From the same virus that brought me sourdough bread and tortillas, 12 plants I didn’t need, a wardrobe whittled down to leggings, crushing anxiety, a 7lb food baby named “Carbito,” an endless supply of glass bottles I wish I could recycle into interesting crafts, I have once again tapped into my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder and now present BISCUITS!!! Oh, yeah. Move over, Grands Flaky Crust. I have fully conquered the buttery, salty, biscuity business.
That’s not exactly true. Turns out homemade biscuits don’t have the shelf life of the pop-can ones we used to consume like crazy as children. I took them to a brunch and a child actually spit it right back out into her mom’s hand. Hmm. They probably could have used a (un)healthy smothering of gravy and butter. Alas. They were good right out of the oven and making them kept me off the streets for like two hours. And the dough tastes like kindergarten! Don’t ask me how I know about that.
There are positive things to come out of this pandemic (and I can almost see them clearly if I let myself momentarily forget a million people who have died because of it) and I try to breathe deeply into those things. One positive would be a more profound understanding of myself, my strengths and weaknesses. Particularly as this pertains to the kitchen, because that is where I have spent most of my time. I clearly enjoy food, and I am happy to mix together some cookie dough, but I don’t necessarily enjoy all the work that goes into creating food that I just then eat by myself, alone, and clean all those dishes, alone, and then eat the same meal for four days, because all recipes end up making you like six servings of something (yes, I wrote that math correctly). But then Covid hit, I started taking my time to make food just for the heck of it, and then found myself saying things like “I really just want to know more about how to cook eggplants” and then falling down a cooking blog rabbit hole, resurfacing an hour later to realize I’ve burnt the frozen pizza I’d put in the oven as a backup plan.
But maybe that’s just another natural milestone to pass on the way to the made-up world of adulthood. This grown-up land is made up of things you do, and you fought tooth and nail against them as a child, but now you are like “yes, SOLID Sunday!” For example: looking at houses you can’t afford, napping, finishing a crossword, window shopping, driving with no destination in mind, wandering through gardens, examining paint color selections. Things I wanted to file a separation from my parents over when I was a child. If someone would have told me as a kid that when I grew up, I would develop a genuine fondness for glass bottles and be unable to throw any of them away and would walk uphill both ways in 100° heat to recycle them, I would’ve laughed them off the face of the earth. Yet here I am, in a tiny studio, holding on to like a thousand mason jars of various sizes, googling “how to get sticky gluey labels off pasta sauce jars.”
And so I live, with a house full of jars. Recently, I walked down to the bulk shop to donate some and see what I “needed.” Behold. Hair and Beauty products. Houston – we have a solution. I decided to get some shampoo and hand soap and I also dabbled in white vinegar as a cleaning product. The important thing to note is that I got shampoo in an old salsa bottle I had brought in.
What I didn’t realise was the shampoo that smelled like men’s cologne. Not like the vapor that used to assault you from Abercrombie and & Fitch stores, but like, a man with a beard and an inheritance and likes dogs. This is combined with the powerful scent of my favourite salsa. Anyway. If you ever see me absentmindedly chewing my hair . . . now you know why.
My man-shampoo smell always triggers a critical question – What the heck is dating going to be like in a post-Covid world, if I live that long to see it? How will I possibly be able to vet my future love interests? It might have to be some quick word association over the phone before agreeing to meet in person. Obviously, my friends and I will have gone on a deep dive into their social media to determine if they’ve posted anything related to Qanon or anti-mask nonsense. My usual filter of “loves Jesus and dogs, will kill big bugs for me,” isn’t enough at all anymore. People are doing crazy things in the name of the Lord. And I kill my own bugs now.
Speaking of dogs, strictly hypothetically, if I go into a dog park without a dog, that’s significantly less creepy than going to a Chuck E. Cheese without a kid, right? Asking for a me. I think it would be mostly okay? I recently spent a lazy morning in bed making a one minute video of all my pictures and videos of my dogs from this summer
to watch obsessively on the daily show my students as we work on making timelines and how they need to go in chronological order. (Lol I just pulled that out of a hat to give a reason for showing it at all).
