Yesterday would have made you very happy. You would have enjoyed Biden’s Inauguration. I know how much you wanted him to be president. Five years ago, you were disappointed when he opted not to run for president. You were upset because you thought the DNC had discouraged him. “It’s a woman’s turn,” you told me. “The Democrats put a black man in office and now they want to champion a woman.” Maybe you were right. If that’s the case, they made a mistake. Hillary was too flawed. During the early days of the primary last year, we bickered over who should get the nomination. From day one you supported Biden. I thought he was too centrist, not nearly progressive enough. In the end, I voted for him. How could I not? It wasn’t even an option. He had to win. And despite the fact that he wasn’t my first choice, or my second, or even my third, ultimately, at this moment in time, he is probably the best man for the job. After the abuse America suffered under Trump, we need a leader who is compassionate and kind.
I wonder how you would feel about Kamala Harris being the vice-president. After the debate in which she went after him regarding his position on busing years ago, you didn’t like her. You were angry at her for being so vocal. So forceful. But Biden chose her as his running mate, therefore, he must have forgiven her. He must have seen something vital and necessary in her fiery spirit. I think, if you were here, you too would have cheered the election of our first female vice-president.
Before Biden was sworn in Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land is Your Land.” The moment they announced her, I started to cry. I know how much you liked her, and knowing you weren’t here to listen made me sad.
During Biden’s speech, he paused for a moment of silence, a moment to pray for all the COVID victims. By then I was balling. G3 looked over at me and rolled his eyes. It doesn’t take much to get the tears rolling and he loves to make fun of me for it. But the prayer was touching. Though my faith has slipped greatly these last ten months, I appreciated it. It means a great deal that Biden cared enough to think of you. Of course if you were here, I might not even have noticed the moment of silence.
After the inauguration, I read an article that said Biden replaced Andrew Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office with Ben Franklin. I remember when Trump hung the picture of Jackson. G3 was only seven, but he and I had discussed the Trail of Tears enough that he knew Jackson was a bad guy. “If Trump likes him, that means Trump is going to be a bad guy too,” G3 observed. I think we all thought that. We — you, me, mom — knew he was going to be horrible. Four thousand Native Americans died on the Trail of Tears. A massive human tragedy. But I don’t think any of us thought Trump would end up killing 100 times that many people through his lies, neglect, and incompetence. And we certainly never even imagined that you would be among them. Now, Biden has switched out the villain for your all time favorite American. When I read the article, I reached for my phone. I so wanted to tell you. But before my fingers touched it I remembered that you are no longer here. Do you remember when you first told G3 that Ben Franklin was your favorite American? He got so upset. At the time he was maybe four years old. “Grandpa,” he scolded you. “I’m American. And I’m your favorite person. So I have to be your favorite American.” You couldn’t argue with his logic and when you assured him he was right he smiled and fell into your arms for a hug.
Two weeks ago, on the morning of January 6, I opened G3’s social studies textbook to begin our lesson of the day. It just so happened that we had recently finished the unit on the American Revolution and were now studying the Constitutional Convention. My son — having watched Hamilton, gone to the National Archives in Washington D.C. and see the Constitution, and having visited James Madison’s house down in Virginia — already knew most of what was in the textbook. In fact, he was so well versed on the topic, he complained the textbook left more out than it included. “They didn’t mention the Federalist Papers at all,” he observed. “And why didn’t they talk about Madison being the Father of the Constitution? They didn’t even say he wrote the Bill of Rights.” The breakdown of the Separation of Powers he also found extremely underwhelming. “You do realize,” he pointed out, “I’ve lived this all year. All you ever do is watch the news and I have to listen to it. Trump, McConnell, Barrett. If I didn’t live with you, maybe this textbook wouldn’t be boring.”
When we got home later that afternoon (my friend has allowed us to use the little house in her backyard as our schoolhouse) my spouse had the news on for background noise as she worked on her lesson plans for the following day. Serendipitously, not long after I walked in, “Breaking News” flashed across the screen. The cameras showed Trump supporters storming the Capitol Building in an attempt to prevent Mike Pence from certifying the election. In shock, I turned up the volume and the three of us — son, spouse, and I — watched the riot unfold. None of us could believe it was happening.
The following day, back in our Somerville schoolhouse, I asked my son to reflect on the Insurrection through the lens of what he had learned the previous day. In short, what would the Founding Father’s have thought of the attack? As always, he grumbled that it was too hard, but he eventually sat down at his computer and over the course of several days he wrote a brief essay. This morning he finished his revision. The last sentence of the essay will only make sense if you have seen Hamilton. Otherwise the reference will appear confusing.
Here is his essay:
On Jan. 6, 2021, it was 1814 all over again. I thought of this because it was like when England had invaded and was burning down the White House. This incident happened during the War of 1812. It was the only other time the Capitol was stormed. This year, thousands of rioters stormed the Capitol and broke into offices of Congress while Congress was confirming Biden as the winner of the Oval Office. They called themselves protesters, but they were terrorists. These terrorists committed treason, trespassing, and one stole mail. Five people died. In The Constitution, Article II says there will be a single Executer, and the Executer should transfer peacefully. Throughout our history of 245 years, every President has transferred power peacefully, until now.
That donkey, birdbrain, numskull, nut job, fool, and dullard orange idiot has caused 400,000 deaths. He has also let police get away with killing black people and black supporters. He has also put kids in cages. It is a bad thing that his species — Trump Supporters — still have a long way to go before extinction because uneducated Trumpers will be around for a long time.
I wonder what George Washington would have thought of this insurrection? Hamilton wanted Washington to be king, but he said no. There was no reason for him not to be king. But he retired after two terms. He was trying to set an example for future presidents and to show that the president should not get too powerful. When he retired, even King George respected him.
The Founding Fathers knew there were flaws in the Constitution and Trump has exposed them. Trump has no respect for the Constitution at all because he is trying to overturn the election and get rid of it. Washington was once displeased with Adams so he stopped inviting him to Cabinet meetings and that’s how the Vice President got less power. However, in March 1797, when Adams won, there was still a peaceful transfer of power between Washington and Adams. Four years later, Adams and Jefferson hated eachother, but again there was still a peaceful transfer of power.
If Washington was alive and knew how to use a television, he would have said that democracy was “Goin’ off the rails on the crazy train.” As I have said before, Washington stepped down and did not run a third time to set an example for future presidents. Trump has taken that idea, chewed it up, spit it in the blender, and burned it. The one good thing about this is that Trump may have lost some calories worrying that he might be removed from office. Anyway, Washington might feel as if the example he set was for nothing. Washington would have felt sickened by the terrorists and he would let his thoughts be heard. Gouverneur Morris, who wrote The Preamble to the Constitution, would think that “We the people” turned into “Me the people for Trump.” Adams would say, “Get the hell up, lick your wounds, and get the hell out of office.” This might be said because Adams also lost to someone he hated and also served only one term. Jefferson would sing, “He’s never gonna be president again, he’s never gonna be president, again,” while dancing around him throwing copies of the Constitution up in the air.
It was a year ago — last Martin Luther King Day — that my son saw his grandfather for the last time. We drove to Queens on Saturday afternoon after our taekwondo classes. By the time we got on the road, it was snowing. By the time we reached the bridge it was coming down hard — and I hate driving in the snow. I drove slowly, and luckily we arrived at my parents’ house safely. As always my son was excited to see his grandparents. On Sunday, Dad took us all to see the new Jumanji movie. It wasn’t a movie I had any interest in. Usually, when Dad took my son to the movies I stayed home and wrote or took a walk. But that afternoon, at the last minute, I changed my mind. I couldn’t explain why. Maybe some intuitive sense knew it would be the last outing I’d ever take with Dad. I’m glad I went. The movie was better than I expected. When we left on Monday morning, as soon as I pulled away from the house — Dad was waving at my son and making his usual funny faces — my son said, “I miss them already.” I smiled, and said, “I know, but we’ll see them again soon. I promise.” But I was wrong. It was a promise I couldn’t keep. If only I had known, I would have turned around and let my son play hooky from school for a week.
A couple nights ago, I had a dream about Dad. He showed up, smiling and when I saw him I exclaimed, “But you’re dead.” He looked hurt, disappointed, and responded, “No, I’m not.” Not really believing him, I reached into my pocket and said, “Then I guess you want your wallet back.” (He had recently bought a new one, and mine was really old and worn, so when he died I asked Mom if I could have it.) I held it out to him, but he shook his head and then disappeared.
On Saturday, my son competed in a virtual tournament — the first of the 2021 season. He still does not enjoy classes as much as he once did. Even live classes aren’t the same as when he had friends to talk to, joke around with, and spar against. Most of the times, if he takes the kids’ class there is maybe on other student in class with him. Sometimes he takes the adult classes with me, and well, he already feels like he spends too much time with his mother. Anyway, it’s the competition he enjoys most. The tournaments that drive him. So I’m glad they are having the tournaments virtually. They may not have the same energy, the same level of excitement, but it’s still something to look forward to, something to keep his spirit from getting crushed by the pandemic. And he did well. He placed second in forms and third in weapons.
We found a house to rent in Middlesex. It’s small, but the entire inside has just been renovated — new carpet, new appliances, fresh paint. If I had my choice of where to live, Middlesex would not even be the top fifty. But it’s only for a year, a place to live until we find something in a place we like more. And I’m finally getting out of this condo, which means I can leave all the misery behind me. I will be walking away from the condo with a smile that will spin into better things to come.
After eleven days off for winter break, G3 found it difficult to return to our homeschool routine this morning. The fact that he had trouble falling asleep last night didn’t help. When we arrived at our New Jersey classroom, he was tired, cranky, and in absolutely no mood to do anything academic. Around noon, we stopped for lunch, and within seconds he was sound asleep. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t sleep enough at night and your classroom happens to be one of the most cozy places you can imagine. Sleeping, he looked so sweet an angelic so I didn’t wake him up. We had all afternoon. There was no rush to get our work done. However, about twenty minutes after he closed his eyes, he woke up crying — upset that he was technically still in school and still had to finish his lessons for the day.
Last month, he had written a poem for fun, a poem about the Battle of Bunker Hill which really took place on Breed’s Hill. We had recently learned about the battle in class which is what inspired him to write it. When he finished, he asked me if I could have one of my wring friends critique it for him. I am not a good poet. Poetry is by far my weakest genre and I’ve never shied away from admitting it. So when he told me he didn’t think I’d be as helpful as my poet friend, I wasn’t insulted. I reached out to her and she was kind enough to read the poem and make comments on it, the way we comment on each other’s work for our monthly writing meetings. After lunch today, my son finally studied her comments and set to work revising. He addressed most of her comments, but he struggled with metaphors. He really wanted to do what she suggested, but the metaphors were frustrating him. Looking at me he sighed, “I don’t think I can do it. Maybe next time.” I didn’t want to push. How could I when I’ve been writing for many more years and metaphors still trip me up. The poem also has no punctuation. That’s intentional. According to G3, “If I add punctuation it will look like prose. Please don’t make me add it. Not yet. Let me have fun. Don’t forget I’m not in college.” Okay, it was a semi valid argument. The last thing I want to do is discourage from enjoying poetry like my teachers had discouraged me.
Here is his historical poem:
Battle on Breed’s Hill
Prescott’s fort was
Forged by earth
1,000 of us
2,000 of them
For we were a militia clothed in rags
We stood on Breed’s Hill
All right and ready
The British were approaching
With red coats and muskets
Like lobsters in a bright blue sea
Do not shoot till you see the whites of their eyes
Overall, my son seemed to be handling his grandfather’s death rather well. We had gotten through several holidays, and Dad’d death didn’t seem to blight them for him as they did for me and Mom. Then we rang in a new year, wished him a happy birthday, and the sorrow settled in. Without being able to have a party, we had wanted to do something special, but in the middle of a pandemic, with cases on the rise — everywhere — what could we do? Briefly, we thought about taking a road trip. But where would we stay? It was too cold to camp. Besides, everything would be closed. Staying home seemed our only option.
As always, my son was exited on New Year’s Eve. When the ball drops in New York City, we shout “Happy Birthday” instead of “Happy New Year.” As a young child, he thought the ball dropped for him, and to this day, he will always say his birthday is his favorite holiday. Once we slid into 2021, none of us felt like going to bed. So we watched Death to 2020. It was funny, and the laughter kept the sadness at a distance.
In the morning, however, Dad’s absence seemed heavier than ever. I kept waiting for him to arrive, to knock on our door, to announce his presence, and envelop my son in a hug. Of course, I knew it wouldn’t happen. But it was supposed to. That’s how things are supposed to go on my son’s birthday, and my son seemed to feel it as deeply as I did. He was mopey and sad, and after he opened his presents he was on the verge of tears. He slumped down on the stairs and when I asked him what was wrong, he answered, “I miss Grandpa.”
It was Netflix that salvaged the day. They moved up the release date of Cobra Kai to January first, and my son announced that he wanted to spend his birthday watching the entire season. It was a poor replacement for Dad, but it distracted my son, enabling him to find some happiness in the day. It’s a show we all enjoy, and so we put on our Cobra Kai tee-shirts (gifts from St. Nick) and had fun watching people beat each other up. I’m not much of a TV person, but even I’m hooked on it. It was the Karate Kid that made me — and half the American kid population — want to learn martial arts oh so many years ago. My parents had said no, probably because it was expensive and they couldn’t afford it. But once I got to Korea, I found taekwondo instead. I probably wouldn’t be working so hard to earn my black belt now if it hadn’t been for the Karate Kid. Therefore, it seems appropriate that we became obsessed with Cobra Kai as my testing date draws near. I hated Jonny so much in the movie. What does it say about me now that he’s the character I like best, the one I relate to most?
This afternoon, we went shooting again. Instead of the archery range in Branchburg, we headed to the range in Easton, Pennsylvania. When we checked in, the man behind the counter pointed to my son and asked, “Is that your daughter?” My spouse and I said,”No, he’s our son. The long hair seems to confuse everyone.” He then asked us if he was our adopted son or if one of us was the biological mother. When we asked why it mattered, he explained that the rules were different for adopted and biological children. Biological parents don’t have to prove they are the parents, but adopted parents do. Initially, we just said I was his biological mother and went off to shoot, but as we were shooting, the anger started to build. In eleven years, no one ever asked us if our son was adopted or biological. How can such a question be legal? I always thought once a parent adopted a kid they were considered the “real parents,” end of question. This baffled me. If we were a traditional family with a mother and a father, would the question even have come up? Do they interrogate all parents? Or just queer parents? From now on, I will refuse to answer the question. I will say he’s my son. If they push for more information, I’ll call them on their discrimination policy. I guess we should have expected this. In entering a shooting range, we are entering Conservative Republican territory. Our morals differ greatly. Several cars in the parking lot had Trump 2020 bumper stickers. I suppose that should have told us everything we needed to know.
We close on our condo on February 1. The good new is, I’m finally getting out of this condo. My son will no longer have to attend Bedminster School. The disconcerting news is we have no idea where we will move. We have nothing lined up. We are too poor to buy a house and I will never ever live in another condo. As far as I’m concerned, living in a condo is the worst of owning and renting all rolled into one. There is not a single thing I liked about it. Our specifications for renting are very stringent. My spouse needs to be within a 30 minutes drive to Roxbury where she works. My son needs to live within a thirty minute drive to Branchburg which is where his taekwondo school is. Yes, there are taekwondo schools all over the state, but he wants to remain in an ATA school and there are none up near Roxbury. Besides, we like our instructor and rather not go elsewhere. We want a good school district — and poor areas are the ones with poorer schools. Which brings me to our biggest limitation of all — what we can afford. Teachers are paid terribly, and I lost my job thanks to Covid. Yes, this is supposed to be a temporary move, which means we should be a little more lax in our demands, but the last time I agreed to move somewhere temporarily I got stuck there for fourteen years. As a result, I can’t agree to something that’s simply tolerable because with my luck I’ll be stuck there until my son goes off to college.
As for my writing, my year started on a fantastic note. Global Poemic: Kindred Voices on the Era of COVID-19 published my prose poem “Fallen.” It — like everything else I’ve written lately — is about missing Dad. You can read it here: https://globalpoemic.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/fallen/.
For the last several years, New Year’s Eve has been a day of stress. A day to clean, shop, decorate, and prepare for my son’s birthday party. Every year on his birthday — New Year’s Day — we had a party from him in which his grandparents would visit. Every year, my parents looked forward to celebrating the day with my son. Every year, until now. Dad’s death, combined with the pandemic, has changed the way we will celebrate my son’s birthday. Every year, the stress nearly overwhelmed me. I wanted everything to be perfect. So that my son would have a memorable day. So that my parents would have enough to eat and not be critical about how cluttered our place is. Every year, I wished for a little less stress, perhaps a bigger place. This year, I miss the stress. I miss the planning and the anxiety. I wish Dad was still here so that he and Mom could come and spend the day. I miss the last minute hustle to have everything in order. The push to decorate. The anticipation of company. I miss Dad.
Eleven years ago, I was in the hospital waiting for my son to arrive. From the start, he was difficult. I’ll never forget the contraction that seized me as the ball struck 2010. And still he didn’t come. He got stuck and so twenty two hours later they wheeled me into the operating room for a C-section. The doctor cut him out and I couldn’t breath. I thought I was going to die. Even with the oxygen mask, I strained to pull enough air into my body. Then I tried to kiss my son, his cheek bouncing off the oxygen mask while my spouse laughed and took pictures. While I was in recovery, my spouse called my parents. Dad answered the phone, and the first thing my spouse told him was that his grandson looked like him. The following day, Mom and Dad drove into New Jersey to meet their grandchild. They were so happy. I knew Mom really wanted a grandchild, but I had no idea how much it meant to my father until he held my son for the first time.
This year, God was cruel. He stole from my son the grandparent he needed most, the one he looked up to, the one who most made him feel special. It’s so unfair that Dad isn’t here anymore to spend precious moments with us. Last year, when he wheeled my son’s new bike up to the front door for his birthday, I had no idea it would be that last party he’d ever come to. It was the second to last time my son ever saw him. I thought for sure he’d be back again this year.
Since Mom doesn’t drive, she wouldn’t be able to come to a party in New Jersey. Therefore, yesterday, we drove to New York so that we could have an early birthday party for my son. Mom decorated with balloons and a happy birthday sign. She bought my son the peanut butter ice cream cake he wanted. But again, like on Christmas, Dad’s absence was heavy upon us. Mom bought my son a computer — his very own — so that he wouldn’t have to use my old one for school. He was super excited to get it. She also gave him a lego set. My son insisted on sausages for dinner, the same dish I had made for the last several parties. The four of us played Catch Phrase. And my son enjoyed cuddling with his uncle’s dogs. My brother wasn’t home, just his dogs. He was up in Cape Cod, cleaning out his things from his condo which he is very sad to be selling. This year — 2020 — has been unkind to us in so many ways.
Today, my son and I went to taekwondo to do a workout and to ring in the New Year — Seoul time. The last two years the event was crowded. This year, it was only the two of us in-person with the instructors and three other family who participated via zoom. We had fun, we but missed the other students.
After taekwondo, we headed over to the archery range where we spent another hour and half shooting. It was fun, relaxing, almost mediative.
Last year on New Year’s Eve, instead of staying at home like we always did, we were invited to a New Year’s Eve party. It was probably the most enjoyable New Year’s Eve my son ever had since he got to hang out with friends. For me, it ranked in the top five. Foolishly, we thought a fun night would ring in a happy year. We couldn’t have been more wrong. This year, we’ll stay home, just the three of us. Perhaps we’ll watch a movie. It won’t be an exciting night. We’ll be ringing in the first year that won’t have Dad in it. It’ll be sad, like every other holiday has been. But hopefully, 2021 will be kinder to us. We desperately need a stroke a luck, a little happiness, a new beginning.
Nine months ago, I took Dad to the hospital. It was the last time I ever saw him. I’m still haunted by the fact that I never gave him a hug. I never told him, one last time, that I loved him.
Christmas this year has been incredibly difficult. Christmas Eve especially was hard. This was the first time my dominating emotion on Christmas Eve was sadness. For Italians, Christmas Eve is a bigger holiday than Christmas Day. Since Mom is Italian, we’ve always celebrated Christmas Eve with my parents. When my son was really little he used to tell his friends Christmas came a day early for him. And my parents always made sure it was a special day for him. Dad always greeted us at the door, tossing his arms wide, hugging us, and wishing us a Merry Christmas. From the moment my son and I woke up, we couldn’t wait to get on the road. We couldn’t wait to get to New York. This year, I woke with heaviness. Getting out of bed was a challenge. Mom’s house seemed so empty and quiet without Dad. We tried to play games, but they reminded me of Dad which made me sadder. Mom tried to make the day festive, but she too was buried beneath sorrow. If it weren’t for my son, we probably would have canceled the holiday. In prior years, I always made my parents a college for Christmas that included all the fun things they did with my son throughout the year. This year, along with no tree, there was no collage. We also didn’t sing. It was the first time in my memory that Christmas came and went without us singing after dinner. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew if I tried I would only have cried. I apologized to my son and promised that next year I’d try my best to bring back that tradition. But Dad had the best singing voice, without the songs would have been out of key. How could I sing Silent Night, his favorite Christmas carol, without him?
Christmas Day wasn’t much better. Although we woke to my son’s excitement which made me smile, I still felt Dad’s absence. In prior years, we’d FaceTime Mom and Dad so that they could watch my son open his presents. This year, it was just Mom. Only her voice was in the background as my son tore open his gifts.
A few weeks ago, when we were trying to come up with Christmas gift ideas for our son, I suggested a real bow and arrows. My son loves shooting at Cub Scout camp, and a few times, in prior years, he had asked for a real bow. Each time I told him he couldn’t own a weapon until he was 21. But the last few Cub Scout camping trips were canceled due to Covid so he didn’t get to shoot at all this year. I half expected my spouse to greet my suggestion with a vehement, “No.” I was surprised when she embraced it enthusiastically. When my son opened his bow, he was super excited. His face — pure joy and surprise — said it all. He later told us it was one of the best Christmas presents he’s ever gotten.
To go along with my son’s archery equipment, my mother-in-law gave us a one year membership to a local shooting range for Christmas. Yesterday, we took the required two hour beginner course so that we could use the range. We learned proper safety protocol, the different types of bows we could use, and proper technique. After the class, we stayed for more than an hour to shoot some more. My son seems to have a natural skill. For having only shot a few times, his accuracy was impressive. My spouse had far more fun than she expected. In fact, she loved it so much she used her Christmas money from her father to buy her own compound bow. I wanted a bow too, but they didn’t have the recurve bow I wanted so I have to wait for it to come in.
This evening we had an enjoyable zoom chat with my cousins on Dad’s side. I “met” another one of Dad’s first cousins and his wife — cousins whom Dad really wanted to reconnect with. Life is strange. Nine months ago, Dad was supposed to reconnect with his family, instead he ended up in the hospital where he died. But I’m glad I’ve gotten to know my distant cousins, especially since the cousins I was close to in my younger years threw me overboard when I married a woman. It’s nice to have to have a connection with family, which is probably why Dad had wanted it so desperately.
Of course today was the biggest snowstorm we’ve had in a few years and I completely neglected to pack any of our snow clothes. I guess, when we left New Jersey on Thanksgiving, snow was nowhere on my radar. Thankfully, Mom has not yet gotten rid of Dad’s clothes. Sure his boots are too big on me, they’re even bigger on my son, but we weren’t complaining. I also wore Dad’s waterproof jacket (also way too big). I found an old pair of my snow gloves — hot pink and black, okay, go ahead and laugh, my son did — that must date back to the 90s. Mom also kept an old pair of my brother’s gloves that were big on my son, but not at big as Dad’s would have been. The only thing we were missing were our snow pants, so we went out without them and our legs got wet. My son got drenched, but he didn’t seem to care. He had fun.
