As many American citizens have been purging their dresser drawers and closets in these past several weeks, a de-cluttering process has begun in America’s education system as stay-at-home orders have included the widespread closures of private and public schools alike.
There is a silver lining, however, even with the reports that “distance learning” doesn’t work or that students and their parents are suffering in the absence of “brick-and-mortar” institutions.
What if this COVID-19 pandemic pause has helped de-clutter in a matter of weeks what has taken decades for educators and administrators alike to bring to our attention as parents and caregivers of our American students?
To encourage more discussion on this topic of the decluttering of our American education model, I’m drawing on my own experience as an educator and federal government worker along with some of my colleagues who are currently active in schools across the country.
For the sake of this argument, I want to distinguish upfront that I’m not referring to the unfortunate segment of students who attend our American public schools and come from homes who are unable to feed, clothe, and equip their dependent children properly. Although it is a legitimate concern, it requires its own space and careful analysis to help formulate solutions going forward from this coronavirus crisis of 2020. In fact, the one benefit from the exposure of this societal ill is that many more citizens are aware of how fragile the economic balance is for many students and their families — hopefully that conversation will continue as to how to address those issues including have to hand out meals to students because school is not in session.
In the weeks since our nation woke up to the COVID-19 pandemic, countless parents and caregivers have found themselves floundering to figure out how to balance the needs of their children suddenly at home all day. What happened to everyone’s schedule that centered around their students’ school hours? It was gone indefinitely and with it came a vacuum that appeared to threaten students’ ability to continue to learn and thrive in their respective grades.
The good news has been that veteran teachers and homeschool parents extended their expertise to friends and local communities via social media and news outlets to help out immediately during late March and early April. Thankfully other public centers of learning like science museums, educational websites, and celebrities such as children’s author Mo Willems offered virtual classes and online educational sessions free of charge to homebound students. Even at this writing, virtual story times are being offered by local libraries or by beloved public figures such as former First Lady Michele Obama. These lifelines help flustered parents who have had to balance work at home and are to log their children into these free programs available while waiting for their respective schools to initiate distance and online curriculums in a matter of days. The “virtual village” stepped up to help raise our children during an unprecedented pandemic on America’s soil.
Then came the next phase of the stay-at-the-home educational process with the schools catching up and launching their virtual learning processes. The methodology varied from state to state, district and towns with one uniting factor that students would continue the course of their students at home without the familiar surroundings of their classrooms and teachers. While this virus has the medical frontlines occupied, America’s households became ground zero for our children’s education.
Reneé Flowers, a veteran teacher at Tullahoma High School in Tennessee writes, “While this situation is crazy — I also love it for multiple reasons: 1) the parents are involved at a level that they may not have been before and they get to see exactly what their children know and don’t know, 2) the communication between home has become more important than ever, and 3) these circumstances illuminate the need for data-driven decisions for students on an individual level.” Additionally, federal programs like “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core” were trying over the course of decades to address issues that in a matter of weeks have come to the forefront of many American homes in a way that parents and educators alike couldn’t have conceived.
For other education workers, they have realized that being removed from the busy school environment has helped free up their time to focus on their students, whether they’re teaching curriculum or serving mental-health needs. Some faculty members may also be finding that they can better balance their own household’s needs. All the while also attending to their students in their respective locations using technology platforms such as Zoom or Google hangouts and such. Leslie Sporré, a guidance counselor who works in the Connecticut school system, shares that she is finding that this stay-at-home time is helping her know her own children better: “My first grader can work for 45 minutes and, in teaching him at home, I can give him frequent movement breaks and outdoor time so he is the most efficient and actually excited to learn. With all of the family time and physical activity and breaks built in, he is thriving!”
Again, it is worth mentioning once more that we should take a collective look at the gaping holes that we also see in our educational system when it comes to the ability of some students to thrive while others barely survive. A colleague of mine teaches in the St. Lucie county district in Florida and is reporting that out of her 20 students, only 12 are actually logging on for her online class session every day. “My students are so little that they rely on help and guidance from an adult to be able to participate in online school…when I finally get the parents on the phone, they tell me all their drama, toxic chaos and excuses why they can’t help their own child.” For this teacher, this moment in our American educational history has exposed the direct connection that can exist between home life situations and educational success. Children may be sharing even more of what their fractured homes are like when able to finally speak with their teachers whom they miss very much during this time of separation due to the novel coronavirus.
My hope is that this COVID-19 Pandemic Pause of 2020 will help generate some data and academic results to help both educators and the families of our American students find out how we can better serve them in our public and private educational processes. I’m sure most Americans can agree that this crisis has helped generate an untold amount of gratitude toward all educators of students that have had their school experience up-ended temporarily.
Final Note: Congratulations to the class of 2020, you are graduating during an incredible time and whether you can see it now or not, you will be stronger for it in years to come.
Day 30 of our self-isolation here at the Bean abode and although our household has been apart from everyone else physically in our Palm Beach County community, we feel as though we’re close to so many others given the collective circumstance we’re all experiencing during this COVID-19 global pandemic.
The first time I wrote on this subject of Covid-19 and most U.S. students’ lives being drastically changed we were having a full moon here —last week we had another full moon, and so life continues for the planet even while it seems it’s in an uncomfortable stasis.
Based on what I read in the news and social media coupled with communication between family and friends, it seems we are all in a fog of recognition that a great deal of change to our behavior has occurred in most everyone’s lives in the last several weeks in our American Republic.
Our social media feeds include random posts of photos to help distract, memes for medicinal laughter, media links to help educate, invitations to gather virtually—and then sometimes, for some of us like myself, we end up turning off our phones and other electronic devices to just take a break from it all.
Right Now: April 15, 2020
It’s Wednesday, “hump day”, the day that most workers during the week would herald as one to push on through and afterwards enjoy the “downhill” slide to the end of the work week. Today Wednesday is the day that most parents and caregivers woke up and could hardly see straight or move their broken bodies to keep up with the frenetic pace that their little ones (or even teenage ones) began this day with–ah, to be young again.
