To My Fellow Educators: Please Stop Saying Our Kids Are Falling Behind

To members of the U.S. Department of EducationThe National School Boards AssociationNational Association of Elementary School PrincipalsNational Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and AASA, The School Superintendents Association and our nation’s teachers: As a long-time Texas educator, nationally- and internationally-known and respected educational consultant on matters of literacy, and an award-winning author of educational books, I have one piece of advice – not requested but offered with a genuine heart: stop.

Stop any conversation you hear (or might have considered starting) that “our kids are behind” and “they must catch up.” I respectfully ask, “Behind what?” “Catch up to what?” Our kids are not behind as a result of a pandemic, though at some other time I will happily discuss the insidious systemic racial inequalities that have always existed in our schools, inequalities that have kept many with fewer opportunities than others. But our students are not “behind” now because of this pandemic.

What they are is stressed, anxious, lonely, worried, frustrated, and afraid of what happens next. But they are not behind a reading level or a math skill or a science concept. Rarely have I ever encountered any one concept in any classroom that is only taught once. We teach and reteach; we push kids to apply learned skills, strategies, and concepts in increasingly complex ways across the grades. That will continue to happen and anyone who says, “But they should have learned about mixed fractions in third grade and now we’ll have to do it in fourth grade” is too worried about benchmark learning and not focused enough on what learning should actually be about.

In many ways, our students across all grades have learned skills no one would have expected them to learn at their ages. They have been required to sit at a computer screen for 5, 6, 7 hours a day and figure out different learning platforms. They have had to figure out what to do when a school requires they be in their synchronous learning classroom when the sibling or parent is using the one computer in the home. Many have learned to monitor their own learning while watching siblings, preparing meals for siblings, or being scared while they are home alone. Many have finally returned to schools to be told, “Don’t touch,” “Don’t hug,” “Don’t get too close,” “Don’t share,” . . .  In a world where we want them to experience all they can do, they have been put behind see-through plastic screens on desks pushed that have been pushed six feet apart and told all that they can’t do.

Milko/Getty

In spite of all that, they have learned critical skills. They have learned empathy; they have – whether they realize it or not – become global citizens. They have learned what it means to stay inside; to substitute “I want to” with “I should.” And too many have learned what happens when parents lose jobs; too many have learned, at far too young an age, what grief is. They have learned that fear in the pit of your stomach when you hear someone you love has contracted COVID. They have learned how to cope with difficulties we never dreamed of preparing them to learn.

They have learned that some neighborhoods had more neighbors to contract the disease; they have learned that some hospitals received fewer supplies or received them later than other hospitals; they have seen, now, far more white people receive the vaccine than people of color or people of poverty. And they have questions about that. Questions they have been told “Don’t ask” and teachers have been told “Don’t answer.” They have learned that kindness counts. They have learned what it means to be without and how good it feels to help and to receive help. They have learned that in the worst of moments, they survived.

To dare to say our kids are behind, is to demean all the parents and teachers in this nation who have done their best under circumstances we never dared to imagine but experienced each and every day. These circumstances, for many teachers, were made worse when ridiculous requirements such as how long they must be at their computers, what they must do to show they are indeed teaching, how much they must cover of a curriculum that mattered little this year, how they must buy their own personal protection equipment and use their own dollars to supply classrooms with sanitizers, and teach face-to-face with no vaccines were never ending. This year has caused even our most veteran of teachers to question how they keep going and has reduced our novice teachers to questioning if they will stay in teaching. And now, now they are reminded they must never, ever forget the forthcoming TEST.

Stop relying on that ridiculous state test. It doesn’t measure a critical thing about what was learned this year or what was taught. If universities can set aside the lauded SAT/ACT this year, then what are we saying to our children, parents, and teachers when we say, “Oh, yes, we’ll be giving THE TEST this year”? What are we showing we value? Yes, let’s have a long-overdue conversation about this test. But for now, STOP the demands to “Make sure the kids are ready.”

To the U.S. Department of Education, stop waiting for states to ask for waivers to give THE TEST. Step in and stop the insanity.

To Dr. Jill Biden, thank you for your support of teachers and please see if you can perhaps push a little sanity into decisions being made right now.

And to all teachers: Stop listening to those who say your kids are behind. That’s a statement without merit, offered in unprecedented times, that is uttered by those who value testing, not learning, and statistics, not students. To those who say such things, I say they have not seen you delivering food to homes with little or none, staying online to talk to the kid who is alone, accepting work at any point in the unit, crying when one kid finally shows up because your heart has worried about that child/teen, and laughing with your students when a cat arrives to sit upon your shoulders. They haven’t seen all you have done to explain the unexplainable while you, too, wonder at this nation’s insanity.

