Sunday, June 07, 2020

What Can I Say

Sometime in March, early in this whole Stay at Home Season, Geoff shared an essay by an Italian woman. She was weeks and weeks ahead of us living in isolation, because of COVID 19, and she talked about seeing us, in the United States, as some states began to go into social distancing, quarantine. And she empathetically, succinctly laid it all out... each of the phases we would go through, like baking, then cleaning everything, and 24 hour social media binges, watching every movie. I can't find it. But it was accurate, it was even amusing. I took her words to heart, and nodded resolutely, this is what is, we can do this.

Where is she now? What's ahead, I'd like to know. We are months beyond where she spoke to us from, and there are little or no guide lines, no warnings from the future. I like lists. I could make a list of the Top Five Hard Things About Quarantine, and it would definitely always include Not Knowing What to Expect. Other hardships come and go, fall and rise in ranking, but the uncertainty is always there, always difficult. I get it, life has always been uncertain, but hey! Come on, this is on an exceptional scale, wouldn't you agree?

I like the way the chickens look at me. They see me. Even Tasha will stand back and gaze at me, discerningly. I think they know I do not have Geoff's tremendous resolve, nor half his energy. This week, in tears, I declared, I can take staying at home, I'm good with all of you, but I am so tired of me. I can't stand being with myself, confronted with all of the things I am not good at, and not being able to look away. And I felt the anguish of seeing myself. Knowing myself. Knowing that I won't be able to pack the car and drive to Oregon, make an escape to any new space, another environment, where I can reboot, recharge, be my better self. The chickens look at me and they size me up. They know me. And maybe it's because in their steely gaze, I cannot evade, or guard myself, I feel safe. They look at me, and accept me, then go about their lives, with me in their company. In words, this is terribly muddled and full of gaps. I probably shouldn't publish any of this, because I am not saying it well. I wish the chickens could write something on my behalf. Something like, Well, she's trying. She is what she is, imperfect, a bit scared, sensitive, but she's trying, and we are fine with that. Then one of the big ones would peck me, hard, on the toe, and the rest would demand that I feed them, rousing me from my stupor.

Maria's school year is drawing to a close. I think of her, and her friends, her schoolmates, the neighbor boy who finished grade school, and Simon, and Izzy, all done with middle school, Bella graduated, and Dean, Katalina. We ask them to be resilient, to have stamina and resolve, to flow. A cousin shared beautiful portraits of her children, drowsily propped up at the breakfast table. Candid shots of them, lost in their thoughts, and she wrote, "I wanted to capture the moment before breakfast and online school of just the look of “I miss back when...” a moment they don’t even realize." I am not sharing her pictures, so you can't see... trust me, they are poignant, and telling, iconic. I think of those images just now, because I've seen that look on my children's faces, a bit stunned, weary, trying to grapple. I've said it before, and I'll say it again... homeschool is nothing like this, nothing like online learning during a pandemic.

I am glad school is drawing to a close. Summer is always welcome, but now it feels like a particularly necessary opportunity to recover. I've seen a post going around, a list of 'all the life skills kids should be taught, because they aren't at school and their free time should be filled with lessons, drills, and reminders that our generation did more, better, and they will be plucky and amenable if they can master these tasks necessary to function in 1982.' Ok, I'm being critical. The list has some good suggestions, and of course children can learn all sorts of skills, and good manners. But that list, coupled with the stress and anxiety of a pandemic, zoom classes, online lessons, missing friends, losing rites of passage, and usual activities, hobbies, clubs, and countless other good ideas begging for their attention... the list could be put down, for a bit. I was going to say "burned." But, everyone has different needs, different issues.

For us... I see this summer as decompression time. Maria's school did their best in extraordinary circumstances, but it was tenuous, stressful, technically challenged, it couldn't help but magnify the literal disconnect between student and teacher, peers, discourse. And it was hard not to think back to how it used to be, and not evoke those feelings of "I miss back when..." So, even though we cannot do all the things we might usually do over summer, I think it will help to do as much, or as little, as we like that is just normal. Our normal. Summer and reading books, drawing, sketching, doodling. Summer and star gazing, campfires, gardening, building something, taking something apart. Summer and cooking outdoors, cooking something new, or weird, and eating some place new, like beside a tree, beneath a bedsheet tent. Summer and choosing an online class, or camp, for fun, without penalty, just because. Summer and walking, biking, yoga, climbing, tumbling, dancing, stretching, tag, darts, headstands, skateboarding, shooting hoops. Summer and listening... us listening to them, hearing their questions, following their interests, supporting their needs, reading their lists. I'm not worried that Maria won't learn enough, or that she will fall behind. Learning is forever, and the old lists won't always apply to the new ways of doing things. These young people, sooner than ever, are tasked with living in their future, paving the way for unforeseen, and unprecedented ways of looking at and being in the world. Summer could be our time to see what matters most, and play with that, learn from that, stay curious, and be.

Paddle Out To Honor Death of George Floyd.

Learning is forever, and it can happen anywhere. Black Lives Matter. Voting matters. Communities and safety nets matter. Protest, and being anti-racist matters. Giving back to our community, volunteering, mentoring, sharing, these matter. Frankly, these lessons are far more pressing, urgent, than common core, and test scores. We cannot fail Black people, immigrants, the disabled, anyone labeled other. We are failing ourselves if we don't learn that injustice, systemic racism, and inequality cannot be part of our future, and to change we must actively seek better, new ways of seeing each other, and being in the world. We are tasked with living in the better future, now.

Maria is making art. She likes creating digital art with ArtRage.

Max put on shoes for the first time since his last day at school, mid-March. Perhaps this is one of the messages the woman from the future might describe for us... that after months of isolation, a period of adjustment and learning how to do common things in uncommon ways, we would find solutions, means of connecting. Driveway movies, fireside chats, six or more feet apart, are not ideal, but after all this time, and while still in a pandemic, we cherish these moments, these opportunities to reconnect. I am thankful that in times of uncertainty, we are so fortunate to have friends, and the time and space to meet with them.

What can I say? There is so much on my mind, and I am glad I have this space where I can try to sort these things out.

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