Virtual Reality

The first months of my sons’ freshman and junior years of high school are in the books. Our district reopened 100% virtually, meaning all students in all schools receive all instruction via their district-issued Chromebook screens. If one more person uses the phrase “new normal,” I’m gonna lead the revolt.

It’s both understandable and appropriate that huggy, emotional high school students as well as boogery, teary-eyed kindergarteners are prohibited from sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in school hallways and classrooms right now. I get it. I hate it, but I get it, and I’m not looking for an argument. I could and I do focus a lot on what my boys are missing right now, but that doesn’t serve me here.

Remember that week back in March, when the world shut down and everyone realized how much they appreciated their kids’ teachers? Those were the four finest days of my career! I’m kidding, but what fries my beans right now is that people think virtual learning is the easy way out for teachers–you think this is easy?? We hear of parents complaining how they should get a property tax refund because they’re “homeschooling” while teachers are “not working.” I’m sorry, what??

Parents, we need you like never before. And we have always needed you. When schools were closed last March and working from home/distance learning became a necessity, I said that I could not possibly have done my job if my children were any younger. I cannot imagine the strain of trying to work while ensuring my children were tuned in in a meaningful way. And here we are. Still.

For those of you in the back, let me be clear: (almost) NO ONE PREFERS TO BE TEACHING VIRTUALLY. VIRTUAL REALITY SUCKS. WE 99.9% WANT TO BE SPENDING OUR DAYS IN OUR CLASSROOMS WITH OUR STUDENTS.

But we can’t complain, even though here I am doing the very thing. I put my smiliest, happiest face forward when I see my students for I am genuinely elated to see them. I acknowledge the weirdness, tell them I wish we were learning together, practicing our skills face-to-face, sure, but do I complain? No! My tone sets the tone for their time with me, and I need them to be up! So I’m up. And my students don’t know this, so let’s keep it a secret, OK?, but that they show up is a joy that’s carrying me.

Like this crabby, old speech path, my children’s teachers are working their butts off trying to get and keep the kids engaged. I know this because my children are working their butts off and engaged. I see their Google Classroom updates, the boys pop down to my basement “office” to check in “between classes.” The innovation required of educators right now in their lesson planning and presentation is unlike anything in my lengthy history as an educator. And, in 2020, you don’t get to pick which new digital platform you’re dipping your toes into–you have to be savvy about all of them, everything, immediately, right now, right this minute!

When my students log in for their session, I provide therapy and then log session data in one online module. When they fail to show, I’ve got to log their non-attendance, document my many contact attempts with the kids and their families, and that’s after I’ve spent the time making those phone calls, and composing emails and text messages. I could detail the minutiae (and I did actually before deleting a ton of text here, so you’re welcome) of why I’m working harder than I’ve worked in my life, but it’s not exciting. It’s exhausting.

By late afternoon, I am bone-weary, mentally and physically spent.

The hardest part of my job right now isn’t service provision though. And it’s not the enormity of therapy planning, delivery, and documentation–I’ve long abandoned the notion of being able to manufacture time. Constant multitasking is taxing my working memory in unsustainable ways. I’m quantitatively less happy and less effective than if I were working in a linear fashion (yes, there are studies and if I had the energy to find them, I’d link them here. Maybe another post). But still that’s not the hardest part.

The hardest part is feeling acutely that I cannot be enough of a support to my coworkers who need it. I’m a speech-language pathologist program support teacher, and it’s tearing me down that my support part of the PST gig is falling flat in my estimation.

The innovation and willingness to share “what works for me” demonstrated across our profession is inspiring. It’s also daunting. Speech paths tend not to be real good at not being great at their jobs, so when you hear that Speechie Blogger A has a super cute Bitmoji classroom and Speechie Teachers Pay Teachers Millionaire B is crushing the green screens while Speechie Webinar Producer C’s the Boom Card queen, you might feel a little, um, less than stellar. . . I’ve asked people to find a way to be OK with doing their best, even if it’s not their ideal, but I don’t know that message is what people need or want or are even ready to hear.

Now I’m old, and comfortable admitting I’m doing my best and that’s going to have to be enough. I know my best isn’t as flashy as everyone else’s, but it’s a buoy keeping me afloat in this vast sea of technological overload: I did all I could today. At the end of the day, I don’t even want to LOOK at my computer to surf online anymore–my whole life is on my computer!!! I used to love sitting at my keyboard, creating stories here in this blog, what I once labeled my “sanity-saving project.” Ha. These days I write almost not at all, and hey, you’re welcome for that too.

I want to help others better than I’m able to right now, but I’m also doing everything I can to do my best for my students. I’m doing the best I’m able to support my own children’s learning (and I was never one for classes titled Theory of Knowledge or Global Politics). I’m trying to run our household, trying to keep my family alive and fed and stable. Last week I lamented to a colleague much younger than I that I believed myself ill-equipped to help in the ways people need me to and shared with her a little about what my day-to-day sounds like.

Isn’t this magic? It’s part of a building-side mural in my neighborhood, painted onto the side of a print shop. The mural includes many elements, but this one fits best today.

And what does this wunderkind do? Like a ninja, leaving no trace (was she even ever really here?), she drops a package at my door the next day. From her I receive a copy of the book she and I discussed some months ago along with a perfect drawing of my dog, drawing being her pandemic project, and a bottle of Prosecco. (See, I drink a lot now that I’m home 24/7 and have to wait for happy hour only as long as it takes me to walk upstairs after shutting down my laptop). She also included a beautiful plant, just beginning its bloom cycle. And the plant, though destined to live a short life under my care, gave me pause to focus my energy on growth.

I work with the most incredible people, and I thank this extra-special Speechie for all the goodies, including the pale lavender-pink petals which sparked the reminder that even when we feel buried, we can still reach out and seek the sun. Thank you for the reminder that kindness goes a long, long way. So does laughter. So does hard work.

We are trying, we really are. Before COVID-19, teaching did not involve a jillion Google Chrome extensions like Jamboards or Pear Deck slides or naked parents passing their kid’s Google Meeting screen or tragically here in my town, the murder of a student’s mother, the gunshot fired during a live lesson. Please be kind to your children’s teacher. I’m not saying you’ve got to buy them books and booze, but I’m not saying not to either. . .

Pros, Cons, and Way Too Many Lease Miles

Yesterday was my forty-ninth first day of school.  Kindergarten through high school was thirteen years, tack on four years of college plus two years of graduate school to add another six, and yesterday I embarked upon my thirtieth year in urban education.  Holy shit, I’m old.

I don’t have vivid recollections of most of my first days, but I’m comfortable asserting that 2020’s school opener has to be strangest ever first day of school.  And I know from strange–may I remind you that last year’s first day came on the heels of a complete emotional meltdown subsequent to my husband’s near-death summer?  People are all, 2020 is the worst, and I’m over here, real quiet-like still cursing the nightmare orbit 2019 was for me.  I mean, 2020 sucks for reals and globally, sure, but for a girl whose hopes and dreams were pinned on the fresh start a change of the calendar was to have brought. . .  I guess what I’m saying is blah.  It still sucks as in present progressive, still sucking.

