The Case For Traveling With Children

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If you follow me on social media, you may be aware that we’ve been living in a winter wonderland this week. Starting on Sunday evening our weather turned arctic. We got enough snow to bury all of our outdoor toys (yep, the same toys that I told the kids to put away at least 5,483 times) and cancel school for infinity days. During our unexpected immersive experience in the worlds of Narnia and Frozen, I had plenty of time to sit at home and dream about being somewhere else.

Thankfully, that “somewhere else” happens to be a place we’re actually going in the not-so-distant future. This spring we’re taking our whole family–Mom, Dad, 9-Year Old Trouble Maker, 7-Year Old Trouble Maker, and 4 Year-Old Barely Potty Trained Princess–to Europe. Like, on a 16-hour-flight-to-a-country-where-we-don’t-speak-the-language Europe.

When we first started planning The Big Trip, Hubs and I went back and forth on whether or not we should bring our kids with us or just bribe the grandparents to stay with our offspring so we could galavant carelessly across the pond. After all, bringing kids along on travels adds extra stress and expense and hardship. Traveling with kids can be a very different, very anxiety-producing experience for the adults in their party. In the end, though, we decided that the difficulty–the challenge–of traveling with our kids would be worth it: for us and for them.

For any of you who are scared off by the idea of traveling with your kids, let me present my case for why you should take them along for the ride:

Traveling with kids helps them contribute to decision making.
When we travel with our kids we let them help with some of the planning for our trip. We’ll look over guide books and websites about the places we’ll be traveling to and allow our kids to make suggestions of things they would like to see or places they would like to go. We don’t always heed every suggestion they make, but at least they start to feel some ownership for the experience they’re helping to create.

Traveling with kids helps them develop responsibility skills.
We have our kids help pack their travel bags and keep track of their belongings while we’re traveling. What? You can’t find your Hyper-Strike Battle Beyblade? And whose job was it to put all of your toys back in your backpack before we left the hotel? Yours?
Yep. Responsibility.

Traveling with kids helps them see the world from a different perspective.
Wherever you go–whether it’s a new city an hour away or a country on the other side of the world–will have people and experiences different from what your kids experience at home. Meeting different people living in different ways helps kids develop a more flexible idea of what “normal” is. In this way, seeing things from a different perspective can help kids develop empathy for others and challenge them to try new things in their own lives.

Traveling with kids forces kids to step out of their comfort zone.
Almost certainly, kids who travel will be forced to try new experiences. New places to sleep, new foods, new languages, new modes of transportation, new ideas. Sometimes–often times–those new experiences can feel uncomfortable at first. When there is no other option than “The New”, however, you are forced to try it…or at the very least observe it. These are the character-building encounters that every kid should experience.

Traveling with kids is great for family bonding.
By the very nature of travel, you will spend a significant time together as a family. In our upcoming trip our family will spend 336 consecutive hours together. Compared to the 140 hours we would spend with all of us together at home during the same time period, that’s a huge jump in Quantity Time points. And it’s not only a lot of time, but it’s quality time. We will try new things and visit new places and learn new things–all together.

Traveling with kids teaches them “forced flexibility”.
Every time something doesn’t go according to plan while you’re traveling–which is quite often–you have to be flexible. Delayed flight? Flexible. Missed the bus and have to wait 20 minutes for the next one? Flexible. Want to eat a cheeseburger but there’s only sushi on the menu? Flexible. There are a lot of uncontrollable variables in travel, and this forced flexibility makes kids more resilient.

Traveling with kids gives them real-world experiences.
It’s one thing to read about ancient Rome or tropical rainforests, but it is an entirely different thing to experience those things in the flesh. Actually seeing and feeling and learning about new places and cultures can spark a zeal for learning and further exploration that no other experience can.

Traveling with kids is good for socialization.
When you travel you are forced to interact with new people: taxi drivers, tour guides, waiters, commuters on the subway. By interacting with new people on a daily basis, kids can learn valuable lessons in how to approach and interact with people. By seeing and meeting people who are different–and yet the same–as them can help kids develop altruism and a greater respect for all people. When kids return home, these social skills can help them more confident and accepting when they meet new people.

Traveling with kids gives them memories that will last a lifetime.
Travel gives your family a shared experience and a shared history that you will all remember for the rest of your lives. Somehow even the bad memories of travel (I’m looking at you, puke-covered Fiat) tend to turn into good/happy/hilarious memories over time. I can’t tell you a single birthday gift that I received as a child, but I can easily recount for you in vivid detail every trip my family took together growing up. These memories are the ones your family will carry with them forever.

So, even though travel with kids is hardly convenient, it is always worth it. I can’t wait to make new memories with our kids this April–no matter how crazy or comical they end up being!

 

Should Schools Reopen In The Fall? Absolutely. Not.

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Back to school.

In our Pre-COVID world, this simple 3-word phrase was wrought with emotion: excitement, nervousness, last-minute FOMO to squeeze the most out of summer, relief, maybe even dread. But now, in our pandemic-stricken society, “back to school” is stirring up a whole new mix of emotions: fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, disbelief.

What will back to school look like this year, and should our schools even reopen?

This is a hot topic that has blown up to epic proportions over the last couple of weeks. There seem to be two pretty distinct teams that have emerged from the debate: Team School and Team No Way.

Team School argues that we need in-person instruction. It is the government’s responsibility (and the tax-payer’s reward) to have full-time instruction available for all students. We need schools open, and we need them now.

Team No Way is reading CDC guidelines and WHO statistics and shaking their heads. Those curves we wanted flattened or diminished are looking more and more like the first uphill tick on a roller coaster. They’re all gripping the lap bar with white knuckles as they wait to see what terrifying turn of events will happen next.

So, where do I stand on this subject? Which team am I rooting into the World Series?

Neither.

And Both.

When looking at the dilemma of whether or not schools should open, we need to acknowledge that education is only one of the many functions of capital-s School. School as a societal function on the surface appears to be merely a place for teachers pouring knowledge into the empty vessels of students. But, as anyone who has spent more than one microsecond on the other side of a whiteboard will tell you, School is not only for education.

In fact, I would argue that education is not even the primary function of School. I am a former teacher and, in addition to “educating”, my years in the classroom included the following roles and job responsibilities: counselor, mediator, nurse, childcare provider, special learning needs intervention specialist, disability services manager, mandated reporter, lunch lady, snack monitor, bully remover, recess supervisor, parenting trainer, financial advisor, culture and race ally, safe haven. School is not just a place, and its function is not just education.

You see, we need schools. And not just because schools are school. Allow me to illustrate.

One of the hardest years of my life was teaching Spanish Kindergarten in a highly-impoverished charter school in California. Every single one of my students was poor enough to qualify for free lunch. Only two of my 28 students spoke any English at all. Not a single one of my students’ parents had attended college; most had never graduated from high school, and a handful had never even completed elementary school. Privileged white girl teacher was in culture shock…and still had to teach kindergarten. In Spanish.

During the course of that manic year I received a crash-course in the true multi-faceted function of School. Those kids arrived at school every day–usually by themselves, because Mom had already run off to her first job (she worked 2 or 3 jobs) and more often than not, Dad was not in the picture–and, as a class, we marched over to the cafeteria for breakfast. After breakfast we learned about things like how to line up and raise a hand, because none of these kindergarteners had ever attended preschool or music group or library story time. I taught them how to tie their shoes and use a tissue. We practiced paying attention for 2 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 5 minutes until, by January, we were able to get through an entire lesson in one go. Sure, those kids learned their letters and numbers and all that, but they also learned essential life skills. School was vitally important for them.

And, just as school was vitally important for my students, school was vitally important for their parents as well. Those parents knew that they could go to work during the day and support their family because their child was safe and supervised. Their child’s physical and mental needs were, to the best of our ability, met every day. They knew that, even though they had never received an education themselves, their children now had this opportunity. They knew that their child with Autism or Dyslexia or Vision Impairment would get the services they needed but could not afford. They knew that, even though they did not yet speak English, that their child would learn the Language Of The Land and be able to help communicate for them–at the store, at their job, in court. They knew that their child would come home with a full belly and a full mind, and that was everything.

I have thought of those families often during this pandemic. How on God’s green earth are those families surviving this? Do those parents have jobs, and if they do, are they dangerous “essential worker” jobs that put them at a higher risk of contracting the virus? Do those families have health insurance during this pandemic? Do those children have food to eat every day, and is it healthy and accessible and guaranteed? Do those children have supervision during the day while their parents work outside the home? Did those children have access to technology or learning tools during last spring’s school shutdown–and if they did, was anyone able to help them with their education at home?

Those children need School.  Not just “I’m tired of having my kids around all the time” need-School, but their very lives depend on it need-School.

And yet, COVID rages on. In some areas of our country positive COVID cases are at an all-time high. We can not go to school.

