COVID-IARIES Day 43. I’m Having It Both Ways.

Every few days, it comes: the emotional bulldozer, the thing that knocks me down.

On Day 1 of Week Whatever, I’m angry because the kids have tracked mud through the house, and I’m exhausted knowing I’ve got to re-up the eggs and milk soon, and I’m beyond BEYOND frustrated that I can’t figure out how to make my kid sit long enough to finish a lesson… or IF she even should be sitting still at her age because who has time to read a child development book right now?… and then….

Then I learn one of my friends had coronavirus. One of my friends. Not a stranger. Not a person meme-ing on the internet. Someone I know and love and have touched and held and want to be friends with for a very long time. 

I think about it, think about how it could have been Mr. Burdy or I trying to navigate a sudden, life-threatening illness with little kids, and an order to shelter in place… and I am filled with panic, then relief, then sadness, then anger. There is a brief lull where a necessary gratitude rushes in to fill the void. And then it passes, and I’m back to being furious about another mess to clean, another colony of dried Play-Doh crumbs to vacuum up, another refusal to eat/do schoolwork/pick their stiff and filthy pajamas off the floor and put them in the laundry hamper.

Then I hear that my friend’s father has died. Not a stranger. Not a person on the internet. Someone I’ve never met in person, but someone I’ve heard of, someone I feel I know by proxy. A friend’s father. Her father. He died, necessarily, in isolation, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from his daughter, of coronavirus.

I sit in the shock of it, hold my phone in both my hands, typing a message of consolation and erasing it, then typing another and erasing that one, too. There are no words, really. I look around my house at all the devices we’re using to get through distance learning, and imagine using one of those devices to say a final goodbye to one of my parents instead of being there in the room with them. I stare at the window overlooking my backyard for a long time, the piles of mud, the ongoing sewer/trench/drainage project, and wonder how I could ever have been mad about mud on some kid-sized boots.

A relative drives down to our house and wearing her mask possibly upside down and not really over her nose drops off gallons of bleach and disinfecting wipes. Who gets mad, this day in age, about having bleach and wipes delivered to the house? I do. I get mad because that visit equals unnecessary exposure. But then a wave of euphoria washes over me as I realized I won’t have to scour a 10 mile radius for bleach, which I have been hunting for four weeks. Then I feel guilty as hell for subsequently telling her to please keep her distance. Then I feel justified in doing what I need to do to protect my small family. I am agitated and on edge for a day. Then it passes and I am back to feeling resentful for being the only person in my household who understands that fruit leather wrappers do not go behind the couch, they go into the trash.

And then another someone I know dies, and I think: 

What do I think? I’m not sure anymore. It’s all tangled up and not so easy to untangle anymore. I feel a thousands things a day, if I allow it. It varies moment to moment. I have to keep an eye out for the feelings I’m trying to stuff back into my heart, telling myself I’m not “allowed” to feel bitter or angry or frustrated or maligned when WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES.

In the beginning, this whole lock-down was nutty, a little zany, like a scene out of Benny Hill, kids running around half-clothed and a bra and a kitchen towel and maybe a hobby horse hanging off the back of an armchair. It was actually kinda cute. Now it’s starting to feel like a true crime series, where the tension just won’t let up, where you know someone has to die because that’s what the plot calls for, and DAMN, could we just switch the channel because holding this much tension in our bodies is exhausting.

We’re all feeling a thousand things at once, and I’m trying to remain tempered here, trying to give equal time to flare out all the emotions rushing the court so that one or the other doesn’t make me do something stupid in its lone insistence.

I don’t want this to read as Another White Lady Saying Things Are Difficult Right Now (though they are.) I’d like it to read: we are all dealing with having been born into certain ways of being, and this virus has rubbed up against these ways, and we’re having to forge new ways of being and the work is hard, and it’s lonely, and it’s unrelenting, and it’s made harder still because the one thing that might keep us going just a little bit more for the day, the thing that keeps us going in good times, is missing: a little reassurance via human contact.

I also get that:

Specifically a) I was raised to think motherhood was this precious, unfailing thing. You loved your kids no matter what. You took family photos in matching white tee shirts and acid washed jeans. You felt this upsurge of unbridled, inexplicable LOVE when they put that newborn onto your chest. Every moment was to be treasured, photographed if you could manage it, remarked about using a lexicon of very specific and limited language.

You know what I want to do with my kids on a regular basis right now? Nothing. I don’t want to play with them anymore. I hardly want to feed them. I don’t want to come up with one more creative way of sculpting peanut butter and fruit slices because they are refusing what’s in the cupboards because they can’t grasp that we’re not just running out to the store every time they can’t decide on a flavor of granola bar. I don’t want to look up “cool stuff” on the Internet. I don’t want to listen to their incessant challenges (as my friend wrote today: “asking me a question and then interrupting mid-sentence to tell me I’m wrong”.) I’m tired of trying to meet teacher expectations by forcing my kid to fill out worksheets she’s not interested in. I don’t want to hear one more complaint, one more demand.

Listen: I’m not going to stop feeding my kids. Chaps my hide though it does, I’m going to continue to help them look up “cool stuff” on the Internet and teach them math. I’m not going to harm them. But I’m going to tell it like it is, because no one ever told ME like it was. This is what the virus is rubbing raw: this idea that time inside with our kids is supposed to be “fun” all the time.

I also get that:

Specifically b) I was raised to think that it was not okay for me to take up space. I was raised to think I had to hold up everything that was falling down. This is not a blame letter directed at my parents. (They were actually pretty damned progressive for their time in some ways, but they were also very flawed humans and THEY were operating full time trying to overcome they way THEY were raised, so their influence was limited.) The larger world was working hard to beat down their progress.

You know what I am doing, in addition to feeding, teaching, and otherwise raising my kids and seeing after the emotional well being of my household? Nothing. I’m not in a position to take up space even in my own house. I’m picking up everything that’s falling down, making sure groceries get delivered, planning and planting our garden, endlessly cleaning up messes to make way for new messes, making sure the toddler doesn’t feel bad about needing diapers again, trying to balance outdoor time with TV time, trying desperately not to take a madness born of tight quarters and no creative time out on my husband. You know how many “tools” I feel I have on most days to deal with the endlessness and the grind of it given that I was raised by people who yelled for everything, and who had ZERO tools of their own? None.

I have a few hours at the end of the day most days to do EVERYTHING I’d like to have done that day: read, write, research, relax. You know what this virus is rubbing up against? The idea that I *should* be nothing but a servant to my family. Know what else? This idea that it is, by default, MY responsibility to surrender MY wants and needs first for the sake of my family.

Maybe I’m a very specific kind of White Lady Saying Things Are Difficult. I get that. I know we are lucky to have health insurance, and full employment, and a fully stocked cupboard. I also know that this incredible need we have, as a culture, to stuff the noise of our complaints down with gratitude is getting on my damned nerves. I get that there’s a time and a place for that.

I also get that:

Specifically c) I learned that my voice did not matter, that it was one of millions that would be drowned out by louder, wealthier, more prominent voices. I learned that writing was not a “real” job. I learned that empathy made me vulnerable and weak and unable to express myself clearly at times. I learned that it was terrifying to feel the feelings of every person in the room.

I’m working on shredding to pieces this notion that I’m supposed to feel nothing but gratitude when shit gets rough. It’s a good thing to have in your back pocket at all times, this gratitude. It really helps refocus you when you’re spinning out of control. I think it looks nice hand lettered on a piece of distressed wood, too. But on days when I’m mad, or angry on up to the hilt? I don’t want to hear about gratitude. I want to hear about change. I want to hear about what we’re doing to help those who are doing this WITHOUT partners with full time jobs, and health insurance, and community. I want to hear about something OTHER THAN WOMEN holding up half the sky.

Right this moment (it will change) I am taking up space, and saying my part, and giving the nod to other women out there who are seeing this blog and nodding back. I’m okay with getting knocked down by the emotional bulldozer because it means my humanity is still functioning. I’m aware that I might sound like that White Lady Saying Things Are Difficult and I’m okay with that.

A combination of age, isolation, and this virus is tearing apart the idea that I’m supposed to take this in stride and not feel resentful for having to do so much work because our current cultural and political system just think it’s my job to gently lay aside my needs and pick up where ineptitude has left off. For THAT rending, and for all that I feel, I am grateful. TRULY grateful.

COVID-IARIES Day 30. It’s Been a Month.

Bobo and Beaversons are playing school/family right now, tearing through the house like excitable cats. Bobo is teaching Beaversons the songs she normally sings in kindergarten, and I ask you: WHERE IS THIS ENTHUSIASM ON ANY GIVEN SCHOOLDAY? On any given school day, she’s exhibiting a different kind of cat behavior: scratching at me when I hand her a worksheet, slinking away with a hurt look in her eyes when I gently put my arm around her and coax her to the work table.

The pee in this house just #can’tstopwon’tstop. I’m quite sure that’s NOT what that hashtag was invented for, but quarantine times call for serious co-opting of popular culture. See also: one million memes of parents slipping booze into their morning coffee, and Tweets about whether corporations receiving congressional bailout money should maybe just cut down on their avocado toast consumption to make ends meet.

This post was going to be scosh political, with a little privileged white lady indignation thrown in for good measure, but I stuck that draft back in the hopper for another day in favor of just coming here to slump in my chair, shovel scrambled eggs in my mouth, and try to conjure up something more… concrete. Or maybe helpful. Or funny…

The thing is: I got nothin’.

