Why is education last, New York?

In-person schooling is an option we can’t afford to take away

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Most of New York has entered Phase 4 of re-opening following the COVID-19 pandemic that had us all hunkered in our houses from March through May. That means in addition to the services we were already allowed to access (retail stores, restaurants with outside seating, religious worship, working in the office, hair/nail salons, grocery stores – all with masks, of course), we are now also allowed to dine inside restaurants that have met social distancing protocols, engage in “low risk” arts and entertainment, and resume education.  Basically the only things still prohibited are going to the gym, the mall, and the movie theater. 

Given it says right there in the Stage Four guidance that education can resume, why is there so much debate about sending kids back in September? Why have we prioritized, as a state, educating our kids last, just above a workout and after getting our hair styled? 

Governor Cuomo has announced that he will make his decision about school re-openings by 7 August. Ahead of that time, he has asked schools to prepare plans for how they would prefer to reopen by 31 July, but take a look at all the requirements he’s asking schools to undertake and tell me whether you think he supports in-person schooling? 

While presenting a taxing list of demands for schools to try to meet, the governor gets to claim that he is advocating for schools to re-open—though he considers hybrid schooling (i.e. a mix of virtual and in-person) acceptable. Hybrid schooling, however, offers all the problems of virtual schooling, including widening the disparities between those who have access to technology/technology infrastructure and those who don’t AND offering a Sophie’s choice for working parents who will have to decide between showing up for their jobs to maintain financial/housing/food security and showing up for their kids and their education. 

Approximately one-third of children in the U.S. were from single-parent households as of 2017. Here in New York, 7.6 percent of households with children under 18 are led by single mothers. While not all of those children will be in the school system, and some single parents may be able to work from home, that’s still a statistically much larger number of kids whose safety is impacted by the decision to cancel in-person schooling than would be at risk of death from the Corona virus.  Per Statista, a provider of market and consumer data,

“For most single mothers a constant battle persists between finding the time and energy to raise their children and the demands of working to supply an income to house and feed their families. The pressures of a single income and the high costs of childcare mean that the risk of poverty for these families is a tragic reality. Comparison of the overall United States poverty rate since 1990 with that of the poverty rate for families with a female householder shows that poverty is much more prevalent in the later. In 2018, while the overall rate was at 11.8 percent, the rate of poverty for single mother families was 24.9 percent.”

In addition, virtual schooling stands to exacerbate the pre-existing economic and equity divides already tearing America’s social fabric. According to a 2018 study, over a half million households lack internet access in NYC alone (that’s one in six households). Consider how many more children across New York state lack access to technology or technology infrastructure to enable participation in virtual schooling. The households without internet are also found in greater numbers in areas of poverty, which means, essentially, that reliance on virtual or hybrid schooling will disproportionately effect the kids who most need the access to education to break the cycle of poverty.

Governor Cuomo indicated that his decision-making is data-driven, but which data is he considering and which is he throwing out? According the Centers for Disease Control, as of 15 July 2020, 31 children in the U.S. have died from COVID-19. There are another 157 deaths in the 15-24 years old range. Each of those is a tragic loss, to be sure, and the Wall Street Journal offered some perspective: “In a typical year 190 children die of the flu, 436 from suicide, 625 from homicide, and 4,114 from unintentional deaths such as drowning.”  675 children under the age of 12 died from car accidents in 2017, yet we never considered banning the transportation of children in cars.

“The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”

American Academy of Pediatrics report advocating a return to in-person schooling.

The governor says he wants to make sure schools are safe for kids.  According to the CDC data, schools ARE safe for kids. And many kids are safer and healthier in school than at home (particularly if their parents are not able to be at home with them because they have had to return to work). This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a report that states, “the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.”

Given the AAP reporting, it makes me question why the state opted to enable non-essential workers to return to their offices and places of work, especially when for many it IS possible to work from home with few of the deleterious effects described above associated with school closure. Why is the governor threatening to stymie education while enabling private business to require its people return to the office? And why is there so little discussion of the impact on business of losing employees as working parents have to opt out to take care of children who are no longer safely in school? 

