We’ve Been Here Before

I’ve been feeling a weird sense of deja vu the past few days.

Here in the Portland, Oregon area we’ve finally had some smoke settle into the valley. I say finally because we’ve had a large wildfire burning southeast of us for a while now and we’ve been fortunate to not have the smoke-filled wind heading our way until a few days ago. Oh hello. I’ve been expecting you.

Last September, a windstorm blew smoke into our valley that stuck around for 11 long days. For a time, we had the worst air quality in the world. The sky was orange, the sunsets were bloody, my kids didn’t leave the house, and smoke seeped into our house as we tried in vain to tape up every source of air leakage. Covid had made my home and the outdoors the only safe places, but airborne ash and soot were able to reach every crevice where Covid had missed. My safe space had gotten so small, I was ready to start crafting a cocoon. The only thing left to do was to hibernate and hope the time for butterflies would come sooner rather than later.

Schools are getting ready to open again. A few weeks ago, we got an email saying that masks would not be mandated. Before this announcement, a survey was sent out to parents asking if we planned to send our kids to school in person if masks weren’t mandated because personal opinion trumps science now. I was prepared to send yet another letter to the superintendent urging her to hear reason over the deafening cries of anti-mask, anti-vax parents. Thank goodness our governor came through with a K-12 mask mandate sooner rather than later.

Last summer, I remember getting an instant injection of anxiety-dread each time a new email was sent by the school district, principal, office, whoever. Every new change was a jolt to my system, a new adjustment in expectation, another calculation of perceived safety needed. There were many. It was overwhelming.

And so, a year has gone by. I’m so tired. I suppose a better word for it is weary. Traumatized.

The major positive difference this year is that the adults in my life are vaccinated. While that’s not nothing, it’s also not enough. When my husband and I got our shots, family members commented to us that they were so glad we could relax now. We rolled our eyes. Relax, you say? These were not people raising young children during a pandemic, and it showed. Yes, we’re all in the same storm, but only those in this boat containing tiny humans (controlling for all other sources of privilege) know the special hell of the last 17 months. And it’s not even close to being over.

But I digress.

While the alarming rise in Covid cases, smoke, chaos preceding the upcoming school year, and still-unvaccinated children gave me that sense of deja vu, it also feels different this time. My response has been different.

I can’t quite decide, but it’s either that I’m so traumatized that these now seasonal stressors are not surprising, and even expected – right on time, just like the arrival of pumpkin spice – or it’s that I’m stronger this time. More prepared. We have air purifiers. N95s. We’ve done the whole distance learning thing and we rocked it and we know we can do it again. We’ve been here before. Oh hello.

Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way, we’ve done this before. We will do it again.

Field Trip

I had trouble getting out of bed.

My sinuses were all blocked up and I could feel that the pressure was only going to get worse. I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and those of you who know me know that I can’t stand [being] a mouth breather.

It was the day of my kindergartner’s big field trip to the children’s museum and I had signed up to go. I told my husband that he’d have to go instead because I wasn’t going to make it; I felt like death warmed over.

He left the house with my son and headed to school. I got up with my daughter and started getting ready for the day, which included taking a full dose of sudafed. My mind was reeling, and the sudafed made it reel even faster. I was really sad that I’d be missing the field trip, and I was frustrated about feeling so awful.

Once I started moving around and ate breakfast and ruminated some more, I called my husband. When he picked up, I could hear a whole lot of excited little kid screaming in the background.

“I’m feeling a bit better and I want to come! I think I can make it. Am I too late?” The school was just two blocks away.

“Are you sure? You still have time, if we switch now.”

“Tell the teacher that I’m coming. I’ll be ready to leave the house when you get here. Thanks!”

I grabbed my jacket and the lunch I had made for myself the night before. I kissed my daughter goodbye and then ran out the door as soon as I saw my husband coming. I huffed it to the school and waved to my kid’s teacher.

“Glad you could make it,” she said with a smile.

“I rallied the troops…and I’m on a lot of cold medication.”

We went on a bus full (very full) of very excited, very loud kindergartners and parent chaperones. I was in charge of my son and two other sweet boys and we spent the day negotiating how much time to spend in which area of the museum, because we needed to stay together.

Kids were running everywhere, touching everything.

I took pictures of my son with a group of kids climbing on play structures, splashing in water exhibits, sharing mounds of clay whose only purpose was to be shaped into robots of various sorts.

I was struggling to concentrate, as my head had that stuck-in-a-fishbowl feeling and I felt exhausted.