This is week four of this whole business and today I feel: nothing.

Last night Bobo woke up at about 10:45 and stumbled out into the living room where Mr. Burdy and I were finally, after three weeks, sitting down together, at the same time, in the same room, to watch a TV show. Bobo was completely naked, her slightly pudgy, pale self so utterly unexpected we had to stifle our giggles. She also seemed awake, but I could tell from the way she was laugh-mumbling and her red-rimmed eyes that she probably wasn’t. Mr. Burdy guided her back to bed, then did the usual groping around in the dark for puddles. Apparently, she’d mistaken the edge of her bed for the toilet AND decided to remove all her clothes afterward. She has absolutely no memory of it this morning.

It’s now routine for us to be up in the middle of the night tending to some sort of urine-related incident. It’s now routine for me to lay in bed for the first couple of minutes of the day while I plot out the next 24 hours of screen time and mealtime and have absolutely no idea what day of the month it is. It is now routine to have panicky feelings when thinking about going to the grocery store. It is now routine to hold my breath when I walk past joggers on the other side of the street. It is now routine to lay in bed at night and calculate what to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the following day using up the ingredients in the fridge in order of expiration WHILE making sure we’re all still eating healthily WHILE we’re trying to satisfy some deep, ancient need for comfort by way of digestive tract WHILE trying to keep our animal protein consumption down WHILE trying to be conscientious of how much plastic packaging we’re throwing away.

Yesterday I Googled “how to upcycle Tetra-paks” because my very white, very privileged children drink small boxes of coconut water daily and now I have a small army of empties standing up in a corner of my dining room because I cannot bear to throw them away. Another piece of fallout from this whole thing: buying brands of prepackaged food I don’t usually buy (for their long shelf life) and angsting about how much packaging we’re throwing away. I don’t want to risk exposure by traveling to Target to recycle my plastic bags at the moment, so they’re piling up in my garage, as is my #5 plastic, which I usually schlep to Whole Foods to recycle. Angsting, see also: rubber gloves being discarded willy-nilly all over the country. While I’m at it: why don’t we have a NATIONAL, COMPREHENSIVE recycling program in place so that I don’t have to literally USE GASOLINE AND EMIT CARBON to DRIVE my GARBAGE to a RETAIL ESTABLISHMENT to recycle?

Okay, maybe I do feel things this morning.

I guess what I came on here to say is that I’m trying not to feel hopeless, but it’s here, the hopelessness. I’m trying to stay grateful for what I have, which is so much (WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES), but, depending on the moment, that gratitude waxes and wanes. I’m trying to stay positive, focused, being present with my kids but… lets just say that none of those things are my strong suit and every single one of those things take a LOT of mental energy. If you know me in person, you’re probably thinking: YOU? Not bubbly and cheerful? But you’re so optimistic!

Yes, but that shit takes work.

Forty three years of it, to be specific.

When you work out at the gym, you scarf a protein bar afterward. When you do yard work at home, you collapse into a lawn chair and enjoy the sunlight and your newly-weeded view. When you’re quarantined, and you have to mentally work out every damned minute of the day- which we are doing– there are no Power Bars to cram into your gullet, no downy cushions to fall into. It’s just more of the same the next day. And the next. And the next. No breaks. Refueling right now is not an option. I read an article (there is some seriously good stuff out there right now that talks about this) about the cognitive dissonance that we all must hold in our bodies that is collectively exhausting us. Not only is the information coming out of the White House confusing at best and outrageously dangerous at worst (guess this IS going to be political after all), but there is this interminable sense that we just need to “hang in there” until this “passes”. Except nobody knows when it will pass. Certainty, as a concept, has left the building. The Buddhists among us are all, And now you see! Nothing is certain! Non-attachment is the way! *angelic smile, palms in prayer position*. The rest of us not exactly trained in letting go are, well, struggling. We’re trying to remain positive for our kids all while being anxious. We’re wiping down counters and being cautious all the while thinking: it could still happen to us. We’re sewing masks all the while thinking: we don’t know if this is going to help. We’re living in two universes, and that kind of mental split, well, it’s not unlike trying to write an email AND teach your children math at the same exact time. It’s exhausting. It’s also physically impossible.

We’re split. We’re dichotomized. It’s the twos that are going to need to die with this virus. Two is being teacher and executive assistant at the same time. Two is worrying without a social safety net and trying to be all boot-strappy and plucky at the same time. See also: cleaving in two, reducing by half, breaking.

It’s the threes that are going to save us. It’s being sad, optimistic, and having an overview of both. It’s realizing your luck in this life while being pissed you can’t have it slightly better while being angry as hell that most of the world has it FAR worse off than you. It’s seeing self, other, AND both at the same time. I don’t have any answers about how to get here. It’s going to take a major leap in human consciousness to sit with ALL there is all at once and not have our brains explode.

This is what I cling to when I can’t feel anything anymore: all I have is this moment. And then this one. And then this one. I’m cobbling together a support system for myself that is one part AA, one part Buddhism, a lot of New Agey Self Help, a little wisdom of the ancients, and some stuff I’d already already learned through surviving trauma. It’s one minute at a time. It’s one breath at a time. This is not the first challenge we’ve faced. Ultimately, we are resilient creatures, like all creatures on this planet, to which we are all tied, and from whom we cannot take and take and take without upsetting a balance that provides for all of us. We will eventually tell our stories. We will make this whole period of our lives storied. We will forage for truth, and we will share our findings. We will understand, even if just only a little better, how much better off we are when we live, bodily, like we are all in this together. We will see some of us are more in this together than not, that social distancing is actually a privilege, as is distance learning, and that long-standing inequity is the bedrock of our nation, this nation we were taught was “the greatest”. We will re-examine everything under the sun not as some leisurely philosophical exercise, but because the old way of doing things will not stand in a post-pandemic world. It might work for a while afterward, but it will bump and scrape along and there will finally be more people aware of its defects than not than ever before, and we will call on our collective creativity and empathy to work it out. We will recall the palpable nervousness in the air, we will mourn our dead, finally, and we will get on with the business of living.

But first we will all go clean up the pee in the kids’ bedroom.

COVID-IARIES Day… Eleventeen. We’re On To Lists.

Sunday, 1:30 pm. Make toddler her own meal since she didn’t want to eat what the rest of the family was eating. She sneezes right onto the food, the countertops, and you. Carry on like nothing’s happened. Figure you’ll save money on a all-at-once family cremation in about a month’s time.

Monday-Friday 9am-6:30 pm: Trot out a video for the five year old of favorite musician singing kid songs, videos of kid zumba, videos of Mo Willems (sorry, Mo, we gave it a good run), videos of EVERY SINGLE EDUTAINMENT OPPORTUNITY ON THE PLANET and be met with such resistance, you would think she was being offered a newly eviscerated human kidney on a plate. All these “educational resources”? They’re not resources if the kids don’t want to have anything to do with them. Thanks for the suggestion. What I need is another set of arms, another functioning adult who isn’t grouchy and overstretched about being indoors, and perhaps a robot to get us milk and eggs because the stores only let us buy two cartons at a time, and we need much more than that in a 30 day span, which is how often we’re trying to go without groceries because we’re all trying to do our part to stay OUT of stores right now.

Oh, and a maid would be great, while you’re taking orders, since I don’t really have time to clean anything except pee from the carpet.

Saturday, 2pm-ish: Allow kids to make “dolls” out of pieces of styrofoam and old screws found on the garage floor because, really, who cares anymore? Marvel at their ingenuity, cry for your collective despondency. Try to emulate the blocky smile beaming up at you from the front steps, where this monster reposes. Try to maintain a chipper attitude while your kids take “bird baths” in the pea-gravel-studded puddles at the foot of your driveway in their leather mary janes. Remember to log the ensuing real bath as “a fun time you’ll recall down the road”, and also while you pick endless amounts of wet grass and rice out of your washing machine.

I’m sorry. My brain has given up remembering the endless, endless days of this quarantine in some kind of order and/or with a theme in mind. It’s all lists and snippets of conversations and a thousand points of entry on how to relate all this stuff happening in our house.

Overheard while the girls were playing “family” together:

Beaversons: Okay, mom, time for your nap.

Bobo: No, honey, moms don’t take naps. They cook food and wipe down the counters and fold the laundry and do other stuff.

DAMN STRAIGHT, SISTER.

Went for a run, and I mean run, to the grocery store today. Needed to get more fresh food. The store was nearly out of fresh food. There were only a dozen loose carrots in the carrots section. There were exactly three boxes of salad mix left. No large sized tubs of yogurt. Maybe a dozen or two cartons of eggs. Mind you, this is a WAREHOUSE of a supermarket. It services the largest town in our county. The produce aisle isn’t a cutesy artisanal stack of Russet potatoes and a peck basket of apples. This is a gauntlet of produce, a veritable boulevard of produce, and today there were NO cucumbers, and NO tomatoes and NO garlic. Like, not even garlic husks. Nothing.

Me and my avocado problems, huh? Such a Quarantine Karen thing to complain about.

Except the governor is telling us to REALLY buckle in during these next few weeks and now I’m glad I visited the Supermarket Before Two Major Holidays During Quarantine, even if I did have to go to a second supermarket for garlic. We’re being told parks are going to be closed, and all non-essential construction will be shut down, which means the blast site that is our backyard will remain that way until Mr. Burdy and I can find ten spare minutes to grab a shovel and beat the six inches of mud flat so our kids have a place to play. As I write this, Mr. Burdy is finishing up the paint in the spare bathroom so the sewer guys can come back and attach the toilet that’s been hanging out in our garage for two weeks.

