Stare the unbearable in the face

I found this article shared by a Facebook friend, titled: There Is No After. This quote jumped off the page at me:

In the place of a shared sense of reality or collective expression of mourning, I see a torrent of advice on how a person who managed to survive can feel more self-actualized once they return to the shuffle between the office and after-work drinks. To me, this looks like denial, the first tentative step towards what I’m told are seven distinct stages of grief.

Molly Osberg, Jezebel

This. THIS. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but this feeling I’ve had of being “left behind” as things open up and friends gather and vacations are planned…..all as I am still at home, watching the case numbers rise. AGAIN. And this article defined it for me – maybe it’s not that they aren’t affected, but perhaps it’s the opposite, that the masses are so desperate/traumatized that they are willing to deny that this isn’t over – to claim that there is an “over” – to avoid feeling the tidal wave of overwhelming grief and loss. Loss- of life, of safety, of community, of normalcy. I feel alone in my grief.

It’s unbearable, and I’ve always been the type to stare the unbearable in the face. Look at this! Look at how terrible things are! Let’s dissect and marvel and wallow and grieve this terribleness! Who’s with me?!

To be clear, I feel the urge to deny as well, because one can’t bear the unbearable for too long, uninterrupted.

When I was little, I remember having this recurring nightmare. Do you remember that wolf with the glowing eyes from The Neverending Story? It represented The Nothing – fear, destruction, depression. It terrified me. In my nightmare, it would hide in the darkness, under my little brother’s crib. All I could see was its eyes, glowing and staring right into mine. I could hear it growling, threatening me. I was terrified and frozen. I wanted to run but was physically unable. My only option was to stay and stare it down. I mirrored it. I was down on all fours and growled back, even though the first few tries wouldn’t produce any sound.

And that’s it. That’s the whole dream. I still have it, sometimes, even now. That’s what I do, even in my dreams.

So we distance

Nothing’s changed.

My husband is still working from home. My son is still doing school from home. My daughter is still practicing her writing skills from home. I’m still washing dishes and doing laundry, constantly. At home.

None of us are vaccinated. We don’t have any more protection than we had a year ago. And so we distance.

We sit and watch as case numbers go down. Oh yay, maybe we’ll consider putting our kid back in school! And then, as a result, the governor lifts more restrictions. And we continue to watch as case numbers rise again, because that’s what they are gonna do when restrictions are lifted and more contagious variants are in play. Facepalm.

Kids around here started going back to school two weeks before spring break. At first we wanted to wait and see how the school did with enforcing social distancing, etc. We also realized we wanted to wait until significantly after spring break because people would travel even though we’re all still advised not to. And so we distance.

We choose very carefully what events we’ll go to, because each outing comes with risk and a considerable amount of anxiety. I can’t control if my friends and strangers wear masks. I can’t control if other people don’t social distance when I/my family is present. I can’t guarantee that my kids will social distance in public, especially when other kids are present. I can’t control if events are scheduled in person. Or at a restaurant. Or in someone’s home. But we can make sure to wear our masks. We can protect ourselves as best we can while also respecting the health and safety of others. And, save everything else, we can choose to stay home.

Please know that for a lot of people, it’s terrifying to watch as more and more people gather in large groups, stop wearing masks, take vacations. Six feet of distance in schools shrinks to three. Restaurants open for indoor dining. In the same day, the CDC director begs people to keep distancing and my Facebook feed is full of maskless, hugging, smiling faces.

Rapidly and increasingly, we feel left behind. We’re exhausted from making constant risk assessment decisions, trying to balance perceived danger with a need for human interaction. Tired of asking/expecting/hoping people to wear masks and feeling discouraged when they don’t.

So we distance. Staying home is easier than trying to navigate a world we can’t control, a world that is desperate to get past these plague times. A world that is opening up too quickly.

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.

