Coronatine, Day Forty-seven (Land of the Free)

Should I continue to measure quarantine in days, or should this new life be measured in weeks now? Weeks since we’ve been to work. To school. Weeks since I went to the grocery store without spending $300-$500 trying to stock up for when we’re really going to need it.

Weeks since I made it through one day without crying.

Let’s try a countdown of weeks. Weeks until his job ends: three. Weeks until I have to spend 24% of my take-home pay on health insurance: four. Weeks until we run out of money based on this: twenty. Weeks until I will feel safe about seeing and kissing my husband, as he will no longer be an essential worker and risking his life every day: five.

Weeks until I make it one day without crying: zero.

But I thought I was done crying! I was writing gratitude posts, 10×10, one hundred goddamn things to be grateful for! On the final day, I spent hours reviewing our budget, stupidly thinking we could manage for up to a year on our savings, our tenant money, and my salary.

Because I saw this and did the math:

And what is $260×2, the bottom left plan, the only one we could afford? It’s $520. And add in dental and vision, it was going to be $650 a month, and we could just. Barely. Manage.

But it was a lie, a lie to myself, a bait-and-switch chart from the school district, a slap in the face at 5:00am this morning when I decided to open enroll. No, not $260 per paycheck. Here is the real price:

For the cheapest plan for my family. The plan with a $7000 deductible. So… other than a singular wellness-check visit to the doctor (should I be grateful this is included?), we will pay $12,000 a year in monthly premiums and then another $7000 if anything happens, and then 30% of the rest until we reach the out-of-pocket max of $12,700. Ummmm… shouldn’t the out-of-pocket max INCLUDE the $12,000 a year already spent on monthly premiums?  (Asking for a friend).

What could I do? What could I possibly do? I looked on the Colorado Marketplace website. On the initial page, I experienced another bait-and-switch: Let me tell you, we’re between tiers 2 and 3, and we have a family of five, not 3-4 like in the picture. Yay! It was looking good! We could get a premium tax credit!

So I started to fill out the application. And guess what?

Do I need to tell you? Or have you lived in the Land of the Free for all of your life and already know what a FUCKING LIE THAT IS?

Here’s the summary:

And here is what it costs without the premium tax benefit for the cheapest plan:

$1409 per month with an $8200 deductible. I couldn’t even make up these prices if I tried!

Dear Colorado and Billionaire Health Insurance CEOs: Would I be ON THIS FUCKING PAGE if I were shopping for health insurance for MYSELF ONLY? Because of COURSE it’s affordable for myself only! And of course, for myself only, according to my beautiful school district blue and green chart, I would be MAKING $11 a month, so yeah, it meets your goddamn threshold of “9.78%.” (But don’t you love how, even on their website, they put the word “Affordable” in quotes because they know it’s a fucking joke?)

Let’s return to the beautiful school district chart that shows “DPS Contributions” and I STUPIDLY thought that meant that DPS was footing part of the bill, but what they REALLY mean is the $422/month on my paycheck labeled “Cash for Benefits” which is unofficially part of my take-home salary. So their contribution is really MY contribution, or, in laymen’s terms, MY FUCKING MONEY.

And if we don’t pay? If we don’t give in to this bullshit in the midst of a pandemic?

You guessed it. We’d lose everything. Because we all know that in the Land of the Free, all it takes is one emergency room visit, one contraction of a deadly virus, one broken bone, to lead the uninsured straight to bankruptcy.

So, after seventeen years of teaching, two degrees, one advanced certification, and having seriously ONE form of debt (a mortgage, not a single student loan, not even a car payment), after working my way and paying my way through those degrees, after keeping my children out of daycare and living on a way-less teacher’s salary for eight years, after EVERYTHING…

We still can’t live on my salary.

How many weeks has it been that we’ve been trapped at home? That my husband has been going to work, entering businesses and homes and fucking medical clinics without a mask (because his company doesn’t provide masks) or any form of PPE, risking his and all of our lives before being laid off?

How many more fucking weeks will it be before he can find a job in this market?

Coronatine, Day Forty-seven. Week 7, almost 8.

Why does it feel like day one thousand, week ninety?

Because we live in the Land of the Free, where every life costs a fortune.

Coronatine, Day Thirty-three (10×7)

I can do four more days of gratitude, right? Because I am getting anxious to return to my usual bitching.

