Monday, July 20, 2020

Look at Me Now

Posting again! Already! First of all, thanks for the awesome feedback on the library donation for Eliza's birthday. I will keep you posted here as I figure out a host (I might avoid Amazon) and the best way to make this happen. My heart is feeling really warm and fuzzy about it, though.

* * * 

I have decided to stay off Facebook for a day or two because the posts about back to school plans are causing me stress. It's impossible for me not to compare my choices to other parents I know/like/admire and to wonder if we are overestimating or underestimating risk. It makes my stomach churn. It's hard to have faith in leadership--not because the leaders (at the local school level) are bad, but just because we have so little information about this virus.

I am trying to focus on what I think is both equitable for all kids and best for my kids and hoping that we can stumble through this school year. 

* * *

Been having a pretty big Pity Party in lieu of my nonexistent birthday party. I'm turning the big 4-0 next week. Honestly, I haven't exactly been looking forward to it. It's cued a lot of existential angst as well as unpleasant contemplation of my own mortality (particularly acute during a global pandemic). I have not made much of my birthdays since Eliza died, honestly. It has just felt different.

BUT. I'm very aware that it is a privilege to grow older and I'm lucky to be forty when some get half as many (Ask anybody why we livin' fast and we laugh, reach for a flask / We have to make this moment last, that's plenty...) (The Hamilton lyrics do not stop.)

So I'd told myself that I was going to totally embrace forty. I was planning to borrow the idea that a couple friends have done and send a big email/facebook invite to anybody who wanted to meet us out at a bar and have a drink or two. I thought David and I would go to dinner first and then we'd meet up with friends after. I'd wear a gold sequined tank top that Coco helped me pick out and I would make the most of it! 

Whomp, whomp. Enter Covid-19. So now I'm readjusting my plans. My friend Brandy suggested I make a 40 in 40 list--not a list of things I must accomplish (that's where my brain went) but more like a list of fun things I want to do this year. I think I'll take her up on it. I would like to have a few socially distant backyard patio dates and drinks with friends--no big crowds, but spaced out over the next several weeks, maybe. I'll wear my sequined shirt anyway. I'll have a caprese salad and crusty bread dunked in olive oil for lunch. We'll get take out Indian food for dinner with a bottle of champagne and maybe do a Swimply reservation in between. I might even set up a Zoom happy  hour next week with some far away besties. 

And I'll toast to another trip around the sun.

* * *

Speaking of eternal youth and longevity, I have started making green smoothies. Which means I've made exactly one (although it made two servings). To be honest, I didn't mind the taste at all, although my banana needed to be riper and I wanted the whole thing to be colder. Maybe I'll add ice next time? Or freeze the coconut water? I don't know... And I didn't quite blend it smooth enough so there were a couple chunks that kinda made my gag reflex act up. BUT I didn't hate it and I feel so virtuous and healthy after drinking more fruits and veggies than I would ever eat in a day (just being honest). So I plan to keep it up. I'll aim for four smoothies a week and see how it goes. It's a lot of produce!

I'm using this recipe, which I got from my friend Reese Witherspoon, who got it from our other friend Kerry Washington:

2 heads romaine lettuce
handful of spinach
half a cup coconut water
one apple
one pear
one banana
one lemon

Celery and almond butter are optional, so I didn't include those. I'll probably mess around with adding whatever fruits we have on hand, and maybe some flax seed or chia seed since those seem really healthy. LOL. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
(Not my photo. Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash. My smoothie was chunkier.)

* * * 

I've been reading a LOT a lot lately. Right now I'm about halfway through Chanel Miller's Know My Name and If you don't know her name, you may know the name of the man who attacked and assaulted her while she was unconcious, Brock Turner. She writes so clearly and poignantly about being a victim and reading the things people said about her online (even when she was still anonymous). It's really moving. I want every college student to read it.

I also really loved a throwback vintage novel called A Woman of Independent Means. If you like an epistolary novel (and I do... I do I do I do-ooh-ooh), then you will probably enjoy this one. It's letters from a woman named Bess spanning her life from grades school to her deathbed. It had me reflecting rather morbidly on my own deathbed, but all the same it was a delight to read and I'm still thinking about it. I got a library copy, but I think it's one I'd like to own and reread. 

