Virtual School is For the Birds

Photo by Luca Paul on Pexels.com

We are in our third week of virtual school. With three kids. Two full-time work-from-home parents. Two dogs who lie around all day. And virtual school is for the birds.

I know there is not much of a choice right now. And overall, I will say my family is coping magnificently. I am still being productive. I make lists. I get my work done. I get the house cleaned occasionally. I stay on top of the kids…mostly. They are doing their assignments…mostly. We all still get along…mostly.

Today, the most-amazing teacher of my youngest child emailed me to tell me she hadn’t shown up for her small group? What? She has Whole Group followed immediately for small group. I walked into her room, and she is in bed playing her ipad. Grrr. Seriously? I had loads of work to do this morning, and I just assumed she was doing what she was supposed to do. You know what they say happens when you ASSuMe right?

I realize we are lucky, because we do have the privilege of working from home. But, geez, times are hard. It’s okay to not be okay with virtual school. Or with anything, because we are in the middle of a pandemic, and there is social and political unrest, but I I have these seriously mixed feelings. I wanted my kids to go to school, since they moved hours away from the only home they’d known and had to start over this year. But I also knew being in actual school probably wasn’t the safest place for them. So I felt okay when our district announced we would all start out virtual. Until it actually happened.

You know when you’re about to go on vacation and you have this dream that everything will be perfect. I had that before virtual school. Don’t ask me why. I must be a mostly positive thinker or perhaps I’m delusional. But managing virtual school for a high-schooler, middle-schooler, and an elementary-schooler is harder than I imagined. And the parent Canvas updates make my eyes twitch. I mean, I guess I’m appreciative of knowing whether or not my kid turns his work in, but I sort of feel like his secretary now. Pencil in your Thursday for constant nagging about that English paper that was due Tuesday at 8 AM.

For the most part, the teachers have been amaze-balls. I mean what a freaking hard time to be a teacher. Amiright? They basically went from teaching one way, to being thrown into teaching virtually in March. Then everyone hated on them, because it wasn’t amazingly perfect. I mean is it even possible to recreate the wheel in one day? No, the answer to that question is no. And now the teachers are going above and beyond. And I’m pretty sure they realize virtual learning sucks and isn’t ideal either. The teacher emailing me to tell me my kid didn’t come to class. I mean, how awesome is that. And they also realize how hard this is for the kids, and so most of the teachers have been so amazing about cutting them slack. My English teacher from high school would have circled every amazing in that sentence, besides the first one for repetition. Also, I found one of my high school papers the other day, and did you know the word “interesting” conveys nothing. How interesting.

I do feel lucky not to have a Kindergartener right now or any younger children for that matter. I have a friend who does. I cannot imagine trying to teach little children via Zoom either. My sister has that role, and I am having anxiety for her. She’s an amazing teacher, so I know she will do an awesome job. I mean, seriously, y’all. Our teachers need some serious props for putting up with all this shit. Their world has been turned upside down, just like our world. Let’s start really appreciating them during teacher appreciation week, and also during every.single.other.day they teach. They deserve mad props. Watch the video below to see why teachers are heroes. It will make you laugh, I promise.

The thing about virtual learning is it is only temporary. I keep having to remind myself and my kids that. Especially for my 10th grader, it feels like it will last forever. He’s missing out on his high school experiences, but let’s face it most of those suck. (Ha, just kidding–sort of). But we just need to tell ourselves, our kids, and our teachers every day: we’re in this together. We’ve got this. Communication seriously helps. I have had my kids email their teachers, I’ve emailed teachers, I’ve attended every optional Zoom parent call. Because I want to make this as easy on myself and my kids and their teachers as possible. Because, let’s face this, it’s not easy or even ideal. But we can get through this together.

And one last thing, if you want to be a hero you can donate to my fundraiser for NAAF. The link to the fundraiser is here: https://support.naaf.org/fundraiser/2880085. I am trying to raise $500 for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation to help them continue their research and efforts. Click NAAF to learn more about this amazing organization.

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Support the National Alopecia Areata Foundation

Most of you all know by now, I have alopecia areata. What? You’re bald. Yes. I’m bald.

My kids like to tell me how shiny my head is. Also, lately I have three new hairs on my head, and for some reason my right eyebrow is growing. My eyebrows were microbladed, so the hair is growing over the fake eyebrow.

