Academics and Parenthood in the Time of COVID-19

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Choose Your Own Adventure

I was thrilled to be asked to do a keynote at the Studio20 conference. The team at BCCampus imagined an innovative, fun, energizing event and were really accommodating with making some of the ideas I had come to life.

Day 3 is about engaging learners online. Since we were talking about giving learners meaningful choice, I decided to do a Choose Your Own Adventure style keynote using a combination of H5P’s ‘branching scenario’ and ‘course presentation.’ This is the asynchronous version, which was recorded and which also has a transcript for those who don’t want to listen to my voice for 30 minutes. That way, conference attendees can go through and select different choices.

Anyhow, this keynote allowed me to bring together everything from Murderball to disability justice to student choice to UDL to the Paralympics to open pedagogy. It’s licensed CC-BY so others can remix it. Enjoy!

Protected: Choose Your Own Adventure

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In 2009, I had a hip replacement and lost the ability to walk.

In 2015, I did two half marathons.

This sounds like the beginning of an inspirational tale, but it’s really not. Doing a half marathon when you have avascular necrosis, are on your second hip replacement and don’t have a gluteus medius on your left side is a bad idea. I messed up my knee and my back, and within a year was unable to work out altogether.

Today, I have trouble bending down to pick up my daughter, and I struggle to walk for more than a few minutes. I’m back to using a forearm crutch. Is this all because of the half marathon? No. But a lot of it is due to my desire to push my body to the point of breaking. Sometimes, the impulse leads to good things: novels and grad school diplomas and Paralympic medals. Rarely, however, has it ever been good for me.

I love exercise. I can do very little exercise. I’m not very good at holding these two contradictions at once. Historically, the minute my back has felt even a little better, I’ve jumped right into some workout program with a name like “the 30 day Shed n’ Shred!” (The only thing I shredded is the last bits of my gluteus medius). I’ll say things like, “Wow, I am really loving this Body Bootcamp Extreme Plus! Did I mention that I can’t feel the side of my right foot? And that the side of my kneecap is swollen so it looks like I have two kneecaps, kind of like a bum, but on my knee! Bad luck, I guess. Total coincidence.”

For years, I’ve done no exercise, because I need the function to take care of my daughter. In August, however, I started getting trigger point injections every few weeks. They don’t help with the disc stuff, but they’ve taken the muscle spasming down enough that I can start moving my body a little more comfortably.

Last month, I randomly signed up for the Be.Come Project, which offers body-neutral workout videos. I thought they might help me build some more core strength, which might help my back pain. They’re gentle enough that I’ve been able do them, though I’ve needed modifications. Honestly, workout videos get a bad rap. They’re the most accessible form of exercise for me. I’ve tried to attend group fitness classes in the past before Covid, but the instructor inevitably says something like, “You need to stop buckling your knee in during that lunge” and then I have to give the Coles Notes version about why I would love to do that, but I do not have a gluteus medius and so literally can’t, and then the instructor usually cheerfully tells me that it’s important to try/stay positive and I have to explain — while music blares and the other participants stare at me — that I physically do not have the muscle required to do the thing, no matter how positive I am. With workout videos, I can flail around at home and only my cat can judge me.

But the important thing is that I was able to stick to doing just 3 workouts a week. Not 5. Not 7. Just 3. Just 30 minutes per session. At the end of every session, I stretch to “This Year” by the Mountain Goats.

After a month, I look exact the same. I’m proud of that sameness. I’m proud that I didn’t go too far, that my primary motivation wasn’t to punish myself or overcome myself. My body has demonstrated time and time again that it won’t be shedded/shredded/sculpted/bootcamped/fatblasted. As I’ve learned more about fat liberation, I’ve stopped seeing thinness as a desirable goal.

I still miss sports. I really do. I miss working out with other people. But it feels good right now to focus on gentleness, on endorphins, on stopping when it hurts in the wrong way, on drinking a cool glass of water after a just-long-enough workout as The Mountain Goats remind me that I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me.

