The holidays, maybe

Are we having fun or just buying and eating shit? (Does it matter?)

It’s disconcerting to wake up and realize that you are part of a national trend covered in the Wall Street Journal but I think I am going to buy my way out of this season and go in on decorations as a way to momentarily feel alive and perhaps trick myself into thinking I live in a winter wonderland instead of my house during week 80-g-4ty-q of pandemic.

I have always fantasized about turning my living room into a type of twinkly forest in the winter but didn’t want to spend the money on seasonal decor. Then, after 8 months saving money on things like summer camp, babysitters and Lyft rides, I saw these in a catalog that has a name like Spruce Manor:

Two of these by the fireplace would maybe make me happy. However my issue with Spruce Manor is that it seems to market a type of “CHRIST-(YEAH I SAID CHRIST! CHRIST!!)-MAS!!” for rich people whose homes have interior columns and plenty of space for their faux trees in their faux tree covers and huge padded ornament cases that provide a studio apartment for every bauble. This is what stops me from purchasing holiday-specific bedding. I love the idea but never mind the logistics of having bedding that only applies thematically to a month and a half a year along with the laundering and work putting them on and taking them off—where do you store all that extra bedding, Mrs. Rockefeller?

The catalog is also 100% Caucasian, from Santas to angels to models hanging up stockings pretending to enjoy the holiday. It’s quite a choice for 2020.

Hmm, I am starting to feel concerned about why I am on the Spruce Manor mailing list. I’ll deal with that later. But this is the year I am going to splurge on some big spindly indoor light-up trees.

I also found myself purchasing these other little trees (from Crate & Barrel.) I understand these will not cure my depression and I will just be mad at myself when it come time to packing these up and putting them away at the end of the season, but in the meantime how cute will these be??

I also got these for my kids’ rooms and my office. When I was a kid I loved it when a.) my mom would put Christmas decorations in my bedroom and b.) People’s cubicles were decorated for the holidays at my dad’s work.

What I hope for the holidays is to magically slow down and like it and not feel stir crazy. To find a way to stay in touch with my people without letting myself be sucked into political news. I want to sip Deb’s homemade Irish cream and graze on little snacks like the ones below, just enough to feel yummy and lazy but not so much that my fatness makes it hard to move around and I feel crabby (IE how I felt this week after post-election merriment dragged on.)

Witches weighed in with their favorite non-fancy snack combinations to get us through these upcoming weeks:

“Movie theater butter microwave popcorn with melting M&Ms. But you have to have the good buttery microwave popcorn. Also this is controversial but I sometimes use chocolate chips.”

“I love Buffalo chicken dip. It’s cream cheese, hot sauce, ranch, and so much cheese, with or without chicken.”

“Here's something I eat approximately quarterly: Crinkle-cut frozen fries, baked until they're done but not too done, topped with shredded orange cheese, and chili-pepper flakes. Far, far superior to ‘cheese’ fries with a gloppy ‘cheese’ sauce.”

“I make a sweet cream cheese dip (cc + mayo + sugar) and eat it with pretzels and blueberries.”

“Get Marconi giardiniera salsa--drain it. Mix it with soft cream cheese. Eat it with big Fritos (get the little ones if you want to be annoyed.)”

“Just Nutella and pretzels. That's it.”

“Here's a thing that someone has been bringing to my family reunion for about 5 years that I dream about sometimes.

  • 1 loaf Pepperidge Farm party (extra thin) bread

  • 1 stick of butter, softened

  • 1 cup grated parmesan

  • 1/4 c sesame seeds

  • 1 t granulated garlic

  • pinch cayenne pepper

Lay out the bread slice-by-slice on your workspace and let sit for an hour or more (while butter softens)

Mix butter, cheese etc together and schmear thickly onto stale bread, then cut bread diagonally into triangles

Bake at 300 for about 90 minutes (watch carefully) until crisp all the way through. Serve at room temp. This freezes beautifully.”

“I know there are a lot of different regional names for this, but we called them hanky pankies: 1 lb. browned ground beef, 1 lb. browned spicy sausage, 1 lb. Velveeta all mixed together and spread on cocktail rye, then put under the broiler.”

“The first time I went to New Orleans and ate at a place that sold a ‘debris’ sandwich - ie, the bottom of the gravy pot with the tiny pieces of meat but mostly gravy and onions on french bread? LIFE-CHANGING. It’s my favorite when there's gravy leftover but no meat: I toast bread, smear with mayo and dijon, gravy on top, then cheese and put it all under the broiler.”

“Just a brick of cream cheese with jalapeño jelly poured over it. Best on Triscuits.”

“I just finished a small tub of Trader Joe's 7 layer dip.”

