Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Chasing Butterflies

Disclaimer: My love for my family is something fierce. That is not in question as I write this. My skills to make it through the many months facing us all together at home, is. We have done pretty well so far. We have had a few tricky times, completing second grade was no small feat for my son and me. As a team, we did it, but it took a strain on our relationship and we didn't like each other as much during that time. That was heartbreaking. I am trying to take one day at a time, but learning that school in the fall will be virtual once again, makes me start thinking about the coming year. It is the right thing to do now and I wouldn't feel comfortable sending them if it did open, but it is hard for me to imagine the daily battles we had at home without getting nauseous. There is circle spinning I am doing at home that is starting to drive me bonkers. I can't seem to be very productive without getting distracted by everything around me. My kids, my husband, the dishes, the dust, the clutter, the stuff. I just keep trying to stay on top of it and as soon as I finish, more appears. It is an old story, but I am finding it impossible to stop myself. I recently sat down with the kids for a minute while they were watching "The Simpsons" movie. The family was fleeing their home when it was under attack. With seconds to get out, Marge runs back in to get the video of their wedding-- she grabs the video and starts to run out, but notices a dirty dish in the sink. She has to stop to wash it before running out. Never before have I been so validated by The Simpsons.

There is so much time now. I have nowhere I have to be and yet tasks seem to take me so much longer now.  I have way more distractions now. Case in point, as I try to write this, both kids have sealed their mouth with packing tape, decorated the tape, and then blew out to make their faces look like big bubbles. This is not a bad thing I suppose, they are quiet because their mouths are sealed and this tape has kept them busy for quite some time now. The only issue is they are coming up to me, making me laugh, or making me take pictures of them every few minutes. I am also constantly making them food, and then cleaning up again. They say they are "so hungry" but I really don't know how they survive on how little they both eat. I have filled more days than I would have liked just being distracted alone. I am missing focus, clarity, and inner peace a bit. I am taking care of myself as best as I can physically and mentally, but man oh man, we are living in such strange times these days. I am a pretty positive person, and I have been able to keep my spirits up through ~ mostly. At around five or six p.m. I get a bit blue. Another day is ending, and I am bone tired from not doing much, and I still have to make dinner. I am constantly checking in to see that my household is ok. When the kids disappear upstairs for a while, it isn't always a great sign. They have been arguing more than usual lately, and there has been a lot more mood around here.

Yesterday, we hadn't really gotten out of the house much. The day before was glorious and we spent the whole day out. We took our dog to the beach, we surfed, we boogie boarded, we relaxed and we were refreshed. The next day we stayed inside until we all got too much cabin fever and piled in the car to nowhere in particular. Transitioning from one activity to another hasn't been easy lately and when we parked downtown to walk around, the kids said they didn't want to get out of the car. At first, it was funny and cute. Their solidarity was admirable, but then it got annoying and then my husband and I got mad. Finally, after what seemed like an explosion of anger from all four of us, we started to walk around together. I don't think, I am so good at transitioning either, and couldn't shake my anger. My husband said something at the wrong time, in the wrong way when I was so sensitive and I couldn't keep it together anymore. Never in our relationship have we argued in the middle of the street and certainly not in front of our kids out in public. We weren't screaming, but to us, we may as well have been naked. We then got even more upset with ourselves and each other for even arguing, but we didn't quite know how to let up either. I had that heavy, ugly kind of anger and I realize now that there are so many things to be angry about, but your loved ones take the brunt of your seething sometimes. I don't have the ability to handle the feelings I didn't even know existed in me. All around the world people are dealing with the same issues of navigating a more limited lifestyle, feeling the responsibility of keeping themselves and loved ones safe from illness. For the first time in history, everyone is having to deal with the same concerns. While we are all navigating this at the same time, we are all having to do it so separately. So alone.

When our dog, Hazel needs a walk, I jump at the chance to take her. Getting outside for a bit breaks up the monotony and gives me a bit of quiet that I so badly crave. She is still a puppy and will run with me as fast as I want to go. I don't know why I pick up my pace so often when I finally have time to myself but it helps that she loves to run. No matter how fast we are going through, she always stops near an area that has milkweed growing. She sits and waits for the shadows of butterflies and whips me around chasing after them on the ground. I am not sure if she knows they are just shadows, but it doesn't deter her from trying to jump on top of each shadow she chases. I let her do this for a long time, it doesn't get old, and time seems to stand still, which seems to be just what I need. I miss being productive, my identity has definitely been morphed into more of a stay at home mom these days. I was just branching out of that a bit when this all went down. It is not a huge sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. I may not get to do that social justice project I was working on if I can't be social, but I will keep trying. Just like Hazel, she may never get one of those shadows, but she won't give up trying. Neither will I.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Stop Imagining

 

 A favorite riddle for my daughter to share is "imagine you are locked in a room, there are no windows, no doors and it begins to fill with water. How do you get out?" Anyone she shared this riddle would rack their brains trying to figure out ways to find a hose, or a crack to let the water out. She would explain there were no cracks and no special tools to get the water out. She would ask them if they gave up, and when they wanted more time, she would patiently wait while they gave more magical creative possibilities for getting out of an ominous room filling up with water.

