Of Fires and Feelings

This is going to be all over the place, so please buckle up and hang on tight. There are some major S-curves ahead. I’m going to attempt to tie together a bunch of things, and I have NO plan right now. If you’re into the whole “vibes” thing, grab a bunch of good ones and and maybe some soothing tea. This will get heavy. It’ll be light in places, too. But I’m (still) processing a death- by suicide- of someone I looked up to… and hormone replacement therapy, and writing during summertime, and forest fires, and I might just even include a fart joke, you never know.

We’re going to start off here, at this horrible tangle-y elevated cloverleaf that’s going to make us all a little carsick. We’re about midway through it, looking out the window at the traffic below, wishing we were done with this shit already. The air is hot and stuffy in the car, even though the windows are down. I don’t know whether to close my eyes and grit my teeth or just look out the window and stare at a fixed point on the horizon, an old sailing trick. Right now, I’m out of coping mechanisms, so I’m silently, fervently praying to the time-space continuum to just hurry us the hell along. Or rather, maybe my coping mechanisms, which I’m getting better at packing when I leave the house, are in the trunk but I just can’t get to them right now, and I know I could reach back there and get them, of course, but then I’d make myself even more carsick, and I’m really, really practiced at freezing and just baring down, so that’s what I’ll do. It’s more familiar. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. Gone wholly deer in headlights. Literally ball myself into a defensive position, hug my heart, and run the to the goal line like my life depends on it. Which it does, in a way.

This feeling of carsickness and despair started, dumbly, over a pair of shoes I listed on an online selling and buying forum. You know the one. The shoes I listed had seen better days, yes. But I fully disclosed that in my ad. I took pictures of their wear and tear. I even offered up solutions on how to make them better. And I listed them for dirt cheap. Still, the members of this group opted to voice their opinions, which sounded like this:


WTF. Donate

People will buy anything.

Now, having arrived at a much-memed Give No Fucks era of middle age, you would think I would have let this kind of thing roll off my back. But ALSO having found myself doggy paddling through a violent sea of wildly fluctuating lady hormones, I’m also… sensitive. Also, I’m just thin skinned in general. I let EVERYthing in. Even shit that shouldn’t matter. Like nasty, bitter comments about the condition of a pair of shoes I once wore. I’m getting better about stuff, I swear. You know that saying about how “the cracks are where the light gets in”? I lean heavily on the notion that a thin skin lets the world come in; that’s where all the beauty seeps through. And when it doesn’t? I’ve got techniques! I’ve read books! I meditated for 20 whole minutes this week! At the end of the day, though, I’m still someone who naively believes that people’s better angels will prevail most of the time. And when they don’t? Well, something in core belief system gives way and my whole foundation shifts, and it’s not good. It’s really not good.

I’ve lived a pretty darn good life up until now, so those of you who’ve been ghosted, shafted, lied to, and otherwise treated like you’re disposable, you’re probably thinking: Yeah, get in line, sister. People can be real jerks. How are you just now finding this out?

I mean… I know this about people. I know people can be animals. I guess I just don’t have reason to interact with those folks most of the time. And if they cross my path in person, it’s fairly easy to sidestep them and carry on with my day.

Not so online.

People online feel like shaming people is some kind of sport. They feel like their opinion is wisest and what’s needed. And the pile-on. Whoooboy, the pile-on! People love a good pile-on!

Having lived on the west coast for half my life, I have VERY different ideas from a lot of folks about “stuff”, and specifically stuff that’s sold second-hand. Boiled down, it’s like this: we Americans fill landfills with TONS of useful shit that, in the hands of the right person, can get a much needed second life. It just takes the right connection. East Coasters, especially (I guess, in the more affluent area where I live) are not always down with this philosophy. Now, LOTS of people ARE. Our local Goodwill is overflowing with stuff that’s been donated. I personally shepherd lots of stuff there on behalf of clients of mine. Lots of people are MORE than happy to give away and donate when they can. Most of the time it’s a problem of overwhelm and not knowing how to do it rather than the idea of it. But. And there’s always a but. There are some items that seem to be… taboo. Items which would happily by snatched up on the west coast, no questions asked. Items which gross out a small percentage of people here on the East Coast. And those grossed out folks have ruined my day for three days straight now with their petty comments.