When I was a kid, I didn’t talk to alopecia with anyone. In fact, if someone brought up the fact I had bald spots I would usually burst into tears or hide. I didn’t understand then that knowledge is power. Plus, I wasn’t completely bald, and I thought a good barrette or ponytail could hide my bald spots. (Pro Tip: They really couldn’t).

I found out about the National Alopecia Areata Foundation as a kid. They offer support for people with alopecias. They hold conferences yearly. I have not yet been to one. They have support groups. I have been to one of those. They also put money toward important research to find a cure for alopecia.

So this month, I’m raising money for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. That’s right. You can click National Alopecia Areata Foundation and go right to my fundraising page. You can find out more about alopecia areata there as well! This is obviously a cause close to my heart. I would give anything to go back to little Lauren and give her some guidance on how to cope, and NAAF does just that for a lot of children with alopecia.

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Not__________Enough

Not pretty enough. Not skinny enough. Not smart enough. Not fast enough. Not talented enough. Not good enough.

Little Lauren

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt like I’m not enough. These are the mantras I’ve told myself about myself for years. Self-doubt and a crisis of confidence have haunted my life. I am not sure why, but from an early age I felt a little less than. Part of it was the alopecia and not knowing how to deal with it. I mean, my mom brushed and put barrettes in my hair to hide my bald spots until I turned twelve. Part of that hiding made me hide who I truly was, probably even from myself.

I think for a lot of my life I have been scared to tell people what I really think or who I am. I am sure this has impacted my friendships and relationships. I’ve been scared to assert myself (my husband would disagree with this, and probably my children too because I’m comfortable around them). I told myself to just be kind and people would like me. But sometimes being kind means getting stepped on and not being true to yourself. There is a middle ground for sure.

I told myself a lot of negative messages about myself, while assigning perfection to other people who probably tell themselves a lot of these same messages too.

Not skinny enough. I always had an athletic build in high school–I played tennis and it was pretty much my life. After high school, I packed on the pounds. Freshman 15? More like Freshman 45! I have always struggled with my weight and let it define me. And why? Weight has nothing to do with my talents or my personality, but people do look at weight and judge a person. I have done it myself–looked at an obese person and wondered how they got there. And I’m not skinny, so that ain’t fair at all!

Not smart enough. As a kid, I went to one of the most prestigious schools in Montgomery, Alabama. I felt like a complete idiot. Everyone there seemed smarter than me. I struggled, especially in math, and was so embarrassed by this that I often hid my grades from my parents. I also had two older sisters at the school who seemed to do fine. Of course, one of my sisters studied her butt off, and I never did that–I sort of had this fly by the seat of the pants attitude about life. And it ended up working for me…until it didn’t.

Not talented enough. I have always loved to write. As a kid, I wrote these long stories mostly about people growing up in the Civil War Days. I had a huge obsession with Abraham Lincoln and triplets. I wrote most of my childhood, but I never felt talented enough to turn the writing into anything. I let other people’s ideas of what I should do influence me. I felt like my writing talent was not enough to make anything substantial. I told myself this even when I published a book, and after that book went out of print.

Not fast enough. A few years back, my sisters decided we would all run a half-marathon together. I said, “Thanks, but no thanks. I do not run.” Well, sibling pressure is real, y’all. I ended up training for 20 weeks, hurting my foot, you name it, but competed and finished the Nashville Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon. But I’ve never been fast. I trained all that time and still had trouble with pacing, keeping up with my sisters, and increasing my time. I told myself I wasn’t fast enough to be a real runner.

Not pretty enough. I have never looked at myself and thought I was pretty. As a child, I struggled a lot with self-image. I had alopecia, and kids made fun of and bullied me. I struggled a lot to look in the mirror and think the person looking back at me might be beautiful. Everyone always told me I had a beautiful smile. But I just couldn’t see what people saw in me. And when I lost all my hair nine years ago, I struggled again. I had a hard time confronting the emotions that came with that loss, and thinking that grieving the loss of my hair might make me self-centered or something like that. I rolled with the punches. I told people about alopecia. I feigned feeling confident. Fake it ’til you make it, right?

