“Remote learning until further notice, check website”

by Michele Pickett

It was still dark in my bedroom when I felt the vibration of my fitness tracker on my wrist. Time to get up. I throw on my soft pink robe with cuffs that feel like rabbit fur, then slide into my slippers and shuffle into the kitchen. The yellow glow from over the stove casts just enough light for me to flip on the coffee maker switch.

I wrap my hands around my favorite teal colored ceramic mug imprinted with the words “Life is good. Do what you like. Like what you do.” Inhaling the swirling rich aroma, I settle in the recliner and open the well-worn cover of my daily prayer book. I end with a prayer that all my students and their families will be well. It’s one I’ve added to my ever growing list. Next, I go upstairs to my office and write for an hour and then go for a run.

This is my normal morning routine, something I’ve done for several years. Over this past month and a half so many of our daily routines and tasks are so different from the “normal” we once knew. I could have never imagined wearing a surgical mask and gloves in a grocery store, but this is the “new normal.” That being said, through these turbulent times maintaining my morning routine has been my life preserver, one I cling on to desperately.

Along the run, I stop at the crest of the hill and approach the elementary school. It’s an almost eerie feeling not to see the parking lot filled with teachers’ cars or students waving goodbye at the drop-off line. The electronic message board in front of the school flashes: “Welcome to Ben Franklin Elementary. Home of the Bolts. Let your Lightning Shine.” I’ve always enjoyed reading the happy birthday posts to different students and the upcoming times for the daily clubs or the information about spirit days. Those messages have now been replaced with, “Remote learning until further notice, check website.”

Yet each morning before I reach the school I hope the message will be different. But it’s not. It is another reminder of how much I miss my own school. If I were there now, the students from my school would be waving and calling out good morning from their buses in back of the school. There would be a little group of students waiting outside my door eager to tell me about the game they won or something special they did. There would be the same few who come in under the pretense of unpacking, but just need a reassuring word before the rush of the day. I miss all of them and I miss chatting with colleagues in the hallway and hearing all about their son or daughter’s wedding or who is expecting a grandchild.

Up ahead I see a man walking with his dog. The sidewalk is too narrow for us to maintain six feet of social distancing! I make my strategic move and safely land on the other side of the street. He looks up and from behind his surgical mask, his eyes smile. I wave, hoping my eyes are twinkling back at him, a new neighbor who I will someday greet more “normally.”

It’s 9 a.m. when I turn my computer on ready to start another day of remote learning; responding to students and their assignments, navigating new technology while making a lot of mistakes, collaborating with my team via phone calls, emails, and Zoom calls. Zoom, which I had never even heard of before, has become the best alternative to live contact with the people we care about. I’m wondering now, how did we ever live without it? Although now, it certainly seems as if we cannot.

It’s noon, and I’ve ignored all of the previous reminders from my Alexa app to get up from my chair to stretch, which is why a pain radiates from my shoulder and shoots down my arm. A bright green color draws me over to the window, and I look down on the sill. Sitting there is an egg carton filled with soil and a packet of Zinnia seeds I had received last spring from one of my students. Strong, reaching green sprouts have popped up. I marvel at their growth over the past week. How thrilling that soon I will have to transplant them to a pot. And now since my stomach is telling me it’s lunch time, I force myself to get out of my office and take a break from the screen. The special blue light anti-glare glasses I ordered from Amazon have definitely helped, but my eyes still burn.

Even though I know we are forbidden to travel to any place that is nonessential, I am determined to take a trip! I boldly open the back door…walk out of my house……take the journey… to my RV parked in the driveway. I sit at the kitchen table and while eating my tuna sandwich, I look out the window and imagine traveling to Acadia National Park this summer. A few minutes later when I return to my home office, I am filled with hope and excitement!

The next time I look up, the clock blinks 5 p.m. I promised my family I would be finished no later than 4. Every day it’s the same broken promise. I clean off my desk, turn off the computer, and draw a line through another day on the calendar. Today marks Day 40 of the quarantine, and another day of waiting for a vaccine to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

I look up and my gaze fixes on a plaque that hangs on my wall. This plaque too, like so many things we pass each day, has become invisible and has blended in with the scenery. Today I stop for a moment to read it. And then it dawns on me: I have made a very big mistake. “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

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