Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Day in the Life: At Home During the Time of Covid-19

A reminder for my future self: This was Monday, May 18. The Monday of the last week of school work. This is not representative of what most of our time at home was like, because David had to go into the school and open it up to sort and label students' belongings so all their things can be picked up this week. But it's still representative of what our schedules are like--we have a routine, but it's never quite the same from one day to the next--and the struggle to balance working from home, kids doing distance learning, and a baby/toddler on the loose with her own agenda.

6:43 am – everyone is waking up and we are getting out of bed. G has been in her crib all night but D brought her into our bed around 5:30 am to get her to sleep just a little bit longer. David is heading to work today because he has to open up the building and gather students’ belongings to return. I change G and then start my day by checking my email instead of doing yoga because I need to get some work done before David leaves.

7:15 am – I make it downstairs to discover Bubba has had a pee accident in the kitchen, so I’ll be mopping the floor with the steam mop. I put G in her high chair, run the vacuum, and plug in the mop.

7:45 am – David leaves for work. The girls were fighting (viciously) but are now playing happily outside. They haven’t had breakfast, but I want to let the floors dry completely before calling them in to eat.

7:50 am – I’m enjoying my coffee. G is in her high chair eating toast with strawberry preserves and is covered in strawberry. I’m taking a minute to check email and make a list of work priorities for the day, knowing that my window for working will be nap time until D gets home.

8:04 am – G has finished breakfast. I wipe her down and lift her out of the high chair. While I am cleaning the high chair, she gets into the pantry, opens a jar of Galena Street Rib & Chicken Rub Seasoning from Penzy’s and pours a good portion of it on her lap and the floor. I hold her over the sink to brush off her pants and then vacuum the spices and close the pantry with our makeshift baby lock (a giant carabiner clip).

8:30 am – Coco is in her Zoom meeting with her Montessori class (3-6 year olds). Her teacher is preparing the children who will return to school for the summer session for the new routines and systems that will be in place. She shows the children her mask: “Do I look the same?” (A screen full of muted preschoolers shake their heads no). “But can you hear my voice? Am I still me?” (They all nod yes and I get so teary-eyed I go to the laundry room under the pretext of checking the dryer).

8:45 am – as part of the morning meeting, Coco shows her class the art gallery she made for her final kindergarten unit and talks about each artwork—the genre, the medium, why she likes it. We’ve taped her work to the basement wall, but G starts ripping the pieces down as Coco is trying to describe them. I’m holding the laptop so Coco can talk about her work, so I balance it in one hand while trying to hold G back from ripping construction paper. I realize I have no idea what Zuzu is doing, and I could really use her help entertaining the baby.

9:00 am – Art gallery tour over, I find Zuzu asleep on the couch. She stayed up too late last night and got up early this morning. I leave her for now and go to the kitchen to finish cleaning up breakfast and wiping down the table. I check my e-mail and do a couple quick replies, and switch the laundry.

9:15 am – I take G upstairs for a nap.

9:30 am – G is not yet asleep, but it’s time for Coco to read with her teacher, so I dump G in the crib and temporarily ignore her protests while getting Coco set up on Zoom in the other bedroom. Coco reads aloud to her teacher while I go back in and rock G.

9:45 am – G is asleep. Coco is finished reading, is now wearing a mermaid tail skirt, and absorbed in a  pretend game in the book room. Zuzu is still asleep on the couch. I try to rouse her for her 10am class meeting. She does not want to wake up. I remind her it’s the last week of school. She tells me she’ll go to the Wednesday meeting instead. I give up and settle in to get some of my own work done.

10:30 am – I’ve gotten caught up on email and G and Zuzu are both napping. Coco has been outside singing to herself.

11:00 am – Coco comes in and asks if she can get on the ipad. I’m researching potential reading lists and articles for the class I’m teaching this fall, G and Z are both still sleeping (!) so I agree. She sits quietly on the couch next to me and Zuzu snoozes next to me while I work. D calls to see how things are going—very smoothly so far!

12:00 pm – Lunch time. Coco helps me make scrambled eggs and toast and I slice strawberries and apples. We wake up Zuzu to come eat. G is taking an unusually long nap, so now everyone is completely off schedule. Perfect!

12:30 pm – G wakes up. Coco goes up to play with her while I finish cleaning up lunch. Zuzu starts her homework. Today she is supposed to write in her journal, read for 15 minutes, do 15 minutes of math, revise the short story she wrote a couple weeks ago, and do some more research on a native American tribe. I’m only enforcing the first three things. It’s the last week of school—reading, 'riting,and 'rithmatic is all I have the patience for.

12:40 pm – I get G out of her crib and change her diaper. Both of her sisters want to play with her, so I encourage Zuzu to finish her journal entry first. She’s telling her teacher about the book she’s reading—so cute.

1:00 pm – G eats lunch. She’s a good eater. Today it’s turkey meatball and cauliflower. Whole milk mixed with some breast milk I had frozen. And sliced strawberries. She eats happily and I sit down to check email on my phone and Facebook.

1:15 pm – I realize with a jolt that Coco has missed the first fifteen minutes of her daily kindergarten meeting. I have an alert set on my phone for 12:50, but must have missed it making G’s lunch. I get Coco logged in belatedly (she actually doesn’t mind missing journal writing time, but I’m embarrassed because shouldn’t I have our schedule more together by now?). She joins just in time to answer the chatting cherry question: "What’s your favorite slushee?" (Her answer: “The red and blue one. Because it’s Caroline’s favorite, too.”)  They talk about the plans for graduation (nine families attending a socially distant ceremony in a parking lot).

1:20 pm – G has ripped off her bib and tossed the last strawberry slice on the floor, screeching to notify me she is finished eating. The dogs actually aren’t that keen on strawberries and cauliflower, so I take a damp paper towel to the floor under her high chair because my clean up crew is not very helpful. Despite the fact that I steam mopped this morning, the paper towel is gross in a hurry and I wonder if we are so used to living in filth that we can’t see it? It probably should be a clue that I rely on my dogs as clean up crew. Honestly, when I was pregnant and daydreamed about having another baby, I had totally forgotten about high chair messes. Ick.

1:30 pm – I get Coco started on writing her presentation for graduation. She’s going to talk about their space unit. Today’s assignment is to write the opening sentence. She writes, “I like spase.” Check! I continue cleaning the kitchen, pausing to switch the laundry, retrieve G from the dog water, pull G out of the pantry, and fish a random googly eye out of her mouth. When Coco finishes, I deposit G in the living room with her sisters where they encourage her to make high pitched squealing noises by making them back at her. The cacophony is painful and I ask them to go outside.

2:00 pm – finally finish cleaning up the high chair and the rest of the kitchen. I let the girls have yellow cake outside where they are playing with G. Zuzu wants to finish the book she’s reading even though her 15 minutes of required reading are up and I am so relieved and happy about this I can’t even describe it. These are the first books to really, really grab her attention. She liked Zoe and Sassafras, but it’s this Secret Mermaid series from Usborne books that has her hooked. I text her bestie’s parents to see if they can have a Zoom play date at 3pm because this is what it’s like to parent in a dystopian plague.

2:25 pm – Girls back inside. Zuzu working on math in advance of her 3pm deadline. Coco and G playing with toys in the living room. G has a dirty face and a saggy diaper, so I give her face a wipe down and change her.

2:45 pm – Z has finished her math, so I heard all the girls upstairs and supervise the putting away of laundry. We’ve officially moved Zuzu and Coco into the same room, so I remind them whose side is whose in the closet and they put things away in their dresser drawers.

3:00 pm – Zuzu has her “virtual playdate” with her bestie Gemma. I get her logged in and it was cute to see how excited they were. G is getting fussy, so I’m hoping she’ll go down for a nap again. I rock her and use the time to check my work email and then listen to an audio book (The Alice Network – I really liked it even though I wish I could have skipped over one section about WWII atrocities that gave me nightmares).

3:40 pm – G snuggled up to me in the rocking chair but never fell asleep, so I call it quits and unzip her from the sleep sack. I give Zuzu a ten minute warning on wrapping up her zoom playdate and then start organizing the closet in G’s room. It still has some of Coco’s off-season clothes, so I push everything to the right side of the closet and then empty the dresser drawers from the guest room and carry all of G’s clothes in to hang them up or put them in bins on the closet shelves. I realize she is very short on pants that fit. Compared to her sisters, she hardly has any clothes at all! But since we never go anywhere and she gets so filthy playing outside that I often strip her down, she should get through the summer just fine. I feel a wave of nostalgia for all the fun I had dressing up Zuzu in cute coordinating baby and toddler clothes to go today care, where the teachers would always make such a fuss over her outfit of the day.

4:00 pm – I pop into the girls’ bedroom and have Zuzu tell Gemma goodbye. Zuzu and Coco change their clothes and they have Alexa play the soundtrack to Frozen II. They sing and dance along in front of the mirror. I go back to G’s room to keep sorting and organizing the closet, and G staggers back and forth between rooms, happy to play with her sisters and then check in with me and attempt to undo the piles I’ve made.

