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Weeks 11 and 12

6 Jun

I usually write a wrap-up of the week on the weekend, but we were away last weekend and things were so hectic when we got back that I didn’t write. So this is a two week post!

The last week of May (week 11 of the stay-at-home order) was really nice, actually. Monday was Memorial Day and we went to the coast and took a long walk along the beach and had a picnic lunch. The work week wasn’t too stressful for me or Mike, and Michaela was doing her thing with distance learning. Friday, I took the day off and it was pure bliss. Michaela ended up sleeping in so I had some quiet time to myself in the morning. I did some work, but not too much. We grabbed bagels for breakfast and I got a tea at a local, independent coffee shop. Then we piled into the car and drove to the mountains.

Mike had a two-day shoot in LA, so he ended up meeting us at the cabin we rented. Thank goodness he has camping experience! The place was exactly what I was expecting– pretty rustic–but we slept in beds, had hot running water and a toilet, etc. We cooked meals on the little two-burner stove or on a fire we built. We made s’mores. We hiked. We wandered through the woods. There were very few people at the lodge, but there was a couple who had two girls about Michaela’s age, and they got to play together a little bit, including taking turns swinging (the playgrounds are still closed here; it was the first time Michaela had ben on a piece of playground equipment in months).

When the trip was over we came back and jumped full force into work and life (week 12). Protests over the death of George Floyd (and Ahmed Arbury and Breonna Taylor, and so many other black people killed by the police) were going strong while we were gone, but I had limited cell phone service and was trying to disconnect, so I wasn’t following too closely. In one city in our region, there was some looting, fires, and vandalism. I ended up checking in with my team to do some work around that, but it didn’t go particularly smoothly (and that ended up taking up quite a bit of time on Monday and Tuesday.

I pride myself on being proactive, of seeing a need and filling it before anyone asks. When it came to communicating anything more than matter-of-fact “here are some resources to help you talk about what’s going on,” I really struggled because the fact is, it is exhausting to live as a black person in America.

It’s hard to walk into a store knowing I may not get service because of the color of my skin, it’s tiring to remember to get a receipt because I don’t want to get stopped for shoplifting. It’s painful to think about my brother getting pulled over for a traffic stop and having guns pulled on him (which actually happened, in front of our house, when we were in high school). In my particular corner of the world, it’s hard to be many of my friends’ only black friend. It’s hard to ignore the Trump-supporting crap my in-laws post. It’s hard to surf social media (which I have to do for my job) and see the awful racist stuff people post, the whataboutism, the well-meaning but tone-deaf stuff from “allies.”

So part of what was especially difficult about everything was needing to come up with some words to make it clear that the current state of things in unacceptable and that we have to do better…when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry.

I want white people to stand up for people of color. I want white people to take on this work and to say to their fellow white people, “knock this shit off.” It’s not about being colorblind (I want you to see my color! It’s impacted my life. And yours, too, whether you know it or not). It’s not about a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote about nonviolence (first, his protests were consistently met with violence, and secondly, he was murdered– an act of violence). It’s about examining the biases that are built into our systems and changing the systems to eliminate that bias. Period. That’s it. So yes, change your social media profile picture to a black square, but also DO THE WORK.

So yeah. That was a lot in the early part of the week. And still, too, but I’m trying to be better about recognizing my triggers and stepping away.

In other news, we got new carpet in our upstairs and new furniture, and I finally — as of last night — unpacked the last of our boxes from when we moved nearly two years ago. Hooray!

The coming week is Michaela’s last couple of days of school and she’s very sad. She was in our room this morning crying that this isn’t how she wanted her year to end. I feel really sad for her, and we’re going to come up with something to make it special. Because she deserves that!

Mike has been in the thick of things with virtual graduations. Since gatherings aren’t allowed, schools have been trying to figure out how to do promotion and graduation ceremonies. Mike has done virtual graduation videos (some pieces where they’ve had people do speeches and then edited it together into a full ceremony, some more like slide shows) for a number of schools across the southland. Some clients are more challenging than others, and he had one that has ben particularly difficult. Lots of stress. Thankfully that project is behind him and he can turn his attention back to other projects.

