20 March 2021

Another Sort of New Year

In a year where everything has been different, it hasn't felt like there has been much to say. I shifted to working from home on March 18, 2020, so it has just been over a year. In one way, the days have felt very Groundhog Day'ish like. I wake up in the same place and go through a lot of same routines. I have occasionally had twinges of cabin fever. 

There is a large maple tree in the neighbour's yard. I can see it from my office window. I have watched the buds unfurl young leaves, those leaves provide summer shade, then turn colors and fall down in Autumn, and the bare branches all winter. There is nothing different about that, except that this year, I felt like I was part of that entire experience. Time has been on a completely different scale as I've watched a neighbour on his walks the past year and his corresponding weight loss...the nurse who lived across the street and would come home to be a single mom at 6:30 in the morning...and so many other things. I am oddly grateful for this opportunity to observe.

My networks have changed. Some of that is due to safety—a reduced number of personal contacts is necessary. I have one person in my "bubble," and everyone else I spend masked and socially distanced (outdoor) time with. But for those people who are like me, in that we work from home, don't go to restaurants or other indoor events, do delivery/curbside pickup of necessities, we have formed our own connections. There is a lot more communication and effort to do things for one another. I have greatly appreciated this community and I suspect it will last long after the pandemic subsides (ends?). I've also lost a lot of respect for many people I once thought better of, as this last year has laid so much of our world bare.

It effects haven't all been bad, even though we often tend to focus our attention there. In our schools, many of our traditionally underserved populations are thriving. Our youngest English Learners are making huge gains with reading, as the online lessons at home are things the whole family is doing to build English skills together. Staff who work with our students with the most significant disabilities are not getting hurt or burning out...and are seeing the largest gains in student learning ever...with the small class sizes each day. And more. This does not mean that there aren't students who are suffering, disengaged, or otherwise struggling. There are. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to school, and perhaps we've finally been forced to come to terms with that. It is sad to see how committed the white, cisgendered, heteronormative, able-bodied patriarchy is to returning to "normal" when I think there could be space for all of the variety of learning...if we want there to be.

I think that's the next big question, isn't it? What will the After look like...and how do we transition to that? I don't know when I'll be back in the office full-time, if ever. If it was my choice, I would like a hybrid work schedule of a little office time and a lot of work from home time. We are already getting a lot of requests from families of high school students this Spring for schedules that are a mix of coming to campus part-time and "attending" classes from home part-time. Will we make that permanent? If we want students on campus, how will we make those spaces where everyone wants to be? I suspect our families who have selected to keep their students remote have lots of ideas. Will we care enough to listen? Will we ever have a conversation about all of the loss people have endured?

So, as I start my second year of [waves hands at everything outside] this, it feels worthy of some reflection and maybe some predictions. I think we will likely still be in a hybrid model of schooling in the Fall. It's not looking like children under 16 (or possibly 12) will be eligible for a vaccine until early 2022. Unless we can manage to get all the adults vaccinated, there is still going to be a lot of spread, especially as variants arise. I suspect there will be a strong push to make school "normal," especially from our vocal white community, so the summer may bring changes. I think the summer might look kinda wild for adults who have been cooped up for a year and become fully vaccinated. *hot vaccinated singles in your area* Life is different, but that's okay...if you let it be. 

My last memory from the Before was going to brunch with a friend on March 14. The restaurant was not very full and we chose a table in the furthest corner. There has been an oddball snow shower that morning, so we wandered the quiet streets afterward and pondered the strangeness of this whole idea of a pandemic and quarantine. We met again last weekend. Neither of us has eaten in a restaurant since last year and I suspect it will still be some time (summer?) before we might try again. Instead, we get cups of coffee and enjoyed the rainy day. I don't know what I think we might be doing next March 14 (although it will be a Monday...so we'll probably be working), but I'm cautiously optimistic. Maybe that's the best we can hope for with any start to a new year in time.

02 September 2020

Welcome, Baby SY2021

In the land of school data, years are always denoted by when they end. So while most people are thinking of September to June as the "2020 - 2021" school year (SY), I will continually be living with SY2021. I'm okay with that.

It's been three months since I posted here. The end of SY2020. Time has been such an odd concept over the last several months. June feels like forever ago, and yet it has not been a "Time flies when you're having fun!" sort of situation. I have a hard time accounting for my summer. Work never really ended. I had 10 non-contract days off in July, but had been asked not to take any vacation days this summer because it was anticipated there would so much work to do to carve a path for this year. While that didn't turn out to be the case until the last few weeks, it's still meant a summer at home in front of a screen. And the start of a school year in front of one, too.

