WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

Things I Learned at the Playground April 18, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — sierrak83 @ 5:35 pm
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Photo by Robin McPherson on Pexels.com

“It’s school vacation for Rylin next week,” I’d said while talking with a friend last weekend.

“Oh, nice!” she’d said. Then, “What do you two have planned?” It was a logical question. No school means we should take the opportunity to do something fun. A year ago, we were the type of family that was almost never home on weekends and most weeknights, too. But now? I’ve grown accustomed to staying home. Comfortable NOT doing stuff. Too comfortable maybe. So I gave my friend all the same excuses I’ve used for a year now. “Nothing planned. Don’t forget I’m not vaccinated yet. And things aren’t normal here still. We still have to socially distance and wear masks.” My friend offered a simple, “Mmm” in response, which I could’ve taken as a sign of agreement, that I’d made the right choice by not planning anything. But come Monday, day one of school vacation, I was still thinking about that friend’s “Mmm.” And the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a gentle nudge. A kind reminder that life didn’t end when the pandemic started. And she was right.

“Let’s go to the library playground,” I suggested to my exuberant seven year old on Tuesday morning. It felt to me like a good compromise; something she’d be excited to do outside of our home or yard yet, still very low risk. When I said the words, Rylin’s eyes and spirit perked up. The library playground is THE place to play in town for the ages 3 to 12 crowd. And we hadn’t been in over a year, thanks to the pandemic. “Yesssss!” she whooped.

I reminded her that sandals aren’t the best for running so she put on socks and sneakers. I suggested we put her hair up so it’s out of her face when she’s playing. She asked to bring one of her babies, pretending she was a teacher and this was a field trip. And soon enough, we were loaded into the car, water bottles in tow, ready for a fun time.

We stopped for lunch on the way so our first order of business at the library was a little picnic under the pavilion. As we ate our sandwiches, I watched her glance around. She commented at how long it had been since we’d been there, how many kids were there playing, and how a couple people didn’t have on masks. And then lunch was over. I put my mask back on, disposed of our trash, and told her I’d be right there at our table, reading, while she plays. “Okay, mom!” And she was off, leaving me to chaperone MaryEllen, her one student on our field trip.

Within a few minutes, though, Rylin was back at the table beside me. She was unpacking MaryEllen’s backpack, which was full of hair accessories. As she spritzed her doll’s hair with its spray bottle and began brushing it, she admitted, “I’m feeling a little lonely.” I pointed out all the kids around her age and suggested she say hello to one of them. She lowered her gaze and said, “Everyone already has a friend to play with except for me.” I again suggested that she says hello to someone and asks them to play. I even offered to help her talk to someone. She shook her head, told me she could do it on her own, and ventured out again.

Her second attempt lasted about as long as her first. Only this time, I watched her rather than read. I saw her retreat to the least populated area of the playground, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the other kids. When she shuffled back to our table, I pointed out to her that talking to a new friend would be easier if she played in the same area as the other kids. She sat beside me, brushing MaryEllen’s hair again, and eked, “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

It was as if I was listening to myself. I understood completely but asked her to say more anyway. “What’s making you feel overwhelmed?” She hesitated a moment, thinking. It wasn’t that some people weren’t wearing masks. It wasn’t even that there were too many people. It was that they were strangers. And in that moment, my year’s worth of gushing about how incredibly resilient she’d been throughout the pandemic came crumbling down. I realized that the pandemic HAD changed her. A year ago, she loved meeting new people. She’d say hello or just start playing with new friends without thinking twice. But since March 2020, she hasn’t even seen a stranger. And now, in April 2021, she doesn’t know how to meet someone new, even when they’re right in front of her.

I helped her brush and braid her doll’s hair, all the while reminding her of the kid she was a year ago. We talked about how the pandemic had changed the things we do, how we do them, and how we feel about all of it. We also talked about how life is slowly starting to get back to normal, and how we have to, too.

She made a short-lived third attempt at playing with the other kids but came back crying moments later, complaining about a twisted ankle following a jump down from the monkey bars. “Let’s head home,” I suggested for not my first time since we’d arrive. “Okay,” she finally agreed. She sounded defeated, and not just because of her ankle. On the car ride home, we talked more about feeling a little nervous to do some of the things that once came naturally to us. “It’s not that you CAN’T talk to new friends. You’re just out of practice,” I pointed out.

On Wednesday, Rylin was very eager to accompany me to my first vaccine appointment. As we got ready to leave, I pointed out what a beautiful day it was and asked if she might want to try visiting the playground again. To my surprise, she said yes. But our second day at the library went much like the first; me encouraging her to say hello to someone, her shying away from everyone, and the two of us styling her baby’s hair until it was time to go.

As we drove home that afternoon, she mused that she didn’t understand why she feels so overwhelmed about talking to new people. And I leveled with her. “Life has been very strange this past year and some of the things that used to be easy for us just feel different right now. But we have to keep trying.” Then I admitted to her that lots of normal things make me feel nervous now, too. I suggested to her that we both keep working on the things that make us feel overwhelmed.

We spent a rainy Thursday at home relaxing. Babying ourselves. Me, with a sore arm from my vaccine. Her, with a bruised ego from two trips to the playground without peer interaction. I took some time to reflect on how wrong I was to believe we’d made it through the pandemic unscathed. I silently acknowledged that many of my own anxieties about life returning to semi-normalcy are beginning to encroach on unhealthy. I also admitted to myself that she was drinking it all in. My emotions. How I respond to the world around us. I was poisoning her.

“Let’s go on a date,” I proposed on Friday morning. It was raining. We’d had two failed attempts at the playground already and really needed an emotional victory, a morale boost. “How about bowling?” I asked. On our way to the alley, I talked candidly about how I’ve been nervous about being around other people. “Ever notice that for the past year, Daddy has done most of our shopping and stuff outside the house?” I asked. She nodded. “I’ve been scared. But just because I haven’t gone out much doesn’t mean I CAN’T. So today we’re going to do it!”