So now it’s the weekend and we can take a break. All of us slept until about 9:30 today, which was glorious. Mike and Michaela are making breakfast and I’m going to turn my attention to our taxes, which desperately need to be organized in order to go to the accountant.

Just another weekend in stay-at-home times!

Week 10

24 May

Last week was the 10th week of no-school. The 10th week of mostly staying home.

It was starting to feel normal, to me at least. But the state and local governments have started lifting some restrictions, so it feels like now we’re trying to recalibrate.

One of our favorite neighborhood restaurants — a small, independent, locally-owned place — opened for dine-in. I want to support the business, but I don’t want to go sit inside and wear a mask when I could order food and eat it at home (as I said to a friend, without having to wear real clothes or a bra). So while Mike would like to go eat there, I’m decidedly “meh” about it. It just doesn’t sound enjoyable. But I feel like that’s sort of where we are with a lot of things now.

The limit on gatherings hasn’t been lifted, but it seems like more and more people are having get togethers. And once again, I feel this weighing of options going on. I don’t want to violate the public health order but I want my kid to have some kid companionship, especially considering she’s an only child. I have high blood pressure and Mike only has one kidney, so we’re in the vulnerable populations, but Mike is willing to risk it. It just feels very heavy sometimes.

The same is true on the work front. Every bit of reopening of non-school stuff puts pressure on schools. And we’re working hard to plan for reopening, but it’s also hard to plan for September when we don’t know what the public health rules will be like. And don’t get me started on the ridiculously unhelpful guidance from the federal government, or on the proposed 10% cut to school district budgets at the same time we need to basically re-create the entire education system. Schools want to do the right thing for kids, employees, and families, but it’s really tough. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

That being said, things are generally good at Casa Watson. Mike had shoots every day last week, including four days shooting content for virtual promotions and graduations. Michaela is chugging along with distance learning (although when Mike is gone all day and she’s home with just me and my zillions of Zoom meetings, it’s definitely less academic than days when Mike is home). We’ve been working on home projects, including buying carpet and furniture.

Let me tell you– furniture shopping during a pandemic is quite the experience. You have to make an appointment. You have to have your temperature checked before entering the store. You have to wear a mask. Int he case of one store we went to, we were limited to a party of two (so Michaela had to stay home) and had to be escorted around the store. In spite of all that, we managed to buy a new buffet that we put in our entryway; a bar we’ll use in the master bedroom as a tea and coffee station; a new bed, dresser, and table for our room; and a media console for the family room. We’ve lived her for nearly two years, so it’s nice to make good progress in furnishing the place. We still need some other stuff to be done, but we’re much closer than we were!

The other exciting thing for the week was I booked a cabin for next weekend on Mt. Laguna. I am taking Friday off and Michaela and I will drive up in the morning. Mike is in LA that day, but will head to the cabin when his shoot is done, and we’ll have a work-free weekend. I can’t wait!

Week 9

17 May

Just wrapping up week 9 of staying at home.

Mike’s starting to get really tired of quarantine. We’re trying to decide if we’re going to take our Route 66 road trip this summer in the Airstream. Strangely, though, he’s a no and I’m a yes. My thinking is, we’ll be staying in our Airstream and it’s a lot of roadside attractions, not crowded places like amusement parks or airports, and since the route takes us exclusively through red states, things will be open. I think we’ve decided to push the decision off for a few more week.

That being said, I am definitely ready for a change of pace. This week was crazy stressful (again) and I found myself working 12 and 13 hours days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. So on Thursday when I looked at my calendar and say I didn’t have meetings from 3 p.m. on, I texted my boss that I was going to take a break, and step away from email. I sat on the couch and read a magazine for an hour and then looked at my phone, saw I missed a call from a reporter on deadline, and ended up having to get up, put on nice clothes and makeup, do a TV interview, and then do a bit more work. So my afternoon “vacation” ended up being a dud.

