Pacing Ourselves For the Long Haul (Plague, Day 20, March 23, 2020)

11:00am — I calmed down a bit this weekend. I’ve been on overdrive for the past 14 days. Longer, if you include Ian’s medical emergency that happened in the beginning of the month.

I still had a ton of stuff do around the house, but I wasn’t totally stressed out about getting something published. My USA Today article about the impact of the school closures on kids with disabilities came out on Saturday morning and is continuing to do really well.

Every day, I give thanks that Ian’s health emergency happened before things got nasty. My uncle in Florida is in the hospital in ICU all by himself. The family can’t visit him. My cousin, Jenn, is getting chemo and is extremely immune compromised. They’re suffering alone and vulnerable. I worry about them every day.

On Sunday, Steve and Jonah brought all his college crap home. They did two trips back and forth with two cars. Now, I’m organizing space in the basement to make room for a mattress, box spring, dresser, desk, microwave, and all the other crap that he won’t need until he gets another apartment sometime down the line. He was slated to move into a dorm next fall, but who knows what will happen.

This mess isn’t going to be wrapped up in a tidy little bow in another week, as much as our president would like that. We’re looking at months of destruction to our economy and way of life.

I drove around this weekend just to get out of the house. I passed people lining up to get into Whole Foods, jogging along the side of the road, kicking a soccer ball on an empty school field. How many of them will be sick in another week or two? We’re all walking time bombs.

A disaster with a long tail is going to have a major impact on a whole generation of kids. How many are never going to go back to college this fall? How many will lose friends and family members? How will life in an economic tailspin impact them? Will they become compulsive hoarders, like our grandparents, stockpiling cans of beans and toilet paper in the basement?

I sat Jonah down this weekend and asked him how he was doing. Boys need to be asked directly how they feel about things, because they tend to swallow up their emotions.

Jonah said that he was missing his friends enormously. He was sad for other friends that would miss graduation and other milestone celebrations. He’s been chatting almost constantly with friends through social media, but being stuck in his parents’ house isn’t a fun time. Today is his first day of online college education.

I’m most worried about Ian. In some ways, he’s well prepared for life on a computer, because he excels with anything that deals with technology. For him, the problem isn’t math problems on Khan Academy, but the fact that he’s separated from real people and from structure. He’s in mourning.

After talking to Ian’s teachers today, we’re all agreed that they will check in him once a day for the continuity and social contact. He doesn’t have any friends, so he really needs to keep contact with teachers ,and for Steve and I to make sure that we talk long walks with conversations every day. We can’t let him lock himself in his brain.

I need to take a break from this make hard boiled eggs for egg salad sandwiches for lunch. The grind of prepping three meals a day is already tiresome. Back later.

Excerpt From Newsletter, It's The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine!, (Plague, Day 18, March 21, 2020)

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It’s The End of Public Education As We Know It, But I Feel Fine! 
Apt. 11D, 3/20/20

Hi all!

What I’ve witnessed in the past week is the absolute implosion of public education. Who knew that this 100-year old institution would falter so severely? I suppose that at this moment in time, schools are the least of our problems, but I’m still going to talk about them anyway. 

In the past week, more than half of all school districts in the country shut their doors. Some shut down entirely. Some are doing some sort of online education. But nobody knows for sure, because only one online education journal is keeping track. And this journal doesn’t even know which schools are shutting down entirely and which ones are attempting some sort online education. Nobody knows. Isn’t that weird? 

Or maybe it’s not weird. We have a system of hyper-local schools in this country, which is hopelessly inefficient and expensive. This is just one of the many problems with public education that is being exposed by this pandemic. 

Perhaps even more important than its job in the provision of learning and wisdom, our schools feed the nation’s poor. And as we’re discovering, it is also a system of childcare for just about everyone, regardless of income. When the school system collapses, children go hungry, and parents get fired from work. 

The other problem with our education system is that nobody is in charge of this mess. It’s all up to each town. So, each town is handling this crisis differently. A thousand different superintendents are coming up with a thousand different plans. And some of these plans royally suck. Some closed the schools for two weeks and formed a coherent plan. Others shut the schools for an afternoon — just a couple of hours really — to figure out how to put together an education plan for thousands of children. 

