Sunday, February 7, 2021

OPEN TABS



It seems I really cannot identify days anymore. Sometime this week I was sitting at my desk at school looking at my screen when I asked myself what exactly I was doing. The question was nothing overly existential at that time; I just simply forgot what I was doing as my eyes slid left to right and back again over an unknown number of tabs that had gathered as a collection of gremlins to taunt me that morning.

I pulled my already slipping glasses away from my face, shifting my black covid gear in the process. I squinted at the blurry figures sitting behind the plexiglass at the front of my desk. I knew who they were as much as a teacher could in this situation. We were in class. They were my students. We were in second period or maybe first. I don't know. Honestly, this could have been my fourth period. I am embarrassed to say that I just do not remember.

I returned my glasses to my face and adjusted the ear bands of my mask under the frames. My group of similarly masked students looked around at one another talking among themselves in a muffled, undecipherable chit-chat while they awaited me to remember what exactly I was doing. "The tabs. The tabs will tell me," I mumbled to myself. 

"Mr. Bucon, are you ok?" one of them asked.

That was a loaded question that propelled me on one of my unannounced free-flowing, rambling self-talks meant to sort through a scattering of thoughts. "Do any of you feel as if you have so many tabs open on your computers that everything just starts blurring together?" Many of them nodded enthusiastically as I turned from them back to my screen. "You know, we had spent so much time remote-learning. I was constantly organizing these stupid tabs so that I could move from one topic to the next in those Google Meets that now I worry that all I see are open tabs everywhere. I think it is making me sick."

I looked up at them again, needing a bit of understanding and compassion.

My eyes started to well-up a little. We have all been there over the past year as the way we have typically navigated our harried days has morphed into some bizarre control-fest which has led to frustration, disappointment, and tears. I used my hand to point out the open tabs on my screen. 

"I have Renweb open on the left to do attendance then I slide to the right to go over the agenda for the day. I have Classcraft ready for the random event and Google Classroom open for our assignment today. Look at all of these other documents. I am grading work, I am creating documents for next week, I am constantly checking my email. I think I could do all of this and not even look at you. This is not normal."

I sat there, frozen in a moment of helplessness of my own making. My life had become this dystopian reflecting mirror of computer tabs traveling endlessly into the ether. 

"I love teaching. I know other people are going through similar feelings at their jobs," I continued. "Life could be a heck of a lot worse out there. I am just waiting for a time when I do not need to sit here looking at a bunch of open tabs. I just want to close them all right now." 

I sighed. Most of them nodded. 

I am positive that my students and I all have different perspectives on what I mean by closing all of these tabs right now. I actually spent the latter part of this week considering what carried me to this moment. 

The most obvious has been what it means to be teaching during a pandemic. I struggled last spring being thrust into a situation none of us were truly prepared to undertake. This year began with the hope that if everyone wore masks, we sat six feet apart, we cleaned the desks after each class, and we did a "deep-clean" at the end of the day that we could have a full school year with some minor tweaks and interruptions. However, a recent long stretch of remote-learning has blended with current in-person instruction, and we have become attached to technology, locked into gliding through tabs and joining Google Meets. 

I have tried hard to keep remote-learning as personal as possible. I did not want to fall into the trap of handouts and videos and slides and impersonal instructional programs. I did not become a teacher to teach remotely. Being there for my students when they need my assistance is one part of the job I continue to embrace. The past year is the epitome of one of those times. 

The figurative tabs, though. Maybe those are my deeper concern. The figurative tabs are those ones that are not attached to technology. They are the ones we constantly keep open in our minds: families, jobs, doctor's appointments, shopping lists, car servicing, housekeeping, birthdays, holidays. What do I need to do today? Which "tab" is at the forefront?

Everything we have done in the past with varying degrees of challenges has had a dark haze of red, orange, and gold pandemic colors hovering over us for a year. What do we want to do? What do we need to do? What can we do? What should we do? What shouldn't we do? How can we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? How much longer can this last? These questions have become additional tabs in my mind.

I do not foresee the days becoming any more recognizable to me. Unfortunately, I will still have numerous open tabs in mind as well as on my computer in my classroom. The challenge will ultimately remain as it always has been. 

The past year has been a learning experience in so many ways. I have had to make adjustments in how I look at life and how I address the twists and detours a pandemic can place in my path. I have relearned lessons that I discovered long ago. I am reminded to move to the forefront those things which are most important, those which require our immediate attention, those in our hearts. I am reminded to be OK with not finishing every item on a list because tomorrow will come as a new opportunity. I am reminded to be patient with myself and others as we all struggle to do our best in challenging times.



