WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

Drowning December 25, 2020

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

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.

 

New love, forever love August 30, 2020

Day 19: Discuss “first love.”

“I’m having a midlife crisis.” The handful of people I’m closest with have had the distinct privilege of hearing me utter these words, usually amid heavy sobs or in a manic frenzy or while brooding about life in general. But am I really? Maybe, maybe not. There are so many days when I can do nothing but look around me and feel thankful for and proud of the life I’m fortunate enough to call mine. The life that I helped orchestrate through a series of careful choices and maybe a couple of reckless chances. And I’m in no way trying to detract from all the love and light and goodness around me. It’s there. I see it all. But despite all that, there are some days when I’ve got an acute awareness that many of life’s biggest decisions have already been made for/by me. Roots put down. Life cemented in place. More doors closed behind me than open in front of me.

This post has been about two years in the making. I’ve given it a lot of thought. Kicked the idea around in my head at all hours of the day and night. Searched for the right words that don’t make me sound ungrateful. Tried to formulate a coherent string of sentences that may help identify myself to others feeling the way I am. Unfortunately, this is as close as I’ve come. So here goes: On those really tough days, “midlife crisis” feels like the only descriptor adequate enough to define the profound feelings of…loss? Loss of youth. Loss of choices. Loss of opportunities to experience life’s big moments (and all of the feelings that are wrapped up in those experiences) just one more time.

One of those big life experiences is falling in love. And before I go on, it’s important to me to interject here and say a few things, beginning with that I am happily married. There is no doubt in my mind that I married my match and will live the rest of my life loving him. But this post isn’t about him. (If you want to read about him, you can do so here, where I gushed about him for our tenth wedding anniversary in 2018.) This post is about trying to find words to describe the differences between the love we have now versus “new love.” Because they are undeniably different.

The most succinct way I’ve ever seen the differences summed up came in a novel I read last fall, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. After reading, I jotted a quote, my biggest takeaway from the story. It resonated with me then and it resonates with me even more as time goes on. Here’s the quote:

“She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship…was the ultimate, the feeling they’d always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best–well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”
excerpt from What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

There’s something to be said for new love, absolutely. For me, it starts with a spark of attraction that spreads like wildfire until a kaleidoscope of butterflies is flapping wildly in my gut. There are first dates and first kisses, tentative reaching and finding a comfortable rhythm. There’s giving and taking, yinning and yanging. There’s talking and listening and figuring each other out. An all-encompassing, breathless wanting. An I-can’t-get-enough need. My…sparkling mineral water certainly does quench a thirst, doesn’t it?

But no matter how exciting new love feels, those bubbles, that fizziness, it all eventually dissipates. Tattered, broken, unshiny parts are revealed. True colors poke through as if the harsh house lights have just flicked on after last call. And if you’re lucky, as I’ve been, you find the right tempo and the waltz truly begins. One two three, one two three. Count by count, all that feels good and right is boxed in. Fiercely protected. You lead each other through to the other side where love morphs into something more. A higher form. The French champagne.

And just as there’s much to be said about new love, so, too, is there about the kind of love we’ve got now, over twenty years after our first date. The forever kind. Love with the depth and breadth to encompass two lifetimes in one swooping arch. That kind of love is reliable, safe, comfortable, even easy after as long as he and I have been together. But when I use these terms to describe it, he turns up his nose at me, somewhat regretful that he’s no longer responsible for the butterflies and fizz. But it’s important to note that you can’t get to here, where we are, without having lived through the newness and beyond. Our love has gone through breakups and fights and more hard conversations than I can count. We’ve celebrated greatness, endured losses, faced hardships. We’ve created life and navigated parenting. We’ve supported each other in decisions that felt impossible to make, some with consequences that felt impossible to live with. And through it all, we’re still each others’ number one. And there’s no world in which I’d ever dare to replace or dispose of that. Ever.

Instead, I’ll close this with the valediction that he and I end every email, card, or letter to each other with. A phrase ripped from love letters between my paternal grandparents and inscribed on our wedding bands.

Always and all ways.