Michaela accompanied Mike on his shoot in San Bernardino on Friday. He goes up each Friday morning to shoot a COVID-related press conference they hold. This week, he also shot some videos on reopening and needed a cute brown girl to demonstrate eating at a restaurant in the new normal, and going to a retail candy store. So off they went. (I asked them, “what was it like to sit down in a restaurant?!?” It’s a thing I miss about the whole situation, although not as much as I would have expected, to be honest).

When they got home, Michaela was wiped out. It’s hard to be polite and “on” for such a long time. And when your role in the videos is to sit across from one of the county supervisors and make polite small talk over sit-down Mexican food… Well, it would tire me out, too! The fact that their second shoot was at a candy store where the little old lady proprietor plied Michaela with tons of candy probably didn’t help, either. Sugar crash!

After Michaela was asleep, when Mike and I were chatting about the day, he told me she told him, “After two months of not being around a lot of people, I’m kind of peopled out!” And I can’t help but wonder if that will be all of us eventually.

Week 8

11 May

I’m a little late with the update this week because of some changes on the back end of the site. On the bright side, week eight wasn’t full of groundbreaking excitement, so it’s not like you’ve missed much.

We continued to make progress on our home renovations. In fact, on Sunday (Mother’s Day), Mike and I ventured to a furniture store. It was so weird! It’s by appointment only, and max of two people in your party. They take your temperature from behind this massive plastic bubble before you go in. You have to be escorted around the store. And of course you have to wear a mask. What strange times we’re living in!

We bought a little bar that will be a coffee bar in our master bedroom, a buffet-type console that we’re going to put in the entryway, and a bookcase that was too good a deal to pass up but we don’t have a specific spot for. That will go either in our family room or in one of the offices.

We also decided on carpet for our master bedroom and will put our order in tomorrow, hopefully. Then we can order a new bedroom set. California King here we come! And best of all, once we have carpet and furniture, we will be able to unpack the boxes in our bedroom– about a year and a half after we moved in. Woo hoo!

(I probably should have saved that for next week’s update, so there’d be something fun to report for week nine. Ha ha.)

Mother’s Day was delightful. I was the first one up and sat by the fire reading and drinking tea, which is my favorite thing to do in the morning. When Mike and Michaela got up, they made me a delicious gourmet breakfast. I laid around and entertained myself by scrolling through social media while Mike and Michaela cleaned up the kitchen. I opened presents — a beautiful dress, a gorgeous notebook from Michaela, and new wireless headphones — and then Michaela called her various grandmothers (she has three!) before we took a short walk. We left her at home while we did our furniture shopping, then grabbed take out for dinner. Played cards and has tres leches cake (my favorite) to end the night. It was lovely!

I’ll end with a funny story that would otherwise be lost to history.

One day last week, Mike had a shoot so he was gone. No problem, because I work at home now! I can be there if Michaela has issues with her distance learning! This is great!

(I hope the exclamation marks convey my wry tone.)

Michaela came to ask me if I’d look at the pencil sharpener. “It seems like something is stuck in it,” she said.

The sharpener is in the garage, so I trek out (in my work uniform of panties and a t-shirt) to try it. Yup, something’s wrong. It’s one of the old school, wall-mounted sharpeners, like we had at school when we were kids. I get a kabob skewer and poke around inside. It seems like something’s in the spot where you put the pencil. Weird. I get a Phillips screwdriver and disassemble the sharpener. Look inside. Something’s definitely stuck in there. Bang on the sharpener but nothing comes loose.

Me: It looks like a pencil eraser in there.
Michaela: Really?
Me: Yeah. Do you know how a pencil eraser would have gotten in there?

Michaela dissolves into tears.

“I put it in there. I was curious to see what would happen.”