Sunday, December 6, 2020

WAKING THE DEAD

 


BANG! BANG!

The harsh sound reverberates through my chilly bedroom Saturday morning, pulling me out of a dream I desperately want to finish. I was rescuing dogs, finding more room for them at my home as a yellow lab and raggedy old poodle ran around the yard playing with Charlie-Bear. He likes them both. Such a glorious dream. Simple. Peaceful.

BANG!

I sit up to see that Charlie-Bear is lying at the end of my bed, his ears popping up to the loud sound as well. Neither of us is moving, but we manage to glance at each other. I look at the clock to see that it is nearly 8:30 am. How did I sleep this long? I recall waking at five, lumbering to the bathroom, then going back to bed for a few more minutes of rest where I must have fallen back asleep.

I look out my bedroom window only to see a gray, overcast day that is not calling my name. The past week has been so long. My back and shoulders ache from spending too much time on the computer day after day. Life is a trudge right now. I collapse back on my pillows. Maybe I can fall back asleep one more time.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

"What the f*ck?" I curse as I throw off my winter duvet. I have to get up but cannot move. I hope the cold air on my body will shock my system into movement. My mind drifts to what exactly is happening at the other end of the house. What is that damned banging? Is it someone pounding at the door because there is an emergency? Are there firemen trying to enter the house? Are deformed creatures that live in the woods behind the house attacking us? Is Mom actually sleeping through all of this? Maybe I am dreaming. These thoughts keep racing through my mind as I look at Charlie-Bear. I relax and slide down my bed to play with him while forgetting about... 

BANG!

Enough of this ridiculously twisted adaptation of some Edgar Allan Poe tale that has become my Saturday morning. I am out of bed now. I toss on yesterday's West Lib t-shirt and the khakis I have worn every day this week. I forgo my slippers after putting on my glasses and begin my determined walk toward the origins of the sound. 

BANG! BANG!

It is so much louder now. I turn the corner to see Mom standing in the kitchen. The oven is beeping its readiness, a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper resting atop is on the counter, and Mom has her back to me, lifting an unopened tube of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls and smashing it on the edge of the counter. 

BANG!

I do not want to scare her. After all, it is Saturday morning, and she probably thinks I am still in bed sleeping. I reach out and touch her shoulder. "Mom? What in the world are you doing?"

She turns to me, holding that tube of cinnamon rolls in one hand and a butter knife in the other. There is a tiny portion of cinnamon-flecked dough emerging from a small crack she has made from her futile efforts repeatedly smashing the tube against the counter edge. Mom exchanges the butter knife with a metal magnifying glass and attempts to read the microscopic directions on the tube. We have all been there, haven't we? A life and death struggle with an impenetrable tube of cinnamon rolls on an early Saturday morning. This is the stuff 0f nightmares. 

"Mom, let me give it a try. These things are impossible to open."

She graciously hands it over, conceding defeat to a cardboard tube filled with bread dough, sugar, cinnamon, and a tiny container of frosting. As the barely visible directions state, I pull back all of the paper that wraps the tube. Mom watches intently as she offers the butter knife which I flip around precariously to the handle jutting away from me. I pin the monster torturing us onto the counter. I swear that I hear it growl angrily and even squirm as I push the hard end of the butter knife into a thread-thin crevice in the cardboard.

POP!

Once I have cracked open its hard shell, Mom and I can both see the cinnamon rolls neatly lined atop one another. Mom laughs and shakes her head in disbelief. "Thank you, honey." She takes the delicate dough, carefully removes it from the remaining cardboard tubing, then spaces all of the pieces around the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. 

I head back to my room where I find Charlie-Bear fully lounging on my bed as if it were his. I push him over a little bit to crawl back into bed. I know I shouldn't do this. I have already been up, awakened from the dead by a dear, sweet mother who only wanted to surprise me with cinnamon rolls. I just want a little more sleep.

I think she knows it has been a challenging week. These are difficult times for so many people. When the world asks so much, and we search for a sense of normal, we may find it difficult to enjoy the small things which bring us joy. As we carefully remove the outer shells we use to protect our simple treasures, we can share what is inside with those we love.

Once the excitement left my body, I think I fell asleep again. I knew it would take a good thirty minutes for Mom to finish the cinnamon rolls and whip up some scrambled eggs and ham. 



Thank you to everyone for your support for my new book Sunday Mornings with Coffee. It is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited. I am hoping to have some author's copies before Christmas in case someone would like to have a signed one for that special person in your life.