4:45 pm – Closet is pretty well put together. David texts that he is on his way home. I take G down to the kitchen and give her her favorite snack: graham cracker with cream cheese.

5:00 pm – D gets home and heads for the shower. He’s brought some model magic for the girls, so they come down to the kitchen. G is cleaned up and out of the high chair, but crabby because she didn’t take the nap she needed.

5:15 pm – D is out of the shower so I head upstairs to get a little more work done before dinner. I just have a couple of things to finish up and it doesn't take long.

5:45 pm – I leave with the screechy G to take a stroller walk and listen to a podcast (Young House Love). D is making dinner. Spaghetti squash with spinach artichoke sauce. The girls get pasta and chicken strips.

6:15 pm – Three loops around the adjacent neighborhood and G and I get back home. Our dinner has a few more minutes to go, so Coco and I drive up to her school to pick up her belongings. They’re doing a no contact pick up outside and everyone’s name is written in chalk on the sidewalk with a bag of their school supplies and extra clothes. I snag her snow boots out of the lost and found, as the stickers with her name on them have peeled off. I can’t believe she’s never going back to school there. It should feel sad but it just feels kind of surreal. I wave to a couple other parents and teachers as we all keep our distance and I toss the bags and boots in the back of the car. Coco is very upbeat and quizzes me all the way home: “How much did you practice to learn to drive?" (a year) "What car did you drive?" (Grammy’s car) "Did you crash into a lot of things?" (Well, once I drove my boyfriend’s truck into a ditch) "What’s a ditch?" (a slope off the side of the road) "Who was your boyfriend?" (His name was Matt.) "And then you traded him for Daddy?" (Uh. Well, sort of.) "Because Daddy gets you all the things you want. Like food from the store." (Yes. Exactly.)

6:35 pm – We arrive home and David and I eat dinner. G is toddling around everywhere and getting whiny again. Zuzu is ignoring David’s request to bring the ipad downstairs and plug it in for the night so she loses all screen privileges for the night, which is a bummer for me because I wanted to watch She-Ra with her on Netflix.

7:00 pm – Kitchen is cleaned up so we head upstairs with a load of towels and the baby. I nurse G and then David rocks her to sleep while I play bad cop and confiscate the ipad. The girls are mad and they stomp off down to the basemen. I put away the towels and pull a few clean clothes off the top of the girls’ dirty clothes basket, feeling a surge of rage that SOME PEOPLE think cleaning up just means throwing CLEAN CLOTHES in the laundry and making MORE WORK FOR ME.

7:30 pm – I do a yoga with Adriene video. Clearly I needed it. G is asleep. David scrolls his phone on the couch and the big girls are playing in the basement.

8:00 pm – David takes the big girls up to bed. I take a break from downward dog to give them hugs and kisses. I turn on the last half of an episode of Younger on Hulu and lounge on the acupressure mat I bought from Amazon a couple years ago.

8:30 pm – David returns to the sofa. He turns on John Oliver. I pour a glass of wine and grab my laptop for a last check on email and I'm able to wrap up my loose ends from earlier today, which is very satisfying. David and I talk a little bit about our day and how much we miss President Obama.

9:03 pm – G wakes up and crying comes through the monitor. Normally I’d go up and get her, but I happen to get a phone call from a coworker/friend at the same time, so D goes up.

9:15 pm - G's asleep again, I'm off the phone, and D turns on The Last Dance. He's really into it and I'm half into it, so I watch while also doing some phone scrolling. Primary is having a big sale, so I buy G two swim diapers and footie jammies. I also order myself a used copy of Forever by Judy Blume from AbeBooks because I might teach it in a banned books class this fall.

9:45 pm - We let the dogs out to pee, then put Clem in her house and Coop settles on his bed. David and I head upstairs. He goes to bed (and falls asleep instantly, per usual) while I take a shower and wash my hair. I blow dry my bangs and go to bed with the rest of my hair wet.

10:00 pm  - I read in bed. First a couple chapters of a novel and then an essay in Malcolm Gladwell's book Talking to Strangers

10:43 pm - Lights out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Dispatches from Home Quarantine: Mother's Day 2020, Baby G Update, Odds & Ends

Sometimes I wonder if I actually have feelings or if I am merely reflecting the weather because today's rain has me feeling bleak even though nothing has really changed.

This was the first year that I didn't feel compelled to excavate my feelings about mother's day on the blog. It's still a complicated and emotional day for me, but this year felt... okay.

I was talking to David last night about how before G was born, families with three kids always made me feel a pang of jealousy. I assumed it was obvious: if Eliza hadn't died, we would be a family with three kids (I mean... there's no way to know what would have happened if Eliza hadn't died, but you get my drift). Anytime I heard of someone being pregnant or having a baby, I felt a similar pang. A wistful feeling of "if only..."

Since G has been born, I feel none of that. If anything, that kid has given me a gift in knowing that I am so 100% completely uninterested in having another child ever.

I hope that doesn't come off as insensitive. My best friend now has two children after more than two rounds of IVF and a pretty harrowing pregnancy this last time around. She told me if they had frozen embryos and funds to pursue another transfer that she'd do it in a heartbeat. That made me ache, because she's an amazing mom and she makes delightful people.

I am so incredibly relieved to know that I will never, ever be pregnant again.

This is weird talk for Mother's Day reflections.

I should also say that it was such a delightful day. We didn't have to go anywhere--even to church, which I realize now has still felt pretty loaded. I woke up and did my yoga and had my coffee. The girls treated me to a "spa day" of manicure and pedicure and hair styling. It was the opposite of relaxing, but I loved it. David made a delicious brunch with omelettes and French toast and pineapple juice mimosas.

When G woke from her nap, we went to see Eliza's tree in Forest Park. They hadn't mowed around it so we couldn't really sit by it for pictures (the weeds were literally taller than Genevieve) but we took a photo several yards down the hill. It was a chilly, windy, cloudy day, so we didn't stay long a the park, but I was so glad that we went.

We came home, watched the original Mary Poppins, and I did a lot of reading, which was nice because I've kind of had a hard time reading since this whole pandemic started.

I'm anxious about school starting again in the fall. Honestly, I'm bracing myself for us not going back. It is hard to imagine that the university will be ready to open again, and that worries me as well. I've been asked to teach a class this fall that I'm really looking forward to, but it's likely to be online, which is certainly much less fun. And I'm just speculating here--no one has said anything for certain, but the uncertainty is stressful.

And what about G? Will she ever go back to her babysitter? Will we extend her time at her babysitter instead of enrolling her in preschool so that she's only exposed to two other kids instead of 20?

What will this summer look like? Will we go anywhere? Will there be another big spike? Are they discovering the virus is dangerous for kids, it just looks different than it does for adults? It's still deadly, even if hospitals aren't overwhelmed, so when will we feel safe again? Are we going to wait for a vaccine? How long will that be? Why is this virus so mysterious? When will there be enough testing?

I know everyone has these same questions but no one has clear answers and it's so frustrating, even as we are perfectly comfortable at home except for the general quarantine fatigue and of course the ongoing existential crisis.

Although my whole mother's day was great, the highlight was bedtime when I read a story to Coco and Zuzu and then Coco read aloud while I read my book... and Zuzu read her own book to herself! Unprompted with no nagging or encouragement from me! I ordered her a Secret Mermaids book from an Usborne book party and it is literally the first book she has read start to finish all on her own. I am beyond thrilled. Thrilled enough to order her the next three in the series (they end on a cliffhanger, so she asked for the next book).

Genevieve is a tornado, into absolutely everything she can get into. Pantry door left ajar? She's pulled out spices, intent on trying to twist off their lids. She actually succeeded in getting the lid off an extra-large bottle of vegetable oil and pouring it all over herself and the floor. Talk about a mess--have you ever tried to clean up a half gallon of oil on hardwood floors?

Last year, a friend of mine had a very active toddler. I laughed in astonishment when she told me that he liked to splash in the toilets. My kids would never!


Guess where we recently found Genevieve, elbow deep? And now she makes a beeline for it every time. We have to keep all bathroom doors closed.

She unspools toilet paper, rips book pages, ravages Lego sets, and scatters puzzle pieces. If she can reach it, she's wreaking havoc on it. I wonder if we would view her as such a wild child if we were going to work? I have to imagine that with less time at home and more out-of-the-house activities on weekends, we might never see the destruction she can accomplish in a remarkably short amount of time. So I am celebrating her wild ways, even though it's maddening that we can't seem to remember to keep the laundry room door shut and keep her out of the dog water!

More horrifying is the list of things I've had to dig out of her mouth--wads of toilet paper, a bitten off chunk of eraser, a fake plastic coin, a googly eye... I swear I'm constantly scanning the floor for choking hazards, but she is quick and has sharp eyes. Most horrifying of all was the other night after bath, when I watched to make sure she got down the stairs safely, then went to turn off the bathroom light. I heard her gag and came running to see what happened, but she started crying immediately. This was a relief, since I knew she was choking, and then I was gagging because I discovered she was holding a small dog turd in her hand and had evidently tasted it.

(Why was there a dog turd in the house? Because Cooper had inexplicably decided to climb the stairs and apparently the effort made him poop out a little turd, which he left behind on the bottom step.)