I suppress all the bad words that want to come out and ask her to bring me a flat head screwdriver. I stab at the eraser inside until I break off enough of a chunk that it’s not wedged in there anymore. Bang the piece until the eraser comes out. Start to reassemble the sharpener. Cut my fingers (the blades are freaking sharp!). Cue more tears from Michaela. Put it back together. Test pencil. It sharpens fine, my work here is done.

These are the things I’d be missing if the world wasn’t turned upside down. In that alternate universe, her teacher would be dealing with erasers in the pencil sharpener, I’d be wearing pants, and I’d have no blog fodder.

Week 7

3 May

Apparently week seven is when people start to lose it a little bit? I felt like Mike and I were grumpier with each other at the end of this week than we had been before that. Here’s hoping it’s just a bump in the road.

Speaking of bumps, Michaela was stung by a bee last Sunday… ON HER FACE. Right near her eye. The result was no mere bump.

She had been down the street looking at a hive some neighbor kids told her about; she said she was pretty far away from it (which I believe, because that’s the kind of kid she is) but one got her anyway. She quickly walked her bike home, crying all the way, and came in the house with a giant wail. Mike removed the stinger, I washed and put cream on it. And then it swelled. More and more and more. Her face swelled up so much her eye was swollen shut, and it turned a purple color.

We gave her Benadryl, which didn’t seem to help, and put an ice pack on it. Granted, our Benadryl was really, really old. Like, expired in 2010 old. So we ventured to Rite Aid (my thinking was, they also have Thrifty ice cream, so it was a win-win.) There we were, the three of us wearing our masks — one of us looking like we’d beaten her, with her swollen, bruised eye — at a time child abuse is going up and reports are going down. But it was just a bee sting, I promise!

Anyway, Michaela’s eye was really bad for 48 hours and then subsided somewhat, getting less swollen each day. Now it’s a week later and there’s still bruising around her eye, but it’s not swollen and doesn’t itch anymore. And we’re all being a lot more careful when we see bees!

I spent yesterday working on some home projects. As I told Mike, I’m not going to come out of staying at home with any new skills like making sourdough, but I can have a more put together house, darn it. We’ve spent the last couple of weekend days installing hardwood floors in our upstairs hallway; yesterday I hung a gallery wall of family photos at the end of the hall, and today I hung up some other paintings. I also did boring but necessary chores like laundry (four loads, ugh), mopping floors, and watering the garden.

The other highlight of the week, for me at least, was that our county loosened the stay-at-home rules and re-opened parks for walking and picnicking (as long as you physically distance yourself). We loaded Michaela’s bike into Mike’s truck and went to Lake Murray, my favorite place to take a long walk. The parking lots of closed to prevent people from congregating too close together, so we parked on the street and walked into the park. Michaela rode her bike ahead of us, which is one of my favorite things to see; I love the combination of independence and competence it embodies. It was a beautiful spring day and I was so happy to be somewhere other than my ‘hood!

As I type this, Michaela is trying to make s’mores in a solar oven she made out of a cardboard box, black construction paper, and aluminum foil. She just came in and declared they only need 10 more minutes. Yum!

Week 6

25 Apr

Another week of quarantine under our belt.

Not quarantine, really. That’s a very specific term. But it’s the term everyone is using (including me, as I post about my new #QuarantineHobby fun on Instagram).

This week was rough for me on the work front. My job description can best be summed up as “solve problems,” but I felt like there were a ton of problems this week, and too many of them were avoidable. So I was thrilled when I was able to wrap up “early” yesterday (5 p.m.!) and start my weekend.

A neighbor had a shaved ice food truck come to the ‘hood for a physically distant treat. The truck pulled up, everyone queued six feet apart, the ice lady made the treats, and it was all very no-touch (if you don’t count the lady touching your cup and handing it to you). We saw a number of friends, albeit briefly, and it was a nice way to beat the heat (it was in the high 80s yesterday!).