I was standing in the main entryway, waiting for the boys to decide where to go next, and my watch buzzed.

I glanced at my wrist and saw an alert from NPR.

“The WHO has declared the Coronavirus a global pandemic,” read the headline.

I looked up at the pandemonium around me and thought, oh shit.

It was March 11, 2020.

Mischief Barely Managed

Well, I did it, folks.

30 days of blogging in the books.

I think this is the third time I’ve attempted NaBloPoMo, if memory serves, and this time definitely felt the most…fun. It was a needed distraction this time, a needed outlet. It was a positive and productive way to channel my idle time spent between schooling my kids and bingeing Netflix and sneaking Halloween candy.

The best and most surprising thing about this month- I was able to create new, original content every. single. day. In years past, I’ve resorted to reblogging old posts of mine or reblogging others’ posts or posting a single, large poop emoji, but this year somehow the words they were a-flowin’. And I’m super proud of some of the pieces I wrote to boot. This one made me giggle in particular.

Another great aspect of doing NaBloMoPo as part of the Cheer Pepper community – I met some rad new bloggers and read interesting, creative and thought-provoking content.

Thank you to Ra, who orchestrated this amazing community.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and comment on my posts.

Thank you to my husband, who fielded my daily laments of whaaaaaat should I blog about nooooow?! and listened to my mid-writing rants and pretended to care when I read sections out loud to him when I thought I was being particularly crafty and witty.

Thanks to my IRL friends for their support and some fabulous writing ideas!

Thanks to my kids for endless inspiration and interruption.

Perhaps I’ll be back doing this next year, but stick around and read me all year long (sign up to follow my posts right here on WordPress, or check me out on Twitter or Facebook – links in the sidebar); I’m hoping the creative juices I got flowing this month won’t dry up anytime soon.

I’m gonna sign off using Brene Brown’s line because it’s awesome and because I don’t think she’ll mind:

Stay awkward, brave, and kind.


Day 30 – The Last Day

My Tangible Reminder

I have this little wooden sign on my mantle at home.

A few years ago, I found it inside one of our local Little Free Libraries and it spoke to me, so I grabbed it and brought it home.

I suffer from perfectionism, always have. Becoming a mom fanned those perfectionist flames and they took off like an uncontrollable brush fire. It used to be that I only had to worry about making myself perfect, inside and out, but once I was fully responsible for one and then two little goblins, all hell broke loose inside my perfectionist-flavored brain.

Dear lord there’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect mom, whatever that is. What worries me the most is how much I may have internalized all those perfect mom messages.

Make sure to breastfeed…

Put them in all the classes…swim, dance, Mandarin…and how to swim in Mandarin.

Make sure to shower! And put on pants!

Wear your baby all the time, don’t ever put them down.

Don’t let them have screen time until they’re two, otherwise their brains will turn to mush and Harvard won’t want them.

I continued my daily practice of positive self-talk to keep all those mothering shoulds at bay and to externalize them as much as possible.

When my kids were tiny, I had to start reminding myself almost daily about the good enough parenting model. All I had to do was reach the good enough threshold and my kids were gonna be fine. Heck, more than fine. Which meant I had to start cutting myself some serious slack. The thing was, I was never the type who would kill myself trying to physically get everything done all day every day, but I would instead mentally beat myself up for not getting it all done. For falling short. Of what, I ask? Says who, I wonder? I was learning how to forgive myself again and again and again…as many times as I needed. And I still need it. I already know, this will be my life’s work.

I picked up that little piece of wood because it serves as my daily reminder. It’s something that’s real, I can see it with my eyes and hold it in my hands, and it says: life is messy and that’s okay. you’re enough, you’ve done enough, now go love your kids.


Day 25

I Want Them to Remember

I want my kids to remember the little things.

I want my kids to remember that I carried a junky old towel to the park after it rained and I’d wipe down all three slides so they could play and not get their cute little butts soaking wet.

I want them to remember how, when they were each 2-3 years old, I’d lay out their clothes exactly how they’d go on their cute little bodies: pants front-side-up and shirts front-side-down.

I want them to remember how I’d set out a morning snack the night before weekend mornings, so they could munch on cereal and raisins while their daddy and I got to sleep in as long as we could.

I want my kids to remember how when I got home from the library I’d casually display new books on the coffee table and walk away, knowing they’d dive into them in their own time.

I want my daughter to remember me going through her preschool flashcards with her, and celebrating her learning victories with high fives and giggles.

