WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

The Lowlight July 26, 2021

Sunrise at Wildwood, NJ

Mondays can be tough. This Monday, though, is made tougher by the fact that it’s my first full day back home after a week at the beach. My brain is still in a vacation fog fueled by funnel cake, lack of sleep, and a harrowing drive home that spanned over 5 hours and included a GPS-guided detour off the highway and through New York City for reasons still unknown to me. But I digress.

While away, I did what we all do on vacation. I enjoyed my time with family and tried my best to capture a few images each day that represented the memories we’d made. I’m often bad at that. Remembering to take pictures, that is. I’m even worse at remembering to be IN some of the pictures, too, but that’s a story for another day. This time, I did okay at both. The end result was a nightly post to social media sharing the handful of images from that day. If we’re connected there, you probably saw my posts. Maybe even ‘liked’ or commented on a picture or two. The pictures show happiness. Family. Laughter. Relaxation. Fun. All the highlights of a memorable vacation.

But let’s drop the pretense for a minute here and level with each other. Vacation isn’t all just highlights, is it? There are the moments when no one can pick what they want for dinner or the kids are crying for no good reason. Maybe you’re sunburned. Chafed. Overtired. Perhaps the shoes you packed weren’t the best for walking, after all. Maybe the excursion you wanted was booked or you just ran out of time to do it all. Certainly, there are lowlights of vacation, too, but we never really talk about them. Until right now.

My favorite picture from vacation wasn’t taken by me. It was taken by my husband. Here it is:

Fireworks at the beach

My daughter and I were watching a fireworks display on the beach. It was the end of a long day of fun that included a morning bike ride for her and sleeping in for me. We’d gone on a speedboat dolphin tour with a group of family and friends, spent some time poolside, done some souvenir shopping on the boardwalk, and were about to head back to our hotel with a variety of fried sweets to share before bed. When I look at this picture, I take the overly critical stance that I always do. I see that my hair is messy and windblown. I see the flab at the back of my arm and my hunched posture. I wish I looked more motherly, maybe angled toward my daughter rather than away from her. Maybe with an arm around her. But you know what else I see here? Strength.

Since this isn’t social media and I don’t have to stick to just the highlights of my vacation, I’ll admit that had this picture been taken from the front, you’d see that I had a tear-stained face. Because when you’re like me and struggle with bouts of anxiety, you try hard to leave it at home but it finds its way into your suitcase every time. And mine followed me onto the boardwalk that night.

About 90 minutes before this picture was taken, I was browsing shops for trinkets to bring home to loved ones. The three of us—my husband, my daughter, and me—were happily walking together, chatting about what we hoped to buy. We were excited about the fireworks display that would be happening soon and were plotting what we’d grab for a sweet treat before heading back to our hotel for the night. As we shopped, the crowds thickened in proportion to my patience thinning. I grew uncomfortable. Cranky. Anxious. I told my husband that I was going to walk along the shore to have some quiet time and that I’d meet up with them for fireworks a little later. I encouraged him to continue on shopping with our girl and skipped down the wooden steps to the sand.

About 60 minutes before this picture was taken, I slipped off my flip flops and marched, barefoot, across the beach to the water. The sun was already down. It was a full moon, hovering large and pink on the horizon. I walked toward it until I felt the water at my toes. And then, I began walking along the shore, feet sinking slightly into the packed sand, waves lapping up the footprints in my wake. I breathed, deeply. I listened to the water. I watched in semi-darkness as birds alighted at the very edge of the water to drink before flying off. I cried.

About 45 minutes before this picture was taken, I paused my walk to face the ocean and the moon. I sat in silence for a few minutes and let the tears flow. I thought about life and love, childhood and aging, hopes and insecurities. I thought about my relationships. I thought about the work I’ve put into myself, my mental health, over the past year and a half. I talked to my mom, needing so badly to feel her spirit just then.

About 30 minutes before this picture was taken, I had made my way from the shore back to the boardwalk and found a bench overlooking the beach. I texted my husband to let him know where he could find me. I struggled with negative thoughts; I had let my anxiety win by pulling me away and ruining family time. I cried some more. I texted a couple of friends who I turn to in moments like these. I breathed and trained my eyes on that moon, trying to rein in my emotions. Trying to fight the urge to escape to the safety of my hotel room waiting just one block away.

About 15 minutes before this picture was taken, my husband and daughter hopped off the tram car beside me. He kissed the top of my head and whispered, “We’ll always have your back.” I didn’t try to hide my tears from my daughter, who stood between my knees and asked me why I was crying. Instead, I answered as honestly as I could. I told her I wasn’t sure. I asked her for a hug so she wrapped her arms around my neck and let me rock her. “You know that nervous feeling you sometimes get in your belly?” I asked, knowing that she understands anxiety. She nodded. “I’m feeling that. And it’s making me feel really sad for some reason. I’m just really glad you’re here.” She rubbed my back and held me and eventually sat down behind me.

