Friday, April 17, 2020

Teaching in Quarantine: Three Times the Work and Not Much of the Fun

If you remember Jolt Cola, you are most assuredly dating yourself.

It was a short-lived soft drink, hitting its very brief and barely noticeable zenith in the mid-nineties. I remember it chiefly because of a student who was fond of it. We were heading home from Steubenville or Notre Dame following a massive youth conference. One of the teenagers -- we'll call him anonymous -- jumped into one of the fourteen passenger vans ready for the fifteen hour ride home and proceeded to down six Jolt Colas and a box or Oreo Cookies. It was a fun ride home.

Jolt had a pithy and memorable motto: All the Sugar and Twice the Caffeine. It's a testimony to the ad executive's wordsmithing that I remember that line all these years later.

If I were an ad executive trying to capture the world of teaching, or should I say Distance Learning, circa April 2020, here would be my slogan: Three Times the Work and None of the Fun!

I hate this.

I truly hate this.

I think we're four weeks into this, maybe five. It all gets hazy amidst no work, no normal church services, no soccer practices, in short few road markers that might help us distinguish between This Day and That Other Day.

And I'm suddenly reminded of elderly people who lose track of days. They're retired, so they can totally relate to the Dowager Countess who once famously quipped, "What is a weekend?"

(Aside: An odd feature of quarantine is that we get unduly excited about breaks in the monotony.  Trash Day? Woo Hoo! I used to hate grocery shopping. Now it's a combination of Field Trip! Woo Hoo! and a night at the roulette table because, truly, you never know what you're going to get. Mail Delivery is a now a Spectator Sport. We love the mailman and the UPS guy. Seriously. I am ashamed to say I had never, prior to quarantine, spoken to the mailman. Now I speak to him regularly and am so very grateful for his service to us.)

But I digress.

Distance Teaching: Three Times the Work and None of the Fun.

Today I held one of the many, many Zoom classes. My precious Juniors wouldn't go on camera. I want you to know that my class usually meets first period, 8:55-9:50. Mindful that most teenagers are not known for being morning people -- thoughtful teacher that I am --  I hold my virtual class at 1:00. Only one person was on camera.

I want to see their faces. I miss their faces. I miss their humor. I miss their antics and their ideas and their energy.

Next week I plan to sweeten the deal and offer extra credit if they turn their cameras on.

As an English teacher, I routinely face an avalanche of papers. The piles can be daunting, but they are nothing -- nothing!! -- compared  to endless electronic assignments that come via email or text or student information system with attachments and comments and questions and photos of greatly varying quality all mixed in with the phone bill, my latest order from The Children's Place, a reminder that I have a dermatology appointment the week after next, a thoughtful note from Delta Airlines reminding me that "We're all in this together," and a notification from Zoom about my next class.

Needle in a vast, vast electronic haystack. Give me back my stacks!

Field Trip!
I love Zoom. I am getting better at Zoom. Six times yesterday I attempted to edit my American Lit class so that it reflected the fact that I live and teach in the Eastern Time Zone, not the Pacific Time Zone. Six times.

Edit. Save. Edit. Save. Edit. Save. Edit. Save. Edit. Save. Edit Save.

No exaggeration.

When I zoomed into Zoom, it appears that my class is still scheduled for 1:00 Pacific Standard Time.

I cried uncle. Zoom 1, Kelly 0.

O take me back to the piles of papers! Real papers. Actual papers. Papers that can't be deleted and that, mostly, can be read and that aren't mixed up with the light bill and the notification that the vet remains closed.

O take me back to classes that start and end in Eastern Standard Time!

Take me back to students with actual faces  I can see!

(And I know, I know, I know, I know that this too shall pass. In the big scheme of things, these are minor irritations. They are nothing. But to me they are something).

Rant over.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Covidiots and Quarantinis and Keeping Your Eyes on Your Own Quarantine

The dog ate the homework!
Here's a helpful PSA we probably all learned by the end of first grade: Keep your eyes on your own work.You may not quarantine precisely as your neighbor chooses to quarantine, and that's (mostly) okay.