Last week was freshman orientation.  My older son–now a high school junior!–sat at his bedroom desk helping to lead a group of freshmen through their orientation and welcome Google Meet event while my younger sat directly below him in the dining room Google Meeting as an incoming freshman.  Google Meet orientation was not the experience either had hoped for, but they both grew from the experience.  Definitely check the pro side of a pros/cons columnar list.

My brain’s a go, but my heart remains unconvinced that our district’s virtual start is ideal even if it is.  I’ve elected to work remotely, meaning my work with students and colleagues will be based temporarily out of my dining room.  Next week when my own children begin their virtual classes, my “office” will be relegated to the basement, which is fine because I need a work space that’s different from the space where my family and I eat dinner together.  I have an office and eight school sites, so working from home makes sense and is my design, yes, but I’d much rather have a front row seat to my coworkers and students.  I miss talking to people with my whole self, I miss cracking wise, hearing stories about my colleagues who are also my friends’ lives and loves.  I miss how faces light up at the “Heyyyyy, did ya have a good summer?” back-to-school reunions.  I miss those knowing smirks, inside jokes, eye rolls, and snort-laughter. I talk to so few people in real time now that I’ve lost my conversational rhythm and epic timing. I’m not even funny anymore.

But. . .  What kind of mom or mentor would I be if I noticed nothing but what I am missing?  I saw some social media post asking parents to support whatever their kids’ school districts decide for opening, because kids will follow their parents’ leads.  So I am trying to find the silver linings, the items I can tick off as a thumbs-up on my own T-chart of pros and cons.  But I am a very keepin’ it real parent.  I openly tell my children things like, “Yeah, you can think this sucks, guys, because it sucks.” But I also try to remind them that none of us has the right kind of experience to manage what a pandemic really means for our mental health and well-being.  I don’t know what’s the right type of reaction or behavior, and I’ve had forty-nine first days of school!  I should have more wherewithal than teenage boys whose brains are well, the brains of teenage boys.  I should be more capably equipped, but I’m not as OK as I’d like to be.  The photo below is not an inaccurate representation of the current state of affairs in my “office.” Except my Chuck Taylors are pink and yellow.

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Instead of having to wake at 5:05 AM to ready myself for work before shuttling my kids to high school, I can stay in bed until 6:30.  Later than that really if I go light on the “ready” part. My commute is a grand total of seven footsteps.  Definitely a pro in the pros/cons tally.

I can pile my hair up in a bun without even having to rely on a mirror anymore, thereby styling down another few minutes from my AM prep time.  I call it my pandemic ‘do, and was told by at least one person it’s super cute.  That person is my favorite.  Pro.

I took an hour-long walk before work today.  I showered, bunned up the hair, put on makeup, and made it to work with time to spare.  Pro.

I walked my dog around our neighborhood park during my lunch break, sneaking in some belly rubs and a couple thousand steps. Pro. Woof!

No shopping for back-to-school wardrobes, so I saved a boatload of cash on fall clothing for both boys.  My baby already towers over everyone, standing at 6’2″ at age fourteen, so it’s a guarantee that he’ll have outgrown any shorts or tees I’d buy now.  Pro.

No sports for the sport.  We were all hungry for football, looking forward to my little one’s debut as a gridiron Husky pretty much as soon as he hung up his cleats after his eighth grade season.  Con.

No knock-down drag-out fights over the last red 2″ binder you MUST have for Physics class or 10-color multi-pack Crayola markers at the Target Back-to-School bins.  School hasn’t even mentioned the $125 calculator needed for algebra, so yay.  Pro.

I’ve got to learn online apps and virtual service delivery and communication platforms whose names I’d never even heard until recently. I feel like a relic, and that makes me feel sad. Professional pro, personal con.

I’ve received a few emails welcoming me back, telling me how great I am at my job, and thanking me for fighting the good fight.  PRO PRO PRO.

No drum line.  We all lose.  Con.  But the drum line and my kid did make it on his school’s web page.  OK not really.  The top of his head did though, and I swear, I knew it was his hair.  Moms know.

I do miss my afternoon auto concert performances.  Time in my car is necessary for the emotional disentanglement accompanied or maybe fueled by the songs that fix me.  I miss singing loudly (though not well), but all by myself and with unmatched conviction.  I miss the songs I need both to buoy my broken heart and celebrate ordinariness with their extraordinary melodies and lyrics.  The speakers in my new car are so good and Apple Car Play is magic.  Definite con.

I really want to high five my students when they get it!  Their proud faces beam when the skills/strategies I teach them click into place and work!  I’ll see them sure, but the screen dampens even the most genuine of joy.  Student victories?  They’re how you make it to your thirtieth first day, you guys.  Con.

I want my kids to be with their friends.  There.  I said it.  Not at the expense of others’ health and well-being, but I want my kids to hang with kids their age.  I’m still friends with many of my high school friends, which is a gift and a mega-pro.  My freshman son’s friendship stories are gonna be missing their first few chapters.

I travel city-wide on the daily, and log a crap-ton of miles driving from my office to the many schools where I provide services to kids and support to other professionals.  Having no commute has saved me some green in gasoline costs and vehicle wear and tear.  Pro. And that’s better for the environment, so double pro.

All those extra miles I purchased when I leased my new car are laughing in my face now. Con. Total burn.

I leaned a little heavy on the cons, but did manage to find a few rays of back-to-school sunshine, right?  What’s your back-to-school ray of sunshine? We’ve been healthy, so I don’t want to be a drama queen, but this distance and isolation are bound to leave wounds that will take some real time and effortful and intentional undoing to heal.  We all say “kids are resilient” because they are, but I think lately we throw “resilient” around more because WE need to believe it.  This mama needs to believe it like never before.

And That’s The Game

Ever have one of those days where you look at your kid, and find yourself completely overwhelmed at how much you are in love with him? That was my yesterday.

Major League Baseball is just opening up.  Stadiums are empty, even the play-by-play and color commentary guys are banned from traveling, but plate umps are calling “Play ball” across America.  For $50 you can purchase a giant likeness of your face to contribute to the illusion that fans are in the stands, and at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, you can even see stands filled with virtual, digital fans.  Crowd noise is piped in, cheering when the home team lines one to left. And I want to know who got that job?  It’s someone’s actual job now to select the appropriate “crowd noise” when a batter hits or misses and determine the organist’s rally cries via some iPod playlist made possible only by the dumpster fire we call 2020. Anyway.

The MLB’s truncated season got underway the very weekend my baby’s season had come to its end.  That there was a season at all for youth baseball was event enough, here in the the world of COVID-19.  Though the world had been shut down, youth baseball somehow found its way to daylight.  The season was short, cancellations abounded and disappointment ran rampant, but our younger son, to my great surprise, got in two months of ball, and that meant that so did I.

You may wholly disagree with our decision to let our boy play, and that’s your prerogative.  Science is real.  If you think we weren’t nervous to send our baby to his first team practice back in May, or sit along the first base line those early few games, think again.  But this team made a commitment to our son last August, as did we to them in return, and we felt bound to honor our commitment to have him play.  Rules and spaces were changed to accommodate social distancing.  Spectators were to be limited in number, and everyone I saw respected space.  There were no hugs, no high fives.

