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.


  1. Here from Mel's Round Up. I worry a lot about how this will affect my kids too. My big one has started saying "But I don't want to be living through something that will end up in the history books!" and I really get it. We liked our quiet, average lives.

    I'm a prof too and there are noises already about the fall semester having to be run online (I'm in Ontario). I know several unis are planning under that assumption. Mine hasn't yet but we've had some emails from the admin along the lines of "don't be surprised if we make that call". It will be so difficult (and I do teach online regularly!)

    Also I hear you on the libraries. I am still kicking myself for being IN A LIBRARY the afternoon they closed and not checking out every book we were allowed. I didn't know they were closing - they announced that evening. But I should have been able to predict it.

    A day at a time, right?

  2. I keep trying to think of a seismic event from my childhood that reverberated throughout the rest of my life, changed my behaviour, the way they are predicting this will -- and I can't. I remember the Vietnam War and the upheaval around that, but that was more of an American thing. I remember the FLQ crisis in Quebec in 1970 (and lived through the reverberations of the Quebec separatist movement for years afterward), but it did not affect me in an immediate, personal way. There were bad floods (the Red River of the North), and my grandparents had to build a new home after the 1966 one, but again, we never lived THAT close to the actual flooding & I was not personally affected, other than sometimes having to take different roads to avoid the flooding. We all know that kids today are living in a very different world from the one we grew up in -- that's always been the story, right? -- but this is unprecedented.

    I can't imagine I will be rushing out to shop or eat out, etc., if & when they finally lift restrictions here either.