Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: children

Dying

Friday, August 12th, 3:30 p.m.

“She’s out of isolation, so you don’t need to bother with a gown or gloves. Whatever it is, it’s not COVID,” the ICU nurse says. I glance at the whiteboard. Nurse: Megan.

Through the window, I see my mother reclined on the hospital bed, her eyes closed, her chest rapidly rising and falling. This labored breathing has been ongoing for days now, her heart rate increasing steadily over the days. 90. 100. 110. 125. 130.

It holds at 140 now.

140 is my heart rate when I’m jogging or doing kickboxing. And there, she lies, reclined on the hospital bed, her body racing as if accelerating toward some unknown destination in the distance. Does she know where she’s going? And when will she arrive?

What’s causing her high heart rate? I had asked the doctor.

It’s the body’s stress response.

To what?

We don’t know.

There would be nothing else to say until more tests were done. More and more tests.

I look at my mother through the door.

She is dying. Surely, they can see that.

Can’t they?

I slide the door of the ICU room open and step inside and rest my eyes on my mother. And the reality of the situation washes over me again, a horrible reminder. Oh, right. It really is as bad as the last time that I was here, just hours ago.

But then, I realize. No.

It’s not as bad as last time.

It’s actually worse.

I want to tell every nurse and doctor and hospital worker, This isn’t what she looks like. She’s really not like this.

In a week, she has transformed from a robust 68-year-old woman into a woman who looks to be in her 80s. Frail.

I place my cup of coffee on the floor beside the chair next to her bed and sit beside her. The welts that have emerged on her face and arms are starting to crust over. The doctors guess that it’s a reaction to antibiotics to treat a UTI, but it’s just a guess.

I slide my hand under hers. It’s not as hot as yesterday, when her fever was 102, but it’s still so warm. Her fingers are swollen. From what? I don’t know. Why is she breathing like this? There are new masses in her lungs, ones that have grown rapidly at some time in the last month, but is that what’s causing her body to run like its out of control?

Her spinal tap is clear. There’s no infection. Her brain is fine. Her heart is fine. Carcinoid cancer is strange. We don’t know everything about it.

“Hi, Mom,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. “It’s Sharon.”

I open a document on my phone. It’s a letter that I’ve written to her. I was going to read it at her funeral, but she deserves to hear it while she’s alive. My eyes skate over the first line that I’ve written to steel myself to read it, but I can’t see through the blurry curtain of my tears. They drop freely onto my dress.

That looks so nice on you! she had said, not two months ago. Stitch Fix? I’ve never heard of it!

I look around the room for a box of tissues and see nothing. There are never enough tissues in these rooms. I wipe my face with the back of my free hand as I hold my mother’s hand. Then, I pull a used paper towel from the dispenser in her last hospital room and dab at my face again.

I close the app with the letter to my mother and navigate to a song. Something that has comforted me in the past.

See me someday sleeping softly
Flowers draped across my knees
Hear the cries of friends and family
Missing me
Press on

She’s not gone yet, but I miss her already.

I look down at my mother’s hand.

Just two weeks ago, she responded to my touch. One week ago, she could still acknowledge that I was in the room. Yesterday, with effort, she could say a few words–if they were important. I fed her a small piece of strawberry, and with great effort, she chewed it. Now, when she is aware, her communication has reduced to groans and a look from behind glassy eyes.

In this moment, her eyes are closed. I could almost convince myself that she was sleeping, if she weren’t breathing like she were running a race.

My head drops to her hand and I press it to my cheek, where my tears are now sliding over her knuckles and down her wrists. I turn my head and look up the side of her arm, upward at her as she is reclined in the bed and suddenly she seems as large as she was to me when I was a child. Authoritative. Grand. Only now, silent and suffering.

I want to wake her up, shake her out of this nightmare. I want to curl up in her arms. She was not a mother who would say something like, “Everything’s going to be okay, Sweetie.” Instead, she would say something simpler, like, “Hey, now. What’s wrong?”

