Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Keep Calm

As a person with anxiety, times when fear is on the rise, can be challenging. I suffer from anxiety and it doesn't come into play that often, but when it does, it feels awful. Earlier in the school year, I had an episode of anxiety, that felt unbearable. My family was going through a lot of loss and a lot of changes. It all just overwhelmed me and I wasn't prepared for how intense it all became. I got help as soon as I knew what was happening. Thankfully, within a few weeks I felt myself again. I realized that I may suffer from anxious episodes but day to day I don't live my life as an anxious person. Quite the opposite actually. I am not afraid of a lot, just afraid of intense anxiety when it creeps back in.

Today's news has anxious and non-anxious people panicking. The stores have empty shelves and the price of toilet paper has gone up because the demand is so great. Friends are stocking up for the apocalypse and preparing for the worst. There is a pandemic upon us, and I was pretty chill until today. I started feeling disconnected and distracted. Then I felt it, anxiety. The realization that I felt it at all caused me to snowball for a minute. The hardest part about living with an anxiety disorder is deciphering when it is normal to be feeling anxious, and when it is just a chemical imbalance. Additionally, overthinking about anxiety just leads to more anxiety -- so good luck to me when that happens. I checked in with my husband, who reminded me that he would be concerned about anyone who wasn't at least a little anxious during this time. With that, I was able to see, that this was a rational reaction to a very bizarre time that we are all experiencing together.

Today, we are collectively somewhat paralyzed by the news. None of us know what lies ahead for us with this pandemic. We are all capable of imagining what a quarantine could look like and we are terrified. My parents are visiting and they can't go home. They are in the unsafe age bracket to be flying right now. I am constantly trying to simultaneously tune in to the news and tune out. It is challenging to know how much is real and how much is hysteria. I could find evidence that seems to prove both sides. I want us to go about our day to day and live our lives, but while being cautious as well. I asked friends how many people are still planning to go on their spring break vacations and how many people are canceling and the response what split down the middle.

It is day-to-day here and I am taking deep breaths (not close to others of course) and hoping that the worst case scenarios do not come to pass. There is no rest for the weary and we all need our sleep right now. I will keep washing my hands, keep my kiddos from picking their noses and hope we still like being around each other when this is all over. Carry On!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Mixed Messages

It feels to me that half of the people in this country have forgotten that we are living with a global pandemic. The messaging about schools, camps and businesses reopening has given some people the idea that we are going back to the way things used to be. Suddenly I see people have stopped wearing masks around each other, and they are not social distancing as much. I see people are having summer get togethers at people's homes. When I look at social media, I feel like a cliche, because it is actually making me feel left out when I see some people are hanging out together. I know that we were supposed to flatten the curve, and we did, but that doesn't mean the virus is gone now. In fact, the minute we started opening up again, the number of people affected by it went right up.

I am no expert on the virus and there is so much I don't understand. I do know that I am seeing this virus taking all sorts of turns that no doctors expected. We thought kids were not at risk and then children started showing up with serious complications due to overworked immune systems while trying to fight Covid19. We thought most adults without pre existing conditions would get the virus, be a sick a while and probably recover, but then people started getting blood clots and losing limbs from Covid19.  So many of us were under the impression, myself included, that mostly it's the elderly with coronavirus that end up in the hospital, when in reality 25% of the hospitalizations are under 50.  I know we all have to do what is right for ourselves and our families, but knowing what feels right right now is extremely challenging. There is so much we don't know.

The varying degrees of seriousness that people seem to be taking being quarantined, or staying six feet apart, seem to cover a huge range. It makes sense that at this point our children, and us for that matter, are starved for social interaction, but it seems that some have put that hunger before their health. Even though some camps are allowed to open up again doesn't mean the CDC has said it is safe to send your kids. I understand there are precautions in place but I can't get comfortable with the idea of sending my kid into a group of 5, 7 or 10 other kids and hope that all those kids families are being careful too. It's kind of like what they teach you in high school health class that when you sleep with someone, you are sleeping with everyone they've slept with before. I have friends who I love and respect that are sending their kids to camp this summer, it just isn't for my family yet. Not to mention I don't want my kid to have to wear a mask all day in summer heat, and yet I really don't want them not wearing a mask either.

