A Good Night for the Good China

A Good Night for the Good China

Most years, we have or are company at Christmas and Christmas Eve feasts for which all the stops — good china, good silver, family favorite recipes – are pulled out. This year, with Covid raging, ‘company’ is our little nuclear unit, and we were grateful to have it.

We knew this year would be different. No grandparents and no cousin means a smaller meal. Our little unit is a good deal more casual than my parents’ pod was, so we knew there would be no coats and ties, and I even thought I’d forgo the good china.

Then a few weeks ago, Thing1, our twenty-year-old who has spent the fall quarantining in an apartment with his cousin, texted that he wanted to make Beef Wellington. He and the Big Guy, now retired and indulging his own love of cooking through the pandemic began texting back and forth with ideas for a casual, but culinarily adventurous Christmas.

But, our four-person unit agreed, there would be no coats and ties. There would no fanfare.

It’s Christmas Eve as I write. Thing1 is assembling the Wellington, indulging in eighth-grade, low-brow jokes with his eighth-grader brother, Thing2 as they put together tonight’s over-the-top entree. The Big Guy is making popovers, occasionally contributing an inappropriate joke or two to the cooking banter.

We’ll still be casual this Christmas, but none of us can remember a warmer one. Sweatpants still seem like appropriate dinner attire for this crowd. However, as the boys joke and putter in the kitchen, concocting what I know will be the best Christmas Eve feast of our lives, it has suddenly become a good night for the good china.

The Kids are Alright, pt 2

The Kids are Alright, pt 2

I’ve been delivering Special Education services remotely since September. Some of my students are learning in school. Others are learning from home, but all of them are teaching the adults in their lives an inadvertent but valuable life lesson.

Even if you’ve only accidentally clicked one news link in the last eight months, it would be almost impossible not to hear some newscaster talking about the challenges of online education for students (and teachers) in rural areas.

The internet in our ‘town’ of about 300 has definitely improved since the early days when we practically needed to rig up a kite and key and hope a bolt of information-laden wireless signal would find its way into our laptops. Still, most days as I try to stay connected with my kiddos, I wonder if the powers that be are using gum and fishing-line to connect Vermont’s information super highway (it’s really more of an information dirt road in mudseason).

But, just like mudseason, there are two ways to deal with our inter-not. You can do what I do — silently grumble while keeping my best classroom Zoom smile plastered on until the next break in the action.

You can also do what the kids seem to do.  You can accept that this is just a minor hurdle as you restart your Chromebook and log back into your class and catch up on the 2 or 3 minutes of the lesson you’ve missed.

All of my kids seem to be learning — and teaching – this lesson every day of school. They come into school unable to enjoy many of the communal activities — sitting together at lunch, talking face-to-face – that make elementary school memorable in a good way. The in-person learners wear masks most of the day, and the remote kids pine for their friends.

Some kids sit down at their computers and get right to work. Others may need a little redirection to focus on the task at hand, but, regardless of the degree of engagement, they don’t grumble or complain about all of the new hurdles this pandemic has thrown at them.

So, this morning, when Zoom and our rural internet booted me and two of my remote readers out of class, I didn’t utter an oath at the internet gods in the sky. I took a page from my students’ playbook, restarted the class, and cleared the next hurdle, knowing that each time we do, we only get stronger.

Some Things Stay the Same

Some Things Stay the Same

Not belonging to any religion — organized or not- our nuclear unit reconfigures most holidays to fit our wants and needs. The fourth Thursday in November is no exception, especially this year.

Like many Americans, the Big Guy, Thing 2, and I have been recreating, working, and schooling from home since March. Thing 1, needing a break from being parented, decided to run away from home with one of his cousins and quarantine in an apartment Connecticut where they did their classes online all fall.

Our autumn of isolation followed a summer devoid of our usual family reunions in Michigan or even a day-trip to see siblings in nearby Connecticut. My septuagenarian parents and the Big Guy’s sister have also been staying home to avoid becoming disease vectors, so when Thing1 and his cousin announced they would join us for Thanksgiving, we knew what this holiday would be about this year — and probably for the next twenty years.

Twenty-year-old Thing1 and my twenty-one-year-old niece (the pig-tailed tyke featured in my first and only book, A is for All-Nighter) drove up Wednesday afternoon. Thing1 and his brother had put in their request list of favorite side dishes. We had all agreed to keep everything but the food casual, and I had most of the meal prepped and ready to go into crockpots by the time they arrived.

The crowd at the Thanksgiving-eve dinner table was half the usual size, and the kids took advantage of a dearth of parents and complete absence of grandparents to indulge their inner eighth graders (much easier for Thing2 who actually is an eighth grader). By the time Thing1 went to the kitchen island for thirds, Thing2, who had been saving up his best fart jokes for an appreciative audience for nine months, had our tiny crowd roaring.

I played Exploding Kittens with the kids after dinner for a few hands before turning in. Thing1 and my niece, now used to studying until dawn, played cards with Thing1 until the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. Their shrieks of laughter occasionally penetrated our bedroom door, and as we quietly laughed into the darkness, the Big Guy and I tried to recall experiencing a better holiday.

Some things were the same. My niece and I still managed to burn the bottoms of the crescent rolls (I felt like I was literally passing her a torch of some sort). Thing1 still insisted he wanted me to make a quart of cranberry relish. Thing2 assured us he’d be taller than Thing1 by Christmas. And, even though it was a much smaller gathering, the weekend was still about family.

