Newest Chart: Moving the needle one hash mark at a time

July 31, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Late last night, when the girls had brushed their teeth and were settling into their beds, I went to Twelve’s room to say good night. In the dark, she scooted to a sitting position.

“Mamma, I have an idea.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Sit down,” she said, patting her bed. “This might take a while.”

Earlier in the evening we’d watched President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral service of civil rights activist John Lewis. In his trademark style, President Obama inspired us and made us believe that we have it within us to be the change we want to see in the world. His challenge reminded us, too, that what we have right now is what we get. This life, this summer, this opportunity to be with one another.

I don’t know for sure if his speech spurred Twelve to her “idea.” Maybe it was the spirit of inclusion and togetherness that John Lewis fought so hard for every day of his life. Maybe it was, as she told us last night, just the boredom of summer break.

I suspect it was all of those things and more. Her idea boiled down to this: she was requesting that we spend one day a week unplugged. No phones; no devices; no computers. Minimal TV. Just our family spending time together.

Twelve’s assertion was that she spent part of her day bored. She didn’t know what to do with herself in her room if she wasn’t on her iPad talking to friends or reading borrowed books through our local library’s app. She thought we all spent too much time on our devices and wanted us to change that. It would take care of the boredom and bring us that much closer together.

The comment about her boredom caught me off guard at first. Before summer break, we drew up a list of academic tasks for the girls each week this summer, but we also made sure to keep the mood and pace light. When she made the comment about being bored in her room, my first instinct was to ask whether what we’d designed for her and Fourteen for “summer homework” wasn’t enough. Then, in my mind, I took a step back and thought about her tone and mood.

The pandemic has brought so much change to our lives. Much of it has been challenging and frustrating. So much of it has been confusing. But there have been a few slivers of daylight in this darkness we’re all fighting.

I’ve seen changes in Twelve; good changes. Back in the spring, almost a month into lockdown, my husband and I saw Twelve’s frustration level mount by leaps and bounds. For once, we couldn’t offer her any concrete answers about a life event. We’ve got scores of stories about people’s kindness or lack thereof, the challenges that come in school or college, or what it means to move from one job (or part of the country) to another.

But this? None of us have lived through a pandemic before. We were still trying to process what it meant for us as people. How on earth were we equipped to provide that information to others, particularly those most dependent on us?

The pandemic doesn’t care about race or creed or politics; it also doesn’t care about parenting challenges.

We decided to go back to a tried-and-tested method for Twelve. We asked her to pull out a notebook and start keeping a journal to record her feelings. Any time she felt sad or angry, she had to write about it. At the very minimum, she had to write in the journal two to three times a week.

At the time, we didn’t specify that she had to share the journal with us, but after we told her to start writing in it the notebook began appearing on our dresser with regularity. Now, as I leaf back through it, I can see the changes in glacial movements.

“Today I feel pretty average,” she wrote as the opening line to her first entry in April. She concluded the entry with, “I miss [school]. I miss hugging my friends.”

Later in the month, she used the journal to vent. When a friend of a friend requested Twelve’s email (without any of us, including Twelve, knowing about it,) the child started emailing Twelve with enthusiasm. Twelve answered her notes with minimum patience, and at the end of April, she started her entry with the title: “4th Graders: Why do they like ‘big kids?’” After spending several lines ranting about constant notifications, she ended the entry with, “Aside from being grumpy about [them,] I’m okay. Monday is a fresh start to a new week.”

She continued to write about tests and friends and missing out on playing soccer for the park district’s team. One continuous theme, however, was the boredom she felt. In all honesty, if I had to pick between a bored child and a perpetually angry one, I’d pick bored any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

In between the lines about being bored, though, Twelve’s tone started to change. She mentioned things she was excited about: her big sister’s birthday and getting to share animal facts with family members over Zoom. And the “I’m bored” comments have started to morph more into “Today was an okay day” kind of comments.

The needle has begun to move one hash mark at a time.

Last night, then, when she mentioned her new plan to combat boredom, she used the words in a completely different tone. Gone was the whining and the narrow-focused attitude that plagues tweens and teens. In its place was a matter-of-fact approach. She didn’t have anything to entertain her in her room, so she decided to find a solution.

