Covid, the Kids, and the Couch: We’re going to be okay.

My mom has been sitting with Covid, in her nursing home, for a couple of weeks; my kids and I have been home avoiding Covid for more than a couple of months. I was complaining about the heat and trying to stay fit during quarantine after too much time teaching from my couch, and boom: I fell and am now stuck on the couch overthinking and planning because as a teacher, it is a pre-req for greatness, right?  While some teacher friends scramble to make wills, we all contemplate what choice we have vs. what choices our states and districts will give, I penned:

First let me say, I am an educator; I am an advocate for equity and for reading and writing and learning new things whether they be formal or informal, and I think that each has a major place in people’s lives to help us be life-long learners. Whether we are watching a youtube video on how to reset our modems, change a tire, or frame drywall, we are learning.  We might be reading reviews of the newest budget app and its pros and cons, reading and discussing one classic novel a month with friends, or taking a community cooking class–still learning. Educators coin it as curiosity and becoming a  life-long learner. So, while I am an advocate, I am more of a foster-er.  Teachers want to foster potential; teachers want to foster confidence in trial and failure and trying again. Teachers want to foster this love of LIFE-LONG LEARNING.  That being said, one year of a less-than-remarkable online education while people wait out a vaccine is not going to kill anyone, while quite possibly opening buildings while Covid is so dominant will.

I have taught since 2004 and had my degree in TESOL (teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) since 2010.  Within this degree, we learn–either anecdotally or formally with real students–about sweet young kids we consider SIFE students: Students with Interrupted Formal Education. While there are many textbook definitions to describe this, let me use stories of kids I taught and know, not all of whom were from homes with multiple languages: one girl was in an orphanage in Ukraine and did not see written language until she moved to the US at 6 where she was dumped directly in US schooling; one girl had the same Ukrainian orphanage background and came at 2 with major remnants of PTSD with flashbacks of alcohol and physical abuse and neglect in the home prior; one girl was born and raised here, but raised by deaf parents who did not know what to do about that and was neglected formal education and even outward spoken word in the home until adopted at 7. She started Kindergarten late and only had a vocabulary of 37 words when those teachers tested her for school.  One family I taught spent 4 years in a refugee camp in one country that spoke one language, and were taught in the camp in ANOTHER language, and neither of those languages were their actual language. ALL of these students have prospered, some HUGELY surpassing an average student I have come to know. Some hated writing but loved reading; some hated reading but loved writing. Many craved science or art or business classes later.  Many of these students adapted to using voice texting or audio books or both; some had me scribe for them; some I had to have special permission from principals to check out more books than they were allowed for weekend or summer reading because they hungered for more. And while books are written about these types of learners, these kids are not anomalies. They had survived interrupted formal education and yet they were ALL OK in the end, many BETTER than ok. WE are going to be ok.  My son, who I REALLY REALLY want in my building’s hallways learning from and laughing with my superior colleagues in person, will be okay. 

Am I worried about kids without technology? Yes.  Am I worried about kids who have parents who cannot read themselves nor do they have even one book in their house besides the Bible or Quran? Yes.  These are not theoreticals; these are MY students. But it reminds me of standing in a one-roomed school last summer in Peru and watching a man, probably not even 25 years of age describe how he taught approx. 90 kids on his project/commune.  We stood with 15 St. Louis highschoolers and were amazed that this man taught all the subjects to kids from 5-16; he asked the 13-16 year olds to stick around and learn more, so they could help the younger ones; he made altered schedules for families that needed to have their kids farming and cooking and cleaning at different hours of the day; he made altered schedules because they could not fit 90 kids in the 12 or so seats in the one-roomed school with no working toilet.  His hardship was horrendous to many of our North American eyes.  His passion was beautiful to most of those same eyes as well. We shed many tears that day and were humbled, students and teacher-chaparrones alike. 