Dear teachers, stop saying, “I can’t” because you have. You have shown up. You have done what you did not think you could. You have taught your kids under the worst of situations because it’s what you do. You are tired, stressed, anxious, worried, and feeling alone. I wish I could make those feelings go away. But I can remind you that feelings of inadequacy should be shoved aside. Please don’t think you can’t, because you did. You gave our nation’s students needed normalcy (though a new normalcy) and you showed them grace when few extended the same to you.

Our nation owes you so much and gives you so little. I wish we would all stop any belittling remarks toward teachers and those administrators who do support them. So, to all of the rest of us; stop saying what your child’s teacher did not do and start thanking that teacher for what was done.

Respectfully,

Kylene Beers, Ed.D.

Co-author with Bob Probst of Forged by Reading, Disrupting Thinking, Notice and Note, and Reading Nonfiction

National Leadership Award recipient by the National Council Teachers of English

Teachers Choice Award recipient for Disrupting Thinking

Past President of the National Council of Teachers of English

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Jonathan Van Ness Urges HIV+ People To Check Vaccine Eligibility In Their State

“Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is urging fellow HIV+ folks to see if they’re currently eligible to receive the COVID vaccine

Jonathan Van Ness is using his platform to urge the HIV positive community to find out if their state will allow them to get the COVID-19 vaccine yet. He shared a photo of himself receiving the vaccine in order to encourage others to do the same. Because he’s an actual angel.

Van Ness took to Instagram with the important message and a snap of his own vaccine moment. “In NY, where I’m working the vaccine program expanded to include people w pre-existing conditions, being HIV+ is one of the conditions that allows folks to be vaccinated, so if you’re HIV+ please check your states guidelines to see if you’re eligible and get vaccinated against covid-19!” he writes.

Van Ness opened up in 2019 about his own HIV status telling The New York Times of his decision to share the news publicly. “When Queer Eye came out, it was really difficult because I was like, ‘Do I want to talk about my status?,” he said. “And then I was like, ‘The Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatization of the L.G.B.T. community thrive around me.’” Because of this, he said, “I do feel the need to talk about this.”

“These are all difficult subjects to talk about on a makeover show about hair and makeup,” he said. “That doesn’t mean Queer Eye is less valid, but I want people to realize you’re never too broken to be fixed.”

Van Ness using his voice to help others is now more important than ever as vulnerable populations are becoming COVID vaccine-eligible. Depending on which state, some people who live with HIV may already be able to get the vaccine, including New York residents, which is where he got his shot.

“There was a list of other conditions that allows for vaccination so wherever you are check the lists and see if you can get in line. Some places like Cali will give leftover doses but just see what’s happening in your area,” he shares.

Then he touches on an issue that many are grappling with as they join the rush to secure their dose. “Had I not been looking online everyday I wouldn’t have seen, so def get involved with your search.”

The star also shared how he felt after receiving the shot. “This was my first shot and other than minor soreness in my arm had no side effects and will get my second shot in a few weeks,” he says. “Each state has different guidelines so you’ll want to look into yours. Definitely need patience, resolve, access to internet to do this so plz if you can help others obtain information or access plz so that.”

Do as JVN says and find out if and when you’re eligible to receive this all-important vaccine.

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‘Schitt’s Creek’ Town Bakery Says Annie Murphy’s Review Helped Them Survive Pandemic

Annie Murphy’s favorite bakery in fake Schitt’s Creek town stays afloat during pandemic thanks to her shoutout

Schitt’s Creek was filmed in the real-life small town of Goodwood, Ontario in Uxbridge Township just north of Toronto. In this small town, many actual shops provided the facades for show locations like David’s apothecary and Cafe Tropical. Although one bakery in the town didn’t make it onscreen, the owner says he was able to survive financially during the pandemic because of the love the cafe got from one Schitt’s Creek cast member.

Per Insider, Annina’s Bakeshop & Cafe in Goodwood is a small “country shop with gourmet flavors” and has been run for the past 12 years by owner Marco Cassano. When Schitt’s Creek moved into town, the show enlisted the bakery to cater food to set and it became a fan-favorite among the cast.

