A rough start to the term and a prescient one (ok, two) word theme for 2022

Slack message: "Raise your hand if you are currently experiencing Week 9 levels of exhaustion" with 1 thumbs up and 3 hands up emojis.
Slack message to my department last Friday. So much for easing into the term…

Winter term started last Wednesday (January 5). It’s been every bit of chaotic as expected, and then some.

Some “highlights”:

  • Every class meeting has been hybrid. Unplanned hybrid.
  • Well, except for Monday, which I taught fully online because I have a sick (non-COVID) kid at home and of course this week my partner is out of town.
  • (Sick kid was finally diagnosed with strep. Is still contagious, so can’t go back to school until Thursday. Time to Reschedule All The Things!)
  • Day 1: the number of students on Zoom due to COVID was dwarfed by the number of students who couldn’t get back to campus in time due to travel issues.
  • Our COVID numbers are concerning, like everywhere else. This week’s second round of baseline testing for everyone should be…interesting? frightening? all of the above?
  • The sick kid’s school nurse was so backed up trying to record all the absences on Monday that we got a robocall from the district about our kid’s unexcused absence. (I really feel for the nurses / teachers / school staff trying to keep everything together in this chaos!)
  • Today’s message of doom from the school: elder kiddo (vaxxed and boosted, thankfully) is a close contact of someone who just tested positive, so now we are all on Covid Watch.

So, yeah, not the smoothest start to the term.

While I followed through on my plan for a year without goals, I did decide to pick a one word theme for the year. Or, rather, I couldn’t decide between two words, so I mushed them together to form a two-word theme for the year:

Gentle serendipity.

My intent with this theme is to stay present with whatever life’s presenting me at the moment, rather than trying to micromanage my way to control (serendipity), and to be ok with whatever decisions I make as a result, with a minimum of self-flagellation (gentle). Given how much is uncertain in my life right now — what’s my next career move when I’m done being STEM Director? when will I be able to run again / figure out this latest cluster of injuries? what changes do we need to make to special needs kid’s treatment plan to set him up for success as he starts middle school next year? will democracy survive in the US? — I need both flexibility and a reminder to treat myself with the same grace I try to treat others.

And boy, have I needed that this week.

My theme has become my mantra this week. And while I’m not going to lie and pretend that I haven’t raged internally at the extraordinarily bad timing of my partner’s business trip and my kid’s illness, or questioned whether it’s actually worth getting out of bed in the morning, repeating “gentle serendipity” (admittedly, sometimes between clenched teeth) moves me out of my head and forward. It’s helped me see the humor in the ill-placed typos in the in-class activity on Monday and use it as a teachable moment, to myself and my students, about the importance of knowing and honoring your physical and mental limits. (In this case, because I stayed up way too late Sunday night trying to finish the lab, well past the point of diminishing returns.) It’s reminded me to ask for, and accept, help. It’s helped me slow down, notice, and listen to what’s going on around me (which helped clue me in to how sick my kid was in the first place).

On the bright side, having so much early practice employing my theme is likely allowing the theme to take strong hold and setting me up for theme success in the new year!

I hope you are being gentle with yourself, and serendipitous as well, as the new year starts. (And if you have a theme for the year, I’d love to hear what it is in the comments!)