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.

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

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

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!

My Delicious Victory

It’s been a long week, dear Psychos.

Last night I really wanted some wine. I had been saving a bottle of Pino Grigio, which is my fave, and we were too exhausted/overwhelmed to open it on election day…or when the results were finally called…or anywhere in between.

At any rate, last night was the night. My mind was made up.

I’m not great at opening bottles of wine. And by not great I mean I suck at it and rarely attempt it. I’ve come to prefer boxed wine, quite frankly. I’m all about breaking down barriers.

Nevertheless, I am a modern, empowered woman and I wasn’t going to let a little plug of endangered tree bark wedge itself between me and my wildest dreams.

I got out the wine and a corkscrew and that little thingy you use to cut off the junk that covers up the opening. (Please allow me to amaze you with my knowledge of technical wine jargon!) I inspected the bottle to check if the top would simply screw off. I gave it a good yank (that’s what she said) and it didn’t budge. I proceeded with using the little cutting tool thingy. First, I couldn’t figure out how it fit onto the bottle. It kept slipping off as I tried to turn it (dear lord, she said that too), and I set everything down, frustrated.

Now Psychos, while I am a strong, independent woman, I am also not above asking for help. My husband was home, but he was upstairs giving baths to the kids. There was no way I was going upstairs and risk being asked to help or getting guilted into reading bedtime stories involving talking trains or various scratch-and-sniff Christmas items. That meant that if I wanted help, I had to wait. Temporarily defeated, I left all the tools sitting out and I went and sat down in front of the TV with a glass of water.

Water, y’all.

I lasted a few minutes before I got up and went back into the kitchen with a surge of I’m gonna fucking do this. I wrenched down hard on the cutting tool and cut through enough that I was able to pick it off the bottle. I looked in and there wasn’t any cork. Weird, I thought, but score! I poured myself a glass and was triumphant in my delicious victory.

Fast forward to this morning, when my husband saw the partial bottle in the fridge.

“You know this was a screw top, right? You cut right through the cap.” He pointed.

“Huh. That would explain why it didn’t have a cork.”

Nobody needs to worry about me. When I want something I’ll just claw at it until I get it.


Day 10

You can look now

Today, I was able to shut the world out for several hours in the best way – I read my book semi-uninterrupted.

I say semi because I have small children. People with small children, or who once had small children and maintain an accurate memory (read: not the kind of biased memory that leads you to grow old and senile and shout ENJOY EVERY MOMENT! at moms in the grocery store) know exactly what I mean. For those who have never had the intense pleasure, I’ll briefly elaborate: interruptions ranged from forced verbal admiration of random lego pieces pressed together to wiping butts to trouble shooting the online math platform to an obligatory distance high-five for getting 100% on the online math assessment. All in a day’s work.

What am I reading? Funny you should ask. Those who know me, or who have read this blog for long enough know that I have a terribly unhealthy habit of choosing varying levels of traumatic entertainment media, now being no exception. And actually, now is a classic combination of some poor choices mixed with some bad timing. See, for October I thought it would be fun to choose a spooky book to read because I enjoy Halloween more than most human contact and I was concerned that Covid would steal away my joy. In an attempt to capture some additional spooky Halloween spirit, I chose Bird Box by Josh Malerman. It was a great choice for several reasons: 1) There was no wait at the library, and 2) I had already seen the movie sooooo how scary could it be, really?

In the middle of reading the book, I was not-so-gently reminded just how vulnerable my nervous system has become since 1) giving birth to and parenting two small children, and 2) the anxiety rollercoaster ride of Covid quarantine, among other things. The book struck close to home because it’s a mom trying to survive with one daughter and one son (I have those things), and she’s doing it while wearing a face covering and trying to stay away from dangerous people and entities unknown. Add those real-world similarities to the forgotten fact that BOOKS ARE LEAGUES SCARIER THAN MOVIES and I was toast. I usually read books at night, in bed, with the red filter of my headlamp. For this book I had to turn on the light.