Me

30-Day Writing Challenge

 

What If….: Quarantine Edition May 5, 2020

(Day 11: Something you always think “What if…” about)

“We are the sum total of our experiences.” -BJ Neblett

We’ve all done it. Slipped down that rabbit hole where we question our past decision and dream about how life may have been different if only…. But I realized long ago that life as I know it life as I knew it pre-pandemic is pretty awesome. And if I were to go back and alter any single decision from my past, it could’ve changed the trajectory of my life in a way that would’ve led me to Not Here. So are there experiences that I wish I’d handled differently? Absolutely. But I refuse to waste any time regretting the experiences that have made me me.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of us have also invested time into thinking about our futures and all their possibilities. Guilty as charged! What if I wrote that book? What if I changed careers? What if we had another baby? What if we moved to a new town? Dreaming about a future even brighter and more fulfilling than my (pre-pandemic) present is exciting. It used to leave me with a heady confidence, a sort of the world is my oyster sort of vibrancy. Nowhere to go but up!

And then Covid-19 happened. And the first few weeks felt….unusual? But bearable still. Working remotely? I can get used to this. Home schooling? I’ve always wanted to try that. Stores and restaurants and theaters and seemingly everything else under the sun is closed? Think of the money we’ll save by staying home!

And over the next few weeks, my optimism started to wane a bit. Getting my school-loving smarty-pants to buckle down and get her work done comes with a fight every day. She misses her teacher. Hell, I miss her teacher. And the PTO. And dropping in for library time with her class on Wednesday mornings. Dance class on Zoom is a welcomed distraction for her, but it’s just not the same as giggling in the back room before ballet or chasing her friends around in an impromptu game of tag between jazz and tap. Cranking the volume on the TV for family movie night is all well and fine but really can’t compare to the big screen. Dance competitions? Canceled. Spring soccer season? Canceled. Dance recital? Not looking good.

I waited as long as possible before breaking the news to her about the fact that we can’t throw a party for her birthday just yet. She listened excitedly as I laid out the plan which includes a car parade instead of a party for now and the promise of a big bash as soon as we’re able. Like this summer. I could practically see the images in her mind of water balloon fights and sprinkler play and all the water activities she asks for every May but is told that it’s too cold to have at her birthday party. Like every other covid-19 related blow, she took that news in stride in such a way that I was both in awe and insanely jealous of her resilience. And I thought, what if she loves celebrating her birthday later? What if this is a blessing in disguise? 

Over the past few weeks, my what if-ing has taken a darker turn. What if things never go back to how they were? What if I don’t have a job to return to? What if our country plunges into another Great Depression? What if the stores never restock and we’re faced with food and supply shortages? My anxiety has been spiraling more than usual. I cry. Often. I worry and stress and let my brain create every imaginable worst-case-scenario.

Today’s announcement from the Governor of Connecticut was not unexpected in the least, though that didn’t make reading it any easier. Schools will remain closed state-wide for the remainder of the academic year; we’ll continue with distance learning. The last shred of hope I had that my girl could finish her first grade year in class with her teacher was ripped from me. No field trip, no field day, no assemblies. (Side note: I can’t imagine what the parents of seniors are feeling!!) Nope. When my girl returns to school, she’ll be a second grader. Entering a new classroom with a new teacher and a new batch of friends. Everything familiar from early March will be gone. What if we can’t even go back in September? What if she falls behind? What if she can’t cope with this blow? 

I reached out to my husband at work, which I find myself doing when the day feels too heavy to lift. And he did what he does every time. He reminded me that this isn’t going to last forever. That things will start to return to (closer to) normal over time. That we’ll get through this, together. He suggested I take some time for self-care, which I haven’t really been doing at all lately. He told me to pause. To be in the moment. And to not think about the next thing on the list or the next thing to be missed. And he’s right. There are too many unknowns at this time. What if-ing is futile because no one knows what things will look like when businesses reopen, when kids go back to school, when covid-19 is a blip in the history book.