While certainly not the reason public education was established—that was, per educational reformer Horace Mann, designed to ensure an educated voting populace, a common civic culture, and a way to combat economic disparities—in-person education provides a critical social contract that has enabled generations of parents to engage in the workforce. It is economically and socially irresponsible for the government to ignore that protracted school closures will force millions of families to choose between earning an income or supervising their children.

Rather than seeking to drive education into the virtual realm, the state government could more productively lean on the private sector to excuse workers without penalty when they need to take sick days—as many as they need—for themselves and their kids. Anyone who has ever had a kid in the school system knows that this is one of the real challenges schools face with any virus. Parents who do not have enough leave, or who will face a financial penalty if they don’t show up for work and have no child care alternatives, have had little option in the past other than to send their kids in to the schools and hope for the best. But the answer to poor private sector practices regarding leave and social health is not to close the schools. The answer is to change the system so that the possibility, or better yet the incentive, exists for parents to keep sick kids at home. With quarantining being a reality for us all for the foreseeable future, updating the way we used to think about leave policies is a requirement the government should be pushing. 

Virtual schooling should absolutely be an alternative to in-person instruction that parents can choose if they feel a physical return would be too great a risk to the health of their child or someone in their household. The benefits here are wins for all. 

  • Offering virtual lessons would lower the number of kids in the school system at any time, lessening opportunities for any virus to spread and reducing class sizes.
  • It could offer a way for teachers who also feel at risk from in-classroom activity to continue to teach.
  • Virtual schooling could help limit how much a child falls behind if they are out for several days, including for quarantining if they suspect that they could have been exposed to the virus. 

What virtual/hybrid schooling shouldn’t be is a replacement for in-person schooling. It takes away too many choices for too many people. It endangers too many kids. It leaves too many out of education all together. 

If you are against virtual/hybrid schooling, and believe that education is a fundamental right that we should be prioritizing over the other luxuries the governor has deemed more important, then the time to write to your state representatives, or the governor himself, for a return to in-person, non-hybrid education is right now

Right now school districts across New York are trying to figure out how they can meet all of Governor Cuomo’s demands to get students back in schools. Help them out. Write to your state representatives. Write to the governor. Let them know you want to see in-person schooling resume in a meaningful, non-hybrid capacity. 

Use this link to find your New York State Senator or send an email using this one.

Use this link to find your New York State Assembly member. There you can find contact information, including addresses and email. 

And don’t forget to send an email to Governor Cuomo.

If you want to take the next step, consider contacting your NY Senators Kirsten Gillibrand or Charles Schumer.

Use this link to identify your Congressional Representative.

And don’t forget to reach out to your schools. Contact your superintendents, school principals, and school board members. Tell them how much they mean to you, and how much you’re doing to support their efforts to get kids back into the buildings where they learn. 

Not sure what to say? Here’s a draft letter that you can copy/paste and edit as you see fit. 

Dear Governor Cuomo, 

I’m writing to tell you that I think it is imperative that children in the state of New York resume full-time, in-person, non-hybrid schooling in September. According the Centers for Disease Control, the coronavirus is unlikely to make schools unsafe for students. Further, many kids are safer in schools than at home, especially now that many parents are under pressure to return to work. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a report that states, 

[T]he AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.”

Why are you prioritizing education—a fundamental requirement for a functional civil society and for addressing economic disparities—last? Why have you enacted policies that clearly put the needs of kids, working parents, and the economy after shopping, dining out, and getting haircuts? 

Prove you can be the leader you set out to be at the start of the pandemic by enabling schools to resume in-person, non-hybrid education for all students who wish to do so. Consider urging businesses to implement humane leave policies so that New Yorkers can keep themselves and their children at home when they are ill, without facing penalties, rather than closing down one of the most critical institutions working to protect and enrich children across our state.



‘Schooling from home’ impacts reveal need for in-classroom schooling

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As many of us emerge from our pandemic cocoons, sinking into summer schedules that no longer include the daily battles dubbed “virtual learning,” it is tempting to shut the door on the past few months and try to forget them. It would be easy to allow the dull heat to erase the emotional turmoil that accompanied the chaotic springtime shift to social distancing and schooling from home. Especially with all the important social changes being discussed right now, it’s tempting to rely on “someone else” to sort out what will happen with schooling in the fall.