Mike got a gig with a municipality in San Bernardino, so this week saw him head up there to shoot a press conference that was live streamed to media and community members. I joked with him before he left, “Do you need help remembering how to be around people?” He put on slacks and a polo shirt. It was a big day in the Watson household!

Michaela has started to… let’s say… express disdain with the busy work of traditional school. This was our sixth week of learning at home (because we still did some work during spring break) and this week was a soft launch before “real” virtual school officially starts next week. Looks like there will be a lot of taking pictures of work done and sending them to the teacher as proof of the work being done– but the work won’t be checked or graded by the teacher. Michaela finds this preposterous. And she’s not wrong. So I think we’re entering a new chapter, where Michaela’s rule-following tendencies are pitted against her don’t-waste-my-time attitude.

A definite highlight of this week was Michaela spending the night in her treehouse. It was Monday night, but the concept of a school day looks different at Watson Homeschool Academy. Michaela gathered her sleeping bag, a headlamp and flashlight, Dieciocho (her favorite stuffed animal), and a walkie talkie so she could communiacte with us on the ground. She put on her warmest PJs (it was in the low 60s that night) and settled in. Apparently at about 1:30 a.m., it started to rain, so she hauled all her stuff inside and went to sleep in her regular bed. I call that a success (especially because I was worried she’d wake up and have to fee and fall off the ladder, half-asleep, and injure herself)!

Another highlight was Mike making his first loaf of sourdough bread from the starter a friend gave us. And his second loaf, actually. Delicious!

That’s about it from here!

Week 5

19 Apr

Well, we made it through another week.

I’ve written before about things going relatively well here. That continues to be the case, and I feel so darn lucky.

Mike was one of the few who managed to get a Paycheck Protection Program loan. This is a loan from the Small Business Administration intended to help businesses keep their people on the payroll. Essentially, it’s to artificially deflate the unemployment numbers (if we pay business to pay people, those workers aren’t unemployed. Voila!). He’s got cash now to keep his people on the books through July, without us having to pay them out of our own pocket. And his work hasn’t entirely dried up, it’s just slowed a lot. Normally he’d be making a ton of videos to show at events, or videos of events, and that’s obviously not happening.

Mike and Michaela were hard at work this week building a treehouse. When we moved here, there was a rotting platform in a tree in the backyard that clearly had been a treehouse at some point. Michaela’s been asking for nearly two years now for Mike to rebuild it, and it’s finally happening. Michaela has helped and she is thrilled. I went up in it yesterday but it’s really not my bag. I have visions of her falling out of it (in spite of the lattice Mike put around it to enclose it), but I’m trying not to worry too much.

I had my first major heartbreak of quarantine this week. (And let me acknowledge that there are people with way bigger heartbreaks, what with death and illness and isolation.)

Michaela’s best friend C is a super sweet little girl. They are thick as thieves. They’re in the same class this year, so they normally see each other each day and hang out any chance they get in school. They’ve had Zoom chats, but C’s parents are a lot more controlling of screen time than we are. Where Michaela’s had her own tablet for years and years and years, C doesn’t have any sort of device of her own. All communication and planning must go through C’s parents; she has no independent ability to communicate (whereas Michaela has Messenger Kids and Google Hangout and her own email account).

On Wednesday, I reached out to C’s mom to see if she could Zoom with Michaela. Mom said C was burned out from a full day of distance learning, which isn’t going so well in their house, and would it be okay to Zoom the next day.

Poor Michaela lost it. She started crying and was distraught. She said she felt so bad for C and that it had been a month since they were able to see each other in person. It made me so sad to see her hurting like that. Especially because she was so torn up over her friend feeling bad and not being able to help.

