Weeks 1-2 were a mix of denial and anger, all set to rhythms of Survival Mode, acquiring food and necessities, making sense of pandemic life, and figuring out how to rearrange the landscape of life in a way that we can all live with in this house.
Weeks 3-4 have been, so far, my low point. Replete with the constant wishing things were different, feelings of helplessness, and depression.
Week 5 was my Saturation Point of News. Since then, I’ve only been able to stomach 20 minutes of NPR while I’m making dinner. It’s just enough for me to think, Yep, things are still awful and No, we still don’t have a handle on this.
By Week 6, the depression started to lift as we were faced with the news that we’d been expecting for weeks: Sorry, no more school for your kids this academic year.
And our President thought it would be a good idea to look into using disinfectant to “clean out the lungs.”
This week, Week 7, I feel mostly resigned to living life like this through the summer and well into fall. In my mind, I overestimate (I hope) that we’ll be doing this same type of life through Christmas.
In Week 7, I was able to see my mom in person, though from six feet away and with masks.
In Week 7, I learned that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease–it affects the whole body through blood clotting. And I read this ICU nurse’s account of the inconceivable situations and grief that she and other healthcare workers are facing right now.
In all this darkness, I want to make plenty of room for the things that are still bringing me light.
My partner–My rationality, my burden-bearer, my chef and gardener, accountant and engineer. The person I still love to watch TV with (although we rarely have time to do that anymore).
Running. Sweet, sweet exercise. Early in the morning. Nothing but feet on the pavement and music in my ears.
Watching my kids grow closer together–This is both unexpected and welcome. They (generally) love being around each other. My daughter tucks my son in at night and tells hawks to “Stay away from her little brother.”
Working with co-workers via Zoom. Sharing our little victories in helping faculty teach online.
Attending church services via YouTube. I was surprised by how much my nerves are calmed every week by just hearing familiar songs and the liturgy. When so much is changing, my mind craves the unchanging, the stable.
Re-watching the entire American Pie series. And then all of the Austin Powers movies. (Apparently, this is the extent of problem-solving and just the right level of dumb that I need in my life to balance out all the soul-crushing news.)
It is freeing if we learn to accept that our lives are on loan and we are meant to give our lives over to others. That is the kind of lesson we are taught when we are young, though it often remains on the level of a noble idea that we may opt into or out of depending on our mood. What all the many sufferings of adult life show us is that this idea is actually the high and unbending rule, and it governs our bodies and our relationships and everything else, without exception.
Leonard J. DeLorenzo
There will be no return to “normal” because we are all forced to face our own vulnerabilities now. And so the question put to us now is, How will we react to this vulnerability? What will we do?
9. Listening to Kate Tempest’s “People’s Faces.” But first, grab a box of tissues. You’ll need it.
Her poem hits all the right notes for this moment in time.
The uncertainty, the desperation, the frustration, and the sadness.
It’s a strange thing, to be at home in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, walking through the backyard with my kids, flowers blossoming in the bright spring grass. To walk down the street and realize that, Oh, there are kids at that house, too. A dad is pushing his child on a swing, hanging from a tree branch. This dad and I are home in the early afternoon on a Wednesday, playing with our kids.
It’s strange to remind your kids that, Remember, we can’t get too close, okay? Saying, ‘hi’ is okay.
It’s strange to not be thinking about upcoming birthday parties. Or mentally preparing to present at a conference next week. Or coordinating the PTO hospitality lunches for my daughter’s school. Or taking my daughter to first communion classes. I deleted all these events from my Google calendar en masse. Also gone, the reminders: on Wednesdays, pack bathing suit for Felicity, in mid-April, order birthday cake by this day, in the first week of May, deliver Teacher Appreciation lunch.
It’s jarring to see the end of normalcy displayed so clearly in my Google calendar. It’s as if someone I loved had died and I just couldn’t even cope. It has echoes of Grief. But then, when my dad died, I went back to work the next week and the world spun on like nothing had happened. I wanted there to be nothing to do, but there was still everything to do. No one else behaved like there was any reason to change, and so I felt like the odd one.
I also had Choice. I could choose to allow myself to get swept into the rituals and rhythms of Life that no one else had given up and find some reprieve from the pain of my New Reality, however short-lived. It was a quiet suffering that I moved through in my own time. And I made incremental progress toward my acceptance. It was a personal journey and I was in control.
Not this time.
This time, there really is no escape, physical or mental, from this New Reality. I cannot binge-watch Netflix until May. I cannot even do much creative work, like video editing or writing. The kids are home. AND I still need to work. To sit here and write in quiet moments to myself, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and sacrifice a daily workout for the mental clarity that writing gives me.
At a time when I most need a reprieve, there is none to be had.
Being a parent is fun. This is all so fun.
You’d think that with the deletion of all those events and reminders would come a measure of peace and clarity.
Instead, my mind is overflowing with news and charts and numbers and questions and predictions and announcements.
I’m constantly thinking about disinfection and washing hands (all. the. time.) and cleaning up the house over and over and over, and getting the kids outside, and Is Felicity reading enough? She should be writing more. Are we doing enough for Henry?, and Relax. You’re doing the best that you can.
My mind doesn’t have much space left to think about anything else other than this Giant Wave that is approaching all of us.
When will it hit Ohio hard? How many people will die? Will someone I love die? Will their body be stored in one of those refrigerated semi-trucks until we can bury them? Was that cold that I had really COVID-19? I had a low fever and a sore throat. Then I felt okay, like nothing happened. Then my lungs were irritated for a couple of days, and that was weird. But no doctor would order a test for me with the few symptoms that I had.
We are all trudging through physical isolation while also being solely responsible for regulating our consumption of the the deluge of news and social media posts that we consume each day about the surging pandemic.
Limit your social media consumption for your mental health, they say.
I don’t want to read about this all of the time, and yet I do. I don’t want to read about another instance of Trump’s feckless leadership and reckless disregard for the consequences of spreading misinformation during a pandemic.