We bowled two games, just the two of us, masks and all. And when we were done, we treated ourselves to ice cream. I worked hard, actively, to not let any of it bother me. Not the having to wear a mask, not the interacting with the bowling alley staff, not the ordering or paying for ice cream. I made a choice to not poison her with my anxiety. Instead, I fed her a steady diet of positivity and lightheartedness. And it worked. “That was a lot of fun and I wasn’t even that nervous. Thanks for being my date,” I smiled at her in the rear view mirror as we pulled back into our driveway. “You’re welcome,” she smiled back.

As life continues to inch closer to normalcy, my goal is to be more mindful of what I feed her soul, to remember that she’s drinking it all in and learning from me. I owe it to her to show her how to be responsible and cautious, sure. But also how to be happy, confident, comfortable in her skin. How to know her worth, take no shit, and not settle for less than she deserves. How to be brave. Fearless, even. How to not let anything stop her from accomplishing everything she wants in life.

It’s a tall order we have, us parents, navigating our kids back on track post-pandemic. But it’s time. And someday when she’s older, I’ll tell her the story of how it was her who taught me how to reenter normal life.

 

Humor Me March 20, 2021

Day 28: Post five things that make you laugh-out-loud.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

“I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.” – LINDA ELLERBEE

We’re a year into a global pandemic. And I can’t tell you how many times since its start that I had an if-I-don’t-laugh-I’ll-cry moment. When I need a good laugh, these are the things that are surefire ways to get the job done.

STAND-UP COMEDY
The first thing my mind goes to when I think of laughter is, of course, comedy. My relationship with stand-up has always been tepid, though. I don’t have a list of favorite comics. I can’t reenact my favorite bits. I’ve been known to turn off the TV during a comedy special if I don’t laugh within the first few minutes and maybe because of that, nights at the comedy club were something I’d only agree to infrequently, pre-pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, though? I can’t wait to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers while trying to enjoy some pretzel bites and two drinks, minimum. But I digress. The comedy I do enjoy isn’t mean to anyone, like picking on the guy in the front row for the shirt he’s wearing, for example. It can be adult but shouldn’t be crass or mysogynistic. It should not be accompanied with any over-the-top facial or body movements. In fact, bonus points if it’s delivered with a deadpan nonchalance. One of my favorites is Michael McIntyre. If you’ve not seen any of his stuff, do yourself a favorite and check him out on YouTube.

FUNNY ANIMAL VIDEOS
For me personally, funny animal videos are….meh. Sure, they’re entertaining. But they’re not the first thing I run to when I need a laugh. The reason why these make the list is because my daughter loves them. And her seven year old gleeful laughter is enough to brighten up any bad day. So when she asks for one, I almost always oblige. Sometimes there are other pets mixed in—dogs, birds, bunnies. Sometimes they include farm animals. Once, we saw one of panda bears sliding down a slide. She especially loves ones that narrate, either in subtitles or with voice-over, what the animal is thinking or saying. Those that don’t have narration often get narrated by us as we watch. That is, IF we can catch our breath between bursts of laughter.

SCHITT’S CREEK
I may be a bit biased here because Dan Levy is one of my most favorite humans that I’ve never actually met. But this show is phenomenal. The casting. The writing. The wardrobe. Everything. It’s just spectacular. If you’ve not become acquainted with the Roses, hop on over to Netflix and get watching. There wasn’t a single episode in its six-season run that didn’t make me laugh out loud.

THE WAY MY DAD GOOGLES STUFF
About 9 months into the pandemic, I hit a point where I just couldn’t deal with the isolation anymore. And around January 2021, my sister hit that point, too. Throughout it all, we’d visit each other infrequently but January was when she and I decided to make those visits more regular. So we began meeting for Family Dinner once per week. After the first few weeks, we invited our dad into our makeshift Pod. When we gather, there’s dinner, sure. But also a few games and lots of conversation. And it never fails. My father who, bless his heart, carries around a brand new iPhone that, to him, is little more than a way to make a phone call, will find the need to google something. And when he does, he speaks in full sentences. Sometimes, paragraphs. It’s never something simple like, “Hey Siri, what was Jodie Foster’s first role?” It’s always something wordier. “Hey Siri, would you please tell me what role was the on-screen debut breakout performance by Academy Award winning actress and director Jodie Foster?” The minute he googles one thing, we can’t help but chuckle and mimic his language. I’m pretty sure he does it on purpose at this point.

GROWN FOLKS FIGHTING ON THE INTERNET
Seriously. It’s not a good look. No one in the history of the internet has ever changed someone’s mind by arguing like an idiot online. Not about silly stuff like the best pizza joint in the area. And certainly not about the big stuff like politics or abortion or racism. That’s not to say discussions can’t happen. They can. And they should. Especially about the big stuff. But when a post resorts to flinging names and misinformation, spouting opinions as facts, and general bullying…just, no. But also, know that if you DO do it, I’m going to read every last comment about the argument that doesn’t involve me. And silently judge and laugh.

 

Surthrival and Socks March 8, 2021

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 4:56 pm
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Day 27: Write about something that’s kicking ass right now.

β€œIt is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
― Leon C. Megginson

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

One year ago, I was packing up a few necessities from my desk at work; performance reports, letterhead, a flash drive with some commonly used forms, log-in information for my remote connections, shipping supplies, vehicle titles for on-lot assets. I was attending the last PTO meeting held in person at my daughter’s school; the dozen or so of us huddled around the library table, trying to plan for the unknown of what “two weeks” of remote learning would look like for our school community. I was trying to source face masks, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper while also shopping for enough staple grocery items to get us through the quarantine. I was trying, and failing, at managing my anxieties over our “new normal” which felt like anything but.

So here we are. A full year later. I’ve learned lots of new words and concepts, thanks to the pandemic. Social distancing. Cohorts. Pods. Contract tracing. PPE. I thought I’d learned all the new vocabulary that COVID was going to teach me but then I saw the word “surthrive.” It’s one of those words that feels self-explanatory to me, calling to mind lots of vibrant, powerful images. Pinterest moms converting play rooms into color coded “distance learning” centers. Artists channeling their feelings—fear, grief, hope—into something beautiful. People finding new and inventive ways to socialize in a world where it’s not recommended, even frowned upon. But what about me? Have I surthrived? Well, if a house that’s more disorganized thane ever or laundry baskets that lean heavily toward pajamas are signs of surthrival then my answer is a resoundingly emphatic YES.