We googled poison control and "what to do if baby eats dog poop." It made me feel slightly better to know that babies actually eat human, dog, cat, and bird feces fairly regularly, according to all of the google results. But there's not much danger of toxicity and you just need to watch for vomiting and diarrhea in the next 30 minutes to 4 hours. I'm pretty sure she'd barely tasted it and hadn't actually swallowed any, and she had no adverse side effects, so I guess we dodged that bullet.

G's one year doctor appointment was Monday and it was also bizarre. We had to go in a different entrance to the doctor's building at the hospital and have our temperatures taken before we could enter. I had to wear a mask. I got a green sticker indicating that I didn't have a fever. There was no furniture or toys or books in the doctor's waiting room. We went right back to the exam room, where G careened around pushing the stroller and the doctor's stool, crawled everywhere, and ripped the paper on the exam bench to shreds.

She measured 31" and weighed 21lbs, which puts her in the 95th percentile for height (what?!) and the 75 percentile for weight (a giant among one year olds!). Her head measured in the 60th percentile. And her iron levels were perfect, even though I haven't been giving her iron supplements. She's growing beautifully and she even giggled when the doctor pushed gently on her tummy, which was adorable. She has a mouth full of chompers, so I really need to start brushing all six of her pearly white teeth.

Zuzu and Coco are both still hanging in there with remote learning. I've backed off Zuzu and she's basically choosing herself what gets done each day. I figure now is as good a time as any for her to have intrinsic motivation. Really I just can't stress out about second grade school work.

Coco misses her friends so much and tells me that she likes school at school better than school at home. Which, yeah. Me too. She's doing the art unit right now in kindergarten and she enjoys it once she gets going, but it's hard to get started.

Fortunately, they still love playing with each other and they are pretty good about being entertained by Legos and puzzles and dolls and characters. Last week we had a pretty ugly meltdown after way too much screen time and we took a screen time hiatus on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday except for viewing Mary Poppins. It was a much needed reset.

David has to go into the building next week to bag up student belongings and distribute them. He'll be there for a good chunk of every day. I'm asking my parents to come up because there's just no way I can manage three kids and work from home on my own. I know there are people who have no choice and may be unable to expand their quarantine crew to include grandparents and I just don't know how they are managing. We may all be in this together, but we're also seeing how uneven and inequitable the distribution of access, support, and supplies. It's distressing, especially as there is no end in sight.

Trying to end this on a positive note, though! So I'll just say how grateful I am that my tenth mother's day being a mom was the sweetest one yet, that my house is so busy and noisy and fun, that we still have some blessed quiet time after the girls are asleep each night, and that my friend Michelle and I did a no-contact book swap so that I have some new reading material.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Right Now and What's Next

I keep thinking of ways that this experience is shaping my children's lives in ways that might have real and lasting impacts. Like, hopefully they'll be very good handwashers. But also, they might never touch people.

The other night we were up at the top of our driveway, the girls riding bikes in circles around the cul-de-sac. (Coco crashed into a parked car, but otherwise it was breezy and delightful). G sat contentedly in the stroller and the weather was beautiful. A neighbor came out to check his mail and we chatted from a social distance and David asked him if he was the one who has chickens.

(We miss our chickens but the woods around our house now are so full of predators that we feel like if we couldn't keep chickens safe from raccoons in the city, how could we keep them safe from hawks and raccoons and foxes out here?)

Anyway, he offered to show David his set up so David headed over into his yard and the guy stuck out his hand and introduced himself and David shook his hand and this is so NORMAL (in the pre-Covid world) that I didn't even realize what had happened until both girls looked at me, wide-eyed, and Coco said, "DADDY TOUCHED THAT MAN."

David said later that he couldn't believe he did it, but he just totally forgot and went into social autopilot and then only realized later what he had done.

Social distancing is hard, folks. We are wired to want to gather and need each other.

My friend Kristin made some dire predictions in a Zoom call last night about the future of churches and universities--and I'm afraid the same could apply to theaters and concert venues and sports stadiums. All places where we all gather in close proximity in order to be in close community--these are supposed to be places we go for connection and inspiration and entertainment and to be in community relation with one another, following and respecting a certain set of rules appropriate for that situation. And now places like that feel threatening. How does a church come back from that when it is built around the idea of gathering together? I love our minister's sermons, and they are still thoughtful and interesting when she records them and posts them online. But it's not the same as gathering together and sharing the experience and having it function as a weekly event for our family.

This article explains a lot about the Zoom fatigue I'm feeling and I'm sure lots of other people are, too. I don't mind Zooming as much with students, where it's less personal and I'm just there to answer their questions and offer some guidance. But even though I love happy hours with friends, it also is such a flimsy substitute for the real thing. There are moments when I'm surprised at how fun it still is--like the call I was on with friends last night!--but it also makes me miss the real thing.

I admit I love the gift of time--mornings without a commute, being home with G as she takes her first steps (she just did last week!), time to tackle these house projects--but I'm also missing a sense of ownership of my time. I'm constantly interrupted. While I'm fortunate to be able to parcel out my job in short increments and work in blocks of time throughout the day, pausing frequently to start Zoom calls for the kids or regulate how much time they've spent on the ipad, or put the baby down for a nap, it's also challenging and exhausting in a different way.

I've been thinking about how tricky things will be when some states start lifting stay at home orders while others don't. When it will be up to individuals how much we go out and how much we social distance. Without clear rules to follow and without any sort of competent leadership on the federal level, we each have to do our own research and use our best judgment. We plan to be pretty conservative about this. We want to see my parents, which means that we will need to keep our social distance in other ways so that we don't put them at risk. But honestly, I've read enough articles about young people with no pre-existing health conditions to worry about our health, too.

It's already heartbreaking to tell the girls they can't play with the neighbor kids. There's a family nearby who doesn't seem to be as concerned about social distancing as we are. Zuzu knows the kids from school, but I don't know the parents, so I don't know if they are essential workers or working from home, but they are apparently relaxed about their kids socializing and it stresses me out. Zuzu told me yesterday I was the "worst mom in the world." It's only going to get harder when our state opens back up (far too soon, as far as I'm concerned) and other people think that means it's all fine, but we're still imposing our own rules about social distancing... I don't want to look like a jerk or a mean mom, but I'm not going to be comfortable with our kids playing with other kids right away.

Coco told me yesterday, "Mommy, I don't really like school. Well, I like my school when I can be there and see my friends and touch them."

Her teachers are working so hard to stay in touch and keep the kids learning, but she's tired of screens and easily bored during class time. She just doesn't connect as much to what the teachers are saying when it's not in person. She has quit singing in her morning meeting because she can see that she is muted. I am not pushing her on it, because I know that she really is grieving and I get it. I'd like to see my friends and touch them, too.

I'm worried about my job and the future of many universities in our country. I've taken online classes and it's not that you can't learn material in them, but the experience is so dramatically different. I just think there's more to higher education than working in isolation in your home. Public schools right now are preparing to go back as usual in August, but also expecting they will end up doing remote learning at some point in the fall when there's a resurgence of Covid-19 cases (and there will be, as soon as we stop social distancing). Universities aren't as agile--students are living on campus and living in close proximity and coming from far away places and paying steep tuition with the expectation of certain experiences--including rec center and gyms and, on our campus, Catholic mass. They'll have to make the call about whether to delay the start of the semester or move the whole thing online because it's so hard to pivot mid-semester. And then what? How many freshmen will defer rather than start their college career online? (I would.) What will this do to enrollment and graduation plans?

I'm a homebody and I have a baby and staying at home in general has not been terribly taxing for me. But I'm itching for a library visit. My biggest regret is not running to the library the night before they all closed. I just never dreamed at the time that they would be closed this long! I so wish we do put in requests and do curb-side pick up, although I understand that's asking a great deal of librarians. I would love to pick up some new kitchen towels and wash cloths at Home Goods. I asked David if he thought we'd be able to go out to dinner for my birthday--knowing that he has no more idea than I do what the end of July is going to look like.

Anyway, these are the things floating around in my head right now. Recording them for posterity.

I have been listening to Kelly Corrigan's BYOB happy hours on Instagram (or Facebook--if you're not tuning in, I highly recommend! Her April 24 talk about readers made me get teary-eyed.) Anyway, she also talked yesterday about how our children will remember this experience. This will be something they carry with them forever, and I just hope that my kids remember the moments of playing together, of exploring the big hill behind our neighborhood, of riding their bikes, roller skating on our deck, celebrating G's milestones, planting flower seeds on Earth day, and, yes, even getting more screen time than usual.

Zuzu is filling out a Covid-19 time capsule (I printed one for each kid, but Coco is not interested, so I haven't pushed it). When she writes about her feelings, she always picks the neutral face--not happy or sad. She also wrote that she feels "happy and scared." I asked why she was scared and she said that she is scared someone in our family will "get coronavirus and pass away. Especially Daddy because he's over 40." She is not a particularly anxious kid (she also screamed at me, "I don't care! It's not even hurting kids!" yesterday when I told her she can't play with the neighbor girls), but she's absorbing our concerns probably more than I realize.

