April Around Here

And that is where we are, almost exclusively: around here.

I go running to the points of my compass: north, along what the big kid calls “the loop run”. West into the park. South to campus. East in hopes of catching a glimpse of the lake. A mile or two out and then back.

The guys wander to the Botany Pond, to the lagoon in Washington Park. The big kid collects dandelion greens for our salads. The toddler chatters at squirrels and birds.

We return home to rigorously wash our hands, everyone’s new favorite habit. (The toddler loves it; the rest of us have scrubbed our knuckles raw.)

The toddler, lavished with books and attention during our quarantine, has made huge strides in his language acquisition – as has the big kid, who has learned enough Latin to make small talk at the breakfast table (which is also the school table).

I miss the rhythm of our weekends Before, but I’m loving the new rhythms as well: crepes topped with jam or foraged greens, games of Bananagrams or Solitaire during the toddler’s naps, loaves of bread fresh from the oven, trips to the mailbox with letters and postcards for loved ones greatly missed, a tiny cocktail and a book club book in the armchair after bedtime.

 

Weeks 4-5

I keep waking up from anxiety dreams that are very much Of These Times: I am in a busy shop. I am in a crowded grocery store. In my dreams, I feel panicked because I am somewhere I am not supposed to be.

I am finding that our February spending fast prepared us well for this period. It doesn’t feel difficult to avoid shopping or eating out because we did that for the four weeks Before, though I miss buying coffee with nearly the same intensity. But also when I find myself pulling up the website for the grocery store multiple times a day, I know how to stop myself, and what questions to ask: what am I trying to soothe by loading this shopping cart? What does having good butter in the freezer mean to me? Do we need these things, or can they wait a few more days, and what will waiting feel like?

But also: I am struggling to reconcile the urgency with which we were tightening our belts in service of debt reduction – our priority in the Before – with a new sense of abundance in this moment when we are tremendously fortunate. While my employer has frozen salaries for at least the next fiscal year, I expect to continue to be comfortably employed, and so the stimulus payment warming our checking account, along with temporary student loan forbearance, feels like an embarrassment of riches at a time when so many others are in personal and financial jeopardy.

This week has felt heavy in different ways than the previous weeks. I miss my family and my friends, and wonder when I’ll be able to see them again in person. I am mourning the loss of small things, like my older son’s cancelled swimming lessons, or the opportunity to take the toddler to the zoo or the beach at this specific wondrous age. I am deeply grateful that we were able to go to Belgium before Christmas – and wonder how that will be possible again in an entirely changed world. I read a farewell post from a friend preparing to leave Chicago after many years, and found myself trying to imagine our vibrant city without its festivals, with the beaches closed, with no lakefront path for summer long runs. And then I found myself feeling guilty for experiencing these passing waves of sadness in the face of so much horror and suffering in the world.

So much of adulthood seems to involve holding contradictory things in balance: dreams for the future and realities of the present, the flaws of the systems in which we operate and the need for those systems to continue, the immediate needs of our loved ones and the also painfully pressing needs of the whole world.

Take a deep breath. Exhale. One thing at a time. One step forward. Sending love.

Week 3

I have found myself thinking a lot about my grandma over the last few weeks. She was born in the spring of 1918, during World War I and the Spanish flu. By the time she was my age, she had lived through the Great Depression, married a husband who soon went off to war, moved around a bunch of times, had seven pregnancies and four children, and settled into a comfortable middle class Midwestern life.

I mention this not to invoke the “Greatest Generation”, a construct that honors the sacrifice of a generation while ignoring its sins (for example, celebrating the liberation of concentration camps in Europe while whitewashing the camps created by our own government), but because as I have moved through the motions of preparing and caring for my family in the last few weeks, I have thought of her at odd moments.

On a very practical level – and she was a very practical person – I have thought of her while buying groceries and stocking my makeshift pantry in our storage locker. I have pictured the orderly shelves of canned goods, the basement freezer stocked with summer’s bounty, and the baskets and boxes of empty Mason jars, and have wondered what kind of future might call for literally gallons of mayonnaise, but also when, if ever, this scarcity mindset (and associated guilt) goes away.

I have read about the intergenerational aspects of trauma and poverty and wondered if this season will linger in my kids’ memory, protected as they have been against the worst of it, at least so far, or will this just be one of those half-remembered footnotes on the history of their childhood, the year that spring was canceled.

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

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.

20200220_150649

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.

IMG_20200202_181741_01