A Week Inside: Closed Schools, Shelter-in-Place, New Friends, and Family Time

This year, my two teaching jobs were supposed to take me through June 11. The long-commute to Daly City, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after dropping Rebelle Harmony off at preschool (now closed) was a time for coffee-sipping and podcasts in the morning, and a time for phone calls with friends on the commute back home. That school year was scheduled to end in mid-May. My four-nights-a-week job in Berkeley was scheduled to run through June 11. All of a sudden the school year is likely over. Distance-learning attempts are being made, but our student population is not the most computer-literate population, and the fact that they are learning English makes online learning more tricky. The fact that there is no ready-made system for all of this makes a possible transition even more bumpy. I emailed my students a list of online resources and told them to reach out to me. I miss them…but I don’t miss the exhaustion of working and parenting..which I did while at less-than-full health for the last three months.

This is a time for the educational system to experiment and research. These next few months will be a mess, but they should be an opportunity for school systems to gain a deeper understanding of what is needed and for curriculum development improvements. Too many students are without reliable internet or computers at home. Too many students have no quiet place to work in their homes. Too many teachers have little online training. Too many parents think this whole thing should be seamless. This is a chance to get it right later on, and to come closer to leveling the educational playing field in the future.

The last email I received from Berkeley Adult, I was told the school would be open ONE day next week. I was told to fill out my paper time sheets for the next three months I would have worked. The same ones that have probably been mimeographed from 1983. Thank goodness for our union. Most of the staff at Berkeley Adult School are over 50. Most work part-time. Without those three months of pay, many would have faced some economic hardships. Meanwhile, our students will face those hardships. They work in construction, (most of which has been halted), food service (which has been decimated and will continue to shed jobs for a while), child care (which is on pause during this shelter-in-place reality), and other service industry jobs which are out of service. Many will be forced to leave the Bay Area if the situation persists for longer than a few months. This is the reality of an economy that is one paycheck away from instability. And we all know its about to get much worse.

Home with Natasha and Rebelle Harmony

I only used the car twice all week. I drove to two markets on Thursday, and drove up the street to our friend’s house for Rebelle Harmony’s play date. I was thinking I’d use the car to wind her down before nap time afterward. I ended up going to Wendy’s for her beloved chicken nuggets, a southwest chicken salad for me, and lettuce-wrapped cheeseburger for N. We suddenly have to keep restaurants from all going under. Would’ve been best to support a local place, but with a toddler and in these times, drive-thru only for me.

1st supermarket attempt: Raley’s. Zero eggs, zero chicken, and freezer was decimated.

2nd stop: Whole Foods, had everything.

The difference between the stores (and their prices and location) tells a story of the socioeconomic differences we’re about to become even more aware of in the next year.

Inside Time

Being forced to stay inside feels a lot better when you can stay inside at a friend’s house or play at a park, which some would say is disobeying the shelter-in-place mandate. The park has been empty all week, so we have decided it’s okay for Rebelle Harmony and her friend Bijan. We always wash hands thoroughly when we get back home.

Toddlers aren’t aware of the greater world…which forces parents to stay in the moment and avoid dwelling. We’re busy playing hide-and-seek and chase. We’re sharing snacks and picking up abandoned toys. We’re redirecting and we’re soothing. We’re peeling thousands of tiny oranges.

Natasha is sequestered in the office/front room, replicating her work space with computer, tablet and phone. The markets are collapsing all around her, but she doesn’t panic. She’s forced to absorb the constant barrage of news and be in constant communication, but we keep the door locked and I keep Rebelle Harmony away so she doesn’t here Natasha. It’s like a spy operation. I put food next to the door. We text back and forth. Finally, around 10:30, we’re out of the house and up to the park or a walk. Thank goodness she was able to take a “vacation” day and take care of RH on Thursday, so I could sleep in and then hit the markets.

We’ve seen a lot more of each other than usual, which is nice. There’s much less stress now that we’re not commuting all over the Bay Area and have family time we don’t normally have at night.

Teaching four nights a week for the last three years has been hard for all of us, but on a day-to-day basis, it’s hard to notice how much we miss. Without preschool, it’s all on us, but that means we get to share it all, too.

Aaron and Bijan have been an enormous help in getting through the week at home. Bijan is 3 and a half, full of energy and a good communicator. Rebelle Harmony lights up around him. They learn together and laugh together. After a week, he’s like a built-in brother. Every time we leave the house, she asks, “Bijan?” Having two parents and two toddlers is much easier than one parent with one toddler. We can problem solve together and they don’t look to us for everything.

It’s been a pleasure getting to know a new friend better over these last couple weeks.

Meanwhile, I’ve had so many good conversations with friends over the last week or so. We’re all wondering what’s next and how to handle it all. We’re all stuck inside. Some with little ones. Cancelled plans and uncertainty.

I tell them about my gradual acceptance of uncertainty over the last two decades of my life. All the swings. The moves. The improvisations life has demanded, and one actual Improv class I took. The plans…and the plan Bs. For those that aren’t used to piecing things together as they go, this moment is especially disconcerting. When you’ve had jobs where the only thing you can control is your response to a chaotic environment…it’s a lot easier to adjust to being an at-home dad with an infant…now toddler. When patience is constantly demanded of you, you become patient. When you learn how to breathe and slow down, you balance all the uncertainty with more ease.

We know very little about what to expect right now. We have an opportunity to embrace connection and compassion and recognize how unimportant some aspects of our life are. I love the Celtics and the Red Sox…but I am appreciating how refreshing it is to be in a sports-free universe. No hint at the back of my mind…fantasy draft…checking on scores…thinking of the playoffs. Just existing.

One day at a time. That’s all. We talk about being present, but few of us really are. Really aware of our own motivations and deeper concerns. Those of us with any empathy are concerned for others in the world right now. So many dead, so many ill, so many without enough medical care. And so many questions about who will get sick next…and how bad it will get.

Science Fiction has always highlighted our curiosities and fears about the human condition. We are living through a social experiment, a surreal reality of science-as-real-life-disruption, not contained to a laboratory. A snow-globe that has been shook, and everything is everywhere, suspended and floating until further notice.

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photo via Visual Hunt

We want answers, but few arrive. We have to sit with the questions. We have to sit with ourselves. So much of the control we thought we had was an illusion. This is an opportunity to be better…to band together…to begin to collectively change and coalesce around democracy, around community…and to grapple more deeply with who we’ve become. To let go of the idea that we have all the answers, to listen more honestly, to put our energy out into the world rather than to keep it for ourselves. To stop competing for status and material gain. To stop thinking in black and white, and observe the grays. To stop blaming the victims and acknowledge we are all victims of larger systems, but as a collective, we can alter those systems. Politically, culturally, behaviorally. We can all be better.

Be kind as we walk on. Breathe. Do not give in to anxiety. It won’t help us, and it won’t help your mind or body survive. And yes, wash your damn hands.

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