I haven't gone back to the office in nearly six months. I drop in for an hour here or there to print needed documents or sign paperwork or tend to other business that can't be handled another way. Most of the people in my office have been there for the entire closure, having claimed they are "essential." I can't say that I necessarily agree with their assessment...as their explanations have more to do with family issues or a lack of self-discipline to actually work while at home...but I do not object to that. They have made their choice, just as I have made mine. The biggest stumbling block to my return is that the people in my office are unsafe. They decided that they don't have to wear masks or socially distance because they don't want to. Our boss is fine with all of this. For the two of us who have been home for months, we are not allowed to have even four hours of protected time a week to go in. I've asked several times to no avail. And yet, I am quite happy at home and have stopped pushing this issue.

The outside world feels like a dumpster fire in so many ways. But in my little space, I am safe and things are happening. I love my new schedule. I haven't set my alarm clock since March. I wake up naturally and am still at work at 6, per usual. I love knowing there is a pot of coffee downstairs. I love the view from my window...all the rhythms of the day, from the nurse who comes home from her overnight shift at 6:30 am, to the various joggers, to the afternoons with families out walking, and so on. I've watched the leafless trees turn green as the Spring came, and no doubt I will see all those leaves fall in the next several weeks. I've loved the lengthening of the days and now I am enjoying turning on the chandelier over my desk because the days are growing shorter. I love going out to my car and finding it tangled in cobwebs under the carport. I love walking to the post office at lunch or picking up my once-a-week takeout (Tuna Melt Thursday!). I love taking a break and being able to start the dishwasher or take out the trash. I love being able to make pancakes on a work day, just because I want them and I don't have to wait for the weekend to treat myself. I love having flexibility to make all the parts of my life work in a more harmonious way.

And I am rediscovering things, too. I like bbq potato chips. Haven't had them in years, but picked up a bag recently and it was such a treat. I've tried all sorts of ice creams. I've been working my way through my stash of cocktail napkins and party plates. Why not? And, oh, all the chances to go through my virtual recipe box and retry all sorts of comfort foods my previous self had loved. And all those hair and beauty products have been put to use, too. Not that anyone can see me, but why save them for that? I'm worth it. I've organized storage spaces and, after finally realizing that there is no interest in accommodating what I need to be brought back to the district office, I finally indulged in a makeover for the home one. With this task, I've gotten some old favourites out of storage to view and enjoy. A little electric fireplace is on order to keep the space warm while I work in the colder days to come. I feel like this pandemic has forced me to excavate some pieces of myself while I finely chisel others. I like this adventure...and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

None of us are the same people we were in February. We've seen some shit. I am extraordinarily privileged with the life I have: I have a job, I have money in the bank, I (mostly) have my health, and I have a safe place to live. I feel like the original uncertainty that was with me about...everything...held me back from seeing all the opportunities to experience and re-experience. But I am embracing them now. I am sorry that the people in my office won't go on this same journey. In their attempt to pretend things are "normal," they are missing the opportunity of a lifetime. To be sure, there are things I miss...like getting to sit in a bar and have a beer, go to brunch with friends, see a movie in a theatre, or not continually worry about catching a deadly virus just because I went to buy groceries. It's not enough to make me wish it all back. And maybe that's the bottom line: This isn't an either/or situation...it's a both/and. It's completely all right to miss some things from the pre-pandemic world, but to assume the Now has nothing to offer seems disgraceful and cowardly.

School will be different this year. That's okay. We will figure it out. Some families will disengage from school or find their own paths forward. This, too, is okay. I do not ascribe to any claim that students will "fall behind." Behind what or whom? We will reach and teach them where they are and move forward from there. Nothing is the same, and there is cause to grieve and feel anxious. There is also the chance to slow down or stop doing things because we've always done them a certain way. We can feel sad and we can build at the same time. There's space for both.

And so, Baby New Year, I can't even guess what you might have in store. But I am excited for your arrival just the same. I will try to stay open to all the lessons you might have to teach me. I hope I am ready. And, SY2020, thank you for proverbial hindsight. The world outside might be falling apart, but you were the year that made me whole.

06 June 2020

C is for...Change...Cookie...

A rainy Saturday in June means that I am going to spend the evening making cookies (I think it will be these, without the Frosty look).

But I suspect from this tweet from this day (full list here), that it is not the first time I've had a craving for mood-boosting treats:

There are 10 more days of "school" this year. They will be long and hard, and not in the more pleasant ways those particular adjectives can be used. I haven't talked to anyone who isn't exhausted...who isn't done with school (including families)...who is looking forward to summer. It's an odd combination. We all don't like what's happening now, but we also can't picture what's next and so there's no sense of anticipation that something good might be coming.