So how do you go about changing the not enough into a great big ENOUGH? Start changing the mental dialogue. It takes practice, and sometimes I fall into the same pattern of telling myself I’m not enough.

When I look in the mirror now, I try to think about how easy it is not to have to deal with hair. I can go bald, and I don’t use that much shampoo. When I run, I think about how strong my body is getting. I think that speed doesn’t matter as long as I’m continuing to run the race. When I write, I can acknowledge my talent. I had to stop thinking about what other people might be thinking of me, and start thinking about what I should and could tell myself.

SMART ENOUGH. PRETTY ENOUGH. FAST ENOUGH.

TALENTED ENOUGH.

Still not really skinny enough, but hey I’m working on it.

GOOD ENOUGH

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Dog Parks, Writing, and Kavanaugh

I met a dog named Dog today. I took Son Number Two to the dog park. Dog was a sweet old dog. His owner said she’d gotten to the age where she just names her dogs “Dog” and her cats “Cat.” I liked it. It reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie for some reason.

Son Number Two always gets hurt when we go to Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a park that has a Fine Arts Museum and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a outdoor amphitheater, a dog park, and lots of green space.

But for Son Number Two the following things have happened at Shakespeare:

  • Fell and broke his wrist
  • Fell and his head hit a hard stone, causing a small bullet-sized wound on his head. The wound went all the way to his skull
  • And today–got bitten by a dog at the dog park. I didn’t lose my shit. My dog, Jazz, has nipped a kid before. She can be a bad dog. This dog had just bit another kid though, and then went after Son Number Two. And he did the grab and started to try to shake. I don’t know what set him off. Son Number Two and I were on the way out of the park.

He is okay. He is currently at movies with his dad and brother. They’re seeing something I don’t want to see so I’m having alone time.

My writing is non-existent. My sister wants me to write about my alopecia for The Moth. I also need to be writing and submitting, but I’ve been so busy. Plus, I have thank you letters for work to write, and PTA minutes to write. So much to do.

I wanted to comment on the Kavanaugh proceedings when they were going on, but didn’t have the heart to, especially with the way things went. I am worried for women. I am worried for America. I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale and it suddenly doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities that women’s rights could be erased. I believe women when they say they’ve been assaulted. False accusations are rare. But in the U.S. we still have this blame the victim mentality. And then Kavanaugh played the victim. I don’t want to get political, BUT I don’t think respecting women and listening to them is a political issues. I think we need to learn how to teach our young boys to be gentlemen and that sexual assault is bad. We need to change the narrative.

Signing out–hope to write more. I plan on posting some stories soon, you know, once I start writing them again.

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Vengeance

Another Chuck Wendig challenge today. Chuck asked us to write a story about revenge. I decided to write about a victim of bullying, and how she decides to enact revenge on the bully.

Unfortunately, this story hits home to me. As a 4th grader, I was repeatedly bullied and physically assaulted by another child. I have alopecia, and because I was different, this little boy decided to pick on me. I didn’t tell my parents for a long time. I confided in my sister. She and I spent time sending him love and positive energy, as my sister thought this might make him change his ways. It didn’t.

The next year, my parents moved me out of that school into a private school. I have never forgotten what that little boy did to me, and to this day I wonder if he feels guilty about it. I also wonder what was going on in his life for him to treat me that way. Bullying is a serious issue and should always be addressed. I don’t want to enact revenge on my bully, but an I’m sorry would have been nice. The beginning part of this story is a autobiographical. Teach your kids to be kind and accepting, especially to those who are different.alo


Vengeance — 839 words

 

I had been obsessed with finding Burke Hardwich since about seventh grade. Lying in my bed at night, I pictured his 4th grade self. His two canines missing—never having grown back—and me looking up at him from the ground. The first time he hurt me, we had been lined up for music. He pushed me down, and I went skidding onto the black asphalt, my arm split wide open. I needed stitches. I told my parents it was just an accident.

The accidents continued. Burke would find me alone on the corner of a playground, and he would hit me in the stomach. He kicked out my foot while I carried a tray of spaghetti across the blue and white tile of the cafeteria, red sauce spraying the walls like blood.

I never told Mom and Dad how much Burke hurt me. I started having stomachaches. I sat in the office for most of my 4th grade year, waiting to make a phone call to Dad’s secretary at work who I could always depend on to pick me up.