I flew through The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires. It was a little vividly gross at times, but definitely a compelling page turner. I stayed up until 12:30 one night to finish it. (If you're wondering, G has no respect for my late-night page turning and still woke up at 5:45am.)

I finished reading The Tale of Despereaux to Zuzu and we both loved it. A little mouse falls in love with a princess and goes on a quest to save her. It was really sweet. One of my favorite things about it--and perhaps the secret to writing a great children's book--is that it had very short chapters. This is excellent because if it's a late night, you just read three pages and that's a whole chapter. If you're into the story and you have more time, you can read several chapters and it's very satisfying that way. I highly recommend. 

I think Coco would have liked it, too, but she gets really weird about chapter books that I'm reading--she would prefer to read picture books out loud to me while Zuzu would still prefer that I read to her. So we end up having to listen to Coco read Knuffle Bunny and The Pigeon Wants a Cookie on repeat, and then Coco passes out while I'm reading out loud.

* * *

As if drinking a green smoothie wasn't enough of an accomplishment for one day, I also bought little bins for the girls to organize their Legos. And they did ALL of the sorting themselves. G was napping, they were happily organizing Legos instead of making a huge mess or zoning out in front of a screen, and I was able to get my work done. A blissful afternoon!

* * *
A friend was asking me if I have a serum I like and I realized that I actually have all kinds of opinions about serums, so I thought I would just share a few unsolicited recommendations for skin care gems (you know, now that I am approaching a certain age!).

Here are some of my favorites:

This mask is amazing. I sleep in it a couple times a week. (Price has gone up since I bought it, though, so maybe watch to see if it goes back down... although it's $55 everywhere else!)

I use this moisturizer with spf every day, mostly because it has the best smell.

These under eye things actually work (it's a short-lived effect, but it is real!).

Finally, I tend to follow the regimen recommended for "signs of aging" (go here and scroll all the way down to see the product list for signs of aging AM and PM) and I think these products are the most well-priced of their sort on the internet. I'm not crazy about their rose hips oil, so I use this one or coconut oil in its place.

But, if I'm feeling spendy (and I'm usually feeling spendy once a year around my birthday, lol), I get the Ole Hendriksen Truth serum and eye cream.

* * *

Okay... I'm off to sip some wine on the patio and NOT check Facebook so I stay out of the fray when it comes to school plans for Covid. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Dispatches from Midway-Through-2020

After getting a surprising number of gentle and concerned inquiries about silence on the blog, I wanted to post a quick hello and let everyone (anyone? Bueler?) know that we are all here and fine and healthy and at home. I haven't posted in the last couple of months for big and small reasons. The big ones are that in the wake of a global pandemic and the social shifts that (I hope) are happening after George Floyd's murder put the spotlight back on the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have been trying to listen rather than talk. Sharing the domestic trivialities of my day to day life felt tone-deaf, but I also didn't want to write some kind of diatribe of a nice white lady commenting on systemic racism.

We had family pictures taken in June--G's one year photos, six weeks late, thanks to Covid-19. This one is my favorite: 

Photo credit: Casey Rae Photography. Highly recommend, STL folks!

It's also harder to talk about parenting as my kids get older--not necessarily because I'm concerned about their privacy (LOL) but because my frustrations make me feel like a failure rather than a "rite-of-passage," can't we all relate kind of thing. Like, sure, it's frustrating that the baby is constantly in the dog water or climbing on top of the kitchen table, or waking in the night because she's getting four teeth at once, but it's also frustrating when my older child's life motto seems to be "Ask forgiveness, not permission, but don't really ask forgiveness either, just sort of expect it and also don't really care if you piss people off, especially your parents, and maybe see if you can get a fake ID to get a face tattoo before you turn 18." I'm reminding myself that I'm raising a strong, independent woman who will not be crippled with the kind of people-pleasing anxiety that I know can prevent women from achieving great things as well as finding self-satisfaction, but also raising her is really exhausting and sometimes demoralizing.

(And YET, she turned to me last night, sort of out of the blue as we were watching Downton Abbey and said, "Mom! I have a great idea for a sign: 'ALL LIVES DON'T MATTER UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER.'" I know for a fact she's seen signs that say this very thing at the marches we've attended, but the fact that the premise seemed to occur to her days later as we sat on the couch watching television felt like a win.)