Her hand is slick underneath my cheeks, my tears still spilling forth. There is Life there, inside of her, as strong as it has ever been. But not for long. Soon, her hand will turn cold and there will be no warming it up with peach tea or coffee with cream. I can still see the steam rising from her mug as she laughed about my ridiculous guesses for unscrambling words in a puzzle book.

The sadness settling over me is so heavy I cannot even hold myself up and soon, I’m collapsed over the rail of the hospital bed. I’m crawling up the side of the bed now, my face and neck pressed against her arm and hand, gazing up at her. I want her to snap out of this. For her breathing to slow. For her to look over at me and say, “I had the weirdest dream.”

But her face is so thin now. Her face has never been this pale, this thin, this drained of life.

I want to go back. To my beginning. When I was the Protected, and she, the Protector. When it was her tears of joy covering me at my birth, not my tears of sorrow covering her just before her death. How short the years were between those two turning points in our universe. I didn’t always take those years for granted. I cherished them more each time she told us the cancer was back. But how many years had the cancer slept–and I lost sight of my gratitude?

Moments with someone you love become so much more precious when you’re threatened with losing them forever. You find yourself making frequent trips to see them. Cherishing every word they say. Not throwing away their cards. Taking more pictures. More videos.

My mind drifts and I think of the woman who wept upon Jesus’s feet and then wiped away her tears with her hair, just before pouring expensive perfume over his feet.

Why was she crying? Jesus and his disciples believed that it was because she was “a sinful woman” and was plagued with regret.

But no one asked her. They just assumed that she was sad about her sinful life.”

But now I wonder if she knew, in the way that I know now, that Death is at the doorstep. I wonder if she felt the same tight tug at her heart when she looked at Jesus, the tightness that I’m feeling now as I gaze at my mother in these final hours, as if she is being pulled into a thick fog while I am anchored here. Unable to follow, even at a distance.

Even though there was a time when we were so connected that the echoes of our heartbeats rippled throughout the same body. My hiccups were her hiccups, and hers were mine.

Wasn’t there a verse in Isaiah (Was it Isaiah?) that said, Death where is thy sting?

I know where it is. It’s here, in this room. I feel it needling me every time a monitor beeps, announcing some new threshold that my mother has fallen too far below or risen too far above.

The nurse, Megan, quietly enters the room and I don’t even try to hide my tears. What’s the point?

“Here,” she says softly, handing me a hospital washcloth. “This is better.”

I nod, unable to even thank her properly. I push the stiff, paper towels into my purse.

She doesn’t say anything.

There is nothing to say.

Life is filled with bitter music
Breeze that whistles like a song
Death gets swept down like an eagle
Snatch us with our shoes still on

Press on

Behind me, I can hear the soft conversations of nurses in the hallway. I can’t hear the content, but the tone tells me that whatever they’re talking about weighs infinitely less than what is happening in this room.

Do they know? Can they tell what’s happening? Is it obvious to them too?

When do we start using that word, dying? Is it too soon? It doesn’t seem too soon.

Instead, it seems too late for someone to be notifying me. Instead, it seems that I was meant to figure this out on my own. It seems that we are in the wrong place here. ICUs are meant for people to get better. Why is she here anyway? Shouldn’t we be in hospice? Why are we pumping high-flow oxygen into her nostrils and administering potassium?

Why did we do a biopsy? Will the results read as clearly as a pregnancy test? Dying or Not Dying? When are the results supposed to come back? After she’s dead? Why are we still testing?

The sobs overwhelm me and I find myself praying not only to God, but also my father. My grandmother. Any ancestors who will hear me.

Please. She needs someone to guide her. She needs help to find her way forward. I cannot stand to watch her suffer like this another day.

I love her too much to allow this to go on.

There is a doctor’s knock at the door. They all knock the same–an interrupting, quick signal that you are next in line. But I cannot even lift myself to acknowledge the sound. If this doctor’s time is money, they’ll need to pay the price for now. And I will come away from this moment knowing that I owe them nothing. I will not shield them from my pain or my grief. They should know the weight of what is happening here, how the gravity of this moment warps time, slows it down, so that every moment is lived painfully and with the greatest effort imaginable.

They should feel it, if even to a small degree, in the way that I’m feeling it now.

