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.
I mean, honestly, what bizarre disaster movie are we living in?
From what I recall, even Hollywood couldn’t conceive of the current crisis. In all the apocalyptic movies that I can recall (Deep Impact, Armageddon, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day), the fictionalized president of the United States displayed a measure of calmness and wisdom that the balanced the public frenzy.
We don’t have the opposite of a calm and wise leader.
What we have is actually much worse.
We have a delusional, narcissistic, inattentive compulsive liar. In addition to his irredeemable character flaws, throughout the duration of his time in office, he has managed to drive away all of the last bastions of intelligence and competence from the White House so that he is now solely surrounded by sycophants and butt-kissers that hold onto their jobs by constantly showering him with unearned and exaggerated praise for even the smallest achievement while covering up his most egregious errors, which he makes based on his personal intuition (“That’s my metrics.”) which has always been and will always be directed by his own self-preservation.
Could we ever have imagined that a President would suggest that healthcare workers are either “squandering” or stealing masks? Or who would stand by the statement that the National Stockpile doesn’t belong to the States? Or who would encourage the general public to buy drugs that haven’t been properly vetted for fighting coronavirus? Or who would push conspiracy theories that the media is purposefully overhyping the coronavirus because they want to hurt his chances of re-election?
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
NOBODY IS THINKING ABOUT THE ELECTION.
At least nobody who’s immediate livelihood is dependent on whether or not they are able to keep their jobs three weeks from now.
Just when you think our President cannot possibly make us feel worse about having him as a leader…
He rises to the challenge.
I just cannot.
This is literally the worst time to have this man in office.
I would take so many other politicians in his place right now.
Mike Pence, whom I despise for his “spiritual” quest to rid the country of birth control and abortion? Yup. Approved.
Mitch McConnell? Put in him.
Lindsey Graham? In this pandemic, I LOVE Lindsey Graham.
Mike DeWine, the governor of my home state of Ohio, whom I didn’t vote for in the last election? I kiss his feet.
I would literally take just about anyone in this entire country who has the ability to apply reason to situations, seek advice from experts, and speak in a calm manner.
My six-year-old is a better choice.
My three-year-old is a better choice.
(Although, admittedly, he’s at his best first thing in the morning or after a nap. Even then… He’d probably be less dangerous to the American people because he would be distracted enough to let others do his job. As long as tiny Oreos are involved.)
So that’s the exasperated part of me, lately.
But I want to clarify that it’s not my only mode right now. Because at the height of my exasperation, when I feel that I cannot possibly take another day’s news, my rational brain kicks in and I remember gratitude.
Despite the madness that continues to swirl around my house, we’ve managed to create a zone of (mostly) peace and normalcy within these walls.
It involves more teleconferences, Zoom meetings, and screen time than I’d like to admit.
But it also involves being in the yard and the garden a lot. And taking walks. And having the kids around as we prepare dinner. And reading books together. And listening to audio books as I fold laundry, do dishes, change sheets, and vacuum.
We took our kids to fly kites. They loved it.
It doesn’t leave much time for us (parents) to be alone.
Being a parent during a pandemic without any tangible social support networks turns out to be hard.
It’s hard if you’re still lucky enough to have a job that you’re trying to do while the kids are awake. It’s hard if you’ve just been laid off and are looking for work when all the jobs that are hiring require you to put your health and safety at risk. It’s hard if you have a job–but you’re wondering for how long.
But who am I kidding? It’s hard for just about everyone in different ways.
We have jobs.
Getting into the field of e-learning last year turned out to be the absolute best decision I could have made at this point in my life. I recently took on a short-term contract as an independent consultant to advise and collaborate with faculty at a small, private university who are moving their traditional face-to-face summer courses into the online format.
We have a home. We have a yard where the kids can play.
We have food. More than enough food, honestly.
We have education. And friendship. And camaraderie (even if only online right now).
We have love. And laughter. And a sense of humor.
And these days, we **do** have something that we didn’t have two months ago.
A reason to look beyond the frustration and stress that we’re experiencing and look for those whom we can help.
For there is always someone who needs more help than you do.
And here’s where the emotional dizziness comes in. Because if I think about it long enough, my mind swings back to the realization that…
Wait… I cannot stop at gratitude.
If all I do is focus on what I’m grateful for and not be concerned about how others are suffering, nothing changes.
The cracks in our systems that are opening and swallowing so many people, they will remain.
Just because I have what I need does not, and SHOULD NOT, make me stop noticing and raising issue that the systems that are supposed to support and protect Americans are broken.
It does make me wonder though…
…will Americans finally put their collective foot down?
