Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Round heads, or what I'm working on

Last week was a curiously warm one for November. And after 8 weeks of hybrid in-person/digital school, the kids are returning to a fully on-line education this Wednesday. No one's thrilled but considering that the prediction at the start of the school year was a very conservative 1 week, 2 whole months is a medical miracle in itself. And having everyone finally in the same learning environment, albeit virtual, must surely be a relief for the teachers who'd had to deliver instruction over multiple disparate platforms thus far. All (ultimately) good things.

I've been doing this a lot, I realize - reframing and Bright-Side-ing. This year has been psychologically exhausting that way. If you will forgive a Physics metaphor, it takes formidable energy to sustain a net forward momentum, after all. And if conservation laws are to be upheld, that energy is expended at the expense of something else. Mass, often. But more usually sanity.

I hope everyone's been doing okay. I haven't blogged much in recent months, but I've missed you guys and I think of you and wonder if you're still keeping your creative energy alive (or maybe it's the other way around), and if your families are thriving, and if you've found new things to be thankful for and excited about. I'll give you a quick update on things on my end: the girls are old enough now to be fairly independent students, so the typical school day proceeds without much input from me or their Dad. Sometimes I get asked a Math question, or the location of a particular piece of furniture needed for a music lesson on Zoom or - if I'm really lucky - the children will let me talk about Science for a bit. They're doing well on the whole but they don't like school at home, largely because they don't enjoy digital instruction. I've thought about why digital learning is so hard on kids at this age - and any age, really - and tried to juxtapose what I'm observing in my own girls with my past experience in the classroom. Here is my one-sentence analysis: good instruction (and learning) is often methodical but not overly linear. Beyond just the social aspect of being with other humans, a classroom, with input from (hopefully systematic) teachers as well as laterally from classmates, is set up to achieve that. The current online school formats, which are typically uni-directional, not so much. Although I have seen other online courses admirably try to approximate that with forums and discussion groups and such (bravo!). 

Interestingly, lunchtime has become the high point in the school day, so I've tried to make that predictable and something to look forward to. We have a three-week rotating roster with something hot and home-cooked (but easy) at the start of each week - tacos, sloppy joes, baked mac-n-cheese, along with the usual portable cold sandwiches and such. This ambitious plan was also partly inspired by discovering that as my children turn into teenagers, they're increasingly ravenous in ways that only Real Food can satisfy. Initially, I was aghast: who eats a hot sit-down meal in the middle of a school (or work) day? And, I further extrapolated, what will the children do when they go out to work as adults if they get used to this now? But these are very strange times, and if this is one thing I can do that will help my kids with their non-ideal stay-home school experience, why not? So I prep or -pre-cook these special meals on the weekend and come lunchtime Monday, the kids set up, feed themselves and clear away before heading back to their rooms. They don't always do a perfect job but they're teenagers, not saints, so I cut them slack.

The cats like that everyone's home, I think. Rather than flee whenever we're in the room, as we've heard some pets do in response to the overstimulation, they seem to have developed a language to tell us that they want even more attention. Crazies, both of them. The girls sometimes kidnap a cat or two for company when they're ensconced in their rooms doing school. In lieu of classmates, probably.

My own workdays have become very fluid. Because everyone is home 24/7 now, the vast majority of my time revolves around family needs in some way. The earlier part of the year was especially tough because I was still mired in grief from losing family in Singapore, and then Covid-19 arrived and shut down borders - and thus any hope of communal mourning - along with swimming pools and other opportunities for psychosomatic respite. I was unmoored and anxious; I held it in my body and knew it, but couldn't unseat it. I finally turned off the news notifications, lost myself in frothy escapist books and some wonderful novels on actual grief like this and this, joined a gym just so I could get underwater again, and made myself cry. 

Crying, let me tell you, is hard. And the hardest part isn't the starting - it's the continuing. There've been so many times when I'd eased into a promising cry only to get distracted and peter out seconds after. Like in the shower, or while driving to the supermarket. Wretchedly unsatisfying. See, a good cry, one that takes time, one that really uproots the anxiety and unlocks the hard little knots inside and finally, finally relaxes your diaphragm enough so that you don't feel like you're about to have a heart attack - those are the ones well worth the misery that fuels them. A good cry is intentional. You must choose to participate. You have to make yourself stay in the pain until your soul touches the parts of you that are ugly and all dread and lost and dark and ragged, and you have to converse with it, and let yourself think things and say things and accept things that have no reframing, and no Bright Sides. It's very exhausting, evidently, which is why so many of us don't do it. So much easier to stuff it down or do the stiff upper lip or plastered-on-smile or patronizing cliche (or worse - the ill-timed religious verse bashed upside the head). When we do persuade ourselves to complete the Good Cry, though, we are remade. I know I am, at any rate. Washed clean. Able to breathe again. Stilled on the inside. Unkinked. Empty but not bereft. Ready to take the next step, whatever that may be. 

Actually interested in taking the next step, whatever that may be.

I miss family in Singapore. I suspect we're still many months out before travel restrictions are lifted to allow us to both enter Singapore and return to Minnesota without detainment, quarantine and other such things we can't afford to squeeze into our usual two-week trip. I haven't been back to see my folks since we lost Auntie Laura. Some days I think: was her funeral really this year - the same year as this present madness? It seemed like an utterly different era, her loss rudely indistinct - yet another impersonal catastrophic headline in a season of numbingly bad news. When I last wrote about her, I thought I might be beginning to process my grief from losing her, possibly even separately from that of losing my Dad. But the pandemic descended - a shroud upon shrouds - and that grief's been put on hold. Not intentionally - it just happened. Not enough energy for forward momentum, as it were; I'm barely overcoming the inertia from the backlash of a world crisis.