And yet I do. It’s like my mind is begging for another example of,
See! There he goes again, being the biggest jackass the world has even seen! See everyone! He not only sucks at his job, but he’s actively making it worse!See! He doesn’t deserve to lead us one more day! Get rid of him! SOMEHOW!!!
And yet there are still millions of Americans who stand up for this buffoon. It’s not his fault. We can’t put the economy on hold forever. We have to go back to normal. Let’s get back to normal by Easter.
And so my mind spins on and on.
A few days ago, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. and just couldn’t go back to sleep. I tried. For an hour, I tried. But once the thoughts started, they rode the steep curve of that red line, riding the most terrifying roller coaster ever, clink-clink-clink, rising exponentially in the coming weeks. Up, up, and up. Who in my life would become part of that line? Who will I lose?
And to provide our human sacrifices all in the name of preserving the Great American Economy.
It’s too late for the outcome to be much different than that.
It haunts me. That undoubtedly, months from now, after thousands, if not millions of Americans have died, Trump will talk about how much worse it would have been had they not done whatever they had decided to do. Oh, right, sorry. The federal government isn’t responsible. It’s every State for themselves. Hope the States have enough funds to outbid foreign governments for their bulk purchase of medical masks and ventilators. Unless they use flattery to win Trump over. (Which I find even more maddening. Because if governors resort to falsely flattering Trump on the record in order to secure a federal response, now all the Crazy in America will have “evidence” that Trump is doing a good job.)
But in the event that Trump tries to take credit for whatever federal response the government may take, he can always say, More lives could have been lost, and be right. That’s the same argument that we’ve heard after years and years of increasingly horrific mass shootings. Hard to think that the argument will change much.
It haunts me. That Trump will undoubtedly, through tweets and press conferences, rewrite history over and over again so that it looks like he was never wrong. But, hey, at least he can’t use his rallies to rewrite history right now. I revel in the fact that he cannot hold these mass ego-feeding sessions that simply confirm his far-fetched delusions.
Trump will do everything in his power to be seen as the Winner.
But in 2020, it looks like there’s only going to be Losers. Trump included.
And in any case, we don’t need a Winner.
We need a Hero.
(Fauci for President?)
So after an hour of lying in bed, thinking and thinking, I decided to get up and do something for myself.
I did some yoga.
And then I cleaned the kitchen.
And then this happened.
After years of erosion along the bank of a creek behind our house, a tree fell over into our backyard. Now it lies against the edge of our backyard, at the end of its life, broken and unable to be properly disposed of as it is not considered an “essential service” at this time.
The morning after it happened, I occupied the kids by having them pick up sticks and put them in a bucket. It was cold that morning and my coffee cup warmed my fingers as I watched my kids poke through the safest parts of the fallen tree.
Looking at its dark branches against the pink of the dawning sky, I remembered a dream that I had about a tree falling over in the backyard, at a time in my life when everything seemed to be turning upside down.
Maybe it’s a coincidence.
I don’t think everything like this has to be a sign.
But I’m not closed to the idea either.
But it’s strange.
And then this happened.
While I was in a conference call, I was twisting my rings on my hands and I noticed that they didn’t feel right.
The setting was just gone.
I didn’t hit it on anything.
It was strange.
(Jewelry repair is also not an “essential service” at this time.)
These things don’t need to mean anything. I can be okay with believing that sometimes stuff like this happens all at the same time.
But it’s strange.
The rhythms of our lives are radically different, but we are making it work. I am working from home from the morning to the afternoon and my husband works from afternoon to midnight. There is no one else to help with care-taking. All the social support of friends and church, daycare and after-school care. It’s all gone. The best babysitter now is the TV and a Chrome book, which we use prudently through the week and throw caution to the wind on the weekend.
We are finding the good in being with our kids more. Time that we previously spent simply commuting to work and picking up kids and going to the occasional weeknight event is all now spent at home. We eat dinner together like usual, but our kids now eat with one of us at lunch time. Sometimes, I finish my shift online and find culinary gems like this waiting for me:
(I know. I’m lucky. I married well. I don’t share stuff like this all the time because he’s too good, and no, you can’t have him. I got him first.)
Although it is hard in the immediate moments of taking care of our kids to remember this, it is ultimately good for us to hold our kids close during this time. (Even though 25% of the care-taking still requires the constant vigilance and reminders of No, Hold on, Wait, Put that down!, Where’s your jacket? Away from the road!, No water guns right now, Zip up your jacket, My God! Stay out of the mud!, Too close to the creek!, Stop! No, that’s my coffee, Careful!)
It is good to take them outside to pick up sticks and discover newly blossomed flowers and put on their rainboots to splash in the puddles and watch an earthworm stretch its way across the paving stones for ten minutes and wish him well. Bye-bye worm!
It’s good to give in and read a Five-Minute Paw Patrol story (few girl characters, and they never solve the problems) when I’d totally prefer to read something like the Little Engine that Could (good moral) or even One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (good rhyming schemes).
In all this time with the kids, moments emerge.
There’s the moment when I hear my daughter reading to my son, as the daylight fades from their rooms. They are having a moment together, apart from me. And it doesn’t tear me apart. It makes my heart soar.
There’s the moment as I’m sleeping that I feel my husband’s hand slip into mine and I wake long enough to squeeze it but not long enough for my mind to start spinning again.
There’s the moment when I hear, for the first time, my son say to my daughter, “I love you, Cici.”
Although my places are restricted, time marches on, leaving behind moments in its wake.
Both of us are trying to work remotely, tagging each other in as the day allows.
We are creating a New Normal.
We are trying “home schooling” and mandated House Clean-Up times and schedules and nipping bad attitudes in the bud.
We are also just trying to not lose our minds.
I consider it an astounding feat that we have managed to limit TV time to less than 3 hours per day. Winning.
Here’s a real conversation that happened this Tuesday, 3/17.
Henry: “Is it Sunday?”
Henry: “Oh, it’s Saturday.”
Felicity: “No, Henry, it’s Monday.”