I was up super early this morning — way before the sun came up — but instead of taking my usual morning walk, I grabbed a shovel and went out to shovel the back and front of Mom’s house. For periods of time it rained last night, so the snow was wet and heavy. It took me two and a half hours to clear all the snow. While I worked, my son also got up early to get a jump on his school work. When you homeschool there is no need for an entire day off. School is in the house so you don’t have to worry about driving anywhere. Yes, I’m mean. But if I gave him the day off completely he would have spent most of it watching television and I wasn’t having that. But I did scale back on the work I expected, and even allowed him to skip writing. For the most part, he did well with his work. I was pleased.
After shoveling, I went over my son’s work. During history class — because my son’s questions and comments frequently cause us to take a Google detour — I confirmed what I already knew, the Kosciusko Bridge was named after the Polish Revolutionary War hero. However, what I didn’t know was that nine days after the new bridge opened, Hitler and the Germans invaded Poland. At the time, there were many Polish immigrants living in New York City. The bridge was named after Kosciusko as a way to demonstrate solitary with Poland. By the time we worked our way through the humanities and science and it was time for my spouse to review some of the math with our son he was getting grumpy and antsy. He needed to be out in the snow.
Dressing for the snow is always a project. Dressing for the snow in oversized clothes is not only a project, it’s comical. Tuesday, before putting my car in the garage, I pulled out my old sled — a Flexible Flyer. Mom and Dad held on to some of my favorite toys in hopes that they’d have a grandchild some day. That sled’s been sitting in the garage for a very long time. I wish Dad had been here. He’d have smiled to know that my son was finally getting to use it.
In case you are wondering, a ten — nearly eleven — year old is not too old to be seen sitting on a sled and being pulled by his mother through the city streets. Yes, after shoveling heavy snow for two and a half hours, I agreed to pull my son up to the park. Perhaps I’m crazy. Maybe I just realize he’s growing up and I wanted to hold onto childhood a little longer. Whatever the reason, he enjoyed the ride. At one pointed, he suggested, “You know, if we moved to Alaska you could buy me a husky and then you wouldn’t have to pull me anymore.” As much as I’d love to visit Alaska some day, I’m not sure its a place I’d wanted to relocate. I took him to Forest Park, where Mom and Dad used to take me sledding when I was a kid. We had fun — my son and I — sledding. He enjoyed going down the hill on my back, much like I used enjoy going down the hill on Dad’s back. I only cried once, remembering Dad and wishing he had been with us today.
Back home, we wanted to make a snowman, but the snow wouldn’t cooperate. So we had a snowball fight instead. By then my son’s pants were saturated and he was chilly. He went inside for a hot chocolate to warm up. Before going in he said, “Thank you. I really had a lot of fun.” That made me happy. He doesn’t say that often. I stayed out for a bit longer to shovel up the snow that had fallen since earlier in the morning.
This afternoon, we finished watching Hamilton. Dad had really wanted to see it, and Mom had been looking forward to seeing it with him. She was finally able to bring herself to watch it with us and she enjoyed it immensely. Dad would have loved it too. He would have have a blast watching it with his grandson and discussing it afterwards.
Yesterday, at the end of my early morning walk, I passed by the church. Mom had a memorial brick added in the garden for Dad. It says: Gary Jaeger Aways In Our Hearts 1948-2020. Only instead of the word “Hearts” there are four hearts — one for each of the people who miss him the most. Of course, I cried when I saw it.
In the afternoon yesterday, my son and I made Christmas cookies. It was hard to do something Christmasy, but I knew it meant a great deal to my son. He would have been disappointed if we didn’t have cookies. He helped me more this year than ever before, which was good considering Mom wasn’t up for helping at all. I think she’d like to ignore Christmas altogether. I can’t blame her. My son measured out and sifted the dry ingredients while I creamed the butter, eggs, vanilla, and sugar. When it came time to operate the cookie press my son said, “You know, I’m ten now. I think I’m old enough to do it.” I handed it over to him and he did a fantastic job. I didn’t do as well. I had to take over Mom’s job of putting them in the oven and taking them out on time. I set the timer on the second batch, the ding just didn’t register and so they got a little overdone. Oh well. My spouse likes them better that way.
Two days ago, The Blue Nib published my essay “Adaptations,” which is about homeschooling my son out in Long Island. Having my work published in The Blue Nib’s latest issue is definitely one of the few happy moments I’ve had in 2020. I received my first acceptance email from one of their editors when Dad was dying in the hospital. Since then she has published a few of my essays. When my first essay was published in The Write Life, I felt sad that I couldn’t share the good news with Dad. But thanks to her kindness and encouragement, I’ve been able to give voice to memories of Dad and our grieving and healing process. (You can read it here:https://thebluenib.com/adaptations-by-elizabeth-jaeger/?fbclid=IwAR2HFto3jC3YPCgteRCvWpmSMrHBhNOSVyXqouS5db8irRwZcsT6WEVJHzM )
My son got it into his head that the only books worth reading in “school” are classics. Maybe, somehow, this is my fault. My father used to call me a literary snob. It’s true — to a degree. I can’t tolerate bad writing, and I do appreciate many of the old books. However, I still read middle grade and young adult literature. I enjoy good writing regardless of the reading level. I have never, not once, thumbed my nose at books written for kids. I’m the one who introduced my son to Harry Potter. I have been reading the C.S. Lewis books with him. We read Lois Lowery, Kati DiCamillo and other Newbery winners together. Awhile back, I bought him the Gregor books which were written by Suzanne Collins, the same woman who wrote The Hunger Games. Through the years, I have modeled reading all kinds of literature. In fact, I just finished reading a middle grade book. But my son has no interest. “If you’re teaching me,” he informed me over the summer, “then we can read classics. And only the classics”
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m excited he wants to familiarize himself with some of the most well-known storytellers of all time, but he’s ten, and I think a mix of classic and modern would be best. However, when he begged for Charles Dickens, I relented. Oliver Twist, which he really wanted to read was too long, so I convinced him to settle for A Christmas Carol. It’s short, more easily digestible, and it would allow him to cross Dickens off his must-read-author list.
The book proved to be challenging for him. We ended up reading much of it together, but it did spark some very interesting conversations, especially about poverty and the afterlife. When we finished, I had him read “The Little Match Girl,” one of my favorite stories which is written by one of my favorite authors. While I cry every time I read the story, he didn’t. The girl dies, and it crushes me every time. But my son didn’t find the ending sad. He argued that it was happy because death is the only happy ending she could have had. “And her grandmother came to take her to heaven, Mama. She’s with the only person who ever loved her. Why do you think that’s sad?”
After reading, I asked my son to write an essay comparing A Christmas Carol to “The Little Match Girl.” He grumbled about it, but when the grumbling subsided he said, “If I’m going to write this, I want to do it all on my own.” He rejected help with an outline and he didn’t want any guidance at all with the organization. I did, however, insist that one draft wouldn’t be enough. I gave him the time and space to write an initial draft all on his own. When he finished, I made a few comments and suggestions on how he could tighten it up and add more detail. For the most part, he incorporated my suggestions. Overall, I think he did a pretty good job.
Here is his essay:
A Comparison of Christmas Stories
In A Christmas Carol and the “Little Match Girl” there are a lot of similarities. Some of the same themes are poverty, joy ending, and Christmas. Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Anderson, the writers of these two stories were, contemporaries. Since Anderson wrote his story after a Christmas Carol, and that they are similar, I suspect he got ideas from Dickens.
AChristmas Carol begins with Scrooge, a lonely sad man who wastes no money so he can horde it all. He never celebrates Christmas because he thinks it’s stupid, for reasons like you just find yourself a year older. On Christmas Eve, four specters come to change his mind about the holiday. They are successful.
The “Little Match Girl” begins with a little girl trying to sell matches in the bitter cold on New Year’s Eve. She lights four matches and in the light she sees four joy filled images
A Christmas Carol has a main character that is very wealthy and finds joy in nothing. In the “Little Match Girl,” the main character finds joy in just four matches. The little girl in the “Little Match Girl” is oh so wonderfully happy when she sees those images. Scrooge has all the money in the world and he spends none of it. He thought having money could make him happy. It did not. The last difference I found was the “Little Match Girl” takes place in a city in Denmark, but a Christmas Carol takes place in London, England.
Scrooge (in AChristmas Carol) is met by Jacob Marley an old business partner who tells him that three spirits will come to change his mind about Christmas and life. If Scrooge didn’t change he would have to travel the world in death and see people suffering through poverty. He would not be able to help then. The Ghost of Christmas past showed him how much he loved Christmas when he was young and when he began to love money more than anything else. The Ghost of Christmas present showed him how people who have nothing still find ways to celebrate Christmas. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas future showed him how nobody mourns for him when he is dead. By seeing these images, Scrooge forces himself to love Christmas and his family. The ghosts teach him to donate to the poor because he is very wealthy and he should help the less fortunate and love life.
The first image the “Little Match Girl” sees when she lights a match is a very warm stove which makes her warm when she is freezing. The second image is a cooked zombie goose which makes her full when she is starving. The third image is a giant Christmas tree which gives her all the happiness in the world. Finally, in the fourth image, she sees her Grandmother, the only person who ever loved her, and she takes the little match girl up to heaven.
Poverty is essential to both stories. In the “Little Match Girl,” it focuses on a girl who is poor and dying. If poverty wasn’t as common as it was back then, the story would have been less likely to have been written. A Christmas Carol focuses on a man who has a lot of money and won’t give even one shilling to a poor man. After the spirits come, Scrooge gives the largest turkey in London to Bob Cratchit, his poor clerk. The resolution for the poor in A Christmas Carol is they get money from Scrooge. In the “Little Match Girl,” she just dies.
So even though the stories are very much the same, the endings are very different. Scrooge becomes a nice man, but the Little Match Girl dies and enjoys the after life.
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Eight years ago, we — Mom, Dad, my son, and I — were in Manhattan. It was our annual Christmas Tree trip. But that year, on the way home, we detoured to Central Park to visit the zoo. I remember this clearly, because while we were walking in the park, my spouse called. I answered the phone. She was distraught. She was crying so much she struggled to speak. If you know my spouse, you know she doesn’t cry — ever. Even when her step-mother — with whom she was close — died, I didn’t see her cry. So to hear her falling to pieces on the phone concerned me. When she could finally get the words out, she told me that there had been another awful school shooting, only this one was worse than any previous shooting because twenty six year olds had been killed. By the time she hung up, I too was in tears.
Eight months ago, Daddy died. We still haven’t had a funeral. No closure. No goodbye.
Being in Queens is hard. I sit on the couch and I’m back in April, waiting for news about Dad. Just sitting on the couch makes me sad. Then the house phone rings and I jump, my pulse quickens — hope, dread, fear all vying for position. But by the second ring, I know it’s not the doctor. Dad’s already dead. Now that Mom has a cell phone, I wish she’d get rid of the house phone. Months ago, I had to change the ringer on my phone. The hospital used to call me so that we could FaceTime Dad. Every time I heard that ring after, I saw him lying in hospital bed, tubes slithering in and around his body. It was too much. And today I heard the sirens of several ambulances, but the cemetery has no new graves — not yet. However, the recent ones, the ones that had been dug back in the spring are draped with flowers and Christmas decorations. I cry every time I walk past it.
Mom went to the doctor today. She’s fine. She won’t need surgery. The fall was bad, but considering she landed face first on a metal fence it could have been much worse. Mom thinks she was spared more pain, a worse injury because Dad caught her. If he hadn’t been there to catch her she might have lost an eye or broken her teeth.
A woman that used to work with Dad only recently found out that he died. She tracked me down, or rather she tracked my spouse down. She reached my spouse after trying countless numbers and my spouse gave her my number. This evening she called me to give me her condolences. The news of Dad’s death had come as a shock to her. She was devastated. During the conversation, she told me what a wonderful man my father was. I was happy she called. Happy to know that Dad touched people’s lives. That other peoples lives were a little better, a little happier because they had known him.
I’m finding it impossible to muster any Christmas cheer this year. I have no interest in decorating, or singing, or taking care of Christmas cards, all things I will eventually have to do so that my son doesn’t end up disappointed. However, I’ve never been good at acting. And I don’t know where I will find the energy to do any of it. I’m digging deep into my reserves as it is just to get up in the morning and push through the day so that I can play teacher.
This was the weekend Dad used to take us into Manhattan so that his grandson could see the Christmas tree, light candles in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and have lunch at a fancy restaurant. For ten years, starting when G3 was only eleven months old, we took the trip into the city. If someone had told me twelve months ago, when Dad paid for my son and I to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, that it would be our very last trip, I wouldn’t have believed them. We’d visit Manhattan on Saturday, and then on Sunday we’d bake Christmas cookies, and decorate Mom and Dad’s Christmas tree. Daddy always loved going through the decorations and reliving the memories attached to them. He was very particular about how we decorated — it drove me crazy. We had to do the balls first — small ones on top, medium ones in the middle, large ones at the bottom. They were his favorite, and they had so many of them that once the balls were up the tree looked decorated — but it wasn’t. We then moved on to all the other decorations until there were no bare branches. This year, Mom will have no tree.
Yesterday, it rained all day. I spent the morning and early afternoon cleaning the Mattituck house and running errands. When I finished, I tried to get my son to play games. We played two rounds of Rummikub and he was done. All he wanted to do was watch movies, so we had a Marvel marathon. We watched, Avengers, Age of Ultron, and then Civil War. That’s more than seven hours of movie watching, by far a record for me. I generally have difficulty paying attention for two hours. But my son was mopey. He wanted nothing but Ironman and cuddles. So we sat in Dad’s chair and I surprised myself by not falling asleep.
This morning, we drove to Queens. Mom has a doctor’s appointment with a plastic surgeon tomorrow to have her fractured nose looked at. I didn’t think there was anything you could do for a broken nose. I guess I was wrong. Anyway, she needs me to drive her which is why we are here.
My son was excited when we arrived because, as always, St. Nick left him some gifts here as well as at home. Mom couldn’t easily reach the Christmas decorations in the garage, and after her fall she wasn’t going to make an attempt. Therefore, she bought my son a snowman stocking so that St. Nick would have somewhere to leave his gifts. He got a compass which made him very happy. He really wanted one for Boy Scouts. He also got the Best of Pink Floyd. Of course, St. Nick also left oranges and lots of chocolate. Dad’s absence hung heavily in the living room as my son opened his gifts. My mom made an effort to smile, but I could see she was as sad as I. Like me, she is going through the motions so as not to disappoint her grandson.
After dinner, we watched a documentary on General Grant. Dad had recorded it months and months ago so that he could watch it with his grandson. Mom had finally reached a point where she could bring herself to sit and watch it with us.
Tomorrow, it will be eight months since Daddy died.
One afternoon, about a month ago, my son suggested that we skip the chapter in the social studies textbook that discusses the American Revolution. He argued that it would be boring. Since he already knew all about the war, we should spend time learning something new. I know he knows a great deal about war. After all, I’ve been discussing it with him practically since he was a toddler. But as much knowledge as he has, I knew he didn’t know everything. So I suggested that he write a persuasive essay in order to convince me that he knew enough not to bother with Bunker Hill, Trenton, Yorktown and the rest. His eyes grew wide, his smile wider, “Really, if I do this we don’t have to waste time on the Revolution?”
“But if you do a fantastic job on the essay, we’ll breeze over the things you know and I’ll only have you take notes on what’s new.” Slightly less enthused than if we could have dove right into westward expansion, he agreed to the assignment.
The final draft might be my favorite essay so far this year. He takes his frustration at having to write out in the essay, but he does it with a touch of creativity — attempting to transform his anger at me into humor. “My mother is a history bazooka,” is the best line he’s ever written. His verbal explanation was even better — pretending to hold a bazooka, firing endless rounds of historical facts, and then falling to the floor, pretending to be shot.
After he finished writing, I wanted to head to the library to print it. I’m trying to keep some sort of record of the work he has done so that I have evidence of it next year — or whenever it’s safe to return to school. On the way, we took a detour to the beach. We try to go to the beach every day after school. We walk or my son hunts for treasures. Today, all he found was a dead seagull. It made him sad.
You can read his essay here:
Why I Shouldn’t Study the American Revolution
I should not do the unit on the American Revolution in my textbook. My reasons are: I have been there, I have read and watched shows about it, and I have Mama, the great nerd. This might not sound like much, but all the knowledge adds up.
My first reason is, I have been to where the war began, where it took place, and where it ended in Yorktown. I was at the sight of the Boston Massacre where the folks were shot at by the British for calling them lobsters, red coats, and throwing rocks. At Yorktown, a ranger took us around the battlefield and told stories about Cornwallis’s surrender. I was at the same port where the Boston Tea Party occurred because the colonists were mad at the taxes. My moms took me to Lexington and Concord, the first Battle of the War. When I visited Lexington and Concord there was an awesome musket demonstration. We went to the Old Barracks in Trenton. It was a hospital during the war for small pox. Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow are where the troops stayed for two cold years. I crossed the Delaware River where George crossed to defeat the British in Trenton.
I also went to many of the presidents’ houses. Mount Vernon was home to Washington who was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Peacefield was home to John Adams who went to France with Franklin. Monticello was home to Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Montpelier was home to Madison who wrote the Bill of Rights.
Since I was a bookworm for my first Halloween, I guess that sent me down a very bookish path. I read a lot of books. I get a lot of information in them. I stay informed about the past and the present. I have read books about the Revolution and people from that time period. I particularly like the Who Was books. Some of the peoples’ lives that I have read about that made the Revolution possible were Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Jackson, and Hamilton.
My moms and I watch TV at night. Since one mom does not like movies, we usually end up watching documentaries. Many of them are on American history and you just know they include the American Revolution. I wish they were on ancient weapons or Genghis Khan. We also watch movies and plays about history. Two examples are 1776 – which I watched with Grandpa — and Hamilton.
I have the most annoying mom ever. She is a history bazooka. She is always shooting nerdy facts at me. During the summers and some weekends, we go see presidents’ houses or just historical houses in general. That’s who is responsible, not me. Some places Mom took me to are Mount Vernon all the way to Antietam. Maybe I should skip the Civil War unit too. Come on, can’t we just go to the Bahamas. You probably would never have guessed, but mom gives me most of my books.
To think, the war all started with taxes, tea, and representation. So now you know I know all the history from freezing men in Valley Forge and Jockey Hollow to the surrender of Cornwallis. That’s why I should not re-read it.
We have an interested buyer for our condo. It looks like we’ll be getting out of Bedminster soon. YAY! I’ve been wanting out of that condo for years. I never really liked it. It was supposed to be a temporary home. But I got stuck there for fourteen years. Getting out of Bedminster really isn’t enough. I want out of New Jersey, where I’ve been stuck for the last sixteen years. Four years ago, friends of our picked up and moved from New Jersey to Utah. That’s what I’d love to do. Maybe not Utah, I need a big body of water. I’m not sure the Great Salt Lake would be big enough to satisfy me. However, there are plenty of other states that would make me happy. My spouse is more particular. She says she’s game for New England. Our problem is finding jobs. We are both nearing fifty. We have multiple degrees and years of teaching experience. School districts, especially now, are broke. We both have a great deal to offer, but we cost too much. My fear is I’ll be stuck here another year, another five, another decade. My bigger fear is that I’ll die here. I need to get out. But I learned a long time ago, that wishing for something — along with working hard to achieve it — isn’t enough. One needs a breathe of luck — something I am sorely lacking. Sadly, even in New Jersey, finding a full time job is impossible and I’ve been looking for years. I’m not sure what I’ll do and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed and panicked.
While I continue to strike out in my search for a literary agent (and I’ve been querying multiple agents in regards to several projects), I am successfully publishing my shorter work in both print and online journals. Early this month, Writer’s Egg Magazine published my essay “The Day Daddy Died.” (It is a cleaned up and modified version of my Day 30 blog post — https://jaegerwrites13.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/mama-day-30/ — which many of you have already read.)
On December 15th, The Blue Nib will release it’s winter issue (https://thebluenib.com/issue-44-of-the-blue-nib/). It will include my essay “Adaptations,” an essay that explores my homeschooling experience with G3. While I love being able to share the links of my published work, there is something special about having my work published in a print journal. It’s tangible. Something I can hold in my hands and put on my bookshelf.
This morning, I woke up to an acceptance in my inbox. Global Poemic: Kindred Voices in the Era of Covid-19, will be publishing my prose poem “Fallen,” which of course is about Dad. The online journal has been publishing some incredible poems about life during the pandemic. I am shocked and honored that they actually accepted my work.
Yesterday, my son wanted to know why Paul Revere got all the credit for his ride to warn the colonists that the British were coming. I told him about Longfellow’s poem, and how literature has shaped the way history remembered that night. We went on to study the battle of Bunker Hill, which once again history got wrong. The battle actually took place on Breed’s Hill. After the lesson, my son became thoughtful then took out his poetry journal and spent the afternoon working on a poem. This morning he showed it to me. Our conversation went as follows:
Son: I wrote a poem.
Me: Can I see it?
Son: You’re good at essays and stories. You’re not that good with poetry. I would like a professional to look at it. Can you please ask Mrs. Cordaro?
Son: You’re ten.
G3: Do you want me to be successful?
Cordaro is one of my writing friends. She’s the poet in my writing group. I wasn’t at all insulted by my son’s comment. It made me chuckle. Because he’s one hundred percent correct. I’d trust Cordaro’s critique of poetry over mine any day.
This afternoon, after my son finished his school work for the day, we drove down to the sound and took a walk. Again the sand was covered in dead fish. I don’t remember any other year were there were so many dead fish. It seriously reminds me of those Biblical plagues I learned about in Catholic school. We had to be careful where we stepped, because if we lifted our eyes from the shore the odds were good we’d step on them. While at the beach my son had fun exploring. And we had fun practicing our technique using the bahng-Mahng-ee.
When I was a child, I always looked forward to December 6 — the Feast of St. Nick. According to my cousin, celebrating St. Nick is a tradition that my great-great-grandmother brought to America from Kohlberg, Germany in 1894. Like Santa, St. Nick brings gifts, chocolate, and fruit to children who hang a stocking by the fireplace. As a kid, it felt like a warm up to Christmas. It was exciting to wake up and open presents before heading off to school. I grew up in a German neighborhood, so many of my classmates also got gifts from St. Nick. It was one of the few days out of the year that I actually talked with the other kids. We eagerly swapped stories about what we got that morning.
I enjoyed St. Nick so much, that I have continued the tradition with my son. Now, every year he looks forward to getting a visit from St. Nick. This morning — a Sunday — he was up before seven, eager to see what he got. For the last several years, we Facetimed my parents so they could see him open his presents. This year, we called Mom, but we also had to call my spouse since we were unable to be together. My son got a Cobra Kai tee-shirt. It’s one of his favorite television shows and once he can resume taking live taekwondo classes, he’s allowed to wear a martial arts tee-shirt on Saturdays instead of his uniform. He also got a Metallica CD. For Christmas wrote out a list of CDs he wants — nothing current. His list includes Perry Cuomo, Pink Floyd, ACDC, Van Halen, Guns and Roses, and Metallica. I went with Metallica for St. Nick because they’re one of my favorites. I’m sure Santa will bring him others on the list.
After breakfast, my son had a virtual meeting with his Cub Scout Den and Mayor Moench — the mayor of Bridgewater. Meeting with an elected official is one of his requirements for his Arrow of Light. He didn’t have his uniform — I didn’t think to pack it when we went into exile. But he didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he wore a button down shirt and a sports jacket. He told me, “I’m meeting with a politician. I need to look good.” Before the meeting, I told him he should have a question or two ready, but I should have known better that to suggest questions. My son always has questions. Despite not being a fan of Zoom, my son turned on the camera and told me I wasn’t allowed to be seen. Apparently, I wasn’t dressed well enough and he didn’t want me to embarrass him.
