Growing Up in Santa Cruz, Teacher’s Desk: The Scare

Growing Up in Santa Cruz, April 2021, Teacher’s Desk, “The Scare,” by Lisa Catterall.

It’s that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s showing us how very, very dark the tunnel has been. – Kate McKinnon

I began class yesterday swinging a perfectly balanced, forged metal axe into the top of a thick cut of firewood. I was wearing hot pink Minnie Mouse footsie pajamas and singing at the top of my lungs, and my teenager was holding up a Zoom camera, streaming it all live. I was going completely insane, on record.

It all made sense, in my mind. My engineering class needed a demonstration of a simple machine, and I had carefully stacked a pile of logs on campus for them, so they could try out the mechanical advantage of a wedge, while the class watched in masks, from a distance, and the machine was meticulously disinfected between students. Then we were going to take a socially distanced field trip, which means a walk, to the campus machine shop to look at a powered way to make lumber. Perfect lesson plan, perfect segue into energy transfer. Then I was going to hand out home lab kits as we knew we would be learning remote for quarantine after a winter vacation next week.

The home lab kits were not ready yet. “You do have our kits?” a student asked. “We don’t need to worry. We have a week.”

An hour later at home, I was happily thinking about the wood chopping fun we were going to have the next time we met, and the pajamas I was going to wear for spirit week, when my son came out of his room. His best friend tested positive. We weren’t going back.

“Well, this is just the world we live in, for the next year at least,” said my aunt when I told her. She is seventy and in our “pod,” and was first on my list when it came to letting our contacts know we might have been exposed. Pod, pivot, HyFlex, Zoom, remote, asynchronous, exposure, contact… could someone have at least taught us the vocabulary, a year ago?

I did not know what to panic about first. I think I may have PTSD from wiping down my groceries every day last spring, or from watching White House briefings, or from well, just HIDING from the world for a year. I don’t know what to feel anymore. This was the moment we had dreaded for a year.

Should I freak out about my partner and I lying in hospital beds next week, leaving five kids to figure out how to cook? Should I even think about my teenager, who has asthma, and that his lungs came near those microscopic floating spike balls of destruction at some point this week? I thought about all of it. I thought about it as I made the test appointments; I thought about it as I put on a mask so I could be around my kids. I thought about it as I hyper-analyzed every single sensation my body experienced, wondering if that was the beginning. The test results took three days to arrive, and I admit, I ugly-cried it out at least twice. The idea that a good friend and his family were in the unknowable zone of “one member positive… no symptoms… yet…” was plenty, all else aside.

How do we all handle it? How do we handle anything? I had to go on, “momming,” teaching, cleaning, cooking. The world doesn’t stop because we fall apart inside. Either I was going to melt in a puddle and stay there, saturated with the mere impossibility of life with COVID, or figure out a way to chop wood over Zoom.

Something in me just decided to well, flex. Flex the muscle of resiliency. Flex 48 years of living through life. Flex to a new way of teaching all over again. Who cares if I’m talking to myself when I teach high school, and mostly controlling the excitement of cat appearances in elementary…keeping filters and chat rooms appropriate with middle school. So what? The part of teaching that is a full-spirited show of passion for what is taught was going to go on, darn it. Through everything.

And, it felt really good to chop some wood.


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