Moments before this picture was taken, the fireworks display began. The fireworks display that I almost missed out on. She and I sat there, with Chris beside us, and oohed and ahhed as colors exploded in the air. I felt her back against mine. I heard the care and concern in her voice. I felt the safety in having my husband there.

I’m so thankful that my husband thought to snap a picture just then. Had he asked, I’d have declined. I’d have waved him off because I was crying and looked a hot mess. But he didn’t ask. He saw a moment he wanted to remember and he acted. I’d like to pause here to urge you: Take the picture. Even if you’re not looking or feeling your best. Take the picture, too, of your partner. Especially if your kids are with them. Even if it’s not social media worthy and no one ever sees the picture but you and them. Honest moments like these should be celebrated just as much as the posed, happy ones.

The greatest souvenir I could’ve ever taken home from my vacation? A reminder that it’s okay to not be okay.

The moon looked so much bigger and more vibrant in person

 

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.

“It 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.

 

A Day in the [Quarantined] Life May 13, 2020

(Day 15: Bullet-point your whole day.)

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THE WORRY MONSTER – Just wait. We’ll get there.

7:15am – Wake up to the sound of my alarm, which is set to play a random song from a Spotify playlist called Wide Awake. Today’s selection? “You’re Too Weird” by the Fruit Bats. Feeling attacked, I turn off the music and lay in bed a bit longer, listening to the birds outside and feeling thankful to see sunshine through the curtains.

 

7:30am – Head to the bathroom to get ready for work, which entails:

  • Brushing my teeth
  • Using my fingers to comb my messy hair into less messy bun
  • Tying a robe around my mismatched pajamas

 

7:45am – Hunt for a shaker cup in the kitchen. Find it in the last cabinet I’d expect to. Silently curse my husband for putting it away someplace weird then silently thank my husband for having put the dishes away at all. Make a protein shake using unsweetened chocolate almond milk (because I bought the wrong kind…I prefer the unsweetened vanilla) and vanilla protein powder (because I bought the wrong kind…I prefer the chocolate).

 

7:58am – Begin my commute to work which entails walking ten steps from the kitchen to the dining room, firing up my laptop, and opening all the websites I need to access for work.

 

8:00am – Cram as much of a regular work day as possible into the three hours my company has authorized me per day. Today’s interruptions were minimal and included:

  • 8:35am – Kissing my girl good morning and supervising her breakfast selection.
  • 9:40am – Discussing with my girl the fact that I don’t want her to go outside to play with Neighbor Child 1 and 2** yet because I want her to do her school work first.
  • 9:55am – Bathroom break.
  • 10:00am – Discussing with my girl the fact that I didn’t like that she snuck out the front door to play with Neighbor Child 1 and 2 while I was in the bathroom. Subsequent to that, accepted her pinkie promise that once I was done working, she’d come in to do school work “straight away.”
  • 10:45am – Diffuse my girl’s emotional upset over an ongoing disagreement between her and Neighbor Child 1.
  • 10:55am – Agree to my girl grabbing a morning snack for her and Neighbor Child 2. She stated that Neighbor Child 1 is home doing school work. I remind her that she’ll be doing school work soon, too. She pretends not to hear and bounces out the front door with two packs of mini Oreos. She’s wearing a bike helmet. She’s always wearing a bike helmet.

 

11:15am – Call out the front door to tell my girl it’s time to get school work done. Endure a brief spurt of grumpiness from her about leaving Neighbor Child 2 to come inside. Begin watching the three required videos for the day and try my best to keep her engaged long enough to write 5 “snap words” and a list of 5 words each for -er, -ir, and -ur words.

 

12:00pm – Grant my girl a bathroom break. With her tablet. Which lasts 30 minutes.

 

12:30pm – Refuse my girl’s third request for lunch. Promise her said lunch when her last assignment is done. Continue to battle over her task of writing a realistic fiction story. Ignore huffing and pouting for as long as possible before snapping and shouting like a lunatic, “Fine! Let’s stop doing school work! You can just repeat the first grade!”

 

1:15pm – Rejoice over the fact that she finished her story AND tackled her art project: creating a “worry monster.” Tell her she’s done a great job when she proudly proclaims, “My worry monster is wearing blue and purple pajamas and he’s surprised because he has a brand new bed.” Serve lunch to my girl and breathe a sigh of relief that she’s chosen to eat at the table on the porch.