From the time the girls were too young to understand the words, I’ve made them repeat a particular sentence after me: Smart girls find a way to fix the problem. As they got older, I forced them to parrot it back like a call-and-response—“Smart girls do what?” I’d demand, and one or both would roll their eyes and intone, with flat words, “Find a way to fix the problem,” the syllables words drawn out to indicate how utterly sick and tired they were of having to repeat the adage.

Maybe, though, all of that call-and-response, that drumming it into their heads is actually coming back to us. Maybe they’re starting to fix the problems, not just throw complaints at them. Twelve still has moments of getting worked up over something, but if she can find a way to fix problems during a pandemic then maybe—just maybe—we can say something good came out of it after all.

 

 

Latest Chart: Stealing a little hope from graduation

June 12, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

“The year is 2040,” said M., and with that he was off and running on his wonderful, memorable graduation speech. We got to see it live, because M. is one of Thirteen’s classmates. Last night, our school gave the 8th graders the opportunity to celebrate the end of their middle school years in person.

A few months ago, when it became obvious that COVID-19 was going to shutter celebrations of pretty much all kinds, the school started having conversations with the 8th graders about what they wanted from their graduation. What did they think about holding it online, like so many other schools did? What about faculty visiting the kids at their homes and presenting diplomas one on one? What about holding a celebration in the school’s parking lot where the kids and their families did a drive-by graduation?

After two conversations on Zoom for all 8th grade families and students, one thing became apparent. The kids wanted an in-person graduation. We talked about what that might mean, particularly when it came to how long they’d have to wait for a live event.

The students all said the same thing: it didn’t matter. End of summer. Into the fall. Even at next year’s graduation, although none of them really liked that idea. But if it meant safety for all of the families and getting to celebrate in person—even if they couldn’t hug one another senseless afterward; even if they couldn’t high five each other or stand in tight knots and joke around like they usually do—they were willing to wait.

In some ways, now that I think about it, it was almost like the kids were saying to the coronavirus, in that way only idealistic young teens can, that they knew it was horrible, but they were going to hunker down and let it run its course because they had more of everything to outlast it.

COVID-19 is still a problem. It’s still a health disaster. A pandemic. People are still getting sick. Cases are still going up. There’s still cause for grave concern.

One positive thing, though, is that we have more information now on what to expect. We also have the passage of time on our side. Our incredible head of school, after weighing all the options and the facts from scientists and other health experts, determined that if we held the graduation with certain precautions and many restrictions, we could do it in person.

That list of precautions and restrictions was pretty long. I don’t envy Ms. Y.’s task. She had to take into account what was occurring in the national conversation, the state’s conversation, the local conversation, and, most importantly, what our own 8th grade families thought and felt. Even amongst us, there were varying degrees of comfort with the idea of meeting in person.

Our school normally makes the 8th grade graduation an event open to all family and friends of the school. The event would take place before school ended, and the gym would be packed as the graduates sat on the stage together. There would be cake afterward, and a lot of milling around with that end-of-school-year rush fueling everyone’s excitement.

For this graduation to work, though, the event would be held outdoors. We had a rain date, of course, but barring any precipitation we’d be sitting behind the school in its expansive lawn. The most obvious weather factor would be a hot day, but here in Central Illinois we also deal regularly with windy days that blow hair all around and even somewhat heavy objects across a field.

Then there was the seating arrangement. We’d be sitting a minimum of eight feet apart, and we’d have to provide our own chairs or a picnic blanket. The school has chairs, of course, but the reasoning was that some people might feel better using their own chairs from their own homes.

Next, the 8th graders wouldn’t be sitting together. They’d sit with their families. And they wouldn’t shake the hands of any faculty. No hugs of encouragement or excitement, with teachers or one another. No fist bumps as they introduced one another for their speeches, and when it was their turn to speak they’d have to wait for their classmates to leave the platform completely and for a masked, gloved teacher to change the cover of the microphone before they went up to share their last thoughts and memories from school. Then they’d pluck their microphone cover off and leave the platform right away.

The biggest restriction, though, came in the guest list. First, only the students’ advisors, or homeroom teachers, would attend. No other teachers, even if they’d known the kids from kindergarten or elementary school could come. As for the families, the guest list allowed parents and siblings only. No family friends and no one else, even if that meant family who lived with the 8th graders.

With all of these stipulations, Ms. Y. asked, would we be willing to hold an in-person graduation in the second week of June?