Some schools are having their teachers do online classes using programs like Zoom during the old classroom hours. Other schools are just putting up some worksheets on Google classrooms. None of them have a proper plan for how to deal with special education. And guess which school districts have the worst plans? Yes, the poor ones of course. So, by the end of this crisis, the kids in the richer schools will be just fine, and the kids in the poorer districts will be further behind. Surprised? Yeah, of course not. 

Some school districts are trying to pretend that parents are partners in all of this. Ha. Partners are usually consulted and paid for their time. Parents are pissed. I would be surprised if any school district is still maintaining this illusion of online education by the end of March.  

And the states seem to agree. Some, like Michigan, have said that none of this online stuff will count towards graduation or their 180-day requirements. Schools will have to educate kids during the summer to make up for lost time. In other states, the teachers’ unions will presumably have a meltdown about plans to teach in the summer, but we haven’t heard from the unions yet, so who knows? 

My guess is that summer school will happen for sure, because there’s no way that these inconsistent, half-baked online classes can be considered a proper education. The programs that rely on parents are especially problematic, because parents aren’t certified teachers, and the unions have made all sorts of laws about certification that can’t be undone easily. Between state constitutions and federal special education laws, schools will be in a bind. They will have to figure out how to make up these hours at a later date. 

The one hope with all this mess is that we are getting a better understanding of all the problems in society and government. The pandemic will shine like a black light on a crime scene and show us what we need to do better.  Maybe we should have a Universal Basic Income. Maybe workers in a gig economy need more protections. In terms of education, we are definitely going to need a much higher level of centralization and leadership than we have now. We are also going to have to separate schools from other social services; schools can’t wear too many hats. 

Here at Apt. 11D, my family is doing fine. We’re a little stir crazy. All this togetherness isn’t easy, especially with a semi-independent college kid in the mix. But we’re healthy, most importantly. 

This newsletter was always supposed to be a bi-monthly enterprise, but with the crisis, I’ll be here more often. I’ve got an op-ed coming out in the am tomorrow in USA Today. Look for it! 

Be well! Laura

Newsletter, Life On the Curve

Life on the Curve, Coronavirus, Part 2
Apt. 11D
3/18/2020

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I first started hearing about Coronavirus in late February, around the time that Ian was admitted to the hospital for a few days from a bad side effect of his epilepsy medicine. In fact, the virus was a common chitchat subject with the health care workers who came in to change his IV tubes and inspect his mouth. I asked them if they were worried, and they would shrug. Handling crises is part of the job. 

On March 3rd, we heard about the first local case. A man in Westchester tested positive. He infected his neighbor who drove him to the hospital. A quick ten minute drive to the hospital puts a man in a ventilator? Ah. Then we learned that before the man got sick, he was all over the tristate area, my backyard. 

That same day, people who pay attention to these things started preparing. And so did I. Over the next ten days, I stocked the pantry with $700 worth of food. I finished articles and closed up every loose end for work. I got my son home from college and yelled at my parents to stay in the house, until they finally listened to me. I disinfected counter tops, door handles, gear shifts, toothbrushes. I washed towels over and over. We got money from the ATM and filled the cars with gas. The home office was set up for two adults to work comfortably. With two kids being home schooled and two adults working in the house full time, I had to stock up on paper and ink at Staples. 

Whew! I was exhausted, but firmly ensconced in a personal bubble by Friday, March 13th. We were ready to stay at home with no contact with outsiders for at least two weeks. But that’s when I had to start writing articles about the education angle of this disaster. I was particularly worried about how kids with disabilities were going to fare with the changes to online education. All weekend, I pumped out words.

I began to worry about my friends on Facebook, who seemed to be entirely unconcerned about the coming disaster. They were on another planet from the Twitter people, so I started posting more there, too. 

While I managed several articles in various stages of completion on Monday, March 16th, we began Day One of the horror that is home schooling. The first few days were rough with issues with technology, unfair expectations on parents, issues about how to work around my kid’s disabilities. With all the pressure that I’ve been under and important messages from editors, let’s just say I was less-than-gracious with teachers who inundated my mailbox with perky chores lists. I will make amends tomorrow. 