It’s tempting, but it’s also dangerous. Taxpayer dollars directly fund the state education systems that we, as a society, rely on to turn out educated, adjusted, productive citizens. Therefore, as tax payers, we need to make ourselves heard regarding our preferences. 

The lessons learned from our national experiment of virtual schooling from home need to be examined closely before we make any decisions about what is to happen to our children’s education in the fall. Already some public school districts are rolling out plans that severely limit students’ ability to receive in-school education for the rest of this calendar year. But where is the public dialogue that is informing these decisions? Are we critically questioning the data on which these decisions are based? 

We’ve become a nation fascinated by infection rate and mortality statistics, and seem content to let these data sets, flawed as they may be, drive all other policies. Where are the statistics on the impact of “schooling from home” on: 

Students’ educational achievements? 

An NWEA working paper acknowledges that there is little data as yet, but that projections indicate students are likely to have only met two-thirds of expected progress in reading and less than half of expected progress in math as a result of school closures.

Students’ physical and emotional well-being?

Again, calls for research abound but meaningful data is still scarce. A United Nations policy paper reported, “Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse… . Children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators.” 

Additionally, a survey conducted by a British charity supporting mental health for children and youth reported that 83 percent of respondents felt the pandemic had made their pre-existing mental health conditions worse. 

How virtual schooling impacts the disparities between affluent and not-affluent communities? 

A June New York Times article reports on a study conducted by Brown and Harvard Universities that revealed “student progress in math decreased by about half in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.”

Parents’ (and especially mothers’) ability to work?

RAND published insights on the U.S. populations group suffering most from the closure of schools and child care, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Current Population Surveys, including that approximately 75 percent of U.S. households have children under 14, and up to 26 million families had no access to in-home child care during the pandemic.

The New York Times took a closer look at the impact on working mothers, highlighting that experts are predicting mothers are “more likely to lose a job and more likely to shoulder the load of closed schools and day care. For many working mothers, the gradual reopening won’t solve their problems, but compound them — forcing them out of the labor force or into part-time jobs while increasing their responsibilities at home. The impact could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities.”

This article raised troubling questions for me about educator well-being, especially when the teachers expected to conduct virtual classrooms are also parents of younger kids. I’ve watched several friends struggle through this challenge since March, and was therefore disappointed that I could find no research or reporting on this segment of the U.S. workforce on whom so many of us have been depending for so much. 

As a result, I wanted to begin the dialogue on the importance of resuming in-person schooling locally by recognizing the incredible efforts our child’s teachers exerted during the pandemic. To that end, I waited until after the academic year was over and grades submitted, then sent letters to both of our son’s teachers thanking them for their resilience, dedication to their students, and caring. I also sent a letter to the school principal, emphasizing the excellence of the teachers’ performances and also stating my hope that school will resume in the fall. I’m happy to share copies of these letters with anyone who would like to use them. Just let me know in the comments. 

I know others who have written to their local legislators and state officials, and I would be grateful if they felt like sharing their experiences in the comments. I plan to do that too, and also to engage with my congressional representative on this issue. The more widely each of us reaches out, the more respectful dialogue we can promote, the more likely we are to come up with a solution that will serve our children as well as our society. 

Re-imagining The Space Between

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Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

Pandemic rules repeatedly remind me that space is a relative concept. Even when lines have been painted on the floor, to some people six feet apparently looks more like six inches, while to others it appears closer to 60 feet. The measurement is not to blame. Humans seem to have always had a need to define their spaces, and as long as that need has existed, each human being has approached space with his or her unique understanding of what it is, how it should be, and how long they want to stay there.

When I first started this blog, my mental space was very different than it is today. I was stuck in the middle of a transfer from career professional to freelancer, and from one continent to another. I was working from home, with a baby and taking those first daring to steps toward becoming a writer. I was desperate to connect with other people who found themselves in similar situations.