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Moench told the scouts about himself and what his duties entail. After a brief lesson, he asked if anyone had any questions. My son asked, “Do you support the Governor’s decision to keep schools open?” The mayor responded that he did, stating he thought it important that kids be able to meet with a teacher in person and that interacting with other kids was needed. He added that he also supported the Governor’s decision to allow parents to opt for virtual learning. Well, my son, still bitter about the tournament and the fact that his life got turned upside down, quickly countered with, “What about teachers? My mom’s a teacher, and she got Covid. And because of it I had to come out to Long Island.” Mayor Moench quickly stated that his wife is a teacher also and that he thinks maybe teachers should also be able to chose whether or not they want to teach virtually instead of in-person. I wonder if he really meant that. Or did he simply say that to appease my son? My guess is it’s the latter. I wonder how many teachers in Bridgewater would opt out of in-person teaching if given the option.
My son’s second question was, “Do you think there should have been a mask mandate back in the Spring.” Moench is a Republican, so of course the idea of a mask mandate didn’t sit well with him. He seemed to think people shouldn’t be forced to wear a mask since people don’t like to be told what to do. (If I were part of the meeting, I probably would have commented that people don’t like to die, either. But I wasn’t, so I bit my tongue and kept quiet.) He added that things might have turned out better if the lockdown happened sooner and was geographically broader.
To close, my son asked his opinion of Trump demanding a recount. The mayor was very much a politician in his response. He said that everyone is legally entitled to ask for a recount, but that he didn’t think a recount would change the outcome of the election.
At one point during the Mayor’s exchange with my son, he said, “I’m calling you G— but I’m guessing that’s not your name.” My son narrowed his eyes and said, “My name is G—.” I thought that was an odd thing for the mayor to say so once the microphone was muted, I turned to my son, “Why wouldn’t he think that was your name?” My son rolled his eyes and pointed to his hair, “Everyone thinks I’m a girl.” He’s right. Strangers constantly refer to him with the female pronoun. It’s incredible that he could be dressed in boy’s clothes, and people still shove him into a gender box based on his long hair. At least, he’s gotten to the point where he can shrug it off and occasionally laugh about it.
Since it was a sunny day, I didn’t want to spend the entire day indoors. Therefore, my son and I went to the beach to practice the bahng-mahng-ee techniques we’ve been learning in taekwondo. Since neither of us have the weapon yet — Santa will bring them — we’ve been using my son’s nerf swords instead. He’s so much better than me that I always feel beat up after a practice session. While we were at the beach, my son told me that he needs a hiatus from me because I’m boring and annoying. Initially, his comment hurt. But we’ve spent nearly every waking moment with each other for the last three months. There are days I’d like to take a hiatus from myself. I think it’s only natural that we’d get on each other’s nerves. And that’s why it’s extremely important that we spend time beating each other up with nerf swords. Practicing so that we are prepared for testing and midterms in February is a constructive way to work through our frustration.
My son was supposed to compete in a tournament today. It wasn’t just any tournament. You had to qualify to participate. For him, it was a big deal. As you know, for months my son didn’t practice taekwondo because he hates Zoom. In September, I found him a school in New York that taught live classes. Once he started going, I saw a bit of happiness returning to his life. Then the school shut down. Covid, and lack of government relief for small businesses, killed the school. But my son had gotten a taste of what he had missed. That combined with a bit of bribery and I was able to get him to participate in the Zoom classes. However, my intention was to return to New Jersey so that he could resume live classes there in mid-November. It was important for him, for his mental health. He’s being homeschooled and has no interaction with anyone other than me. But since my spouse’s superintendent refused to consider the needs of the teachers, because she increased contact hours with students while the Covid numbers in New Jersey were increasing, my spouse ended up testing positive for Covid the day before Thanksgiving.
Since we wanted to protect my son, I ended up having to take him back into exile. Not only couldn’t he continue taking live classes, he also had to miss his tournament. Even though the tournament is virtual, he needed to be able to compete in his school where there is space and the proper cameras. But because he had been in close contact with his mother, he lost that opportunity. His instructor reminded me that the beauty of Zoom is that he could find an open field and compete there. But it poured today. And it was cold. You can’t compete in the rain and the cold. And the rain would have destroyed my phone. So, while society thinks my spouse should be teaching in person to make sure the mental health of her students is a priority, my son’s mental health is suffering. All day, my son was cranky and miserable. I don’t blame him. He’s angry at his mother. It’s not her fault, but if she hadn’t tested positive, he’d have been able to do the one thing that makes him feel good about himself.
In American, people pride themselves on the alleged rugged individualism that supposedly made this country great. Well, if you are such a rugged individualist, why do you need someone else babysitting your children? Parents are not going above and beyond to ensure that their kids aren’t exposed to the virus. In fact, they are acting, in many cases, as if it’s not a problem. They visited family during Thanksgiving. They allow their kids to hang out with friends. They don’t discourage them from playing contact sports. And then they expect teachers to happily show up to play the role of babysitter for free so that they can do what they want. If parents want the free babysitting service, they should be doing whatever it takes to make sure that their children are not going to infect their teachers. In fact, there should be consequences for parents who flout the advice of the CDC. Parents who permit their kids to do things that put them in contact with the virus and parents who send their kids to school knowing they are sick should be fined. Those fines should then be used to pay teachers a Covid bonus.
Since my son was depressed all day, I tried to keep him occupied playing games. We played Scrabble — he beat me — and Rummikub — we took turns winning. It was fun, but not nearly as exhilarating as competing in a tournament. After dinner, we watched Captain America. I’ve promised to watch all the Marvel movies with my son, and we are slowly working our way through them.
Overall, this has been a bad week — the crappiest since Dad died. On Thursday, Mom fell. It was bad. She called me to tell me she had tripped on the cement in the back while doing yard work — work Dad used to do. Her face smashed into the metal fence. I asked her if she needed me to come home. She said no, but a few hours later, when I was at the beach sword fighting with my son, she called asking me to please come to Queens. In the morning, she wanted me to take her to the hospital. So we left the beach, we went back to the house, and I quickly packed. We got to Queens late, had dinner, and then my son and I logged into our Zoom taekwondo class.
In the morning, I got up early so that my son and I could get a jump on the school day. We worked for an hour, I assigned him some work, and then I drove Mom to the emergency room. I couldn’t stay with her. For one, I couldn’t leave my son home alone for long. But even I didn’t need to get back to him, the hospital wouldn’t have let me stay. Due to Covid, patients are not allowed to have family with them. I hugged Mom and helped her to the door — she also injured her knee in the fall. When I got back into my car I cried. The last time I had driven a parent to the hospital — not all that long ago — I never saw them again.
Back at the house, I continued the school day with my son. Throughout the afternoon, Mom texted me with updates. Her knee was not damaged in the fall. But she did fracture her nose. Five hours after I dropped her off, they released her. She has two black eyes. Both eyes are a deep purplish color. It sort of looks like she had an eggplant across her face with two eye holes cut out.
I had hoped to get back to Mattituck by seven o’clock. My writing group — which hadn’t met in months — was meeting via Zoom and I had been looking forward to it for weeks. But after I picked Mom up from the hospital, I took her grocery shopping. My brother didn’t have time to take her before returning home after Thanksgiving. I couldn’t leave her with little food, especially now that walking was difficult. By the time we got back, it was too late to make the drive — in rush hour traffic — back to Long Island. Begrudgingly, my son let me use his tablet so that I could make the meeting.
Even though it wasn’t in person, it was wonderful to connect with my writing friends again. I had finished a rough draft of a middle grade novel shortly before the world shut down back in March. I had been looking forward to workshopping it — a chapter at a time — with my group, but the month I was all set to submit chapter one, we didn’t meet. Last night, they critiqued the opening. Overall, they seemed to think favorably of it, though I do need to tighten up the point of view and make a few other edits. It was fun discussing their work as well. I’ve really missed that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet again next month. Meeting visually is definitely better than not meeting at all.
Tomorrow is St. Nick. My spouse will be missing St. Nick with her son because we can’t be home. She is missing out on time with her child because society deemed it more important that she spend time with other peoples’ kids. My son had brought a small stocking with him to hang by the fireplace. It’s not his usual stocking that hangs by the fireplace in New Jersey, but it’s something to let St. Nick know where he is. If Dad were alive, he’d probably be with us. He’d have enjoyed his grandson’s excitement in the morning when he woke up to a stocking full of presents and treats. Not having Dad here is making the holiday season sad. No matter how bad things seemed for me in the past, the Christmas season always cheered me. It always put me in a happy mood. Not this year. Instead, it’s making me feel even more depressed. I can’t even watch a Christmas commercial without crying.
It’s almost 11:00 and my son is still wide awake despite reading for a half hour. I can’t pretend to be St. Nick until he falls asleep since he has a view of the fireplace from his room. I suspect it will be a long evening. Perhaps I should go to bed and set my alarm for sometime in the middle of the night.
Thanksgiving weekend was as good as it could have been considering it was our first Thanksgiving without Dad. I’m glad my brother recommended we spend the weekend in Cape Cod. This way I could pretend it was simply a mini-vacation and not Thanksgiving. If we had spent the weekend at home, in New York, Mom and I would definitely have cried the entire time. Up in the Cape we got to have some fun, even though moments of missing Dad did creep in.
Yesterday morning, I wanted to watch the sun rise. I woke up in time, but the sky was covered in clouds. There would be no sun to see, and so I went back to sleep. When I finally woke up again, my son and I headed to the breakwater for breakfast. Once again we ate the crumb cake he had made and we sat on the rocks enjoying the scenery. We then walked across the breakwater and down the beach to Long Point Lighthouse. It was a beautiful day. Warm for November and perfect to be outside. While we have visited many lighthouse in Cape Cod through the years, this was our first trip to Long Point. Roundtrip, the walk took three hours. By the time we finished my son was tired and eager to see his uncle’s dogs. So we headed over to my brother’s.
Once there we visited with mom. We played cards and my brother cooked dinner. After we ate, we spoke to my cousins on a Zoom chat. Mom and my brother met Dad’s first cousin and her daughter — my second cousin — for the first time. I only learned of their existence a year ago, and it was shortly after that I met them at my son’s taekwondo tournament in New Hampshire. My spouse also joined the call. It was an extremely pleasant conversation. I wish I had known them growing up, but I am grateful I’m getting to know them now. I only wish Dad had been here to join in the conversation. He would have enjoyed it immensely.
This morning, the sky was clear so my son and I were able to watch the sun rise. After which we played a round of Scrabble — he won — and then we headed off to his favorite breakfast spot. Before heading home, we stopped by my brother’s so my son could spend some time with the dogs and so we could say goodbye to my mother and brother. When we finally got on the road, my son cried. He didn’t want to leave. He loves Cape Cod, and if given the chance he would have stayed — forever.
We are now in Mattituck. We can’t go home because my spouse has Covid, and we’re hoping I got our son out of the condo before it infected him. On Wednesday, immediately after getting a positive test result, my spouse called her principal to inform him. It’s now Sunday and she still has not heard from him. He probably didn’t want to be bothered with her during the holiday weekend. He didn’t want his plans ruined and didn’t care that in forcing her to work in person he ruined more than just her holiday. Maybe he’s ignoring her because if you ignore cases then you don’t have to report them, and non-reported cases enable schools to operate as if there isn’t a problem. I’ll be curious, when the pandemic ends, to learn how many schools fudged the data. How many schools ignored cases in order to keep their doors open? I learned from a teacher friend of mine that her school also increased contact hours with students as cases were rising. Why, I wonder, wasn’t this taken into consideration? Did superintendents not realize that with community cases on the rise, teachers would be at a greater risk, especially if they spent more time with students?
This week, I was supposed to help my spouse pack up the condo so that the realtor could start showing it next weekend. We were supposed to store the boxes with a neighbor. Because my spouse had to teach in-person, because it was demanded of her that she make lives easier for other working parents, her life got more complicated. Obviously, I can’t be there to help her pack. She’s completely overwhelmed with all the work she has to do, and I’m 150 miles away where I can’t do anything but lend her an ear when she calls. I feel as if we — as a family — have gotten slammed harder than most during this pandemic. Dad dying is a nightmare. It shouldn’t have happened. My son was too young to lose his grandfather, the man who meant everything to him. But our misery didn’t end there. I lost my job. We couldn’t move when we originally intended. And now, my spouse is ill. Her illness will cause my son to miss his taekwondo tournament which he had been super excited about. And her illness is forcing us to live apart during a season that will be incredible painful for me and my son. I sure hope all the selfish parents out their realize that their demands for in-person teaching have caused pain and suffering for the families of teachers. I hope they appreciate the fact that my child is missing out on time with this mother, a tournament, and several pre-Christamas traditions because they refuse to care for their own children.
Technically, my son and I should also be quarantining since we were in close contact with someone who tested positive. But parents don’t give a shit about teachers. Politicians don’t give a shit about teachers. The pressure parents have applied, combined with the decisions made by politicians have demonstrated my family isn’t important. As long as parents get free day care, they don’t care about the impact the virus has on others. So give me one good reason why we should care about them? My spouse wouldn’t be sick if she were permitted to do her job from home. If she hadn’t been forced to babysit, she wouldn’t be infected and contagious. So to all those politicians who don’t give a shit about my spouse or my family, well, why should I stay home? Why should I make my son a prisoner in his grandmother’s house? His mental health matters too. You already stole his tournament from him. I’m not keeping him locked up for two weeks, especially since he tested negative. Sorry. He’s suffered enough. I’m not making him more miserable than he already is. For months, I did what I was supposed to do while other people were living their lives as if there wasn’t a pandemic, as if people weren’t dying. We did everything we were supposed to do. And yet we keep getting hurt because other people do as they wish. Dad died because Trump cared more about the economy than Dad’s life. My spouse is sick because politicians care more about the economy than the well being of teachers. And our family is hurting financially because I lost my job — all this putting the economy first has done us no good. Worst of all, my family is suffering because my spouse was forced to sacrifice her own son while making other kids a priority.
Today was pleasant. Though there were several times I found myself missing Dad and wishing he were with us. If he were alive, he’d have enjoyed the day. But if he were alive, we’d be in New York, not here.
I slept later than usual. After not sleeping the night before and getting to bed late, I had a terrible headache. The sleep helped a little, though it has returned periodically throughout the day. Since my son enjoys eating breakfast on the breakwater, after I showered and dressed, we drove down there. I brought the crumb cake my son made on Wednesday. Eating the cake, I thought of Dad. How could I not. The water was clear and the air was warm — for November — tempting me to jump in, but I didn’t. The dead deer floating in the water was a bit of a deterrent.
After we ate, I picked up my brother. We headed over to Snail Road and the dunes. The three of us hiked across the dunes to the ocean. Periodically, we stopped — for me to take pictures, or for my brother to draw, or my son to write poetry. The colors of the landscape seemed more vivid than they do in the summer. The water was calm and clear. Out in the distance three seals swam and played. On the way back, my brother helped my son practice a yoga headstand. My son is determined to be able to do it on his own, but for now his uncle guided him and gave him advice on how best to do it. Dad would have really liked walking with us. Mom couldn’t come because walking on the sand would have been hard with her bad knees and feet. But Dad would have had a great time. It would have made him happy to spend the morning with us.
Back at my brother’s, we ate lunch — left over baked ziti from yesterday. The four of us then took a walk down Commercial Street with my brother’s dogs. Of course, my son wanted to hold their leashes. He’s always happy when he gets to be with Emma and Lily. Commercial Street was less crowded than in the summer, but more crowded than I expected it to be. Many of the restaurants are closed this time of year, some of the shops too. A few even closed for good due to the pandemic. Dad would have had fun with us on that walk also. But since he wasn’t there, Mom held onto my brother’s arm. There was a heaviness about her, a heaviness that she’s had since April. It’s almost as if she’s being weighed down with sorrow, the constant missing of her life partner.
For dinner, my brother transformed leftovers from yesterday into a whole new meal. He took an American Thanksgiving dinner and turned it into a Persian dish. It was really tasty. While he cooked, my son and I played cards and dominoes with Mom. Luck seemed to be with my son, since he did most of the winning.
My son and I got back to the condo in which we are staying rather late. We called my spouse to say goodnight. She spent most of the day sleeping. We missed her, but at least we’ll be able to see her for Christmas — hopefully. I do hope her school does not go back to in-person instruction until the Covid numbers drop. After the call, my son asked if we could please play a game, just the two of us, so we played scrabble.
I am enraged. I am certain I’ve never felt this level of anger in my life, and I’ve been angry many times. Yesterday, I was thinking about what I was thankful for. My plan was to write about the good things I have, despite this being the crappiest year of my life. I intended to push myself, to make myself see what there is to be happy about. But then my spouse tested positive for Covid and my anger exploded. For months I have been complaining about her having to teach in-person. For weeks, I’ve been pissed off that teachers have been expected to babysit other people’s kids, putting their needs before the needs of their own children. Last week, as cases throughout New Jersey surged her superintendent decided they were going to move into phase two of the hybrid model which meant doubling her contact hours with students. Yes, you read that right, as more people were getting infected, her school increased her babysitting hours, demanding that she put her life in danger so that other parents could tend to their own lives and needs.
We had plans to go to Cape Cod this weekend. My brother thought it would be best for my mother to have her first Thanksgiving without Dad somewhere other than home, a place that held no memories of our father — at least no holiday memories of him. For once, I agreed with him completely, as did my spouse. If we had Thanksgiving in New York, we would have spent the day trying to recreate something that would never be the same again. Dad’s absence would be heavier, sadder. My brother offered to host dinner at his condo in Cape Cod, and Mom rented a condo for my son, my spouse, and me for a few days. It shouldn’t have been a problem, since Dad got sick, I’ve been bouncing between New York and New Jersey, so we were only expanding our bubble by one.
According to the information we found online, Massachusetts required people entering the state to have a negative Covid test. My brother was insistent that we get tested so as not to have any problems. He and mom got tested on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens on Monday night and waited over five hours in the car for the test. Both tests were negative. I took my son to get tested in Green Brook yesterday morning. We got there at 8:05, five minutes after they opened, and cars were spilling out of the parking lot. The line of people snaked around the building. A woman with a clip board was walking down the line taking our phone numbers. She told us we’d get a call to come back in five, six, or seven hours. Damn! Was it even worth it. But as I was driving away, I thought it was probably best this way. My spouse would be home by then so we could all go together. The test was supposed to be a formality. But when they finally did call us back — seven and a half hours later — and they asked us why we were being tested, my spouse answered, “There was an outbreak in my school and I want to know if I got infected.” She thought that sounded better than, “We want to travel.” It wasn’t really a lie, there had been an outbreak only a few days earlier. The test was quick and easy, a swab up both nostrils. They told us if we were negative they’d text us. If we were positive they’d call. But it would be another three hours of waiting. And sure enough, three hours later, the phone rang and my stomach dropped. It was Medemerge calling to let my spouse know she tested negative for Strep. Strep! But that didn’t make sense and so we joked about it, until I logged into the patient portal and saw that she tested positive for Covid. And my anger raged.
Thanksgiving aside, my son had qualified for a taekwondo tournament next weekend. It’s virtual but he still needed to compete in his school, where his instructor has a mat and cameras set up for zoom. We paid for the tournament. My son was excited and looking forward to it — the one bit of normalcy he’s had in this miserable year. The one thing that has made him feel good about life and himself. And now he can’t compete because he has to quarantine for two weeks. I am so angry that my spouse has had to teach in-person because parents and politicians have been saying kids need school for their mental health. Well what about my son’s mental heath? Or more importantly, what about his physical health? Because my spouse has been catering to other kids, her own son is now being punished. Her own son has lost something important to him. And we have lost money we don’t have on his entrance fee.
But we still didn’t have our son’s test or mine. For another hour we were on edge. What if he was positive? When the text came that he was negative, we breathed a brief sigh of relief. It could be a false positive. Or he could be infected but not long enough for it to show up on a test. But for the moment, he was healthy.
I called my mother and told her we couldn’t come for Thanksgiving because my spouse tested positive. She said she already paid for the condo so she wanted us — my son and I — to come. It’s Covid, a valid reason to cancel last minute. But there still would be no refund. Besides, Mom really wanted us all together. So I agreed to come. It’s not like I could stay home. I needed to get my son away from my spouse in hopes he wasn’t already infected. Keeping him safe has been my number one priority since this damn virus struck.
Mostly, I’m angry because my spouse shouldn’t be sick. Neither the Governor nor the superintendent should have put her in a position where she could catch a deadly virus. The Governor should have shut down schools like he did in March. But no one cares about the teachers. And the superintendent should not have increased contact hours. She should have switched everyone to virtual as did other schools in the area. But she wanted to please the parents. She wanted to make them happy. When I set my anger aside, I’m deathly afraid. I’m scared that my spouse will get sick — very sick. I’ve been down this road before and it’s horrible. When I asked her how she felt, she said fine. Those were the last cohesive words Dad said to me — “I’m fine” — and then he died. Needless to say, my spouse’s words bring me no comfort.
Yesterday afternoon, when my son finished his school work for the day, he made crumb cake. Every Thanksgiving in my son’s memory, his grandfather made him crumb cake. Since Dad wasn’t here to make it, my son insisted on making it for him, for us all to enjoy and to remember Dad. He did most of the baking himself. He mixed the batter and the crumbs and when it was done he covered it with powdered sugar. Grandpa would have been proud. He did a fabulous job. The cake was delicious. We cut it into quarters and he insisted on bringing a quarter to Cape Cod to give to his grandmother. She very much appreciated it — and enjoyed eating it. We ate in memory of Dad — there’s almost something biblical in that or is it sacrilegious?
I didn’t sleep at all last night. I was too angry. My heart was racing too fast. Plus, I had to sleep on the couch which isn’t all that comfortable. With lack of sleep, I was up by four thirty and my son and I were on the road at five. I packed not only for the weekend, but for the next three weeks. Instead of going home on Sunday, we will go to Mattituck where it is a safe.
It’s been ages since I’ve driven more than three hours in a single stretch. I hate to drive, but my spouse likes it, so usually she does all the driving. We had planned for me to drive the first couple of hours. Ever since her eye surgery, she doesn’t see well in the dark. But she was supposed to take over after that. Obviously, she couldn’t, so I drove the whole way. Considering the rain, how hard it beat down at times and the fact that it rained the entire journey, we made good time. We were at my brother’s by noon.
The day was okay, not as bad as I feared. Since we weren’t home, I could pretend it wasn’t a holiday, just a dinner with the family. But the few times I thought about Dad, I had to wipe away the tears. I miss him so much. I’m glad we weren’t in Queens. If we had been, the pain of missing would have suffocated me. It would have been impossible to escape the memories, the cruel fate that tore him from us way too soon. Here I could focus on the fact that I wasn’t in New Jersey, that I’m in a place that makes me happy. We — mom, my son, and I — played dominos and cards while my brother cooked. The food was fabulous. My son ate incredibly well. We all ate too much.
My spouse sat home alone — all alone on Thanksgiving. Governor Murphy had a pleasant dinner with his family, I’m sure. As did my spouse’s superintendent. The people who made the decision to put my spouse’s life in danger got to enjoy Thanksgiving. They are not sick. They aren’t worried about inadvertently getting their children sick. And the media who mocked the teachers in New York, the anchors who ridiculed the Union for demanding schools shut down when the rates surged, they too got to enjoy dinner with their families. Also, the parents who demanded teachers teach in-person, they didn’t have their holidays ruined. But my spouse’s holiday was shitty and lonely. How many other teachers were in a similar situation?
It’s bad enough my son had to spend Thanksgiving without the person he loved more than anyone, he couldn’t even have his other mother here to comfort him. We spent the holiday apart. Thank you Governor Murphy for ensuring that a crappy holiday was made even crappier. You will not have my vote in November. I promise you that.
I spoke to my spouse this evening. I wish I could tell you she was still symptom free, but she isn’t. She has an appointment for another Covid test tomorrow and hopes to be able to speak with a doctor. There will be no updates. She’d rather you contact her directly.