I want my son to remember how I taught him to use a paintbrush, with soft brushstrokes that feel like feathers on the skin.

In reality, they may not remember any of these things. That’s okay, because I will.

Mostly, I just want them to remember feeling loved.


Day 23

Sorry About What I Said When I Was Working Out

The weather has been cold and rainy lately and my energy level went way down. I wasn’t moving my body very much, and I’ve felt tired…but not a good tired. A yucky, blah, haven’t-used-my-body-so-I-feel-like-a-lump-tired.

So today I forced myself to put on my workout gear first thing. After breakfast, and after helping my son cut out 8465526289 paper geometric shapes for a school assignment, I put an exercise video up on the TV and got shit done.

And by got shit done, I mean I powered through amidst everyone and their mom trying to interrupt me with noise and feelings.

Instructor: C’mon ladies, let’s power through! Gimme more lift, and lift, and lift…

Me: Uuggghhhh lift…lift…keep lifting…

Daughter, who comes to sit down right next to me, almost touching: IMA DO YOGA TOO MOMMY! MOMMY WATCH! I’M DOING IT LOOOOOK!

Me, grunting: Y-yup. I see you. Good. job. Hey, could you scoot? I’d like some personal space.

Now side…to side…side…to side. C’mon!

Son: MOM! I’M STUCK! HOW DO I DOOOOOO THIIIIIS?!

Me: Figure it out, dude! Take a deep belly breath and try it again!

Son: BUT MOOOOOOOM!

Me: You got this, dude. I know you can do it all by yourself. This is my time right now.

Now crunch UP left, center, right, AND DOWN. Left! Center! Right! And down!

Daughter: Mommy, I’m tired. I want to be a ballerina INSTEAD!

Me: Cool. You do that. Fuck, I’m tired too.

Son: LOOK MOM I DID IT!!!!!

Me, without even looking: Great job, man! See I knew you could.

Now balance and lunge and pulse it and keep your core tight! Don’t stop now!

Me, (I turn to lunge and my daughter ballet-prances right into me, pushing me over as I lose my balance): Hey Little Miss, PLEASE give me some personal space, okay?

Daughter: OKAAAAY! She spin-dances away.

Now I want you to kick up and back but don’t sway those hips! You’ve got this ladies! Woo!

Me, huffing: You want us to do what?

Daughter, who shoots a nerf dart right past my torso: WEEEEEEE!

Me: Could you please stop shooting that in here? GO IN THE OTHER ROOM AND GIVE ME SOME SPACE!

Ten more reps, ladies! I can start to feel it now, I hope you can, too!

Me: Oh I can feel something, you chipper ass bitch.

Son: MOOOOM! I NEED HEEEELP!

Daughter: MOOOOM! WHEN ARE YOU GONNA BE DOOONE?!

The Cat, who walks underneath my body in a downward facing dog, looks up at my face: HOOOWL!!!!

Me: sonofabitch.


Day 20

That’s What She Shed

My house is plenty big enough for 4 people and a cat under normal circumstances. But decidedly not during a pandemic.

My husband has been working from home since March, and he set up his workspace in our master bedroom. It’s really the only space in the house that makes sense for him to work and get anything done.

My son does his distance learning at the dining table in our open-plan ground floor. This also makes the most sense, as I need to be within earshot if he needs help.

My kids pretty much rule the entire ground floor during waking hours. They’re either doing school or pulling toys out of the playroom or running around screaming like banshees or using the TV so they’ll stay still and quiet for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Which means…I’ve lost any personal space in this house that I may have had at one time. Since we’ve been home for this pandemic, I’ve taken to using my son’s room for zoom yoga or privacy in the afternoons if I need to nap or read or sneak snacks or ugly cry in relative peace. I guess it beats hiding in the bathroom…but now that I think about it, at least I can lock the bathroom door. Sigh.

I’ve started fantasizing both in my head and to my husband about wanting a room all to myself in our next house, whenever that may happen.

Me: …you know, kinda like a She Shed, only it’d be a room in the house where I can paint. You could build it for me like Noah did in The Notebook!

H: I might grow a beard, but I’m not taking off my shirt. What’s a She Shed?

Me: You know! Like a man cave, only for the lady of the house. I need a room where I can paint or read or watch a movie that’s just mine.

H: Sounds doable.

Me: Yeah! I’d need a TV and storage for my crafts, and a couch and shelves for all my books. And a table to paint. It would be great to have like a little sink so I don’t have to leave to wash brushes and OOH A MINI FRIDGE FOR MY SNACKS. Maybe a microwave?

