Marking Time

My fingers know the key strokes, but are unsure of the words to write. I know how to move through the spaces that I inhabit, but I am no longer certain that this is where I belong. When I speak, I am slightly surprised that my voice makes sounds and I am astounded when the words find their destination. Yet, despite this, no one seems to notice. I have learned how to play this part well, my part of this long running show. It is easier to recite my lines and hit my mark than it is to immerse myself in the role.

I am of that age, I think, when the road behind is, hopefully, equal in distance to the road ahead. But what it will all look like as I continue along? I don’t have profound insights about this spot that I am standing on. I have gotten quite good at dissecting the past but I do not have the promised wisdom to approach the future. I am watching my world move around me, but I am not quite a part of it. This disconnect is amplified by the muffled voices of the people around me and the six feet that fills our spaces. I am not sure that this was caused by the pandemic, but the pandemic has made it unavoidable.

I have always insisted that my students know the purpose of their writing before they begin to formally draft. Long ago, I stole Nancie Atwell’s phrase, “So What” and made it the foundation of my classroom workshop, demanding that students not only dig at their own “so what” but also the “so what” in every text that they encounter. Those two words are on my classroom walls, embedded in almost every mini-lesson, and create the initial conference over any new piece of writing. Once, I even had a student write a poem entitled “So What” that beautifully captured my incessant questioning.

I used to believe that not knowing the “so what” was unacceptable, leading to an unexamined life, of sorts. But now that I am wondering about my own purpose, my “so what” in this perpetual production, maybe Socrates was wrong. Perhaps the unexamined life is comfortable and safe, requiring less energy and minimizing disruption? Maybe it’s okay to float along for a bit, waiting for the house lights to come on and see if anyone really is at home.

No Words

A house of mourning breathes. There are moments when the air stops moving and the inhale-exhale of conversations catch and the stillness wraps around everything. Spoons stop stirring lukewarm coffee, plates find perfect balance on knees and even the untouched knickknacks telling decades of family stories that sit on shelves, table-tops and mantles, freeze in the moment. And then, just as suddenly, eyes fill and throats tighten and a hand finds an arm or a shoulder and the breathing resumes.

In the early morning, I drive away from such a home, knowing I will return over the next few days, bringing food (always food) and hoping at least some of my love will find its way into their darkness. This was not going to be a celebration of a long life lived fully…this was going to be a minefield of pain and sorrow. Stories will be told, but questions will linger on the periphery and sentences will, undoubtedly, trail off without completion…

Root Down to Rise Up

In yoga, there is a phrase: Root down to rise up. Find your foundation. Find your center. Find your connection to the earth before you can begin to stretch for the sky. Otherwise, you will lose your balance; you will lose your connection to your center. You have to go inward before you can go out.

The world around me flexes and constricts in ways I never could have imagined, and it takes so little effort to drift along a path of hopelessness. The signs are everywhere; you don’t have to work hard to see the chaos and uncertainty that permeates the atmosphere. A quick glimpse of the headlines or a scroll through any media feed and I am easily down a rabbit hole that seems to only lead to more isolation and loneliness.

I am reading a quick-read YA novel (not a dense, change my life and must get into the hands of my students book, but a good one nonetheless) and I stop and think about how this book could find its way into my class. Once I stop reading to think, I begin to see the bigger picture come into focus: book clubs and craft discussions and mini-lessons on author’s voice. This inevitably leads me to picturing my classroom and I am stopped cold. My classroom may not go beyond my laptop for the foreseeable future. My classroom may not exist.

Somewhere between giving in to the worst and envisioning the best is me. I don’t know if I’m standing in a void that doesn’t really exist or if I am, simply, sharing the space that we all inhabit right now.

I am a teacher and teachers plan. We plan lessons, units, semesters and entire years. We plan for generic, nameless students and we plan for individuals. We look back and see what has worked; we read and talk and search out what works for others; we brainstorm and make lists, dog-ear pages & bookmark sites. We anticipate the future based on what we know about the past.

We root down into what we know in order to rise up and meet the challenges of what is coming. That is what the last eighteen Augusts have looked like for me….eighteen end-of-summer-beginning-of-falls that are failing me right now. I am trying to find my center, my foundation, my connection. I am rooting down into everything I know, grounding into my mere fifty years of existence, reaching for this future.

Another thing no one tells you…

First, there is the waiting...  
then comes the mourning.

Dawn creeping up over the horizon 
(which I would see if I had the view I once had instead of where I sit now, 
with too close city homes obscuring the world's awakening):

Waiting & watching the night sky overrun by the pinkpurpleredorange sun storm….
followed by the inevitable busy-ness of an overflowing life.

Once the wait is over, the mourning for what is lost settles

Waiting for adulthood and independence…
but chasing wisps of half formed reconstructions from my questionable memory 

Waiting for health to return to my son…
but always hearing the rapid breathing of a small, struggling body

Waiting for breath to flow freely…
but fearing the accidental feel of a stranger’s warmth or the gentle touch in a crowded room 

Waiting for satisfaction and contentment…
but accepting the reality of concessions

Sober recognition of what is -- juxtaposed with what once was.  
You would think that would give rise to embracing each moment, the epiphany of survivors.  
But no.  