I apologize for the number of typos that I’m sure surpass my usually amount. I’m exhausted and can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
I’m not a good science teacher. I’ve known that from the start. It’s the one subject that concerned me about pulling my son out of public school for this pandemic year. I lack knowledge, but more importantly, I lack enthusiasm. Yes, I tried faking it, but those of you who know me, know that faking things is not my strong suit. In fact, I’m really bad about pretending, my face and body language give me away every time. And my son knows me very well. At first, I worried that this year would leave him way behind his peers. Would he be able to catch up? My spouse was the voice of reason, “No one is learning this year, not like the used to. Relax. Even if he’s behind, he won’t be so far he can’t catch up.” Okay, that made me feel better. But then I realized, instead of dwelling on what I can’t do, maybe I should play to my strengths, the things I do well. How can I apply my writing skills to science? The answer was simple: Research. Why not have him write a couple of research papers throughout the the year. Science based research papers. He’d learn something new in regards to science, but he’d also learn how to do research and write a cohesive paper.
Early in the month, I suggested we take a few days off from reading the text book. My son was thrilled with that idea. We were learning about animals, the dichotomous key, and Carl Linnaeus so I figured it might be fun to focus his first research paper on an animal he liked or one he wanted to learn more about. Not surprisingly, he chose an animal I knew nothing about, one I never even heard of — the hyrax. He had been reading a book about the Serengeti and learned about hyraxes for the first time. Since it was a new animal for him, he thought it would be a good one to research. I agreed.
My problem: Where could I find age appropriate articles for him to read. I know how to do research. I taught it for two years. But finding articles in college is easy. What databases do kids use? I went to the library in Mattituck (which by the way, is the best public library I’ve ever experienced) and I spoke to the librarian in the kids’ section. She was extremely helpful. Not only did she explain how to access the library’s database, she sent me links to help me find my way around the databases. I had no idea that there was so much information for us to access through our local library. Immediately, my son and I looked for articles. When we found ones of interest, the librarian was even kind enough to print them for us.
With the articles in hand, my son read them, took notes, and practiced putting the information in his own words. We then discussed how he wanted to breakdown the information. From there he set out drafting the paper. I was very pleased with his first attempt at writing a research paper. I was doubly impressed that he was able to teach me something through his research.
Little Chubby Hyraxes
Imagine a guinea pig, but twice its size that hides in rocks to not be eaten by predators. Guess what? Would you believe that hyraxes, or dassies, which are almost the size of guinea pigs, are more closely related to elephants and manatees than any other animal in the animal kingdom? The first time I heard of dassies was when I read What Is the Serengeti by Nico Menda.
Hyraxes are seen throughout Africa, the Middle East, and the very south of Asia. Hyraxes are very popular in the Serengeti and around Mount Kenya. Mount Kenya is an old dormant volcano created almost two million years ago. Back then it was one of the tallest mountains in the world. It was once covered in thick wet forests. The Serengeti is a national park in East Africa. The park was founded in 1951 and covers 5,700 square miles so the migrating animals don’t have to leave the park’s borders. Three hundred and fifty species of birds live here. Sixty thousand zebras, 150,000 gazelles, 1,300,000 gnu and 8,000 elephants roam the land.
The eastern and western tree hyraxes make their homes in dead trees and are strictly nocturnal. They eat and scavenge at night. Their dark brown coats are quite majestic in the sun. These two types of cute creatures are twenty inches long and seven pounds. These two species of dassie make extraordinary sounds. One article said that “their calls are beautiful.” Another article said “they are unforgettable.” They will either be alone, in pairs, or in small groups. The tree hyraxes do not share habitats with rock hyraxes.
The rock hyraxes are about two feet long and weigh about seven and a half pounds. They have a brown coat on top of their slightly chubby belly. Rock hyraxes turn their heads to the side to munch on plants — in other words they use their molars to eat. They make their colonies in kopjes. Kopjes are large rocks in Africa formed by glaciers. They are home to predator and prey. Hyraxes make their colonies in or under rocks to stay hidden from predators.
Just like the rock hyrax, yellow-spotted hyraxes make their home in or under rocks to stay hidden from prey. They are one foot long and weigh six pounds. Sometimes when they can’t find food they look in trees and shrubs. Yellow-spotted hyraxes have a bushy gray coat and white eye brows.
Hyraxes are as curious as any toddler. When their poop comes out it takes the shape of bullets.
Dassies eat many types of plants. Unlike many mammals, hyraxes don’t use their hands for scavenging or even for defense. The black eagle, leopard crowned eagle, martial eagle, African hawk eagle, tawny eagle, rock python, and black mambas are its natural nemeses. Almost three quarters of pups are killed in the first year usually by black eagles. It is easier to find a group of dassies than one alone because the oldest male alerts the group if there is a predator nearby.
People pose an even bigger threat than any eagle. We keep expanding our homes and villages where we don’t need to. This threatens hyraxes because these acts make it harder to find shelter, mates, and food. The reason for this is because they have less land on which to look for these three things.
The reason I wrote this is because I loved how this little tiny creature is related to an elephant. Now I hope when you go to Africa you know there are more animals than just elephants and zebras.
Barry, Ronald E. “Between a Rock and a Hyrax.” Natural History, vol.118, issue 2, March 2009, pp. 30-35.
Slattery, Derek M. “Kenya the Rock and Tree Hyrax or Dassie.” Natural History, vol. 69, issue 9, pp. 29-31.
Young, Truman P. “Little Criminals.” Natural History, vol.105, issue 6, June 1996.
“Hyrax.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 March 2005.
“Serengeti National Park.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopedia Britannica.
Yesterday, I passed my taekwondo midterm, which means in ten weeks — barring catastrophe or tragedy or some other evil — I will be able to test for my black belt. But it is 2020 and just because the timeline says I should be able to test, I’m not banking on or counting on anything. By February, the world could explode. I tested in person instead of Zooming in because I wanted the practice. When I test for black it will be live. I didn’t want the big test to be the first time I tested in front of people. Unfortunately, neither my spouse nor my son were able to watch. My son had a Cub Scout event at the same time so my spouse had to drive him. She was disappointed she missed it and felt bad that I had to be there alone. But maybe I wasn’t alone, maybe in some spirit realm Dad was there watching. I know if he were alive he would have zoomed in to watch. Maybe in the afterlife he had access to the internet as well. Since my spouse wasn’t there, the mother of one of my son’s peers took a short video of the first part of my staff from so the family could see me. It was kind and thoughtful of her. Both my son and spouse enjoyed watching it — my spouse to say I looked good, my son to point out the things I could have done better.
I am dismayed my spouse still has to teach in person. Many other schools in New Jersey have made the wise decision to go all virtual between now and mid to late January. My spouse’s district refuses to close. What angers me is that the district is bending over backward to appease parents and not in the least taking teacher needs into account. Different rules apply to teachers and students. But seriously, if parents want the schools to stay open so that they can continue to have free day care, so that their lives don’t get turn up side down, they are the ones who should be going out of their way to keep their children as isolated as possible. They should be willing to do anything and everything to prevent the virus from entering the schools. That includes staying home themselves, avoiding indoor dining, and not allowing their children to attend parties or other gatherings. But they don’t want to be inconvenienced at all. However, they have no problem inconveniencing teachers.
If a family member in a teachers’ home is quarantined due to exposure to the virus, the teacher is required to also stay in quarantine, but to do so they must use their sick days — that’s ten sick days they are forced to surrender even if they aren’t sick. Yet, if a student’s sibling is quarantined, the student can show up to school. That doesn’t seem right. Also, if teachers travel to a state with a high infection rate they are required to quarantine for two weeks — again they must use their own sick days. But there are no consequences for students who cross state lines. To accommodate teachers they weren’t given extra sick days. They weren’t offered a raise.
Sadly, in America teachers are treated like servants, not professionals. They are paid poorly and the demands put on them are unreasonable. My spouse is working more hours this year than she ever has before, despite the fact that her students are attending class on a hybrid model. Having to arrange her classes to meet the needs of in-person students ,as well as virtual students, means she has no time for herself or her family. But more infuriating is the fact that the politicians and administrators, in requiring her to teach so that the economy can be kept afloat, are depriving her of time with her own son. Every day, she is at risk of coming into contact with someone who has Covid, which means there is a chance she could bring the deadly virus home to her son. Despite the fact that I don’t like living in New Jersey, I had every intention of staying here through Christmas so that we could keep as many Christmas traditions as possible for our son. But with the rate of infection expected to increase after Thanksgiving — all those parents flouting advice from the medical professionals to keep their gatherings small and instead celebrating with their families and exposing their kids to who knows what — and with her school refusing to go virtual, we can’t put our son at risk. Therefore, after Thanksgiving, he and I will head back to New York where we will be safer. But my resentment will mount. Instead of being with us, my spouse has to babysit other peoples’ kids. Instead of giving me a break, so that I can write, or work on photography, she will be catering to other peoples’ kids, doing more work for them and not getting paid any more for it. Instead spending time with her own kid, she’s working harder than ever for someone else who doesn’t even have the decency to keep their own kids out of the line of Covid fire. Teachers are people too, with lives and families of their own. During a time of crisis they shouldn’t have to shoulder other peoples’ responsibilities — especially if they aren’t getting paid for it. Nor should they have to sacrifice things in their own lives for people who don’t respect them.
Again, we spent much of the weekend packing. Putting things in boxes, giving some clothes and toys away, and throwing other things in the trash. I tossed more than I wanted to, but we just don’t have the space to store it. I hate being so sentimental. It hurts too much when I can’t hold onto everything that has meaning. I drew the line at Dad, anything he ever gave me or my son I had to save. Maybe someday I’ll be able to let it go, just not now.
As of this writing, 262,696 Americans have died from Covid. More than 10,000 have died in a week. The governor is a coward. He’s not shutting anything down. The president is crying in his bunker because he lost the election. The government tells us to behave. HA! If they really want us to stay put and do our part they need to ground the air planes and shut the state borders. Close indoor dinning and schools. But they won’t. Because saving lives doesn’t make money.
When my alarm went off this morning, my dream left me feeling disoriented, confused, and angry. At the start of the dream, Mom and I were at church. In my head, it was supposed to be Sacred Heart, the church I grew up in, the one my mom still goes to, but I could tell by the way it looked that we were somewhere else. I told mom that it looked different — the room had been stretched, the pews turned 90 degrees and pushed towards the walls so that there was a vast empty space in the middle, and the alter was gone — and she confirmed that they had done renovations. But it wasn’t renovations. I knew that. It was a different place entirely. Somewhere warm, like Fiji. Mom insisted that it was Sacred Heart, and the annoyance in her eyes silenced me. All around, I felt the presence of other people. However, I saw no one but mom. Then the dream shifted. We were still in a tropical place, but now we were on a patio — made of pinkish red brinks — at a fancy hotel, the sort of place I’ll never be able to afford, the type of place I only would have gone to if Dad insisted and paid. There was a barbecue and people were milling about with mixed drinks. Out of no where, Dad — wearing his swim trunks and beach jacket — walked up to us smiling, as if he’d only stepped away to the bar. Joy surrounded me. Joy that lasted no more than a moment. He went to hug me and I stepped away. He couldn’t be there. He was dead. Dead people don’t randomly show up no matter how badly you want to see them. I called him on it. I called him a fraud and mom got angry. Suddenly, my son appeared at my side. He tugged on my shirt and whispered in my ear, “Photoshop.” So I reached for my phone, snapped a picture, and raced to my computer. Pulling the picture up on the screen I saw it, the subtly difference, where the mask of his face wasn’t quite attached properly, where it hung in a fold where his check should have been. And the freckles on his arm weren’t arranged properly. As I worked on the computer my son morphed into my spouse. “It’s a scam,” she said. “What do you think he wants?”
And that’s when I woke up. Why did I have to question his presence? It was a dream. Why couldn’t I simply be happy that he was there? When my mother dreams of him she never questions his arrival, she smiles, greeting him warmly. But even in my sleep, deep in dreamland, my doubts poisoned me. My need for a rational explanation stripped me of a much needed moment of happiness. I needed a rational explanation, and in searching for one I found only disappointment.
This afternoon my son and I had a much needed break. We drove to Califon to visit a friend of mine and her two young boys. (Surprise of all surprises — it was a town in New Jersey I actually liked.) My son was thrilled to see other kids, and even though they are younger he enjoyed playing with them. How wonderful it was for him to escape the world of adults and submerge himself in childhood. They kicked a ball, he taught them how to properly kick a heavy bag taekwondo style, and they made a mess in the school room/play room. As for me, I got to have an in-person conversation with another adult who was neither my mother nor my spouse. Despite the fact that we all wore masks, it was a slice of normalcy, a few hours in which we could escape and be happy.
While pulling the condo apart and sorting through things in my son’s room, I can across two writing pieces he did in first and second grade. The prompt of the first one read: “The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was…” My son wrote, “…when I went to Disney. I went to every park. I got a Mickey Mouse hat. But we had to leave eventually. I was very sad to leave. I was very lucky to go.” Of course, I cried reading it because it reminded me of Dad who had taken us to Disney twice. For four years we all looked forward to returning together. It sucks to look forward to something for so long only to have it disintegrate moments before it was realized. In the second assignment, my son said, “My Grandparents are worth to me more than gold. They let me stay up to watch a movie or two.” I cried, again, wishing I could snap a photo of them and text them to Dad. They would have made him smile.
Cases continue to rise. Deaths are occurring at a frightening rate. Nearly 2,000 people died yesterday. Roughly, 8,000 people died since Saturday morning. Governors in the Northeast are advising against holiday travel, but none of them are yet to issue restrictions comparable to the ones we experienced in the spring. A teacher friend of mine here in New Jersey got the call — his school will be completely virtual until mid-January. My spouse is hoping to get a similar call soon. In Utah, there are only 65 available ICU beds in the entire state. Parents in New York City spent the day protesting the shutting down of city schools. The pandemic continues to pit parents against teachers. The fallout will be awful. Last year teachers were heroes for adapting to new ways of teaching to ensure that learning didn’t stop. Now they are demonized. Teachers will end up quitting — or dying. Resentment and anger and bankrupt cities and states will lead to further pay cuts instead of the raises teachers deserve. Those who leave will be replaced. There is always a fresh supply of teachers graduating college, but will they be as good as the ones leaving? In a world that vilifies teachers and pays them poorly, who will the profession attract? In the end, the children will suffer, but an uneducated generation does not bode well for the future of our nation.
I miss Dad badgering me about what he could give my son for Christmas. This is the time of year he’d start calling me and asking me to give him some gift ideas. My son has never been easy to shop for. Books and Legos and “fancy clothes” — and that one year he wanted all things Star Wars followed by the year he wanted all things Harry Potter, those were the easiest years — are generally all he wants. But Dad always wanted to buy him more. He wanted his tree to be surrounded by gifts — from Santa — for his only grandchild. I never really knew what to tell him. Every year, I made a few suggestions but he wanted more. I’d be sitting at my desk writing in the middle of the afternoon and my phone would ring. Dad would be Costco calling to ask if he thought my son would like whatever toy he had come across. He was always excited, and I hated telling him that I didn’t think my son would be interested in something. When I did, I could feel his disappointment through the phone. Sometimes he sent me pictures asking me to pick out what I liked best from a serious of books, or clothes, or something else entirely. It drove me mad. But now my phone remains silent. There are no random texts of toys, no anticipation for the holiday. And I can’t believe how much I miss it. I want to be frustrated that I can’t come up with a better, more detailed list for him. I want to hear his excitement, his desire to make my son happy. I want to hear his voice. I want the excitement of seeing him soon.
This is also the time of year I used to make an annual collage for my parents, a collection of memories of the things they shared with my son throughout the year. Dad loved those collages. He looked forward to them every Christmas. I was too poor to buy my parents proper presents, so like a child I made them one instead. But this year there won’t be a collage. There will just be an empty space on the wall to represent the emptiness in our hearts.
Tonight, on the way home from taekwondo, my son asked if we could listen to the station playing Christmas music. I turned it on, but after the first few notes — I don’t even remember what song it was — the lights in front of me blurred. Wiping away the tears, I had to change the station. I don’t want Christmas to come. I don’t want to face a happy day without the man who alway made it happy. My son was angry that I changed the channel. But I couldn’t drive safely crying as hard as I was.
Next week is Thanksgiving. Another day that used to bring happiness. I’m dreading the day so much that I wish I could go to sleep Wednesday night and simple wake up on Friday. If only I could quietly pass over the day.
As of today, more than a quarter million Americans are dead. I am not the only one dreading the holidays. Thousands of families are missing loved ones. The infection rate is approaching the levels we saw back in the fall, but this time around Governors seem hesitant to act. Governor Murphy is telling families they can’t gather in numbers greater than 10. But indoor dining is still open. As are gyms. And he has stated he won’t shut down schools. He’s abdicating responsibility so that he can make a run for reelection. Shut down the free babysitting and you won’t make many friends. The hell with the teachers.
But seriously, if teachers are so vital to the economy, why do they get paid such shitty salaries. If you are telling me — as parents around the country are screaming as districts begin to close — that you can’t possibly go to work to earn your six figure salary without my spouse watching your kid, if you livelihood is based on my spouse’s service, then she, and every other teacher deserves a bigger cut of that salary. (Or if corporations are relying on teachers to provide free day care for their workforce then teachers deserve a cut of their profits as well.) But if you want to hoard it. If you don’t think teachers deserve better pay. If you are anti teacher when it comes to voting, then screw you. You should find your own babysitter and let my spouse and her colleagues work safely from home. Because she can teach remotely. She’s been doing it since March. But if you can’t do your job because she’s at home, then we need to change the dialogue in this country. We need to recognize that teachers are exceedingly valuable. And when something is valuable it shouldn’t come cheaply.
I am proud of my son. The boy who hates all things Zoom, wanted to compete in a virtual taekwondo tournament yesterday. He did well, considering for months he refused to take virtual classes and he was more nervous than ever. He wasn’t nearly as crisp as he had been back in February — at the last tournament in which he competed — and his technique was not as sharp. However, he did well enough to place third in his ring in forms. He also competed in weapons. Since his sword form was rusty — it’s been months since he practiced it — he opted to do the staff form, a form he only recently learned. He finished in the middle of the pack, well enough not to get completely discouraged, but not good enough for a medal.
After the tournament, we got in the car and I wanted to cry. Usually when something good happened, when my son had exciting news to share, the first thing we did was call Dad. I wanted to call him yesterday, but obviously I couldn’t. So we called Mom instead. Somehow talking to her made us miss Dad all the more. “It was his booming voice,” my spouse observed. “It’s not the same without hearing it.” Yes, that and the fact that his pride and enthusiasm were always evident in his tone. Mom was happy, but there was an element of sorrow in her voice, as if she too noted Dad’s absence. It was my son’s first achievement without his grandfather, and we were reminded again how cruel the whole situation is. How awful it is that Dad will never be able to share anything with us. That he will never again pick up the phone and say, “Very nice,” or “Great job.”
On Friday night, my son and I went to the family taekwondo class. We were the only ones there so it was pretty spectacular to get our own private lesson. Due to Covid, we are all required to wear masks. I am total support of the rule, but my body hates it. Half way through my form I started to hyperventilate. Despite months of practice, I froze up towards the end because I couldn’t breathe. Without finishing, I ran outside to remove my mask and gulp in the fresh air. My lungs have been compromised from Covid. Though I haven’t been to a doctor, I feel certain my lungs have suffered damage. Otherwise, I wouldn’t start huffing and puffing as quickly as I do. I’ve read the science. I know that wearing a mask is not supposed to impeded my ability to breathe, but just because I’ve read the evidence doesn’t make breathing any easier. But I think it’s more than lung damage. For months after Dad died — knowing that it was his lungs that gave out, that he died because he couldn’t breath — I would have dreams in which I was drowning or suffocating. I’d wake up gasping and it would take me several minutes before I could regulate my breathing. I think wearing the mask triggers an anxiety attack. After everything, the thought of not being able to breathe causes me to panic. Friday night, I couldn’t quite breathe normally again until I got home took anxiety medicine.
Not being able to breath normally is challenging enough during class, but next week I have to take my mid-term test. Only if I pass can I test for my black belt in February. I’m concerned that my breathing will mess me up. That my breathing will cripple me before the test is over. I am angry because the one thing I alway had going for me was my health, and the fact that I remained physically fit. It’s bad enough Dad died. But not being able to breathe properly compounds the nightmare.
We spent much of the weekend packing. Yet, it looks and feels as if we barely made a dent. There are boxes everywhere but so much still needs to be packed. I threw away more than I wanted to, but less than I should have. Anything even remotely associated with Dad I had to keep. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of sentimental things. I have no idea where we are going to move. But we finally put the condo on the market. I’ve been wanting to get out for years and finally it looks as if we will break free. I desperately want to leave New Jersey. I never intended to stay here for more than a few years, but with the economy in shambles and school districts not liking to pay well educated and experienced teachers, I’m not sure I’ll ever find another full time job. And at my age, what else can I do? As you know, writing never panned out to be more than a hobby. Even my spouse might not be able to find a new teaching position. She also would cost too much. I fear we will be stuck in New Jersey. I fear I may never work again. I fear we will end up somewhere that makes me sadder and more discontent than being in this condo.
I have sunk to a new low — using Facebook posts to influence my lesson plans. Or maybe, the fact that I get inspiration from social media is a testament to the sort of friends I keep. Intelligent literary minds think alike.
Last month, Trump announced his Supreme Court nomination in the Rose Garden. Days later, Trump and many of his guests tested positive for Covid. Shortly after the news broke, friends of mine posted about Edgar Allen Poe and how he written the script more than a hundred years ago in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Back in my former life, when I had a job teaching college writing, I would often read “A Tell Tale Heart” with my students around Halloween. They enjoyed dissecting Poe’s writing. It was something different. Something fun. My son knew that I had this propensity to celebrate Poe with my students, and so he asked me — now that he is my student — if I would consider bestowing the same treat upon him. Since we had already read “A Tell Tale Heart” together last year, he suggested that perhaps we could read one of his many other stories. I quickly said yes. Why not? He’s my only student, and life is always more peaceful when he isn’t throwing a tantrum over doing his work. If the reading keeps him interested, it’s a bonus for me.
Therefore, when I saw my friends posting about “The Masque of the Red Death” I knew I had to read it with my son. Along with printing a copy of the short story, I printed a news article that discussed the Covid outbreak in the Rose Garden. My son follows politics better than I ever did at his age. While I recognized a comparison of the two might be a bit ambitious for a ten year old, I also thought we could have fun doing it. Besides, when you have only one student you can tackle far more difficult assignments because you can move at whatever pace works best for that one student. Nothing is too difficult when you don’t have administrators or parents making demands.
The story was not easy to comprehend. Not for a kid. Hell, even I had to slow down my reading to absorb it, analyze it, and take it all in. So we read the story together, taking turns reading the paragraphs aloud. We stopped frequently to discuss the story so that I could be sure my son understood it. There was a great deal of symbolism and my son enjoyed excavating the deeper layers of the story. It took us two days to sift our way through the text and when we finished, my son declared it was one of his favorite stories.
However, he complained about having to write about it. Apparently, writing takes all the pleasure out of reading. Comparing fact to fiction was the challenge I expected it to be. But I had him start by drawing a chart noting the similarities between “The Masque of the Red Death” and the Rose Garden. From there he started drafting.
Thank you Facebook family for such a wonderful lesson idea.
Below, you can read G3’s final draft of his comparison essay.
The Red Death Comparison
Everyone thinks fiction is fake, but is it? Fiction is a mirror into reality. In “The Masque of the Red Death,” written by Edgar Allen Poe, a virus is taking over a country. It reminds me of today when Covid is killing thousands of people daily.
Both epidemics have killed many and have almost taken over the world. Covid is a respiratory illness and it destroys your organs. Even though the Red Death is not a respiratory illness, it kills you within a half hour of getting infected. Blood comes out of every pore. Covid does not kill everyone it infects. The Red Death does.
Prospero and Trump are both rich and rule a country. They also think their money can protect them from a disease. Neither of these two men care about their people. Prospero hides from the Red Death. Trump spreads Covid. Trump holds rallies and does not wear a mask.