Fast forward to now. Because I don’t know how to quit you, I decided the sequel to Bird Box would be an excellent idea. And I’m not sure how it happened, (read: I’m lying and I know exactly what happened) but my friends started chatting about the Haunting of Hill House and I thought my husband had watched it and he’d only seen the first episode and was willing to see more. I was intrigued, and in my pre-motherhood days I enjoyed a ghostly horror flick from time to time but DEAR LORD (no spoilers, please, dear readers). I think we’re averaging 1.5 episodes per week because my nerves can’t take any more than that. And watch is a loose term, because the way I’m getting through these is by cuddling with my emotional support husband, with a blanket, and oh look it’s a scary part up comes the blanket over my eyes! And then my husband narrates what’s happening so I’m still included in the action.

Me: OMG! What’s happening now?!

Husband: She sees a hand.

Me: What?! What’s it doing?

Husband: Moving. It looks dead.

Me: Just a hand?! Is there more?

Husband: Now she’s scared, she’s backing away. She’s gonna escape up the ladder.

Me: Are you sure?!

Husband: No wait. More than a hand. It’s got her…it just pulled her tongue out through her anus…..aaaand now she’s dead. You can look now.

—-

Teamwork!

We’ll finish the series eventually, at the cost of my remaining sanity.

And so my motivation to sit and read for an extended period of time today was threefold: 1) I enjoy reading for long periods of time, 2) I wanted to shut out any and all election news and take a frickin break, and 3) For the love of all that is holy I need to finish this book because I can’t be reading a scary book AND be watching a scary series at the same time because my. nerves. can’t. take. it. but failure is not an option and I refuse to just up and quit. So there you have it.

Also, I didn’t intend for this blog post to become one of many lists, but now you see how my mind works so you’re welcome.


Day 5

Come Play With Me

With Covid floating around in the air and threatening to jump into our face holes, we’ve had to get really creative about how we have fun, amirite?!

And if you know me or have read this blog for any reasonable length of time, you know that Halloween and creepy shit is the only thing that personally makes the slow, steady descent into winter oblivion worth staying conscious for. Adding Covid into the mix this year requires even more creepy and dark humor.

I started decorating my house – inside and out – for Halloween early this year. Let’s just say I was inspired by the orange smoky death cloud that hung over the greater Portland (Oregon) area for a good chunk of September. We were stuck inside and it looked like The Road outside so I figured celebrating the day the dead returns to the earth was a good call. Maybe they [the dead] could give us some pro tips on how to suffer in style.

I picked up an apocalyptic DVD bundle at the library and took advantage of the extra couch time. I revisited The Road and Hunger Games. I watched 1984 and Clockwork Orange for the first time and now I think I’m all set to hide under my bed and sip my Xanax milkshakes until the Supreme Court decides if it’s okay that Americans can experience safety and joy ever again.

I’m struggling now to remember how it came up, but a few of my mama friends and I text pretty much daily while hiding from our children. We were discussing Halloween and what freaked us out (I think?) when my friend mentioned she had a creepy doll stashed in the back of her closet that gave her the heebie-jeebies. Her mom had picked it up at a garage sale with care, love, and my friend’s daughter in mind, but I’m guessing my friend didn’t want her daughter to get sucked into The Upside-down so into the closet it went. “Isn’t this how most horror movies start?” you ask. And you’d be right.

We (and by we, I mean me) made a few jokes about haha, wouldn’t it be funny to scare some mom-friends by leaving the doll on their porch in a bloody mess and then running away? And then my friends texted back a tentative suuuuuure and changed the subject.

I then started texting only my doll-having friend to see just how willing she was to use the doll in this way. It will be hilarious! I said. It’s the perfect socially-distant creepy fun! I said. LET ME HAVE THIS. I screamed. At long last, she sent me a pic of the doll and I swiped right, my friends. This was happening.