However, like most businesses, the pandemic meant they struggled to make sales and considering that Goodwood is a niche, small town made it even harder. That’s when Annie Murphy went on Late Night With Seth Meyers and gave the bakery the ultimate shoutout.

During the pandemic, Murphy says she was “stir-crazy and nostalgic” and decided to take a drive up to Goodwood to reminisce about the Schitt’s Creek days and get one of Annina’s famous butter tarts. “There’s a bakery in Goodwood called Annina’s, which is the best bakery,” she told Meyers.

While there, a group of Schitt’s Creek super fans saw Murphy “roaming the streets like a maniac” (her words), putting the town of Goodwood back on the map in terms of tourism. Although the Schitt’s Creek social media manager warned fans against crowding the small town during the pandemic, Annina’s owner Cassano says those Schitt’s Creek fans flocking to his cafe for an Annie Murphy-approved butter tart is the only thing that kept his sales up during the coronavirus pandemic.

“[Annie’s review] kept our sales the same, our staffing the same,” Cassano said. “The health departments actually emailed and they told us, ‘You need to find a way to control the crowds that are coming.'”

The store actually needed to hire security guards to man the line that formed outside, which at some points got to 50-60 people deep. He also said there was an increase in mail-orders from the U.S. for butter tarts.

Another fun fact about Annina’s Bakeshop? Eugene Levy would regularly stop into the shop to buy meat pies, which is so on-brand for Mr. Levy.

We hope the Schitt’s Creek fans visiting the bakery are respectful of social distancing guidelines to keep the Goodwood citizens safe, but we’re happy to hear that Schitt’s Creek isn’t just a lovely show that brings people joy, it’s also saving the economy.

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It Isn’t A Pandemic Wall — It’s A Pandemic Existential Crisis

We’ve all heard of the “pandemic wall.” There are memes. Articles. Venting to our therapists and BFFs. The concept is pretty simple: we’ve hit that point when we can’t go any more. Forward momentum stops. We break down.

“The pandemic wall pops up at different times for different people, but for a vast group of people, the wall has smacked them in the face within the past three weeks,” wrote Maura Judkis in the Washington Post. “The year 2020 was cursed; this is widely acknowledged. But New Year’s Day brought little relief. The first month of this year felt a lot like the 13th month of last year.”

The thing is, I’ve already hit the “pandemic wall” at least a dozen times in the past year. At some point, it stops becoming a wall and becomes… something else. I don’t know about you, but the pandemic wall has crushed me into a full-blown pandemic existential crisis.

“Once 2021 hit, it was like, ‘Oh, we’re still in this,’” Grey Gordon, a 27-year-old creative director for a record label told the Washington Post. “I was like, how much longer can I do this? These are my lost years.”

Yes, the lost years. At some point, this becomes less of a “grind it out” kind of thing and more of a “who am I and what I am I doing with my life” kind of thing. Unlike “hitting a wall” in a marathon or a challenging long-term work project, we don’t know when the end will come. We’ve been told that there’s “a light at the end of the tunnel” so many times, it’s beginning to feel like that light they’re all talking about is just a mirage of flicker. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Or was it ever there to begin with?

The thing is, most days I feel…I don’t know… fine? I make it through my work day, clean up after dinner (my husband usually cooks), do the laundry, text a friend, and nag my kids to finish their homework. I am a generally happy and optimistic person. But sometimes the fucked-up-ness of this reality kind of takes my breath away and before I know it I’m doing something wild like reorganizing the pantry at 10pm on a Friday night or researching moving to Portugal or crying in the car on a Tuesday afternoon (okay, so the crying in the car isn’t all that out of the ordinary).

“Some of the people who are approaching their pandemic wall might turn to the same advice given to runners,” wrote Judkis in the Washington Post. “Distract yourself. Try ‘positive self-talk.’ Ask for help. Eat some more carbs. When all else fails, just put one foot in front of the other.”

But that “one foot in front of the other” advice only works if you’re still walking. At some point, the landscape has shifted so much that we’re no longer running. Hell, we’re not even walking anymore, we’re crawling or staring at the edge of a mountain. At some point, the best option isn’t to put one foot in front of each other to move forward, but to stop, backtrack, and change direction.

That’s where I’m at. Do I keep on keeping on? Or change course entirely?

Is this really what life is like now, indefinitely? Masks and Zoom calls and night after night, week after week at home? What is even happening? We are living that “everything’s fine” dumpster fire meme every day – enduring and telling ourselves we’re building resilience, all with the implication that things will go “back to normal” (or some semblance of normal) relatively soon – but this isn’t sustainable. At all.

