Back to school or learning pod, every parent’s choice is reasonable

I don’t think my behavior should be characterized as doom-scrolling, but I do subscribe toand read dailytwo of the major American newspapers as well as a handful of magazines. I prefer my news* to be well-researched, fact-checked, and professionally edited, thank you!

Recently, everywhere I look, I’m confronted by angry, polarized debate creating artificial binary positions on the particulars of education in the COVID-19 era.

In person learning is too dangerous! Remote learning is useless! Both positions are flawed…

“In person learning is too dangerous!”

“Remote learning is useless!

Both positions are flawed because real life is nuanced. What works for one child—or one family, or one community—can’t be arbitrarily exported to someone else’s situation because there are meaningful differences between cases.

school supplies - 1Some teachers aren’t at particularly high risk for complications from the novel coronavirus, and want to get back into classrooms quickly. By all means, let’s put those educators to work in communities where infection rates make that a sensible solution. Other teachers have pre-existing conditions or would prefer to teach remotely: there’s an audience for that modality, too.

I have yet to see any analysis comparing the number of teachers who’d like to get back inside schools with the number of families who desire the same for their kids. What if all this finger pointing is for nothing and those numbers align naturally in most communities? Shouldn’t someone put a modicum of effort into asking such a straightforward question that could solve so many problems?

Remote education worked well for some students. Learning outside of a large, “industrial school” setting was the dominant mode of education for most people prior to the past century. It’s ridiculous to pretend that there is only one path from ignorance to wisdom; all of human history argues otherwise.

Binder page listing high school courses for grade 10I’ve read articles bemoaning the selfishness of (rich) parents forming COVID-19 learning pods instead of sending their kids back to public schools. At the same time, many (mostly urban) schools don’t have enough physical space to safely host all of their pupils in a socially distanced manner.

It strikes me as obvious that the removal of some kids—admittedly, those whose families can afford to pay private tutors or take time away from work to teach their own themselves—from over-crowded conditions will only improve the odds against infection-via-density for those who remain.

Backpack with textbooks and school supplies spilling out

It flat out sucks that we have yet to find a way to offer any semblance of an equal opportunity for an excellent education to all students regardless of color, creed, or zip code, but reducing each pupil’s risk of contracting COVID-19 in his or her classroom is a more straightforward problem to solve.

Since this is literally a matter of life or death, I think we should start with the low hanging fruit of smaller class sizes by whatever means possible. Some skilled educators may be lured by wealthy families’ ability to pay for private tuition, but few go into teaching for the money, so I suspect most passionate teachers will remain in the system where they chose to work.

Some families have no option but to send their kids back to classrooms. They depend upon this one and only form of state-sponsored child care in America in order to work, earning a paycheck, but also contributing their labor to benefit society. Their kids deserve to be the first children back at school in person. I willingly cede the seats my kids could rightfully occupy to children who need them more.

The children of essential workers and kids who live with food insecurity should have first dibs on in person instruction this year. This isn’t about getting the most back for every penny I spent in taxes, it’s about doing the right thing at a tumultuous time.

lunch box on kitchen counter

Lunchbox, ready for school.

It is pathetic that many of our schools are in poor repair and lack modern HVAC systems or windows that open. It is ridiculous how many young bodies we squeeze into rooms designed for far fewer. It is outrageous that millions of our children depend upon meals served at school for essential nutrition.

None of that is right, but all of it is true. I will continue to advocate for better schooling for every kid at every opportunity I see, but I’m not going to ignore reality when lives are at risk. Neither choice is pure merit, but neither choice deserves scorn.

The choice that works for your family this year is good enough. Do what works. Kids can learn in many ways and from many sources, especially when they see their parents carefully making thoughtful choices on their behalf.

Children play amongst colorful leaves on a sunny autumn dayKids are resilient. Thank God! Most of the kids will be all right. That’s the best we can do in the face of a viral adversary that has killed 171,787 Americans as of August 29, 2020.

For the moment, the best I can offer my community is to keep my kids away from public spaces to alleviate the pressure of a pandemic on the strained resources of our health and education systems.

I’m doing my best, like so many other parents. Frankly, we should all give ourselves a break, because our best really is good enough for now. Instead of blaming each other for making different choices, let’s all focus on meeting the needs of our own kids, each in our own ordinary, reasonable way.

I voted Election sticker - 1Highly paid elected officials in D.C. and other capitals deserve the pressure and expectation of doing more, because they are the ones who dropped this particular ball. Give them the blame they’ve earned. The U.S.A. is failing in its attempt to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but it isn’t for lack of effort on the part of average American parents.