 

1:20pm – Make myself a sandwich, which I shovel into my mouth while standing up over the kitchen sink.

 

1:45pm – Sort laundry. Decide it’s time to put on actual [non-pajama] clothes and brush my hair with an actual hair brush.

 

2:00pm – Unload the dishwasher. Immediately reload it with all the dishes that have been piled up in the sink for the past 24 hours.

 

2:05pm – Hear the hose turn on. Run outside to tell my girl, who’s still wearing a bike helmet, to turn off the hose. Listen calmly as she explains that she and Neighbor Child 2 are “watering the flowers” [that we don’t have] out front. I concede and tell her to turn it on just long enough to fill her watering can then turn it immediately off. She complies. Repeatedly.

 

2:20pm – Venture out into the light of day for the sole purpose of telling my girl that the flowers are watered enough. Decide to make an outing of this trip outside by setting up a camp chair and reading a book in the sunshine while my girl and Neighbor Child 1 and 2 play outside. Encounter the following interruptions:

  • 12x – “Mom, watch me…”
  • 1x – “Mom, can I grab a snack for all of us?”
  • 1x – “Mooooom, I’m hurt!”

 

3:30pm – Let the wind get the better of me and finally relocate from the front yard to inside the porch. Continue reading until my girl follows me. Wearing a bike helmet. With her tablet. On full blast. Ask her to turn it down some, which she does. But it’s not enough. Give up. Close my book and resort to playing a game on my phone.

 

4:00pm – The husband returns from work. Breathe a sigh of relief while he takes over parenting. Escape inside to sit in solitude for the first time all day. Except for the dog. Who is whining to get outside again.

 

4:30pm – Heat up dinner for my girl, which she again chooses to eat on the porch. In her bike helmet.

 

5:00pm – Negotiate with my girl about dessert. She proposes she gets two scoops of ice cream tonight and promises to not have dessert for a week. I remind her about our weekly Family Movie Night coming up on Friday and point out that she’ll want dessert then. She insists she won’t. I know she’s lying. I counter her with one scoop of ice cream tonight, dessert on Friday, and no dessert otherwise until next Wednesday. The offer is accepted. She chooses to eat on the porch. Neighbor Child 1 and 2 bring over their dinner to dine with her.

 

5:15pm – Contemplate baking banana muffins, which would require me to get up off the couch and actually do something. But I’m enjoying doing nothing. And eating tortilla chips. In peace.

 

5:45pm – Finally bake the muffins.

 

7:00pm – Wrap up a half dozen muffins to send home with Neighbor Child 1 and 2. Shout the “one more hour” warning to hubby and our girl, who have started hockey practice in the driveway. She is not wearing a helmet. Curl up on the couch to read a little more.

 

7:58pm – Cart the musical instruments out the front door for “Bell Time.” (Every night from 8:00 to 8:02pm, residents in our town are encouraged to ring bells and/or otherwise make noise as a showing of “alone, together” during the pandemic. We participate nightly, as do Neighbor Child 1 and 2.)

 

8:00pm – Shake my tambourine while shooting a pleading look toward my husband that screams, “Is it 8:02 yet?!”

 

8:02pm – Shout good night across the street to Neighbor Child 1 and 2. Cart the instruments back inside and begin the nightly prodding that is getting our girl off to bed. This process includes:

  • Having her brush and floss her teeth, use the bathroom, and put on pajamas.
  • Snuggling with her until doomsday or until she falls asleep, whichever comes first. [Spoiler alert: It’s usually the former.] Thankfully, it was a dad night. WINNING!

 

9:15pm – Watch 3 episodes of Community on Netflix with hubby while eating dinner, which tonight is reheated cheese tortellini.

 

10:20pm – Contemplate baking cookies because why not? Decide against it and proceed to watch 3 episodes of Some Good News on YouTube with hubby while wishing I had cookies and reminding myself how much I effing love John Krasinski. Sob like a hot mess during Zac Brown’s new song.

 

11:30 – Lay on the couch and think about tomorrow. Realize it’ll look a lot like today only with 200% more Zoom calls, thanks to virtual dance class (for my girl) and virtual PTO meeting (for me). Chastise myself for not having made cookies earlier.

 

12:30am – Press “publish” and get ready for a shower and bed. Only to rinse and repeat tomorrow.

 

** Yes, we are supposed to be in quarantine. And we are. However, we do fraternize outdoors with Neighbor Child 1 and 2 (brothers, age 6 and 5 respectively) and their mom. My logic: If my [former] daycare is open and offering care to multiple families right now, surely I can let my girl play with the two boys across the street whose family has the same level of potential exposure as ours does. And that’s to say women and children stay home, dads report to work at staff-only establishments. So, yeah. Playdates for daaaaays.