As a homeschooling mother of three children: respectively aged 11, 9, and 5 years old, I would like to take a quick moment to tell you that if you are a parent/caregiver to any child(ren) during this time and are having to deal with having them home when usually they would be at school: You. Are. Amazing! Please, give yourself grace and hug them as much as you can every day. This is a temporary period and there will come a day when the old routines will return.
Truly, there is no playbook for what is happening these past few weeks, and no matter if you have a background in education or have kids at home for your own curriculum or virtual school anyway— this collective arrangement is completely new to us all. It’s an overwhelming, bittersweet blessing in some ways and we cannot judge each other for however we manage our homes over the matter.
It’s Tax Day too. Good thing there’s an extension for those who haven’t filed yet!
Trying to LookAhead
Our nation is united in a state of suspended grief and continuous exhaustion. We’re all trying to find our new normal after altering our habits. It’s said that it takes humans about 30 days to break a habit and about 30 days to make new ones—so here we are.
Unfortunately, as the coronavirus fatigue wears on, our federal and state elected officials are having a challenging time with how to coordinate efforts to help our healthcare and first responder workers along with trying to balance the adverse effects on our economy as a whole.
There is article after article citing the difficulties that American families are facing economically, mentally, and the long-term effects expected for our children. How can we as parents/caregivers see straight some days as we collectively squint ahead on what our new normal routines will be going forward?
There is a feeling of helplessness that can take hold and yet thankfully we can take stock of our immediate surrounding as well as our greater community to see if there is anything we can do to help. Obviously, staying put has been most helpful in areas trying to “flatten the curve” as we’ve all learned—but we need to be more active and there are ways we can do more with all the 21st century tools we have.
No Time for Politics and Yet It’s Time for Politics
For those of you reading that know me, I have worked for congressional Republicans on Capitol Hill in the past. For my last paying job before I gave birth to my first child, I was honored to serve as a political appointee in the George W. Bush administration as a worker for Secretary Henry Paulson’s office. Watching from afar the respective Obama and now Trump administrations has been a rollercoaster ride for folks like me who were once part of the inner-workings of our federal government.
I’ve often defended both Democrats and Republicans in the various federal offices because I trust that many mean well for our nation, even if I don’t necessarily agree with their political stances. Then there are moments like this Covid-19 global pandemic that serve to fleece all those in elected positions of power and reveal who among us are the compassionate leaders and who are the consistently inconsistent ones that voters need to re-examine closely should they run again.
Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee for the Democratic party in the run for President of the United States this year. Both Senator Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama have come out publicly to endorse him in the past week or two (hard to keep up during coronavirus timeline).
I have made tentative predictions in the past when it comes to presidential elections and although they’ve not been popular ones with some of my Republican counterparts, they’ve stemmed from my assessment of where the American public seems to be emotionally.
Where are Americans now emotionally-speaking?
We are united in fatigue. We’re fatigued from the constant bickering between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration from the moment he was sworn in as President of the United States. We’re fatigued from the media’s energies and tax-payers’ money spent on investigating hacking from foreign sources like Russia when it comes to how our 2016 presidential election played out. We’re fatigued from the conspiracy theories that the Earth may actually be flat and that former President Bill Clinton had an active friendship with now-deceased Jeffrey Epstein. Finally, 2019 closed with impeachment hearings and votes by the U.S. House of Representatives and a drawn-out affair in the Senate that yielded no true outcome in President Trump’s “impeachment”. All while Covid-19 had likely already reached our American shores and sickened many without knowing what it was.
If Joe Biden wins this upcoming fall over President Trump, it will be most likely attributed to how tired the American psyche is as a collective and particularly because of who Biden agrees to have surround him in governance beginning with his selection of a running mate—preferably a female for his Vice President selection. While I grant that I’m biased as a woman myself, I don’t believe that women need to run the world entirely, rather that a balance in governance must be struck. 100 years ago, this August we’ll recognize when our federal government said women can vote (but that unfortunately didn’t include women of color). We need both men and women, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents…we need everyone to find a way to balance having constructive debates and at the same time keep our states and nation as a whole moving forward with productive compromises to thrive and grow as the United States of America.
Divided by Dysfunction
There’s no point in my writing about what we’ve all been witnessing as the Covid-19 crisis has unfolded in the last month or so here. Most of us have had much more time to read, research, and simply watch press conferences daily from all sorts of sources.
My prayer and hope as a private citizen today is that we can overcome our division by dysfunction and continue to work toward a better future for our nation and to leave a legacy that our next generation can build on.
In the meantime, I wish good health to anyone reading or a safe recovery to anyone still battling this virus or any other illness for that matter. May we all find ways to make the most of this bittersweet “Pause of 2020” due to the Covid-19 crisis and be able to move forward filled with hope for better days instead of fearing days ahead.
Welcome to Friday of the first week of homeschool, online, virtual, or whatever new form of school you and your children just completed. This short blog piece is intended to congratulate and encourage you on your new journey as our American nation pulls together to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on those vulnerable in our population.
And, truly, I mean it when I say you’re amazing as this first week of alternative site schooling ends. We now have the rest of the school year to get through this “new normal”.
From a Homeschooling Veteran’s Perspective
When all this unprecedented school closures started occurring in my corner of the world here in south Florida, I felt the anxiety of all my friends and fellow parents/caregivers here and wanted to help with any weblinks or advice I could lend. Last week is now a fuzzy memory of what our normal lives were as this week is like we’ve all stepped through Alice’s Looking Glass to a new dimension with the same characters but the landscape feels so different and otherworldly.
As this first week unfolded, I was impressed by the creativity of various parents/caregivers with setting up their school spaces versus their work-from-home spaces. Some were able to carve out spaces from their living room or kitchen areas. Others adopted the notion that where each student was comfortable worked well even if it meant sitting on their bed or in a cozy reading nook.
Also, I would like to thank many other moms who inspired my own program by sharing ideas of how to help others like having students write notes to those who are stuck in nursing homes without visitors or encouraging cards for the medics who are on the front lines of dealing with those suffering from the severe effects of COVID-19.