So today, what if what I’m doing is enough? What if the fact that my kid’s school work is done and she’s still smiling is all I need to allow myself some me time? What if I don’t vacuum the house or fold the laundry? What if we order dinner so I don’t have to cook and the kitchen stays clean just for one day? What if I just breathe and not try to posit what the future beyond today holds? What if I lay all my worries and stress down? What if this, right here, is what I’m meant to be doing? 

 

30-Day Writing Challenge

 

Opened Doors April 20, 2020

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 3:08 pm
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(Day 9: Post words of wisdom that speak to you.)
“When one door is closed, don’t you know, another is open.” – Bob Marley 
Today is the one-month anniversary of the signing of Governor Lamont’s “stay at home” order in Connecticut so suffice it to say there are lots of closed doors lately.
Literally.
Movie theaters. Restaurants. Casinos. Amusement parks. Schools. All closed. There are no concerts, proms, beauty appointments. We can’t visit our family members, hug our friends, or step foot inside “non-essential” retail locations.
But today, rather than focusing on all the doors that are closed, I’m going to take a moment to appreciate the metaphorical doors that have opened for me, thanks to this pandemic.

people wearing face mask for protection

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I have a renewed appreciation for essential workers, especially those in healthcare.
This one’s important because while I’m worried about my work hours having been cut and whether or not I’ll have a job to go back to, so many others are putting on their uniforms and marching in to their jobs, where they face potential exposure daily. I couldn’t do what they do. But they’re there, doing what’s necessary to keep us moving forward. Taking tiny steps toward normalcy for us all again. And in the meantime, I’m going to focus on the blessing that is staying home and safe with my girl.
Never again will I have this opportunity to bond with my daughter on this level. 

My Two Kids

My two babies

Speaking of my girl, it’s not lost on me that this time with her is precious. And please don’t think that means this time has been all Pinterest-worthy craft projects and Montessori-inspired “distance learning.” There have been plenty of times when all I have the strength to do is slap some chicken nuggets and a Netflix cartoon in front of her so I can get a moment of solitude. Some days there are power struggles and, let’s be real, I don’t always win them. I yell more than I should. I often count the hours until her bedtime. But you know what else? We read together more now than ever. I get the chance to see first-hand (better than any report card could ever demonstrate to me) her strengths and weaknesses, academically. I’ve been able to teach her new things like navigating online apps to access school content and I’m in the beginning stages of a presentation to answer her repeated “Where do babies come from?” question. Not having to leave the house for her school or my work has afforded us more time to play games, laugh, talk, and just enjoy each other. At first, it was easy for me to not see past this “closed door.” I mourned the loss of her spring soccer and dance competition seasons. I was sad for her that she’d be “missing out” on having a birthday party or finishing the first grade IN school with her teacher and friends. But when I look past all that, I’ve realized that she is truly thriving through all this. Other than brief moments of pouting over the lack of a (non-canine) sibling to play with, she has loved every minute of all this mommy-and-me time. She’s going to look back on this pandemic fondly, of that I’m sure.

 

brown paper bag

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

It has forced me to reconsider how we stock our fridge and pantry.
We are so fortunate to be living in a time and in a country where the infrastructure already existed to facilitate changes like “curbside pickup” at stores, Door Dashing take-out to our front porch, and having grocery items delivered to our homes. Before all this, our family typically did a Costco run once or twice per month and I went to the grocery store on Sundays for what we’d need for the week. Beyond that, my husband would schlep to the store for whatever I’d forgotten and/or whatever we decided on a whim that we “needed” at 11pm on a weeknight. Now, though, stocking our house takes a bit more planning. To stay out of stores, we order groceries for delivery. And lots of you are doing the same because the typical one- or two-day delivery from Stop & Shop now takes about 14 days from reservation to delivery day. It takes a bit more pre-planning to make sure we don’t forget items and we think harder about what we “need” before taking a jaunt to the store for something, and never past 8pm since most essential businesses are closed after that. We cook more, order out less, and are more mindful of what we actually need to get by for a couple of weeks. And that’s something I hope to continue even after COVID-19 is nothing more than a mention in the history books.

