Return to school dilemma

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4ALabor day falls on the 7th of September this year. In years past, this would signal the beginning of the school year a few days after and came with a lot of excitement about school supplies, new schedules, outfits, etc. This year, there isn’t as much excitement as there is anxiety — more so on my part.

My soon-to-be junior in high school had picked a school which was quite a trek from where we live. It meant going into the city via Express Bus like I do, then a one stop subway ride and a 6 minute walk from the subway to school. All in all, if there was no traffic, he could make it to school in under an hour. He would take the subway and the local bus on the way home because the Express bus took longer, and meant catching his ride based on a schedule. We had gotten used to this the last two years.

When New York sheltered in place, we switched to remote learning. I gave the school some slack given the sudden adjustment from in-classroom learning to virtual, which, I can imagine, was quite the challenge to the faculty. It wasn’t a huge student population, but it also meant there was limited faculty presence. We made do with the system, and I tried to monitor his progress through the remainder of the school year. Although he did very well during this time, I couldn’t help but feel he was missing out on much of what should’ve been learned had there be in person instruction instead. But what can we do given the pandemic?

Over the summer, the school administration kept in touch and came up with a novel proposal regarding the return to school come fall. The Department of Education had given several models to follow and choose from, depending on the size of the school population and the physical space available that would accommodate social distancing. Add to that the optimum distribution of faculty between in-person and remote learning. We had two options essentially: one was to be fully remote, and the other, to do blended learning. The latter meant that he would spend part of the time in school, doing in person learning and part of the time, remotely.

The principal of my son’s school took great pains to explain what they thought was the best solution, given the above factors. “Blended learning” would have to be a half day in school every two weeks. That meant that for 9.5 days of the 10 day two week cycle, the students would be remote. This would enable the faculty to focus equally on the 7 students who would actually be physically present in the classroom at any given time, and the rest of the student body doing remote learning. That seemed like quite a lopsided proposition at first, but after it was explained that 10 of the 30 or so faculty would actually qualify to teach remote due to pre-existing conditions, etc., it didn’t make sense to force any of the other proposed models. If we were to follow the DOE directive, it looked like our school would fall into the twice a week weekly, with a third day in school every other week model. It was confusing for most parents — and there was an uproar and some really bewildered people on the ” virtual townhall” I participated in. There was just no way to make it simple enough for everyone to understand. But I found the school’s proposal acceptable.

It’s bad enough that I have to worry about his commute. Everyone knows that classrooms are breeding grounds for infectious diseases among the younger generation. – pandemic or not. Masks all day? I wouldn’t trust my boy to do that unless I was watching. Sanitizers? Okay, maybe that one, I can trust him to do. Even at home, he has always taken to washing his hands often.

So we signed a petition to the Department of Education, endorsing the proposal of the school. And then we were turned down.

Last week, the principal announced that we would do the 2 days one week and 3 days the next week model. It was also revealed that 55% of the students had opted for remote learning. The boy chimed in that most of his classmates who opted to return to school either lived close by or were coming in because of the free meals.

I didn’t need much convincing to switch sides and opt for fully remote learning. I called the boy’s father and had a discussion and we agreed.

As a parent, I have tried my best to protect him during this time of social distancing and COVID worries. I was rooting for the school’s proposal because I wouldn’t have had any problems spending for Uber both ways for that once-biweekly class. But to have him commuting in what is a usually tighter than tight route even just by one stop was a cause of anxiety.

He and I have been lucky to have been untouched (so far) by COVID. There was a false alarm earlier in the summer when his father got sick but tested negative, and then tested positive for antibodies. Thankfully, the boy tested negative.

I have been trying to limit his social interaction with his friends, while acknowledging that I cannot totally keep him locked up at home. He has a small group of friends he sees once a week, with a strict rule of staying outdoors and not going into anybody’s house. We are lucky to be surrounded by lots of open space courts and playgrounds, along with an abundance of parks and greenery. Most homes like ours have courtyards or backyards to practice social distancing in. But school would’ve been totally different matter.

I cannot say I was torn between prioritizing his education over his safety. This was a no-brainer for me. His safety was of primary concern. During this time when it seems like so much has changed and uncertainty continues to permeate our everyday lives, there is very little that we have retained control over. And this one, I could steer one way or the other.

