Week 2

This year, for some reason, I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions. I don’t know why. I think at the time I felt like I was coming up on 40, and that I would make a list to go along with a milestone birthday. And then my birthday came and went, and I still hadn’t made a list, and so I decided I would just give myself another year to finish all the fun things I had set out for myself last year. And then life changed so dramatically that aspiring to finish that list became impractical, if not unimaginable.

So now what? We’re a quarter of the way through a year that has already felt like a decade – though I hear that for some, time feels like its speeding up rather than slowing down – but at a juncture where writing down anything beyond an intention for the day feels like an exercise in frustration.

We are far from the point when After might come into view, but despite that, I have started to make – not quite a list, perhaps more like notes for a more hopeful time:

  • Rainbow Cone, still on my bucket list, with my friends Alisa or Ashley or both.
  • Coffee made by someone other than me, consumed from a ceramic cup, preferably somewhere pleasant and outdoors.
  • Smelling other people, which, while not always pleasant, currently feels incredibly novel when it happens in passing.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

Week 1

This is the new normal. Is this the new normal? When will we have a sense of what will be normal? We don’t know.

On the other hand, in my household, it feels almost normal. I wake up and go to work, even though my commute is five steps from the kitchen to the big kid’s bedroom. The guys start schoolwork after finishing their oatmeal. We check in with each other throughout the day. Some days I go running in the afternoon. Some days they go to the park (but not the playground). A more abrupt than usual transition into home life at 4:30, after which point everything is as it was two weeks ago: Sarah and Duck while I make dinner, children clamoring for chocolate and stories, the bedtime routine, maybe an hour to watch TV or read a book before collapsing into bed.

This week has felt like a lifetime, and planning feels like a fool’s errand. Is it reasonable to do the groundwork for a conference in October? A meeting in May? Should I try to approach my work as if everything is as it would be in a normal March? To some extent, I have to, as it neither makes sense nor am I able to function in an environment where my work has to be reinvented day-by-day.

I am sad. And scared. And overwhelmed. But I am also home, and safe, and privileged.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

Take care of yourselves, friends.

Strange Days

I’m feeling flooded this week, struggling against the tide of uncertainty as events are canceled, universities closed or effectively moved online, countries quarantined.

Like everyone else, I waver between preparation and skepticism, between worry and calm. Do we really need giant jugs of water in our storage unit? How are the therapists that come into our home avoiding transmitting viruses from family to family? How many bags of cat litter are too many?

It feels strange to not know how to make plans for six weeks from now – or if we even should. I came into work on Monday planning to prepare for a large meeting that I chair each month. That meeting was scheduled for Tuesday. A few hours later, I was told that we would need to make alternate arrangements for that meeting. Can I plan to move March’s agenda and presentations to April? Should I be planning for May? I don’t know.

Like everyone else, I’m weighing the known against the unknown. I’m in good health, and have a job that I can do from home, and an employer that will hopefully be supportive of those arrangements (even if my kids are not); the risks for me are minimal. My kids are in good health and don’t go to school; the risks for them are minimal. But my husband is immunocompromised; the risks for him are very high. So it’s rational to be simultaneously calm and anxious, to want to do whatever I can to protect our family in the face of uncertainty while also feeling a little like I’m losing my mind.

– – – – –

I started writing this three days ago. How much has changed, and how quickly. How strange to think that a week ago, I was brokenhearted because my candidate withdrew and a hip injury meant I probably couldn’t run a race next month.

I packed up my office yesterday, ferrying my books and snacks home on my bike in perfect weather, and today am working from a desk in my son’s room, where I will be surrounded by blocks and stuffed animals and books of mythology for the indefinite future. This will be an adjustment; I am doing my best to practice kindness and patience. The latter is not my strong suit.

I went to the grocery store this morning, hoping to beat the crowds if I went early enough. I did not beat the crowds, but we all waited with our full shopping carts, concerned but calm. Everything will get worse before it gets better; for now, the sun is shining through the open windows and it feels perverse to have a care in the world.

Winter Around Here

I’ve spent the last month-ish deep in the SADs. That’s the best explanation for it – which isn’t to say that it would be irrational to feel sunk down deep in muck and mire with the world simultaneously on fire and on the edge of a pandemic, with every minute shift in public opinion in an unending primary being reported in excruciating detail and to the detriment of probably the most competent and prepared candidate in American history, with rampant corruption laid bare but unpunished, with people being unfairly struck from the voter rolls and bees dying and the lake reclaiming the lakefront. In the same week, I talked to a friend about their divorce, and another about fears for their child, and another about a pregnancy much wanted, and another about the failing health of a loved one, and another about workplace challenges, and the weight of it, while a burden I’m honored to carry, is all too much in a season already so bleak.IMG_20200213_200345_271

And also: my baby is 18 months, and 18 months feels halfway to A Real Boy, and so every night I hold him close and bury my nose in his curls and cover his face in kisses and tell him, again and again, how precious and loved and wanted he is, how lucky we are to have him, how grateful I am to be his mama. This season, the one of his toddlerhood, feels all too fleeting, except for the moments when he is simultaneously stealing apples from the fridge to roll them across the kitchen floor and dropping onion skins in the cat’s bowl and tossing toys in the trash. I scooped him up after a tumble the other morning and the smear of blood from his mouth on my shoulder was a visceral reminder of his fearful fragility.

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And also: my big kid is five and a half and is every day full of surprises. He’s obsessed with Latin and soccer and some days wants to be a Math Detective and others tells me about how his baby will go to daycare so that he and his wife can go to work. Some days he is an emotional maelstrom and others he reads my moods and surprises me with pictures and letters that I tuck into spots where they will catch my eye in the moments when I need to see past my 28 open tabs and stacks of paperwork and unwashed coffee mugs to remember the things at the heart of it all.