Youth baseball being open created its own set of losses and casualties.  My son has seen his best friend only once since ball opened.  Honestly, I wondered whether he would choose hanging with his best friend over baseball with an entirely new-to-him crop of kids.  I fully understand his BFF’s mother’s decision to disallow them to hang once our son’s baseball practices opened up our formerly 100% quarantined social circle.  The good guys in green and gold lost their home diamond to city and county park closures, so league schedules were cut and tournaments axed.  Thunderstorms were our constant summer companion (only on game days though!) to a point I actually wondered if the weather knew something we couldn’t.  Maybe those flood- and lightning-forced cancellations would have been fraught with exposure risks?  We’ll never know.  We got what we got: twenty-two forays around southeastern Wisconsin.  And we were grateful for them.

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He even got to pitch once.

No one on or related to his team became ill or has tested positive for coronavirus.  Maybe we were lucky, but you know what?  Luck has been in short supply at Chez Weir this last year (or five. . .), ya know?  My son got to play a game he loves.  We got to meet new families whose goals mirrored ours–to give their sons the opportunity to play the game they love.  Prior to the season, you may have heard me say that I wasn’t interested in getting to know a whole new group of parents, that this season was a one and done, and I didn’t need to become chatty with the other baseball parents.  But man, I’m glad I was and I did.  We were told that the vibe on my baby’s new team was chill, and the reputation was well-earned.  Really good people cheering on everyone’s kid, finding something good to say about every kid, every game.  There were cocktails.  There were laughs.  There were wins. Victory all around.

After yesterday’s final out (with my boy on deck!), I had that teary-eyed moment I expected, and that my kid openly and loudly asked me not to succumb to. “Don’t cry, Mom!”  But I always cry at endings.  Even good ones.  And this was a good one.  This ending also marked the end of an era for us.  After six years of travel ball, my little one is heading to high school now where he will be playing high school ball for the Huskies next season.  Whole new dynamic, whole new color scheme.  Whole new world of baseball-less summers-to-come for his dad and me.

My son’s season isn’t one for his record books, but he played hard.  He worked hard and improved his game.  He had fun!  In the “Do you feel like you have to play ball or do you get to play ball?” he got to play ball this year.  I’m proud of him for the player he is, and more proud for the teammate he is.  He’s compassionate (you should have seen my boy when a teammate went down after taking one to the face), and he’s as happy for a teammate when he lines one as when he blasts one himself.

I don’t often ask, but I needed a photo to mark this ending.  He played along.  Of course he did–he’s that kind of teammate.  I love this child, you just don’t even know.

It’s the bottom of the seventh, game over, so line ’em up, boys.  Tip your cap (because in the age of COVID, you don’t shake hands to acknowledge your opponent), and say goodbye.  I’m really gonna miss my boys of summer.

 

 

The Melancholy Is Palpable


Subtitle: First World Problems

Sub-subtitle: COVID-19 Is Apparently Not A Youth Baseball Fan


Had the pandemic not hit, this week would have been my Super Bowl.  My Olympic Games.  My Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Whatever your most favorite thing to do in the world is, that’s what this week would have been for me.  This week’s lineup included three Barenaked Ladies concerts, and what would have been my first solo overnight trip away from my family since “the accident.”  Woulda been meeting my BNL BFF Nikki in the front row in Indianapolis.  Woulda been the annual meeting of #ketchupandmustard.

Instead of heading down to Summerfest, I delivered my number two son to baseball practice last evening at the hour I would have likely been rifling through my closet and trying to calm my nerves so I could lay on my eyeliner evenly.  I can’t explain why I get nervous before a concert.  It’s not like I’m the one going on stage to perform, I get that.  But hey, I don’t get out much, and I want to look and feel decent–an increasingly challenging feat–while I celebrate with my favorite music seated among a few thousand of my closest friends. 

My kid’s baseball team practices far enough from home that it doesn’t pay to turn myself around back home, so I walk the nearby nature paths while he throws, bats, and runs.  As I walk (and as my brain functions as a matter of routine), random thoughts occur to me, and me being me, I give voice to those random nuggets.  Often, and to my great surprise, my friends are kind and/or patient enough to hear me out while I verbally vomit and whatever the text version of verbal vomit is.

I texted a friend last night something whiny about how walking around Brookfield and West Allis was almost as cool as being at my concert. . .  I pouted back through a few more text exchanges, and after the last of which was told that the melancholy was palpable.  Wouldn’t that be a great book title?  I’m no author, but it did inspire me to draft a little story here at long last.  I haven’t had much to say of late. 

I fully acknowledge that in the grand scheme of 2020, concert cancellation is not only the correct, safe route to take, but also it’s a first world kind of problem for me.  I mean, turn on the news!  Well, you can turn on the news. . .  I mean, mostly I don’t because in the internal battle to be sane or be informed, sane wins most days.  I’m less well-informed than I should be, but come at me if you’re gonna argue that sanity doesn’t matter especially now.  There is so much to be angry about, and I just can’t be angry all the time.  My point is that 2020 is a dumpster fire (a generous assessment, really), and with the health, safety, and well-being of us all, rescheduled concerts are not life or death matters for fans. Now for the artists and their support?  It could very well be. They’re losing money, or not making it anyway.  

A blinding headache woke me in the middle of the night, and it’s knocked me out most of today.  But I’m thankful for the medicine that cures my headaches, even if it does leave me feeling nauseated and hungover the rest of the day.  Recovering from this killer vise of a headache made me look to the sunny side of the street, so I’m trying not to be a complete ass about what COVID-19 has taken from my family and me–all of us!–and take note of little silver linings.  

Set your expectations real low, friends.  Real low.  I did say little silver linings.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation:  I mean, no one ever wants to visit the DOT, right?  My timing has sucked for most of my life, but it just might work out for my firstborn. . .  The Wisconsin DOT has temporarily waived the formal road test for prospective drivers.  Under new COVID-19 guidelines, kids under 18 need only to have completed Driver’s Education (check), 30 hours of practice driving with a licensed adult (check), and six Behind The Wheel sessions with a licensed instructor (5/6 complete).  Should the waiver hold another two weeks, my son can become a licensed driver without the stress of the road test.  Yeah, it’s a rite of passage, but no one ever wanted to take their test, right?

Eighth Grade Completion:  My little one completed eighth grade this year.  They don’t call it “graduation” in our district, because they reserve the word graduation for high school completion, to give students a goal to which they can aspire, I assume.  With schools closed, there could be no formal event, and there were technical difficulties with the Zoom “ceremony,” but he did complete–we’ve got the yard sign to prove it!  My baby does not complain, it’s just not in his nature, but surely he could have.  He, along with every other graduate (completer??) missed those important lasts–their last sports events, last awards ceremonies, last class trips, last days of ruling the school.  I assembled a video compilation of well-wishes submitted by nearly everyone I asked, and watching it alongside him was the best.  

