After writing almost every day for a month in 2019, I pretty much let the blog get dusty during 2020, a crazy year in which I have spent all day, every day, with my kids, supervising their schooling while working full-time at a teaching job in which they doubled my teaching load and decreased my pay. All while trying to keep from getting sick, because if I did, who would do my job and take care of my kids? It was a tiring year.
Here we are in March again, the month everything changed. This time last year, I was completely oblivious to the Coronavirus. I mean, I knew what it was, I read the news every morning that was coming out of China and Italy. There was a small, worrisome voice in the back of my head that knew it might become something, after all, there was no more hand sanitizer at the store. But I didn’t think it would derail our lives for a year or more. We had no idea what was coming.
This time last year I was caught up in the presidential primary. Exactly one year ago, on Tuesday, March 3rd (I know it’s only March 2nd today, but it’s a Tuesday), it was Super Tuesday. I wondered who was going to pull ahead in the Democratic Primary. I had plans to meet a coworker for lunch (it would be my last meal in a restaurant) and a busy day which involved taking my kids to their after-school activities and to the library. As usual, we would be home late, just in time for dinner and homework.
While I was at the library I hopped on my laptop and emailed Darin, asking him if we should think about canceling our annual trip to Legoland, which we’d booked for March 15th. I was a little worried about the crowds.
We started the year with our usual crazy schedule: school, work, after-school activities. Oscar tried out for and made intermediate band and was playing the clarinet. Aria was doing gymnastics. We got home most nights around 5:30 or later, with just enough time to make and eat dinner and do homework. It was busy, but normal.
In February, Oscar celebrated his 11th birthday with his first ever slumber party and his two favorite foods: donuts and pizza. Little did we know it would be our last in-person birthday of the year.
In Flagstaff, there was a big celebration for the 90th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto, which was discovered at our local observatory. We had a wonderful day at the observatory, and Oscar got to meet the son of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto and one of our family heroes (it’s a Flagstaff thing, ha ha).
Then, at the beginning of March we were invited to attend a movie with several families of Aria’s school friends. We almost didn’t go as it had been a busy month and it was our first weekend off in a long time. Looking back, I’m so glad we went and got a picture of Aria and her friends at the movie theater. This picture is so evocative of everything we lost in 2020 and our hope that we can soon go back to these kinds of outings.
Since March 11, 2020, we have been home with the kids almost 24/7. They have attended school virtually, and every day I sit with them at the kitchen table, guiding their learning and keeping them on task while doing my job remotely. Around the first week of September I had to return to campus to teach my classes in person and online simultaneously (via Zoom). I am so lucky that Darin has been home to take over for me and do so many of the household chores. I don’t know what I would have done if he wasn’t home with us.
Here are some pictures of our life at home during a pandemic.
Our son Oscar graduated from 5th grade and started middle school, which is so hard to believe. He loves his new school and teachers and can’t wait to meet them in person, but sad that he missed out on his 5th grade graduation and being with the kids he’s known since kindergarten.
Being home with the kids has been a mixed blessing. We are closer than ever, maybe too close, ha ha, but I’m ready for a return to normal.
It’s hard to describe the emotional toll this year has taken on us. Being parents of young children during a global pandemic means balancing our own worries with the needs of our children. At a time when I have less free time than ever, my workload at the university has doubled while my pay has been cut. No accommodations have been made for parents at all, even though all Flagstaff schools have been remote since March. While trying to juggle my workload and my children’s schooling, I have also worried about getting sick. When you are the parents of young children you wonder what will happen if you get Covid. Who will help you care for your kids while you’re sick? What if you’re that rare case that has to be hospitalized? How many risks can we afford to take? The kids want to see their friends and extended family members, vacations and visits have to be canceled, and each decision is agonizing. On the other hand, we are so, so lucky. We know people who have lost their jobs and their homes. Who have been hospitalized. Who have lost grandparents. Who have battled cancer.
Our life is good. We begin the new year with gratitude…and hope.
Time to dust off the old blog! I decided to start writing again, and in addition to posts about my everyday life, I’m also starting a new blog project, writing about the 45 U.S. presidents. I’ll be doing a post about each one with some little known and interesting facts, as part of a history and social studies project I’m doing with my kids.
Like so many people around the country, we are “self-isolating,” as they call it. Or as introverts like to say, “everyday life.” Our trip to Legoland for spring break has been cancelled, school is now online, and the CDC is advising “social distancing.” I figured this would be the perfect time to dust off the old blog.
Out of sheer coincidence, I picked up Isaac Newton by James Gleick at the library last week, because I love biographies. Turns out Newton left Cambridge University during the Great Plague of London and took shelter in his childhood home in the countryside. Gleick writes,
The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.
It was during this time that Newton made his famous observations of the apple tree, which lead to new theories of gravity.
Although I don’t think anyone will accomplish anything so grand this time around (after all, we still have the endless distraction of the internet), I do think this period will raise some interesting questions about things we take for granted, like the value of traditional face-to-face teaching and meetings (I hope stupid meetings go away forever, ha ha).