Michaela and C Zoomed the next day, but only for an hour. And when they were done, Michaela was sad again. This time, she was more focused on her own loss (loss of time with her best friend). That night, when I tucked her in, we did some brainstorming about things that might be good substitutes for physical contact, that didn’t involve technology since C is limited, and came up with the idea of giving C a virtual hug. So yesterday I traced Michaela’s upper body. Arms outstretched, hands turned up, as if giving a hug. She’s spent some time coloring it to look like herself yesterday and today she’ll cut it out and put the finishing touches on it. We’ll drop it off on C’s porch and hopefully it will help them feel a little closer.

If you’d asked me a month ago what would be hard about quarantine, I would not have put my finger on mismatched parental attitudes about technology. But it’s really been one of the hardest things here in our household. Michaela’s been social (through tech) with other friends, and she spends a lot of time videochatting with Nana (Mike’s mom), but it’s just not the same as having your bestie there. So one of my projects for this week is to reach out to C’s mom for a discussion about trying to bridge the gap. I feel like even if we could have a regular calendar for their chats, it would give Michaela some sense of stability and routine, in the same way she knew she would see C at school every day.

Anyway, that’s the latest from here. How’s quarantine treating you?

Week 4

11 Apr

We just wrapped up the fourth week of Michaela’s school (and all schools in San Diego County) being closed. Four weeks! It’s nuts.

Speaking of nuts, this week I was a spectator on a virtual press conference that was Zoombombed. They were taking questions from the media one minute, and the next minute there was Russian-sounding music and a gay porn orgy (four-gy; there were four people). Had to say, I was NOT expecting that!

Do you ever get decision fatigue? A large part of my job is problem-solving, so there’s a lot of “Music, what should we do about this” in my days. This week it felt especially wearing; my brain is tired of having to come up with answers.

Also, I ended up having to go to the doctor’s office three times this week, on three different days. I work a mask, I didn’t touch anything/sanitized and washed my hands after, but it was unsettling. The same week there was a big push to keep everyone at home, I was in a place with sick people. Yikes. So if I end up catching COVID-19, I blame Kaiser.

In happier news, Mike and Michaela spent quite a bit of time this week building a tree house. Michaela is so excited for it. She did a Zoom video chat with her best friend Claudia yesterday and took her Chromebook over to the window, to show Claudia, who said, “oh man, that’s so cool!” Michaela said, “Yeah! And if all this ever ends, you can come over and go in it!”

We’ve been doing puzzles as a family in the evenings, so we’re not spending every night starting at the boob tube. I bought a couple of 1,000-piece puzzles from a small, women-owned business and we tucked into the first one a couple of days ago. The word for “puzzle” in Spanish is “romepcabezas,” which literally translates to “head breaker,” and that’s the perfect description for this puzzle. It’s hard!

Mike trimmed his hair last weekend using his clippers. He only did the sides, so the top is still long (for him). I’m not sure what his next step is. He usually gets it cut every three weeks, so maybe we’re heading toward mullet territory? Or maybe buzz cut?

The less said about my hair, the better. (So many grays. So in need of a hair cut!)

We’ve been eating like kings and queens. Mike made his famous 72-hour pizza dough and grilled it in the gas-fired pizza oven I got him for Christmas. He also made crispy pork cutlets, which we turned into sandwiches on sourdough. A friend gave us a sourdough starter, so it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be eating homemade sourdough, too. Plus there have been fro-scratch oatmeal raisin cookies and brownies, and German apple pancakes and restaurant-style breakfasts every couple of days.

I go into the office one day a week, so I’m wearing jeans that frequently, and for now they still fit. We’ll see how long all this goes on. Ha ha.

Happy to say the Watsons are hanging in there. Michaela is a delight, Mike is reveling in slowing down, and tired as I may be, I love knowing my work is helping people deal with this crazy pandemic. We’ll see what week five brings!

Week 3

31 Mar

It’s 10:42 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31. The second day of the third week we’ve been #TogetherAtHome. Except somehow it feels like it’s been forever!

Over the weekend, I felt a bit out of sorts. As it turns out, two weeks is the amount of time I can hang out with my family nearly exclusively at home and not be crabby. Two weeks on vacation? Easy peasy. Two weeks at home? Not so much.