Yard Sign

Grocery Store Cake Frosting/Cinnamon Rolls/Baking Bread/Cooking With My Kids:   You know that frosting is religion to me.  During lockdown, I finally found THE recipe for the kind of frosting that makes my teeth hurt and my toes curl.  You can put it on a cake, sure, but there are no rules saying you have to, so you can just have a batch on hand.  It’s delicious dip for pretzels and M&Ms, and fits perfectly on a spoon on its own.  In related news, the bread maker machine I’ve owned for nearly thirty years still works, and I’ve enjoyed our renewed acquaintance.  I didn’t surrender my quest when COVID broke and the end-of-days crews cleaned out supermarket supplies of yeast.  I make OK bread from scratch now, but my cinnamon rolls are nothing short of amazing.  AND I’ve mastered a cream cheese frosting recipe along with my grocery store white frosting.  My children told me that a full batch of frosting is too much for one pan of cinnamon rolls, and I’ve got nothing but to wonder just who are these weirdos speaking the words “too much frosting?”  I’ve enjoyed the kids’ company and “help” with meal prep, and have had the best conversations about their food memories.

Cinnamon Rolls

Baseball:  It would seem that COVID is not a fan of youth baseball.  As soon as the State of Wisconsin’s “safer at home” order was struck down by the Supreme Court, youth baseball opened up, so apparently youth baseball players are just naturally immune or the virus just steers clear of the dugout???  Travel baseball team owners and league and tournament directors provided volumes of guidelines the kids and families were to follow.  I can’t say that the guidelines are 100% enforced as they were developed by epidemiologists and public health experts, but it’s not a free-for-all either.  After a dreadful season last year, my number two son is back. To have heard my baby say “after my dad’s accident last year, I just couldn’t keep my head in the game,” broke my heart.  Shattered it.  He’s on a new team with a new batting stance, as fast around the bases as ever, and the best-best part?  He is having fun.  He smiles, he laughs.  His coaches believe in his strength, and in turn, he believes in it too.  My only gripe?  Who thought white uniform pants were a good idea for teenagers??  I mean!!

Eli Third to Home

Hiking around Lake Geneva:  Pre-pandemic, my husband arranged for us to spend the third week of June in Mexico.  After last year’s near-death experience, who, more than my husband, deserves a beach vacation?  (hint, it’s ME!)  The pandemic had other ideas about our getaway however, so we settled for a couple nights in a nearby lake town.  So instead of baking in the sun on the white sands of Cancun, my husband thought it’d be cool if we hiked around the lake.  Literally around the lake.  The perimeter of Geneva Lake is about 23 miles; it’s said that an “average” person in “average” condition can walk it in between 8-10 hours.  Well, color me average.  Have you ever walked for 8-1/2 hours?  IN A ROW??  Don’t.  It’s really dumb.  But it’s also really amazing, and I can say that I did it!!  Even more incredibly?  My husband did it.  Recall that just over one year ago, the trauma surgeon who stapled his skull together told us that most people with skull fractures as large as his don’t survive.  Well, he made it.  And continues to make it.  One of my favorite comments about our little endeavor came from a friend who said that people train for this, and we just do it.  Yeah, we do.  Determined was the word of the day.  The word of the next day was blisters.  Jaysus.  My feet looked like fresh cuts of meat.  So gross. 

Medical Appointments I Neglected In the Year Post-Accident:  Now that medical facilities have reopened, I made and kept one of the four appointments I was supposed to have made and kept last year.  It’s a start, people. 

Elective Surgeries:  Two of my nearest and dearest were able to schedule surgeries thought impossible back in March.  I’m happy and then some that both patients’ procedures were considered successful.  Love you!

Reading Like It’s My Job:  In dark days such as those we’re living this very moment, being transported to a different dimension, a different time or place is an escape I need.  I plow through some reads so quickly, I barely remember them a week later.  But that’s good, right?  To become immersed and distracted by character, time, and place that I’d rather be there than anywhere else AND forgo real-life sleep (OK, and forgo housework and maybe even sometimes my kids. . .) is time well spent.  

Little Messages of Hope: I’m super sentimental and dorky, and I loved all the messages of hope and community that neighbors created, especially early in isolation. My fave was a post-it left on my trash bin that proclaimed, “Everyone knows you’re the coolest person in Bay View.”  Well, obviously.

Namaste:  A few local yogis offered Zoom and Facebook Live yoga sessions.  For whatever reason, being “live” made it feel more real to me than watching some random yoga video, and I was happy to meet them on my mat.  Early in the quarantine, I practiced almost daily, and feel nothing but gratitude for Annie and Jess’s generosity.

She’s Awesome: I may not be attending live music events, but lots of musicians have been streaming home performances via Instagram or Facebook Live.  For a few months, my BNL friends connected virtually every Friday afternoon.  Ed Robertson, did you know I adore him and his band?, had ya heard? would play live from his cottage.  He played MY song a couple times early in his home concert series, and also played another song I requested.  Ed performed Take It Back at my request, and said that I was awesome.  And then I goofed like a moony teenager for a day or two, and even my husband was totally OK with this iteration of “I love Ed!”  Take It Back contains the lyric, “save me from a villainous imagination,” and you’re a damn genius if you can make that work in a pop song.  

Beach Glass:  Nearly every day since school was canceled, I’ve walked my idiot dog from my home to Lake Michigan.  I’ve walked about 750 miles in these fifteen weeks.  You think I’d be thin as a rail, wouldn’t you?  You’d be wrong.  But I feel good and what once seemed like a stupid-long, gonna-brag-about-it walk is now routine.  And I was able to walk for an entire day last week, which was a laughable idea pre-COVID.  So yeah, thanks pandemic. *insert eye roll*  I find the lake to be centering and calming.  If you asked me to define centered, I couldn’t; I just know that seeing the water brings a sense of peace and contentment, even in the crappiest of weather.  Back in March I began picking up shards of beach glass for no particular reason other than I thought it was pretty.  Upon my return home, I’d dump the glass into a dish, and I liked how it looked, so I left it on the counter.  The dish soon became insufficient to hold the glass, so I transferred the collection to a little Mason jar.  Soon enough again, I had to transfer my stash into a larger vessel and then an even bigger jar, and now they’re halfway to filling a decent-sized vase.  Some have chronicled the quarantine in photos, Snapchat Stories, or Instagram posts.  Me?  My quarantine story is told in the most beautiful, waterlogged shades of greens, blues, and even a couple reds.  And black and brown.  I do love my Rawr-Rawr.

Caleb Walking

What valuable, silver lining takeaways has the coronavirus provided you?  (And y’all, if you didn’t catch my tone here. . .)  Yeah, I’m melancholy.  Even with bright spots, and there are bright spots to be had, I’m just not shining bright like the sun these days.  Everyone hates 2020, but I’m still not quite over the hot mess 2019 was for me and our family!  Like most people I know though, I’m doing the best I can.  My kids’ fortitude during the lockdown though is beyond my wildest dreams.  They’re what keep me going, what give me hope.  

 

I Need Endings

You know how some people need to mark an occasion, to acknowledge the event in some formal, if formal even for just a moment, kind of way?  No?