Burke moved in 5th grade. I felt relief in his leaving of course. My tormentor was gone, and there wasn’t another one to take his place. But as the years went on I became more and more obsessed with Burke.

Fast forward to now. I’m sitting in a dingy apartment in Alabama, and I’ve just landed a job with Burke’s company. He’s a high-powered CEO. Making the big bucks. He’s married and has 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and a dog. I have none of those things. I am alone. I have fixed up my appearance today. I’m wearing a red dress designed to accentuate my curves. I’ve had my teeth stained white, put on just enough makeup, and my hair has been recently curled. I look in the mirror, double-checking myself. I look hot. Who could say no to this?

My pseudonym is Camilla. The name means warrior, and that is what I am. For too long, I have let Burke destroy me, and now it’s my turn to destroy him.

In the office, I plant myself at my assigned desk. My heart beats fast in excitement, not nervousness. Burke comes in, chatting on his cell phone. He raises his eyebrows at me in acknowledgment. The skin in between his eyebrows crinkles up as he looks at me. I see recognition, like he knows me but can’t place me. Yes, Burke, you do know me—at least a previous version of myself.

He goes into his office. A few minutes later, he pings me. I walk in. I place my whole body up on his desk, and I cross my sleek legs. I tap my foot, and my heel slips on and off. I take in his look. His eyes run up and down my body, trying to make sense of what he sees. I know he wants to touch me. I can feel it. I like playing this game of cat and mouse with him. I like being the one in control, not the one flat on my back in the asphalt, or being punched silly on the playground.

The weeks go on. I make advances. At first, he doesn’t do anything. Then one day, there is a touch of my hand. A week goes by. My phone is set to record when he tells me what he wants to do with me. I smile and nod, playing along. That night, I send the audio file to HR. They waste no time in terminating him. I am exultant at his demise.

The next day, I show up at his door. His wife answers. She is grimacing at me.

“Are you her?”

“Is Burke home?”

“Burke,” she screams, and slams the door in my face.

He comes out his face tilted down in guilt and angst. I understand I have probably destroyed his marriage too, a fact that makes me giddy.

“You ruined my fucking life,” he says. “Why would you do that?”

“Burke, do you know who I am?” I ask.

I am playing with fire, being there anyway. He could call the police. He could say I have been stalking him. It would be true. I stand with my hands on my hips and stare at him. His face looks like a question mark. Of course, he would not know. I had meant nothing to him in 4th grade. I was a piece of garbage he had been intent on annihilating. He had put me away with all of the rest of his childish things.

I reach into my purse, and I pull out the 4th Grade class picture. I am in the front row, glasses, and bald spots from alopecia. Burke stands in the back, towering over everyone. I tap on my picture as realization spreads across his face.

“I’m sorry,” he says, shaking his head.

“Yeah me too. But now we’re even.”

I throw the picture at him, and I walk away.

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Bald is Beautiful

Today, I’m not going to write about Southern Literature. Instead, I’m going to discuss alopecia areata, because I read Four Women Bond Over the Beauty in Their Baldness yesterday, and it had me thinking about my journey with alopecia.

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Hello from Bald Lauren! I’ve had alopecia since I was five years old. I remember being at a parade with my mom and saying, “What’s this little itchy bump?” Then I suffered through the worst case of chicken pox (I still have a scar in between my eyes). And after it was all over, my hair felt out but only in patches. My parents dragged me to doctor after doctor, and those doctors didn’t know much. It’s an auto-immune disorder, my parents were told and most likely genetic. My immune system was attacking my hair follicles. I suffered through steroid shots in my head, UV treatments, creams, etc., but nothing worked. The hair came and went. I was bullied by a boy named Rondre at school, who thought being different was a bad thing (I recently looked this boy up, and I was disappointed to find he looks like a successful entrepreneur. I thought for sure he’d be in jail!).

Then after puberty, my hair grew back…mostly. And I came to terms with my alopecia. Before puberty, I was afraid for anyone to know I had bald spots. My mother used to cover them with barrettes, so I could relate to the girl in the article above who said she lied about wearing wigs. It’s hard as a child to be different. I didn’t want anyone to know I had alopecia, and for a long time this held me back. But then it always shaped me by making me more accepting of people who are different than I am.