All kidding aside, our one year Coronaversary seems like a good time to reflect on the good that’s come out of this wild time. And maybe ‘good’ is a bit of a lofty description. Perhaps ‘goodish’ is better. Positive little silver linings to an otherwise dumpster fire of a year. Ways that the pandemic has forced change for the better. Here are some of the worthwhile lessons that I’ve learned in 2020/2021:

  • Family is everything. This includes my chosen “framily,” too. They’re the people I rely on to pull me out when my brain is playing tricks on me, telling me that it’s going to rain forever. The ones I can reach out to in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep because too many thoughts are racing through my mind. The ones I choose to share my Thanksgiving table with when the local government restricts gatherings to ten people or fewer. The ones I avoid getting together with, despite missing them like crazy, purposely to protect them. The people whose laughter and tears and sometimes stern words have carried me through one of the toughest yet most transformative years of my life. Being separated physically by my family has been difficult emotionally. But that emotional discomfort has really been eye opening. They’re my crew. And no matter what, near or far, we need each other.
  • Just go with the flow. I never set out to be a stay at home mom, yet here we are. A big part of my identity has always been wrapped up in work and, before that, school. Success, the value of me, was measured by grades or commissions. Now? A productive day is one where I’ve managed to keep the house from being ripped apart and successfully overseen my daughter’s remote learning without completely losing my shit. And lemme tell you, they’re not all productive days. There have been several times this year when her school had to close unexpectedly due to too many teachers quarantining to open the building. There was even a week that her daycare closed for the same reason. Pre-covid, those unexpected speedbumps would’ve derailed me. I’d feel flustered as I scramble to make arrangements for someone else to care for my daughter so I could still go to work. But this year has taught me that my professional life is just one facet of who I am. And it’s not even in the top ten of most important things about me because it’s changeable. And even when it changes, I’m still me. And the me I am today, knowing this now, is a more relaxed me. I’m truly embracing the concept that some things are just out of our control. And worrying about those things is futile.
  • Don’t take life too seriously. I read early in the “two week” shutdown, which has spanned the past year, that kids need some extra slack to help them through these uncertain times. The recommendation was to loosen up on rules. Maybe not pay so much attention to screen time limits, especially since their iPads are their classrooms. Be fun and spontaneous. Show them a bit of whimsy. Make home feel relaxed and magical. Somedays that means an impromptu dance party in the living room. Other days, it’s a family movie night complete with copious amounts of junk food. It’s laughing a little louder at jokes that aren’t really that funny and slowing down enough to really enjoy snuggle time before bed. But you know what else it is? Fun socks. A year ago, I exclusively wore black socks with dress pants and white socks with jeans. And that’s only when I’m not wearing flip flops, which, let’s be real, is what’s on my feet about nine months out of every year. But this past winter, I opened my sock drawer and pushed aside the bland, predictable choices opting instead for the fun ones. Toe socks. Grippy socks. Fuzzy socks. The more wild or comfy, the better. Last night’s were crocheted from blue yarn and had Snoopy wearing santa hats dangling from a bow at the ankles. Right now, they’re leopard print and soft as clouds. Gosh, if there’s one thing from this pandemic that “sticks” moving forward in my life, I hope it’s the socks.
  • Life is hectic even when there’s nothing to do. I remember being in college, long long ago. I remember taking 18 credits, holding down two on-campus jobs, and rushing off to an unpaid internship while also maintaining a long distance relationship with my (now) husband, forging friendships with new friends, and taking the three hour drive home as often as I could. And throughout those years, I remember thinking how easy life would be when I “only” had to work. Transitioning into adult life after college felt just as hectic, though. Work, home ownership, marriage, parenting…it all started to pile up. And I remember musing that things would be so much easier if I just had time to do X, Y, and Z. Then BAM. Covid closed down the world and suddenly there was nothing but time. Now my multitasking includes all the same household stuff it always has but it’s amplified by the fact that we. never. leave. home. There are meals and endless snacks to prepare, laundry and dishes that seem to never dwindle, plus letting the dog out and in and out and in a dozen times an hour. There are also the same parenting stuff to do, again, amplified by ALWAYS being home. There’s “home schooling” and advocating for my daughter, reminding her to do basic things that no one should need to be reminded to do, reminding her to clean up after herself, diffusing the meltdowns that pop up almost daily, and finding ways to keep her emotionally happy. There’s still school-related obligations, including PTO meetings (on Zoom) and helping to moderate the school’s Facebook page by answering the same dozen or so parent-posed questions, ad infinitum. And then there’s my dad to think about. Does he have groceries? Has the snow been shoveled from his walkway? Can I get him registered for his vaccine? (Spoiler alert: Nope. No available appointments for my 71 year old father with comorbidities yet the state keeps opening eligibility to more and more age brackets.) And finally, there’s checking in with other family and friends. Being a support person for my support people. So many hours and yet I’m still breathless at the end of the day, wondering where they all went.
  • Self care is mandatory. I didn’t mention myself in that to-do list, did I? But this past year has helped me see that taking care of my own mental health is vital to me being able to care for the ones I love. For me, that includes locking myself in my bedroom sometimes for an hour of quiet time. Reading more. Writing more. Binging more trashy reality TV. Discovering new music. Journaling. Hopping in the car to take a drive. Allowing myself space to cry if I need to. Learning something new. It also means trying to recognize and give myself credit for the good I bring to my family, our household, and cutting myself some slack on the days that I’m not my best. I’ve let too many years of my life slip by feeling guilty for ever putting myself first. That chapter is done. Simple as that.

LOTS has changed in the past year. And, all things considered, we’ve managed reasonably well. Vaccines are here. Transmission rates are down. Capacity limits and other restrictions are starting to loosen up. And optimism is poking through the holes, shining light onto a bright future of actual normalcy. It’s closer than ever before and I’m ready for it. I’m not the person I was at this time last year but you know what? I’m so thankful for that.

 

Shrouded in Mom Guilt February 23, 2021

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 5:41 pm
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Day 26: Write about an area in your life that you’d like to improve.

Photo by Andrew Beatson on Pexels.com

There is a dark cloud that has followed me around since I found out I was pregnant with my now 7-year old. Sometimes I can brush it away or at the very least ignore it. But other times it swirls all around me, gusts of wind and pelting rain. An unrelenting storm. Mom Guilt.

