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.