"Comparison is the thief of joy," my wise friend Rachel says, quoting, I think, her wise mother.

In our current circumstances, the thief works in two ways.

You could while away the quarantine looking at social media and coming away with a long, long list of Everything That Is Wrong With You.

Her husband is more helpful. Her children are more cooperative. She doesn't have to worry about money! Her kids are writing computer programs; mine are terrorizing the dog and their little sister. They have a lake. A lake!

Keep your eyes on your own quarantine.You are teaching Your kids in Your house under Your unique circumstances.

A second, darker temptation is to look with contempt at those who respond differently than we do. Before I launch into that, let me point out that the quarantine has spawned some useful new words. I will highlight just two of them:


1. Someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safety. 

2. A person who hoards goods, denying them from their neighbors.

Quarantini: A soothing alcoholic drink that makes dealing with Covidiots so much easier!

Yes, there are covidiots out there. They hoard toilet paper, and record themselves kissing toilet seats and throw huge parties in blatant disregard of the common good. 

But don't slap that label on everyone who does things differently than you do.

We are not carbon copies. We don't have the same underlying risk factors. We don't interact with the same at risk people. We don't have the same fears. We don't have the same level of fortitude.

That doesn't make us covidiots; it makes us human.

Let's not devour one another.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Love Is Kind

When my sister was delivering my oldest niece, she was attended by the grumpiest L and D nurse on planet Earth. Quickly dubbed Nurse Ratchet, her favorite expression, as I recall, was "um, no."

I'd like my sister to be in the delivery room with me. Um, no.

I'd like something to drink. Um, no.

I'm feeling a little uncomfortable. Um, no.

Ice chips? Um, no.

Thankfully, change of shift rolled around, Nurse Ratchet skedaddled to be replaced by a kinder, gentler soul.

A few weeks ago our adult faith formation class watched a clip of Bishop Fulton Sheen talking about the unique call placed on nurses and doctors. Help care providers, he stated, have a special duty to be kind.

Unconditional Love brought to you by Indy.
My son John appreciates kindness. How did you like football? It was great. Uncle Nelson is nice. How's swimming going? Great. Coach Kathleen is nice. How was school? Awesome. Aunt Carolyn subbed, and she's nice.

From about age three on, my best friend was Susan Bennett who lived just up the street. Her mother was Marian Bennett. What I remember best about Mrs. Bennett was her piano playing and her kindness. She was just an upbeat person, not fake, but cheerful and kind. And I remember that fifty years later.

My Aunt Margaret is another nice person. She always welcomed me into her home. She smiled. She brought me a Popsicle when I was covered in the most hideous case of Poison Ivy ever. And I remember that forty-five years later.

We're all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 
As we move into Quarantine, Week III, it is so very tempting -- so very human -- to be easily angered, to keep a record of wrongs, because at this point -- let's face it -- there's a whole lot that is wrong.

We're all a bunch of accidental homeschoolers very much like the Facebook Dad with veins popping out his temples hissing, "I said, 'Mary has five apples,  FIVE! APPLES!"

This isn't easy, folks. No, it's not. But let's try to be kind. And when we fail or when those around us fail, let's forgive.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Exoskeletons and Endoskeletons and Hard Stops

Sometimes life issues us a Hard Stop.

You're pregnant and experiencing problems and your doctor says, "Go home. Get on the couch. Don't move." 

And you do it. 

For the love of your baby, all those pressing issues, the endless To Do List, all that pent up nesting instinct, all that is urgent and oh! so very necessary gets set aside instantly. 

Hard Stop.

You have a sick child. The plans get scrapped. The calendar clears. Or the calendar gets ignored.

Another walk?
Hard Stop.

We are now facing the mother of all Hard Stops.

Three weeks ago, I was facing the busiest week of a busy, busy year. We were en route to a college south of Atlanta for a literary competition. Our school began ramping up for this event last September. Auditions and rehearsals and permission slips and more rehearsals and a regional competition and a few last minute rehearsals and now it was time for the grand finale. For three of our students this was the final finale -- graduation was just around the corner. This would be their last trip to state.