Some days, I don’t even know who I am, where I am, or what I want anymore.

I don’t feel like I’ve just hit a wall; I feel like I’m being spun around in a tornado of shit while some kind of giant whack-a-mole hammer keeps smashing down on me at random times. I don’t know where to turn or what to do or how to take a goddamn breath. There are days when I actually miss annoying small talk with strangers. And then there are days when I want to take a vow of silence and hibernate on my couch forever. There are days when I want to go balls to the wall with my career. And other days I want to pack my bags and live the nomad life.

Here is the reality a year into the pandemic: There’s a “Hunger Games”-like fight for the limited vaccines that we have available. Huge swaths of Americans refuse to wear a mask. And new variants threaten to destroy any positive progress made in the last couple months.

This is some fucked up shit we’re dealing with, y’all. There is nothing normal about it, yet for some reason we’re all pretending that everything is… I don’t know… fine. Meanwhile we’re screaming inside THIS IS NOT FINE. NOT FINE AT ALL.

So, yeah, I’m struggling. And I’m guessing that if you’re honest with yourself, you are too. It’s okay to admit this. It doesn’t mean I’m not keenly aware of the profound privilege I have to even complain about these things, let alone miss things like traveling and eating out a restaurant and hanging out with friends on a Friday night. I am fortunate to have a job, to have my health, to have a comfortable and safe home. I am privileged.

But I’m also confused AF, and tired as hell, and suffering from a damn pandemic existential crisis. I have no advice. None at all. Except maybe to say you aren’t alone. There is no right or wrong way to feel right now. And in case you hadn’t noticed, swearing can be pretty effing decent coping mechanism until we get our footing again.

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Why Older Siblings Are The Unsung Heroes Of The Pandemic

Today, as I sat with my kindergartener during yet another hellish attempt to navigate her online classes complete with multiple tabs filled with YouTube videos, Google docs, classroom meets and school centered apps I felt my patience (and my sanity) slipping away. Quickly after announcing, “I’m DONE! We will try again later!” my oldest swooped in to save the day.

This was just one of the many times this past year that he has jumped at the opportunity to help his younger siblings complete their online school work. He’s been incredibly intuitive when it comes to noticing when I’m at the end of my rope. He has literally saved the day on more than one occasion and I could not be more grateful for him.

As he helped her navigate between video clips, sound out words, and type out phrases to complete her assignment, I realized that if it hadn’t been for him, there is no way I would have made it through this year of intense challenges, especially those that came along with e-learning. I consider myself pretty tech savvy, but I don’t hold a candle to the instinctive way my oldest son is capable of putting out the multiple fires that pop up on the various devices they need to access throughout the school day. He’s truly gifted (as many of our kids tend to be in this regard) when it comes to computer/technology programs and the multitude of potential malfunctions that may occur, because he’s been exposed to these kinds of programs ever since the day he was born. For him, this is second-nature.

For me, a lot of the ways kids learn and complete assignments these days is like a completely foreign language made of hieroglyphics and emoticons. When I was in 3rd grade, we were practicing cursive letters by piling shaving cream onto our desks and drawing them out with our fingertips. We carried the “1” in math and weren’t allowed to use calculators at all. When he was in 3rd grade, he was learning computer coding and how to make powerpoint presentations and record podcasts. He does math in a way that I imagine astronomers calculate things like the speed of light and the space-time continuum. They are encouraged to play around with scientific calculator features to help them understand how to use them. Something I wasn’t permitted to or expected to even own until my freshman year of high school. It’s a different kind of schooling, and I was not prepared to be the one responsible for executing the lesson plans at home, all day, every day, for an entire year.

Cue my little savior. He embodies pride when he is able to help his siblings, but more than that, he is able to communicate the lessons to them in a way that is easy for them to understand because he speaks their language. And he had just learned these things in the last few years, after the educational system did a complete overhaul on how it delivers math, reading, and science to children. He has patience because he knows what it’s like to be frustrated when you can’t sound out a word, but he also has tricks up his sleeve to help his younger siblings push past their mental roadblocks because he learned those recently, too.

If it wasn’t for my oldest having some knowledge and experience of the lessons but, more importantly, the programs used to deliver them, my younger kids’ homeschooling experience would have looked very different this past year. With a lot more meltdowns… and a lot more profanities.

