I Have Watched and Learned

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

 

My mother used to urge me to watch and learn. She would take me into the bathroom and show me that cleaning the toilet was way more than just swishing the most visible areas with some cleaning solution. She demonstrated how to iron a shirt and make a straight seam with a sewing machine. She showed me how to cook without a recipe. All the while my duty was to only observe what she was doing. There were no written instructions. I simply increased my knowledge by witnessing her at work. Before long I found myself watching and learning everywhere I went. I suppose that it was a good trait to have because I realized along the way that there is much information to be gathered by being a “fly on the wall.”

Since the first of March I have been busily noting the unfolding of events during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most interesting of all have been people’s reactions to the various things that have happened in response to the virus. With the killing of George Floyd in May occurrences and the perceptions of them became curiouser and curiouser. From my birds eye view gathered from the comfort of my home here are my random observations:

  • It was much nicer and more comforting when we were all concerned with one another and working together much as we did in the first couple of weeks of the novel coronavirus coming to our country.
  • Conspiracy theories of all kinds are rapidly attempting to overtake the truth.
  • Along those lines it must be noted that the pandemic is not a hoax and it will not miraculously go away in November once the presidential election has been held.
  • Not all persons participating in the Black Lives Matter marches and protests are rioters, looters and destroyers. In fact, of the millions who have marched across the globe all but a very small percentage are peaceful. Portraying them all as thugs who want to pillage and destroy our country is no substantive foundation.
  • Not all of our police and law enforcement officers are corrupt and racist. In fact most of them are good men and women who strive to protect us with fairness. Portraying all of them as evil is yet another ridiculous idea.
  • Defunding police departments is not a means of ridding ourselves of law enforcement.
  • Information from scientists and medical persons is far more reliable than anything one might hear from politicians, neighbors or some guy who has a thing for conspiracy theories. Being scientific in a time of pandemic is advisable.
  • Wearing masks will not make us sick from carbon dioxide build up. If that were true doctors and nurses would be long dead by now.
  • It is a great American right to have different opinions. It is not more patriotic to be a member of a particular party. True profiles in courage usually rock the status quo causing us to think.
  • Those who note and comment on problems within the systems of the United States do not hate the country. In fact, it may be said that they care so much about the country that they want to help repair the aspects that are broken.
  • History is often far more complex that a single point of view.
  • Those of us who are not Black will never be able to completely understand what the lives of Black Americans are like. To ridicule or ignore them when they attempt to describe the inequities that they experience is insensitive and inhumane.
  • Just because someone does not have Covid-19 and does not know anyone with the virus does not mean that it is not a serious illness. 
  • We take precautions for the safety of everyone. Proclaiming that we have a right to be reckless is the ultimate in selfishness.
  • Many, many people are hurting and this is causing great stresses and anxieties that we should not ignore.
  • It would behoove us to find out who among us needs help whether it be financial, assistance finding employment, or dealing with psychological issues. This is not a time to horde our good fortune while ignoring the hurt of others.
  • We should not even be thinking of repealing the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic. Too many people are relying on this healthcare safety net. They need to know that it will be there for them if they need it.
  • We should find a way to keep people in their homes rather than evicting them. To make people homeless right now is the ultimate in cruelty.
  • This is not a time to threaten dreamers that we will finding a way to stop DACA that is Supreme Court proof and eventually send them back to the places where they were born but may not even remember.
  • No piece of cloth, stone, metal icon, or song should ever be more important than any single human life. 
  • We must address the measures we will need to safely open our schools so that both students and teachers will feel comfortable upon returning. We must also be ready to be flexible in the event that Covid-19 begins a second wave.
  • Beware of anyone who tries to focus on our divisions or who revels in the pain and suffering of certain groups. Watch for trigger words and phrases that constantly lay the blame or poke fun. 
  • Covid-19 is an acronym for coronavirus disease of 2019. It is not the Chinese flu.
  • Covid-19 is not political and we should not try to make it so.
  • We should all make a point of being kind. There is enough uncertainty, privation, and sorrow without turning on one another.
  • If we do not work together again, we may fall together. We will all need to sacrifice and understand that going to the beach or a bar or a ballgame or out to eat or on a trip or to a concert is far less important that saving even one life.
  • We demonstrate how much we care by our behavior and by the expectations we have for our leaders. When they seem to be more interested in themselves than in the people it is our duty to call them out, not model their selfish behavior.
  • Remember above all else God loves every one of us and he wants us to love each other.

