Once Upon a Normal…

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” 

I’ve said these words more than a few times over the past few weeks. Mainly, because I found myself absolutely bricking it over things that ‘once upon a normal’, wouldn’t have taken a fizz out of me. 

I’ve found myself anxious and sweating and with all the fizzy fingers at just the thought of having to go into the town. 

As someone who generally is not in any way worried about going places, or being out in public, this new found worry, worried me.  

I’m the type of person who can happily spend a day wandering around London on my own. I won’t care if someone I’m meeting in a restaurant or coffee shop is 20 minutes late.  I’m more than used to going to events on my own.  It wouldn’t have cost me a thought to go to a new place before lockdown.  

So how come, after going in to do the Big shop (not for the first time) a few weeks ago, I found myself in an absolute tizzy when I got back into the car?  I’m talking palpitations, sweats and a frustration that had my shoulders up at my ears. 

I was engulfed with a rage at myself, at how stupid I felt and how anxious I was over something that only a few weeks earlier, had been one of the banal, ordinary, boring even, activities of my previous normal. 

And so for at least 6 weeks, I refused point blank to do the shopping.  I’m lucky I have someone that could do it instead.  We had been taking turns anyway, so he didn’t mind, but I simply could not face going back in. And because I didn’t have to, I didn’t.

Ridiculous yeah?

Then, when the phases began to move, we went to a local park with the girls.  I looked after the girls. Himself it turns out, had to look after me.  Because I was so terrified of them going too close to people or doing something wrong, that I was on ‘fight or flight’ mode from the second we parked the car until we got back into it.

The following week, my best friend messaged about a coffee date.  Yay and hurrah… 

We were sitting outside a cafe, having a long overdue catch up, but we were at least an hour in before my shoulders lowered to where they’re supposed to be and I actually relaxed. A bit. 

Sitting outside a cafe I’ve frequented for years, with my best friend of almost 20 years, waving and saying hi to people we knew as they passed… I was calm on the outside, but a trainwreck inside.  I wasn’t calm and confident.  I was buzzing on nervous energy and on high alert. 

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” I said to my parents a few days later.  

And as usual, they had the answer. 

“You’re afraid. We’re all so afraid.”  They’re wise, and usually right are my parents, but don’t tell them I said that.

So armed with the fact that if my Daddy and Mammy can be afraid of normal stuff too, I decided that if I was in fact afraid, I had to face it. 

I sent a few messages that night and arranged a different coffee date or walk for each day that week.  Having just one thing on my schedule (and yes, I wrote them into my diary which has been lying redundant since March 12th) made me face a different place each day. 

I had coffee with a friend on a bench.  I met a mate for a donut and cuppa on the square. I even had coffee and cake with a friend in the back of her husband’s van which has a table in it… A-TEAM, eat your heart out. 

And as nervous as I was about each of these, making myself do it and speaking to familiar faces who I have missed so much, was the tonic that I needed.  Even better, each and every one of them said that they were feeling the exact same. And my message had made THEM get up and get out of their own comfort zones. 

I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a councillor.  I’m a hot mess and like everyone, I’ve been affected by the changes of the past few months. 

 I am however, able to admit my weakness.  I learned a few years ago that if I’m not feeling “right”, that saying it out loud leads to figuring it out. 

I figured out that I needed to face my fear and make myself get up and go out. And I’m stubborn enough to make myself do it. 

And considering that I have to go back to work in our gym at 6am tomorrow morning, I really had no choice but to get up and out. 

Now, I still haven’t faced the big shop.  And I still have to take a breath and plan where I’m going beforehand.  And I still sigh with huge relief when I’m safe and back in my car. But I’m another step closer to being back to my old self. And we have to keep taking those small steps to get to where we want to go. 

So if you can relate to ANY of this, I hope that you can get out and about.  Go for that coffee.  Meet that friend for lunch. Take the kids to the park. Go to the shop you’ve missed. Go back to the gym.  Book that restaurant. Go get your hair done.

With care and planning and abiding to social distancing guidelines, we can stay safe and keep each other safe.  

And soon, our “Once upon a normals”, will be “Happily Ever After Lockdown.”

Life is a Covidcoaster, Just Got To Ride it…

Mammy likes rollercoasters. I like theme parks.

But we’ve all been landed into a theme park that we had not planned to visit, and it seems that we all have to travel on a whole series of rollercoasters before we get to leave.