I was incredibly lucky to meet Julie Patton, who could not only empathize, but was willing to take a little risk with me by writing about our experiences trying to find sanity in the spaces between, and stick it online. It felt bold and daring, sharing our thoughts with anyone on the web who would read them. We celebrated each new subscriber (yes, You!) and each new idea that allowed us to vent about something that had been driving us just a little bit crazier than we were to begin with.

However, the space Julie and I created here has begun to feel very small in light of all that has been happening in the world lately. Between pandemics and racially-motivated killings, blatant political corruption, and environmental peril, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm to write about tips to mitigate PTO drama, or how to use that drama to create realistic antagonists.

Recently, nothing that I felt comfortable writing about seemed worth writing. I’ve been considering whether to thank you all for your support and put this time toward some other endeavor. My farewell post is half-written, and as this afternoon I was fairly certain that today was the day it was going online.

As I stood in the shower trying to resign myself to closing out this fun experiment, I realized that my problem isn’t that I’m lacking for things to say. The problem is finding the courage to say the things that I feel need to be said.

I’m refocusing The Space Between. I want this to be a space to promote the risky, tricky, beautiful process of transformation. I want it to speak to all the spaces we find ourselves between these days.

I was listening to Unlocking Us with Brene´ Brown earlier, in which she interviews Glennon Doyle on her latest book Untamed. In the interview, Glennon tells the story she uses to open the book, that of a cheetah she and her family saw in a show at a zoo. The cheetah performs for the crowd, gets rewarded and is returned to her enclosure, where her entire demeanor changes. Although the cheetah was born in captivity, there is something wild about the feline form pacing the fence line. It’s as if there is some deep instinct within her that recognizes that there is more to the world than she has ever seen, and she yearns for that space.

Hearing Glennon tell her cheetah metaphor brought two things to mind. The first was the perspective-shifting poem from Leslie Dwight that stopped me in my mental tracks the first time I read it.

Continue reading “Re-imagining The Space Between”

Scheduling Summer in the Space Between

Making time for creativity and your kids in the wake of COVID-19

Photo by Cassidy Kelley on Unsplash

Usually at this time of year, The Space Between would be focused on providing helpful articles on how to set up summer schedules to prevent the infamous “summer slide” without an over-reliance on screens.  Or how to select summer camps to optimize enrichment opportunities and to get everyone out of the house so that writers can write. 

Thanks to COVID-19, the jury’s still out on summer camp here in New York. We’re schooling from home for another few weeks, but with summer looming on this Memorial Day weekend, and most of the country in some phase between lock-down and “next normal,” what should we be doing as parents to prepare our kids for summer? As creatives, how in the midst of this uncertainty, do we provide for the time we need to work on our craft? 

Furthermore, how are we supposed to manage any of it when the ability to set and stick to a schedule has changed week-by-week, and sometimes day-by-day, for the past two months? 

There are two schools of thought on this. Those who love structure (hello, Plotters!) schedule your kids’ time and your writing time. It’s all on the calendar (virtual, plannered, or both), and the calendar rules! No excuses. The Muse comes when She comes, but she’ll know where to find you better if you make yourself regularly available. And your kids will thrive when there’s a set routine.

The other way of thinking, which I’ve advocated before, is that there are seasons to parenting and writing, and it’s best to go with the flow (Camp Pantser). If your family needs you more right now, or your mental and emotional exhaustion has your well running dry, then take the time that you need to take care of yourself. And to take care of your kids, who are dealing with all the changes keeping us all off balance, but with less life experience to help them find their center. Find ways to replenish. Give yourself some grace. Live to write another day and be gentle with yourself, and the small humans in your care, in the meantime.  

Continue reading “Scheduling Summer in the Space Between”

The Power of Voice

The secret moms and writers know

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

How old were you the first time you heard your own voice? Did you cringe? 

I didn’t believe it was me. I thought that there was something wrong with the cassette tape (yup, I’m that old–and I recorded myself using a boombox. Children of the ’80s, rock on!). Then I briefly considered never talking again.

Problem is, I’m a born talker. I love talking with people, even strangers. I’ll also talk to my dogs, the cat, even the plants (scientists in the ’80s swore this was good for them–is that still true?). And now the universe is playing one of its karma games because it has given me a child who talks nonstop.