We Zoomed with parents and siblings who had to stay in their states, missing the warmth of a large family gathering, but the fact that any of us could gather at all made this weekend special. I know American Thanksgiving (along with much of our history) is fraught with controversy, but, for our family, any event marked by four days in a row of gathering and giggling with our kids, especially over burnt crescent roll bottoms, is a holiday worth celebrating and being thankful for.

Creative Voting

For the last few months, my life has felt more chaotic than one of my over-used palettes.

For I’ve struggled to hold a brush or stay awake after work long enough to fire off even the tiniest of posts. For a while I thought that grief over the quarter million Covid-19 fatalities just in the US or worry about the election that’s now almost behind us was sapping my creativity . Then, just as I started an online Special Educator teaching job, my second bout of pneumonia this year roared through my lungs while anemia from a chronic illness sucked the strength from my limbs and psyche. The combination left energy only for the essentials – job and making sure the one kid still living at home is fed and reasonably clean.

This morning, as I sporadically checked the election returns, however, I decided that, instead of worrying about the results, I’d get out of bed and work on my lessons for the coming day. As I pulled together interactive Google slides and Kahoot games, I realized that, just because I haven’t had a brush in my hand, doesn’t mean there’s been no creativity in my life. It’s just been going towards making sure kids who are struggling can read and do math.

As I put together a game board for one of my reading students, I thought about how much progress she’s made in just the last month and how far she’ll go long after she’s forgotten most of her 5th grade teachers. As I imported game pieces into the Google slide we’ll use later this morning, I felt like I was casting another vote for hope in her future and ours. I’ll keep doing it today and the next day and the next, regardless of who the next president is. Not voting for her future — and all the other kids who are just discovering their gifts – is not an option.

The nature of chronic illness is that it comes but it also goes, and when it does, there will be more energy for creativity in the other parts of my life. For now, creative voting in the Zoom classroom is enough.

A Way Out

A Way Out

I was already stressed by the time we got to the checkout line yesterday. 

It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that both boys and I had been to a store together, and standing in line made the afternoon feel like a holiday. We chatted with another middle-aged mom and a younger mom carrying a 6-month-old in a snuggly. The mundanity started to soothe away the anxieties wrought by a frustrated job search, financial worries, and waiting for further news of my mother who was in the hospital two states away.

The summer has been filled with the same stress that millions of people are feeling — job searching, isolation, illness, and, this year, a void. 

Circumstance has tied my life in knots, strangling my creative life. My garden has been a practical canvas of sorts, but, for most of July, my easels and my laptop (except during job searching) have been closed.  Lung pain made painting physically impossible for most of the spring and early summer, but lately a different pain has kept me from writing or painting. 

Mania makes me powerful as it burns out unpleasant details, but my depressions throw them into sharp relief with every disgusting reality glaring back at me. I see our planet melting. I see the powerful sacrificing the weak on the alters of profit, making me wonder if any lives — especially those as trivial as my own – matter. The clarity is painful, and the pain feeds on and expands my void.

Thing1 and Thing2 were waving at the 6 month old who seemed fascinated by their brotherly banter. Above their masks, I could see the other mothers smile. Covid-related cleaning extended the wait, but everyone seemed to recognize the preciousness of this bit of normal. 

Shouting from the cell phone section a few hundred feet away shattered the normal.  

At first we thought someone was arguing over masks, but Thing1 and Thing2, towering over the shelves in the checkout aisle, reported an argument between a group of shoppers and a manager.  A thud echoed through the store as someone threw something, and four men, one of them carrying a well-stuffed black garbage bag, ran toward the exit near the cash registers. Someone yelled to call 911 as a manager yelled at his employees to lock the doors. 

Realizing we were witnessing a robbery, I tried to maneuver my kids behind me and looked for the younger mom who was also looking for a place to escape or hide her baby. Thing1 and Thing2 have never witnessed or survived an armed robbery. I have. Knowing the prevalence of guns in this country and not caring how many phones or electronics might be in that garbage bag, I held my breath as the fleeing men got closer to the doors and the registers and prayed the employees wouldn’t be able to lock the doors. 


The men and the garbage bag barreled through the doors before the employees were able to force them closed. Cashiers returned to cashing people out as supervisors called 911 and tried to get descriptions. I asked the boys and the other mother if they were ok and noticed my own hand was shaking as I retrieved my credit card from the card reader. 

We left, and the boys focused on burgers more than burglary.  Adrenaline got me to the take-out place safely, but it also became a filter. Sometimes a story on the news will trigger a flashback to another robbery twenty-eight years ago when, lying face down on a beer-soaked carpet, I wondered if our assailants would shoot us in the head or the back before they left with our valuables. I’ll feel damp and my limbs will go numb, but, as I sat in the car, watching my kids eat and goof off, trading inappropriate jokes, I stayed with them. I stayed in the now. 

New blog post ideas started popping into my head.  As I started the drive home, I noticed, for the first time all summer, the layers of green and gold and white in the landscape. Suddenly the landscape – and life – didn’t seem trivial. 

I’ve navigated my depressions for years using cognitive lifelines, but responsibility to my kids, rather than creativity, is usually the first one I grab. Yesterday, our trip through the ordinary and the newsworthy knit those lines together and gave me a stronger way out of this depression.