This is such a strange moment in time. To be alive, to be a parent, to be a kid. David is mourning major league baseball and his men's baseball league. I'm waiting to hear that the Alanis Morissette concern I've been looking forward to for months will be canceled, and I expect my birthday celebration won't be happening, either. All of my friends are canceling their summer vacation plans. (As a new employee, I didn't have any vacation time until July and we had no big travel plans, but I still planned to take off the week of my birthday and do stay-cation stuff.)

Everything continues to feel uncertain. I remember from therapy when I would feel overwhelmed and panicky with grief to practice mindfulness. Basically, going through the five senses and making note of what you're experiencing now in this moment so that you can stop obsessing about unknowns.

I see wet green leaves outside, tree branches stretching to a gray sky, a blacktop driveway shining with rain water, Cooper curled up on the carpet near me, Clementine snoring in the red chair, lovely white bookcases filled with book and photos.

I hear little girl voices in the next room, playing with dolls, occasionally arguing. I hear the soft buzz of a fan drying carpets that David cleaned with the wet vac carpet cleaner because we're all here all the time and our cream-colored carpets just get filthy no matter how often we vacuum. I hear the more staticky buzz of the baby monitor, carrying faintly the sound of the white-noise fan we have running in the bedroom upstairs while G takes her morning nap.

I smell the face mask I have smeared on, which promises to be "brightening and restorative" or something like and smells faintly of brown sugar.

I'm tasting my coffee, which is almost too cool to be appealing. I drink it black and usually I put it in a travel mug to keep it warm and prevent spills as I make my way through my morning sipping it, but since it's Saturday, I poured it into my favorite mug, which is shaped like this, and was a birthday gift one year from my brother and SIL, from a sweet little gift shop in the beach town of Holden, NC.

I feel the softness of the sofa beneath me, the smooth top of the coffee table on which my legs are resting, the all-too-familiar weight and warmth of the laptop across my thighs. 

And there we go. Back in the present moment. I'm ready to shut down the laptop and close the screen until Monday morning. Ready to be here for this day.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Things Undone

I started a blogpost on Monday that was going to be a "Day in the Life" kind of entry as a memento of life in CV-19, but then right after lunch I threw up and everything went sideways from there.

I'm feeling much better, but it is scary to feel sick right now. I fell asleep right after reading an article about how yeah, maybe, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be the first symptom of Covid-19 for some people and my predictable sleeping brain had a very detailed and realistic dream about how I did have it and I was going to have to retrace my steps to warn everyone I had come into contact with, which was particularly complicated because I had hitch-hiked to my friend Natasha's son's birthday party. In Texas.

Anyway, I never had a fever and I am pretty sure it was something I ate (no salad for me for a while!), but still unsettling. To my guts and my brain.

I let Coco sleep through her kindergarten Zoom this afternoon. She's been less and less engaged with the Zoom meetings. Her teachers do a great job with them--they keep them to 30 minutes and the kids are actually doing things, not just watching or listening. But we all know it's not the same and I think she's feeling the same screen fatigue that I am. At least, I know that I could happily snooze on the couch for a couple of hours if everyone would just leave me the hell alone!

It's a gift to be needed. I know this. It's just the kind of gift that makes you feel a little tired and claustrophobic sometimes.

Zuzu had a social studies assignment to "research an inventor or pioneer" with links to specific sites/apps/online books. So she went to the first one, searched "inventor" per the directions and chose one of the people whose name popped up. She picked Ruby Bridges, probably because we have a book about her so she knew her story already. I would definitely consider Ruby Bridges a pioneer, so this seemed great. But then in every other post about this assignment, her teacher only mentioned "an inventor" and in the final assignment she instructed the children to be sure to give the name of the inventor and what they invented. Zuzu didn't seem to care so I decided not to care either. The academic performer in me REALLY wants to Zuzu to give more of a shit, honestly, but the actual person who is trying to work and parent and maintain a reasonable level of sanity was just thrilled that Zuzu worked her on her final project 100% on her own with zero input from me and it was all accurate. She chose to make a poster and then a video of herself telling all about the poster. Adorable.

In some ways, I feel like second grade is really tricky because she is independent enough to work the computer entirely on her own and to actually say to me with her actual voice, "I don't need you up in my business, Mom!" but she's not reading all the directions carefully and she does need a lot of guidance and reminders, so she literally DOES need her parents all up in her business. So she can't work entirely independently, but she's still old enough that I feel like she needs to be engaged with schoolwork so she doesn't fall behind.

Kindergarten feels easier. Coco is doing well with her reading and well enough with math and I am pretty sure she can coast into first grade okay even though she missed the lesson today on complementary colors.

I am sad about kindergarten, though, because it's her last year at her little Montessori school and they do so many really awesome projects and field trips with the kindergarteners, and Coco knows what's she's missing because she watched Zuzu do all of it two years ago, when she was just a three year old who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up always answered, "A kindergartner." And it's her last year in school with her sweet little best friend Evelyn, who has been her very best friend since they were two-year-olds in the toddler house, and they've lost these final months of being together and playing every day.

Insert obligatory acknowledgement of how privileged and lucky we are to have these problems instead of much more serious and stressful ones, but there's still a real sadness.

And I still have a lot of anxiety about big picture stuff that's totally out of my control. There are places to help where you can (I'm thinking of initiatives like this one) but this also feels like a really low moment that won't turn around fast, and an election year that will be especially weird and ugly.

All I can control in the moment is this house and the people in it, and David has made enchiladas for dinner, and Coco will definitely be staying up to watch Survivor with us since she slept all afternoon, and G will be ready for dinner and snuggles and I'm reading The Lightning Thief to Zuzu, so I'm off to soak it all up.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Real Talk; Baby Talk

Baby G turned 11 months old this week. This means her first birthday is fast approaching. What a year it has been.

In the past eleven months, I had an emergency induction, a three-day-long labor experience while also barfing non-stop from a nasty stomach bug, had my baby admitted to the NICU for low blood sugar, got home after four long, long days and nights in the NICU to an e-mail notifying me that my college campus was closing and I was losing the first and only real job I'd had since finishing graduate school, took an (unpaid) maternity leave through the fall semester, then after a brief return to my old campus, started a new job at a new university in January, only to work there for two and a half months before shifting to remote work (and full-time parenting) from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It's kind of a lot.

G was a super chill baby but she is full on into toddler mode and I would not describe her as "chill." She is a mover and a shaker and a screamer. Her ear piercing shrieks are truly painful at times. I told David the other night that there are a lot of things I will probably miss about her baby days, but being screamed at incessantly during dinner is not one of them.

She's also started resisting naptime, which is giving me Zuzu-flashbacks of the not so pleasant variety. Particularly the astonishing strength with which she arches her back and then goes totally boneless in an effort to slip out of my grasp and onto the floor, presumably so that she can crawl at an top speed directly toward whatever is most life-threatening or disgusting--the top of the stairs, a tiny toy the approximate size of a baby's windpipe that her sisters left on the floor, a wadded up paper towel in the trashcan, the dog's rawhide bone.

She seems unusually and inexplicably irritated by diaper changes, and either attempts to assist by thrusting her chubby little hands down into her crotch, heedless of whatever diaper mess I haven't yet managed to wipe off of her, or tries to refuse all together by twisting her body around and kicking with the force and speed of a young crocodile.

Genevieve also bites, but only me. She's bitten me while nursing a couple of times (not super recently, thankfully) but she will snuggle her head into my shoulder sweetly and then bite my shoulder, and she'll lean her head up against my leg and smile at me and then sink her teeth into my thigh. I'm taking them for love bites, but they still hurt!

Thankfully, she's also a sweet, smiley, charming baby who is quite delightful when she's not screeching, pulling spices out of the pantry, unpacking every cabinet in the kitchen, eating dirt, eating mulch, eating trash, chewing dog bones, climbing stairs, climbing up on the fireplace hearth, or throwing food down from her high chair to the dog. I especially like when she is strapped into the swing! Quiet, content, out of trouble, and out of harm's way!

I'm thankful the other girls have been really good sports about school work. They have really taken this all in stride in a way that is both surprising and impressive. Coco presented on Rosa Parks to her kindergarten class via Zoom. She spends morning line time singing and sharing into the laptop. Zuzu seems to enjoy working independently and choosing the order in which she accomplishes things.

I'm willing to run a loose ship (willing and also it's absolutely necessary), so my version of structure is a checklist they each are asked to complete by the end of the day. They can do it in any order, take breaks in between, and honestly I don't enforce that everything gets done because Mama don't have time for that. This checklist is everything from "make bed" to "attend morning class meeting" virtually, plus "read to Mom or Dad" and then whatever work Zuzu's teacher has assigned. Coco's teacher gives weekly goals, so we put down a couple of those as well, plus the Montessori math and movable alphabet apps on the iPad. We try to cram in as much as possible before lunch and I find that I am able to get more of my work done in the afternoon, when the baby sleeps a pretty predictable stretch of time and the girls are happy to wrap up schoolwork and go play without close parental supervision.