Henry: “No, it’s Saint Patri’s Day!”
Aren’t you jealous?
On Thursday, 3/12, the first wave of anxiety hit me with the announcement of the closure of all K-12 schools in Ohio.
On Sunday, 3/15, we learned that all restaurants would be closing to dine-in customers. The second wave of anxiety hit me. Not because we eat out a lot. Not at all. We actually eat a lot at home.
But it felt like the first sign that soon, very soon, public places were not going to be an option for occupying the kid’s time.
Read: No kid’s museum, no indoor parks, no library, no movies, no all-the-typical-places-where-we-might-take-them-to-stay-sane.
I’m not prone to anxiety. I worry, sure, but anxiety? No, not really.
But the thought of losing my go-to methods of occupying the kids, actually, not even really having a break from home life for 2, 3, or 4 months…
Oh, Sweet, Sweet Jesus.
So after driving to at least four stores to find toilet paper (still haven’t found any. Thanks to friend, Cate, for sharing some rolls), my husband decided that we should order take-out from a local Mexican restaurant, while we still can.
But by the time we got home with the food, he had decided to drop us off with the take-out bags and continue his search for needed supplies, as the thought loomed in our heads: When we will be officially told to shelter-in-place? And are we ready for that?
The kids ate the tacos and beans like champs, happily and hungrily. I stared at my food, cold waves of anxiety rising and washing over me again and again. Feelings that I haven’t had since I had my first baby and my mother returned to her home in Minnesota. That feeling of floating alone in the ocean, holding on to a life preserver, not knowing when the circumstances were going to change. Not knowing if a wave was approaching that I couldn’t see. Not knowing if I had the fortitude to hold on. And then all of the guilt because, let’s face it, I am likely to be just fine. A healthy, 30-something in the suburbs.
Before I knew it, the kids were done with their food, and I was still sitting there, thinking of what I needed to do to get ready for a week with my daughter at home.
They abandoned their plates, leaving the mess behind and disappeared somewhere else in the house.
When I realized they didn’t wash their hands before they had gone upstairs, I yelled at them to do so, but remained there, paralyzed, looking at the take-out bags.
But they washed their hands before dinner. Pretty sure they did. Yeah, they did. Or was it just Henry’s hands?
And then the thoughts started.
You can be asymptomatic for up to 24 days. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Wash your hands to Happy Birthday. You might not even know you have it. Stay home. Don’t go out. Wash your hands. My hands, but also the kids. All the time. Wash three sets of hands, that’s six hands. Every time you enter and exit a room. The virus can live on surfaces for up to two days. It floats in the air. Someone doesn’t need to cough on you–You can just breathe it in. There aren’t enough ventilators and there may not be enough hospital beds. What about my friend who is pregnant? Is she okay? What about Mom? What if she gets it? Can’t think about that. Can’t let the kids see her until this whole thing is over. What happens when the daycares close?
And then, I started eating. One taco. Two tacos. Three tacos. Chips. Beans. More chips. Salsa. More chips. Beans. The second bag of chips. More salsa. Oreos? What the hell. Sugar felt good. Where’s all the chocolate around here? Maybe some ice cream. Oh, there are cones, too. Hm.
Oh my God, I realized. I’m stress eating.
I haven’t stress-eaten in probably 15 years or more.
When my husband got home, we let the kids play alone upstairs while we processed what was happening around us.
“Sweets, people are getting f***ing crazy out there,” he said, eyes wide. “I saw a guy, two older guys actually, at Sam’s with–I swear to God–nothing but Swiss Miss packets in their cart. Just boxes and boxes of Swiss Miss.”
“Shut up,” I said, relieved at having something to laugh about.
“I’m serious. I’m serious,” he assured me.
It felt good to laugh. (Is there anything more attractive, at this moment, than a partner that can genuinely make you laugh? I think not.) And he was more than happy to oblige, with story after story of Ridiculous Carts in Sam’s Club.
“It’s really hitting me,” he said, “just how many people there are that have literally no idea how to cook. They’re like holding these cans of food and saying things like, ‘Could we make this or this?’ ‘What about this?’ There are people walking the aisles of stores with actual faces of fear and panic. I’ve never seen it like this before.”
And welcome to Life in the Time of COVID-19.
A time when we will choose to either battle our internal demons of the fear of scarcity or succumb to them and war with each other. Over toilet paper and Swiss Miss.
Those end-of-the-world disaster and pandemic movies that massaged our basest instincts to flee or fight, it feels like our brains are feeding on them to fuel our daily behaviors.
We didn’t think we would be here.
Disasters on this scale don’t happen to the U.S., right?
They happen in “third world countries.” They happen in places with less technology and fewer resources. They happen in countries without the same number fighter planes, tanks, and missiles.
But for some global perspective, let’s remember that Syrians continue to run for their lives as Russian planes swoop in and bomb the living hell out of Idlib. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a very, very, very mild version of the panic and fear that these refugees face every day of their lives.
But we are not used to this.
More specifically, affluent White America is not used to this.
We are not used to restrictions and limitations and “unavailable” and “2 per person” and postponing elective surgeries and schools closing for months and church services moved on-line for safety reasons and March Madness being cancelled. (Okay, honestly, that last one doesn’t bother me at all.)
This is Land of Freedom and Choice and Individualism, baby.
Actually, not for the next 2-4 months.
Now, we’ve got to learn how to be Collectivist, to behave in a way that benefits the common good, to postpone or abandon plans, to cooperate and be kind, to put competition aside so that we can protect lives and ensure that we don’t end up holding the hands of our 60-, 70-, and 80- year old loved ones as they die without proper treatment because of health care rationing.
Think about that.
Toilet paper is the least of our worries.
I’m concerned that there is not enough emphasis on looking out for each other and supporting each other through this difficult time.
That’s what led to my meltdown on Monday night this week, as our son came home from his last day of daycare.
No more daycare. No more support, was how it felt to me.
Now, it’s just the four of us.
No help from grandparents.
