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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.


We Have No Bananas… But We Do Have Fresh Children

Okay, okay. I know I’m supposed to be telling you about Burning Man. And I will, I swear. There is so much to tell you, so you won’t be disappointed that you had to wait this long. But, I mean, honestly. How can I possibly start? At what point do I jump in and just start rattling it all off? My plan was to sort of break it down, day by day, make it sequential and all, just to make it easy on us both. Stretch it out and write down the epic adventure that it was. But, because it was just that life-changing, and because I haven’t had one spare moment to myself since I got home to really write one single eloquent thought about it, and because, within 72 hours of getting home, I jumped on a plane to NJ to visit my family, and because I have been completely distracted by this gorgeous stretch of beach I am staying on, I am going to stall and tell you about something far more interesting. First, first, I am going to tell you about the meat department at the Strathmere, NJ, Acme Supermarket. But first let me tell you why I’m at the Acme in Strathmere, NJ, in the first place.

My sister and I are visiting CLH’s cousin Renee (and her husband Steve) in south Jersey. Renee just had her first baby. Back in February, she asked me to be with her during the first few weeks of the baby’s life and I said yes. I was so honored when she asked me I actually broke down in tears. So, being here with my sister is a big deal to me. Renee is the oldest of CLH’s gaggle of cousins and I have always felt a special kind of kinship with her.

It’s also a big deal, because, up until a few years ago, before my peers started having kids of their own, I was scared to DEATH of having children. I mean, really, really scared. And the fear was multi layered. The first layer had everything to do with my fear of psychologically screwing the kid up. And I had a whole litany of excuses to defend my when-hell-freezes-over answer to the question of motherhood. There was the Well-I-don’t-want-to-bring-a-child-up-the way-I-was-brought- up-and-aren’t-we-all-destined-to-repeat-the-mistakes-of-our-parents argument that I used for a long time. And then there was Well-there’s-so-much-to-know-about childrearing-and-I’ll-never-know-it-all-and-i’ll-probably-do-something-I-should-have-known-better-about-and-what-lawyer-is going-to-defend-a-mom-that-should-have-known-about-honey-and-botulism-and-newborns? argument.

Several thousand dollars and years of therapy later, my attitude is: it doesn’t matter what I do, the kid’s gonna need a few years on a leather couch himself to work out all the stuff I’ve absolutely blown as a mom and it’s gonna be okay. He’ll have a long list to work on, of course, but, then again, who doesn’t? He’ll probably cite Mom’s annoying ability to deduce that BOTH SIDES of an argument are valid. Her obsession about the order of the spice drawer but utter disregard towards the mold in the shower. Making him eat tofu. FORCING HIM TO LISTEN TO JAZZ.

Whew. So, after that was all cleared up by the psychologists, the second wave of neuroses hit. And these stuck around for years. The ones having to do with my physical ability to actually extrude a living thing from my lady parts. I have a short torso, people. Not exactly baby housing material. I’ve been known to faint at the thought of getting a paper cut. Cough syrup gets me high, and a single cup of coffee? A single cup of coffee can turn my heart into Kool-Aid Man: it will burst through my ribcage wearing Bermuda shorts and yell “OOOOOOH YEAH!” to thirsty, despondent children. Given all this sensitivity, how in the hell would I be able to withstand hours, nee, DAYS, of excruciating labor pains? How would I be able to endure the morning sickness? The heartburn? The lower back pain? The sleepless nights? Not to mention the parts no one talks about: the way your nipples get cracked and hard from breastfeeding. The perineum tearing and the subsequent stitches. The -gasp- hemorrhoids, people. Let’s not forget the hemorrhoids. How could a person whose heart can’t handle a common breakfast stimulant handle the endurance needed to squeeze a very large thing from a very small hole?