Speaking of toilets.

Last night Bobo woke up just as I was putting the finishing touches on some face masks I was sewing (which, no doubt, the CDC will issue new rules about the second I strap one to my terrified face). She bonked into me as I met her halfway to her room, so I steered her into the bathroom, which is where I presumed she needed to be. Then I saw she’d left a trail of wet footprints, so I grabbed a towel and some cleanser (a general kind, and not a disinfecting kind, because the stores have been out of ANYTHING disinfecting for nearly three weeks) and traced the footprints back to her bed, felt around for wetness, and pressed the towel into the carpet where I found the offending puddle. Meanwhile, Mr. Burdy intervened as I took the soaked towel to the laundry room.

When I got back, Bobo was in her bed. While in the bathroom and still mostly asleep, she had taken off her size 6 pajama bottoms and thrown them in the toilet.

Hours earlier, Beaversons, having soaked through a fifth pair of pants (seriously, why am I even pretending like she’s potty trained anymore?) was walking around naked from the waist down when she bustled into the bathroom holding her ass. It was too late, of course, the man-sized turd sliding from her tiny butt just as she crossed the threshold.

I have to go potty, she yelled as she hoisted herself onto the toilet.

Yeah, kid. Looks like you already did.

I considered throwing the stool, the toilet seat, and her socks, all covered in poop, into the shower and letting it run till about 8 am, seeing as how we’re low on bleach, and none of the stores near me have bleach or anything stronger than a bar of Ivory soap on the shelves.

I washed my hands about 8 times, stress-ate my way through a quarter bag of potato chips, some pretzel sticks, and some dark chocolate like some sad, Covid-19 issue The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and then I went to bed in a bed where no one had peed, and I was none too happy when I woke up this morning and knew I’d have to do it all over again.

COVID-IARIES Day 12/13: Hitting The Wall

We hit the wall yesterday. Anyone else?

I’m sitting here stress-eating Cheez Doodles, trying to sort through the poopstorm of emotions I’ve experienced these last two days. I’m trying to name them. Naming things helps, right? Let’s see… there was mid-morning Fluster-Rage. Lunchtime saw a bout of Tearful Confessional Grief With Some F-Bombs Thrown In, and by early evening, I was What Is Wrong With Me Why Am I So Mad melting into Dinner Needs To Get Made, Everyone Out Of The House, There I Feel A Little Better, Tomorrow’s A New Day, We’ll Start Over And It’ll Be Fine.

These are unprecedented times. We need new language for everything, don’t you think?

What keeps coming to me as I sit here is this concept of “but/and”. It’s a therapeutic device used to make you realize that things can be two (or more) things at once. Like, my sewer-repair guys can be both terrifying infectious disease vectors but also my personal heroes for digging a trench through clay in the rain.

Or, just as a for instance, my kid can be both a thoughtful, chubby-cheeked delight, and a torrent of pig-nosed hellfire and stains up to her elbows, with literal twigs stuck in her unwashed curls for effect.

Motherhood itself is an “and” situation through and through. I love my kids AND I want to lock them in a room with a bowl of water and some Saltines from time to time so I can just THINK for a second. I love my kids AND I want to throw a weighted fishing net over them and not care how long it takes them to find their way out because I’m done being nice and they have to learn to cooperate somehow, right? I love my kids AND I want them to stop interrupting me every forty seconds because DIDN’T YOU JUST HAVE LUNCH? HOW CAN YOU BE HUNGRY ALREADY? IF YOU WANT SOMETHING TO EAT, HOW ABOUT YOU FINISH THAT TOASTER PASTRY FROM THIS MORNING, HUH? YEAH, THAT ONE. THAT ONE RIGHT THERE. THE ONE YOU LEFT ON THE EDGE OF THE BATHTUB.

We hit the wall HARD yesterday. I called my best friends and hashed it out from my car, where I was taking a break from chasing Bobo around the house with a lesson plan and all but ignoring Beaversons, and I immediately felt better afterward. (Thank God for technology and girlfriends, amiright?) Mr. Burdy took up the school lessons for thirty minutes while I delivered some no-contact lemons to a friend. (None of us are ready to brave the supermarkets yet). I cried, I walked, I heard from my girlfriends that they were feeling the wall, too. I felt better knowing I was not alone.

You know my brain didn’t want to stop there, right? Feeling better was not enough. It wanted to go all the way down the rabbit hole and get to the deep, deep reason I was so angry because I couldn’t get a five year old to sit through a short lesson on poetry. Or why I couldn’t manage the two year old’s requests for pretzel sticks and a story without resorting to stomping and sighing heavily.

We’re ALL feeling this thing- this being trapped inside houses with people we ordinarily GET BREAKS FROM. It really can’t be overstated that even the people we love the very most in life need get the hell out of our personal space from time to time. We need something to miss, something to fantasize about creating when they return. We just need time apart so we can reset, so we can start fresh. I know my brain needs a break. Frequently, and in pin-drop silence.

I also know ALL the kids in America got a memo on Monday that read: JUST BE BUTTHOLES THIS WEEK. THAT IS ALL. My kid, anyway, is reeling away from me like John Lithgow in the Space Odyssey movies. I can’t reach her. She started out with some enthusiasm earlier in the quarantine, and now we’re in Twigs In Hair/Don’t Care territory. She’s a special kid, full of creativity and bursting with ideas. She’s also got some major dysfunction going on in the impulse control and organization part of her brain. I set a piping-hot meatloaf on the dinner table last night and in the time it took to turn back for the forks, she’d already pulled a chunk off with her bare hands. But! She’s also really thoughtful and loves involving her little sister in games. She also walks away from her dresser EVERY SINGLE MORNING with the drawers hanging open and has to be reminded that someone might lose an eye so she needs to push them back in. But! She’s also great at rhyming and making up songs. She’s also given us holy hell for five years around her bedtime. But! She also knows how to scramble an egg by herself.

I kind of feel like I’m living with a pint-sized David Helfgott: wildly talented, but who might go out to fetch the mail without pants.

You see? Kids are “and/but” situations, too.

ANYWAY. The point is this: on any other day, I love how wildly talented my kid is. I like that she’s creative and strong spirited. Yesterday, though, I wanted to bludgeon that creativity to death, bury it in the yard, and just get on with it already.

Why, though? Why, during this concentrated time of re-examining our values and questioning the whys and hows of our society as we all avail ourselves of the snack cabinet, why would I be so dead set on a five year old’s schooling agenda instead of her creativity?

Um. Hi. I’m Lolo and I have anxiety.

Bobo’s schoolwork is not her schoolwork anymore. It’s MY schoolwork. It’s a reflection on ME, the mom, the One In Charge, the person everyone wants to blame when kids go bad. If Bobo doesn’t DO her schoolwork, I feel like it’s somehow a commentary on my shortcomings as a teacher and parent. Bobo, in no uncertain terms, does not want to do her schoolwork. At least, she does not want to do it between the hours of 9 am and 8:15 pm. (Tonight, right before bed, she acquiesced to a sight words assignment).

But, WHY, Lolo? Why does THAT matter to you, a nice middle aged lady, at ALL given everything that’s happening in the world right now? Why is your concern whether or not the teacher or society at large thinks you’re doing a good job? How could you possibly think that ANYONE is doing a good job right now? Furthermore, how could you think anyone has TIME to judge you, given all THEY’RE doing to chase down THEIR kid with a handout and fetch the other kid a snack? Why on earth would you think the rules apply AT ALL during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC?

Ah. Because school is my motherrffin’ WHEELHOUSE, y’all, and if I can’t ACE schoolwork, then WHO THE HELL AM I ANYMORE?

My identity *might* be reeeeeeeally wrapped up in this.

And here I was thinking it was just gluing cut-out letters to a worksheet.

Here’s what I (now) know:

Kids (people in general) behave entirely differently in groups. Group dynamics is a thing for a reason. You wouldn’t (unless you were a little unhinged) stand up in a classroom, throw your books on the floor, stomp out of the room and drag the pencil caddy off the table on your way out just to be a little shit all because you didn’t want to do the work, right? Guess what you CAN do when it’s just you and one other person you’re not afraid of? That.

Guess what else you can do when you’re not in a classroom? Run to another part of the building and throw yourself, face-first, into a pile of stuffed animals. Or help yourself to the snack cabinet. Or roll your eyes and groan at the top of your lungs. Or threaten the teacher with some sort of flimsy logic where A most definitely does not lead to B, but nice try, honey.

Anxiety is usually defined as living in the future. It’s imagining all the possibly what-ifs, and missing the present. The what-ifs began piling up on Day 1 of this whole Distance Learning thing. What if Bobo can’t hack it and she’s kept back a year? What if this decimates her self confidence and she self medicates down the line as a result? What if she has inherited our genetic disposition for self destruction and is existentially unhappy for the rest of her life and turns to a life of drugs to suppress the deep emotions that boil over from time to time because she had to live in 1300 square feet during a pandemic with three other people, two of whom were yelling 11 hours a day?

And that is how I turned a reading comprehension lesson into a scenario in which my adult child was dead in the street, her obituary starting out with “It all started when she was held back in kindergarten”.

So how to deal with this kid, her homework, and my anxiety all at once?