  1. This Little Free Library. I was walking the dog in my neighborhood and saw this! Hilarious! And it’s at the house of a woman in my book club.
  2. To go along with the toilet paper theme, a trip to Costco led to the longest line of my life, but first: toilet paper. Toilet paper displayed where one usually puts hot tubs or tents or magical camping pads or the latest in cruise trips… Toilet paper that has won its place in Coronatine history. Toilet paper crammed down every last aisle till we couldn’t possibly think that we ever hoarded it, that it would ever disappear, that we were hopeless.
  3. I know I wrote about masks yesterday, but my mom made me a couple more, and this one matches my jacket! And it’s actually kind of cool to see the fashionista masks appearing in the stores these days (see video, where you can also witness the endlessly long line)!
  4. This is something disturbingly new, and as a high school teacher with three kids in high school at the moment, it’s so important: March was the first month since 2002 that we haven’t had a school shooting! I guess it just took a pandemic to tone down gun violence…
  5. Howling at the moon at 8pm! Denver’s trending with this, a way to thank healthcare workers for the major sacrifices they’re making, and I couldn’t be happier to go out and ring my cowbell and rile up my dog every night.
  6. While I haven’t loved the snow after seeing that it killed my rhubarb, Denver is just not a rainy city, and I have loved seeing how green the grass is getting after the recent storm. More snow tomorrow means more green grass. More green grass just makes spring feel sweet.
  7. I got an email from the SPED team at school saying they haven’t been able to contact the family of a recently-arrived student of mine who is hard of hearing, and they’re trying to get an IEP going. Well, I was able to share my Google Meet link, my former student from Iraq also logged in,  her brother logged in, and the hearing coordinator logged in… There was a lot of translation and chaos, as always during these meetings with sixteen teenagers on the line, but we got our message across! People are really doing their best to help our students out, and I have been truly impressed with the efforts put forth by our school district. And I am still so grateful for my former student who was willing to help me out!
  8. Speaking of the school district, after I have failed at having the kids use Flipgrid AND ESL Library online, I finally decided to use one of the lessons that my school district made for the Newcomers today, and it was SO much better! It was a Google Doc, much easier for them to follow, and they even took the time to make an audio recording. I think DPS has really come around to support students through this crisis in many ways, not only with lessons like this, but having multiple device distributions, connecting students to free or low-cost internet, and consistently providing breakfast and lunch every day. I really am proud to work here (even though my “here” is at home at the moment).
  9. I do hate Zoom meetings, but I reluctantly logged on tonight and (mostly) actively participated in our book club! It really was good to “see” everyone, to talk about the book, and to share our Coronatine stories. Plus we got to see some pets and kids, and that always makes it more fun. And I had a good laugh with my book club friend who had the Little Free Library with the TP!
  10. The girls all got to chat with their grandparents today while dropping off some meds. So nice to have Izzy as a driver. AND they told me that they really did follow the rules and stayed on the porch. It’ll never be the same as a real visit, but at least it’s something!

Dread

i have no energy to write tonight

’cause i’m trapped in  the battle of fight or flight

(i know i’m not and i can’t rhyme for shit

but this crushing feeling is def legit)

what an insult, this new paygrade i got

why should i bother with this cursed rot?

because it is the weight i must carry

since he is the one i chose to marry

of course i love him more than anything

but that will never take away the sting

of knowing that i must pay all the bills

with a paycheck that allows zero frills

 

and the frills are what makes life worth living

after hours and months and years of giving

yet this is my lot on this Tuesday night:

not quite fight or flight–rather fright, fright, fright.

 

Marriage. That Is What We Do.

He doesn’t tell me over the phone when I call him on Valentine’s night to ask for the wifi password for the cabin we’re staying at. Not after twenty minutes of Google-Siri-searching for how to share a password so our son can call his real parents at the appointed 8-o’clock time, something impossible to do without WhatsApp or wifi in this middle-of-nowhere mountain town.

He doesn’t make me a card or buy me flowers.

The next day, when three of us return from a bluebird ski day, he tells me he has started the taxes, but that he was tired, his back hurt, and he got discouraged and bored.

I make a list in my head of what he hasn’t done: thought of what to fix for dinner, gone to the store to buy the cheesecake ingredients for our daughter’s birthday, done the laundry, told the remaining-at-home-children to do some semblance of chores that would peel them away from their screens.

I take our son, alone, to the Honduran restaurant for our Valentine redo.

No one else wants to go.

On Sunday, I do all the things while Bruce visits his friend for hours. Walk the dog. Fight the weekend grocery store crowds to buy not only the cheesecake ingredients, but everything else on the list that’s accrued in the three days since we’ve visited, because with six people living under this roof, why the hell not? Start, fold, and finish three loads of laundry. Throw together the soon-to-be-cracked cheesecake and read, appallingly, that it is an eight-hour, not four-hour, cool time. Put raspberry compote on the stove to overflow for forty-five minutes. Scrub the shit out of the glass cooktop for another fifteen.

