100 days! Wow! I celebrated by having three major panic attacks in three different places, just to mix it up. One at work, one at the park, and one at home. Don’t worry – I have since thrown some tortillas and gummi worms and a long phone call with bestie at it, so despite typing this through really puffy eyes, I’m feeling a bit better.
It’s okay to fall apart, it’s important to be honest about it, and it’s good to process it – to try and learn from it and move on.
So, what was wrong? Well. In general, like, generally speaking, everything is wrong.
The good news is (maybe good, we’re still not completely sure) that we are going back to work ish (I teach fourth grade at an international school).
Hong Kong has passed the recommended two weeks without a new local infection, so we are scheduled to return to school soon!
The kids are supposed to come next week, so we will have a month of school since our year ends on June 24th. The plans are still being approved by the government and there are all kinds of things to consider – how to keep them apart, not touching, not eating at school, wearing masks, doing travel history and temperature checks, how to do arrival and dismissal, how to distribute school supplies, etc. We’re supposed to maintain 1 meter distance, so I’ve suggested we wear tutus made out of yardsticks. This idea has yet to be approved.
After we figure out how to make sure none of us get sick, we have to figure out how to teach something meaningful without ever coming within one meter of the child to check it or help out. Students also can’t have any carpet time, PE, Music, Library, recess, use manipulatives, or access the class library. So it just sounds like it’s going to be a blast!
Part of me is SO EXCITED to return to a kind of normal – it’s been wild and beautiful hanging out with friends again the last few days as restrictions have relaxed in Hong Kong. I’ve done happy hours and brunches and long walks. Being back out in society makes me kinda moony eyed and I stare at people like “wow…you’re so pretty! Look at you! My, what clothes you have!” because I haven’t seen peoples in so long. But it’s also exhausting to do a bunch of small talk and remember how to socialize, and listening is a lot harder when you can’t lip read because we’re all wearing masks.
It’s been difficult to teach online for the last 13 weeks. We had only five hours to prepare our first day and have been going strong ever since. I last saw my students January 22nd. Teaching long division or the use of figurative language in novels to nine year olds in person is a waking nightmare, but doing it virtually is even worse.
The workload is overwhelming. I wake up early, go over the lessons and links, meet my students online from 9-9:30 or longer, then wait a bit for their work to come in so I can mark it. By 10:30am I start making the plans and the videos for the next day if I hadn’t finished the night before, as those have to be in by 2pm on the PDF we email out to parents and post for students by 5pm for the next day.
Then another meeting with students at 2pm, which I try to make fun with games and costumes. Followed by more marking. Might fit in a one on one session with a student in need, have a virtual meeting with my year team, maybe a formal one with my VP. Then more marking. I have about 75-100 assignments to grade with a meaningful comment every day, one or two powerpoints to make a day that attempt to replicate in-class teaching, complete with video, differentiated assignments, extensions, options for paper and online work.
There is no live reaction or feedback from kids, no joy, no jokes, no “a-ha!” moments to witness. All the things that normally keep us going as teachers.
And that’s not to mention the parents falling everywhere on the spectrum from caring too much to not caring much at all, the emails and requests from management, tech glitches, the constant pressure to make things better and flashier and easier and harder and less and more.
Every once in a while I deal with (usually false) reports of hacking or online bullying. Sometimes there is a serious, personal crisis in my students’ lives to try to help them with. Generally, my kids are bored, scared, often indoors for weeks at a time. They show up to the 2pm meeting in the same pajamas from the 9am meet. Especially since their parents returned to work, they’ve have less supervision and less or no help at home, when normally at school we do a TON of encouragement, guidance, high fives, trouble-shooting, brain breaks, modelling, partner work, group work, have help from me and the assistant, because they are nine.
So there’s been all that, which I do from my living room or bed, wishing there was an in-house mask I could wear that would prevent me from constantly snacking. I am glued to my computer screen and phone and school laptop all at once to keep up with the onslaught of work while quietly falling apart, which I can’t for one moment show to the kids because my job is to be one of the very few adults/people in general they are interacting with at all, and provide a sense of normal, a sense of “it’s going to be okay,” and heaps of praise for any little thing they can do as we collectively try to get through this pandemic.
My job is to make them laugh as much as they can while we’re class Face-timing, which includes things like me dressing as a hotdog, wearing a bow on my head, covering myself in Christmas lights, or my latest trick, which is unboxing my breakfast each morning like I’m a famous Youtuber (“so this morning, I have a banana. It smells yellow. I think you eat it like corn.” The kids went nuts. I felt amazing for five minutes.).