I felt the cloud almost immediately after reading the positive pregnancy test and began calculating her conception date. Real nice. On Labor Day weekend, you were drinking. And pregnant, apparently. Some mother you are…. A talk with my nurse midwife at my first appointment allayed my fears, though, and allowed me to ignore the cloud. I kept going to Zumba and counting counting calories, business as usual with fitness and nutrition. And then my midwife said, “You need to eat more calories. You’re growing a human!” So I kept going to Zumba but stopped counting calories. And then my midwife told me I was gaining too fast. So I started skipped meals. And then my midwife told me to make sure I’m eating. And that was the first time I heard the wind whistling in my ears. How are you going to take care of a baby when you can’t even get pregnancy right?

But for the most part, I was able to control that niggling little cloud in the beginning. Shrug things off. Feel confident in my actions, my choices along the way. The first real storm didn’t come until sometime in the middle of my pregnancy while choosing furniture for the nursery. “We don’t need the matching dresser. Any regular white dresser from a furniture store would be fine,” my husband suggested, trying to talk me out of the overpriced piece that matched the style and finish of the crib we’d selected. The wind started to pick up then. And then the raindrops. And there I was, big belly, swollen feet, emotions all off kilter, crying in the furniture department at Babies R Us about how my little girl NEEDS the matching dresser. If she doesn’t deserve the matching set then you don’t deserve to raise her. Needless to say, I got the dresser.

Winds continued swirling after that, always there, always ready. Choosing a daycare provider; Really? You’re going to let a stranger raise your child for you? Creating a birth plan; Oh, an epidural? Sure, if you want to give birth to a drugged up baby. Planning for after her arrival; Unless you choose cloth diapers, you may as well just kill the planet now. And those were just the battles with my own mind. There were also guilt trips from family, friends, even perfect strangers. You’re going to deprive her of all sorts of health benefits unless you breast feed. And are you SURE you want to vaccinate?

She was born at 10:30 on a clear, sunny Tuesday morning. But the cloud was still there, and had grown in size. I laid in bed, exhausted from labor, and wept to my husband. I was too tired, too sore, too…spent. I watched as he changed her diapers and swaddled her. He was blossoming into the best dad before my very eyes. And then there was me. Physically and emotionally just used up, unable to help. I let the nurses wheel her bassinet out of the room so I could sleep at night, something we had said we didn’t want to rely on. I smiled and chatted with family and friends who came to visit as they held her, fed her. You’re not enough, the wind whispered to me. You don’t know how to take care of her.

That pesky dark cloud has continued to loom over me, sometimes huge and menacing, other times a bit less calamitous looking, but always threatening rain. All seasons. Each decision made, large or small. During the good times; milestones hit, new skills learned. You could be doing better as her mom, you know. During the not so good times; a minor injury, a temper tantrum. You’re failing her. Every time I raise my voice or lose my patience with her. This is damaging her psyche. Dropping her off at daycare. You’re missing out on so much. Good moms stay home and raise their own babies. Needing a break. What kind of mom ARE you?

In a blink of an eye, she was ready to start Kindergarten. This marked the start of a new era. Bigger, darker clouds. She’s bored at school. She needs more of a challenge. If you don’t do something, she’s going to hate school. A good mom would recognize that public school isn’t the place for her. She needs homeschooling. And then in March of her first grade year, COVID-19 hit. School went remote “for two weeks” which stretched into the rest of her academic year and beyond. Dance class switched to zoom meetings. Spring soccer didn’t happen. I was powerless to it all. But those clouds convinced me otherwise. She needs socialization. She’s had so much taken away from her. How will she ever bounce back from this? But, this was my chance! Unprecedented time to bond! Homeschooling (sort of)! And yet, I managed to fail at that, too. Tsk, tsk. Where’s your patience? Do you want her to fall behind? Get this right or she’s going to suffer.

Then, today happened. Thanks to a hybrid learning schedule that includes zoom classes three days per week, I was witness to a lockdown drill. “Don’t worry. It’s just a drill,” my second grader told me as she waited at her iPad for the teacher to return to the screen. I asked her what drills like that involve. She explained, “We all have to huddle together in one area away from the windows. And the teacher locks the doors. And we have to stay real quiet to convince anyone trying to break in that no one’s there. But the lights are still on, see? That’s how I know it’s a drill.” What if she weren’t remote today? What if she were there? What if the lights were off?

People who know me may read this and jump to my rescue by pointing out the things I’m doing well when it comes to raising our girl. This post isn’t for that, though. I see lots of good in the choices I’ve made for her. The places we’ve taken her. The things we’ve taught her. So much good. But even the really great things give me pause, make me second guess myself. I stumble through parenting, daily, with an overwhelming sense that everything I do or say to or about her is somehow fucking her up forever. I picture twenty year old her, lying on some therapist’s couch, pining over the horrible childhood she had. Realistic? I hope not. Logical? Not a chance, and I know that….but I don’t always believe it.

What I need is to be kinder to myself. Find a way to push those clouds away for good. Or at least find a way to shelter myself from the storm when the skies open up. So here are a few things I’ll remind myself when my hair is whipped around and matted to my face with fat raindrops coming at me sideways…. She was born healthy despite calories and epidurals and Labor Day weekend. She remains healthy despite baby formula and vaccines. Her dresser hasn’t matched anything in her room since the crib was dismantled around age 2. She’s thriving socially and academically–thanks largely to all she learned in daycare and preschool–despite covid and lockdown drills. So tonight, when I inevitably have to resort to a raised voice (after lots of calm talking) to get her to get to bed, I’m going to remind myself that tomorrow morning, she’s still going to wake up with a smile on her face and look forward to spending time with me.

 

Drowning December 25, 2020

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 12:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

Day 25: Think of any word. Search it on google images. Write something inspired by the 11th image.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.co

Fifteen years ago, I was holding Momma’s hand for the last time. She’d been moved from the ICU to a “step-down” unit sometime between Christmas and New Year, giving me a sense of false hope. She was getting better then, right? Her head was propped on a tiny handmade pillow, a gift from hospital volunteers whose purpose it was to make families feel a little cheerier as they watched their loved one fade away before their eyes. My dad had left for work, that much I remember. I don’t recall if it was me or my sister sitting vigil at the time but whichever one of us was there had called the other. “I think you should come.” At some point, her best friend showed. And it was the three of us, huddled around her bedside. She was sleeping, I think. Or at least not lucid. I remember watching her breathing, holding my own breath for long pauses until she drew in her next. I remember panicking and calling for a nurse when I saw the flashes of blue in her face, across her lips. I remember medical staff rushing in as we stepped back to make room. I remember someone—a head nurse maybe—shout a reminder to her staff. “She has a DNR.” I remember watching all the monitors she was hooked up to, searching for proof that she was breathing. That her heart was still beating. I remember feeling helpless and lost. I remember someone, maybe me, calling my dad at work, telling him to hurry. I remember a panic attack and repeating over and over, “I need Chris.” I remember someone rubbing my back as I called him, begging him to come. No one had come out and said it, but it was understood. This was it.

I remember them pushing morphine through her IV and the way her eyelids fluttered as she opened her eyes to look around the room one last time. I remember holding her left hand between both of mine, crouched by her bed, murmuring to her, “It’s okay, Momma. We’re gonna be okay.” I remember holding it, still, after the staff had turned off the machines and told us to take all the time we need. I remember still holding it when my father appeared in the doorway, breathless. I remember the way his body crumpled when he realized he was too late, that she was gone. I remember feeling guilty that we’d been there and he hadn’t.

I don’t remember how long the five of us—me, my sister, our dad, Momma’s best friend, and my fiance—sat in her room after she was gone. She looked so peaceful that she could’ve just been sleeping, a thin white sheet covering her body. There were no more beeping monitors. No more labored breathing. No more blue skin. Just peace. I don’t remember what anyone said because, what can you say really? But eventually we found the strength to leave that room. To leave her. To try to learn how to go on living without her.

Every year on January 2, my sister and I still have dinner with Momma’s best friend to mark the day that the three of us clutched onto her as she left this world. But this year, the pandemic has made that annual dinner impossible. This past year has brought so many changes in routines, in traditions. But this one cuts the deepest yet, I think. This isn’t a shared experience that many people are missing all at once, like Thanksgiving dinner or the chance to have a birthday party. This is a very quiet, personal occasion that the pandemic is stripping from me. And I’m left angry. Sad. Alone.

I’m drowning. So much has changed or been canceled or taken away since March 2020 and it’s all felt overwhelming. I don’t recognize myself. I don’t recognize the world around me. Some days, I feel like the best thing to do would be to stop paddling, succumb to the waters. But it’s a new year. And vaccines are coming; several of my friends in the medical field have already received their first dose. For the first time in months, I feel a sense of hope. Hope that my second grader will be able to return to school five days per week. Hope that there might be concerts and plays to attend. Hope that a trip to the grocery store won’t cause anxiety forever. Hope that maybe we’ll be able to host a party again. So I’m going to stay home alone for dinner tonight, rather than spending it with the two ladies I really want to be spending it with. And tonight at bedtime, I’ll do what I do on the especially hard days—put some of Momma’s perfume on that tiny handmade pillow from her deathbed and cuddle it to sleep. I survived losing her. And I survived 2020. And I’m going to keep thrashing to keep my head afloat until I reach the shore.

See related: https://sks-whatevs.com/2012/11/14/a-moment-of-levity/

 

2020: The Year of Hard Lessons December 15, 2020

24: Write about a lesson you’ve learned the hard way.

Back in 2011, we here in Connecticut experienced Snowtober. If you’re not familiar, I’ll explain. It was Saturday, two days before Halloween, and the forecast was calling for accumulating snow. We all rolled our eyes and in true New Englander fashion insisted that “the first snowfall NEVER actually accumulates.” My husband and I did what most childless 20-somethings did that night. We put on Halloween costumes, loaded some friends into the backseat, and set out for the drive to our friend’s Halloween party. When the flakes began to fly, we kept partying, confident in our knowledge of how snow works. It’ll melt. The ground isn’t frozen enough for it to stick. It’ll blow over before it’s time to head home. A couple of hours into the party, though, the power went out. And a quick look out the window proved everyone wrong. It was sticking. It was accumulating. A lot. It was almost knee-high when we left the party. We cleared the windshield off in the black of midnight, the street lights reflecting off the surface of the snow that shouldn’t have been there. All the while, branches of the still leafy, snow-laden trees creaked and fell all around us. The roads weren’t plowed yet. Our little economy car slipped and slid the whole way but somehow, and I’m still not exactly sure how, we made it home safely.

The days that followed were hell. Most of the state was without power for about a week as crews cleaned up downed trees and repaired power lines region-wide. No power meant no heat for houses like ours, which relied on an electric furnace and wasn’t equipped with a generator. We gathered at friends’ houses who had gas heat. We leaned on our grill to cook food and heat water to keep the residents of our tropical aquarium alive. We joined so many others in town at the “warming station” set up at the middle school, where residents were encouraged to come warm up, charge devices, and take a hot shower in the locker rooms. We survived that awful week and to this day jokingly refer to the time as “our shelter days.” It was the worst week of my life and having lived through it, I insisted that I’d never wish it upon my worst enemy.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

And then 2020 comes strolling on up to the party and made me eat my words. I’m now a 30-something parent and let me tell you, a week without power in October sounds like a luxury vacation compared to the entirety of this year. We’ve had power throughout, which has been great; hot water, heat, a kitchen to prepare meals in. But we’ve had a global COVID-19 pandemic which brought with it masks and hand sanitizer that smells like grain alcohol and face shields and business closures and gathering restrictions and curfews and remote learning and social distancing and contactless deliveries and, for some reason, a toilet paper shortage. And did I mention that it’s been almost a year now? In March, it’ll be one. whole. year. A year of “the new normal” which I refuse to see as normal, by the way.

But with the year coming to a close, I, like many, like to take some time in December to reflect on what the year has taught me. What lessons have I learned from 2020?