I don't give drowning in a sealed room much thought. I don't think it is very likely to happen. I did get caught off guard yesterday at the beach when I felt and heard a boom. Coincidently we were spending the day with the same friends we were with when last July there was an earthquake that shook our house. I looked up at them yesterday, with terror in my eyes, and asked them if they heard what I heard. Only one of them heard it with me and she thought it was a really big wave. The image of the worst possible scenario filled my mind. The four of us were playing Bananagrams while their two kids played in the sand and my two children were in the ocean. My body stood still while I contemplated how fast I could head away from the ocean. If a tsunami were about to strike our whole set of game tiles would lift up into the water. All of us would follow and I imagine it would be like getting under the wave-like surfing or boogie boarding, except we might not be able to come up for air after three short seconds. These terrifying thoughts are brought to me by my wild imagination. Anxiety is said to affect intelligent people because of their ability to think of so many different scenarios. Even the worst case. I'll take the intelligent compliment but would like to lose the anxiety element.

In my wildest dreams or my intense imagination, I never thought a virus would come across could impact our lives as much as it has. If a year ago someone suggested the possibility that our schools would close, that we would be wearing masks in public and we would not be able to get physically close to anyone other than those in our immediate family, I would have thought this person should write a sci-fi novel. I would not have ever believed this was possible. Yet here we are and after almost six months and this is very much our reality. There are days that I still have such a hard time accepting life this way. I miss hugging my friends. I miss holding my dad's hand when we would walk together. I miss letting my children play with their friends with the carefree spirit children should have. I miss being able to tell myself that crazy things like your world turning upside down are highly unlikely but here we are. 

There is nothing I can do within my power to change our current situation except to do my part to keep people safe. We wear our masks, keep our distance, and do our school/work dutifully in front of a computer. I try not to think of how long this will go on because it doesn't help. I am doing my best to take it one day at a time. That is all I can do. The only way to get out of the room filling up with water in the riddle is to stop imagining. That is all I can do now too. This will get better. I can't imagine when, but it will.



Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Sheppard



 Today I am not going to sugar coat what I am feeling. I won't put a positive spin on my mood. I won't look for the silver lining or the light at the end of the tunnel. I know it is there is always a bright side but I am not in the mood to find it right now. I feel sad at the way this school year is starting. I don't feel hopeful that it will change anytime soon. I am tired of seeing people mostly through a screen and I miss my old life. I am okay when I can take one day at a time but today feels bigger than just one day. Its the first Monday of a new school year and I am disheartened that this is the world my children live in right now.

As someone who manages life with an anxiety disorder, when I feel anxiety, I worry about worrying. I have to talk to myself like I am a child and remind myself that it is okay to be scared. It is in fact pretty reasonable in times like right now to be walking around all day with a low-grade worry. When I let myself feel afraid, I can identify exactly which feeling is overwhelming me and then unpack them one by one. What I am finding right now to be the cause is a bigger than usual sense of FOMO for life, for me, for all of us, but especially for children.

Today was my Aunt's funeral. She turned 102 last week and had been starting to fade in the last few months. She had a great long life with family members who absolutely loved and adored her. When someone dies at that age, people say "wow" and I get it because 102 is an accomplishment, but it doesn't make losing someone any easier. I have been to a handful of funerals in the last two years and it doesn't get easier to watch someone physically leave you forever. I listened as speeches are recited in her honor, to say goodbye, to sum up, a life lived in a few short minutes. When asked if anyone else wanted to say a few words, I thought about how hard it would be to bring my slobbering, sobbing self up to speak. I thought about the two times, too recently my husband had to pull together his composure and find the right words for each of his parents. I can only imagine how hard it will be when I say goodbye to my parents. 