Coco told me she needs a break (maybe her to-do list was overwhelming her?) so there's nothing on the list besides her Zoom meetings and reading and playing a game.

Zuzu has a much longer list, but seems to enjoy most of it. We've started reading Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief and it's maybe a little intense for her (I didn't expect his mom to die!) but she's fascinated and hasn't asked me to stop reading (yet?). In fact, she pulled out her two books about Greek mythology today and said, "Mom, can you add 'Study Greek mythology' to my list?" and my heart exploded. She then said she'll look for a Greek mythology book in Epic (her online library from school).

It totally makes up for the stomping and door slamming that occurred yesterday when I dared to suggest she practice typing on the home row keys, as her teacher instructed. Typing is the only subject causing tension!

Overall, things are not so bad here, although work is definitely bleeding into home life. I frequently find myself returning e-mail or jotting down conference presentation ideas at 10:00pm, as uninterrupted time during daylight hours is at a minimum. I'm so, so grateful for nice weather and a yard so we can be outside. I know we are more fortunate than many and my head swirls with the huge repercussions this pandemic will have and the way it's already exposing the rifts and fissures in our social fabric.

Even with all the awareness of my good fortune, by late afternoon I'm usually coming unglued a little bit. I like so many things about being home with my kids but I really, really miss the ability to sustain a thought without being interrupted. One bright spot is that I have introduced the girls to vintage Full House on Hulu, which they like although Coco has no patience for all the commercials. We also watched the Pixar film Onward last weekend (along with so many other families in my social media feed!) and I loved it.

We are very motivated with house projects, although those are mostly defining our weekends. I spent all of last Saturday painting with David on kid duty and then we switched on Sunday. At this rate we will have painted all of the downstairs trim and possibly the kitchen cabinets by the end of April. I am thinking about wall-papering the half-bath and then it might be time to figure out how to fully move Coco into Zuzu's room and move Genevieve out of our room and into the little bedroom.

I'm not getting as much reading done as I would like. I think that's also because of the way work is bleeding through regular work hours because life/parenting is part of work hours so I end up checking work e-mail instead of picking up a book. I need to solve this problem. I'm reading Priestdaddy and I'm loving it. My book club was supposed to discuss it this month. I guess we need to decide if we are going to meet via Zoom. I have a love/hate with socializing via Zoom because I DO love seeing my friends' faces and catching up, but oh my gosh I would prefer to do this in person.

And my kids just had this conversation, which started about a mean character in The Happy Hollisters who tries to harm a cat.

Zuzu: If I was Joey Brill's big sister, I'd say, "Bro. If you do that one more time--"
Coco: I'll kill you.
Zuzu: No. Well, that's mean. And I don't know how to kill someone.
Coco: You just find a gun and shoot it in their face.
(pause... I'm in shocked silence, Zuzu seems to be mulling over this option.)
Zuzu: Well, you'd have to do that like ten times to kill them. And I'd probably get caught.
Coco: By the police?
Zuzu: Well, yeah.
Coco: And you'd have to find a gun.

It's a lot to unpack and I haven't even finished my cup of coffee.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A New Focus

This pandemic has certainly highlighted what is most important and where we want to invest our JB time and energy. It’s v true that without our health there is little else that really matters. After spending all of this time at home with my family, I’m also finding a real rhythm in overseeing the girls’ schoolwork.

There is something so satisfying about setting up baking soda and vinegar science experiments—mess be damned! Or feeling especially proud when my second grader negotiates a few more minutes of screen time—because this time it’s a math game on her chrome book.

David and I started talking about this idea last week, but today things really fell into place. After the traumatic closing of my campus and the transition to a new job, this quarantine has illuminated for me where I really want to be. It has surprised me perhaps more than anyone, but we are going to move forward on this new adventure of home schooling until the girls start high school! I’ll be teaching them everything and we’ll never spend any time apart! It just feels like the right thing for our family since we all thrive on a lack of structure.


Did you already guess this was an April Fools post?

No disrespect to those who choose to homeschool—I have some good friends who do! I know it works for some families, so good on them. And there really are parts that are fun. But whew. After an emotional stand off with Zuzu regarding how much she can use the chrome book (even doing math games), I am spent for the day. We continue to be philosophically and actually committed to public schools! No foolin’.

I realized belatedly today that I showed up on Coco’s kindergarten zoom session wearing a shirt that says “Big Labia Energy.” Fortunately it was written in cursive, so probably only the teachers could read it?

Old pic of Zuzu. Popped up on my phone and just thought I’d share.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March ??: Groundhog Day

Working at home continues, punctuated every 30 seconds by a baby screeching, a kid yelling, "Mom," or Coco crying because she has been physically or emotionally injured.

Today, G decided to mix things up by getting into the kitchen trash can while I was logging Coco into her morning Zoom meeting. When I walked back around the kitchen counter, I found her sucking on a granola bar wrapper.

Yesterday, the weather was beautiful and I did yoga out on the deck on my lunch hour. This makes working at home feel blissful.

Yesterday, my five year old interrupted a Zoom advising meeting I was having with a student to ask me if she could have a fruit roll-up. This makes working at home feel less desirable.

The truth is I have nothing to complain about here, but I feel very worried on behalf of other people. I am limiting my risk and exposure, but I'm still afraid of getting sick. I had to go pick up a prescription at Walgreens yesterday and while I was out, I went to Home Depot to get a few things we needed to finish painting all the trim in our house. I realized I was actually very, very paranoid about getting sick. I kept my shirt sleeves pulled down over my hands and left my sunglasses on to help me remember to not touch my face. I carried two handiwipes in my pockets so I could wipe my hands after using the self-checkout. Everything I touched felt like a potential threat--a surface on which a virus could be lingering. When I got home, I immediately used the neti-pot, thinking I might flush out any airborne germs from my nose, and then took a shower, tossing my clothes in the laundry basket for them to sit untouched for three days.

Was it an overreaction? Probably. But that's the thing I keep reading about... if we don't get sick, if we don't have the kind of crisis here that they are having in New York, then it feels like an overreaction. But if that does happen here, then it's because we failed to react. So what feels like an overreaction is actually an appropriately proactive, preventative strategy.

All I know is that I don't really want to leave my house again.

Meanwhile, we keep eating our way through our groceries. I read that Instacart and Amazon are on strike, and I don't know that we need to further impose upon those folks who aren't getting paid enough for what they're doing since we are actually capable of going to the store ourselves, but the thought of going to the store gives me the heebie jeebies. If David goes instead of me, I'm going to insist that he wear gloves.

Every time I think about not touching my face, my nose itches.

Also on the home front, we are very busy with this painting project and I am loving the results. It feels really shallow and superficial to be so excited about the way painting wood trim white is lightening and brightening up the whole house. But shallow and superficial pleasures also feel necessary in the midst of a pandemic in which I have zero control over anything except my own choices.

Zuzu saw a friend of hers out in the neighborhood next to ours and begged to run over and say hello. I told her she had to stay far away but she could shout hello. It's a kid she knows from school who has some chronic health issues. I think about how terrified her mom must be. The girls yelled hello from our driveway and waved.

I'm missing my twice-daily chats with G's babysitter. She's posted on FB how sad she feels about her son missing the big high school milestones of senior year--his track season, prom, graduation.

I'm also feeling sad about Coco missing the big milestones of her Montessori kindergarten year--the field trips and activities that she's literally looked forward to since she was three years old and all she wanted to be when she grew up was "a kindergartener." They won't get to go to the arch and eat at the Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch. They won't get to have their graduation ceremony where they serve their parents lemonade and the teachers talk about the strengths and characteristics of each child. They won't get to play on the new playground equipment they were so excited about that got installed during spring break.

And these are tiny problems compared to the risks healthcare workers are taking every day. The decisions they are making about whether to come home to their families or stay away for their protection. The fear--or the very present reality--of not having enough equipment to keep doctors and nurses safe and to treat patients adequately.

Of course the economic fallout is on my mind... I've read some promising things about how this should be an economic blip rather than a fullout recession, but I don't even want to look at how my retirement account has plunged. And yet this is nothing compared to small businesses that are shutting down and service workers who are suddenly unemployed.

It makes me feel incredibly lucky and that is an uncomfortable feeling too, because I'm all too aware of how precarious and fickle luck is, how quickly it could turn and flip and I could find myself on the wrong side of it. It's not about merit or planning or reward for work well done. It's about luck and proximity and those tiny choices that add up to whether or not your job is still paying you or you sat near someone who coughed before they even knew they were sick.

But it's not entirely luck, is it? A lot of it is also the result of privilege. And when privilege is consistently denied to specific populations, they will always be at greater risk and pay a greater price. I have tried to become involved in social justice work in my community, and this pandemic is laying bare the link between social justice and basic human rights--including healthcare. It also makes me feel helpless because now the issue is life or death in many cases and the only thing I can do at present is... stay home. Zoom into work meetings. Paint my trim. Rock my baby. Do yoga on the deck.

It has my head spinning, and I know I'm not saying anything new or original or different from what other folks in my position are likely to be thinking and feeling. It's still just mind boggling, though, and I can't even articulate it exactly.