It’s one of the big sacrifices that the pandemic has imposed upon us as parents — while I would want school to go back to normal, I know that even having him there physically doesn’t mean he will receive normal instruction. Teachers would also be wearing masks . Interaction would be limited. Half their time would be consumed by work geared towards the students who aren’t physically with them. It is a test of wills on both ends.

Just today, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that school opening will be delayed 10 days to September 21. Apparently, the teachers and principals are up in arms, threatening a strike as they are apprehensive about their safety and the ability of the government to help protect them in the current scenario. Many of our educators also feel that they aren’t prepared to head into the blended learning scenarios and fully remote learning option that many children and their families have taken. I can relate. Unlike the children they will teach, the opening of school will mean they will have to be in every day. The cadence of school attendance was offered to the students — but not to the teachers.

Many working parents have been thrown in a bind due to this postponement of the school opening, particularly those who were relying on a semblance of normalcy with the kids off to school. Some companies have actually slowly started going back to work, although many companies have declared they would return next year. Still, parents who don’t have the option to work from home or stay at home are now caught between a rock and a hard place.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work from home all this time. I will not complain about the difficulty of doing what I had been used to doing in the office in my dining room. I am fully connected. Most importantly, I am continuing to work full time. We will eventually return to work, and while that is a source of mild anxiety, it is something I can prepare myself for both mentally and physically.

We all have to make adjustments. While I believe I am getting the short end of the stick with the option of keeping my boy home to learn remotely or sending him out into a Covid-ridden world on his own to go back to school, I will take the lesser of two evils. I have my own anxiety about the fall and all the things that go with it in this new normal. I had always lived by the tenet that although there is much that we cannot control, we must be firm about those that we have a handle on.

I am hopeful that there will come a time — hopefully soon — when our kids will be able to go back to school and actually learn in a classroom setting. I just know that we aren’t quite there yet, so for now, I choose to keep him at home. We will just have to make the most of it.

Fourth of July in the time of Corona

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe Fourth of July holiday is one of the most celebrated holidays across religions and states and ethnic and moral persuasions in the US. We literally stop everyday life preparing for and celebrating freedom. It is an excuse to party and go on vacation and just have a good time. Not this year.

With most of the country seeing a surge in cases and deaths, there is not much to celebrate. Here in New York, I’d like to think we’ve been through the worst of it, but I say that with a bit of trepidation knowing the heavy hand of a resurgence can hit us anytime.

After months of working from home, I’ve learned to ease up and start working towards “normalizing”. But what exactly is that during this time when we are living life in such a different atmosphere?

For the first time in many years, the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks display was cancelled. Many New Yorkers, and many Americans in general, contented themselves with local fireworks displays from home or the neighborhood. Nothing quite like the fireworks show of New Year’s Eve back in the Philippines, but loud and celebratory in a different kind of way. It was like America was saying we will celebrate freedom, corona virus or no corona virus — but know we cannot celebrate like we used to.

The subject of Freedom itself is being stretched in all directions in recent months. It’s like a renewed consciousness among a very diverse people who are reacquainting themselves with the notions of race and authority — in very varied ways. I will not get into that here. It is still a very raw subject matter, and I don’t feel I am in a place where I can discuss this for now. In time.

We in New York still feel the threat of the virus very strongly. And I am grateful for that, because I know we’re moving towards getting back to a semblance of normalcy, but with an abundance of caution. I am grateful to be given the option to work from home. I am also grateful that wearing masks is now mandated by stores and other establishments. It has sunk into our consciousness as part of the social norm. If you don’t wear a mask, you risk the ire of other New Yorkers who do, and you will be denied entry into all establishments that require it. That makes it more acceptable to go out and live everyday with less fear, but not without it.

I think fear is a good thing. It makes us take that extra step to ensure that we do not unduly expose ourselves to the risk of infection. The virus is very real and still ravaging parts of the country and the world as a whole. It has penetrated our every day lives in such a pervasive way, that we are rethinking how we go about business and life, in general, with sweeping strokes.

On Friday, my sixteen year old son asked permission to join a group of friends for a Fourth of July gathering where they had fireworks. It was in the neighborhood, and he asked for a just a few hours. My first impulse was to say no. But we have had to be cooped up the last couple of weeks, and I know he wants to see his friends. I have allowed him to go biking or play hoops with a small group of 3 friends from way back. I have instructed him not to go into anyone’s house, and to be sure he wears his mask. All of this is on an honor system, and I’ve reinforced the fact that he has to abide by the rules.