My mother is dying.

Whoever is about to sit with me and talk with me already knows that, too.

***

He’s very kind, this doctor in his late 30s. He uses phrases like, “How are you feeling about her condition?” And “Yes, I agree that it’s time to modify her goals.”

When I ask if we can help her pass without suffering, he says, “We absolutely can.”

Then, a new flood of tears arrives as phrases that should be uttered twenty years from now are spoken today.

We can move her to a private, quiet room. Make her comfortable. Give her morphine for pain. Give her anti-anxiety medication.

How long will it take, we ask as a family.

Could be 30 minutes. A few hours. Or days.

More tears.

I’m hoping for a few hours. Time to say what we want to say to her. To pray. To read to her.

But the thought of wandering for days in this Space Between Worlds…

The thought is crushing.

But I know that I will bear it, no matter how long.

I will bear it for her.

***

The night nurse comes, Regina. I believe she is the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter, incarnate. She can’t be older than 35, but she speaks as someone who has traveled this road of Death many times. She props her hands on her hips like she’s telling us the specials on tonight’s menu.

“I want to be clear about what we’re doing tonight. We’re going to do a terminal wean. We’ll do everything to make her comfortable and relieve her pain.”

It’s not insensitive the way that she says any of this. Instead, it instantly puts me at peace. What we are doing is not unusual or awful. We are only getting out of the way of Death. We are simply fulfilling my mother’s wishes, even though it means that she’s leaving us behind.

We read last minute messages from friends and family who want to say goodbye. We hold the phone up to her ear to allow family who can’t make it to talk to her. My mother says nothing. She cannot talk. All she can do now is groan, and only when absolutely necessary. She breathes heavily through her nose and mouth, which quickly dries out her lips. The tone in her jaw is gone. She cannot keep her mouth closed. Every time Warren carefully applies Chapstick to her lips, tears sting my eyes.

Can she still hear? I wonder. While half of me is glad that we are talking to my mother as if she can still hear us, the other half of me remains skeptical and wonders if this is all a show to make ourselves feel better.

Her brain is fine, the doctors had said.

As I sit on my mom’s left, my daughter, Felicity, walks in, tears slowly careening down her nine-year-old cheeks. She has been pinballing between entering the ICU room and remaining in the hallway.

Anything you want to do is fine, I assured her. Only do what you want to do.

She sits on my lap, facing away from me. She’s too tall for me to hold her like a baby anymore, so I do the next best thing and bear-hug her from behind.

Felicity gazes over at her grandmother and places her hand on top of hers.

My mother groans.

My chest tightens and I swallow.

“She can hear you, baby girl. She knows it’s you.”

Felicity leaves her hand there as her little body shakes in my lap. I know in this moment, my mother hates that she’s making Felicity sad. She hates that she can no longer mask the fact that she’s dying. She wouldn’t want to scare Felicity. She would despise the fact that the only sound she could make to comfort Felicity was a monotone groan. She would encourage Felicity to not let her condition make her sad. She might even tell Felicity what she had said so many times before, “I’m getting better and better every day, Felicity. Don’t worry about me.”

Without warning, Felicity jumps to her feet and moves to the other side of the bed.

“Can I hug her?” she asks.

“Yes. As tightly as you want.”

She leans across the bed and rests upon my mother and pushes out her shaky words.

“I love you, Grandma.”

Warren helps Regina remove my mother’s neck brace, which had been supporting her nearly healed neck after her most recent fall.

They remove the arm brace, which had been keeping her broken right arm in place.

Regina pulls away the tubing that forces high-flow oxygen from my mother’s nostrils.

A lump rises in my throat as a thought occurs to me.

We are removing all her armor now, letting it fall away, leaving her vulnerable. We all understand that she can’t be any more broken than she is now. Nor, are we are protecting her anymore. We’ve wandered off the road to recovery long ago. Now, we’re on a different path, each of us recognizing it at different times, as if we are each acquiring a new language at different speeds. I’ve been able to read the signposts for weeks, but I know that others have only been able to read them for days.

