In-Betweens

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I miss hugging. I miss dancing. I miss live music. I miss holding people’s babies. I miss seeing mouths smile- ear to ear- from people I have never met. I miss walking next to someone and not having them move to another part in the sidewalk to keep a 6-foot distance. I miss seeing my extended family and my friends. I miss it all.

During a rare occasion a few months ago, where I actually had the chance to see a friend in-person, my dear friend shared with me that she hadn’t picked up her guitar in nine months. My mouth dropped. She is a lead singer of her own band! Her business, that she has so successfully run for over a decade is built of her musical expertise. Above all, she is a musician at heart. My eyes softened as I listened. I told her I haven’t written in months. “I can’t find the words,” I said regrettably. “Or, I can’t find the motivation. I don’t know which one it is.” I could feel her heart soften.

Maybe my friend can’t find the time to be creative with her guitar in hand. Her kids and husband are schooling and working from home. Her work is happening mostly from home. And when she isn’t being boraged by emails from the health advisory on what she can, and can’t do with her business from one week to the next as our city sling shots through the COVID color tiers, she is efficiently scrambling to reinvent the way in which she conducts her business for success with kids and a husband always in her shared space.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

It’s no mystery why so many of us, women especially, have seen our passions and outlets slip away as the pandemic continues to drive on. We are holding up a monster task of parenting during a time that feels absolutely like the longest temporary challenge most of us have ever endured.

There have elements of this pandemic that simply have us all stretched so thin. Part of this stretching has evidently meant loosing some of our core passions- at least temporarily. It seems our creative energy has been taxed by trying to unravel COVID dilemmas on the daily.

But wait, wasn’t the pandemic supposed to shake out what served no purpose? Wasn’t it teaching us to let go of what wasn’t important? And we did that. But here we are, feeling like we are loosing pieces of ourselves by maintaining 6-feet distance from our own inner-calling. Something has shifted.

On the front page of The New York Times I read, “There is another approved COVID vaccine!” A light at the end of the tunnel, we sigh in relief. But we are in a surge, with numbers so off the charts we fold in and out of closed businesses and stay-at-home orders. What happens now?

We are in a world of in-betweens.

On School...

I have four daughters, two of which are thriving in school on an open campus. I am teaching full-time, five days a week at this very school. I watch, listen and delight, in the beauty of a school that is filled with students and engagement. Five miles away, in my own neighborhood where the school we were once a part of for over a decade, still sits vacant of children. These six hundred plus students are distance learning at home. This is still so hard to believe.

Our two older daughters persevere through distance learning at home. Thank God they learned the word persevere in-person during Kindergarten. Its meaning has come in handy this past eleven months. They complete three to four classes a day on zoom, adding extra-curricular lunch-time club meetings at lunch weekly too when possible. I am beyond proud of their independence, commitment to continue on and ability to keep showing up during this past year.

I am amazed as I watch our high-school daughter tackle an AP chemistry class from the kitchen table, or our 8th grade daughter successfully accomplish a 2nd year Spanish course without ever meeting her teacher. But I don’t see that there is any more buffer to be had. Now, after schooling in this format since last March, there is still no defined path for getting them back on their respective secondary campuses. Hallways and classrooms remain without the steadfast sound of student’s voices.

“School will begin two days a week in March, but only if we are granted a waiver, and move from purple tier to red, and then only for Elementary, not for secondary as secondary is not permitted to open if our county is still in the purple tier, but we could move into the red tier by the proposed hybrid start date, but only if everyone wears …you guessed it, a mask, uses hand sanitizer and maintains social distance. But even then, it is possible the schools cannot open because the campuses have to all be ready at the same time, and only if the teacher union is on board, and if the numbers consistently go down over a 14 day period and if the district gets permission from the Governor ” …and on, and on, and on.

I am taken-aback at the many students, that have maintained some resemblance of progressing in school during all this. I am incredibly thankful to all the teachers who have given so much to supporting the students in this zoom pipe-line of obscurity. Perseverance and flexibility have shown their purest faces for all these students and teachers, even from the small Brady-Bunch boxes from which they are viewed.

But what happens when these are muted? Literally and figuratively? What happens for our kids when this platform by which we are attempting “school” looses ground al-together? Are we there yet?

Education reform is knocking louder than ever before. What is the best way to connect kids to meaningful learning? What kind of learning matters most? How are we able to rethink our pedagogy? All of these pressing questions are being fast-tracked into our schools.

So we hover. Not like helicopter parents, but instead like watchful cranes, careful not to ripple the water anymore for our kids who are working so hard to adapt to COVID times.

Parents are seeing the fault line. It isn’t just academic. It isn’t just social. It is all-encompassing. I’ve spoken to parents whose kids used to be athletic and social, and now retreat to zoom or on-line games all too readily. I’ve heard from many parents how they see “a change” in their children; something that’s hard to define but certainly makes parenting them much more challenging. I’ve listened as parents have confided in me about the concerns they have over their kids loosing academic traction, positive outlets for communicating and most concerning of all: a connection to themselves.