So where does this all land in my brain? Right next to the place where I’m still processing Heather Armstrong’s death. And the extreme hatred that came her way from commenters during her career as a writer. And how that was REALLY hard for a brain like hers to process. Perhaps in the same way it is for mine. Heather was the author of dooce.com and a pioneer in the world of blogging. Heather took her own life in May of this year.

I didn’t know Heather personally. I kinda felt like I did, though. She was the original “mommy blogger” and she introduced (to me anyway) the concept of writing funny shit about your family online for money. She wrote a giant virtual permission slip to those of us with similar beautiful, dark, creative minds to write our lives down for all the world to see. I was too chicken-shit to do it full time and with any consistently, but Heather? She fucking NAILED IT. She wove together beautiful, touching moments with each of her kiddos with potty-mouthed humor and photographs from their lives and wound up with this very public, very colorful, loud and honest and unapologetic throw blanket that I felt safe and seen under. She made me laugh more than I’d like to admit about poop jokes. She inspired me to write more.

I remember I met an old friend at a bar in the early 2000s and he asked me what I was working on. I told him I was exploring how I could maybe some make money by keeping up my blog. He laughed in my face (after choking on his beer). He thought I was looney-tunes to even think about it. His comment was something like, “Yeah, you and everyone else”.

But how many Everyone Elses ACTUALLY followed through? I certainly didn’t. Heather did. And she did it for years. Eventually, she was getting paid to travel and read her stuff, and was invited to speak at college graduation ceremonies and seminars about blogging. She made some incredible friends along the way and introduced the world to THEIR writing and now, 15 years later, I am actually working with one of those friends of hers. It’s wild. It feels like she’s still with us in some ways, still photographing her dog with silly things stacked on his snout, still telling us about her beautiful daughters.

I have been wanting to write about Heather for weeks now. I haven’t really found my entry point, though. Like, what do I really say about a woman I’ve never met but who influenced my life so deeply? I mean, hell. I’m still flushing out the Catholicism from my lexicon and struggling to say “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide” because even though my thinking about it as some willful, spiteful act has completely changed since my days of wearing a plaid romper, it’s still hard to make my mouth form the words. I also know that what I saw of her online was just one dimension and that we all contain multitudes. I know from mutual acquaintances that she could also be difficult and hard-headed. (I can relate). Toward the end there, her writing started to scare me in a way I couldn’t put a finger on. It was reminding me of something, but I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I backed away in fear. It was a primal reflex: protect yourself, this is dangerous. So I did. I don’t know who I could have reached out to anyway… but I still feel a little guilty about sensing something was off and not doing anything about it. I’m not really in a position to add much to the national conversation about suicide except to say that: You just don’t know what someone is going through, do you?

Except. Maybe… just a little. Just a teensy bit. I do know.

I’ll be clear: I’ve never been suicidal. I usually chalk that up to my being terrified of guns and needles. I practically choke every time I swallow even my daily multivitamin, so I can’t imagine getting a whole bottle of something down my throat. But also… because I’m EXTREMELY FUCKING LUCKY. I share Heather’s dark brain chemistry. I also have a support system. I have people looking out for me. Heather did, too. We both had/have access to mental health care. So all I’m left with is this idea that it’s luck saving my life day after day.

It likely comes down to one molecule, maybe even one atom. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve never had that urge. And I don’t think it’s because I’m stronger, and Heather weaker. I don’t think it’s because I have a better grasp on things. I don’t think it’s because I’m smarter. I don’t think it’s because of fate, or the blueprints from an omnipotent god. I think it’s because of luck. Entropy. The randomness of the Universe. A molecule being in place where maybe it was missing in Heather, and anyone else who has ever contemplated ending their own lives.