Books Read Amidst A Pandemic

I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read since I was about 8. I don’t think I’ve listed every single book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty close. It’s interesting for me to go back over the list and look at trends…which years in adulthood I’ve read the least, which I’ve read the most, and what was going on in my life that dictated those changes.

Some books I barely remember and others I can picture where I was sitting and what time of year it was and even what I was eating when I was reading.

This year, when everything first shut down in March I was reading Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. I had read Into Thin Air several years ago, and that book was so exciting, so compelling that I couldn’t put it down, so I gave Wild a go. Into The Wild was not nearly as exciting for me, but the survivalist in me enjoyed reading about the true story of a free-spirited young man who desperately wanted to live off the land on his own and paid the price for choices made. What will forever make this book stand out in my mind is that I read it amidst the backdrop of an unfolding global pandemic, stuck at home while the protagonist singlehandedly took on the world and left everything behind.

In the middle of reading Wild I had put Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel on hold at the library, just before it closed down completely for several months. I thought I was out of luck to get it any time soon, but my friend who works there saw my hold come in after the shutdown, asked her boss for permission, checked the book out to me, and hand delivered it to my door! What lovely service! This book was recommended to me by friends who know me and know that I love apocalyptic/dystopian/survival and now pandemic stories. Y’all, the similarities between the pandemic in this book and Covid are uncanny and sent shivers down my spine as I sat in my front yard in the sun reading for hours and ignoring my family one Sunday afternoon. I also appreciated how the book wove in timelines of various overlapping characters that spanned from pre- to post-pandemic.

A few books later I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah because a friend of mine thought I’d like it so she lent me her copy. If I remember correctly, she said she thought of me because it had “strong female characters,” and boy howdy, am I glad she did! This book was, hands down, the best book I’ve read in at least two years. For some reason I have it in my head that I don’t like historical fiction, but I think I need to recalibrate that notion based on this example. This book was mainly set in WWII era France and focused on how two sisters struggled and fought and lived through various atrocities. I find that time period extremely compelling, as does my husband. Usually he’s focused on the military side of things while I love to learn about the political/psychological/socioeconomic aspects of civilian upheaval, struggle, and survival, and this book did exactly that for me. This book was so moving that it had me outright sobbing at more than one point and it read like a movie. Five stars; go read it now.

After Nightingale, I needed something extra light so I picked up The Maze Runner by James Dashner from the Little Free Library. It was definitely written for teen boys, but I enjoyed the original dystopian mystery concept and it went quickly as a nice palate-cleanser. I watched the movie of it afterwards. I wasn’t intrigued enough to continue on with the series, but your tween cousin might be.

A bit later on, I escaped back into the world of Panem and it was glorious! I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. As devout fans know, I was skeptical that this book could live up to the original Hunger Games trilogy and in my opinion it did a fine job, although the plot started to lag 3/4 of the way through. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know young Corelanus Snow and I was singing The Hanging Tree for weeks afterward.

Towards the second half of this year I started to re-read the Twilight series, which I hadn’t done since getting married and having kids. I desperately needed an escape from the world and current events. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many details I’d forgotten about, which made the experience feel new again. Of course, after Twilight I read the brand new Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, which is the same plot as the first book told from the point of view of the mind-reading vampire, Edward. Highly entertaining and satisfying both for my inner teeny-bopper and for previous me who read the leaked incomplete manuscript of this book years ago and has been lusting after the conclusion ever since.

Sprinkled in there around Halloween, I read Bird Box and its sequel, Malorie, both by Josh Malerman. Bird Box was much creepier than the movie. Although Malorie was interesting in its attempt to answer the question of now what? at the end of the first, it fell flat for me.