I’ve been in such a panic for the past couple of weeks that I haven’t been able to see past the crisis in front me. But this afternoon, I put a pause on the writing efforts. I’ve got something coming out tomorrow and that’s enough. I don’t have to write ALL the articles. I popped in my earbuds and went for a walk around the neighborhood.

For the first time in days, I wasn’t writing in my head as I walked. I just walked and looked around and listened. 

As I listened to The Daily, the podcast for the New York Times, Andrew Cuomo talked about infection curve graphs. By social isolating early, he was hoping that our infection trajectory curves were closer to countries like Singapore, than Italy. 

He also said that we were about 45 days away from things getting really, really bad. In five weeks, all these worries about Ian’s math homework and getting Jonah’s crap out of his off campus housing at Rutgers are going to feel so small. We’re way low on the curve on this crisis. We won’t see the peak for quite a while.

We’re just a plot point between an x and y axis right now. Life in a math equation. 

The trick in all this is to respect the math — don’t be like the idiots hanging out in beaches in Miami and bars in Chicago — but to defy the tyranny of the math at the same time. We have to enjoy life and find beauty in the midst of this war. We must loudly declare, “I will not be a plot point!”  

Now that we’ve overcome the initial panic of preparation and are getting used to the new normal, we’re rebuilding our lives. Later today, I went on a second walk, this time with the boys. We took a two-mile hike through the neighborhood, while kicking an old soccer ball that was slowly falling apart. Dumb, right? We were amused for an hour with a soccer ball that sprung a ever-growing tumor. 

The four of us are eating and drinking and talking together without competition from friends’ beer parties or Kumon math classes or girls’ nights at the pub. 

We are cooking up a storm; tonight we’re popping some individual pizzas on the grill. There’s a glass of wine keeping me company as I write this newsletter. 

There’s no doubt that the next month is going to bring challenges that we can’t even envision right now, but I’m so grateful to have these few weeks to prepare. Prepare not just in terms of meat in the freezer, but prepare with a better understanding of priorities and time to enjoy my family. 

Be well, everyone! 

Plague, Part 15, 3/18/20

11:44am — The podcast, The Daily, has been amazing. Listen to today’s interview with Gov. Cuomo.

*****

10:30am — In preparing for this virus, somethings I did right, other’s not so much.

In the right column — I started buying food several weeks ago before the supermarkets went bananas. I bought printer ink and paper from Staples ahead of time (lots of printing out worksheets for school). I bought wine and cookies, because we all need treats.

In the mistake column: We didn’t get haircuts before all this happened. I’m going to have some very interesting streaks in my hair soon. Ugh. I just bought some emergency color stuff from Amazon. We’ll see how that works.

****

10am — Day Five of complete social isolation here. Some things are working; others not so much.

Ian’s online education system is a train wreck. I’m having trouble keeping my sanity around all that. I have chosen simply to totally ignore the whole thing. If he gets some work done, great. If not, who the hell cares? I may stop opening all teachers’ emails, in order to remain mentally healthy.

Going for walks during the day is excellent. We’re doing long trips as a family, and solitary treks, too. I will head out for a two mile walk in a bit. I’ll hook up the earbuds and listen to The Daily on my walk.

To keep the boys from getting too stressed out, we’re not keeping the tv on all day. In fact, I’m getter better info from Twitter than CNN, so that is working for me.

I’ve been trading lots of texts with family and friends in NYC. Things are going to south very soon there. Some are finding escape routes today. Others are committed to sticking it out. The hospitals are going to overrun very soon. I’m very worried.

I’m hearing stories about college dorms being emptied out with the plans to turn them into makeshift hospitals if necessary.

The states are frantically trying to pass a bunch of emergency legislation to bailout schools and set up emergency plans for food and shelter for the poorest.

I’m going for a walk. Will be here and on twitter all day.

Plague, Part 14, 3/17/20

I either have a sinus infection or coronavirus. Probably sinus infection, but I’m super grumpy just the same.

Yesterday was the first day of all of us working and learning at home, and it didn’t go so great. Steve and I had too much work to do, so poor Ian had to muddle through a million worksheets on his own. The math ones were easy, but all the rest involved lots of reading comprehension, which isn’t his strong suit. He sat at the computer from 8 until 5 yesterday.

Unused to working like this in a full house, I was snappy and less than productive.

