Archives: distance learning

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 5 & 6: HomeFooling

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

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

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

Oh, and we made bath bombs.

I’d say we NAILED IT.

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

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

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

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

But.  And.

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-IARIES Days 3 & 4: The Blurring

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-IARIES, DAY 2: The Anger Report

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

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

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

Not two minutes in, Beaversons peed her pants.

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

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

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

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

And then Beaversons pees her pants again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a) several old wasps nests

b) some rotten/termite-chewed framing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely we can get through this, right?