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ITEOTWAWKI – A New (Silly) Word to (Optimistically) Explain Our New World

By Sam Grabelle 

Many years ago, I helped run a summer program in Woonsocket that, hopefully, made a positive impact on the lives of teenagers who might otherwise have been adrift in gang-related or other nefarious activities. Every day was a challenge, but included at least one triumph.

My boss and I became close and often used a secret language to communicate while in front of the youth or our colleagues. Because our jobs were exhausting and our friendship life-changing, we grabbed onto the R.E.M. song It’s the End of the World as We Know It. To support each other, to make each other laugh, and to share our awe at what was happening around and inside us, we used the acronym ITEOTWAWKI derived from the first letters of each of the words in the song. It even became a call-and-response way of checking in as we busily passed each other in the hall or on the street. One of us would say ITEOT (which sounds like an insult to bystanders, making it funnier) and the other would reply WAWKI.

I tell this story to share with you some thoughts on how you and your children can approach the end of the strangest school year ever, and the start of the “no idea what it’s going to look like” summer.


It literally is The End of the World as We Know It. But it is not literally the End of the World. And, the bracketed subtitle and first refrain of the original song is inspiring – And I Feel Fine.

We may not feel excited or even happy about the new world. We may not come through it with all that we had before. But we will adjust. We will persevere. We will gain some things we never knew we needed. We will create new ways to do things that may be better than the old ways. Or at least good enough.

I shared the ITEOTWAWKI story with my 8-year-old today in the car as we listened to songs from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – a delightful new series that just had its season finale. Watching it together gave my son and I many opportunities to talk about difficult topics (death, loss, broken hearts, self-acceptance) but also introduced him to classic and modern hits that have started a whole new conversation about musical genres and the way songs and their stories become the soundtrack to our lives; a never-ending but always looping playlist that helps us define and express ourselves.

We decided that we are going to use ITEOTWAWKI to help each other get through whatever the rest of this pandemic looks like. It is the End of the World as he knows it because there will be no camp this summer. No new friends. No large family gatherings. And we don’t yet know how many of our other favorite summer activities will be drastically changed or will not happen at all.

But we are going to grieve and process those losses by making other plans, by DIYing others, by slowing down, and by remembering ITEOTWAWKI. We are going to use the silly-sounding call and response of “ITEOT” answered by “WAWKI” to bring a little joy to the experience.

As the parent/teacher/camp counselor, you may also want to hang onto the second refrain – It’s time I had some time alone. No great acronym there, just solid self-care and a fun way to ask for it. Depending on the day or the moment, your child may want to sing that line, too. Let them.

It is the end of the world as we know it. There is a lot of sorrow there and we must allow ourselves and our children to feel and express it. There is hope there too. And, by working together to find it, we will feel fine.

Sam Grabelle is an educator and social worker in Warwick, RI. She is currently offering her services to (virtually) support families who are struggling with homeschooling. Learn more at www.samgrabelle.com or email her at samgrabelle@gmail.com to start the conversation.

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