When the sun shines and the kids are playing outside and the baby is napping in her crib and, in theory, I should be able to take a deep breath and relax and enjoy myself... I am always thinking about the fact that the only reason I'm experiencing this very pleasant Tuesday morning at home is because there is a global pandemic killing off thousands of people.

Maybe it's better when the kids are screaming and I don't feel like I can concentrate on work and I'm desperate to have even a few minutes to myself--because then at least I feel like I'm struggling, too?

We are mapping out daily activities, clinging to some kind of structure. Daily yoga. School work. Outside play. A mindless distraction on TV. (The girls have been watching a lot of Fuller House but Coco also says it's "embarrassing" because of all the kissing, which I find hilarious.) A good book (I'm currently reading this and you should 100% order it from your favorite independent bookstore--it's so good. And you know who else thinks so? Sarah Jessica Parker.)

I'm off to my next Zoom meeting... xoxo

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Some Lists

Things I'm Avoiding Reading Too Much About
- How to be cozy at home (I feel like this is already an area of expertise for me)
- What to have in your emergency kit (This headline boosts my heart rate just reading it. I literally saw one today that said "The 70+ Items to Have in Your Emergency Kit.")
- Coronavirus death rates and predictions
- Numbers of ventilators and ICU beds
- Lack of protective masks for healthcare workers

Things I'm Wondering
- Where the hell is the remote control to the TV in our main TV room?
- Where the hell is the remote control to the TV in our bedroom?
- How the hell do we keep the baby out of the dog water dish while still allowing the dogs access to their water?

Things I Need
- A firm schedule. (We're working on it. It's not easy.)
- To get up with my alarm instead of rolling over and dozing back off because I don't have to leave the house at 7:30am.
- The baby to sleep through the night.
- To not stay up until midnight reading books about how to get the baby to go back to sleep on her own without crying.
- The weather to get nice and warm.

Things I Miss
- Meeting up with friends.
- Chatting with G's babysitter.
- Sunshine.
- Housekeeping.
- Not having a vaguely panicky feeling every time I think about whether we need to go to the grocery store.
- Being able to work/read/think without interruption or distraction.
- Listening to podcasts in my car.

Things I Love
- The new bookcases that are all painted and waiting to cure.
- Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu.
- Two digital timers I ordered from Amazon before the virus crisis that I use to give the girl's a visual countdown and time how long they get to play on the computer.
- Not having to pump.
- Snuggles with Cooper.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Homebound, Continued.

We are now officially off of spring break and into whatever this new normal is for the foreseeable future. Right now, our schools are saying they will be back in session after April 3. Two nearby districts have already called off through the end of the year. It's hard to imagine that we'll go back.

We haven't really talked about that possibility with the girls. They were bummed about not being able to go visit my parents this past weekend. Zuzu actually said to me, "I would rather get sick than not see my friends or grandparents!" which I can understand and is also clearly the kind of short-sighted philosophy a lot of people are practicing.

I just read about a twelve-year-old who has Covid 19 and is not doing well. She has no significant underlying health issues and they're not sure how she contracted it. At first, my worries were mostly for other people, but keeping myself and my family healthy is also a major concern at this point.

It's my friends in the medical field that have me freaked out. I'm limiting news exposure but the dystopian novel vibes are unavoidable.

I guess we are homeschooling, although I'm calling it homeschooling lite. We start the day with math and then read a book and after that we are very flexible. Right now the girls are rollerskating on the deck. It's cold outside--high in the upper 40s today. We had real actual snow yesterday which was kind of pretty but all I want is sunshine and 70 degree weather. The end of this week looks promising.

I am missing uninterrupted time more than anything else. The ability to concentrate on anything without being asked for a drink of water or having to run to see why Coco is crying (the answer is almost always Zuzu, but occasionally she bonked or scraped something, usually because of Zuzu). The ability to think about something with my whole brain instead of a part of me always watching the baby or thinking about what we're going to eat next. Ugh. Cooking and cleaning up is the worst and it's basically the rhythm of our whole life now.

I'm also a slave to the baby's schedule and she's trying to drop her morning nap which means her schedule is unpredictable and she's fussy but then will spend 20 minutes fighting a nap until I give up. Hoping this means she'll sleep longer in the afternoon, but who knows? Plus I think her teeth are bothering her, so we're not sleeping well at night either.

I put on a sweater with leggings instead of a hoodie today so that feels like work clothes. David had Zoom meetings scheduled from 8-10 so at 10 we switch so that he's parenting and I'm headed down to the basement to work for a couple of hours without being interrupted (hopefully... somehow interruptions seem to work differently for Mama than they do for Dad at our house).

I'm stressing out quite a bit about Cooper. I think I wrote about taking him to the vet a couple weeks ago and they thought it was an infected tooth. They gave him antibiotics and that did the trick, so he went for another visit on Friday. David drove him but had to wait in the car--it was paws-only allowed in the office. They came out to the car and got Cooper, then called David on the phone to talk through the exam. His tooth is better. He's not a good candidate for surgery so we watch and if there's a problem, we can do another round of antibiotics. Unfortunately, he's injured his other leg. Tore his doggy ACL in his good leg. So he's really having trouble walking. He's on meds for that, which should help his joints, and he'll take these meds indefinitely. The new deck should help since he has fewer steps and can walk out even with the yard, but he's so set in his ways that he wants to follow his old path and he seems confused by the change. And he's having a lot of accidents.

We have him wearing a diaper basically all the time, but then we have to take it off of him when he goes outside. Then we have scenarios like the one that just played out, where he wants to go outside so I remove his diaper and let him out. Then I go back to checking e-mail, feeding the baby cheerios, whatever, and a few minutes later he wants in. He can't really get himself up the little step to get inside, so I lift him up and haul him in the house. He then walks down the hallway and as soon as he steps on the carpet in the living room, he pees.

Clearly I need to put a diaper on him the minute he gets in the house, but I really thought he would go while he was out. It's so frustrating and I feel so bad for him and I worry that things are going to get worse instead of better.

While I'm complaining, I'd like to also say that all I did this weekend was clean up messes that were not mine. Spilled drinks, chewed up stuffies (Clementine IS STILL CHEWING and is officially THE WORST DOG EVER except she's mostly not peeing in the house except I did discover a random spot in the guest room so she must have gotten locked in there), baby food puree, dirty diapers, dog pee, and in spite of this constant wack-a-mole of wiping up grossness and daily vacuuming, the whole house still feels dirty. Five people and two dogs being together at home 24 hours a day just dirty up a house, you know? It's not like you can straighten it up before leaving for work and then come home to a tidy living room.

Relevant side note: Do you know what I hate? Blanket forts. Like just leave my pillows and couch cushions where they belong. How dare you want to have imaginative childhood play? I just washed all the throw blankets and I actually don't want them on the floor or draped over dog crates. Just sit quietly on the couch without moving the perfectly fluffed pillows, okay?

(I actually clench my jaw and take deep breaths and let them build their blanket forts but oh my word I just need the weather to warm up so I can send them outside with beach towels to build forts on the swing set and hammock.)

Last night after all the kids were in bed, David patted the couch next to him and said, "Come sit by me." I replied, "I'm just going to sit over here with no one touching me for a little while."

Of course the baby is all over me all day, but when she's not, Coco wants to be on my lap and also has started wanting to kiss me (perfect new thing start doing during a pandemic). It is SO MUCH closeness and I love snuggling them so much but also I get to the point where I want to claw my neck skin off.

David had to go into work yesterday and open the building so teachers could gather belongings and students could come pick up medicines. I kept asking him to tell me more about his day because my day was NOTHING. NOTHING HAPPENED.

Enough complaining. Let's talk about the good things.

On Saturday morning, I had a Zoom meeting with friends from college and we drank coffee and checked in, which was delightful.

The girls want to have a morning meeting, so each day we talk about the weather, the date, the plans for the day, and do an emotional check-in. My favorite thing Zuzu taught me is if someone is describing how they are feeling and you can connect with it, you close your pointer finger and thumbs together in a circle and link them together so they're connected. It's like a silent way to say, "Me too!"

The sweetest thing is that the girls have both been emotionally at a 5 (the happiest) because we're all here together. I am so grateful that they get along so well and keep each other entertained. I expect they'll get a little tired of each other, and it's not like there's never any bickering, but they really are such good friends. It has definitely made the social distancing easier, although they miss their friends from school, too.

Since their schools are just back from spring break today, we will hear more later this week about "distance learning." Coco's school plans to have lots of Zoom meetings, at least with the kindergarteners, so that should be interesting. The girls facetimed with friends yesterday (another pair of sisters the same age) and they were sooooo wild and silly.

So I guess this is our new normal for however long this lasts. My thoughts are with the healthcare workers who are putting themselves out there every day and with the service industry workers who are coping with sudden unemployment. We are doing our part to stay home and flatten the curve. And sending lots of love out into the universe.