Finally, back to doing festive things because what else are you going to do, we (why did I say we? *I*) are also doing Christmas cards. I still love getting snail mail and I know you have to send cards if you want to get them. Plus, a few years ago I realized I had kept copies of most of our old cards so I put them into an album and I didn’t want to take a year off. Comparing 2019’s photo, which was taken of me at my brother’s wedding, wearing Spanx and heels and professionally-applied makeup while my boys are in tiny matching suits, to this year’s is, is like the photo on the left vs the one on the right.

Yet we will stick with that tradition. If you would like a Christmas card from me, email me; I’ll put some of my mental-health-by-way-of-materialism money to adding up to 25 new folks to my list. I hope you send one back.

~Claire

#SILF


End credits

Thanks for reading Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers. If you have any topics you’d like to suggest or have any general questions just shoot us an email. If you know someone who'd like this sort of thing in their inbox about once or twice a week, please spread the word. You can follow us via Instagram or Twitter. If you want to support this work and get some extra content and access to subscriber-only discussion threads, please become a paid subscriber, a mere $30 a year!

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Finally, giving a shout out to my friend/colleague Jennifer Fink, who writes the Building Boys newsletter and co-produces the “On Boys” podcast. “I don't have to tell you that a lot of boys (and their families) are struggling with remote learning. My podcast co-host Janet Allison and I are offering a Live ON BOYS Interactive session focused on Boys & Distance Learning Dec. 8.” Janet and Jen will discuss challenges like staying focused, staying organized, and caring whether they do the work. Live session + recording + attend one or both sessions=$10. Register: bit.ly/onboyslive.


One witchy thing

Checking in with 3 teacher moms in my home town

Nothing is great but everything is probably gonna be fine

I wanted to know how educators teaching online are making do when they also have to manage their own children’s e-learning: here is the second in a series of three. Today I chatted with three moms in my home town (Evanston, IL) about their lives teaching while facilitating their own kids’ e-learning, about how they prioritize and what they let go.

***

J., elementary school social worker, married to another educator, children in virtual 1st and 5th grade:

My husband and I are both home. We send the girls to the neighbors; they have a nanny half of the day, and they also have his mom and my mom. It's working, and it's not ideal.

I have nothing to do with my kids’ schoolwork. They work with the nanny in the morning or my mom or or my husband’s mom in the afternoon. That was a whole ball of wax trying to set that up: how to relay information to them, making everybody comfortable, setting expectations for the kids and getting them to respond to all these different people trying to get them to work. 

At the beginning I felt guilty about not involved in their learning. Now I feel like we're privileged to be able to pay for help and have family around that will help. It’s been working out and they’re doing pretty well.

I just don’t stop working now. Remote work is far more intense, schedule-wise than in person. There’s no breaks, no down time. Anyone can reach me at any time with email in a different way. When you're in person, people stop by, you have meetings. Now every thought people have in their mind is in an email.

You can track patterns in the kids who are struggling: frustration, motivation and social connectedness are the big themes. Organization and trying to stay focused when at home.

With kids who are really struggling to get work done or motivated, parents and teachers should prioritize the basics: math, reading and writing. focus on doing little bits of that each day and set the other things aside. If you can build capacity with achieving those things in a day then start building on that. In terms of social emotional health, looking for big red flags. Is your kid acting different? Is there a lot of irritability, frustration, are you seeing tantrums start you haven’t before, have your kids been saying “I’m bored” a lot? Working with the school or provider can help them cope, and work with the teacher to make some adaptive plans if motivation is become an issue that’s affecting their quality of life.

##

S., math instructor, private high school, children in virtual 3rd and 5th grade

My kids are totally remote and work with their grandparents or my husband. I’m in person one day a week and the rest of the days are remote. I really think I can round things up to “They’re doing pretty good.’ My 5th grader is totally independent. Is she making great gains this year? No. Do we care? No.

My teaching is so demanding that my husband is the primary helper for the kids. During the day I just can’t be interrupted. I’m expected to be with my students 8-4 every day.

It's really hard to be a math teacher and grade work digitally. I feel like I'm not doing a good job assessing my students’ needs and skills. I love my school and believe in its mission so I end up talking to parents as well as teaching to help them understand our wonky schedule. On top of the teaching, there's so much organizational work that's hard for me to do at home. It’s hard to get in my “This is my teacher, this is my school stuff” mindset when I’m in my bedroom and my kid is next to me in my bed.

Because teaching is so much less efficient online I find I’m assessing work less frequently. Two or three weeks can go by before I’m like, “They really don't understand that.” There’s no walking around looking over their shoulder. I’m also constantly chasing students. I probably send 30 emails a day to remind students to turn things in. I would have never had had to do that work if we were in person. 

