I’m laying on my couch, resting. Today I’ve eaten only tater tots and breadsticks and veggie pizza with no cheese. To my credit, what I lost in nutrition I made up for in quantity. I built a giant fire in the wood stove (the only size fire I am capable of making) and my living room is a pleasant eighty-nine degrees. The bread and tots in my stomach are slowly absorbing the twenty ounces of coffee I drank this morning and are gently rising like a glob of yeasted mocha potato bread dough. I’m seriously considering putting on my pajama pants.
Ok, I’ve just returned from putting on pajama pants.
My quarantine life has evolved as the months fly by. It began with a flurry and a dousing of panic and a sprinkle of fear, buying up rice and beans and $5 ketchups and many boxes of Kleenex because all the toilet paper was gone. Now things have settled into a much milder, less harried life. Things are quiet, quite literally, as the circle of people I see in close proximity on the regular (in three dimensions anyway) has reduced from a hundred down to ten. I only ever see the eyes and hair of a third of those ten.
This is the first time I’ve written more than a few sentences since going back to work teaching sixth grade. My working world used to erupt in shouts of joy and laughter with enthusiastic gregariousness bubbling over. It used to throb with waves of hormone saturated sadness at the unjust actions of others, huge crocodile tears splashing on desktops. I played capture the flag. I made a thousand fart jokes. I shouted “[fill in name] stop that immediately!!!!” across the playground at least once a week. I could feel when fractions were hanging like a pall over the room, rather than hearing about it later, when the damage was already done. It was real life in real time and I could effect real solutions in real problems.
But I also used to come home tense, with my shoulders at my ears, unable to tolerate loud sounds and intellectually spent, the after effect of witnessing the trials of so many bursting pupae year after year. Middle school is loud. It can’t help it, it just is. Lockers slamming, sneakers squeaking, and fluorescent lights buzzing are the everpresent undertones. The noise of the voices is what does it.
Children don’t seem to truly understand volume. So many times a child would be inside the classroom and shriek with joy when they saw a [picture of a puppy/kid falling off their chair/name of someone they like on a piece of paper/flying bug/rain storm/etc.] and that shriek, born from unbridled glee, would pierce into the very center of my bones and fracture them, lightning flashing across my vision. I had to restrain my reptilian reflex to flare out my dewlap like a proper monster and hiss roar while baring sharpened teeth. I couldn’t understand how the child next to them could just sit there smiling through those shrieks while I, halfway across the room, was transformed into my own mother when we had the car radio playing too loud; face red, hair sticking up, eyes crazy, angrily snorting…(sorry mom).
“DON’T EVER MAKE THAT NOISE INDOORS AGAIN!!!” I’d bellow, shocking them into momentary silence before they remembered that my dewlap was useless in battle and my spitting poison was just grumpy old people hot air. Deep down, they know that we’re defenseless against them and they could take us in seconds, if they really wanted to.
I never really understand why kids do any of the stuff we ask them to. When I first started teaching I always marveled at the fact that they came inside when we blew the whistle for the end of recess. I mean, what would we do if they all just decided that they weren’t coming in? Honestly, we probably couldn’t do much. But every day, every whistle, even the most oppositional kids come trotting up the stairs for math class. I think it’s more habit than anything else. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to them to organize.
School is such a strange thing. I can see it’s defects. We ask every kid to learn the same thing, despite their particular inborn skill sets. We make them sit down too much. We box them up and give them labels and make them compete with each other while we tell them that it’s not a competition. But I also see the flip side, when a hundred years ago, a genius thinker was stuck in a field digging up potatoes. Remote school is similar. They are isolated. They don’t have access to teachers in the same way. For some, they are trapped in a dangerous place with no outlet. But there are advantages too, as long as the home is a safe place. Students get to sleep in a little more. They don’t have the intense stimulus of the cacophony of hundreds of people under the age of fourteen all in one building. They have some quiet and some rest. They build skills at communicating with their teachers, hopefully.
As for me, I’m left to read books and look at TikTok and upload activities and research online teaching techniques and attach links and follow EOD to do lists. I’ve taken up calisthenics (though I’m skipping the cardio because I’m a grown adult and I can do whatever I want). I can do a few pull-ups and push-ups and I’m on my way to a handstand. I make really good food and talk to my three friends. I zoom with my siblings and parents on Sundays, something we never did pre-Covid era. I lay around with my partner and we crack the funniest jokes nobody else will ever hear. I plan out the meals we will eat if we have to escape in a zombie apocalypse.
Today I laid down on the couch and let some dough rise in my belly. I drank some bubbly water with plum juice in it that my partner canned up in the summer. I sat on the front porch when it got too hot in the living room. Tomorrow I go back to work. I never thought I’d say it: I miss the shrieking kids.