  1. I don’t want to home school.
    Since she was in kindergarten, I half-wished that I could quit my job and stay home to educate my daughter. And 2020 brought me (almost) that opportunity; I was working from home for a good chunk of the year so that I could oversee her “distance learning” for school. What I learned, though, was that my bright, ahead-of-the-curve, super responsible student is a very different beast at home than she is in school for her teachers. She phoned in the last 1/3 of first grade and, so far, the first 1/3 of second grade. She puts in the minimum effort required for the assignment and after months of closely monitoring that all assignments are completed and turned in, I’m exhausted from the arguing and fighting and bartering it takes to get the work done.
  2. Time apart is just as important as time together with the ones I love.
    Specifically, I’m talking about the ones I live with. At first, I loved all of us being home together. Safe. Healthy. Insulated from the world. But pretty quickly, it all felt a bit suffocating. We’re three people plus a large dog who thinks he’s a fourth human, currently curled up next to me on the couch with a blanket swaddled around him. All living together in a tiny 1100 square foot house. There are very few places to go and none of them feel especially safe, to me at least. So we stay home, mostly. And staying home means toys and crafts are everywhere, always. The neatening up and cleaning is never done. Laundry and dishes? Flows that cannot be stemmed. I love my family. Let me be clear about that before I say this: Some days, I just need them to go away. Or I need me to go away. But…there’s just no. where. to. go.
  3. Physical touch is important.
    I’ve never considered myself much of a touchy-feely person. I don’t like coming in contact with strangers (like bumping someone’s shoulder in the store) or even acquaintances (like shaking hands at a business conference). When saying goodbye to friends and family, I’m often unsure if I should hug them or just wave and it usually results in me feeling awkward as I leave gatherings. But adhering to the stay-six-feet-away-from-other-humans “social distancing” protocols has been rough. I hug my daughter and my husband every day. Beyond that, I’ve hugged one other person (twice! I counted!) since March. And bawled my eyes out both times, elated to feel affection from someone outside of my household. When social distancing is a buzzword of the past, I’m hugging EVERYONE. And not just regular hugs. They’re going to be super long, awkwardly lingering hugs. Maybe with a leg thrown up on your hip if conditions warrant. If you’re a family member, friend, or acquaintance of mine, consider yourself warned.
  4. Connection in general is important.
    Game nights with friends used to be a group of us huddled around someone’s dining room table sharing onion dip, cocktails, and laughs. Now, they’re on zoom or otherwise online. Family parties, though not very frequent in the best of times, are non-existent currently. My involvement at my daughter’s school is next to nil, despite being treasurer of the PTO; only students and staff are allowed into the building and there are no extra-curricular events allowed. Parents are discouraged from waiting in the lobby at my daughter’s dance studio or on the soccer sidelines for practice so connecting with other parents is harder than ever. It’s easy to feel like an island, like I’m weathering this storm alone. I’ve done my best, and encouraged my daughter to do the same, by connecting virtually whenever possible. And though I lean heavily toward introvert, I’m looking forward to getting back to connecting in-person when we can.
  5. Loyalty should not be squandered.
    Fifteen years ago, I started working for my boss. I took the job “temporarily,” right out of college, “until I find something permanent.” But I ended up staying. It was a collection of related small businesses owned by the same man, whom I looked to like a father figure. For fifteen years, I looked to him as a mentor and appreciated being heard, “more than just a number” as I imagined I’d be a at a big corporation. It made it easy to overlook the unshiny parts of my job and of the company I worked for. I was unhappy. I wanted to jump ship. But I always talked myself out of it. I was comfortable. I felt a sense of duty and loyalty. And then, fifteen years in and without any forewarning or conversation since, my boss sold the company. The job that I’ve reluctantly kept for FIFTEEN YEARS is suddenly just not there anymore. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, unless I can find a way to pay bills with writing. But when I do start a new job, I’m going to go in with a clearer understanding that loyalty to a company that isn’t loyal to me is a complete waste of my energy.
  6. Change is manageable but instability is not.
    So many people are quick to assert that they “don’t like change.” Me? Bring it on. There’s something exciting about newness, freshness, change. The part I’m struggling with, though, is that the changes are coming too fast for me to fully adapt to before the next wave of changes come. And THAT’S what’s got me feeling discombobulated. A hybrid 2-day in-person school schedule rather than the standard 5? Okay, I can do that. But, just kidding…a fully remote schedule instead. But just kidding…hybrid. No, remote. No, hybrid. Can’t have more than 25 people in my back yard? Okay, no problem. Wait, now no more than 10? So can I have my family over for Thanksgiving or no? No? Okay, we’ll just change everything we’ve done since buying our house. No biggie. I can go where I want? I can’t cross the border into Massachusetts now? Okay, got it. I need to be supporting small, local business…great idea, yes! But I shouldn’t leave my house for non-essential reasons. Okay, no problem. My head is swimming, trying to be and do all the things I’m supposed to be and do, all of which seems to change weekly if not daily.
  7. You can’t fix stupid.
    I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout all this. My family is financially solvent, despite me being out of work currently. We’re all healthy; COVID-19 has not hit our house. [Excuse me while I take a moment to knock on wood.] We’ve been able to find the supplies we need when we need them, including toilet paper! But despite not having any first-hand experience with struggle during the pandemic, I still know that it’s real. I don’t have to personally see it to know that. The virus is real. Lots of people are dying. Many more are getting sick. And it’s not just us here in the United States; It’s called a GLOBAL pandemic for a reason. This isn’t just the US government trying to control us or find a way to microchip us without us noticing. What’s going on here is doctors trying to keep us alive. Scientists trying to keep us protected. We’re told to wear a mask and stay six feet from others. We’re told that vaccines are in production and will be available soon. And yet people, regular old people like me, are still parading around spouting absolute garbage as though they’re experts in epidemiology. I’m not an expert on any of this, either. So I rely on those that are. And ALL of my friends in medical and science fields are in agreement: Wear a mask, keep your distance, and get vaccinated as soon as you can. So that’s what I’m doing and what I’ll continue to do.

There are sixteen days left of 2020 and, let’s be honest, an undetermined number of days left of this pandemic. But I’m really hoping that 2020 and COVID has already taught me all the lessons they’re going to. Fingers crossed.

 

An open letter to our elves November 27, 2020

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 11:04 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Day 23: A letter to someone, anyone

Dear Sven and Lars,

Thank. Goodness. You’re. Here.

In true 2020 fashion, Sven and Lars arrived on a mask and brought with them a Grinch ornament.