In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Prospero thinks his money can protect him. He and his friends, whom he invited to live with him, are having a ball. In the Rose Garden, Trump and his cronies celebrated Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for a seat in the Supreme Court. Both parties are during epidemics. At the ball, in the story Prospero dies along with every one else because Red Death personally shows up to kill everyone. At the Rose Garden, when Trump announced the new Supreme Court justice, no one wore a mask and many people got sick from Covid.
At the end of “The Masque of the Red Death,” everyone is dead. Prospero was king no more and Red Death took over his kingdom. After of the Rose Garden, Americans kept dying and many of Trump’s minions got infected because Trump did nothing about the virus. Then Trump’s term was no more because Biden won the election.
Pennsylvania declared Biden the winner today which gives him the 270 electoral votes he needs. When I read online that Biden was the President-Elect, I didn’t cheer. I didn’t even smile. I sat down on the kitchen floor and I cried. Because all I wanted to do was pick up the phone and call Dad. Dad had wanted Biden to run for president four years ago. He was disappointed when he didn’t, but still he voted for Hillary. At the start of the primary season, Dad backed Biden, immediately. Biden’s victory would have made Dad very happy. But he didn’t live to see it. Trump lost. The majority — a slim majority, but still a majority — of Americans had had enough and we fired him. But it’s too late for Dad. Trump’s lies killed him but a kind man’s victory won’t bring him back.
I am appalled at the posts I’m seeing on social media. Trump supporters and Republicans are telling Biden voters that we shouldn’t gloat. That we should give them — and Trump — time to process their loss. That we need to be mindful of their feelings. Are they freaking kidding me? For four years, Trump has mocked, belittled, and insulted everyone while his supporters cheered him on. During the election, his supporters waved flags and signs with slogans such as: “Trump 2020 Make Liberals Cry Again,” and “Trump 2020 Fuck Your Feelings.” Seriously, that was the Trump train rhetoric and now that they have lost, now that decency has been restored — or will be in January — to the White House, they want us to care about them. About their feelings. How can they not see the hypocrisy? Don’t tell me you want to see my cry again after Trump killed my father and then expect me to be compassionate toward you. Don’t tell me “Fuck Your Feelings” when I’m raging over Dad’d death and then ask me to consider your feelings. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You didn’t give a shit about me or my dad. So don’t expect met to be sympathetic toward you or Trump.
To celebrate Biden’s victory, my son and I had banana splits for lunch at the beach. We then practiced taekwondo and played frisbee on the sand. It was hot — 69 degrees. Warm for a November afternoon. So we went home, changed into our swim suits, and went swimming. I wanted today — the day Trump lost — to be a day my son would always remember. And swimming in November is something he shouldn’t ever forget.
It boggles my mind that the same people who think my marriage is immoral voted for a man who has had multiple wives and raped women. It’s disconcerting that the same people who cry about abortion and argue that no child should be harmed have no problem with a President who ripped kids away from their parents and stuffed them in cages. It’s beyond comprehension that people who allegedly love Christ and worship the Bible can support a man who lies incessantly and through his lies killed 240,000 Americans. What would Jesus do? My guess is he’s sitting up in heaven crying at the way Americans have twisted his words and misrepresented his message. Love your neighbor! Well, we don’t see much of that from the Republican Party — do we? I will never understand how nearly half the American population voted for a man who lies, who wishes to strip them of health care, who puts the wealth of Wall Street before the well-being of the average American, and who speaks so vulgarly about women. We have a history plagued with hate and discrimination. But instead of confronting it and trying to make amends and move forward, we have embraced the evil and called it Great. America, I’m disappointed.
Today — if my son were attending school — would have been a day off. In New Jersey, today and tomorrow are the days set aside for the big Teacher Convention. There was no convention this year, but the days were already on the calendar so teachers and students had off. I debated with myself about whether I should give my son the day, but if I had, he’d have wanted to watch television all day and that was not an acceptable option. In a non-pandemic world, we could have taken day trips but out here we’re too far from mountains to go hiking and other activities are closed or unsafe due to the virus that is on the rise once again. So I decided, instead of a full day of class, we’d take a break from our usual work and begin a research project. As you know, science is my weakness. I’ve been worried since September that my lack of science knowledge will negatively impact my son for the rest of his life. But what I lack in science knowledge I make up for in research and writing skills. Instead of dwelling on what I can’t do, I figure it might be best to shift my focus. He loves animals, and he was reading a book about the Serengeti, so I on the spur of the moment, I told him to pick an animal. Of course my son never picks the obvious, he always has to select something obscure. Therefore, instead of a wildebeest or a cheetah or anything else I’ve ever heard of, he opted to study the rock hyrax. Nope, I won’t say anything more about them. I’ll wait until he writes the paper and then I’ll share it so you can learn all about these critters from him.
Anyway, as expected he grumbled and complained all morning. He didn’t want to do research. At one point, he threw down the article he was reading, pinched his eyebrows together and said, “And what makes you think you know anything about research or that you can teach me something I don’t know?” I paused, biting my lip as I tried to figure out if I most wanted to laugh or scream. For two years that was my job. I taught college kids how to write research papers. And I’ve written one or two in my life — one was even published in an academic journal. But he was beyond the point of listening, so I simply walked away. When I returned he had begrudgingly read and summarized one of the articles. A small victory.
Since it was a beautiful and warm afternoon, we had lunch at the beach. Then we spent a couple of hours practicing taekwondo and playing with the video camera, taking turns recording each other. At the beach there are wooden beams — I’ve no idea what their intended purpose is — that my son loves to climb on. He practices his kicks on them which always makes me nervous. But today he upped his game. Grabbing his staff, he decided to do the entire staff form while balancing on the beam. He did it, without falling. I was greatly impressed. When he finished, he said it was my turn. I took the challenge. I’m not nearly as graceful as he is, nor as agile — my body is much older and far more damaged — but I did it. It wasn’t pretty, but I completed it. I think my son was surprised. He didn’t think this old woman had it in her.
When I got home, an exciting email was waiting in my in-box. A recent essay I’d written about homeschooling my son was accepted for publication by one of the editors of the Blue Nib. I’ve been so stressed and anxious the last few days, it was wonderful to have something to smile about.
Last fall, G3 wanted to read The Hobbit, but he has a remarkable ability for starting books and not finishing them. I also wasn’t sure — having read it at least a decade ago and not remembering it at all — he’d understand it well enough if he read it on his own. Therefore, I encouraged him to read other books instead. He was convinced he could comprehend the book without any difficulty, but I stood firm. He got mad at me and sulked for days. Eventually, I told him maybe we’d read it together in the spring. But you all know how our spring turned out. For months, G3 didn’t read at all. He buried himself in television instead, trying to forget the nightmare that had become his reality.
This year, he’s not in school. I’ve taken it upon myself to homeschool him. While once upon a time I did teach middle school, it was ages ago. Recently, I’d been teaching college. As a result, figuring out which books to teach and what my expectations should be was a bit of a challenge. Before I committed to anything, I consulted a friend of mine who teaches middle school English. He recommended a few books for me to consider, one of which was “The Hobbit.” Remembering my son’s request from the year before, I thought it would be a brilliant way to start the school year. Reading something he wanted to read might mean less resistance. Boy was I wrong. Instead of the gratitude I foolishly expected, he immediately launched into a complaint, “When I wanted to read it, you said it was too hard. I wasn’t old enough. I had to wait. But now that you want me to read it you expect me to be happy about it.” Yep, what and idiot I was. However, once the grumbling subsided, he started to read the book. He had no problem at all comprehending the story, and during our daily discussions, I was impressed with his analysis of the characters. I didn’t always agree with his interpretations, and we had some feisty debates, but he always backed up his arguments and theories with references from the text. What more could I ask.
Over all, he seemed to really enjoy the novel. When he finished it, I asked him to write a review. We drafted an outline together, and then he wrote the first draft on his own. I made a few suggestions on what he needed to expand upon or explain more clearly and he was able to revise it without difficulty. You can read his final draft below.
The Hobbit – A Review
A hobbit named Bilbo goes on an adventure with a wizard named Gandalf and thirteen dwarves. The purpose of the adventure is to slay the dragon Smaug and take back the gold that is rightfully the dwarves’. The reason Bilbo goes along is to be a burglar and steal back the treasure. Along the way, they meet creatures that either try to help them or kill them, such as the elves who help them and the goblins who try to kill them. In the end, Bard slays Smaug. Then there is a war. The Iron Hill Dwarves, the Wood Elves, and the Lake People are on one side. The Goblins and Wargs are on the other side. The reason for the war is to see who should get the gold.
Some of the themes I found throughout the book are greed, betrayal, and growth. Throughout the book, creatures judge the dwarves for their love of gold. In the end, Thorin would not give any gold to the lake people to rebuild the village. Another theme, betrayal, is shown when Thorin specifically asks for the Arkenstone and Bilbo gives it to the enemy to avoid conflict — it does not work. The last theme is growth. When you first meet Bilbo, he is a timid but smart hobbit and in the end he is wise, confident, and very adventures. Bilbo’s growth can be seen by what he is wearing. At first you see Bilbo wearing comfortable clothes which expresses more of the Baggins side of him. In the middle of the novel, he is wearing more dwarfish clothes. This shows he is growing as a character. In the last few chapters, Bilbo wears a suit of armor symbolizing he is now showing more of his Took side.
In this book, one thing Tolkien does very well is that he describes things beautifully. I feel I am not just there, but as if I am my very own character. One of my favorite descriptions is:
“There [Smaug] lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; a thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber. Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red stained in ruddy light.”
I like this description because it is describing the dragon. It puts a picture in my head. Another thing is, Tolkien keeps the story moving. In the actual adventure, there are moments were nothing happens, but Tolkien shows the conflict and fighting so the readers don’t get bored. One example of this scenario is in the beginning when the party is just walking. Tolkien doesn’t tell us everything about that stretch of the journey because nothing really happened. However, Tolkien does show the conflict with the trolls. Tolkien always introduces new creatures to show their opinions of the party.
In all the books I have read, this was my favorite of them all. Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and The Hobbit are all adventure stories, however, in The Hobbit the things that makes it so good are the deeply descriptive paragraphs.
Mom was up before dawn today so that she could vote. She was concerned that the line might be terrible. Her legs and feet are not great so she was concerned about a long wait. I suggested she go early, arrive when they open. I also said I’d call her when I went out for my early morning walk to make sure she was awake. As promised, I called at 5:30. She was already dressed and ready to go. This was the first election in years that she was going to the polls alone. She and dad always went together. Even before Dad retired, she’d leave early in the morning with him. They’d walk to the polls together and then Dad would head to the bus stop and she’d go home. For the last ten years, during Dad’s retirement election mornings were more relaxing. They could take their time because neither of them had anywhere to be. Like every morning since April, Mom was lonely. She missed Dad. But after she voted, she called me and I could hear the smile in her voice. The line wasn’t long — only nineteen people ahead of her. And she got to cast her vote against her husband’s killer. “It’s the only thing I can do,” she told me. “It’s the only way I can try to get a little justice for your father.”
As for me, I voted the last week of September. Since I’m temporarily living in New York, I didn’t have a choice. I filled out my ballot and dropped it in the ballot box outside the local courthouse. I sure as hell wasn’t missing this election. And I’m sure you have no doubts as to who I voted for.
Four years ago, my son and I had pizza for dinner before his taekwondo class. We sat down at table to eat and looked up at the television to watch Fox News — obviously not my choice. The anxiety then was thick. After we ate he had class and then we went home, turned on CNN and cuddled up on the couch together to watch the election results roll in. We felt confident Hillary would win. She was by far the more qualified candidate. But as projections were made and the map filled up in red, anxiety grew. But I couldn’t stay awake, neither could my son. He had school in the morning so we eventually put him to bed, and then my eyes defeated me. In the middle of the night, I woke up to go to the bathroom and before I returned to bed I picked up my tablet and googled “Who won the election?” Donald’s smarmy smile popped up on the screen. I felt sick — and I know I wasn’t the only one. Hillary won the popular vote, which means the majority of Americas got stuck with someone they hated and distrusted. We were in despair. We hit the streets in protest almost immediately because we knew Donald would destroy this country. And we were right. He killed my father and 235,000 other Americans with his lies and inaction. He has stoked the fires of racial discord. And he had encouraged his minions to plan a coup in Michigan, drive Biden’s bus off the road, and intimidate votes at the polls. Four years later, America isn’t great. It’s on the verge of a Civil War and if we don’t elect someone new, the virus may kill us all before we even get a chance to either heal or kill each other.
Anxiety was thick all day. My son and I were both restless. School work seemed to drag. My son injured his toe doing taekwondo. The living room is too small for a good workout and when he was practicing crescent kicks he smashed his foot into the furniture. The poor kid is finally getting used to Zoom classes and now he is limping from the pain and swelling in his toe. For dinner, we ate pizza and then, to distract ourselves from the election, we watched a National Geographic documentary about wildlife in the mountains. At 8:30 we turned on CNN and watched as the results rolled in. Of course, Biden took New York and New Jersey. But there are still so many states and electoral votes to go. However, I’m falling asleep. I think I have to go to bed…but I’m sure I won’t sleep through the night. I’ll check in again with google when I wake up.
Daddy cleaned up the leaves. In one windy day, he blew them off the lawn, away from the house, and into the woods. Lately, I had been sad simply looking out the window and seeing all the leaves falling on the ground. The fallen leaves — like so much else out here — remind me of Dad. Every fall, for years — at least since my son was born — I’ve come out here for a long weekend to help Dad rake leaves. It’s a chore most people hate. I enjoy it — the quiet, calm, repetitive motion. I used to look forward to clean up. This year, however, the town announced they don’t have enough money to pick up the leaves as they have in prior years. If the town doesn’t pick them up, there’s no use cleaning them up. Where would we put them? Mom was worried about the leaves, stressed about the clean up. I told her not to worry. We’d wait until the spring. If the town picked them up then, I’d be happy to spend a weekend raking. If they didn’t, we’d figure something out then. Seriously, we are still in the midst of pandemic. Life is not normal. Why are we going to get upset or anxious about leaves? But Mom will always be Mom, and worrying is what she does best. So Dad took care of it for her. The wind today was fierce. My son went outside earlier today to read. Two minutes later he came back into the house. It was cold and he was afraid the wind would tear the book out of his hands. But it was he who noticed — shortly before the sun set — that the leaves were gone, that Daddy, disguised as the wind, had blown them all away.
Halloween has always been one of my son’s favorite holidays. He loves dressing up and becoming his favorite literary, historical, and movie characters — Beowulf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Abe Lincoln, Dumbledore, Mad-Eye Moody, Huck Finn. This year, he planned to be Lupin — a werewolf — because the full moon fell on Halloween. For years, he had looked forward to this Halloween. For years, he talked excitedly about it. But it’s 2020, the year that sucked all joy and pleasure out of life. Everything he’s looked forward to this year has been killed, destroyed, or cancelled. True Halloween wasn’t officially canceled, but what my son enjoys is getting together with friends and going trick-or-treating in a group. We didn’t think that would be safe. Nor did we think it safe to be ringing bells and getting within six feet of strangers. Maybe we’re the awful parents who denied our kid something he loved. Maybe we played it too cautiously. But for a family that knows all too well how deadly the virus is, we weren’t taking any chances.
In an attempt to cheer our son, my spouse drove out from New Jersey for the weekend. She arrived Friday night, in time for the Halloween event at the local library. My son had carved a pumpkin, along with two dozen other kids, and their pumpkins were on display. For the event he cobbled together a costume. A few weeks ago, when we were in New Jersey, he asked us if we would take him to Spirit Halloween — one of his favorite stores. Since he wasn’t going to have a real Halloween this year he asked us if he could get a mask. Happily we agreed, buying him the skeleton mask he picked out along with the witchdoctor’s hat — a black top hat decorated with bones and feathers. On Friday, he wore that along with his Mad-Eye Moody vest and coat and his dragon cane. He looked good. Not bad for a last minute costume. He was happy to dress up, but the moment was short and then we home.
Yesterday, on Halloween, we went to the beach in the afternoon and practiced our staff form for taekwondo. The beach is a good place to practice because there is lots of room and we are far less likely to accidentally break a window. On the way back to the house, we stopped and bought candy — more candy because my mom had already given him a Costco bag of chocolate — and then we went out for ice cream. Desperately, we tried to ward off the sadness and sorrow that threatened to cloud the day.
In the evening, three of us cooked a spooky meal — zombie meatloaf, brain mashed potatoes, toxic waste corn, olive eyes, and bloody intestine unraveled cinnamon rolls. My son mashed the potatoes all by himself — Dad would have been proud. He enjoyed the food and afterward we settled down in the living room to watch the Hobbit — his reward for finishing the book. We intended to watch Masque of the Red Death, but a glitch with Amazon prevented us from getting it. It may not have been the best Halloween, but we tried to keep it from being a total bummer. However, when my son went to bed he called me into his room. His eyes were sad and he held out his arms for me to give him a hug. “Mama,” he said, “It’s nothing you did or didn’t do, I just feel really sad.” I held him tight and fought back my own tears. “I know,” I told him. “I’m sad, too. I’m sad about so many things.” How can you be happy when so much of what you love is gone?
Today it rained. What can you do in the midst of a pandemic in the rain but stay at home…inside…again. In an effort to cheer our son, we got Disney Plus. I hate him watching so much television, but he’s been so mopey with little interest in anything else. Once upon a time he loved watching Superhero movies with Dad. Whenever he’d see a trailer for one that was due to be released, he’d turn to me, his eyes glowing, and he’d exclaim, “I’m going to see that one with Grandpa.” I’m not sure who loved Marvel movies more — my dad or my son — but they both loved the movies most when they got to watch them together. I’ve always hated superhero movies. I’ve never been good at suspending reality long enough to enjoy them. But Dad is dead, and I realized my son needed someone new to watch the movies with. Dad wouldn’t want him to watch them alone. So lately, we’ve been getting Marvel movies out of the library. “I don’t know what happened to you,” my son said earlier this week when we were watching Ironman. “It’s like Grandpa died and did something to your brain. I can’t believe you like Marvel.” Yeah, something like that. I chucked when he said it. And maybe Dad did do something to my brain because I’m not hating them as much as I used to. Dare I admit I’ve even enjoyed a few. But the library doesn’t always have what my son wishes to watch, and the library is closed on Sundays, which is why we got Disney Plus. We then spent the afternoon watching movies. And Thor turned out to be one of those movies I kinda liked. I’m sure I’ll never replace Dad. Nor would I want to. But if watching Marvel movies with my son gives him bit of happiness in this otherwise dark world, it’s worth it. And the added bonus of Disney Plus is we’ll get to watch National Geographic documentaries. Yep, those of you who know me knew there had to be a catch. Didn’t you?
Our memories are fragmented. Yet stories are expected to be rounded out with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. This may work beautifully for fiction, considering the author gets to make everything up. But when it comes to essays and personal narratives, well, we tend to fill in the gaps here and there because it’s what’s expected. We lie in places. Or rather, we creatively bend our tales so that they fit the expected format. Sometimes it works well and the story is magical. Other times, what you’d need to flesh it out and make it whole would also drag it on, make it boring. And the last thing you want to do is put your reader to sleep. There are some stories that simply work best as crisp segments — like photos in a scrap book. They don’t tell the whole story, but they bring out the highlights, the moments you couldn’t forget even if you tried. That’s why, one of my favorite styles of writing is an essay in fragments. It allows you, the writer, to focus on those moments you keep coming back to, whether in your own mind or in the stories you share with family and friends.
When the school year started — on day one — I decided to start with this sort of personal narrative with G3. I asked him to take out his writing notebook and he brainstormed the clips he most remembered from our trip to the Great Lakes. I did the same. Our lists had some similar memories, but they were not identical. From there I asked him to draft a micro essay from each memory. Some are super short and descriptive, others include a longer narrative and more of a story. As he worked on writing his essay, I worked on writing mine. I thought it would be a fun project for us to compare how one experience could yield different remembrances. It took almost two months to complete the essay because G3 worked on a couple of other essays in between. After he finished the first draft, I reviewed it with him, writing questions in the margins for him to answer in his revision — in an attempt to make it more complete. We worked on sentence structure and grammar. After the second draft he polished it a little more so that each fragment was as sharp and either descriptive or informative as he could make it. You can read his final draft below. As for my essay — the first draft is collecting dust. The pandemic has forced my writing group to put our monthly meeting on hold. Until we can meet again and I can get some feedback, I won’t be able to write a revision.
Falls, Lakes, and Rock Jumping
I was finally on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. The falls were just beautiful. The mist gleamed in the very early light. The Maid of the Mist got very foggy. The sound of the falls was like thunder. The smell of water was as fresh as water could be. I felt the same as being in a misty shower — relaxed. (☺
Bronner’s: A Christmas Freak Show
It’s a freak show.
When I went to Bronner’s it felt like I was going into Santa’s head. Everywhere it was Jesus this and Jesus that. I thought that it was a little overdose of Jesus. When I went in there was so much chatter by the customers and ornaments of Saint Nick. I thought an ornament might fall on me from all the noise. At least when I walked around, I saw a whole bunch of puzzles. Recently, I had been doing a lot of puzzles, so I was very happy. Most of the puzzles had dogs on the photos. I decided to get one with seven golden retrievers in a living room with a fire. We also got five ornaments. Two were for me, two were for the family, and one was for Mama’s friend because they have a joke about Christmas. After two hours in the store we had finally gotten out (☺).
Second Largest Lake
This summer my family and I wanted to swim in all the Great Lakes. It was the first leg of our trip and we were about to jump into freezing Lake Michigan. I would rather have had to jump into the Arctic Ocean in my underwear because it would probably feel warmer. The rule was, if you wanted your swim to count in all Great Lakes, you had to get your head wet and swim a little. So I did that about five times. When I was done, I felt like my butt had fallen off because I was so numb. When we went back to the car my mom wanted to change. While she was changing a drone flew overhead. She was scared the drone might take photos. We made fun of her for a long time because we like to tease her about stuff like that. (☺)
Whitefish point was beautiful. At the bottom of the lake, I saw rocks glint in the clear water. The rocks were pretty because of all the swirls of color in them. They were as smooth as sanded wood. The water is warm. Only a hundred years ago, ships would sway side to side with their crews stuck waiting for when they would meet their watery grave. Bodies lay at the bottom of this ghost lake. They are not decomposed because the cold of the water keeps them from rotting. The bodies are face down with mouths open just waiting to be buried on land. So if you take a dip a little too far out it might become your worst nightmare.
We had just got back from Pictured Rocks in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan). I got my second six inch turkey sub from Subway. It tasted like heaven. It was so good. When I was done, I saw a shaved ice stand down the road. Since I love shaved ice, we went there for dessert. We saw a teen with a large ice (it was huge) so we decided to get the only other size — a small. I thought I should get the flavors blue raspberry, cherry, and pink lemonade because I thought they would taste good. When I got it, it was like a rainbow Mt. Everest. Even the small was huge. It tasted awesome. (☺)
The sun gleamed off the water showing the reflection of the red kayak I was in. In the distance, I could see an island just sitting there like a patient fisherman. The birds were singing their early song. Lake Superior was cold, but warm in a way. High above there stood an emerald forest. Once again the water smelled fresh. It was great to be at the Apostle Islands. (☺)
Mom said we could go to Houghton Falls and jump into the water from a rock. She thought it would be fun. The Apostle Islands’ guide recommended it when we were out kayaking. The horizon was very beautiful with its light pink and blue skies. When we got there, Mom thought it was not safe to jump because I might hit my head on rocks and die. We just swam instead. I was really annoyed. I always thought that jumping into water would be fun. When other people came and jumped, Mom said we could also jump. She said this because no one else got hurt. We got the green light. My gut felt like it turned round and round when I jumped. It was very fun. (☺)
Indiana — not much to it except one thing: bad food. And I mean it. One fateful night my moms and I were looking for food for dinner. We found a Subway and a Burger King. One of my moms got an Impossible Whopper and I got a sub. We both hated our food because it did not taste at all like what we usually get. Later that night, we got root beer floats at A&W. It was all ice cream. This was bad because I like my floats more with more root beer. Since I begged my moms to buy me a Minute Maid lemonade they said yes. We looked in every store and none of them had Minute Maid lemonade. (☹)
My dream last night left me feeling empty and sad. Before I can tell you about my dream, I’ll give you the background to it. Living at my mom’s house in Mattituck means I don’t have a dryer. When it comes to doing laundry, I am at the mercy of the weather. Lately, it feels as if the fall has picked up where the spring left off — damp, dreary, and cloudy — not at all conducive for hanging laundry outside to dry. But my son and I were running out of underwear so I need to do a load of wash yesterday. I hung it out in the morning, and by the late afternoon it was still wet. I brought in the pants and shirts to hang on the drying rack inside, but figured I’d leave the socks and underwear on the line. They wouldn’t dry overnight, I knew that, but I hoped maybe in the morning, since there would be a bit of sun, they would finish drying.
