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.