There are still high expectations from parents. Some of them are very upset, which is upsetting to teachers who are working night and day to figure out how to make this work, how to meet expectations and how to provide one-on-one help for all students. Some students are struggling and some are doing great. Any progress is good progress right now. It surprises me how many people are fixated on the failures of schools when we are truly building the plane while flying it, and I actually think we are doing a pretty good job, as I do with my kids’ teachers at a local public school.  Unless there are big concerns, I want parents to trust the teachers who are working really hard to find a way to make this a meaningful year.  

We get COVID tested once a week. That's amazing. We all wear masks. The students are only there half a day, so there’s no eating, no need to take off their mask. They don’t even drink water. We also have new air filtration systems and very specific paths you can walk so the hallways don’t get crowded, ways you dismiss classes. However it’s a new building and none of the windows open. 

I do manage to exercise, but every expectation is lowered. What used to be a normal one hour exercise routine is now 20-30 minutes. I eat so much. I don’t enjoy most of it. At night my brain shuts down at 8:30. I can’t work late. So then I watch TV. That’s been my joy. And sugary cereal: anything with marshmallows. 

I received an email last week from a parent and he started off saying “I've been so focused on my daughter's experience,  I haven't thought about the teacher. I want to say thank you and I didn't realize how hard this is for you.” He went on to say “I think my kid is struggling, here are some ideas, what do you think?” The idea that he recognized that this is so much for the teacher and then he didn't say “Yeah what more can I do about my kid?” meant a lot.

If it comes down between a parent’s job and their kid’s schoolwork, I think they should prioritize their job. I think the kids will be okay and the worst case scenario they redo this year which probably lots of kids should do.

***

A.: Part-time tutor, children in virtual first and 4th grade.

It is crazy to me that I do so much enrichment. Everyone is at or above grade level. I think many parents are more worried about their kids being bored. Just let them be. They’re fine. In 2nd grade, kids are not normally being told to write a whole page. We have no memories of what we actually did when we were that age in school. They’re not supposed to read two hours and spell everything correctly. If you're not with kids that age all the time, you have a higher expectation of what they can do. 

I think that parents whose kids are having a super hard time with school, when your kids ask for your help, help them. But if they don’t want your help, walk away. It’s so hard. When I look at my daughter’s writing, I think, “Wow does that word say what you think it says?”

I feel like if you’re middle class and above, there’s gonna be no long term major effects on the kids. My son lost second grade in person. It showed, but he’s fine. His writing took longer to get there. My kids are getting high quality instruction. I know it feels and looks different than what I’m used to. I think it’s hard for parents to see. I keep having to remind people that children don’t normally get six hours of instruction a day. The kids get a mini lesson and they go off and do something else. It’s not teachers just talking for hours. When your kids were doing their writing in school, they’d be with four kids, they might be chatting or sharing an idea. Without that, you can see how it’s like, “Ughh.”

I have found that smoking pot after the workday is finished calms me. Being home with the kids all day is boring and you’re annoyed with them and they’re making fucking messes all the time. It makes me so much more patient, present, and more interested in what they’re saying.

I have emailed both of my kids’ teachers and principals multiple times to just say thank you and they’re doing a great job. I think so many parents forget or just are clueless as to how hard this is for teachers. 

I’ve chilled out as a parent. My son is part of a feral neighborhood pack of boys. I get weird text messages, “They’re in the alley with a pickaxe.” In general, I’d prefer to let them figure their own shit out. 

Everyone is figuring out their new normal. My biggest worry is the dead of winter. 


End credits

Thanks for reading Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers. If you have any topics you’d like to suggest or have any general questions just shoot us an email. This week I have a messy, silly holiday post coming so please let me know what your strategy is for forcing/faking cheer this season and/or any highly processed, cheap, quick and dirty favorite apps you like to make this time of year.

If you know someone who'd like this sort of thing in their inbox about once or twice a week, please spread the word. You can follow us via Instagram or Twitter. If you want to support this work and get some extra content and access to subscriber-only discussion threads, please become a paid subscriber, a mere $30 a year!


One witchy thing

E-learning teachers-parents with IRL kids also e-learning

AKA give til it hurts at holiday bonus time

I was curious to hear how educators teaching online are making do when they also have to manage their own children’s e-learning, so I’m going to present a few discussions with some teachers over the next couple of weeks.

For today’s issue I chatted with H., a 7th grade teacher in Chicago Public Schools whose husband teaches phys-ed in the same system and whose twin preschool daughters also learn remotely in CPS. The following “as told to” conversation has been edited and condensed:

The kids spend part of the week with my mother-in-law. They stay at her house, they live far away, and the drive sucks. Those days of the week, I’m working all the time and into the night to make sure that when they’re home I won’t be attached to my computer. Some of my colleagues have paid for private daycare. I feel funny about doing it. How can I ask the teachers to put themselves around kids when I won’t?