So what are we to do? How can we have in-person school while guaranteeing the health and the safety of the millions of students, staff, and families “back to school” involves?

We can’t. It’s an impossible situation. As much as I love cake (and I LOVE cake!), this is not the time to have your cake and eat it, too.

But there are positive steps we can take in the right direction. There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution that can solve this impossible situation, but there are some guiding principles that could help make this transition more manageable:

Money
Doing anything safely at this point is going to cost a boatload of money. Extra staff, sanitization, PPE, improved technology services, upgrading buildings and ventilation systems, hazard pay for teachers (this is not a thing, but it should be). All of it will cost actual US Dollars. Lots of them. Someone (I’m looking at you, US Government with a $721 BILLION DOLLAR annual military budget…) needs to pay up. And, no, asking teachers to pay for this in any capacity is not an acceptable answer.

Schools Must Open
This is not even a question. In-person School is an essential service in our world, and many students and families will not make it to the other side of this pandemic in one piece without it. Parents need to work. Students need to learn. School in all of its capacities is absolutely essential.

We need to find a creative way to start School services…and that may or may not be in actual school buildings with our usual army of teachers. Maybe we utilize the (many) shuttered spaces in our local communities and the (many) unemployed adults to help provide daytime childcare for children so their parents can get back to work.

Maybe we send school buses full of food on their usual bus routes every day to distribute 3-squares to every man, woman, or child that needs nutrition. Maybe we send (well PPE’d) OTs and Speech Therapists to childrens’ neighborhoods to provide essential special education and therapy services. Maybe we employ college students who can’t return to their university campus this fall to facilitate remote learning with pre-recorded lessons from certified teachers. These lessons could take place in empty movie theaters with a handful of students at a time. Or in a community park. Or whatever. The point is, School does not have to happen within the four walls of an actual school.

Families Must Have The Choice To Stay Home
After months of shuttering ourselves away (“sheltering in place”) we can not expect families to willy-nilly throw their children back into the mouth of the lion. There are a million reasons why a child or a teacher should not be in a physical classroom with even a dozen other humans for multiple hours at a time right now. Just Google it.

We need real, equitable, well-planned, well-executed modes of remote education. Teachers need specialized remote-teaching training. Students need access to physical learning tools, books, and equipment. Parents and tutors need access to remote teacher training and teaching materials–we need to equip everyone involved and set them up for success.

We need parents to have the choice to unenroll from public education for however long this pandemic rolls along without any negative impacts to the local school district. Funding should not be withheld from local schools just because a family needs to make a different choice during an uncertain time. Parents must have the ability to make the right choice for their family–whatever that choice is–without negative repercussions.

Teachers Need To Have A Say
You guys, some of my best friends are teachers. Some of them are terrified right now. They’re afraid to return to the classroom because they don’t want to get themselves or their families sick. They don’t want to accidentally kill their parents or their neighbors or their grocery store clerk. Some of them are pregnant or have babies and young children at home, and they don’t want to infect or orphan their children. Some of them are cancer survivors. Teaches are already heroes, we don’t need them to be martyrs, too.

Some of them–all of them–have 8 days of paid leave for the year…which is not enough for even one 14-day quarantine if they are exposed to COVID in their classroom. Some of them will lose their health insurance during a pandemic if they don’t teach this year. Some of them are being bullied by administrators to suck it up or get out the door. Some of them have PTSD from being thrust into online teaching last spring and they don’t know how they’ll manage it for another year.

They’re all tired. They’re all waiting for an answer that values their life and their opinion and their needs and their desires. We owe them a voice in this decision and a guarantee that they have options.

Temporary Shifts
We need to acknowledge that any changes we make now are temporary. It feels like COVID has been going on forever and it will never end. But it will. And when it does, we need to have a mechanism in place for change. We will need to swiftly remove the parts of this temporary plan that are not best practices moving forward in whatever new world we find ourselves in on the other side; crisis School may not be used as precedence for the new world.

By that same token, we need to be able to continue the parts of the crisis changes that actually do work. If increased technology or the different solutions we come up with to survive crisis schooling do work in some ways, we should hold on to those ways that do work and not throw them out with the face masks and respirators at the end of this whole thing.

Every change that is made during crisis schooling needs an asterisk *This is temporary*. Schools need to be given the autonomy to rebuild themselves in the right way when this is over. Some things will be the same, and some will be forever changed, but schools themselves need to have a voice in how the new world of School will look.

***

We are in an unprecedented time. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented action. My hope is that each family and each teacher will feel empowered and validated to make their own right choice in regard to school this year. Impossible as it is, we will all get through this. And even if the choice my family makes is radically different from the choice your family makes, we will all be stronger if we walk through this uncertain time together.

This, too, shall pass.

And until then, let’s be the best advocates for each other.

Stronger together, forever.

A Day in the Life of COVID-Summer Vacation

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We made it.

I just have to declare this fact because, to be honest with you, there have been days over the last few months that I didn’t think I’d ever get to write those words. Back in March when I first heard the words “Novel Coronavirus” (Are we talking about a fictional book? A Mexican beer? A seasonal cold?) I had no idea how much our lives would change in such a short amount of time.

The whole world flipped on its head overnight: school became home and the classroom teacher became me. School this year had its challenges–and its rewards–and then some more challenges to round things out. But we made it. We survived the first wave of Epidemic Crisis Schooling that the world has ever endured, and I’m pretty sure we can survive anything now.

Except maybe summer vacation.

Because if you’re anything like me, you’re just as confused about “summer” as you were about “E-learning”. Quite simply, summer in the time of COVID is about the most stressful, labor-intensive, hair-pulling period of relaxation I’ve ever experienced. For those of you not lucky enough to have young children at home with you this summer, allow me to give you a glimpse into a typical day of summer vacation 2020:

Tuesday, June

7:40  You wake up to the sounds of your 4 year old screaming your name from down the hall. She’s not hurt or incapable of moving out of bed on her own. No, she just wants you to remember who’s boss in this family.

7:45  You bring the screaming child downstairs and find the older boys already awake and playing video games. They ask you if they can have your real American dollars to buy video-game-nonsense-dollars so their avatar can wear a shirt with a “sick flame” on it. You politely decline. For the 10 millionth time this week.

7:55  Start making breakfast and realize there are no clean dishes. Start emptying the dishwasher that you ran overnight (this is the first of up to 3 loads of dishes you will run through your dishwasher today with all of these people home eating food 24/24 hours of every day).

8:00  An alert pops up on your phone that today is supposed to be the first day of that super awesome summer camp you signed your kids up for 12 months ago. Of course the camp has been cancelled, so you delete the calendar entry and replace it with the sobbing emoji.

8:15  Return to the breakfast situation. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since the last time you picked up a curbside grocery order. Prepare the best available option: granola bars AND fruit leather, because you like well-balanced meals.

8:30  Announce breakfast and turn off all screens in the house. Earn the title “Meanest Mom Ever”.

9:00  After breakfast you ask the kids what they’d like to do today. The boys want to stay home and play video games so they can whine at you about buying video game dollars. The girl wants to go to a princess party just like Cinderella. In your head you debate your options because after 4 months of house arrest with these kids, you just need to get out of here. Compromise and tell the kids we’re going to find a quiet park where we can be outside and physically distanced from other people. “It will be fun!” you say, “It will be our own little adventure!”

9:30  Pull up Google Maps on your phone and look for green spaces (usually parks) that you’ve never heard of (maybe nobody else has heard of them either). Pick a promising green patch in the middle of nowhere and pack some snacks for the adventure.

10:00  Before you leave the house, tell the kids to bring a face covering with them since we’re going into public. One child comes downstairs wearing underwear on his head.

10:30  Pull up to the “park” you found on Google Maps and realize it’s mostly just some bushes on the side of a road. Consider your options and decide check it out anyway. After about 20 minutes of the kids throwing rocks into the bushes and one kid falling into some blackberry brambles, decide to call it a day.

11:00  On your way home you drive past one of the kids’ favorite parks. They haven’t been to this park in nearly a year and they all beg for you to stop for just a little bit. Since the first stop was such a bust you decide to give the park a try.

11:05  Before you get out of the car, remind the children that they must stay at least 6 feet apart from all other people, wear their masks, not touch anything, and basically try their very hardest to not enjoy themselves. Remind the children that the playground is closed so we can’t play on it anyway. We’re just here to look and reminisce, and then back into the car we go. They agree to abide by the law of the land as they pile out of the car.

11:10  You walk into the park and notice that the playground is no longer roped off. You weren’t prepared for this. We already had the “we don’t touch anything” talk in the car, and now this playground is just sitting there like a siren in the wild beckoning to eager children. Thankfully the kids haven’t noticed the playground yet, so you stop in your tracks and point wildly into the sky: “KIDS, LOOK!!!! A BALD EAGLE! NO, MAYBE IT’S A DRAGON! OR A UNICORN! QUICK! LOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!”. As the children avert their gaze heavenward, you huddle them together and usher them back toward the parking lot. The middle child swears he saw the dragon.