* It’s true that I added the New York Times to my paid subscriptions only after COVID-19 started sweeping the world, but I’d been on the verge of the upgrade purchase for almost a year. I think this is where I give a shout out to the Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Wired magazine, and The Economist for edu-taining me through a pandemic, right? 

It was my growing reliance on NYT Cooking recipes during the early phase of sheltering-in-place (with hit-and-miss grocery deliveries) that finally prompted me to input my credit card number.

According to this NY Times article from September 4, 2020, 40% of parents have chosen remote learning instead of taking advantage of the hybrid or in person options offered in that city.

As a mother who has home schooled one of her children for over seven years, my experience was that customizing my own plan for my own child was far easier than implementing the adapted curriculum dictated by my other kid’s school that was unprepared for the sudden need for remote learning last spring. American parents have the right to educate their own children as they see fit, so declaring as a home educating parent is an alternative for those whose kids responded poorly to their schools’ offerings.

In 2018, 29.7 million children received free or reduced-cost lunch daily per the USDA

When a teen sews on his missing button…

There’s something thrilling about being the parent of a teen. You remember when this full-fledged person was just an idea, then a helpless infant, progressing on to an imperious little child full of ambitions frustrated at every turn.

Then, suddenly—and nothing makes 18 years feel more like “suddenly” than parenthood!—you sit across the breakfast table from a competent, capable, amazingly functional human being.

It boggles the mind.

And yet, even the most extraordinary teen remains not quite completely mature.

I give you one result of my teen replacing his own missing button on a favorite pair of trousers.

Dozens of buttons strewn across wood floor

The child has gone to sea, and the mother finds this mess on the living room floor!

The heap is not even at his own desk, or piled on the dining table perhaps. No, my kid decided this spot smack dab in front of a door was the ideal place to dump out a quart sized Ziploc bag full of loose buttons.

Ahem.

The kid will be in a hurry to attend his advanced math class upon his return from the seaside, so there’s no chance the mess will be tidied away in a timely fashion. I could clean it up myself, but let’s pretend its a parenting high horse and not my physical limitations or sheer housewifely laziness that renders that option unpalatable.

I suppose I will look back on this incident with nostalgia in a few years when my “baby” has moved out on his own. Here’s hoping the buttons are put away by then. In my house, that’s not such a sure thing…

Literally! He’s bobbing in the ocean as I type this. He went to the beach for kayaking with his dad before his online math class begins in the early evening.

Wear a mask, people of faith, or live in sin

Wearing a mask or other face covering to reduce the spread of coronavirus should not be a political issue because protecting members of our own communities is so obviously the right thing to do.

Safety goggles, cloth face mask, and disposable glovesThis partisanship doesn’t even make rational sense in the context of America’s “culture wars.” Republican party members often proclaim themselves pro-life,º yet many refuse to don protective gear during a pandemic, callously risking the lives of others because the price of a few dollars and mild inconvenience is too high.

GOP.com suggests that Republicans believe Culture should respect and protect life.

You should wear a mask—and follow government mandates ordering you to do so—for the same reason you shouldn’t drive while intoxicated: these rules are enacted to save human lives. We have always limited some freedoms via the common law when one person’s actions infringe upon the rights of others’ lives or property.

It’s none of my business if you are an adult who chooses to get drunk; it is anyone’s business to intervene if you callously murder other people by operating a motor vehicle in that condition. I make no moral or ethical distinction between that action and firing a gun with a bullet in its chamber into a crowd, nor should the law. Mask directives land squarely in this legal territory.

I’m not making accusations from a place of partisanship, either. Objective evidence suggests that Republicans are those least likely to wear masks. A New York Times article from June 2, 2020, referenced a Gallup poll showing fewer than half of Republicans had donned a mask in public. In the same poll, 75% of Democrats had worn one, as had 58% of my fellow independents.

While this inaction flies in the face of the GOP’s pro-life position, it also repudiates the Christian faith of the majority of its members. A 2017 Washington Post article gave me the figure that “73% of the Republican party is white Christian.”Jewish Torah, Good News Bible, and cloth face mask

The 6th Commandment: Thou shalt not kill

I grew up attending a United Methodist Church, though I converted to Judaism as an adult. My daily life is enriched by living amongst observant Christians. While I won’t pretend to be any kind of theological scholar and I personally believe much of the revealed truth of Torah/the Bible to be allegorical, I find the Ten Commandments clear and straightforward, especially this one:

Thou shalt not kill.