It brings the permanence of mourning:

parents die
children are vulnerable
viruses speak an unknown language 
and questioning past choices creates dangerous contemplation.

A View From Inside

I have spent the past 5 days in a hospital room with my child, receiving constant reports of all the things that he does not have. Covid? Negative. (Repeat covid? Still negative.) Covid anti-body? Negative. Lyme? Negative. Mono? Parvo? Negative. Negative. Viruses and bacterias and diseases that seem to have more consonants than vowels? All negative. As the lab results trickle in, the doctors seem perplexed by the symptoms that keep him here. He is covered in a rash that comes and goes with no predictability and a fever that persists. His little eyes are beginning to show tell-tale signs of Kawasaki Syndrome, even though he doesn’t have all the markers to even be diagnosed confidently with Incomplete Kawasaki Syndrome. He has received not one but two infusions of immunoglobulins to help his body fight whatever infection or virus is battling inside of him. And still he lies here with the return of a rash and heat emanating from his skin. The doctors, of which there are many, have a plan. Their plan is about time windows and fever thresholds and includes a Team: general pediatricians, infectious disease doctors, rheumatologists, cardiologists…the list is long. It is, I presume, a thoughtful plan, based on their collective knowledge and experience. So I wait.

Here is what I know about being in the hospital with a child with an unclear diagnosis in the middle of a pandemic:

  1. No one knows enough about this. There is new information every day. Every hour. In fact, my son may be a part of a small cluster (he is the 5th child in this hospital) with similar symptoms that match nothing except each other. Could be coincidence….could be something else altogether. I have to stay away from all media and news reports.
  2. Despite being in a state-of-the-art children’s hospital with an amazing reputation for taking care of the whole child, I have been in this one room the entire time. I am not allowed to visit the fancy cafe. I cannot go to the solarium for a brief respite. My son cannot go to the playroom or the performance center or even to the aquarium. We were brought to this room in a silent parade of sick children from the emergency room, led by masked nurses. Once here, I was told that I could not leave for any reason. I had to remain inside and, please, when someone enters, wear a mask.
  3. The incredible nurses and medical technicians now have an expanded job description. If I need a cup of coffee? Call a nurse. My son’s water needs to be refilled? Call a nurse. My husband has brought a change of clothes and left a bag at security? Call a nurse. Dinner forgot to bring a fork for my salad? Call a nurse. They are now waiters and waitresses, messengers and couriers, in addition to medical professionals.
  4. Our child, who needs both of his parents, can only have one of us. For the entire time. Aaron and I had conversation before we were directed to the ER and we decided that I would come and he would stay home with our other kids. So I am here and he is there. Here, I have no space to break down and cry from exhaustion and fear. I have no privacy for conversations that spin down the rabbit hole of uncertainty. I am responsible for taking in all of the information and relaying it accurately. There, daily life continues with two kids who need all that he has to give and a dog that doesn’t seem to stop barking. He is answering questions and soothing fears and providing constant updates. We are connected only through the phone. He must trust that I am getting it right. I must trust that I am getting it right. He has to relinquish control and I have to stay in control. There is no opportunity for us to switch. We can’t balance each other.

While the din of cartoons competes with the constant beeps from the monitor (which I still haven’t completely figured out), I write, waiting for my coffee and scrutinizing our son for any changes or signs that this will be ending. My phone recharges, drained from an overnight of texts and reassurances. I need a shower. I need answers. Having a child in the hospital is a brand of hell that I didn’t know existed. Having a child in the hospital during a pandemic is beyond comprehension.

Covid Knocks…

Yesterday, I took our 9 year old son to the doctor.  He had a fever and a rash that had persisted for three days and when my husband and I called Monday morning, there was no hesitation from the voice on the other end.

“Can you make a 9:30 appointment?”

No questions about symptoms or our home treatments.  No questions about temperatures or exposures or analgesics.  An instant appointment.  When was the last time that happened?  Less than an hour to get food (and coffee) into our systems, dress for the outside world and make our way to the office.  Not nearly enough time for me to wrap my head around what was really happening.  Not even a moment for Aaron and I to silently communicate the thousands of parental fears that immediately came to our respective minds.

“Yes, we’ll be there.  Thank you.”

Arriving at the office, I adjust my mask, and then my son’s. I take a deep breath through the thin fabric and immediately feel claustrophobic.  This is only my second time out since the Mandatory Mask Directive and I panic.  My ancient 8th grade science knowledge pops, uninvited, into my head, and I remember random facts about carbon dioxide and oxygen and what I am exhaling and inhaling.  I look at a tree and wonder if I am going to pass out.  Desperately, I pull the mask down, taking a few deep breaths, relishing the unobstructed air.  And then I see my son’s eyes take in the change.  This is one of those parenting moments…he is watching and my fears were going to have to crawl back to the shadows for the time being.