 

My new schedule allows more hobby time.

background book stack books close up

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

At 2pm on a Monday afternoon a month ago, I’d be just punching back in after my lunch break. Maybe I’d be submitting payroll or on a conference call with a client. Maybe I’d be elbows deep in title transfers or planning an agenda for our staff meeting. But right now? I’m sitting in a camp chair with my laptop on my lap, blogging while watching my daughter play in her sandbox. This past month has afforded me more time for writing, more time to tackle my to-be-read pile of books, more time for binge-watching trashy reality TV on Hulu. I bake more. I relax more. I smile more. Instead of rushing home from work to whisk my girl off to whatever extra-curricular she has on her agenda and then home to get her ready for bed only to rinse and repeat the next day, we can breathe. Everything outside the walls of our home has been paused. And that has given us an unprecedented opportunity to pursue true happiness rather than obligations.

 

white printer paper with be kind text on plants

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

This is my chance to reassess and reinvent my life.
When this “stay at home” order is lifted (or even relaxed) and life starts to return to normal, I hope to not just revert to the way things were. This pause has taught me to not take the little things for granted; an over-booked weekend of soccer games and kids birthday parties, a night out with friends, stopping by to see my dad “just because.” There’s a whole list of things that I can’t wait to do again the minute I’m able. And every last one of them are things I never really appreciated doing before all this. I hope to be kinder to strangers, more patient with my loved ones, and more resolute in the pursuit of my own happiness. And I sincerely hope I’m not the only one.

 

So today, I urge you to stop what you’re doing. Put the worry and doubt aside. Don’t dwell on what you can’t do or where you can’t go. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and for your kids. Sit out in the sunshine and breathe some fresh air. Pause. And see things from a different perspective. Look at all those open doors!

joy painting brush

Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

30-Day Writing Challenge

 

My MomFriendAunt is Better Than Yours April 9, 2020

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 8:13 am
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(Day 4: Write about someone who inspires you.)

Growing up, my mom’s best friend was always a presence in my life. But it wasn’t until after my mom passed away that I really came appreciated the human being she is.

From the moment my mom’s diagnosis came until she took her final breath roughly three months later, her best friend was one of only four people she allowed to visit her. She was a huge support for our whole family during that emotionally charged time and I know she was a comfort to my mom, as well. She stood beside us in the receiving line at mom’s services and continued to be an incredible support to us in the days (and months and years) after.

It took me a while after my mom passed to realize that calling her “my mom’s best friend” was still true but no longer made sense. Instead, I started calling her “my friend.” And soon after, I dubbed her my “MomFriendAunt” because she’s like all of those roles in one for me.

She’s the one I reach out to when I’m having an “I just want my mommy” moment or when life feels too overwhelming to handle. She’s who I want to call when something exciting happens or I’ve got good news to share. I can say absolutely anything to her and know that the feedback she’ll give will be genuine, said with love, and have my best interest at heart. She listens without judgment, offers advice when warranted, and just… Gets me.

Late night text conversations, “girls weekends,” dinner dates with my daughter and her grandson, celebrations, and hanging out just because. She’s always there for me. I consider her family and feel fortunate to have her in my life.

But I’m certain I’m not the only one who can say all these things about her. I’ve seen the relationship she has with her adult children, extended family, and friends. She’s given so much to so many; she’s truly the most selfless person I know. And she often struggles with putting herself first and believing all the good stuff about herself. My one wish is that someday, somehow, she finally sees how extraordinary she is and just how much she means to so many.

I love you always, Frankie. Thank you for being you.

Photo credit: Not sure…I swiped it from her Facebook profile

 

Pet Peeves: Quarantine Edition April 8, 2020

If you’d asked me to list my top three pet peeves a month ago, you’d have gotten a very different list. But this is where I’m at now…

1) Feeling both overwhelmed AND bored. At the same time. At all times.

My day begins with three hours of working remotely. And most days, that’s not enough time to get the job done, which leaves me feeling…spazzy… for several hours after. And during that time, I also encourage my girl to start her school work, which she’s not always able (read: willing) to do without guidance. So when I’m done working, an hour or two or three of being a teacher begins.