I think these older kids deserve a serious shoutout for stepping up to the plate, being a role model to their siblings by showing them compassion, patience, and support and encouraging them to grow and learn. But also for being little heroes to parents everywhere who are struggling to find time and energy to work, clean, cook, and complete the million other things they were suddenly forced to do entirely at home, while also trying to make sure their little pupils are still getting a semi-decent education. Even if it’s happening in a very different place and a totally different way that anyone could have ever imagined it would.

My oldest son is the true unsung hero of our family’s shit-show pandemic experience, and as soon as this is over and things are back to some quasi-normal I’m getting him a pony (or, more likely, a new gaming system because let’s face it, kids these days don’t want pets, they want new technology-charged gadgets) because damn if he doesn’t deserve that … and so much more.

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Here We Go Again: A Comic About Remote Vs. In-Person Learning

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

Remote learning or in-person learning? Suddenly NYC changed its policy: Whatever decision you made, you had to stick to it for the rest of the school year. No backsies. What made it even tougher was deciding whether to stay put at my in-law’s house in the middle of nowhere, or go home to the city.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

Let’s just say Miles’ Dad and I did not see eye to eye on this issue. His anxiety was at an all-time high about exposing our child and family to COVID. The second wave was crashing in and that just put his nervous system over the edge.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

I was more concerned about our child’s social isolation taking an emotional toll. And I was terribly homesick.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

Plus, I had read so many articles with reassuring data that schools were not major spreaders of COVID. And it eased my mind to know so many of our friends in the city were doing in-person learning, and doing it safely and happily.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

BUT to be fair, Miles already had the most amazing remote learning teachers for first grade, or “village” as they like to call themselves. They were completely engaged and ran their classrooms with an unrivaled sense of energy and humor.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

In the beginning Miles was so shy, he wouldn’t even get on camera. After a couple of days, you couldn’t stop him from unmuting himself. I felt guilty about contemplating taking him outside of this new routine. Remote learning gave him a sense of normalcy. It worked for now.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

In the last few months Miles’ public school had to be shut down a number of times due to the rise in COVID cases. Some parents said the on-and-off-again schedule was highly disruptive. Others were just happy to get any days of in-school learning in. Many schools nearby remained open due to the low COVID numbers at their school.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

 

“It’s not like Miles will be missing out on starring in a full-on school production of the Pirates of Penzance!” his Dad debated.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

 

I imagined the assembly room so empty you could hear the echoing school bell. It made me sad to think Miles would miss out on his first grade play.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

“Yes, but at least he could play outside with his friends with his mask on! He doesn’t know a single child here,” I countered.

“But it’s getting so cold, how long will he be able to do that?” he said.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

 

“It’s not like he’s going to be eating with his friends in the lunchroom,” his Dad added.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

“But at least he’ll be close enough to his friends to tell funny jokes,” I said.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

“And what about the fact that we both don’t have patience to master remote learning?” I countered.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

It was tough not seeing eye to eye about your child’s education. But it wasn’t just happening to us. The pivotal question “remote learning or in-person learning?” put a strain on so many families and friends. So many listicles on the many pros and cons for each.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

 

So many parents judging each other which made it even tougher to decide.

Yes, remote learning was breaking parents. Yes, schools kept opening and shutting down as COVID cases surged. Yes, many families depended on schools to remain open. Yes, many teachers did not feel they should have to risk their lives to teach our children. Plus, many of them had their own children. Yes, there was mounting data about schools not causing an increase in COVID. Yes, there were studies about the many effects of social isolation. Yes, many families were still afraid of the unknown.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

We went back and forth. Back and forth. Week after week, we shared our conflicted feelings over what to do with our therapist. We tried not to invalidate each other’s anxieties and feelings. We tried not to always be right or have the last word. And most times, we failed miserably. But week after week, we tried. We shed our stubbornness. We ugly cried.

Courtesy of Lisa Lim

No family has perfect choices. And not every family agrees what to do with their child.

In the end, we chose to continue fully remote learning and stay at our in-law’s. That and agreeing to more social-distance play dates so Miles gets the much needed interaction he’s craving. That meant me going on local Mommy Facebook groups and making playdates. And for that I am beyond grateful.

And when I see the decisions other parents make, I think, I know you’re doing the best you can.

 

This post originally appeared in Mutha Magazine.

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Study Shows Pregnant People At 70% Higher Risk For COVID Infection

Pregnant individuals in the study were infected with COVID-19 at a 70% higher rate

A new study out of Washington state shows that those who are pregnant are at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19. The pregnant women involved contracted the coronavirus at a 70 percent higher rate compared to similarly aged adults in the area.