Now, we will have to alternate work with care-taking. Now, we will have even fewer quiet moments together without the kids.
Our village of friends, daycare, school, after-school programs, libraries, and church just collapsed into the space of our home.
I wasn’t prepared for this. None of us were.
So that’s where I’m at with coping. How about you?
If you’ve got a story about Ridiculous Pandemic Carts, I could really use a laugh.
For me, it really started on Tuesday, March 10th. There was an emergency meeting of the eLearning division entitled “Pandemic Planning,” which had been set the previous Friday. We were told to expect that very soon all in-person classes would be suspended. As an eLearning division, we would abandon all projects and previous plans and meetings. We would come together as a group to help the university faculty–especially those that have never taught online–be prepared to teach everything online.
Yes, it was a bit of a shock. But honestly, I was already on high alert because just a few hours before this meeting, the chair of a department wandered into our media production studio, holding a printed email in her hand, asking me if I would come to a department meeting to help her faculty members understand how to teach online.
I remember the way she looked as she hesitantly held the box of an unopened webcam that we loaned out to her. It was that moment between reluctance and resignation and all the body movements that come with it. She was going to have to be the one to rally her troops.
But none of us were expecting that the end to in-person classes would literally be just hours from that moment.
And then the spotlight swung to the eLearning Division.
Ah, eLearning professionals. The unsung heroes of this whole mess.
Here’s how to do a web conference. Here’s how to record it. Here’s how to upload slides into your web conference. Hey, look! You can draw on the slides. Here’s how to do picture-in-picture. Now, you’ll need to publish it, share the link with students, create a document with the list of links. Captions? Here’s how you do that. Should you make all your lectures right now? Why don’t you work on just one week’s worth of content? And keep your videos short. Seriously. Think about what is necessary to say. Remember, they can re-watch the video. IT is working on purchasing more webcams. In meantime, do you have a laptop with a camera?
It’s been fun.
But seriously, it feels good to be able to help others who need help. It is my life’s true calling and I’m happy to do it.
In the meantime, we will be fine.
We may run out of toilet paper.
But by God, there will be sausage. And eggs.
Kidding aside, yes I’m concerned.
It’s hard not to be in the midst of so much social disruption.
But I know that if I get it or my kids get it, we will likely be okay. It sounds like having it is going to be awful, but hey, our mortality is low.
My prayers go to my mother in her 60s, who is also immunosuppressed right now.
To my stepfather.
To my niece, who lives with Type 1 diabetes.
To 75% of my church congregation, older than 60 years, with whom I typically worship every Sunday.
To all of the grandparents who, now that Ohio K-12 schools are closed and parents need to work, may be watching their grandchildren, some of whom are currently carrying this virus and don’t know it.
To all of the small businesses (and the families that rely on them) that are going to be hurting because everyone is staying home.
Despite the negligence of our current President in treating this public health crisis with the attention and seriousness that it deserves, I’m encouraged, nay comforted, by the leadership of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. (A REPUBLICAN! Look! It’s possible to do the right thing even when it contradicts what the President says!! LOOK!)
My hope is that leadership at the federal level can also get some legislative pieces in place to protect and aid the most vulnerable. This isn’t time for your lesson in Bootstrapping of whatever other American Resiliency morals you’re trying to teach via withholding vital healthcare services.
And it’s sure as hell not helping to keep on driving the Anti-Immigration narrative by calling COVID-19 a “foreign virus” and adding more countries to the travel bans.
The neat thing about viruses is that they have no nationalities (Did you know?), they don’t need to apply for visas, and they can’t be turned away at the border. And bonus points for them: They’re likely bringing ALL of their family.
And there was no wall that could have been built that would have stopped this from happening.
I feel like I’ve just left an abusive, toxic relationship and fallen straight into a healthy, functional one.
Does this happen?
Is this how people work?
What the hell?
This kills me because I actually truly LOVED teaching.
Okay, not all the lesson planning, assessment making, grading, and tracking. The stacks of books on other books, the Post-It lists that never seem to be completed crossed off. And then all the micromanaging from above to point out all the times that I didn’t keep a few of the 10,000 things straight.
So like I said, what I truly loved was the TEACHING. (Advising was a close second.)
I loved the relationship building: the conversations, the jokes, the stories, the updates. So really, it was the people. Both the students and my colleagues. And the fact that I was providing a service that was helping others. Bonus points for the fact that I was helping a vulnerable population. It truly checked (most) of the boxes that I needed in a job to be fulfilling.
I just dealt with the mountains of work that came with it.
Yes, that was me: Stuck in a line of cars at a railroad crossing. When a friend wished me luck on the interview by text, I sent him this picture to let him know how the day was going so far.
No big deal, right? I still had 40 minutes until the interview and I was only 12 minutes away.
But this was the first time in my ENTIRE life that the train moved forward a bit… and then back a bit… then forward a bit… and back a bit… see-sawing along the track with no apparent end in sight.
So I called the contact person, and she assured me it was no problem at all.
I ultimately arrived at about 9:10.
The interview was with three people on the team. They took me to the Green Room.
“Is this actually a Green Room?” I asked.
Yes, it was. This was where they might help someone get ready for filming.
They had a list of questions, and they were all good ones. A lot of them were questions I had anticipated and planned for. A few of them were unanticipated and I thought I rallied well in answering them. They told me more about the job: It would be in the production department of eLearning, so I would be assisting with filming shoots and doing things like writing scripts for videos and helping with sound editing. I would be trained to do a lot of different aspects of create high-quality videos that would be used to supplement face-to-face instruction.
My first thought was:
Shit. This is way over my head. When they figure out that I don’t have much experience in any of this kind of stuff, they’ll ghost me.
My second thought was:
You totally have experience for this job! You’ve done video and sound editing! You’ve written scripts for videos! You are well-versed in all things higher education! HUSTLE, GIRL!
So I hustled. I talked about the projects that I had done, the software that I used, books that I had read, and my understanding of living out learner-centered teaching. The things that I said were very similar to what I had said in a previous interview.
