This week the weather shifted to perfection in pure irony against a deep deep blue sky and warm breeze swirling around our home. We wait and watch sheltering within. But, as I have been doing almost daily for these nine weeks, I did venture out on a late afternoon walk to see what the heron was up to. This route to the lake takes me past forest and field with pockets of houses clustered here and there. Inspired by an assignment my colleague and favorite art teacher is doing with students, I looked for the abandoned places, for their #abandonedbeauty. It does not take long to find such treasures in a rural area, where time alters material indiscriminately. The weathered, rusted or worn is found everywhere, and as I spy it, metaphor shuttered into my soul and heart: I too break down on the daily.
Two months ago we started a national effort to school students from home. Each state, perhaps even each district, dealt with this transition differently. I could not be prouder of my colleagues or my students for rising to meet this challenge head on with the full intention to keep our school community together. Twice a week I meet with all my students, through google meets, additional emails and individual meetings and phone calls. They have learned, I have learned, and swiftly we adapted to a digital forum. As a teacher of reading and writing, I have been privy to the inner thoughts and reflections of many students during this unprecedented time. They are experiencing a topsy-turvy new day to day of sheltering with all its crazy chaotic difficult challenges, yet still continue to show up digitally and wow me. Tonight, I thought I’d share some of their voices, their hopes and dreams, and everyday afternoons.
I don’t spend my days listening to fringe news or scouring YouTube to follow the latest conspiracy down into the void, perhaps that is because I am busy encouraging young people to read slowly and carefully and respond in a way that shows their own well-developed reasoning, but even if I wasn’t, I’d like to think I would spend my energy in innovative adaptions to our new COVID 19 reality. There are days when I wonder who has the nerve to grab their military weapons and take to the street with dangerous demands, and on those days I remember the audacity of white privilege and the lengths it will take someone, and then I remember this is not the case for black men who are hunted without penalty, and then I remember still, oh yeah, I’ve got a job to do, so I go back to thinking of my students, who are still showing up by the way. By whatever determination they are conjuring, they are my heroes today, so I focus on them and ignore the crazy out there.
That isn’t what I want to write about though. Enough with a world of crazy and the sensational headlines, let’s talk mothers, aunts, and step-moms, and your girlfriends who are always there to support your mothering. Today, let’s remember those ladies, who bathed you when you were a mess, and held your hand when the world got dark, women who said do it, and pushed you onward when you were sliding back. The mothers who stripped your hurt and replaced it with hope. Those ladies who were the prettiest ones for ever and ever and even when their faces were roadmaps to loads of worry you could find a happy day. In fact, you were always their happiest day. Just you. I had such a mother. She was a larger than life forever waiting for another party to start hard working and smart cookie type. Her laugh legendary. Her smile big and easy. Her ability to give endless. And as flawed as they come, needing to apologize endlessly for all sorts of mix-ups and wrong comments and weird gifts. But she was perfectly imaginative and daring, everyone’s best date who looked smashing in orange and loved me best.
I really love my job, and nothing could have proven it faster than taking it away from me. Driving up the lamp-post lined Copley Hill to the hundred year old brick building with a hummingbird mural and entering to walk the creaky wood floors to my classroom, the same one I have stood in surrounded by fabulous individuals for over two decades, was my day to day. I miss unlocking that door, greeting the quiet few who always arrive early. Now I get ready for class at our dining room table in the one large space that is kitchen, dining, and living room combined, with windows facing all four directions. Notebook to scribble thoughts for the day, laptop open to a dozen tabs, hot black tea at my elbow, I’m slowly working out how to engage for 45 minutes via a fuzzy and often interrupted google meet twice weekly with my students. Like everyone I know in the school system, I am nonstop problem-solving, whether with curriculum shifts, individual student conferences, talking to para-educators and special educators or with concerned parents. By 4:00 most days I’m intellectually challenged and emotionally drained. But by 4:00 what I’m mostly aware of is how much I miss my students. Miss that class room life. Not every second of it, but most every second with them and all their hope. All their blue sky action.
There are starts and stops at every transition. Like when Winter is slowly colliding into a Spring that turns frozen again. We, in the quiet Northeast, are used to such chaos from our skies. One day we run about in tees and another it’s back into the parka. There is a steady plodding onwards, and general acceptance of what must be will be. Perhaps that is why Vermonters are all cool with so many personal differences through the decades. And perhaps this is why so many of us are sitting tight while COVID19 runs its course. We know how to stay active through long months of difficult weather conditions right inside our own space, plus we got an upward vision that allows us to dream of what is almost here.
For several years we have lived on this same street, the one I’ve driven mostly at the speed limit. Except for the occasional weekend run up and back down the adjacent dirt road, during this shelter in place time, I’ve been walking this street and all about in my neighborhood, a lot. My new favorite jaunt is a 3.5 mile loop that for a section of that distance I pass by open water. It’s a shallow, in spots reedy and swampy pond, but right now, the sight of the wind rippling across it is heaven. In March, when we first began the stay at home order, the pond was broadly covered by ice but under a cloudy or blue sky this expanse was everything wonderful to see even while frozen and stagnant and filled me with enough joy to navigate another challenging day.
Even in these dark days while we all count the slow minutes of each hour, there are some gifts resting under our fear. Shifting my daily routine from standing resolutely in my classroom to teaching from a wavy screen in my living room first brought me unease, but then I found absolute faith from my students who are rising to meet the demands like champs. I have gained hope from these teenagers, as their optimism buoys me in despair. I depend on them once more to cultivate a symbiotic although digital relationship, as we all face another day sheltering in place. During the other hours, while alone in my own thoughts, I turn to memories of traveling this one planet, navigating the ancient cobblestones and sandy beaches and stone steps and narrow turrets and city sidewalks and dirt roads and roof tops and galleries brimming with the masters and bike paths and mountain peaks all under a busy and brilliant sky.