When my beautiful daughter (above) was about one and I quit breastfeeding, my hair felt out again, but this time all of it fell out. At first, I didn’t feel like I was struggling with it, but for women hair and beauty tend to go hand and hand. I felt fat, bald, and ugly and I decided I had to do something about it. I started exercising, and I started telling myself, “I’m a beautiful woman, with or without hair.” Because I am. And hair and beauty don’t go together. That thought is silly and unproductive. I became accepting of myself. I became more confident, and I also started talking about alopecia. I found when I talked about alopecia my confidence in myself grew. People are afraid of what they don’t know, so informing sets them free, so to speak (I know–total cliche).

Having alopecia has certainly been a challenge for me, but without it I wouldn’t be the person I am. It shaped me into a writer. It made me overcome trials and tribulations, and it clued me into human nature. Most adults and children are accepting, if you explain it to them. I have a tag line, “I don’t have cancer. It’s alopecia.”  I count myself lucky, because alopecia is not life threatening. It’s just something I have to live with, and heck it’s pretty nice not having to shave my legs.

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The Devil Within is now a hashtag!

First and foremost, I’m a guest blogger on Tami Lund’s site today! Check it out at http://tamilund.com/?p=2353. Tami is an awesome paranormal romance writer who I met through the Writing Wenches, and I featured her on my blog a week ago when I was in Punta Cana. Check out what I wrote about Gideon, who you all are going to hear a lot about as I work on editing his and Lana’s story.

Today, I registered a hashtag for #TheDevilWithin! Last year, I started using Twitter for the first time to try to promote myself and my work. I heard as a writer that social media presence is a “must have” in this day and age. I fought against it though, because honestly, Twitter? I thought it was silly, but it’s a great way to support authors and have others support you. It’s a great way to meet contact and even pitch work. So send me some love on Twitter by hastagging #TheDevilWithin.

I ordered my books this week, but I haven’t received them yet. Yesterday, I went to my parents’ house, and my dad had my book. I’ve always felt like my dad is my harshest critic (I’m sure my kids will say the same about me when they’re grown). It was great for me to go over there yesterday and the first words out of my dad’s mouth were, “I’m reading your book, about halfway through, and it’s great. The characters are great and it’s extremely readable.” My heart felt happy in that moment. These are the words an author longs to hear from their readers. When their words resonate with an audience. That’s what’s writing is all about. Oh, yes, and sanity too (in my case).

Here I am with my book:

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My dad said he wanted me to sign it as Lulu. Lulu is a character in the book, a cousin the same age as William. And she has alopecia universalis like me. She does have aspects of my personality, but she deals with alopecia so well. She’s fierce and she doesn’t let anyone mess around her. In essence, she’s the child I wish I had been when coping with my alopecia in grade school.

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Blogging! Bananas!

B

Blogging seems an appropriate word for an A-Z Blogging Challenge.  Why is this post called “Blogging! Bananas!?” Because I’m sitting here at 5:20 AM badly wanting a banana. I can’t explain it, besides to say when I played around unsuccessfully with Canva this morning, a monkey mysteriously appeared in the “charge” box. I scraped that, because I didn’t want to pay $1 for a monkey who didn’t exist in my image. But ever since, I have wanted bananas. And guess what? No bananas. In my house, bananas either fester and grow black or they’re gone within a day. Sort of like blog posts. You either get a lot of hits or none at all, depending on so many factors: topic, tags, categories, advertising, marketing or just dumb luck.

I started seriously blogging about four years ago. When I say serious, I mean I tried to blog a couple of times a week. I’ve never made, or really tried to make money, on my blog. I blogged over at http://www.lululandadventures.blogspot.com/, which I’m sad to say I haven’t been updating recently. I need to, because I’ve changed that to my personal blog, and this is my writing blog. I came to blogging after years of ignoring an urge to write. I came to blogging to deal with the loss of my hair to alopecia areata. I’d had it as a child, but after I stopped breastfeeding my daughter I lost all my hair. At first, my blog was used as a cathartic release.

I feel like blogging gave me the stepping stone to start writing again. Once I started writing again, I had the motivation to start querying. When that didn’t work, I self-published. Now, one of my books is in editing with Booktrope, and I hope it’ll be published in May.  All of this, because I had the courage to put myself out there and blog.