The students gave a resounding Yes. The parents also said yes with a little more caution and wariness. After all, we’re parents. We’ll fight tooth and nail to protect our kids, and these days it feels like the easiest way to do that is to keep them at home. Even if they’re driving us nuts while we do so.

At least the weather has improved enough so we can let the monkeys out of the cage into the back yard occasionally.

That means rainy days are looooong days.

Last night, though, it didn’t rain, and we had a beautiful 80’ish degrees around 7 p.m. when graduation was set to start. It was windy, sure, but we’re used to that. We just clutched that much tighter to the programs (and, for the girls and women, our dresses.)

The wind couldn’t blow away our optimism. Because to see the other families, from our family spots that were set at least 15 feet apart, to wave to them and call out congratulations…it was heartening. Encouraging. And a reminder that, yes, maybe that idealism our kids displayed in waiting out the virus is somewhat warranted.

The kids gave their speeches, and Thirteen spoke with confidence and humor about her time at the school. She shared favorite memories and complimented her classmates. She talked about her anxiety regarding high school but couched it with knowing several of her friends will be walking those same halls in the fall (even if that means virtually.)

I didn’t tear up. I was too happy, too excited, to see everyone come together to celebrate these wonderful young people. I also enjoyed so many of the other speeches and the memories shared by the teachers, whether in person or via video. It made me think of my own high school graduation, a cherished memory because of my years at my own school (15 of them!) and the wonderful friendships from my senior class that continue to this day.

And when Thirteen’s classmate, M., got up and started his speech with, “The year is 2040,” it made me smile. Like these kids, I’m encouraged to wait out these challenging times. With the humor, the compassion, and the kindness they showed last night, it proves that our future is brighter than maybe we realize when we’re cloaked with desperation about current events.

“Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” the saying goes. Many times we focus on the first half of that statement: the worst. But last night showed me that we need to do just as much of the second half as well. We need to be willing to look to the future.

We need to be willing to hope.

Newest Chart: Joy and Sadness (or shelter-in-place Weeks 8 through 11)

May 29, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

We’ve been doing this for 11 weeks now.

Eleven.

I had to look at my calendar to confirm that number, and when I did I realized two things: first, how I’ve slightly neglected Growth Chart. I felt a stab of guilt, because in the weeks I was supposed to post I thought of it with the best of intentions. Then another task would get in the way, or I would let it get in the way, or…something. Parenting is hard at the best of times. During a pandemic, it’s the equivalent of climbing Everest.

I promise to do better.

On a broader level, 11 weeks is almost three months. Am I the only one who still finds that number hard to believe? I mean, we’ve been staying at home, going to school at home, not meeting with friends, not arranging get togethers for almost three months.

I feel like the language around these topics is changing too. Thirteen finished 8th grade yesterday (and, believe me, I will definitely be posting in the coming weeks about what it means to be the mother of a high schooler now.) Earlier this week my husband asked if we should do something to celebrate her graduation from middle school.

This topic actually started back in January. My parents came to visit, and my mom teased Thirteen about throwing a full-blown desi, or Indian, party. Think lots of food, lots of adults standing/sitting around talking about the food, getting all dressed up, and little kids running around the house. All with the soundtrack of Bollywood’s latest hits or the evergreen ones, depending on who’s controlling the music at the moment.

I grew up attending parties like this one and even had a semi-desi party for my high school graduation. I remember that night with a lot of fondness. It was filled with music and singing, a big cake, me coming down the stairs with another family friend, who was also graduating, in our caps and gowns (at my parents’ insistence, even if I felt a little silly,) and my mother crying while I was cutting the cake as if I was going off to war.

I’m a parent myself now, so I get the emotion she felt, but still. I was going to college. Not the front lines. 😀

In any case, it was easy to throw a party. No doubt Mom probably spent days planning the menu and the flow of the evening. But my parents didn’t hesitate. They didn’t wonder, “What if…” or have to contend with the government about whether it made sense to hold a celebratory event.

That night, when my husband asked about the graduation, I hesitated. What could we possibly do? How could we possibly “celebrate” when the most important part of that concept—sharing the joy with other people—wasn’t allowed anymore?

I still don’t have an answer to that question. At the time, I just said we’d think about it, spend some time brainstorming. Come up with some sort of idea.

Our worlds have contracted to those immediately around us in our dwellings. While “family time” is great, the inability to bring others into our lives for good occasions and bad has become almost stifling. The opportunities that arise—attending an author event in a bookstore almost 250 miles away via Zoom—are something of a solace, but they can’t replace person-to-person interaction.

