Content. No, really.

It is 7:45 on Sunday night and it hits me: I am content.

I don’t feel the hopelessness and uncertainty I’ve felt since March. I take a moment to think about what has happened in the past three days to make me feel more relaxed.

I read a book from start to finish.
I finished an audio book I’ve been working through for a few weeks.
I practiced the piano.
I slept late, then had breakfast in bed three days in a row while watching episodes of Sports Night.
I watched football.
I chatted with friends over text and—gasp—the phone.
I took naps.
I cleaned, albeit reluctantly.
I worked on a vision board of sorts—started building a list of all the new furniture I will buy in June, whether I have a new place to live.
I watched cooking shows on Netflix and Sling.
I listened to podcasts.
I made a list of the things I can start doing now so that if I actually move in June, the move itself is less stressful.
I recorded, edited, and published a podcast.

I was lucky enough to have to stay at school late on Thursday so yearbook editors could work on pages, and somehow mustered the motivation to get all my work done before walking out of the building. It freed up a three-day weekend, and I am amazed at how…normal I feel right at this moment.

So I wanted to document this moment, this weekend, because if you listen to doctors (and I do), the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. The election is in 9 days, which brings a completely different slew of possible hellscapes, and I’m facing down a five-day work week with two sports broadcasts to produce. My future is still uncertain.

But at this moment, I am content.

Hi, October.

“How many of you thought we’d still be in school on October 1?” I asked my first class during the break we take in our 100 minute time together; twice as long as usual to minimize passing periods in hopes of managing the spread of coronavirus.

No one raised a hand, and several students slowly shook their heads.

Apparently, not many of us expected we would still be in school. So I asked a second question.

“How many of you started school thinking it would last about two weeks and then you’d be home again?”

Again, no hands went up but several heads nodded.

“Me too. I didn’t think we would make it this far. And I think that’s why we might be feeling a little off. Anyone else feeling bad vibes when they’re here?”

Nodding heads.

And then I told them—I think we all need a paradigm shift.

I know I started the year without my usual plans or excitement. The new protocols are mostly manageable, but are exhausting at times. I told myself I could handle things “until we go remote,” thinking it would happen within the first month.

Yet today, I made folders in my Google Drive for Week 8 of lesson plans.

We’re here, pals. And for what looks like the duration.

September felt incredibly bleak for me. The inconsistent weather, the “will-we-or-won’t-we” undercurrent regarding staying in school, not seeing friends or family because who knows what I’m carrying around on my skin, wondering if every cough or general malaise meant a 14-day quarantine—just bleak.

But there is something about seeing the calendar flip to a new month that always makes me feel some motivation to change. To shift the paradigm set by the previous month.

So that’s what I plan to do.

I think I’ve shared the Action for Happiness people before, but I’m sharing it again. If you’re pulling yourself out of similar doldrums, check out their app or their calendar, which has small things to do every day that might make your October a bit brighter.

Today’s action is write down your most important goals for the month. So here goes.

  1. Stop waiting for a shut down that might never happen (a.k.a. set up your damn desk finally).
  2. Revisit the “rewirements” from the Science of Well-Being class. Implement at least 3 a day.
  3. Do the daily mindfulness challenges from the Educator’s Health Alliance.

And because I didn’t want to lose my initial momentum, I went ahead and set up my damn desk today.

The desk in one of my classrooms. I hesitated to set it up for two months. Figured it was time.

Dear Julie, here’s what you say.

Dear Julie,

It’s a lot, isn’t it? And exhausting, and I know you feel like you’re taking crazy pills, especially after three days in a row of talking to people and reading tweets from people who imply that the doctors at UNMC, a global leader in infectious disease, don’t know what they are talking about. (You really need to limit your time on Twitter to 30 minutes a day, but that’s a letter for another time.)

So I’d like you to take a little trip back in time with me, to September 1999.

Remember September 1999? You were in your last semester of coursework before student teaching, you’d just started dating someone, you had good friends, and a retail job you actually really liked. What a great fall on the horizon.

And then your dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. Netscape Navigator was your internet search engine of choice, but you didn’t even think to use it to research mortality rates of 50 year-old men with colon cancer. You didn’t spend hours reading story after story of folk remedies that reportedly saved other lives. After all, internet research at that time was still viewed with suspicion. How could you trust a research venue where *anyone* could upload information and present it as fact, even if it wasn’t?

Your dad liked his oncologist, Dr. Soori, and together with your mom, they chose to trust him. You’re still not certain of what his initial prognosis was regarding how many years (or months) he had left, but after the initial colon resection, you trusted the surgeon and the pathologist and as your dad embarked on his cancer-fighting regimen, you trusted the process.

And then the cancer spread to his liver.

It would’ve been so easy for you to hop on Netscape Navigator and start finding alternatives for his care, to look for “data” to support your compulsion to find a way for your dad to survive, through sheer force of will if nothing else. But you deferred to the doctors again, and your dad and mom still liked Dr. Soori, so as a family, that was the plan. After all, it wasn’t HIS fault the cancer spread.

So the family plan was this: trust the doctors at UNMC.

Now I know there is a part of your brain right now screaming “But not ALL of Dr. Soori’s patients survived, and plenty of people die from cancer all the time!”