Well, I don’t have all the answers, but what I did do immediately was treat this like it was an overheated blender. I just pulled the plug. Then I got out my cleaning supplies and started in on the pesto that was sprayed all over the ceiling, by which I mean I apologized for yelling. And then I drop kicked the blender into the backyard, meaning: I told Mr. Burdy we weren’t following the plan anymore and I emailed the teacher and told her as as much, too. Then I got out a small, cup-sized food processor, the one that only does one small batch of food at a time, the one you have to keep an eye on to make sure you haven’t liquified your ingredients, the one that maybe makes more noise, but is a little more precise. And by that I mean I decided to take today minute by minute, with only a loose script, and I let the kids lead on their learning paths.

Today we baked muffins, and today I let Bobo do as much or as little online reading and math as she wanted. As it turns out, she did three times as much as was expected, probably because I wasn’t breathing down her neck the whole time. Today I let the kids play for hours, and I didn’t even think about wanting to throw a fishing net over them as they decimated their bedroom in an effort to build a fort. (Hey! Bonus S.T.E.A.M. activity!) Today I let the kids tell ME when they were ready to do academic work. Bobo half-read a book to her sister at 11, and not the prescribed 9:30 am. Reading. Done. Check. We read another book about spring and talked about bears and possibly painting some bears later. Science. Art. Done. Check.

Today we planted some seeds. I thought Bobo might be more enthusiastic, but this was toward the end of the day, when her energy was waning but I still wanted to get it done. We got it done, but I could feel the resistance. And! Because motherhood and children are all and/but situations, Bobo, my tangle-haired lunatic child, accidentally kicked over the whole kit a few hours later as she flew through the front door at dinner time.

I didn’t rage, I didn’t yell. I looked down at the half-effort to right the tubs of soil and I thought: She doesn’t give one crap if these things sprout or not. This was YOUR project, not hers. I could see that. And, I can give that urgency to be the best seed-planter a name: creeping perfectionism. It threatened to rob me of my present, the present where those were just seeds and this was just a family of four people living in close quarters and there could be more seeds later. I shooed that perfectionism away. I tried, instead, to stay with the simple enjoyment of it, those few minutes during the day when Bobo and Beaverson and I got to play in some dirt.

Progress.

COVID-IARIES, Days 8-11: The Sads Cometh

I picked a fight with an old family friend last night. It was shitty of me, and I have had this ball of tension sitting in the pit of my stomach all night and day because of it.

I have been spending an inordinate amount of time online, after the kids go to bed, trying to keep myself abreast of the ever-changing news about the virus. I read article after interview after article, I look at graphs, I read through comments on my neighborhood community page about what local businesses are still operating and if the supermarkets have any Lysol back in stock yet (they don’t). I feel like I am trying to prepare for an impending war without knowing who the enemy will be. Will the enemy be food shortages? Medical supply shortages? Doctor shortages? The sudden and un-memorialized (because of the quarantine) death of a family member? I am trying to prepare for a catastrophe while playing nurse, emotional load bearer, grocery shopper, cook, and teacher. I’m doing this while watching the timer on the dryer and planning around naptimes. I’m trying to glean everything I can from sources I don’t have time to vet, then worrying that information is outdated, or patently false to begin with. This, after 12+ hours of trying to teach my kid, keep the teacher advised of her progress, dab at the pee-soaked carpet with towels that I will then have to wash with bleach when there’s a bleach shortage, cook food in order of expiration so as to limit our trips to the store and to keep the whining of picky eaters down to a half-a-Xanex roar, keep the house tidy, wash the pee-soaked pants, get us outside for fresh air and exercise when one kid wants me to give her roller skating lessons and the other wants to be pushed on a trike at the same time, put the house back together now that the sewer repair and bedroom remodel are done, make sure the goddamned Beta fish is fed, and check in on my neighbors and friends. It’s exhausting. AND WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES.

While scrolling through on Sunday night, I found this troll-y gem on my neighborhood group, likely posted by the same crank that thinks the plastic bag ban is an infringement on our liberty and we should just throw our used drinking straws right into the ocean in protest: “If we just turned our TVs off for two weeks, 80% of the world’s problems would go away“. A few folks commented on how the media is driving us to hysterics, how this is all blown out of proportion, and we should just relax because it’s not that bad.

This was how I found myself, exhausted and anxious, scrolling through Facebook searching for, shall we say, a palate cleanser. (I now see the idiocy of using the same tool that cut me to heal myself).  This family friend had posted something I found “unhelpful”- a comparison, for perspective, of how many people have died from coronavirus versus, say, people who have died of AIDS, or cancer, or suicide. I didn’t *get* the perspective. In fact, rather than expand, my perspective narrowed into a laser beam that wanted to sear everything to ribbons.

The Grief: it has arrived.

I messaged my friend and nailed my grievances to her door and then I waited. I felt righteous. I felt justified.

The weekend had been rough on us as a family. Bobo didn’t want to do her work on Friday, and I didn’t have any fight left in me to enforce it. Mr. Burdy worked his ass of to get the bedroom remodel done before Sunday, which means I was minding the kids and trying to wash every last stitch of fabric that was covered in contractor dust and, probably, coronavirus. On Sunday, against our better judgement, Mr. Burdy helped his mom move some stuff from her house, which she has recently sold, to our house and my mom’s house. I sent him away with sanitizing wipes and gloves and sweated and paced for three hours while the kids tore up the house I was trying in vain to clean.

Then I got the news that a friend with three young children had been discharged from the hospital after surviving the virus. After begging several hospitals to test him after he showed symptoms, he was told to quarantine in his apartment- without his three young kids or wife- for a week. When he finally did receive a test, it was positive, and into the hospital and onto assisted breathing he went. He survived.

All this anxiety, this grief for my friend who could have died, this worry for the father of my children being the mensch he is helping his mother in an unfortunately timed move while also trying to coordinate a run to Costco to see if they had restocked the tomato sauce, this rage at this dum-dum online who thinks a global pandemic will go away if we just stop watching the news… it was all sitting there, right on the edge of my nerves, ready to spark into an inferno of sadness and rage when I saw that post from my old family friend.

For the record: I do NOT think it’s helpful, at this moment, to think of coronavirus deaths in terms of their relationship to other kinds of deaths, including those by suicide (or abortions, which was included on this list and which I have lots of questions about.) We’re dealing with several dozen crises at once here, including, at the top of the list and which should be enough to knock the breath out of you: a global shortage of personal protective equipment for the ONLY PEOPLE WHO KNOW HOW TO TREAT THIS. Then there’s also loss of work/wages, a disrupted global supply chain, isolation in a country that suffers with massive mental health issues, lack of guaranteed basic health insurance, not enough hospital beds, contradictory messaging from the people who are supposed to be in charge, lack of social services for people who rely on our school system- which is dormant at the moment- for their basic needs… it goes on and on and on. So, no, it’s not just “only” 21,000 deaths when held up to say, cancer. It’s a disease that is laying bare the very inequitable, unjust, and immoral underpinnings of “the greatest country in the world”, which we will ALL be feeling for a long, long, long time.

Anyway, I read this infographic and I immediately I distilled it into “your suffering doesn’t much matter in light of these other numbers“. I wrote out my rage to her. I waited for her response. I thought I’d done a good job of raising awareness, pointing to her short sightedness, of the insensitivity of reducing deaths- deaths of people on the front lines, deaths of fathers and grandmothers that weren’t able to say goodbye to their loved ones because of the quarantine- to a comparison game.

When she wrote back, it was to say her brother in law was potentially sick with the virus. She’d lost her job. She was just as scared as anyone. She’d been a nurse in her younger years, so all she was trying to do was offer some real talk, some perspective.

I just sat there, finally, finally with my grief, which felt like a fist in my stomach. I didn’t cry. I just sat there. Which is what I should have done in the first place. Just been with the grief. I’m not good at confrontation. I’ll silently carry a placard in your march, I’ll sign petitions and sport the buttons on my lapel. But I’m not good with calling people out on what I perceive as “their stuff”. That’s someone else’s job. Given all that had happened in the last three days, I was just feeling like I needed to call out SOMEONE.

Raise your hand if you’ve been yelling at the wrong people all week.

How shortsighted of ME to not think that maybe my old friend was grieving, too. Damn.

As if the Universe was priming the pump for me, I found out this morning a dear, dear friend of mine in Seattle *might* have the virus. All signs are pointing to yes, but they could also be pointing to another lung disorder. It’s an odd universe indeed when we cross our fingers and hope for bronchitis.

I’m not the only one worrying, of course, and saying shitty things to people. The whole world is. My kids are worrying, too, but they’re not processing it like the adults are. Beaversons has taken to rubbing every square inch of her body over every square inch of my body in a twenty minute ritual in the dark before bed. She asks me to “snuggle her”, which, at any other moment of the day, I do to excess. (I’m a little afraid that kid is going to go away to college with a plaster cast of my cupped palm to hold to her oversized head in times of worry). I can’t, however, crawl into her toddler bed and spoon her the way she would prefer. And she absolutely won’t fall asleep in my lap, preferring instead to hang half her body down off the bed, head imperceptibly sliding towards the floor while grazing my body, until she falls out, asks me to snuggle her, and repeats the whole process.

The quarantine has also COMPLETELY undone all Beaverson’s potty training.

