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.

01 June 2020

And, We're Back. For Now.

After four months of blogging...and then a month off, guess what showed up in my feed this morning?

Woot-woot! The world is a literal dumpster fire right now, but at least one small thing is moving in the right direction. I will take what I can get. Just a reminder that my goal this year was to select a tweet from each day and write about it. So, okay, I've had to adjust my goal because Twitter was being a jerk for a month, but we'll keep poking along.

A quick recap of May: I passed the two-month mark of working from home, I watched 37 new-to-me movies, I spent time with various individual friends while distantly socializing, I deep-cleaned most of my house and had the windows professionally cleaned (on the outside), I planted a garden, I took a lot of walks in the sun, I made some new recipes, I supported local charities and causes, and I lost a lot of sleep over the continuing oppression and horrifying abuse (and murder) of Black people by police while redoubling my commitment to becoming more actively anti-racist.

I'll bet you've been busy, too.

In fact, when I searched through the list of tweets from this date, it's often been a day for busy-ness. I had a hard time selecting just one. But here's the winner:

Can I just say that I really miss kindergartners?

I have often thought of this particular kiddo and story over the last four years. What he said made so much sense. It explains 99% of the bad decisions I've made in my entire lifetime, and he already understood all of that by the age of five.

What I remember about the day this happened was that I was filling in for an elementary principal for an afternoon. And it was the craziest afternoon I have ever had while subbing as an administrator, including a fight between two parents after school. I think it took me a full hour after school was out to make all of the necessary phone calls and leave enough notes for the principal to decipher the next day.

All for a $5 gift card for coffee. I was so glad I set aside all of my work for the afternoon to cover for the principal. Anyway, at least I got a good story and a life lesson out of the deal.