Coronatine, Day Fifty-four (My Solitary View)

It’s true that I am this tree here, standing starkly against the plains landscape with the out-of-reach mountains in the background. Once so vibrant, unafraid, now resting half-dead and waiting for the insects to burrow themselves into its bark.

This tree, still a viable perch for anxious hawks searching for field mice. This lonely cottonwood, defiantly naked in the sun while its smaller counterparts are beginning to blossom with the warm rays of May.

This tree framed by perfectly puffy white clouds and that ever-blue Colorado sky and the yellow and green grasses reaching from its roots to its branches, never able to reach far enough.

This tree, waiting for the right moment to release itself to the Earth, to decompose amongst the ashes of its ancestors, to not stand so high, so solitary, so isolated from its surroundings.

And you may not see it for what it is or what it once was: A testimony to strength in a harsh environment. A root ball so tenacious it stretches beyond the creek that feeds it, far into the wetlands, searching for those snow-capped peaks, the very peaks that feed it with their snowmelt.

And you may not think it should still stand, rather that it should fall and become a nurse log for the surrounding saplings.

Instead, it cuts into the horizon, carving a definitive form made from a lifetime of gnarled limbs into the sky, ready to fight until the sky falls, or it falls.

Whichever comes first.

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-eight

these organized shelves

ready to be fully stocked

with his last paychecks:

they represent us,

our Coronatine journal,

worry turned to work

work we’re still doing

with tiny pics on small screens

working for our kids

our creative kids

with a cat-house-building night

paw prints, love, and all

“new normal” softens

as we make the best of fate

on day thirty-eight

Coronatine, Day Thirty-six (10×10)

I’ve made it to the final day of gratitude! The ten last bits of gratitude for the Coronatine.

  1. Always love a bike ride. We wore the new masks my friend made, even though I’ll admit they weren’t wholly necessary because I planned a route that did not involve crowds (I have avoided the Cherry Creek path like the plague, pun intended).
  2. We stopped at a local cafe. Of course, it wasn’t the same. We couldn’t sit down, we couldn’t have a nice brunch, but we could still get some lattes and support a local business and tip the server with a 50% tip.
  3. While we were riding, we saw the Thunderbirds fly right over us on 12th Avenue!
  4. I spent a lot of time this morning reviewing our budget. I rarely do, and in fact don’t really deal with our money because Bruce is a money master. But I think it might be possible, if we are very careful, to live on my salary (which they’re already threatening might be frozen soon) and our savings for a year, so hopefully, that will give the economy enough time to recover and Bruce to be able to find work.
  5. Speaking of that salary, I am SO GRATEFUL that I just got a raise on March 1 because of my National Board Certification. What a difference that will make!
  6. I reorganized the garage, the hall closet, and the basement storage room to make more space for stocking up on supplies while we still have two paychecks. It really is nice to have time to do this without the craziness of working so many hours, especially since Bruce was going to be laid off anyway before the quarantine was put in place.
  7. I really do work at an amazing place with extremely dedicated teachers and students. Our school’s weekly news show has continued during this crazy time, and this week included an in-depth interview with an NFL player who graduated from South in 2004. He couldn’t stop talking about how influential his teachers were and how his experiences traveling to New York on a student trip and participating in the musical made high school so special. It’s so nice to hear that and to know how important schools are in the lives of students.
  8. My counselor colleague helped me (through a Facebook post) avoid paying the AP exam fees for the four AP exams for Izzy and Mythili! I really hope that this virus will help everyone realize what a scam standardized tests are. I’m so over the College Board and AP. It’s a bait and switch, most colleges won’t give you credit, and most students can’t get the score they need anyway. So I’m hopeful that all of these tests will become less important in the future.
  9. In cleaning out the garage, I found the tent stakes I’ve been meaning to put in the tent bag, and since a neighbor girl needed to earn a Girl Scout badge by setting up a tent and didn’t have her own, the tent was already out! I have been trying to get those stakes into that stake bag for three years, and it took coronavirus to make it happen!
  10. Let’s hope we can camp this summer, or at least go on hikes. Let’s just keep hoping that something is gonna give, soon. Testing, isolation, whatever it takes. Because we gotta make this work for our world. We just gotta.

Coronatine, Day Thirty-five (10×9)

This will make 90 things I’ve managed to muster for gratitude during the quarantine. Today is not hard. I am going to try to make this easier day by day, but today is unique.

