The Hundred Little Things

It’s been almost a year since our world shut down, and 465,000+ deaths later (just in the U.S.), nothing is changing any time soon. Nothing changes. Or we take one step forward (oust Trump) and two steps back (acquit Trump). One step forward (vaccines are on the way) and two steps back (virus variants could beat vaccines).

But I don’t want to write about steps forward or back. I want to write about the little things. The hundred little things that are a part of everyday life and that are no longer a part of everyday life.

I’m back at school now, and what a mess. Never mind that I’m teaching simultaneously to ten students in my room and fifteen more at home, everyone logged into the Google Meet.

But I don’t want to write about that mess. I want to write about my tea. How, for seventeen years of teaching, when the bell rings, I step into the hallway with my fellow teachers and greet students at the door. I stand there thoroughly enjoying my passing period with my hot and sugary, creamy tea and give fist bumps and hugs and hellos as my kids meander in from the crowded and jubilant hallway.

You can’t stand there drinking tea with two masks on your face.

I want to write about past assignments. Creating beautiful, colorful slideshows that we’d print out every year for Culture Fest, put on poster boards to create a collage of the multicultural world in my classroom. Newcomers cutting out hearts for Valentine’s Day, hands of gratitude for Thanksgiving, holding books in their hands, and reading with the endless string of volunteers. The kids sitting in my room at lunch, before school, after school, jabbering in seven languages and communicating through laughter and music.

I want to write about walking my dog in my neighborhood and not having to cross to the other side of the street when I see a person on the same sidewalk fifty feet in front of me.

I want to write about packing my leftovers and eating lunch at the long table, about all the small conversations I no longer have with my colleagues, conversations about the government, the school, the kids, our love lives, our lack of love lives, our kids, our nieces and nephews, our aging parents, our truths.

I want to write about seeing a smile, a genuine smile, on a friend’s or a stranger’s face without it being hidden by a mask.

I want to write about being exhausted on a weeknight and walking five blocks to the local restaurant instead of putting dinner on the stove.

About those small, everyday moments. Stopping at the grocery store to surprise the students with donuts that they can eat in class. Making brownies for my colleagues’ birthdays. My kids getting up at the same time every day, piling into the car with me, trekking the ten minutes to school. Driving them to all their endless activities, watching them master the floor routine or cut their time in a race or perform at a pep rally. Knowing that they see their teachers’ faces every day and don’t hide themselves behind a letter on a screen, ignoring the world.

Knowing that if they need help, a human face will come with a pass and pull them out of the classroom, and they don’t have to remember all on their own some random appointment on Google Meet. (Oh, not another Google Meet…)

I want to write about walking into that 1924 masterpiece of architecture every day, knowing it will be filled with a microcosm of our perfectly-imperfect world, not empty hallways and masked faces.

I want to write about how easy teaching is when you can walk around the room, pat a student on the back, crouch down next to another, whisper advice to a third, listen to the thoughts of a fourth, and so on until you’ve talked to every last one. Talked. Really talked.

I want to write about how these little, seemingly-meaningless, everyday events, now absent for nearly a year, are … life.

Life isn’t a ski trip or a mansion or your dream career or your sought-after sports car.

Life is in each of these moments that are now gone. Twisted and torn, covered and broken.

These hundred little moments that once seemed so basic, so dull, yet whose absence has created a void that feels as frozen as a stream that never freezes.

So here I am. Mid-February 2021. Staring at this stream on a night too cold to be walking. And missing the hundred little things that used to make a life.

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?