There are variations in understanding the Ten Commandments depending upon whether you ask a Jew, Protestant, or Catholic. Thou shalt not kill is usually cited as the 6th*.

Wearing a mask definitively reduces the chances that the wearer will infect someone else with COVID-19. Doctors and scientists are still working to unravel the many mysteries of this novel coronavirus, but there is solid evidence that many cases are transmitted by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals, i.e., people who don’t think they are sick. If you wait to wear a mask until you are sick with COVID-19, you may well have already infected another innocent victim.

COVID-19 has killed over half a million people around the world already, and it is especially lethal when it infects the elderly. I can’t help but leap from this fact to another of the Ten Commandments, number five:

Honor thy father and thy mother; in order that thy days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Excerpt of page of Torah/Bible showing Exodus 20:12-13From my again, admittedly, allegorical interpretation of this commandment, wantonly endangering the lives of any elderly person is quite literally a sin. Even according to a strict interpretation of the words, not wearing a mask to protect your own parents would be the sin. Taking part in a culture of resistance to protective measures makes you complicit in endangering this vulnerable population whether you’re the one who infects your mom or a member of her church does.

Refusing to wear a mask while a virus ravages the weak is an indefensible position for anyone purporting to ascribe to Judeo-Christian values.

The author wearing an improvised home-made face coveringI didn’t need more reasons to cover my face in public during a pandemic, but, upon reflection, I found two more in my faith.

º The Republican party website, on its Platform page, has a poll “Why Are You A Republican?: Tell Us Which Principles Are Most Important To You.” The choices are compiled from previous visitors feedback, and include the option: “Culture should respect and protect life.”

Dated September 6, 2017, but behind a paywall. You could try searching for “The stark racial and religious divide between democrats and republicans in one chart.” Please note that the racial aspect of this chart had nothing to do with my point, but this was the first recent and reliable source I found for statistics on the religious makeup of the Republican party. Presumably there are Christian people of color in the Republican party as well, so it is likely that more than 73% of party members consider themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.

* Catholic interpretation would say this is the 5th, not 6th, commandment.

Catholics omit the second clause, but the shared portion makes my point. For them, it is commandment number four.

Note: The author’s improvised face covering shown in the last photo is not ideal COVID-19 protection for others as it fits too loosely around the face. See the CDC for further advice. This hat+mask combination was my first attempt when PPE was still scarce for health care workers, but the idea of home-made cloth masks was introduced as a reasonable alternative for civilian wear in daily life. It was comprised of a napkin and pipe cleaners and designed to be worn on local walks where social distancing could usually be expected. A loose mask like this is still better than no face covering, however, and it is much easier to breathe in during socially distanced exercise.

Teen wearing medieval plague doctor mask leaving house for a walkMy teen opted for a rather more historical mask that he happened to have lying about the house. My claustrophobia would make this style very difficult for me to wear, but we did get some great photos that day.

Transparent pricing is literally the least we can do to improve US health care

There are very few actions or aims of the current administration of the United States Executive Branch with which I agree, but one such rare alignment won a legal victory this week when Judge Carl J. Nichols ruled against the insurance-dominated medical establishment in favor of American patients.

The U.S. District Court ruling agrees with the White House that it is reasonable to force medical service providers to publish a full accounting of negotiated prices for their services. Disclosing the price a patient would pay if s/he elects to pay cash will also be required.

Insurers say their negotiated prices are their own secret treasures to share with providers, and that we—the consumers, the patients, the worried loved ones—don’t deserve to know what they are. I say that insurers offer so little value relative to the enormous fees paid to them that their wishes are irrelevant and a distraction from the goal of almost all Americans to have better health care with fewer going bankrupt to pay for it.

I believe that the administration of the U.S. medical care system could be improved in almost every way. That said, cost transparency requires no bipartisan agreements on contentious issues such as rationing of care or how much in dollars a government owes each citizen in the provision of health care.

Price transparency will cost almost nothing save a few hours of administrative work by hospital staff. Typing up and publishing these lists will take a minuscule fraction of the labor hours currently spent on insurance billing. In exchange, and, for the first time in decades, cost-conscious consumers of health care—the ill, the injured, the infirm—will have at least a passing chance to vote with the pocketbook by taking business to more efficient providers. Continue reading

Real world Valentines, or, “There’s something weird on the toilet”

My husband always remembers to buy me flowers.