Bobo, meanwhile, has begun sleepwalking and urinating in odd places. On the first night, we thought it was a fluke. She woke up while I was still sitting on the floor of her bedroom (checking my phone for news updates) while Beaversons entered the final movements of her dance cycle. Bobo bent down and tried to flick my foot off the floor like she was lifting a toilet seat. I guided her to the bathroom, then went to grab some water for myself from the kitchen. From the kitchen I could hear what sounded like her pressure washing the shower stall. I waved over Mr. Burdy, who had come out of the bedroom when he heard Bobo’s door open. Bobo was standing in the shower, still sleeping, we think, her pajamas around her ankles.

The next night, she came barrelling out of her room, walked clear across the house to find me, then, after she was walked back to the bathroom (where I presumed she needed to be), she let ‘er rip two inches in front of the toilet, pants on.

Last night, it was another pee in front of the toilet rather than in the toilet. For her part, Bobo doesn’t remember any of it and thinks this is all some game we’re playing where she wakes up in different pajamas in the morning.

The poor kid.

Everyone’s feeling it. We’re all entering a weary phase. We’re all running out of bleach and sanitizing wipes. We’re all trying to do at LEAST three jobs at once, and everyone, the kids, the adults, we’re all tired and not in control of our faculties. We’re all sad about the announcement that shelter in place needs to go till at least April 30th, which, really, is a more diplomatic way of saying May 1st, which really is a way of saying we don’t know, which is a way of saying probably through summer. We’re all sweating and pacing and wondering if our friends have the virus and if they’ll be okay. We’re dashing through the supermarkets holding our breaths and searching for the words for how not normal this is. The word we’re looking for is sad. We’re sad. We’re just sad. This is sad. All of it. It’s about time the sadness came.

I’m so sorry for the things I said while I was sad.

COVID-IARIES, Day 7: Gratitude With Attitude

The thing about writing during a pandemic is that when you do it late at night, after you’ve sung John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt to the kids eight hundred times (yup, my kids fall asleep to a beer hall song), and after you’ve cleaned the kitchen, and wiped down the table and countertops, and emptied out the potty, and after you’ve tidied the living room/classroom, and maybe attempted your daily diastasis recti exercises…. after all that, you’re too tired to write. But you know – I know– you have to empty out your head, because if you don’t, there’ll be a ten-car pileup in there before breakfast. You’ll have taken all the news of the day and smooshed it together with all the news that breaks before the triangle that signals the start of school is rung, and you’ll be a big ball of All The Ways We’ll Surely Die during the flag song. One cannot feign enthusiasm for addition and subtraction and finding digraphs at 9 am if one’s head has not been properly emptied out of all apocalyptic thinking the night before.

I don’t know why I’m talking in second person here. It’s just me. I’m talking about me. Hi, I’m Lolo and I have anxiety.

Under normal circumstances, I’m angsting about the plight of the polar bear, or what we’re doing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Under normal circumstances, I’m mentally inventorying the inside of my cabinets as I lie awake at night, mapping out how I can stretch the olive oil out until the end of the month without another run to the supermarket because CARBON EMISSIONS! UNNECESSARY ERRANDS! WASTE NOTHING! Under normal circumstances, I’m wondering if Bobo will ever have a job besides personal clown given her clumsiness, disdain for brushing her hair, and the way she wails “YOU’RE BREAKING MY HEART” when I stop her from compulsively sharpening every pencil in the house. 

My normal is not really normal, I guess. Now it’s extra not-normal. 

Today the plumbers mercifully arrived to solve our backup issue. They were a team of chain smoking young men who regularly hocked up phlegm onto the grass where my children play and then wiped their mouths and noses onto their filthy sleeves. God bless them for coming. The job was delayed by a day or two because a 94-year old woman’s basement had flooded and they called to see if it would be okay if they attended to that first. Of course, of course, we agreed.

Right now there is a digging device in my backyard, one with dark orange “arms” that lifts the clay-sodden soil out from underneath the moss and sets it aside to make room for new PVC pipe, which one of the lads carried over his shoulder in twelve foot lengths from the truck to the backyard like some post-modern logger. It started to rain in the midst of all of their digging and cutting of concrete, and I would have felt bad for them had they not coughed up loogies near my herb pots. At one point, I poked my head in to ask how long the migraine-inducing, pipe-rattling sawing through my concrete slab might take, and two tired looking young men, covered in concrete dust and mud, looked at me like a pair of sad animals in a zoo and said they’d only be digging for the next while so it wouldn’t be too loud.

Beaversons, who is proving to be perhaps more noise-averse than her bananas older sister, walked around for most of the morning with her hands over her ears, asking repeatedly, tearfully, Mama, what’s that noise? Oh, that, honey? That’s the sound of our homeowner’s insurance getting a kick in the balls.

Because we already have a Sensitive Little Flower, and because Mr. Burdy used to take her to stadium soccer games, we already own a kid-sized pair of noise cancelling headphones. I stretched them over Beaverson’s huge dome, but then she complained they were itchy.  At some point, I stuffed two flannel baby wipes between her head and the muffs, but not even that helped. 

Have you ever experienced the sound of a drill going through concrete? Let me ask you another way. Have you ever heard someone downstroke a D note on a bass guitar with a running broken vacuum at volume 11?  Have you ever gone temporarily deaf from the noise of one billion bees passing through your sinus cavity? No? Lucky you, then. This went on for two solid hours at our house while I was trying to teach phonics and console a 2 year old. 

I am grateful, though, I swear. I made steady and maybe-too-long eye contact with our dust-covered team of toilet-removers and thanked them for being here (subtext: in the rain, in the filth, and in the middle of a pandemic.) I knew they were risking their health being in such close quarters, and I was so very grateful. 

This whole thing with the plumbers- the rage at their disregard for where they put their SPIT in the middle of a health crisis, the heinous noise, and the overflow of gratitude I had for them- this sums up pretty much what I would have come here to write this morning when my head was clear and I was ready to write with a theme in mind. (Themes are so February 2020).

My friend calls this “holding the paradox”. As adults (if we’re lucky) we can be both mad as hell and grateful at the same time. I certainly am most of the time. See also: anxiety. 

I can be 100% out-of-my-gourd raging-bull ANGRY that this country is putting our healthcare workers at risk by not mandatorily bumping up the production of protective gear by our manufacturing sector… and I can be overwhelmed with love and pride for the people stepping up to sew masks for those workers.

I can be happy that a certain fabric supply chain is supplying these kits to make masks for free, and I can be pissed off that this chain expects employees to pay for their own store sterilizing supplies, and won’t pay for employees to not work during this health crisis.

I can love what this quarantine is doing to renew parts of the earth that just needed to breathe for five minutes, for fuck’s sake, and I can also say: Hey, this being inside thing most of the time blows.

I can both literally CRY with appreciation, bowled over by how much love and dedication and time UNDER PRESSURE went into preparing my kid’s 2 week lesson plan, AND I can want to throw it on the fire some days because I feel so ill prepared to be a teacher to Bobo and because I want to do puzzles and crochet granny squares and shelter-in-place like the tired middle aged lady I am. 

I can be sad that it took this level of catastrophe to get people to work together, to look out for their fellow human beings, even as I am glad that, well, we’re not rioting in the streets yet (I’m sure that’s coming, but I’ll muse on that in another post). 

We can all hold this paradox. In fact, we’re going to need to learn how to do it real quick. If this virus teaches us anything, it’s that it’s not like anything we know. The healthy can get sick. The well intentioned can harm as they try to help. I hold all of this in my heart as I muddle through the day. I am terrified for the marginalized, the incarcerated, the ICE detainees, the kids who count on school for hot lunches who don’t have them now, the domestic violence victims and children stuck at home with their abusers. The list goes on. I don’t want to get stuck in “there’s only so much one person can do so why bother?” thinking. THIS is the illness that teaches us that EXACTLY one person can make the difference between 500 new people being infected and NOT.

I follow Joseph Gordon-Levitt on social media. He has this app where you can help fellow artists seeking teeny tiny bits of input for their projects- a voiceover here, an answer to a poll question there. I signed up and read a poem yesterday. It felt good. There were a LOT of haters on his Facebook feed, telling him to get busy doing “more important” things than dumb art projects. I wanted to tell the lot of them to fuck right off. Making art IS doing something. Not all of us are public defenders, social workers, health care professionals, teachers, or the goddamned foot soldiers in this war against greed and corporatism.  Some of us are ordinary joes with sewing machines and 40 seconds to spare to help someone recite a beautiful piece of writing into a microphone.  It’s not “curing coronavirus” as the kids these days say, but it’s not awful, either. 

That kind of thinking, that “What’s a poem going to solve”? thinking? That can go right ahead and burn up in the incinerators with all those used masks. 

I’m grateful but grumpy/I’m scared but I’m laughing/I’m lost but I’m hopeful, baby. That’s my update to Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket”. That last line is hers. We’re all things at once. We can all hold the paradox if we choose. We can help in ways we both can and can’t imagine, but it sure as hell helps to imagine. I have seen in just 12 days what I am made of, and what I have to give, both to my family and my community at large.

I’m a heartbroken clown, shielding her ears from noise, hoping for the best, but still hoarding the olive oil like it’s the last drop of its kind on planet earth. 

 

COVID-IARIES, Days 5 & 6: HomeFooling

What day is this? Monday? Right. We had spaghetti for dinner. That’s the only way I’m keeping track of things right now: via what we ate for dinner. Every monday we have pasta. Tomorrow is Taco Tuesday. Tomorrow is also Day 6 of Distance Learning, which is the very official and studious sounding name to what amounts to a few hours of begging Bobo to complete a worksheet bookended by SpongeBob Squarepants episodes.