We are handing Mom over to a Thing that we have all feared, no matter what our faith teaches us. No matter how many cheery faces have told us confidently that there’s Heaven waiting for us on the other side, none of us have seen this destination, nor have we traveled there. Perhaps someday I will find comfort in the thought of Heaven. But not today. Because my mother’s path to get there is covered in thorns, ripping at her mercilessly even as she barrels blindly forward.

She will travel this last path alone, exhausting every weapon and tool that she used in this life. She will do this alone, just as she did when she gave birth four times. Just as she did when she fought through unbearable pain when she broke her back in 2007–and all the years of pain that followed. Just as she has fought this cancer for 24 years.

Like every other time before, she would do this last battle all by herself.

No man has ever come close to demonstrating the strength that my mother has.

Not even close.

She is the only person I’ve known who has chosen over and over again to walk into the shadows of Pain and Loss.

And still found the Light inside of it.

And then held that Light up for all to see.

Warrior isn’t the title that she has earned.

She is the Hero.

Maybe that’s why her body is still wielding its sword, slashing at shadows.

We can’t tell her to stop fighting.

But at least we can take away her pain while she fights.

What is Getting Me Through (Week 5-7 of Pandemic Coping)

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.

  1. 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).
  2. Running. Sweet, sweet exercise. Early in the morning. Nothing but feet on the pavement and music in my ears.
  3. 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.”
  4. Working with co-workers via Zoom. Sharing our little victories in helping faculty teach online.
  5. 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.
  6. Taking on a short-term contract to help move some classes online that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
  7. 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.)
  8. Reading “Dear Students: There is No Afterwards,” a letter written by a professor to Notre Dame students who won’t be returning to school. Profound and spot on.

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.

But also the hope.

The current’s fast, but the river moves slow.

Kate Tempest, “People’s Faces”

Holding onto that truth today.

Strange and Broken Things (Week 2 of Pandemic Coping)

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.

Not so.

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.

Fools.

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?

For certainly, we are on a path to becoming a country in which everyone loses someone. We are starting to hear the rhetoric that it’s patriotic to sacrifice ourselves and those we love to a disease that we could have been better prepared to fight had our own destructive president not dismantled the systems that were in place to keep us ahead of the curve.

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.

Gather ye moments while ye may.

We Are Not Used to This

Both kids are now home.

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?”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “Oh, it’s Saturday.”
  • Me: “Nope.”
  • Felicity: “No, Henry, it’s Monday.”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “No, it’s Saint Patri’s Day!”

Aren’t you jealous?

3/17/2020

***

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.

This is fine meme.
Art credit: KC Green

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.

Turns out, they happen here, too. We are not so special that we get a pass on this one. Perhaps we shouldn’t have disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic team in 2018 in the name of reducing big government because “we can get them back if we need them.”

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.

Right?

Not today.

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.

Birthday Parties: Stream of Consciousness # 1

One thing that I miss about the time before Child # 2 was having a bit of time to write out real-time reflections on parenthood. With one child, I was able to do quite a bit of that because naps existed and there was just one child to take care of.

With two kids, it’s pretty impossible to do much blogging as I once did. At least the kind of blogging that I prefer. The kind where I revise, revise, and revise until it’s just right.

But it’s a new year and it’s time to get realistic about how I use my time. I love to write. I love to share my writing with others. I work. And I also take on far too many creative projects, which I am not willing to give up because they all bring me joy.

So my goal is to change my methods and standards for writing this year.

For this year, I’m going to blog in a more stream-of-consciousness style. Not because I don’t like to revise and make everything just-so.

It’s more out of necessity.

So excuse the typos and love me for my Flaws (of which, I’m sure there are many).

***

So Henry will forever celebrate his birthday on Groundhog Day. Which I think is payment for putting me through 11 additional days of pregnancy past his due date, which, at the time, made me feel like I was living my own personal Groundhog Day again and again.

Three years later, I mostly remember his birthday as being a test of sheer willpower to confront pain and refuse to give up.

And there was lots of screaming.

And too much blood.

And this.

Isn’t it disturbing/befuddling/miraculous that time helps us summarize the most momentous of days in such few words?