11:15  When you get back to your car there is another family unloading right next to your car. Fortunately/unfortunately they are friends from school. Fortunately, because THEY’RE REAL LIVE FRIENDS!!!!!! Unfortunately, because OH MY GOSH WHAT DO WE DO?!?!  Humans! Gah! The kids all want to hug and play and just be kids. You glance at the other mom and reach an unspoken understanding: We’ve all been quarantined for so long that it’s in our health interest at this point to allow the children a few minutes to catch up. Relish the quick reunion while you pray under your breath that nobody present is an asymptomatic COVID carrier.

12:00  Upon returning home from the morning’s adventure (AKA the most excitement we’ve had in half a year!) set to work preparing lunch. The kids decide on Unicorn mac-n-cheese (the girl wants it because it’s magical, the boys want it because they want to bite the heads off the unicorns).

12:30   After lunch, send the kids outside to play in the back yard. Return a couple of emails and check the “news” to see updates on which of the 10 Plagues of Egypt we can expect next.

1:30  Call the kids back inside and tell them that we have a fun game to play this afternoon. The game is called “Living With COVID Challenge”. Here’s how you play: everyone gets a face mask and they have to wear it while completing “challenges” such as reading aloud, taking a math test, writing a letter to a friend, or “shopping” in our pretend store. The goal is to leave your mask on for the entire challenge without touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. Players can earn bonus points for washing their hands, checking their friend’s temperature with a temporal thermometer, wearing gloves while disinfecting a surface with non-toxic cleaner, or engineering a plexiglass shield.

You make it exactly 2.6 seconds before all 3 children fail the challenge.

Consider writing (another) email with the updated results of your at-home challenge to the members of the school board that will be making the “safe return to school” plan for this fall.

2:00  The kids say it’s too hot outside and they want to go swimming. A quick Google search shows you that every public pool within a 100-mile radius is closed, the nearest lake is full of toxic algae, and the nearest river is still full from spring melt-off and has a no-swimming advisory. Tell the kids to put on their swimsuits anyway, because we’re swimming in the upstairs bathroom “Bathtub Pool”!

2:45  Check on the kids in their bathtub pool and realize that 90% of the water has now migrated from the bathtub to the bathroom floor/walls/ceiling. As your blood starts to boil, notice that you already have “month-3 of summer vacation patience” rather than the actual “week-1 of summer vacation patience” that should be accompanying this moment.

3:00  After you mop up all of the water from Bathtub Pool, tell the kids that it’s reading time. Since you’re pretty sure the only learning your children accomplished in the last 4 months involved Roblox obby hacks, you count this daily reading time as sacred.

3:15  Since your husband is still working from home in his basement “home office” cave, you sneak out of the house for a quick solo walk while the kids are busy reading. These 20 minutes walking around your own neighborhood are the highlight of your day.  5 minutes into your walk a cyclist passes you on the road. It’s not until the cyclist is out of view around a corner that you realize you’ve been unconsciously holding your breath since you saw the other human approaching your air space.

4:00  Bake something. Because COVID.

5:00  Start preparing dinner. Again. For the 4,376th day in a row.

6:30  After dinner, have “family movie night”…also for the 4,376th day in a row. Whisper a silent prayer for the timely providence of Disney+ during a worldwide epidemic.

8:00  Tuck the little one into bed. You tried to order her new bedroom furniture 4 months ago for her birthday, but so far only her mattress has arrived because everything else is backordered indefinitely due to the COVID shutdowns. So, actually, just tuck her into mattress instead of tucking her into bed.

8:30 Despite their pleas to stay up later, tuck the older kids into bed because you are D.O.N.E. DONE. Promise them chocolates in the morning if they just stay in their rooms and don’t bother you for the rest of the night. If quarantine has taught you one thing, it’s the power of bribery. And chocolate.

9:00  Go downstairs and immediately notice the filth that is covering  every square inch of your house. Debate cleaning it up while the kids are tucked away in their bedrooms, but decide against it. After all, we need to save some fun for tomorrow’s COVID-Summer adventure!

***

Happy summer, everyone–stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane!

My Quarantine Bookshelf

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I’ve always loved reading. I am the kid who (literally) had my 10th birthday party at a bookstore (As you can now tell–if you didn’t know it already–I was the cool kid in the class). Since we’ve been in quarantine, though, I’ve picked up reading again with a voracity that I haven’t known in years. Basically I’ve taken this quarantine lockdown as my own personal Silent Reading Mandate. My bedside table is covered in stacks of books that I’m actually reading. It’s fantastic.

In a time like this when we are physically confined, reading is the ultimate escape. Since the COVID lockdown officially began about two months ago, I’ve been using books as a way to take mental vacations every single day. I’ve trekked through the Swiss Alps, gone backstage at San Francisco comedy clubs, spent time on the beaches of the San Juan Islands, experienced Gold Rush California, and taken an ancient pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. All from a safe social distance, of course.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your own virtual retreat, here is what I’ve been reading:

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious YouFierce Free and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker
Oh, how I love Jen Hatmaker. She writes from the heart with humor and grace and moxie–it’s the perfect combination. Some of my fondest book memories involve Jen Hatmaker, including the time I drove across the state of California with an infant to hear her speak…only to get stuck in California traffic and nearly miss the whole conference (All’s well that ends well, though, because my sob story landed me a private audience with Jen–see, we’re buddies–and a book signing while she held my baby).

This book was released mid-quarantine and, truly, it is the perfect quarantine read. It’s inspiring and heartfelt and makes me want to implement positive changes in my life RIGHT NOW (well, as soon as I can pull myself out of my yoga pants-induced stupor fueled by home-baked sourdough bread).

Rick Steves Switzerland (Tenth Edition) by Avalon Travel
I’ve had this book sitting on my nightstand for half a year as we planned our epic trip to Switzerland scheduled for earlier this month. As we all know now, that trip never happened (Still heartbroken. Still complaining about it. Not over it.). I’ve kept the book on my nightstand because I still like to dream…and what better place to dream of than idyllic mountain villages covered in cheese and chocolate?

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by [Ali Wong]Dear Girls by Ali Wong
This was a lucky last-minute find at the library right before the world shut down. I heard a rumor–with about 2 hours notice–that our library might be closing with no scheduled re-opening date. I dropped everything, threw the kids in the car, and proceeded to check out nearly 200 books from the library to hold us over through whatever impending disaster might be looming on the horizon. I had been waiting for this book from the library for several months, but my number still hadn’t come up in the queue. I happened to find it in the (aptly named) “Lucky Day Collection”–basically, it’s a high-demand book that you can check out on the spot, but you only get it for 2 weeks and then you have to give some other lucky library patron their chance at winning the book. It’s like winning the lottery and Christmas all at once. This is why I love libraries.

Anywho…the book is written by Asian-American comedian Ali Wong (If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and go watch her Netflix specials. You’re welcome.). Each chapter is written as a letter to her two young daughters (to read when they’re much, MUCH older). It’s hilarious but quite raunchy, so read it if you want to take down your filters and just laugh.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by [Kelli Estes]The Girl Who Wrote In Silk by Kelli Estes
OK, funny story with this one. My sister’s mother in law sent me a book a few months ago written by the same author as this book–she had bought it when she was here visiting from California, and she liked that it was written by a Washington-native author who shared her same last name. Long story short, I found out that the author actually lives in the same town as me, and now we’re Facebook friends (Hi, Kelli!). So, of course, I had to read her other books!

This book is set in the same locations–Seattle and the Orcas Island in the San Juans–in two separate time periods (the present day and 1886). The novel follows a young woman who discovers an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in her deceased aunt’s house. As she begins to unravel the story that is being told in the embroidery, she sees how closely her life is intertwined with that of the artist who created it, a young Chinese-American woman who lived a century before and was escaping the prejudice and violence against the Chinese people in that time period. It’s a beautiful story about doing what is right in the face of adversity, and the power that our own stories hold.

American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford by Roland De Wolk
This was actually one of Jon’s birthday gifts that I stole from him before he even got a chance to read it. This book is a biography of Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University–and it doesn’t hold back any of the ugly truth of who this self-made man was.

When Jon was in grad school at Stanford I spent quite a bit of time learning about the Stanford family so I knew the basics of who they were and how they started the school, but I was curious to know the gritty details. This book goes into backstory of Stanford’s life all the way back to his middle-class birth and upbringing in the early 1800’s in upstate New York, follows him through his apathy and absolute failures throughout life that moved him continuously westward, and sheds light on the cheating and stealing that made him one of the wealthiest Americans of all time. Through all of his failures–and an incredibly devastating tragedy–however, he went on to found one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. It was an interesting read and an enlightening history lesson. (Side note: I’m glad I will never have to meet Leland Stanford in real life.)