Today she wore a fancy dress to “school” (read: our living room), complete with gold colored purse and matching cardigan. I was about to protest, give her a few reasons why we should keep our clothes glue- and marker-free, maybe save the dresses for fancy occasions, and then I was like: You know what? Who cares? Who cares about ANYthing right now? You wanna wear a dress? Go right ahead. The fanciest dress you own? Rock it. Want a clown wig and firefighter’s helmet to go with it? Knock yourself out. You know what absolutely doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things? This dress. Specifically, whether or not you’ll stain it bad enough (you will) that you’ll never be able to wear it again (you won’t). Wear ALL the dresses, kid, EVERY DAMNED DAY.

My perspective is shifting by the hour. Day 1, hour 1, I was having an aneurysm over how I was going to teach my kid from home and make her the World’s Greatest Homeschooled Child. Today, Day 5? Well, we played a memory game and glued together a cheap wooden birdhouse and kind of called it a day. Somehow, we did get most things crossed off the curriculum list, but if we hadn’t? I still wouldn’t have cared. The world at large and our household writ small needs a little gentleness for ourselves right now. The rules of the quarantine (seriously, STAY HOME, PEOPLE) are strict in my house. But the way we stay inside? We’re making that up minute by minute.

Oh, and we made bath bombs.

I’d say we NAILED IT.

Okay, so we didn’t nail it. You know what I DID do, though? I let my kid get filthy the way she likes to (and in her dress, no less). I let her smoosh that paste of baking soda (and godknowswhatelse was in that packet that makes it purple and smell like strawberries) with her hands and I let it get all over the floor and countertops. We giggled as the yellow foamed over and the green didn’t mix properly. We tried our best to pack it into the molds and get them out in time to stop fizzing. It was… a mess. And really, maybe 3 out of 20 of those bath bombs were usable. You know who didn’t care? Bobo. Not one bit. To her, this was dreamy. A big mess and Mama not yelling about it? Pass the blue, please! I have a butterfly mold to pack!

Now, pre-quarantine Lolo would have had a FIT over the amount of mess, over the lack of impulse control and disregard for precise measurements. Quarantine Lolo is much… cooler. She knows that if Bobo doesn’t care if the bath bombs are not properly shaped and if the yellow is foaming over, then why should she?

What I’m saying is, I might just wear a fancy dress to teach in tomorrow.

What I’m saying is: the pandemic got very real, and very close to home for me this weekend, and I know that if I don’t loosen my grip on my need for order and cleanliness, I’m going to drive everyone in my household crazy.  This is a hard one for me, because I’ve historically been really GOOD at making order, and order outside my chaotic brain equals order inside my chaotic brain. You might call making order my vocation. I’m finding myself, though, in the midst of a pandemic with ants. and a washing machine I can’t use, and my house upside down during a remodel, and a toddler who is responding to this whole crisis by having a potty training regression and nightmares. There are soy sauce packets beneath dirty napkins next to toys next to I don’t even know because I simply cannot keep up with all there is to do. And WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES. We don’t have a learning disability to navigate, or a behavioral disorder in our kid. I don’t need to report to a (paid) job. We are financially okay. I know how to make soup from literally ANYthing, so we’re always going to have food in the house.

But.  And.

It’s still effing hard. And I still need to loosen the grip.

<Add to the mix that I’m an introvert, one who more often than not can’t take the level of noise in her house, and, well… there’s only so many times I can rearrange the contents of the fridge before it gets clinical.>

So I’m learning. Alongside all the horror stories of how this illness progresses in the body, and how ill prepared we are for it, I’m reading about how to set realistic expectations. I learned yesterday, for instance, that kids that are truly homeschooled only get about 2-3 hours of butt-in-chair academic time. The rest is experiential learning and play. So, buh-bye, crying and gnashing of teeth for six hours trying to get Bobo to complete her reading assignment. I also read about a mom who solved her kids’ constant asking for snacks by setting out cute baskets filled with what snacks they could eat all day AND NOTHING MORE, BOBO, so they could all be on the same page.

There is so much more I want to write about tonight,  so much more I want to address about mental health during this crisis, but I’m tired after 13 hours of kid/house-care followed by 2 hours of remodel stuff. For now, can I make a request? I know there are only, like, 11 people reading this, but please call everyone you love after you’re done reading this. Seriously. Pretend it’s 1995 and call people. Lord knows we all have LOTS of time on our hands right now. Let people know they’re not alone. If you know someone whose expectations are, ahem, not realistic *raises hand* about how “productive” we should be during quarantine, or how *not* lonely they are supposed to feel with all the Zoom meetups and online dance lessons, let them know we’re all taking this minute by minute.  Let them know it’s okay to feel sad and anxious, but that we’re here, and if we need to take turns being sad and anxious just so we’re not all sad and anxious at the same time, then we can work out a schedule for that.  I’m sure there’s an app for it. Hang on, let me check my kid’s schoolwork packet. There’s probably a lesson plan around it in there.

Listen, just let them know they can wear their party dress around the house tomorrow if they want to, okay? It might not make them feel better about any of this, but they’ll know that there’s a strong willed five year old in the suburbs of New Jersey doing the same, and maybe that connection to another human being will be enough to get them through another day.

COVID-IARIES Days 3 & 4: The Blurring

It was me, you guys. I’m the one who made the parks department wrap the monkey bars in caution tape. That was my family flouting the social distancing mandate the day before yesterday. We thought we were safe in the park. Apparently not. I’ve now lowered humanity’s lowest common denominator. Me. My family. Somewhere out there on social media, there’s an old white guy spewing misspelled, poorly punctuated rage about how we can’t have nice things because of that negligent woman who brought her kids to the park.

I’ve been trying to edit and publish this post for two days now and I can’t get anything done in more than forty second sprints. FORTY SECONDS, y’all. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been up and down, up and down all day. I’ve been trying to keep up. With everything. Everything. The news, friends, store closing times, quantities of apple juice, paperwork, dinnertime, wiping counters, wiping butts, sharpening pencils, charging electronics, aging parents, naptimes. Everything. 

It’s Day 3 or 4 (they’re starting to blur) and I’m here to tell you: we’re all doing the best we can. I need to hear this, and so does everyone else, so I’m publishing it here so I can refer back to it often. I swear I’m going to circle back to this in a minute. Right now, let me wax philosophical about my five year old’s curriculum because all the smart and reflective stuff has already been published on the Internet today and I’m exhausted. Not as exhausted as nurses, doctors, grocery clerks, cleaning crew members, single moms, or Dr. Fauci’s face muscles, but I’m exhausted. 

“In school”, my kid is learning the difference between fiction and non-fiction. She is being asked to figure out what a book might be about by looking at its cover. This flies in the face of everything ELSE I’m trying to teach her about appearances, but, WHATEVER, school curriculum. She’s also being asked to discern between fiction and non-fiction by asking things like: does the author have an opinion about this subject? Is the author trying to inform or entertain? I keep thinking about how I would answer these questions, now and as a five year old.  Don’t we all do a little bit of everything at once? Entertain while informing? Do I not have to use a little bit of fantasy to make the instructing more digestible? (We regularly refer to the colony of tarantulas/spiders/ants that “live” in Bobo’s curls so we can make washing her unruly hair “fun” <it’s still not fun>. And we tell Beaversons we can see the “sugar bugs” on her teeth so she knows to brush them away. I realize this might sound like terrorism, what with all the bug references and all, but I swear the kids really go for it. Bobo’s favorite animal category is arachnid.)

I am reminded of something I read about Eric Carle as I do these exercises with Bobo. When Carle was a little boy, he never quite understood the way adults phrased questions. If you have five apples and you take away two, how many are left? Well, the apples didn’t just evaporate, right? They’re around here somewhere. Nothing was *really* taken away, so there are still five apples.  Likewise, I am feeling the same sort of confusion over my kid’s reading comprehension schoolwork. How DO you know if something is fact or fiction?  I feel wholly unequipped to teach anyone this sort of distinction. I mean, deep fake became a thing in my lifetime. Our election was t-boned by headlines people *thought* were real, but were actually propagated by Russian robots, for chrissakes. I feel like the divide between what we *think* we know and what we can prove is blurred. Nevermind confirmation bias, and everything else that colors our view of “truth”. Anyway, having to sort the world into two has haunted me my whole life, so this is all giving me anxiety. I can remember as a kid having mild panic attacks when I’d have to label anything one kind or another. The world does not occur to me in black and white, fiction and nonfiction. There were shades of grey everywhere I looked. If it was made by humans (hell, even if it wasn’t, BUTTERFLIES AND MANTIS SHRIMPS, I’M LOOKING AT YOU SPECIFICALLY) it’s complicated. It’s not that I couldn’t see the line between fact and fiction, I just didn’t see the point of seeing the line. I get why it’s so necessary to know, especially when you’re dealing with serious stuff. A pandemic, just as a for instance. So we’re all mad at James Frye for exaggerating. I get it. Wasn’t there something to be gleaned from what he wrote anyway? I know I learned a whole lot about drugs and the way we struggle against our own broken thinking. Yes, I want solid science behind my corona virus updates. Isn’t the way this is all unfolding, though, a bit like a wild, terrible fantasy that we can’t quite get our heads around?  Can you fully grasp the numbers that are coming out, the ways in which economies around the world are being affected? If you’re an epidemiologist, or public health worker, or anyone who understands analytics and global markets, this has all been very predictable, a clear case of x + y = z, I’m sure. For the rest of us, it’s kind of like trying to measure length in football fields when we’ve never even seen a ball. I’m going to teach my kid how to identify fact from fiction, yes, and cats from dogs, and all the rest, but I’m always going to know those “missing” apples are just to the side of the equation. All we have is our best guess at any given moment until we learn more. I’m pretty sure this is not something Wilson Fundamentals for grades K-1 encourages you to discuss, but here we are. 