I love listening to what he has to say 99% of the time. The way his mind works is truly bizarre and fascinating, and I say that with all the love of a mother who has already received roses and sharing privileges on a Lego Wegman’s hauler for Mother’s Day. I want him to feel like he can talk to me about anything, and that I’m listening, and that what he has to say is valued. I really do.

But 1% of the time (okay, maybe 7.5% on certain days, like when I’m not feeling well, or have a deadline, or when all he wants to talk about is the relationships between Pokémon), I just need him to give me a few quiet minutes. That’s when I break out, “the Mom voice.” You know the one. It’s just slightly lower than Sigourney Weaver’s in the original Ghostbusters when she answers, “There is no Dana, only Zuul.” Except I’m saying, “Hey Bud, that’s interesting, but just give Mama a minute please.”

Ghostbusters – There Is No Dana, Only ZUUL

He’s a good kid (like I said, sharing rights on the Lego hauler he built himself), so the first 200 times I used that voice, he ran away, wide-eyed and o the brink of hyperventilation. Now, it’s like he doesn’t even hear “the Mom voice.” In fairness, he’s usually too busy talking to listen.

So I’ve had to up my game. Admittedly, the first couple of tries might have been a little over the top, judging by the tears. But I like to think I now have a solid repertoire of voices to inspire just the right reaction. There’s the cloyingly sweet Mom apology voice (“Sorry, kiddo, but I’m still in the video conference, so could you please stop talking”) to encourage quiet play in the home office while you’re working. The Zen-Mom countdown voice (“Make a good decision in three-two-one….”) to inspire the child to do what you want him/her to do. And the Kathy Bates Misery voice (“See what you made me do!”) to induce the child to leave your vicinity immediately.

As I was trying to determine which was the right voice to instill at least five minutes of silence after approximately 900 updates in 30 minutes on the status of the eggs in his Pocket Frogs nursery, I had an epiphany.

Continue reading “The Power of Voice”

The Janus Syndrome of Social Connectivity

Hard question to help you stay sane during a virtual pandemic

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Social media has redefined how the world manages life during a pandemic. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t that our worlds have stopped so much as they’ve taken a hard shift to the virtual. Many of us continue to work, shop, and even socialize at near our usual rates – just online. The explosion of social media into our lives has bloomed as fast as COVID-19 infection rates in NYC. And like the virus itself, it’s been hard to identify exactly where it would next spiral out of control.

Thanks to Google Classroom and Drive, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard, and Zoom (among numerous other platforms) our kids continue with their educations and can now even take tours of zoos, museums, and aquariums – not to mention do yoga, draw with Mo Willems, and engage in story hours or book groups. 

We’re so grateful to teachers who are going above and beyond to teach our children from a distance, or at least keep them occupied for a half hour, especially while we’re burning out in our own multi-hour Zoom meetings and virtual seminars.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The silver lining of COVID-19 is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, develop new facets of connection with members of our communities, and take advantage of this “slow” time to do a little online learning or personal improvement. As a result, my evenings are more scheduled now than at any other point in 2020. 

I’m truly grateful for these unanticipated positives. Even as video chats cause me to closely consider which parts of my house make for a suitable background, not to mention blow my ability to covertly multitask (and force me to evaluate my quarantine fashion choices). 

Our pre-pandemic social media consumption habits act like pre-existing conditions, making those of us previously plugged into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and others) more likely to succumb to pandemic click-bait: everything from how to make your own mask, school from home, keep your family’s morale up, and avoid weight gain while you’re quarantined. As the virus spread, so have recycled news stories on infection rates, fatality statistics, quarantine dates, “expert” analysis of medical trends, and heart-rending accounts and/or horror stories from the pandemic’s front lines. The urge to read just one more article at bedtime is a symptom I have to treat every night in order to fall asleep.

Continue reading “The Janus Syndrome of Social Connectivity”

The Power of Revision, On and Off the Page

The opportunity COVID-19 offers us

Photo by Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash

As a writer, I know about the power of revisions. I’d like to believe that every first draft is gold, or at least good, or good enough, but experience has taught me otherwise. A first draft is a starting point, an attempt to craft characters, scenarios, and worlds that create the story I want to tell. 