Even as I write that, I know my family is incredibly fortunate to be healthy and safe. There are so many across our country and the world who have had to fight this out alone, either due to personal life choices or being sick and in quarantine or getting stuck in a location due to travel that got upended by COVID-19. It’s hard enough to come to terms with the fact that our world has been like this for 11 weeks now. I can’t even begin to imagine fighting this out with no one else or in unsafe conditions.

In a philosophical way, it almost seems silly or childish—or maybe even selfish—to ask for the opportunity to share exciting moments like graduation from middle school with others. I’m amazed at Thirteen’s poise and good humor during this entire time. She’s disappointed, yes, and she wishes more than ever that she could have finished out the school year with friends, dispensing hugs, slamming locker doors for the “end-of-the-year locker slam” their school does.

Yet, she doesn’t let her intense wish for normalcy sully the good things: weekly Zoom meetings with a dear theater friend. A surprise gift from a classmate who, due to social distancing, didn’t linger long enough to talk, just dropped the gift on our doorstep and then texted from her mom’s car that she’d left something. The plans for a poster to hang on the van, as well as other items to decorate it, for the parade we’ll drive through later today at the school, the first time any of the students have converged on the parking lot en masse since mid-March.

Through the last few weeks, I’ve thought of that moment toward the end of Pixar’s Inside Out when Joy learns that Sadness actually helped create one of Riley’s favorite memories. One of her happiest memories. And, of course, we’ve had conversations about perspective, about keeping our eye on the bigger things, the important things. Safety and health.

Eleven, admittedly, has struggled with this entire concept and situation more, but that’s because she processes emotions and expresses them to a different degree than her big sister. Yet, she, too has found moments to laugh and get involved and make jokes about being stuck at home. Maybe it’s from having a sister who handles herself with poise, consciously and subconsciously, all the time. Maybe it’s because she understands that her sister has had to give up more, as an 8th grader, than she does in 6th grade.

Maybe Joy and Sadness can, and do, work together, so that when we turn the orbs of our memories one way, we experience one side of the event and when we turn them the other way we can appreciate the other side.

Maybe it’s time to get brainstorming in earnest.

Latest Chart: Weeks 3 and 4 of sheltering in place

April 10, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

And we’re one month into shelter-in-place!

Okay, so I know that statement doesn’t warrant an exclamation mark, but, really what else can we all do? I think we should hand out exclamation marks and buckets of glitter to everyone. Go to town, parent friends!

(I know what you’re thinking: you’ll never get the glitter off the floor. Seriously, I think along with finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, we should ask a small team of dedicated scientists to discover the secret behind the way glitter gets into everything. Into. Everything.)

If it sounds like I’m a little punchy, maybe I am. We’ve now spent a month sheltering in place, doing our part toward the greater good of society to help our first responders, healthcare teams, and essential employees work as hard as possible on stopping the spread of COVID-19. Teachers have rewritten lesson plans, restaurants have offered curbside options, and parents have discovered a new facet to the meaning of “parenting.”

Things are no different around our house. The kids have had their highs and their lows during Weeks 3 and 4 of staying at home. Thirteen and Eleven have shown a tremendous amount of resourcefulness and also their ages. Some days I’ve been able to deflect bad moods by distracting them with a joke or redirecting them to a new task. Some days I’ve shared memes or funny videos. A few days I’ve retreated to the writing studio to shed a few tears because I’m a little overwhelmed myself, only to hear someone asking whether I can help with a craft project or science experiment.

In the past two weeks:

*We’ve played Checkers (where Thirteen beat me in four or five games, and I had to muster every brain cell—really—to beat her in two games.) This girl is really, really good at this game.

*We’ve accidentally baked sugar cookies to deliver to six homes (which happens when you don’t read the recipe ahead of time and realize it makes more than 12 dozen—yes, really—bite-sized cookies.) When we ended up with so many, we went the homes of some good friends, put the bags of cookies on their doorsteps, and backed away by about 10 or 15 feet, chatting with friends and their parents from that distance, grateful to see them at all.

*We’ve watched old Bollywood films (much to our children’s chagrin, but much to the delight of all the adults in the house) and watched newer Bollywood films that make us laugh even though we’ve seen our favorite parts too many times to count. Ooh, Ranvir Singh. How we love the way you point out that butter knife in “Dil Dhadakne Do.”