You’re right.

There was plenty of luck and circumstance that went into your dad surviving those two cancers. But be sure of this: all the luck and circumstance in the world would mean nothing without all the surgeons, pathologists, nurses, anesthesiologists, and dear Dr. Soori—and think of the research since then! Why, just the other day you heard of someone who had a colon resection laparoscopically! Could you have even imagined that in September 1999?

So the next time you are accosted by someone making false analogies with the current pandemic by comparing it to the flu (which—sidebar—if 60,000 people die from flu-related illnesses every year and masks would save 30,000 of those lives, why AREN’T we normalizing masks during flu season?), or someone who says they just need more data, I’m giving you a response. The only response you need.

“I’m going to stick with the doctors from the hospital that saved my dad’s life.”

Love,

Julie

Grieving.

I woke up this morning to lots of dread. The days of me being able to control my exposure to Covid-19 are waning, and that reality is starting to hit me. After a summer of trying really hard to err on the side of positivity, of hoping leaders will do what’s best, I broke. I sat in my bed and sobbed.

Lately on Sundays, I have a bit of a different worship routine—I listen to one of Kate Bowler’s podcasts, followed by an episode of the Evolving Faith podcast, before tuning into church on Facebook Live. I’m behind on Bowler’s podcasts, and realized this morning I had missed one from last May, not long after Rachel Held Evans died. The topic was grief and her guest, Reverend Dr. Susan Dunlap, reminded listeners of disenfranchised grief.

I wrote about such grief a couple of years ago, as it relates to grieving the children I would never raise, but this morning it took on a different meaning. There is no societal recognition of the grief I feel facing down an unknown school year. There is no societal recognition of the grief I feel knowing my class sizes will be smaller, knowing that there is a possibility my colleagues and students might get sick—and not fully understanding the long-term consequences of such an illness. And no societal recognition of the grief I feel for how much my job is changing this school year.

Two hours after I listened to Bowler’s podcast, I tuned in to church, and the sermon was about grief.

(God is something else, amirite?)

Today’s sermon was delivered by Rev. Debra McKnight, and her words about grief reminded me that grief is a necessary human reaction that shouldn’t be reserved for losing a loved one. Paraphrasing here: she reminded me that we can grieve loss, tension, and life just being difficult. And grief is something we must honor and give its place if we want to move forward into healing.

I start back to school this week, first with schedule pickup, then my first full day of work time on Friday. Next Monday is the first day with all staff. We are moving forward with a plan that has unknown outcomes. The unknown is hard, this moment is hard, and if grieving helps me—or my students, friends, parents, colleagues—move forward, then please don’t deny that grief. Don’t default to toxic positivity and inundate us with platitudes. Don’t tell us to “get over it.” Sit with those educators and students in your life that right now might be feeling grief. Acknowledge their fear of the unknown. Support them how they need to be supported—which looks different for everyone. (For me, it’s usually memes and potatoes in any form.)

But I agree with the reverend: to move toward healing, we must first give place for the grief.

Hold the right people accountable, please.

A Sunday morning rant.

Or maybe a sermon, depending on your beliefs.

Every year, I spend about $70 on Kleenex and hand sanitizer for my two classrooms. I do this because I don’t want students to miss instructional time by going to the restroom to blow their noses and wash their hands when sick, but also because I think it’s just kind to offer those basic conveniences. But due to budget cuts, Kleenex and hand sanitizer hasn’t been provided to teachers in my district for years*. I’m not necessarily complaining about that—it’s just part of the reality of my chosen profession.

Since many schools are looking to return at full capacity in two weeks, I keep seeing images of rearranged classrooms with safety measures created by the teacher to allow for as normal a return as possible.

If you’re praising “American ingenuity” because a teacher used shower curtains and pvc pipes and empty milk jugs or whatever to create a “safer” learning environment for their students, I want you to stop for just a minute and think.

Who paid for the plexiglass separators between you and your cashier at the grocery store?

Who paid for the signage imploring its customers to socially distance?

Who paid for the extra masks to hand out in case a patron forgot theirs?

Did the cashiers set up a GoFundMe to pay for all these things? Did the store managers take a trip to Lowe’s and bulk order plexiglass and then spend a weekend cutting them to size in his garage?

Or did corporate spring for it?

If you’re screaming for schools to reopen, are you also screaming at your congressional representatives, state legislators, governors to provide emergency funds to your district to ensure the safety of teachers, students, custodians, secretaries, paras, and administrators?

Or are you looking at these reconfigured classrooms, feeling a sense of satisfaction and maybe even pride that a teacher “figured something out” and then you send it to all your teacher friends suggesting it as something they should spend their own money on creating?

If it’s the latter, stop. If you have suggestions for how to spend money to keep students safe, make sure you’re telling the right people: the people who control how much money school districts receive. Ask the people you elected to govern and have stewardship over your tax dollars to pay for safety measures. Stop expecting teachers to just “figure it out.”

Amen.

*Edit: Since posting this Sunday morning, I’ve been told that there is a stash of Kleenex available to teachers in my building. I was told one year it no longer would be provided, and never checked back to see if things had changed. Apparently it has, though I was not told explicitly and don’t recall receiving any official notification that such supplies were available to staff.