My ex husband has even driven him to a park to meet with three classmates from high school, giving them a few hours to hang out and then driving him back home.

As summer has arrived, my ex and I have agreed to limit these social interactions to one a week. So back to the party.

I immediately communicated my reservations to the ex, but also told him I don’t really want to have my son feeling like he was being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy the summer. With reservations, I told his Dad that maybe we should consider it. My son had name-dropped one of his childhood friends who was going, and I thought I would speak with the mom, whom I knew, just to set parameters. But I didn’t know the host.

I woke up the next morning with a very heavy heart and a resolve to not allow the boy to go. How can you maintain social distancing in a Fourth of July party? It was in a home, not in the park. Parties and such gatherings have been known to become breeding grounds for super spreading, which has led to many infections in other places. I just wasn’t ready to take the chance.

Fortunately for me, the ex felt the same way. For all our differences, parenting is one of the things we still usually agreed upon. We decided not to let him go.

Breaking the news to the boy wasn’t as easy, as he immediately responded with an emotional “Why?”. I tried to explain my reservations, and told him his father and I had agreed with no argument. We felt strongly about it and it wasn’t a risk we were willing to take. These are unusual times. On anormal Fourth of July, we would not think twice about letting him go, but we are far from normal.

He made no pains to hide the fact that he was deeply disappointed. But that was that.

I don’t want to be part of the problem — many people have gathered and broken social distancing rules. It makes me feel frustrated about the fact that relaxing the social distancing norms seem to be so widespread among those who feel they can, because they are being careful. In my mind, no matter how careful you may think you are being, the fact that you are increasing your exposure to infection is diluting your caution.

I still feel uneasy when I encounter people who aren’t wearing a mask, as I walk past them wearing mine. I have resorted to finding alternative walking routes with less traffic, giving up the path in the park during popular times when many joggers and other visitors forego the required mask. I know it’s an open air environment, but that does not mean the absence of the possibility of infection.

The local grocery requires masks and gloves now, and I felt bad that I went in earlier after my walk without the gloves. (Reminder to self: shove a pair in my pockets tomorrow.). I do walk with a small bottle of sanitizer which I either tuck in my leggings pocket or hold with my phone during my usual walk about. Signs are plastered to maintain distancing. Even the neighborhood bagel shops had social distancing in the lines that formed outside. This is the new normal.

So even as we celebrated a different way, we celebrated. We celebrated freedom, even with the constraints of our new normal. Happy Fourth, America!

Home is this great city, New York

#Foggy #ChryslerBuilding this #muggyday in #NewYorkCity . Still #elegant no matter what the weather.  #nofulter #myny #mynyc #midtown #manhattan #lookingtowardstheeastside #eastside #ilovenewyork

That I live in one of the greatest cities in modern times is not lost upon me.  Every day that I head to Manhattan to start a work day, I know I’m walking amongst people who wished they lived here and breathed the air I breathe 24/7, instead of being mere tourists or visitors to the city that never sleeps.  I get it.  It IS New York.  I’ve lived here the last 15 years and it never gets tired.

#OnMyWayHome: Went a different route after spending the day with a bunch of 11-year-olds in #Manhattan today and caught this glimpse of a different side of the #manhattanSkyline. #mynewyork #sunset #NewYork ##NewYorkCity #NYC

I have been at my happiest and my lowest of lows.  And yes, I have thought of leaving this city for good many times.  It’s not that I had gotten tired of it all — there are just times when there are bad memories that make leaving such an attractive proposition.  And yet I am always drawn back — mostly because a young man I brought into this world considers this his home.  And his home is my home.  Such is the consequence of parenthood — you don’t just make decisions thinking only of what you want or of yourself.  For the last 11 years, my world has been beyond what I felt and what I thought — it involved that other tiny person for whom I made day-to-day decisions.

I used to think it would be the same for every parent.  I have realized it is not.  There are just those of us who are constituted differently.  Instead of “we”, there is only “me”.

I am brought back to my Mom’s words of wisdom.  She used to tell me I should not look for my virtues in others — we were not created equal.  If we were, I wouldn’t be better than others.  In the same token, there are many created better than myself.  Amen.