One instance stands out, though, from these past two weeks that shows the paradox that is our current times.

School online has worked almost seamlessly. While we’ve experienced a few tech issues, like most of you, we haven’t had any issues. Not really.

Until Wednesday, April 1.

The night before, I’d stayed up late reading, so I woke up later than I normally do these days. By the time I got up, the kids were tucked into their rooms and there was little sound, so I assumed they were well into their school days already. I went downstairs, made my tea, and brought it back up to the studio to write my book review.

Not long after, Eleven stomped into the studio. She told me the internet had been patchy at best since she first tried to sign into Zoom that morning. The home network kept failing, kicking her out of her classes. Her face showed frustration, embarrassment, and anxiety. Eleven has always worried about what others think of her, and she didn’t want to look bad in front of the teachers and her friends.

I looked at the digital clock on the wall. It was just past 9 a.m. With a sigh, I left the book review on my screen and started trying every DIY trick I knew to get the internet running again.

For almost three hours, I kept at it. I shut down the router, turned it back on again, tried to get a hot spot on my phone so the kids could connect their iPads to it, found the internet running almost reliably on my desktop and tried to do an online chat with Comcast. They just kept rerouting me to the website. When the internet was working on my computer at all, that is.

I had no idea what was wrong, and the way the girls’ anxiety started to level up with each passing half-hour didn’t help.

I managed to email one of the teachers and explain the situation; he emailed back with a kind, patient note saying he understood. I racked my brain. What could I do, what could I try that I hadn’t already?

Then I heard it: ukulele music.

Before the shelter-in-place order, Eleven had brought home a ukulele from school as part of her upcoming music unit for arts this quarter. I went to her room and then to Thirteen’s room and found the two of them playing and singing an original song. They were writing lyrics about the coronavirus, how awful it was, and how it was ruining their day.

And they were laughing.

As much as the sarcasm of the song bugged me, I decided not to fight that battle. They were in better spirits, and that counted more. A last-ditch attempt to find the hotspot on my phone actually worked, so I ran it to Thirteen’s room, plugged it into the wall, and left it there for the rest of the school day. Neither of the girls complained about me interrupting their ukulele concert for two.

I managed to call another expert for help, someone here in town, and he was also very patient as he explained how I needed to fix the internet. Since the hotspot kept working, I decided not to touch anything until the end of the school day. As soon as 3 p.m. came around, I trotted down to the basement and followed the instructions the expert gave me. The internet came back, stronger than ever and steady ever since.

So. If you’re finding yourself in need of a laugh—even if it’s at your own expense—try a ukulele. I have proof it works.

Latest Chart: Weeks 1 and 2 of Shelter-in-Place

March 27, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

As I sit here writing this, my kids are in school.

No, not that kind of school. The kind where they get to wear regular shirts but pajama bottoms. The kind where they see their teachers’ homes, because everyone’s in a different location but in the same place online.

The kind that separates the majority of the population due to COVID-19.

Last week Thirteen and Eleven were on spring break, but it was a vacation out of the Twilight Zone. On the Friday before their break started, the school had announced it would go exclusively online once we came back from our days off. By then the governor of Illinois, too, had asked everyone to shelter in place.

So that’s what we did last week. And this week. And, now, for the foreseeable future.

Now, mind you, we didn’t have grand spring break plans before all this even started. Our family had no travel plans. I was supposed to go to Louisiana for a wedding, but other than that were going to stay home. Catch up on our sleep. Watch movies. The girls both need hair trims, so I’d earmarked that for vacation. The middle school dance was supposed to be in April, and we’d discussed dress shopping.

We did catch up on sleep and watch movies, but that was the only thing that felt normal.

We didn’t leave the house. On the second or third day, Thirteen received word from some of her classmates of an online chat in Google Hangouts. She spent hours every day talking to her friends, all of them teasing one another and comparing notes on their experiences at home.

Eleven moped a bit when she heard her big sister’s voice ring through the house with excitement. I encouraged her several times to email her friends and video chat with them. They’d all be home, I reasoned, so she had a pretty good chance of catching someone.

Although she did talk to some of them, by the end of the week she’d hit her limit for the whole situation. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when school started Monday online. Sure, it was weird not making the short drive to the school building, but it was closer to “normal” than last week.