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Assorted Reading

We’re nearing the end of January and I have yet to write about Belgium, or December, or my 40th birthday, or probably other things that merit time in this space. In the interest of ever getting to any of it, here’s a year-end link dump for your mid-week perusal.

Reading

Parenting, kids, motherhood

Relationships, self care

Food, cooking

Work, working

2019 in meme

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
Hired a babysitter; served on a conference planning committee; traveled internationally with two children; saw a world record being broken; wore a stick-on heart rate monitor for multiple weeks; successfully made falafel and a trifle and fish and a bunch of other semi-ambitious dishes; lost a kid in a crowded public place; got mastitis (twice!).

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I made a 40×40 list, but finished less than half of it, so I’m extending the deadline until my 41st birthday.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Several friends, but no one in my inner circle.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My last grandparent died in August.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new places this year. We spent 3 weeks in Belgium, including a day trip to Holland to visit family. I went to Champaign 3 times for work, and Iowa 3 times for sad reasons.

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
Financial independence (or at least a path there)

7. What date from 2019 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
A lot of stuff happened this year, and as a result, many of the dates are fuzzy. I remember very clearly where I was when I learned that my grandma died, but I couldn’t tell you the date – it was the first week of August, and the funeral was a few days before the baby’s birthday, but that’s all I’ve got.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Mostly keeping my shit together from August through mid-November. Graduating from therapy. These things are related.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Patience. With myself, my partner, my big kid.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I’m very grateful that 2019 was medically very boring.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Weleda Skin Food. My Get to Workbook. The no frills men’s jeans I bought at C&A after yet another pair of pants failed me.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My kids are amazing, even if they drive me bananas at times. The big kid, age 5, is an avid letter writer and is doing 4th grade math and can play chess and poker and piano (if he pays attention to what he’s doing) and ran 5K on his birthday and has been drawing all of these involved pictures depicting all of the important things from our trip to Belgium. He plans to move to Belgium when he is 18, but he also plans to open a coffee shop near Boston called CoffeeFish. The small kid, age 16 months, is clever and naughty and irrepressibly joyful. He has a head of curls and adores his big brother and runs to the door and yells MA! when I come home.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Most elected officials’, same as in previous years.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and rent and debt and travel.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Wasbar. Beni Falafel. The Vogeltjesmarkt. NYT Cooking. Getting out of debt. Sesame noodles.

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
I really didn’t listen to much music this year beyond random Spotify playlists. This track came up often:

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. richer or poorer?
Poorer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Sleep, running, time with friends, lying on the couch doing nothing – same as it ever was.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about money, dealing with moving and apartment disasters.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We were in Belgium for Sinterklaas, so the big kid enjoyed all manner of chocolate and surprises, while the small kid was delighted to get to eat little cookies off the floor.

We shifted our family’s celebration to December 23, when we celebrate our dating anniversary. We opened stockings and exchanged books:
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates for me
The Landmark Thucydides for N
P is for Pterodactyl by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter for the big kid
Never Touch a Dragon for the small kid

I worked Christmas Eve before watching the big kid perform in his choir at the Christmas Eve Tableau at Rockefeller Chapel. He was a donkey in the pageant.

We spent Christmas day in Rockford with my family – snacks and presents at my sister’s, more gifts and brunch at my parents’, then a mostly leisurely afternoon with the family.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?
With the view from our Belgian apartment and the convenience of having actual appliances in our new Chicago apartment.

22. (Adding a new question in place of one that no longer applies!) What was the best thing you ate?
Rijsttafel. Kale sauce pastaMushroom “shawerma”. BENI FALAFEL.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
The Expanse

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is a strong word.

25. What was the best book you read?
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I can’t think of anything ground-shattering. I mostly listened to a bajillion podcasts.

27. What did you want and get?
3 weeks completely checked out from work

28. What did you want and not get?
Entry into the 2020 Chicago Marathon

29. What was your favorite film of the year?
I watched two movies in 2019: The Post (on the flight home from Belgium) and The Secret of Kells (on the big kid’s birthday). I would like to watch more movies, with and without my kids.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Brunch at The Gundis, coffee at Intelligentsia (where we took surveys in exchange for future free coffees), cupcakes at Molly’s, emergency water shut off at home, baby in a bear suit napping on my chest.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Sleep

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
Whatever fits.

33. What kept you sane?
Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Karen, Kim and Angie, Anne and KZ, long walks

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Who has time for that?

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Another terrible, terrible year.

36. Who did you miss?
Everyone

Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

 

November Around Here

This month is neatly bifurcated – the first half full of busy stress or stressy busy leading up to the second half spent decidedly not Around Here.

I got through October by putting my head down and focusing on the 23rd – this month, I need to make it to the 14th when, after four consecutive days of meetings with members of admin, I can finally check out for our trip to Belgium. No meetings. No work email. No such thing as a library emergency, at least where my job is concerned. I’ve been at a breaking point for the last two months – it’s good to take a break before an actual break happens.

On my last working day for awhile, I leave early to drive to Champaign, there and back in a work day, powering through with coffee and podcasts to fulfill the final in person obligation for my professional development cohort. Champaign in the throes of Autumn is a liminal space for me, so many layers of memory in the leaving and returning. At lunch, I take a walk past familiar places being unmade and remade, and leave town feeling unexpectedly fragile.

A new chair friend joins us just before we leave town but with plenty of time to become the most coveted spot in the apartment. Mina utterly abandons our bed in favor of the newfound pleasure of a truly cozy spot.

The preparing for being away feels like a job unto itself. There are lists to be made and groceries to be used up and favors to be asked and anxieties to be quelled and children under foot and crucial items missing, but somehow we make it to Monday and deliver a key to a neighbor and the cat to wonderful friends and we’re off!