The Fox at Dawn


2.25.2021 Snowdrops

They have done exactly what we asked them to do, the children. Last March, almost a whole year now, we asked them to retreat down into the safety of their screens as we closed the schools down. Of course it had to be done. Down down down they went into their respective burrows. Their lives became very small, smaller still through the winter that has kept us mostly indoors. Being with anyone other than family is a rarity. Going to the grocery is an occasion.

            The school where I teach has offered in person classes since the middle of fall. Not everyone chose to come back, but the ones who did, came back to a wildly different school. It’s a pod-based world where they sit in one room safely (it is hoped) distanced from the desk next to them. All day they sit there, unless the weather allows for breaks outside. The teachers of the various subjects come to them, lunch is brought to them.  They sit. A lot of us teachers try to get them moving as much as possible, but it is getting harder and harder to get them to do it. At least the middle school classes I am teaching. I go into their pods to teach them, but I am also simultaneously teaching the other pods down the hall and the kids at home who have chosen to simulcast their classes. So I am teaching the kids in the pod face to face, only I am tethered to the tiny computer camera through which I try to reach all the other students. It’s schizoid. I teach theater. Normally this is an on-your-feet class full of games, team building, improvisations and rehearsals all working toward an end of semester production. All of this has been shot to hell this last year, though my high schoolers and I have created original plays written for and about Zoom that I am very proud of.  Zoom plays don’t work in the hybrid middle school world though.

            The year has dragged on and on. Often I feel myself floating above my life feeling that I have dreamt it. I have to remind myself at times that I am actually a teacher, that I have a job at a school that is real and that I am teaching real classes. And if I feel that way, I know the kids do too. School may not feel real at all to them, the assignments, the online lectures, the tests. There is so little you can actually touch. The body is not involved at all. It’s all blah blah blah, a tiny head in a box. 

            The winter has been hard on us all. I’ve become invisible to kids I have known for years, kids I’ve directed, laughed with, applauded for. The first day back from winter break, I walked into a classroom and said ‘hello, I’m so happy to see you’ and no one raised their head. They are sunk down into their chromebooks, some have earphones on. They don’t see me, they don’t hear me. I am not real to them. Their bubbly banter is gone. If they are communicating with each other, it is through subterranean tunnels connecting their burrows that we cannot see. Last March we asked them to live inside their screens and they complied. They are down there now, in their cozy tunnels or their snide dens (if they are seventh graders). I stand at the entrance and call down to them- Can you hear me? Is anybody home? Ollie Ollie in come free!

            The sun is returning, there are warmer days ahead. I’ll do my best to lure them out again, create a safe place for us all to play.  I pray that they are like the snowdrops now blooming all over my hillside. Once the weight of winter has melted away and the danger has lifted even a little, I pray that there they all are- blooming, undamaged, undiscouraged.

Spring. All is resurrected, you might as well be too.



April 12th, 2020 Easter

I heard the owl at 3am , softly calling somewhere outside my window- ‘Rise love, the world is here.’ I sat for a long time, leaning on the windowsill listening.

Like everyone, my little world has been upended. The carefully constructed fortresses of daily life were just castles made of sand after all. The lesson plans, the plays in rehearsal, the assessments, meetings, celebrations have all melted away. And I’m fine with that, more than fine, my heart swells with relief. There are concerns, there are hazards- worries over exposure, each decision to engage with the world outside my garden is fraught with dire consequences. How do I protect my daughter and my mother from both exposure and the depression of isolation? My daughter’s mental health balances on the edge of a dinner fork even on good days. Her eating disorder has been rallying strength, as has the urge to self harm. Some of these days have been hard indeed. I too must be careful not to fall down my own rabbit hole as I stare too long at the computer screen on some days, as all my teaching and work has moved to the virtual world.

But there is joy too, such joy! Time uninterrupted to meditate on beauty, earth’s unfailing dedication to life on full display as spring pushes up through the nurturing dark and blooms all around me. My heart sings with my good luck to live here in Her garden. Along with flower and leaf, the frogs have made it through the winter and now sun themselves on the rocks at the edge of the little pond. Bats have returned to the sky. Birds of every kind are busy courting and building their nests. I hear the owl every night now, calling me back to myself. I am being given both courage and time to tend to my own work, the secret work of my heart made manifest in the stories I am writing and the art I make.

I tend the garden yes, but the garden also tends me.



Resurrection

April 11 One of my lilacs is starting to bloom, my mother’s day gift some years back. The red buds are in their full glory, the jonquils are about done, some of the dogwoods are blooming or just about to bloom. There is no turning back from spring now.

J seems to me to be much better. She is coming back to herself. Happy even. She is playing music again and making music video edits. She is not horrible. She eats spontaneously, makes good meals for herself without being prompted. Still hyper body conscious and obsessed with how she looks. But happier. I am holding my breath, waiting for the blow, but another day goes by and the blow doesn’t come.

She is going to graduate.

We are planning a family graduation party. I find I have to convince myself that it is all really happening. Four months ago this did not seem possible. But it is.

April 20th Whoosh whoosh whoosh. J & I have been to Bowling Green. We spent the day at Western Kentucky’s orientation. All year I’ve felt that I was behind, a day late and a dollar short no matter how hard I’ve worked. I’ve been plagued with uneasiness that I’ve left really important things undone, that I’ve messed up, that I’m about to be called out, sent down to the principal’s office. I went down to Bowling Green worried that we’ve missed some important step that would cost us dearly, worried that I’d be hit with a sudden huge financial obligation I could not meet, or that the tuition bill would be far more than anyone could afford, least of all me. But no. We were treated like queens. I had done all I needed to do, so had J. We were made so welcome there, pulled into a new family. She already has her school ID, her class schedule, has met her advisor. We bought college sweatshirts. The school is so beautiful, so student centered, so safe. I feel in my heart that she will love it. She is a Hilltopper now and she feels proud of herself for the first time in a long time. In a few short months I’ll be dropping her off and driving home alone.

It all goes so very fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.