When I’m done drafting, I read through what resulted from my efforts to translate what’s in my head and heart on to the page – and I’m almost always surprised by the gaps between my expectations and what actually is

Enter the revisions. 

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Some writers approach revisions with a sense of despair or trepidation, but for me they’re a real world chance at redemption. That sentence that came out wrong? Strike it – it never existed. That horrible scene I made? Weave it into the narrative another way, so it becomes a transcendent moment. The protagonist whose actions completely contradict the statements s/he’s making? Rework that character until all aspects of their existence are in alignment. 

Revisions, like the original writing, have a range of qualities directly proportional to the effort invested. A quick read-through lends itself to fixing typos, which may prevent some obvious misunderstandings. Meaningful revisions, however, require more. In fact, to make your story what you want it to be – what you imagined it already was – you need to do three things: 

1 – Closely interrogate the script to identify internal inconsistences.

 Stories, like life, are guided by values and rules. Sometimes these change as a result of specific events, or in response to gradual shifts in character or circumstance. Make sure that the rules and values of your story aren’t just tossed recklessly aside when they create an inconvenient result in your plotline. Trust is built on consistency, and is necessary to ensure your audience is along for the whole ride. 

2 – Take a hard look at character to ensure it’s authentic. 

Character is what people (readers) invest in, so you’d best make sure yours is unimpeachable. If, for example, your character claims to be one thing but is acting in a way that is inconsistent with the claim, it needs to be clear to the reader why that is. You can cook up the kookiest plot, and most folks will shrug and nod with a, “I’ve heard stranger. This one time….” But when your character acts in a way that doesn’t make sense, you can bet that everyone notices and they’re going to want an explanation. So if you’ve got character issues, fix them. Fix them now.

3 – A period of time away from the story.

When your brain is still caught up in the plot, you aren’t going to be able to do either of the previous steps effectively. Your mind will default to what it thinks is there instead of what actually is. Only through distance, and a little forgetting, can we clearly evaluate the story on its actual merits. Is the main character authentic and relatable? Does the plot follow its own internal logic and values? If not, why not? How can we fix it? Time gives your brain the distance it needs to see clearly, and then to begin to work on the solutions.

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Here’s where life imitates art. This strange period of isolation and slow-down that we’re all experiencing – this is your time away from your story. It’s been long enough that we’re starting to forget the minutiae of our lives a month ago, which means we can begin to evaluate how we’ve been living our lives. Have our actions been consistent with our values? Have we been authentic in our relationships with those closest to us? Are we living the story we thought we were living? If not, why not? How do we fix it?

Not only does sheltering in place give us the opportunity to review our personal narratives, the fact that COVID-19 has stopped most of the world in its tracks at approximately the same time gives us an unprecedented chance to conduct evaluations at every level of human social function: personal, familial, communal, national, international, global. Do our practices and policies as a community or a country represent our values? Do our systems function according to logic and rules that are applied consistently, and are they achieving the goals we have created them to achieve? If not, why not? What changes can we make, as individuals, groups, and/or members of society, to correct the character flaws and internal inconsistencies?

There is no doubt that the hard pause this pandemic has caused our world will have long-standing, deleterious effects. However, the results don’t have to be only negative. We have the chance to use this time for reflection, to make sure the lives we’re living match the stories to which we aspire.

Here’s our opportunity to make revisions.

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Check Your Fear

Using positivity, compassion, and creativity to stay human during a pandemic

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

In the early days of the U.S. reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the concepts of teleworking and schooling from home were still novel, I was amazed by the creative ways in which I saw communities coming together despite the requirements to stay six feet apart. As I wrote about for Homeschooling on the Hudson, I’ve been truly impressed by random acts of kindness neighbors have been practicing. Thanks to social media, the impacts of those actions are magnified, rippling through virtual communities, encouraging others to actions of their own. The creativity and kindness that spilled from human wellsprings across my physical and virtual communities has been nothing short of motivational. I hope you’ve experienced this too!

