Rearranging Life

Rearrangements

Thing1 returned home from college today, saddled with the knowledge that he won’t be going back until September. He’s in the same boat as millions of other college kids around the country who are rearranging their futures right now.

Thing1 has spent the past few years rearranging his future thanks to his chronic illness, but this is the first time that a nationwide phenomenon has directly impacted his trajectory. this latest crisis makes me think of all the young people who had their lives rearranged with the financial meltdown in 2008 or the aftermath of 911. Every generation seems to have its crisis that requires rearranging of lives.

Even in the absence of a national crisis, however, it seems like there’s always something that requires you to rearrange your life. A job can fall through. A spouse can become disabled or pass away, torpedoing old plans to make way for new ones.

Thing1 seems to be navigating this crisis, like so many others, with characteristic calm. There’s talk of how to stay connected with friends and finish classes online. He strategizing jobs for the next few months, trying to make the best of an unexpected and desired situation as we spend the next few weeks on outstanding home and garden projects.

I’m hoping that he’s also incorporating this detour into the bigger part of his education – the lessons he’ll need for living his life.

Shit happens. Not just stuff but serious, Grade A bullshit.

I was never very good about navigating around steaming piles of trouble until I had to get good at for a then-infant Thing1. When I had to get good at it, the learning curve was steep.

Part of me would shoulder all these lessons for T1 and T2 if I could make their lives easier. The part of me that still has scars inside and out, is grateful that they’re getting these lessons sooner rather than later and that, somehow, this seems like the better way to learn them.

Get Closer

Thing1 texted today that is spring break return this weekend will be the beginning of an extended stay as his schoolmoves to dance learning to respond to this virus that the world health organization now calls a pandemic. The University, like so many other organizations, is recommending “social distancing“. I often think we have too much social distancing in this country already.

While I texted back-and-forth with Thing1 about the logistics of getting his stuff home for an extended stay, I I clicked on Facebook a few times. A fellow artist in town announced that it was plein-air season and she was looking for people to go paint nature. I had too many meetings after work to go paint today, but as she posted another open invitation to any would be painters, I begin mentally assembling my travel kit and checking the weather for the next few days.

Painting outside, for me, means painting alone most the time, but is anything but lonely. Painting outside means communing with bugs and birds. it means meditating on setting Suns or the dozens of colors of green. It means becoming part of the scenery so that you can feel it and try to keep that feeling in your work. It is solitary, but it is never lonely.

A few years ago I used to run. My favorite places to run were our mountain roads, flanked by trees and teeming with life. Like Plein air painting, running was solitary but never lonely. It was feeling morning do on your skin mixing a sweat. It was hearing your feet setting on dirt and dead leaves crackling underneath. It was listening to birds and smaller creatures wrestling in the woods next to The road or path. It was The opposite of distancing. It was getting closer to nature end to life.

So even though I know temporary recommendations for social isolation are probably wise in light of the impact of Corona in other countries with excellent health care access. I do think there is a an antidote do the Loneliness (and fear) it may bring. The answer is to move closer, Not farther, to life. Reconnecting with the natural world seems like one of the better ways to do that.

I Got This

Sometime last weekend Corona arrived in southwestern Vermont. The place where nothing ever happens, suddenly had something happen that’s happening everywhere.

Our school and most of the schools around here are taking common sense precautions and outlining new policies. There is talk of some people being quarantined as a precaution. And, even though most of the strategies still center around good old-fashioned soap and water, our conversations at home have included a few inquiries into whether or not we could handle a quarantine of the type being instituted in the Lombardy region of Italy right now.

But the Green Mountain prepper in me isn’t thinking about how much TP is left in that giant skid we bought before the winter or if we’re running low on canned soup or firewood. stocking up for tough times – weeklong power outages, blizzards, occasionally hurricanes, and, more frequently, economic downturn‘s – is a way of life for most people in rural areas like ours.

For most of the last twenty years since we moved to Vermont, I’ve had a veggie garden big enough to fill my freezer and keep me out of trouble for most of the summer. The last few summers it’s languished as I worked toward my teaching certificate. The first warm sun this weekend, however, got me mentally mapping paths and raised beds in the overgrown plot next to the house.

So, as spring and bad news, all I could think was, I got this.

I got my gym for the summer.