Lot's of people are also comfortable being a betting man. I know the virus has less of a chance of living outside so they seem to throw caution to the wind outdoors. I am also not willing to sit inside my own house all summer without seeing friendly faces. I am going to the beach, I am going to ride bikes, I am even swimming in the pool that I share with my neighbors (4 at a time) but I am not ready to do much without a mask. I am also not ready to stand close to anyone. My parents were here in February when the news started to come out about the virus. They weren't supposed to go home until mid-March but by then the world had stopped in it's tracks and there was no way I was going to let them fly home. They ended up staying until last week, a total of four months. I am so grateful to have had the time with them, but due to their ages, and their risk factor, I never once got to hug them the whole time. It sucked, but it was a small price to pay for having them healthy. They desperatley wanted to get home so right before things opened up too much, they flew home. I suited them up in everything short of a hazmat suit. They had N95 masks, face shields over the masks and each carried little bottles of anti bacterial gel. It was no small decision to make for them or for us about going or staying, but in the end they needed to get home.

When I hear about needing to get to a herd immunity, I lose my ability to follow. We are at 5% now and need 40% of people to become immune in order for her immunity to go into effect, but in most cases it is really over 85% of the population needs to have immunity before herd immunity to go into effect. The only other way herd immunity can go into effect is with a vaccine, so either way we are looking at a lot of time and a lot of sickness before this is a valid option to bank on. I get the need to open up our economy again, but I don't get it at the cost of many, many lives and I feel like in some ways that is the messaging we are getting right now. I don't intent to preach here at all but rather thought I might be preaching to the choir, but the choir is singing several different songs at the moment.

So while I might see some friends "opening up their bubbles", "quaranteaming" or just letting their guard down entirely, I don't judge you, but I won't be joining you. This past weekend my daughter came off of a zoom birthday party with tears streaming down her face. She said two of her friends on the zoom were sitting right next to each other on the same bed having a sleepover. She had so many different feelings, the first being, how are they together when we aren't supposed to be? Then she said it was awful to be alone at home like the rest of the group on the Zoom, while two girls laughed at inside jokes and muted themselves to talk. Lastly, she cried because she misses being able to be with friends the way she used to, but understands why she can't. I couldn't have put my thoughts together any better than she could, nor could I disagree. There are a lot of mixed messages out there, and not a lot of answers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

With A Little Help

It's interesting that as social as I am, I am not interested in Zooming, or FaceTime'ing, or sometimes even talking to my friends on the phone. All of these are such poor substitutes for the real thing. There are days where I think I am doing okay. Well, "quarantine ok" -- and then there are days where my mood is all over the place. This week there was news about schools unlikely opening in the fall, and I could not process that well. I have been really good at taking this whole thing day by day, but I felt suffocated by the idea that months from now we would still be in this situation. This news comes at the same time that some locations are opening up again, so I feel pulled between all of these new versions of reality. For the first time since this all began, my friends and I did a distanced birthday celebration on a grassy field. Despite the face masks and the distance, it was glorious.

We need people. We need our friends. Children need other children. I feel lucky that I have three other people living with me, but my heart hurts for people who live alone right now. My aunt in Manhattan has lived alone her whole adult life. She didn't mind it, but her daily interactions with people she worked with or met for meals sustained her. Now she is so lonely it hurts. My student Betty is 85 and lives alone too. She has children and grandkids, but only one of her sons comes to visit her from her porch. I have asked her if I could pick up her groceries but she insists on doing it herself because she says it is her only adventure out of her house. My kids and I decided we would bake for Betty and go over and drop it off. We made her muffins and jam and told her we were going to drop it off and wave from the sidewalk. We made signs to say hello and when I saw her eyes from over the top of her mask, they looked happy and sad at the same time. I felt exactly the same way. She yelled out to us that it was so good to see us and then added, it was so good to see any people. On the phone with me, she said she doesn't know if the world will ever be the same again. I wished that I could reassure her that she would see the world in a way that was familiar to her, but I can't say with any certainty in her lifetime that she will.

The afternoon after I had seen my friends, I went from feeling alive, hopeful and refreshed to feeling really blue. It was a let down to realize that the outing took so much energy out of me and that as great as it was, it will be few and far between before I spend time with people again. I love my family, having time with them, being creative and staying busy with projects at home but I am really uncomfortable sitting in this unknown for so long. I was doing pretty well, taking it all day by day, but the last few have had me jumping ahead to what our summer will look like, or what the fall will hold. None of us know, and since the Subaru commercial says we're in this together, I need to heed their words (not the ones where they tell me to buy a new car when no one is going anywhere, but the supportive ones). A few years ago when our water filter needed a replacement cartridge, I wanted to try and do it myself instead of asking my husband for help. He was at work and I was home with my then 4 year old. I managed to wiggle under the sink and remove the old cartridge but in trying to insert the new one I hit something and water spewed everywhere. In what felt like five minutes our entire kitchen floor was flooded with water up to our ankles. My son asked if we should call the police. I didn't do that, but I asked for help and was able to drain it out and save our floors. All this could have been prevented if I asked for help in the first place.