***

In any case, we celebrated Henry’s birthday yesterday, and we came out on the other side of it unscathed and only somewhat frazzled.

One of the dads that came asked me while I was getting ready to serve cake and eleven kids were chomping at the bit for sugar how I could “be so calm.”

That was pretty much the best compliment I’d gotten from a stranger in a while. If “calm” is what I’m projecting, seriously, I deserve a medal.

I said, “It’s because I’m not expressing everything in my head.”

Which is so true.

I think that’s what the second/third/nth child does to you–they elevate your threshold of what your expectations are for what you deal with during the day.

What do you do if you go from zero kids to twins? Or triplets?

Yeah, those parents deserve more than medals.

In any case…

Kudos to my husband for cooking the food for the party: a gluten-free, dairy-free pasta bake and broccoli. Sounds gross. It’s really not. But this is what you have to do when your kids have allergies.

And hey, did you know that basically every birthday party has pretty much the same menu that neither of my kids can eat?

Pizza, cake, and ice cream.

Gluten-free, dairy-free cupcake (courtesy of me)

It makes for a lot of texting back and forth with parents who are hosting birthday parties.

The good news is that just about every parent I’ve communicated with is more than happy to secure an alternative.

#inclusiveeating

For whatever reason, we’ve been to about five birthday parties in the last four weeks. ‘Tis the season? I thought kids had birthdays throughout the year, not just in the winter. But okay.

I guess this has been about birthday parties.

Title found.

See you next time.

A birthday cake with Grover and Cookie Monster. It says "Henry" and "3."
Not dairy-free or gluten-free (courtesy of my amazing Mom)

“It All Goes By So Fast”: 2010-2020

We were three years into this decade before the biggest memories were made. It’s strange to think about now, but what did we do from 2010-2013? I remember that we traveled to Finland and Maui. We spent a lot of time with friends, cooked a lot of breakfasts…

… and experimented with making prickly pear lemonade and brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

I wasted a lot of time worrying, wondering if I would ever be able to land a full-time job in my field.

And then one day, there was a newborn hand, wrapped around my finger

Maybe you remember something similar

Maybe if you thought hard right now, you remember

That bouncer where they slept, all swaddled, mitted, and capped

The beep of the microwave (tsk-tsk) as you warmed water for a bottle

The smell of Pampers and Similac and detergent

The creaking of the tea kettle as you boiled water at 3:00 a.m.

All the onesies, the bibs, the burp cloths, the swaddles

And all the Googling.

All of the Googling.

Normal baby poop.

Milk allergy in newborn signs

Breastfeeding milk production normal

How to stop breastfeeding

When does a baby start teething?

How old is a 20-pound baby?

Best car seats

What does croup sound like?

Croup vs. whooping cough

Can toddlers get whooping cough if they’re vaccinated?

My toddler won’t chew disorders

Toddler diarrhea

How often do toddlers get diarrhea?

Bleeding diaper rash remedies

And then, the Googling stops. Mostly.

One day, you just decide, To hell with it. It is what it is.

You decide the toddler is more like a preschooler and you let him carry scissors around the house, and play with teeny-tiny Legos, and walk around without a Pull-Up on.

You’re on the brink of Life without Diapers, but not there quite yet.

There is Light. A Sweet and Glorious Future beyond the constant wiping of butts.

And you wonder, How did I ever get used to wiping another person’s butt?

That whole area of another human being used to be totally private and off limits. And then, suddenly, you became completely responsible for the care of another human’s butt and genitals.

It was strange.

But so was the feeling of another person growing inside you, jostling your internal organs, barreling through your genitals, and causing your breasts to ache, throb, and leak.

It was all very strange.

How their tiny cries subsided when they smelled your skin, felt your heartbeat, and heard your voice.

You weren’t expecting to be so moved by this. You weren’t prepared for the swallowing of your heart, how the gentle breath of a newborn on your chest could eclipse all the pain, emanating from top to bottom, inside and out.

You weren’t expecting that you could be this utterly exhausted, and still be strong. And still practice patience. And not completely lose your shit while on the brink of sleep-deprived psychosis.