Up until that one molecule, I think Heather and I might have been very similar. We let the trolls get under our skins. We made proverbial mountains out of molehills. We maybe didn’t read the How To Deal With Anxiety coping manual all the way through because we’re both a little scattered. We overthought things. We found the flaws before we found the beauty. But, oh how we talked about the beauty when we found the beauty. In the crystalline eyes of our daughters. In slapstick antics of our pets and friends. In our wildly varied and beautiful language. In the way a pair of impractical stilettos and bright blue tights could pull an outfit together. In the way light caught the corner of a skyscraper at dusk. In the way a song could transport you from your car to another world for three and a half minutes.

I feel her everywhere. I feel her looking down from wherever she is, telling me, “Go on, girl. Make that fart joke. Write it all down. Everything. You’ll get tougher as you go. Or maybe you won’t. Try anyway”.


I listened to a podcast recently about rounding Cape Horn by boat. The story takes place in the 1800s, during the time of huge wooden ships with multiple masts and hundreds of crew aboard. One of these boats is rounding Cape Horn in the almost unbelievable weather that happens below the 50th degree of latitude. There is an old sailor’s saying about this part of the world: “Below 40 degrees latitude, there are no rules. Below 50 degrees, there is no God”. The way the guest described the water around Cape Horn was this: Unrelenting waves. Ninety foot swells. Hurricane strength winds. I have literally forgotten the name of the podcast’s guest and his book. I’ve forgotten the name of the captain and the boat (I do remember that it was the Brits and that they were chasing a Spanish ship rumored to be filled with gold, because they wanted it for their own. Sigh. Colonialism). Anyway. The short story is this: lots of people died in the storm that besieged them. There was a man atop of a ninety foot mast, rocking with the boat, touching the surface of the water with each swing. Men were being flung to their deaths and no one could do a damned thing about it. That word, unrelenting, stuck with me. A storm that would not end. Ninety goddamned vertical feet of water crashing all around you. The noise of it all- the screams of the men being absorbed by the howling wind and rain. The impersonal nature of violence. The violence of nature.

When I heard the podcast, I thought of Heather. How her pain must have been that storm: unrelenting. What on earth do you do when there is no end in sight? How do you convince yourself that an end to pain exists?

Right now, on the East Coast, our skies are clearing after an unprecedented amount of smoke and haze from Canadian forest fires blanketed us in an eery orange glow. While it was happening, the sun was an orange dot in an unrelentingly uniform sky. My daughters were asking me when it was going to end, when they could go back outside and go swimming. I had to answer them, I don’t know. And I had to be okay with that, even though it was unsettling. I mean, my phone’s weather app was open constantly and predictions were that the air quality advisory was going to go away likely by the weekend, but, in the moment, it felt like we just couldn’t really know. I thought of Heather, about how she might explain this phenomena to her own daughters… whether or not she ever made peace with a mental cloud cover that seemingly never ended. I wondered if we humans ever get comfortable with not knowing. If she ever got to a place where she could properly weigh the nastiness online, that the good ultimately was more than the bad. The bad was just so damned UGLY. It seems she had a LOT of practice at it, what with people sending her all kinds of nasty emails and comments all the time… but I don’t know. Do we ever really harden ourselves to the world entirely? I’m not saying the trolls made her do it. But they certainly didn’t help, either.

I know I’ll get over this particular bout of thinking humanity’s rotten because of this shoe situation. I can just as easily take my ad down, too, can’t I? I want to leave it up there, though. For that one person who sees those shoes and doesn’t think “Ewwww” and instead thinks: Hey! This is a good deal! What a nice offer! I don’t want the trolls to win. And that’s a fucking lucky thought right there, that I can see past this particular moment, past this car-sick curve in the road, past this sea-sick storm, past this thinner-than-usual skin moment. Maybe I can sit here, anxious and trembling a little from coffee (or nerves) and suggest to myself that this new progesterone therapy might be to blame for my being extra sensitive. Or that not being able to see the end of the smoky haze tricked my brain into apocalyptic thinking for a few hours there. I have those options before me and that’s damned lucky I can see them. Gratitude for my luck; that’s what I’m leaning on here at the moment, but even that is hard.

