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.

Dig Even Deeper

On Monday night, a severe windstorm ripped through Oregon and caused the already-burning wildfires to explode westward and threaten many communities. My area is still technically on alert, just in case we may need to evacuate, although it seems that the threat of fire has diminished. What we’re left with is putrid smelling smoke that has settled into our valley and is seeping into homes. I’ve heard that the hotels in my town are full of evacuees from neighboring rural communities. Besides getting groceries, the mail, and gas for the car, my family hasn’t left the house in 4 days.

My outdoor yoga class was canceled. Meditation class was canceled. Farmer’s market was canceled. The library closed. School was canceled. My husband’s workplace closed for the remainder of the week. The only good part- apparently Oregonians will only pump their own gas during a pandemic firestorm. Mmm, the smell of sweet, sweet anarchy.

This suuuuuucks. Just when I didn’t think that things could get much worse, holy crapnuggets they did. Now I find myself just wishing, bargaining (with whom, I have no idea) that things would go back to how they were last week, when we had pandemic with sun and blue skies. Either that, or for the rain to come early. Imagine that, me wishing for rain.

If nothing else, all this shit just forces me…us…to dig even deeper into ourselves to cope. In whatever way we can. For me, often times it’s shutting out the world. Often it’s getting creative in how we entertain the kids.

I find that I’m giving myself more and more permission to do what feels good. Staying up late. Sleeping in. Eating sugar. Having more caffeine. Numbing out with really craptastic TV. I’m trying to choose coping skills that aren’t completely unhealthy. Finding a balance looks quite different when you’re standing on a sinking ship, with one end submerged in water and the other bobbing up in the air.

My world keeps shrinking, and with that comes a narrowed, more focused view of what’s important. I got an email about my son’s boyscout pack yesterday and IT WAS FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! This year is gonna be so great you guys!! My eyes glazed over and I sent it flying into a folder where I wouldn’t have to look at it. Not important right now.

So. This brings me to the mental list of things that I find myself newly thankful for.

I am thankful that our power didn’t go out.

I am thankful that the outside temperature has dropped, so we can shut off our AC and still be comfortable indoors.

I am thankful that we got outside and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air when it was here. Boy do we miss it now.

I am thankful that we own a beautiful home with plenty of space for my family.

I am thankful that we had N95s, a respirator, and air filters before all the smoke hit.

I am thankful for firefighters who are putting their lives on the line to save human lives, animal lives, wildlife, and property.

I am thankful that we haven’t had to evacuate. We’ve been able to hunker down in the comfort of our own home.

I am thankful.