  1. What a sunrise. There are benefits to never being able to sleep in.
  2. Mythili let me cut her hair. Sure, I’m not a hairstylist, but why not? Thank the lord my girls didn’t get my curls, otherwise I surely would have screwed this up.
  3.  Izzy let me braid her hair, and I think, after fifteen years of this, I have improved!
  4. Riona made this lemon pound cake for Izzy. For all of us. For tonight.
  5. Fabian helped me move all the furniture in the basement. Or, as he pointed out, he moved all the furniture while I was a spectator. He also blew up all the balloons, nailed these sheets to the wall, and made our basement Virtual Prom ready.
  6. We managed to surprise Izzy!
  7. This man. Walking home with champagne to put into the orange juice I spent an hour hand-squeezing and a bouquet of flowers for his daughter’s Virtual Prom 2020.
  8. This family ready to eat risotto, filet mignon, and cashew salad (thank you Costco). Everyone wearing their best.  
  9. My middle Mythili making this professional-grade prom poster with some of the tagboard I snatched in my five-minutes-allowed trip to my classroom, tagboard that’s the wrong color for our theme, but who the fuck cares? 
  10. My girls being girls and kicking me out of the basement for taking pics or videos. Being teenagers. So happy, so full of sass, so themselves.

Be grateful. Be yourselves. Make the best of this shit. That’s all for today.

Coronatine, Day Thirty-two (10×6)

More than a month. We’re more than a month into this. Here goes day six of ten things I’m thankful for during this daily hell.

  1. Despite my husband being an essential worker, it seems that all of us are still healthy. Of course, it’s possible that we have it and are asymptomatic, but hopefully, that’s not the case.
  2. My mom made us these great masks. I’m grateful to have my parents still here, still healthy, still ready to help when needed. Even though we can’t hug, we can still see each other, and I can’t wait for the day when we can all get together and have a family dinner.  Grandparents are so essential to childhood, and my mother has spent endless hours teaching my girls to sew, draw, and paint. I can’t wait for her to have that time with them again.
  3. Speaking of masks, my first friend in Denver has been making hundreds to give away. She is a massage therapist, so her business has shut down. Now she’s using her healing hands to help the world. I first met her when I was eleven years old, where I moved to a very diverse and crowded Merrill Middle School after a very sheltered upbringing in an upstate New York town of 300 people. She was sitting behind me in math class, and when we compared our schedules, we realized we had every class together, including G/T, and became immediate friends. Just like that. I knew she was a golden soul, and she’s still shining her light in the world.
  4. Light (again). We had two FREEZING, snowy days, but of course, the Denver sun has returned, and isn’t it perfect?
  5. It is refreshing to see how many corporations are now working for the greater good. Distilleries making hand sanitizer. Sports equipment companies making PPE. We live in a capitalistic world, but at least it can help when we need help.
  6. Speaking of corporations and bringing a little more hope, NPR reports today that two of the biggest pharmaceutical competitors are working together to develop a vaccine. I feel that this is just another sign that the world will change after this is over. Companies, led by HUMANS, will realize that the common good is more important than the common dollar.
  7. And… maybe this quarantine is working? Though there were more deaths today, the hospital bed use is flattening. So people CAN collectively come together for the greater good. Hopefully they’ll remember in November!
  8. And now for a personal news report: Izzy asked me for advice about two essays she was writing today. My fiercely-independent 17-year-old hasn’t asked about homework since middle school, so this was a Coronatine-homeschooling-groundbreaking moment.
  9. With “homeschooling” comes so much extra time for art. For listening to music. For crying over our favorite songs and books and movies. And for my middle Mythili to create for me, with Avett Brothers lyrics, this beautiful picture on Procreate (through the iPad) that I cannot WAIT to one day print. I gave her the lines from the song and she created an image that is so me in every way with that beautiful full moon over us all.
  10. I almost even feel like a good mother! And according to one of my students who graduated almost four years ago, I am! Out of the blue, he wrote me a beautiful, detailed letter of gratitude. This is a student who’d seen two wars in his life, in Iraq and Syria, and worked tirelessly to finish high school in fewer than four years, finishing just as he was turning twenty-one. This is the student who sat in my room every morning, every lunch period, but would never eat; he would only study. (I hated how he wouldn’t eat, and often said so, and he mentioned this in the letter: “The things I faced before when I came to America are very hard and almost no one can survive if they live it.  The transition to life in America developed gradually, once we accustomed to the norms and culture everything started becoming easy.”) He writes to me now about how much I influenced his life, about what a great mother and teacher I am, about how much I encouraged him. And of course, being the selfless human that he is, he wants to help translate for my Newcomers, has already spent time translating for the Red Cross.

How lucky am I, thirty-two days into this hell? How lucky are we?

This actually wasn’t that hard to write after all. Be grateful.

Coronatine, Day Thirty-one (10×5)

Not gonna lie, this is getting harder day by day. But here are today’s ten things I love about you, Coronatine.