Which was a problem at times because when the conversation would veer toward my background and why I was looking to change careers, I kept thinking, Don’t say that! That might have been the reason you didn’t get the last job! You were too honest! Button it up! They don’t have know the level of dysfunction that you’re coming from! Why can’t you just say that you’re looking for a better opportunity?!?! SHUT UP!
But honest, I was. Albeit tactful.
It felt like a good interview. I thought I did great.
But then I thought I did great at the last interview…
On my first day of work, I walked into the office and my name was already on the door.
In half-a-second, this job had already made me feel more included than my last one, which “welcomed” me as a full-time instructor by sticking me at the other end of the building because they just couldn’t figure out how to add another cubicle in either of the two offices where the other teachers had desks. And, yes, there was plenty of room. (True story.)
This was my new office and office-mate. And there was my desk. With TWO computer monitors?!?!
And would you mind reading this email that I’m about to send to the division to make sure that I represent you well?, my new boss asked.
Um…. I wondered, Is this somehow a trap?
Then my new boss walked me across campus to orientation rather than setting me loose with a campus map.
And on my second day of work, he gave me a full campus tour of all the buildings. We spent an hour and a half just walking around, him introducing me to administrative assistants and random people in the hallway that he knew.
And apparently I’m getting paid for this?
I don’t have to be actively teaching or grading or creating something every moment of every day?
Sometimes, I would find myself in a conversation with my new co-workers and I would realize 40 minutes had passed. Sometimes the boss would keep the conversation going.
Of course, we would go back to work. But no one seemed to feel guilty about taking time to talk to each other. There was no feeling that we had just squandered 40 minutes and now WE WERE EVEN MORE BEHIND!!!
Is this what some people do at work? It’s okay to sometimes spend 40 minutes talking?
Could it be that there are jobs where the pace doesn’t consistently move at 100 miles per hour, exhausting you to the point that when you finally do have a chunk of time off, all you want to do is wall yourself off from people for a solid week, just to recover from the emotional and mental drain of simply fulfilling the requirements of your job? (Which, by the way, are totally industry-standard, so it’s not like you have any reason to complain. I mean, everyone in your field is overworked and underpaid.)
Have I just been a white-collar factory worker for the last thirteen years?
Every moment of the day carefully portioned and allocated to the endless tasks that encompass teaching.
I repeat: Is this what some people do at work?
To be clear, it’s not just days and days of talking. Some days have been filled with meetings, filming, and writing. I like those days. Others have been more low-key. And on those days, I find plenty of ways to continue to grow and learn. (Hey, did you know that there are jobs that will allow you to do professional development and trainings during your work day? Wonder of wonders!)
I think that’s what is different: the fluctuations in pace. The pace of this new job is like drinking from a water fountain with variable pressure: You’re always able to drink, but at different speeds.
And this is shocking to me, having spent the last 13 years drinking from a firehose, turned on to full power for eight-weeks straight, five times per year. Each time someone turned the hose off, I was so water-drunk, exhausted, and disoriented that I couldn’t do anything for days when a break mercifully presented itself.
This week before Christmas has typically been a time when I haven’t had to work.
I would use this week to delve into creative projects that had been on the back burner for months while I paddled along through life.
I would probably watch The Family Stone (my sappy, no-one-wants-to-watch-with-me Christmas movie). I’d get Christmas shopping done, address the cards, and bake cinnamon rolls.
Then, I’d brace for the impact of doing all the Christmas stuff with kid or kids in tow.
But this year, I do not miss taking this week off at all. Not one bit.
My husband has told me for years that he thought I’d be happier at a job with a slower pace, but with less time off. Maybe you wouldn’t burn yourself out so quickly, he said.
Wise words. Though I didn’t recognize them at the time.
On February 15th, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment on “Singles Awareness Day,” focusing on how single people shouldn’t feel so alone because everyone else, apparently, had such an amazing Valentine’s Day.
Here’s how Valentine’s Day went down in this house, where two kids and a marriage of 13 years reside.
Valentine’s Day Prelude
Wednesday, February 13th: Spent the day at home with the toddler because of a diarrhea bug, which was mercifully mostly over by Wednesday. Lost time for grading and planning.
The Big V-Day
4:15 a.m. – 5:10 a.m.: Glorious morning run under the stars
(Calm down: This is the extent of the day’s romance.)
5:12 a.m: Voicemail from public schools. Daughter’s kindergarten class is cancelled because of a water boil advisory due to a major pipe breakage. No problem. She’ll just spend the day at daycare, right?
5:30 a.m.: Bathe the toddler whose poop has turned into sludge and has mercifully remained contained in his footed pajamas.
7:00 a.m.: Daycare decides to also close because of the water advisory. Reverses course 15 minutes later. Children finally dropped off and settled by 7:40 a.m. Daughter forgets all classmates’ valentines in the car.
8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Teaching all morning, lunch for five minutes, grading/planning, public student poster presentations
3:30-4:30: Drive home, make dinner for the kids
4:30-4:45: Eat a leisurely 15-minute dinner alone before getting the kids (salad, hard-boiled egg, peanut butter pretzels)
4:45-5:30: Retrieve children from daycare
5:30-6:30: Feed children/ wash dishes/ sort through bags of valentines, crafts, and candy/ do laundry/ give baths/ dress kids for bed
6:35: Daughter says to me, “My panties have poop in them. Can you help me?”
7:00: Go to bed alone.
The Day’s Redemption: I achieved not one, not two, but THREE full sleep cycles.
So, let’s dispel all those myths that married people / people in relationships are having amazing Valentine’s Days.
Because at the end of the day, what married couples of so many years with young kids really want is SLEEP.
This is going to be quite the year.
That has been the feeling for at least the past 12 months, since the youngest child started becoming mobile. In the back of my mind (as I’m transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer or moving dry dishes to the cabinets or dirty dishes to the dishwasher), I’ve had this nagging feeling that…
Perhaps, it’s all over.