The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, showed that nonwhite pregnant people shoulder a disproportionate burden in contracting COVID-19.

Researcher Kristina Adams Waldorf from the University of Washington in the US said in a statement, “Our data indicates that pregnant people did not avoid the pandemic as we hoped that they would. The higher infection rates in pregnant patients, coupled with an elevated risk for severe illness and maternal mortality due to Covid-19, suggests that pregnancy should be considered a high-risk health condition for Covid-19 vaccine allocation in Phase 1B all across the US.”

The study’s research team involved 35 hospitals and health clinics to identify 240 pregnant individuals who contracted COVID-19 from March-June 2020. The team, led by researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle, analyzed data from the pregnant COVID-19 patients and captured 61% of the state’s annual births.

The study estimates that those who delivered 13.9 of every 1,000 newborns had COVID-19, compared with 7.3 of 1,000 state residents aged 20 to 39 years. After excluding 45 coronavirus cases detected through asymptomatic screening, the infection rate in pregnant women fell to 11.3 per 1,000 cases.

“Pregnant women were not protected from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic with the greatest burden of infections occurring in nearly all racial/ethnic minority groups,” the authors wrote. “This data coupled with a broader recognition that pregnancy is a risk factor for severe illness and maternal mortality strongly suggests that pregnant people should be broadly prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine allocation in the U.S. similar to some states.”

Lead researcher Waldorf also asked pregnant women to discuss the risks and benefits of Covid-19 vaccination with their prenatal care provider.

“We want to use information from this study to be more prepared for the next pandemic and to not brush pregnant women to the side. They need to have a seat at the table when it comes to vaccine trials and vaccine allocation,” she further stated.

The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine have all agreed that pregnant women who have access to the COVID-19 vaccines should get it.

The study’s researchers say that the 70% higher rate in pregnant people may be due in part to exposures from children in daycare, their role as a caregiver within an extended family, residence in larger households, and other factors.

“Higher infection rates in pregnant patients may be due to the overrepresentation of women in many professions and industries considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic — including healthcare, education, service sectors,” study author Erica Lokken, PhD, said.

Overall, the researchers are urging officials to get on board with targeted public health messaging.

“Understanding the geographical, racial/ethnic and language distribution of SARS-CoV-2 infections among pregnant patients would enable targeting the public health response to pregnant women at greatest risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and associated adverse maternal-fetal outcomes.”

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The Pandemic Has Taken A Deep Toll On Our Teens

Since the pandemic started almost a year ago, I’ve seen different sides to my teenagers — sides I didn’t know existed.

My daughter started cutting herself last winter. As soon as the days started getting shorter, she seemed so overwhelmed with life, although overall she was doing less. I asked her if she was lonely, and she said she didn’t think so. She likes staying home because of her social anxiety. She has also been thriving in school since online learning and says it’s because the social pressures are gone from her life. But she was really struggling, despite the positive things virtual learning has done for her.

My son came dangerously close to backing over me in the driveway last summer after I told him he couldn’t leave the house. He got in his car and started it up after I told him he needed to stay home. Something came over me; I know my son well enough to know he would have gone without my permission and accepted the consequences he would have received when he got home. So I stood behind his car.

He edged a bit closer to me, thinking I would move. Then, he revved his engine. When I asked my younger son to get a chair for me after it was obvious he wasn’t giving in anytime soon, I decided to sit behind his damn car and start working so he would remember who made the rules.

He’s been angry and his short fuse has caused him to punch himself in the head a few times. He wants to get the hell out of this house. When he talks about it, it’s visceral, and I can feel his angst.

It’s been really tough watching my kids deal with this and their emotions. Just like all other parents, I can’t even deal with my own feelings around this mess, much less help my kids deal with theirs, although I’m trying with a force greater than pushing them out of my womb.

This pandemic has taken a toll on our teens. This is a time in their life when they naturally break away from their parents and home. This is when their social lives are the highlight and they are finding their way and trying on their independence. Being a teenager is hard enough without having to navigate this dumpster fire. 

And when he heard a senior in high school who lived in the next town took his life last fall because he was incredibly lonely, it shook us all in the most debilitating way.

In June, the Center for Disease Control surveyed young adults ages 18-24 and found 26% of them had suicidal thoughts within the last month. It also reported mental health-related trips to the emergency room had gone up 30% in 2020 versus 2019.