For now, cookies are going to have to fill the gap.

05 June 2020

Ashes to Ashes

My grandmother (Mayre) passed away at the end of May five years ago. She did so in the house that she and my grandfather built themselves, room by room, after WWII, on a piece of property that was two doors down from the house she grew up in (and her mother). My dad grew up in that house and it was the place I woke up every Christmas morning when I was growing up.

The last couple of years of her life, she had declined physically and mentally. At one point, one of her sisters (Betty) decided to move in to "help." Betty brought along her boyfriend who had oft been in prison, and a rotating collection of characters she picked up here and there. When my mother or I called, Mayre would sometimes tell us that she didn't know who was in the house, and more importantly, she didn't want them there. My mother had seen Mayre at Christmas, and the night she spent in the house was not a good one, with strange people hiding out of sight in the second story of the house and Betty trying to keep a lid on Mayre.

I had gone to visit in January of 2015. I went with the intention of trying to get Betty out of the house. You have to understand that Betty had established quite a pattern. After her second husband died, she refused to allow any of his children to have any of what he left behind...not the house, not the money, nothing. And when her older sister moved in after her very wealthy husband died, Betty also did her best to keep that man's sons from getting any of the estate (I don't think they were very successful). Betty also took the house of her second husband's mother. And mortgaged and lost her home that she had owned with her first husband. We don't know what she did with all the money she had, both in cash and what she got from selling the properties, but she was broke. And now she was after my grandmother. At one point, Betty had said to my mother, "I thought Mayre would have more money!" Nope. Just the house and my grandfather's tiny pension and some social security. And Betty would bring home all these stray people to stay in the house. Sigh.

So, I went to try and figure out how to get my grandmother to a safe place. And, dear reader, if there are any of you still reading this blog, I have to tell you that I failed. I hired an attorney. I took pictures. I got my grandmother to sign a release for her medical records and the doctor's office still refused to turn them over, saying my grandmother was just sad that her husband and son had died and there was nothing wrong with her (yes, she was sad...but there was still a lot wrong with her physical and mental health, too). We filed what paperwork we could, but to no avail. A few months later, Mayre was gone.

My mother and I went back to Kansas City a few days later, hence the Mustang in the picture from the tweet from this day (full list here). We went to try and retrieve some things from the house that we'd been promised by Mayre. But Betty had one more trick up her sleeve. When we walked in, she produced a document that she'd had Mayre sign (and someone notarize) that the house and all of its contents were hers. This was not Betty's first rodeo, remember? She'd taken a lot of property from a lot of people, and unfortunately, we were next. Betty did decide to let us have some small things...and some junk she'd pulled out of the attic. While my mother distracted her, I grabbed a variety of things and hid them out in the car. I ended up with a couple of piano player rolls, a book, some art glass, and some fabulous jewelry that we made Betty hand over.

I wish I could tell you it's the end of the story. It's not.

Just before Christmas 2018, I got a message through Facebook asking if I was Mayre's granddaughter. The person contacting me was a woman my age who, as a girl, had played with me when I would visit my grandmother. Her family had lived next door to my grandmother for years, and now her son lived in the house. She wanted me to know that my grandmother's house had burned a couple of months prior to that and was about to be razed. Betty had been living there with her collection of people, one of whom got mad at her one night and started a fire upstairs.

Betty had told the neighbor family that my mother and I were dead...that we had been killed in a car accident several years ago. She told other lies, too. There just seemed to be no bottom to it all. I reached out to my dad's cousin, the daughter of the another sister to Betty, who said that last she heard, Betty was homeless and living in some sort of shelter...but still trying to scam her last remaining sibling out of home and money.

My mother visited the address that Christmas. The house was in bad shape and unsafe to go into. She took a few photos. This past Christmas, it was just an empty lot. You'd never know there was a magical home there for decades and three very happy people who built every part of it and lived in it.

The whole thing has been awful.

I do, however, wear my grandmother's jewelry quite often. I had all of her crystal restrung and rebuilt into new pieces. I see those few items I was able to save from the house and smile. The big tree trunk you can see in the "after" photo above is the spot where all of the ashes from my grandfather, grandmother, and father are scattered. It's a black walnut tree, and yes, I have a walnut from it. So, it's not a total loss. Some things will live on. And I am not sad to think that Betty will not be one of them.