On Monday, at the end of the school day, Eleven came downstairs sparkling with energy. She and Thirteen talked about how organized everything was. Her face exuded relief and gratitude to see her teachers and to follow the same routine she does during the normal school day.

That’s due solely to our amazing administration and teachers; they worked hard all during spring break to make this transition as smooth as possible.

By last night, however, the energy and optimism had diminished. Like the rest of us—like the rest of the world—Eleven is not just tired but weary. She wants to do normal things, and here the definition of normal, as all of you know, is incredibly basic.

Last night during dinner, without even thinking about it, I said, “I was supposed to be in Madison today.”

Madison as in Wisconsin where I go every year for my favorite writers’ conference; I was supposed to be there this week.

And just like that, like a series of blocks tumbling to the ground, we started mentioning in short bursts all the things we were supposed to be doing this week. Eleven took it the hardest. I suppose that’s my fault; I shouldn’t have made the comment about Madison or that Eleven was supposed to be starting her soccer season this week or that both she and Thirteen were supposed to have their school’s quarterly arts showcase last night.

Yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, it definitely was not my finest parenting moment.

“Coach was going to start me as forward,” she said, disappointment in her face and voice. “We were going to send off [all the senior players]. This was going to be their last season.”

The more she let all these things out, the more stunned she looked. It was as if she hadn’t gotten around to counting exactly how many life events had skewed to “abnormal” during this time. I tried to salvage the situation at one point.

“Just yesterday…or was it the day before?” I interrupted myself. “Anyway, I filled out a survey from the park district in which they asked if you could play in May or June or, if they made the season longer in the fall, if you could play. I said yes to everything.”

She seemed a little mollified by that, but not by much, and even as I said the words I knew how hollow the promise sounded.

Thirteen has her share of disappointments too. For the school’s Maker Faire (in which kids learn a new skill or improve an existing one and then do something creative with it,) she was building a dragon. Originally all Maker Faire projects were being completed at school, but when the shelter-in-place order ramped up I brought the dragon’s head home.

But this was no ordinary dragon. He was going to be a major prop in the eighth grade play that the school produces every single year. And Thirteen, our improv-loving actress, was committing her lines and the music to memory as if she were premiering on Broadway.

There was also the middle school dance, her last at this school before she moved on to high school, and the talent show. Not to mention her dance recital has now been postponed indefinitely. In some ways she, should have been more dejected.

Last night, though, she didn’t speak up, and she didn’t seem overly upset by anything. Instead it was Eleven who needed an encouraging word, and we offered many. I could see in my younger child’s face the same questions we’ve all been asking: how long is this going to last? Are we ever going to be able to see our friends face to face again?

When does life go back to being “normal”?

None of us know, of course, but my husband and I reassured Eleven as best we could. He’s got his entire medical career to back him up. I’m a mom, and a former cheerleader to boot, so I have optimism and encouragement in spades. Acknowledging for Eleven that we’re just as worried and anxious as she is for life to go back to normal made her steel herself against what she knew might happen next: the dreaded parent hug.

She finished sweeping the kitchen, which is her chore every night after dinner, and escaped to the solitude of her room. Thirteen finished wiping down the counters and strolled upstairs after her. I washed the dishes and went up to say good night to them both.

Eleven had already fallen asleep, but Thirteen was still awake and I asked her how she was doing.

“Fine,” she said.

“We talked a lot about how [Eleven] is feeling about all this, but we didn’t really talk about what you’re thinking. If you need someone to talk to, you can always come to me.”

“I know,” she said in that quick way teens use to get their parents to stop bugging them.

“Hey, it’s either Daddy or me,” I joked, “and you know what you’re going to get there.”

“Yeah,” she said with a chuckle, “I know.”

This time I heard the sincerity in her voice. She and both Eleven know they can talk to us at any time, about anything. After all, in this time of shelter-in-place, that’s what we have, right? Each other. Time. And, within the confines of our homes, space to talk.

All of us, I know, are eager for this to pass, to get back to life at its regular speed. I’ve had a few moments this week where it’s all overwhelmed me, like it did Eleven. But I’ve also gained a lot of comfort from the fact that when we say “we’re all in this together,” this is one of the few times in history that the “all” is literal.

So let’s stay strong. For each other. For the kids. For the everyone.

Newest post: Bracing for spring break (oh, yeah, and COVID-19)

March 13, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Today the state of Illinois announced that all schools, public and private, will remain closed until March 30 due to COVID-19. I wonder, when that decision was being made, whether the people involved realized today was Friday the 13th. I hope it made someone chuckle at least.