Today, I have to try to finish an op-ed, a newsletter, and write 50 tweets before noon, because I promised Ian that I would help him with all his work today. I really want to be here, documenting events and chatting with y’all, but I have to be a mom, too.

This massive homeschooling experiment has me very steamed up, but that’s the topic for the op-ed.

***

Our entire area is under a state of emergency now. Schools, churches, bars, restaurants, sports fields are all closed. Only 50 people at a time are allowed in a supermarket, but we’ll be fine until Friday when the milk runs out.

We’re trying to keep ourselves amused and healthy. I went out for two walks yesterday. We did a Group FaceTime with my sibling and their families and my parents. FaceTime an oldie today. It’s super important for them.

Jonah finished off his last midterm yesterday, so he’ll spend his spring break with us and not his buddies. He isn’t so happy about that. We have told him to use this time for self exploration to think about long term goals and for self improvement in some way. We asked for a plan today. He isn’t so happy about that, either.

****

Links:

more to come…. updated throughout the day…

***

Had to go to Urgent Care for antibiotics for a sinus infection (really. no fever) and then the pharmacy to get the meds. The meds are in the local supermarket, so I stocked up on the stuff we’re low on — milk, cheese, jalapeños.

It’s the first time that I’ve been in a public place in four days. Shocked at how many health violations I noticed with my new germ glasses. I had to take a shower when I came back.

The supermarket was shockingly crowded with people who didn’t give a fuck. Amazing. They had restocked their shelves, but were still low on eggs, disinfectant, and potatoes.

***

More shopping is happening online now. This time on Amazon:

Plague, Part 13, Update 3/16/20

Adventures in homeschooling and work from home begin. And I’m already extremely pissed off.

First a general update, as of this morning. The numbers of cases are exploding in all the towns in the area, include the town where my folks live.

The governors in NJ, NY, and CT are all working together to shut everything down. This level of regional cooperation between state government is unheard of. And super welcome.

The buzz… NYC is going to get really bad, very soon. Friends in the city are self-isolating for five days and then having family drive in, scoop them up, and then getting the hell out. DeBlasio didn’t shutdown the schools and the bars fast enough.

***

Steve and I are frantically tapping away at our keyboards. Jonah is taking a history midterm. And Ian is doing gym class on the switch with his Ring Fit.

Teachers have sent me super long instructions for homeschooling my kid, and I have flipped out on them.

I am not homeschooling my kid. NOT. I don’t have the credentials. Nobody is paying me. And I have a job of my own to do.

One therapist asked me to sign a form saying I provided him with speech therapy and some links on how to be a speech therapist. Then she asked that I sign a form that I provided him with his state mandated therapy. Fuck that. She’ll have to work in the summer, so he gets his legally mandated hours of therapy. Tough.

****

We’ve been cooking lots of meals at home. Recipes to come.

Plague, Part 12, Updates From Jersey, March 15, 2020

Last night, our mayor sent out a notice that there are five positive cases at the town hospital; two are local residents. Rutgers has a professor who tested positive. Jonah said that his roommates aren’t feeling so hot.

We’re not in an official lockdown mode in the town yet, but I’m sure that it will happen soon. My family is officially locked down by the jurisdiction of me. I enough food for two weeks.

The mayor and superintendent sent out angry emails yelling at the parents of high school and college kids who let them go out this weekend. Idiot kids think this is some kind of a party. There must be NO CONTACT at all with any outsiders.

We’re all going to get sick anyway, but if we flatten the curve that may save my parents’ lives. And I am rather fond of them.

If there’s a silver lining to this whole catastrophe, people are outside walking and hiking like crazy. It’s a good thing, because it will keep us healthy and our immune systems prepared to beat this virus. It’s a good habit anyway. We went for a walk this morning, and will head out again in an hour.

The malls, churches, schools, government are all closed now. Small businesses are hurting badly, but we’re going to have to deal with that problem later.

I’m about to shop online. The GAP, Banana Republic, and J.Crew are all having 50% off sales. I’ll post links to good stuff later. Let’s keep the economy moving!!

If you want to do something good, get on Facebook and give your friends and family positive reinforcement for social distancing. Many people are still surprisingly ignorant, especially those who aren’t on other forms of social media.

Now some links: