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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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!