04 June 2020

Missed It By *That* Much

This tweet (full list from this date) turned out to be a lie.

Mind you, it wasn't at the time I posted it. It was the first time I had some exciting news at work in nearly a year. On June 30, 2013, the state legislature forgot to put the line in the budget that funded my job, as they were in too big of a hurry to end the session. The oversight pushed me into another job at the agency that kept a roof over my head (which I was grateful for), but was mostly soul-sucking. I looked for a way out all year.

I was already involved through the previous job with the statewide data coaching initiative and managed to keep a pulse on it through the long 2013 - 2014 school year. There was some funding that was going to be repurposed and it looked like there was a way to use it to build a new role for me. It was super-exciting.

And then...

A man in the agency decided he wanted the money for a personal agenda. And as the leadership was very much a boys club in which he already had entrance, he easily convinced the people who had promised me the work to forget all about it. Poof. It was not the first...or last...time I have been crushed by an entitled white dude.

If I'm being honest, I'm still angry about this particular instance. I still think there is a place for the work.

Both the man and I are gone from the agency. So is most of the old boys club that was there, although the new leadership is worse in many ways from what I see and hear. The biggest outcome for me, however, was that it pushed me into a job search that landed me where I am now. For the most part, that has been a really awesome thing. I don't have any regrets. It was the right move, all things considered. I still have a vision for my next one, just not the opportunity at the moment. I'm hoping that it will be available in another year. But then, I think we all hope many things look far different by this time next year.

03 June 2020

It's "Ms." Not "Miss"

Looking back on the experience that generated this tweet (full list from this date), I have a lot of treasured memories. At the time, not so much.

This happened when I was in Cincinnati to supervise the scoring of the Washington state science assessment. I know that sounds a little strange, but the scoring contractor had a base in Ohio. There was a building there with rooms and rooms of computer labs and both part-time and full-time staff that were trained to score items. They did the work for several states. Anyhoo, I had the "night shift," which went from 5:30 - 9:30 and was when all the high school items were scored. As the scoring supervisor, I had the final word on any decisions about scoring an individual student response. I would wander through all the rooms over the four hours and hang out with scorers, answer questions, review data, and so on.

It was actually a lot of fun. Part of this was being in the Eastern time zone with a Pacific time zone body clock. I would do some remote work in the morning, then leave my hotel room around 10 (local time) to do some sightseeing and have lunch before going to the scoring center. And after my shift was done, I'd go get ice cream and sit outside in the sticky summer night. My co-worker, who worked with the elementary and middle school items, had the day shift and was never able to get out and do anything during the day. For me, it was a bit of a busman's holiday...even though it really sucked to be away from home for two weeks.

Another bonus was the people there. One of the lead scorers and I became friends and stayed in touch over the years. She recently passed away from early onset Alzheimer's. But the scorers were fun. They had all kinds of questions about why students chose to write so many Chuck Norris jokes in the response boxes (they even gave me a Chuck Norris t-shirt as a going away gift), as well as why Washington students drew more penises on the tests than students in other states.

I don't miss the travel associated with my old job, even though it afforded some really unusual opportunities. I am quite content to have passed the Miss Washington crown onto someone else.

02 June 2020

June Is Busting Out All Over


This is the month when all the cray-cray comes out in a school district. People are tired and they have no more time or patience for this shit. And that's even without COVID or any stress brought on by the recent police violence and protests across the country.

It's only Tuesday, and I've already had to listen to a parent explain to me that her academically talented child deserves some smaller classes because the child will be able to contribute to society after graduation, "unlike those students with IEPs." There are registrars gone wild. And because I seem to be the only one who actively and loudly advocates for an equity lens, I have been assigned the task of putting together resources for people to learn more about engaging in anti-racist work. I don't mind the opportunity to elevate other voices, mind you, but it gets old that it always seems to be an afterthought for others. To be sure, I have no claim to leadership in this area. I am continually trying to do my own work on myself and to build a more just world, but I am not an expert. I will do my best, however, to help pull others along. I'm bracing myself for whatever Wednesday plans to bring.

In the meantime, I try to remind myself that I don't have to respond immediately to every email or phone call or text. It's okay to let things sit for an hour or overnight. Even if others think there's an emergency, the reality is that it's just school. We can fix things, if we don't get them quite right the first time. Right now, other things are more important, anyway. I am trying to fix myself. I am trying to do things to fix the system. None of it may happen as quickly as we would like, but we can strike back at these weeks that try to strike first.

This year, I am selecting a tweet from this date as a prompt to get back into blogging. You can see my full list of tweets posted on this day.