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.
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.
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?
Croupvs. whooping cough
Can toddlers get whooping cough if they’re vaccinated?
My toddler won’t chew disorders
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lately, it’s hard to commit to writing about any single topic for any period of time in a meaningful way.
There’s just simply no time to develop anything that I want to write about.
Maybe I’ll tell you that I signed up to be the Hospitality Chair of the PTO for my daughter’s school. Actually, scratch that. I signed up both of us–me and my husband. For a few reasons. First, feminism. Second, I kind of like being nice to the people who are teaching/caring for my children while I work. They are the reason I can do anything else at all.
Or maybe I’ll tell you that the toddler has a 50% rate of having diaper explosion in the morning. On the bad mornings, it’s all over the crib. (And sometimes the floor. That was how Labor Day greeted us.) On good mornings (for me, at least), it happens at school. On okay mornings, it happens in the highchair, where it can mercifully pool in the seat.
I could tell you our family survived the first stomach bug of the season. It was a quick week of passing it around the house. (Patient Zero was, of course, the toddler).
I experienced my first all-out sprinting in heels through the daycare on the morning that my husband came down with the bug and–SURPRISE!–I needed to take the kids 10 minutes south to daycare before driving 25 minutes north to go to work.
And I didn’t fall! (It’s shocking, I know. Calm down.)
Or maybe I’ll tell you that I’m learning about the possibilities (and potentially horrors?) or augmented reality in my Seminars in Technology Trends in Education course.
Gamify me, I guess?
Or how about the impending doom that I feel when I think about Brett Kavanaugh being confirmed as the ninth Supreme Court Justice? I have a whole 2,000 word post called “So You Want to Overturn Roe v. Wade?” that I haven’t published yet. It’s emotional. It’s cutting. It’s snide. Just not sure I’m ready to put that out there.
We could talk about how I subscribed to LetGrow.org because I’m kind of frustrated at the idea that letting my kids play outside by themselves–down the street at the park! Gasp!–might earn me a visit from the police. I’d like to meet other parents that believe we’re a lot safer now than we’ve ever been and it’s not neglect to allow your kids to play unsupervised.
Have a little faith in humanity, people.
I could talk about the fact that I realized several weeks ago that I now eat the same breakfast that my dad did for as long as I can remember–black coffee and a hard-boiled egg.
W. T. F.
We could talk about the fact that my current college students pointed out that they weren’t born yet when Titanic was first released.
Right. Of course, they were born in 1999.
God help me.
Or how those lines in my forehead are becoming a little more permanent. And God, they really do follow the same path of the face that I make when I say, “Huh?”
I could tell you that before I grade a pile of papers, I sometimes daydream about what I’ll do on my next vacation. I scroll through my Google calendar and think about when I could get away from it all for even just one or two days. I map out my favorite cabin in the middle of nowhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and think about when we might be able to get back there.
Would we need to bring the kids? Could my mom watch them? It would be nice to just sit in a cabin in the woods and write for a like a whole week. All by myself. Writing, writing, writing. So luxurious…
And then I realize that I’m sitting in front of a stack of papers, that my students have been writing, writing, writing.