A Very Boring Choose Your Own Adventure

The pandemic has been going on for six months, and it’s strange how far away pre-pandemic life feels. It’s seems almost incomprehensible that I ever took an airplane, went on a business trip, stayed in a hotel. I don’t travel much now that I teach full-time, but when I worked in marketing/communications, I used to travel fairly regularly. I always hated it, since travel flares up a lot of my pain issues.

Lately, however, I’ve found myself trying to remember the small details of what those moments were like. So, since I wanted to teach myself H5P’s branching scenarios, I decided to create a very boring Choose Your Own Adventure. This Choose Your Own Adventure just recreates a business trip: something that would have been unremarkable and even annoying a few years ago, but now seems like a wild, exotic vacation. I found it very soothing to remember these details and to create something where you could spend 10 or 15 minutes wandering around an airport. It reminded me of when, as a teenager, I used to create elaborate text-based role-playing games.

Anyhow, this might only be soothing to me, but I figured I’d share it in case anyone wanted to pretend to be on a pre-pandemic business trip. I don’t think we should return to this life: so much of it was wasteful. But these days, when doing normal things feels like visiting Jurassic Park, I had fun making this.

And thank you!

It’s the end of the semester, and my plans of blogging each week got lost in a flurry of parenting and grading and lesson planning and committees and conferences and webinars and extra projects and why did I say yes to that and how did I think I had time for that and too much iced coffee. So it goes.

But this is pandemic pedagogy, and it’s important to at least try to extend grace to myself. The semester is never perfect, and it’s certainly not perfect in a pandemic. (And, as Michelle Nahanee recently said in a webinar about decolonization, “perfectionism is a tool of colonialism.”) At the end on the semester, there will be loose ends, unanswered emails, threads I forgot to pick back up. I don’t expect perfection from my students so I shouldn’t expect it from myself. I try to teach writing by focusing on the process. I want students to take risks, and fail, and try something new. I try to model failure myself: process-based teaching.

At the beginning of the semester, our class made a charter where we laid out 5 things I would agree to do and 5 things the students would agree to do. As one of my 5 things, I agreed to throw a class party. I gave students input and they decided a) that we should have a talent show and b) that I should sing and rap at said talent show.

Am I a good singer? No. Can I keep a beat? Also no. Can I at least stay in key? Again, no.

In fact, when I try to sing my toddler says, “No. Mommy doesn’t sing that. Google sings that.” Then, she tries to get the Google Home to sing the song. (Another sign I need to get rid of that Google Home).

But, here is a good opportunity to model failure and vulnerability and risk-taking. Also, as a child I dreamed of becoming the next Weird Al, so I was glad for the chance to write a song parody. I decided to pick something that was both relatively easy to sing and also had both singing and rapping: “You’re Welcome” from Moana. (Can you tell I have a toddler?)

My composition process took several weeks:

  • I wrote the lyrics. That was relatively easy, and I awarded myself bonus points for rhyming ‘authentic’ with ‘pandemic.’
  • I tried to record myself singing over a karaoke track I found, but my voice was quiet and the song was loud. Fail.
  • I reached out to Dr. Gordon Cobb, who’s a genius in all things audio. Like any good educator, he expressed enthusiasm for my project and gave me a small, feasible task to do, which was to record the project in GarageBand. Lesson: don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • I refreshed myself on GarageBand and tried to sing to the karaoke track, but I couldn’t keep the timing without the lyrics appearing on the screen in the karaoke track. Lesson: sometimes you need a model to work from.
  • After several failed attempts, I decided that I would just have to sing it live. That meant more practice. Lesson: when your plan goes awry, make a new plan.
  • My husband helped me edit the audio files and even added a much-needed dash of autotune. Lesson: revision is important, as is asking for help.

So, at the end of the day, I have a recording of myself singing my business communication parody of “You’re Welcome.” Does it sound great and polished? No. Do I cringe to listen to it? Yeah, kind of. But I’ve never done something like this before, and it was fun to step outside of my comfort zone.

So here, for all to see, is my business communication parody of “You’re Welcome.” The lyrics are below, in case you want to sing along.