Other special mentions:

  • I re-read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell for the first time since it was read aloud to me by my 4th grade student teacher. This book is an amazing jem: it features an incredibly strong and determined young female protagonist AND – what escaped me before – it’s based on a true story (of a girl left alone on her native island for years)!
  • I read Little Weirds by Jenny Slate because I like her standup and I find her hilarious and quirky and delightfully anxious, but…I hated the book. It was too weird for me.
  • I got my hands on a copy of The Power by Naomi Alderman and shoo-dang, this was a fun read. Women and girls now have the power to produce electrical current through their skin and they use it to stop taking shit from men?! SIGN ME UP! It didn’t quite go the direction I wanted, but I loved the concept. And interesting that this is a book-within-a-book, where the story is told from the future as a flashback of sorts. Read it, and you’ll get what I mean.

I could go on and on and I didn’t mean for this post to be so long but I LOVE BOOKS and the year of the pandemic calls for many.

Next up on my list: A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

What have you read in 2020 that you’ve loved? Hated? Used as toilet paper?


Day 29 – The second to last day

I’ll Eat When The Cheer Is Complete

At the beginning of this long holiday weekend, I was all I’m gonna turn a corner in my life. We’re gonna bring in some Christmas cheer and I’m gonna stop watching scary movies that prevent me from sleeping and I’m gonna get gift shopping done early sos I can kick back and enjoy watching this yule log of a year burn, baby, burn. Or something like that.

To kick off the holiday season right, but also so I could move on with my life, my husband and I watched our last 3 hours of The Haunting of Hill House right after the kids went to bed on Thanksgiving. Tis the season!! This show scared us so badly that we were dragging out the time between watching each episode and I just needed to rip this bandaid off right quick. Overall, I did enjoy the season even though I felt like it stole a few days from my life and they are now residing in the Red Room with everyone else.

The next day I asked my husband if he wanted to watch this one random movie I got from the library and he said foolishly said sure. I picked it up and showed it to him, and I have a disease, you guys. True to form, I had chosen a zombie flick because it had the word pandemic on it. It was called Alone, and it came out this year – how did I manage to miss this?! The movie was just okay, and it involved an interesting take on the classic zombie genre. Because my nerves were still fried from Hill House, I jumped way more than I should have, but I persevered, my friends. I don’t expect my family and friends to associate with a quitter.

So today – today – was for sure the day. We were gonna create some motherfucking cheer, goddamnit. We got up and had pancakes, which never fail to make my kids happy. We attended a surprise birthday car parade which was lovely and joyful. To continue the cheerful momentum, I hesitantly asked my husband not to freak out, but that I wanted to decorate for Christmas aaaaaand – gasp – play Christmas music. This, this is simply not done in our house. My husband has this thing where he won’t celebrate a holiday until the first of the month of said holiday. Lately, I’ve been asking him ever so sweetly to stop CRUSHING MY JOY when we see Christmas lights go up in the neighborhood or hear sleighbells on the television. Today, he graciously allowed me to usher in some gaiety after I shouted at him that THIS WAS ALL THE HOPE WE HAD LEFT.

I started getting the bins out and my kids actually helped put up some decorations. I left the fake, lit garlands I usually wrap around the banisters until last. I was getting a little peckish but I was determined to finish the job and so I pranced over and decided to plug them in – just to make sure they worked, you know, as a formality – before I strung them up. First one lit up the room. Excellent. The second – crap. Suddenly, my empty stomach felt cavernous. The dull, annoying headache I’d had pounded up my brainstem and beat me behind the eyes. Oh yeah, was it that time of the month too? WHY THE FUCK NOT?!

Not to be deterred in the slightest, I proceeded to expertly wiggle and jiggle each and every bulb, all while muttering devil-words under my breath. My husband could sense a change in the atmosphere in the house, and gingerly suggested I take a break and get something to eat. I’LL EAT WHEN THE CHEER IS COMPLETE was my rabid response.

Knowing my limits as a rational human being, I screamed at allowed my husband to take over to troubleshoot the light issue. Then, for reasons still unknown to me, I decided that only fools eat food or take breaks, and I proceeded to organize the liquor cabinet. This only enraged me more when I: 1) couldn’t reach the back of the cabinet and had to ask for help, and 2) couldn’t open a jar of 10 year old homemade booze that we’d never drink and had to ask for help, and 3) banged my head so hard on the open cabinet door that I had to stand there for a good 30 seconds to let the pain pass. Sigh.