Getting inside is the first of many apocalypse moments.  Sign says to call when we arrive.  Are we wearing masks? Yes.  Door mysteriously unlocks.  Nurse in full gear aims thermometer at our heads and then silently escorts us inside.  Another nurse, also masked and gowned and entirely unidentifiable, comes in and takes information.  Our beloved pediatrician arrives, protected with mask, gown, plastic shield…we know her eyes and her Mickey Mouse stethoscope.  No jokes, no laughs.  Just the exam.  In the end?  Referral to state hospital for covid test.

We leave, removing our masks as we make our way quietly to the car.  He is quiet, focused only on the green apple lollipop.  I am quiet, focused only on the papers in my hand.  In the car, I sit, momentarily sifting through all of the information in my head.  I plug the address into Google Maps and start driving.

The hospital center is scary to me; I can’t imagine what it looks like to my son.  Everyone is masked.  Hospital staff are masked and gowned with gloves and shields.  An ambulance leaves and another arrives.  We aren’t allowed to touch anything.  Temperatures are taken at several checkpoints and there are no other patients on the pediatric floor.  It is eerily silent and incredibly strained.  Again, we are transferred from one person to another with few words.  The doctor arrives, kind eyes, but a perfect stranger.  No Mickey Mouse stethoscope.  Exam.  Painful test for me to watch and my son to take.  No way to prepare and it is over before the discomfort registers, leaving my son reacting as we are being shuffled out, more papers in hand.

Outside, he crumples a bit, asking when it will stop hurting.  I don’t have a good answer.  Driving home, I wonder about the future. Once again, we just have to wait.

 

_____________________________________

In a world of uncertainty, I feel like it is critical to add this footnote: 24 hours later we received the call from our county health department…test negative.

On Turning Fifty

On Turning Fifty

I think in bell curves lately
          wondering about the peak
          the length of the plateau
          the speed of the descent

From this height I can see the jagged line rising
(with small corrections along the way)
and the faded projections that didn’t come to fruition

By definition, a halfway point:
fifty percent of what has come to pass.

The future is a jumble of multicolored lines
          none bolder than any other
          each dependent on factors still unknown
          still an aggregate of hypotheses and hope

I want the questions of the future to balance the answers of the past
          a simple scale in perfect equilibrium
          the plotted points forming a clear picture

          but the data is still being collected.

Anticipation

 

Without a thing
           party
           meeting
           date night
there can be no anticipation

Neglect the false sense of community
    reaching through 
    digital screens and 
    voices without faces

Without potential surprise
there are no butterflies fluttering
          no scenarios played out
          no choose-your-own-adventure daydreams

Negate the surprise closings
       the surprise news & its associated graphics
       the surprise details that come each day

With nothing to anticipate
there is nothing to expect
with nothing to expect
time almost stands still

Almost.

Rubber Band Reality

“Balance? It’s overrated.” –Adam Ezra

It used to be that I could rely on at least a few things
         strong, bitter coffee with scavenged creamer
         at least one gut busting laugh at adolescent antics
         shared understanding without the need for words

I try to recreate some of it
I try to find familiarity
I try to connect without connection

Reality check:
           It wasn't always easy
           It didn't always work
           I didn't always like it

but it was predictably unpredictable 
and I knew the hours

I have lost all sense of balance
I am no longer drifting easily
                  but am yanked suddenly
                  and often without warning
back and forth
back and forth

It is not the gentle roll of a yo-yo
but the sharp snap of a rubber band
                        extended just to the brink
                        and then...
                        back again
The elasticity will wear over time
ultimately breaking


Bridging The Distance

Connections.  Elusive and present at every turn.  That is the thing with this new reality:  even though we are no longer physically connected, we are communicating.  The communication is intense–faces filling up my screen, phone buzzing at all hours, emails within emails within emails–and while the communication is often convoluted and bewildering, it is constant.

In the movie Ralph Breaks The Internet, the characters move through the wires and out into the great World Wide Web.  Their little bright blue lights shoot down from the video game, through the wire and out into the expanse of the internet.  I feel like that when I sit down to write.  As soon as I click “publish” I feel like my words fly through the wires and out into the great beyond; my words find your eyes and we connect.

I am not a fan of my new relationship to my digital devices.  It seems that my phone & my computer are never out of arm’s reach…and if they are, when I return to them, the “catch up” is enough to elevate my stress to levels that make me think the disconnect isn’t worth the cost of the reconnect.  But I also cling to the connection that these hold.  In our new world of isolation, the connection is all predicated on the digital.

I know that the time will come when I will know that disconnecting means connecting.  I will put my phone down for dinners with friends, leave it in the car at a concert and silenced in my desk when I teach.  My family will return to our “screen free” hours and days and I will forget my phone more often than I remember it.  But for now, the connections are purposeful and I am grateful.