You’re Writing
(To the tune of You’re Welcome from Moana)

Ok, ok, I see what’s happening here

You’re doing workplace writing and it’s strange

You don’t even know where to start

It’s uncomfortable

Well a lot can happen with a little change

Open your laptop. Let’s begin

to think of writing situations we’ve been in

We don’t have to learn it all at once

Let’s start by thinking of our audience

What can I say except you’re writing

Emails, memos, reports

Hey it’s okay, it’s okay

You’re writing

Just use plain language to keep it short


What has 4 steps and helps us assess

If we can trust a source? – yes

The SIFT test

When you learn someone

How can you give the credit right?

Just make sure you cite!

Oh, there are so many great ways

When writing

To quote your source or paraphrase

No one learns it all alone

When writing

Our influences help us grow!

So what can I say except you’re writing

Choosing words to fit your tone

A little bit every day, 

you’re writing

We don’t have to do it alone

You’re writing

You’re writing

Well, come to think of it

Class, honestly do not go on and on

Keep it concise or your reader will start to yawn

Your charts, your graphs, your visuals

Use some alt text just to make them accessible

I started a blog

Did a few tries

Tried it again

Cause it’s good to revise

What’s the lesson?
What is the takeaway?

Don’t start to fret if your writing’s in disarray

Cause these headings I put in my draft

Are just one way to work through my craft

Look at you’re progress

You’re making it happen

Take a step back and you might start a’clapping

Hey, hey, hey, hey

Well, anyway let me say you’re writing

Even though the semester’s done

You’re meeting your goals, your plans

You’re writing

Cause you’ve worked hard and hopefully had fun

Hey everyday just say you’re writing

In a way that feels authentic

You’re doing amazing work, you’re writing

Even though we’re in a global pandemic

You’re writing

You’re writing

And thank you!

Monday, June 8th, 2020

Dear Dottie,

Today, you and I went to the Mamas March for Black and Indigenous Lives protest and storytime teach-in. The night before, we made signs and you decorated them with crayons. One said “Black and Indigenous Lives Matter” and another said “Justice for Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore.” We talked about protests, and anti-Black racism, and why we were marching.

Today, we went to the rose garden in Queens Park: you in the toddler carrier, me walking with my forearm crutch. You holding both signs: one in each fist. Me, doing the best I could to keep up with the other protestors.

My love, one of the hardest parts of having chronic pain is when I have to deny you an experience. We stopped going to swimming lessons because I couldn’t bend enough to safely do the exercises. We stopped going to Baby Time because I couldn’t sit on the floor. You don’t understand this now, but one day you’ll notice that I can’t move as fast as the other mamas. I wish so much that I could do things like teach you how to ice skate, or take dance lessons with you. I wish I could give you an underduck on the swings.

I can’t walk for very long, especially not when I’m babywearing. But it’s important to me that you see protests in action. I want you to know both that Canada is racist and colonialist, and that you can do something about it. And I want you to listen to people who have experienced oppression, and do what you can to fight back against oppressive systems.

Throughout my life, I have wanted to be more of an activist than I am. My body is not built for direct action. I am too much of a people-pleaser. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve been more comfortable calling out racism. And while I know that political action looks a lot of different ways, and while I know that I can donate and post and have discussions and all of that counts, I wanted you to feel what happens when people move together singing and chanting and cheering. I wanted you to feel a part of a movement, even if you’re too little to know what a movement is.

So, we moved together with a crowd of 50 or 60 people. “Momma’s stick is tapping,” you said. “That’s a tapping sound.” We left the park and marched towards Moody Park. I wore a mask, as did most of the grownups. Everyone carried signs. The crowd shouted, “No justice, no peace,” and you did the ‘No peace’ part. You held up the signs. “I’m a big helper,” you said.

As we walked, the sun came out, and you snuggled against my chest. When you were a baby, I wore you all the time, and it’s your favourite place to be. When you’re upset, you run to the closet and bring me the carrier. I don’t wear you very often, because of my back pain: one more thing my pain has taken from us.