It’s a bit like a bad movie, isn’t it? “2020 – The Theme Park of Covidcoasters…”

We’ve been on one already.

On March 12th, all of us were hustled into little carriages and we’ve all travelled on our own Covidcoaster through lockdown.
For many of us, the track was scary and bumpy, but not too terrifying.
For many of us, it’s been an absolute nightmare and we step off it, battered and bruised and a big bit heartbroken.
For so so many, the rollercoaster still included working either from home or from the frontline… Every single person has had to travel on their own rollercoaster and every single one of us is absolutely allowed to feel a bit shaken by whichever track we were on.

Friday’s news of further relaxation of the lockdown restrictions came as a bit of a surprise to me.

I had taken a few days off social media this week and so I’d missed the usual leaks of announcements that always precede the actual announcements. I can’t say I was emotionally able for it. I wasn’t emotionally able for very much this week if I’m honest.😂

So the announcement that we are able to travel anywhere within our own county AND the realisation that things might just begin to move back towards our old normal a little faster than we’d hoped, was quite a gunk.

Add to that the realisation that we can look forward to opening our gym in July rather than August, and an already emotional trainwreck of a Mammy became an absolute blubbering mess! ❤

Messages began to come to my phone…promises of coffee dates and delight as friends realised they can finally visit parents and siblings.
Our beloved family and friends who have been so far away and yet so close since March, can now be visited and seen for the first time in almost 4 months.
Lists of shops and businesses were announcing their new opening dates on their social media, creating a whirl of anticipation and excitement in my tummy.

It is indeed a rollercoaster.

We’re already in our carriages, strapping ourselves in, slowly ascending; knowing that there would be a sudden burst of speed…
But knowing it is coming and being ready for it are two different things.

Some of us now face going back to work earlier than we had anticipated. Some of us have had our time in lockdown cut short.

Many of us now have to start to put actual measures in place to reopen our businesses, rather than the hypothetical “maybes” that we have been working towards.

And of course, with childcare facilities still closed, much of the workforce are wondering how the heck any of this is going to happen and who is going to look after the children?

And so suddenly, in the midst of the sudden joy that came with the 20k restriction being lifted and phase 5 being no more, a new and unexpected series of worries and problems are facing some of us.

While we have longed for this to be over, how many of us were actually ready for things to suddenly burst back to life? ❤

We’re in our rollercoasters but the safety barrier doesn’t seem to be quite secure. It’s a white knuckle kind of ride and it may be bumpy.

But the thing about rollercoasters, is that they begin and they move and they go up and down and spin around and round, but they eventually always slow down again and return to a pace where we can breathe easy again and eventually step back onto the platform.

And now, we all step onto the next rollercoaster in the Covid theme park.
It’s going to take us on another journey.

And it’s uncertain and frightening and exciting and wonderful all at once.

Whichever carriage you are in, I hope you have time to put your safety barriers down (or on!) and that you step off this particular stage of the journey a little further on and a little closer to contentment and normality.

And I hope that you all get to see someone who makes you smile in the next few weeks.

Schools…We’ll Sing Again

I went in to work in my classroom today.

The air was quiet…too quiet. One might say it was “dead”.

A building which usually fizzles with energy, when empty, lies in eerily quiet nothingness.

The decorations for the St Patrick’s Day that never was, and the notes on my whiteboard, are colourfully tragic reminders of how this virus lifted us out of our schools, giving no heed to sentiment or custom.

There is a calmness that made me shiver… all energy is stilled.

It’s as if the building is holding its breath…waiting.

And then, I heard a voice outside.
A familiar voice of a staff member downstairs. He didn’t know I was there. But I heard him.

And so I let go MY held breath, switched on my computer and logged in to my other world.

Then, I swung open the windows, played Musical soundtracks at full volume, and sang along as I worked.

I’m sure he heard me.

And in creating small noises, I reminded myself, and him I hope, that all it will take to reignite the energy in our beautiful cold building, is individual noises.

And individual noises, EVEN when complying with social distancing, will still build and grow into big noises; collective noises, noises which create energy.

While my first reaction was sadness at the “empty chairs at empty tables”, I think about the noises; the voices of the students who will eventually sit back on these seats, at these tables; each one a vital note in the song that is our school.

Our school is more than a building.

It’s an energy, created by the voices that combine to makes its noise; to sing its song.

And although we might be quiet right now, there is still a murmer…

A murmer that begins as soft, quiet, individual, but that will soon be together, performing once again, in harmony and syncopated rythyms.