But my point is, we have so many resources, be they human or material, and we need to be figuring out how to make them work for kids safely while we wait out a vaccine. We have had a history of times when people have overcome circumstances for learning: Native Americans inescapably learned English when colonists force fed it with Bibles and Bible-related primers; slaves and descendents had to sneak discarded reading materials out to read and teach each other in private; we made it through 2 world wars, an industrial revolution, a great depression and have educated ourselves in and out of schools.   If we homeschool for a year, we will be ok. As tired as I am of my couch, we will be okay.  We can offer assistance to those in need of the aforementioned items than many lack, no matter if that be within our districts or across them, school-funded or charity-funded.  Teachers can foster potential online; teachers can foster the confidence in trial and failure and trying again, ONLINE.  We will be okay if we are here for each other now because then we can REALLY be here for each other with fewer lost next year, so the kids can become curious LIFE-LONG LEARNERS while their grandparents are around to watch. 

Here are a just a few more famous autodidacts that have overcome lack of resources or access to formal education:

William Shakespeare quit at 13.

August Wilson dropped out at 9th grade.

Ray Bradbury graduated highschool but says he learned more by going to the library 3x a week on his own.

My personal favorite Americans:

Ben Franklin quit school at 10.

Mark Twain quit at 11.

Frederick Douglass didn’t learn the alphabet until he was 12.

Abe Lincoln walked miles to the library before doing his chores, so he could read by firelight in the evening after finishing work by nightfall. Many even called him lazy.

Oh, Poop! Where to begin?!

“Always start with a catchy title, or at least don’t leave it blank,” I might say to a student.

As an English teacher, I get tired of papers that have “Macbeth Essay” written at the top, so I thought I would just go there:   POOP!  Sometimes a verb and sometimes a noun, it is a word I want to say often; surely I use the synonymous expletive many times a day.  But today, I had to deal with it literally. And it reminded me that people have asked me to blog about my experiences being a caregiver. Sincerely, I was sitting with my mother in a dermatologist’s office, seeing her smeared fecal matter on the papery material covering the tables when I realized I just need to do this. A poopy epiphany! Friends have said to blog about THIS, and I never thought I had something to say until 11  a.m. today.  And now I just have to say, “Poop!”

I ignored a friend’s request because it feels pompous; it feels narcissistic; it feels like I might leak too much info or throw someone I love under a bus; it feels like too much work and who would care?  But after today, I thought this—THIS horrible experience—has to help someone.  When I went into teaching, I figured I could help one in thirty on a deep level.  If I can help one in that same ratio possibly feel s/he is not alone in the world of caregiving, then, maybe I should try.

I will save how I became a caregiver for another day as today’s story had already been darkly (pun intended) foreshadowed. To this point, I have purposely not mentioned why I caregive or for what disability because all-in-all, I believe there have got to be similarities between caregiving for someone with Down’s, someone with Alzheimer’s or someone with limited mental capacity after trauma of some sort.   Caregivers all have moments of chaos and moments of clarity, moments of feeling solidarity with a team of others and moments of feeling all alone in the world. So, I hope many can read this and see themselves, maybe laugh,  possibly cry, and  hopefully find strength in—well, something.   Some might call my sharing this brave, and others might say I am not preserving my mother’s dignity.  Still, after nearly 5 years of maneuvering what feels like EVERY system in my and my mother’s life to try to preserve the quality of hers, not to mention meanwhile trying to be a mother of two, teacher of many, and wife, I have lost myself, and if this little bit of writing can help me heal, while helping even one in thirty, I think that is fair.  My mother has Alzheimer’s, and here was our day, today July 9th, 2014:

7:00 a.m. My alarm goes off before my husband’s (on my summer vacation).  It is going off this early because yesterday at 4:40 p.m. I received a voicemail that changed my mother’s dermatology appointment from noon to 8:45, with no true explanation why.  The doctor does not ask if it is okay, just implies that it must be done in order to HAVE an appointment with my mother, for which we have waited for a week after an ER stint where she had to have 10-12 lesions/blisters drained.  I made the noon appointment so that I could have plenty of time to see my own boys in the morning and get mom ready without timing hassles, but, so be it.

