Coronatine, Day Seventy-one (Breaking of the Fast)

Just before the rain, we finished planting all the seeds. Pumpkin and yellow squash, red peppers and zucchini, cucumbers and cilantro.

I am so grateful for this downpour because it’s been a dry month, in more ways than one, for me. A year ago, when Muslim students spilled into my room at lunch to be far away from food during Ramadan, I decided to fast with them. I never told them that I rose before dawn to scarf down overnight oatmeal, avocados, and watermelon, that I drank two giant glasses of water to sustain myself for a busy day at school. I never told them, and they never asked, why I wasn’t eating either. But they would sit in my room and talk about the special meals their mothers would be preparing for that night’s Iftar. They would chat with each other, asking about when the next prayer time would be or what math homework they needed to do before that evening’s visit to the mosque.

There was a safety in that space, my classroom at lunch, the lights off, the sun streaming in through the cracks of the shades. There was no space for judgment or smells of others’ meals, and we were like friends, my students and me.

I cannot replicate it now, and I will never be a religious person, and quarantine is hard enough, but I decided to fast for the thirty days of Ramadan this year anyway. Why would I put myself through such torture when no one in my house would, when we’re already giving up so much right now, when I’m surrounded by a kitchen and pantry packed with food?

And what would anyone think, really, this stupid white girl appropriating another’s culture?

I didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family, really.  A couple of friends. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything at all, out of respect, but I saw this article in the Washington Post and I felt better, six days into my decision.

Being at home has its benefits. I burn so many more calories at school, walking from desk to desk, from my classroom to the printer to the copier, to the bathroom, to the office for meetings, to chat with colleagues in other rooms. At home, I can sit on my couch with my puppy and listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch for hours. A few times I even took a nap, though I’m terrible at taking naps.

I barely slept for the past thirty days. Too much goes on in my house that is difficult for me to control right now. Everyone is in one mode or another of depression and anxiety because of this virus that is a weight on all of our lives, because of not wanting to or feeling comfortable about being at home with each other (rather than friends), because I was so stressed about my husband losing his job, and even once he miraculously got a new job in the midst of a pandemic, there was a lingering sense of remorse for all the worry I had wasted for three months.

So rising at 4:30 with my alarm barely happened. Most of the time my eyes popped open around 4:00, just when the birds started their pre-dawn chatter. My puppy thought I was so crazy that he didn’t even beg for bits of food or lick my plate, but rather sullenly remained sleeping on the couch until I roused him for our singular long walk, the only time I would have enough energy to walk 2-3 miles.

Because one thing I have learned about not eating or drinking even a sip of water for 14-15 hours is that it is the most exhausting thing I can imagine experiencing. By 6:00pm, I’d be shaky and loopy, trying to fix dinner with one of the kids. By 7:00, I’d be shaky and loopy with anticipation, so excited for the sweet taste of juice that I rarely drink but have enjoyed for the past month, for whatever concoction we were throwing together for that night’s meal, whether it simply be hot dogs and broccoli or fried chicken and fries.

It’s incredible how amazingly cool and refreshing that first sip of ice-cold juice is, that first bite of food that you want to hold in your mouth and allow your whole body to feel its nourishment. And after a few drinks and a few sips, despite being so starving, I’d feel full, yet still so exhausted that it wouldn’t be long before I’d crawl into bed, ready to begin again tomorrow.

It’s funny how the body works. How the mind works. How hard it was, day after day, wishing it would be over, wishing the new moon would come in its crescent beauty, wondering why I would choose to do this.

I saw so many perfect sunrises.

I spoke to my children with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice many times. There was a weakness there, an inability to scream or argue, that didn’t exist before.

I thought about my Muslim students, so isolated, not in my classroom avoiding the cafeteria, but at home in crowded apartments and small houses, avoiding the world.

I slowed down. For me, this was the hardest part. Giving up food and water was nothing compared to not being able to pull every weed, plant every seed, ride my bike up and down every last hill, walk the dog until blisters appeared on my toes. But sometimes it’s better to just stop for a moment, to let the world continue its craziness around you, to rest your eyes and your heart, trying to see the spinning from a place that is still.

Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I made it through thirty of seventy-one days of quarantine without food or drink. And last night’s enchiladas and Libyan honeycomb bread, this morning’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream, this afternoon’s bike ride with my boys…

They tasted sweeter than you could ever imagine. Like winning the lottery of luck that is my life (because it is). Like putting that first bite in your mouth after a month of fasting, only that bite is Pure. Gratitude.

Because nothing in this life is more precious than what we love, what we long for. A taste. A drink. A relationship with our students, our families, our friends.

And in thirty days, you can truly taste how much joy longing can bring.

 

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-four (10×8)

So grateful for:

  1. My pup in my lap. Even though he got a new bed. He’s very warm on a cold day.
  2. We played cards last night for Mythili’s “Yes Day.” She managed to explain Egyptian Rat Slap to me in a way I could easily explain it to Fabian, and everyone had a good time with it coming down to a contest between Mythili and Fabian!
  3. Being able to make French toast and eggs with strawberries on a Thursday morning.
  4. I was so happy to deliver food again today for one of my Newcomer families.
  5. The Facebook page #aworldofhearts. This page is so inspiring, and our heart picture (V for Vittetoe and Victory over Virus!) is, well, heartwarming every time I’m walking home.
  6. My orchid is fully bloomed. Bruce got this for me for my birthday three years ago, and it’s fully bloomed for this year’s Coronatine birthday.
  7. Streaming services. It’s not just Netflix, but Amazon Prime, Apple Music, and Pandora. I use the music ones more than the video ones. I love being able to listen to whatever music I choose, commercial-free, all day and night.
  8. My dog loves the snow, and he was pretty grumpy when I got him all shaved and it started to get cold. Today he finally felt confident enough to really play in the snow, and he had a blast! Muey3gWUR86%vEq3gC0jQg
  9. My move streak. Not including today, I’ve managed a 207-day streak. I’m hoping to make it to a year just like David Sedaris!
  10. After two days of using the district-created lesson plans, I am very pleased and will continue to use them. Each one leads to great questions for the kids to practice in our daily video chat.

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!

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.