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.