I prepare eleventy bajillion snacks and meals daily. And pick up twice as many toys/messes.

I do my best to keep my girl connected to school, teams, and friends…. Taught her how to use Microsoft Teams, encourage her to video chat with friends, got her tablet set up with the various apps—and there seems to be a new one added at least weekly—our district is relying on for “distance learning,” and staying on top of all the email updates from teachers and coaches. Which reminds me. I still have to Venmo her dance teacher for the Zoom dance classes.

And when all this is done, we’ve got HOURS left in our day to decompress, though it never seems to be enough time.

At 8pm, we head outside for “bell time.” (Town-wide, people are encouraged to ring bells or otherwise make noise from 8:00 to 8:02 as a show of solidarity in this social distancing era.) And while we play our musical instruments, for lack of bells, my girl dances and I silently think, “One day closer to normalcy.”

After our girl is in bed, it’s time for dishes, laundry, picking up toys (again), and cuddling up with hubby on the couch. By this time of night, I’m ready for a giant glass of wine as a remedy for the anxiety that’s built up all day.

Rinse and repeat.

2) Having to repeat myself.

Here’s a smattering of the phrases I catch myself uttering multiple times per day, every day day…

– “Just because we’re home doesn’t mean you don’t have to brush your hair.”

– “I said ONE snack.”

– “No, it’s not lunch time. You JUST finished breakfast!”

– “3:00 is NOT dinnertime.”

– “Turn off the tablet!”

– “C’mon, we have to get this school packet done before we go outside.”

– “If you want to play outside, you need to put on actual clothes. Not pajamas.”

3) People who don’t stay home.

I’m following the rules. Other than outdoor time in our yard and walks around the block, my girl and I have left the house exactly once in the past three weeks. And that was to take part in a birthday parade for my cousin’s twins, which didn’t require us to get out of the car. Hubby goes to work and occasionally the grocery store. That’s it. If everyone did the same, we’d all be able to get back to life as we knew it sooner.

 

Happiness is… April 4, 2020

Filed under: Daily Writing Prompt — sierrak83 @ 2:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

Life feels a little…overwhelming…right now. Amid the covid-19 outbreak, we’re all dealing with a lot. Life has changed for us all and for me that looks a little like this: On March 12, my daughter came home from school for what would end up being the last time “indefinitely.” On March 20, her daycare closed its doors. On March 23, I began working from home, full-time, while also juggling “home schooling” my first grader. On March 27, my full-time hours were cut drastically. Retail establishments are closed. Restaurants are delivery only. Places of entertainment are closed. Grocery stores are limiting the number of shoppers allowed inside at once. Playgrounds are taped off, unusable. Some days, I have the presence of mind to remind myself that we’re going to be okay. That we’ll get through this. That it won’t last forever and that we’ll all be stronger and more appreciative of the little things when it’s over. And other days, my anxiety gets the best of me, leaving me irritable, despondent, and without any oomph to even get dressed. Today is one of those “other” days.

And while scrolling through Facebook today, I saw a post shared by my cousin (and fellow blogger) Sasha. “30 Day Writing Challenge.” And I’ll admit, part of me thought, “Who starts a 30-day challenge on the fourth of the month?” And then I realized that this post is exactly what my spirit needed today. And surely starting on the fourth isn’t even on the top ten of wacky things going on in the world right now. So here we go. Day 1 of 30. Beginning with…a list of 10 things that make me really happy.