A Grand Experiment

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We are almost at the end of June which means that we have to begin thinking about sending the children back to school in six to eight weeks. I often used July to plan lessons for the coming academic year. I am a freak when it comes to preparing ahead of time. I have never been able to do anything at the last minute. When I look at the possibilities of chaos in the coming school year I feel for teachers everywhere. Never has there been so much uncertainty about what will happen once children return to the classrooms.

The governor of Texas has declared with great confidence that all schools will reopen and that masks and other forms of protection from the virus will be optional. The reaction from the public has been mixed with many insisting it’s time to get back to normal and others worrying about the dangers of turning classrooms into germ farms. I have heard of parents investigating home schooling for at least the next year and teachers resigning or retiring because of health issues. We are wading into unknown waters and the fear is that those waters may be infested with sharks.

I teach eight home schooled students and we have not yet decided whether I will resume in person lessons or continue teaching them remotely. I am not as self assured as our governor is. I am still in the mode of wanting to wait to see what happens in the coming weeks. I can’t afford to bring illness into my home so I am a bit more circumspect.

Knowing what to do is a major dilemma for so many people. I agree that the best case scenario is for the nation’s students to return to a sense of normalcy but there is still a little voice whispering concerns to me. My forty plus years of teaching taught me that classrooms are like petri dishes for growing germs. I’ve seen more than my share of outbreaks of disease that closed down campuses. My hope is that this does not happen when we attempt to get back to the books.

The planning in many school districts appears to be far too nebulous for my taste. I’m of the mind that every teacher and parent needs a clear outline of Plans A through Z that will take into account any eventualities. All the shareholders need to know exactly what to expect when they return. How many students will be in each classroom? Will masks be a requirement? How will the school day change from the norm. Everyone must be told what will happen if there is an outbreak of the virus in a particular classroom or if the virus runs rampant through an entire campus. There should be plans for doing a better job with remote learning if that becomes a necessity again. Just using canned programs did not appear to be particularly effective so there should already be discussions about to how teachers might make those lessons more meaningful to their students?

There should already be concrete learning alternatives for those students with illnesses that might make them more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Parents need to know what to expect if they choose to keep their children home. Teachers who have compromised immune systems should be provided with opportunities to become remote instructors for the children who need to avoid classrooms. There needs to be consideration for all individuals, not just a statement that if they can’t handle things they should just stay home.

July should be dedicated to using the creativity and talents of teachers to help in the design of each possible scenario. Schools need to be willing to try new ways of providing instruction that focus on the health and safety of all parties and provide the needed materials to institute each idea as needed.

I know of parents who are trying to find masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes for their children to take to school. Each campus should be well supplied with such items and even have a larger than usual janitorial force to maintain bathrooms and general cleanliness throughout the school day. I have so often see restrooms without soap. This is something that should not ever happen and its occurrence must be reduced with a firm plan for continually monitoring the building throughout the school day.

So many schools have eliminated nurses from their faculty. I can think of no better time to bring them back onto every campus. Schools will need their expertise in attempting to insure that the virus does not overwhelm the efforts to provide education. They can also vanguard the daily monitoring for signs of potential illness and help to determine when and if there are particular dangers.

I know that many school districts are working diligently to be prepared. I hope that they are willing to allow teachers, parents and even students to both ask questions and provide input. I would also request that the governor please quit changing his mind about how things should work. His latest remarks undid a great deal of work that had already been done. If you are going to make the teachers and students return at least allow them to create the plans that work best. This is going to be a grand experiment and our halls of education need to be ready for anything. 

Take the Politics Out of Covid-19

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Just when I thought I it might be safe to get out and about once again the numbers of Covid-19 cases in my part of Texas are continuing to rise. Our hospitals are filling at a frightening pace so quickly that our renowned Texas Children’s Hospital has agreed to provide medical services for adults. It is a disturbing situation that I saw coming but, I hoped against hope that I was wrong. Sadly the fight against the virus became political almost from the onset when it should have been a collective community and national effort to do whatever was needed to get things under control. While the doctors and nurses in my family and circle of friends were warning me to stay the course of precaution I saw the process devolve all around me. Now the predictions of the medical experts regarding the dangers of ignoring this deadly illness are coming true.