My father was so close to my Aunt. He would call her several times a week and when my parents were out here visiting the two of them would sit together for hours. They had a history so far back that only the two of them shared. The pandemic has made it too risky for my dad to come to California from New York to be at the funeral. I always imagined I would be standing next to him on this day holding his hand, holding him up, the way he has done for me so many times. The funeral was only for seven family members and the three nurses who cared for my Aunt. As I drove there I spoke to my father on the phone and he asked me to cry a few tears for him. I sure did daddy, more than a few.

Attending a funeral in masks without being able to hug family was trying. I stood there listening with tears streaming down my cheeks into my mask. Not knowing what to do with myself I opened up the prayer book and followed along with the Rabbi. I read these words “O Shepherd of Israel, Who dost neither slumber nor sleep, we are the people of Thy pasture and the sheep of Thy hand. Enfold us safely in Thy love. And if in our grief and loneliness and moments of desolation, we should stray from following Thee, O leave us not, faithful Shepherd, but draw us near unto Thee.” I am not a religious person and I like the freedom to pick, choose, and question religion. I am also not a follower who easily seeks a leader to guide me but I feel comforted by this passage. Today I kept rereading the word "shepherd" it came up in the prayer book over and over today. I am not a follower who trails behind a leader guiding me where to go, and I am no sheep. I could use some direction and support these days and I miss my pack around me. I think we all could use a shepherd from time to time and if ever there was a time, now is that time. 

When we talk of people who have died we refer to them in the past tense, yet we keep them alive inside us. I wish there was another way in the English language to speak of the dead. No one likes to say they had a brother or had a mother. I still have my Aunt even though I can't hold her hand anymore. I'm grateful for all the time she had with my family, that she got to know my children, and for the special bond she and my dad had. When I first moved here at 23 my Aunt and her daughter welcomed me, were a support to me and was a Sheppard to me. 

Sylvia Sheppard 1918-2020 




Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Small

We were outside during the magic hour. As the sun went down my son looked up at the big sky. He looked around and asked if we ever wonder why we are here. He explained that he is just one small thing in the world and wondered why we are all here. It was a very existential moment for this little boy. Having similar spiraling thoughts, I understood exactly the way he was wondering. Recently, I had been wondering about the impact of all the isolation we are in. As I looked at my son's questioning thoughts, I hoped that all our children will come out healthy, physically, and emotionally from all of this.

Back in March, when schools shut down one week before Spring break, parents, teachers, and staff, truly believed we would come back a few weeks later. When the weeks went by and the lockdown rules became more and more strict, a friend mentioned that she thought we would be ending the school year at home. I could not process her words and couldn't seem to think past one day at a time. Now here we are in the middle of summer, facing the reality that school will not be reopening in the fall. My son, who had overheard rumblings about going back to school a few days a week, or part-time, was looking forward to seeing some of his friends again. When we told him school would start at home again, my heart broke when he began to cry. He asked why we weren't going back for just a few days, and when I explained that the virus is still a risk, he said, "Stupid COVID!" He continued crying and explaining that he really doesn't like home school. I nodded in agreement. I don't like it either. I thought I would, but it didn't take long for the shine to wear off, and the struggles each day to take its place.

We completed a weird school year, are in the middle of a bizarre summer, and will soon start another strange school year. Our feelings are all over the place, shuffling between wanting what is best to keep us safe through all of this, but also missing human interaction. I am to the best of my ability, trying to making sure my children are "fine." Making sure my children are okay is generally not enough for me. I strive for a bit better than that for them, but given the circumstances, well enough is as good as it's going to get these days. We have moments of pure joy, but we also have deep sadness about our reality right now. It will take some time for life to resemble how we knew it just a few short months ago.

We are all impatiently waiting for good news to present itself. For the first time that I can think of, the world is truly going through something together. The irony though is that as much as we are together in this, we have never been so separated. This is a broken time in history and like my son, I feel like just one of the many pieces trying to figure out how to connect together. When my children get upset lately, the issue rarely reveals itself as a result of this pandemic, but it almost always is the reason. I have to remind them -- and myself -- that this is hard for all of us. It won't be like this forever, but it feels like forever right now. Each day blends into the next and sometimes I feel that I choose activities for us each day just to distract ourselves. I give my permission to look for whatever way works right now. This is all so much bigger than us. I didn't answer my son's question as to why we were all here. I am not sure he was even expecting us to, but even if he was, I wouldn't know where to begin. When I start thinking about career, income, creativity, I get sad that they are taking a back seat right now, yet when I see my youngest look up at the sky and wonder, I am glad I have all this time with him to ponder it all, too.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

No Good Choices

There is a time in the last few months when at least once we have all forgotten to put on our mask to go outside. I am sure it didn't take long to remember to turn around and go get it. For my kids, especially my younger one, forgetting happens a bit more often. We have had our whole life to walk freely around others without a mask, so it makes sense that suddenly since March wearing one daily is hard to get used to. It feels strange seeing friends or family that you haven't seen in awhile, and not hug them. It is hard to stand close to a friend you have had forever and have to back up because they are too close, even with a mask. These everyday reminders of the pandemic are hard enough for me, but for children, it's that much harder. That is why, as much as I would like to have them in school, it just isn't safe.