It’s been difficult to do this quarantine thing very very alone since my flatmate moved back to the States. There’s no one around to tell me “hey, remember to put on a bra before your Zoom meeting,” or “yo – watching ‘Terms of Endearment’ is a really bad idea until maybe next year,” or to close the bag of Cheetos and put it away, or agree that the level of noise that comes from the neighbor’s apartment is a criminal offense and it’s okay that I just yelled at our shared wall and threw my house slipper.
At the end of my day, I don’t come home to anything, because I haven’t left home, so my day never feels like it ends.
I’ve got me and . . . plants. I love them, but they are cacti, so the conversation is a little dry. You might say it succs. (laughs alone into the void. But also i’m really proud of my plants and i love them.)
I live across the world from most people I know. This is by choice, because something in me makes it really really hard to sit still. I’ve spent the last three years in Hong Kong, and I try to think I wouldn’t change it (especially not now when most of America seems to be fighting for the right to lick handrails and die in a TGIF’s on the beach after a visit to Supercuts). But my nearest relation is 6,000 miles and a 15 hour time difference away, and being an immigrant to a foreign country means there is a very small circle of friends. There is very little support network at all for me here. And this can take you down to some dark places.
Last week, for example, my video was broken for both my morning and afternoon classes. I couldn’t interact with my students except via chat messages for two days in a row. I ventured out at one point, but the only “conversation” I had was in broken English with a guy at the shop, asking “how much?” Then the next day, I yelled “NO!” at my neighbor, as he came on my roof while I was tanning. The next day I spoke only to my plants. That was four days without solid human interaction.
Which is all a bit weird for an extrovert. Or any kind of -vert. This has been my new normal over the last 15 weeks. My quarantine record is 7 days without speaking to another person in the flesh. Four or five days without seeing anyone is pretty typical. If I do meet up with someone, say for coffee or a wine at my house, there is the fear of getting sick and the guilt of possibly unknowingly exposing others.
In the midst of all this being alone a lot, I’ve had to find a new place to live and decide what the next year of my life in Hong Kong will look like. I was looking for a deal, because I’ve been saving up for a dream of a year straight of travel. This meant that I first started thinking I could do a share flat with three people in their early twenties to save a few hundred bucks a month. I slowly realized nothing in me wants to live with a man I’m not legally obligated to love despite his hygiene habits, so I started looking at just a flatshare with one other person.
Hong Kong real estate is intense – we are always in the top three most expensive places to live in the world – so it made sense to have a low range budget. But then the world really started catching on fire and I realized I probably wasn’t traveling anywhere anytime soon, I saw some really trashy places, and had to go through the pain of that “first date” interview feeling with several potential roommates before I said to myself “You know what, Raquel? You just turned thirty something years old, and you have a salary and you can afford to live on your own and you NEVER have. Why not go for it?”
(A very adult gulp.)
So I’ve signed a lease on a studio – 150 square feet, all to myself! It’s still in my neighborhood, so I will have a similar commute, can walk to the water, am close to the gym, don’t have to memorize a new supermarket layout, etc. And it’s so delightfully tiny that I will be able to cook a meal from either my toilet or my bed. (just kidding) (sorta).
Now I get to go through the fun of moving, and have started by sorting through clothes (love a good purge) and paperwork, which leads to all kinds of distractions as I inevitably find costume pieces I need to model, old photos I can’t remember, and in true family fashion, birthday cards I’d purchased too far in advance and then forgotten to give on the day.
I hate not doing things well. But lately I just haven’t been doing life well, not coping well with being alone, and lonely, and isolated, and scared. I want this struggle to be over – I’m lonely and bored, it’s inconvenient, I’d like to go shopping or travel again, sure. But that is selfish to think about and make that more important than what’s best for everyone. It doesn’t rate. It doesn’t weigh enough in the balance.
I want this to be over because I want people to stop dying from a preventable infection. Because I want people to stop losing loved ones. Because people are burying these loved ones from a distance, or unable to attend at all, at the risk of further infection. Because in the midst of the quarantines and the lockdowns, one of the most influential people in my life has been diagnosed with lymphoma and can’t receive visitors and is lonely and confused in hospital. Because women are giving birth alone because it’s too dangerous for their partners to be in the delivery room. People I love and miss are getting married/pregnant/having babies/getting older/going through the things and I don’t know when I get to be a part of their lives again. Because I want to be able to hug and high five my students and friends. And flirt with strangers at a pub. And go to concerts and squish into a booth at a restaurant and join hands and sing kumbaya if we want to.
So I promise to continue to do everything that medical experts say we should do, and follow all the rules, and stay home and flatten the curve and give my utmost so that we can hasten the day where we are so grateful for all the normal things we used to take for granted.
Hope you’ll join me.