From March, 2020 has been a complete dumpster fire of a year for my girl. She was six years old at the time and about two thirds finished with first grade. We told her, as the school had told us, that everyone would be home for two weeks and then we’d go right back to school. But those two weeks turned into two more and eventually stretched into finishing the school year at home.

Dance season? Very altered; classes on zoom from the living room, no competitions, no picture day, no recital.

Spring soccer? Didn’t happen.

Her seventh birthday was dashed, too. We’d normally throw a big party and she’d get to invite all the friends she wanted. There would be games and snacks and a cake (courtesy of my sister) worthy of one of those baking competition shows, all in whatever theme she picked. Instead, we ordered a to-go dinner, had a store bought cake that said “happy mother’s day” on top until her dad scraped the lettering off, and picnicked outside with the neighbors. Her friends who’d normally be at the party drove by in a birthday parade instead. But she smiled lots that day because you guys came for the weekend.

The stars of her seventh birthday

She had no field day, unless you count the slapped together one we hosted for a handful of friends and family in June. And we said goodbye to her first grade teacher through a car window and face masks. Her teacher placed a paper bag on my back seat which held all of her personal items from the classroom she’d left three months prior and we were on our way. No hug. No high five. Couldn’t. I cried on the way home.

Summer vacation didn’t feel very vacationy because there was nothing to do. Six Flags was closed. Movie theaters and bowling alleys: closed. The trampoline park? Also closed. Summer felt like more of the same. Waiting and hoping for normalcy.

Soccer started back up in the late summer, at least. As did dance. She didn’t balk about having to have her temperature checked, sometimes multiple times per day. She never complained about having to wear a mask or not hug her grandparents. She understood. She adapted.

When school started again in the fall, it was a “hybrid” schedule, which in our town means only two days per week in person and the rest of the week learning at home via iPad. Time in school means a mask all day. No water fountains. Recess is only with her “cohort” (the same seven kids in her class). No assemblies. No field trips. No Halloween party. No winter concert. Probably no field day again, though I guess we’ll see.

As of this Monday, school is fully remote again “for two weeks.” I’m trying to remain hopeful but frankly, I’ve heard THAT before. I’m bracing for finishing second grade at home and cringing at the thought of spending all winter cooped up at home with nowhere to go, ever.

We couldn’t have the Thanksgiving we normally have, either. We’ve hosted 12+ guests every year since we bought our house in 2008. But there were restrictions to gathering sizes this year and while probably not enforced, we complied. Realizing that Thanksgiving was different, she’s already started asking about Christmas. Will our family be able to gather for dinner on Christmas Eve? Can everyone still come over on Christmas morning for breakfast and opening gifts? Do we still get to go to Grandpa Lou’s and Grandma Sharon’s for Christmas dinner? “I don’t know, my love we’ll see.” I’ve said that to her so many times this year. And I’m sure she realizes by now that it almost always leads to disappointment.

So I’m going to need you guys to finish this year strong for us. She’s endured so much change and instability in her world this year. But you two visiting from the North Pole is one constant that she can count on. So be wacky. Make messes. Do some things that’ll bring a smile to her face when she finds you each morning. Keep the wonder and magic of the season alive, untainted by what’s going on out there in the world beyond our door.

So many of your elf friends spend the season with so many other families. And so many parents complain about having the extra house guest (or two if they’re lucky, like us). I just don’t get it. From Black Friday through Christmas Eve, you bring smiles and laughter to our whole family. How could any family lucky enough to host an elf NOT be excited?! Honestly, if you could stay all year, we’d love to have you.

Signed,

A very drained mom

‘Tis the season
 

Musical Inspiration November 16, 2020

Day 22: Put your music on shuffle and post the first 10 songs.

Mom’s log. Stardate 11.16.2020. Day 215 of semi-quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s a chill in the air in New England. I’m trying to figure out how to host our typical Thanksgiving dinner with gathering restrictions, implemented by the Governor, of 10 people or fewer. (Spoiler alert: It just ain’t happening.) Scrolling Facebook tells me that literally everyone and their mother decorated for Christmas this past weekend. (Not me! Not until after Thanksgiving!) And following school newsletters and announcements from the Superintendent has me bracing for a shift back to full-remote learning, imminently.

I can’t help but feel a sense of dread. The days are getting shorter, colder. Upcoming holidays are sure to feel lonelier than ever, what with the lack of parties and family feasts. I can’t remember the last time I hugged or otherwise touched someone that doesn’t live with me—not even a hand shake. There are fewer and fewer things to do as positive COVID cases rise and restrictions tighten. Curfews are in place again. Travel bans abound; I’m not even sure at this point if I can legally/safely travel outside of my own state. Right now, it’s easy to feel anxious. Alone. Depressed. Scared. So I find ways to combat all those monsters. I reach out to friends to socialize, even if only online. I look within myself and write. I turn on some music and try to forget.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

The music I tend toward these days leans heavily acoustic. Ballads, love songs. I generally choose music for the lyrics, the story a song tells. But sometimes the vibe of the song is more important than the words. Sometimes I need something a bit faster. Something to put a little pep in my step. Make me want to dance in the kitchen and belt out all the lyrics. A soundtrack to help me harness my bad-assery, if you will. Pump me up. Get me ready to face another day of distance learning and picking up toys and washing dishes and folding laundry, ad infinitum.

So here it is. I scoured Spotify for ten songs that get me there. There are more, for sure; I had to cull the list to just these ten, which was tough to do. And that fact—that limiting it to just 10 was difficult—filled me with optimism. There’s something for most everyone; some rock, some reggae, some hip hop, even a show tune! Several are explicit so you may not want to listen at work or around your littles. But press “play” when you can. Dance with me. Sing along. And remember that there’s so much good out there. Some days we just need to work a little harder to find it.

Crazy B*tch (Buckcherry)

Obxessed (Fire Choir)

Shake it Out (Florence + The Machine)

Oye (Mara)

So Hott (Kid Rock)

Sexy Can I (Ray J featuring Yung Berg)

Tambourine (Eve)

Rock DJ (Robbie Williams)

Seasons of Love (the cast of RENT, original motion picture)

Bruck It Down (Mr. Vegas)

There. That’ll do it. I’m feeling happy. Energized. Ready to face whatever else 2020 may throw in my face.

