Elliot’s teacher said it countless times to her first grade class this week. They are words not previously in the vocabularies of many of us. And certainly not in a first grade classroom where, instead of a circle of children on a rug being anything but mute, their faces are tiny squares on a school-issued iPad screen.
It was the first full day of virtual school, 8:30 to 1:30, or 2, or 2:30. When exactly the day ends is not clear to me. It depends. The day goes kind of like this: The whole class gathers at 8:30, they have a five-minute break at 8:55 (I don’t know why, maybe for 6 year olds who insisted they did not need to go to the bathroom 30 minutes earlier). At some point after that two of the small groups ABC or D meet in succession with the teacher while another teacher stays with the rest of the class for whatever. I’m not sure the other teacher’s presence is permanent; nor what will happen if it’s not. Maybe “independent learning” will really be independent, and I will have to work for my pay. They break out to music, library, or P.E. Last week it was recorded (I’ve done more plyometric exercise the past few days than I have since I did jazzercise back in the day, which is good since I can’t “go” to my yoga class any more); next week I understand it will be live. Then there’s recess and lunch, and somewhere in there small groups again, then full class. After that I am activity director for both of them.
Elliot was time keeper this past week (his idea), and competently gave the class and teacher a one- or two-minute warning before time to switch activities, then told them when it was actually time. He also figured out, and informed the class, what to do if the screen and all the people in little squares freeze (leave the class and come back in again); and also kindly told the teacher she needed to say “pin the teacher” when she was preparing to read a book, not “screen share,” after the students were confused by the Ms. H’s non-standard remote learning terminology.
I didn’t believe Elliot’s moms when they predicted he would thrive in this environment, and that he probably wouldn’t need much help. They were right. My task is 95% Adrian care.
It would be so much easier—and more fun for me—if Adrian would let me be teacher rather than playmate. Remember my great activity list last week, that we did none of? This week I was thinking we could have “centers,” just like my preschool teaching days (good grief, that was a long time ago, as in 40+ years). We could do math manipulatives, letters, puzzles, cooking, art. (He can do P.E., music, and library time with Elliot.) Just like he would be doing in the Otter class at pre-school if not for the damn virus.
Nope. Monday, he played with Duplos all day. Really. All. Day. When Elliot wasn’t in school, he played with Duplos too. Maybe it’s because I need a routine. The rest of the week, Adrian jumped from one thing to the next without engaging for long in anything. I need to check things off a list; completed. I didn’t set up the centers, given the previous week’s epic “plan” failure. Maybe this coming week I’ll try. It is true, I know, that play is children’s work and that if he is happy, all is well and he is learning. It’s really about my survival. (And maybe just a tiny bit about my need for control.)
I pretty nearly fell apart Tuesday morning before school. Crying, exhausted, dreading the day. Monday was long. The evening’s pre-dinner wild rumpus over my head, after I escaped from upstairs, about did me in. And the bedtime repeat. Also during dinner. (Everyone was tired.) The smoke from wildfires kept us all inside for the third day in a row, and blocked the sky and the hills and everything that isn’t just beyond the windows.
“It’s okay for them to see you cry,” my friend said when I asked her to light a candle for me. Meaning I need to unmute myself? Speak up? Don’t bottle it in?
The same friend sent a post about our surge capacity being depleted.
“Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems—mental and physical—that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.”(Ann Masten, PhD, Univ. of Minnesota)
“But,” Tara Haelle, author of the post, writes, “natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely. We have lost a way of life, and our usual coping strategies aren’t working. ‘The pandemic has demonstrated both what we can do with surge capacity and the limits of surge capacity,’ says Masten. When it’s depleted, it has to be renewed. But,” Haelle continues, “what happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?”
And, not to forget, the pandemic followed the impeachment trial, which itself followed the reason for which the president was impeached (do we even remember what that was?). And then there was the beginning (and continuation) of the “Black Lives Matter” uprising. And the postal service crisis at a critical juncture. And the economic crisis. And the ceaseless continuation of this terrifyingly disastrous administration. And division in the country that seems to be stretching ever wider. And the wildfires in the west coast states. And the smoke. And Hurricane Sally; and so many tropical storms they’ve run out of names and have used, to date, Alpha and Beta—with more than two months left in the season.
And now, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died.
You would think, after six months, we would be used to the drama/trauma. But it just keeps piling on. How much more can we take? Masten says this is a once in a lifetime experience (speaking only of the pandemic). “We’re beginners. It’s expecting a lot to think we’d be managing this really well.” (It’s tempting to just quote the whole article, but this is only the beginning, so I will refrain. Here it is for you to read; it’s excellent: “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful”)
How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the “new normal” is indefinite unpredictability? We are not the first generations to experience the uncertainty, the rumors, the disruption to a way of life. As I continue to work with the letters my father and his siblings wrote during WWII, I feel like I know a little better what the early 1940s were like for the world. My father, a meteorologist during his years in the Army Air Corps, wrote to my mother:
“We are always asked [by pilots] ‘what’s the weather today?’ But worse than that they ask us what will it be day-after-tomorrow and even the day after that. Which ain’t humanly possible [to predict].”George, 1945
Perhaps we just need to track with the small children: Ninja morphers and bad guy locators made from Duplo blocks will save the world. We can’t give up. We must unmute ourselves and keep fighting back; loudly.
My goal for the coming week: Don’t send an SOS to Emma every time there is an internet connectivity glitch (due to rural WiFi, teacher WiFi, too many devices on WiFi, or Elliot and me not knowing how to switch activities). Maybe it’s time for my sister and me to change our family phone plan to unlimited data so I can put him on my iPhone hotspot when the connection fails. Elliot is becoming both more adept and less panicky when it happens. We are learning to cope, and becoming resourceful.
And when your surge capacity is depleted, make Jell-o shots.