I am a teacher and a mother. To describe these as remarkable times is to both understate and express the obvious. I’ve been at home for two days, something I’d usually give my right arm for, and I’m already feeling the fray.
I am a mother and a teacher
As a mother, I am housing 3 college age kids (2 of them mine). One of my sons is a freshman who has had his first (tremendously happy) year interrupted by this chaos and left his school, like everyone else, with a sense of longing and just simply wanting to stay. He is at a university in Colorado and was initially given, like so many others, the option to stay in the dorm and work remotely. At that time, when I asked him what he wanted to do, he said, “I just want to ski.”
We told him to go do that. Within 24 hours, he wanted to come home and scheduled a flight for five days later. Twelve hours later, I woke to a text that he had changed the flight to the next morning. “I don’t feel safe here” was the first moment that did me in. This is not a kid who feels fear often.
My other son begrudgingly left his study abroad semester in Rome when two people in Rome got sick and when his Italian University was still running in full but his school from the U.S. pulled everyone back. He’s just reached the end of his 14 day quarantine. It’s been lovely having him home.
We’ve been eating, doing puzzles, playing a lot of pool and chess, chatting a ton. Initially, we spent all our time talking about where he and his friends would travel as soon as the quarantine ended – Scotland first, then maybe California, then possibly Chicago, then how about New Zealand? Now, we are talking about where to hike within a reasonable driving distance.
I’m also a teacher and I miss my students
A week ago, in my professional life, I was reassuring my students that “kids don’t get this” and that we didn’t need to worry for our safety, while simultaneously acknowledging that anxiety over grandparents and sick friends was understandable and warranted but that people who needed to were being careful.
Now, I’m sitting on my couch, drafting a video message to send to these kids in order to jump start our remote “continuation of learning” which will begin this week. We’ve been asked to post and use Google Classroom as our primary tool for teaching and responding. But I feel like my students need to see my face and hear my voice. And I feel like I need my face to be seen and my voice to be heard.
Everyone is doing what they can. We are texting more, cooking more, walking more, eating more, possibly drinking more. My house is stocked with food and puzzles and cards and books and I’m trying to continue to meditate every day and stay upbeat. That’s the role I am accustomed to playing and the one in which I’m most myself and comfortable.
But I am not comfortable. I am questioning everything, even as I try to clear my head. Should I let them play basketball in the driveway with a few friends, should I clean the outside of the container of the roasted chicken I dropped at my mother’s house, should I email the bookstore and ask them to consider curbside service, should I cook more or order in to support local business, should I shower early or late…?
I had this sudden awareness yesterday that I had to get dressed as if I were going to work. The idea of surrendering to sweatpants and pajama bottoms, a luxury that would be so appealing during a regular day or even week off, was suddenly making my heart race.
I have lists on my phone of things I can do today. Today’s list includes “shredding paper” for old files that have been sitting on my closet floor for months. My son suggested I “keep writing” and clean the attic and his girlfriend suggested I make a collage. I’ve got a call out to my mother who has left her half dead iPad in the car on her driveway so I can hopefully get it to allow me to play Scrabble. Picking it up will be my outing for today, along with having a vet technician come to my car with a vaccine my dog is overdue to get.
But what I want, really, is to be with my students. Notably, as someone who is almost 30 years into her career, I spend more time thinking about what it would look like to retire than what I would miss when I do. But this week I’m thinking retirement is not a good option because of the normalcy work brings to my life, the connectedness, the humanity.
So it is this, above all, that I’ve noticed. In this age of technology where so many of us are usually communicating with texts and posts and videos and gifs, when that becomes all we have, it is brutally and painfully obvious how inadequate it is. What we are craving is the real stuff – the walk with the friend, the smile from the stranger on the street, the shared compassion.
I want to sip coffee at the local cafe with my mother and notice the lines on her face that mimic the ones I am just starting to notice on mine. I want to eat pizza with my friends at the local pizzeria and have my weekly happy hour drink and appetizer with my oldest friend. I want to read aloud to my students and see their rapt faces.
I want to kneel down next to the group on the floor to hear what they have to say and feel drained at the end of the day because I’ve worked so hard and had so many complicated and layered interactions.
I want to see a kid smile on the way into my room, hear her “Thanks, Ms. Cohen” on the way out and shout out, “Have a great afternoon guys! Enjoy the sunny day.”
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Leslie Cohen is a teacher and the mother of two college age sons, 18 and 21. As a consultant, she offers workshops for parents about how to highlight literacy when raising children in this technology-driven age. She enjoys sharing what she has learned in her 30 years as a teacher and 21 years as a mom. Currently, she teaches reading and writing in a Westchester County middle school, just north of New York City.