The Washington Post reports that Teen Line, which is a helpline for teenagers, has been flooded with calls since the pandemic. Our teenagers are struggling with relationships and there has been a big increase in teens who are thinking (and experimenting) with self-harm, having suicidal thoughts, or stuck in a home where there is abuse without any of their usual support systems like school or friends, the Post says.

Since parents and teens alike have never had to deal with anything like this before, it’s hard to know how to help and what to look for — especially if you have a child who has never been very forthcoming with their feelings.

Healthy Children reports some things to look out for in your teens are changes in eating and sleeping habits, not wanting to video chat or keep in touch with friends, and a lesser interest in school work and personal hygiene. 

If you notice your teenager struggling with these things, it’s important to talk with them. Ask them about how they’ve been feeling and if they are experiencing higher rates of depression and having thoughts about harming themselves. 

It’s important to get your family doctor involved as soon as possible if you are worried. They can screen for depression and suicidal thoughts, says Healthy Children.

Some teenagers are handling this pandemic beautifully and thriving in every way. I have to say, my daughter was one of them until things took a turn last fall. However, after having lots of talks with her, keeping a close eye on her, and signing her up for online counseling, she is back to her old self again. She did fight me on the fact that she was lonely because I think she was feeling incredibly isolated and she didn’t even know it. There was no way I could have handled this on my own — I needed help. 

Edutopia reports,Increasingly, teachers in our audience are reporting that a handful of their students—shy kids, hyperactive kids, highly creative kids—are suddenly doing better with remote learning than they were doing in the physical classroom.”

The article explains that for some kids, going at their own pace, having some control about when they get work done, and the ease in social pressures are the reasons some of our teenagers seem to be doing better with virtual learning than in-school learning. 

While that certainly is a silver lining, we can’t forget about our teens’ mental health. For a lot of them, it’s been brutal, even if they started out okay.

Talk to your kids, pay close attention to their everyday habits, and if you notice any drastic changes, contact their doctor and get them the help they need. Because showing them how to cope will not only help them right now, but give them skills they can use for a lifetime.

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Sorry Folks, But COVID Is Here For The Long Haul

It’s been two months since the first COVID vaccine was administered, and while the rollout process has been slow, there is hope. To date, more than 34 million first vaccines doses have been given in the United States, and 11 million people are fully vaccinated. This is both promising and full of potential. If the rate of inoculations continues at or above the current pace, we should see COVID infections beginning to decrease sometime in late March, or early April. Unfortunately, COVID isn’t going away. In fact, according to epidemiologists, the pathogen will likely circulate for years, leaving society to coexist with COVID-19 much as it does with other endemic diseases — like measles, HIV, and the flu.

“The virus is now present in both hemispheres and has had successive waves of infection,” Professor Marc Van Ranst — an expert on coronaviruses at KU Leuven in Belgium — tells Horizon, The EU Research and Innovation Magazine. “All the ingredients are there to have this virus become an endemic coronavirus that might be around for hundreds of years,” and history suggests the same. The virus which caused the 19th century pandemic, OC43, is still present today.

“OC43 is still around,” Van Ranst explains. “[Though] it is now responsible for common colds.” 

Of course, this isn’t great news. Well, at the very least, it isn’t the news many of us want to hear. But it also isn’t surprising. Very early on, after countries failed to contain the coronavirus and transmission raged globally, “it was evident to most virologists that the virus would become endemic,” John Mascola, the director of the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center, tells the Wall Street Journal. “When a virus is so easily transmitted among humans, and the population [lacks immunity], it will spread any place it has the opportunity to spread. It’s like a leak in a dam.”

But what should we do? What can we do? Well, the first thing we need to do is accept that, for the time being, this is our new normal. “Going through the five phases of grief, we need to come to the acceptance phase that our lives are not going to be the same,” Thomas Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t think the world has really absorbed the fact that these are long-term changes.” But what these long-term changes will be remains to be seen. 

Mask-wearing and social distancing will likely be a part of our lives for some time. Dr. Anthony Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden — has said we can (and should) expect to wear masks into 2022

“I feel very strongly that we’re going to need to have some degree of public health measures to continue,” Fauci told doctors and students at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in October. “It’s not going to be the way it was with polio and measles, where you get a vaccine, case closed, it’s done. It’s going to be public health measures that linger for months and months.”