“It” being my ability to reclaim any empty moment for myself.
If, by some miracle, an empty moment finds me during the day, and I choose to use it for myself, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of Oh my God, you should be doing something else right now! You are so far behind!
But then, the thought: Behind who? Behind what?
Who am I comparing myself to?
My pre-child self? Because she’s been dead for quite a while. And the hope of her resurrection is pretty much gone.
But then there’s the realization that, There is no end to this.
At least not for the foreseeable future.
This is my life now.
Moving from task to task to task to task until the day is done.
My life has become an endless treadmill of tasks that begin at 4:00 a.m. and pull me along, chug, chug, chug, until I throw in the towel at 6:45 p.m.
I don’t mind being busy. Sometimes, I even revel in being busy. Instead, what pulls me down is when I feel like I’m not growing or changing for the better. If I’m not pushing myself to learn more or grow, boredom soon sinks in. And that makes it harder to find joy and purpose in what I do.
So with that in mind, here are a few things that I’m trying out this year, as a way to grow and change.
Relearning algebra, geometry, and trigonometry via Khan Academy
The rationale here is…
I’m afraid of math. And I’m tired of being afraid of math.
So I wondered, What it would be like to learn math without being afraid of failing? What if I could go at my own pace and see how far my limits take me?
It’s also great preparation for taking the GRE (I may or may not be thinking about a Ph.D. program in the future).
Learning how to write computer code
Again, this is something that I’ve been afraid of. Maybe because it’s mostly a male-dominated field? But it seems like learning how to code is becoming not only useful, but necessary as computing power doubles, triples, quintuples.
Reading the Wheel of Time series
This is unabashed escapism. I’m okay with that.
Some mothers have daytime TV.
Some have romance novels (I never could get into those. Too formulaic. Too many one-dimensional characters.)
I’ve got fantasy fiction.
So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.
Rocking my almost two-year-old son in the rocking chair.
The humidifier steams. The white noise machine zzhhhhhhs.
Faint lights from passing cars travel across the walls.
With his soft breath against my shoulder, I rock back and back and back. One year. Two years. Five years. Ten years. As many Christmases as I can remember.
Plenty of happy ones.
Plenty of ones filled with tension. (Growing up in a house with four teenagers will do that).
Plenty of forgettable ones in my 20s. (That limbo between getting married and having kids.)
Now, we’ve entered a series of Christmases that no longer mean comfort and joy or the most wonderful time of the year.
There was the Christmas of Nausea (2012), when I grasped for ginger candy and Sea Bands or whatever anyone suggested that might help me ride the waves of first trimester nausea. From December until mid-January. (Truly a delight, let me tell you.)
And the 37-Weeks-Pregnant Christmas (2016), when I told myself that I only had three weeks left to go. (It turned out to be another five weeks. Yeah.)
And all those fun Christmases of Illness (2014, 2017, 2018). 2017 was by far the worst, as the baby’s diarrhea stretched on for a few weeks, taking us all down into its shitty vortex.
And the downright sad Christmas (2015) when the baby’s heart stopped beating. After I had a D & C on New Year’s Eve, I sat in the parking lot of Whole Foods while my husband bought me a slice of apple pie. I listened to “Long December” by the Counting Crows and cried.
And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
to hold on to these moments as they pass
But if I’m really thinking about the Christmas when everything in my life changed direction, when I started plotting a course that brought me to this rocking chair, with this child in my arms, while my oldest sleeps in her bed across the hall, I always end up traveling back to Christmas of 2002.
It was Christmas Eve. 11:00 p.m. At Wal-Mart. And I was standing in the card aisle. Looking for cards for a few friends and my boyfriend. I had no trouble picking out the cards for my friends.
But I was having the hardest time picking out one for my boyfriend of three years.
Forever and always. My one and only. Meant for each other.
I couldn’t even pick them up to consider them.
Because I understood, suddenly and completely, that I couldn’t see a future for us anymore, the way that I used to.
What was our future? It was his vision for what we would become. A married couple. A house. No kids. I could be a teacher, but did I really need any more education than a Bachelor’s degree? Why did I want to travel when he was the most important thing in my life? Wasn’t a life with him good enough? And kids? Why have kids? They just ruin a good thing.
And for a long time, I thought, Yes, of course. You’re right. You are the only thing that I want in life. I couldn’t possibly want anything else. Right. I don’t want kids. Nah, too much work. We’d be much happier by ourselves. Living our life together without kids getting in the way.
But I did want more. Much more. And in time, conversations about the future brought me back again and again to a realization that I could not ignore.
We had come as far as we could together, but now there was more pulling us apart than was keeping us together.
And although my heart had been feeling that way for some time, I didn’t want to give up. I had poured so much of myself into making it work. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I liked his family. I didn’t want to make life more difficult or more inconvenient for anyone.
And above all, I didn’t want to believe that although love can bring people together, sometimes it wasn’t enough to keep them together. No one makes movies or songs about the power of finding someone with compatible values and goals for life, or someone who trusts you and works with you to resolve conflict. It’s not sexy enough. And if I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t have the vocabulary back then to even articulate the problems.
I just remember thinking, This isn’t working.
I thought that a lot.
And yet, I was like the women in my family who came before me: devoted and long-suffering, servile and contented.
To end this relationship was not within my repertoire. At all.
But I also couldn’t lie to myself.
And therefore, I wouldn’t lie to anyone else anymore either.
I paid for the cards for my friends, got in my old car, turned the heat up, and flipped on the radio. The voice of Stevie Nicks reached through the speakers and the tears rolled.
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don’t know.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
Because I built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older
And I’m getting older too
I didn’t realize it yet, but when I left that store that night, I had changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Because the very next guy that I dated became my husband.
Three years later, we were married.
And we had two kids.
I know. I know.
It’s what we’re tempted to believe: That all the decisions–good and bad–that we’ve made in our lives have brought us to a point for which we’re ultimately grateful.
But, had I made different decisions, would I have ended up somewhere else, where I would be equally as grateful?