Now we’re a couple of weeks in, the sheen of our still-new pandemic routines is tarnished, worn by the strain of managing kids and careers, or sheered off by pink slips and bankruptcies. Trying to figure out a way ahead when the only thing in abundant supply is information gaps has the nation treading water. More and more people we know are struggling to keep their heads up – and the fact that there is no clear view of the shore has left many of us deeply afraid. 

Fear is a tricky emotion. We’re taught early that “there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Our kid fears are “only in our imaginations.” Fears are supposed to melt by the light of day and the opening of the closet. The strong among us are supposed to laugh in the face of fear, if they even perceive fear at all. But persistent fear can actually severely disrupt our health, as this 2017 article in the American Journal of Managed Care lays out. Fear and anxiety are also powerful wreckers of mental processing, according the University of Minnesota. 


Looking at the 2018 Chapman study on the most prevalent fears in America, it’s not surprising that the COVID pandemic has triggered so many of us: half of the top 10 fears most Americans share are currently at play. Plus, this pandemic impacts all of America in a way little has since the days of mutual assured destruction of the good ‘ole Cold War. Then we had a common enemy to rally against, a tangible foe whom we sought to out-produce, out-patriotism, and out-spend. Today, by contrast, we’re being told to hunker in our homes and await further instruction, which feels more like the nation’s longest duck and cover drill rather than progress. 

Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that people are starting to get snippy. Unfortunately, online forums are tempting outlets for many who feel empowered to type the sorts of comments they’d never make to another human face-to-face. Jesse Fox, Ph.D. explains in Psychology Today the variety of reasons underlying this behavior, including the spiral of silence theory, which essentially boils down to people who perceive themselves in the majority will bully those they perceive as in the minority. 

“The spiral of silence theory suggests that when people think they are in the majority in a certain setting, they will more freely express their opinion than those who see themselves as in the minority, and may fear social ostracism if they express an unpopular opinion.” 

Jesse Fox, Ph.D., Psychology Today 
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Combine the deep-running fears and social distancing that are tied to COVID-19, and you’ve got a potentially toxic result for our online groups, which in some cases spill over into our geographic, communities. Those same forums where people were trying to support each other through these tough times are also now host to virtual finger-pointing and division. Unfortunately, as we all win from random acts of kindness, we all lose from virtual battles, which further people’s anxiety, fear, and sense of isolation. 

“Us versus Them” silos are fearful, closed, hurting and hurtful, paralyzing, negative, and ultimately extremely dangerous to the health -and ultimate survival….”

Duena Blomstrom, Forbes 

While I’m no social scientist, I’ve had some practical training in human psychology, and I’ve lived through my share of high-stress situations. My observations from these experiences are that when our fear is high, some people instinctually revert to an ‘us versus them’ mentality in an effort to order their universe and attempt to gain some control. ‘Them’ becomes the antithesis of all the good that ‘us’ seeks to preserve. By reducing our worldview to two camps, we remove space for middle ground, or creative problem-solving. There is no room for compassion, or for understanding that while ‘us’ suffers, ‘them’ may also be suffering. As Duena Blomstrom put in a Forbes article from 2019, “”Us versus Them” silos are fearful, closed, hurting and hurtful, paralyzing, negative, and ultimately extremely dangerous to the health -and ultimate survival….”

Continue reading “Check Your Fear”

Are You Thankful?

Honoring the heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Susan Silverman

I’m Grateful.

I’m grateful: to my child’s teachers in supplying daily, inventive ideas to keep her stimulated. Educators are invaluable to a developing child’s mind.

I’m grateful: to my client and bosses who reinforce that my health–and that of my family’s–is priority.

I’m grateful: to Essential Personnel like staff at grocery stores and pharmacies, letter carriers, and trash collectors who put their lives second to making sure we can all have previsions to live day to day.

I’m grateful: to my coworkers who check in with me daily to discuss issues of the day but more importantly to offer a laugh when we all need it.

I’m grateful: to Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, etc., for bringing more television programming than I ever knew possible. You are keeping my toddler immensely happy. (Although I would be happier if you would ban all videos of children playing with toys! Why is my kid so obsessed with that?!?!?!)

I’m grateful: to the news/media who are trying to uncover the truth and relay that information to the public. 

I’m grateful: to my state and local government leadership who recognize that they are the ones making the sometimes hard–but most definitely needed–decisions that effect my local community. 