* * *
I'm using Downton Abbey and The Office as an antidote for news and podcasts. The fact that the president seems to be a parody of himself, a sort of hilarious reality TV persona robot gone haywire can really overwhelm me at times, so I just escape into early-twentieth-century England or Scranton, PA in the aughts and it's easier to fall asleep at night.

* * * 
We watched Hamilton twice over the weekend. The girls got really into it, doing a lot of interpretive dancing alongside the ensemble. I love it still, despite some important criticism about glossing over some of George Washington's flaws (for example, that he became very wealthy by enslaving other humans and put their teeth in his mouth) and I feel that because I suspect I'm not the first person to notice that Christopher Jackson is smokin' hot. Still, Hamilton and the brilliance of Lin-Manuel Miranda gave American history a boost where it had been given a sedative and I still think it deserves all of accolades, as well as a nod to the criticism.

Watching it makes me wistful, too. Because I still want my Eliza here. I want to be saying her name a zillion times a day. I want to be singing the lyrics of Hamilton to her and changing the words to be about my Eliza. I want to make up a song about the Duckworth sisters instead of the Schuyler sisters. I am still angry and sad that she's not in my life. And the music reminds me of all the silly and light-hearted moments we've missed with another girl who would no doubt have had a huge personality and my favorite name in the world.

(Side note: Another dear friend of mine, Veronica, lost her son Alexander a few months after Eliza died and seeing and hearing their names together is so sweet and also so freaking sad.)

As much as I love the play, I've found that in my head the soundtrack and lyrics become absolutely intrusive. I know that ear worm songs are a common thing for a lot of people, but I wake in the night and my brain is literally reciting the entire Hamilton soundtrack. It's impossible to shut off. I'll put them in parentheses throughout this post, so you can see what I mean. I hear a phrase that shows up in the play, and there goes my brain singing the entire song. This happened to me in college with Rent when my roommate and I played the soundtrack on CD nonstop ("The man is nonstop! Why do you write like you're running out of time..." See--that's from Hamilton.) but this is even more intrusive. And it's another illustration of why I need a reserved, aristocratic British family to lull me to sleep with their posh accents.

* * * 
I'm still working from home. For the foreseeable future. Except I'm supposed to be teaching face to face starting August 17. But they only want us on campus when necessary--two afternoons a week for me. I assume they need enough people back so that things feel normal-ish and campus doesn't feel like a deserted movie set. But they also don't want everybody back all the time and the campus becoming a Covid-19 hotspot. College students responded overwhelmingly in the survey that they want to come back face to face. OF COURSE THEY DO. Face to face courses are way more fun and engaging and living on campus is way more fun than living at home and also when you're nineteen years old, you are not risk averse!

Meanwhile, my stomach is churning as we wait for the school district ("Wait for it! Wait for it!") to announce the plan for back to school for kids. I worry about the girls and David being at two different buildings. I worry about what it will mean to go back to juggling remote learning with working from home. I worry about them getting sick, I worry about me getting sick, I worry about us not seeing my parents because we don't want them to get sick. It just feels completely lose-lose, no matter what we decide.

Relevant side note: David asked Zuzu if she's excited about going back to school. She said yes; she wants to see her friends. He asked her if she'd be sad if we have to do distance learning again for a while because of the coronavirus. "No," she said. "Because I'm not going to do that. I'll just refuse."

Readers, she's serious. 

Sometimes we are just at a loss with her and how two generally agreeable people (that's David and me) made a person who is so defiant and gives zero effs. (She'd rather be "divisive than indecisive".)

* * * 
Zuzu also let Coco cut her hair recently. Longtime readers may recall that Coco has a long history of making poor choices when it comes to scissors and hair (please review Part I and Part II of her hair saga), but apparently Zuzu was on board for this one. She came upstairs all nonchalant with her ends completely ragged and uneven, missing 4" hunks of hair here and there. She seemed surprised that I noticed.

I didn't even get mad because WHAT IS THE POINT, but I trimmed everything up outside so it was all even and it actually looks really cute and bouncy around her shoulders. She says she loves it, so it seems there was no lesson learned, despite my lectures.

Also I asked them if there was a mess in the basement where they'd cut the hair. 
"Then where is all the hair you cut off?"
"Under the couch."