We may also need to double mask. In fact, new evidence suggests double masking could help reduce virus transmission by a pretty astounding amount — up 96.5 percentHowever, and this is important, these changes are not permanent. Eventually, the COVID-19 pandemic will be downgraded to an endemic, or a disease that is always present in a certain population or region. Diseases are considered endemic when they remain persistently present but manageable, like the flu, and when this happens, we will likely be able to live more freely. We will be able to have coffee with colleagues. To play in the park. To go to concerts, shows, and yes, even school. 

But in order for us to get to this point, we need to do our part. We need to wear masks and remain socially distant and vigilant. Frivolous activities should be avoided. Attending Mardi Gras celebrations, for example, should definitely be a no-go. And we need to be safe, both indoors and outdoors. We need to be respectful and mindful of others’ place and space, no matter how tired we are of taking the proper precautions. Because even as restrictions start to ease, we still can’t count on going “back to normal” for the foreseeable future.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible. 

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Helping Our Parents Get A COVID Vaccine Has Become A Full-Time Job

These days my texts with family and close friends are one of three varieties: memes about the dumpster fire that has been the past year, photos of my new puppy, or info and complaints about how hard it is to get the vaccine for our parents. We’ve gone from bitching about virtual school to sharing tidbits of info about where to get the vaccine and celebrating when our parents have secured one of these unicorn appointments for the magic elixir known as the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

The good news of the vaccine’s approval late last year was quickly quashed by the sobering reality that getting the vaccine distributed was going to be a giant pain in the ass. We all knew that demand exceeded supply; what we didn’t expect was just how much work it would take to get the vaccine. The government’s lack of preparedness – with much of the blame falling on the previous administration – has created a perfect storm of inefficiency.

I’m a fairly educated person who consumes an extraordinary amount of COVID information and, I’ll admit, I still don’t entirely understand how a person who is eligible for the vaccine goes about getting the vaccine in my home state of Illinois. Where does a person over the age of 65 go to get a vaccine? Walgreens or CVS? One of the vaccination sites? Is it better to try your healthcare provider? Or call the county? It’s a confusing mess that changes every day.

Crashing or glitchy websites, telephone hotlines with hours-long waits, and endlessly long lines at clinics have created got a sort of online “Hunger Games” – those with the time, resources, knowledge, or connections are at huge advantage. But the digital divide has made it almost impossible for the folks who need the vaccine the most and who are eligible to receive it – namely, those who are 65 and older – to navigate the system.

As reported by NPR, “the challenges facing seniors also speak to the country’s fragmented approach that has left many confused and enlisting family members to hunt down appointments.”

Enter their Gen X kids.

We’re the latchkey generation who isn’t going to just sit back and let things run their course. We’re gonna handle it, dammit. Given our role as the current Sandwich Generation, we have a lot at stake too – we want to protect our parents’ health and we want our kids to be able to see their grandparents again (not to mention maybe get some free childcare help again). So we’re doing what we do best – we’re researching and calling and clicking away, using all of the tools at our disposal.

“For many, the experience is similar to madly refreshing the Ticketmaster page in hopes of scoring rare concert tickets, except they aren’t quite signing up to see Bruce Springsteen or Ariana Grande,” wrote Travis Andrews in the Washington Post. “It’s the typical family routine of seniors calling their adult children for tech support — only the stakes could be life or death.”

Much of this work is falling on the shoulders of – you guessed it – women. Because that’s what we do – we take care of shit. A friend of mine said she has spent hours trying to snag an appointment for her in-laws. Her husband? Not so much.

But even we Gen Xers – the ones raised on Oregon Trail and the glitchy, snail pace of AOL – are running out of patience.

“I really don’t know how someone in their 70s or 80s or otherwise isn’t computer-savvy could handle all this,” Bethany Hamilton told the Washington Post. “I typed in all the information, and now the browser is doing that stupid thing where it tries to verify you’re not a robot. So I’m clicking the stupid images with the traffic lights, and I’m clicking the stupid images with the crosswalks. Meanwhile I’m watching the number of vaccines left dropping.”

Despite the waning patience, there does seem to be a camaraderie in this effort. We share tips with friends from our hometown on where our parents might have luck. And we celebrate with each vaccine delivered to someone we know. My own parents were able to get their first shot – after my mom got lucky with a phone call after enduring several frustrating attempts to register online – and friends shared in that excitement.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, this shouldn’t be the case. We had time to build an efficient and equitable roll-out plan. Yet here we are. This is unacceptable and we need to keep after government officials and public health agencies to get it together. We need to wear our masks and socially distance until the vaccine rolls out more quickly.

In the meantime, we will click, call, and wait.

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