Will they push for the urgency of providing health care to all Americans?
Not a stop-gap. But real, actual, tangible access to health care that anyone–working, unemployed, full-time, part-time, retired, disabled, even (gasp!) non-citizens–can receive health care at a low cost?
What about sick leave?
What about family leave?
What about universal child care and preschool?
What about humane systems of incarceration?
What about preserving the human rights of anyone who is in this country, not just those who are citizens?
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.
In the picture, Jocelyn was balancing on one foot, as if in the midst of dancing. She was posed proudly with her baby brother. Smiling. Blond and smiling. Happy. Just like my daughter.
There at my desk, I cried.
Britney was me. Her kids were my kids.
And my heart was broken for her.
All of this happened just days before Mother’s Day.
It was too cruel and unfair for one person to bear.
How could Britney face life and the world, now knowing, now feeling every day, that horrific things like thatcan happen?
Just like that.
How could she keep going?
But of course I know how.
We all know how.
She’s a mother.
This is stuff that mothers are made of.
Loving through pain.
Living while part of you is dying.
Believing through despair and doubt.
Resiliency beyond measure.
Pure grit and strength.
Britney has already undergone several surgeries to repair her broken bones, including her pelvis. She has been moved out of the ICU and into the trauma unit. (And let’s not forget the fact that she’s just three months postpartum.)
Her newborn son also suffered extensive injuries. Two broken femurs and a broken arm.
He is currently being cared for around the clock by his grandmother, Lanae, who works as a surgical nurse. He couldn’t be in better hands while his mother is recovering.
I made myself imagine what I would do if I were living Britney’s reality.
What would I do?
I would sob and ache and grovel and resent and rage.
For a Long Time.
I would lash out and blame and despair.
I would be out for blood. I would crave Revenge. I would want to hurt and crush and obliterate. I would want to empty the life of the person who didn’t think first, who would rather take a risk, who thought the laws didn’t apply to him.
(Because I think first. Because I don’t want to take the risk. Because I don’t think the laws don’t apply to me.)
And while I would be going through this, I would still have to Get Back Up.
Although I would want to take time off from Life to mourn and process and make meaning, I would have to immediately Get Back Up.
For my son.
Because he would still need to eat and sleep and grow.
He would still need my arms to tell him that he is safe, even though I had just seen how unsafe the world can be.
I would need to decide every hour to keep on practicing the appearance of Love even though I’d be simultaneously steeling my heart from the possibility of Future Pain.
Because Love would have just killed off a part of me.
Love had created a trove of beautiful moments of my little girl — but now there would be no more. And the more time that would pass, the more those memories would lose their clarity. And if I forgot any part of those memories, it would be like losing her all over again.
All I really would want to do is climb into the ground with her so she wouldn’t be alone in the dark.
I would be like this for a Long Time.
But I also know that One Day, through the crisis and search to find meaning, I would finally choose Love again.
I used to pray that Life Would Be Okay and Get Better. But I’ve stopped doing that.
Because that’s not what Life is for. The life worth living isn’t a life without pain because the pain is what shows us life’s worth.
When I say prayers now, it is in moments for others who are in pain.
And the prayer is that they keep moving
And keep walking through the pain
And that if they fall, that God will reach a Hand down to help them get back up.
Our hearts ache with yours in your time of hurting and grieving. My prayer for you is that you keep walking through the pain. Keep moving. And keep believing that there is good in the world even though it is also so very bad at times. In fact, perhaps the world is good because it is bad.
Years from now, I hope that you can look back at these dark hours of your life and see all the light that people are shining on it. It’s always the people who have suffered and cried and walked the Path of Pain that will be the first to reach out their hands to you. Take those hands. Let them help you get back up. And don’t feel guilty about it. You are not a burden.
Because Some Day, it will be you who is the one reaching out and saving someone else.
You are not alone.
And you are Loved.
If you would like to help this family financially as they cope with medical and funeral expenses, you can contribute through their GoFundMe fundraiser here.
No gift is too small and you can give anonymously if you prefer.
If you would like to provide financial assistance to Lanae as she takes care of Jonah full-time, you can donate here.
Before I had our first child, this was one of my greatest fears: that my baby’s cries would make me hate my child.
No joke, that was a real fear. I never, ever found the sound of babies crying to be worthy of an Awww, poor thing. I mostly thought, God, someone shut that kid up!
So imagine my surprise when we took our daughter home from the hospital and I wasn’t pissed off at her every time she cried.
Imagine my surprise when my first thought was, What’s wrong? What can I do to help you? How about this? How about this?
