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Being a Teacher, Mother, and Writer at This Time

Sunset through trees in the Arnold Arboretum in Boston
Can you relate to these thoughts?

What are you feeling inside about what’s outside right now?

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day and Mother’s Day, and I’ve arisen at 6am to see how far my fingers can fly before feet pound down the stairs. I want to write, but writing takes space and time.

There is time now — but there is not. There’s a fog, and there’s rest without rest. There’s more sleep than there’s been in sixteen years — alarms silenced and dreams descending early — but the waking is… not quite. Yet there’s more waking than ever.

What have you been noticing?

The soup that’s keeping me sane is going inside my body — hypnotizing the self with breath and muscle. I hadn’t breathed a moment to catch it before this… hadn’t pushed into full panting sweat. It’s insane adventure, these inner tubes now laid out which we now need to ride! Breathless breath, climbing to keep up in paths that are both empty and packed.

Showing my roots.
Showing my roots.

Our outsides are cut out.

What we’re left in is the pulse of the inner family. We confront and embrace, push and pull… race and collapse. We will remember these touchstone months always — more so because our whole globe has its hand on it. We’re seeing each other and ourselves — not always willingly.

The family is around us, offering welcome hilarity and distraction, then jarring hysteria. The family is inside us, clamoring with voices howling within — sometimes exploding without. Without what? The without is wanting.

What are you actually wanting?

Socks on hands and mittens on feet.
Socks on hands and mittens on feet.

Little footsteps are coming down as I type this now. Our girl bursts into my writing flow with mittens on her feet and socks on her hands: the perfect metaphor for what we’re living in.

The kisses and cuddles are heavenly — but the thread of my adult words yanks taut in my mind, threatening to snap. I had wanted to write, but I also want this love. I grasp my girl tightly and simultaneously grapple to keep the ideas in my brain to keep hope of them touching the page.

Taut… taught… I’m a teacher by profession, used to pulling the threads of purposeful learning tight to twist them into knowledge blankets — discarding those which don’t match. It requires picking exactly which width and hue of myself I wish to weave into the public tapestry, while eliciting proper threads from others in turn.

Reflecting on it all.
Reflecting on it all.

Now we’re all living inside the %&*@ yarn store, and threads are popping out left and right. My daughter crashed into an online meeting last week, leaping on my lap and yanking down my shirt to reveal not only that I have kids at home, but what color bra I wear. It was fine.

As teaching has moved inside a glowing box of squares, in some ways I feel closer to my students than ever before — tip-tap typing responses to each journal entry late at night in the hidden quiet hours.

Distance learning is not unlike flesh-and-blood teaching in the quest of trying to reach and reach through the murky bog of adolescence, splashing blindly into the water for a hand reaching back.

Sometimes we clasp a child’s hand and can pull — sometimes it pulls us… and sometimes there’s nothing — just the water’s empty laugh. Teaching has always been that: the dangerous, courageous, and miraculous question of who is helping whom in life’s marsh.

Looking out over what's happening.
Looking out over what’s happening.

Now our families are wallowing inside our deep home marshes, the banks blocking access to shore. We have to confront what the outside allowed avoided. It’s funny how the desire for avoidance is now doubled under lockdown — flailing our hands up towards the shores wildly.

What are ways you’ve stepped out of it all, internally? Externally?

What’s struck me are the moments — the MANY moments — of pausing to look into nothingness. I’ve never let them exist before. They seemed a distraction or waste of time, but golly it’s clear now how necessary they are now. Just staring. Breathing and spinning — allowing time to evaporate into droplets of expanding space… turning into the mist of daydreams. Mist can drift out of the marsh.

Shadow and light form bars that can't keep you captive.
Shadow and light form bars that can’t keep you captive.

What IS a waste of time in all of this?

What IS a distraction? What is the real aim? What is real learning? Mamas and teachers — and so many assorted humans during this — we inhale these questions. You know the answer already, though, don’t you?

Everything starts with the family inside. Oh my veins, oh my thumping heart, oh my muscle — ahh, those stretching fibers and firing neurons. Internal friends, we are beginning to feel you through the haze and see you’re the base of all action. Learning you and strengthening you is not a waste of time… though it does take time.

What can blossom inside you?
What can blossom inside you?

Pulling away, and pushing in and through

I have to go off to online teach now: weighing rushing between my classroom screen and setting up my biological children’s teacher-box screens against finishing this article to the level of completion that will provide the release I’ve needed in the full month since I’ve published a word.

In one luscious moment I paused to feel. I’m in a dream of sun-on-face writing bliss and don’t want to pop it. Speaking of popping, I also have an enraged pimple on my face — a gift from long, masked forest walks — that I know students will see.

It is what it is. The internal is processing and purging. The external is pushing in, both walling off and throwing away walls. The mittens are on the feet. We’re learning!

Balancing work and parenting
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Kirtika saha

Thursday 21st of May 2020

This is so inspiring. Really it was a wonderful poetry in trying times. Thanks for sharing us.

Lillie Marshall

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Thanks so much, Kirtika!

Dave M.

Thursday 14th of May 2020

Love this article so much! Appreciate your eloquence and candor :)

Lillie Marshall

Friday 15th of May 2020

Thanks so much, Dave! I really appreciate you reading, commenting, and sharing!

Roxanne Weijer

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Beautifully written! Especially right now life is a roller coaster but I admire how you handle things and how you wrote this. Hope you can write more soon.

Lillie Marshall

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Thanks so much, Roxanne! I do too! And I know I'll make it happen because writing is like breathing on my end -- I need it, so I'll find a way to do it.


Tuesday 12th of May 2020

You have a lot on your plate! Well written and inspiring. Hope you find more time to write.


Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Lovely and inspiring writing as always!

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 12th of May 2020

Thank you Melinda! You and me both. What a wild time!

Jo (A Rose Tinted World)

Friday 8th of May 2020

It has certainly been a steep learning curve for us non-teachers, and my other half is a teacher, so he has been working so hard to keep his students up to date with their learning. We got this!

Lillie Marshall

Saturday 9th of May 2020

Yes! It's interesting to see the differing tactics of teachers and people in other careers as we take on schooling at home.

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