It’s the new normal
I heard someone recently refer to this time as “returning to familiar” instead of “returning to normal.” I heartily agree not only because these times are anything but normal, but also because I’ve learned through hard-earned experience that normal is a candy-coated illusion.
Going back and doing a quick count, I’ve put up just shy of four dozen posts since The Before Times, aka fall 2019. That’s not a lot and I’m embarrassed by the paltry number. And. That’s also when I returned to the classroom, when I hobbled myself because I wasn’t sure if I had students reading (pretty sure I have students reading…psst…Mrs. Merrill swears…like, waaayyyy more than you think). And then the world went to shit (see? profanity! clutch your pearls!) and it’s pretty tough to write about flaming bags of shit raining from the sky because there’s no way to laugh at that absurdity, plus everyone is running around stomping on the flaming bags of shit to put out the flames and getting covered in shit and frankly it was just an epic shitstorm and I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. And then the world went sliding around in the shitstorm and knocked me into the mental abyss to which I’d sworn I’d never return. Add in a husband who was furloughed for months upon months, an elderly 2e parent being dragged down by advanced Parkinson’s (Parkinson’s is a fucking rat bastard….aaaaand half my littles just fainted), G2e kids under my roof struggling with existential anxiety and depression and relationships and the future and and and…
I couldn’t laugh. Not at the chaos, not at anything. The abyss of anxiety and depression is horrific.
The months of teaching between March 13, 2020 and June 16, 2021 were…you know, I tell my students I never use the word bad. I don’t think it teaches anything and all it does is get attached to the self. They don’t hear “that was bad,” they hear “you are bad.” So I don’t use that word and instead find more positive ways to get my point across. But those 460 days were bad, and bad is the kindest word I can use. How am I so certain of the dates? Because March 13 was the last day of The Before Times in the classroom, and June 16 was my last day of teaching. My last last day. I quit my teaching job and am now on the job hunt (is this burying the lede? I guess?).
I can’t fully describe what it was like teaching middle school band through a pandemic; we taught online, both hybrid and remote, from home and from the school, on devices that couldn’t handle videoconferencing and so I taught to faceless muted avatars, with masks and social distance and the room sprayed after every class and a vague flavor of fear in the air. I struggle with the words, with being concise and descriptive and clear. Even now, several weeks after the last day of school, I have a hard time talking about it because I get anxious and shaky and filled with a dread that’s impossible to describe yet seeps out of my pores. As my friends and colleagues are
steeling themselves planning for the upcoming school year I have to tune them out because I am working so hard to pull myself out of the aforementioned abyss and the thought of returning to the classroom drop-kicks me back into it. I adored my students, all of them. It was everything else and so it’s time for me to pivot to another career. I can make a difference in another way and I will.
So it’s a return to familiar, but nothing is normal. I’m gradually seeing friends in person again, we just made airline reservations to take Andy out to college, and my husband is finally no longer furloughed. Life is vaguely familiar but irreversibly changed, like everything has been knocked off its axis a percent or two. I suspect masks are here for the foreseeable future, and grocery curbside pickup is a wonder of the modern world and I will use it forever. Since I’m no longer teaching I don’t have to worry about the innocent eyes of my students stumbling upon my words, though if any of them read this far their eyes have lost all innocence and are probably now staring off into space and taking long drags off unfiltered cigarettes. I hope to return to familiar here, throwing words onto the virtual page, yakking about whatever suits me (though not about my sons, as their privacy and their stories belong to them).
I hope your return to familiar is gentle to you.