Even though I’m a mother who’s been doing the home- and multi-schooling thing for several years, I can get into habitual ruts and found this past week to be invigorating when reading about other households and how they approached this new world of blending school and work into the domestic home front. The comic relief shared between family and friends has also been a priceless and necessary help for our collective mental health.
Yes, Learning Can Be Messy
At risk of offering more unsolicited advice, I feel the need to tell parents and caregivers to not be too hard on yourself when you look around at the “school” area in your home and realize it’s devolved into a messy affair. This may be mostly true for those who have elementary school and younger children in their midst. However, it can also occur for those who are older and perhaps are having the opportunity to create and experiment in ways they were unable to in the conventional school setting.
Again, you’re doing great and perhaps having a mess is a nice visual to help us all honor our school janitorial staffs even more. Another inspiration for me this week was how many parents/caregivers started giving their children “life lessons” right away in how to help clean up in the home itself. I will start applying some of those ideas in my own school area as I’m certainly not a good janitor.
As for the inevitable bickering that can occur between siblings, I’ve applied the same mantra to my own as maybe many of you have this week. I remind my students that whether it’s their brother or sister is irrelevant, the conflicts they practice with them will come back again with their friends, future romantic relationships, work mates, and so on. It helps to diffuse the current frivolity by presenting a vision of what the future holds for them one day. Conflict resolution is a constant life skill that we can help our students recognize today.
You Must Do What Works for Your Household
What’s truly new about this experience for many is that your children are now at home and not in the fold of the school building. They’re now in your building. The stress for everyone is at a level I’m not sure we can measure at this point. Many others like myself would like to take this moment to say that you must do what works for your household.
If that means Spring Break starts this week, then so be it. If that means your school meets on the living room couch, so be it. If that means you let all your elementary school-aged kids out into the backyard for a few hours a day instead of sitting at a desk, by all means so be it. If that means no screens, great but if it means screens everywhere then so it shall be.
If there is anything I can share in terms of advice from my perspective as a homeschooling mother, it’s that having students at home means being flexible and ready to change the lesson plan and schedule as quickly as our kids have their growth spurts and mood swings. We are receivers in a way and can only respond to help nurture and calm at times. The school curriculum can wait if a snuggle or a rest period is in order.
In short, you make the call on what works for your household and the students therein and no one is grading you but you. Please give yourself grace. Remember that not only does it feel like your home is in a state of chaos, outside at the regular grocery store we see a surreal sight daily:
We’re All in This Together
School districts and the various private schools have spent this week scrambling together their efforts to rewrite and create a new path forward for how they will decimate your students’ curriculum for the rest of this 2019-2020 school year. We’ve all had to exercise patience under the most stressful of circumstances that our population has known, save that of the WWII generation.
In the meantime, it has been heartwarming to witness how parents and caregivers have pulled together to share ideas, information, and simply recognize what an incredible job school teachers and faculty have every day under normal circumstances. I appreciate the sharing of ideas through social media of how to help others, online school and learning ideas, and groups with chats online to help parents and teachers alike. Thank you all for what you’re doing to help not just those new to the homeschooling/virtual schooling arena, but also assisting us homeschool veterans.
In these abnormal circumstances, may we continue to remember that we’re all in this together.
It’s also more important than ever to share with each other if anyone is struggling and needs financial assistance, help with new ideas for homebound activities, and just commiserating with sharing photos of our respective cups of tea or glasses of wine to celebrate the end of each week:
I cannot applaud everyone enough as you navigate what works for you and your household as you figure out what facilitates your children’s learning at home—especially for those of you who must also delicately balance having to work from home, still leave home for work, or in some cases having just lost your paying job.
As the World Health Organization deliberated earlier this week on whether to upgrade COVID-19 from an epidemic to pandemic, I sensed another collective wave of anxiety rising in parents and caregivers throughout the United States: What if I have to quarantine myself and my children? What if my job forces me to stay home at the same time my children’s school (or glorified daycare) shuts down and moves to an online format? What if I must be a “stay-at-home” with no end in sight?
Hope and Experience Reigns
Having personally logged more than a decade’s worth of “homemaker” status experience complete with a full range of infant/pediatric care for three children and geriatric home care for octogenarians/nonagenarians, I feel this is a good time for me to share with the online community some quick tips of how to survive and thrive in a possible quarantine situation with little or big ones at home. My tone is intended to offer hope and inspiration for ideas should you find yourself stuck at home with children.
Being a teacher-caregiver with three home/multi-schooled children, I’d also like to add some levity to the topic by dispensing my humble tidbits with an acronym description for COVID-19 using CORONA as the base word. At the end of each vignette I’ll try to provide some weblinks when able to help you research your own home plan of action. Thankfully Google and other search engines like talking with your family and friends still exist to help you brainstorm your respective paths.
C is for Correspondence Courses, Creativity, and Calming Continuity
The good news is that in 2020 most Americans have access to a wealth of resources both online and in print at home when it comes to helping educate students of all ages. If your children are enrolled in a traditional “brick and mortar” school, chances are your school district or the institution will also provide links and virtual options should you be in a self- or mandated quarantine scenario.
Take this opportunity to declutter and disinfect your home dwelling, in the process carving out an area for your students to conduct their studies. Comfortable and clear options for seating help your children find a cozy place to read, write, and create new ideas in your home abode. If you own books, consider congregating them in one room or area. One of my favorite places as a child was that space made in the children’s area of the public library that silently invited children to come and have a seat and open up the physical possibilities in a book, magazine, or today a “tippity-tapping” or swiping of the screen.
O is for Opportunity, Order, and Operations Management
While staying at home is not for the feeble of spirit or faint of organized, there isn’t any true template of what the order of things should look like in your space. If recent political news is of any sobering indication, it’s that we Americans say we want change and yet are slow to accept changes in how we accept stereotypical roles. We say we want more racial, gender, and age diversity in positions of government power and yet the U.S. Presidential field is now down to the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and former V.P. Joe Biden to face President Trump in the fall elections. This slowness to adapt change is especially true when running a household with children.