We are in a world of in-betweens.

On Life ….

Our family, like so many others, has attended mass from the couch, high-school campus information seminars from inside our mini-van, car-parade reunions with teachers and too many zoom informational meetings to count.

When it was time for a routine cleaning at the dentist for our daughters, the once all-contact lobby to include an infamous PacMan game and a pick-me-up coffee station (a perfect child/parent combo if I must say so myself) took me by surprise as upon entry, this tiny space had transformed into a plastic-covered tunnel, resembling the set of where ET was rescued.

We used to grab shoes at the front door, now we run back inside for masks. We used to catch up with friends in the park, now we shuffle to a space further away from everyone just to be “safe”. We used to love grocery shopping. Now it feels like any trip the grocery store becomes an urban safari to wrangle paper goods and baking yeast.

None of this ever will become more normal.  It’s just off.

We are in a world of in-betweens.

On Parenting …

Parents, this doesn’t feel like a year of winning for us, does it? If you move your kids out of their original school, you feel not great for doing so or overly pressed in an effort to afford the changes. When the school you chose inevitably sling-shots through a weeks or months of Open-Shut-Them, a song you never wanted to sing again after your child left preschool, you question the choice you made to move them altogether! If you keep your child in a distance learning platform, you are concerned your child has way too much screen time every day (one of many concerns) which is what many parents have diligently steered away from for years previous to the pandemic.

In addition to the never-ending school debacle, parenting at home has evolved in curious ways as well. I have never answered so many questions to my kids with, I don’t know in my life.  

“When do you think we can see the numbers go down?”

“I don’t know.”  

“When do you think things will be ok for us to not wear a mask?”

“I don’t know.”  

“When can we see our cousins for cousin camp?”

“I don’t know.”

“When will enough of the population have the vaccine to make travel safe again?”

“I don’t know.

“When will we get to gather?”

I wish I knew.

When we begin to plan for a second birthday of one of your children COVID style (ie, no gathering of friends and family) it starts to make a mom’s stomach sink.  It’s just a lot.   These moments for our children that we can’t get back. 

Somehow, along the way, this pandemic switched from something that brought us many lessons, to a deepening chasm of attempted disconnection- from our families, from our educational access, from our churches and from our communities. Is it just that this extended temporary predicament that we are in is without a clear end? Is it that we cannot find our way without connecting to one another authentically?

“Separate for the greater good,” they have told us since last March.

There is no green path for parents in the COVID landscape. It seems we just have endless labyrinth of pebbled paths and little kid-free moments to think outside the maze.

We are in a world of in-betweens.  

On, What is Essential?

This pandemic has served as the great regurgitation of our century; spitting up everything that just didn’t sit right on any level from the core of Mother Earth and our perpetual wasteful ways, to the inequalities of race, the injustices of policy and reform and the disparity of education and access.

Covid-19 has given us plenty of reasons not to rest until we have restructured our world so that there are no haves and have-nots.

Maybe, the Great Regurgitator of 2020/2021 was cast our way to rebirth our faith, our perseverance and our gentleness with ourselves. Just maybe. When we haven’t been able to gather we have only ourselves to contend with the most and what do we have at our very center?

Grace, Resilience, Compassion. Complete and sweet Twinkie materials- all of them.

Cream filling? GRACE.

Golden cake exterior? RESILIENCE.

Transparent wrapper? COMPASSION.

Shelf life? FOREVER.

We are in a world of in-betweens.  The sweet kind too.

These experiences that we are all in right now? We will remember that distress is tolerable and temporary. We will remember that we all have access to these newly strengthened and admirable qualities for life. Our reflections of experiences pre-COVID matter, but what lies ahead, our reflections of what is possible, are what allow all the worlds of in-betweens that we have experienced for a year now to bring us hope.

This past year has presented for many of us, to be the most revealing year of our lives. May we continue to remember that the gift of creativity is a form of connection, community and a critical way for each of us to contribute to the ever-changing world we are a part of. May we continue to remember that the truest form of education is in personal connection. May we continue to remember that we are part of a global community that needs healing. May we remember that this year of in-betweens is allowing our hearts to dig deeper, stretch wider, hold tighter and believe with strength that we can indeed persevere.

From my Heart to Yours,

Mama Stump

One thought on “In-Betweens

  1. omgoodness what a gift. You are an incredibly talented writer. Thank you for forging through to find these eloquent words that speak of so many universal truths. It is a balm to my soul to read them and connect with this human experience. In our isolation, we have lost the ability to even speak of our commonality in suffering through this together. And while I have truly suffered so little —I’m blessed!— I am feeling the weight of the yearlong slog that this has evolved into. Ah! All this to say, thank you for reaching across the divide to provide a twinkling of connection once more. You are a gem and I’m so grateful to have found you in this lifetime. 😘✨🙏

    Like

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