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't KnowTalking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and they’re always thought-provoking and help me to see things from a totally different perspective. This book about how we interact with strangers–and how our biases, our assumptions, and our desires play out in those interactions–makes you see social interaction in a totally new light. Right now is quite interesting timing to read a book on social interactions, especially as nearly all of our social interactions have become virtual. This book has given new meaning to “stranger danger”. I just may never speak to a real-life stranger again.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a FaithA Pilgrimage To Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan
This is the memoir of a man who takes an ancient pilgrimage on the Via Francigena, a thousand-mile trek through the theological cradle of Christianity. He begins in Canterbury, England before passing through France, crossing the Swiss alps, and continuing south to the Vatican in Rome. While on the journey he grapples with his own troubled past with the Catholic church and searches for meaning in a world that is often difficult and full of pain.

I love books like this where I get to be a bug-on-the-shoulder and get a free ride through someone else’s adventure. I loved seeing the ancient castles of England, the beautiful scenery of the French countryside, the majesty of the Swiss Alps. I indulged in patisserie in Arras, took a tour through ancient wine cellars in Châlons-en-Champagne, and tasted sumptuous testaroli in Pontremoli. All this, and I never even had to pay for a plane ticket or suffer through blisters on my toes.

*** Bonus Children’s Books ***
I’ve chosen to include a couple of children’s books for good measure because I spend at least an hour a day reading to my children (Again: grateful I checked out those 100 books from the library right before lockdown went into effect…).

Emily’s Idea by Christine Evans
I just have to include this beautiful book on my list because my dear friend Christine wrote it and I think it’s a masterpiece. The book was released during the quarantine, too, making it an appropriate addition to anyone’s quarantine reading list.

This story follows a little girl (Emily, based upon Christine’s real-life daughter Emily) who has a wonderful idea that spreads around her community and around the world. The message is inspiring for kids and their grown-ups alike, and there’s even a template in the back of the book to make your own paper doll chain (Hello, quarantine Arts & Crafts!).

Indescribable: 100 Devotions For Kids About God and Science by Louie Giglio
Every morning since quarantine began I’ve been sitting down with my kids and doing a 10 minute Bible time. This regular Bible time has been grounding for me (and, hopefully, also for my kids) in a time when everything feels so up in the air.

I started going through this devotional with my kids a few weeks ago and we’ve all enjoyed it. Each story ties in a Bible verse, some cool “weird science” phenomenon from the real world, and a way to connect the lesson to your life today.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading for the last couple months of lockdown. I’d love to hear what’s been on your quarantine bookshelf so I can get some more ideas. Happy reading!

An Ode To Bota

 

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our amazing dog of nearly 14 years, Bota. More than a pet, she was a treasured member of our family. And while we’re still grieving this loss, I want to remember her. I want to remember the friend that she was and the unquestioning love that she gave us; the shenanigans she got into and the lessons she taught us. Bota lived a life full of the best qualities: love, adventure, loyalty, and undying patience.

Jon and I got Bota in 2006 when we were still newlyweds and she was still a tiny puppy. Actually, that’s not quite right. Jon got Bota for me so I would quit pestering him for a human baby. And it worked.

On Christmas morning in 2006 I unwrapped my gift from Jon: an adorable red dog collar no bigger around than my forearm, and instructions to a location that would hold the rest of the gift. He had scouted out the perfect puppy farm for my Christmas gift–a literal Christmas tree farm (with a side hustle of Border Collie breeding) out in the countryside.

The next morning we drove out to the Christmas Tree farm where 4-month old Bota was still living with her doggy mama, Kate, her doggy daddy, Bo, and one brother from her litter. This little pack of Border Collies had free reign of the farm, and I’m certain this is where Bota’s adventurous spirit was born.

During that first year of Bota’s life she did an excellent job of training her humans (her humans, on the other hand, were pretty clueless and easily frustrated by the human-training tactics employed by their puppy). Since Jon and I were both working, we had to come up with a plan for Bota during the day while we were away.

At first we tried keeping her in a crate, but that was just sad. Then we tried letting her roam around our house, and she managed to open the pantry door and eat through all of the food and beverage containers–including a fresh 12-pack of almond milk–that were at puppy snout level. Then we tried keeping her in our garage, whereupon she decided to chew off all of the drywall at puppy snout level. Next, we tried putting her in our backyard…whereupon she chewed through all of our deck rails at puppy snout level. We even tried coming home from work in the middle of the day and walking her across the street to our little neighborhood park, whereupon she would round up all of the stray children and herd them into a squealing clump in the middle of the field. We never did find a great solution to keep our very intelligent (easily bored), very energetic (would never wear out of new ways to destroy things) puppy occupied. Thankfully for all of us, life changed course just in time.

After our first year with Bota we got news that Jon had been accepted to grad school at Stanford, so we picked up our little life and moved to California. We (me, Jon, and my parents) drove down the west coast with a little moving truck and my even-littler Jetta full of every possession we’d accumulated up to that point in our lives. It wasn’t much, but it included Bota. During The Grad School Years, Bota was an incredibly important, central part of our lives. While I was at work during the day, Bota would keep Jon company as he studied in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. We were lucky to have a little outdoor patio at our apartment.  Jon would lie on our only piece of furniture (a Futon), in the only room of our apartment, near the open front door and Bota would lie in the sun just outside the door so she could keep watch over him as he toiled away.

When I would get home from work we’d take her to the park across the street every day and throw the ball for her for hours. Literally hours. Then we’d go for a run or a hike or a walk around the block. And then we’d throw the ball some more. And then she’d chase black squirrels up the trees or across the fences. And then we’d try to make her run some more. Or we would take her to the beach and she would chase ocean waves as if they were stray sheep that needed to be herded into place. She would run up and down that beach yipping at every single wave until she would literally pass out in the sand from exhaustion. And, finally, she would calm down enough to let us sleep at night. She was our original parental sleep trainer, before we had to throw midnight nursing or diaper changes into the mix.

By the time we left Stanford I was 6 months pregnant with David, and we entered into a whole new phase of life for Bota: The Baby Guardian. When David was born Bota literally changed over night. She went from being our hyper-energetic, non-stop, go-go-go puppy to an aged sage who would lay down her life (or even just lay down for a hot minute) for this helpless human. When David was sleeping, Bota would be curled up at the foot of his crib. When David was going for a walk in the stroller, she’d be half a step ahead so she could keep an eye out on the road ahead. When David started crawling and chasing and dog-hair-pulling and in-your-ear-screeching she just took it. Like a champ. She never got defensive or retaliatory. She didn’t even run away from home (she would have been right to do so). No, she just stood by that crazy baby’s side as if he belonged to her.

Not even two years later, another baby bounced on the scene. And, again, she stood loyally by our side. Even as our time and attention shifted from the dog to the ever-demanding tiny humanoids, she never flinched. She knew she had a job and a purpose to watch over those babies, and she did it with her whole heart.

Just before Jacob’s first birthday we decided to uproot our family again–and this time, we were doing The Big Move. As we were preparing to move to Ireland we had to make some pretty big decisions in regard to Bota. Would she stay in the States or come with us? If she came with us, would it even be worth it (when we began looking into this option, dogs entering Ireland had to be quarantined for up to 6 months). In the end, the timing and the logistics worked out and we were able to bring her with us across the pond.

I am sad to report that the move to Ireland was not easy or fun for Bota…or for us. It was incredibly stressful, expensive, and not at all the sane choice to make. The cargo airline that shipped Bota across the Atlantic to us lost her in transit and Jon quite literally almost punched a helpless airline employee in the face. There was endless paperwork and vet visits and protocols that had to be followed. But Bota was part of our family, and she was worth it.

When our time in Ireland was done, we had to go through the reverse process of re-patriating Bota to American soil. This time we had the wealthiest tech company on the planet footing the dog transfer bill, though, so she got to ride in style. A courier arrived at our home in Ireland, placed her in his special dog transport truck, drove her to the Big Airport 3 hours away, settled her into her first class accommodations on the plane, and then a second courier picked her up from the American airport to drive her to my parents’ house for safe-keeping until we arrived. When the American dog transport pulled up to my parents’ house, Bota was riding in the passenger seat with a grin on her face.

During our next three years of living in California, Bota settled in to herself. She was happy to return to the California sun, and we often referred to her as our “cat-dog” for the way she would lounge in the rays. It was also during our second stint in California that Bota welcomed the third baby into our family.  By now Bota was a seasoned pro, and she resumed her spot at the foot of the bassinet–this time more to protect the squirmy pink baby from her ever-destructive big brothers than anything else.

