plate glass
Until I could make you feel
As endangered and disposable
As I felt.
I would need you,
As all people do,
To feel how I felt.
I would need to see you sit up,
Pull yourself out of a dream
Into a worse reality,
Saying
Will my neck be broken next?
Will my true love be made still
Under the knee
Of a righteous man
Who has all the rights I don’t
And knows it?
If you screamed into your iPhone
That my husband and his heritage
As a European-American
was assaulting you
By suggesting your dog
Needed a leash in the park
That was all of ours
I would not be polite in my response
I would not find a lawyer
And wait patiently for an “authority”
To maybe side with me.
Physical madness, if you ask me,
Is the most natural and understandable reaction.
Unproductive, sure.
Counter productive, yes of course,
But natural and understandable.
I know this in my body and your body knows it too.
Put your blue eyed husband
Under the knee of a public “servant”
for nine minutes
and when his heart stops forever
you tell me if you reach for a magic marker,
your laptop
or a sledge hammer

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee

I'm a lover of small subcultures. And while there are many runners, I read that about 0.5 percent of the population will complete a marathon. That's a relatively small group, but among runners, the really small groups are ultrarunners (typically defined as running a 50K or more), ultrarunners who run 100 milers (I know ONE person in this category, two if you count driving another one to the start of a marathon once because he's close friends with a friend of mine). And then of course, are the tiny handful of ultrarunners who compete in the Barkley marathons. If you want to begin a dive down a deep rabbit hole, you should read through that link and then go watch a documentary of the event. After that, you can join many other people who follow the event annually on Twitter. My brief summary is that it's a crazy long race in crazy difficult conditions, that almost no one can actually complete.

The race director of this event is legendarily crazy. Any time someone finishes the Barkley, the course gets harder. He's honed the art of challenging people physically, and he appears to love running and wants to inspire others.

So this summer, he started the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, which was advertised to be 1,000 kilometers. Turns out, it's actually a bit further than that. It's actually 1021.68 kilometers. In miles, that equates to 5.5 miles every day from May 1 to August 31. That's a LOT of miles. Runners and walkers can compete. There was a small entry fee, which included a t-shirt and, for finishers, a medal. He figured he could keep a few race related businesses up and running if he had an event. Not sure he realized there would be 19,000 runners and walkers across the world willing to compete!

I couldn't resist. I wanted a challenge and I'm never going to be able to compete in one of this guys regular (which are not at all regular) races. They're far too challenging for me.

But this? Maybe?

So far, it seems possible. But unlike most other challenges I've participated in, there is no way to speed this up in any meaningful way. If I run too far one day, I'll be too tired to run the next, losing any gain. And, because I have over 500 miles left to go - I can't just knock it out and be done.

I've never counted my walking miles before, so I don't have a good idea of how much my total mileage has increased - but given how sore my body is, I can guess it's been a lot. As of yesterday, I had logged 111.1 miles. A quick look at stats from my watch showed that of those, 81 had been from running, which means I'm looking at running miles similar to when I'm in all out marathon training. Trixie and I have been walking a lot (looks like a little under 2 miles most days).

My projected finish day is August 12.

So far, I met a woman in my actual running group for some virtual BBQ in Memphis. Can't wait to explore Tennessee virtually this summer!

Elaine

Friday, May 8, 2020

Renewal

It is hard to look around and see so many things closed. Every restaurant, knitting store, butcher - all someone's dream, and all at risk of closing if the shut down continues much longer and the government doesn't step in to provide substantial assistance.


The same is true for so many opportunities lost for my family. I was supposed to have lunch with Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Sunday, arranged by women I'm cohosting a conference with (which has been delayed until 2021). Connor was supposed to be in New York last weekend and Helen had an orchestra field trip overnight that included an amusement park. Lots of fun time lost.


But I'm trying to view life from a perspective of growth and opportunity, rather than loss.


Last year, when my family was in Hawaii, we took a small plane over an area where a volcano had erupted the previous year. For miles and miles, all you could see was lava that had leveled neighborhoods. A road that you could previously drive through a park had collapsed and dropped many feet. It was incredible.


But when we asked about how people responded, we heard stories of resiliency. Rather than talk of a home being mowed down, people talked about the opportunity for the island to grow and be made new.


That's a touch lesson, and one I don't understand well, but in the last week, my children have heard talks from two astronauts, watched a program with climate scientists, and there are several other lectures planned. These are new opportunities, brought about by this pandemic.


So...what will we build when we wake from this paused economy? Will it be more fair? Will it capture a new imagination? Will we learn there are fewer boundaries than we previously thought?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Rhythm

When the kids were little, Ed and I focused a lot on rhythm. The day's start and end were consistent. We implemented a schedule of breakfasts that rotated throughout the week. We tried to honor their need to breathe in and then breathe out, alternating activities of activity and inactivity. And for the most part, it worked.

And of course, even though they both typically spend a significant amount of time outside my home now, they still have their rhythms - and those are difficult to replicate.

Connor will sit and program on his computer (he's trying to test out of a class) for a solid two hours, and then he'll need a little break. Often, he'll go back to it after a break. It struck me as I observed this that it probably reflected his day - where his classes meet for a couple of hours, he shifts to a new class, and then that class meets for a couple of hours. All told, he meets in four classes most days. (One day, all seven classes happen, and the students uniformly do not like the rushing it entails.)