Many weeks ago the Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo and the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, mandated that all citizens wear masks in public places. They also created an overflow medical facility at the Reliant Center in the event that the local hospitals became overwhelmed. At the same time the Lieutenant Governor of our the state of Texas, Dan Patrick, was insisting that businesses needed to open up and that anyone who was afraid should just stay home. All the while President Trump refused to wear a mask to any of his briefings or appearances, boasting that he was not afraid. Never mind that he is quite possibly the most protected individual in the entire country considering that everyone who comes near him gets regularly tested. He continually bragged that he had lead the best response to the virus in the entire world and insisted that the growing numbers of cases were there only because of all the testing that was taking place for everyone else. Before long he had managed to turn the pandemic into an election issue rather than a national emergency, resulting in his followers ignoring much of the advice coming from medical experts.

Along the way Trump supporters in Houston launched a lawsuit against the mandate to wear masks. Before long wearing one had become more of a choice than a rule. The governor ignored the guidelines for reopening businesses that had been created by the CDC and the Covid 19 task force. Here in the Houston area people were hurling insults at Lina Hidalgo, calling her an “Hispanic Nazi” for daring to require citizens to wear masks. They criticized both her and the mayor for wasting taxpayer funds on an overflow hospital that they believed would likely never be used. They rushed back to normal as quickly as possible, crowding beaches and bars and tubing along the rivers in the Texas hill country. They were determined to get on with living and they spoke of their belief that all of us had been duped by a hoax designed to make our president and our state leaders look bad. They insisted that after the November elections were over the virus would miraculously disappear. They turned all of the efforts to control the virus into a political battle and created an unnecessary division between those who wanted to move more cautiously and those who laughed at the very idea that Covid 19 was any worse than the ordinary flu.

None of this ever needed to happen. The efforts to contain the spread of Covid 19 should have been a united goal devoid of even a taint of politics. We should have been working together as a nation, supporting any city, town or state that needed help. Our guidance should have erred on the side of caution. We should have been willing to see ourselves as one people with a common goal. Each individual should have been eager to make sacrifices and help in the effort. We should have listened to the medical experts and allowed them to guide all of our decisions. We should have been patient and willing to proceed forward with great care.

There will be those who will blame the resurgence on the protestors who have filled the streets night after night. There will be others who will say that it came from Memorial Day partying. There are claims that the increases are coming from migrant workers and people in meat packing plants. Others will point to political rallies in enclosed spaces. Some will simply hurl racist accusations at China, insulting our Asian Americans with taunts of “kung flu.” Sadly each of those explanations point to how broken we have become during all of this when we might have demonstrated more strength of character just as our parents and grandparents did during World War II. Somehow instead we are talking over one another and ignoring the realities of what we should be doing. This should always have been a medical issue rather than a political one. 

We will probably never know exactly why Covid 19 has refused to release the grip it has on our country. I don’t think that blaming it on any specific group serves to make things better. What I do believe is that every effort should be focused on what is good for the people of this country. It is not too late to focus on those who are sick and dying. We still have time to move beyond our differences and agree to do what is best for the protection of the many. If we continue to refuse to do this I fear for the toll that Covid 19 will take on all of us. If our leaders won’t lead us we need to take the reins and do the right thing without them. We must take the politics out of Covid-19.

A Road Trip In Isolation

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We have been locked away for a many weeks now. The last day that we did something fun was February 28, when we had lunch with my brothers and sisters-in-law and then attended the Houston Rodeo Barbecue Cook-off with friends that evening. My husband had surgery on March 8, and I had an injection of  Prolia on March 13. After that we have stayed at home. We don’t even go inside grocery stores or sit outside with our neighbors when they regularly gather on the driveway across the street. We don’t trust the frivolity because they don’t wear masks nor do they distance themselves from one another. They are mostly young and healthy so I suppose that they will ultimately be just fine, but I can’t take such risky behavior lightly and so I remain responsible for myself just as our governor and president have suggested we all need to be.

This past weekend Mike and I came up with an idea for a way to have a little outing. We decided to haul our trailer to San Antonio with the proviso that we would keep our contact with other people and crowds to practically zero. We made reservations with an RV park that we often use and packed up all of the food that we would need for the adventure. We had hoped to go to a state park so that we might enjoy a bit of nature but they were all booked up, so we decided that we would make do with any place that had a spot for us to park the trailer.