And then I was invited to witness a live birth. In 2001, my best friend’s sister was about to give birth to her second child, and she invited me, CLH, and a choice few other folks to be present for the birth, which was to take place in her home. And sure enough, it was all my worst nightmares come true. I could hear the wails of pain from blocks away. I was nearly frozen with fear before I even stepped foot in the house. When I got inside, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My friend’s sister volleyed back and forth between gut wrenching moans and making happy, idle chatter as the contractions got closer and closer together. I was beside myself with fear and confusion. My modesty radar self destructed as this naked woman let herself be led from one position to another by the midwife, and finally into the birthing tub by a small army of people. Naked! Naked, pregnant, and wailing and moaning like she was dying. I didn’t know what to pass out from, the primal fear this wailing triggered, or having my mind implode at the sight of so much pubic hair in public.

And then the baby came. And no one died. And the sister was in control of her birth experience the whole time. And she was happy afterwards. Really, really happy. And the baby was happy. And both were healthy. And the world didn’t explode and no one bled to death and I made it out without fainting.

And it was after that birth that I got to thinking, wait a minute. That wasn’t so bad. Which led naturally to, Hmmm. Hold on a second. I could probably do that. Drastic, right? Like, what kind of a logical jump is that? Like, I, too, could probably skydive over an active volcano blindfolded! But I’ve figured out that it’s not logical, this whole child-rearing thing. It’s supposed to do things like turn your world upside down and make you think that pushing a wiggly, pokey, bundle of flesh out of your body while being consumed by the worst pain of your life is actually rewarding.

Which is why I eventually had to shove aside the stream of unending questions that issued forth from my over-thinking brain after witnessing this birth. Like how on earth am I going to calm a crying baby in public? A crying baby that doesn’t speak English. Or spend leisurely hours in the ethnic food aisle at the supermarket with a toddler? Or listen to This American Life uninterrupted EVER AGAIN? How am I going to take a shower when it is old enough to crawl? Doesn’t the baby need 24 hour supervision? Doesn’t it have the ability to snap its own neck? Doesn’t it suffocate when it’s laid on its back before the age of six months? Or is it the stomach? JEEEZUS, I DON’T KNOW, JUST LIKE I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE HONEY AND THE BOTULISM. And the next thing I know, I am tearing my hair out and screaming, Oh Dear God, I’ve killed my baby because I wanted to take a shower.


And I tell you all this because I feel so honored to be in this baby’s life with this entirely new perspective on parenting. It makes being here feel like I’ve worked through a lot of issues and come out the other side a little more wise, and a little more, well, adult. And it gives me an enormous appreciation for the hard work it takes to be a parent. And that sometimes, despite your best efforts, your kids still do things to disappoint or embarrass you. All your lessons about manners and appropriate public behavior go right out the window and you have to just regroup and start over and that’s okay too. And that, sometimes, your greatest work can come undone in the meat department of an Acme Supermarket.

So, my sister and I are standing in front of the fish case at the Acme supermarket here in Strathmere after a long day of driving. We’re making a special seafood dinner for Steve and Renee and we’re arguing over the amount of shrimp we need. The supermarket is so poorly stocked, we’re wondering if there’s been a war down here in Strathmere and that Steve and Renee just forgot to tell us. We’re hot, we’re tired, we’ve got low blood sugar, and we’re trying to make a dinner out of mouthwash, flounder, and ice cream, the only things left in this supermarket. While we’re waiting for our fish to be weighed and packaged, a group of three adults and a boy come down an aisle and pause a few feet away. The boy looks to be about five years old or so. He slithers away from the adults, and while they are talking groceries, he furtively writes something in the condensation on the outside of the meat case. He scurries away, thinking that no one has seen him. But of course, having been around a newborn for a few hours, my mommy senses are heightened, my kid-tracking-beam is turned up to eleven, and I have been watching this kid out of the corner of my eye the whole time.

The shrimp is handed to us just as this kid sidles up to his adult supervision, and suddenly, I see what he’s written on the glass.

maet butt.

The kid has written “maet butt” on the glass.

I’ll spell it once more just in case you’re not wiping the tears out of your eyes yet: maet butt.

And suddenly, all the fury inside my sister and I over how much shrimp to buy and the fact that we’re starving but there’s not one piece of edible produce in the whole joint… well, that just melts right out of us and we are holding our sides we are laughing so hard at maet butt.

Because THAT little prank? That is what makes all the hemorrhoids in the world ALL worth it.

Welcome to the world, little Tre.