He won’t take the time to come with me to see Bernie because it took me thirteen years just to convince him to vote and another nine to push him farther left, but he still doesn’t have any faith in the future, let alone a singular politician who has spent his entire adult life fighting for people unlike himself.

He won’t come with me to waste all of our money on indoor skydiving, Izzy’s birthday gift, even though it would have been nice to have a second parent, like all the other families there, to take still shots while I took the video.

Instead he grumbles about how he wished we’d just bought the cheesecake from the New York deli instead of me making it because “You pay so that it’s perfect.”

Because mine is not.

Before he drops me at the light rail, he argues with me before reluctantly agreeing to apologize for the remark.

We go to bed with few words and wake throughout the night to the giggling screams of Izzy’s sleepover, each of us texting and yelling at her to stop.

We wake at the sound of his alarm set two hours too early.

I begin it all again. Walk the dog. Fix the breakfast. Put away the dishes.

Ten minutes before he needs to leave for work, I whimper as I say, “We only have one year left of her childhood,” and wipe tears to walk into the dining room. He follows me and pours out the brutal truth of his three-day grump.

“My boss told me on Friday that they’re going to cut four positions. No more voluntary cuts. Involuntary. Two of the positions include my job title.”

His voice cracks as he continues the long explanation of every possibility, and I see now that he has been carrying this load all weekend, fuck Valentine’s Day, fuck our daughter’s birthday, fuck all that is right with the world.

I think about what Bernie said last night, what I didn’t catch on video: “We all have families. And every family has problems. We are in this together. We are in this to think about and support everyone’s families, not just our own.”

And I know what Bruce carries is more than the likely possibility of him losing his job. It is the weight of this presidency, this evil presidency that plagues our society and keeps us from moving ahead just when we think we can move ahead.

I immediately think of two years ago when this loomed over our heads, and all the bitterness and anxiety entailed in those two months of stress and anticipation.

I think of the four years of ski passes. The six weeks in Spain. The three-four-week family vacations we have taken. The ski weekends. The going out to eat. The boy living in our basement.

And I know that all of those things combined might add up to a year of his salary if only we had saved the money.

Yet, for that one year of safety net, we had five years of living like kings after ten years of living paycheck to paycheck, and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.

I am so angry at him for not having hope. For trying to carry this weight for an entire weekend when I would have unloaded everything the moment I heard.

I am so in love with him for trying (quite pathetically) to protect me for two extra days because he knew that all I would do is spend most of the day up inside the bedroom trying to hide my tears from the girls.

Our good health insurance will be gone, and we can’t even begin to pay our mortgage on my salary, let alone everything else.

But it’s out there now. He’ll come home tonight to our magical Costco Caesar salad, wish our daughter happy birthday, and act like nothing is wrong.

And we will find a way to make this work. Because twenty-two years in, that is what we do.

Spain-exploring, childbearing, child-adopting, paycheck-to-paycheck, ski-trip, road-trip, voting-and-hoping, working-not-working, accruing-and-paying-debts…

That is what we do.

Tears or not. Silence or not. Apology or not.

That is what we do.

One year ago on Valentine's Day. We'll get there again.

Oh, Susana (Cordova)

Oh, I came from no advancement
with my income on my sleeve
I’m g’wan to leave Denver
my true rate for to see
Oh, it rained all night the day I left
the district it was dry,
the burn so hot I froze to death
Susana, don’t you cry

Oh, Susana, oh don’t you cry for me
I’ve come from no advancement
with my income on my sleeve

I jumped aboard the income gap
And traveled down the schedule
The ‘lectric lie magnified
My college’s credential
The district bargaining went bust,
I really thought I’d die,
I shut my eyes to hold my breath,
Susana, don’t you cry

Oh, Susana, oh don’t you cry for me
I’ve come from no advancement
with my income on my sleeve

I had a dream the other night
When everything was still
I thought I saw Susana,
a-coming down the hill
The ProComp deal was in her cheek,
The tear was in her eye,
Says I am coming for you, meek,
Susana, don’t you cry

Oh, Susana, oh don’t you cry for me
I’ve come from no advancement
with my income on my sleeve

I soon will be without a check,
And then I’ll look all round,
And when I find Susana,
I’ll fall upon the ground,
But if I do not find her,
This bargaining will die,
And when it’s dead and buried,
Susana, don’t you cry.

