My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

Embedded in the middle of the Hoover Dam walkway is a survey marker delineating the state line between Arizona and Nevada. Summer 2011, I straddled that imaginary line as my husband snapped photos and our children high-fived passengers meandering the Dam’s rim in slow-moving vehicles. Some tourists venture to that scenic halfway point at the start and end of Daylight Savings Time, which Nevadans follow and Arizonans do not, suspended in that blink of time between two different times and two different places, their photographs evidence of the impossible.

That’s what this past week has felt like. Straddling two different states, two different times, wholly present in neither.

Monday, March 16, my teacher colleagues and I entered our building for the last time of the foreseeable future. Alone in our rooms or six-feet apart in department groups, we strategized and planned. Shared ideas and fears and even a few laughs. By day’s end, I had finalized my plan and shut my door, unsure when any of us would return.

Tuesday, March 17, I readied for work like I always do, commuted the traffic-free steps to my family room couch, logged on to my virtual classroom, and realized my plan wouldn’t work. Cumbersome and user-unfriendly, it needed an overhaul both for me and my kids. 

Wednesday, March 18, Virtual Learning 2.0: Student check-ins using Google Classroom, through which I would post daily messages and instructions, as well as facilitate discussions and answer student questions. I spent over nine hours answering each and every question, mini-essays whose content–because I teach English–had to be correct and coherent, edited and revised. I chatted with my fifth-period team teacher via text, answered emails, and completed my own check-ins the school’s administrators require of our faculty. And when my eyes grew buggy, my body stiff from sitting, I took a walk, circling around and around my downstairs like I used to do in my classroom.

Thursday, March 19,  the world outside continued to shrink, devolving to an even more alien and threatening terrain. What’s your biggest concern about our transition to online learning, I asked my kids in their daily check-in.  Grades. Missing assignments. Navigating different teachers’ different platforms. Getting help. Power-failures. Staying on track. I want to be in school, I want to be in school, they said. Over and over again.

Friday, March 20, I held my first virtual classroom through Google Meet. Just drop in and say hello, I told them. And bring your questions, please. It was wonderful. A line of kids, clamoring for facetime. They joined me from desks, kitchen tables, bedrooms, and couches. I met their pets, their siblings, their nephews and neighbors. I chatted with one student as he grocery shopped with his father. Wash your hands when you get home, I told him, and he smiled. We’ve got this, my colleagues had said before we left the building on Monday. For the first time all week, I thought, Yes. I do.

*****

After our excursion to the Hoover Dam, my family and I drove our rental to Grand Canyon National Park on the southern rim where we stayed for several days sightseeing and hiking, including walking backward in time along the one-mile Trail of Time. Its brass markers lie one meter apart, each representing one million years and highlighting the Canyon’s geologic history. Next, we drove to the Hualapai Reservation on the Western edge. We stayed in cabins that lined the rim and watched the sun rise over the Canyon as tire-shaped goats wandered the desert scrub before us. From there, we circled back to the Dam, and our kids leaned out of our windows to salute pedestrians walking where we had walked only a short week ago. We ended our trip in Las Vegas where it began, boarded a homeward plane, and through the windows watched Lake Mead and the desert turn into a patchwork quilt as we climbed. The view hadn’t changed. Our journey eastward mirrored our journey west. But the Canyon, carved incrementally over millions of years, continued its sculpting of the earth’s crust and would most likely do so one million years more.

I’m reminded of that as I prepare to enter week two of my virtual life. Like the Dam’s state line marker, we stand between the world we knew and the world we face. But that stasis is a mirage. Time advances regardless of our perceptions. It carries us like a river despite our desires. Despite our fears.

This too shall pass, yes.

We’re already one week closer.

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