I hear my kid's phrase questions like this a lot, "When the virus is over, can we _____ (have a sleepover, go bowling, get conveyer belt sushi, go on an airplane, and on and on. The reality is I don't have an answer for any of those. I am not sure how long it will take for the virus to be over, or what day-to-day life will be like by then. I know certainly my kids need to keep social lives, they need to get outside and that homeschool will include those two things in a way that it didn't in the past. I can only handle my own kid's safety the best I can by making sure I communicate with the parents of friends to make sure we are all on the same page. If I see on social media kids hanging out with other kids next to them and mask free, I will take pause before letting my kids hang out with them. This isn't because I am judgemental, this is because I want us to stay healthy, and science proves that distance and masks help to that end. 

If and when our children return to school they will be wearing masks all day, they will be in smaller groups, and they will be spread out from each other. Some of them might let their masks fall down over their nose though. Likely some will get excited to share something with a friend and come in too close. Chances are good that my kids will have a challenging time correcting others as I do. I have stood at the door of a friend's house who has said "I am not masking up for you" and then smiled. I have been told by a few friends, "Oh, come on in, I have been really careful, don't worry about it." Since my twenties, I have not felt this kind of peer pressure. It reminds me of guys pushing for unprotected sex because they are "fine." Or being at a party and being told it would be a lot more fun if I did a bump. There is a very specific feeling of losing your footing a little when being told, so to speak,  you won't have as much fun if you keep masking up.  

I am all in favor of my children independently navigating themselves, but not with this virus. They can decide if they feel like having a sandwich for lunch or not, but they can't choose to wear a mask because it doesn't feel great. I believe my kids understand that, but I am not willing to risk their safety around others who might not. For that reason, the idea of sending them back to school sucks. For all the fun, social, real live in-person interaction they will be missing, having them at home sucks. Collectively, we are all going to play the "let's make the best of it game" for the next few (fill in the blank). I think that the only people saying 2020 was a good year are people who have recently become parents, survived illness, or are named Biden and Harris. Fingers and toes crossed for that last one. 



Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Going Home

Every August -- the last few weeks before school would start -- my parents would take my siblings and me on a road trip. They were teachers and in the summer they would work at summer camps. Between camp ending and school beginning, we would go on an adventure. For a few years in a row, we went to Kennebunkport, Maine. Other summers we would go tour around New England. Every town we stopped in was a new adventure, a new town and a new motel awaited. I loved being with my family without distractions of work or school, and I loved that we were all in it with the same goal: having fun together. 

Now, my own family, we are taking our own road trip. We are in the middle of our two-week trek. Last week we rented a minivan and took the highway for a tour of the Western States. Two kids, one dog, one husband, and me all together on this adventure. We started in Nevada, stopping in Vegas, watched the water show at the Bellagio, decided it. was a bit too crowded (Covid-wise). Then we drove to Freemont Street but watched the lights from the car to avoid crowds. The next day we headed to Linden, Utah to visit friends. We had a great time seeing their farm, playing with goats, jumping on the trampoline, and catching up. The next stop was Park City to see more friends -- we spent time at the lake, ate take out in their yard, and got to celebrate our friend's birthday together. From there we went to Idaho Falls with a fun stop at some natural hot springs. We spent time in Yellowstone and saw geysers, springs, and mud pots. Everywhere we looked we saw sights we never saw before, sights we didn't know would be so beautiful.

We drove from there to Whitefish Montana with a night or two in between to break up the drive. As we drove we saw signs for Huckleberries everywhere. They grow all over the northwest and they are used to make everything from jam to smoothies, to ice cream and cotton candy. When we got to Whitefish they were having their annual Huckleberry Days festival, so of course, we went. We went to Whitefish because a close friend moved there a year ago and has been singing its praises since. After seeing the mountains and lakes we understand why. We had so much fun with friends riding down alpine slides, doing an adventure park ropes course, swimming at the lake, paddle boarding, swinging on a rope swing, and of course going out for ice cream. My kids and their friends would walk around the block and pick raspberries and see deer before coming back. 

