Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Merry Little Christmas Now

Oh, my love
We live in troubled days
Oh, my friend
We have the strangest ways
All my friends
On this one day of days
Thank God it's Christmas

For a fifty-something Gen X agnostic lady, I love Christmas remarkably hard. It’s a childhood nostalgia thing, I suppose. I was an introverted little quirky-pants with a rich imagination and deep capacity for joy. Two weeks off from school to immerse myself in a twinkling-lighted wonderland of songs and cookies and stories with warm-n-cozy tropes, not to mention presents….I mean, my goodness. What’s not to love remarkably hard?

Christmas was when the cast list for the high school musical would be announced. Christmas was when the college crunch-time of finals and papers would suddenly just end and you’d get whisked home to soft beds, childhood pets, and free laundry. Christmas was holiday parties – candle-lit apartments, or corporate hotel ballrooms, or married couples’ mulled-cider beneath the Ikea tree, or shoulder-to-shoulder ironic Santa hats in beer-splattered bars.

Christmas was a deliriously joyful visit to my long-distance boyfriend in Seattle that turned into an apartment hunt through the drizzly streets of the post-grunge / pre-Amazon$$$ Capitol Hill neighborhood. Christmas was epic airplane journeys home to my parents’ Pennsylvania farm to curl up in one’s old bedroom and be a kid again. Christmas was the arrival of our baby grrrl and, a few years later, the miraculous healing of my beloved elderly cat. Christmas was…and is…a desperately welcome break from my relentlessly busy job.

And this year?

This year, my friends, I love it even more.

We need it even more. The ritual of celebration. The ritual of gathering – no wild dashes through crowded airports this year, no big families dinners, no vacations, no parties, but still…we gather. We speak to each other with intention. With deeper appreciation. Within this eerie context that the world as we know it kind of ended this year, and yet we all hang on, through space, through Zoom, through texts, through social media.

What an incredible testament to human connection, that we hang the heck on like we do, through changes we never would have imagined last year at this time. We literally can’t be “there” for each other. And yet. We are here for each other.

This is the first Christmas I’ve had in a while that bore so much uncertainty. Next year…will all our troubles be out of sight?  A new president. A new vaccine. A renewed commitment to anti-racism. Living to fight another day, with no shortage of peril and injustice to fight against.  

We’ll have to muddle through somehow.

So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Cameras-Off Connection

 I don’t mind teaching into an empty computer screen. I know my kids are there.

“But if they keep their cameras off, how do you know if they’re engaging?” asks Everybody.

As if a teacher can ever truly know that. As if our kids aren’t in figurative “cameras off” mode when they’re sitting right there in our classrooms. The best answer I can offer is….I just know.

I know because they type their answers in the Chat, or their little mic icons flicker on for a moment and flicker back off. They forget to mute, and I can hear a younger sibling’s virtual kindergarten class from another laptop at the same kitchen table, or a parent on a work phone call, or a crying baby cousin, or a whispered argument (“I know, Mom! I’m in school right now!)

I know because I’ll post a form to rate each Word History icon on a five-star rating scale, and the grrrl I just knew would love Empress Wu sure enough ranks Empress Wu the highest. They even do the writing assignments – some of them with obvious help from a family member, some of them with obvious help from Google-copy-paste, some of them barely at all, and some of them with heart warming stylistic evidence that they’ve been reading independently or that they’ve learned something from me.

 I know because they stay when “live” class is over and ask for help. Except for my Empress Wu grrrl, who stays and doesn’t ask for help or respond to my offers or questions. I do other work in the background, checking in occasionally. “I’m still here to help if you need help. Just let me know.” Thirty minutes go by. And in the thirty-first minute…she does ask for help.

I know to the extent I’m ever able to know. I know because I trust – not in their unwavering obedience, but in our very human ability to ebb and flow, connect and disconnect, mute and un-mute. Sometimes our hearts and minds need to be elsewhere. But we come back. We always come back.

 And finally (as those of you who follow me on social media may have already heard)… I know because my Life Skills class had the BEST. FLIPPING. HOLIDAY. CLASS. PARTY. EVER.

I wasn’t sure how a virtual class party with no snacks was going to turn out. But I knew we had to try.

 Each student chose one guest from another class to invite, plus a few favorite teachers. We practiced our social conversation skills. We made connections. We danced to Go Noodle. Then one of the 8th grade boys started grumbling about the music.

“I like Slayer and Metallica,” he explained.

“I know how to sing 'Enter Sandman,'” volunteered a shy 6th grade grrrl, and the next thing you know we're all virtually rocking out to Metallica karaoke. Little grrrl has PIPES. We even got a noise complaint....from The Boy (now 16, btw), slogging through his own virtual schoolwork.

We wrapped it up with another impromptu lesson -- I modeled how to politely lie to the hostess if you didn't actually have a good time at the party. Luckily, most of them truly did enjoy themselves.

It wasn’t even noon. I hadn’t left my desk. But I was elated for the rest of the day, as if I’d been to a real, live holiday party with eggnog and lampshades and mistletoe and a conga line. Very few of our kids had turned their cameras on. But we were connected. Truly connected.

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