  1. Snow. Say what you will about snow in April, but just listen to this video. All you will hear is… the soft sound of snow and some birds. No traffic. The world is so quiet right now, as if it needed a rest.
  2. With a quiet world in quarantine, it is nice to see reports of how much air pollution has decreased throughout the world. Being able to see the Himalayas. The air quality in Chinese cities improving. Even NYC has much clearer air. Maybe this quarantine will give us an idea of how much we really should cut back; that we can survive on much less and still have a good life. And we can actually try to save the Earth we have been destroying for so long.
  3. Fabian has not been very motivated to learn English or to watch the videos online. But he finally came upstairs and sat with me for an hour, reading a whole passage in English about Ramadan, answering questions, and really understood a lot. It was a major breakthrough, and I hope we can continue this every day.
  4. Even though they bitterly argued with me yesterday about having to do so, all the girls did get up at 8:30 today as I asked. I want to have some semblance of a routine, and sleeping till noon is not working for our family.
  5. Speaking of the girls, I allowed Izzy to take Riona to the pet store to get things from the pet store for her new cat, and Izzy took her to Chik-Fil-A as well. They both agreed to wear the masks (finally!) though I need to encourage Izzy to wear hers the right way.
  6. A friend of mine suggested a Yes Day for each kid to choose something that everyone in the family has to participate in. I met with the kids yesterday, and they agreed. So we’re having our first event tonight, organized by Riona: Monopoly!
  7. My Newcomers have consistently logged into my office hours every day. Almost every student. They love seeing each other’s faces, talking over each other, and just being their crazy selves. My paras have also both been logging on, and I review each day’s work and they help translate. It takes a village!
  8. Bruce didn’t have to work today since he works this Saturday, so he’s making meatloaf tonight, everyone’s favorite!
  9. Social media. Say what you will… but can you imagine being stuck in quarantine during the 80s? With nothing on TV, no internet, and no one to communicate with? Social media allows an escape, but it also allows a connection. I use it for news updates more than anything else (I probably read 20 articles a day from news agencies I follow or that my friends post), I connect with others (even got a phone call from someone I haven’t talked to in ten years based on something I’d posted!), and I think it can add a personal relevance to what is happening. For example, one of my high school friends lives in Queens, so she is at the epicenter of the NYC nightmare right now. It’s good to hear her first-person account. My college roommate lives in Wisconsin and experienced having her ballot not counted in that primary fiasco. Another high school friend lives in Canada and verified the tweet about actually applying for and receiving help, within two days, from the government.  Social media allows you to see the human connection behind the news stories. And… I love the memories feature on Facebook. Since I post every day, I have memories going 10 years back. I love seeing pics of my girls and me on a farm in the Netherlands, skiing, riding bikes, or even a regular old Monday when we made waffle sandwiches! And my girls would feel even lonelier without their social media connections. As much as we hate it, this is a time to be grateful for it.
  10. To go hand in hand with social media, just being able to connect with the world in unique way and to EXPOSE EVERYONE who is not helping us get out of this horrible situation… I think it’s a good thing. Social media has led to an increased awareness of all different types of people in the world, and has allowed people to read more firsthand accounts of their experiences with world events, and I do think change WILL HAPPEN once this is over. So, number ten for today comes back to hope. We just have to have hope.

Coronatine, Day Twenty-nine (10×3)

Here we go. It’s a Saturday, so it’s automatically easier for me to write this because my husband is at home. All you all out there who get tired of your spouse’s company, I’m sorry. I never get tired of mine.

Ten things for today that I am grateful for during the quarantine.