Hi, I’m Wendy, and I’m the kind of person who needs to mark an occasion, to acknowledge events in some formal, if formal even for just a moment, kind of way.  I don’t know if this need is seated in some psychological obsessive tendency or maybe comes from something profoundly sad and terribly lacking in my personality inventory.  I really don’t, but I do know that I need endings.

Sentimental dork and easy-cryer that I am, I don’t especially like endings, but they’re inevitable, and I need that balance, closure, some equalizer like that.  I’m always the “Well, it’s the last time I’m going to be (wherever)” person.  I take a moment to study the scenery, take a mental snapshot, cross the real or imaginary threshold, and bid it goodbye.  Sometimes I even say the goodbyes aloud.  Aaaaand after writing that I’m thinking my need to mark endings is less healthy than I’d thought previously.  Anyway.

Friday is my last day of school this year.  I know what you’re thinking–that technically my last day of school was March 13.  That was the last day I was physically present at work, true, but many work days since the COVID-19-imposed quarantine have gone considerably longer than those worked when I was physically present in a school. Side note: working from one’s dining room table doesn’t allow one to “walk away” from work at the end of the day at all easily.  When things don’t go your way, you carry that crabby the too-short distance between the dining room and your kitchen–I’ve discovered that my work commute, while bonkers on the nerves some days, is actually quite therapeutic on most of them.  I downed fewer alcoholic beverages before being “safer at home,” begging the question, “Am I truly safer at home?” One personal discovery after another here in the zombie apocalypse. . .  *insert eye roll here*

Anyway.  I didn’t bid last school year its formal adieu because of my husband’s accident. I bolted from the building immediately upon hearing the news, and literally never looked back.  Pre-pandemic, I believed that last year would be the weirdest end-of-school-year I’d ever experience.  Ha!  Ha ha, said the universe!  You thought last year was weird, well, let me show you what 2020 has in store for you. . .

I’ve become a capable distance educator since we’ve been sent to our quarters.  I’ve created Google Classrooms, updated our department website, participated in too many Google Hangouts and Zoom meetings to inventory, uploaded, downloaded, created Boom cards, snail mailed, emailed, texted, and phoned families and colleagues.  Working in the fourth most impoverished city in US comes with a unique set of online learning challenges, chief among them: kids not having computers or internet access in their homes.  I miss my students’ faces and voices.  I appreciate that I’m still working though I haven’t loved all of it–I’m a social being and a job in communication sciences and disorders is a pretty social gig–but I’ve managed.

Shonda Rimes School

Every teacher meme you’ve seen about the challenges of immediate upheaval of every practice you’ve known?  Accurate.  Every meme about the challenges of teaching your own children while trying to work from home?  True!  And my kids are old enough to manage independently.  I can’t imagine working from home with children being any younger than my kids’ current ages.  I could do without the “I’m quarantining more perfectly than you are” meme wars though.  People, there’s enough uncertainty in the world–now is not the time for online vitriol.  I mean, not that any time is a good time for being mean, but I think you see where I’m going here.  Like the rest of the planet, we inhabitants are a bit off-balance. Be nice.

Anyway.  Anyway for the third time now in this short post. . .  I didn’t get to say goodbye to my school year my way.  Again.  How can the school year be done if I haven’t even tucked it in and said gnight?  I love the end of year “parties” we celebrate in Speech.  I love going out for lunch with my terrific coworkers–just like real professionals do, real grown-ups who also get to use the bathroom whenever they feel like it do–on the last day.  I love hearing and saying, “Have a good summer!”  I love cleaning off my desk, seeing a dust-free, clear desktop for about ten whole minutes, just sitting there soaking up the end until that bell rings one final time.

Not this year, I guess.

The ending I’m missing this year is nothing in comparison to what graduates of the Class of 2020 who watched rather than walked along to Pomp and Circumstance are missing.  There’s something really lovely and hopeful about graduation types of endings.  I remember well each of my four graduations.  I was invited to speak at two of my ceremonies, and while at the time petrified a little, I was cognizant enough of the honor bestowed upon me to be recognized in this way at such a big event.  Those days and events mattered to me, as they should and do to this year’s grads.  I’m really sorry they don’t get to walk.

Last May, I sat in the hospital cafeteria, signing off to the group of about 40 SLPs I support, saying something like “tell the ones you love that you love them, because you never know what can happen once you walk out that door.”  Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamt that the final 1/3 of this school year would be canceled by pandemic, and the world being locked down has once again changed everything we thought we knew about going out that door. . .

I guess I’ll sign off this year with a similar reminder.  Continue to be safe, and take care of the people you love most in this world, including yourselves.  The pivot we’ve been forced to make as distance educators hasn’t been easy, but (and this comes as no surprise to me) my coworkers continue to rise to do what’s right for each other as colleagues as well as their students.  I’m proud to be among such impressive company.

Have a good summer!

Lucky Penny

I knew I’d be weird this week.  I mean, the whole world is weird right now, so our collective baseline for weird is completely jacked even to begin, right?  Even mid-pandemic, I’d venture to guess that my weird stands on its own.  I wish I wasn’t one of those people who formalize anniversary dates, but you don’t get to pick your quirks, do you?  Sumus quid sumus says my dad: we are what we are.

It’s totally cool if you stop reading right here.  I won’t know you left, and my feelings won’t be hurt or anything. . .  There’s nothing fun or funny whatsoever to be found in Volume 335 of my goof of a writing experiment here.  335??  Wow.  Proceed with caution is all I’m sayin’.


The skies last May 7 may have been clear and sunny, but that Tuesday was the darkest day I’ve known.  My husband and I woke up, probably just like we did any other day.  We got ourselves and our kids up and out the door probably like we did any other school and work day.  My Hamilton crazy was nearing frenzy-level because we (finally!) had tickets for Chicago’s Friday evening show, and I do obsess over music/artists/albums like few others I know.  Friday, the 10th was our wedding anniversary and we’d both taken off work to spend the day in Chicago, so everything on my phone was Chicago/Lin-Manuel Miranda/Hamilton Twitter notifications and Hamilton soundtrack.  I remember arriving at one of my schools for an IEP meeting, checking and then screen-shotting my notifications screen thinking, “Well, I guess my phone belongs to Lin-Manuel now,” and I was happy to hand it over to him.

This was the last picture I took before everything crashed.  Figuratively and literally.

I departed that school for another, ready for my afternoon of therapy.  It’s chronologically inaccurate, but my mind tells me I received the call from my supervisor around 2:45 PM.  My classroom phone never rings because I’m at this school only one half-day per week, and my student kinda laughed, saying something like, “Well you better answer that because no one ever calls you!”  I picked up to my department supervisor’s voice relaying the message that her supervisor contacted her in an effort to locate me because Central Services Human Resources had contacted him. “The City of Milwaukee called and said there’s been an accident. Does that mean anything to you?”  Uhhhhh, yeah, it does.  I escorted Emanuel back to class, then called another supervisor, my husband’s, who informed me that there had been an accident and Tom had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. I was instructed to meet him in the Emergency Department.