Fifteen Reasons Why: We Deserve More, DPS

Denver Public Schools has filed a request for state intervention to prevent the teachers’ union from striking next week. In the 19-page file, Superintendent Susana Cordova and her school district legal team have laid out reasons A-O (fifteen reasons) why the state should intervene.

Fifteen reasons why we, the teachers, deserve to be paid a fair, living, predictable wage.

Fifteen reasons why schools are targeted as the saviors of society in the same moment that teachers are vilified by the press and the public.

Fifteen reasons why we need a strike: let’s draw national attention to our plight, to the plight of a society that devalues education and the teachers who work to change the world.

Below, I have copied and pasted the fifteen reasons with haikus that represent teachers like me who have dealt with every one in some form or fashion:

A. Loss of Instructional Time from Teachers on Strike:
six hours a day
with every kid, every need
(and six more at home)

B. Students with Special Needs:
making learning plans
for families who need voices,
for inclusive rights

C. English Language Learner Students:
try writing our wrongs
again: try righting our wrongs
to build fluency

D. Potential Denial of H1-B Visas:
immigrant teachers:
First Amendment denial
(freedom, too, revoked)

E. Students Enrolled in Affective-Needs/Autism Center Programs:
routine disruption
tears students from what they need:
teachers who love them

F. Students Receiving Mental Health Services:
so much more than school
SSPs save our students
(sometimes from themselves)

G. Students Receiving Medical Care Services:
our school nurse gives them:
medicine, patience, advice,
hope for the future

H. Students Dependent on Schools for Food and Nutrition:
every teacher here
has given to the food bank
(lunch is not enough)

I. Students Dependent on Schools for Shelter from the Elements:
the prison pipeline
could stop with these school buildings
and a teacher’s love

J. Gifted and Talented Students:
let them be leaders
led by those who see their light
(you guessed it–teachers)

K. Student-Athletes Seeking Scholarships:
cultural veto:
to remove a student’s chance
of avoiding loans

L. Students Taking Concurrent College Classes:
what teachers give them:
highly-educated guides
for college keenness

M. Financial Hardship on Families:
double-income trap
means no parent waits at home
(they need our service)

N. Absence of Childcare for Families:
after all, aren’t we
glorified babysitters
asking for too much?

O. Fewer Resources for New American Families:
I beg taxpayers:
come visit our newcomers
to grasp sacrifice

Fifteen reasons why we fight every day for our students’ needs. Our society’s needs.

Thank you, DPS, for laying out our reasons. For proving to our country how badly we need to strike. For creating a legal request to clarify how heavily we carry the weight of the world.

For showing us all how little we earn as we carry it.

This Is Why I Will Strike

I just want to think about how hard-won this moment is. This day. This five of us skiing down a mountain together. This money we didn’t have before that we have now.

This fresh powder.

This view. Could you beat that view if you went anywhere else in the world? Well, could you?

I don’t want to think about the five years we, a family of five, lived on a frozen, constituents-unwilling-to-vote-on-a-mill-levy teacher’s salary of $48,000. The $10,000 out-of-pocket expenses we paid to give birth to our third child. The penny-pinching. The laying-out-$400-every-three-months to earn those goddamn fifteen credits so I could get a raise if I … changed school districts.

I don’t want to think about how Spain screwed me out of a decent salary and we came home afterward with $19,000 in debt, more than any we’ve had as a married couple.

I don’t want to think about the TWO 1998 cars we have outside our house right now, car-payment free.

I don’t want to think about a teacher’s strike. I don’t want to think about my refugees trekking across town on two buses and being huddled into the auditorium to wait, without teachers, the long seven hours until they trek back, because if they don’t wait, they might not have a meal that day.

About the hundreds of hours I, and every teacher I know, has put into grading, planning, meeting, educating (ourselves and them), in the ten months between August and June. Hundreds of hours outside our contract day listening to students tell us their traumas that are greater than any soul could bear, listening to our admin and school district rate us as failures when we wake before dawn and go home after dusk to bring our best selves into that classroom every day, listening to our coworkers decide between renting a slumlord shithole or buying a house an hour away…

Listening.

I don’t want to think about the thousands of union workers who died for this day. For this choice. For a society where corporate greed is not the only answer.

I just want to see my husband and my three girls gliding down this Colorado slope, this Colorado hope.

I want to ski. To smile. To rejoice.

I don’t want to go on strike.

But I will.

Just like I walked in and out of Manual High School in 1994 when my teachers asked me to support them.

Just like I lived on pittance pay for the early part of my children’s lives.

Just like every other union member everywhere who’s looking to find empathy in the eyes of the corporate monsters that rule our society.

I will strike.

And I will ski.

And we will win ourselves a bluebird day.