I lead with this fact because I’m well aware that not all spouses are as:

  1. generous with their displays of affection, and
  2. organized with their time

as my not-quite-perfect-yet-perfect-for-me husband. In a world where partner-bashing could be a professional sport, I like to clear a space to express my inter-personal gratitude and all the ways that our relationship makes my life better.

Here’s hoping I’m half as well appreciated by him! I’m also quite definitely imperfect, after all.

But this isn’t going to be a post about my “perfect” husband’s grand romantic gestures for Valentine’s Day. Instead, I’m moved to write about the imperfect intersection of family life, daily reality, and romance. Odd bedfellows, indeed!

I’ve told my husband about a million times that he doesn’t have to battle the crowds of beleaguered husbands to buy day-of flowers for me on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any other Day When Good Men Buy Gifts. I do emphatically! enjoy being acknowledged, but I’m quite happy to let dates slip by a day or two in order to avoid crowds and gross inconvenience for my partner or myself.

I’d rather eat in on a holiday to avoid dining elbow-to-elbow in a packed room at the “correct” time for celebration. Along the same lines, I’m happy to receive my flowers on another day.

And yet, DH—being a gentleman with old-fashioned manners—showed up last Friday with a large bouquet of red roses for me. Yes: his mother is suitably proud.

I was having a rough day as far as my ongoing health issues go, so I decided to forego a heavy crystal vase in favor of anything I could lift.

Dozen red roses in yellow ceramic pitcher on windowsillMy favorite vessel for cut flowers is actually a little dijon yellow ceramic pitcher. I thought the red roses looked quite fetching in it, and the arrangement matched my outfit, too.

DH’s largess, however, meant I still had quite an array of blooms left for which homes wanted finding. It crossed my mind that a bud vase next to my desk would be a nice reminder of how much I’m loved while I work on the bane of every first quarter of the new year, our income tax returns.

3 red roses in a short, tulip-shaped bus vase of purple glass

A slim glass vase held only a few more stems, though, so I wasn’t done re-homing flora.

In keeping with the lower-center-of-gravity-means-less-knocking-over-by-arthritic-hands philosophy of the day, I remembered my tiniest crystal vase. It’s good and heavy for its size, but also quite stable. I was having that kind of day. Arthritis makes me a klutz.

Half a dozen red roses in a small crystal vase

I placed the final half dozen or so roses and went about my business.

Valentine’s Day fell on a school day this year, and, eventually, my younger son arrived home. Upon entering the powder room after dropping his lunch box in the kitchen, he yelled,

Hey, there’s something weird on the toilet!”

Yes, dear readers, I’d placed the final little vase in one of the few uncluttered spaces in my maximalist home: atop the toilet tank lid in the guest bath.

I suppose “something weird on the toilet” is better than “something rotten in the state of Denmark,” at least as far as home decoration goes.

Small crystal vase of red roses atop white ceramic toilet tank

Here’s what Instagram stories rarely feature: we all live imperfect lives. Many families have messy homes. We certainly do. Yes, even on holidays.

Maybe especially on holidays!

Loving partnerships thrive in cluttered suburban McMansions, Korean banjiha, dilapidated farmhouses, and also I’d expect in zen-like modern interiors kept up by teams of professional cleaners as seen on tv.

Here’s the long view of my other vessels full of horticultural affection.

The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, but our hearts are full of love!

I fussed for about five seconds trying to take a “pretty” picture of my Valentine flowers, but if I’d had the energy to get the dishes done and work on the taxes, it already would have happened.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in foolish self-inflicted punishments.

  • I can’t buy that bouquet today because they will look dumb on my cluttered dining table.
  • There’s no point replacing my tattered towels when the kids keep staining the good ones.

Lipstick on a pig!

You can follow that path to all sorts of dreadful places, like not buying flattering clothing that fits for want of losing weight. It’s silly, it’s harmful, and I try not to live like that.

My Valentine flowers are a loving gesture from a person who actually strives to make me happy every single day. That’s well worth celebrating in and of itself! Seen in that light, it would be downright shameful of me not to share my imperfect photos with the world with the celebration and joy that selfless love deserves.

On Valentine’s Day, I didn’t feel in wonderful health and my house was a mess, but I had the good fortune to spend the day with people I love and who love me back. It’s lovely; it’s enough. I wish everyone felt free to bask in such glorious imperfection.

And a skeptic as to my sincerity when I protest obligatory flowers, even 20+ years into our relationship!