H: This doesn’t sound like a room anymore.

Me: Perhaps a tiny water closet with a toilet so then I wouldn’t have to leave the room AT ALL and INTERRUPT MY FLOW.

H: Let’s not talk about your flow.

Me: Doesn’t that sound NICE?!

H: …are you asking to move out?

Me: No!

H: …

Me: Well…maybe we should just look for a place with a detached guest suite, you know, just in case.

H: Just in case.

Me: And I’m gonna need a door that locks. Thanks!


Day 18

Here’s Something

Today is going to be a hodgepodge of a blog post.

  1. Here’s something that annoyed me but I did not allow to ruin my day.

We went hiking today. The weather app on my phone did not predict rain. I live in Oregon. I’ve lived here for almost exactly 7 years now. Fricknfrack, I should know better to carry rain gear with me wherever I go after Labor Day, whatever the app may or may not say. I’m just so tired of lugging my entire household with me whenever we go on an outing. Jackets aaaaaand rain jackets, hats, snacks, water, plastic bags for when things get wet and/or dirty, extra snacks, and now I’ve included masks and hand sanitizer, plus the toddler potty in case the restrooms are closed due to Covid. Ugh.

At any rate, we got rained on. In true form, the kids complained at first that we weren’t going on the long hike. And then later on, they complained that they were “wet” and “tired.” We didn’t get completely drenched and we didn’t have any complete meltdowns so that’s considered a success in our book. The kids reported that their favorite part was the snack. Parenting high-five!

2. Here’s something that brought tears to my eyes and made my heart happy

We watched the SpaceX launch today. A multicultural, international team of three men and one woman got catapulted into space today and they’re headed to the ISS!! My eyes teared up as soon as they reached max q, a few minutes after launch.

What made me even MORE happy was to see a panel OF THREE WICKED SMART LADIES giving us commentary after the launch. I can’t remember a time where I have ever watched any sort of big, important science endeavor be presented and interpreted for the public via a panel of womenfolk. Moving forward, I’d like to get to a place where I am no longer astounded by this. But for now, good on you, NASA and SpaceX.

3. Here’s something that tickled my funny bone.

Yesterday, a lonely, lonely person with a sexual affinity for clowns stumbled across my blog and I feel like I owe that person a heartfelt apology.

I’m so sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for here. I hope you enjoyed a post or two before moving onto…more edgy entertainment…but if not, I understand too. The heart wants what the heart wants. Good luck to you!


Day 15 – we’re halfway, folks!

Sick and Burning

Nighttime is easier.

The kids are in bed and the sun is down.

I pull the blinds closed, so I can’t see the smoke or the creepy orange sepia glow.

Now I can fool myself into thinking things are normal.

I stand in the shower and zone out while the water pours over me, in an attempt to wash off my grief. The dread. It’s so much that it clogs the drain.

I turn the TV on and eat sugar and numb out. Forget the outside world. Forget the trauma. I get to yell at characters who aren’t real. Consequences that don’t exist. I judge their choices because I know better. People I’ll never see. Places I’ll never be.

Why not stretch it out? It’s easier when the world is dark. One more show.

I go through the routine of getting ready for bed. Like nothing’s wrong. Next I huddle under the covers and read. Old favorites or new worlds. Vampires that sparkle or dystopian kids doomed to die. I judge their choices because I know better.

Eventually, sleep. Far too late into the night, but it’s comforting.

Anything to put off waking up to a world that is sick and burning. Glowing orange and choking on its own smoke.

Spaces in-between

We exist in parking lots now.

We have a routine that we do almost every day now since Covid hit. After lunch, we put on sunscreen and bike helmets and we walk or bike or scoot to a parking lot. The kids will ride or scoot or run or kick a ball in the parking lot.  And I will walk laps around the perimeter to try and get some exercise for the day.

We’ve started searching for more unused pockets of space in our town. Little spaces that are forgotten or neglected or just empty. The elementary school parking lot that has been vacant for months now. We venture down to the park-and-ride train station parking lot that is vacant on weekends. In the past week, we found this new-to-us section of parking lot in an apartment complex. The kids were delighted; they gathered pine cones while I walked laps around them, going nowhere.

They are spaces meant for waiting. They are spaces for the in-between, where cars sit and wait to be turned on so that they can take their occupant from point a to point b.

So here it is where we play or bike or scoot or walk or run so that we may pass the time and wait until we can be turned on again and we can continue our journey from point a to point b.

parkinglot