In my dream, the laundry was still out on the line when I went out for a walk. I was in Long Island, but when I stepped outside I was in Queens, walking on Myrtle Avenue. Mom had asked me to pick up a pizza which I thought was odd since she never eats pizza for breakfast, but I did what she asked. But walking and reading, while carrying a pizza, was challenging. I wasn’t too far from home when it started to drizzle. My thoughts jumped immediately to the underwear and socks hanging on the line. If they got more wet they would never dry. They couldn’t stay on the line, but I couldn’t get to them fast enough to bring them in. So juggling my book and the pizza in one hand I pulled out my phone to call Dad. He could bring them in. I just needed to ask. I dialed his number but was immediately disconnected. I dialed again. Again I was disconnected. So I tried a third time, and now the phone was telling me it didn’t recognize the number. In frustration I tried one more time, but now the rain was coming down heavy. My book was saturated. The pizza ruined. The clothes most certainly were drenched. I slammed the phone into my pocked and sat down to cry hysterically. My tears woke me up. And I remembered that Daddy is dead. No wonder the call wouldn’t go through. I cried some more because I really didn’t need him to bring in the laundry, I just needed to hear his voice.
The dream set the tone for the rest of the day. It is damp and cloudy and cool. It feels like fall. Since we had nothing else planned for the day, my son dressed up in a suit and button down shirt and we went out to take his school picture. We took a hike to a bench my son remembered sitting on a few years ago with his grandfather. He wanted to start the shoot there. I took several pictures but he refused to smile. Next we headed to the beach, always a pretty place for photos, but again he refused to smile. I took more than fifty photos and he isn’t smiling in a single one. He looks terribly sad. But considering the year he’s had, all he has lost, would a smile even be appropriate. It sure wouldn’t be accurate.
I got home from the photoshoot to find three rejection emails in my inbox. One for a short story that’s been rejected now so many times I suppose I’ll give up submitting it. And two rejections from agents regarding the Pandemic Diaries. My story doesn’t interest them. I suppose it’s because I’m not famous and Dad was just an ordinary person, one of 225,000 killed. A statistic. I know my story speaks to a larger truth, a glimpse into the COVID reality that not even the news can convey, but no one cares. People prefer speaking in terms of numbers because then it removes the personal element. Maybe I should stop sending out queries. What I’ve learned through the years is that when agents say they are interested in memoirs or narrative non-fiction, they don’t care about how well something is written, they want stories that will sell. What sells is popularity. People care only about famous folk. Not ordinary people. Bland people. People like me, destined for the slush pile, followed by the trash can.
Trump’s campaign isn’t helping my mental state. He continues to mock people who died. Pointing out that the majority of people who got infected recovered, as if dying meant you had some sort of character flaw. His supports, too, are horrible people. They care more about their 401ks and their stocks than the people who died. Money first. Not America first. But money. That’s all his rich supporters care about. Maintaining their wealth is more important than making sure people don’t die. But it’s always been that way. That’s why the poor don’t matter. We don’t make enough money to count. Again — another character flaw, I suppose. A teacher can work as hard as a doctor and put in more hours but a teacher’s salary will never be comparable to a doctor’s or a lawyers or a businessman’s. Of course it’s the people making the hefty salaries who continuously ensure that other salaries are kept low. Class structure must be maintained. The rich must always retain their right to shit on the poor. This pandemic has highlighted that. Aside of ER doctors and nurses, what other essential worker gets paid a decent salary? The rich have been able to hibernate, work from home, and continue to build their wealth while the essential workers who barely make enough to pay their bills have been left to cater to the rich. They aren’t dying, yet they are the ones influencing the laws that ensure they are protected while the rest of us aren’t.
This evening my son asked if we could watch The Conners. I’ve been so mopey all day I thought a comedy might cheer me up. I needed to laugh. But the season opening wasn’t funny — not at all. It was far too realistic to make me laugh. But it did make me cry — which in all fairness is not all that hard to do lately. The show revolved entirely around the pandemic. Darlene and her boyfriend came to the realization that their magazine, the one they founded together, is not going to make it. Not in this economy ushered in by the pandemic. Darlene is crushed. She had just written what she believes is one of her best articles and it’s not going to be released. It will never be read. To help her father with the mortgage, so that he — and in turn they — won’t get evicted, she decided to take a job in a plastics factory. When she arrives to inquire about a job, she finds her sister already waiting on line. Becky asks, “Why aren’t you trying got get another writing job?” Darlene could have been me responding, “Because I’ve got 25 years of failure telling me that’s the wrong direction….I mean like what is wrong with me? No one wants me to be a writer. Take a hint? You know, it’s like, if I’d done anything else I wouldn’t be standing on this line starting over.”
Starting over when — as my son pointed out yesterday — I’m closer to 70 than 20. Twenty-five years spent chasing dreams and being knocked down by failure. Poor choices. Character flaws. Bad luck. Lack of talent. A mix of all the above. Twenty-five years of going in the wrong direction, slamming into walls, and landing flat on my face. But life doesn’t last forever. And someday when it’s all over, I suppose it won’t matter that I never went anywhere, or succeeded at anything.
One evening at dinner, my son argued that even though he is only ten years old, he should be allowed to vote. He presented some valid points, including the fact that the President affects his life as much as he affects mine, therefore, he too should have a say in who lives in the White House. Later that night, I told my spouse about the conversation. (Due to the pandemic we are temporarily living in separate places.) She laughed because she could picture it — our son’s excitement and enthusiasm when he debated something he felt was important. But mid-laugh she said, “And if you asked him to write it, he’d tell you he didn’t know what to say.” She was right. There was something about the formal structure of an essay that made his mind freeze, or his stubbornness flare. He could verbally spar with either of us for an extended time, but when asked to put pencil to paper he’d write two sentences — three if we bribed him with chocolate — and he was done.
That’s what I need to work on. The ideas were all in his brain. But how could he present them in an organized manner? One afternoon, two weeks ago, while we were having class at the beach — picnic tables in the open air with the smell of salt coming off the water is a far better environment to teach (and learn) writing than at a small desk in a stuffy classroom surrounded by too many people — I presented G3 with his next writing assignment. He grumbled. It was a stupid assignment and a waste of his time and — as my spouse predicted — he had nothing to write about. So I walked away for a few minutes and ran through my taekwondo form a few times until he had calmed down.
When I returned to the table, he was still sulking — his lips pursed and his brow deeply furrowed — but his notebook was open and his pencil was loosely resting in his hand. I took a deep breath and sat down next to him.
“Let’s start with an outline,” I suggested.
“What? No. You hate outlines. You never use them.”
It’s true. I despise outlines. They confuse me far more than they help. But I also always have too much to say which is the opposite of what he was complaining about. “Then write your easy,” I suggested. Sometimes it’s easier to give in.
But as expected, he didn’t like that idea either, so he begrudging consented to an outline. We did it together — his ideas, my guidance. It was less painful than both of us expected. It was solid — at least solid enough to start.
The following day I wanted him to begin his rough draft. I set the timer for 20 minutes as I do every day for writing, but after five minutes the page was still blank.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t want to do it. I’m just going to make mistakes.”
His nose flared and his eyes narrowed in a squint as he glared at me, “What do you mean perfect?” He spit the final word at me.
“That’s the whole point of first drafts. They should be full of mistakes.”
“But you want me to use good grammar.”
“Yep, always pay attention to grammar, but if you didn’t make lots of mistakes on your first draft there would be no need for a second one. So make all the mistakes you can.”
“Yes, really. The entire point of the first draft is to spill your brain out onto the paper. Then in your second — and maybe third — draft you just have to clean it up.”
The resistance finally fell away and he successfully wrote the first two paragraphs that morning. What follows is his final draft.
Why I Should Be Allowed To Vote
I should be allowed to vote because the future of America is at stake. I don’t want Donald John Trump in office because he is an idiot, he lies, and he does not care about the American people. Some reasons I should vote are I know more about the presidential candidates than most adults, I know presidential history, and the president will affect me.
I know more about the presidential candidates than most adults. My mom almost always has CNN on so I get properly informed. I have seen Trump brainwash voters by repeating himself over and over. I watch debates and see what each candidate proposes to do. Such as, Trump wants to end Obamacare, while Biden wants to enforce Obamacare. But in the last debate, I think fly guy won.
I know presidential history. This is important because I know how other presidents handled crisis. One example is how F.D.R. handled the great depression which had job loss and death. He was able to give jobs to people who needed it. Another example is how Jackson kicked Native Americans off their land and was power hungry and selfish. Just like Trump who puts kids in cages and is selfish and power hungry. There have been good and bad leaders. I know what makes a good leader which Trump is not.
The person elected will affect me. My grandfather is dead due to Trump. Gay marriage is in jeopardy, so that means I might be living with my parents but they won’t be married. Finally, Covid 19 could have been slowed, so I could be back in school.
I would vote for Biden. Overall, he is more respectful and Trump needs to go because he is a cold person and he lies.
I am too old to be sitting in my room crying this much. My anger is uncontrollable. My pain is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was listening to the news and Donal Trump had the audacity to say that getting Covid was a gift from God. I have no words to express my rage. Covid killed my father, my best friend. Covid killed him because Trump refused to speak the truth back in February. As a child I was bullied, called names that destroyed me. But nothing ever hurt me as much as Trump’s comment tonight. A gift from God. How dare he. Trump had the benefit of six months worth of research and drugs that were not available to my father. He had the best doctors and helicopter to take him to the hospital the moment he started to feel ill. My father couldn’t even get an ambulance to take him where he wanted to go. And so he waited all night in mystery because he didn’t want to call me at midnight. He didn’t want to disturb me. He died six months ago, and tonight — because Trump’s comment was like a punch to the gut — I’m crying more than I have in months. I detest the president. How dare he act as if getting infected is a good thing. There are 215,000 dead Americans and he stomps on each of their names and the families who are in mourning. Has there ever been a more vile, a more detestable president. A gift from God. Well fuck you Donald Trump.
This afternoon, I ended school early so that I could take my son pumpkin picking. Since mom is here with us, she joined us. Part of me didn’t want to go. Every time I’ve gone to the farms out here, Dad was with me. Dad taking my son on hay rides, buying him corn on the cob, following him through the corn maze. Everything about Halloween out here is saturated with Dad. But there was no way I was taking my son on the weekend, not when Covid is still killing people. And I won’t be anywhere else during the week. I didn’t want to go but I also didn’t want to disappoint my son. He enjoys pumpkin picking. And Halloween is one of his favorite holidays. This year there will be no costume, no trick-or-treating, no parties. I couldn’t declare that the would also be no pumpkins.
For the first time ever, I drove to the farm. Dad always drove. I sat in the passenger seat and my son sat in the back with his grandmother. But lately, the two of them haven’t been getting along. It saddens me to see their inability to be happy in each other’s company. So now mom sits up front with me and my son sits alone in the back.
From the moment I stepped foot on the farm I wanted to cry. Who knew absence could be so heavy. And then I realized I was wearing sunglasses and a mask so there was no reason to hold back the tears. Daddy should have been there with us. He should have been here to make my son happy. He should have been here to make me smile. But he wasn’t. Because for us, Covid was not a blessing from God. It ripped apart out soul, and tore the man we loved most from our lives.
I’ve lost count of how many breakdowns my son has had in anger over everything he has lost in Trump’s America. For months, despite his love of taekwondo, he refused to take classes because he despises doing things via Zoom. He hates all things virtual. So when we moved temporarily to New York, I found the only ATA studio on Long Island and enrolled him. It was quite a drive twice a week from my Mom’s house in Mattituck. But it was worth it. My son was happy. He smiled again. He was having fun. He was looking forward to competing. Twice a week he was excited about doing the one thing that gives him a sense of confidence.
Then yesterday, I got an email from the instructor saying he was closing the school. Effective immediately. He lost 70 percent of his students when the school initially locked down, and many haven’t returned due to continued restrictions. Without students, his income withered and he could no longer pay his rent. The landlord refused to cut a deal. And so he closed. Of course today Trump announced that he refused to work with the Democrats on a stimulus plan until after the election. Proving once again the bastard doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. That stimulus money could have kept the taekwondo school open. It could have kept my son from spiraling. But hell, Trump didn’t care when he killed my father, why would this bother him. Knowing Trump, he probably laughs every times he sees a kid crying, and he laughs hardest when he knows that he’s responsible for the child’s pain.
When I broke the news of the school closing to my son, his initial response was, “I don’t want to stop again. I guess I’ll do Zoom.” I contacted his home instructor to let him know my son was going to attempt another class. My son was excited, until ten minutes before class when he suddenly become morose, cranky. He didn’t want to change into his uniform. He didn’t want to go outside. He didn’t want to go in front of the camera. I told he him didn’t have to do zoom class and he snapped at me, “You don’t understand. Covid has ruined everything. It killed my grandfather. It took Disney away. I’m stuck with you in homeschool. And now it shut down taekwondo. It’s not fair. My life sucks.”
It took awhile but I got him to calm down. He insisted he wanted to do the zoom class even though his attitude said something else. When I questioned him he said, “I’m already behind all my friends. They are all moving on to second degree. If I stop again I’ll never move up. But I wasted a month. A whole month. Everything I learned is useless because now I have to learn something new.” He’s talking about the weapon’s form. He was learning nunchucks but now he has to learn staff and the rest of his class already knows most of the form. He didn’t know any of it. But I do — sort of — and I promised him I’d help. That I’d work with him. So he went to class, but he refused to be on camera. He did what the instructor asked, but he did it off screen, refusing to let himself be seen. When I asked why, he said, “I don’t want anyone to laugh at me.” I don’t think anyone would laugh, but my son is like me, he tends to be overly self conscious. He’s mad at himself for not doing zoom class for six months, and frustrated that everyone else did.
When the class moved onto the staff form, I found my son siting on the deck crying, despite my promise to help. “I’ll never catch up,” he said. The class knew three quarters of the form. After the first few moves my son was lost. So I went into the woods, ripped a branch off a dead tree (we only own one staff) and told my son to stop crying because I’d do my best to show him what I knew. It wouldn’t be pretty. His instructor would have to clean it up, but we’d get him where he needed to be. I know his instructor will work with him, make sure he gets what he needs. He always has in the past. And I know he wants my son to be happy and successful. But my son was having an emotional moment. He needed something immediately.
After class, my son went into his room and closed the door. He refused to talk to me. All he wanted to do was finish his most recent puzzle and watch Cobra Kai for the seventh time. Concerned, I knocked, but he told me to go away. Reminding me that it really didn’t matter if he ever went to Zoom class again because, “You know, it’s Covid. It’s everywhere. It will probably just ruin something else.”
I wish Dad were here. Dad would know how to reach him. Dad would know what to say. Dad would be able to convince him that being behind was no big deal. If Dad told him, “Trust your instructor,” my son would listen. But if Dad hadn’t died, my son wouldn’t be so angry to begin with. He wouldn’t have lost the best thing in his life. If Dad were here, problems with taekwondo would be just that and nothing more. They would be minor.
And my son isn’t the only one feeling lost and angry. If Dad were alive, he’d be the one I turned to for advice. I would have called him up asking what I should do, how I could motivate my son, snap him out of his insecurity. But he isn’t here, so while my son buries himself in puzzles, I’m burying myself in writing. My only outlet. And as I write, the tears are spilling onto the table. There have been so many tears this year — way too many. And I’m beginning to wonder if they’ll ever end.
Daddy may not have been famous or well-known, but the children’s librarians at the local Mattituck-Laurel Library knew him. Every year, at the start of summer, he and Mom used to stand on line to enroll my son in the summer reading programs. They also signed him up for whatever programs he’d enjoy when he came to visit. My son is a reader, and like most librarians, they like kids who read. Since we are a family that loves books, a family that reads probably more than the average family, we spend quite a bit of time at the library. And Dad — those of you who knew him, know this is true — was social. He talked to everyone, and he always said what he was thinking. Sometimes that was a good thing, sometimes it wasn’t. But people who met him and spent time with him, never forgot him.
Some time in July, I walked into the children’s library in Mattituck. The head librarian — even though I don’t live out here — immediately recognized me and asked me how I was. She then asked about my parents, saying she was just speaking with the other librarian about my parents and how it was odd they hadn’t seen them yet this summer. So I told her that Dad died. That Covid killed him. As I spoke, tears filled my eyes, but I wasn’t the only one crying. The librarian was sad to find out about Dad, because she liked him. Because he had made an impression on her.
To honor my father, she told me to select a book that had meaning for him. She would order it — any book I named — and put a dedication inside for my father. It is the way they celebrate the lives of patrons who have died. There was no question which book we’d choose. When my son was in pre-school and just learning to read, he and Dad loved reading the Piggy and Elephant books together. Dad always read Elephant’s lines and my son read Piggy’s. One night I recorded them reading ARE YOU READY TO PLAY OUTSIDE. It’s one of my favorite videos. Sometimes, when I miss Dad the most and just want to hear his voice, I play it. It makes me cry, but is also makes me happy.
The book finally came in last week and my son and I wrote the dedication: “In Memory of Gary Alan Jaeger. He very much enjoyed reading Piggy & Elephant books with his grandson.”
The virus finally caught up to the bastard in the White House. It infected him. But will it kill him? Let me be clear. I don’t want the bastard to die. I want him to suffer. I want the virus to destroy his body and mind enough so that he is in pain and miserable for the rest of his life. Yes, that might make me a terrible person, but after all the pain and suffering he caused me and my family, he deserves no better.
Ever since Trump announced his candidacy for president, he has mocked, ridiculed, and made fun of everyone from the disabled to men and women who have lost their lives defending this country. The man is immoral, a snake, and he deserves no compassion or sympathy from the American people. He enjoyed kicking everyone else when he was on top, so why should anyone extend mercy now?
Six months ago, my father lay dying in a hospital from Covid. You know the story. I meticulously recorded it here. But my father should never have gotten sick. If Trump had not lied to the American people. If he had warned that the virus was in Europe, that it was spreading quickly, and that it was deadly, my parents would have canceled their trip to Patagonia. They never would have been on the cruise ship where they contracted the virus. But Trump didn’t give a shit about my parents. All he cared about was Wall Street, that banks didn’t panic. In his own words, he downplayed the virus and because of it my father is dead. And since my father wasn’t wealthy. Since my father didn’t have a helicopter to airlift him to a hospital, I had to drive across state lines to take my dad to a good hospital. Because of it, I got sick. As a result, my lungs are not what they used to be. I get winded more quickly than I ever did before. I also can’t sleep — whether that’s a result of the illness or Dad’s death or a combination of both, I can’t say. But I know this, if Trump had been an honest decent person, a reputable president, my dad would still be alive. I’d be able to breath like I used to. I’d be sleeping. My mother wouldn’t be miserable. And my son wouldn’t be constantly sad.
For eight months, Trump pretended the virus wasn’t a threat. He mocked science. He pushed for businesses to stay open despite the knowledge that people would die. Then he bullied schools into opening despite the fact that kids were in fact getting sick. He pushed his own agenda. And people croaked. There are 210,000 empty chairs at dinner tables across the country. One of which is in my house. Did Trump ever extend condolences to the families of the dead? Nope. Not once. Did he ever express sympathy or compassion or concern? Nope, not once. But now, his family expects us to be concerned. They are angry that people are celebrating his illness. Well, isn’t that a bit hypocritical?
My own son is lost without his grandfather, the person he loved most in this world. He sits at home and wants to do nothing but watch Cobra Kai on repeat and do puzzles. He buries his grief in one puzzle after another. Trump’s lies and actions killed my son’s hero. And now Trump’s son wants me to be compassionate. Well screw him. Screw the entire Trump family and the Republican Party. The entitlement of the rich is disgusting.
I lived in New York City when New York was the epicenter of Covid. I heard the ambulances daily — hourly. I watched the grave diggers tear up the cemetery. I listened to the news as Elmhurst Hospital turned people away or had to let them die in the hallways because they didn’t have room for everyone who was sick. People were told to go home and die. But now, Trump and his cronies march into the best hospitals and received the best care. They created an environment in which death entered thousands of homes, but because they are rich and powerful and well connected they get VIP treatment. I won’t even get into the bit about Trump not paying taxes or the fact that he’s trying to destroy Obamacare which would leave thousands of Americans without health insurance. But why should my mother have to pay for my father’s medical bills and Trump’s, when Trump himself paid hardly any taxes? When Trump did nothing to help my family.
And what about all the people Trump infected when he knew he was sick but refused to quarantine? I’m not talking about his political minions. I’m talking about the maids, the waiters and waitress, the peons who struggle to make ends meet. The people who may or may not have health insurance. The people who will still need to pay their own medical bills even if their illness leaves them unemployed. Despite being sick, he had the audacity to show up in my town where he mingled with people who will then shop in the local groceries stores. He brought disease into my backyard and no one is holding him accountable for the people who will suffer or die because of it. Luckily, I’m not at home. Luckily, I’ve a place to hide from real life for the next couple of months. But what about the locals who now have to live with the fallout of his selfishness?
For months, Trump fed the American people lies. As a result, people died. Now, the lies have finally caught up to him.
All the bastard had to do was wear a fucking mask. But instead he made fun of Biden for wearing one. He refused to acknowledge the science behind the virus. He refused to be honest with the American people. He hosted rallies, discouraged masks, and made it seem like pretending the virus wasn’t deadly was the macho manly thing to do. He alone is to blame for getting sick. And if he recovers, I will know that there is no god, no justice in this world.
When Dad died, he died alone. I wasn’t allowed to visit. I wasn’t allowed to hold his hand or be there for him. I could only see him and speak to him via FaceTime. But Trump is allowed to leave the hospital for a photo op. He continues to put other people at risk because of his selfishness, his vanity. Dad died alone. But Trump insists on the limelight even if others will die because of it. That’s not right. It’s not fair.
Six months ago, I could not be home to comfort my own son because I had Covid. Six months ago, I was holding on to hope, praying for a miracle. Six months ago, God said no, and plunged me into this nightmare that has become my reality. And it never would have happened it Trump gave a shit about the American people. Six months ago, I waited daily for Dad’s doctor to call with updates, hoping he’d improve. Instead, he got worse until he died. Now, I listen for the updates on Trump, hoping he doesn’t recover. Because he, who created this mess, doesn’t deserve better than my father. His family, doesn’t deserve better than mine.
Six months ago, this was my life and Trump offered me nothing but the promise that my father had never mattered, that neither my dad nor my family ever would matter to him:
Last year I taught college writing. For my level two classes, I focused on politics. Too many college students I realized didn’t take an interest in government, in the decisions being made that would eventually affect them. Some knew who their government officials were, some didn’t. Many voted, if it was convenient. Others didn’t because they didn’t think it mattered. In an effort to improve their knowledge and interest in the world, or at least their nation, I created my curriculum around current events. For one of the their papers each semester, I required they watch one of the democratic debates and draw a topic from one of the hotbed issues facing the country.
