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We’re entering our second pandemic winter, and like many people, I was hoping that pediatric vaccines would bring about a greater sense of normalcy. Spencer and I are boosted, our kids have had both doses, maybe we can start doing some more things — but wait! There’s a new covid variant that may be able to evade vaccines. Maybe you’ve heard?

It seems as if every time we get our hopes up that things are getting back to normal, we have bad news about a new covid wave. Over the summer my office had just a couple of weeks without a mask mandate before the crushing Delta wave caused the mask mandate to return.

I’ve been thinking a bit about optimism bias. Optimism bias is the overestimation of the likelihood of positive events happening to you, and the underestimation of potentially negative events. According to an article I just read from the BBC, about 80 percent of the global population has some degree of optimism bias.

And don’t we all believe that we’re just a bit more special than the average person? And if we have kids, aren’t they a bit smarter and more spectacular than other people’s kids? I remember visiting some friends who had a newborn daughter a few years ago, and the dad was telling us about his plans for her to become a tennis player. But don’t we all do that sort of thing with our kids? I bought Marie a dress up doctor coat when she was in preschool, and a T-shirt that said “Future President.” Last spring I deliberated carefully about where Paul should attend first grade, and we considered both French and Chinese Immersion schools before deciding to keep him at his Waldorf charter (emphasis on the arts, nature, and Spanish).

Optimism bias is one of the reasons why my job as an early childhood special education teacher is challenging. One of my colleagues has said, “No one writes in their baby book that they want their child to be receiving special education services. These families don’t want to need us in their lives.”

Optimism bias is also, I think, one of the reasons why the pandemic has been and continues to be so hard. It’s been so much worse than most of us could imagine. We keep imagining that it must be over, and yet — it is not.

Having an optimism bias makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We’re hard-wired for hope. We need hope to survive. The payoff at the end has to be greater than the cost of survival.

And yet, optimism bias can be harmful too, if it leads us to take on too much risk. So for myself, I’m trying to be aware of my bias, and check my perceptions. In terms of the pandemic, I’m starting to believe that we might be in this boat a lot longer than we want to be. As I’ve read several times recently in the NY Times, right now is probably as good as it’s gonna get. Yep, I’m not telling my kids, but I think we’ll be dealing with this for several years to come. New variants, booster shots, and KN95 masks. Vaccine mandates and protests about vaccine mandates. Anti-vaxxers will continue getting sick with new variants and clog up our hospital system. Trump will declare himself president for life, which thanks to biomedical engineering, will last several decades until he escapes earth to start a space colony. Mark Zuckerberg will become our global ruler and we will all live in the meta-verse.

By the way, can you separate the fact from opinion in the paragraph above?

For now though, we just need to get through this one pandemic winter. I’m going to look for joy in little things this winter. Lavender steamers from the Hideaway Bakery. Bouldering at the rock climbing gym. Ted Lasso reruns. Brené Brown podcasts. Helping families teach their toddlers to talk. Family popcorn and movie nights. Taking Albus for walks. Curling up with a book and a blanket (Currently: Cloud Cuckoo Land). Trying ice skating with my kids. Connecting with friends in ways that feel safe.

From Ted Lasso:

Keeley: So the product you’d most like to promote is joy?
Dani Rojas: I like to give away joy for free!

How will you find joy this winter?

“It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!

What do they mean? In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
– Mary Oliver, from It was Early


P.S. Last year in December I published 11 Songs for an Apocalyptic Year. I’m not going to get around to a post like that this year, but I’d like to offer a few songs here that stood out to me this year for one reason or another.

This has been a year like none other in my lifetime. It’s hard to put all of the feelings and experiences of 2020 into words, so I’m picking a song list to express some of what this year has meant to me. If you’re a sensitive soul like me, you might want some tissues by your side while listening to these songs and let yourself have some good catharsis. But I’m also throwing in a couple of silly songs too, because we have to find things to laugh about.

  1. If the World was Ending by JP Saxe. “I know, you know, we know/You weren’t down for forever and it’s fine/I know, you know, we know/we weren’t meant for each other and it’s fine/but if the world was ending /you’d come over right?” This had to make the cut, since it’s a love song about the apocalypse, and it’s been getting a lot of radio play this year. This song was a hit last fall, and they didn’t even know what was about to hit us.
  2. How to Save a Life by The Fray. “Where did I go wrong/I lost a friend/Somewhere along in the bitterness/And I would have stayed up with you all night/Had I known how to save a life.” This is a song about suicide prevention, but it could also apply to other ways that lives are saved including the very real heroes in the healthcare industry who’ve been on the frontlines of this pandemic. Most of us have been taking extreme precautions this year in order to save lives — that’s what the lockdowns are for. Additionally this has been a really tough year for many of us in terms of mental health, and we all need to have and to be those lifesaving friends who would be willing to stay up all night with us if needed.
  3. Lockdown by Anderson Paak. “Sicker than COVID, how they did him on the ground/Speaking of COVID, is it still goin round?/Oh won’t you tell me bout the lootin, what’s that really all about/cause they throw away black lives like paper towels.” A song about the Black Lives Matter protests.
  4. Let Go by Frou Frou from the Garden State soundtrack. “There’s beauty in the breakdown.” We still found some joy and beauty this year, even though our world turned upside down and we lost normalcy.
  5. I See Fire by Ed Sheeran. This song is from the soundtrack to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Such a beautiful and sad song especially in light of the tragic month we had with wildfires in September. I will never forget Labor Day 2020, when my phone kept beeping with emergency alerts as the McKenzie Holiday Farm fire burned out of control and smoke filled our skies, giving Eugene/Springfield some of the most dangerous air quality in the world for more than a week. (Read my post from September 2020: The air outside is poisoned).
  6. Trampoline by SHAED. “Wait if I’m on fire/How am I so deep in love/When I dream of dying/I never feel so loved.” Another one for our wildfire season, and the general apocalyptic feeling of this whole year. But this is also a song about love — which is all we have left when everything else is lost.
  7. Together by King & Country. “If we fall, we will fall together. When we rise, we will rise together.” Literally a song written about COVID, and the music video was filmed in the artists’ homes during quarantine. Bringing hope to a very dark time.
  8. You’ll be back from Hamilton, performed by Jonathan Groff. It was fun getting introduced to Hamilton this year after it came out on Disney +. And Jonathan Groff’s performance of a sociopathic king was so spot on. I am including this song in honor of the political climate in this crazy election year.
  9. Man in Black by Johnny Cash. “I wear black for the poor and beaten down/living in the hopeless, hungry side of town/I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime/but is there because he’s a victim of the time.” I’m including this song in honor of my son Paul, who is a big Johnny Cash fan. This is a song about fighting for social justice, and this is fight that needs to keep on keeping on, especially during a time when so many people are suffering.
  10. Someday from Zombies. I mean, why not add zombies to the mix this year to make it into a zombie apocalypse? We discovered the Zombies musicals on Disney+ this fall and my kids loved them.
  11. Resilient by Rising Appalachia. “So what are we doing here?/What has been done?/What are you gonna do about it when the world comes undone?/My voice feels tiny and I’m sure so does yours/But put us all together/we make a mighty roar.”

Really there should be 12 songs on this list for each of the twelve months. What song would you nominate for number 12?