WHATEVS…

Sierra's online journal

Things I Learned at the Playground April 18, 2021

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Photo by Robin McPherson on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Humor Me March 20, 2021

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

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Musical Inspiration November 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

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

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

Crazy B*tch (Buckcherry)

Obxessed (Fire Choir)

Shake it Out (Florence + The Machine)

Oye (Mara)

So Hott (Kid Rock)

Sexy Can I (Ray J featuring Yung Berg)

Tambourine (Eve)

Rock DJ (Robbie Williams)

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

Bruck It Down (Mr. Vegas)

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