We loaded up two vans with students, coaches, parents, and younger siblings. From the back of the van, we heard a plea for a bathroom break, and as I tried to text the second van, I spied an email from the competition director. 

Campus closed. Competition to be rescheduled.

Hard Stop.

That was the first in a long line of cancellations and postponements that has left the six Dolins -- and families the world over -- working and learning from home.

Hard Stop.

In my good moments, I view this as a unique opportunity to be a family. In the past fourteen days, we have sat down at the table together more often; we have prayed together more often; we have played more board games; Ainsley has baked up a storm. In short, there has been lots of good. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also spent most of one morning boo hooing).

My friend Chuck Hornsby often speaks of Exoskeletons and Endoskeletons. All of us have Exoskeletons that support us in various ways. Our churches, our larger faith communities, our jobs, our kids' schools -- we both build these structures and rely upon the strength, routine, familiarity, and love that comes from these sources outside of us, outside of our nuclear families. 

The Endoskeleton, by contrast, is an internal support system -- our nuclear families, our marriages,  our prayer lives, our thoughts, our habits, our methods of functioning and relating when the regular scaffolds of life fall away, if only temporarily.

Years and years ago, Elizabeth Foss was on bed rest while awaiting the delivery of her ninth child. She said that bed rest is like a family camping trip with an
uncanny knack for exposing the fissures within family life. I think the same can be said for quarantine.

So let's work on our Endoskeletons. Mine could use a bit of shoring up.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good

Indy's new motto: Toddler by Day, Newborn By Night.

Let me start by saying that this puppy is adorable and affectionate and playful and everything we wanted in a puppy, and I solemnly swear he is almost always up to no good.

Perusing just a few Internet resources -- "Surviving a Puppy"; "Puppies: The First Thirty Days" -- it is clear to me that nothing out of the ordinary is happening around here. We've had some interrupted sleep (and I'm reminded of why it is highly unusual for fifty-something women to have newborns). We've cleaned up some messes (and did I really think my house was dirty before Indy's arrival? Ha!). We've found suspicious teeth marks on shoes and sheets and furniture (and does anyone listen when I say Put it Away! Close the doors!)

But the good outweighs the troublesome, and puppyhood doesn't last forever (or so the websites assure me). Indy no longer views his crate as total abandonment. When we say "Crate, Indy," he doesn't welcome confinement, but we aren't dealing with the incessant barking (bad) or the whimpering (much worse). Nap time made newborns and toddlers a little more manageable, so we're glad he gives us breaks. 

He now sits and shakes, and the kids think we've adopted the smartest puppy on the planet. (Mom would gladly forego sit and shake for two other verbs that both begin with the letter "P.")

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Meet Indy

If you had peered at our calendar this week, you would have spied this notation:

Two weeks ago we had a meet and greet with a local breeder and eight of the cutest puppies you've ever seen. We selected one of the males and made arrangements to bring him home at eight weeks.

So this was the scene yesterday:

As veteran dog owners have warned me, a puppy is a cross between a newborn and a toddler. Indy is definitely more newborn than toddler at this stage, complete with the plaintive cries that will rend your heart, the sleepless nights, the sweet softness, the mystery that asks who this is, exactly, I've brought into my home? 

Indy reminds me of Ainsley in that he really, really likes being near his people. Yes, it hasn't been quite 24 hours, but already we're his people. If we're nearby, he curls up and sleeps like a baby. Apparently, I'm allowed to complete minor, fairly unimportant tasks so long as I don't get a wild hair and try something c-r-a-z-y like, say, walking into an adjacent room to transfer a load of laundry. This is not allowed. Productivity has screeched to a halt.

But I am so happy he's ours. 

John insisted on sleeping next to Indy on Night # 1. There was some whimpering and a bathroom break at 4:00 a.m. (handled by John). Night # 2 was a whole lot of crazy for reasons wholly unrelated to the pooch. Spring Dance was Saturday night. I gradually learned that the Parents of Juniors play a pivotal and pricey role in bringing all the fun to pass. Mostly this involved handing over some cash and staying up way, way past my bedtime. I popped over to Instagram to see my friend Rachel drinking coffee at 10 p.m. -- unusual even for me, the ardent coffee drinker, noteworthy for Rachel who doesn't really drink coffee. Yes, we stalwart Parents of Juniors cleaned up the dance starting at 11:00 and cleaned up the after party beginning at 1:00. Bedtime was close to 3:00.