This year, as you know I am not teaching college. I quit my job so that I could stay home and homeschool my son. Therefore, keeping him home where it is safe but also ensuring that he has in person instruction which is far more effective. A couple of weeks ago, he told me, “I think you have to let me stay up to watch the presidential debate.” He’s ten. Debates are supposed to be boring, not something kids beg to stay up to watch. But when I pressed him as to why I should allow this, he responded, “Well, you made your classes watch it for homework last year. It’s only fair that you make me watch it this year.” Fair enough. He had a most excellent point. Since I made the schedule, we could easily stay up past his bedtime and then have a delayed opening the next morning. However, I added, “Watching the debate always comes with a writing assignment.” He sighed, but he didn’t complain — too much.
Since he’s only in fifth grade, I couldn’t make the assignment as involved or as intense as I make it for my college students. So instead asking him to pay attention to the issues and the responses, I asked him to pay attention to the rhetoric. The way the candidates presented themselves and their ideas. In short, I wanted him contrast how each of them spoke, not zero in on what they were speaking about. As it turned out, there really wasn’t much else to write about.
The debate was a disaster. My son recognized it for what it was. Here are his thoughts:
The Vice President and The Toddler
After watching the debate, I want Mr. Biden to win the election. While I was watching the debate, Trump did not act presidential because of his attitude and lack of respect for his opponent. He was rude, he kept interrupting, and he was inconsiderate. He sent shivers down my back. Trump lied and talked over the moderator and Mr. Biden. Trump insulted Mr. Biden when he said that his son was unpatriotic. A president should not attack or insult a family. So overall, Trump acted like a baby without his pacifier.
When Mr. Biden spoke, he sounded smart and had a calm voice. During a pandemic this was helpful so everyone listening would be relaxed. Mr. Biden also talked directly to us, which made me feel as if he cared about the American citizens and wanted to win. Mr. Biden’s speaking made me respect him more, too. Over, all Mr. Biden acted more presidential.
In having opted to homeschool my son, I’ve pretty much eliminated all the free time I used to have to write. I am glad — considering the state of education in relation to the virus at the moment — that I have the skills and ability to homeschool him. However, there are moments that I miss being able to block out the world and escape into an essay or story. I’ve tried, late at night, after he’s gone to bed to write an essay, but I started it during the first week of September and I’m yet to finish it. It’s rambling and disjointed. But I guess it’s something. Words on paper (or on a computer screen) that I can go back to in order to mold and sculpt at some future date, if I can ever keep my eyes open late enough at night to do a proper revision.
While my writing has practically fallen off a cliff, at least I get to help my son develop his own writing skills. Since personal narratives are what I do best, or maybe just what I’ve had the most luck with, I decided to start the school year with a personal narrative. For a topic, my son chose our kayak outing on Labor Day. Despite the tears, and tantrums, and repeated complaints, I think his final draft (he did two prior drafts to get there) came out well.
He did type it himself. For his technology class, he’s been practicing the keyboard. It always irked me that teachers expect kids to type essays in school without first teaching them the keyboard. If he learns nothing else about computers this year, he will be able to type blindfolded come June.
Here is his first writing assignment of the year:
Finally, after a year of asking my mom to go kayaking, she said yes. She thought that I was not strong enough, but I am. If I got swept away, all I would have to do is tilt my kayak and I would reach land. Mom also thought I would not listen because I have a history of not listening. Mom thought if I did not listen to her I would tip over. I told her that if I fell in it would be ok. I had been able to get the highest rank of swimming three times in a row at Cub Scout Camp.
On Labor Day, I was sitting inside doing my puzzle and watching TV in Mattituck, when mom said we could go kayaking. I was super exited. The reason for Mom changing her mind was a trip this summer to the Apostle Islands. Over the summer, we went kayaking in Lake Superior. The trip was superiorly fun and I showed that I could listen.
In Apostle Islands, my mom and I took a tandem kayak tour together. I was in the front and she was in the back. As we were kayaking, I saw hanging over the water’s edge giant precipices. They were very damp, which made them dazzle in the morning star. At the peak of the cliffs there stood a striking and magical forest. Beneath me, there was a shipwreck from all those years ago. The caverns reminded me of some dark wizardry. When we went inside them, they looked very dark and dreary.
Back in Mattituck, mom got the two kayaks out of the shed. She made me help her bring them down to the inlet. When we picked up the handles on each end of the kayaks, my hands started to hurt and burn. The handles dug into my hands like nails. We put one down on the side of the road. Hoping no one would take it, we headed toward the inlet once again. It was a lot easier carrying only one kayak this time.
When we got on the water, the smell of salt water was strong. There were many docks that had wooden owls on them. Not that many people were out that day so we had the water to ourselves. Up ahead, there was an osprey’s nest that I wanted to see on the way back. I knew it was an osprey’s nest because they put their nests close to water and they are very big. Overhead, seagulls continuously flew.
A little while later, I was getting tired so we headed for dry land to rest. When we were getting close to land we had to go through some reeds. When we got on the sand the ground was very damp. There was a grotesque smell in the air. It smelled of rotten fish. But it was good enough to drink some bottled water.
Mom was getting sad; she used to come out kayaking with Grandpa and me. I would sit on her lap in the kayak. But Grandpa had passed away five months ago. Mama tucked her arms in and looked at the scenery just like grandpa used to do. While doing that, it made her happy to think of Grandpa.
On the way back home, we stopped at the osprey’s nest. It was supported by a pole in the middle of the water. In the distance, there were two ospreys circling some prey.
We were heading back and this time the current was on my side because I was going in the same direction of the current. That meant I could hang back and relax. I was sad that we were leaving, but I had a good time.
Nineteen years ago, I woke up in my girlfriend’s dorm room on third avenue in Manhattan. As we were leaving the the building — sometime around nine — we noticed a crowd gathered around the security desk. We pushed forward — New Yorkers are good when it comes to finding space where there isn’t any — and our eyes fell on the television. And that’s when we first saw it, smoke coming out of the tower. “What happened?” My girlfriend asked the guard, but he just shrugged. “A plane, but don’t ask me why.”
My girlfriend went off to class. I went home to my parents’ house in Queens. Dad had a meeting that morning in Westchester so he wasn’t in the city. When I got home, I sat down on the couch, eyes on the television and I didn’t move for the rest of the day. Later, Dad called to say that a colleague, a man from Mexico, was stranded and couldn’t get home. He told my mother he invited him to stay with us. Feeling uncomfortable around strangers — as I always do — I returned to my girlfriend’s place before they arrived.
It wasn’t until the following day that my Dad apologized to me. He got so caught up in the attacks he had forgotten to wish me a Happy Birthday! Even when I had lived in Korea, even when I had been traveling in India, I spoke to my Dad on my birthday. But not that year. It was the only year he missed my birthday, the only year I didn’t get to hear his voice — until today.
Every one tells me the firsts are the hardest, and this was my first birthday without Dad. Lately, the last few years, my birthdays have been terrible. It’s the start of a new school year, a clear reminder that I’ve gone no where and done nothing with my life. Another year lost, another year older, and absolutely nothing to show for it. But at least in prior years my family was intact. This year, I didn’t even have that.
After breakfast, I took my son to the beach. I spread his books out on the picnic table and we got to work on math. Yesterday I had a breakdown over math. They’ve watered it down so much that I don’t understand it. What was simple, has become complicated. And my son hates breaking things down. He just wants to dive in and solve the problems, but that’s not good enough any more. The mental math has me feeling rather mental. My spouse, the math teacher, calmed me down, “No one is going to learn anything this year. All the schools are messed up and the teachers overworked. Take it easy. You’re doing fine.” We start with math because it’s the least fun. Today, however, went so much better than yesterday My son picked up base ten exponents quickly.
While we worked a hornet harassed my son. He jumped from the table squealing and flapping his hands multiple times. “Relax,” I told him. “It’ll leave you alone if you don’t call attention to yourself.” HA! As if to prove me wrong and call me a liar, Mother Nature sent the hornet after me. He stung my finger before I even realized he was there. The pain was instantaneous. My finger swelled. It turned red and the heat coming from my skin felt like a radiator. I bit my lip, holding in a howl. The last thing I needed was for my son to laugh at me or tell me, “I told you so.” No, my day wasn’t sad enough, the freaking hornet had to go and make it worse.
From Math we moved onto Social Studies. Yesterday we covered landforms in the US. Today, we had to cover bodies of water. Turning the page to the section on the Great Lakes, my son rolled his eyes and sighed, “Really, you’re going to make me read this. I already lived it. What more is there to learn.” Lots, is what I wanted to say, but I’m glad I didn’t. It’s only a fifth grade textbook and he was right, there was nothing new. He learned it all on the road, in his swimsuit diving in one lake after another. From lakes we moved onto Rivers, but the Mississippi also offered nothing knew. He learned about that last year when he read Huck Finn. And when the text asked him to define a bay, inlet, and sound, well, he had the Mattituck geography to answer that question.
During reading he was super excited to point out that Tolkien must have read Homer, because the attack on one of the trolls was way too similar to Odysseus’s attack on the cyclops. I love when he makes connections. But I need to work with him on developing his answers to questions. Responding verbally, his answers are far more thorough than when he responds with a pencil.
We came home for lunch, and while my son did his homework, I went out to run a few errands. When I came back, we decided to go back to the beach for a swim. The air was cold but the water was warm. We had fun splashing around in the water. “Someday,” my son said, “I want to go swimming on my birthday. And I want it to be in the United States.” Unless he travels down to Florida, it’ll be a chilly dip.
Back at home, I nearly choked a the landscaping crew. My neighbor’s landscapers seemed to think it was okay to park their truck in my parent’s driveway and leave their gear on my parent’s grass. They left me no where to park and I flew out of my car in a rage. They must have thought I was crazy. Either they didn’t understand English or they pretended not to, but after enough screaming and pointing one of them eventually got off the lawnmower and moved the truck. How dare they. Just because my mom doesn’t live here full time doesn’t mean the neighbors have the right to take advantage of her. As if tossing the broken branches on Mom’s property wasn’t enough.
In the house, as I put my keys on my dresser, I noticed a puddle flowing from my closet. Stepping closer, I saw that my slippers were drenched and ruined, as were a pair of shoes I’ve had since High School. I had no idea where the water came from, until I saw the bag of chemicals that pulls moisture from the air. This morning it had been nearly full. Somehow, it sprang a leak. I swear, Daddy is haunting the house. But he could have chosen another day, a day that wasn’t my birthday to make a mess I needed to clean up.
Since I was sad and missing Dad, my son went online to look at tasty videos. He found a recipe he thought I’d like — teriyaki salmon with broccoli and carrots — and made me dinner. That was one of the sweetest things he’s ever done, and it came out really good. I very much enjoyed it.
For dessert we had an ice cream cake — the only cake I really like. But when I went to the store to pick it up I cried because it was supposed to be Dad buying me the cake. Anyway, my son covered the cake in candles — “You’re old, Mama. You need lots of candles.” — and three sparklers, took it outside, and sang Happy Birthday! I missed Dad — 150 day and sometimes it still feels like yesterday — but my son really did try hard to make it a special day.
The Brain Garden started today. It was my son’s first day of fifth grade and we spent it at our favorite place — the beach. Seriously, what better classroom in all the world is there. It was quiet and peaceful and outdoors, so much better than a room with walls and bells. We kept our own pace, our own schedule, and we got follow the conversational tangents wherever they veered. Of course, there were a few moments when I had to step away, take a deep breath, and remind myself that it might take awhile for my son to adjust to our new relationship. We started with math, the subject we both like the least. I figured it would be good to save the fun stuff for later in the day. We nearly came to blows. My son even recommended we put our sparring gear on and go a few rounds. We didn’t (considering my gear is in New Jersey). Eventually, we tackled the place value review, completed a few practice problems and moved on. He already knows much of what is in the first few chapters of the Social Studies textbook. I guess that’s what you get when your mother is a history nerd and drags you from one historical site to the next. I figured instead of content, maybe I’d focus on life skills. And so we read the first lesson together and I started to teach him how to take notes in outline form. I expected a rebellion. Instead, he actually seemed to like the activity. It was something different. A way for him to begin organizing information. And it doesn’t matter what he studies in the future, note taking skills are something he’ll need, not just for studying but for writing research papers. For reading, I introduced the Hobbit, had my son look up and write down some vocabulary words and then he took his book and wandered down to the water to read. His thoughts after one day, “This is better than Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” Hopefully, his excitement and enthusiasm will stretch beyond the first ten pages. Writing I want to be fun. For me it always is, but my son hasn’t had any interest in anything but poetry since Dad died. This afternoon, I introduced the art of micro essays. I had my son brainstorm highlights from our Great Lakes trip. His highlights were different than mine but this is his story he should tell the tales he enjoyed most. Maybe I’ll write an essay too. It would be interesting to see how the same trip can result in different tellings. We ended with science, a textbook that thus far bored the both of us. I’m hoping it gets more interesting as we move through the chapters.
As per my son’s request, there was no homework after the first day, but tomorrow that will change. I didn’t want to over tax him on day one. Shortly after we put our books away, I got an email from my son’s former school. They finally sent me the ISBN numbers I requested weeks ago in order to buy the proper textbooks. How nice of them. Didn’t they realize that it would take days for book orders to come through. It’s like they intentionally wanted to screw us over. What angers me is that it appears we got the wrong Science book after hours of research and trying to find the right one. Oh well, I will teach him from the textbook we have. At this age, science isn’t foundational and various districts follow different programs anyway. As for Math, we went with a different program altogether, following a better district. As long as I hit the standards, that’s all that matters.
This evening, after a six month absence, my son returned to the taekwondo mat. I had to watch through the window from outside — due to covid restrictions. But I was impressed. There wasn’t much rust on the kid at all, and the little that was there he blew off by the end of the night. Surprisingly, with just a few nudges from his instructors, he remembered his entire first degree form. And he looked crisp and sharp — maybe not as crisp as he was back in March, but definitely sharper than I expected after six months of not throwing a kick. And he had fun. He walked out of class sweaty and smiling. On the drive back to Mattituck, we called his other mother and he talked the entire way home. He told her all about his class and added, “I really missed sweating and playing with weapons.” He was happy. After months of sorrow and sadness, it felt good to seem him excited and smiling. He can’t wait to go back tomorrow.
My heart can’t take anymore. This morning my spouse drove out to Long Island so that Mom could make another attempt to sell Dad’s car back to the Toyota dealership. While we were busy inside chatting with one of the Toyota guys, my son went missing. We couldn’t find him anywhere in the building, but I followed a hunch out to the parking lot. I found him in driver’s seat of Dad’s car, hugging the steering wheel, and crying. He never got to say goodbye to his grandpa. He never got one last hug, one final chance to say I love you. And losing the car crushed him. He has so many happy memories of him and Dad going places in the car — the beach, Mets games, boys days out, camp, trips the farms. I think he felt that as long as he could still ride in the car, a part of Dad remained with him. But if he was this broken up about the car, I can’t imagine how devastated he’ll be if Mom sells the house. When I told him it was time to go, he got out of the car and collapsed into my arms. He was too sad to be embarrassed about hugging me in public.
My son wasn’t the only one crying. Mom and I cried as well. Last night Mom didn’t sleep well. When she slept, she had a dream about Dad that troubled her. They were in Paris, visiting Notre Dame and she had to use the bathroom. When she came out she couldn’t find Dad anywhere. She woke up screaming his name. And from that point on, her heart was racing, her hands were shaking, anxiety wrecked her stomach. She didn’t want to sell Dad’s car. She didn’t want to give up something that was once his, but she doesn’t drive. The car would simply take up space and cost money to maintain. Selling it was really the only option. But walking away from it exhausted her both mentally and emotionally.
It has been nearly six months since my son last studied taekwondo. I tried to get him to do the Zoom classes but he hates Zoom. It wasn’t the same as being there in person. I agree with him. Zoom classes are not my favorite, but they are the best I can do at the moment and since I’m determined to get my black belt I show up every week and work my butt off. But I miss kicking and hitting things. I miss sparring. I miss breaking boards. Our instructor in New Jersey has started doing some live classes outdoors, but at the moment we are in Mattituck for various reasons and we will be here at least until Thanksgiving. The commute from here to there is too long. But my son misses the sport. And it became extremely evident when I did the taekwondo camp last week. He was jealous that I was advancing and learning, but still he refuses to do Zoom. Not only does he miss the sport his loves, he needs some interaction with peers. And since I’m homeschooling him, I think he needs to have some time away from me. Time where he has to listen to another adult and where he can simply be a child. I looked on line and there is an ATA Taekwondo studio in Patchogue, which is about 45 minutes west of Mom’s house. We stopped in today to speak with the instructor. I felt bad going somewhere other than RVATA, but my son needs to get back into shape. He needs a goal. Something active and something fun. And I can’t be in Jersey at the moment. He was a bit apprehensive about a new place, a new instructor, but the moment he found out he’d be learning the ssahng nat, a weapon that resembles sickles, he grew excited. I haven’t seen him this happy since we got back from our trip. We didn’t sign a contract. The instructor was very accommodating and understood our predicament. Since — if all goes according to plan — we’ll be back in Jersey by the end of November, he is allowing us to go month by month. We might only be there three months, but it should be enough for my son to get the rust off and return to his pre-pandemic conditioning. That way, when he returns to his home instructor none of his classmates should make fun of him and he should be ready to continue testing and advancing.
I hardly slept last night. I drifted in and out of sleep, but I did manage to have two dreams, both of which I remember vividly.
In the first dream, I was sitting on the floor of my room in Queens and I was crying hysterically. And then Dad walked in, but it was Dad from twenty years ago. He was younger. He had hair. He didn’t have a goatee. As soon as I saw him, I stopped crying. I immediately felt better. The anxiety in my gut melted away. He was there, things were going to be okay. He said down next to me and asked, “What’s wrong?” I wiped away my tears and said, “Mom is selling your house.” But the instant I said that, Mom walked in, and as soon as she appeared, Dad disappeared. I woke up crying.
In my second dream, my son and I wanted ice-cream. We patiently waited on a long self-serve line. At some point, my son disappeared. Finally, it was my turn to get ice cream. But when I got to the front of the line it had all started to melt and it was goopy. I reached for a cake cone, the only cones there, and the cone had holes — like a colander — along the sides. I reached for another, but that cone also had holes. They all did. And so I scooped the goopy ice cream, but it was too soft and it dripped through the holes. With ice cream sliding down my arm, I looked around at the other people eating the ice cream. No one else had holes in their cones. No one else was covered in melting ice cream. Everyone else was enjoying what they had gotten.
Everything I do is wrong. Mom is critical of everything. Last night at dinner, she implied that I was doing an awful job raising my son. That if I didn’t do better he’d end up committing a crime and getting shot and killed. I stormed out of the house unable to stop the tears. I called my spouse, but she was busy. Distraught, I slipped the phone into my pocket, sat down at the edge of the dirt road and sobbed until I had to dial into my taekwondo class.
Today, the realtor came to assess the house. It’s in great shape and he quoted Mom a price that pleased her. However, he said if she was willing to sell now he could get even more money for her. Apparently, people are fleeing the city for the suburbs and houses out here are rapidly increasing in value. Mom told him she had promised me the house for the next few months and that she didn’t want to sell until March. He told her to think about it.
At the beach, Mom thought about it and said she really didn’t want to sell. That she would wait to see how her finances played out. There are so many happy memories here. She doesn’t want to walk away from them.
I finished taekwondo camp. My belt will be determined by whether or not I pass my test for this cycle next week. At the very least I will be red belt decided. But I’m hoping that I pass which would make me a junior black belt.
When I was in grad school the first time — getting a degree in education, in order to get a job teaching, the job mom wanted me to get, the one she said I needed so that I’d have a safe and secure future —I had recently come out. It was shortly after I let Mom talk me out of my dream of becoming a travel photographer and I was still struggling to accept myself. Realizing I was queer — in the early 2000s after 13 years of Catholic school and an upbringing that believed strongly in strict gender roles — was difficult. I had no one to talk to. No one to trust. No one to make me feel as if I’d be okay. But the good thing about being back at school, at NYU, was that I could join some of the LGBT groups on campus. I’ve never been a joiner. But it was what I needed at the time so that I didn’t feel as though everything about me was wrong. It was around that time that I stopped shaving my legs. I always hated shaving. And now that I was learning that it was okay to break gender rules, that it was okay to gender bend, I was trying to figure who I was and what made me most comfortable. While in school, I lived at home to save money. One night at dinner, Mom mentioned that she was thinking of working out and maybe going to a gym. I worked at the University gym and suggested to my Mom that she work out there. I could help her. Show her around. Teacher her how to use the equipment. She liked the idea. A few days later, she showed up. It was there that she noticed my legs weren’t shaved. She didn’t say anything but she quickly finished her workout and left. That night, Dad told me that I had embarrassed my mother. She was so mortified that she would never go back to the gym. She was ashamed of me. I cried myself to sleep and the next day I shaved my legs. I’ve never gotten over that.
Damn — 140 days since Dad died. 20 weeks, today. The time just keeps adding up.
Mom has decided she is definitely selling the Mattituck house. I spent much of the day crying. There are so many memories here. It feels as if Dad is dying again. This was his house. The one he loved best. This used to be my son’s palace. This is the house I was banking on living in this year to homeschool my son. But Mom doesn’t drive, and she said that it’s too much. After the neighbors used our property to dispose of the large branches that fell on their property during the storm she fears that will do similar things in the future. Without being able t to get here when she wants, she won’t be able to keep a close watch on the house. I asked her to please hold onto the house through one more summer. I’ll be here this year which means I can keep an eye on it and take care of it. It made sense to me. And then my son can have one more summer here. One more summer at the beach. Mom said no. It’s too expensive and she can’t afford both houses. I’m not sure what the real reason is: not being able to keep a close watch over the place or money. Maybe it’s both. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. I’ve spent time in this house every summer since I was seventeen. My son has spend every summer of his life here. On the door frame of my room I’ve charted his growth. I always thought this house would outlast our condo. I thought my son would grow taller than me here. Where will I homeschool my son? What will we do next year? Where will we spend Easter? How will I keep track of my son’s height?
I can’t take anymore sorrow this year. It’s too much. Dad died two days after my favorite holiday. And now my birthday present is Mom’s decision to sell the house. I have no job which means I may never travel again. My heart is in pieces. I am broken.
After taekwondo camp — I’m not sure my ankle is going to hold out for the duration of the week — we went to Veteran’s beach. Mom sat on a chair in the sand and cried. I had wanted to get her to the beach because she’s hardly been there this year. My son and I have had plenty of water time. But not mom. She had been stuck in the city during the heatwave while we were touring the Great Lakes. But the beach just makes her sad. She can’t step beyond the memories, the absence, the unfulfilled future.
Last night, Dad appeared in my dream. It was the first day of school, the first morning of homeschooling my son. He and I sat down at a table in a room I didn’t recognize. It was yellow, the table was oval, and the seats were off-white swivel chairs. I sat across from my son and pulled out the books we were going to use. As I was getting ready to introduce The Hobbit, Daddy walked into the room wearing his black “The Force Is Strong In My Family” shirt. He pulled out the seat next to my son, sat down, and said, “No kid should have to sit alone in school. He needs someone to study with.” And he proceeded to pick up a copy of the Hobbit so that my son would have someone other than me in his classroom. I woke up crying because I know, if Dad were alive, that’s exactly what he would do. He wouldn’t want my son to feel crushed by the prospect of sitting in school without friends. He might not have read the novel, but he would have faked it. And he would have a been good company for my son in the the other subjects. Oh how much fun that would have been. He would have make homeschooling fun for all of us.