 

Lessons from the Campground September 11, 2020

Day 21: What three lessons do you hope your children learn from you?

Labor Day weekend has come and gone and just like that, summer is over. I spent my holiday weekend camping out with a small group of family and friends in my sister’s back yard. It’s a tradition that began nearly ten years ago. And it’s one that feels so important to us all that we’ve kept it going and have no plans to stop. It’s two nights of “roughing it” in tents. Screen time is virtually non-existent unless you count pulling out a phone to snap a photo or take a video; and we’ve got lots of both, thankfully. Bedtimes (and rules in general, for the most part) don’t matter. Priority is placed on quality time with each other and making memories to last a lifetime.

Every year, inevitably, the adults find themselves huddled together while the kids are off playing or sleeping or chattering until all hours of the night. And we muse over the fact that we hope our children hold the memories created during our camp outs for a lifetime. This year, we went as far as to imagine what the weekend will look like far into the future, when it’s our kids serving us and their kids food from the grill. There’s no doubt that these weekends are important to every last one of us campers. Fun to be had. Lessons to be learned. Here are three of the lessons that I hope my daughter, specifically, will take from these days…

LESSON 1: Your tribe is important. Choose them wisely.

Obligatory breakfast feast photo of the kiddos

The camping crew is a mix of family and friends (which I’ll often refer to as “framily” or my tribe). And, sure, not all of my tribe make the guest list; in fact it’s the same crew year after year with no new additions without passing a group vote. (And there WAS a vote this year so there WILL be new invitees next year!) We come in all colors, ages, sizes. We listen to different music, which often leads to a battle over the Bluetooth speaker that results in a country ballad followed by a reggae beat. We don’t all agree on the definition of a perfect s’more. Our parenting styles vary. But none of that matters because we mesh on things like know how to make each other laugh, de-stress, and have fun. We come together and all do our part to help out from unloading the cars on Saturday morning to packing up tents on Monday afternoon. And by the time we all return home, our stomachs are sore from laughing, our feet are filthy from walking around barefoot, and our hearts are full of memories that are burned into the very fiber of our beings.

LESSON 2: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” is always a crowd favorite during karaoke time.

During daylight hours, you can find us campers making up games with various supplies from my sister’s stash of camping gear. Sometimes we craft together. There’s always swimming and, for the past two years, “bull rides” in the pool that involve the rider climbing or jumping onto a huge inflatable bull while others attempt to knock them down. There’s always a few who pull their air mattress out of their tents and take mid-day naps in the sunshine. (Guilty as charged this year!) By nightfall, the music is blaring as we line dance and sing karaoke. No matter what we choose to do, there’s no judgment. We’re all just there to have fun. Laugh. Forget that summer is ending, school is starting, and the world feels chaotic and scary most days. In that backyard, our campground, cutting loose and enjoying some levity is what it’s about.

LESSON 3: Unplugging is vital to the soul.

The glow of a screen is no match for the glow of a campfire

The connections we make online are important, sure. Social media helps us stay up to date on what the kids are doing and where everyone is vacationing and, yeah, even sometimes what you had for lunch. But the freedom to unplug from all that–from news and streaming TV and a constant barrage of status updates–is freeing. The connections we make around a campfire are so very different. Whether it’s staying up until 2am laughing over newly created inside jokes or sitting around in a lazy silence together watching the flames lick the fire logs, there’s nothing like the connection and togetherness that’s felt around a campfire.

 

Celebrity Hall Pass September 5, 2020

Day 20: Post about three celebrity crushes.

It feels a little wrong on a lot of levels to follow up my last post (about new love and forever love) with this one, in which I discuss the top three reasons I’d stray from my marriage. But a task is a task and I won’t back away. You know, for science….?

1) John Krasinski.

Photo source: https://instagram.com/johnkrasinski?igshid=1vqhgpomrmgck

If you’ve followed my blog at all, I’m sure you’ve heard me mention being in the sweet spot in life where I’m equally attracted to slightly older and slightly younger men. Dads and sons, if you will. Well, John is the dad in the equation, though he’s only got a few years on me. My initial love for him bloomed in The Office days; the man can convey so much with just a look and had me rooting for Pam and Jim all series. Add in the fact that he’s an amazing father to two little girls (with old-timey names!), a doting husband to Emily Blunt (that lucky bitch!), and a goofball through and through (have you seen his lip sync battle with Anna Kendrick?)…. What’s not to love? Finally, I credit him and his Some Good News web series with helping me through the worst of the covid quarantine this past spring.

2. Tommy Martinez.

Photo source: https://instagram.com/tommymartinez?igshid=cck0suca0d2s

If John is the dad in the equation then Tommy is the son, considering he’s almost a decade my junior. But have you seen that smile? I melted for him the first time when watching a video on his Instagram showing when he got the call back about landing the part of Gael on Good Trouble. He’s just a regular ol’ guy. With a megawatt smile and a man-bun and abs for days. (Gimme all of that!) But his role on Good Trouble is what really seals the deal for me. His character oozes sex appeal and his story arc helps bring to life some important themes including bisexuality (him) and gender identity (his sister).

3. Angelina Jolie.

Photo source: https://instagram.com/angelinajolie_offiicial?igshid=1v0bvzukpd59

The year was 1999. I was 16. And my first (but certainly not last) girl crush began when watching “Girl, Interrupted.” From there, I went back and watched “Gia.” And when I moved into my freshman dorm room, posters of her clad in sheer dresses adorned my walls. It wasn’t long until my mom began referring to Angelina as her daughter in law. I’ve not seen all of her movies and I’ve not even loved all the ones I have seen. But, good heavens, that woman can do no wrong in my eyes. She’s got a wild streak to her and a colorful past; we’ve all seen the infamous kiss with her brother and heard about the vial of (then-hubby’s) blood that she wore on a necklace. The beginning of her relationship with Brad was a bit contested, too, but to that I say, “Jennifer who?” Today, though? She’s a mom to a brood of children, biological and adopted. She’s a humanitarian, an activist. And, sure, she’s sometimes a bit too thin but would you leave the poor woman alone? She’s got grace, is beautiful inside and out…. And is single. Now’s my chance!