I deal with that that weird mom guilt of preschoolers being absent. The other day my daughter got hurt and needed stitches, so we got home at 10, and the kids slept in. We texted that they would miss their morning their meeting; and we still we got robo-calls from CPS because they were absent. So much of school hangs on the children’s attention, but from a parent perspective, it’s like “Oh my God, really? At the end of the day, who cares? Who cares. It has no effect on anything.”

There were a lot of tears at the beginning of the pandemic. It was stressful to transfer our lives online. I've taught for 15 years: I worked my butt to be the teacher I am now. To start over was very humbling and difficult.  I got very offended this summer that CPS did not decide whether to stay virtual or go hybrid until the last minute. Someone on Twitter said, “A good teacher would be preparing for any scenario.” I refused to hear that. I’m going to spend that time with my children, thanks.

You already know the kids who would be struggling in person, and then you add WiFi to it: some of them have terrible internet. School computers are not great; the kids can log in and hide and go watch TV on their phone. In person, we have those tricks and relationships, to go down to lunch, talk to those kids, help them. Now it’s like “Please log in so we can talk about this class you’re not doing well in. I’m sure you really want to talk to me, a middle aged teacher, about how to write thesis statements.”  We don’t want to be mean to a kid who’s just got the free Chicago WiFi which doesn’t support e learning. There’s that frustration. “You need to get your stuff done, -ish.” We have had some students with serious stuff which is difficult to manage when you don’t know them at all. “This avatar is really struggling.”

The failure is on CPS; they’re going 100% hardcore. They’re implemented Continuous Improvement Work Plan goals, but how will you fulfill them? My administration has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, but not everyone is in the same position.

To some extent, letting go of control has been great. There is a girl in my call who was playing Solo cups, stacking them and unstacking them while we talked. “Do you think that’s helping you organize your thoughts? Great.” 

I’m grateful to be virtual. I live on the northwest side of Chicago. I watch people pretend they’re not living in a pandemic and demand schools reopen. You're the last person I’d want to see send their kids to school. I see you on an airplane, I have to be in a room with your child in our 1902 building. I don’t know what to believe. I believe in Dr. Fauci. Sometimes I feel paranoid. 

My husband does not like teaching PE online. He gets headaches from the screen. When kids don’t come to PE, he has to fail them per CPS. That feels so crappy. Who knows what's going on in that kid’s life? There are the kids who don’t do anything ever and then come right now, “Why am I failing?” “Uh, what? Where have you been?” I’m lucky to work at a school that has standards based grading. We can work with you, vs. “You’re not here. That’s a zero.” You see these parents who say, “Why should my kid have to go to specials? That’s such a waste of time.” But that’s my husband’s profession, that’s what he loves.

I have always sought to let parents know when their kids do a good job: calling parents, sending an email home, saying “Oh my gosh, I could tell your child was really trying today in class.” They almost always say something nice back. I don’t do it for that reason, but it's so nice, when you make that positive connection, and a parent says “She said the other day she loves your class.” Oh, yay! I’m always looking for kids doing something good. “Wow, you got a C! I saw your hard work. That's so much more important than a thesis statement. I’m so glad you’re here at school.” I always copy the student on those emails. 

 We need to really seek the voices of our most vulnerable families and prioritize what they need over what we need. That is antithetical to American parenting, where you're supposed to make sure what your kids get what they need all the time. There might be a moment, if you’re privileged, where you think, “My kids need to see their friends, but this other kid needs to be in the building to have WiFi; that’s way more important at this moment.” I hate seeing privileged parents weaponize poor kids and Black and brown kids. “What about these poor kids? They need to be in school.” Teacher parents are shut down: “You’re union, so your union speaks for you.” I'm allowed to wear many hats and look through multiple lenses.

Of course I want my kids back in school. Some days I'm about to lose my f-ing mind, but we need to think about bigger things and seek to empathize with how people in other communities are doing. Some of my former students still have to go to the laundromat— in order to be clean, they have to put themselves at risk. That's such an important piece that we often forget because we don’t live it. That’s been so interesting, to see the people I live among saying, “I’m still stressed in my nice house in my nice neighborhood with my nice job.” As hard as it is for me, I'm not even touching what a lot of my students are experiencing.  Thinking about really trying to empathize with that makes me a bit sad. Because of who is in charge, this moment has not made more people more empathetic. 


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Thanks for reading Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers. If you have any topics you’d like to suggest or have any general questions just shoot us an email. If you know someone who'd like this sort of thing in their inbox about once or twice a week, please spread the word. You can follow us via Instagram or Twitter. If you want to support this work and get some extra content and access to subscriber-only discussion threads, please become a paid subscriber, a mere $30 a year!


One witchy thing

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