I am using that story as a reminder, that sometimes I try to prove to myself that I can do things independent of others. There has been a lot I have gained from this attitude in the past, for example I backpacked nine countries on my own after breaking up with my then boyfriend. I moved all the way to LA from NY in a 1976 VW van, and started with a new beginning with $1500 to my name. I studied and took the GMAT then applied to graduate school at Harvard without telling a soul. That last one really proved that asking for help is something we need to be able to do sometimes. Suffice to say, I did not get in. At this time in our history, we are living through a huge challenge and Subaru is right. I am not in this alone. I need to remember to pick up the phone and call (not text) a friend and ask for help when I am scared, sad, mad or alone. Chances are good that whoever I am speaking with will also have experienced some if not all of those feelings, maybe even in the last hour. So in a time when we are already disconnected because we have to be, I want to reach out just a bit more. Even if it is hard, I know all of us humans might get by with a little help from our friends.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

We Can Do Better

The last two weeks have been intense. It is challenging to feel hopeful about equality in this country after seeing what has happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery -- and those are just the names we know of. My friend's cousin was shot eighteen times by NYPD last week, and no one is talking about him in the news. He was already on the ground with two others when all three were struck with bullets. They survived, but he didn't. No one is hearing his name or his story anywhere. His mother said, "It would have taken one bullet to kill him but they had to shoot him eighteen times." If it isn't caught on video and we don't know it is happening, it doesn't mean it isn't happening. Too many black lives are violently stolen and we can do better. As a country, as citizens and as human beings: we can do better.

I've read so many articles recently about how to talk to your white children about race. I've read about making sure you tell your children about what is going on in the news recently. I've read that our children will pick up on our reactions, so be aware of what our response is to what is happening. While I agree with all of these articles, I am more shocked that speaking to children about racism is not something everyone has been doing since they had a child. I was surprised to learn that a mom of one of my daughter's friends never had conversations like this before. She believed that if you let your children interact with everyone in a diverse setting then children will make friends with everyone and live happily ever after. Quite the opposite is true. I do in fact live in a very diverse school district and think that the district does a good job of teaching about inclusion and equality. It is clear though that diversity doesn't equal equity. It seems that within the five elementary schools here, the ones that serve poorer families are the same schools where the test scores are lower. That could be less parent involvement, English as a second language for some children make it harder to learn in English, less school fund raising, but it also could be that their voices aren't being heard loud enough. We can do better. For such a diverse little pocket of LA  our police officers have been known to pull over people that are black and brown. At one of our local protests this past week, they said they will "do better".

Please don't assume that children are resilient and that all of this news will not have lasting impact on them. It does and it should, but it is my job as a parent to model behavior for them. My children are watching me and taking my cue. How many friends of color do I have? How many friends of color do they have? How often so we see these friends and have them over to our house or go to theirs? How I view the police in this country is how they will view the police. I have had to explain that the very people in uniforms that are meant to serve and protect us are also the same people causing so much harm. I have had to explain that people are innocent before proven guilty in America, but that the police don't seem to remember that when they hurt people. I have explained that there are racist people in this country, and that some of the famous people in American history that they learned about were straight-up racist too. We have made signs and marched in protests, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, because this can't wait. We can do better, we will do better and now is the time to show our children tha
t we can see the system is broken. It was built broken and together we can do better to make it work fairly.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Hating Pot

As a teenager, a letter was sent around to the NYC schools announcing an audition for a project about racism and anti-semitism. I went to the audition and found myself so invested in the exercises. The people running the audition were giving us different historic examples of hate and asking us to reenact the scenarios. Sometimes we were the perpetrators, and sometimes we were the victims. Until that day, I had never known about art or theatre for social change, but I was so moved during the audition.  I didn't even know what type of project this was going to be, but it felt important and  I knew I wanted to be part of it. I didn't get my hopes up that I would get in, but I remember being excited to get a callback.  When I got the call inviting me to participate, I was asked to commit the summer to workshopping and rehearsals. I was nervous but excited since I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know that when I stepped into that room, I would be embarking on one of the most important experiences in my life. One that would go on for over four years and stay with me my whole life.