I got our backup grocery store.

I got my broken foot physical therapy.

But, most of all, knowing there is some dirt and sweat in my near future, I’ll get the calming kind of mental health therapy that usually ends up being the most important element in getting through any crisis.

How are you taking care of your mental health in this era of endless crises?

Ladies (and Gentlemen) of the Club

We lost an hour of sleep on Saturday night. I couldn’t fall asleep until after midnight on Sunday night, and I had to be up by 4:30 on Monday to drive to a teachers’ workshop in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

I was excited, but, for once, I wasn’t nervous.

When I worked in IT, I had a few professional development opportunities that sent me to fun locales, but the courses were usually more competitive than collaborative. There was always an unspoken challenge to prove you were the smartest person in the room (I am rarely smartest person in the room — Except when Jim Bob the orange tabby is here. Then I am the smartest person in the room).

Today was different. I’d done my homework. I had just finished a course at University of Wisconsin on today’s exact subject, and I knew it would be fun and useful.

I was bleary-eyed when the alarm went off, and I hit the snooze button once. Then I remembered what day it was and snapped right out of bed, hobbled in and out of the shower and donned my favorite scarf, a Maria Wulf creation that had been waiting for a perfect occasion on a perfect spring day. I was out the door and over the mountains before the sun was fully up.

When I got to the workshop/conference, the room was filled with a few dozen other Special Educators who hooking up their WiFi’s and getting acquainted. The news on the way up had told me I should be terrified to be in a crowd this size, but as we shared jokes about the rhymes we are all using this week to get our students to wash their hands better, I decided this day was worth any risk.

We talked about programs. We talked about helping kids with trauma and disability. We talked about our kids and our “kids,” and I suddenly got a feeling I’d never had at any professional conference before.

I sell art at art shows and craft fairs in the summer, but I always feel like an imposter, secretly certain that everyone can see how much better all the other artists are (I rarely worry much about writing since I need to do it badly enough that I don’t care if it’s bad or good). I was in IT in one role or another for over 20 years and, even when I knew I knew my job, I never felt like I really belonged.

Today was like being a ballplayer who had been moved up from the minor league to the “show.” Talking with people who care passionately about helping children and who were as nerdily excited as I was about the best techniques amplified the feeling.

It was a club, but, instead of competing with each other to be the smartest in the room, the members were sharing ideas about how we could help each other to our common goal.

I realized I felt like a real teacher today — like a professional. And, for the first time in any career, I felt like I belonged there.

And it’s a good club.

Care in the Age of Corona

A few weeks before exams, Thing1’s school sends around a mailer that lets parents fill out a greeting card and select an assortment of “healthy” candies and snack foods to get through the rigors of studying and testing. Most of the letters from Thing1’s college are pleas for money for one reason or another, but this one always gives me the giggles.

The first mailer instantly had me mentally grumbling, “When I was your age we used to walk 50 miles in the snow without any care packages to take our exams”.  College these days seems a bit like summer camp but with amenities like all night cookie delivery and bubble tea joints on every corner (and, in the case of Massachusetts, actual joint joints on more than a few corners).

Care packages seem more than a little redundant.

But this week there’s something I didn’t have when I was his age. In addition to the suppressed immunity I never had at any age, Thing1, who has faced his mortality more than once in the last two years, is hearing all the same news we are about the new Corona virus going around.

The new virus which has people suddenly washing their hands (who were these people who weren’t buying hand soap before last week?) and giving Vulcan “Live long and prosper” greetings instead of handshakes is the next thing we’re worrying about for him.

Thing1 takes things in stride, but his school has decided to keep dorms open over spring break to encourage people not to travel. His hospital has reported cases and is discouraging scheduling of new surgeries, including the next one he needs, in anticipation of an increased case load. I know that, despite his ability to take life’s little challenges one day at a time, this virus and all its potential implications are at least in the back of his mind.

Most of the time, COVID-19 news interests but doesn’t overly worry me. I’m mostly healthy. Thing2 is abundantly healthy, and the Big Guy is a rock.

The implications for Thing1, however, are on the top of my mind when I think too long about this new virus. So, even though I’m going to remind him that, back in the dark ages, we had to study for exams by candlelight and write our essays on bark using charcoal when we were his age, I’m sending him a a little care in the form of some hermetically sealed candy and snack food.