#FifthAvenue with the #EmpireStateBuilding peeking from a distance down at everyone as they started making their way home.. I was zooming by in a #schoolbus after doing #momDuty with #myLittleGuy in #manhattan. Tired but feeling all warm and fuzzy insid

I’m good with that.  I try.  I’m not the perfect parent.  I have my weaknesses and shortcomings.  But I would fight tooth and nail for this little guy who means the world to me.

He’s finishing fifth grade this school term and moving on to the bigger boy world of middle school next year.  Give it a year more and he will probably be as tall if not taller than me.  His expressions have changed and his face and gait is evolving to a soon-to-be tween.  I recently chaperoned him and his friends on a senior trip, and I marvelled at how different he is with his friends.  He seemed even more grown up and more vivacious.  In the company of these other young men, he was his own person.  I found myself feeling wistful as the reality that my little guy is growing up stared me in the face.

I should be so lucky to have this young man a part of my life.  I have been truly  blessed.  And this IS home to him.  So home to me, it IS.

The #EmpireStateBuilding #today.  #myny #mynyc #mynewyork #NYC #NewYorkCity #NewYork #manhattan #midtown #lookingtowardsdowntown

The last year has seen me planting my feet firmly where I am right now.  Not that I have stopped thinking of what life would be in other places — but I have made myself at home with the plan to stay right where I am.

And I think I’m good with that.  Perhaps it’s part of sifting through the lessons of life that I have come across.  What am I complaining about?  Others would give an arm and a leg to be where I am.  Everything is falling into place, even if they are falling in places other than where I would have wanted to if I had a say.  But come to think of it, it’s not at all that bad.  In fact, if I allow myself to step back and see the bigger picture, it’s actually just fabulous as it is.

Daily Prompt: Goals


When you started your blog, did you set any goals?  Have you achieved them? Have they changed at all?

I started this blog in August 2004 although I already had an online journal in my private domain, sans the blog interface.  I did the page layouts via longhand html and tried to write on focused topics revolving around my life and interests here in New York.

As I’ve repeated time and time again, I blog for the selfish reason of wanting to keep an online diary of my life.  This blog is and has always been for my own benefit.  I am happy to see others find something amusing, educational, or helpful in what I share in my little corner of the blogsphere here, but I speak in my own voice, and I speak about my own thoughts and feelings.

In August 2004, my son was months old and part of my fascination with motherhood was my desire (bordering on obsession) to document everything about him and me.  In many ways, his coming into my life inspired me to be more diligent about writing, because there was suddenly so much to write about.

I write very spontaneously and let the words come freely.  I censor myself only to maintain a semblance of privacy, but as those w ho have read me regularly say, there’s a brutal honesty in the posts.  From time to time I find myself going back to something I had written about and I feel as though I’m pulling a book out of a shelf and reliving the feeing as I read the words I had once read.

I had tried to write to bring in more readers  or to write for remuneration, but in the end I gave it up to return to the spontaneity that I am used to.  I am part of affiliate networks, but I hardly, if ever, utilize the membership to try and bring in some revenue.  Good if I do, okay if I don’t.  I have long ago realized that to continue doing what I’m doing — writing for and about me — going commercial was  not an option.

After almost a decade, I’ve stopped writing “other” blogs, focusing only on this site and my craft blog, Gotham Chick, which is actually slipping into limbo for inactivity.  (I keep promising to revive it and post more regularly there.)  The only reason I’m keeping that separate is I want to have a blog dedicated to my crafts and provide a springboard for advertising for my Etsy store with the same name.

Almost ten years now to the day that I started blogging, I am proud to say I’ve stayed true to form, growing as a blogger but always keeping my personal goal of being able to document my life and to write about the things that matter to me.  My blog continues to be the embodiment of who I am — here, you become a part of my life.  You see where I’ve been, what I do, and what silly or profound thoughts are running through my head.  You see the things I see in the photographs I post.  If you are a regular reader, then in many ways, you know me very well by now.

I just wanted to write.  And here I am still doing that.  The recent move to wordpress has helped me to want to be better at writing and blogging in general — but my goal remains the same: to write for and about myself.  I have enjoyed the freedom of being able to express myself — and I can say that I have achieved the goal, and nothing has changed.  I am proud to say that my blog has kept its focus through the years, and I don’t see myself veering away from that towards another .  When that happens, I will probably close the doors of my tiny place and bid the blogsphere farewell to start a new journey under a new banner.