Liz Swados was the the director and visionary of the project. She had worked with kids before when she wrote "Runaways" some years before. She swore off working with kids again, but since this was a project dealing with stereotypes, she decided to challenge herself to be open to trying again. On that first day when I met her, I was both fascinated and terrified by her. I knew right away that there were a million creative thoughts running through her mind. She had a small frame with a head of big red hair. She was intense, focused and clearly brilliant. There were over twenty of us in the group, mostly teenagers, with about seven or eight adults. With Liz guiding us like a mother, a teacher and a force, she dove us into a world of relationships. We learned about relationships, racism, bigotry, between races. With a lot of hesitation and a whole lot more trust, we bravely spoke of our own stereotypes. We were all so vulnerable and raw when we opened up with sometimes hurtful words and ignorant beliefs. Together we would break down where racism and anti-semitism started. We would act out horrific times in our history, get angry together, cry together, and then come together again.

We all went on quite a journey with what became a pretty powerful musical production. Starting with that first summer when we improvised our way through hard, hateful, hurtful skits to connecting to one another on the many traits we had in common. We parted ways for a month or so while Liz took all the work we had done and pieced it together into one seamless creation. We rehearsed our words mixed with her fine tuning and then took our production to schools around the city and then around the country. We went to all black schools, all latino schools, all Jewish schools and public schools. We felt the audience as their eyes opened wide. Sometimes our message was received with open arms and sometimes it wasn't. We were a cast of all races and ethnicities. Our message was a real one about hatred, one that hurt to hear, but was honest none the less. We ultimately sang, "We are all the same, in blood and in bone, on the street or alone." Some took that message the wrong way and after the show would speak out that we weren't all the same. We were trying to show that despite the way people have been treating one another, we are all human. Our intentions were to share that for far too long people have their vision blurred by hate, history and rumors. When the ignorance of bigotry is put to the side, it is a bit clearer to see that we are all equal in what we are made of: skin, tissue, and a heart.

My own eyes were opened to the world in a way I hadn't seen it before participating in this project. I grew up in New York City, going to public schools with diverse students and diverse teachers. The people of color in my life were my peers and I didn't quite realize how uncommon that was until I joined the play. I am Jewish though, and I had experienced anti-semitism, and after being hurt by it, I am ashamed to say I tried to hide my Judaism for quite a few years. It was more comfortable for me to blend in with a diverse group than to be segregated, but I learned that even in the city of New York, very few neighborhoods were as diverse as Flushing, Queens. There were two other Jewish girls in the play with me, one went to private prep school and was very focused on college, and the other was very religious and had never touched  a black person prior to meeting one of our cast mates. My experience was very different from theirs. I started to see that I was more in the minority and that the city that I thought was so diverse, only looks that way when you walk down the street, ride the subway or take the bus. People would branch off to neighborhoods that were mostly one race or religion.

Everyone in the cast became close. No matter what area of the city you lived in, a version of home grew in this group. We trusted each other and we were a team. We went through some trying challenges building the production and we were all invested. My friend Kizzy's family was from the West Indies and she lived in Brooklyn. I hung out with her often and her family was always so loving towards me. Once at a party at her house, the music was playing, the apartment filled with celebrating friends and family, I looked up to realize I was the only white person. It was the first time for me and in that moment it hit me how many countless times Kizzy was the only black person in a room. My identity, my awareness of the need for human rights, civil rights and equality have mostly been shaped by being part of this group. The name of the play was called "The Hating Pot," because despite the Melting Pot we thought our city was, we were mistaken.

Many years passed, and many of the cast mates lost touch. Some remain in New York but many have scattered around the country. I am connected through Facebook with a handful of them, but over twenty years have passed since we have all been together. In 2016 we were all heartbroken to learn that Liz had passed away from cancer. It all happened so quickly that very few cast mates were able to make her memorial. I don't think I have processed that I will never get to say goodbye. Recently, many of us were tagged in a video we made for her wife's birthday back then. It started a thread of dialogue between us and a Zoom call. Since that time, our country has been screaming from the injustice and loss of George Floyd. His death was one of many racist acts of violence that has made it all too apparent how much work our country needs to do. I honestly thought we had made so much change with "The Hating Pot" years ago, but our work is far from over. The first calls we had were amazing reunion calls, but since then it is clear that we are together again for a reason. The message of "The Hating Pot" clearly needs to be heard.