Mum, bless her, has been evolving in ways for which I am unspeakably grateful. I can't be with her physically to surround her with the kind of support that she needs, but the extended family has been marvelous. Much has been stereotyped in the West about the power of the Asian Extended Family, but there is truth in it. When dysfunctional, it can make soap operas look like children's tantrums on the playground, but at its best, it's a personal army of kaki-nang (Teochew: own people) who excel at practical help at the highest level of dignity and thoughtfulness. My one regret is that Dad isn't around to see how strong and amazing Mum has been. How honest and authentic and giving and gracious. He'd have been so proud - and smug. "That's why I married her," he'd have said. 

But maybe you're wondering about the title of the post, so let's get to that. 

Recently, we welcomed a new pastor to our church and some of the women met his wife in small get-to-know-you groups. We were asked to bring a favorite thing to give her, and of course my first thought was a cardboard box, but she probably had enough of those after moving across the country to get here. So I painted her a peg doll rendering of her family, plus a random Christmas tree, for no reason other than I'm addicted to painting Christmas trees. But those round heads! Love round heads.

Speaking of round heads

I have a story to tell you soon, and a new pattern. 

Unbelievable, I know, that LiEr's actually written a new pattern after going on and on about inertia and momentum and the lack thereof and other such drivel. The story will reveal all, I promise. 


  1. So good to hear you are moving forward. Best to you and your family. I try to go d positives in our current situation with this pandemic, and have rediscovered my two youngest siblings. They are a.axing, selfless people. I am very blessed,cliche intended, they are a part of my family.

  2. Lorraine, my story is not much like yours and also yours resonates completely with mine. Teacher, mom, mostly theoretical sewist/crafter, human crazed by Corona. Thanks for sharing, as ever--glad you're out there still!--Katy

  3. Hi Lier,

    What a year it's been.

    I agree with your observations of why online school is so hard. As I watched my oldest struggled with transitioning to high school while distance learning (schools are not open here, never have been. Will in January as hybrid hopefully, but my kids probably can't go - more on that in a bit) I thought about how, as a high school freshman, so much learning was done informally. Lagging on my way out of the class to surreptitiously ask the teacher a question in private. Consulting with classmates on assignments. Now everything is so formal, and all of the side learning is missing.

    I am super lucky to have a heated neighborhood pool that (thank you, California weather!) is open year round. Swimming has definitely been my sanity saver this year.

    Our dog loves having everyone home, but she just gets bossier and bossier, barking if we leave because we should all be in the den with her, all the time.

    I gave up teaching online this fall after attempting it. I'm homeschooling the two younger girls, because they struggled so much with screen school in the spring. My two older kids do okay with it, but they do miss real school.

    Besides the pandemic, 2020 gave me a brutal bout with the flu (pre covid), a grandmother's funeral that I couldn't attend (covid), my father had a heart attack (thankfully he is doing okay! We also can't visit, and who knows when we will be able to now, but we did get to see him in December at least). Then last month my husband was diagnosed with cancer. Still determining exact b cell subtype (who knew there were so many) and treatment plan, but should have that by Monday. But means my kids will probably not get to attend hybrid school when it does open in January.

    I think I am done with this year. But DH also got tenure, which, in the 21st century, feels HUGE. And I enjoy having the kids home even if I get hardly anything done myself. Reframing and bright-sideing ;-), which unfortunately I alternate with Catastrophizing...

    Crafting is one of my sanity savers, and I have a twin quilt for my oldest nearly done (largest quilt attempt yet). It just needs to be bound. Your peg dolls are lovely, and I'm excited to see your new pattern. Is there a nose? It looks like maybe in the lower photo, but not the top one.

    Thank you, always, for capturing so much of what we all feel in words.

  4. I love your posts. You have such an eloquent way of putting things (I occasionally go back and reread your post about cooking dinner, what's your superpower because some days I feel that in my bones). My kids are in school, knock on wood. Virtual learning in the spring was awful. However, now my very social three year old follows me around like a shadow, with no library storytime or open gym at the Y to distract him. This has severely limited my daytime crafting opportunities. I did manage to produce several Halloween costumes, including one for the beloved baby doll, which always reminds me of your costumes for Bunny. Basically, staying mostly sane, squeezing in crafting and creativity when I can.

  5. Lier, It is so good to hear your latest thoughts. It is good to keep busy. I sing a lot more to myself now. For what that is worth, my husband notices it.
    I am sick of corona and all of the hate and division going on all over the world. I think the singing and sewing too, just makes me focus on the present and good.
    God Bless and stay happy.

  6. What a year it has been!
    I lost my grandma in the middle of the lockdown. And I am still coming to terms with my grief...
    India is still in the grips of the first wave and looks like the second wave is almost here. There were rumours that school would reopen in November but they remained just that -rumours . Here in India school council members are usually chosen in grade 9 and my daughter had talked of nothing else last year. And here we are, with half the school year gone and no hope yet of it reopening any time soon. But yes, we are all healthy,hoping that next year would be better.


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