And I am really so grateful that we are all here. That we are all home and safe and healthy. That we have a house with a basement that is providing a quiet workspace. That I have a pandemic partner and co-parent I actually like. That we have technology and wifi and streaming entertainment. But it's still hard to sit in uncertainty, and that's where we all are. It could be much worse, but normal life is much better!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Leprechauns are A-Holes

Let me begin by saying we do not make much of St. Patrick's Day. I decorate for lots of minor holidays--Valentines day gets pink and red hearts, Easter is pastel bunnies and birds, I put up Fourth of July banners and we've got pumpkins that turn to jack-o-lanterns and then I pull out the turkeys to get us through fall before busting out Christmas decor. We are plenty festive, is what I'm saying.

But we aren't Irish. We aren't Catholic. And (here's where I admit what a grinch I am) parades are not my favorite thing. I don't love crowds and I loathe port-a-potties, so dragging my family downtown to a St. Patrick's Day parade is unlikely to ever happen unless my kids really beg for it. St. Patrick's Day was virtually ignored by my parents (I don't even know if we wore green) and wasn't a thing when I was at school, so it's just not really on my radar.

(I am all about celebrating pi day with pie, though.)

Anyway, like most of us world wide, I've been feeling a little stressed of late and St. Paddy's day was not really even on my mind as I headed into the office yesterday.

HOWEVER. I try to be a fun mom. So I wore a green cardigan and even put G in her little green "Stay Lucky" shirt (the girls all have matching ones). I let the girls eat Lucky Charms for breakfast. I really thought that this was a perfectly sufficient acknowledgement of a holiday that means nothing to me. I certainly was not in a place where I felt I had the bandwidth to imagine, let alone enact, some leprechaun antics. And really, green beer doesn't do it for me.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
But apparently a leprechaun got into Zuzu's first grade classroom last year. He turned chairs upside down! He covered up all the vowels in the alphabet posted on the wall! HOW HILARIOUS. I guess this made an enormous impression on Zuzu. I had no idea.

I did not realize that the girls were eagerly anticipating a leprechaun visit. This is not something that has happened before and not something that David and I have EVER talked about. I've joked about leprechauns pinching people who don't wear green (Coco apparently thinks leprechauns look like crabs with pincer claws, lol) but I have never even hinted that a leprechaun might come to our house.

I did not know that the girls constructed an elaborate leprechaun trap that involved Cadbury eggs carefully placed in a small tupperware container, rocks, and string. When their trap did not produce a leprechaun (and they had a full day at home essentially just free ranging while David and his dad worked outside), they apparently decided to create their own leprechaun antics as a surprise for David and me.

Guess how two stressed out parents are going to react to surprise leprechaun antics?

If you're not sure how we might respond, let's try to imagine the following scenario:

Imagine you arrive home from work after a stressful day of trying to figure out what work even looks like when you're doing it all remotely and students are stressed out about credits and projects and research and abandoned study abroad experiences. Imagine you have schlepped home your laptop, books, papers, and your breast pump because you don't know when you'll make it back to the office and you are not sure how you'll do your job remotely while also homeschooling two children and caring for a baby.

Imagine that your partner has been doing manual labor building a deck all day and is exhausted physically as well as being stressed out about what social distancing and school cancellations means for his school community.

And then imagine that when you walk in the house, you see that this "leprechaun" got into your pantry and opened the flour and spilled flour all over the floor of the kitchen and then tracked it to make leprechaun footprints all the way down the hallway to the living room.

Imagine there are three dogs at your house who are now licking up the flour and also running around tracking it everywhere and jumping on the furniture.

Also imagine that this leprechaun likes coins (we know all leprechauns love gold coins, right, but apparently in a pinch any old coin will do). Imagine this leprechaun climbed up on a chair to get the huge beer stein that holds your spare change. Imagine this spare change--ALL OF IT--was then scattered all over the floor of your kitchen, through the flour, down the hallway then on through the living room, the book room, the foyer, and dining room.

Imagine you have a 10-month-old baby who now cannot be put down on the floor.

Imagine how you might react.

There was a lot of yelling, you guys.

And I feel bad because I think the girls really thought that we would think it was a hilarious joke.

Readers, we did not find it hilarious.

So there was yelling and the asking of fruitless questions: "What were you thinking?" (David to the girls) and also "Why weren't you watching them?" (me to David) and then lots of blaming: "They're old enough to know better." (David to me) but also "No, actually, they are FIVE and SEVEN and this is why children need ADULT SUPERVISION!" (me to David).

Then Zuzu ran away (literally).

The thing you have to know about Zuzu is that she fights fire with fire. You literally cannot yell at her and get her to do anything. She will scream right back and slam a door in your face. She ain't skeered of her parents and she gives zero shits if we are furious or disappointed. I also think she was shocked by our reaction (she really thought it was going to be funny) and then embarrassed that she had been so wrong about it. But because we (and by we I really do mean David) got so mad so fast, she just got mad right back. She screamed that she was going to live in the woods and then ran out the door and into the woods.

No one went after her because we were busy cleaning the house so it was literally inhabitable for our youngest child.

Coco (bless her heart) got teary-eyed because she was in trouble and then helped me pick up the coins so her baby sister wouldn't choke on them. David swept up the flour and then Coco watched the baby while I swept and then mopped all the hardwood floors.

And eventually Zuzu she limped back home crying because she was sad and because she hadn't put on shoes and was cold and had cut her foot on a stick.

So then I put her in the bath tub and we talked about making mistakes and how the best response to making a mistake is to say you're sorry and help to fix things and make them right, not to run away in order to avoid dealing with the mistake. I know that's a hard lesson for any of us, especially seven year olds.

I still felt a lot of frustration with David rather than the girls because they had obviously been completely unsupervised or they wouldn't have been able to make this mess. I actually said to him, "I'm feeling really frustrated!" and he said, "I know, me too." And I had to clarify, "No... my frustration is WITH YOU."

You know how it is when everyone is tired, stressed out, and essentially under house arrest for the foreseeable future. I mean, really. I don't need to explain. You all know how it is.

I took a hot bath last night. It did not really make me feel better.

Then I went downstairs and decided to finish off the brownies we'd made.

That F@#$ing leprechaun had frosted the last brownie with toothpaste.

(At least that was honestly a pretty good joke.)

Takeaways: St. Patrick's Day is officially my least favorite holiday.

I need to take control of the leprechaun mischief so the girls do not do it themselves.

Next year I'll just put green food coloring in the toilets and call it a day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Atomic Bombs and Microbe Viruses

I've been listening to the podcast The Daily, which focuses on one news story (usually about 20 minutes) per day. I think it's created by NYT writers. Anyway, the content is always great and, as you might guess, lately it's been All Virus, All the Time.

Today, though, I listened to an episode from last week that was a short (8 minute) reprieve from virus talk and included writers reading aloud some of their favorite writers. One guy read this excerpt from C.S. Lewis's essay "On Living in an Atomic Age," which he wrote in 1940. I found it really moving--I got misty eyed in my car--and I'm still thinking about it.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

- C. S. Lewis "On Living in an Atomic Age" from Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

I'll be working from home starting tomorrow. It would have been today, but my memory is the first thing compromised when I'm feeling stressed out and I went off and left 12 ounces of breast milk in the fridge here at work, so I came back in for the day. Also, my office is quiet and my house is... not. David and his dad are working on another big project putting in some decking to cover our back patio area, which means that he just lets Zuzu and Coco free range all day long. That's FINE for a few days of spring break, but it's not ideal for a month (more than a month???) that includes both of us trying to work remotely.

At any rate, the first thing we need to do is to pull ourselves together. For me, this means making a meal and snack plan like I do during the summer and creating a fairly regular routine for the kids in terms of "school." There are so many online resources. I think our plan is to try to do some math and reading in the morning and then let them pick something to "investigate" in the afternoon (science or social studies) and then maybe alternate doing art or music, by which I mean using art supplies we already have or singing along with Raffi. I am planning to keep it suuuuper simple. We don't usually do screen time on week days, but we'll obviously break that rule for online school stuff on the computer or educational games on the tablets. I'd still like to enforce the no TV-shows rule on weekdays but if I'm being realistic, that 4-5pm hour is likely to be show time.

(Except not LEGO Girls because their snotty attitudes can suck it. I wish there were a way to REMOVE shows from watching availability in streaming services. If anyone knows this secret, please tell me. Zuzu is highly influenced by what she watches and she imitates the characters in her play and in her real life, so if she's watching bratty characters she's acting like a brat. Shimmer and Shine might be annoying AF but at least they are kind and supportive of one another.)

I'm still torn about what to do about G going to her babysitter's house. On the one hand, my productivity will sink if she's home all day. She's not being exposed to anyone new, and the circle of people is pretty small. On the other hand, when you think about three kids, each with two parents, parents may still be going to work, it's easy to see how numbers grow exponentially. I have no idea who those other people might have been exposed to, and obviously babies aren't keeping their mucus to themselves. It's likely we'll keep her home, too.

And so we keep on--praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, facetiming friends and family, painting bookcases and playing board games. We have a box of wine and a pantry of canned goods and stacks of books (literally, since they are not currently on the bookcases). A microbe may break our bodies, but it need not dominate our minds.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

I went to work this morning. My university has moved to remote learning for the remainder of the semester and my supervisor said it's fine for us to work remotely, but my work laptop was at work and my office is quiet and there are only four of us in my department. I felt okay about going in. My commute was a breeze. So few cars on the road. Tons of available parking when I rolled in--early.