Heather was a master of wrapping up a great post with some potty humor, so she would want you to know something about the air filter running in our house right now. For two days straight, it’s been running nonstop to help filter the air of toxicity from the fires. It has a sensor on it that tells you how bad or good the air is before it starts filtering. Up until things got bad overhead, we had our windows open. When we first turned it on, the sensor read the air quality as “moderate”, which means, “Ewwww. Turn this on”. So we did. It did a great job. The sensor now reads “Very Good”.

It also has a “sleep” mode, which means it can turn itself on if it ever senses the air suddenly going from “Very Good” to “Bad”. It’s only done that once since we had it. It was a few years ago. We were sitting around the coffee table, the girls and me. The air filter was maybe a foot away, tucked into a corner. Suddenly, the thing roared to life. It scared the bejesus out of all of us. The noise of the filter was deafening, it was working so hard. We jumped up, and the fart that Bobo had just cut lifted into the air with us. Beaversons looked at me, terrified. So did Bobo. Then we all wrinkled our noses at the smell. Ah, right. It was the fart. The fart ignited the air filter. We fell over laughing.

We don’t turn the filter on often, but when we do, we all say, “Remember that time it sensed Bobo’s fart?”.

And that seems as tidy a way to end this. I hope your filters are on and that they’re strong, that they can sense danger before it gets to your tender soul. I hope the stinkers in your life are being driven away by the wind. I hope you hug your loved ones. I hope you know you make a difference in this world.

The Ants Are Back In Town!

Greetings! It’s March 2023 and the ants are back and so it seems appropriate that I come back, too. Just for a little while. Not too long. Like, maybe long enough to nibble on an apple core and three Ritz crackers that someone left on an end table overnight. I might come here and write more, I might not. I don’t know. Depends on how much this apple fills me up. I might head on over to the kitchen to check out those strawberry tops someone left in the sink. Maybe write another paragraph or ten next week. We’ll see how much ant bait there is to dodge, how this apple settles in my stomach.

Ants, the tiny ones that make their appearance in early Spring, will forever remind me of the beginning of the pandemic, of the lockdown orders specifically. That time when our yard was torn up from the sewer repair, and I was trying to school two kids under the age of 6 at home, and we were scrambling to make sense of the world amongst, of all things, toilet paper shortages. I remember the ants crawling all over everything, oblivious to anything besides the pursuit of food. They crawled all over us. Humans! Beings that could potentially crush them between two diminutive fingertips. Back then, I had the willies about them, was mildly annoyed at them, but only at the sensation of them, and not at the existence of them. In fact, their existence was so curious to me, so comically timed. Ants? During a pandemic? Didn’t the Universe know we already had enough to handle? Now, three years later, I can identify in me a kind of jealousy as well. To be so blinded by a desire for, say, raspberry jam on a dirty countertop, I could face down the mountain of death! Well, actually. Now that I think about… that’s kinda what we were doing, weren’t we? Potentially dancing with our mortality every time we ached for guacamole or butter pecan ice cream? We suited up and took our chances, scuttling like insects from aisle to aisle, bee-lining it for the checkout stand, hoping, praying, mouth-breathing into masks, willing ourselves to go on. I’ll never forget the woman I saw at the grocery store wearing gardening gloves for protection… or that meme going around of the man with a sneaker tied around his face in lieu of a mask. A man’s tennis shoe. The ants? They didn’t have those same anxieties about death. Or, if they did, didn’t choose to suffer the indignity of strapping smelly footwear to their heads to buy, say, a Coke at a bodega. They just went for it. Man, who woulda thunk I’d be looking back at the past three years and finding something sage about ants, for chrissakes?

