Drive By: A Short Story

 

I stand by the window, looking out, watching my daughter play in the front yard.

My heart fills with dread.

They should be here any minute.

Should being the operative word.

Will they come?

Why should they?

I’m amazed how everyone seems to know everyone—everyone but me. How do they all know each other? Our kids are in third grade. When I was a kid, if my classmates didn’t live in the neighborhood, my parents didn’t know their parents at all.

I seem to be the only one upholding that tradition. How would I even begin to meet the other kids’ parents? PTO? Sports?

I honestly have no idea.

I don’t want my daughter to pay for my ignorance. She’s going to be the outcast. The weirdo. The kid with the dad who’s clueless about throwing birthday parties under ordinary circumstances. But during a pandemic? Hopeless.

When the mom emailed, my instinct said not to trust her.

She wanted to organize a birthday parade for my daughter. She said my daughter’s teacher asked her to do it, which is also how she got my email address. She said she’d be happy to lend a hand—I just needed to make sure my daughter hung out in the front yard at a certain time. She included her phone number and asked me to call.

I did.

It wasn’t bad, but it was awful.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to it. I asked if I could assist, and—to my relief—she said not to worry about a thing.

Why?

She doesn’t know me. I’m not even sure she knows my daughter. She owes me nothing—no favors, no kindness, no mercy. Yet, she supposedly got in touch with all the kids’ families and set up a parade.

But what if she didn’t? What if she changed her mind? What if she got busy with her actual friends or her real commitments?

I’m expected to trust her without knowing her.

Maybe I should have just thrown a party. Screw it. Get the bouncy house. Hire the clown. Order pizza. Invite the entire third grade to our backyard. Pandemic be damned.

No.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It would have been hard when things were normal—but I would have done it. I keep telling myself I would have bitten the bullet and hosted a party.

But now? I can’t bring myself to take that risk. No matter how unlikely, I can’t jeopardize my daughter’s health.

The neighborhood thinks I’m a freak for taking this so seriously. My daughter will likely be ostracized for the rest of her school years because of me. She’ll be the kid with the nutty dad. The house nobody wants to come visit. She won’t be invited places because no one will want to deal with me.

What they must think—all those normal parents. I can’t even organize a birthday parade on my own.

What’s wrong with me?

I watch my daughter.

She’s the only bright spot in my life. The only thing I got right. I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not equipped for parenthood. It doesn’t come naturally. I never expected to be doing it alone.

I watch her.

My heart is full of joy, fear, confusion, love, anxiety, and happiness all at once.

Tears zigzag down my face.

For the longest time, nothing happens but the hitch of my chest.

And then I hear it—a blaring of horns. I see my daughter begin to jump up and down, waving her arms. Cars and minivans appear. Most have balloons attached. Some even have her name written on the sides, wishing her a happy birthday.

She looks at me through the window, gestures for me to come outside, and then goes back to jumping for joy.

I wipe off the tears, walk to the front door, and reach for the knob.


 

Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

An Open Letter To Political and Educational Leaders

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Before I begin, I’d like to state that I truly believe almost all teachers and administrators honestly want the best for their students. I cannot say “every” because I try not to deal in absolutes, but the vast majority of teachers and administrators with whom I’ve worked put the students first.

Educational leaders are in an impossible situation. They know that children need to be in school. It’s not a political responsibility, it’s not an economical responsibility, it’s simply a responsibility to the child’s well-being. Children need to grow socially, intellectually, and emotionally, and school is an exceptional place to do that. School is a place for children to exist independently from their parents or guardians and a place for them to find their own voice. Yet it is also a place filled with structure, routine, boundaries, and–perhaps most importantly–professional guidance.

However, school is impossible without teachers. We all seem to be forgetting that fact. Teachers are, right now, being asked to enter often poorly ventilated, overcrowded classrooms filled with children who are proven to carry the coronavirus. We are literally asking our teachers, many of whom are over forty years old, to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

I often hear the argument that grocery stores and doctors’ offices are open–schools can open, too. I think it’s important to remember that those are usually very well-ventilated environments with strict control over who and who cannot enter. If someone refuses to comply, they literally have a security force they can call upon. We took our child to the doctor the other day. We had to wait in the car until we got a text. Then, when the text came, we entered a side door, spoke to no one, and made our way directly to the patient’s room. We wore masks the entire time, as did the medical staff. It was an incredibly controlled, rigid system. My wife’s eye doctor even had a placard placed in her examination room stating the room is disinfected between patients.

Think back to your days in school. Do you really think children are going to stay six feet apart (even though most agree this will be impossible to accomplish in classrooms due to limited space and teachers). Do you really think schools are going to be able to force students to wear their masks correctly?

I’ve seen some plans where teachers are being told to wear a mask all day, disinfect desks between class periods, eat lunch with the same group of students in the classroom daily, prohibit shared material (like textbooks), stay six feet away from those students in the classroom (which will literally be impossible in many cases), enforce temperature regulation, and direct traffic in the hallways. This is on top of the daily lesson planning, teaching, grading, behavior management, parent contact, and meetings.