And there will be at least one giggle when I hit send.

Rest for the Working

During the first week of my recovery I wrote constantly. When the second, unexpected week of incarceration began, I still wrote more than usual, but, after teaching for almost a year now, I discovered I suddenly missed being around people. Ten years of working at home once had me trained to prefer solitude, but last week I went searching for social interaction in the worst possible place — social media.

At first it was a quick check of the latest news from friends and family. Then it was looking for silly memes. And then it deteriorated into watching videos about all that’s wrong with the world and how to be afraid of it making me wonder if it’s just an accident that S&M and Social Media ended up with the same initials.

After a day or two, despite the exhaustion of living with the pain in my recovering foot, I began having trouble sleeping. Then I started getting antsy when I opened my laptop to write. I started kvetching over homework assignments from my online class and all the things that we should be fixing in the world.

Monday I got back to work — to my girls. There were the initial hugs and greetings, and then it was back to the usual, constant redirecting and behavior management that goes with working with students with emotional disturbances. For the first time in two weeks there was drama and tears, occasional profanity and impromptu after-school meetings. There was still homework online and more comforting of teenagers.

There was suddenly far less time to peruse the feed telling me what’s wrong with the world — or at least I stopped worrying about trying to control the things I can’t. There’s still a daily dose of S&M (or is it SM?), but, like backing off of percosets after surgery, I’ve stepped down. And, diving back into work, putting my effort into the things I can control, or at least influence, is suddenly enough good vibes to start putting me right to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

Betting on the Winners

It just started to switch over from droplets to an active drizzle to a steady drumbeat of rain when I pulled into the only open spot just across from the abandoned gas station near the Townhall. There were at least eight cars parked at different spots in the ankle deep mud, and it was clear this is an election that has the interest of everyone in town. After all, there was a pretty vital school district issue on the ballot.

It’s also Super Tuesday for us here in Vermont as it is with the rest the nation.

I opened the front door of the only administrative building in our town stepped into the wood paneled meeting room. Two neighbors (everyone in town is a neighbor even if I they live 2 miles away) sat at a table near to the door handing out ballots. I took one for the Democratic primary, one for local school district issues, and the one that always tells me my vote matters, the town ballot.

I have been mulling over my choices for the Democratic primary for the last 24 hours, and as I walked into the white wooden voting booth and drew the green, red and yellow Paisley curtain that I have pulled twice a year every year for the last 20 years, I still wasn’t sure which bubble I would fill-in.

I filled in the school ballot relatively quickly and put the presidential ballot on the bottom of the pile. Then I turned my attention to the ballot that keeps my faith in direct democracy and representative government alive. I — and everyone else in town — has known each person on the ballot for at least a decade.

The names on the town ballot are Democrats or Republicans, but they are also so much more than that. They are the people we run into at the country store. They are the ones who donate hours of their time each year to make sure of the road crew gets paid and road projects are evaluated. They help us figure out when we need a new school bus and how we will fund our share of the school taxes. They are the people we meet at the yellow farmhouse at the edge of town to hitch up flower festooned wagons and horses on the Fourth of July, and they are the people who come together at the end of the summer and the holidays to share potluck dinners and news of who has passed away and who is doing well in school.

I filled out the town ballot and then turned to the presidential primary ticket. I thought for a while and filled in the bubble the person I thought would make the best president. Then I opened the curtain and went to the table at the far end of the meeting room where several neighbors were collecting completed ballots and checking off names of who had voted.

At the table our town constable, a republican, asked how my foot was. He told me my husband had done a great job moderating the town meeting the night before and the school board meeting earlier this morning. Another one of the collectors, a Democrat, chimed in with more compliments for the Big Guy. I spent a few more minutes catching up with them and with our town clerk and treasurer, neither of whose party I know because it really doesn’t matter.

Introducing Thing2 to Voting in Vermont 2008

I know that regardless of the names I chose on that second ballot sheet, “my guy” will win because in that room, even on election day of all days, no one in that room was really a Democrat or Republican. In that room we are all just Vermonters who want the best for our town and who want each other to be well.

I’m going to try to remember that in November when I don’t have a town ballot to take into the voting booth with me to keep my faith in the process and my fellow Vermonters alive.

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