We will sing again and these tables are only empty momentarily.

And the building will once again breathe and our air will be noisy and “awake” again.

“Awake”, not “alive”… it never died.
M x

What We Wouldn’t Give…

Usually, the night before we return to school after a break, the internet is full of funny memes about going back to work and teachers playfully grumble about having to return to reality.

Well let me tell you, today is different.

What we wouldn’t give to be getting up tomorrow morning, dropping our own kids to creche or childminder or school, and driving in the gates of our respective schools.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the lighthearted greetings in our staffroom, with “Here we go agains” and “Welcome backs”.

What we wouldn’t give to be walking into our classrooms, booting up the computers which have been sleeping for a week or two, opening the windows to let some light and air in.

What we wouldn’t give to have the door open and the first of many groups of teenagers saunter through the door, fully committed to the “I don’t want to be here” demeanours, but still smiling and throwing the odd “Maidin Mhaith” or “Yes Mhaistreais” as they find their usual seat.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the familiar voices mutter or announce their “here!” or “Yips” or “Anseo!” as we call through the roll before starting.

What we wouldn’t give to see the faces who in many cases have been in front of us for 6 years, some smiling, some growling, some feigning carefree apathy, some feigning interest.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the voice of the secretary over the PA system, apologising for interrupting the class.

What we wouldn’t give to have our colleagues wave through the window as they pass, or coming to the door to ask a question or give a message.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the bell; the awful, invasive, horrible ringing blast which we curse and loath usually; but which right now, would sound like music on the wind.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the noise; the calls, the laughs, the random sounds that can only be created by a few hundred young people moving from classroom to classroom.

What we wouldn’t give to sit in the staffroom and hear the familiar voices and quips and jokes and laughs from the colleagues we have worked beside for years.

Because you see, teaching is more than turning up and imparting information.

Those young faces that sit in front of us are more than just a name on the roll.

Those young faces have grown and changed in front of us daily, so gradually, that like our own kids at home, we never notice them growing.

We know them. We care for them. We get them. Well, we TRY to get them.

And while there is nonsense and rascality and mischief and sometimes tantrums, mostly our young people are a pleasure to teach and to see every day.

Students are under so much pressure right now. The uncertainty is painful, and it is painful for them and for their families… and for their teachers.

We miss them. We miss the craic. We miss their faces. We miss the personalities and attitudes and talents and challenges.

We were not ready to walk away from our students on March 12th.
We were not ready to say goodbye to the Leaving Cert students who we have known and taught for six years.
We were not ready to not see the kids who we taught and cared for each day.

So yes, tomorrow morning, we would do anything to be able to go back to school.

We’d give anything to see our “other babbies” and to do our jobs in the best way we know how, in our classrooms.

We’d give anything to hear them and answer their questions and laugh at their jokes.

And we’d give anything to have the answers to all of their questions and fears and to make them all feel safe and OK and that everything is going to be OK.

Because we miss them. (Every single one of them…even the ones who I guarantee do NOT miss us!)

Instead, we’ll get up early and do our jobs in the only way we can right now… from a dodgy laptop in the kitchen or spare room.

And we’ll doubt everything we’re doing and worry that it’s not enough.

And we’ll worry about the kids who we know can’t keep up.

And we’ll worry about the kids who we know are in difficult situations at home.

And we’ll worry about ALL of the students, (even those who are not doing state exams.)

And we’ll worry about the kids who we know are under serious pressure, for so many reasons.

Because, they are not just students.

They are OUR students, in whom we invest so much more than just 40 minutes a day.

I have a magnet in my classroom. It says “Teaching is a work of heart”. A student bought it for me in 2001.

I always thought it a bit cliched.

But it is not. It is true.

And for most of us, our hearts won’t be the same until we get to see our students again.

And all we can do right now, is look forward to that day.

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Is Every Day a School Day?

The pressures of this past week have been immense. Even the most positive and organised of us have struggled.
We still are.

As a teacher, what I am about to write might surprise you.

Stop freaking out about educating your children.

Yes, of course we must try to maintain routine and to keep our children’s minds working. We should be encouraging them to continue with the school work that their teachers are sending home.

But it is NOT YOUR JOB to stress about what they are doing or to provide the curriculum to them.

Let me explain.

Teachers are teaching from home. Secondary school teachers need to stay in touch with their students. Most of us have by now, found our groove and figured out how best to communicate with our second level students. It’s a work in progress and we are learning every day. We can and will, provide quality content for the student to work through independently at home.

