My Digital Pawprint

Five years ago, it happened like it did tonight, yet on a night so unlike tonight.  I had to write.  I started this blog.  Now, it’s been 287 days since I posted, and were it not for my neighbor’s prompting, I might not be tapping to the pings of the raindrops beyond my front porch.  We can’t go anywhere.  We can’t do anything, and while that’s almost hyperbolic, I think he just wanted me to give him something to read.

I think about writing.  It was easier when I was happy and in love and it flowed as I glowed, tapping to a marital drum. Tick tock.  There were no wedding bells a year and a half ago, and I’m not getting any younger.  I teach writing, yes, I still teach writing despite the closure, to sixth and seventh graders at Spratley Gifted Center in Hampton.  Two years ago, I thought I had my dream job.  A year ago, I worked in an educator’s nightmare, and this year, I landed a post for which I never anticipated I’d soon feel I’d been groomed my whole life.

These hundred kids affected me, altered me, changed the way I saw the classroom and my role in it.  From September, I was immersed in Gifted Strategies professional development sessions, gaining exposure to and, in turn, utilizing these strategies with my students.  In January, I started my required graduate work in gifted studies to earn a gifted endorsement, taught by my own assistant principal.  Life had a natural ebb and flow like the ocean tide, coming to high tide and receding each day.  I taught by day, hit up Planet Fitness before making dinner, and fell asleep watching Netflix only to start the cycle again.

And then school was paused. And canceled until further notice.  And now, I won’t see my students again this year.  And isn’t it truly ironic, unlike most of Morsiette’s song, that the social media channels we (not parochial aged students) deemed as distractions and interferences to authentic communication are now only means by which we have to collaborate with our students.  Hampton City Schools has wielded the power of Google Classroom and the Google Suite to attempt to continue facilitating instruction during this closure.  Via Hangouts, I have seen my students; we collaborated for a planning session about the coming quarter.  We all agreed that how we teach and learn has to change.

The ebb and flow of daily life has been indefinitely interrupted.  I remember reading an article about the Black Death in an SOL remediation session last year.  The plague raged six years, claiming more than twenty-five million people’s lives.  I’ve never lived through a pandemic crisis.  Stateside, we were nearing 4,000 deaths last I checked, and about 42,000 worldwide.  I sit here on my writer’s perch, cuddled in a pink bathrobe, writing to the foreground of fuchsia azalea bushes in full bloom and the backdrop of grey-white skies and wet streets that reflect the porch light of my new neighbor across the street.  There are no children playing, but no one told the birds to stay inside.

And here, absent ebb and flow, routine and normalcy, and here, confined to this still street in downtown Hampton with only the rain and the birds to remind me I’m not alone, I realize that it’s not just how we teach and learn that has to change, but how we have to live.  I can give you something to read.  I don’t have answers to the fears or uncertainties.  I just have my voice, my written word, with which to interact via social distancing, a practice that’s not unfamiliar to those who’ve battled with depression.  I’ve been there.  I don’t want to be there again, and so I have to change.

My new weekday routine involves waking up to the new love of my life.  Dante is a tiny Terrier-Chihuahua mix I inherited in January after someone gave him up.  God knew I’d need a companion, and though I took him in at first as a foster pet, within a week Amazon had delivered his personalized dog collar with my contact information.  He snuggles with me on the couch as I grade, call parents, update email correspondence, and plan new digital lessons.  When my Fit Bit nudges me to get in that minimal 250 steps at ten until the hour, Dante watches me with perked ears in curiosity as I run a repeated loop through my kitchen, dining room, family room, and study.

After eight hours, Dante dances in the doorway, silently begging for a walk.  Some days we go to Sandy Bottom Natural Park and make the three-plus mile outer loop.  The first mile, I try to shut out the noise of the interstate, hoping to find the stillness on the rocky trail.  Then the rocks turn to fallen pine branches and the highway to a sea of backyards, and I try to shut out the inner voice that cries I was supposed to be in one of those houses by now, with a child and not a dog.  I know the trail will end soon when the whir of I-64 returns, but by then I welcome it, preferring to wonder where the cars are going to what’s happening inside those picture-perfect houses lining the second third of the trail.

Some days, we go to Fort Monroe Beach and park at the end by Paradise Ocean Club.  I hitch up Dante’s leash, kick off my shoes, and let him lead me through the brush down to the water.  I pass the spot where Charming proposed, there and back, and sometimes it doesn’t cross my mind.  I make footprints in the sand and I remember what was, then I see Dante, his tiny footsteps, and remember what is.  And what is… well, it’s good.

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Before the Governor’s orders to stay inside, Dante and I joined my friend Leila’s family for walks at Sandy Bottom and Fort Monroe.  Her oldest is actually one of my sixth graders.  She’s bonded with Dante.  During our hours of walking, I was able to really talk with her, and not just as her teacher, but as her God-Aunt, as she calls me.  She told me about her experience with life since the closure, what she misses, what she likes, what teachers have tried, what hasn’t worked, what she wants more of… on Saturday, we passed the interstate and the backyards and I barely noticed.  I miss seeing my students.  They are my inspiration.  While my God-niece spoke, I was re-energized and excited for the changes to come for all of us.  Our world was always changing.  I just think now we have the time to stop and witness it happening.

The ebb and flow of daily life has changed for all of us.  I drink my coffee at the computer instead of in the car on the way to work.  Planet Fitness is issuing refunds.  I ordered Just Dance for the Wii of eBay and sweat my way to my step goal.  I look at a computer screen an average of ten hours a day, including the hour and half reserved for learning Italian with DuoLingo.  Most days, Dante and I simply try to remember what living is supposed to be, even it’s just the two of us.

Being told to stay indoors can be a gift, or at least it has for me as it’s forced me to reevaluate myself and the world around me.  I don’t know what will happen in a month or two, but fear hasn’t gripped me.  Instead, I’ve been overwhelmed by a need to look inside and see what I can fix with this time I’ve been given.