Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Considering The Circumstances

 Whenever a truck goes by, or the garage door opens, I question if the slight rattle was an earthquake. When the earth beneath my feet actually does shake, I question if a truck just went by. When the shake goes on a little longer and a little stronger I know it's real. At that moment I brace myself and in a flash, I pray it doesn't last long and try to think of what I can do to make sure my children are okay.  For the following hours and days, I think every sound is another earthquake. I am on edge preparing for the next one and also bracing myself for the likely aftershocks to follow.

At the moment, I feel like our everyday life is just waiting for that next quake. Our whole world has been rattled and I am feeling shaken. Between the pandemic and politics, my head is spinning. It has been almost six months since our lives changed so drastically. Last week my kids started a new school year like no other. We are all in our house living our lives virtually. So far home school this year is going so much better than it did last year. With the summer months to plan, schools have really done quite a turn around to make teaching online feel more like a real classroom.. My daughter has more of a handle on her schedule of classes in seventh grade, she knows what she needs to do each day and doesn't seek our help. 

This situation isn't ideal though. It takes a great effort to get both of them outside for fresh air during the school day. They both get zoned out after being on a screen all day that it becomes difficult to motivate them out of the house. My son has a lot of kids his age nearby that I can get him together with to play outside safely with a mask, but making plans for my daughter is more challenging. At twelve she is really in between me still making plans for her and her being able to make them for herself.  Middle school was already hard socially. She grew apart from some friends and some friends moved away from her. It seemed that just as they all settled into a comfortable groove the school closed its doors. Now if it were up to her she would only see the same friend over and over, putting all of her social needs on one friend. On a regular school day in normal times, she would be interacting with so many more kids throughout the day. I haven't figured out how to help her to branch out when she doesn't actually interact in person with peers.

 For my son as a new third-grader, he isn't yet comfortable with all the technology.  He is overwhelmed at the next level of academics and he is not at ease enough to speak up in "class." His confidence is at risk and almost daily he steps away from the computer to cry to me. He gets frustrated and shuts down. I try to help him but he doesn't seem to take in any support from me. At times he has said he doesn't know any of this and feels stupid. This is not the case at all, but if he misses the instructions and the class seems to be successfully doing the assignment he falls apart. If this were in a real classroom he would see what his friends were doing and figure it out. This is where this system is not working. It is as good as it can be right now, but it is a poor substitute for being in a room with peers.

My heart breaks for kids everywhere whose childhoods were interrupted so abruptly. We don't know the long term effects of such an increase in screentime and such a decrease in human interaction, but it can't be good. My son has one close friend who has stayed inside or in his backyard since March. When we saw him at school to pick up supplies and my son was so excited to see him. He yelled his name and said hello and his friend clung his mom's hand, barely waved, and darted his eyes away. This child last year played with my boy every day at school and now it is as if he unlearned how to be with other kids. We need to be safe and stay healthy but part of good health is keeping our kids social. Just like my son gets overwhelmed with new math lessons, I get overwhelmed with this dilemma too.

The weeks already seem to be picking up speed and passing us by. I take each day at a time and try not to let my head wander too far ahead. I enjoy being active and getting outside. I do what I can to keep my family healthy physically and emotionally. I try new ways to boost their spirits and keep them seeing friends. The four of us have most meals together each day and that is a gift. We are finding our new normal even if it feels anything but. We get out of town and get a change of scenery when we can and virtual school allows us that freedom. We are healthy, we are safe and considering the circumstances, we are doing well.

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


 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