After I Marie Kondo-ed the booze (it all sparked joy, save for the 10 year old Baileys that had chunks floating in it, may you rest in peace), I had enough good sense to make and eat some noodles. By that time, my husband had exhausted all options with the lights and he promptly ordered some new ones on the internet because he loves me and he effectively saved Christmas!!


Day 28

Sit with the ache in your heart

This Thanksgiving marks the one year mark since I have seen my parents in person.

This is the longest I have ever – EVER – been away from them and it sucks.

Last year was the first year my husband and I decided to host Thanksgiving. In years past, we traveled to California from Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with both our families (my husband and I are from the same hometown, so going home means we get to see everyone in one trip) and we made it a point to stay as long as we could. Travel is expensive, and since having one and then two kids, it’s a huuuuge pain in the ass. If we were gonna go anywhere, we were gonna stay and make the trip super worthwhile.

We opted to host last year because my son had started kindergarten and we couldn’t take the 2 week trip without him missing school. We invited a bunch of family, knowing we were deviating from the norm and that most would probably have other plans already. My parents were the ones who chose to fly up and join us. We had a fun visit and a pretty chill Thanksgiving meal. My mom helped out by making her amazingly cheesy shredded potato casserole. I struggled to take a selfie of everyone sitting around the table, but somehow I managed. We had no idea it would be the last holiday we’d spend together for a very long time.

My parents had another visit planned around…I wanna say…April? We all mutually decided to cancel; it wasn’t worth the risk of anyone getting sick. My mom has a preexisting condition and so her health is at a higher risk than most. Also, both of them are over 65.

Ever since, we’ve been FaceTiming but y’all know that’s not the same. My son is able to write real letters now, and we do that from time to time too. My daughter would contribute her spirited artwork. There’s just no way to write enough or color enough to fit yourself into an envelope and mail all of you to where you need to be.

For me, this Thanksgiving will be one to grieve a benchmark of time spent apart. We’ll be grieving the loss of safety, normalcy, etc. I’ll also be giving thanks that, although apart, my family is all in good health. Our sacrifice, and the sacrifice of everyone around us, is for good reason. It’s so that we can all be together again in the future to celebrate and share our lives and swap germs and not take that closeness for granted ever again.

I know this lockdown is hard, probably one of the hardest things we’ll do as a global community in our generation, but resist the temptation to let down your guard and get too close to those not in your household this holiday season. Think about the long-term consequences. Think about how you’d feel if a social gathering landed a person you love in the hospital. The risk is not worth it. I encourage you to sit with the loss. Sit with the ache in your heart. I feel it too. The good news is that it won’t last forever.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking about my parents and making plans for the future. Because if everyone does their part, then we’ll all have a future to celebrate together.


Day 24

The World Is Not Ending

I’ve realized I need to remind myself that the world is not ending.

Somewhere along the way, I figured all the stores are closed and school is closed, so I should be too.

This is it. Accept it. We don’t get nice things anymore.

But then I hear other people are going out.

Having experiences.

Seeing people.

Doing things.

Living their lives.

And then I remember. Huh. Maybe I should too?

Staying home is nice.

Safe.

Warm.

Comfy.

But is this what I want?

I’m so tired.

Weary.

Sad.

Numb.

But is this what I want?

Sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Oftentimes I change my mind.

Or my mind changes me.

Just remember, self: the world is not ending

And neither are you.


Day 22: Pepper Day!

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

Luck Has Nothing to do With It

When I’m chatting with ladies who don’t know me all that well, who are only acquaintances, sometimes the topic of household duties comes up.

Oh, I’m so tired of cooking! Say, what are your favorite recipes to make for your family?