* * * 
I've been letting them have TV time starting at 3pm. Some days are a countdown to 3pm. Last week, I caught them around lunch time heading down to the basement with a bottle of melatonin that they had apparently climbed up on the kitchen counter to reach from the top shelf of an upper cabinet. When confronted, they explained that they wanted to take a nap in the basement until 3:00pm. 

As David says, Zuzu is full of bad ideas that she thinks are really good.

* * * 
We took a no-contact road trip to West Virginia over the fourth of July and stayed in my brother's cabin. My brother and his family and my parents were also there. We've all been careful about social distancing, so we felt comfortable seeing each other. The drive was nine hours and we stopped only at rest stops, which were all very clean. We wore masks to use the bathrooms and packed coolers with food and didn't go inside any gas stations. We spent the weekend out on the lake with their pontoon boat and swimming in the cove, playing Pinochle and doing some little fireworks in the evenings. The girls had so much fun with their little cousins (ages 3 1/2 and 1 1/2). I'm sad that it's over because now we're on the downhill slope toward back to school and it makes me feel a little panicky. ("I make the other side panicky with my SHOT!"

I didn't to do all the reading I'd hoped to do (not a vacation; just parenting away from home!) but I did get through A Woman of Independent Means which was an absolute delight. I'm currently reading American Spy, and my book club read Just Mercy for June. If you haven't read that one, I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

* * * 
I ordered the Bug Bite Thing when we got home from WV because instagram seemed to know my suffering. My verdict is that it's not a complete fix for itching, but it does seem to help considerably.

* * * 
Have you ever listened to a podcast called The Lazy Genius? I discovered it this past year and I really like it. The target audience is definitely "moms in their 30's and 40's" but the premise is useful for anyone: Be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don't. 

She offers lots of practical tips for managing a household and meal prep kind of stuff--strategies for dealing with clothes that kids outgrow and planning your trip to Aldi--so she's basically talking directly to me. But I also just like to keep her major principles in mind--is this worth my time and energy? Or is someone else just making me think that it should be? We can't do and be all the things, so what matters TO ME and what can I just allow to matter to other people without feeling guilty or weird about it? 

* * * 

I just went upstairs to put away a small load of laundry and when I got back downstairs, the toilet brush was in the hallway outside the bathroom. What are the odds that G put it in her mouth ("What are the odds that the gods put us all in one place?") before she dropped it in the hallway? If I think about I'll start gagging, so let's just move on.

* * * 
One final thing (for now! I hope to be back soon!): I think I've decided what I want to do for Eliza's 10th birthday.

I have a lot of angst about the tenth birthday, not because it will feel significantly different from 8 or 9, but because after ten I worry that it becomes Too Many. Like Too Many to keep talking about. It gets weird. I can remember early in my grief finding a blog post written by a mom about what would have been her son's eleventh birthday and wondering what she could possibly say about it that she hadn't said already. I worry that acknowledging the loss just becomes harder. I don't think it SHOULD but I fear that it does. 

Anyway, I think that this year I am going to create an Amazon wish list of diverse books that we'd like to donate to the library at David's school. His school is a Title I school, which means a large portion of students qualify for free or reduced lunch because of their socioeconomic status. It's also incredibly diverse when it comes to race and nationality/language of origin. It's such a cool and vibrant community, and I would love to make sure that the library reflects that, full of books in which every child can see themselves. 

(Sidenote: I also think it's really important that mostly-white schools have a diverse library because our society needs to be less insulated and white kids need to see people who are different from them!)

So I think I'll make a wishlist for the library and invite anyone who wants to help us acknowledge a decade without our first daughter to purchase a book that will be donated to the school library. I'll order nameplate stickers that say, "Donated in memory of Eliza Taylor Duckworth" to stick in each book.

This project feels really meaningful to me, and like something good I can do in her memory that will also put her beautiful name down on paper and in front of the eyes of a bunch of people (kindergarten through fifth-grade kids, but still! Those would be her peers, after all.). 

Anyway, I mention it now because I know it's important to plan in advance (I get increasingly useless as her birthday approaches). My hesitation is out of fear that people won't participate. What if no one does it and it feels like no one loves or misses or cares about my Eliza? I've learned that when I am stressed and anxious, my tendency is to withdraw. But I think maybe it's important to invite my community to step up and support us at a really hard time--especially because, like I said, I'm not sure I can do an ask like this once we get past 10 years. It just feels like the time is right for this. Wish me luck.