Somewhere along the line in our social evolution following the Industrial Age, the onus fell on the woman of the household to be responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and all other chores regulated to the “homemaker”. When facilitating the education of your children at home, your workload more than triples because it is a full-time job alone to help students with their school studies—let alone teach them yourself.
If delegation is king in the outside working world, then it is most imperative at home. I recommend devising a list on a visible chart for the household to see helping divest the household chores that needed to keep everyone clean, healthy, well-fed, and in turn happy. If you have been managing the home without much help from your dependents, consider the opportunity to alleviate those daily stresses and help foster more responsibility in your children.
In my home, the older children have certain nights they are assigned planning the dinner menu and must fold their own laundry (at age 10 you get your own hamper and clean your clothes too!). Lunchtime is their own responsibility, however, I do provide choices that within their respective age-appropriate ability. For instance, an 8-year-old can reach the sliced bread to apply both peanut butter and jelly for their sandwich.
There are numerous resources online for tips or printables for devising a list of responsibilities for your household. Consider reading books to the younger ones that cover taking care of the home or cooking. For the older kids, be honest and discuss what your concerns/needs are and what are they able to consider doing to be a beneficial working part of the household. Again, consider finding a template list that works for you as guidance, one of my favorites: https://livingmontessorinow.com/montessori-monday-age-appropriate-chores-for-children-free-printables/
R is for Rest, Reset, and Review What’s Really Important
The old writings in various cultures and in my personal reading of Christian scriptures often repeat the adage that when faced with an unexpected circumstance in life that could be deemed unfortunate, there is good that can come out of it eventually if not immediately.
So, you’re suddenly stuck at home with children and your job whether it was inside or outside of the home. This combination can be depression-inducing or at the very least aggravating. Also consider that your children are having a difficult time with this unforeseen set of events. More often than not, your children will absorb and in turn react to however you’re feeling and acting in this situation. Your default reaction may be either free-fall into this experience without much organization or swing to the other extreme of trying to exact complete control over every minute of the day with your children—both of these extremes can produce unsavory results.
I mention “rest” and “reset” in this section because for many of you, this may be how you try to approach the school break times in your children’s year. If the summer is their big vacation time, the first few weeks are a decompression time for your students before settling into a new routine. If this concept is foreign to you, again, there is no true template for you and your children but consider this to be a time to review what’s truly important.
Not unlike adults, children and teenagers need routine to help them grow and flourish. They also need rest and reflection within that daily construct. Being at home for extended hours every day may be something your entire household is not used to with jobs, school, extra-curriculars and the like. Remember that the opportunities to learn are not regulated to your students, you have a chance to learn alongside them and realize what amazing souls reside in your children when not stressed about running from schools to practices in traffic every day.
O is for the Outdoors
The fact that I may have to consider lecturing anyone on the importance of the outdoors for both children and adults is disturbing. Yet many Americans have simply lost touch (physically especially) with the outdoors and what raw nature can teach us. No amount of screen time with educational applications can replace what the interaction of the human and Earth can yield in terms of creativity, philosophical reflection, botanical and zoological education, and an overall appreciation for the organic mechanizations that make our daily life on this planet possible.
As mentioned before, there are countless digital and print ideas for how to approach “field trips” outside with your children. You may be able to simple open your back or front door to investigate. For avid readers, consider downloading or checking out from your local library the following book: “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv.
Our household is blessed with a backyard that’s allowed me the freedom to create planters with herbs, fruits, and vegetables with my children. I’ve also allowed them a space in the yard to literally dig into the dirt and create and recreate their own worlds, complete with a hose running water through it.
Although this may overwhelm anyone with germaphobe tendencies, there is a lot of scientific research still coming in that points to the benefits of us interacting with nature, i.e. playing in the mud. What good is teaching our children about the environment in schools if they don’t have the opportunity to physically walk, run, and play in it? You never know, the extra time taken to go outside with your child this week may help inspire them to find a calling in a profession that would help the environment in the future.
N is for Nesting, Neighbors, Not Saying “No” So Much, and News
We usually think of “nesting” as a term reserved for the woman swelling with expectancy of her child’s birth. In the case of a quarantine situation, it may be the first time you’ve had an extended period to sit in one place and really assess what does your home look like? I personally went through a phase years ago where I researched “feng shui” for ideas on how to work with what I had in our home: https://www.thespruce.com/easy-steps-to-feng-shui-living-room-1274493
Neighbors: remember them? Maybe you have great relationships with the people immediately to your right and left—or maybe not. This may also be a season of learning who and what are in your local community and how you may be of help to each other during a possible COVID-19 outbreak in your area.
When dealing with circumstances beyond our control, we often resort to trying to control what we can. If you’re a parent you also know that being at home with your children often involves many questions an hour and therefore innumerable ways to say “no”. The trap for us becomes evident when we’re trying to exert more control in our home life and start replying in the negative more often than actually necessary. Again, if you need more ideas as to how to respond more positively, there are many articles and blog entries online covering the subject or ask your local tribe of family and friends what their strategies are in communications with their children.
News may be a tap or a click away for most Americans, but when you’re stuck in the house this medium can get old very quickly. It so happens that many publications still provide subscription materials at home these days. In my home we have a 94-year-old and children under the age of 10 who especially benefit from the print medium. Perhaps call your local paper or check in with your favorite magazine sources to see if you can enact a short-term subscription to have the publication(s) delivered to your door.
A is for Art Therapy, Appreciation, Adventure, and Amazon
If you are a parent or caregiver of little ones then you know their affinity for drawing and coloring. As an educator, I’ve noticed that the older children get it seems the less likely they are to participate in the visual arts unless they’re taught. While I understand this may be subject matter out of your league, try to open your mind to the possibility that participating alongside your student in an artistic endeavor may benefit you too.