You expected them to be earthquakes in your life, each a great shifting in the plates of your being. You expected there to be changes, fractures, new landmarks, and new paths to chart in their wake.

But you didn’t expect that it would lead you to new beauty.

That it would create new oases, new islands.

And now here we are.

On brink of having a three-year-old and a six-year-old.

My babies are not babies anymore.

They have become tiny people with personalities that converge in some respects and diverge in others.

It goes by so fast, they all said.

Does it really?

There were moments that felt like hours. Times when I, hand-to-God, prayed that we could all survive the Present Moment. If we could just get through this day, everyone alive, it would be a win.

A huge win.

If I could just get to the end of today, when the kid or kids are asleep, I will be okay.

How many more hours until bedtime?

How many more hours until I can go to work and someone else can do all this?

Oh, Sweet Lord, if I have to tell you to eat your food one more time, I’m going to completely lose it.

And, there it is. I’ve lost it.

The truth is more like, The nights are long, but the years are short.

The last six years of care-taking is settling in on my face, in lines that are not going away and little patches of gray hair that will one day make a magnificent streak (though I’m not ready for that just yet).

At get-togethers and parties, I’m realizing that, Whoa, I’m no longer the youngest adult here anymore.

I’m most definitely approaching 40.

Time. Oh, Time.

I feel fickle for feeling this way.

I also feel like they were right.

It goes by so fast.

PoP # 18: New Job, New Life

Two months into a new job. And really loving it.

I haven’t done a mostly picture post in a while, so enjoy.

Muddy Henry (a.k.a. What?!?) (Summer 2019)
The note reads "Have a great day! I love you!" Mom.
First Day of First Grade Sandwich Note (August 2019)
New Office: Harvest Edition (September 2019)
The Art of Vacuum Sealing (October 2019)
Felicity inspects the seal on a vacuum sealed bag.
Inspection (October 2019)
45 Minutes of a Six-Hour Fall Drive avec Enfants (October 2019)
Felicity is She-Ra. Henry is a dinosaur.
Trunk or Treat: Happy Edition (Week before Halloween 2019)
Halloween: Scared Edition (Halloween 2019)
I love you Dad because you bake for me.
Expression of Sentiment for Paternal Unit (October 2019)
I love you Henry because you are funny.
Expression of Sentiment for Fraternal Unit (October 2019)
Top Tooth Loss (September 2019)
First Light Set Up for On-Site Aviation Shoot: The I-Can-Do-It! Edition (November 2019)
Henry is super smiling about pulling seeds from a pumpkin.
Henry S. Pumpkins. (ANY QUESTIONS?) (October 2019)
Display of Sibling Affection (November 2019)

Is Anyone Having Fun on Valentine’s Day? (and What I’ve Been Doing Lately)

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.

Psshhh…

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
  • 6:30: Husband arrives home
  • 6:32: Husband says, “Go, you’ve done enough. I’ve got the kids.”
  • 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.

High. Five.

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.

#truth

***

Oh friends…

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).

algebra.JPG

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.

Eye of the World.jpg

So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.

It’s going to be a Long. Long. Journey.

2018 Year in Review: a.k.a Why Doing Nothing is Sometimes Everything

While I normally LOVE to be productive and useful, the past few days, I have done little else besides completely veg out.

This is what I do to myself: I do ALL THE THINGS. For months on end. (I won’t even list them out. I’m sure you have your own list of ALL OF THE THINGS).

And while I’m doing all of those things, I think in the back of my mind, When I finally have some time to myself, I’ll do X or Y. (And X or Y is usually a second-priority item from ALL OF THE THINGS that I just don’t have time for).

And then I hit a wall.

And then I do NONE OF THE THINGS.

(Are you like that? I can’t be alone in that.)

I don’t do skirts or pantyhose. Or makeup. I “sleep in” until 5:30 or 6:00. (Sad? Meh. It’s tolerable.) It’s the fluffy pink bathrobe around the house (most of the day, at least). In this week before Christmas when I’m not teaching, without a shred of guilt, I send my beautiful children to daycare.