Key words here? “The student.”
Not the parent.

Priority must be given to 3rd and 6th year students who are still preparing for the elusive state examinations; who are under serious pressure and who are torn between the uncertainty of when they will happen, and the certainty that they still need to be ready for them when they do happen.

Other year groups simply need to keep on top of the work assigned as if it is classwork. I hope that mine all return to school, whenever that may be, with their folders up to date with the work that I have assigned, so that I can correct it properly and give them the feedback they need.

As teachers, we have absolutely no control over who does or does not do the work. We don’t have all the answers. This is new to us too, but trust me, we’re trying.

For younger kids, you’ll likely have received a list of activities and suggested work from their Lovely Teacher.

Let them work through it if you can.
But take a breath my Dear.

There are so many people online showing their kids doing ALL the activities, sitting quietly at the kitchen table in a classroom type scenario, diligently working and smiling as they carry on their schoolwork, led enthusiastically by Mum or Dad.

And while I take my hat off to these parents, I wonder…

I wonder if little Jacinatabelle didn’t huff “this is stoopid” under her breath just after the photo was snapped, or if little Gulliver-John didn’t have to be told to “just sit still for two minutes” before the snap was snapped.

I am NOT dismissing doing some work with them.

By all means, look at the list of suggested work sent by Lovely Teacher. Choose one or two items from it and tell them what he or she has said to do.

Let them do what they feel like doing and do not get your knickers in a twist if they (or you) don’t understand the task.

You do NOT have to recreate the school environment or classroom situation. You do not need to micromanage their learning. You are not a teacher. (And even if you are, you still have your classes to teach online.)

Yes, their minds need to be distracted and nourished, but reading a book or being read to, is just as effective. Let them make a jigsaw. Let them play a game. Let them help with chores. Let them play together with the toys that they never get a chance to look at from one end of the busy week to the other. Let them make a mess…then let them tidy it up.

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Messing up the hall but delighted with themselves

Our children are, like us, living through history.

Their brains are overwhelmed. They can sense our worry and by now, the novelty of not seeing their friends has probably worn off.

When they get back to school, whenever that may be, their teachers are fully capable and qualified to continue with their education.

They are not losing out by being off. They are simply missing out on normality and routine and external communication.

Give them those things.

Give them routine. Allocate an hour for school based activities. Allocate time for reading. Allocate time for outside play. And let them be bored. Let them figure out how to entertain themselves. Let them fight. Let them colour in. Let them watch some telly. Let them be kids.

But don’t put yourself under any more pressure than you already are.

And remember, most parents are now working from home and trying to balance everything more than ever:

🥺We’re trying to fit in 5 – 8 hours of our own jobs under new and stressful circumstances
🥺We’re trying to keep our businesses afloat
🥺We’re trying to adjust to all being in one space ALL day
🥺We’re trying to fit offices, classrooms, playtime and schooltime into one room and in many cases around one table.
🥺We don’t all have printers or money to stock up on activity boxes for our kids.
🥺We’re trying to care for our toddlers and babies at the same time.
🥺Many of us still have to GO to work
🥺We’re trying to not succumb to the guilt when we have to say “Mammy’s trying to work” or “Daddy’s busy” to the child who is used to us being off duty when they’re at home.

We’re all trying to keep swimming right now, so if the Wattsapp group is freaking you out because all of the other parents seem to have their shit together, mute it.

If the creative type you followed on Instagram for ideas is now stressing you out because she’s on activity 38 of the morning and you’re still trying to load the dishwasher and get them to make their beds, unfollow her.

If you don’t have a printer to print off all of the educational worksheets that Japonica down the road is proudly showing on snapchat, calm yourself. Japonica’s fridge is not that big. She’ll soon get bored…

If you don’t understand the work assigned to your children, that’s OK. It’s not YOUR work to understand.

Trust that the teachers will do a great job of picking up the pieces when this shitstorm is over. No one is falling behind. Everyone is in the same boat.

And if you are doing your best, and simply trust that as long as your children feel safe and loved right now, good for you.

You, my friend, are winning at life.
We’re all in unchartered waters; do what you must to keep swimming.

Go easy on yourself my Darlings.
You’re doing a better job than you think.

And as always, if you are managing todo all the everything and disagree with me, that’s perfectly wonderful too.

You do you Mammy.
Only YOU can do what’s right for YOUR kids.

M

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