Finally, I’m grateful: to everyone in the health field, from practitioners to data entry personnel, who are the front lines of this war. You are our heroes! You are those who we are looking to at this unknown and scary time. We–the citizens of the world–cannot survive without your knowledge, patience, care, understanding and expertise. 

Susan Silverman is a guest author on The Space Between who has written about the challenges of being a stay-at-home-mom overseas, and re-entering the workforce. Originally from upstate New York, Susan has bounced between the United Kingdom and Washington, DC for her studies and career, and is presently back in the DC metro area working as a consultant on global health engagement for the U.S. Department of Defense, where she’s been specifically assigned to a team dealing with the U.S. response to COVID-19. 

I don’t normally post mid-week, but unusual circumstances call for unusual measures. And anything that will help lift our spirits, I’m 100% for, so thank you, Susan, for helping us to focus on the positive at this difficult time. And thank you too, for the work that you’re doing to help our nation overcome the challenges of COVID-19!


The Working Parent’s School Closure Survival Guide

Or how to stay sane in the face of COVID-19

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It feels unreal. For most of us in the first world, there’s been nothing like this pandemic in our lives, and probably not in the lives of our parents.  We’ve gotten so busy, so connected, so smart (or at least our phones have), but in the process we’ve fallen out of touch with seasons, with communities, and with the power of Mother Nature. Germs, as it turns out, don’t care about our priorities (though they do love our smart phones, so wipe those down please). It’s unsettling. The panic in the grocery stores is downright disturbing. And to top it all off, now we’ve got to find a way to balance the competing demands to telework (maintain social distancing to flatten the curve!) AND to take care of your kids at home while schools are closed.

It’s a lot to take on, for sure. Now consider: If the grown ups are stressed, so are your kids. After all, kids thrive on routine and pretty much everything about their lives is being disrupted—activities, school, family patterns. 

Good news though! Freelancers face the work-from-home-while-balancing-the-kids issue regularly. It’s tricky, and every kid-parent dynamic is different, but let me share some hard-earned hacks I’ve gathered over the past few years, plus a few additional resources that are coming online in response to this horrible virus.

Routine Success

Like I said, kids love routine, so the best way to forge ahead is to develop a routine and stick to it.

Neuropsychology and Education Services for Children and Adolescents (NESCA) posted this great chart developed by Jessica McHale Photography. See those blocks for academic, creative, or chore time? Depending on the ages of your kids and their self-sufficiency, those are times that you can set the tasks to be done and then focus on your own work. For some, it might be possible to work during afternoon fresh air time too.

Now is the time to get real about how many hours you actually need to get your job done…without all the daily office rigmarole, you may find that you can accomplish your required tasks in fewer than 8 hours.

Parent Hack

If you’ve got some flexibility in the hours you work, you may also want to consider waking up early to get some hours in before the kids are up. I’m not a happy member of the 5 a.m. club, but I get loads of work done after my kid goes to bed, around 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Now is the time to get real about how many hours you actually need to get your job done. For some, there will be scheduled hours that we are required online for virtual services. For others, without all the daily office rigmarole, you may find that you can accomplish your required tasks in fewer than 8 hours. The more hours you can squeeze into non-kid time, the easier this will be for you all. 

What to do with ‘academic time’

One thing I love about this chart is that it sticks to a schedule that should be familiar to pretty much any school-age kid. The question many parents are facing is what/how to teach them from home, especially if you’re trying to do your own work too. If you’re lucky, your kids’ teachers provided some take home work before the schools were closed, or the schools are rolling out online platforms to enable kids to stay engaged with their curriculum. At which point, roll out those worksheets or reading pages or online lessons until they run dry. 

If you weren’t so lucky, or the materials aren’t going to stretch for the whole time, consider adding in some commercial learning books. These not only will keep the kids busy, but will make school re-entry that much less painful. Our son loves workbooks from Teacher Created Resources. Their books are tailored to grade levels and run pretty true to level, in our experience. In addition to the TCR site, you can order workbooks through many online distributors, such as Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. 

Continue reading “The Working Parent’s School Closure Survival Guide”