My cell phone doesn’t get a signal in my classroom, but as soon as I hit the parking lot, my phone was pinging off the charts.  Two hours worth of missed calls and voicemails stacked up, and texts started dumping in.  I didn’t recognize any of the numbers, but with the accident intel, I redialed the most recent random number as soon as I caught a signal.  My husband’s good friend answered, and I felt relieved, because I figured he’d fill me in, calm me down, you know?  I asked him if he knew what happened, and he matter-of-factly (read: possibly in shock?) replied, “Yeah, I ran him over.”  He apologized for wrecking our anniversary plans, said that Tom was fine, gonna be fine, that they’d taken him to the hospital, and then I heard someone in the background kinda tell him to shut up, which was OK I guess, because at that moment, I received a call from a number that looked business-y, lots of zeroes in the caller ID.

This random caller identified herself as Stacy from Froedtert Hospital, calling she said, at my husband’s request, telling me I needed to get to Froedtert’s Emergency Department as soon as possible.  Park in red-painted spots in Structure 3, they’re reserved for Emergency Department patients, she said, in the structure nearest the Emergency Department.  Your husband knew your phone number, and that’s a really good sign she said.  It was probably that statement–that he remembered my number and what a good sign it was–and that she repeated it three or four times, that first cued me into just how bad this might be.

Or maybe it was being met by hospital security, officers from the Milwaukee Police Department, the City safety supervisor, and a chaplain that finally punched me in the face.  And friends, let me tell you that you NEVER want to be greeted by cops and a representative of god after being told “There’s been an accident.”  I swear on the stars that I found a shiny penny just outside the doors, and pocketed it–the finding spare change in the street bit is a running “contest” between Tom and me.

It was hours before I was able to see him, or maybe not.  I know it felt like hours.  I’d been fed the “He knew your phone number and that’s a good sign” mantra so many times by then, I thought I’d snap.  But I wasn’t snappy.  I was pretty flat affect as I recall, kind of out-of-body-ish, aware I was part of this emergency room waiting area tableau, thinking this couldn’t possibly be ME living this version of real life.  Finally I said to the City guy, “You keep telling me this one thing is a good sign.  What aren’t you telling me?  How bad is he really?”

In the absence of information, the deep and illogical fears in my imagination coalesced into their own version of just-how-bad-is-it hell.  Convinced he was paralyzed, I couldn’t not ask if that was the result no one wanted to be the one to tell me.  I knew the City supervisor had seen him with his own eyes.  Eventually, and with something like an “I’m not a doctor, but. . .” caveat, he relented, relaying that Tom’s head had been bashed in pretty good, he had a pretty long cut (“cut” apparently is code for 9″ skull fracture covering eyebrow to temporal lobe), and he’d lost a lot of blood.  It was taking so long because they were doing lots of tests to make sure he would be OK.  Lots of tests.  “Lots of tests” is code for emergency facial trauma surgery to reattach the ear and surrounding flesh that had been torn from his head and stapling his skull along that enormous fault line.  To be fair, OK sure, there were lots of actual tests too; I saw his chart.

When I did finally see Tom, he was covered in blood.  Though conscious, he lay completely still.  “There is so much pain” were the first words he spoke, and that was the longest utterance he strung together over the next several days.  Like an idiot, I mentioned I’d found a penny outside the ER–like THAT was gonna lighten the mood or fix anything. . .  I stood there over him, “lucky” penny in my pocket, watching for movement, any movement that would contradict the paralysis I’d come to believe was our now-reality.  I vividly recall my internal race-monologue, “I need to ask I need to ask I need to ask I need to ask I don’t want to ask I don’t want to ask I do NOT want to ask this is the last minute of my life I don’t know he’s paralyzed and as soon as I ask I will have to know that he is paralyzed and I don’t want to know and right now I still don’t know so I can’t ask but I have to ask.”  I stood over him, looking with unseeing eyes for even the slightest movement in his legs.  I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and asked Jodi, the ED nurse, if he was paralyzed.  Her chirpy “Oh, no” perhaps elicited more tears than if her response had been the opposite.

I was booted from the ED after that brief reunion, then escorted to the family waiting area of the main hospital.  Being a guest of the City, I had a tour guide of sorts, and I did have an entourage.  I knew that my husband’s supervisors were handling me; I was aware even then that I was being “handled,” but I didn’t mind being handled.  Quite possibly I’d still be wandering the hospital if I hadn’t been directed and small-talked along that route.  All his supervisors, called by duty and I’d like to think a bit of compassion and human decency, along with a handful of his coworkers–really good guys, called by their professional respect for my husband, met in my private waiting area.  Needless to say, I wasn’t great company.  I had to get out of there, breathe, by myself, for a second.  I had to call my kids!  At some point I announced that I felt like the really bad host of a super shitty party.  Even on the worst day of my life, I made them laugh.  I’m sure it was their duty to laugh at the guy who’s probably gonna die’s wife’s pitiful wisecrack, but I appreciated one brief moment of something other than internal chaos.

Can you imagine what it’s like to call your children, telling them that their dad had been horrifically injured, and that they’re being picked up and delivered to the hospital?  Because, just in case he dies, kids, you’re gonna want to have seen him “one last time,” even if he is bathed in blood and swaddled in bandages.  Oh, and don’t watch the news tonight and don’t talk to reporters if anyone knocks on the door, OK?  Don’t imagine it.  Just don’t.  Imagine not taking them home yourself, promising them you’ll be home by 9.  9:30.  Hopefully 10.

Can you imagine having to search for your husband’s set of work keys, sifting through bags of the scissor-cut clothes he’d worn to work that day, all having been removed and bagged as “patient belongings,” still wet with his blood?  Don’t do that either.

This wasn’t even near the end of that first day.  The conversations I had with my people who showed up those first 24 hours are both crystalline and a blur.  I couldn’t sleep that night, and writing tells me how I feel, so I wrote a narrative I will never share.

I don’t know why I can’t stop reliving this hell on earth, or why I’m taking you down this macabre path with me.  I do know that my head’s gonna explode if I don’t write it down and try to unload it somewhere though.

One full year plus one extra leap year day post-May 7, I am not the same person I was before.  I miss my husband, my before husband. I miss before me.

If you remind me that it could have been worse?  Thanks, but I don’t need the reminder.  I know.  I do.  But it doesn’t mean that grief occurs only when you experience that total loss.  And it doesn’t mean that sadness doesn’t beat you upside the head when you least expect it. Or even when you do.  Grief and sadness paralyze too, in unmeasured ways and along timelines for which you’re unprepared.

Maybe that lucky penny was good for something.  All the good, all the miracles, all the unimaginable generosity and kindness the world has shown my husband, my children, and me that terrible first day and then the 365 that followed?  Beyond any words I could string together.  Sharing all of it though would amount to some type of betrayal to myself and to my people.  My people. You showed up.  You did everything I asked.  I will never be able to repay you for that.  And I know you’ll never ask.

 

 

 

Observations From My Saddle

Today is spring break in Wisconsin Gorgeous, with a capital G. Temperatures hit the mid-60s, skies are cloudless, shades of blue otherwise found only in an artist’s imagination, and spring flowers have begun to unfurl.

I had a real shit day yesterday, so felt determined not to repeat my sad, sulky disposition. I hopped on my bike, steering roughly east toward Lake Michigan, my head clear and my heart content.

I’m a rotten photographer with inadequate equipment, but this cliff is straight down, probably a couple hundred feet.

You can’t multitask while riding a bicycle. Well, I can’t anyway. I can only be present, and hope I remember the deep thoughts observations and random, ridiculous ideas tripping my neuronal connections. I don’t listen to music while riding; I’m old school that way I guess, but I love the sound of my tires grooving and gears clicking. For whatever reason, music, otherwise my constant companion and savior, is an intrusion.

Here’s what I do remember:

  1. About every third car parked on any given street is a black GMC Acadia or Chevy Equinox/Traverse. Go ahead, try not to see one now.
  2. OR a serial killer panel van.
  3. Sighting an elderly man in a sleeveless tee shirt is not the rare event you’d think.
  4. That moment you realize a bug flew into your mouth is as disgusting as ever.
  5. Worse actually, because given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, you can’t really spit it out. Or shouldn’t anyway.
  6. The memory of having swallowed the bug stays with you a lot longer than the action.
  7. Despite walking 3-wide on a reasonably and appropriately narrow recreational path, people still seem genuinely startled when you holler “On your left” to alert them to your intent to pass.
  8. What you really think, but of course don’t say is, “On your left, you flippin’ twit.” Eye rolling is implied.
  9. Your kid is totally adorbs, and I know you’re “documenting the quarantine” for your Instagram feed and all, sure. But if you park your fucking stroller in the middle of the path, in the middle of a 90-degree turn that follows a massive climb, we all think mean thoughts about you. I really tried not to use the f-word here, but, trust me that it’s warranted.
  10. People still say hi as you pass them, and I LOVE that. That acknowledgment has always been and continues to me one of my benchmarks of how decent a human you are. Even as we observe social distancing, most of us make an effort to smile, nod, or wave.

Today is a better day.

An MDA Kind of Week

I received an email from a member of our Milwaukee area Muscular Dystrophy Association chapter last week, checking in on our family after our tumultuous 2019.  To say that a black cloud has followed us the last year is not high drama.  Even my most optimistic, glass is always half-full friend recently allowed that maybe my family was due to catch a break, and that is saying something because Nicole is exactly the ray of sunshine everyone needs in their life.  Anyway, the MDA was kind enough to wish us well while also checking in to remind me that the annual Muscle Walk team registration had opened.

Our family has participated in the annual fund raising event annually since my son’s 2015 diagnosis.  You’ve helped me raise over $10,000 to support kids and families affected by muscle disease, including the incredibly near and dear to my heart summer camps.  I’m still a bit stunned that I asked, because I HATED asking, and even more stunned and humbled that you answered.  Our walk team was consistently among the top five fund-raising teams in the Milwaukee area, a statistic I’m proud to notch.

COVID-19’s global takeover has changed everything we know about how we navigate our 2020 world, but even if not for pandemic, we wouldn’t be participating in this year’s walk.  I responded to her inquiry by circling back to the accident.  Honestly, every damn thing in my life since May 7 just relates back to May 7 anyway.  I told her that when my husband was injured and in the months after, we were incredibly fortunate to have had people from all corners of our world take care of us.  People fed us, cooked meals, and/or bought gift cards or groceries for us.  People sent us money to help bridge the gap so we could pay our bills.  I just didn’t feel the time was right for me to ask those very same people to support our fundraising for the MDA this year.  Our friends, family, and neighbors had done so much for us, and I felt that to ask any more this close to the accident was beyond my comfort zone.  It took a good three or four rereads of my email draft before I could summon the strength of my one little index finger to hit “send.”

And then I wanted to throw up because I felt I was letting them down.

Later that very day, I received another email from the national MDA organization containing the news that this year’s MDA camps had been canceled. Given the state of the world, news of its cancellation was not exactly “news.”  Many kids suffering muscle disease endure accompanying systemic health problems, compromised respiratory and immune systems surely among them.  Nobody’s going anywhere these days, least of all kids with multiple health needs and the crew of volunteer medical and counselor staff needed to support a camp such as what the MDA produces.

My son had elected not to attend camp this summer.  He is close to aging out of camp, and he barely acknowledges he’s got the disease (a topic for another day), but more directly had hopes of a summer job on top of his volunteer gig.  Actually it’s probably more closely aligned with his “Who, me?” stance on this progressive, ugly disease.  I’m not sad that he chose not to attend camp, but I understand well the disappointment and sadness many kids and families are expressing with camp having been shut down.  Camp touts itself as the kids’ “best week of the year,” and I know that to be true with my whole heart.


I’ve enrolled in a course–gotta do something productive these days!, and one of the required activities was to complete an assessment about your perception of your character.  More on this to come, but my number one character strength based on my responses was kindness–doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.  I can’t say it’s wholly accurate, but I do know for sure what kindness looks like.  It’s not what I see when I look in the mirror, but in the reflection of the people I see around me.

Be safe.  Be patient.  Be kind.

And in a totally random non-sequitur, check out the colors in these downtown murals.  Since part of our “home schooling” has been a classroom behind the wheel of a car, I’ve been able to view the city from the passenger’s seat.  It’s terrifying and reassuring at once that my kid insists on driving through downtown and other densely peopled areas of the city as he logs practice hours.  He seeks the experience, and I see the city from a new, beautiful perspective.

Getting Picked Last For The Zombie Apocalypse Team

If toilet paper and fresh meat supplies are any indicator, society is near end of days.  I’ve probably said aloud “armageddon,” “eerily quiet,” and “apocalypse” more during the last week than in my lifetime previous, and I studied The Walking Dead like it was my job, and also I talk a real lot. 

I’m not in health care, nor am I anyone’s news source, so I’m not here to peddle “How to Survive the Pandemic” advice.  There is nothing cute or funny about global pandemic.  The indescribable burden on health care providers and grocery store personnel alone leaves me exhausted even to think about their experiences.  But if I were giving advice?  I’d say simply this: be nicer.  I’ve tried to be extra polite and extra kind to the many, many providers’ offices who’ve called to cancel our family’s many, many medical/dental/surgical/therapeutic appointments.  I’ve gone out of my way, and I don’t mean just ’cause of social distancing, to be kind to anyone I’ve encountered publicly.  Which, I guess the sum total of my public goings-on have occurred at the grocery store, so I’ve let harried people line up in front of me or grab that slab of bacon.  It’s cool.  I’ve not completely lost my shit when my brand new car had to be returned to the dealership for service. TWICE.  ‘Cause what can you do?  

Beyond acting like a decent human, I don’t know exactly what we can do, but I do have some thoughts on what you could maybe not do.  Please cease and desist the frenzied hoarding.  The opportunistic MLMers trying to sell me and the world their ultra-hygienic, specially-formulated soaps and household cleaning products or recruit people who, because of this virus, are now unexpectedly out of work?  Stop it.  Please fucking wash your hands as a matter of routine anyway.  Get and stay informed by members of the medical and scientific communities.  Read that book you’ve had on your nightstand since forever.  Do that!

In our home, we have enough, but we surely don’t have the bunker of supplies that the bulk of nightly news-watching humanity apparently believes will be necessary to survive these 3-4 weeks (or 8-20 weeks, depending on which news source you follow) of self-quarantine.  thumbnail_IMG_1810

I hate this the most, that my kids are worried.  Much as they might grouse about homework, they’re missing school.  They’re missing their normal.  They want answers I can’t provide.  I’m honest with them, honest as I can be with the knowledge I’ve got, but I don’t want them to live in fear.  They have endured enough, thank you very much.

I carry no real skills into the zombie apocalypse.  I’ve already been kicked off someone’s team, or to be more accurate, have not been selected.  Playground rules, you guys, I get it.  I got a vague, conditional agreement from someone to sorta watch my back, but who knows. . .  I bring so little to the table.  My visual-motor integration is a known factor of zero; it’s a hilarity to those who know me.  I am not what the kids these days are calling a “maker.”  I can’t sew.  I’d suck at designing a fortress (or a tree house, or a lean-to. or a pile of sticks. . .).  I can’t build a fire.  I have no experience with firearms.  There’s just not much use here in dystopia for someone who recalls the lyrics to every song she’s ever heard or has quick smart-ass timing. 

But I’m physically strong.  To look at me, you might not believe it, but for someone my age I’m scrappier than you’d think, even if I do plaster on a full face of makeup just to sit inside my house day after day.  I joke that I don’t, but I do possess a strong will.  Sure, I cave on lots of things, a fact to which certain of you can attest 100%, but when it really counts, I can be counted on.  If this last year didn’t fucking break me, neither will this damn virus.  I’m a really good and loyal friend.  I can make you laugh and remind you that I love you and make you understand that even when you’re down, you matter so much, and I’ll hammer at you about how much we need you around, how my world is a much more complete place with you in it–even if it is at the prescribed social distance of six feet.  I can cook well and bake decently, so I’ll show you I love you by feeding you–it’s one of the ways you’ll know you’re on MY zombie team.  I’m nice just because and I know a little about a lot.  I’ll listen to your secrets and I’ll keep them.  We’ll need that after the armageddon, don’t you think?

Along a different thread in my life, and after I’d defined myself by the roles I play for others at home and at work, a friend responded with yeah?  But who are you for YOU?  I think my initial response was, “Well, shit,” but maybe that paragraph above is today’s answer.  I do what I can.

Do what you can. Broadway stars have given kids whose high school musicals were canceled the opportunity for them to be heard.  Can you imagine some high schooler getting Twitter love from the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda?  Last evening, Ed Robertson, my favorite singer in all the world (we know, Wendy. . .), went live on Instagram.  Like the rest of the world, he’s holed up with his family doing the social distancing thing, but he took an hour to share music with his fans. How this man can play guitar and sing lyrics while reading everyone’s comments in the feed demonstrates a level of multi-tasking simply beyond my comprehension.  He used what he had to raise money for responders to this hideous virus, and made fans happy, if just for an hour.  My friend Nikki said she laughed really hard at something he’d said, and realized how long it had been since she laughed.  That was one sobering statement to read, because Nikki’s hilarious.  Just ask her!  

We are facing serious stuff, you guys.  Allow for the seriousness and heed it, but also look for the light.  Be safe, and be as good as it is in your nature to be.  Better.  xoxo

 

 

Turbo Tax

At last, a tax refund. And all it took was a $40,000 drop in income to finally, finally get a tax refund.

It’s (not) funny how things in our post-accident life reveal themselves.  By most barometers, 2019 was not especially kind to our family.  The Accident was the star of the shit show obviously.  First and foremost, my husband didn’t die, so I’m reluctant to complain about the accident.  Early on, one of the rehabilitation physicians said to Tom, and it was so accurate and pointed that I engraved it into my memory: “You’re lucky.  I’m not saying you’re lucky your buddy backed over you with that truck, but that you emerged from it with as much intact as you have is extremely lucky.”  Early on, I said that any complaint I would lodge flies in the face of the “he didn’t die” lottery ticket we cashed in.

So I’ve kept complaints to myself  OK, kept them to my closest friends and my poor coworkers, cursed by their proximity to me, but even then I censor and heavily edit myself.  But there are legit complaints I could file to the deaf ears of no one in particular.  You wouldn’t want to trade places with me, right?  I mean really.

What’s less obvious are the latent effects of the accident–slides and differences you couldn’t possibly have conjured up when your days and nights were spent in the ICU hoping against hope that your husband would simply just stay alive.  Slides and differences like your kids’ tanking grades and sports performance, spending inordinate parcels of time sorting through insurance documentation and waiting on return calls I know aren’t coming, becoming a hermit first by necessity and then by choice, having to delay jury duty only to later get seated on a jury for a homicide case, realizing you never ever, ever stop worrying anymore.

Preparing our taxes this year provided a sobering butt-kicking.  Taxes always suck.  No way around that, and we always end up paying in, waiting til April 15 to file and separate our cash from our savings account.  Super suck.  Last January, I began chunking out an extra amount in withholding so this January’s hit wouldn’t feel quite so lethal.  What a non-issue that ended up being!  A side-by-side analysis compared our taxable income between 2018 and 2019 and revealed a $40,000 discrepancy.  Forty.  Thousand.  Dollars.  Maybe that’s not substantial to everyone, but it is to us.  I actually laughed out loud when that screen came up on Turbo Tax, because what else could I do?  How the hell did we manage??  Between the almost eight days my employer docked me (still real pissy about that, yep) and several months’ worth of Tom’s payroll “vacay,” along with there no longer being overtime pay for him, the numbers told quite a story.

But we did manage.  He did receive injury pay, and we had legions of people who fed and funded us over the summer.  And honestly, still?  When I think about the kindness and generosity of our people, I cry tears of gratitude.  You really do wish you had the people we have in our lives, you guys. We didn’t get through this alone. Aren’t getting through this (present tense) alone. The bottom-line discrepancy from one year to the next wasn’t the full $40K, but it was, my friends, quite a lot of bank for a couple public employees.

The big reveal wasn’t for me the year’s diminished income and it wasn’t the massive tax refund we are mercifully getting!  I anticipated a substantial change in our tax situation, all things considered.  The lasting effects of his full-body throttle mean he won’t be returning to the same job classification.  He liked his job, liked the guys he spent his days with.  And it’s garbage that his job’s been sorta taken from him.  It’s garbage that my kids struggled and have had to watch me meltdown, repeatedly and rather unprettily.  Our family’s income will be affected for my husband’s employable future–the no-overtime pay thing is gonna continue forever and that’s garbage too.

But because of the experience, I’ve also been given an opportunity, so not everything is garbage.  One of Tom’s ICU nurses is studying ICU delirium, and has asked for my perspective.  She noticed me writing in a notebook (writing tells me how I feel) while I lived bedside in the ICU, and we’ve kept in touch.  I hope that what happened to my husband would never happen to another single human being, but bad stuff doesn’t quit, and we don’t own all the sadness.  Maybe something we picked up in this ordeal can help another patient in the future, and that is exactly the opposite of garbage.