I suppose that’s our (ant-like) imperative, as humans: we’re always mining for silver linings. Always trying to make things make sense, always trying to glean some lesson, trying to justify that some “things happen for a reason” when, really, they sometimes don’t. I’ve always been allergic to that kind of rationale, even as I participate in it. The idea that “God gives us what we can handle”… it registers like sour milk in my mouth. Still, I carry on, and try to encourage others to do the same. I’m beholden to carry on, even as I can’t bring myself to offer up platitudes. I don’t know if it’s uniquely American or just human at this point, but it feels like there has always been enormous pressure to Always Be Learning. Can I let you in on a little secret? I’m exhausted by it. Truly, bone-weary and worn down. I’m crossing my arms over my chest and declaring I don’t wanna. I know, I know what you’re thinking. Quit yer complanin’, entitled white lady. I feel that too. It’s the duality of being alive. I’m just saying it here because I need to let it out of my head. And in case anyone else is tired, too.

Why is this relevant now?

I’ve taken on a writing project, a big one. I don’t want to share too many details right now because this project feels like a newborn, all red and wailing and with a dangerous soft spot I need to cover with my hand at all times. I’m protective of it. And? It’s hard to talk about the writing itself. I can’t seem to make it make sense in spoken words the way it makes sense in my head. I’m finding it extremely difficult to justify its existence. It’s like: as soon as I open my mouth to lay out a line of reasoning, all that comes out is Cindy Brady-esque doe-eyes and tangential blah blah blah. Really, I don’t want to have to justify it. I don’t want to show some great lesson that I’ve learned and now want to share with the world. (We can have a whole separate post about me feeling like I’m not really on the other side of wisdom, and why I don’t feel like I’m qualified to “teach” anyone anything, so we’ll just put a pin in that for now). Anyway, what I want is for all this domestic stuff I’m in the middle of to just go away so I can just write and not worry about the “product”. Try telling that to the good folks who would be in a position to publish such a thing. Or my family for that matter. “Yeah, so, if you could like, just pay me to sit at my desk and drink endless cups of black tea and wander aimlessly for about 200 pages, that would greaaaaaaaat.” “Also, Mama’s gonna go in her room and not come out for three weeks. The crackers are in the snack cabinet. Call Nana if you run out of fruit”.

To quote my (writer) friends, collectively: sometimes I want to write just to share, and not to demonstrate some great lesson I’ve learned. I write to connect, to be human alongside other humans. Sometimes I’m still in the shit, and there’s not a clear lesson in sight. I just want to make other people in the shit feel seen and heard and okay about still being in it.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been around the bend with kale smoothies and self help books and my takeaway is a little bit more down and out than not: people still get cancer, houses still get cluttered, people still say awful things to one another. I’m not saying “why bother?”. Maybe I’m saying: I’m not a great candidate for the almighty Before And After.

Or maybe I just can’t see it yet. Maybe if I write it, something will be revealed that I couldn’t see before. Of course it will. That’s what writing does: shows you yourself.

I want to keep the project, words and all, tucked up inside me because it feels more tidy that way…but I it also feels like it’s time to let it out into the world. I’m not doing this alone, so don’t worry. I have help. And I understand that I can self-publish and not be held to someone else’s standard, so everyone please remain seated. I’m just telegraphing out that this is hard, writing is hard. It’s hard work. And it’s necessary, but so is brushing your teeth. No one pays you to do that or critiques you publicly when you’re done, though.

There is more to it, of course. Mr. Burdy is recovering from major surgery and Bobo had to go to the ER recently with mysterious stomach pains, and Beaversons is being raised by an iPad, so finding the time to do all this excavating of the soul is damn near impossible. And don’t you love it when someone dumps the important part of the story in the last paragraph and then runs off to work? Sorry. I also have to go to work now.

But the ants are here, and that means Spring is around the corner (even though we’re slated for a nor’easter this evening), so look at me! Trying to leave you with hope in spite of everything I’ve said! A silver lining! I’m trained in the art of NOT leaving anyone at loose ends. So here: this is for you (and maybe me, too). Just around the bend there is renewal, and tulips in the front yard and, maybe, if we’re lucky, another abandoned piece of fruit under the couch ready for us to snack on. I’ll meet you there.

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.


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.


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.