A time of quarantine at home with children may seem as inviting as hunkering down in a hurricane with them (I’ve been there too), but I focus on looking at the bright side for both parties to better appreciate each other. This may be the first time you really get to pause and read through what coursework your children are doing at school and understand why they may be so detached and cranky at the end of a stressful school day. In turn, your children may learn more about what you actually do at work during the day and how those responsibilities can drain you to the point of having a short-fuse temper if they make a mess on the floor when they’re home with you after school.
At risk of being redundant, adventure lies in the unexpected and a quarantine may afford the only “pause” time in your relationship with your children to seek out a new way of looking at things together. If nothing else, this time together helps demonstrate to our children that life is filled with unplanned occasions where we simply need to press forward and make a positive outcome of it.
Amazon: need I say more? At this time, we have the opportunity to have things delivered to our door via humans. If they get short-staffed due to COVID-19, then the drone technology will likely get some quick updates.
While we can all debate ad nauseum about novel this virus concern is, we are finding that government authorities around the world are taking unique measures that we’ve not seen since the likes of America’s travel security aftermath in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As a home caregiver and educator, I’d like to impart the idea that staying at home with your children may be a life-changing opportunity offered during this temporary season. Although you wouldn’t have planned it this way, it may be priceless in its yields for both of your futures as parent and child.
About the Author: Current caregiver and education administrator at home and MBA candidate at University of Florida’s Warrington School of Business, her past life prior to children included work as a political appointee worker for President G.W. Bush at the U.S. Treasury Department, Legislative Aide for former Congressman Mark A. Foley, and reading teacher at Bannockburn Elementary in Illinois.
Quick Answer: Everyone. Literally, everyone on this planet. If we’re to scold anyone when it comes to how we humans have conducted ourselves in relationship to our Earth, then we’d have to do it toward ourselves and every household, nomadic tent city, unique compound, homeless camp or any other type of setup that we homo sapiens respectively keep our residence. Please make no mistake in understanding the state of our world’s climate; this planet will be able to continue with or without us. Truly, it’s a matter of what we’re comfortable with and able to accept based on our lifestyles as we know it here in the 21st century.
Long Answer: The following is my succinct personal story in recent days of trying to love the Earth, fight for a new mindset on a bipartisan basis, and coming to raw terms of reality especially when it comes to environmental politics.
It’s been nearly a week since I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the second time this month. The first time was to attend the Bush-Cheney administration reunion held for those who served in various agencies and roles back during those years—it was surreal to be in the company with those whom, along with myself (I was a political appointee in Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s office), had given of our time and talents to serve an administration during what already has been documented as a historically poignant time in our country’s history. We were able to share an audience with former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as they reflected on those years and shared encouraging antidotes for the present time. I personally took a time-out after serving the administration to give birth to our first child, followed by a few more pregnancies that sum totaled in three wonderful children while also helping elderly in the home we’ve had the blessing to live in south Florida for the past decade.
My second D.C. visit came by way of invitation to attend the Environmental Defense Fund’s Fly-In last week and to take the opportunity to visit with offices of Florida’s congressional delegation to share my heartfelt inclinations about the importance of pursuing legislative goals of environmental solutions for our state as well as nationwide. Ironically, as I traversed Capitol Hill on foot last Thursday with a few of my like-minded colleagues, our U.S. Congress was also receiving the most recent public comments from Miss Greta Thunberg of Sweden. While I carried copies of my children’s illustrations and short comments about our stewardship of the Earth to my state’s various congressional offices, Miss Thunberg was testifying that our nation was doing little to nothing to help assuage the seemingly accelerating effects of our contribution to our planet’s climatic cycle. In the past couple days, Miss Thunberg also addressed the United Nations in New York City by repeatedly saying “how dare you” in regards to the idea that this global governing body entity looks to the youth for hope and yet fails in action.
Rewind to earlier this year: I took the time out to track our household’s trash habits for a couple of weeks. This included taking note of the packaging that we deal with when purchasing goods and how we dispose of those items as well as pre-existing goods in the home. The results of this personal audit almost sent me into a full-fledged depression swing similar to the post-partum blues I had experienced in varying degrees with each of my children born. It was embarrassing to recognize just how much waste we deal with in this home and although we try to diligently sort our trash into as much recycling as we can—then we’re faced with the dirty secret in most of our nation’s municipalities that much of our recycling isn’t actually recycled, rendering this conscientious ritual of sorting our garbage in the house a moot matter.
My personal trash inventory and revelation, along with a shared vision with friends, gave me the inspiration to seek more avenues to help effect change in my city and county in the interest of cleaning up our act when it came to household habits and waste processing. It also highlighted to me that it is a harsh reality to face our personal habits when it comes to how we travel, purchase and process goods, dispose of our trash, and use our resources like water and energy sources. It is this message I believe that needs to be conveyed to the world’s microphone so to speak. Although as a mother and educator I wholeheartedly support the notion of a 16-year-old having global attention when it comes to helping influence change in funding, legislation, and other environmental mandates needed to assist a “clean-up” of our habits, I dislike our collective avoidance of the real problem we face in terms of our interaction with our planet’s climatic cycles: ourselves.
There is so much more to write on this subject today, probably redundant in nature given how much has already been written and shared in digital spaces such as the Twitter social media platform. If there is anything I desire to share and encourage in this discussion regarding our climate stewardship going forward, it would be that the most effective course of action would be to cease finger-pointing to entities such as governing bodies and business corporations. If we have any hope of dramatically changing our habits, we must take personal responsibility and ask ourselves if we’re willing to re-think how we transport ourselves, purchase and utilize goods, sort our garbage, and overall make those hourly decisions to make a difference in our human footprint on Earth.
“We are given substance, nurtured, and sustained by family. Kinship goes beyond family and is the connection we feel to the world at large and everything in it. Given the concept of family, it isn’t difficult to understand the idea of kinship with other forms of life—everything was of the Earth. We all came from it one way or another and returned to it when life was over. These were the unalterable realities that connected us to everything around us.”–Joseph M. Marshall III, The Lakota Way
This has been a tough week for our nation’s attitude as reflected in social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter following the high-profile mass shootings that occurred in Ohio and Texas this past weekend.
