This is Not What I Signed Up For

By Shane Zack
Enrollment Director

Friends School of Minnesota

It’s funny when my sense of honesty runs up against the expected norms of polite, Minnesotan culture. It is happening fairly often these days. Whether it’s on a Zoom meeting, a call, taking my life into my own hands at Costco or in those fleeting moments where I actually see another human mask to mask. The question is always asked. How is it going? Am I supposed to lie? Complete the rote formality by answering, “Good, and how are you?” Or do I give the honest answer, even if it grates against my Minnesotan sensibilities? 

Lately I have been giving the honest answer. I am fine. If I am honest, there is too much stress, anxiety and disappointment for me to be doing good. On the other hand, if I am honest, things would have to be going much worse (they are for some people) for me to be doing badly. 

So there I am. I am fine and I will say it to anyone who asks.

This is not what I signed up for. 

My spouse and I are living, sleeping, eating, and working, locked-down, in a small house with a disgruntled two-year-old and a restless five-year-old as our housemates. Spending hours in Zoom meetings, with constant interruption. Working from a slap-dash home “office” cobbled together by pieces of misfit furniture unceremoniously wedged into the corner of our bedroom, snuggled between the radiator and dresser. 

The highlight of the experience (maybe the lowlight?) occurred when the unthinkable finally happened. My spouse and I were scheduled for important Zoom meetings at the same time! Whose meeting was more important? Who would get the luxury of a closed door? How would we keep our children entertained and quiet, even if just for an hour? I drew the short straw, and meticulously prepared for double duty, presenting in a Zoom meeting and keeping my kids alive and entertained at the same time. 

The hour approached. Everyone used the bathroom, we prepared snacks, I queued up Winnie the Pooh (ignoring the angel of guilt perched on my shoulder whispering about the evils of screentime) and opened the Zoom link. Things went well for the first half hour. I hesitantly thought, maybe we can pull this lock-down off after all. 

There is a key side note to this story. My 2-year-old, Celeste, took it upon herself (yes, apparently it is her decision) to start potty training the week we started isolation. So, when she crept up on me during my Zoom meeting whispering that she pooped I felt the color drain out of my face. This was not good. I muted my sound and video and assessed the situation. Her pants were off, and there was no poop to be found. I went to check the potty, but there was no sign of recent use. She told me again that she had pooped, and this time I could make out the word “closet”. I ran up our stairs, into her room and checked her closet. Sure enough, she pooped in her closet. How she made it up and down the stairs so quickly, I don’t know. Why pooping in the closet was a thing that crossed her mind, I don’t know. What I do know is I left my meeting, took care of her and the mess, and felt defeated. 

This is not what I signed up for. 

I can’t even be mad at anyone, there is no one to blame. All I can do is feel pure, and extreme frustration. That was when I realized that things aren’t going good. They were going fine and things probably wouldn’t get much better for a while. 

I recently read an article that quoted psychologists who study people going through known isolating experiences in confined spaces. They studied people like astronauts, Antarctic researchers, and people on long-term deployments on submarines. 

People in these positions go through different phases. The first is a panicked or excited response where you are adjusting to the new situation. Next is the novelty phase, where you settle into a routine and think “this isn’t so bad.” The third phase is the hardest. It is when the stress and frustration of being confined gets harder to tolerate. 

As it turns out, we are entering this third phase, where isolation and the frustrations that come with it are at their worst. 

My spouse is a mental health professional, and her advice to combat the built up worry and anxiety of this third phase is to build a mindset of gratitude. Be intentional about being grateful. 

It is during difficult times when I have felt the most grateful for Friends School. In the sixteen years I have worked at Friend School of Minnesota, I have experienced a few moments of crisis, fear and tragedy. 

In 2013, the tragic, accidental death of a 6th grader on the first weekend of the school year was almost unbearable. Supporting students, families and teachers through this loss was an incredible challenge for our school. During this time, the strength of FSMN’s community was more clear and present to me than it had ever been.

There have been other hard moments, and for me, it is during those hard moments I am most grateful for the school. I always tell anyone who will listen, if I have to go through hard times, I want to go through them at Friends School.

So, it is from this mindset of gratitude that I want to acknowledge the community that makes up our school and the roles we all play in weathering this particularly hard time together. 

We are witnessing heroic feats of education everyday of this pandemic. I am grateful to work with master teachers and progressive educators who are meeting the challenge of distance learning and are moving from a place of emergency response into innovation and inspiration, all while keeping students at the center of their learning.

Parents and caregivers in many ways are the forgotten heroes of distance learning. None of this could work without the support and partnership of adults supporting from home. Many parents and caregivers have stepped in as impromptu teaching assistants, IT trouble-shooters and recess playmates. All of this is happening at the same time many have had to work from home or worry about job loss, work as frontline responders, or step back from careers all together. Not to mention the emotional burden of worrying for the safety of your family as we navigate very uncertain times.  Even when things are at their hardest, I see countless offers to help, support and volunteer your time. I am grateful for the parent community at Friends School. Your work is valued and felt during this unusual time. 

This is not what I signed up for. This is not what we signed up for.

Things aren’t great. In this moment though, I am grateful for my school, and my work, and my community. There are people out there who are facing this without a community of support. There are people facing this alone, where the isolation is more acute. So, yeah, I am doing fine but if I have to go through this, I am glad I am going through it as a member of this community. 

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