  1. Setting up the sprinklers. In our first house, we had a sprinkler system, and it was nothing but a nightmare. It was old, needed thousands of dollars of work on a regular basis, once burst in November and flooded our basement… I could go on. We change up our yard constantly, and not having a sprinkler system gives us the flexibility to do so. In Denver, with its endless sun, sprinklers are necessary to have greenery, and it’s a sign of spring.
  2. I have a second job. It’s mostly a curse, but I start a new class tomorrow, and I am grateful for that. I’m grateful that I’ve been doing online teaching for eleven years, and I have a pretty good idea of how it works, now that I’ve been thrust into it full time. The University of Phoenix doesn’t pay much, but in the year leading up to and the year in Spain, I had back-to-back courses, and it was literally the deciding factor in us being able to live there or not when I made virtually NO money with what the Spanish government offered. So… I keep on keeping on with this job. Sometimes it’s just a vacation fund, but right now it’s going to save our asses, again, with paying actual bills.
  3. Speaking of online learning… Screencastify is pretty much an awesome Chrome extension that I’d never heard of and now love. I have tried Flipgrid as well, but it sucks in comparison. I love being able to record videos on Screencastify that show both my face and the screen so that students know just where to click. Google has it figured out.
  4. Riona decided to get creative with the pancakes this morning, and Mythili joined in. I have a couple of little artists in these two.
  5. Egg coloring. We are not a religious family, so Easter is really just a celebration of spring. This is an extremely rare activity that ALL children agreed to do together, so as the parent of four teenagers, I call this a parenting win! And it is so nice out today that we were able to do it outside! Fabian, of course, had no idea what I was talking about, and he was mildly intrigued by this strange celebration.
  6. Riona wanted to mail art supplies to one friend and deliver some to another, so we fit in a bike ride. Everything is always better with a bike ride.
  7. The peas are coming up! I was a bit wary, but I’m happy to see them fighting the good fight.
  8. Riona finally started doing her piano lesson through FaceTime, and it has instantly motivated her to practice more! We’re trying to enjoy these last couple of months of piano lessons, because it’s something that will be unattainable soon…
  9. Speaking of artists, it’s so heartwarming to see all the artists coming together online to sing Hamilton songs or Carole King songs or have online choirs, dance routines, museum exhibits, etc…. We can’t officially call them essential workers, but art literally makes life worth living. And what do we all turn to when we are trapped at home? TV shows, movies, music, books, visual arts.
  10. Light. Pure sunlight. This is why I live in Denver and nowhere else. But in my bedroom, I’ve suffered for 4.5 years with very little light because we stupidly bought this massive king-sized bed before moving into the house. We’d been together for eighteen years and had never had a king-sized bed, so we were so excited to get it delivered the day we moved in that we didn’t take time to measure. And it has covered half of this south-facing window for the entire occupation of the Dream House. Bruce suggested cutting it down and placing the slate tiles onto the other part, admitting he didn’t have the tools to do so… But today, as we were folding laundry, he pointed out that we could just remove it. And, voila, boy-who-lives-with-us-and-can-carry-it-out-with-him, that headboard is gone! And there is SO MUCH LIGHT. My “home office” is brighter, my room is brighter, and goddamn it if my life isn’t lighter!

This is why I really don’t mind having my husband at home. He makes my quarantine so much more tolerable.

Coronatine, Day Twenty-eight (10 x2)

Day 2 of Quarantine Gratitude. It’s been a pretty rough day, and I’m disappointed by online learning for Newcomers, so this is going to be hard, but I am trying here!

  1. Gas prices. I know Trump’s an asshole, and these countries are having a bidding war right now, and I should have an electric car, but these prices are eleven years old, this is the first time I’ve filled my car in a month, and it’s a relief.
  2. Speaking of cars… it’s nice to run an errand with just a little traffic. Denver has horrible traffic, and it’s been nonexistent lately.
  3. People listening to the governor. Went to the grocery store today, and they had it all set up for social distancing with one-way aisles, a line around the store, and most people were wearing masks! It was good to not be the only one.             
  4. Speaking of food: our school’s food bank, and in particular, Jaclyn Yelich. She called me two days ago because she just knew some students weren’t getting food. In the midst of a crisis, when she had to move her entire food bank to another location, she knew that some of my ELLs were getting desperate. We made a plan. She formed her delivery team, she asked me to help, and we brought food to six of my Newcomer families. She had a whole warehouse of boxes and bags ready to go for each family. This woman has worked all her life, raised her daughter, and now has given up her entire retirement to feed the families at our school, which takes more time than a full-time job. She gives hope when there is no hope.
  5. The moon. I have always loved the moon, and in high school even won an award for a story titled, “Catch Me a Moon.” In all its clichéd symbolism, its constancy is calming right now. Knowing that it’s up there, shining bright, so far from all of our problems, connecting us all with our own special glimpses of it wherever we might be in the world, is a comfort.
  6. Gardening friends. I am certainly not a master gardener, though I bought a house from one! What a joy today to receive the generous gift of an entire tray of spices and vegetables for my garden. Their petite green stems bring life to this sunny window, waiting, just like us, for the frost to stop and the world to be ready for a permanent move to a better life that is waiting on the other side of the glass.
  7. Audiobooks. In a house of six, it’s difficult to sit down and read. So many distractions and background noise. I love audiobooks because I can take them anywhere with me–in the car, walking the dog, gardening, or cross-stitching.
  8. Cross-stitching. I will never be a seamstress, but this I learned to do when I cross-stitched baby blankets for my three girls. It is relaxing and methodical, and fulfills my need to always be doing something with my hands. And when this is all over, I’ll have a pretty picture to hang! 
  9. Work flexibility. My district and school have handled these crazy circumstances very well, and they’ve offered us so much flexibility with office hours, grading expectations, and the amount of assignments. It has been so refreshing to work within a schedule that I create, which as a teacher, just never happens. It’s so nice to have time on weekdays to run errands, to fit in an appointment, and to make my own schedule.
  10. To go with the theme of weekdays and flexibility, it’s refreshing to be able to clean my house whenever I want and not try to cram the chores in between a harried workday, harried dinner prep, and a harried life. Cheers to vacuuming on a Friday morning and a non-harried life!