All right, so full disclosure here: I actually like it when my kids have time off. Within reason, that is. Summer vacation starts off great, but by the second week of August it starts to feel a little long.

As of right now, Thirteen and Eleven are just happy to start spring break. So far everything’s rolling along in our normal routine. Many of their extracurricular activities for next week are cancelled, but that’s also normal. With a major university here in town, all of the schools and many of the organizations offering activities for kids follow the university’s schedule. If they’re on spring break, everyone’s on spring break.

It’s the “after spring break” part of all this that has me wondering.

The girls’ school announced earlier this week that when the break ends, the school will move to online education for at least two weeks. Even though their teachers will handle everything—the teaching, homework, grading, everything—this feels a little like a homeschool model. Which I know works wonders for some kids and families.

I, however, would probably be terrible at it. The teaching part, that is. It would be too easy to want to skimp on the math and science stuff and dedicate whole weeks to reading and writing. Being literate and knowing how to communicate in the written form is crucial, isn’t it? Do we really need to learn algebra or to look at slides under a microscope?

(Don’t tell the math and science people I said this, by the way.)

Many of my good friends homeschool their children, and I prostrate myself in front of their courage. Their sheer determination to give their kids an education, as it’s formally defined. I know they probably have their challenges, but they’re doing it every single day.

I believe in education, of course. My parents have always said it’s the one treasure you can cash anywhere in the world with a limitless supply. But to teach? Myself? Little kids? Who ask all sorts of questions and seem to want to focus on everything except the one thing you want them to know at the moment?

Would it be terrible if I admitted that sometimes my most favorite time of day is when I’m at home all alone? If I homeschooled my children, not only would I be responsible for imparting knowledge to them but then when school ended they’d just stay. They’d never leave.

Really, to my friends who do it: you guys should be the ones running the world.

I have to say, knowing the kids will be home for a minimum of three weeks actually isn’t so daunting now. Had they been younger, I would have probably gone outside, rain or shine, every single day for about 10 minutes just so I could remember what quiet sounded like. Even as the littles would be knocking on the door from the inside asking what I was doing out there.

Now, though, they’re older and can entertain themselves and one another. (See, parents of littles, this does actually happen. It’s not a myth.) As the girls have gotten older, it’s become more common to find both of them in the same bedroom. Eleven will wander over to her big sister’s room, especially on sunny days because Thirteen gets the late-afternoon sun on her side, and they’ll sit together and read or listen to music. Often they’ll even do chores like fold laundry together. It’s nice to see.

On the other hand, I already know I’ll probably have to ref more than one fight. Experience from summer vacation has taught me this. Experience has also taught me that when I tell the girls to go to their neutral corners, they usually come back after several minutes and shake hands in a truce (well, in the metaphorical sense. And now, with all this COVID-19 stuff going on, do I really want them shaking hands? Hmm, must remember to ping Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter about that one. :D)

I saw a funny meme on Facebook earlier today (if you want to see it for yourself, you can check out my Facebook author page where I shared it. For those of you not on Facebook—Mom and Dad—just enjoy the following description.)

The title of the meme is “Parenting over COVID-19 spring break,” and it’s a split screen. On the left is a picture of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins when she’s in the nursery singing “A Spoonful of Sugar.” She’s holding a robin on her finger and has a huge smile. Above her it says, “Day One.” On the right is a picture of Carol Burnett in Annie as Miss Hannigan in her nightie holding two liquor bottles looking like an absolute wreck. Above her it says, “Day Fifty.”

You laugh, but I wonder how many of us will feel like that in a few weeks.

Today, though, everything’s normal. Everything’s going by our regular routine. We’ve officially started spring break, and the kids are looking forward to a week of watching their favorite movies, hanging out in their sweat pants, and doing normal things like getting their hair trimmed and meeting friends.

And even during this national crisis, we can still be normal. Think about it, if we all stay prepared, don’t panic, and remember to extend kindness to everyone (even if that just means a smile and a kind word, because, really, we can still do that even if we can’t hug one another,) we’ll get through this. Another great meme on Facebook said that this crisis was temporary, but we’d always remember how people treated us. Just take that into consideration.

Even if it means sitting outside in the rain every day for 10 minutes (and don’t forget to do some deep breathing; that helps too.)