But what I do know is that I did something extraordinary on Christmas Eve of 2002.
For years, I imagined my future, married, but no children. Never kids.
But on Christmas Eve of 2002, I allowed myself to imagine a different future.
A life in which, someday…
I might have kids.
It turns out, as it is with a lot of things, the biggest steps that we take all start with a thought.
The simple willingness to imagine a different future.
That ability to imagine a different future has taken me far beyond the original course that I had plotted for my life. It has helped me imagine that I could get a Master’s degree. And travel overseas. And change my political and religious beliefs. And write a book. And lose forty pounds. (Three times, yeah.) And relearn algebra. (It’s true.)
And, yeah, it has helped me to imagine a life that includes kids.
And, with endless gratitude, it has helped me imagine a future moment in my life when my children won’t always need me every moment that they are awake. And a time when we won’t have to pay for babysitters. And a time when we can travel with them without losing our minds.
What about you?
What different future do you imagine for yourself?
And what will you do tomorrow to help you get there?
I was sitting on the couch the other day, working on my laptop, and I pulled my legs up to the cushion and crossed them and thought…
Whoa… Been a while since I’ve been able to do that.
Six months postpartum and 28 pounds lighter–and just now starting to realize that I’m starting to really move past the physical limitations that pregnancy put on my whole body.
From the second trimester until now (October 2016-August 2017), I haven’t felt comfortable with/haven’t been able to…
lie on my stomach (duh)
lie on my back (heavy uterus on my spine)
hunch forward (it cut off my air supply)
sit with legs crossed (belly in the way)
sit with legs closed (again, the belly)
sit much, period (weight of belly would pull me forward)
stand in place for a period of time (low back pain)
Now, think about your day. Think about how much time you spent in any of these positions.
Now, take that time away and replace it with either walking or lying on your side. Because that’s how I basically existed for most of Week 40 and 41.
41 weeks, 3 days
I remember in that last trimester being horrified that my boobs were literally resting on my belly.
And worse, my belly was resting on my thighs.
From my neck to my knees, I just felt like pure belly.
I did not find this reassuring or comforting or magical or any other variation of positive.
I just felt e-nor-mous.
Now that I’m six months postpartum, I’m starting to regain a lot of my old physical self. I can do kickboxing for an hour and running for forty-five minutes. My legs and feet aren’t so swollen that I don’t recognize my legs.
And, hey, I can pee. Normally.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been about a whole year of altered peeing.
At first, it was frequent peeing because of hormones.
Then, it was frequent peeing because of more amniotic fluid.
Then, it was frequent peeing because, geesh, my bladder was completely smooshed under the weight of the baby.
And then, it was my organs moving back into their original places and my brain readjusting my expectations of how long I can go between peeing and then being amazed when, wow, I haven’t peed in two hours and I’m still okay! And, look at that!, I didn’t pee myself when I sneezed!
At six months postpartum, a woman’s body (particularly hormones) start returning to pre-pregnancy levels, making it much easier to shed the baby weight. I’ve started to really notice this in the last three weeks. While it took me 5 weeks to lose 1 pound when I was between three and four months postpartum, I’ve now started to drop about 1 pound every two weeks.
In Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch is a group of monk-like men who devote themselves to defending the icy wall that separates the Realm from demonic Whitewalkers. In their oaths, they make this pledge:
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
Being a mother of a newborn is a bit like being a Brother of the Night’s Watch.
Not completely. But a bit.
It’s sold to you as important, noble, and life-changing work. And it feels like this for a time, while it’s still fresh and new.
But after a time, you feel like you actually have a lot in common with the Brothers of the Night’s Watch, sent to the end of the world, isolated, doing the work that must be done, the work that safeguards and ensures that humanity goes on, but that no one else will do.
At one time, you looked forward to the night hours that other mothers had once told you were so dear and precious. They talked about those hours as if they had been part adventure, part battle, and part romance.
But then, you find yourself standing in the midst of this long-awaited dream, bleary-eyed, weary, frustrated, resentful, and just downright sad.
And in that moment, it feels like you have been duped. It feels like you have fallen for a grand prank, as if you’ve been traveling toward some oasis, only to find that once you got there, there was nothing but sand to drink and no one to share your frustration with but the stars.
I imagine that it’s a lot like how Jon Snow felt when he realized that the other men who were travelling to the Wall with him were criminals who were being sent there as punishment.
So fueled by your euphoric and powerful love for your child, this feeling that you’ve been doing incredibly important, albeit invisible work, transforms into something quite different.
Loneliness. Singularity. A feeling of forgottenness.
While everyone else has moved on with their lives, there you are. Ever rocking. Ever feeding. Ever diapering and holding. Traveling in a repetitive loop of time. Frozen.
It weighs so heavy on you.
It feels like it will never end.
It feels like this will forever be the rhythm of your life.
When we came home with the baby just six weeks ago, I called those hours between midnight and 6:00 a.m. “The Night Watch.” They were the hours when it was only me and him. My husband and daughter were sound asleep. So was my mother, who had come to help us in those first few weeks.
And then there was me and Henry.
And six hours.
And three feedings.
For about a week, the Night Watch had three feedings, around 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 a.m. And then it shortened to two feedings, around midnight and 3:00 a.m.
Last week, as Henry turned six weeks old, it shortened even more. We noticed that he would sleep for five and a half hours in one stretch, usually between 11:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
This was exciting. Because it opened the possibility of me being able to seriously regain some sleep. My husband and I agreed to share the responsibility for the two feedings. Since I’m much better in the morning and he’s better at night, I took the early morning feeding and he took the late night feeding.
A few days passed like this.
It was sooo great.
In bed at 9:00 p.m. Up at 5:00 a.m.
And I got so much stuff done.
Between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., depending on when Henry would wake up to eat, I could (usually) accomplish the following, always in a different order.
Exercise (low-impact kickboxing or walking)
Packing Felicity’s lunch
Feeding/changing Henry, putting him back to sleep
Getting Felicity dressed/ fed/ dropped off at daycare
Wake up Doug
And then it occurred to me.