And I am finally alone.

And what do I do?

Let’s start with what I DON’T do.

I don’t think about upcoming presentations or writing that I could be doing. I (mostly) don’t write. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s simply because after so many months of giving pieces of myself to everyone else, I’ve got to have time to turn inward and fill my own cup.

Instead, I watch movies and shows. I read books. I listen to podcasts or read articles that I’ve been meaning to read for months. I exercise when I want to. I send the cards, I dole out the Christmas bonuses to every lovely daycare teacher that deals with our kids, and I stuff the stockings.

In fact, I kind of love that part of Christmas. Because it gives me time to think about the people in my life for whom I’m grateful. It takes a village, right? Damn right, it does. And I want my village to know that I’m grateful for every blessed day that they take care of my kids so I can continue to pursue my own goals.

I also get the few gifts that we’ll give our kids. (Don’t tell them, but it’s a few small games, some Play-Doh, hand puppets, and some winter clothes.) We don’t really do many gifts at Christmas. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. Seriously. What’s the point? Instead of gifts, what we’ve said we’re going to do for each other is give the other person a solid day of not having to take care of the kids from sunup to sundown.

(Merry Christmas, BG. Love you.)

Love my kids.

Love ’em.

But I also enjoy such privileges like, I don’t know, setting my own agenda. Or making a decision based on what I feel like.

Guess what I discovered over the past few days while my kids have been at daycare?

7:00 a.m. is the perfect time on a winter day to go for a run. The sun is just starting to come up and the frost is still crisp on the fallen leaves. It’s light enough to easily spot patches of ice, but the sun isn’t high enough yet to blind you. And in that perfect light, your breath comes out in fluffy white puffs, momentarily adorning the air.

And I love lying still on the middle of the living room floor, eyes closed, no damn phone in my hand or notifications calling for my attention, for a solid 30 minutes.

And laughing about South Park’s Buddha Box.

And crying with PBS’ newest version of Little Women.

And thinking about Black Mirror’s Hang the DJ.

And reflecting on how much the kids have grown this past year.

 

So this Christmas, I’m happy to Bow Out, Sign Off, and Check Out.

And be happy to do None of the Things.

Hoping you all find your own Time and Space and Peace.

Sharon

POP # 16 : I’m 37!?

Because I have pretty much no time to write lately due to a combination of factors and because I feel like, Come on, it’s been a whole month and you’ve written nothing

Totally expecting to find only memes related to the infamous Clerks’ line of “I’m 37!?!“, I was surprised to find that googling “I’m 37” led me to a several humorous tidbits that have helped me to celebrate my 37th birthday this year.

Enjoy.

  1. Bad Science Journalism: According to what I can only assume I should view as bad science journalism, the age 37-38 is when you start to feel old. I have to say though, I don’t typically “feel old” yet. Well, at least until it’s 6 p.m. By 7 p.m., I’m begging to crawl into bed so I can be ready to do it all over again at 4:30 the next morning.

2. Monty Python: I’m not a lover of Monty Python (though my husband is). Still, this made me laugh out loud.

3. “37 Things I’m Thinking about Now that I’m 37” by Casey Lewis.

Please enjoy this gentleman’s thoughts because I really don’t think I could have done any better in explaining where I’m at in work, relationships, and reckoning with my place in the world.

And here are some birthday artifacts that I’ve found particularly humorous. Kudos to my birthday buddy, Cate, on her clever birthday cake ideas.

IMG_20181117_190553784

She’s also great at picking cards. (We’re also Game of Thrones buddies.)

img_20181125_142943879.jpg

Cards from my husband (respects my love for puns) and daughter (practicing “cursive”):

My daughter’s first “Writer’s Workshop” in her kindergarten class. The teacher interviews one student a day and records their ideas on paper for the whole class to read together.

IMG_20181019_173947

Lately, most days pass by in a blur of responsibilities with barely more than 10 minutes at a time for me to catch a breath and retreat into much-needed alone time.

And then I remember:

Christmas is coming.

Oh, sweet Lord.

Here we go.

And yet…

IMG_20181008_111032

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