Thirty-five years ago, my parents sent me to basketball camp for the first time. It was at a college up in the Bronx and it was only for a week, but I loved it. For the entire week, I did nothing but play basketball and eat ice cream at practically every meal. It was my first time away from home, my first experience eating in a cafeteria, the longest stretch I went without seeing my parents. But I called them every night. Back then I had dreams of playing ball professionally. I believed that hard work and dedication were all you needed to be successful. How wrong I was. That dream didn’t pan out, but at the time the future didn’t matter. I loved the drills, the games, the adrenaline, and I swallowed the lies that if I listened and didn’t give up, if I dedicated myself to the sport, opportunities would open up. They didn’t. But that’s in the past. I left sports in my youth. After I graduated college, that was it. My dreams of making a living as an athlete crumbled. Depressed, I walked away from the competition that fired me up, motivated me, made me happy. I simply wasn’t good enough. Needless say, I would have sworn my days of summer camp — sports camp especially — were unequivocally over. But the old adage, “Never say never,” proved quite accurate this morning. At forty-five years old, with a busted ankle, knees that don’t work as they once did, and bones that are starting to creak, I joined a bunch of kids (and a few other adults) in a half-day Zoom taekwondo camp. How could I not do the camp. I’m not working, therefore, I have the time. If my joints aren’t what the once were, my stamina can still run circles around most everyone else. And if I complete the camp — three hours a day for five days — I can test up a level. In short, I can accomplish in five days what usually takes ten weeks. As if camp wasn’t enough, I had an hour of my usual class this evening. Four hours, my body is laughing at me for thinking it could work as it did twenty-years ago. I only hope I can walk tomorrow. As for kicking…well, I might look a little like the TinMan.
For camp I needed nunchucks. I don’t have any. My son does, but all his weapons are in New Jersey and we are in New York. I messaged my instructor in the midst of a panic attack last night asking what I could do. He responded, “It’s okay. Be creative.” And so I was. With a saw, a Swiss Army knife, a stick, my son’s plastic necklace, and duct tape (yes, you can do anything with duct tape) I made a crude pair of nunchucks. They don’t look pretty, but they’re functional and that’s all that matters.
Dad would have been happy that I’m doing the taekwondo camp. Back in November, when I told him I was going to enroll in my son’s school, he was excited for me. “It won’t be long until you want to compete too. I know you too well. A belt won’t be enough. You’ll want to win.” And he was right. However, I may be too old, but at least I’d be competing in a ring with other old people. Dad was looking forward to seeing me compete. I was looking forward to him watching. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. But I hope Biden wins in November. It’s the only hope we have of this pandemic getting under control any time soon. And we — my son and I — need to get back to real taekwondo. In-person classes, conversations with classmates, and tournaments.
Today, I also finished rereading The Hobbit (on my walk this morning because apparently 4 hours of taekwondo wasn’t enough exercise). It took awhile because I had to take note of the important parts and jot down discussion questions. But now I’m all set for my first unit in literature for the semester. I only hope my son enjoys it as much as I think he would if he didn’t have to read it for “school.”
Years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, I decided I wanted to go back to school to study photography. What I wanted in life was to travel the world and take pictures. I applied to a school out in California, I was accepted, and at the end of the summer I planned to drive out there. Mom didn’t want me to go alone. She thought I might enjoy some company. And so we left New York together. We didn’t drive the most direct route. We detoured to visit a few historic sights and National Parks along the way: the arch in St. Louis, the Alamo, the site of the Oklahoma bombing, Saguaro National Park. It enjoyed the journey, as I always enjoy traveling, but during the drive Mom managed to talk me out staying in California. I had no where to live. I didn’t have a job. Photography was a hobby, not something people did seriously. I was young, naive, and I let her talk me out of my dream. I let her convince me that I was making a big mistake and that the smart thing to do would be to turn around, return to New York and get a degree in education. I’m not sure what the bigger mistake was, giving up photography or taking up education. But in retrospect, I do know that I should have taken that trip out west alone. Because my mother was wrong. Teaching was not the secure option. It was the option that kept me bound closer to her, which is probably what she wanted. Maybe it’s not New Jersey I hate, so much as the fact that I allowed her to talk me into putting down roots close to home when what I wanted to do more than anything was explore every inch of the globe. I have always been happiest when traveling, even if it’s only a trip throughout the United States, like this last trip to the Great Lakes. If I had pursued my dream, I might still be poor. I might still not be happy. But I doubt I’d feel as miserable and empty as I do now.
Today, we were sitting at the beach. Mom, my son, and I. I made the mistake of mentioning that we were considering another — short — camping trip at the end of September. Mom got that look on face, the same look she always got when I did something wrong, and she demanded to know why the Mattituck house wasn’t enough for me. Why couldn’t I just be happy that we could come here for a vacation? Other people just spend a week at the beach in the summer, why do I want more especially when we have no money? She doesn’t get. She never will. I don’t like vacations. I like to travel, and there is a big fucking difference between the two.
I listened to her all those year ago, and I wish I hadn’t. I wish I hadn’t allowed her to convince that I would fail. During my entire childhood, she criticized everything I did to the point where I was petrified to do anything, because it was bound to be wrong. And it was better not to act than to act and get it wrong. I’ve never had any self confidence because every time I made a mistake while copying a draft of an essay for school, mom made me rewrite it until there were no mistakes, no erasures. It had to be perfect, and perfection is impossible especially when learning something new. In the end, it was best not try, because by then I was tired of hearing her say, “I told you so,” every time I landed on my ass. But I wish I could go back in time and tell my twenty something self to leave her home. If only I had driven out to California alone. If only I hadn’t let my mother convince me that I wasn’t good enough to make it on my own, in the field that I was passionate about.
Ironically, failure has plagued me anyway. But perhaps my failures are driven by the fact that I’m not really doing what I wanted to do. Except for writing. I’ve come to like writing almost as much as photography. I didn’t let Mom talk me out of pursuing a degree in writing, but still failure greets me at ever turn. And that failure is made worse every time Mom asks, “Why do bother writing essays, if no one pays you? Why don’t you try to get a real job instead?” Yeah, I wish I had gone out west alone. I wish she would stop being so critical. I miss my dad, because while it took him a really long time, he was finally starting to understand me little bit better. At least he eventually said “very nice” when I published something. Now, I don’t even tell my mother when something gets published. It’s less painful not too.
While at the beach my son and I took a long walk, just the two of us. We walked by a large group — there must have been fifty or sixty people — all sitting together. Kids of all ages were mingling both on the sand and in the water. This is just one example as to why schools should not open. These parent don’t give a shit about the virus. They are potentially exposing their kids to it. When their kids show up for in-person classes, they could infect their teachers or other kids. I find it extremely obnoxious that parents are demanding that teachers put their lives at risk to teach their kids, while at the same time not keeping their kids isolated and virus free. Parents are selfish. And as a result, people could die. But who knows, maybe if I had a successful career and was eager to get back on the road, I too would want my kid back in school.
Mom seems set on selling this house. I’m going to miss it. I already miss it, because the house without Daddy is very different than the house we used to visit when he was alive. Mom expects me to come out here more, but I’ve already said I don’t like vacations. We used to come here to visit my parents. There was no obligation. Now, no matter what my mother decides, I know I will feel guilty, but hanging onto something simply because of the memories seems almost foolish. It will never be what it was, because Dad is no more.
I am now revising my query letter — based on critiques from my writing circle — for one of my novels. It’s the one from which I had an excerpt published back at the beginning of the summer. Writing query letters is a weakness. I can’t seem to encapsulate the essence of my story into a few sentences that pop. The novel has been rejected by over 100 agents. Is it because the writing is bad, because I have no luck, or because I have crappy query skills?
If only I could get a do over. If only I could choose to stay in California. That was the path I should have taken. The path I’m on is overgrown and dark. There seem to be no opportunities here.
If you mentioned Kenosha a month ago, I would have had to look it up on a map. I had never heard of it. If you asked me about it last week, I’d have said, “Oh yeah, that’s where we ate fried cheese curds for lunch and picked up some cheese bread to toast over a campfire.” Now I hear the name and rage runs through me. I detest double standards of all sorts. I hated the fact that my brother was allowed to go into Manhattan alone when he was in high school. I had to wait until college. He is a male. I am not. So different rules applied. And that was mild compared to what we are witnessing in our nation. A 29 year old black man admits to having a knife in his car and a cop shoots him in the back seven times. Seven times because he might have been reaching for the knife. Though the might seems a bit of a stretch. What parent would initiate a fight with cops — a fight they damn well know could result in the death of their kids? Fast forward a couple of nights and a white 17 year old kid walks down a city street armed with a AR-15, kills a few protesters for sport, and the cops let him go home. He was actually holding the weapon. With two dead, we know what his intention was. And no one stopped him. In fact, according to some reports, cops and other officials praised him.
It isn’t enough that 180,000 Americans died from Covid on Trumps’ watch, because he lied, because he undermined science. Now, Trump and his cronies are fanning the flames of civil unrest. They are demonize victims and protestors while encouraging armed white supremacists to take to the streets. I fear that 2021 will bring armed uprisings, or worse. If Trump loses, his supporters won’t sit back quickly. And they are the gun nuts, the men and woman who worship weapons. If Trump wins, he will continue to suppress facts, he will do nothing about police brutality, and race relations will reach a breaking point.
Today, in between rain storms and helping Mom clean up the debris that littered her property several weeks back, I took my son to Veterans beach. In the car, he processed his own thoughts regarding the events in Kenosha. He started by musing, “America was born with a deformity. It was born hating black people.” Like I taught him, he backed his comment up with facts, discussing slavery and drawing parallels between slave owners whipping their slaves and cops shooting black people. He then commented, “It was all white people who started the nation. Many of them owned slaves. If they weren’t rich, they wouldn’t have had time to care about a new country. But if poor people or black people wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution [the documents] would be different. Sometimes I wonder what they would say if poor people or black people wrote them.” I asked him if he had any idea as to what poor people or black people might have written and he responded, “I don’t know, but if they had a say, I don’t think there would be protests now.”
Later, in the water, unable to let it go, unable to move beyond the information he’s heard on the news and at the dinner table, he said, “I think there should be a memorial for every black person shot or killed by cops. And the memorial should be where they died. Do you remember the memorial of the Boston Tea party. The thing on the ground. That’s what we need. That way no one would forget them. America needs to see how many people were killed.”
On the way home, he had a question, “I don’t understand, why did the white shooter kill white people?” The answer was easy, “Because they were standing up for equality, they were giving their voice to the Black Lives Movement. One even tried to stop him, that’s why he died.” His response to that, “So white people will kill white people if they like black people?” What could I say, but, “Not all white people, but some. This is the America we lived it.” He sighed, and slumped in the back seat. For a moment he was quiet, and then he added, “That wasn’t Martin Luther King’s dream. I think if black kids see white kids on the playground, they should all be able to play together. That’s what Martin Luther King wanted.”
And there you have it, a ten year old’s take on the country Trump and his base think is so great.
On another note, Covid Memorial is trying to raise money for a temporary memorial in Washington D.C. It would project the faces of Covid victims so that the world can see them as something more than a statistic. But in order for the memorial to become a reality, they need money. Here is what I wrote for the Memorial’s Go Fund Me page:
All too often when discussing COVID, numbers and statistics get tossed around. But when speaking in mathematical terms, the humanity of the devastation is lost. My father, and the thousands of others who have died, were not a number. They were people we loved, our support systems, people we are struggling to live without. This COVID Memorial Project is important because it gives those numbers a face. For those of us mourning, the numbers are irrelevant. The world needs to see the people we have lost, and perhaps taste the void we are experiencing.
If you can afford to do so, please consider donating even a little bit of money. If you can’t, I totally understand. I too am unemployed because of the pandemic. But maybe you could share the link on your facebook page. Thank you!
Now that I am home, I’ve had time to work on my Empty Bench Series. I took hundreds of pictures while on the road trip, but so far, the only ones I’ve opened in Photoshop are the benches. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with them. I wish I knew a place to submit the series. Maybe I’ll turn them into photo essays — Conversations with Dad I’ll Never Have — though I wonder if that would quickly become redundant and boring.
When we were on vacation, driving through southern Ohio, we stopped at a convenience store. I needed to pee. My son and spouse needed snacks for the car. While my son and I were browsing the shelves, a cop walked passed us. Despite the sign on the door that said face coverings were mandatory, the cop was not wearing a mask. I turned to my son and said, “Look, another example of a cop who thinks rules don’t apply to him.” The cop, who was there on personal business (he too needed the restroom) not professional business, stopped, scowled at me, and said, “Cops are exempt.” I laughed, put my arm around my kid, and said, “See, that’s the problem.” Later, I explained to my child that the cop seemed to think that just because he had a badge he didn’t need to be considerate of anyone in the store. He seemed to think it was okay to infect others. I realize, if I were black, I might be dead, or paralyzed, or maybe simply arrested for being cheeky, but seriously, I stand by what I said. If a cop thinks he’s too good to respect his fellow Americans by not wearing a mask, well, how can we expect him to give a shit about Black Lives.
Today was another shitty day. After my mom went to church — she goes every day to tell God that she is pissed off at him — we drove out to Long Island. We had several stops to make: Walmart to buy notebooks for the brain garden year, Costco to buy…lots of crap, and Optimum for mom to scold them for continuously hanging up on her when she called to discuss her cable plan. It was well after three o’clock when we finally pulled into the driveway in Mattituck. My son was great about helping me unload the car. And then, miraculously — okay, maybe not miraculously since I told him I’d pay him — my son came outside to help me pick up all the branches that had fallen from the trees during the storm two weeks ago. But as soon as we walked around to the back, I discovered it wasn’t just smaller branches that had fallen. Two huge branches had snapped off trees both of which missed hitting the shed by inches. Actually, one branch brushed the shed and the smaller branch hanging off it was pressing agains the outside wall of the shed, but no damage had been done. I immediately checked the roof of the house. That too had escaped damage. Daddy may be breaking things here and there in an attempt to tell Mom she needs to move, but he must have been protecting the house during the storm. What could have been awful, was just bad. When did I become an optimist?
I called Mom to come assess the downed branches. I thought she was going to cry when she saw the debris. “We have to get that one off the shed,” she said looking at it as if it had injured her. “Not a problem. Do you have a saw?” I asked. She shrugged, “I have no idea what your father has. I ran into the house to get the keys for the shed and as I opened the door my mother reprimanded me. “A saw isn’t going to help. You can’t cut the branch. Don’t even try.” I turned to look at her, my hand on the shed door, “Why not?” The branch was maybe eight inches in diameter. “Because you’ll hurt yourself.” I rolled my eyes, located a saw, and proceeded to cut the branch. It was an easy task. If my mother hadn’t been so worked up about me doing it, I’d have let my son take care if.
With that job done, my son and I proceeded to carry branches down to the end of the road where the town picks up debris. After several trips, a neighbor informed me that doing so — outside of a couple of weeks in the spring was illegal and I could get a summons. So I asked him what I should do. He responded, “I filled up my trailer and took it to the dumb. I’m sure you could rent one.” What a wonderful neighbor. Not, “Would you like some help? You could fill up my trailer and I’ll take it to the dumb for you.” But, “You could rent one.” Two months ago, when he found out Dad died, he asked if we needed help with anything. I guess it was just a bullshit offer.
Later, Mom noticed that the side of her house had been used as a garbage dump — mostly likely by other neighbors. Branches of all sizes from the storm had been piled high on our property. We weren’t here, so I guess they figured they could shit on us. Why are people such assholes?
Today, my memory on Facebook was Dad and my son playing the drums together in Animal Kingdom. Dad was smiling. He was having fun with his grandson. I miss him more every day, not less.
It has been a mentally and emotionally tiring day. I am back in Queens with Mom. I was not a good daughter in staying away for so long. I had left with the intention of being gone for no more than three and a half weeks, but the extension of our road trip meant that we were away for an entire month. The longer trip was good for my son, but it exacerbated Mom’s loneliness. This is the first time in her life that she is living alone, and she suffocating in the emptiness. She misses Dad. My being here doesn’t alleviate the pain of missing, but at least she has someone to talk to, someone to lean on, someone to remind her to eat more than a few bites here and there.
Yesterday, as soon as I signed the paperwork to withdraw my son from school, he and I got on the road and came to Mom’s. She hugged me tightly when I arrived. I could almost feel her body relaxing, the tension hissing out of her. But in some ways it’s still hard for my son to be here. He misses his grandfather. He misses being the center of attention. He misses his grandfather’s love. And the rules seem to have changed which is making things harder for my son. There was a time he could do no wrong. But now, mom gets frustrated at the little things, the lights that don’t get turned off, the towels that don’t get hung properly. Yes, these infractions frustrate me too, but he isn’t used to having to watch his every step here. He’s used to Grandpa covering for him. He’s used to Nonna and Grandpa bickering with each other but spoiling him. He isn’t used to getting in trouble in this house.
This morning, Mom asked me to run some errands with her. I had forgotten to make my espresso and so, while we were out on Metro in Middle Village, I walked into a Dunkin Donuts to get a cup of coffee. While standing on line, a full six feet from the woman and her child in front of me, a group of three teenage girls walked in. Not one of them was wearing a mask. One girl stepped up to the refrigerator to open it and in the process stepped close enough to me that I could feel her breath on my neck. I turned around, slammed the refrigerator door shut and told her to step back. I pointed to the markings on the ground, and told her that if she was going to walk into the store without a mask, despite the sign on the door demanding that customers come in with a face covering, she needed to keep at least six feet between us. She told me she didn’t have to listen to me. I told her I wasn’t playing and that she needed to step back. Annoyed, she turned away and stormed out of the store mumbling, “I don’t have to listen to this.” The woman in front of me turned around and said, “I don’t understand. Why is so hard for people to follow the rules?” Seriously, a few months ago New York City was a hotspot, how do people not realize how deadly the virus is? Why are they so callous and insensitive? When Mom and I walked out of the store, the three kids were sitting in the back of an SUV that was making an illegal u-turn. They opened the window and started taunting me. I didn’t hear what they said, but Mom did. She yanked down her mask, thrust her head up to the window and said, “I hope you all die like my husband. Maybe then you’ll understand.” And then she walked away.
Mom’s television is one of many things that has stopped working properly since Dad died. She needs a new one. She asked me to please research which television is the best one to buy. I know nothing about TVs. I watch the news and an occasional movie, but if it were up to me I wouldn’t have a television. I called my spouse — she loves her televisions and knows far more than I do — for guidance. She suggested we go to the store and speak with a salesperson. And so we did. The news was disappointing. They no longer make televisions that are not smart. Mom did not want a smart TV. She wanted what she has, something simpler. You already know Mom and technology don’g mix well. The idea of something more complicated crushed her. I tried to comfort her with the idea that she could get rid of cable and get something cheaper — Hulu or Sling. But that means more decisions, and without Dad every decision is like a bomb in her gut. Thinking exhausts her. Anxiety prevents her from sleeping.
Without a resolution on the television, I had to continue my research on which textbooks I needed to buy in order to homeschool my son. As I’ve said, I’m not worried about ELA. I will teach him like I teach my college students. Reading and writing are like breathing. And it’s fun. But without having textbooks secured, anxiety over math and science was making me agitated. I asked the secretary in Bedminster to please give me the ISBN numbers for the textbooks used by the fifth grade. She told me to reach out to the fifth grade lead teacher. I did. She told me she couldn’t get that information and I should contact one of the secretaries. Why is it so hard to get a freaking ISBN number? It’s not like I asked for free textbooks — which I feel I do deserve since my taxes paid for them (but that’s another issue). We are in the midst of a goddamn pandemic. Me homeschooling my kid makes things easier for them. You’d think they’d be kind enough to give me a number. But no. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Slamming into a dead end, I reached out to a former neighbor who used to teach elementary school. She went above and beyond to help me and I am very grateful to her for taking the time to point me in a better direction. After hours on the computer researching textbooks, and corresponding with teachers and friends, I think I’m all set. Now, I just have to wait for them to arrive so that I can begin teaching.
This evening before bed, while my son and I were reading The Week Junior, I told him that I had started reading the Hobbit and I was getting excited about discussing it will him. He turned his head toward me so that he could hit me with his laser sharp gaze and said, “Mom, it’s school. It’s going to be boring. Homeschool is still school. And I hate school.”
“So let’s not call it school,” I suggested. “How about we refer to it as the brain garden?”
He erupted into laughter, “That sounds like a mental institution.”
“But it won’t be boring.”
Suddenly serious, eyebrows knitted, he said, “Do not call it a brain garden — EVER! If you do, people will begin to realize the truth that I have known for years.”
I want to call Dad and tell him about our road trip. He’d want to hear about it. He’d want to know about all the swimming we did, the National Parks we visited, the presidents we learned about. He’d want hear about our frustrations with people not taking the virus seriously and the fact that we camped nearly every night. There are so many things I want to tell him. But I will never again have the pleasure of speaking with him and the emptiness upon coming home is suffocating.
We listened to so much Billy Joel in the car on our trip that my son asked us what the “cola wars” were. It was easier to demonstrate. Yesterday my spouse bought a small bottle of Pepsi and a small bottle of coke. We blindfolded my son and after a few sips he correctly identified each brand. As for which was better, he couldn’t decide and so he mixed them together and sipped the mixed drink while we played cards.
This morning, my spouse and I withdrew our son from school. In-person classes are not safe — at least not in our opinion. And virtual classes are not as effective. Therefore, I will be be his teacher this year. The poor kid had been looking forward to switching classes and having a different teacher for each subject. But now he will be stuck with me all day every day. And I will not be an easy teacher — though I don’t foresee myself giving tests, at least not in social studies or English. How can I give an objective grade to my own son in subjects that can be so subjective?
While most American parents are dismayed with decisions that are being made by various school districts, for the first time in my life I am eagerly looking forward to this school year. I am excited about it. It is my dream job — teaching what I love without idiotic politicians or administrators breathing down my back. Of course the pay sucks, but as my spouse pointed out, I’m used to working for free. But for anyone who thinks I’m lucky, that isn’t exactly the case either. Teaching full time means that I won’t have much time to write. I won’t have time to send out query letters to agents that would probably just reject me any way. Nor will I have much time to work on my photography. (I traded one job for which I don’t get paid for another that pays as poorly.) And I did have to quit my adjuncting job. Yes it paid shitty wages, but the money was needed. I’m not sure how we’ll get by without it. I also won’t be living with my spouse. First, I could never teach in that condo with landscaping noise around the clock. It drives me mad and makes for a terrible learning/teaching environment. Plus, my spouse is a teacher. She will be required to show up and teach in-person, but the school has no intention of keeping her safe, which is evident in the fact that they won’t supply her with proper masks. Teachers are expendable. And the working conditions will put the entire family at risk. If we live with her, she could bring the virus home to us. I had it once. I’ve no desire to suffer a second time. But more importantly, we don’t want our son to get sick. Children have died, and I think one Covid death in the family is enough. So because someone else is demanding a babysitter for their kids (teaching can be done remotely but not babysitting), my spouse will be deprived of time with her own child.
Anyway, I am confident in my ability to teach reading, writing, and history. My spouse will run point with math. She’ll tell me what to teach and review the material with me if I have forgotten it — I haven’t had to do math since high school — so that I can teach my son. But science has me a bit concerned. I’m hoping to get my hands on a fifth grade textbook. As long as I have that I need only to stay a chapter ahead of my son. But if I can’t locate a textbook, well, in the words of my son, “You can always make me watch documentaries.”
Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Noble to do some back to school shopping. I picked up a dictionary for my son — yes, defining words will be part of my curriculum, and there will be no cheating by typing the words in a google search bar. I also grabbed the Who Was Ferdinand Magellan book. Yes, the reading level is lower than he can read but he loves the “Fathead Books,” and since the explorers are in the curriculum I figured why not buy it. As for reading, I consulted a middle school English teacher friend of mine who suggested several novels I could teach. He added the Hobbit to his list. My son has been itching to read the Hobbit since last year so I bought two copies of the book — one for me and one for him. I always write in the books I teach, so I couldn’t let my son read it after me. It would have all the answers in it. I read it years ago and since I have an awful memory I remember none of it. I guess I should start reading and prepping questions for the first day of school. Yes, the first day of school will be a work day. I’m fairly certain I know my student and he knows me so there is no need for any icebreaker activities.