Lit

Almost a year ago, we invited this boy home for Christmas because he was living in a youth shelter.

We brought him downtown to see this beautiful tree.

And what a year it has been. Challenging in more ways than we ever thought imaginable, and all of us adjusting to this new life of having a brother and a son in the midst of a pandemic.

Here we are, standing under these same lights. And aren’t they still beautiful?

Nine Months

Nine months since they shut down schools. Nine months of headlines, research, chaos. Nine months of reading every last article as if I were a scientist or a medical researcher. Nine months of hearing one version after another about how bad this is, how mild this is, how wrong everyone is. Nine months of being inside my mostly-silent house with my four teenagers who won’t come out of their rooms, won’t turn off their phones, won’t keep up with their schoolwork, won’t talk to me.

It’s Monday morning at 9:29. I have banged on all the doors. I have politely asked. I have nudged about assignments, grades, tried to bribe with breakfast, tried to threat with phone removal, all the same things. Always the same things.

How hollow our lives have become. From doing all the things to doing none of the things. They won’t even get out of the car to walk half a mile with me, let alone my usual 2-mile stint. They argue on a Sunday night that they plan to watch Anime until the sun comes up, disregarding a calculus final, five projects due. They won’t tell me what’s wrong or help me bag the seemingly-endless-but-never-enough Christmas candy that their father raised them with, making every year to give to friends and family.

Nine months I carried them into this world, my eyes young and bright and stupid. Morning sickness that lasted the full first half of every pregnancy, OB/GYNs who wouldn’t listen, hospital bills we couldn’t afford to pay. Nine months of expectancy, of hope, to share in their shiny gurgles, their tiny voices that called for milk at midnight just as their echoing steps now sneak a snack in the kitchen.

And the high school we are all apart of wants to know why so many are failing. Why even the brightest kids won’t respond during class, why so few are turning in work.

The answer is here in these words I’m typing right now (it’s 9:36) when I have a Google Meet open for my students to attend, yet no one is attending. As I sit here catatonically unable to nag once more today– the day has just begun–to try to make them care about what we all think is so important, and they simply… don’t.

If I had known, during each of those nine-month pregnancies, that years of my life, my relationships with my kids, would boil down to a pandemic and a nagging mother (me), would I have made a different choice? Why would anyone want to bring children into this world we have destroyed for them? And why would said children care about some piddly set of assignments when their friends are right down the street yet so out of reach?

The loss of regular, everyday life doesn’t seem, on the outside, like it could do this. Not having to get dressed. Not having to get up at 6:45. Not having to even brush your hair because your camera’s off anyway. Not having to scrape ice off your sister’s car. Not having to stand in the lunch line. Not having to go to so many classes in a day. Not having school five days a week.

Having to stare at a computer screen for seven hours on top of the seven hours they spend on their personal screens. Having to stay home. Having to find warmth in an online world instead of a hangout at a friend’s, the park, the mall. Having to navigate technology and curriculum and expectations all at the same time. Having to follow the ever-changing city, state, and national guidelines about what we’re doing–going to school, to a restaurant, on a trip, seeing our grandparents? Having to adapt in a way none of us were prepared to adapt.

And so I sit here, nine months in, begging my middle child to take a chemistry exam she missed two months ago, my boy to bring up three failing grades, my oldest daughter to study for her final, my youngest to send in her sculpture pic. Begging and not begging because there’s only so much I can do without doing it for them.

It’s 10:06. Middle child has kicked out her cat and opened the chemistry exam. Oldest has decided she’s quite ready to master her calculus final and is now helping middle child with chemistry. Youngest has taken a shower. Boy has retreated to his room and ensured me he will ask for help if needed.

They still have their phones. They still don’t want to talk to me. And I still don’t know what to do.

Will we last another nine months?

Pandemic Pandemonium

My mayor stepped onto a plane headed for Mississippi to visit his family for Thanksgiving in the midst of a level-red, please-don’t-travel-Denver pandemic. My mayor graduated from the same high school as me. My mayor worked to shut down the high school he graduated from. My mayor told me I was racist for walking along a picket line after fighting for fifteen years for a decent wage. My mayor thinks education reform means shutting down the only good thing that most students have: a public, comprehensive school that accepts all students regardless of ability, ethnicity, or work ethic.

Is this why my Sleep Number tells me each morning that I have a shitty sleep score, that I have been restless most of the night?

Or is it because I brought an immigrant boy into my home, a boy who had never laid eyes on a computer, who, two months later, was forced to do online schooling for the duration of his time here because people like my mayor keep getting on planes?

Is it because I have four teenagers in my house, all at one level of depression or anxiety after nine months of pandemia, and I worry that if I don’t let them see their friends I am going to wake to their wrists slit, them hanging in a garage, a bullet to their head? That I spend my early morning hours walking my dog and playing, replaying every fucking scenario. If we get tested today and are negative and promise not to go anywhere or see anyone for two weeks, can they see their friends? But wait… won’t their friends and their friends’ families have to do the same? But wait… my husband has to go to work every day, so… But wait… I have to buy food for these endlessly hungry mouths, so… But wait…

I’m sure my mayor was thinking along the same lines when he threw our elected school board and our teachers under the bus for our superintendent’s sudden resignation.

During the strike, I was in charge of Valentines on day three. We were writing love notes to Susana Cordova. My job was to censor, to ensure no cuss words were present.

“But wait,” a teacher held up her, I’m-gathering-the-class’s attention-now finger, “What if I want to say, ‘Susana, I fucking love you'”?

And how could I say no? How could I explain to my mayor that Manual High School changed my life and opened my eyes to what the world could really look like, and why did he think he needed to shut it down?

How could I explain to my mayor that I, too, am a DPS graduate, and DID YOU EVEN HEAR WHAT WE WERE STRIKING ABOUT?

How could I explain to my mayor that I fell for his Democrat-reformer propositions, that I sent two of my girls to his beloved charter schools, that they were put in lines and held silent in the hallway and had to write essays in their hour-long detentions for forgetting a fucking eraser on a pencil???

That if you weren’t academically the best, you were just forgotten?

Maybe he wasn’t there with me last night, tossing and turning. Maybe he didn’t follow my girls to the public high school where the teachers take the time to get to know their students rather than teaching them a rote routine of conformity. Maybe he doesn’t understand that test scores–how he measures success–are meaningless to a teacher of immigrants whose students carry two languages, two cultures, two views of the world, two experiences in America, two lives insides their souls.

Maybe he’s never been outside of the bubble of Denver, the whitewashed, integrated Manual, the real world for our kids.

Maybe he hasn’t seen a sixth-grader have a panic attack because she forgot to put a proper MLA heading on a piece of notebook paper.

Maybe he haunts me in the night, two days before Thanksgiving. Maybe he has another agenda in his third, lame-duck term.

Maybe I should have Thanksgiving with my parents who live fifteen minutes away.

Or maybe I should just sit down. Breathe. And be grateful that I will always apologize when I have made a stupid choice, as a parent or a teacher, and not try to blame my mayor for taking away a wink of my sleep.