“Don’t even bother reading the paper,” my dad told me on the phone yesterday. “It’s all bad news. The coronavirus is everywhere. No one cares about teachers, as usual. And on top of it all, some kind of snails that have bright-pink eggs are killing our crawfish and our rice, so we can’t even eat anything good anymore.”

My dad, at age 82, has basically turned into Eeyore. Always leaning more toward the more cynical/paranoid side anyway, he now has completely lost his filter and is happy to share his completely unvarnished views on everything from politics (the man is NOT a fan of our current president) to publishing (all magazines have been dumbed down, and all books need a better editor) to food (most food he doesn’t make himself is complete crap with the notable exception of Popeyes). Don’t even get him started on TV – it’s all poison now, and if he turns his TV on at all, it’s just to watch old movies.

And look, he has every reason to be pessimistic right now. We all do. Things are pretty bleak in a number of respects – I don’t even need to list the many ways in which 2020 has been tragic and stressful.

That said, while not trying to downplay the bad-ness of the bad news, I do have a few reasons to choose to be hopeful.

  • Several news outlets have reported promising news in trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. I have long been a super-fan of vaccines in general, and I absolutely don’t see “normal” life returning until we have a vaccine, so this makes me happy. (Yes, it will likely be like the flu vaccine, which means it won’t be 100 percent and we might have to get it every year. Still, I’ll take it.)
  • My younger kid, who has long-struggled with math, is now understanding fractions and ratios because we’ve been baking so much. I don’t know if the numbers being more tangible is what made it click for her or if it’s just the fact that baking doesn’t bore her so much that she tunes out, but this development makes me feel slightly better about schools potentially not re-opening for awhile, at least in her case. (Yes, I know there are many kids for whom school is much better than home and/or kids who live in homes where no one has time or resources for baking projects. But I also know that many kids can and will be just fine with independent self-directed learning. In some cases, the home-schooling solutions that might emerge from this crisis will even lead to better outcomes.)
  • Ben Franklin’s Society of Women Engineers’ high school chapter, SWENext, was not about to abandon its outreach mission when COVID-19 made in-person sessions impossible – so they decided instead to go nationwide with a series of virtual challenges for girls ages 6-13.

“We just finished our last challenge, Mission Blast Off, which asked girls to create their own rockets to launch,” said SWENext Outreach Chair Helena Usey, a rising junior.

The winner of that challenge lives all the way in Wisconsin!

“We want to create a hands-on and inclusive environment for young girls to safely explore the world of STEM,” said SWENext President Amy Ndiaye, a rising senior. “Our biggest challenge yet started Monday, July 13, with projects due on July 24. It’s New Orleans- themed because we’re hoping to share a taste of our local culture nationwide. These next challenges, called Krewe de SWE and the Flood-Proofing Project, are designed to help girls solve real-world problems from home.”

The first challenge, for girls ages 6-9, focuses on making Carnival floats safer and more environmentally friendly. For bonus points, contestants can make suggestions for “greener” Mardi Gras throws. (Georgia is already hard at work on her project.)

The second challenge, for girls 10-13, explores Louisiana’s flood risk and how to mitigate environmental challenges, including the best houses to build in flood-prone areas. (Ruby is considering working on this, in between her Instagram activism and watching YouTube beauty vlogs.)

To learn more or to sign up, go to bfhsswe.wixsite.com. It’s hard to stay hopeful sometimes, but I have to keep trying. My dad might be able to make “cranky old man” work well for him, but I still have many years to go before I can get away with being a cranky old lady.

P.S. He’s right about the apple snails, though. And honestly, he’s right about most of the rest of it, too.