We would normally stop at Buccee’s in Luling, Texas for a bathroom break, some lunch and to gas up the truck but we had promised ourselves that we were not going to eat out or go where there were lots of people, so instead we found a service station that was all but empty, filled our tank and used the facilities in our trailer for relieving ourselves and preparing lunch.

The experience at the RV park was exceptional. The manager was masked and gloved and insisted that Mike use hand sanitizer after opening the door and passing the credit card. We got a wonderful spot in between two very quiet trailers that did not even appear to be inhabited by anyone. We enjoyed a great dinner and were finally able to try out the new mattress that we had purchased from Costco back in early February. We learned that it was the best investment we have made all year because we slept like babies and I did not wake up with the usual aches and pains that the old mattress always produced.

On Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast, did some reading and then had lunch before setting out on a drive to Inks Lake. Riding through the Texas hill country is always delightful and it felt even more so since we have only seen the view from inside our house for so long. We passed through little towns like Boerne where the streets were filled with people dining and shopping. Sadly I realized that we would not want to stop there because only one person was wearing a mask and the people were literally on top of one another as they walked along the sidewalks.

When we got to Kingsland we knew we were quite close to Inks Lake and our favorite winery, Perissos. We decided to stop there to buy some of the wines that cannot be found in stores, so we donned our masks and made our way inside for a quick purchase. We were the only two people wearing masks and those who were there looked at us as though we were curiosities from another planet. Seeing that nobody was being precautious we made our selections and left as quickly as possible, stunned that the place was filled with people drinking and listening to the live band as though nothing like a pandemic was still happening in the world.

That evening we went to see our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren all of whom have been very guarded in their behavior since schools let out in March. My son-in-law is still working from home and his company, USAA, has urged any employees who can to continue working remotely. My daughter only goes out to pick up groceries and she has been happy to see most of the customers at her HEB wearing masks and keeping their distance. The children have stayed home mostly finishing the school year, gaming and texting friends.

We met on the driveway and sat on chairs that my daughter had carefully placed well over six feet apart. Mike and I sat on one side and everyone else sat on the other. We talked about what we had been doing since we last saw each other and discussed the happenings in the world. Then we played a game of Scattagories at the suggestion of one of my grandsons because the rules allowed us to maintain our distance without physical interaction with one another or the necessity of using game pieces. Of course we had a blast laughing at the answers and just being together

The next day we decided to take a drive through the heart of the hill country. We traveled to Bandera where we once again noted no people wearing masks as they walked along the sidewalks and went in and out of little shops. A bit farther on we saw crowds tubing in the Medina River. Tents were set up side by side and the water was so congested that it appeared to be difficult to even move.

Our route eventually took us to Kerrville where we encountered a very small group of young girls standing along the roadside holding Black Lives Matter posters and waving at passersby. Every one of them was wearing a mask and attempting  to stay safely apart. They were as peaceful and earnest as can be and they made me smile.

Before long we were in Fredericksburg where we found some shade in Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park and ate the lunch I had packed for our long ride. As we later drove down the main thoroughfare  I observed about twenty five percent of the people wearing masks, but it appeared to be nearly impossible to keep a safe distance from others because the sidewalks were jammed with people.

We head back to the RV park using side roads that took us through the loveliest of vistas, including a brief stretch of Luckenbach, Texas.  We listened to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on our radio and felt contentment in just being in such a beautiful place. We even got to pass through Kendalia, the town where my grandson William was able to find a home for his pig Daisy so that he might rescue her from slaughter.

We returned for another visit with my daughter after dinner in our trailer. We played a contrived version of “Hedbanz” which my grandson put together to provide us with hands free, contact free fun. Once again laughter filled the air especially when the next door neighbor drove up and looked a bit askance at the post-it notes on our foreheads.

We gauged our little trip as a success and think we might be able to venture out even further once I have concluded my sessions with the children that I teach. We have learned that with our self contained cocoon we do just fine. We don’t need to eat at restaurants or visit stores or museums or other amusements to have a glorious time.

We still plan to be careful because we know that the dangers of the virus are still with us. Only this past week someone we know attended a family funeral, spent some time with extended family in Galveston and then learned that one of the people in the group had only days later tested positive with Covid-19. So far only one of them has tested positive for the virus but all of them are going into quarantine. They will no doubt have to do some contact tracing to inform anyone with whom they interacted before they knew that the virus had entered their family circle. The extent of people that they have seen is unbelievably large and will affect the lives of countless individuals. That’s why I am still being very precautious. We may be tempted to just wish this virus away but it seems determined to stay. For now I’ll stick to my road trips in isolation. 

