I keep getting emails from my school (and the kids’ schools and my other educator friends) about the importance of engagement in distance learning and doing better with emotional connections with students and all of the technological advances I need to know about for my classes. It’s all important. I believe in it all, I do.
I know that most of my teacher friends are overwhelmed. I know that most parents are overwhelmed. I know that working parents are even more stressed and I know that single parents have it the worst. I know that my situation is not unique, and I know that I have resources that others don’t have.
But still. It’s impossible to think about how the fall is going to work. How am I supposed to be a vastly better teacher than I was in the spring with only a smattering of summer training? How are my kids going to focus better during their classes even though they are only a few months older than they were last spring? How am I supposed to connect even better with students this year, especially since they that haven’t been sitting in my class for months already?
If I start really thinking about it, I get so stressed that I am paralyzed by the fear of the future.
What if my kids don’t learn anything, or what if they fall way behind? What if I am so terrible at teaching that I lose my job – and my family’s health insurance? What if the stress of being around three kids doing online school all day every day hurts my relationship with my partner Chris? What if one of us gets sick?
What if it all comes crashing down on me?
This is not the first time I’ve freaked out about the future. Yes, for many years, I basically didn’t worry about what would come next. I had Shawn (and no global pandemic!) and I “knew” what the future was going to be like.
But all of the sudden, I didn’t know. I can remember standing in the shower at some point in December of 2017 and trying to plan out my return to work. I’d been out for two weeks after Shawn’s cancer diagnosis and surgery, and it was time for me to “go back to normal.” Of course, I didn’t know that Shawn would die less than a month later. I was just trying to figure out how to live with what I thought would be a new normal.
Standing there in that shower, I freaked out. “I can’t do it!” I actually said out loud. Later that evening, I called a friend and said the same thing. “You have to call your dad and get help,” she said. “If you don’t call him, I will.”
So I did. And he came. Things went downhill so fast with Shawn that I didn’t have much time to process how overwhelming it all was. I just did what I could each day and slept very little.
My friends helped a lot. They helped with my groceries and my kids and all of the other logistics that existed. My dad and my aunt Nancy provided a stable home environment. We managed to give the kids a great Christmas. I spent a lot of time with Shawn in his last days. We did the best we could.
But even with all the logistical help – help that continued for many months after Shawn died – I never felt better about the future. Initially, Shawn’s health prognosis was uncertain, and that was my biggest stress. But the other major stress I felt was about how I was going to manage everything, because what I was doing felt unsustainable. After he died, I didn’t care about anything for a long time, but once I re-engaged with my life, I felt that same a sense of panic.
It was a different panic than I feel now. It was the panic of “everything is terrible and I cannot imagine it ever getting better.” It was the panic of a future that looked BLEAK. Let me be clear here – that panic was much worse than the panic now.
No, I don’t feel that same level of panic right now, thank God. I’m much happier in my personal life and Tommy is potty trained, among other things. But I do still feel overwhelmed by an uncertain future. I feel a level of responsibility to my family and my students that I haven’t felt in years.
I’m not really sure where that leaves me. Whenever I talk to my widow friends with kids or even when I talk to my non-widow friends with kids, I always remind them that this year is not a referendum on our parenting and we just have to do the best we can. The kids will be okay. We will be okay. Don’t worry, I tell them, everyone knows that we are all doing the best we can – whatever that is for each of us.
But I don’t really listen to those words myself. I say them, and I believe them, but there’s still a nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps asking, “how am I actually going to do this? What if it all comes crashing down on me?”
I don’t have an answer, really, except to remind myself that I’ve done hard things before. I’ve stared into an uncertain future, one that is cloudy at best, and I’ve taken a big, deep breath.
And then I’ve started walking towards it.