As with anything that happens in our human society here in the United States of America, the ripple effects of events that reverberate through our populous can manifest in either very positive manners or, unfortunately, in the nastiest ways.
I have an interactive story to share with you if you’re still reading this that is related to what’s happening in our country when it comes to everyday interactions. Imagine what it must be like if the following happened to you:
You’re a middle-aged Caucasian man, handsome in features, and having to board a flight to attend to a family situation out-of-state. As you enter the departing plane, you sit down in the middle seat of a row containing three seats in your designated row, there is an older woman already sitting to your right.
A couple minutes after you’ve gotten seated, to your left comes a young man who is wearing a “Buttigieg 2020” t-shirt and he nods a greeting toward you and the lady next to you as he sits down. You shift as is customary to allow your new seat-mate to have enough room as he buckles his lap-belt. The woman to your right also shifts, but in an agitated manner after having bent down and looked to the left to see this passenger.
As everyone is settling in on the plane, the woman to your right becomes physically animated with her hand gestures and begins to engage you in conversation. Maybe “conversation” is an exaggeration as she seems to be speaking to you without having introduced herself or even asked you what’s your name. Her voice’s volume has raised as she starts with: “You know what, these liberals are just getting out of control. They are bringing this nation down and causing all these holes in our society. This is just crazy, how can we operate our democracy with these gays and such that are destroying the moral fabric of our nation? All the homosexuals and Jews just need to be rounded up and shot. They wonder why these massacres are occurring, we need to start with the problems and eliminate them, right?”
You are ingesting this “conversation”, these words strung together with a combination of rusty, barbed wire and battery acid spraying all over your face when clearly the recipient is not truly addressing yourself but the young man that is wearing the 2020 presidential bid by Buttigieg.
Normally, you are able to let moments like this go and ignore the person spewing such rhetoric…but today is not that day. You are a gay man and this lady just told you that she believes that you and all your “kind” along with others she’s labeled as unfit should be rounded up and eliminated from physical existence on this Earth.
You snap, inside yourself, like a wooden stick during a cold winter’s day in a dry climate—your temper just snaps in half with a CRACK as you respond to this woman sitting to your right (still don’t know her name): “You know, you’re right, we should start with eliminating those who are so close-minded and harsh in judgement”.
The lady looks intently into your light blue eyes that are undoubtedly sparkling with pain and disdain simultaneously and she nods toward you saying, “Why, yes, that’s a good start. I agree.”
To which you quip back, “Because, you know, I’m one of those gays that you mention should be rounded up and shot. So I would appreciate if you just leave me alone now and refrain from speaking to me again.” You shift your body to the left as you use your U-shaped travel pillow to allow yourself some rest. Silence ensues. Did the Buttigieg guy hear all of this? Does it matter?
This story doesn’t stop here.
You attend to the family business for a couple of days. It’s time to leave now and board another flight back to your home city.
This has been a rough passage of trip, you don’t care for air travel as it is. You’re ready for your Tito’s Vodka and soda as you board this home-bound flight.
You have a window seat in a two-seat row. After seating yourself, soon thereafter your seat-mate who is a black woman dressed in a beautiful magenta skirt suit comes to sit to your left. Again, as is customary, you shift appropriately so the lady has enough room to situate herself as the plane settles into take-off mode.
The drink cart time has come as the flight is now at a cruising altitude. When the stewardess comes to take your row’s order you ask for your long-awaited “Tito’s” and are given an alternative vodka selection and asked whether that will work.
At this very moment, the lady to your left starts to speak loudly in a Jamaican accent at what seems to be either you or at the stewardess: “Oh no, I’m not sitting here with this guy drinking!”
Reminder that you’re a good 54 years young and know that you can do whatever you want as a gay man in the USA who has completed a tough trip and just needs to decompress in peace. As if on cue and responding to this truth, the stewardess doesn’t acknowledge what this seat-mate of yours just said, only asks, “Would you still like the vodka sir?”.
“Ah yes, I’ll take two bottles please,” you respond immediately. You proceed to ask for two cups of ice to boot. The lady next to you continues to rail on about, “Oh no, I am NOT going to sit with him as he drinks!” No one is paying attention to her, including yourself who really just wants to avoid another verbal altercation and numb the pain of the last few days.
Resolute not to engage at this point, you toward the window and sipping your liquid therapy at this moment. Your seat-mate harrumphs and pulls out her iPad and begins to tappity-tap on it. This actually calms you as you’re grateful that it seems she’s now distracted and no longer calling you out as if you’re some town drunkard hell-bent on corrupting the entire airplane full of weary travelers.
Being such close quarters, your seat-mate is engaged in a game on her digital device that’s large enough that you can read what she’s doing. It’s a Bible verse/theme game. She visibly gets stumped and is uneasily moving around in her seat as she’s trying to figure out the answer.
Perhaps against your better judgement you lean in and whisper to her, “Job”…she glances at you with both a look of horror and incredulous surprise asking, “What?”. You repeat, “Job, the answer is Job. Try it”. She puts it in and immediately is gratified with positive reinforcement that she got it right. No thanks from her but then again, this is a fluke, right?
This type of scenario repeats itself several times over the course of an hour into the flight, you’re giving her answers like “Ecclesiastes” and “Gospel of Matthew”. By the end of it all, this Jamaican lady is astounded at your knowledge of the Christian Bible and says to you, “I misjudged you, keep reading the Word of God, you’re doing amazing.”
To that you simply say with a gentle tone and soft smile, “Thanks, I accept your apology”.
Soon you fall asleep, putting a pause on the button of your life that seems to be full of these moments of late—mass judgements and angry people all emboldened to express their feelings whether it be online in social media platforms or while traveling in a metal tube in the sky to complete strangers.
Note: This story scenario is based on a true story as retold to me and others by a man named “Joseph”. I’m withholding his true name and position for protection but I’m indebted to him for giving me a window into what it can be like to be in a certain segment of our society and how painful and detrimental it can be for all involved when interactions such as these arise.