While I was busy homeschooling and tending to the new baby around the clock, our boys discovered new ways to entertain the dog. One of our houses in California backed up to a creek full of smooth, rounded rocks. They found that Bota loved chasing the rocks into the creek when they’d throw them. What they (and we) didn’t realize, is that she also loved to catch the rocks in her mouth–mid-air–thus chipping away at her fragile old-dog teeth. 7 tooth extractions and a sizable vet bill later, we learned not to throw rocks for dogs.

Three years ago today, we moved back to Washington state. We said goodbye to the California sun and the nice, smooth creek rocks and we made our way back north. The home we bought here in Washington was, in part, for Bota. Up until this point in her long dog-life we’d never really had a yard. We’d had patches of grass and creeks to explore, but never an actual yard with room to run and roam free. We determined that all of our kids–Bota included–needed a real yard in whatever house we chose. So we got a house with the biggest yard we could find and, finally, Bota was home.

***

Yesterday was a really hard day. But I don’t want to hold on to the one really hard day. I want to remember the 5,000 wonderful days. I want to remember the days we spent walking together and dreaming together (Trust me, dogs have the best dreams!). I want to remember the days we taught each other better ways to live. I want to remember the way my heart swelled with love every time I saw her sweet face and the comfort I felt when I would pet her soft fur. I want to remember the way Jon would pick her up and cradle her in his arms like an infant (and how that sweet, old dog would allow him to even do such a thing). I want to remember the way Bota could calm down David when his Big Feelings got too big. I want to remember the way Jacob would chase Bota through the fields. I want to remember the way Hannah’s eyes would light up when she’d see Bota in the room. I want to remember the way she helped form our family, and the ways she will always be a part of our family. Because that is the most important part.

Bota girl, we love you. And even though you won’t be with us here in person, you will live on forever in our hearts. Because you loved us and we loved you, our hearts are forever changed. Chase some squirrels in Heaven today–until we meet again, sweet girl.

 

Fortunately This Will All Be Over Some Day

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Today marks 6 weeks since our school district announced they would be closing for in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six long weeks that have essentially thrust me into a time warp. From that fateful day onward, our world began to slowly (and then quite rapidly) shut down around us–and what a whirlwind it has been!

I have started a routine with my kids each morning where we write down the day’s date together–not so much because I care what day it is, but because if I don’t write it down I fear we will never find our way out of the COVID-chasm again. You could ask me a question such as what I had for breakfast this morning or what day/week/month the International Olympic Committee announced their deferment of this summer’s games, and I would simply look at you with the same dumbfounded look. I just don’t know. We have entered a supernatural realm where time nor space nor work nor former purpose seems to hold any significant meaning. For better or worse: The world has changed.

And, speaking of “for better or worse”, I like to play a little game when life becomes tragically hilarious as it has at this moment. The game is called “Fortunately/Unfortunately” and it goes a bit like this:

Fortunately the world is still spinning.

Unfortunately everything in the world has had to shut down.

Fortunately, my 3 adorable/precious/loved/needy/not-yet-self-sufficient children still have school.

Unfortunately, all of their schooling has moved out of the classroom and onto “the cloud”.

Fortunately, “the cloud” is not an actual cloud, because all of the airlines are shut down and it would be quite difficult to reach the clouds by our own might.

Unfortunately, this means my children are doing school at home. Yes, even the preschooler.

Fortunately, we have internet access and computers and *me* to oversee the daily learning/weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Unfortunately, even teachers working in one of the most tech-savvy pockets of one of the most industrialized nations on earth run into tech issues during remote learning. And Zoom is full of perverts.

Fortunately, my son is too preoccupied with turning his computer background into a mythical Pokémon creature during his Zoom lessons or typing “toot” in the private chat bar to notice any of the tech glitches that may or may not occur during this time.

Unfortunately, he still has to learn the material presented during lessons. Even if they’re on a cloud.

Fortunately, his mom has basically given up on hardcore academics at this point and is pretty well appeased by “good enough”.

Unfortunately, school is not our only preoccupation.

Fortunately, baking and consuming massive amounts of empty carbohydrates is not a difficult task to pull off.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the new jeans that I bought back in February will fit me any more.

Fortunately, I haven’t even tried them on since February (#yogapantsforthewin). Ignorance is bliss.

Unfortunately, diet and exercise is still important. Even when you’re in lockdown.

Fortunately, I have a 100% legitimate excuse for not making it to the gym.

Unfortunately, the gym being closed is not a legitimate excuse for sloth.

Fortunately, my husband is a born-again Cross-Fit converter and we have enough gym equipment in our basement to make Gold’s Gym shudder behind their no-cancellation-policy long-term contracts.

Unfortunately, simply possessing gym equipment does not somehow make you magically fit.

Fortunately, my friend makes Facebook Live videos of her workouts so I can join with her to sweat it out.

Unfortunately, my kids and dog always want to join in my workout fun (Sidenote: The best part of working out is that you do it without your kids and dog.).

Fortunately, I have learned that I can sit my kids in front of a screen for an hour, slip outside with my yoga mat, and nobody ever even realizes I’ve tried to do something without them.

Unfortunately, no good thing lasts forever, and eventually you have to return to the screen zombies.

Fortunately, my children are totally fine with me turning off screens and they never throw a fit or scream or stomp or cry when screen time is over.

Unfortunately, this is a true story. Children losing screen time without losing their minds is a paradox that does not exist in reality.

Fortunately, our TV is password protected and I’m now strengthened from my invigorating bout of exercise. Off go the screens!

Unfortunately, now I have to make dinner. The children are not pleased. They are *just a colossal smidge* tired and cranky and demanding my attention, even though I’ve basically done nothing today except give them my attention.

Fortunately, I have a fridge full of food because I just picked up my once-weekly grocery order last night.

Unfortunately, I have to cook all of the food. Again. For the “Every meal of every day”th time since this lockdown began.

Fortunately, as with all things in my life at this point in time, my acceptance of mediocrity has reached an all-time high. Hot dogs and chips it is.

Unfortunately, this dinner is lacking a bit of pizzazz.

Fortunately, there are several dozen wineries in my town that are now offering free at-home no-contact delivery. Which brings me to my next question: Which pairs better with fire-roasted frankfurters and crispy tortilla strips: Syrah or Zinfandel?

Unfortunately, after dinner we still have to kill a few hours until bedtime.

Fortunately, family movie night has become a nightly occurrence.

Unfortunately, even with Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Plex, PrimeVideo, and a collection of old DVD’s there is nothing to watch.

Fortunately, all of the movies my kids had been anticipating being released in the theaters are now being directly released to home streaming.

Unfortunately, the new Trolls movie costs $19.99. To rent.

Fortunately, it’s still light enough outside in the evening that you can just send the kids outside to play instead.

Unfortunately, your kids seem bent on climbing high trees and jumping off of moving objects. You remind them that they may NOT, for any reason, break a limb right now.

Fortunately, your kid who broke his arm in September and had to wear a cast up to his armpit for the first 6 weeks of first grade understands the severity of the situation. He implores his siblings to comply. Kind of.

Unfortunately, we have spent most of the evening arguing over unwatched movies and safe outdoor playtime tactics, and now it is time for bed.

Fortunately, it is time for the kids to go to bed.

Unfortunately, the kids will not stay in bed forever.

Fortunately, we are putting the kids to bed. Right now.

Unfortunately, the kids getting to bed can not happen soon enough.

Fortunately, both parents are equally motivated to get the kids to bed and we move them through the bedtime routine in double time.

Unfortunately, one kid has a wiggly tooth (WHY AT BEDTIME MUST YOU HAVE A WIGGLY TOOTH?!?!?!) and another kid has somehow outgrown all of their pajamas.

Fortunately, the tooth fairy can still make house calls during quarantine and Amazon carries pajamas.

Unfortunately, everything I order on Amazon is now taking approximately 23 years to arrive.

Fortunately, we’ve sorted out both the tooth and the pajamas, and the kids are finally in bed.

Unfortunately, we have to do this all over again tomorrow.

Fortunately, we have another tomorrow. Another chance to do life a bit differently, to take a step back, to lower our standards, and to try something new. Tomorrow is a gift, and even this will all be over some day.

 

 

 

 

Pacing

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Let me set the scene.

The year was 2009. Jon and I were a young married couple with no kids. I had just started my third teaching job (at my third school) in three years, and I desperately needed something bigger than myself or my classroom to fill my mind and my energy. Jon was in grad school at Stanford, which meant he was away in classes or studying for approximately 23 hours a day. And, because I was young and foolish, I decided it was the perfect time in life to run a marathon.

About a year earlier, right after we’d moved to Palo Alto, I had joined a weekly running club. This tight-knit group of people made up of grad students, Silicon Valley techies, and millionaire housewives became my second family during those long (and often lonely) years of grad-student-wife-ing and young teacher-ing. Somewhere along the countless hours and miles I spent running with these friends I realized that I actually had it in me to train for and run a marathon. It had always been a goal of mine and I figured “If not now, when?”. I roped one of my run club friends into coaching me for my first marathon, and I signed up for a December race. Done deal.

When race day came, I was ready. I had trained hard, I had a few of my run club friends by my side, and I knew I could do it. And I did. I ran the crap out of that marathon, and I finished 1 second faster than my goal time in 4 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Running that marathon taught me a lot about myself which alone could warrant several blog posts, or maybe even a memoir (The title would probably be something along the lines of “Consume Enough Electrolytes During A Marathon or You’ll End Up In The Hospital The Next Day With a Kidney Infection”). But running the marathon also taught me something else of importance to my bigger life story: Pacing.

Pacing is essentially finding your groove and pushing yourself just the right amount so you can make it for the long haul. Pacing is consistency. Pacing is making smart choices early on so you can make it to the finish line.

At this point in the global Coronavirus pandemic, I think we’ve all realized that we’re going to be in this thing for the long-haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And since we’re in a marathon, pacing will be essential. If we over-exert ourselves too much now, in the early stages of the race, we’ll never cross the finish line in one piece. Based on what I know about marathon pacing, this is how I plan on pacing myself through the months ahead as we cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Pacing Miles 0-3: Adrenaline Rush
The first few miles of a race are a blur of excitement. People line the streets cheering, the running pack is thick, and the miles fly by. Without even thinking about it, you are carried through the first few miles on a burst of adrenaline.

We have already been through the Coronavirus adrenaline rush. Everything changed so rapidly that the last three weeks are simply a blur of confusion and exhaustion. The mad rush to the store to stock up on supplies, the flurry of cancelled activities, the swift paring down of my world. I don’t know what day or week or month it is any more. I just know that the world is fundamentally different Now from how it was Before.

Pacing Miles 4-10: Finding Your Stride
After the initial rush in a race, you start to find your stride. You remember your training and you start to find a steady pace that you can maintain. In the running world, we often call this “conversation pace”: the pace at which you can still coherently have a conversation with someone running next to you–not so fast that you’re breathless and jumbled, but not so slow that you’ve lost sight of your end goal.

I think this is where we’re at currently in the Coronavirus Marathon. We need to remember our training: What is most important to me right now? Maybe it’s maintaining a routine and a schedule with your family. Maybe it’s returning to academics after a prolonged break. Maybe it’s setting reminders on your phone to drink enough water and exercise every day. Maybe it’s purposefully setting aside a block of time each day to do something that you want to do, not that you need to do. Maybe it’s logging off of social media for a time. Maybe it’s cooking comfort food. Whatever it is, I need to find a pattern for living that will be sustainable Now, for as long as this lasts.

Pacing Miles 11-20: Pull Deep
Most marathon training regimens include at least a dozen “long runs” that take you up to about 20 miles before your race. These long runs are training for the distance you’ll have to cover–not only physically (Can my body do this?), but also mentally and emotionally (Can I make myself do this even when I want to quit?).

We didn’t have much warning that we would be entering this Coronavirus marathon. Sure there were stories coming out of countries on the other side of the world, but that was There and I live Here. Had I known I’d soon be entering a marathon, I would have used those early months to practice some of my “long runs”: I would have stocked up on a 3-month supply of essential food and household items. I would have spent as much in-person time as I possibly could with the friends and family I wouldn’t be able to see for months on end. I would have gone to all of my favorite places and done all of my favorite things. But, alas, I did not.

Instead, I’m going to have to pull deep to make it through this long stretch of social distancing and physical isolation. Along the way I’ll probably get painful “blisters”–trying times and plenty of “I Quit” days. I’ll feel lost and unequipped because, well, I’m lost and unequipped. NOBODY in the history of the world has ever had to do what we are attempting to do right now to the scale at which we are attempting to do it. There is no course map or proven best practice. So I will have to rely on those ahead of me and those above me to help me make wise choices along the way. This is the long run, and it won’t always be easy.

Pacing Miles 20-26: Hitting The Wall
There is a point in every distance race that runners know well: The Wall. This is the point where–despite your training and adrenaline and preparation–you just hit the point where everything sucks. Your feet don’t want to move. Your lungs don’t want to breathe. Your legs feel like lead. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You think you can’t go on. And yet you do.

I imagine at some point during this Coronavirus marathon I will hit the wall. There will be some straw that will break my camel’s back. Maybe it will be some flippant thing someone says or some stupid Facebook post or my inability to find some item I’m craving at the grocery store. I don’t know what it will be, but there will be some point where I get to the point where I’m just done.

And that, my friends, is the point where you just start chanting the mantra (out loud if you need to): Breathe. One foot in front of the other. You can do this. You will do this.

And once you push through the wall, you have nearly made it.

Pacing Mile 26 – Mile 26.2: Strong Finish
The last 0.2 miles of the marathon are by far the hardest “miles” of the race. Often times you can literally see the finish line, yet somehow it feels so. Far. Away. And this is where you quit relying on yourself or your own abilities, and you just finish as strong as you can.

In my Coronavirus marathon, I will need to seek help outside of myself if I want to finish strong. Keeping myself and my family healthy, helping my kids learn and keep up with school, maintaining joy, developing patience, finding hope each day–I can’t do all of that on my own. Nor should I. So during those .2 miles that feel like a lifetime, I will lean heavy on my faith, God’s Word, and His promises. And that, my friends, is the strongest finish I can hope to find.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

So let us run hard, friends. Let us set an example for our children, our friends, and our neighbors about how this race should be run. And when the going gets tough–as it surely will–keep your eye on the prize. No race lasts forever.

The 5 Stages of Coronavirus Grief

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Yesterday marked one month since the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, was confirmed in the United States. This confirmed case was reported in Kirkland, Washington, just 3 miles away from our home. From that moment forward, our world started slowly–and then very rapidly–coming to a halt. Coronavirus had come to our community (How dare it?!) and our lives began to change day by day, moment by moment.

First the schools started to close. And then all of the schools closed. Then we started E-learning. And then E-learning was shut down and our beloved teachers were effectively given a government-mandated gag order. Then the restaurants started shutting down. And then all of the restaurants shut down. And then all of the parks closed. And then all of the gyms and the movie theaters and the dentists and doctors offices closed.

Little by little our big, open world began to shrink until all that was left was our own homes. And that is where we find ourselves today. Many parts of the country–and the world–are in a literal lockdown to try and stop the spread of this virus. This virus that, three short months ago, nobody had ever even heard of. And it’s all just so…crazy. Never in a million years would any of us have predicted something like this could happen, let alone that it actually would happen. To us. Here. Right now.

With all of this change, I’ve definitely done some grieving. I’ve grieved over the communities around the world that have been shattered by sickness and death. I’ve grieved over the European vacation that we had to cancel.  I’ve grieved over the friends and family that I desperately want to see but am not allowed to be in contact with. I’ve grieved over the pace and routine of life that I used to have. I’ve grieved over an unknown future.

As I was thinking about this grief, it reminded me of the 5 stages of grief that psychologists use to describe the stages we go through while mourning. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the stages fit quite well with what I’m experiencing right now with my own Coronavirus Grief.

  1. Denial and Isolation
    The first stage is to deny the reality of the situation: “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening.”When we first started seeing news clips about this strange new virus that had surfaced in China, it felt very distant. And even when the news moved much closer to home (the first couple dozen confirmed US COVID-19 cases, and deaths, all happened right there in our community), it still felt like something beyond me. It felt like something happening to others, but it wouldn’t actually touch my life in any tangible way. I was happy enough to ignore it and try to move on with my life.
  2. Anger
    But before long, the Coronavirus did start to touch my life in tangible ways. And I didn’t like it. At all. When my kids’ schools started closing and the very-important-things I did in my life all started getting cancelled I was mad. The injustice! I resented the virus, a thing that does not care one iota how I feel about it. And then I would feel guilty for being angry about my very-important-things being cancelled when there were much bigger problems in the world…and that would make me feel even more angry.
  3. Bargaining
    So as I continued my journey of feeling helpless and powerless I attempted to regain control through my actions. If only I could organize our days at home better the time would pass more easily. If only I could write letters to our political leaders, they would give us access to our education again or impose orders that would keep people safer and healthier. If only I could do something different, something more,  then things would all be better.
  4. Depression
    But things have not gotten better, at least not here. We’ve had neighbors die. Our healthcare workers are being forced to reuse personal protective equipment because they don’t have enough supplies to tend to the large number of patients. Our friends and family members are becoming unemployed. We miss people and places and just a basic sense of freedom. And all of these things are, well, sad. The loss we are experiencing day-in and day-out is a heavy burden to carry. It. Is. Hard.
  5. Acceptance
    Despite it all, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, and after much exasperation, I have come to realize that there is, in fact, nothing I could do to change these circumstances. I am not responsible for what has happened, I am not responsible for the actions of other people, I am not responsible for the policies that are put into place during these times.I am responsible for one thing, and one thing only: me. And that, I can change for the better. I can choose to find joy each day. I can choose to help others. I can choose to do what I think is right. I can choose to throw out the rule book and eat ice cream for breakfast. I can pray. I can choose love and hope in the midst of pain and confusion. And in the end, I know that this will make a difference. Probably not for the world, but for my world.So that is where I’m at today, approximately one month in to our foray of worldwide pandemics. I will continue to look for the good, to love mine the best that I can, and eat lots of home-baked carbs along the way (Trust me, the carbs help.).