But I wore you, and we walked, and we chanted, and despite the honking and the chanting, you fell asleep against my chest with your signs clutched in your fists. When you let them go, a punk couple dressed in black picked them up, because I couldn’t bend. You’d wake up, disoriented, and want the sign back. Then, you’d fall asleep and drop it again, lulled by the cadence of my crutch and the sway of my limp, and someone would pick them up for us.

When we got the park, you woke up and wanted to run around. We listened to a few stories, and I read part of “When We Were Alone,” before you ran off and I had to chase you. Then, Nana came with my car and picked us up, so I wouldn’t have to walk back.

Dottie, you are sensitive and strong-willed. I love that about you. You were born with fierce opinions. You know exactly what you want. And I want you to use these qualities for good. It will take more than one march to orient you towards anti-racism and justice. But this moment is a good time to promise you that I will have tough conversations with you, that I will fill our house with books and movies that don’t center people who look like you. I will call out racism when I see it, and work on my own learning and unlearning. My sweet goose, I will love you however you are, but I do hope that you grow up to be more radical than I am.

I’ve been thinking a lot about discomfort. One of my mottos is “I am comfortable with being uncomfortable.” As someone with chronic pain, I am used to physical discomfort. But I am trying to get used to emotional discomfort: to sit with uncomfortable feelings and not get defensive, to acknowledge when I’ve caused harm. I hope that you will develop a positive relationship to your own discomfort. I don’t have good answers for you. I’ve both paid a price for ignoring my own discomfort and powering through, and for centring my own discomfort to the cost of others.

I also hope that growing up with a disabled mom will show you the importance of community. Another mom at the park will give you an underduck on the swings. Someone else will pick up the signs you dropped. And I hope that you will learn that true community needs to include reciprocity. People help us. We help people. From each according to their ability; to each according to their need, as Marx said. I hope you will learn to look around and ask yourself who gets help, who’s left out, whose discomfort is centred at whose expense?

Right now, you’re sleeping in your new big girl bed. You are not a fan. You’ve already been up once crying, wanting your crib back. But you’re growing up, and sometimes transitions are hard. Change is hard. You may never sleep on my chest in your carrier again. But you’re sleeping now, settled. I hope you dream of people shouting ‘no justice, no peace’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the cadence of my crutches tapping. I hope you are proud of the work you did today, my big helper. We have so much more work to do.



Hi CMNS 1110!

How’s it going? We are in a session. It is Friday! yay!

Rainbow cat wearing headphones

Saturday, May 23

The semester has started and my day goes like this:

  • Work
  • Parent
  • Work while parenting
  • Parent while working
  • Work and parent badly
  • Brief break to play Boggle
  • Back to work
  • Stare into space
  • More working
  • Fall asleep to baking show.

But sometimes, I get a little slice of daylight. Yesterday, I took my toddler to New Brighton Beach. I’d been busy all day with grocery shopping, then weekly (optional) synchronous sessions, and the toddler and I needed a little time together. I asked her what she wanted to do and she said, “Drive in the car and see some ducks and go to the beach.” You got it, kid.

So, we went to New Brighton Beach. Only two other people were wearing masks, but I wore my jellyfish mask, which delighted my daughter. She kept asking me to pick her up, then patting my face and saying, “One jellyfish. Another jellyfish. Oh, it’s another jellyfish.” Then she’d try to kiss me, which kind of defeats the purpose of a mask but was endearing nonetheless.

We immediately saw little ducklings, and then we threw rocks in the ocean, and ran up hills and learned about barnacles. Soon, she was tired, so she asked to be carried in our toddler carrier. So we walked around for a bit and had some sleepy snuggles.

On our way to the car, we passed two East Van Hipster girls, and one of them loudly said, “It’s so performative to wear a mask outside when your kid isn’t even wearing one.”

We’ve been in our own little bubble, literally, for months. And so it’s weird to have our bubble popped in those moments, when I remember that other people are watching us, making judgements about our decisions. Yes, the toddler wasn’t wearing her mask. Even wearing pants requires some negotiation. And yes, I was one of only a few people wearing masks outside. So many different opinions, different priorities, different values. So much tension running high.