We’ve taken about a million walks, which is actually really nice. Michaela and I have used chalk to draw pictures and write inspirational messages in front of our house. I planted some gardenias. I bought a six-pack of Corona (I haven’t touched it yet but am looking forward to savoring them!). Mike’s done a lot of yard work, which desperately needed to be done. Michaela has been working on school stuff, watching videos, doing lots of video chatting with Nana and Papa, and making lots of art.

We’ve gotten takeout once a week or so. We’ve gone to the store a few times. I’ve gone into the office once a week (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future). Each time I go to the office, I stop at the Starbucks drive through my chai latte it’s a little bit of much-needed normalcy.

I spent a few minutes last week writing notes to some of my colleagues across the state, to tell them how much I appreciate their work. It felt really good to spend some focused time on gratitude. I highly recommend it! Going to try to work that into my schedule each week.

Mike said he’s getting used to things slowing down. He’s always wanted to homeschool Michaela, so here’s his chance.

Work, as I wrote before, was incredibly intense for several weeks. Then it calmed down and was more manageable. This week is back to nuts. I have to say, though, I am so proud of all the work my organization is doing for kids. Even on my busiest, most stressful day, I know my work is making a difference and that’s pretty amazing.


21 Mar

We started sharing information about COVID-19 with local schools in late January. At the time, it looked like yes, a novel (new) coronavirus, but also like less of a big deal than the regular old flu, which was going around our region.

“You should ask your children’s schools about their plans for school dismissals or school closures. Ask about plans for teleschool,” Nancy Messonnier, a CDC director, said during a press briefing on Tuesday. “I contacted my local school superintendent this morning with exactly those questions.”

In February, that changed. When the CDC director made her remarks, it was without giving education officials a heads up, or any guidance. So for many, it was like going from zero to 60, with freaked out parents and employees wondering what the plan was.

After the press conference, when my phone buzzed in a group chat of school PR professionals around the county with word of what had been said, I knew the shit was going to hit the fan, if you’ll excuse the expression. In Sacramento, I emailed someone on my team and our nursing coordinator, to get them going on some messaging and planning.

Things just exploded from there. I became the leader of a group of people working on schools’ response to COVID-19 (if you’re familiar with the National Incident Management System, I was/am the incident commander).

All of a sudden, we were crafting even more messages to local school district superintendents and charter schools, giving them updates on the situation and providing templates they could customize to communicate with their community. I was fielding dozens of media questions and interview requests. I was pulling people together across my organization, to get them working on plans and resources for districts, but also for our own response. Gotta have continuity of operations for us, too! I was prepping for press conferences; taking calls from district and school leaders with questions from the medical to the mundane; liaising with public health; and more. We expanded our communications to include not only district and charter school leaders, but also private school and preschool leaders because of the scope of the situation.

(I want to be clear that I’m super lucky to work with a great team of people. I was/am able to lean on one member of my team for a lot of writing and website updating, our school nurse coordinator is fantastic and is/was a delight to work with, and we have a coordinator who has been doing an amazing job running the pandemic planning process. As things have evolved, the number of people helping has grown.)

Things built and built and built. For a long time, there were no known cases of COVID-19 in San Diego County. Then there were cases, but it was clear how they were acquired. Because there was no known community spread, the guidance from public health was that there was no reason to close schools. After all, for A LOT of children, school is the safest and best place to be. Some people were pretty upset about that. I got a lot of emails and calls and messages through social media from people who were very angry that schools were still open. I’ll be honest– many/most of those people were coming from an incredible place of privilege. I’m not sure why they didn’t just keep their kids out of school of they were so worried (actually I do know why– they didn’t want to get unexcused absences, which is lame), but I didn’t say that to any of them. I tried to explain the facts — public health, who we’re working with very closely, wasn’t recommending closure, and many kids depend on schools for meals, safety, supervision. It didn’t really help; I had one parent continue to harangue my with multiple emails a day. Oh, and I was bombarded by messages from friends and acquaintances wanting insider information about if/when schools were going to close. It was… not helpful.