At the beginning of The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox wakes up at her home in India and she's really mad that no one has come to take care of her. The reader discovers in this chapter that she's spoiled and selfish, but also that her parents didn't seem to really care about her. The reader also discovers that no one has come to take care of her because everyone is dead of cholera. She snacks from the remains of a dinner party that ended abruptly because of the cholera outbreak.

I had no sense of what cholera was when I first read the book. I know I'd never heard the word before because in my head I pronounced it "chaw-lera." But I understood it was an eerie scene, and that the soldiers who discovered one living little girl among all the dead were stunned.

The first thing I did when I got to work today was wipe down my office with Clorox wipes.

David is home on spring break this week. The girls seem to have little sense/concern for what is going on except for a disappointment that a friend's birthday party has been canceled and I think we'll probably have to cancel our plans to visit my parents this coming weekend. We also canceled a non-essential dental appointment for Zuzu to have a sealer put on her teeth. I think we'll also cancel G's InfantSee appointment for this week. I love the program, but I don't have specific concerns about her eyes and I feel like potential exposure to the virus has to be our priority at this time.

I had thought that we could still arrange little playdates with friends they'd already been exposed to at school, but now I'm reading that we shouldn't do that either. I'd actually suggested to one friend we meet up at a park but (1) it's raining and 40 degrees right now and (2) the virus can live on plastic and metal surfaces for three days, so... Unless I want to clorox wipe an entire playground, that doesn't seem like something we're going to be doing.

We are currently looking at three weeks of "social distancing." David and I are going to start painting our wood trim white (my parents are the only people I know who seem to think this is a bad idea, but it's not like the wood trim in our old, lovely, built in the 1930s with stained glass windows house--it's 1980s trim and I don't hate it, but I think when it's white I'll love it). That should keep us busy and be a satisfying project (assuming we avoid spilling primer on carpet).

David and his dad put together built-in bookcases for me in our front room yesterday. It literally took them all day long, but it looks fantastic. Today they're going to trim it out and caulk it and then we'll prime and paint and start priming and painting the trim in that room as well. I cannot wait to get them all finished!

This feels like an excellent way to exert control over the thing we can control in these uncertain times. Similarly, I did a zillion loads of laundry yesterday and cleaned out and organized the hall closet and the master bathroom closet and drawers.

Related: I have tried a lot of natural deodorants. Native works best for me, but only the coconut scent. Jasmine and Papaya are a no-go. I've passed the Jasmine along to Zuzu, who really only needs it if we've somehow missed baths for three days (hey, it happens occasionally) and who thinks it "smells good but feels kinda weird." Meanwhile, Coco--never one to be left out--takes a bath and then marches into Zuzu's room in her undies to announce she seeds some "dolorant" and applies it with a very self-satisfied expression.

I have had trouble falling asleep at night, which is unusual for me as my life is kind of exhausting. But I know I'm carrying tension and I need to be doing more yoga but since David's dad was at our house this morning, my regular routine was disrupted.

One of my favorite consignment shops emailed that they are closing at this time and admitted in the e-mail that they don't know how their business will recover--they can't afford to pay workers who aren't working and they aren't yet set up to sell clothes online. I can only imagine that there are countless more small businesses like them, and I think about the cute little coffee shop in my home town, our favorite independent bookstore (which is offering curbside pick up and I am going to swing by after work today), and the restaurant industry, which employees so many people who don't have a cushion of paid leave or remote work to fall back on. I understand and sympathize with all the folks like us who are trying to work from home while also caring full time for kids whose schools have been canceled--especially single parents who don't have a partner to trade off parenting shifts--, but there are so many far worse off who can't work from home and don't know how they will provide for their kids whose schools have been cancelled. (Although I know there are programs now that are preventing utilities from being shut off and landlords who will not evict folks during this time.)

I'm also reading a lot of stuff about community and how community comes together when we literally cannot come together physically. I guess I'm trying to document this time because it does feel historical.

We are currently out of school until April 3, but rumors are already swirling that we need 8 weeks of social distancing rather than 3, that no one should expect to return to school this year. Because this week is technically spring break for our school district, it feels like an odd kind of normal, since we were already prepared for the kids to be home this week. G's babysitter is still open and since she just takes three little ones, we felt okay about sending G this week. She texted us last night that she's healthy and will maintain a normal routine for our babies. But even now I wonder whether the other families are social distancing and what that might look like in terms of exposure, and we're likely to be keeping G home with us soon. I'm still not panicky about our health necessarily, but the community effect of this illness is alarming to say the least. My supervisor has given us all permission to work remotely so now it becomes a matter of deciding when that should happen (tomorrow? Thursday? next week?).

Also we are going to have to limit screen time for my kids because it still makes Zuzu so monstrous. She imitates what she watches and LEGO Friends is no longer an option because those girls are shit heads and their sassy, snotty tone of voice is not one I enjoy hearing from my seven-year-old. You want to watch TV? Well you can watch Mr. Rogers AND THAT'S IT.

Anyway, I need to make sure I know how to Zoom for students who are also sad and freaking out about the truncated semester and work left undone and I feel sad for high school seniors and college seniors and students who planned to be abroad this semester. No prom for the class of 2020, and likely no commencement ceremony, either.

I hope everyone is staying healthy, staying sane, and staying home. The truth is I love staying home, but even introverts get antsy about this situation.

Friday, March 13, 2020

What a Week.

It's no exaggeration to say that we've never experienced a week like this. My honest reaction to the coronavirus response is a vacillation between a kind of quiet thrill that my busy calendar just cleared itself (so much space for reading novels at home!) and an existential dread about the impending collapse of our capitalist economy and perhaps the unraveling of the very social fabric of our existence. You know, the usual.

I am concerned about all the folks who are most vulnerable to this crisis--the elderly, the immuno-compromised, those with respiratory issues. I would also be lying if I didn't say that the fact that it doesn't seem to be particularly devastating for children has kept my anxiety at a very low hum rather than full throttle panic. My aunt and I were talking about polio in the 1950s and how terrifying that must have been for parents of small kids. But I imagine the experience was also quite different without the onslaught of up-to-date information from a zillion different sources of varying levels of repute.

From a privileged point of view, I'm relieved we didn't have travel plans and didn't have to make any difficult decisions about that. From a human point of view, I recognize those kinds of decisions aren't anywhere near the level of difficulty that some people are going to have to manage when it comes to lack of health insurance, lack of sick leave, lack of adequate childcare, and the need to pay bills. I've seen others comment on this more eloquently, but it is a shocking and undeniable exposure of the enormous rift in our society between haves and have-nots--and I'm not talking about those who have yachts and summer homes in the Hamptons. I'm talking about those who can afford to see a doctor and those who cannot. It's impossibly unfair.

And of course I have no confidence in our political leadership, which is an underlying anxiety as well.

As for the minutiae of my daily life, my campus is empty of students and as I'm now in a staff position rather than faculty, I'm still showing up to campus. The good news is that I don't have to try to figure out how to move discussion-based classes online (Also I'm thinking of friends who teach chemistry labs and the like! How do you even?). Also, parking on campus is a breeze. The bad news is that campus is eerily empty and I'm now having advising appointments over the phone or via Zoom. Interacting with students and talking about their plans and advising them on projects and scholarship opportunities is my favorite part of my job. So it feels really odd and unsettling.

Zuzu has heard about the coronavirus. She reported that a friend from school has it (FALSE) and she has wanted to learn more about it. Monday or Tuesday evening I went upstairs to find her in her room, listening to NPR on her little radio/cd player. She does not seem particularly concerned, but definitely curious.

Coco came to work with me yesterday. Her school was not closed for the virus, but because of parent/teacher conferences. She was actually so good at work with me. She did worksheets from a kindergarten work book all day long (literally a huge stack of them--probably 50 pages). My coworkers were also very sweet about entertaining her. We visited a friend in another department on campus and mid-afternoon took a break for her to literally run to various statues and landmarks on campus and then run back to me while I timed her. Poor kid is definitely used to being much more active than we were for most of the day! Of the three, though, Coco is undoubtedly the easiest one to bring to work.

Meanwhile, I'm also wrapping my mind around the fact that I actually have an almost-one-year-old. G is standing and balancing and screeching (we call her the baby pterodactyl because of the screeching sounds she makes) and saying "mamamama" and "da-da!" and when I ask her if she wants mama-milk and do the sign language for milk, she laughs in delight and wriggles her whole body in excitement.

(She's still not sleeping through the night and I feel like I got approximately four hours of sleep last night between staying up too late reading and then baby waking and nursing and my own brain not turning off.)

So that's what's going on here. I'm trying to decide if I should go to the store or try to do Instacart this weekend (I know they're swamped, so I'm leaning toward shopping, but my friend just posted a pic online of a LINE out the door at Aldi. On a weekday morning. What is happening?). I have plans to get a happy hour drink with a friend tonight, and we were both like, "Is this still okay to do?" I'm still not sure. These are strange times.