And now my watch is ended.
There will still be those awful nights of teething and illness when he can’t sleep more than a few minutes at a time. And sometimes, his sleep will be messed up and he’ll want to eat at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.
But for the most part, it’s over.
There is no more Night Watch for me.
Just like that.
And now, I can hardly remember how long those hours were. My memory tells me that I felt so tired and heavy. I remember pulling myself out of sleep and moving through the night, bare feet on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, digging my hands into the pockets of my robe. Pouring the formula into a bottle, microwaving it (which you should never do… right?), and then trudging back up the stairs (had I actually walked down them? I can’t even remember…).
But the sensations are gone. I cannot recreate them.
And so, those tired moments have become uncoupled from the exact cause of what made them so difficult: the actual feelings of utter exhaustion.
What was once so horrible in the moment has already become a fond memory.
One, I’m sure, I’ll recall next year with longing and misty eyes.
Before I had our first child, this was one of my greatest fears: that my baby’s cries would make me hate my child.
No joke, that was a real fear. I never, ever found the sound of babies crying to be worthy of an Awww, poor thing. I mostly thought, God, someone shut that kid up!
So imagine my surprise when we took our daughter home from the hospital and I wasn’t pissed off at her every time she cried.
Imagine my surprise when my first thought was, What’s wrong? What can I do to help you? How about this? How about this?
Now, here we are again. Dealing with a new child’s cries.
Not by any stretch of the imagination is Henry a colicky baby. I’ve heard those stories and that is not what we’re dealing with. (And parents of colicky babies, allow me to bow down and kiss your feet, you Parent of Steel.)
No, the cries that we dealt with in the past week have come in defined bursts that (at first) seemed to correspond with post-feeding digestion and then (later) seemed to correspond with how tightly we held him or covered him so that he wasn’t cold.
We’re talking about the kind of crying that is all-out, red-faced, exasperated wailing. The kind that is silent at first because the baby is winding up for a good scream. The kind that reverberates not only in your ears, but in your heart.
In this crying fit, his whole body tenses, from his face to his toes.
And here’s what that sounds like:
But then, it passes. And for a moment, I wonder if our child has just been possessed by a demon for a period of time. Because here’s what he looks like when it’s over.
And then I think, How can I be mad at that face? I love that face.
Sometimes, nature is a sick, sick bastard.
When was he crying? Maybe it’s gas. He looks like he’s in pain. When was the last time we fed him? What was his last poop like? Was it watery or runny? What color was it? Was it a lot or just a little?
Maybe it’s the formula. Maybe we should try one that has the lactose broken down already?
Doug googles and I do the feedings. We make adjustments and mental notes. I keep track.
Then, the next day…
Did he look like he was in pain today? How long did he cry? After he ate? Did he poop? If he’s not better by tomorrow, maybe we should try soy formula. I hope he’s not constipated on soy, like Felicity was. Then, we’ll have to go to the super expensive formula.
Feedings and poop: this is what you talk about when you’re learning about your newborn. These are the only windows into why your baby is crying. If you can’t engineer a solution from those clues, it’s time to call the pediatrician.
We had a lot of help in the afternoons and evenings over the past week. But the nights and the mornings were entirely in my hands. Once my husband and daughter disappeared behind the door and the car rolled out of the garage, I was on my own.
I was okay until Thursday morning.
It was the second day that Henry was crying in pain.
He wailed. And wailed. And wailed.
I tried to feed him. His forehead wrinkled and he screamed.
I changed him. He calmed for a moment. Then cried more.
I bounced him. Rocked him. Tried to burp him. I laid him on the ground and rubbed his tense body. I bicycled his legs. I rubbed his back. I put him on my shoulder. I turned him over and patted his back. I patted his butt. I shushed him. I put him in the bouncer. I played music. I cradled him. I balanced him on one arm.
Then, I did all of these things again.
Through his screams, I syringe-fed him this stuff, which some people swear by:
Wailing. Wailing. Screaming. Screaming.
I put him down on the ground, feeling the warm weariness of three hours of sleep blur my vision.
But no, it wasn’t the sleep deprivation. It was tears.
Turns out, burp cloths aren’t just for spit up. They’re also great for tears.
He cried and I cried. Looking at him, writhing in pain, I cried more.
How am I going to get through this morning? This week? This month? I didn’t hug Felicity before she went to daycare. Fail. How can I care for two people? My face is still bloated. I wish I could wear normal pants again. How long did it take to lose my belly last time? How many more hours until Cate is here to help? How many more days until Friday night when Doug does the night feedings?
But the question that overrides everything: What is wrong? What can I do? I will do anything. Just tell me what I need to do.
I wiped my tears on the burp cloth one last time and picked him up. I cradled him in my arms and told him that I was sorry. Sorry for not knowing how to help him. Sorry that he had to share me with another child. Sorry that I wasn’t at my best.
I clutched him to my chest, covered him with a flannel receiving blanket, and then held a pacifier in his mouth. His lips closed on it.
Then, he was silent.
He had fallen asleep.
I dropped my head back in relief.
Oh, thank you God.
Over the past three days, we’ve arrived at some temporary hypotheses for the cause of the crying.
1.) Milk allergy.
Solution: We switched to soy formula. (Courtesy of Doug’s genes.)
Results: So far, so good. No diarrhea. No constipation. Regular diapers. No more crying fits where it seems like he is in pain.
2.) Extreme need for warmth and swaddling. (Courtesy of my genes.)
Solution: Double swaddle. One layer is a muslin blanket. One layer is a flannel receiving blanket. Put on mitts and a hat. Hold tightly against your chest. (Although, he is picky on this point. My chest seems to be the gold standard right now.)
We are trying these things right now. Every day is an experiment. Every time he finally goes down for a nap, we breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Maybe it’s over, we think.
But who are we kidding? We know better. Tomorrow, it might be something else. Next week, something else. And definitely next month, something else.