We attempted to farm out the little people to make this crazy evening a little more manageable. John expressed deep concerns about Indy.

"Sleep on the floor next to him, Mom," my sweet, besotted John implored. "Don't make him sleep in the crate or at least put the crate next to your bed."

Were I to sleep on the floor, I'm fairly certain I would A) not sleep at all or B) be wholly unable to get off the floor come morning. So the crate was bedside as I sacked out at 3:00. It wasn't gruesome. As dawn broke, I let Indy out of the crate. He found a comfy spot under the bed and there he slept until 10:30.

Not too bad for a newborn!

All in all, it's been a great weekend. Tim, it seems, has found a replacement for the car an errant driver totaled a few weeks back. I helped our next door neighbors move. The Spring Dance was magical. My sweet ninth graders -- the class that brought me back into the world of teaching -- are now seniors and so handsome and beautiful I cried as they were introduced. The decorations, headed up by another student, were perfect and amazing and different. So proud of Clare. Kolbe was his usual steady and hardworking and handsome self. Tired though I was, I loved working with our assistant superintendent, our junior class, and the other parents, who are my dear friends and neighbors. Day of rest though it should be, I spent quite a lot of time Sunday attending to dust and dander and puppy puddles.

Welcome to our life, sweet Indy!

Indy's Easter basket.

It's full, gloriously full, and you will add so much to it!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Soaking Prayer

It has been a roller coaster of a week, and I doubt this ride will end any time soon.

First off, thank you -- thank you! -- to everyone who prayed for my dad last week. His surgery went smoothly, and the initial reports were favorable. Sadly, that all changed on Thursday when we heard that the pathology reports showed showed cancer -- an aggressive cancer, a cancer that had metastasized. On Friday we heard that the cancer was probably not typically an aggressive cancer, but that it had indeed metastasized.

We are experiencing emotional whiplash.

I have no medical expertise, so I can't explain the differences between small cell cancers and large cell cancers. I don't know precisely what "deep tissue" means. I don't understand how a non-aggressive cancer metastasizes.

But I know Dad is sick.

As my mom declined, I certainly struggled with the big hurdles she faced -- the broken bones and the surgeries -- but some of her little sufferings were the hardest to face.

I remember sitting with her as technician after technician tried -- unsuccessfully -- to get a vein in her emaciated frame.

I remember glancing at a New York Times crossword puzzle -- the puzzle that Mom did every week, in about an hour, in pen, in perfect Cathodic school girl penmanship -- and finding the puzzle a quarter of the way done in a nearly illegible script.

I remember playing Scrabble and in her post-broken clavicle, post-surgical, post-nursing home that damn near killed her haze, my brilliant mother couldn't spell the word C-A-T and, worse still, she knew she couldn't spell C-A-T, knew she was supposed to be able to spell C-A-T, and looked up at me with tears coursing down her sunken cheeks. 

She was slipping, slipping fast. There was no denying it, and it broke my heart.

But this I know: We can pray.

And this I know, too: None of this is wasted. God has numbered our days and counted are tears and continues to work in the midst of our pain and suffering and loss.

Alleluia Community has a gift of intercessory prayer. We have seen a few true miracles -- defied the odds, baffled the experts, made the newspaper kinds of miracles. More often we see less dramatic but in some ways equally as astonishing miracles  --  the young woman diagnosed with terminal cancer who lived an additional nineteen years despite her diagnosis; the husband and father, also diagnosed with terminal cancer, who is going strong twenty-five years later; truly sick people who were not suddenly and completely healed but who went on to live and to love and to serve because of the consistent, soaking prayer offered up again and again and again.

And that's what I ask for my dad -- soaking prayer.

He is the heart of our family, we love him, and we want him to live to be a doddering old man.