Being in a pandemic and all, I think there has to be a lot more grace for what might have previously been considered a little strange. Making new connections with human people is more difficult than ever, so I guess it’s no surprise I’m trying to find canine friends or feel even more interested in animal life. When I was at home this summer for a brief but blessed visit, my family and I all became amateur ornithologists, watching the hummingbird feeders we’d recently installed and monitoring the new family of young hawks that had moved into the neighborhood to terrorize the squirrels (and wake me up with screeching feeding frenzies at 5am every morning). Every night we’d gather in the backyard for happy hour and wait for the bird action. And I often think fondly of the gecko that’s adopted my studio and hopes he or she takes their job of insect control seriously.
In big BIG animal news, I have two class pets – beta fish – which is a huge hit with the kids. They are obsessed with them and we talk to them all day. One is Jeffery, who I got last year to reward my students for making it through 4 months of online school. The other was unnamed until recently, when through class vote (which I used as a mini-lesson in democracy and other forms of government) they decided to name him Skipper! I don’t know why. That makes me think of Barbie’s kid sister, but oh well. My vote was for Buzz Aldrin (we’re in a unit on space). I bought them some new plants and now sing hellos to them every morning and find myself wandering over and chatting with them when the students leave. I ask them how they like their food, congratulate them on being alive, try to get them to kiss my finger.
Am I totally weird, or is common behaviour right now? Is this indicative of how starved we all are for relationship, for contact, for connection?
I miss connection and validation. Living alone for the first time was always going to be hard, but doing it during this . . . I’ve realized lately how much I miss my flatmate, Suz (who recently made the HK daily paper even though she moved home to Colorado in March!). I miss walking in the door and having someone to say “how was your day? What are you up to this weekend?” and talk about things. We’d talk big and small things out from opposite ends of the living room, destroying a bowl of popcorn, watching episodes of Schitts Creek. She knew the names of everyone I worked with, adults and kids, and would often ask if I had a funny recent story about this kid or that kid, as she felt she got to know them intimately once I started the virtual teaching from my living room.
Now, living alone, I don’t have anyone who notices if I stayed up late, or ate all the snacks, or seemed a bit “off.” I don’t have sustained interaction with anyone at all anymore, except maybe if I post something interesting enough on Instagram. I recently reconnected with lots of people on instagram because I got into a chat about the Delia’s catalogs of the 90s and we all went on a collective virtual field trip down memory lane of the traumatic fashion trends of our junior high and high school days. It was magic.
Teaching the students back in school is so good – so much better than online teaching (although I miss that “Mute All” button several times a day). There is a lot of retraining to do – many of them got way too used to a helper or parent doing just about everything for them, to going to the toilet or eating or speaking whenever they wanted or simply got bored. It’s hard to get used to rules again, and we have so many of them for health and safety that I’m sympathetic as I can barely remember to not high-fve or hug all of them. Their handwriting is a bit off. Their attention spans are shorter. Many of them are having digital withdrawals as it is MUCH harder to play Roblox when you are sitting in Miss Weight’s class. For the Covid-measures, we follow a LOT of rules. The students have their own packs of materials and can’t share, can’t leave their seats. Anything I want to pass out for the day I put on their desk in the morning before they arrive and hope they don’t somehow lose it before they need it.
I have all 24 at once, which is different than our last return, when I did two shifts of classes. And I got a new student, so now it’s 25! My kids are so lovely – they clapped and cheered and made a card to welcome her. It made me cry a bit. They’re desperate for connection, too.
They have plastic screens up to protect them at their desks, which one student has drawn cats all over. There are no small groups, no partner work, no “come closer to see better,” no one-on-one with the teacher. I stand awkwardly and try to guide from a meter away when they want help. It puts a lot of pressure on the teacher to keep everything in control, in line with the safety measures, on a strict schedule, everything organized, everyone engaged and entertained so they won’t be tempted to wander from their seats or in their minds.
Luckily, I’ve always enjoyed a captive audience, and I see my primary job at this time to make kids happy, feel safe, enjoy school, interact socially in whatever ways we can. My kids might not all succeed at long division this year, but they will laugh and know they are loved. I taught them “Oh, Happy Day” and I think if we sing it every day, we can make it come true.