…..

Online, I’m seeing people being cautious, but also so, so kind. I saw a neighbor post about leaving to-go containers of homemade chicken soup in a cooler in his porch. Folks could come and take, no questions asked, no contact made. People are chalking sidewalks with upbeat messages and making rainbows to hang in their windows. My friend offered to take my laundry and do it- drop off on her deck and pick up on her deck- no contact. She even offered me a choice of laundry scents. I have offered to do supermarket runs, as have others. People are all doing small things that add up to big things. 

Big corporations still trying to hawk their wares, though, and it feels a little tone deaf, to say the least. A certain retailer, for instance, has NOT been shy about inundating my inbox daily with offers of sale priced loungewear and fleece (you know, for all the laying around we parents are all doing). Listen, I know there are thousands of people who work for them, and they’re all counting on those purchases so they can, in turn, be paid and feed their families and pay their rent. There is a MASSIVE supply chain suffocating over the suspension of our spending practices, so I don’t admonish anyone for buying or not buying. But I wonder (read: I really, really hope) if what’s going to come out of this pandemic is a new way of thinking about how much we REALLY need in this world. Maybe what will emerge is a new kind of…construct? One that’s not pushing fast fashion down our throats, maybe the kind that can throttle back its unsustainable growth? You know what? No one’s dying in the streets because we’re not buying athleisurewear. Not yet, anyway. I realize that COULD happen, as the people who MAKE our clothes rely on us to live, as well. Proposal: how about we use this indoor time to dismantle capitalism and come up with something else, mkay? I’m sure there’s a handout in my kid’s packet that can help with that.

On Thursday,  I watched a bris via Zoom. It worked itself into our lesson plan rather nicely.  (Yes, here it is! Finally! That smooth transition from baby wiener trimming to hope!) The kids had questions about how much it would hurt the baby and if he would recover, and why it had to be done in the first place, so it was a great opportunity to talk about ritual and community and religion and how we show up for one another and how life goes on in spite of calamity.

I logged on with about twenty other families and watched. It was slightly chaotic the way family gatherings usually are but it was so, so beautiful, too. The rabbi spoke and I tried to take notes because it was so… normal. I don’t mean that it was mundane; far from it. What he said lifted my spirits for the whole day. Almost as affirming as what he said was the way in which he had to say it. Here he was, speaking in this calm tone about light radiating from us all, and love connecting us, and all the while, his kid was crawling all over his lap, trying to hog the laptop camera. It reminded me that even a man of God these days has to deliver a congratulatory speech with a squirrely kid in close proximity. I stopped taking notes and just stared into the screen. I looked past him for a moment and noted the framed certificate on the wall, the stack of papers on his desk, (the flash of the inside of his kid’s nostrils), his coffee mug. I needed to see it, all of it, the mess and the imperfect timing and the kid oblivious to anyone but her own image in the camera. There is nothing we can do about having to stay at home. We can do EVERYTHING about how we stay at home, however. 

I haven’t felt alone, exactly, during this quarantine because EVERY parent I know is texting/Zooming/Marco Polo-ing/Facebooking the same thing: Are you SERIOUS with this shit right now? What started out as overwhelm on Day One has morphed into something softer, gentler, like a little mantra sounding off in my head every time my kid loses interest in her work and slinks down out of her chair and onto the floor, or my other kid taps my leg and begs me to read her a book while the beans are boiling over and I’m stepping in something sticky: we’re all in this together. We’re all in this together. 

We’re all in this together.  We’re having babies and saying blessings and doing our homework, and tearing our hair out, and trying to remain calm, and stress-baking, and power walking, and walking our dogs more than they probably need to be walked, and we have no idea how to teach math these days, and we’re being so, so unproductive, and the ants are coming and going, and now we’re playing in the street because the park is closed, and we’re all muddling through.  

It will likely morph again. And again. Yet to come is grief, and rage, and all the other things that rise up out of us when our lives are turned upside down. For now, we’re all in it together, and that’s carrying me through until the next big thing hits us. 

Spoiler: It’ll probably be the sewer repair bill. 

COVID-IARIES, DAY 2: The Anger Report

Well, we made it through Day 2. I mean that in the most literal sense. ALL we did was make it through. Schoolwork was attempted, and schoolwork was abandoned in fits of rage. The house remained a heinous, impassable mess. To comfort myself, I made American style “tacos” for dinner: ground beef, hard shells made from genetically modified corn, shredded cheddar, iceberg lettuce, salsa from a jar. It wasn’t anything like I normally cook, and it was damned delicious.

Our school’s teacher sent home an oversized manila envelope filled with about three pounds of paper- schoolwork for Bobo for at least two weeks. It was organized by subject and day, with instructions for each day.  I’ll say it again: TEACHERS DESERVE ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. Like, maybe now that we’re living without professional sports, we can all agree that those salaries should just be transferred to teachers, right? I mean, seriously.

So. We had a packet of papers and an itinerary. So far, so good. I started to read through it, along with the email sent from the teacher.

Not two minutes in, Beaversons peed her pants.

I change her. I’m reading as fast as I can, trying to contain Bobo, and I’m also trying to make sure my two and a half year old isn’t using the kitchen drawer pulls as foot holds to get to the snack cabinet. Bobo’s desk is buried in the playroom at the moment, which I am using as my temporary bedroom, so we’re trying to do all this reading and sorting at a table from which we haven’t even yet cleared the breakfast dishes. The ants are rallying.

Twenty minutes later Beaversons pees her pants again.  I change her.

Someone demands a snack. Someone wants to turn on the iPad. Something gets spilled. The ants move in closer.

I clean, I clutch paper and something slowly washes over me. Panic begins to rise in my throat as I hang out to dry another pair of tiny pants while my five year old repeatedly rams her Plasmacar into the leg of the dining room table. It crystalizes: I have to be Bobo’s teacher for two weeks. Like, a real full time teacher. A teacher that pays constant attention and offers praise and doesn’t have her anxiety cage rattled by spilled beverages and bodies that won’t stop wiggling in their chairs. My perfectionism is sounding off like an air raid siren. I want to be the BEST parent, checking off things as they are completed, doing things in order but I also need order to do this, and we are currently in VERY short supply. I need to know things. I need there to be NO confusion, not even one minute of it.  I needed everything to be crystal clear. I needed a path through this. I can’t NOT know. I have ants, for god’s sake. I’m sleeping on a pull-out bed and our house is covered in crap. I need ONE THING to go right at this moment and I cannot be a teacher while things are not going right.

And then Beaversons pees her pants again.

Impulse control/waiting is NOT Bobo’s strong suit, so between not having time to read the lengthy directions and her not wanting to do schoolwork, we were both in breakdown mode in about four minutes. I’m constantly having to remind her that “all will be revealed with time” but here I was trying to absorb the contents of three pounds of paper all at once and not being one bit patient with ANY of it. Thanks, virus, for showing me myself.

After a hellish morning of trying to figure out homework in the midst of ants and mess, and a refusal to eat what I’d made for lunch, we headed out to the playground. We were the only ones there for a few minutes, and then another mom and two small kids appeared. From about 20 feet away, I heard the mom say, “Oh, I don’t know if we’re supposed to be this close to one another”.

I was in dirty sweatpants. My hair- greasy and standing on end and in desperate need of a cut by a stylist who is now forbidden to come within six feet of me- was barely contained by a ballcap. My shoes were untied. I was wearing the stained fleece jacket I only wear around the house.

Naturally my first reaction was to go FULL animal on her and bare my (unbrushed) teeth. I narrowed my eyes. Not today, Satan. Not today, I muttered to myself. This is MY park.  Get the hell outta here if you don’t want this virus, which I am SURE we are carrying. Just so ya know, my kids LOVE licking playground equipment. And picking their noses.

Turns out she was super nice and I? I am a turd.

Upon hearing the racket we were making in the park, one by one, like the Whos coming out of their houses on Christmas morning after the Grinch has stolen all their presents and roast beasts, kids emerged from their houses around the park. The very nice mom and I talked about how effing hard the morning had been, how the park, the outside in general, is going to be key in making it through these next weeks. Playing with and standing close to other humans in a park is going to be, well, irresponsible. But also kinda necessary for our collective mental health.

One of Bobo’s classmates lives around the corner from the park. She came out alongside her dad. I took one look at him and I knew, the way all parents know when they see another exhausted parent: It had been a shit day for them, too.

“Oh my god” was how he greeted me, I think. Yup, I responded. Yup. I pushed Beaversons on the swing as Bobo ran around and we just stood there, alternately staring at our beat-up Converse and into the far distance, wondering how in the hell we’d gone from being punk rockers to bewildered adults defeated by kindergarten-level reading comprehension worksheets.

I made spaghetti on Monday night and debated internally for a good 20 minutes about whether or not to add a dozen (probably freezer burnt) veggie meatballs to the sauce.  Should I ration them? Should I use them up and buy fresh things to ration? My sister and mother-in-law had both reported that there was literally NO food on the shelves in their supermarkets.  Not even Superstorm Sandy had caused this level of food hoarding. I opted to keep the meatballs in the freezer and added a zucchini to the sauce instead because, I rationalized, freezer burnt meatballs are better than no meatballs at all down the road.