Helen, on the other hand, attends seven classes every day. So her natural rhythm is one of fourty-five minute blocks, and then some social time in the hallways as she moves to her next class. This is really hard to replicate at home. And I think she feels that.

Ed and I, on the other hand, go to work, sit for extended periods, and have small interuptions which we have a lot of control over. That's no longer true in a work from home format. The calls are endless. And there is no ability to just pop out of my office, grab a drink of water, and expect to find a colleague to bounce an idea off of. I haven't talked to my boss in a long time. It's a little unnerving.

In some ways, this feels like we're back to those early days - except in those early days, when we were a round, we were generally available to our children. Now, we're around, but also trying to work. That seems to make it harder to establish rhythms we can all live in - but we're also all more flexible than we used to be.

I'm at day 41 of being home. That's a long time!

Elaine

Thursday, April 2, 2020

April Fool's Day

Since everything is topsy-turvy here, I wasn't sure what to expect for April Fool's Day. Occasionally, we pull off some modest surprises, but mostly we can't think of anything that good.

We started the day off with our standard prank of making the lightbulb in the refrigerator not work. The kids and I usually just tape the little button that comes on and off with the door opening to remain off, but after a few years, Ed has actually wised up to this. So...this year I also unscrewed the lighbulbs a bit. Didn't really fool him, but he played along.

I had an all-day online meeting with a group I only meet with a few times a year. I ran up the stairs at 8:27, giving myself just a few minutes to shift offices (I've been working in the dining room) to the upstairs guest room (where Ed has been working). I logged on - and my screen was blue - with a lot of words about there being a system error and instructions to try turning the computer on and off. That did not work. Blue screen again - and now I was risking being late. So I hopped on my phone to call in from there - and Helen came running upstairs. She is the only person in my family who is not a turd. She explained what they had done, fixed my computer, and by the time I got on my meeting I learned we were actually starting at 9 - so I was still early. (Usually we have breakfast together and chat before the meeting starts.)

In other words, my family nailed me.

And then, a few hours later, when I hopped on my computer to wrap something up, Ed had reset my computer so the damn screen came up again.

Connor was more modest in his pranks, and I didn't discover until this morning that he had put a piece of tape over my mouse's sensor so it wouldn't work properly. Tricked again.

I was able to get Helen - and almost get Connor. I told Helen that Governor Northam had just finished his press conference and the state had decided that students would repeat the grade they were currently in next year. Her face fell a little and I could see the anger. I quickly told her it was a joke. When I went to play the same joke on Connor, he started to fall for it but then realized it couldn't be true. Almost got him - but not quite.

My dad played his usual trick of calling the kids up and letting them know an elephant was on the lawn. The kids are old enough to not fall for it any longer, but I think they still enjoy the call.

Hope your April Fool's Day was as fun as you wanted it to be.

Elaine

PS: My mom will be happy to read that I found one final jar of her strawberry jelly in the freezer. I pulled it out and both Connor and Helen have been enjoying it. Good thing strawberry season is around the corner!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

COVID-19 Diary

March 31. Starting a little late here - but might as well jump in. Almost three weeks ago, I stopped going in to my office. The office officially closed on Monday, March 16 - but I  figured it was safer to stay at home ASAP, so I stopped commuting on Wednesday, March 11.

Connor stopped being able to attend school on March 13 (which I think is the first day Ed worked from home) and Helen's school system closed on the following Monday, March 16.

On March 13, our governor announced that schools would be closed through the remainder of the school year, and the students and teachers would instead engage in "distance learning". Hearing that schools were closed for the duration of the year was hard.

Yesterday, March 30, Virginia got a stay home order, which doesn't change our lives too terribly much since we've been mostly hunkered down - but the stay home order is in place until JUNE 10. JUNE 10 is a LONG ways away. That was hard to hear.

April 1. There is an interesting model that attempts to project hospital needs, based on a few inputs including when schools were closed, when a stay home order was put in place, when non-essesntial services were shut down, and when travael was severely restricted. Also feeding into the model are reported cases and death. The analysis is state-by-state, and in some cases, it's pretty comforting.

But not today.

Yesterday, the data did not include the date of Virginia's stay-home order, which should have the effect of pushing our peak resource need out considerably. It also wasn't totally up to date on deaths and confirmed cases.

The model suggested that peak usage would be May 28 in Virginia. And, because I have family in Kansas, I recorded the peak usage day in Kansas as well - April 27. The US peak usage day was projected to be April 15 - but given the unevenness of this mess, it's hard to derive much meaning from that date.

Overnight, the model was updated. For the US, the peak usage date was pushed back one day - to April 16. But here in Virginia, our peak usage day was MOVED FORWARD! Our peak usage predicted date is now May 20. Kansas was pushed back a day to April 28.

So...when an input that should have pushed our date back was added - it wasn't enough to outweigh the inputs that move the date forward, which is presumably identified cases. Maybe the first date was false, because testing has been so inconsistent, so the change doesn't really mean anything. But when I look at the numbers - and I really see it as there being very little else we could do, personally - today slots solidly into the "hard days" column. These days are thankfully rare, but really overwhelming.