My friend didn’t want to completely fuck up her doll so we compromised and I made a creepy sign with red paint to accompany her. We also wanted to scare the crap out of our victim friend without making a huge bloody mess on her porch, because we enjoy maintaining friendships.

Not to be outdone, the afternoon before we were scheduled to scare our mutual mama-friend, my doll-having friend dropped off the possessed plaything on my porch without telling me and then texted with: knock, knock. For one quick second after I opened my door, she scared the poop out of me.

Touche, my friend. Touche. The messers become the messees!

And so sweet, little Gwenivere (more on this later) came to live at my house for an afternoon. You guys, I had never seen a doll quite as uniquely creepy as she was. Her facial expression was very dead-in-the-eyes meets resting bitchface. When I picked her up, which I don’t recommend, she was surprisingly heavy in an unsettling way. She slumped over when set down. And the worst, by far, was that she fucking smelled. I can’t even describe it, but I’m going to try. It was a scent that used to be sweet, or was trying to be sweet, but missed the mark. It was like super, off-the-charts sweet that had gone sour with age, under a layer of mothballs. And the scent clung to everything it came in contact with. Sadly, I realized this after it was too late.

I set the doll at the bottom of my stairs for the afternoon and she scared my husband and me no less than 10 times. My daughter wanted to keep her. NO! I shouted, SHE’S NOT FOR YOU AND SHE’S LEAVING TONIGHT. Before I grabbed the doll to go scare my friend, my daughter came up and whispered in my ear that she had kissed the doll goodbye. Dear lord, I really wished she hadn’t. She [my little girl] smelled like rancid Koolaid mothballs.

During our magical afternoon together, the name Gwenivere for my little guest just came to me, out of the blue. My husband later informed me that it was the name of the ill-fated van from Onward, which we had watched the previous night, but I prefer to believe otherwise. On a whim, I decided to look up the meaning of the name, just to see if it fit.

Gender: female. Origin: Welsh. Meaning: white ghost, phantom.

Fuck.

My doll-having friend picked me up and we drove the short distance to our other mama-friend’s house. It was dark and windy and raining. In other words, perfect. Gwennie stunk up the car with her evil wrath but man it was worth it. We successfully deposited her and her bloody sign on their doorstep without the dog barking (until we rapped on the door), and then we ran behind a parked car to watch and giggle.

The initial response was underwhelming, but what turned out to be hilarious (from my point of view, anyway) was that my friend’s two daughters instantly loved Gwenivere and wanted to keep her. We were texted a pic of her girls cuddling with the smelly, possessed demon and I was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down onto my mask.

Needless to say, the fun won’t stop here. I think Gwennie and her sinister stank needs to be introduced to all of my friends. She has so much more love to give.

Happy Halloween, y’all.

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

We’re all doing the very best that we can

This is getting hard. It’s taking a toll on me, and what’s worse is that it’s taking a toll on my kids.

We’re currently toeing the line of social interaction, and my kids desperately want to be normal, and I desperately want to let them. I really, really do.

They beg me and I explain, one more time, that we can’t get too close and we can’t share toys and it’s all because of this nasty, tricky virus. They blame me, and say I’m mean and that’s okay. I don’t expect them to understand because how in the world could they? And who can blame them when they see other kids playing together, other kids sharing toys? I just keep telling them that it’s my job to keep them safe and I am doing the very best that I can. And then I die a little inside. Am I making the right choice? Maybe we should just stay home. Would that be easier or harder?

Today, once we got home my older kid was off playing by himself so I took a moment to thank him for handling the situation so well, because he really did. It’s not easy hearing your mom say no again and again. I hate doing it. But he didn’t yell, he didn’t throw a fit. He disagreed with me and expressed his feelings like someone years older, and then went to sit in the car. I’m so proud of him, and I told him so, and yet, my heart breaks for him. This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not normal and this is going to get harder before it gets better and I’m so sorry.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

We’re all doing the very best that we can.