And I worked and worked and worked. Hours and hours and hours. Every day. It was incredibly stressful.

In the middle of all this, I had to go to the doctor to get a TB test, which is required for my work. When I was there, they took my blood pressure, which always runs a little high. This time it was really high, repeatedly. They told me I needed to take it at home, and come back in a week to have it checked in the office. I did and it was high. HIGH. Like, dangerously high. When I went into the office the second time, they were worried I was going to have a major medical issue and put me on blood pressure meds right then and there.

The pressure continued to build. Eventually, local schools decided to close. That was good, in that then the specter of closure that had been looming was at least confirmed, but also difficult.

Our team put together a pandemic response plan for schools that basically had four phases: prevention (focus on getting people to wash their hands, stay home when sick, etc. so the disease doesn’t spread), preparing (what needs to change and how if there are cases or if schools close?), response (we have cases or we’ve closed, now what), and recovery (how do we get back to normal?). The decision to close took us out out prevention and really depends on how well we prepared, because it’s time to respond to this new phase!

Part of what’s so challenging about this is that the situation is so fluid and fast-moving. Our medical knowledge about the disease kept increasing, and therefore our guidance kept evolving, too. (For example, at one point, people were to stay home if they have a fever of 100.4; a day or two later, it was 100. Or, another example, at one point, the guidance was people should self-quarantine if they had been to a CDC-designated Level 3 country, then it was Level 2 or 3, then it was 3 again, and now it’s Level 3 but the countries have expanded to include all of Europe.) Then you add in the political stuff — lack of leadership at the federal level, governance by press conference, dueling egos — and it’s even harder to remain proactive, not reactive.

And for my organization, as I’ve mentioned, we have to worry not only about our own operations, but also supporting all the schools in the region. So it’s two big buckets of work, all of which needs to be done yesterday.

Now that schools are closed, we are focused on helping mitigate loss. Trying to keep kids fed. Trying to keep them learning. Which is easier said than done, frankly. If you’re reading this, you’re probably pretty privileged (lord knows I am). You have internet, you have a computer, you have some sort of means. But many of our families don’t have internet access (or physically can’t because they live in areas in the backcountry with no service), or don’t have a computer, or don’t have the ability to work from home. So what do we do for those families, for those kids?

We closed our offices on Wednesday. Only people whose work must be done onsite are to work from the office. Everyone else is remote. So I worked from home Wednesday and Thursday, and went in for about five hours on Friday for command center-style meetings with our leadership team and local school districts. Then I went home and worked some more, ha ha. (Mike very helpfully reminded me of my habit, when I worked from home for a previous job, of working all the time. I’m trying to set some boundaries and be intentional about not doing that now.)

Michaela is now learning at home. On the first day of homeschool, she did a media interview with our local NBC affiliate about how that was going. Mike made her an amazing schedule that keeps her focused. She has done a couple of Zoom meetings with her teacher and classmates, and I think she appreciates the chance to see their faces. It was tough because Mike had shoots on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (thank goodness, since so much of his work has dried up due to event cancelations), so Michaela was on her own more than we would have liked, but she is a total trooper.

The governor had a press conference last week and said he hoped he was wrong, but he doesn’t think schools will open again this year. That set off a whole new flurry of worries and inquiries. And that’s basically how it’s been. Try our best to plan, then react to some external force, then try to plan some more.

We’ve told schools it’s premature to commit to a reopening date, and to plan for an extended closure. The better everyone can do at social distancing, the sooner can get back to normal. That’s pretty much where I’m staking my hopes. I want Michaela to be able to go back to school. I want to be able to go to a local restaurant and enjoy a seated meal. I want Mike to be making awesome videos for cool events. So everyone: wash your hands and stay the f*** home!