You Never Know What You May Find

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June 1, 2020

To my incredible children, grandchildren, students, nieces, nephews and young people who are like family,

I wrote a letter to you when we first began our stay at home orders here in the United States. At that time most of the Covid-19 cases were occurring in Washington State, California and New Jersey. Here in my hometown of Houston, Texas there were no more than a couple dozen folks who had tested positive for the disease so it was a bit difficult to believe that our area would get hit very hard with the virus. While we were locked away in our homes we watched as the illness penetrated almost every corner of the world in one way or another. The images of empty streets in London, Paris, Rome, and New York City were a haunting backdrop to the rising numbers of sick and dying. Now as I convey my thoughts to you the United States there have been 100,000 deaths even as we begin the process of reopening our cities and towns. At the same time the tragic murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by a police officer in Minnesota has led to an outpouring of grief and rage not just in our own country but across the world. 

So much has changed in such a short amount of time. The world as we expected it to be feels very different. People who able to do so are still working at home and students are finishing the school year from their bedrooms. The proms and graduations and track meets and school competitions were mostly eliminated from the end of the year calendar. Some of you took your Advanced Placement tests online without the usual review sessions from your teachers. Being part of this historical event has been tough and the coming times feel almost as uncertain as the last several weeks have been. Who knows what all of us will face as we begin to rebuild the world again? Now with the added difficulties of the protesting and the unfortunate destruction that has sometimes come with it, we are all asking ourselves what we might have done to prevent the suffering.

I have watched all of you working hard to comply with the directives designed to flatten the curve of contagion and protect the vulnerable in our midst. I have heard your impassioned pleas for justice and equality and the recognition of Black Lives. I’ve witnessed you continuing your studies and preparing for a future whose form is evolving even as I type these words. We simply don’t know what the next weeks and months will be like for anyone and yet all of you are maintaining your optimism and your resolve. Regardless of what the world is going to be like as we move forward I sense that each of you will be ready.

I’ve had conversations with some of you regarding your concerns about the environment, the cost of attending college, the inequities of this world. I know that you are thinking well beyond your own needs and you have proved your mettle in this difficult time. With little or no guidance you have worked as hard as you would have if there had been directives and deadlines. Nothing has stopped you and that is the mark of greatness. I have also been exceedingly proud of your compassion and willingness to speak out for those whose lives are being turned upside down.

I recently heard a woman speaking about the effect of Covid 19 on the psychological health of the nation’s youth.  With a smile on her face she insisted that those of you who are young possess an inordinate amount of grit, the quality of maintaining determination even when life is challenging. She assured her audience that true grit will propel people like you forward regardless of what kind of changes are wrought by this pandemic. She pointed out that some of the greatest discoveries and positive developments were born in tough times. Isaac Newton invented Calculus when he was sent home from the university during an outbreak of plague in the 1600s. That same terrible time resulted in sanitation improvements and new medicines. She believes that it will be the young men and women of the world who will define the problems that the pandemic has exposed and then invent new ways of enhancing the world. You are the explorers, entrepreneurs, creators and leaders of the future.

I know that you have faced so many disappointments and the possibility of even more as the virus and the unrest dictate how we will return to a new kind of normal. I really hope that the older generation will listen to and consider your ideas. You are dreamers and your thoughts have the potential to fuel a worldwide renaissance. You have seen the possibilities and now it is time to begin to bring them to fruition.

You still have dues to pay and hoops through which you must jump but you are quickly earning your wings and respect for your hard work and patience. The sacrifices you are making now and  the challenges you will most certainly face in the coming times will make you strong as long as you refuse to allow them to defeat you. You are creative and flexible. Use those natural tendencies to keep your optimism flourishing. Think beyond the confines of the way things have always been. Continue to be curious and unafraid to notice problems and address them.

I smile when I think of you and my chest puffs up with pride. Learn from this experience but do not allow it to pull you down. Be ready to teach some tricks to old dogs like me. Be open to unexpected opportunities and be willing to take a side trip down a bumpy road. You never know what you may find.  

Yours,

Mama, Gammy, Aunt Sharron, Mama B.