Now, here we are again. Dealing with a new child’s cries.
Not by any stretch of the imagination is Henry a colicky baby. I’ve heard those stories and that is not what we’re dealing with. (And parents of colicky babies, allow me to bow down and kiss your feet, you Parent of Steel.)
No, the cries that we dealt with in the past week have come in defined bursts that (at first) seemed to correspond with post-feeding digestion and then (later) seemed to correspond with how tightly we held him or covered him so that he wasn’t cold.
We’re talking about the kind of crying that is all-out, red-faced, exasperated wailing. The kind that is silent at first because the baby is winding up for a good scream. The kind that reverberates not only in your ears, but in your heart.
In this crying fit, his whole body tenses, from his face to his toes.
And here’s what that sounds like:
But then, it passes. And for a moment, I wonder if our child has just been possessed by a demon for a period of time. Because here’s what he looks like when it’s over.
And then I think, How can I be mad at that face? I love that face.
Sometimes, nature is a sick, sick bastard.
When was he crying? Maybe it’s gas. He looks like he’s in pain. When was the last time we fed him? What was his last poop like? Was it watery or runny? What color was it? Was it a lot or just a little?
Maybe it’s the formula. Maybe we should try one that has the lactose broken down already?
Doug googles and I do the feedings. We make adjustments and mental notes. I keep track.
Then, the next day…
Did he look like he was in pain today? How long did he cry? After he ate? Did he poop? If he’s not better by tomorrow, maybe we should try soy formula. I hope he’s not constipated on soy, like Felicity was. Then, we’ll have to go to the super expensive formula.
Feedings and poop: this is what you talk about when you’re learning about your newborn. These are the only windows into why your baby is crying. If you can’t engineer a solution from those clues, it’s time to call the pediatrician.
We had a lot of help in the afternoons and evenings over the past week. But the nights and the mornings were entirely in my hands. Once my husband and daughter disappeared behind the door and the car rolled out of the garage, I was on my own.
I was okay until Thursday morning.
It was the second day that Henry was crying in pain.
He wailed. And wailed. And wailed.
I tried to feed him. His forehead wrinkled and he screamed.
I changed him. He calmed for a moment. Then cried more.
I bounced him. Rocked him. Tried to burp him. I laid him on the ground and rubbed his tense body. I bicycled his legs. I rubbed his back. I put him on my shoulder. I turned him over and patted his back. I patted his butt. I shushed him. I put him in the bouncer. I played music. I cradled him. I balanced him on one arm.
Then, I did all of these things again.
Through his screams, I syringe-fed him this stuff, which some people swear by:
Wailing. Wailing. Screaming. Screaming.
I put him down on the ground, feeling the warm weariness of three hours of sleep blur my vision.
But no, it wasn’t the sleep deprivation. It was tears.
Turns out, burp cloths aren’t just for spit up. They’re also great for tears.
He cried and I cried. Looking at him, writhing in pain, I cried more.
How am I going to get through this morning? This week? This month? I didn’t hug Felicity before she went to daycare. Fail. How can I care for two people? My face is still bloated. I wish I could wear normal pants again. How long did it take to lose my belly last time? How many more hours until Cate is here to help? How many more days until Friday night when Doug does the night feedings?
But the question that overrides everything: What is wrong? What can I do? I will do anything. Just tell me what I need to do.
I wiped my tears on the burp cloth one last time and picked him up. I cradled him in my arms and told him that I was sorry. Sorry for not knowing how to help him. Sorry that he had to share me with another child. Sorry that I wasn’t at my best.
I clutched him to my chest, covered him with a flannel receiving blanket, and then held a pacifier in his mouth. His lips closed on it.
Then, he was silent.
He had fallen asleep.
I dropped my head back in relief.
Oh, thank you God.
Over the past three days, we’ve arrived at some temporary hypotheses for the cause of the crying.
1.) Milk allergy.
Solution: We switched to soy formula. (Courtesy of Doug’s genes.)
Results: So far, so good. No diarrhea. No constipation. Regular diapers. No more crying fits where it seems like he is in pain.
2.) Extreme need for warmth and swaddling. (Courtesy of my genes.)
Solution: Double swaddle. One layer is a muslin blanket. One layer is a flannel receiving blanket. Put on mitts and a hat. Hold tightly against your chest. (Although, he is picky on this point. My chest seems to be the gold standard right now.)
We are trying these things right now. Every day is an experiment. Every time he finally goes down for a nap, we breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Maybe it’s over, we think.
But who are we kidding? We know better. Tomorrow, it might be something else. Next week, something else. And definitely next month, something else.