 

8:10 a.m. The lovely worker—and I mean that, that is not sarcasm—at my mother’s (2nd) assisted living facility, lets me know she wishes she would have known the appointment was earlier and changed because she wanted to bath my mother prior.  “Sorry, I did call last night, so they could tell you,” I tell her, and it is truth.  I called, half knowing the message likely would not reach her by morn, to let her know of the change that was already biffing my day.  This is how it works at these homes.  Some might think you only have workers that do not care, but I have found that sometimes even with those who care, there are just too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough hours in the day to communicate all the needed words.  (As an English teacher who tells kids to not use cliches, I am riding some fine lines here!  Drat!)  Nonetheless, I grab Mom and go.

 

9:00 a.m.  It is 15 minutes over and they still do not have us in.

9:40 a.m. It is almost an hour past the appt. and we are still in the waiting room.  I am steaming but glad it is not the school year, or I would REALLY be hot.  A teen boy sits next to my mom, and I feel for him because he can probably smell her urine-like (oh, wait, that IS urine) stench.

10 a.m. They bring us in and ask me to put her in a gown.  They do the typical of talking with her normally until they realize she cannot answer many questions about herself because she cannot remember, and when I point out that she has Alzheimer’s (which has taken me years to be able to say in front of her in more than a whisper) they begin to talk to her as if she is a child. Sometimes this bothers her; sometimes it bothers me. Today it is fitting because she is assuming her child-like persona as if she knows she is going to get a shot of some sort.  (Sometimes I refer to her as my 12-year-old daughter.  4 years ago that was odd and an inside joke because I had only an 8-year-old and 4-year-old, so even 12 was mature.  But now, I actually HAVE a 12-year-old son, so calling her persona 12 might not seem fitting—for the sake of time, sanity, and lack of wine or wine-related creativity, we shall say she assumed the 12-year-old role and did not grimace when they spoke to her as such.)  I help her change:  in taking her clothing off, I realize her panties were utterly filthy,  so I threw them away.  I bury them in the trash hoping they would not notice later.  But when I help her to the table, I see a brown smudge on the chair, the regular everyday office visitor chair she barely sat on to balance herself!  So, seeing she was stable and trying to not freak her out, I get the antibacterial wipes to feverishly clean the chair for others.  After I scrubbed 4 times over, they came back in.

10:15 a.m. They look over her.  Every where.  I mean EVERYWHERE, right in front of me.  And they decide to take a biopsy of some of the leg tissue where her trouble had been last week.  They decide they need her on her stomach.  Oh, no, they don’t.  Oh, yes, they do. No…try…yes…fail.  AHH!  The  nurse, green and gorgeous, is sweet, but she doesn’t see my levels of pain in trying to roll my 74-year-old mother for her or hold my mother down for her or TALK my mother down for her, and we all pretend we don’t see the poop for her, which “her” at this point I am not sure, though we probably all appreciate this facade.  On the table’s tissue paper, it is THERE, and I am THERE, squimish and child-like but stoic and adult-like, just being THERE.  I think about this blog as I mention that I am sorry that her home could not give her a bath just yet; I think about how I don’t wish this for my own children to do for me someday; I think about Alzheimer’s hereditary qualities and how this could BE my children with THEIR OWN children someday; I am left with a feeling of maturity that I do not wish I had, that I do not wish to own.

10:45 a.m.  I need to call my boys to make sure they have brushed their teeth; I need to make sure my husband knows to be home before waterpolo practice. I hope my boys haven’t fought or answered the phone while I am gone. I hold her left leg with my left hand and her right arm with my right, soothing her with typical parental words, like “It’s okay, it will just be a minute, they are making it all better, I promise.”  As she cries out, I numb myself.

Some say I am too young, but I am the sandwich generation.

Sincerely,

Certainly Sandwiched