    And some day–maybe 3 weeks from now, or maybe a year from now–we will come out of this thing. We will come out as changed people, because grief never allows us to remain the same. We will look back at what we have overcome and how we persevered, and we will be better for it.

    We’ve got this, friends! I can’t wait to see you on the other side, better than ever.

 

 

How To Homeschool On The Fly In The Age Of The Coronavirus

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Late last night our school district outside of Seattle became the first school district in the nation to close due to concerns about the Coronavirus. Effective immediately, and for an indefinite period of time, all schools are closed and shifting to a remote learning model “on the cloud”. Translation: ready or or not, we’re all about to homeschool!

While I 100% support our district’s decision to move to this model, I know from experience how daunting the task ahead will be for families. I used to be a classroom teacher, and I’ve homeschooled before. Teaching is my jam, but helping my own children learn at home was a totally different league.  Let’s just say there’s a very good reason why I’m not still homeschooling.

My kids were only 3- and 5-year olds the last time I attempted homeschooling, so I’m definitely a bit out of practice (And I’ve never done this with a 1st grader, a 3rd grader, and a preschooler, as I’m about to attempt.). While I am by no means a homeschooling (or “cloud schooling”) expert, I did pick up a few tips and tricks during our oh-so-fun year of “Mommy School” that I want to pass along. Just remember: we’re all in this (separately) together!

Set Expectations
Make sure the kids know that this isn’t just a never-ending weekend. These days at home will be a learning time that they will be expected to participate in the same as if they were away at school. Attendance will be taken, they will need to check in for certain online classes, and they will have assignments to complete within specific time frames. Bonus: They can do it all in their pajamas with their dog curled up underfoot.

Gather Supplies
For our particular scenario, students will need a computer, internet access, and a few  physical supplies in order to attend Coronavirus School.

Our school district has come up with a plan to move all learning “outside the four walls of the school and onto the cloud”, which basically means kids will be completing and/or submitting their school work online. Each physical class in the real world now has a virtual Google Classroom where students and teachers can interact with each other virtually. It’s actually really cool! And, since we had a bit of warning that this was coming, teachers spent the school day yesterday as a bridge day. They trained students how to use these new-to-them online tools and had time to practice using them under teacher guidance. In addition, our school district has made available computing devices and WiFi hotspots for any students that need them in order to complete their “cloud learning” at home. Really, I can’t believe how well-planned this whole thing is on such short notice and in such an unprecedented circumstance!

Each of my kids also came home yesterday with a backpack full of physical tools (textbooks, workbooks writing journals, books) to use at home. In addition to these supplies, it will probably be a good idea to have basic school supplies on hand. This is what I’m going to have available in our homeschool space (More on that in the next section!):
-Pencils
-Pencil Sharpener (At the beginning of the school year I bought this fancy sharpener and it’s been a great tool to have at home!)
-Crayons/markers/colored pencils
-White printer paper
-Lined notebook paper
-Headphones (so my kids can work on their computers simultaneously with minimal disruptions to each other).
-Computer microphone (we had to get one for my third grader because his PC doesn’t have a built-in microphone)
-Small dry erase boards with markers and erasers
-Ibuprofen (for Teacher-Mom)

Since we are yet to put any of this into practice, I’m sure this list will evolve over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you want to stock up you can find most of these items in the Dollar store (Or, if you don’t want to even set foot in the world of viral outbreak, just have them delivered from Amazon).

Set up Your Space
It’s important for you (Teacher-Mom or Teacher-Dad) and for the kids to have a dedicated space for school at home. This can be the kitchen table (This is a great choice because it’s central and you can spread out a lot of junk learning tools on it at once) or a home office with tables  set up for the kids. Or, really, just sitting on the floor in a hallway. For the love, do NOT set up school near a TV/XBox/Switch/Pokemon card collection that will be more enticing than the schoolwork that lies ahead!

Schedule Your Day
You need a plan some structure for your day or you will all go crazy and quite possibly end up in a mental institute (Which is probably quite clean and Coronavirus-free, actually, so that might not be a terrible back-up plan).

As you make your “School Day on The Cloud” schedule, think about what will work best for your family, and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go. Set a time in your day when schoolwork will get done–maybe this is first thing in the morning when everyone is fresh, or maybe it’s in the evening after Mom and Dad get home from work. Agree on an amount of work and/or an amount of time that you will dedicate to schoolwork during the first chunk of work time, then take a break (this is when you kick your kids outside for 30 minutes to roll around in the mud puddles). If your kid usually eats snack at school, eat a snack at the same time. Try to have lunch at the same time every day…again, consistency is key. Plan a block of time for independent or shared reading somewhere in there, then schedule a second chunk of work time later in the day (if you can muster it) and call it a day.

A typical homeschool day usually lasts only 2-4 hours, compared to 6.5 in a regular school day. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO 6 HOURS OF SCHOOL “ON THE CLOUD” (Sorry to my childrens’ teachers who are probably reading this, but I’m just telling it how it is in the real world!). Just do what you need to do, and don’t burn yourselves out.

I’m using a checklist with my kids so they know what needs to be accomplished each day and can move at their own pace. Here is the checklist I’ve made for my kids to follow:
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What About Younger Siblings?
Great question! I have a preschooler who will be joining us on this grand learning adventure, so I will also be curious to see how this aspect all plays out in practice. Some tactics I’ve tried before to help minimize the distraction of a younger sibling with marginal success:
-Having simple activities prepped and available that the younger sibling can work on independently while I assist the older sibling(s). Think: coloring pages, simple puzzles, Play-Doh, building with blocks, Duplos, or an iPad with noise cancelling headphones (#kiddingnotkidding).
-Do “school time” during the younger sibling’s nap time
-Childcare swap with a neighbor or trusted friend so you can take turns playing with younger siblings and helping your school-aged kids complete their schoolwork.
-Hire a teenage babysitter (They’re all out of school right now, too!) to come entertain one or more children while you help your school-aged child.
-(Weather permitting) move school outside–younger siblings can play outside while you sit in the grass or at a picnic table to do schoolwork with your child
-Let your school-aged child work independently while you care for the younger sibling.
-Involve the younger sibling in the learning. Have your school-aged child read to them or teach them a concept they’re learning about (Teaching is the best tool for testing comprehension!).
-Turn on Frozen 2 in another room and walk away.

Use Bribery Liberally
Please don’t judge me, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and bribes work wonders. Maybe the kids earn screen time for finishing assignments. Or a trip to the drive-thru for ice cream after they’ve chosen to read rather than squabble with their siblings for __ minutes. We’re only trying to make it through a few weeks here, so no long-term habits are going to have time to fully grab root–I say bribe away!

Plan Enrichment
School is all well and good, but we all need a break from the rigor every now and then. Consider both academic and non-academic enrichment you can offer your children while they’re at home to help keep everyone’s minds and bodies moving. And since we’re trying to maintain social distancing, here are some ideas you can implement from the comfort of your own home.

Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Learning games such as Uno, Cribbage, Chess, Scrabble, and Bananarams
-Do a puzzle
-Read! You can even ask Alexa to tell you a story and “she” will comply
-Play academic games on a website like Starfallor ABCMouse (subscription required)
-Write a letter to someone–they would probably love to hear how you’re doing in Ground Zero of the Coronavirus Apocalypse!
Do a science experiment 

Non-Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Get moving with an app like Go Noodle! or Cosmic Kids Yoga
-Bake (Math, Literacy, and Science all wrapped up in one!)
-Arts and crafts (You can literally just pull stuff out of your recycling bin and tell your kids to get creative with it!)
-Make homemade Play-Doh or Slime
-Create a song in Chrome Music Lab

Give Yourself Grace and Space
School-at-home can be stressful. There is a different dynamic when the environment and the people involved in school change, and this is a process that can take a very long time to feel comfortable. Give yourself (And your kids! And the teachers!) grace–this is a big learning curve!

Also, give yourself physical space to decompress. If things in the living room-schoolroom start to get rowdy or out of control or just feel off, take a break.  Maybe this means taking your kids outside for a walk around the neighborhood or banishing everyone to their bedrooms for “silent reading” so you can take a shower and eat the chocolate you have hidden in the laundry room. After everyone catches their breath, come back together and begin again–I promise, you’ll all feel better!

And if all else fails, just remember: This, too, shall pass.

Stay healthy out there, friends!

Diary From Ground Zero: A Day In The Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Apocalypse

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So, you may have heard of this little thing called the Coronavirus. Like an Instagram darling, Coronavirus is this little-known “virus next door” that made a big stage debut a couple of months ago and now, overnight, it’s famous. And like any good Influencer, Coronavirus is changing the way the world acts and thinks and eats and shops and dresses.

Unfortunately for me, I happen to be living right smack dab in the center of the USA Coronavirus Special. In the past week, our community became the host of not only the first confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the United States, but also the first fatalities. Not exactly the kind of bragging rights you want for your hometown (Who’s doing the PR for this thing, anyway?!).

It’s been a wild ride so far, and I have a feeling things are going to get even crazier before this whole thing packs up and moves on (It will pack up and move on eventually, won’t it?). And just in case you’re so lucky as to not be living in Coronavirus Ground Zero, here’s a little glimpse into what a day in the epicenter is actually like:

2:00 AM 
Startle awake because you hear your child coughing. Lie in bed intently listening to her coughs and try to decipher if they sound “wheezy” or “wet”. Determine that the coughs are most certainly wet, and thank the stars for the first time that something is moist.

5:00 AM 
Wake up early so you can get a head start on the day before your kids are up. Open a fresh tube of Lysol wipes and wipe down every hard surface in your home. And, since she’s constantly touched by your children, wipe down the dog for good measure.

7:00 AM
Your children wake up and come downstairs. After you feed them a hearty breakfast, draw up their morning baths. Just to be safe, replace the water with Purell hand sanitizer. Hey, good clean fun!

8:30 AM
Get shoes and backpacks for school. Wrap the children in Saran Wrap and cover the exposed skin on their faces with N95 masks.

9:00 AM
After dropping off the children at school, drive to the grocery store to stock up for…something. Everyone else is doing it, so this definitely seems like the next right choice.

9:10 AM
Get stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into the grocery store parking lot. Listen to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It while your car idles.

9:40 AM
Finally find a parking space after driving in circles, arcs, and even rhombuses through the parking lot. Congratulate yourself because you haven’t practiced this much Geometry since 8th grade math!

9:45 AM
Enter the grocery store and get to work shopping. Well, at least you would get to work shopping if there was anything left to shop for. Go down the bread aisle: empty. Go down the bottled water aisle: empty. Go down the hand sanitizer/disinfectant/soap aisle: empty. Go down the toilet paper aisle: empty (WHY?!?! What is this virus doing to our bowels that I don’t know about?! I blame #fakenews. Or maybe we need all the toilet paper so we can collect toilet paper rolls to do crafts when we’re all locked down in quarantine? Or maybe if I wrap myself up in toilet paper like a mummy the virus will take one look at me and take a hike? Whatever the non-reason, decide that you definitely need more TP in your life.).

10:45 AM
Leave the grocery store empty-handed and defeated…well, mostly defeated (they still had wine).

11:00 AM
Contemplate your options for the afternoon. Do you A) Risk going out into public again and possibly catching/carrying/transferring a disease of mass destruction, or B) Go home and start digging your safety bunker in the backyard. Decide it’s not worth the risk and head home to open that first bottle of wine.

12:30 PM
Get a robo-call from your kids’ school informing you that all day tomorrow the entire school district is shutting down for a staff training on how to “conduct learning outside the four walls of the school building”. Translation: For an extended period of time and with an unknown end-date, I’m going to have my constantly bickering kids darling children home with me wreaking havoc learning under the abundant patience of my love.

1:00 PM
Scan your only reliable news resource (Facebook) for the latest updates on the spread of Coronavirus in your community. Based on the plethora of information, decide that you are most certainly going to die and/or be totally fine.

2:00 PM
Wash your hands for the 2,378th time today. Notice that your skin is red and dry and about to fall off your body in a burning pile of over-scrubbed detritus. Scrub them harder.

3:00 PM
Go to the school to pick up your children. Avoid these moms in the school pick-up area: The Prepper (and her flippant “I told you so!” comments), The Hypochodirac (you’ll know her because she’ll be wearing microporous coveralls and a gas mask), The Hippie (she’ll smell like patchouli and be slinging essential oils and elderberry syrup out of the back of her Subaru), and The Politician (at least she’ll know which political party is responsible for this whole mess).

4:00 PM
Get the kids home from school and unpack their backpacks. Find a pile of used tissue, two half-eaten sandwiches, and a wad of already-chewed gum. Marvel at how no children under the age of 15 have contracted Coronavirus yet.

5:00 PM
Cook dinner. Choose between frozen foods and non-perishables from the pantry since the grocery store was out of literally everything. Decide on freshly breaded chicken cutlets hand-shaped into whimsical shapes (frozen dino nuggets) and organic pasta with a rich, creamy cheese sauce (mac ‘n cheese). Arrange a plate of crudité (carrot sticks) to round out your gourmet Apocalyptic meal.

6:30 PM
For your post-dinner entertainment, have a friendly family competition with “minute to win it” games. Include classics like Who Can Wash Their Hands The Longest and How Do We Unlock Mommy’s Cellphone To Call 911 If You Find Her Unresponsive. The prize is a nice, big squirt of hand sanitizer (Spoiler alert: everyone wins!!!).

7:30 PM
Put the kids to bed early so you can collect yourself and plan for a previously unscheduled day off of school. Do the calculations and realize that–between holidays and snow days and flood days and teacher grading days and school conferences–your children have actually only gone to school 3.2 days thus far in the school year.

8:00 PM
Pour yourself a glass of wine. After all, alcohol is a disinfectant.

9:00 PM
Update your will on lastminutelawyers.com. Make sure to equally distribute your treasure trove of toilet paper and hand sanitizer among your children.

10:00 PM
Congratulate yourself, because YOU MADE IT! You have survived another day in the Coronavirus Hot Zone without so much as a sniffle. Reward yourself by going to Amazon and ordering yourself a trophy (manufactured in a virus-free factory in China). Scroll past the $200 bottles of hand sanitizer and $500 disposable paper masks before you checkout. Upon checkout, note that your order is estimated to arrive on March 5…2022. Give yourself a mental trophy instead.

10:30 PM
Call it a night…and don’t let the Coronavirus bugs bite!

Whether you live here in Ground Zero or you have your day coming… may the odds be ever in our favor!

 

 

Four, For Now

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This week I’ve been feeling all the feels as we approach yet another family milestone. Tomorrow is Hannah’s birthday and, while it’s not a particularly monumental birthday in the general timeline of birthdays, for me it feels huge. You see, Hannah is my baby. She’s the third child (and final) child who almost didn’t happen, and she’s the daughter who I never thought I would have. Her birth order and gender give her a unique place in our family, and somehow that makes each of her milestones all the more meaningful.

Somehow four feels very big to me. When she was three I could get away with calling her a preschooler or even a toddler. But now? Now she’s four. She’s big. She’s a certifiable kid. She has one more year until kindergarten. And then that’s it.

There’s not another baby in the queue coming up behind her that I can snuggle and rock through the night. As Hannah ages out of this stage of life, my days of nursing and diaper changes and stroller walks are over forever. And as much as I struggled through some of those days of nursing and diaper changes and stroller walks, I will miss them deeply. The babyhood years with my children were some of the most exhausting, rewarding, trying, learning, messy, beautiful years of my life. A piece of me (mostly the piece that’s not nursing around the clock or changing infinity million diapers or walking fussy babies in the stroller at 3 AM) is sad to see them end.

But end they must, because God’s work is not yet done.

I can’t wait to see what these next few years and the next few years beyond that hold in store for you. I can’t wait to see which interests you pursue and which passions come to define you. I can’t wait to see which paths you pursue in your life. Maybe you’ll be a “baby doctor”–and if those 87 baby dolls that you’ve patched up in our living room are any testament to your skills, you’ll be a darn good one. Or maybe you’ll continue down the path of a fashionista and you’ll transform the world one yoga-pants-wearing woman at a time. Or maybe you’ll be a CEO of your own Fortune 500 company (we all know who wears the pants in this family). Whatever you choose to do I know that you’ll bring your whole sweet, sassy, happy self into it. And as long as you do you, it will be amazing.

I see hope and joy for your future. I see the love you have and the love you give, and I know you will impact the world for the better. I see the curiosity you have for the world around you, and I know that you will help others to see things in new ways. I see the growth you have already made in four short years, and I look forward to the leaps and bounds that still await you. You, my precious daughter, are bound for greatness.

And while I will cherish your baby days and already anticipate your future, even more than any of that I will celebrate who you are today. You are four now, for now. As quickly as the last stage passed, this one, too, will soon be gone. Today is a gift, and I plan on enjoying every bit of it with you while we still have it. Let’s be silly and snuggly and throw tantrums when we need to. Because you are four, but only for now.

I love you, sweet Hannah Doreen. Happy fourth birthday–let’s make it the best one yet!