Today we are driving to Washington and have Oregon and the California coast still ahead of us. We stopped today in Coeur d'Alene walked through town and then jumped off of cliffs into the lake. I typically am a daredevil, but I have met my match. My daughter seems to be the bravest of the bunch. By the end of the day we all jumped, but there was one cliff in particular that I stood looking out on for quite a while. I ultimately was too scared for that one, but I braved the others. I was the first to jump off today so that I could help my kids out of the water when they jumped. I needed to go first for their safety, or so I told myself that, but I needed to brave the unknown first. I didn't want to have them go first, tell me it was fine, while I froze contemplating. It was indeed a bit terrifying, shockingly cold, and then fantastic. I loved watching my kids jump while I waited for them in the water. I am so proud of their bravery. Right before we left my daughter begged me to go with her again. After three times, I was done so she had asked my husband who had been watching us the whole time. He politely declined and then changed his mind at the last moment. He took off his shirt and hat and jumped off the highest cliff with our girl. It was such an exciting afternoon.

As we head into the second half of our road trip, I suddenly remember what we came on the road to forget: school begins next week. When my parents would take us traveling as kids they would stretch out the summer as long as possible. Often we would come home the day before school started and driving into NYC from the country would be a shock to my system. I always had jitters before the first day of school and would cry when the summer ended. This year as we drive home from this epic trip, I suspect I will be pretty sad. Yes, the end of summer will be upon us, as well as the start of a new school year, but this will be a year like no other. We will be starting school virtually and anyway you slice it, it just doesn't look appealing. There is so much ahead that is uncertain. Living in the time of a global pandemic is challenging to say the least. We have loved having a respite from being home. This trip has allowed us time and space outdoors without thinking about wearing our masks or standing far enough away from people. Looking forward to the year ahead is like standing on the edge of that cliff today. I don't really want to do it and I am contemplating if it will be okay or not. I am going to commit at some point and set an example to my two kiddos, that sometimes you have to jump in, even when you don't know what it will be like. For now, more of the open road awaits, and I am loving every second.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Back To The Beach

There is something equalizing about the beach. No matter what state of mind I am in, it has a calming element to it. I lasted all of two days when we first quarantined before I needed to drive to the beach. I didn't go to the sand or walk around, I didn't even get out of my car. I just needed to see the ocean. I needed to see the vastness of the horizon. I needed something that felt the same, smelled the same and looked the same as it always did. I don't think I have been to the beach as frequently as I have this summer. I am so grateful my husband and children love it as much as I do.

With the beach being one of the safest places we can take advantage of now, we are doing just that. This year we bought wet suits and after our first full day of boogie boarding, we decided we wanted to surf. My husband surfed growing up and he hoped one day to teach the kids but it just hadn't worked out yet. We recently bought a new board and since the kids both skateboard, they took to the waves really well. I wanted to try but was terrified at first. I had only tried it once before years ago, and between the freezing water and the size of the board, I wasn't very successful. This time we got a soft top and with the help of my husband, I got up that first day quite a few times. I have a lot to learn and don't have a real sense of what to look for in a wave, but I am hooked. I have gone out five or six times so far and the last few times, I haven't had much luck. I am so determined though. My daughter who loves it just as much tried to coach me last time. I kept getting pummeled by waves and falling. She got tired of waiting for the board and I kept saying, "one more time, one more time."

We have close friends who we see regularly. Their kids are the same age as ours and it works out well that they all happen to be very close. They are really the only family we spend a lot of time with these days and together we have planned a lot of fun activities for the four kids. We "traveled" to different countries, by reading books together, we have done art projects, cooked meals, and taken bike rides to get treats from international shops. None of our kids went to camp this summer, or got to make new friends, but we had pretty enriching quality time nonetheless. We went to a Japanese garden, picnicked with Italian sandwiches, even and did a tour de Culver City where we biked through town looking for certain monuments. We did all of these activities with masks and with distance. We had a great time, but each week we cut out time for a beach day. I couldn't believe how much joy would radiate from the four kids on these days. They just all seemed so happy at the beach together. They boogie boarded, swam, played in the sand and couldn't get enough of it. Even after a long day of way too much sun, they don't want to leave when we say it's time to go home.

This past week we took probably one of our last outings to the beach before school starts. The kids all wanted to know if once school starts if we could still go to the beach. The answer is yes. My friend said her daughter told her that when we all go to the beach, things feel normal. I couldn't agree more.