But it felt good to be outside. As the semester gets busier, I’ll have to remember to save room for little adventures like this.

May 16, 2020

It’s back to school! In January, I began the Spring semester feeling optimistic. My daughter was entering daycare and I thought I might finally have enough childcare to have some time to catch my breath. I was excited to meet a new group of students. My OER textbook was coming together, I had some cool projects on the horizon: this was going to be my year.

And then Covid-19 hit, and everything changed. I still had great students, but the way I taught was completely upended, and our daycare was closed. I changed my method of delivery, my priorities and even my assignments, which is how I ended up blogging.

But now it’s a new semester: a new group of students, and a new situation. My students will be blogging from the start, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of their blogs and hearing their stories. I hope we get to meet in person one day, but even through the computer, their personalities are coming through. It seems appropriate that the semester is starting right as two things are happening:

  1. It’s become clear that this won’t be over soon. We are going to have to adjust our way of life for years.
  2. BC is doing well *knock on wood* and we’re beginning to lift some of the restrictions.

BC’s second phase is definitely causing both joy and anxiety, with some people feeling more joy, and others more anxiety. There’s still so much we don’t know about Covid-19, and many places that have opened up too soon have had a surge in cases. As I type this, there’s a large group of teenagers passing by: laughing, shouting at each other, not social distancing in the least. Some people are treating this as a return to normal, and others are hunkering down and preparing for things to get worse.

So far, however, it has felt good to be back in the classroom, even if that classroom is my couch and my computer. Even though I’ve taught online before, my classes have always had face-to-face orientation sessions. It was strange to facilitate creating our team charter in a collaborative writing document, though both classes came up with thoughtful charters. And it was definitely a first when my toddler burst into my office, said hello to everyone, found a random ziploc bag full of nails, then turned on my husband’s Spiderman game. I guess she’s been promoted to teaching assistant.

Monday, May 11

Today, I was doing some online banking and scrolled down to my February purchase history. How strange to see all those little transactions. The salted chocolate chip cookie I bought at Platform 7 and ate while reading a book. The coffee I bought on the way to work, before my 10 am class. The glass of wine I bought when I saw Hannah Gadsby.

And those tiny grocery bills. We used to go nearly every day, and it was the highlight of my toddler’s day. I know it’s a privilege at the best of times to be able to buy a coffee without thinking about it. But I felt so sad, looking at all those brief, thoughtless little moments of pleasure. Driving to work, drinking my iced coffee, listening to podcasts. Wandering the aisles of stores.

I know the last thing I bought before sheltering in place: a bag of flavourless Baked Lays at the Subway in Columbia College’s lobby. I was there to give a session on OER. If I’d only known, I wouldn’t have wasted my last frivolous purchase on wallpaper-paste sadness crisps. After my session ended, I saw a text from my friend. She’d become very ill after going to a conference, and the news was reporting that the conference had a Coronavirus outbreak. We’d interacted with her.

I picked my toddler up at daycare, drove her to a specialist’s appointment (where we were exposed to Covid, I’d find out later), and came home knowing that my family was going into lockdown. That was March 11th. Exactly two months ago.

Right now, we’re caught in an anxious moment where rules are starting to be relaxed, but there’s also no end in sight and there are expected to be larger outbreaks. Some people seem to be treating it as business as usual, and others are worried that relaxing the rules will cause mass death. Either way, I just can’t imagine casually wandering the aisles of a store, popping into a coffee shop, sitting there with my laptop people-watching. I’ve been reading that they might never find a vaccine. Or, the vaccine will only give a slight protective advantage for some people.

I am lucky to still have a job. I can pay my bills and feed my family. And it feels indulgent to stew over wanting to walk the streets with an iced coffee in your hand. But every once in awhile you get the reminder that we are in this for the long haul, and nothing will be the same, and I think it’s okay to mourn for those little moments of pleasure.

A poster on a wall that says "be kind. Be calm. Be safe."
Someone is posting these around our neighbourhood

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