I will be spending the next week rethinking my teaching and how to best serve my students online, while also trying to make the best of being stuck at home with two small children who are disappointed that they don’t get to go to Legoland. Like all small children, they are surprisingly resilient and are enjoying lots of time spend playing video games and board games, and the temporary relaxing of my usual junk food rules.
I’ll use this blog to update you on what we’re doing to pass the time. Meanwhile, I hope you all stay safe and well and sane.
Robert Capa lived a remarkable life, and is considered one of the greatest war photographers in history. He was born as Endre Ernő Friedmann, but changed his name for political reasons after escaping Hungary as a teenager. Unfortunately, he chose to settle in Berlin during the rise of Hitler, and shortly after that he fled again to Paris. As a photojournalist, he covered five wars, including the Spanish Civil War and World War II He was the only civilian photographer at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and he was present to document the liberation of Paris. He was also famous for his celebrity photographer of presidents such as Truman and Eisenhower and writers such as Hemingway.
In 1945 he fell in love with Ingrid Bergman and moved with her to California. The affair lasted while he lived in Hollywood, but ended when he departed once again to follow his passion for documenting war. While photographing the Indochina war in Southeast Asia in 1954 (the French precursor to the Vietnam War) he went ahead of the troops to photograph their advance, and in doing so inadvertently stepped on a landmine. He was killed instantly at the age of 40, and his youth belied his vast experience, having lived and seen more than some people twice his age.
We’ve been making costumes for the kids since Oscar’s first Halloween at age eight months. Going through all of these pictures made me realize how fast time has gone by, and also that I need to get my digital photographs organized. This post doesn’t include everything, but I don’t have time to dig through all of my photos. Did I mention I need to get organized?
Oscar recently decided, of his own initiative, that he wanted to learn an instrument. There’s a program at a nearby elementary school that allows him to take the bus over after school and take lessons with the band as part of an after-school program. After giving it some thought, Oscar decided he wanted to learn the clarinet.
He has really embraced it, loves the program and the teacher, and practices diligently every day without complaint. He’s definitely more motivated than I was at that age.
The concert was a big surprise. After attending so many squeaky violin concerts, Darin and I were impressed with the level of playing and how good the young musicians sounded.
The teacher is one of the nicest and most patient and friendly people I have ever met. She has a special appreciation for Oscar, and I love it when people see certain things in my kids that I also love and cherish, because it makes me realize that this adult has taken the time to get to know my son.
Aria also enjoyed the concert, and was surprisingly quiet and well-behaved. She recently lost BOTH front teeth (of course I taught her the song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.”).
Everyone who writes knows all about that cliche question, “Where do you get your ideas?” Everyone who writes knows that ideas don’t matter. It’s all about the execution of an idea. It’s all about how well the writer can pace a story, can bring a character to life, can make us care.
An idea is like a single seed. That seed has to be planted and watered. It has to receive sunlight and nutrients from the soil. Then, in about one hundred years, it will turn into a tree. But that tree is not your story. After growing and nurturing your tree for a century, you have to chop it down with just your bare hands and an ax, then split it into boards, then sand the boards, then build a house. But that house is not your story. You then have to paint and decorate the house and find some people to live in it. They will be reluctant. You have to coax them. You have to move in with them and and entertain them and make them delicious meals and then listen carefully as they speak. Then you write down everything they say and do, and that becomes your story.
The muse only comes when you feed her, spend time with her, and listen to her. She is elusive and she is easily bored. She will wander off if she doesn’t get enough attention. She will run away in fear if you act desperate or needy around her.
This is why writers are completely crazy. Some of them drink themselves to death. They are all terrible people. Everyone complains about them. But they give us books and stories and movies and plays and television shows and everything that helps us escape from our dreary lives. They spin gold and magic and mayhem and they create beautiful and fanciful worlds and characters we love and characters we love to hate. Writers tells us the truth about what it means to be human and to be deeply flawed in the midst of the poetry that is our lives.
The fun thing about this project is that I keep discovering new things about photography that I never knew before, like the fact that the Germans invented contact lenses and blue jeans, ha ha. Today I was about to delve into the world of photo journalism, one of my favorite topics (a long time ago as a naive high school student I once fantasized about winning a Pulitzer Prize for war photography). Instead, I tumbled down the rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll photography (did you see what I did there? Rabbit hole?).
For twenty-five years, in the late 1800s, at the very beginning of photography as an art form, Lewis Carroll experimented with the wet-collodion process (also known as “wet plate photography”), taking a fascinating series of portraits of his friends, including the photo above of Reginald Southey, a famous English physician. Carroll also took many, many, many portraits of…ahem, children. Particularly young girls. In fact, you could say he had a “thing” for young girls. That’s about as far as I’ll go with that. Thankfully, in all of the pictures the girls are fully dressed, and through all outward appearances they are appropriate photographs (Google them if you like–I’m not going to post them here), BUT, I find them rather unsettling.
Lewis Carroll was a brilliant and interesting man, and his natural light photography is quite stunning and innovative for the time. He was also a talented writer and illustrator (you probably know him as the author of Alice in Wonderland), but I think it would be generous to say that he had an unusual philosophy of life. In other words, the guy was creepy. To celebrate the Halloween season, I will do another post on one of my favorite creepy topics, the Victorian fascination with photographing dead people. So you have THAT to look forward to!