30-Day Writing Challenge

 

Living Like Me April 19, 2020

(Day 8: Share something you struggle with)

One of the many positive things I’ve seen come out of this ongoing pandemic is that many people—including several of my personal friends—have opened up about their struggles with mental health. Suddenly, talking about anxiety and depression is okay for those who are living with it. And some people are feeling it for the first time. And even those lucky enough to have no idea what it’s like first-hand seem to have a good understanding of that now’s the time to check in with the people. To ask how they’re doing. To offer moments of levity. To spread cheer. To make sure friends know that they’re there to listen if anyone needs to talk. And that’s a powerful thing.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I’ve always been pretty open about describing myself as “an anxious person.” But I’ve never really owned the title. So here goes. I struggle with anxiety and depression.

What’s that mean, though? Well, it means that at any given moment, I am consciously working at keeping my thoughts and emotions in check. Picture it like the Whack-a-Mole carnival game. An ugly thought pops up? BAM! Not today. A niggling worry rears its head? POW! Not today. I wield my mallet and keep all the negativity at bay. And most days, I’m successful at that. I’m able to live what others would call a “normal” life. Yes, on the good days, I can make myself believe that I’m a good mom, a good wife, a good person in general. I do the right things, say the right things, and blend in.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a good day to turn bad. It often doesn’t even take any outside influence. Sometimes it’s as simple as forgetting to constantly remind myself that life is good, that I don’t need to worry so much, that I’m a good person. Other times, I don’t forget but rather am just too exhausted from constantly battling my own thoughts and simply can’t anymore. I put my mallet down and watch the moles pop up all over the place, feeling overwhelmed. And that’s when I snap or cry or stress out for what seems like no reason. Times like these, I withdraw. If I can isolate myself physically, I do. If I can’t, I try to “stay in my own bubble” by avoiding conversation and personal interactions. When this happens, I worry what “they” are thinking. I convince myself of what “normal” me knows are lies. They think I’m rude. They think I’m stupid. They don’t want to be around me. 

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

In the really bad moments, those lies about what others are thinking spiral out of control until they have solidified into facts. I’m a terrible mom. My husband should leave me. I can’t do anything right. Getting out of bed is a chore. Carrying out everyday tasks feels insurmountable. I don’t want to even try. I think life for everyone would be better if I weren’t in it.

Living with anxiety and depression has taught me a ton, not only about myself but about the world (and people!) around me. First, I’ve learned that these feelings are part of what makes me ME. It wasn’t until my first panic attack that it even occurred to me that not everyone feels like I do. It happened a little over ten years ago and landed me in the ER with uncontrollable shaking, an abnormally low body temperature, and the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t warm up. They checked my vitals, ran their tests, and referred me back to my primary care physician for a follow-up. Nothing was physically wrong. I’d had an anxiety attack.

My doctor, in turn, referred me to a psychiatrist who, I was told, I’d have to meet with in order to obtain a prescription for anxiety medication. I told her I didn’t want medication. I just wanted to never feel that way again. She handed me a script and told me to bring it to the pharmacy to be filled, that it would tide me over until I could meet with the psychiatrist. Numbly, I followed her directions and when the pharmacist handed me that paper bag holding that amber bottle, she asked if I had any questions. And I did. I explained that my doctor had handed the script to me with no directions or explanation. What is it? When do I take it? The pharmacist read the label and told me, “Says here, three times per day by mouth.” And I was sent on my way. I took one in the car on the way home and within minutes was high as a kite. My husband read the bottle and gave me a shocked look. She had prescribed me a controlled substance intended to be taken “as needed.” But her instructions were to take it three times daily. And she had given me three refills. All before I even met with a psychiatrist.

My meeting with the psychiatrist came about a month later. He asked lots of questions, starting with the medication my doctor had given me and whether or not I felt it was working. I admitted that I had only taken a few of the pills; certainly not three times daily and I hadn’t had any need to order a refill. He asked about my life and how I’ve been feeling. We chatted for about a half hour during which time he offered me a prescription for a daily medication that would “take the edge off.” I declined. How I felt was normal to me. I didn’t want to not feel like me.

I’ve learned to cope with the feelings, to stay on top of them most times. And I’ve learned what to expect when I need a break from all the coping. I’ve learned how best to care for myself without negatively impacting those around me. I’ve learned who I can count on, to call at any hour of day or night to talk me off the ledge. I’ve learned how to fill my cup with the things that bring “good” with them and how to shield myself from the factors that most often lead to the “bad.” I’ve learned that I’m one of millions of people who live this way. I’ve learned that even at my lowest, I’m never alone.

30-Day Writing Challenge