Food hoarding is kind of my jam. My sister’s too. I don’t throw the word “hoarding” around casually, either.  I mean it in the very realest, most irrational and unhealthy way possible. My sister and I were stocking up on garbanzo beans and frozen veggie sausage lo-o-o-ng before this virus became a known entity. We both keep larders in our garages. She can cook you 30 different pasta dishes right this minute. I could probably make 450 batches of gluten free muffins and 28 gallons of vegetarian chili by tomorrow if I started tonight. We’re both (damned fine) home cooks, so this *kind* of makes sense. If it makes anyone feel better (it makes me feel better), we do rotate through the food pretty regularly, being home chefs and all with families to nourish. I mean, most Americans don’t cook for themselves anymore, so we probably have pretty normal looking pantries for people who are obsessed with varieties of salt and like to be able to feed a crowd at a moment’s notice. Listen, we grew up with not a lot of money, so the first thing we both did when we got our first adult salaries was buy 40 pounds of rice. It’s just what you do when your childhood was unpredictable and you have a few spare feet of shelving in your garage.  Comfort looks like neat stacks of tomato sauce in cans next to the gardening tools.

I decided that I needed an avocado for dinner. I mean, I didn’t need anything, really (see also: garage pantry) except a break from the kids who were asking me to push them on the swings, which I did, lifelessly. It was DAY TWO and I was already exhausted, angry, and anxious about Bobo’s schoolwork. How the hell was I going to get through this? I mean, obviously we were going to be fine. A little pee and some ants and paper and schedules could all be worked through. Right at that moment, though, it felt pretty damned hopeless and the timeline endless.

I went to the store where there were, indeed, empty shelves.  Like, feet and feet of empty shelves. Very few cartons of eggs. No chicken, no beef. No rice. No beans, for god’s sake. You KNOW it’s bad when people are buying up old bags of beans. There were exactly four loaves of Sara Lee Honey Wheat left in the bread section. Well, that and a dozen loaves of raisin bread. Not even the Apocalypse will make people eat bread with raisins in it.

THE COVID-IARIES, DAY 1

There are two things I do when I get stressed: I write and I clean. Right now, my bathroom is probably the cleanest it’s been in months. It’s “I scrubbed the molding” clean. It’s “I dusted behind the toilet” clean. You people right now perusing Netflix in your loungewear probably do things like “dust behind your toilets” all the time,  what with all the free time you have to wear loungewear and watch movies. But those of us with kids… we’re outwardly scoffing at your offering of adorable lists of things to do while all we’re under quarantine (hang shelves! clean out closet! make a nice meal!) but secretly wishing we could be doing the same instead of fetching endless bowls of CheezIts and breaking up baby fistfights.

Both of my cars are also vacuumed and wiped down, which is oddly both the most privileged and the most prepared thing I’ve written in probably my whole life. I’m not a germaphobe; quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been known to eat questionable things off the kitchen counter. (The five second rule is more like the five day rule.) I just needed a good deep clean to stay on top of SOMEthing, to give me the illusion of control. When I was young, my mom cleaned like she was going to into battle. She put on her best rags and got down on her hands and knees and mopped and polished and inspected the carpets for tiny bits of lint. Looking back, I imagine that, as a mother of four kids, it was her way of exercising SOME authority over an otherwise circus-crazy situation. I feel like I’m caught in that same understandable trap. I’ve just vacuumed under the couch and I have convinced myself that everything is going to be alright for at least the next twelve or so hours.

I also just sucked up six cups of popcorn from the living room carpet. Mr. Burdy thought he’d treat the kids to a movie tonight (since they don’t have school on Monday) which backfired spectacularly when both kids became overtired at exactly the moment the credits rolled and they refused to brush their teeth or move to their beds unless they were guaranteed massages and cups of sparkling water. I wish I was making that last part up, but, damnit, I guess that is the second most privileged thing I have ever written.

Bobo refused to brush her own teeth, so I had two sobbing, whining kids in our tiny (but clean!) bathroom at once, each whining in a different key, and Mr. Burdy standing in the door jamb threatening to take away books if they didn’t get a move on. Not helpful. I gently slammed the door in his face. It’s not even the end of Day 1 and we’re already slamming doors.

People are talking about all the babies that are going to be born in nine months… but I think the only thing coming in nine months is divorce papers. Time inside a too small house under construction is a recipe for, well. this. What’s happening right here.

On the eve of the outbreak, three things happened at our house.

1. We got ants. Sugar ants, the small variety that come inside when the weather warms up and they hear you’re the type to leave food out for five days. The ones that are almost cute at first because they’re so industrious! And curious! And then you feel one crawling up your neck as you’re transferring boiling hot pasta into the colander and you want them all dead, just die already, burn the house down while you’re at it.

We’ve resorted to ant traps because, frankly, we just can’t keep up. We’ve been spraying cinnamon oil where our countertops meet the wall and all along the molding. It only works for a few hours and then they come back.

2.  The second bathroom toilet started to overflow. I figured it would be a forty five minute snake job that would eventually pull a volleyball-sized globe of toilet paper from the pipes courtesy of my eldest daughter who thinks half a roll should do it every time she poops. No such luck. There are roots growing in our sewer line. The plumber we called, an oversized tattooed fella who looked like he might check IDs at a biker bar on the weekend, walked around the house with Mr. Burdy and mumbled things like “trench” and “re-route” and I immediately left my body and drifted off to another planet where I didn’t have to think about such things.

2) We decided to renovate the master bedroom. The entire contents of the master bedroom loom ominously tall and lumpy from underneath blue tarps in our living room, covering every spare inch minus a three foot walkway. This was all planned months ago, when we knew we’d be able to open the windows for ventilation, and Mr. Burdy’s work schedule wasn’t too heavy, and we’d finished paying off the PREVIOUS renovation. The plan was to tear out all of the walls in that bedroom and replace the fifty year old insulation and brittle wallboard so that we could actually feel warm. Indoors. Also, we wanted to tear out the carpet that hadn’t been replaced since the Carter administration.  Inside the walls we found:

a) several old wasps nests

b) some rotten/termite-chewed framing

Mr. Burdy has been putting in full workdays and then donning his “dirt clothes” after the kids go to bed to repair and mud and tape and sand.

The long and short of it is we don’t have a second bathroom. Or the use of our washer/dryer. And there are ants everywhere and nowhere to go. I am ALSO potty training a toddler, which means there are a lot of tiny, pee-moistened pairs of pants regularly air dying on my shower curtain rod. Which means my house smells like a combination of old snickerdoodles and a subway platform.

I keep seeing things about how Gen Xers (*technically* the generation I am allegedly, depending on who wants to fight you that day, a part of) are the only group of people prepared for social distancing. Normally I roll my eyes at this kind of boxing in, but I’ve got to hand it this other Lauren lady. NAILED US.

Also, as if the Universe itself was like, “Hey, wanna see something cool? Check this out!” I happened to catch my neighbor outside as I was taking Beaversons for a walk, and I let him know that if he needed anything, he was more than welcome to come over, slip a note under the door, whatever. He graciously accepted my offer, then returned it, and then waved away the whole pretext, saying that the media needed “something to talk about”. And then he cited the death toll in the SARS outbreak was only 12,000. He also said something about politicians keeping themselves employed. I had a very surreal moment standing there on the other side of his literal hedgerow thinking, holy shit. This is it. I’m talking to a Boomer who thinks this whole thing will be a whole lot of hullabaloo about nothing one day. Damn.

Speaking of hullabaloo, we went to my mom’s yesterday for our annual corned beef and cabbage feast (we are not even the least bit Irish). We ate and we drank and the kids searched for a plastic pot of plastic gold coins and tchotchkes my mom hid in her yard and my eldest LOST HER MIND when the milk and the water turned green, and we all had a great time. It didn’t really sink in till I lay in bed that night: this might have been the last family gathering we’d have in a long time. I’m slated to host Easter at my house, but I’m feeling a statewide quarantine coming on and I think the Easter dresses that arrived via my online order are just going to sit in their shipping box this year. It’s strange to think of an event that far away already being cancelled.

My uncle brought a box to mom’s house containing things he’d found while looking for my mom’s naturalization papers. Inside were documents related to my grandparents’ emigration to this country more than 50 years ago, things like birth certificates and wedding certificates and letters of endorsement from my grandfather’s employer. We, my sister and mom and dad and aunt and uncle, we all held these papers and marveled at them. We wiped tears from our eyes thinking of what they’d endured as a young couple so that we could all be here, sitting around a table festooned with a cheap shamrock-themed tablecloth. We smiled, too, thinking about how funny they both were, how smart and brave and dogged.

The world around us is shuttering, one establishment at a time. Bobo’s dance classes are happening online if they are happening at all. Beav’s music classes are cancelled. Refunds will be issued. The library is closed indefinitely. Of course, school is closed for two weeks. We have ants. We can’t walk in our house because there is stuff EVERYWHERE. And we can’t wash our clothes and stuff is piling up.

I keep seeing this meme floating around, the one about how our grandparents were called to war, and all we’re being asked to do it sit on our butts. My grandparents were called, and they went. Then they made the very measured and weighty decision to leave Europe and come here once the war was over.

Surely we can get through this, right?