Furthermore, some schools are going all in, every student every day, while others are going half in-session and half remote learning. I have a child at the elementary level and then another child at the middle school level. The middle school is essentially going part-time, while the elementary level is going full time. Meanwhile, my place of work (a high school in a different district), is going all in, full time. This is an incredible burden on me both as a parent and as an employee. I’m being asked to leave my middle school child home alone for three days out of the week, find after school care for my elementary school child (which further bursts any already-lackluster bubble), and work full time in my own building. My middle school child is going to be isolated at home for many, many hours, which is dangerous at a physical, emotional, and social level, while my elementary child is unnecessarily being exposed to even more people. As a parent, I find this incredibly stressful.

If your child is next to a child who shows any of the numerous symptoms, your child is quarantined for several days. If your child’s teacher shows any of the symptoms, he or she is quarantined for several days. In some cases, an entire class could be quarantined for several days–perhaps as many as fourteen. This is all true for school buses as well. We are quickly going to run out of teachers, substitute teachers, and drivers. You’re going to be finding someone to watch your child as they keep getting quarantined when kids in their classes show symptoms. It’s going to get very chaotic, very quickly.

Though it’s not the popular solution, the most logical, rational, and safest decision is for all school districts to go 100% remote. Families can continue with whatever summer childcare they have in place, which will keep them within whatever bubble they’ve established. We can all start the school year off with a remote learning procedure in place. As it stands right now, schools meeting in-session will be doing so completely out of any previously proven routine, and will likely have to go remote within four to six weeks anyway. When that happens, many are going to be scrambling for childcare and trying to figure out remote learning anyway. Doesn’t it make more sense just to start off with 100% remote learning when we know it’s coming? Neither choice is easy–I understand that. There will be hardships even with 100% remote learning. This is obviously a case of choosing the lesser of two evils. Personally, I feel ensuring the physical health of our teachers and students must take priority.

As a nation, we have not done our part. As a nation, we’re not wearing masks, we’re not staying home, and we’re not establishing a bubble. People at my grocery store won’t even follow the arrows marked on the floor. We teach our students that behaviors have consequences. Guess what, America? 100% remote learning is the consequence of your behavior. Many have taken the necessary precautions, and it’s awful that those people must suffer the ramifications of those who haven’t been responsible.

Additionally, I fear this is further reinforcing the class divide. I hear more and more of my friends who are upper-middle class or upper class opting to keep their kids home in order to guarantee their safety. They will still have outdoor play dates, Facebook Messenger For Kids calls, trips to the park, and bicycle rides. Those parents, who are likely working remotely due to white collar, well-paying jobs, don’t have to think about it too hard. Meanwhile, lower-middle class families and low-income families don’t have a choice at all. If they don’t physically go to work, they don’t get paid. They literally cannot afford to do what they think is best for their kids–they have no choice in the matter. They will risk their lives, their children’s lives, and their extended families’ lives because they have to. This is the height of inequality.

It will take incredible bravery, morality, and willpower for school administrators to do the right thing and implement 100% remote learning at the start of the year. It will be incredibly hard. They will be ridiculed every step of the way. Many will question them at every opportunity. There will be several challenges, such as food distribution, guaranteeing WiFi, and providing services for those students with unique needs. However, in the long run, it will be what’s best for our children.

As for politicians, I suspect the most powerful of politicians never attended public school nor send their own children to public school, so they should stay out of it and let the experts–teachers and school administrators–work it out. I’m tired of politicians using our children as pawns in their political warfare and you should be, too. I was under the impression that they were here to serve us, but it seems to be just the opposite.

Getting Deep With the Bass

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My oldest daughter, who just turned twelve, has been taking weekly guitar lessons for the last several years. Frankly, I’m consistently amazed by her talent. Of course, we have encouraged her to practice daily, so all of that hard work is now paying off as I listen to her play popular riffs and entire songs perfectly. Most astounding of all, though, is watching her read music.

Music has always been a mystery to me. I’ve never been musically talented, but I’ve also never tried that hard at it. I should have the “music gene.” My mom’s side of the family has it, especially my aunts and cousins.

Last January, when 2020 wasn’t yet … well, 2020 … I borrowed a bass guitar from a good guy with whom I work. My daughter (eleven at the time) taught me tabs and I started learning some very basic bass riffs. I worked at it for a few weeks and then, in the middle of February, starting practicing less and less.

And then the quarantine hit.

While the pandemic has been awful in numerous ways, I’m happy to report one bright spot in that it has afforded me the time to again practice daily. In fact, except for a few “sick” days, I’ve practiced every day for twenty minutes at a time.

At some point (I think it was mid-May–it’s all a blur), I bought a copy of Hal Leonard’s Bass Method. It was time to actually start learning musical notes.

I’m happy to say that, with a LOT of help from my daughter, I’m finally starting to learn notes. It has been painful, frustrating, and even infuriating, but it’s happening. At the age of 43, this dog is learning new tricks. I never–ever–thought I’d be able to read music. And though I’m still not great at it, I’m getting better every day.

While I don’t think I’ll be sitting in with anyone’s band anytime soon, I do like to think that by this time next year–come on 2021!–I might be ready to play in some kind of public capacity. Maybe as a bass player’s back up?