Politics and religions aside, I pray we can find that we all trust in Love and proceed forward in this nation with the mindset that there is much more that binds us together in unison than what drives us apart.
The State of the Union (SOTU) address isn’t everyone’s cup of entertainment tea. Especially during this time in our nation’s political climate where anyone who is elected President of the United States can fall under scrutiny of whether they belong in that role or should be impeached for some nefarious reason. I offer my short afterthoughts of the SOTU in case you were curious for a breakdown of what happened during this 2019 speech.
As I watched the address Tuesday night, I felt déjà vu wash over me relentlessly like the south Atlantic waves that break on the Florida beaches 10 minutes east of my home. There was a time I watched the SOTU only steps away from the Capitol building, securely at my work desk in a U.S. representative’s office— available for the boss if needed but simply enjoying being a political geek as a worker bee.
As the cameras panned over to the Democratic side of the House floor aisle, I was proud for a moment to see many white-clad women in their proud unity with each other—although it stung a little to see them apart from the Republican women. I wondered how much stronger we would be sitting together despite party affiliation differences? Why wear white by the way? I understand the historical entomology going back to the suffrage movement of last century, but sometimes a tradition should evolve with the present times. Couldn’t we pick another color to wear since “white” is taboo in our current social-political climate? Double-standards are the land mines of our political landscape today. Either way, we shouldn’t stop asking questions or trying to extend a hand to the “other side” of the political aisle. We have no one to blame but ourselves for erecting these barriers against working toward compromises merely based on whether a donkey or an elephant punctuates your political affiliation. Women are the village-minded ones who can change the tone from previous generations of male-dominated division tactics of politicking in our relatively young nation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: I reserve a moment of respect for her in spite of my philosophical differences with her. She’s Speaker of the House, again. Seeing her and President Donald Trump in the same frame together was an astonishing sight. These two individuals that command polarizing attention, diabolically different individuals in their shared age group, at this moment of history at the operating helm of our nation—the Titanic is a bath toy in comparison to this visual statement at the SOTU. Never mind the fact that you can search the internet and social media platforms for countless moments caught between President Trump and Speaker Pelosi that dripped of sarcasm in copious amounts. I can only imagine the amount of stress their respective staffs were under during the SOTU while watching their principals flex and flaunt their mighty titles and modus operandi.
I noted congresswoman Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez’s posture at one point in the SOTU, evidently taking a photogenic opportunity to pout about the President of the United States. Ah, yes, I recalled how I too was in my twenties once and felt so passionately that changes must be made in our society while still learning how everything works in the adult world. Rep. Oscasio-Cortez at once can be an inspiration for younger women who would like to make a positive difference and yet because of her lack of humility with respect to her inexperience, she can also be an awful example of how overzealous behavior can wreck a generation’s ability to effect real change. For example, although we can all agree that humans are part to blame for things like fossil fuel dependency and an obscene amount of garbage produced; to demand a complete stop of electrical grid usage of fossil fuels without a solid transition plan is pompous pandering to an electorate who are more concerned about how to make daily ends meet. (readers note: research “Green New Deal”)
Overall President Trump delivered a SOTU speech that was a verbal relief after his endless tweets and media sound bites that had barraged our nation’s collective consciousness in the weeks following the partial shutdown of the federal government. Utilizing more “we” than “I” seemed to be the end result, whether he feels that unity is possible is irrelevant. It still feels better to hear that type of connecting language—especially in a public forum like this where other countries are dissecting our Commander in Chief’s every sentence for clues in how to engage our governmental officials and citizens abroad.
There were many good human-interest stories at the SOTU. These too were unifying moments, times where both major parties could stand and clap. Again, nothing wrong with finding these short and sweet instances where we can blend into being proud to be an American—with the freedom to be ourselves and yet still celebrate the victories of ordinary citizens overcoming extraordinary circumstances.
I do wish the best for both the U.S. House and Senate Members of Congress this legislative session—especially the new members regardless of whether I agree with their platforms. It is a difficult but noble position to be a public servant in this capacity. Most citizens don’t know the details of the work involved for each elected legislator and their staff. We’re blessed to be in a country where our votes truly still matter if we all respectively engage actively in the process. It’s a good thing to see more cultural diversity in our U.S. Congress and to bring in more women, younger and older. This SOTU may have been a powderpuff event in wordplay but our nation deserves to have times like this where a message is delivered with more alignment in tone as we move forward. God bless us all. +
Note: Been a while since I’ve written one of these because it takes getting a break by the seashore to get the inspiration for these pieces. Rare.
Summer 2018 Setting
The summertime weather here in south Florida is intense because we get the double whammy of high temperatures coupled with high humidity that can envelope us like a heavy wool coat but the difference being that it’s wet and nonstop with its intensity.
As I’ve been a mother for over a decade now, I’ve found that our best chance for survival outdoors when in town here is to head for the coast immediately after the sun rises to enjoy the ocean before the sand becomes lava-hot and the eventual afternoon thunderstorm squalls move in.
The Tide Retreating
When I arrived at the shoreline a couple days ago, my children found that the high tide had already crested and so the ocean would start its gradual retreat as we sojourned over the next few hours at the shoreline.
What’s exciting about this reversal of water flow is that one can get a glimpse of the shells, rocks and other small trinkets that the sea can give up any given day. There’s a thrill in watching the water retreat every few seconds while also yielding a new batch of goodies–the trick is to strike and pick up what you see and like before the next breaking wave takes it away.
Nature Reflecting Us
During a time in our nation when any given media outlet online or print is exposing all the negative shades of our current social or political status, it’s liberating to stand between the barrier of land and water and to feel the force of the inevitable coupled with the unexpected. “The unexpected” being anything and everything that our offshore Gulf Stream can depose on the receding shoreline. “The inevitable” being the waves, propelled by the currents, ushered by the moon tidal forces and so forth.