Internally, my eyes roll back in their sockets before I respond.

Actually…my husband cooks in our house.

And then I brace myself for the two-pronged response that I almost always get:

First is SHOCK: Whoa! What?!

Second is: Wow, you’re so lucky! I wish my husband would do that!

I have so many issues with this. First of all, just because I’m female and I’m a wife and a mom does not mean that I like to cook, or that I cook at all. That bias is still present for me, hence the jolt of weird guilt that goes through me when I end up confessing shirking my domestic womanly duties.

Second of all, luck has nothing to do with this arrangement. I chose a dude who doesn’t adhere to rigid gender roles, just like me. I find that attractive in a partner. Also, the way we negotiate the household duties is based on practicality and it’s on a fluid, ongoing basis. We do what we’re good at, what we like, and what works better for our family. Why the frick should I cook simply because I’m female? Doesn’t make any horsesense to me.

Third, it makes me so mad that it’s flippin 2020 and we’re still having these conversations. And the pandemic is only making things worse, as I saw a headline recently that reported several million American women left the workforce since March. As for me, I didn’t leave it, but it sure as heck delayed my entry back into it. Because, while other countries have social/government run safety nets, the United States has women.

I recently saw the interview Melinda Gates did with Dave Letterman on his Netflix show. In it, she said that when her oldest kid was in preschool, her husband Bill and her decided that he would drive their kid to school two days a week. That’s how they negotiated the household duties that would work for their family. As the school year went on, Melinda noticed that more and more dads were also driving their kids. When she spoke to the other moms, they said that once they saw Bill driving his daughter, they went home and told their husbands that if Bill fucking Gates could drive his kid to school, those husbands could, too.

And so. If my husband can cook dinner like a boss, yours can too. Let’s show each other that gender roles are bogus and all they do is hold us back, men and women both.

Luck has nothing to do with it.


Day 14

A Sigh of Relief

I woke up around 8:45am Pacific time this morning.

I could hear my kids playing downstairs and my husband was stirring next to me. I was enjoying the moment, just lying there, peaceful and rested and warm.

My husband grabbed his phone and started checking things. He thrust his phone in my face. I could tell it was a picture of Biden, but without my glasses I couldn’t read it, and so he read me the headline.

Then I grabbed my phone and, instead of reading the news, I first saw a barrage of celebratory gifs from my friends. I started laughing and couldn’t stop. It was such a release, the laughter.

I looked at the time and realized I should get moving if I was going to make it to my Saturday morning zoom yoga class. I’ve been missing yoga lately, eating way too much Halloween candy, my nightly teeth-grinding has ramped up. I’ve been wound really tight lately, as many of us have.

I crammed breakfast into my mouth and shut myself in my son’s room and logged in. It was especially hard for my mind to stay in the here-and-now during the class. It was running all over the place, thinking about the future and how Kamala made history and ending this pandemic and the laundry and oh I need to clean and do all the things.

But my body. It’s hard to describe other than a release. I’ve been doing yoga so long that the poses and the flow feel extremely natural in my body. For a long time I haven’t had to think about what comes next, my body just does it. It’s literally muscle memory. And the simple act of moving my body broke all these tiny dams within me that were storing stress. worry. trauma. pain.

The roof of my mouth and my jaw started to ache, from the nightly grinding. My glutes relaxed and let go. My right shoulder gets gummed up frequently and that, too, started aching. My core woke up and felt alive, activated, welcoming the use. My knees and back were popping, crunching with the movements. I’m developing a headache as I type this, still sitting on my yoga mat.

But somehow this all feels…good. Or at least appropriate. I wouldn’t be surprised if tears develop for me later on, another way my body might purge. Reminds me of how people tend to get sick while on vacation, when their bodies are finally allowed to relax.

I’ve seen footage from friends around the country, some of which are marching, dancing in the streets. I’m doing that in spirit right now. I’m right there with you, finally breathing a sigh of relief.


Day 7