  1. My girl. – She doesn’t realize how much she’s helped me hold things together these past few weeks. When all I want to do is lay in bed and feel sorry for myself, she’s my reason to get up. To cook something. To take a walk. To watch a silly movie or play a kid game. We help each other find balance; work/school and fun. We help each other find levity in every day. I hope someday when she’s older and looks back on this time, she remembers it as a bonding experience. A positive and happy time in her childhood. And I hope someday she realizes that she’s saved me.
  2. My husband. – My second savior. We’ve been together for 20 years, married for 11. He knows how my mind works and can usually help curb my anxiety. Whether it’s giving me some much-needed alone time when he gets home from work, ordering a movie OnDemand to take my mind off things, or talking calmly and logically through difficult conversations, he gets me. I’m thankful that with all the “social distancing,” he’s someone I can still hold tight.
  3. Our home. – I’ve griped about this house for almost as long as we’ve owned it. It’s too small. It’s old and quirky. It sometimes feels too full, like the walls are closing in on me. But you know what? There’s so much love here. We’ve got everything we need to keep us safe and happy inside. Plus a backyard full of activities for our girl…playscape, sandbox, yard games, her bike and scooters. If we have to be quarantined, this is a pretty damn comfortable place to do it. In fact, I recently asked my daughter where is her favorite place to go. I expected her to waver between a few places she loves but that we can’t visit right now…perhaps dance class or the soccer field, bowling, Six Flags, the movie theater. But she surprised me by saying, “Home.”
  4. My sister. – She and I have a lot in common…including anxiety. So when my husband doesn’t quite “get” how I’m feeling, she surely does. She has always been–and continues to be–someone I can call any time, day or night, to vent to. To cry to. To calm me down. I value the friendship we have and that I can say anything at all to her without fear of judgement.
  5. My dad. – I worry about him every day. His age, his health, his stubbornness when it comes to letting someone else grocery shop for him so he can stay home…they’re all factors against him in this pandemic. Plus add in the fact that he lives alone and I worry that he’s lonely. He and I had a rough go of things after my mom passed but over the past several years, there’s been a change in our relationship. And it’s been so good. I look forward to lots more family dinners and outings in the (hopefully near) future. But until then, we’ll sustain ourselves through texts and calls.
  6. “Framily” and friends. – The calls, texts, and messages just to check in or stay connected have sustained me on most days. From people I consider family to people I haven’t seen in person for years, I’m thankful for every relationship. This week alone, I wept watching a college friend’s memorial video for her dad as well as a high school friend’s welcoming home of her fiance. I’ve joked with someone I’ve considered my best friend since grade school and offered an ear to someone I view as family who is experiencing a loss. Through good times and bad, it’s reassuring to know that we’re all in this together and that even on our darkest days, there are people out there who care about us.
  7. Writing. – I realized pretty early on today that I was having a rough day. And when that happens, I don’t want to snap or take my mood out on my family. So I said to my 6-year old, “I think I’m going to take some time out to write. Because I’m feeling grumpy and writing usually helps me feel better.” Her response? “Okay, Momma. When I’m grumpy, I like to color.” She gets it. Sometimes the time alone is truly needed. And writing has always been an outlet for my feelings. Blogging, journaling, even working on the novel that I started about a year ago…writing is always cathartic. I hope this 30-day challenge gets me putting fingers to the keyboard more regularly. What better time to start a new routine, right?
  8. Sunshine. – It’s not lost on me that my mood is better when the sun’s shining versus when it’s cloudy or rainy. And this past week has brought us lots of clouds. I’m thankful that this craziness is happening in springtime (rather than in the dead of winter) so we can at least be outside soaking up the vitamin D whenever possible.
  9. Essential oils. – I’ve seen the memes. I know you all think that white women believe they can cure cancer with a little clary sage and frankincense. And for the record, I’m not THAT white woman. But on a day like today where my mind needs a little boost of optimism, you’d better believe that a couple of drops of something citrus in the diffuser gives me the pep I need. Say what you will. I’m happy.
  10. The internet. – Imagine for a moment that this quarantine was happening in the 1980s. No social media. No smart phones full of game apps. No e-books. No streaming services. No video chats. What the ever-living hell would we all do?! Thankfully it’s 2020 and my devices all allow me to stay connected with friends, music, books, movies and shows.

On that note, I think I’ll go rub some essential oil on my wrists and head out for some sunshine with my girl before settling in for a night of trashy reality TV with my husband. Stay well, friends. And for those who want to join me in this challenge (or just get a sneak peek of what I’ll be writing about in the coming weeks), here’s a copy of the 30 prompts:

30-Day Writing Challenge