Here’s the good news: we’re all so different. There is no “black” and “white”. It turns out that there are countless textures, shapes, colors and differing weights to the shells and rocks I sifted through my fingers as the waves broke against my legs with my feet sinking into the shifting sand at the magical barrier where land and sea overlap. How comforting when nature reflects the truth about who we are: an amazing array of physical people with unique personalities!
What Is Our Place?
As I selected a variety of empty shells, sea glass and bits of rock I felt a rush of anger at the idea that our nation could ever fall into the trap of writing off sections of people based on their looks, pasts or perceived biases. Don’t we realize that what makes our world so beautiful are the differences that we all represent?
When we really take in the nature around us on Earth, it’s devastating to recognize how we’ve collectively cheated ourselves into thinking that we as humans are so caustic as to write off entire cultures, nations or people in general based on the color of our skin or our socio-economic backgrounds. What gives?
The Sorting of the Truth
Every time that I return from the Atlantic Ocean shore with a pocket or bag full of shells, rocks and other artifacts I immediately put the finds into a bucket full of water at home and have fun sorting them with my children—even alone if the kids aren’t interested.
Here’s what I’ve found over the decades of practicing this ritual: every fiber of my being senses that nature mimics life incarnate and so all these splendid varieties of physical representations of what has trespassed our ocean system soothes my frazzled nerves. The truth is that we all have more in common with each other than we realize despite our differences.
Go Out: Pick Up Some Rocks or Shells!
As dull as it may seem to some folks, would encourage anyone who lives by a body of water (even lakes and streams) to enjoy the simplicity found in picking up natural deposits like rocks, driftwood, shells and countless other things yielded by these various bodies of water.
It’s a therapeutic exercise in harvesting what’s available and plentiful but it’s also a great lesson in recognizing individuality. There’s an amazing diversity out there in our geology and yet it’s a strong reminder of how we as people are full of different facets and hues—just like the handful of granite and quartz pieces I was able to retrieve from the Atlantic earlier this week.
It all started with random comments made when I would check my Facebook feed sporadically earlier this week while juggling summer camp schedules and other countless domestic duties. After reading similar posts saying: “Kate Spade, so sad, RIP” I decided it was time to investigate further.
The news was everywhere and I felt sadness for a woman and her family whom I don’t know—truth be told, I would often see her purses in the department stores and thought them clever and cute but never bought one for myself.
Out of respect for the work she put it into her fashion line with the support of family and friends, however, I wish I had if only to take a moment to say “thank you” to her for coming up with a fun line of products that many people have come to enjoy and share with others through the years. We sometimes wish that we could have helped another person in pain after the fact right?
No Reservations, Parts Unknown and Clearly No Idea
Friday morning arrives with a foggy mindset as I had been doing my best not to read too much about depression and suicidal tendencies in the wake of Kate Spade’s personal tragedy made public and dissected by everyone who took the time to type, tap or dictate their view on the how, why and what to do to avoid more macabre news notifications.
Again the social media water cooler lit up with the news of yet another soul departed by their own devices. The setting was in France this time starring Anthony Bourdain: his buddy found him and then as I finally just pulled up one of the news websites like CNN it became real and now the tears started to burn. Bourdain found dead by apparent suicide and while on-site filming for a new season of his “Parts Unknown”. This particular show has been a way for me to vicariously live through his travels and be inspired to have courage in my culinary choices as I most recently tried Jamaican food in a local gas station–while the outside appearance of the establishment was unsavory, the food within is heavenly. (note: Mama D’s Calabash for my local readers in Palm Beach County)
At this point I stopped reading anything online or by way of smart phone except to dispatch some personal messages to some friends about it. When Friday afternoon rolled in, so did a fantastic thunderstorm outside our home here in south Florida with violent flashes of raw electricity and rattling thunder. I walked into our pantry and pulled out a fine red wine and paired it with some cheese from Switzerland (another inspiration from Bourdain, wine and cheese make great bedfellows all over the world). As I drank the wine slowly and savored the cheese, I lit a candle and watched the waterworks rage outside with life-wrestling drama.
Now the tears started to moisten my stoic and disciplined eyes. Simultaneously I felt mad and sad. There were waves of jealously coupled with tremors of righteous anger from feelings that injustice had been rampant this week with the public news of these suicides while there were probably many others in the world who died similarly this week but most of the social media users and cable news companies will never know about.
I didn’t cry as I prayed for Spade and Bourdain’s souls watching the storm continue outside our window, the lights flickering for a moment after a close bolt of lightning struck across the street. You see, I believe many people struggle with depression. Perhaps it could be argued that every human being on this Earth will have a depressive episode even if only once in their life. When these suicidal tragedies occur, there are some of us that feel relief that we dodged the proverbial bullet at least this time.
We can do the research, the therapy and the general public is capable of pontificating our views on the matter of depression and the links to suicide with or without scientific reasoning. Here’s what I know from experiences with depression in my lifetime: it doesn’t discriminate and the dark battles within us all can rival the best cinematic representation of fights, i.e. Lord of Rings or Game or Thrones visuals. It can be lonely and dangerous.
It’s positive that we’re having these discussions regarding depression and the afflictions that can result from it as uncomfortable as they can be at times. How we treat each other really does affect us. People are more connected than they realize and I don’t just mean through “friending” or “snapchatting” each other. We’re in a time of great social evolution but we can get stuck in the mud too easily with our emotional reactions to each other as we interact.
“Things That Matter”: Crying Now
While still letting the recent news of Bourdain’s simmer and reduce, I made the habitual swipe and tap to check social media only to see a note about a farewell letter from Charles Krauthammer. In the whirly dervish of the past several months of political and economics news cycle it was somehow lost on me that I hadn’t seen him in person during “talking head” shows.
My tears may have been partly for Charles having to suffer physically from such an illness but I suspect my heart also breaks for so many of us that find it difficult to find Peace in our respective lives while we still have healthy breaths to live. We can fall into the trap of hurting each other and ourselves when we lose the stillness and grace of Spirit in this world. Krauthamer loves chess and now sees his “checkmate” ahead and shares an uncommon candor in accepting his fate in the calm letter to the world about it.